State struggled to entertain within budget

Sat, Dec 29, 2012, 00:00

CEREMONIAL:Official records suggest that enhancements taoiseach Charles Haughey suggested to “improve the ceremonial aspect” of a State dinner in Dublin Castle in 1982 were not a complete success.

The dinner in the State apartments in June was for the grand duke and grand duchess of Luxembourg.

A note on the file made afterwards by an official in the taoiseach’s department referred to the innovations Haughey had suggested. They included the use of an official toastmaster to announce guests’ names, a fanfare to be played to announce the arrival of the duke and duchess and background music during the meal.

Not successful

The toastmaster “was not successful”, the note said. He was “not familiar with the styles of many of the guests”, which resulted in delays and inaccuracies. The fanfare had been a success, but the background music, a string ensemble, “could not be heard throughout the hall”.

The dinner was one of 25 events that took place in the State apartments between the end of March and the beginning of December 1982, according to a file from the Department of the Taoiseach released as part of the 1982 State papers.

The functions included a meeting of “EEC air lawyers”, a James Joyce centenary celebration and “a reception for the Order of St Lazarus”.

A proposed reception to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Institute of Public Administration was cancelled because of “economic and financial circumstances”.

State dinners

Among the most prestigious events were State dinners for the president of India in May and for the grand duke and grand duchess of Luxembourg the following month.

A menu for the grand duke’s dinner, hosted by then president Patrick Hillery and his wife in St Patrick’s Hall, is included in the file. There was smoked salmon mousse to start, followed by “renaissance” roast beef and ice-cream souffle flavoured with Grand Marnier. The wines included Château Haut-Bages-Libéral 1973 – a well-regarded red Bordeaux – and Dom Pérignon champagne. The menu was written in French.

There was a meticulous seating plan for more than 300 guests including Haughey and other members of the government, church leaders, EEC representatives, members of the judiciary and senior academics.

There was also a list of media figures, “proposed by Frank Dunlop”, then the government press secretary, including Tim Pat Coogan of the Irish Press, Vincent Jennings of the Sunday Press, Michael Hand of the Sunday Independent and John Healy, an Irish Times columnist.

There is also a detailed drawing on the file of an aircraft and its environs, with arrows and markings showing where the president, taoiseach and other officials would stand to welcome the royal couple and in which direction they should walk.

‘ET’ premiere

Other events at the State apartments in 1982 included a Red Cross Society reception to be held after a “gala premiere” of sci-fi movie ET, for which 600 tickets had been bought. There were misgivings about approving it, documents show, as it would be “difficult to avoid the widespread implication that ticket holders were also buying entertainment in the State apartments”. It would also involve “considerable overtime for OPW staff”. But it went ahead on December 9th, and, according to a “thank you” letter also on file, was a great success.

A State reception in honour of the world showjumping championships in Ballsbridge also went ahead, even though budgets were tight. A handwritten note dated March 24th said the department had been allocated only £45,000 (€57,000) for entertainment, despite two State visits, the Anglo-Irish summit, a visit from the prime ministers of Lesotho and Portugal, and “receptions for Joyce and Henry Grattan”.