Belfast Telegraph

Confusion over 1983 Mugabe banquet

A State banquet for Zimbabwean prime minister Robert Mugabe was less than stately after Garret FitzGerald took too long to hand-pick the wine and 30 unaccounted-for guests turned up.

Plans for the September 1983 visit and a lavish dinner in Dublin Castle had been going for weeks but the Taoiseach of the day annoyed his civil servants by leaving a few key decisions to the last minute.

Not only was the table plan for the Dublin Castle dinner incomplete but Mr FitzGerald spent too much time consulting with his wife Joan on the wine list.

Amid the fallout, State papers released under the 30 year rule show other blunders were spotted - foreign affairs had been sending letters for the SDLP's John Hume, including an invite to lunch with then US vice-president George Bush, to the wrong John Hume.

Following that, Department Foreign Affairs officials and senior civil servants in the Department of the Taoiseach held a series of meetings to prevent a repeat "foul-ups".

The notes suggest that a delay in getting the final wine list signed off by the Taoiseach and delayed RSVPs from guests led to problems getting menus translated for the Mugabe party.

"A complication arose on the Mugabe dinner because, in a departure from previous procedure, the Taoiseach decided that he and Mrs FitzGerald would choose the wines. This meant that wine lists had to be obtained quickly and further delayed the printing of the menus," an official said.

"I don't know if the Taoiseach is aware of the procedure for printing etc of menus and the difficulty in getting the draft list of proper titles and addresses of the guests, but it is much too late in the day when the draft is released by him."

The Taoiseach's office refused to take the hit for the less than proficient organisation insisting that 90% of the guest list had been with Foreign Affairs the day before the banquet.

"This is normal and for many occasions better than normal," an official in the Taoiseach's office said.

A letter from the Taoiseach's office to the protocol division of foreign affairs asking for menu translations two days before the dinner, tells its own story.

"Everybody is screaming pressure of work I know but I have to go to print before lunch if possible. I will have a messenger on standby when the stuff is ready," the official said.

Despite the hiccups there was some praise for forward thinking in one Government department as the Department of Foreign Affairs had asked for a table layout for more 150 guests - enough to accommodate unexpected arrivals.

"Otherwise these (30) extra guests would not have been seated. In the circumstances, confusion was inevitable," the protocol note says.


From Belfast Telegraph