Irish Embassy in Australia received threats over Queen Victoria statue

Embassy representatives said callers warned them to ‘stay away’ from unveiling in Sydney

The statue of Queen Victoria outside the Queen Victoria building in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The statue of Queen Victoria outside the Queen Victoria building in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

The Irish Embassy in Australia received “threatening and abusive phone calls” about the propriety of an Irish government giving a statue of Queen Victoria to the people of Sydney as a gift.

Details of the controversy were revealed in 1986 files from the National Archives, with a further record emerging in the 1987 papers.

The statue was part of a large monument designed by John Hughes and unveiled in 1908 by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, at Leinster House. It now stands outside the Queen Victoria building in Sydney.

The Australian embassy in Canberra wrote to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin on December 23rd 1987 with a report on the unveiling on December 20th.

First secretary Dermot Brangan wrote that he had delivered a speech and that Australian officials had thanked the Irish government “profusely” for the gift.

“In the days preceding the unveiling, you should be aware that the Embassy received a number of threatening and abusive phone calls about the propriety of an Irish government giving a statue of Victoria as a gift. The callers demanded to know the name of who was going to represent the Irish government at the ceremony and to warn him/her to stay away,” he wrote.

Brangan said he also understood a call had been made to the Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph “from someone claiming to represent the Irish Defence Force – a group unknown to the Embassy or indeed the police, warning the people of Sydney to stay away from the unveiling ceremony, threatening to bomb the statue and to picket the ceremony”.

“The caller is also reported to have issued a threat against the unnamed Irish govt. representative.”

Brangan said the Embassy was also made aware of the threats by the Sydney special branch, who “happened to be in Canberra re security for Taoiseach’s visit”.

“I myself was escorted during my stay in Sydney on the 20th December by members of that force.”

The Embassy official reported that the weather in Sydney on the morning of the unveiling was “most inclement with very heavy rain falling”.

Victoria’s statue remained at Leinster House after the building became the home of the Dáil and Seanad in 1922, and it stayed there until 1948 despite occasional protests from some TDs who disliked the presence of the British royal.

In 1946, pressure for the removal of the statue built up on the basis that the space was needed for car parking. But it was not until 1948 that Victoria was taken down and sent to the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham.

When restoration works began there, the statue was moved again to Daingean in Co Offaly where it was kept in storage.

In June 1986, the Irish Ambassador to Australia, Joseph Small, received a request from the office of the lord mayor of Sydney asking if it would be possible to send the statue to Australia on loan.

A government decision to transport the massive bronze piece to Australia was vigorously opposed by the then minister for finance John Bruton and the director of the National Museum of Ireland John Teahan, but was backed by then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald.