Thursday 19 September 2019

State Papers 1988: Haughey rolls out the red carpet for President Mitterand's State visit

 

Costly: Then-French president Francois Mitterand with Charles, Maureen and other members of the Haughey family on Inishvickillane. Photo: The Blasket Centre
Costly: Then-French president Francois Mitterand with Charles, Maureen and other members of the Haughey family on Inishvickillane. Photo: The Blasket Centre

The Government flouted cost-cutting recommendations for the State visit of France's president Francois Mitterand, a long-time idol of Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

Newly released papers from the 1988 State Archive show that three times as much was spent on the French State visit as that for Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The documents also reveal Mr Haughey was adamant that President Mitterand visit his Abbeville home for the presentation of a special gift, a Louis le Brocquy painting.

Despite a 1987 request that spending on entertainment and State visits be reduced by 21pc, lavish spending was sanctioned for the French visit.

The Department of Foreign Affairs spent IR£5,147 on a State dinner in honour of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah.

In contrast, the visit of President Mitterand saw IR£15,809 spent on a State dinner hosted at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham by President Patrick Hillery and Mr Haughey.

A lunch in honour of the French president cost IR£4,324 - with IR£187 spent on flowers alone.

The Department of the Taoiseach was closely consulted on the menu and wines to be offered to the French party.

One memo queried whether the "best of a bad lot" in terms of a Sancerre wine would suffice?

"While it (B&G Sancerre) would cost about IR£10.50 per bottle, the quality is only worth about IR£5 per bottle. He regards it as the best of a bad lot and would not recommend it for such a visit," the note added.

"He feels that the Chateau de Tracy is far superior even though the Irish links are tenuous."

Mr Haughey was personally consulted on the State dinner menu and settled on smoked salmon, onion soup, fillet of beef en croute, seasonal vegetables, an Irish cheeseboard and fresh strawberries.

The wines on offer included a 1986 Chateau de Tracy, a 1970 Chateau Leoville-Barton, a 1982 Chateau Kirwan and Pommery Champagne.

Gifts under consideration for president Mitterand included a IR£567 Waterford Glass fruit bowl, IR£482 lamp or IR£360 Waterford Glass centre bowl.

The lavish spending flouted a February 3, 1987, directive about slashing State expenditure, given the financial crisis facing the public Exchequer.

"The Government has reduced the 1987 allocation for State entertainment to 21pc below the 1986 outturn. To achieve this reduction it will be necessary to reduce as and from February 1, 1987 existing approved per capita limits by at least 10pc and to effect a similar size reduction in both the number of occasions of entertainment," a memo said.

Irish Independent

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