Monday 16 September 2019

State Papers 1988: FitzGerald and Bruton in war of words over plans to rescue Bewley's Cafe

  

Cafe society: Dr Garret FitzGerald and John Bruton with Fine Gael colleague Alan Dukes
Cafe society: Dr Garret FitzGerald and John Bruton with Fine Gael colleague Alan Dukes

A war of words erupted between Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald and finance minister John Bruton over a proposed Government-backed rescue package for Bewley's Cafe.

Newly released Cabinet documents from the 1988 State Archive revealed Mr Bruton angrily wrote to the Taoiseach warning that the manner in which the Bewley's rescue package was proposed threatened to undermine his statutory authority over State spending.

Dr FitzGerald, a keen fan of Bewley's, had proposed State support for a rescue package.

"Bewley's is part of the essential character and atmosphere of Dublin," Dr FitzGerald stressed.

The Taoiseach wanted the historic cafe saved, and felt it represented part of the cultural and tourism life of the capital.

However, the rescue packaged proposed was apparently outlined without detailed prior consultation with his Meath colleague.

On June 12, 1986, Mr Bruton wrote personally to the Taoiseach, expressing his alarm over the Bewley's proposal.

"I am concerned that my statutory role with regard to sanctioning expenditure should not be undermined as a result of the failure to consult my department before reaching decisions which may have implications for public expenditure," he wrote.

Mr Bruton said he was "particularly worried" by a number of such breaches.

"Apart from yourself, I am the minister most seriously disadvantaged by the anarchy caused by these breaches because of my legitimate interest in most issues which come before government."

Mr Bruton warned that the Department of Finance had to be consulted before any such announcements which could involve State funds.

He said this was imperative given the challenges facing State finances.

Further, he warned that Kylemore Bakeries had subsequently approached him on the basis that Government support for Bewley's would represent unfair competition.

He explained that Kylemore had themselves been considering purchasing Bewley's when potential Government aid became public.

The potential of State involvement had changed the entire dynamic of the situation.

A letter from Dr FitzGerald to Mr Bruton outlining what had happened with the proposed Bewley's rescue package was typed but marked "unsent" in the archive.

The letter acknowledged the importance of "adequate consultation with the Department of Finance being a prerequisite before implicit undertakings".

Irish Independent

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