Britain's ambassador to Dublin warned that former Irish prime minister Charles Haughey was a man of “calculating and ruthless ambition”, newly declassified files reveal.
A candid diplomatic despatch for 10 Downing Street ahead of Mr Haughey's first face-to-face meeting with Margaret Thatcher in May 1980 described the Taoiseach as having a “taste for the good things in life”, but few real friends.
The UK's then-ambassador to Ireland, Robin Haydon, painted a picture of a former heavy drinker who had become a “puritan” in recent years.
When the ambassador asked him about the concerns of Protestants in Northern Ireland, Mr Haughey said he was “not a deeply religious man and did not mind if someone wanted to worship Ali Baba and the Seven (sic) Thieves”, the file records.
He wrote: “His predominant characteristic seems to be a calculating and ruthless ambition: there is no secret that the office of Taoiseach has been the over-riding objective of his life.”
In a reference to Mr Haughey's notoriously lavish lifestyle and fishy finances, Mr Haydon said the Irish premier's fortune came partly from speculating on property while he was finance minister. The ambassador said the Taoiseach collected antique furniture, owned racehorses, had a “showplace” house and was “immaculately turned out”.
He concluded: “To sum up, I think he is a tough, clever, wily man, no friend of ours, but not, perhaps, actively hostile. He is conscious of his shady past (and present!).”
The meeting between Lady Thatcher and Mr Haughey in London on May 21, 1980 was considered a success on both sides, documents released by the National Archives show.
The British prime minister rang him the next day to thank him for the “beautiful” teapot gift.
The Irish premier told Mr Haydon he was “most impressed” by Lady Thatcher and thought the atmosphere the two leaders shared was “wonderful”.
Charles Haughey, who died in June 2006, aged 80, was Taoiseach three times from 1979 to 1992. His career was dogged by controversies ranging from gun-running charges to allegations of taking bribes from big business.