Former taoiseach reluctant to queue for Reagan meeting

Sat, Dec 31, 2011, 00:00

US VISIT:FORMER TAOISEACH Charles Haughey insisted he would not be joining any queue to meet US president Ronald Reagan after his inauguration.

State files reveal a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity to arrange a visit by Haughey to Washington in 1981, which in the end never happened.

The Irish Embassy reported back to Dublin that a number of world leaders including the Israeli, Egyptian, British, German, Japanese and Canadian premiers were lining up to meet the 40th US president, after he was sworn in in January that year.

When approached about an Irish visit, the White House wanted to know its purpose.

Papers show Haughey replied that he had a “reasonable interest” but insisted that he “doesn’t want to be in any queue” to meet Reagan.

Haughey had a number of invites to St Patrick’s Day events in the US that year but would not go unless there was a face-to-face meeting with Reagan or, alternatively, if he could address the United Nations in New York.

Approaches were made on both fronts and a speech at the UN was ruled out.

While a meeting with the UN secretary general was on the cards – an official said this was nearly always possible – it was deemed not high-profile enough for what the taoiseach had in mind.

Diplomatic contact continued with the White House about a potential meeting with Reagan.

In one missive back to Dublin, an Irish official reported that the president had seen a cutting, probably from the Irish Examiner, tracing Reagan’s family tree to Ireland.

A copy was ordered and a government spokesman at home, who had said in a news report that he could trace the president’s Irish roots, was asked to do so for possible use as a surprise gift should the taoiseach’s visit to the US go ahead.

Talks were taking place in the background about Haughey possibly presenting the traditional bowl of shamrock to Reagan on St Patrick’s Day, as a way of getting a face-to-face encounter.

In February, the state department in Washington said the president was “in principle willing to receive the taoiseach” on March 17th.

But the US officials said their final response to the request remained uncertain and under consideration.

The possibility that Egyptian president Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat – who was assassinated later that year – would be in Washington around the same time was blamed for the uncertainty.

In the end, Haughey did not go to the US.