No allusion to Collins advised


A British Labour MP preparing to speak at the Irish Club's St Patrick's Day dinner in London in 1968 was advised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office not to mention Michael Collins in front of the then president, Eamon de Valera.

The Labour MP, Arthur Skeffington, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, had sought advice on the content of his speech and was informed in March 1968 that because the rights and wrongs of the Civil War "are still a matter of impassioned debate in the Irish Republic, and since Collins was on the side opposed to the present head of State, it might be preferable not to single him out for mention . . . a special reference to him might therefore be less than tactful." The previous year, the British embassy in Dublin sent a note to the then Foreign Secretary, George Brown, who was speaking at the same event, advising him that he should mention the weather and rugby, but he was to avoid references to Partition at all costs. Under the heading "Irish hospitality", it was suggested that he might wish to refer to his holiday near Kinsale in 1966, "and the ingenuity with which the Irish Tourist Board managed their weather on that occasion".

Under the heading "Sport", it was thought a good idea to congratulate the Irish on beating the Scots, while a word of commiseration for losing to the English at rugby "would probably be well received".

Enclosed in the note was a background briefing on Erskine Childers, who was then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and would be attending the dinner. Childers was described as a "glutton" for work. He possessed a "genuine enthusiasm for the task of the moment, is highly conscientious in making public appearances". However, he was not a popular figure in Ireland, the note said, "largely because of excess of zeal and a propensity for boring speeches".