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Late judge dished out complaints like 'snuff at a wake'

Published 30/12/2015

The late Brian Lenihan Sr
The late Brian Lenihan Sr

A late judge who pioneered Ireland's diplomatic relations with China dished out complaints about a perceived lack of VIP treatment like "snuff at a wake", State papers have revealed.

Dermot Kinlen, noted for his years on the High Court benches and later as inspector of prisons, wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Lenihan on July 30 1980 bemoaning that the Irish consul in Thailand was a Bangkok businessman.

"He had attended some course at Rosses College and has a medal for shooting against the British. It transpires that this was for clay pigeon shooting," he wrote.

"The Irish people whom I met on that occasion in Bangkok had little time for our Consul."

Mr Kinlen, who died in 2007, had been to China with former taoiseach Jack Lynch in May 1980 and expected a VIP level of service at the city's airport but none had been laid on.

Documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs at the time, but only released this year through the National Archives, revealed the Irish ambassador in New Delhi, Bernard McHugh, took the grievances with a pinch of salt.

"I think it is also wise to take complaints by Mr Kinlen with some caution," he said.

"In the case of his previous conducted tour to China, with ex-president (Cearbhall O Dalaigh) and Mrs (Mairin Bean) O Dalaigh in 1977, he operated a 'do-it-yourself' fashion and subsequently showered complaints around like snuff at a wake."

Among his complaints were trouble contacting the honorary consul, Thai businessman Plengsakdi Prakaspesat (Peter), as the party made their way to Hong Kong and that flights with Thai Airways had been cancelled.

"I was very worried and phoned our Consul on two occasions and only succeeded in speaking to his secretary," Mr Kinlen said.

The judge said a "Hall porter" had managed to confirm reservations before the consul's office got in touch.

Other complaints included that no-one spoke English at the airport VIP room, no-one knew of their arrival and that the Lynchs had been "deposited" at the main airport entrance.

"Surely, in this day and age, it should be possible to have a respectable Irish citizen as our Consul in Bangkok rather than a Thai politician and businessman who must inevitably on occasions find his interests conflicting," Mr Kinlen wrote.

The ambassador in New Delhi had an altogether different impression of the consul who he found "very courteous and helpful" and that the Lynchs were admirably looked after.

One of the issues that appeared to have sparked the strongly worded letter was an unanswered request by Mr Kinlen for photographs of the O Dalaigh visit for a book.

"These complaints are rather diffuse. Some are rather trivial and some obscure. However there remains a core of apparently not very satisfactory performance; such as lack of reply to request for the O Dalaigh photographs," Mr McHugh said.

Overall the response from the Department of Foreign Affairs was that there must have been a misunderstanding over VIP arrangements being laid on for trips involving Mr Kinlen.

Mr Kinlen's previous issues were said to have been sent to the chief of protocol in the Department of Foreign Affairs in June 1977.

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