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Irish flags, vodka and a Che Guevara stamp: Gifts given and received by Varadkar and Coveney in 2019

Books, hampers and historical gifts are often given to heads of state.

1 An Post Che Source: An Post/RollingNews.ie

IT’S CUSTOMARY FOR heads of state to exchange gifts when one leader visits another.

Presents given by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and other members of the Cabinet are usually made in Ireland and representative of Irish culture or history. Irish flags, books and Bord Bia food hampers are regularly gifted to leaders of other countries.

This year, documents released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show that Varadkar was particularly fond of giving out Irish flags and silver coins made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in Ireland (2018).

flags Source: Department of the Taoiseach

During his visit to the US to mark St Patrick’s Day in March of this year, the Taoiseach gave President Donald Trump the customary shamrock bowl (worth €300), as well as gifting Trump, his wife Melania and his youngest son Barron with brown tweed flat caps worth €13.53 each.

us visit Source: Department of the Taoiseach

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the country’s top Democrat, received a gift worth €535.05 for the US House of representatives: a print of the historic 1938 vellum scroll which was presented to Ireland when the 1937 Constitution was enacted.

When Trump visited Ireland in June, the Taoiseach gave him a framed historic map of the landscape of Doonbeg in Co Clare, where the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel is located, worth €205.35.

This is not the first time Varadkar has gifted Trump with something golf-related.

coins Source: Department of the Taoiseach

Trump also received a book about the Wild Atlantic Way worth €15 and Melania was given a Children of Lir brooch worth €123.75.

When US Vice President Mike Pence visited Ireland in September, he was given a framed Copy of the Irish Army Census Record of his grandfather (worth €95) while other members of his family received a tablecloth, a brooch and a framed picture.

pence Source: Department of the Taoiseach

President of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez was gifted a framed commemorative stamp of Che Guevara (no cost) when he came to Ireland in October. The stamp, which features the famous artwork of Guevara by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, was released by An Post in 2017 to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the controversial revolutionary.

Under section 15 of the Ethics in Public Office Act (1995) gifts presented to office holders valued in excess of €650 are deemed to be gifts to the State and must be recorded accordingly following valuation through the Office of Public Works.

The Taoiseach did not receive any gifts worth more than €650 this year.

Seamus Heaney books 

Coveney, who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, preferred one gift above all others in 2019: 100 Poems by Seamus Heaney. Of the 18 foreign dignitaries and ministers he gave gifts to from January to November, 10 received this book (which retails at €10-15). 

Instead of the book, Coveney gave Pence a chess set while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was given cufflinks.

Commenting on the gifts, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “It is standard practice to exchange modest gifts between ministers and visiting dignitaries during ministerial and other high level visits.

“Gifts presented by ministers of the department are sourced in Ireland or are of Irish interest and are purchased on a basis of the most economically advantageous cost savings arrangements, value for money and high-quality products.

The nature of the gift is given particular care to ensure that it respects the culture and relevant requirements of the recipient. The exchange of gifts provides a platform to promote Irish craftsmanship and goods internationally and helps to strengthen the economic and cultural links between the countries involved.

The Tánaiste also did not receive any gifts worth more than €650 this year. However, his department did keep a record of the gifts he was given. These presents included: 

  • A bottle of vodka and assorted toiletries from the Russian-Ireland Parliamentary Friendship Group 
  • Four bottles of Georgian wine (two for St Patrick’s Day and two for Easter) from His Excellency George Zurabashvili, Ambassador of the Republic of Georgia 
  • A box of Ferrero chocolates and Easter eggs from a representative of Ferrero UK & Ireland 

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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