Tuesday was a significant day for Dublin City University: the papers of the late Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Charles J. Haughey were handed to DCU by his family. They are now being sorted and catalogued and, eventually, will be accessible to researchers, historians and scholars who want to study them. It is a priceless collection: letters, reports, memos, documents and other memorabilia, perhaps the most impressive and complete collection of such documents in recent Irish history, providing insights not just into the life of this most visionary but also controversial politician, but also his times.
It was one of those interesting twists that the hand-over of the papers took place on the day that we learned of the break-down of the social partnership talks aimed at tackling the serious economic and financial problems currently faced by Ireland. In 1987, within days of becoming Taoiseach after the general election of that year, Haughey set about the task of preparing the ground for what became the Programme for National Recovery – an agreement between the government, the employers, the trade unions and other representative groups, under which pay restraint was agreed in return for reform in taxation and various social programmes. It was an extremely successful initiative, contributing critically to a steep growth in Ireland’s competitiveness and providing order in the country’s public finances. The boom of the Celtic Tiger was born in that initiative, very well documented in the papers we received today.
Political archives are enormously important for historians, political scientists, journalists and others. With the Haughey papers, and with materials previously provided by the families of the late Irish Times editor Douglas Gageby and diplomat Sean Lester, DCU is building a collection of unique value. And we hope that this is only the beginning of a process that will allow us to become the recognised home for such archives in Ireland.
In relation specifically to Charles Haughey, I think the time is right to change the focus from one on his personal life and finances to the role he played, first as a reforming and socially aware Minister in several departments, and later as the head of a government that took the painful but necessary steps to halt Ireland’s dramatic economic slide. When Haughey took over as Taoiseach in 1987, there was a huge public debt, and unemployment was at over 17 per cent. Within three years everything had changed, and the country was well on the way to becoming a model for economic reform and development. I am glad that DCU is able to make some contribution to recognising this.