Northern Ireland news

State papers: Royal greeting to President Mary Robinson rejected by NIO in 1995

President Mary Robinson at Coalisland Heritage Centre in Co. Tyrone in 1993
Éamon Phoenix

A PROPOSAL by a senior NIO official that the British monarch might mark the ending of violence in Northern Ireland after the 1994 ceasefires by sending a cordial message to President Mary Robinson on St Patrick's Day was rejected on grounds of unionist sensitivity.

The issue was raised on March 1, 1995 when Donald Lamont, an official in the Republic of Ireland section of the NIO, suggested to a colleague that such greetings from Queen Elizabeth II to foreign heads of state was the norm.

"As you know, I intend to recommend that the queen this year diverts from practice whereby she has sent no message of congratulations to the Irish President on the Republic's national day."

He gathered that "the reason for this omission, unique among members of the European Union", lay "more with Irish reservations about dealing with the royal family than with any reservations on our part".

In Lamont's view, if the message was sent and politely received, it would be "a gain for us, not a concession".

The message agreed for global use by the queen ran: "On the occasion of your national day, I have much pleasure in sending you and the people of [name of country] my congratulations. Elizabeth R."

Lamont said two questions arose, first how they would deal with "the name of President Robinson's country".

He wondered whether the use of the term "Republic of Ireland" would be regarded as "point-scoring" and, alternatively, whether the term "the people of Ireland" would be "seen in Northern Ireland as too ambiguous".

The official felt it better to adopt some formulation such as "you and your people".

Secondly, in light of the ceasefires, he wondered if some efforts to improve "the climate of relations between Britain and Ireland should be appropriate".

He suggested a sentence from Queen Elizabeth, stating: "I believe that our two countries have led the foundations of a new beginning in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland and I send you my warmest good wishes for the future."

His suggestion was supported by the NIO permanent under-secretary Sir John Chilcot, although he felt the country "should be properly described as the Republic of Ireland", because "people of Ireland" was too broad and "seen as heavily biased to the notion of a united Ireland".

The proposal drew a hostile response from Chris Maccabe of the NIO Political Affairs Division, saying a message from the queen to President Robinson would be "a gain", but "I doubt if many unionists would see it that way".

In a memo on March 6 1995, secretary of state Sir Patrick Mayhew wrote "it was less sore-making to maintain the practice of silence" towards the president.

 

Mary Robinson Campaigning for the Presidency of Ireland at Methodist College and Queens University in 1990

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