Sunday 20 April 2014

Blunders and mix-ups at Mugabe visit

Political visits

Robert Mugabe, prime minister of Zimbabwe, and Taoiseach Garrett FitzGerald in Dublin Castle.

A STATE banquet for Zimbabwean Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was less than stately after Garret FitzGerald took too long to hand-pick the wine and 30 unaccounted-for guests turned up.

Plans for the September 1983 visit and a lavish dinner in Dublin Castle had been in train for weeks, but the Taoiseach of the day annoyed his civil servants by leaving a few key decisions to the last minute.

Not only was the table plan for the Dublin Castle dinner incomplete, but Mr FitzGerald spent too much time consulting with his wife Joan on the wine list.

Amid the fallout, state papers released under the 30-year rule show other blunders -- foreign affairs had been sending letters for the SDLP's John Hume, including an invite to lunch with then US vice-president George Bush, to the wrong John Hume.

The papers also show security tensions in Dublin ahead of Mugabe's visit.

A Department of Foreign Affairs memo stated: "For several years, there has been a threat to Mugabe, from those, both inside and outside Zimbabwe, who oppose his policies and leadership. It still exists.

"The Mugabe visit requires additional security precautions.

"The implications of any 'unfortunate event' for Ireland's reputation do not, I think, need to be spelled out."

In the event, Mugabe's three-day official visit to Ireland was completed without incident.

Irish Independent

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