herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Hillery's royal row

President slammed staff after being advised not to send congratulations to queen on birth of Prince William

DIPLOMATS were given a dressing down for wrongly advising President Patrick Hillery not to send a message to the queen on the birth of Prince William, State papers have revealed.

On June 22, 1982, the Herald ran a story claiming a government U-turn after first refusing to send a message of congratulations to the royals.

The bad publicity sparked a flurry of questions and inquiries to the Aras, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach's office on protocol for good wishes.

"It might be no harm to point out to the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] that they were in error when they said that their files suggest that a message should not be sent," a Mr HJ Dowd in the Taoiseach's office said.

He pointed to two precedents: November 15, 1948, when Sean T O Ceallaigh sent a note to George VI on the birth of Prince Charles and again on August 16, 1950, on the birth of Princess Anne.

President Hillery had been accused of initially snubbing the royal birth.

A memo from the Taoiseach's office to the government secretary two days after the story broke warned about the undesirable publicity.

"When this [precedent] was pointed out to the Department of Foreign Affairs, their reply was that 'they wouldn't go back as far as 1948 or 1950 for a precedent!'," it said.

"As you know, the failure of the Department of Foreign Affairs to advert to those precedents resulted in most undesirable publicity with banner headlines in at least one newspaper accusing the President of having 'snubbed' the royal baby and later of having 'made a U-turn' when, following independent advice to the Taoiseach from this Department [Mr Stokes], the Government should be advised to send a message."

The Herald's early edition carried the snub story, while notes on the government papers suggested pressure was mounting to have the story killed.

President Hillery's chief of protocol in the Aras sought advice. His own thinking was that a message was not necessary, as the happy father, Prince Charles, was not a head of state.

Foreign Affairs backed the advice, as did a Mr O hAnnrachain in the Taoiseach's office, who also said then Taoiseach Charles Haughey was not to be consulted.

Mr R Stokes in the Taoiseach's office stood out as one of few with common sense.

"I believe that a message of congratulations should be sent by the President to the queen on the birth of her grandson," Mr Stokes said.

"We have the precedent of the grand-duke of Luxembourg, to whom such a message was sent on the birth of grandson recently.

"Apart from precedent and what the file in Foreign Affairs may suggest, I think that the popular perception of what is required on this would dictate that a message should be sent -- not sending a message would be seen as hiding behind the niceties of protocol in order to be churlish.

"Taken in conjunction with recent events in Anglo-Irish relations, it would be seen as compounding the antipathy that is presumed to underlie our actions towards the British.

"An explanation would be no substitute for a warm and gracious message for this happy event on our neighbouring island."

The detail was in documents from files marked 2012/90/143.

hnews@herald.ie

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