President in a quandary on the birth of William

Fri, Dec 28, 2012, 00:00

Confusion and embarrassment reigned when the late president Patrick Hillery, acting on government and official advice, gave two contradictory responses to the birth on June 21st, 1982 of Prince William to the Prince and Princess of Wales.

The recommendation from the Department of Foreign Affairs was that the president should not send congratulations, since Prince Charles was not a head of state, but this was countermanded within hours by a government decision.

The newly released file contains a photocopy of the front page from two editions of the Evening Herald of June 22nd, the first with a banner headline, “Hillery snub to royal baby” and the second, “Irish U-turn on royal baby”.

In the first report, a journalist quotes a “terse statement” from Áras an Uachtaráin: “Family events not involving the head of state are not normally the subject of messages from our head of State.”

The later version states that: “A Government spokesman would not comment on whether or not there had been Government intervention affecting the President’s original decision.”

The official record of a government meeting on June 22nd shows, under the heading “British Royal Family: Birth”, that the cabinet agreed on the sending of a message to Queen Elizabeth by president Hillery.

A note to the taoiseach before lunchtime from assistant secretary for information Richard Stokes says the Department of Foreign Affairs had advised that a “message of congratulation” would not be appropriate.

“I would strongly disagree with the Foreign Affairs advice on this,” Stokes writes.

“I believe that a message of congratulation should be sent by the President to the Queen on the birth of her grandson. We have the precedent of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg to whom such a message was sent on the birth of his grandson recently.

“ . . . 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.”

A separate note from an official in the Anglo-Irish division of Foreign Affairs said there had been a press query on the morning of June 22nd as to whether it was the president’s intention to send his congratulations to the British royal family.

The joint view of himself and the chief of protocol in the department was that “normal protocol rules would not require a message to be sent to the parents since the father is not a Head of State”.

The chief of protocol pointed out that the message to the Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg had been sent shortly after a state visit to Luxembourg “and did not, in consequence, constitute a precedent”.

A note from the deputy secretary to the government, HJ Dowd to Stokes, also dated June 22nd, urges him to point out to Foreign Affairs that there were “at least two precedents” for sending such messages. On November 15th, 1948, president Sean T O’Kelly had sent a message of congratulations to King George VI on the birth of his grandson, Prince Charles, and two years later, on August 16th, 1950, the president congratulated the king on the birth of his grand-daughter, Princess Anne.