Haughey, Edward Enda (1944–2014), Baron Ballyedmond, businessman and politician, was born on 5 January 1944 in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, Co. Louth, the only son and youngest of three children of Edward Haughey, farmer and cattle dealer of Kilcurry, near Dundalk, Co. Louth, and his wife Rose (née Traynor.) His father, who had been prosecuted on both sides of the border for cattle smuggling and cattle rustling, had died the previous October. He was brought up at Kilcurry in modest circumstances, his mother instilling in him the importance of keeping up appearances. In 1954 she married a local farmer, James McGrath, whose shabbily genteel residence at Barleyfield became Edward’s new home. Successively attending Kilcurry national school and Dundalk Christian Brothers School, he was a bright student, good at science but easily bored. He left school without sitting his leaving certificate to become a shop assistant, first in Dundalk, then, after his parents moved across the border in 1960, in Newry, Co. Down. Emigrating to New York aged nineteen, he became a salesman for a pharmaceutical company, gaining promotion to manager. He left America in the late 1960s upon being called up for military service in Vietnam.
In 1969 he set up a one-man pharmaceutical operation, Biochemical Laboratories, based in Newry. To get the cash flowing, he stocked livestock drugs, penicillin for cows especially, the doses being larger and more frequent than with human medicine. He imported generic drugs produced on contract in the Netherlands, labelling them for sale out of his van to vets, chemists and (initially) farmers. The keen prices and prompt deliveries overcame misgivings within his main market, Northern Ireland’s 200-odd vets.
Obtaining a grant from the Local Enterprise Development Unit (LEDU), he rented part of a disused mill near Newry at Bessbrook and hired five workers for Northern Ireland’s first veterinary pharmaceutical manufacturing operation. From January 1971 he produced generic livestock drugs for the UK market under his company’s new name, Norbrook Laboratories, also doing contract manufacturing. Political violence was endemic in Northern Ireland, particularly in the ‘bandit country’ around Newry, but the state lavished incentives upon high-tech industries located in deprived, unsettled areas.
The firebomb that destroyed the Bessbrook factory in September 1971 abetted Norbrook’s re-equipping and relocation the next year to an LEDU factory in the Greenbank industrial estate, Newry. Coinciding with the introduction of tougher regulatory standards for pharmaceutical production, this enabled Norbrook’s modern plant to pick up contract work as rivals dropped out. Haughey’s tireless salesmanship drove Norbrook, but equally necessary traits were evident in his ‘strong tough face, a flat hint of pugilism in the nose and a bold gaze that meets the world head-on’ (Sunday Independent, 26 June 1994).
From 1972 he hired researchers to find a new use for an off-patent drug or to derive a technical benefit from altering its effect through reformulation or through combining it with other off-patent drugs. Such innovations were entitled to a degree of patent protection. He contracted out much of this product development and generally drew heavily on consultant vets and scientists, mostly those in Northern Ireland government and academia; state agencies also provided staff training as well as technical and marketing assistance. Due to his earlier habituation to the far more regulated US pharmaceutical market, he ensured that Norbrook assiduously tested the drug residue levels in treated livestock, dispatching samples to Queen's University Belfast’s (QUB) chemistry department for analysis.
In 1972 he married Mary Gordon Young, a Newry woman who built a successful solicitor’s practice in the town. Her presbyterian faith eased him into Northern Ireland’s largely protestant business community, though he never lost his southern accent. They had two sons and a daughter and lived first in a housing estate in Newry. By 1975 he was wealthy enough to have fourteen national hunt horses stabled beside his new residence, Carpenham, an 1830s mansion with formal gardens outside Rostrevor, Co. Down.
Realising that the pharmaceutical multinationals treated their veterinary drugs operations as an aside, Haughey solicited them for manufacturing work. Crucially, in 1974 Norbrook patented a pain-free antibiotic injection and sold the rights to one of the smaller multinationals, Philips Duphar, which in 1976 yielded to Haughey’s requests for the manufacturing contract. All the big players then began using Norbrook, helping to build its technical and regulatory know-how by overseeing quality control. In 1979 he opened a new main plant at Station Works, Newry.
Norbrook blossomed as a cost-efficient contract manufacturer flexible enough to handle product lines that were too small for the industry giants. Haughey thus forestalled the Irish Transport and General Workers Union’s (ITWGU) incipient recruitment drive within the Station Works plant by dismissing seven employees in early August 1981, citing commercial reasons. Some thirty employees, about a third of his workforce, picketed the premises under ITGWU auspices, obstructing workers and suppliers until Haughey secured a court injunction in late August prohibiting a full-scale picket. This bitter dispute lasted twenty-four weeks, but the restricted picket had little effect on operations; the ITGWU steered clear thereafter.
Such toughness impressed the Margaret Thatcher-led Conservative government, which in 1986 arranged for his OBE and appointment to the Northern Ireland Fire Authority and the Warrenpoint Harbour Authority. He also served as chairman of Northern Ireland’s Institute of Directors (1985–7), as a director of Belfast aircraft components manufacturer, Shorts Brothers (1989–2008), and on the Northern Ireland board of Norbrook’s lender, the Bank of Ireland (1986–99). On poor terms with the constitutional nationalist and, more pertinently, pro-trade union Social Democratic and Labour Party, he gravitated towards Northern Ireland’s unionist establishment, which welcomed him as a rare catholic sympathiser. Yet he clashed with those unionists on the Fire Authority who disrupted its sittings in protest at the 1985 Anglo–Irish Agreement.
Backed by grants from the Northern Ireland authorities and the EEC, his continuous reinvestment preserved Norbrook’s status as an efficient producer of commodity injectable antibiotics, defying predictions that Northern Ireland would prove an unsustainably high-wage base. During the mid-1980s Norbrook established an impressive 200-acre research farm (mainly for residue testing) on the Ballyedmond estate near Rostrevor while the Newry plant started making active ingredients through chemical synthesis, boosting profitability by manufacturing progressively more of these pharmaceutical raw materials.
By then he was hiring more graduates and postgraduates as well as some of the UK’s leading pharmaceutical experts. This allowed him to intensify Norbrook’s product development efforts, which focused on delivering long-release or pain-free anti-parasitic drugs in easy-to-administer forms. He excelled at identifying market niches and finding new uses for generics, typically by adapting human medicine for livestock. Enhanced own-brand drugs eventually comprised over half of Norbrook’s business.
As the firm expanded first into continental Europe (1970s), then to the world (1980s), he traversed the globe, selling mostly through partners but also establishing distribution operations if local circumstances warranted it. In 1987 a four-year campaign culminated with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certifying Norbrook to manufacture sterile injectables for the all-important American market; this endorsement was given to no other non-American company. Elsewhere, he tailored his products for countries that could not afford patented drugs. Breaking into Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in 1986, Norbrook’s provision of effective, low dosage drugs for livestock led the Ugandan prime minister, Samson Kisekka, to visit its Ballyedmond facilities twice. A similarly admiring Chilean government made Haughey its honorary counsel for Northern Ireland (1992) and the north of England (2008) and awarded him the Order of Bernardo O’Higgins (1995).
Norbrook gained critical mass by managing the increasingly complex regulations well, achieving as much manufacturing capability as possible and using joint ventures for product development. At Newry the Station Works facility was joined by plants at Armagh Road (1990) and Carnbane (2001); further afield a factory for supplying Africa was established in the tax-free export processing zone outside Nairobi, Kenya, in 1993. Haughey had some 500 employees in the mid-1990s.
No matter how big Norbrook became, he kept an iron grip, remaining on top of both the science and the commerce. He never owned less than eighty per cent of the company, usually being chairman and managing director. His domineering tendencies emerged in the over-elaborate security precautions taken for the purposes of protecting proprietary secrets. So too with his imposition of confidentiality clauses that barred departing employees from working in the industry for a time. He lost many able workers through his demanding, mercurial and dictatorial conduct. Senior executives and housekeepers, security guards and fellow members of public boards, all incurred his wrath, often over his obsession with presentation. In 1994 a Ballyedmond estate farmhand chased Haughey with a pitchfork, inflicting a cut.
Certainly, Haughey pushed his company, and the rules, hard. There was a serious production breakdown in 1997 and difficulties with the FDA in 1999 amid allegations of a contaminated product. He also engaged in legal skirmishes with residents and the local authorities over air and water pollution from his Newry plant. In his dealings with assorted Northern Ireland regulatory authorities, he barred officials from his premises, lengthily disputed technicalities and mounted obdurate legal resistance. Likewise, it took a UK Inland Revenue investigation in 1997 to moderate Norbrook’s tax laundering through its Dutch holding company and its (southern) Irish subsidiary, the latter being a small, grant-aided manufacturing facility established in the late 1980s in Monaghan town.
During the mid-1990s he contemplated transferring more operations to the Irish Republic, growing close to Taoiseach Albert Reynolds (qv), who arranged his appointment as chairman of the Irish Aviation Authority in 1993. He resigned in December 1994 when Reynolds, in one of his last acts as taoiseach, made him a senator. This elevation, and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s equally surprising decision to reappoint him for a final five-year term from 1997, was attributed to Haughey’s largesse. During 1998–9 he gave IR£25,000 to the Fianna Fáil party, by which time such donations had to be declared. He took the Fianna Fáil whip in the senate where his rare contributions championed the Northern Ireland peace process, blaming the unionists for its slow progress. A member of the oireachtas committee for foreign affairs, he was appointed to the forum for peace and reconciliation (1996) and to the British–Irish inter-parliamentary body (1997).
In the late 1990s Norbrook diversified into products for humans and for pets, successfully so in the case of the fast-growing US pet market, though livestock drugs remained its mainstay. Cherishing the lack of oversight and freedom to make snap decisions, he shrank from floating Norbrook on the stock market, relying consequently on organic growth instead of bounding forward through acquisitions. He presided from 2000 over a series of lucrative product launches, most notably that in 2009 of Closamectin Pour-On, which treated fluke in cattle. In 2014 the Norbrook Group recorded a £20.7 million sterling yearly profit on a £202 million sterling turnover and had over 1,700 employees at Newry with several hundred more worldwide. By then it had become one of the world’s ten dominating generic animal drug concerns.
Latterly drawing a £3.5 million sterling salary, he was ingenious in tapping Norbrook to fund his lifestyle, most impudently by combining the grant-aided establishment of the Ballyedmond research centre with the restoration of his residence there. In 2013 his personal wealth was put at £860 million sterling, making him the richest person in Northern Ireland. Long before that, he was indulging in luxury cars and amassing 1,000 gold cufflinks while sending his sons to Eton and his daughter to Wykeham Abbey. There was also a private jet and two helicopters, the better to facilitate his relentless travelling, which continued unabated after one of his helicopters crashed during a training flight in 1996, killing three pilots. The ensuing investigation found that the safety procedures for the helicopter, having evolved around Haughey’s busy schedule, departed from private aviation norms and the spirit of the regulations.
He accumulated four stately homes: Carpenham (mid-1970s) in Rostrevor; Ballyedmond Castle (1982), also in Rostrevor; Corby Castle (1994) in Cumbria, England; and Gillingham Hall (2005) in Norfolk, England; as well as Georgian town houses at 64 Fitzwilliam Square (1995), Dublin, and 9 Belgrave Square (2006), London. Carefully preserving each property’s historic character, he had them expensively restored and refurbished with antiques, fabrics, art, marble and silver, some newly commissioned. The predominant style was French rococo. He hired craftsmen to add classical murals and ornate plasterwork, the designs being a collage of old artworks, based on his wide reading.
All this grandeur was used to impress customers, business partners and politicians. He held dinner parties for corporate guests who would be flown in to one of his estates, then conveyed by horse-drawn carriage to shoots or outdoor operas. On such occasions, he revelled in showcasing his wealth, style and capacity for being a charming, witty host. Also owning land in Uganda, two islands in Lake Victoria, and a Scottish estate, he began building a Palladian-style mansion in Dungooley, Co. Louth, close to where he grew up, but this project was abandoned after a Real IRA bomb was discovered there in 2006.
In 2001 he gave £1.1 million to the British Conservative party, becoming one of its most important donors. Smaller yet cumulatively significant contributions followed at regular intervals, and he allowed party figures the free use of his helicopter. But his elevation in 2004 to the house of lords as a life peer, Baron Ballyedmond of Mourne, came on the nomination of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader, David Trimble. Haughey joined the UUP, despite having earlier condemned it for maintaining close links with the Orange Order. In 2007 he switched to the Conservatives. He made two speeches in the house: his peerage, like his senatorship, had more to do with his craving for status.
An inveterate money-maker, he chartered out his aircraft, ran the Ballyedmond research facility like a commercial farm and touted Corby castle for shooting parties – though in 2003 hundreds of pheasants were pecked to death at Corby after he had 3,500 of them placed in an enclosed pen. Donating generously to charities, churches, schools and universities, he set up Norbrook apprenticeship schemes in the Newry region and established a chair of pharmaceutical science (2008) and a scholarship (2011) in the University of Ulster (UU). He received various honorary awards from veterinary, scientific and business management institutions in the UK and Ireland as well as honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland (1997) and the UU (2008).
Although Norbrook lifted Newry out of a long economic slump, local attitudes towards Haughey were ambiguous, not least because of assorted public spats. These included his fencing-off of rights of way on his estates, a lawsuit against Rostrevor’s Gaelic Athletic Association club over dressing rooms built near Carpenham and his failed assertion of squatter’s rights over a site adjoining the Ballyedmond estate. At Corby he tried to increase the nominal rent for the village hall to £1,500 sterling a year, sued two locals who objected to his planning application, fenced off access to a riverbank, and waged a prolonged legal war with a neighbour over a minor disagreement. He was extraordinarily litigious, bent on having his way regardless of the cost.
Preoccupied on 13 March 2014 with overseeing renovations at Gillingham Hall, Norfolk, he failed to depart by helicopter in time to avoid the anticipated heavy fog, as his pilots warily desisted from rushing him. The helicopter took off in visibility poor enough to have grounded flights from licenced aerodromes, and crashed about half a kilometre away, killing all four people on board, Haughey included. Most likely the pilots, who were not trained for such conditions, became disoriented and pitched the helicopter downwards without realising it. The accident investigation noted similarities with the 1996 crash in terms of the unsatisfactory safety procedures being followed.
Haughey was buried in Kilcurry cemetery and left £339 million sterling in his will. His widow and children retained ownership of Norbrook while delegating its running to professional management.