State tried to use HQ of charity to breed racehorses
Published 31/12/2010 | 05:00
The Government asked if a famous castle gifted to the State to help the poor could instead be used to breed horses.
Officials also sought advice on whether Barretstown Castle, donated by tycoon Garfield Weston, could help plug a hole in the public finances.
The Co Kildare castle, formerly owned by cosmetics magnate Elizabeth Arden, is renowned as the home of a sick children's charity set up by Hollywood star Paul Newman.
Canadian Mr Weston handed over the castle to a trust -- under the auspices of the Commissioners of Public Works -- to be used in fighting poverty and promoting education in Ireland.
But state papers released under the 30-year rule show the Government asked if it could be used at a knock-down rent for the National Stud.
In a letter to a senior lawyer in November 1980, the chief state solicitor suggested: "Such an arrangement could, arguably, be said to foster the bloodstock industry, which, in itself, would be of benefit to the balance of payments."
But a barrister advised it was to be used for the "relief of poverty and the advancement of education".
"It would not be permissible to apply the income arising from the trust property to the relief of state expenditure nor for the relief of the central fund," he wrote.
Mr Weston formally handed over Barretstown Castle in March 1977.
Although he originally offered it as a permanent residence in 1975 for the Taoiseach for entertaining state visitors as well as Cabinet meetings, complications arose over its transfer under a trust set up in his name in the UK.
Then aged 78, he said in a letter that he and his family had a very long and happy association with Ireland while his son Galen -- who later owned department stores Brown Thomas and Selfridges in the UK -- married former Irish model Hilary Frayne, and had a home in Co Wicklow.
In the end an Irish charitable trust was established, with terms applied to the use of the castle and its 500-acre estate.
Built around a 12th-century castle Barretstown, was used for cabinet meetings and conferences before being rented to Mr Newman's Hole in the Wall camp for sick children in 1994.
Mr Weston ran a global food processing empire and made many philanthropic donations.