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The Cabinet Papers Not in Ireland, you can’t

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

Rows and inquiries about the types of contraceptives banned in Ireland in 1968 take up a whole file from the taoiseach’s office in the documents released by the National Archives office.

Most names have been removed from documents, which include complaints about the pill being seized from a UCD student by an allegedly rude customs officer at Dublin Airport and an inquiry by a woman preparing to move to Cork.

"Is it possible to get contraceptives in Ireland, what kind are available, is pill available??? I am not a Catholic," she wrote.

Problems arose because limited quantities of some brands of the pill could be imported for purposes other than birth control.

Ancient art flap

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The removal to Dublin of a number of ancient monuments from sites around the country for a major international exhibition of modern art in 1968 caused uproar and left former Taoiseach Charles Haughey in the hot seat.

Haughey, then minister for finance, was president of the ROSC art exhibition, which wanted the monuments moved, but had also appointed the National Monuments Advisory Council, which opposed the plan.

The ROSC exhibition at the RDS consisted of 150 modern paintings and the monuments were to be included to show the development of art down the ages.

NMAC chairman arch’ology professor Michael Kelly appealed to Taoiseach Jack Lynch and President Eamon de Valera for support in condemning the plan.

The Royal Society of Antiquaries and the Cork Historical and Arch’ological Society also came out against it.

The monuments included the Moon Cross from Kildare, the Turoe Stone from Galway, the spiral decorated entrance stone from Newgrange, the crescent carved stone from Knowth and two monuments from Clonmacnoise.

The move the monuments to Dublin would place them at "grave risk" Prof. Kelly said.

The use of the mainly religious monuments was a "gimmick" to support a selection of "profane paintings none of which is more than 4 years old and none of which has been painted by an Irishman."

Laois-Offaly TD Oliver Flanagan was outraged by the plan to move the Clonmacnoise monuments, describing it "daft and deplorable" and "insane and unsound."

"If St. Kieran wanted his monastery to go to Ballsbridge. he would have built it there in the first instance," Flanagan said.

Your choice is black

You can only have black," was the reply to External Affairs Minister Frank Aiken when he sought a new blue Mercedes in 1969, previously unpublished government memos reveal.

The Department of Justice was responsible for the fleet of state cars and the policy was to supply exclusively black cars — colored cars created the "wrong image."

"Black is regarded as the formal color and ministerial cars have frequently to be used on formal occasions," the Justice Department said.

The department pointed out that this followed international practice and assisted with the interchanging of cars in the fleet.

Take this car and . . .

Angry Ceann Comhairle Paddy Hogan turned down the offer of a secondhand ministerial Mercedes with 57,000 miles on clock in 1968 as "an offensive suggestion."

Two Vauxhall Viscount state cars had failed him and he claimed he had been promised an official Mercedes from an advance consignment of six new ones being delivered.

When offered the discarded ministerial Mercedes of Dr. Paddy Hillery, he wrote to Taoiseach Jack Lynch.

It "constituted an act of gross disrespect to the rights and dignity of Dail Eireann as expressed toward the Chairman of Dail Eireann, who is their custodian and I emphatically repudiate the offensive suggestion."

A confidential memo to Lynch from Justice Secretary Peter Berry said the Ceann Comhairle in past years was "very much on the alert when new cars were being allocated and attempted to establish a priority for himself."

"On one occasion he presented himself at Garda headquarters and demand a new car from the commissioner after he had been refused by the Minister Mr. Haughey."

Try it here, lads

A plan to move the Dail to the Hill of Tara in County Meath was put to the government by a wealthy American in 1968 as part of a scheme to "cement the Irish race" around the world.

Florida-based William O’Donnell lodged $5,000 in a bank in Dublin to kick-start the project, which, he said, could financed by the Irish diaspora.

"While I give thousands, others of Irish blood the world over will give millions," he told Taoiseach Jack Lynch, according to previously unpublished documents.

Tara’s hall, the seat of the ancient kings, would be rebuilt and a university would be established with "dark-robed monks [Catholic] inhabiting its halls."

The parliament chamber for Ulster would remain vacant until "the voluntary return of our absent countrymen of the North."

The taoiseach told O’Donnell he considered the proposal with "care and interest" but regretted it was not practicable.

"It may be that, if you would be prepared to donate the money for some other worthy purpose, this could be arranged," Lynch added.

Asgard still afloat

Plans to "mothball" the gun-running yacht Asgard and preserve it on dry land were abandoned by Finance Minister Charles Haughey in 1968 after conservation methods were found to be hugely expensive.

The proposal to withdraw the Asgard from sail training and turn it into a museum-piece also led to strong protests at the time.

Haughey decided it should be kept afloat and "sailed for as long as possible."

(Last year [1998], the Government agreed to meet half the cost of restoring the Asgard, which has been laid up in Kilmainham Jail Museum for 10 years.)

The Norwegian-built ketch was owned by the father of former President Erskine Childers and used to run guns into Howth for the Irish Volunteers in 1914.

I want my RTE

A last-ditch effort was made in 1967 to protect RTE’s advertising revenue and scrap plans for the country’s first major piped TV system to rebroadcast British stations in Ballymun.

A previously secret memo from the Posts and Telegraphs Minister Erskine Childers makes a plea to government colleagues to do a U-turn on the 1966 decision to install the service.

The proposal involving setting up 34 communal ‘rials to serve 3,021 new high-rise apartment buildings in Ballymun and shared ‘rials for the other 452 houses in the scheme.

At this time in Britain about a million out of 14 million TV subscribers already had piped TV.

If Ballymun goes ahead, the memo states, it wouldn’t be possible to resist growing pressure for large communal ‘rials or piped TV in other areas.

"The widespread relaying of BBC and ITV programs could reduce RTE’s advertising revenue by up to £200,000 per annum or the equivalent of an increase of 12s.6d. in the TV license," the memo said.

"RTE is still in the development stage and this is not, therefore, an appropriate time to facilitate reception of foreign programs.

"The cultural implications of facilitating reception of external programs is also important.

"The balance of advantage lies in reversing the Ballymun decision."

The memo says that piped TV applications had already been received from Sutton, Dundalk and Tallaght.

The requests had been turned down but it would not be possible to "maintain the present line" if the Ballymun scheme got the go-ahead.

Previous Minister Joe Brennan had wanted a "deliberately degraded picture" from British TV stations broadcast on Ballymun’s piped TV.

Government files from 1966 showed that Brennan scrapped the plan to provide a clear signal for RTE and a deliberately poor reception for British stations.

It would not have been feasible as "the pressure to improve the signal to what is technically possible could not be withstood."

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