independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Diplomats erred over royal baby

Patrick Hillery was advised not to send a message of congratulations following the birth of Prince William

Foreign affairs diplomats were given a dressing down for wrongly advising President Patrick Hillery not to send a message to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on the birth of Prince William, state papers have revealed.

On June 22 1982 the Evening 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," said a Mr HJ Dowd in the Taoiseach's office.

He pointed to two precedents: November 15 1948 when Sean T O Ceallaigh sent a note to King 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.

Press Association

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