Thursday, September 22, 2022

the last book I ever read (We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, excerpt sixteen)

from We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:

In 1989, Lenihan’s liver gave out. He needed a transplant, and it was decided that he should go to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The Irish health service was not good enough for members of its own government. The board of the state-owned Voluntary Health Insurance company quietly decided that it would pay the full cost. Haughey knew this. He nonetheless asked a Fianna Fáil fundraiser, Paul Kavanagh, discreetly to request a number of sympathetic businessmen to stump up between them somewhere between £150,000 and £200,000 for Lenihan’s new American liver. Eight individuals or companies answered the call–the largest single contribution being £25,000 from Goodman.

The people who raised and contributed what may have been as much as £265,000 for Lenihan’s liver acted in good faith, believing that they were saving the life of a popular national figure. But the whole thing was essentially a scam perpetrated by Haughey. He knew that the full cost of Lenihan’s direct treatment would be borne–as indeed it was–by the VHI. Other expenses amounted to around £70,000. So he helped himself to most of the money ostensibly raised for the operation: probably about £200,000. He spent it on handmade shirts from Charvet in Paris, dinners with Terry Keane at Le Coq Hardi and the general upkeep of his extravagance. The cheques were signed, blank, by his acolyte Bertie Ahern.

Not that Haughey was not thinking of the Lenihan family. On the morning of her departure for the Mayo Clinic, he sent Lenihan’s wife Ann a gift of £200 – 0.1 per cent of the money he had stolen from the fund he established for her husband’s treatment. There was something magnificent in this depravity. Haughey had wept openly when told of Lenihan’s plight. But he quickly saw the opportunity. He would later claim that he knew nothing about the handling of his own finances, but this was hands-on, highly personal fraud. When one donor asked who to make a £20,000 cheque for Lenihan out to, Haughey replied simply: ‘To myself.’ Later, when the whole affair unravelled, he insisted that his efforts ‘for the good and salvation of my friend Brian Lenihan’ was ‘the most compassionate thing I had ever done in my life’.

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