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State Papers

State Papers: Haughey personally intervened in RTÉ news bulletins

Charlie Haughey’s government cancelled plans to build him a £725k mansion – and was angry when RTÉ didn’t cover it.

TAOISEACH CHARLES HAUGHEY was enraged when RTÉ’s television news declined to cover his cabinet’s decision not to build him a IR£725,000 official residence in the Phoenix Park, near Áras an Uachtaráin – and had a press officer call RTÉ to ensure it was included in later bulletins.

Papers released into the public domain under the ’30 year rule’ show that Haughey had ordered a staff member from Government Information Services – effectively the government press office – to call RTÉ and ask why the decision to abandon the ‘Áras an Taoisigh’ proposal was not covered in the main TV news bulletin at 6:15pm.

The staff officer was unable to contact the news editor on duty but spoke to George Devlin, then a senior news reporter, who assured her that he would have the matter included in the later bulletin at 9pm. Details of the plan’s cancellation had been included in a radio news bulletin at 6:30pm.

Haughey admitted to having intervened in RTÉ’s coverage after he was asked about it in the Dáil by Labour TD John Horgan – himself a former journalist, who went on to become Professor of Journalism in DCU and is currently the Press Ombudsman.

The disclosure indicated Haughey’s anxiousness to ensure that the public was aware of his government’s cost-cutting credentials; the cabinet meeting to decide on abandoning the plan, and the press release that preceded the disputed news bulletin, were dated exactly one week before Haughey himself went on air to tell Ireland that the state was “living way beyond our means”.

Former buildings ‘in disrepair’

The elaborate plan for an official ‘Áras an Taoisigh’ had been initiated after Jack Lynch had come to power in July 1977, and had seen Lynch instruct the Office of Public Works to draw up plans for a residence to be built on a 50-acre site near to that of Áras an Uachtaráin.

The OPW’s plans had included an official complex of State apartments and a five-bedroom official residence for the Taoiseach of the day, which would be built at a cost of IR£280,000, as well as a IR£200,000 complex providing official accommodation for guests of the nation.

Other elements of the proposed complex included two large reception rooms, a picture gallery, a dining room able with seating for 30, and staff quarters featuring five bedrooms.

The new building would have been built in the site of the former Apostolic Nunciature, the residence of the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, which had been rented out to the Vatican for a nominal fee of £1 a year.

The Nuncio, Gaetano Alibrandi, had written to the state in 1974 asking if it was possible that he could be moved to alternative accommodation after his residence began to fall into disrepair; eventually the state found alternative accommodation on the Navan Road elsewhere on Dublin’s northside, leaving his residence empty.

The National Archives files referenced in this story are 2010/53/16 and 2010/53/272.

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