State Papers

Prince Charles abandoned Republic visit amid safety concerns

The trip was scheduled a year after the Prince of Wales's first official visit to the Republic in 1995. Picture by RTÉ
Ryan Hooper, PA

BRITAIN'S Prince Charles abandoned a proposed visit to the Republic in the summer of 1996 amid concerns about his personal safety, previously classified documents show.

Aides originally planned for the Prince of Wales to undertake a three-day official visit from June 29, just as early talks laying the way for the Good Friday Agreement got under way in earnest at Stormont.

But secret arrangements for the "low-key" visit were scuppered when officials either side of the Irish Sea voiced concerns.

A letter from Foreign Office diplomat Dominick Chilcott to No 10 private secretary John Holmes revealed how Irish authorities had "expressed concern about the risks which his royal highness would face" if the visit went ahead without a ceasefire in place, amid renewed tensions between the IRA and unionists.

The document, released by The National Archives at Kew, also signalled a possible diplomatic faux pas if the prince used the Royal Yacht Britannia during the visit - a totem which would "be unwelcome to parts of the population", it said.

The letter said: "We share Irish concerns about security. And the benefits which this visit might bring are limited.

"The timing, on the eve of the Irish presidency, is not ideal from the Irish point of view.

"The risks now seem to outweigh any benefits."

It added: "Since there has been no publicity, postponement of the visit now would reduce the risk of being seen to concede to terrorist threats."

John Major, Britain's prime minister at the time, indicated he was content for the visit to be postponed.

The trip was scheduled a year after the Prince of Wales's maiden official visit to the Republic in 1995, which was heralded a success despite some protests from republicans, including those who threw eggs towards the heir to the throne during a walkabout in Dublin.

The visit was deemed so successful that Mr Major subsequently wrote to then-taoiseach John Bruton, thanking them for inviting the prince.

"For you and your government to invite him, and to go out of your way to ensure the success of the visit, was a typically bold step, and you were proved absolutely right," Mr Major wrote.

"You caught the spirit of the times."

Veronica Sutherland, the British ambassador in Dublin, also gave a glowing endorsement of the visit.

"It takes brilliance to out-charm the Irish," she wrote. "The Prince of Wales did just that."

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State Papers