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Charles Haughey's panic over Late Late invite to UK minister Tom King

By Adrian Rutherford

A proposed appearance by then Secretary of State Tom King on The Late Late Show caused alarm at the highest levels of the Irish government.

The Taoiseach personally intervened in the row over plans to invite Mr King to take part.

The Secretary of State was due to travel to Dublin for the Ireland versus England Five Nations rugby match on February 18, 1989.

He had accepted an invitation from RTE to appear on the Gay Bryne-fronted show the night before the game. However, the Irish government was deeply alarmed when it learned of the plan.

Taoiseach Charles Haughey feared a successful interview would enhance Mr King's reputation in "republican Ireland".

A confidential memo from Sir Nicholas Fenn, the British Ambassador to Dublin, urged Mr King to pull out.

"It would be counter-productive to insist on appearing on this programme against these sustained Irish objections," he wrote. "I hope therefore that Mr King will acquiesce."

The message also summarised how the visit to Dublin had turned into a major political row.

It said: "As we understood it, Gay Byrne's intention was to present a personal portrait of the Secretary of State rather than a political programme. It was not Mr King's intention to make waves."

Two days before the programme was due to be aired, Sir Nicholas briefed colleagues on the Irish government's position.

His memo read: "Mr King would be welcome to lunch with the Tanaiste and to be his guest at the England/Ireland rugby match.

"This fell into an established pattern which the Irish greatly welcomed.

"But on the other hand they did not see the benefit, but rather negative aspects, in the RTE programme.

"It would advertise in advance the fact that Mr King was in Dublin.

"It would be a departure from established tradition and was a distinct and voluntary act. (An official) used but then withdrew the word 'gratuitous'.

"If he comes, he will not come with our approval."

Sir Nicholas went on to comment: "This is clearly the hand of the Taoiseach. The specific reasons do not hold water.

"The Garda have told us that they see no security difficulty in the match following the programme, and RTE can handle the studio audience.

"Fidelity to an established pattern is not a reason.

"I suspect that the real reason is Mr Haughey's fear that a successful interview would enhance Mr King's reputation in republican Ireland."

Mr King appeared on another episode of The Late Late Show the following month, on March 10, 1989.

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