Thursday 18 January 2018

Red faces as royal birth 'snubbed' by President

Fergus Black and Ralph Riegel

IRISH officials became embroiled in an embarrassing protocol gaffe after the President was advised "in error" not to send congratulations on the birth of a new royal baby.

The royal arrival at the centre of the controversy was Prince William, who now awaits the birth of his first child with his wife, Kate.

Official documents reveal how the Department of Foreign Affairs was blamed for a "failure" to point to important precedents for sending presidential messages of congratulations.

This had resulted in "most undesirable publicity" for President Patrick Hillery, with one newspaper accusing the president of having "snubbed" the royal baby – and later doing a diplomatic U-turn by sending a message.

A day after William's birth on June 21, 1982, the 'Evening Herald' claimed that the president had refused to send a message of congratulations to Princess Diana on the birth of her then-unnamed child. It quoted a "terse' statement from Aras an Uachtarain saying that "family events" not involving the head of state were "not normally the subject of messages from our head of State".

Within hours, the story had radically altered after the President sent a brief message to Queen Elizabeth.

"I am delighted to learn of the news of the birth of your grandson. I send my best wishes and those of the people of Ireland to you and to the Prince and Princess of Wales on this very happy occasion," it said. The message prompted a new banner headline – "Irish 'U' Turn On Royal Baby".

State papers just released by the National Archives reveal the background on how the embarrassing gaffe unfolded.

A memo from Foreign Affairs official DM Neligan the day after William's birth tells how he was contacted by the chief of protocol, who said the President's office had received a press query.

A journalist wanted to know whether the President intended to send a message to the British royal family.

He agreed with the chief of protocol that normal protocol rules would not require a message to be sent since the father was not a head of state.

"I said that it would be my view that, notwithstanding the unique relationship between our two countries, the president should perhaps follow the normal rules in this matter," said Mr Neligan.

But the Department of the Taoiseach got radically different advice and documents reveal that "contrary to the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs", the president should be advised to send a message of congratulations to Queen Elizabeth.

"It might be no harm to point out to the Department of Foreign Affairs that they were in error when they said that their files suggest that a message should not be sent."

Irish Independent

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