Belfast Telegraph

Back room blunder delayed EU entry

Ireland's historic entry into the European Union was delayed half an hour - and technically remains open to question - because of a back room blunder, secret files suggest.

In a flurry of furious correspondence, Government departments blamed each other for the embarrassing procedural gaffe which was said to have caused "no little trouble".

Confidential files show then President Eamon De Valera had to stall signing off on Ireland's entry into the EEC, as it was then, in the last days of 1972 because of problems with the official papers.

The documents - known as the Instruments of Ratification of the Treaty of Accession to the EEC - were the final hurdle in joining the community.

They were to be rubber-stamped in front of the world's media by President De Valera, with then Taoiseach Jack Lynch by his side, at a ceremony at Aras an Uachtarain at 12:30pm on December 13 that year.

But two blips - one deemed to be "important" - meant the historic documents had to be rewritten at the last minute, holding up the signing over to Brussels and calling into question the procedural legitimacy of the accession, the files reveal.

According to newly-declassified government files, the papers were drawn up in a manner "repugnant to the Constitution" and needed to be re-written.

An internal memo in the Taoiseach's department fumes that the international agreement only arrived at the office five minutes before the publicised signing ceremony.

"This meant, in fact, that there was not sufficient time in the ordinary course for the instruments to be sealed in the Aras and the ceremony did not get under way until 1pm," it states.

Furthermore, the Department of Foreign Affairs did not follow proper protocol in the issuing of the papers, the Taoiseach's office complained.

The President needs to be given at least one week to carry out any action - such as signing off on a law or international agreement - under Cabinet rules from the time, the files state.

In this case, only two days lapsed between the Cabinet rubber-stamping the ratification and the public signing of the papers by President De Valera.

"There was an obvious breach by them," an official states.

"In this case it could well be held the procedure for signing and ratifying the Instruments of Accession and Ratification to EEC was not established."

In a stern letter from the Taoiseach's secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs, he bristles that the affair caused considerable problems and could have "seriously embarrassed" the President and the Taoiseach.

To make matter worse a "semi-official" response from the Foreign Affairs legal adviser about protocols "in no way apologises for the inconvenience caused," the missive complains.

More than a month later - after Ireland was warmly welcomed into the EEC - frosty relations continued between the departments over the procedural fall-out.

On Janaury 29 1973, an internal memo sniffs that the Department of Foreign Affairs response to the row was "a little impertinent"

But it goes on to say that rather than each side selectively quoting from protocols, the logic was that if the documents were delivered on time there would be no problems.

The Taoiseach's secretary is advised to write to his counterpart in the Department of Foreign Affairs about the affair rather than get into a "slanging match" with the legal adviser.

In the event a letter is drafted complaining about the breach of protocol which caused the Taoiseach's office "no little trouble or embarrassment."

The correspondence was in a file, just released into the National Archives, on breaches of Cabinet procedures.

In a separate tetchy exchange from January 1978, the Taoiseach's secretary starts a letter to the Department of Education complaining about a "tendency" to get the minister to bring up matters at Cabinet meetings without prior notice.

In his reply, the Education Minister's secretary explains his month-long delay in responding as a result of having to have "cooled off somewhat from my reaction to its first paragraph."

The two line retort ends curtly: "At this stage I would wish to say simply that we do not consider that this department suffers from the tendency to which you refer and does not expect to develop it."

In a follow up investigation the next year, an official in the Taoiseach's department deduces there have been 19 breaches in 40 memoranda from the Department of Education within two years.

But the official states that record "isn't too bad by comparison with other departments".

From Belfast Telegraph