THE DEPARTMENT OF Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach’s office became embroiled in a row over whether or not to send a message of congratulations to the British Royal Family on the birth of Prince William of Wales in June 1982, State Papers have revealed.
A memo sent from assistant secretary Richard Stokes to Charles Haughey outlines advice given by the Chief of Protocol, who said it would not be appropriate for a message to be sent as Prince Charles and Princess Diana were not Heads of State.
The Chief of Protocol had been asked for his advice following a press query by a journalist to the President’s office.
Stokes told the Taoiseach he “would strongly disagree with the Foreign Affairs advice on this”.
“I believe that a message of congratulations should be sent by the President to the Queen on the birth of her grandson,” he continued.
He also provided an example of precedent for such a message – a similar note of congratulations to the Grand-Duke of Luxembourg in the recent past.
Apart from the precedent and what the file in Foreign Affairs may suggest, I think that the popular perception of what is required on this would dictate that a message should be sent – not sending a message would be seen as hiding behind the niceties of protocol in order to be churlish. Taken in conjunction with recent events in Anglo-Irish relations it would be seen as compounding the antipathy that is presumed to underlie our actions towards the British.
The Department of Foreign Affairs explained away the example, stating the message to Luxembourg came shortly after a State visit and so did not constitute a precedent. The Chief of Protocol also highlighted the fact that the President and his wife did not attend the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
However, Stokes believed “an explanation will be no substitute for a warm and gracious message for this happy event on our neighbouring island”. He added in parenthesis that he did not “have time to consult with other viewpoints in the Department as we must respond to this by lunch-time”.
Another document from HJ Dowd, an official in the Department of the Taoiseach, shows that he was in agreement with Stokes. He also said it would be of “no harm” to tell the Foreign Affairs Department that “they were in error when they said that their files suggest that a message should not be sent.”
He points to two further precedents for sending such a message. On the 15 November 1948, President Seán T Ó Ceallaigh sent his wishes to King George VI on the birth of a son (now the Prince of Wales) to Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen). On the 16 August 1950, he sent a similar message to King George on the birth of his grand-daughter Princess Ann.
A note made out on the 22 June shows that the Government then scrambled to reach an agreement that the President should send a message of congratulations. The draft was cleared with the Chief of Protocol at 12.50pm.
However, it was not enough to fend off the evening papers, which ran a story about Ireland’s “snub” of the royal baby.
President Hillery eventually sent the following message to Queen Elizabeth II:
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.
But the fallout from the mixup continued to garner negative press for the Government, with one evening headline reading, “Irish ‘U’ Turn on Royal Baby”.
And the Taoiseach’s department was not happy about it.
A letter to the Secretary to the Government reads:
I understand from Mr Stokes that, when this was pointed out to the Department of Foreign Affairs, their reply was that “they wouldn’t go back as far as 1948 or 1950 for a precedent”!
As you know, the failure of the Department of Foreign Affairs to advert to those precedents resulted in most undesirable publicity with banner headlines in at least one newspaper accusing the President of having “snubbed” the Royal baby and later of having “made a U-turn” when, following independent advice to the Taoiseach from this Department (Mr Stokes), the Government agreed that the President should be advised to send a message.
Thirty years on, Prince William and his wife the Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their first child. Bookmakers have already opened betting on whether it will be a boy or a girl, what colour hair it will have and what its parents will name it. Reports from 1982 show that William Hill got it totally wrong on the birth of William, making George even-money favourite, followed by James, Charles, Edward, David, Philliop and Louis.
However the Evening Herald did describe William’s mother as “the unpredictable Diana”.
See the National Archives, reference 2012/90/488