Haughey is the third of seven children of Seán Haughey, an officer in the original Irish Republican Army (IRA), and Sarah McWilliams, both natives of Swatragh, County Londonderry. He attends University College Dublin, studying law and accounting. While making a fortune, apparently in real estate, he marries Maureen Lemass, the daughter of future Taoiseach Seán Lemass on September 18, 1951. After several attempts he enters Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament) in 1957 as a member of the Fianna Fáil party for the Dublin North-East constituency. He becomes Minister for Justice in 1961 and later Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Finance.
In 1970 Haughey is twice tried for conspiracy to use government funds to procure arms for the outlawed IRA. The first trial is aborted, and he wins acquittal in the second. Dismissed from the government, he remains in the Dáil and gains strong support among his party’s grass roots. When Fianna Fáil is returned to office in 1977, he is made Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare. On the resignation of party leader Jack Lynch in 1979, he is elected party leader and becomes Taoiseach. In June 1981 his government falls, but he returns to power briefly in 1982. He becomes Taoiseach again after elections in February 1987, though his government lacks a majority in the Dáil. When Fianna Fáil forms a government with the Progressive Democrats in July 1989, thereby eschewing the party’s traditional rejection of coalition rule, he is made Taoiseach for a fourth time.
Haughey’s first two terms in office are marked by deteriorating relations with Great Britain, a declining economy, and deep divisions within Fianna Fáil. Despite the controversies that plague his government, the charismatic Haughey remains party leader after losing office for a second time in late 1982. During his later terms, he successfully mounts a fiscal austerity program to address Ireland’s financial crisis. In 1992 he resigns and retires after being implicated in a phone tapping scandal of two journalists. He denies the allegations. He remains out of public life until 1997, when an official tribunal of inquiry determines that he had received large sums of money from a prominent businessman while Taoiseach. The Dáil then establishes another tribunal to investigate his financial affairs, and many other irregularities are uncovered. He eventually agrees to pay €6.5 million in back taxes and penalties.
Haughey dies at the age of 80 from prostate cancer, from which he had suffered for a decade, on June 13, 2006 at his home in Kinsealy, County Dublin. He receives a state funeral on June 16. He is buried in St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton in County Dublin, following mass at Donnycarney. The then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern delivers the graveside oration. The funeral rites are screened live on RTÉ One and watched by a quarter of a million people. The funeral is attended by President Mary McAleese, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, members of the Oireachtas, many from the world of politics, industry and business. The chief celebrant is Haughey’s brother, Father Eoghan Haughey.