The 1990 presidential election was full of twists and turns. On this day of that same year, October 31st, Brian Lenihan, Tánaiste, Minister for Defence and the Fianna Fáil candidate in that election was sacked from government by Taoiseach Charles Haughey. Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD, Diarmaid Ferriter, joined Sean O’Rourke to look back at that pivotal point in Irish history.
“(Charles Haughey) didn’t expect that he’d have to do that because he had expected Brian Lenihan to do his bidding. He had written a resignation statement for Brian Lenihan which Brian Lenihan refused to accept and refused to read. There was an awful lot going on in the background in relation to Brian Lenihan during the campaign being kind of chased by various people including Bertie Ahern, who was directing the election to try and put pressure on him to resign. He and his wife Ann, who was very influential, were having absolutely nothing to do with it… Brian Lenihan had been a member of every single Fianna Fáil government since the 1960s. He served in more ministerial portfolios than any other politician in 20th century Ireland and of course he’d been with Haughey along that long path… Nobody could have predicted that it could end like this.”
While Lenihan entered that presidential race as odds-on favourite, his plans hit a roadblock when controversy broke concerning a phone call he was alleged to have made to President Patrick Hillery, urging him not to dissolve the Dáil in 1982. Jim Duffy, a young politics student at the time, had interviewed Lenihan about this incident and, as Diarmaid says, “Lenihan had referred very explicitly to these calls and to the fact that he had been involved and he had made one of the calls.” This would come back to haunt him. It led to Haughey privately requesting that he resign and to his eventual sacking when he would not comply.
“At one stage of the campaign he was denying (the calls) whilst the tape was playing in the background. The stakes became very high.”
Ultimately Lenihan lost the presidential race to Mary Robinson, who became the seventh President of Ireland. Diarmaid describes this time in Irish politics as a watershed moment during which the true meaning of the office of President came under intense scrutiny.
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