Ivan Yates became a TD at just 21 years of age, having been elected at 19 to Enniscorthy Urban Council. He was Minister for Agriculture in his thirties, and went on after politics to set up a bookmaking business that, at its peak in 2008, had a turnover of 180 million euros. Initially in parallel with this business, he developed another successful career as a daily radio news show host , newspaper columnist and after dinner speaker, a career which continues successfully to this day.
When I first heard that Ivan was about to publish an autobiography, I already knew Ivan was a good writer. I had read the many policy documents he prepared when we were political colleagues. But I had a query in my mind as to how someone so relentlessly busy, so “full on” all the time, and so future driven, would ever find the time to reflect on the past, to research and accurately date events, and then patiently to write it all down. Looking back never struck me as Ivan’s thing.
The answer to my query came early in the book. The time to write was imposed upon him.
He wrote his story while in enforced idleness in Swansea, establishing UK residency there, so that he could avail of the modern, and fast, UK bankruptcy code, rather than be subjected by AIB to the, then incredibly prolonged Irish bankruptcy code.
AIB, on behalf of their owner the taxpayer, called in early 2011 the personal guarantees he had given in late 2010. His company’s assets, and his personal assets, were not enough to cover the debts and accumulated interest, so they wanted to make him bankrupt. The period between the giving of the guarantee by Ivan, and the initiation of the bankruptcy by AIB was remarkably short…only a few months. This is hard to understand from the perspective of either borrower or lender.
It is also hard to understand how , when household debts in Ireland come to nearly 200% of GDP, the Yates household was the only one in the country that had been subjected to bankruptcy summons and court proceedings by AIB between 2010 and 2012 .This came out in reply to a Dail question .
There is a widely canvassed view in the “progressive” blogosphere, that in Ireland there is an inner circle who can avoid their liabilities. Perhaps there is. If so, Ivan Yates and his wife Deirdre, notwithstanding their political connections and public profile, found themselves well outside that circle.
This is an exceptionally well written book. I put down a novel to start reading it, and did not feel like returning to the novel until I had finished it. He writes as he is. Irreverent , driven and witty.
The section on his childhood contains a moving account of the loss of his father while Ivan was still young. The loss was deeply felt. As Ivan recalls, he and his father rarely conversed about anything except the farm work, and when his father died, after a long and painful illness, there was “so much left unsaid”. Yet he loved his father deeply and has spent much of his life trying to live up to his expectations. His father’s illness explains why Ivan, despite his immense abilities, did not go to university, but instead to Gurteen Agricultural College, which he really enjoyed. He was needed at home to run the farm.
His father’s life hinged around frugality and a strict work ethic, and Ivan lives up to that. Holidays are not a feature of Ivan Yates’ life, and in that sense , the enforced “ holiday” in Swansea, for all its loneliness and isolation, may have brought some needed compensations.
He describes the appalling experience he had with the master, supposedly responsible for sex education, in his preparatory boarding school, Aravon , near Bray. The memory of this was completely suppressed in his mind and only came back to him in therapy undertaken because of nervous exhaustion during his time as Minister for Agriculture. He speculates that the pain of this suppressed childhood memory may have made him the driven person he became as an adult.
His courtship of Deirdre Boyd from Tinahealy was relentless, as one would expect. He married her when he was 22. Their love for one another has endured, and her visits to him while he was in recent exile in Swansea were light in his gloom.
He came into the Dail in 1981, and served as a backbencher during the Garret FitzGerald Governments. He was Chairman of a Committee on Small Business and he interpreted the brief imaginatively, producing reports on below cost selling, building society margins, monopolistic practices in the supply of glasses, and the possible sale of shares in state companies. In this he was pursuing his core values, which are to be pro taxpayer and anti vested interest. Behind the veneer of boyish cynicism, there is a depth of conviction.
His description of the life of a rural TD is very funny, and true. Four clinics every weekend, and being seen to be seen everywhere in the constituency. Being sure to say hello, or at least wink, at every person you meet, and knowing that if a voter ends their sentence with “anyway”, you can be sure they will NOT be voting for you! He still suffers a nightmare….an imaginary constituent, whose problem he had failed to deal with, turning up at the gate of Leinster House looking to see him.
He gives a vivid account of the leadership turmoil in Fine Gael between 1987 and 1994, when the party entered Government and relative calm returned.
” Leader of the Opposition” is, in normal times, a virtually impossible job, and a type of contradiction in terms. The Opposition has little chance to “lead” on anything, and often allows itself to spend too much of its time reacting to government initiatives and to temporary media obsessions. Ivan Yates helped to buck that trend between 1987 and 1994 by producing excellent policy papers, of a quality and boldness far beyond the normal.
His description of his time in the 1994/97 Rainbow Coalition Government is mainly taken up with his work as Minister for Agriculture. There is little about general government business, the peace process, the battle against organised crime, or economic policy. This reminded me that in government most cabinet ministers spend 90% of their time immersed in their own Departments, and only 10% concerned with the rest of government business.
Ivan Yates, by virtue of background and personality, can turn his hand successfully to almost anything. He has been driven by goals for most of his life, but now he says that the most important thing in his life is his relationships. Thankfully, after all his adventures, he has the health, the wisdom, and the years ahead, to enjoy them to the full.