Delight that Mandela meeting Haughey before Thatcher

Senior officials in government were delighted that Nelson Mandela had chosen to meet taoiseach Charles Haughey in Ireland ahead of meeting British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in London.

The African National Congress (ANC) leader, who was released from Robben Island in February 1990 after 27 years incarceration, visited Ireland in July that year.

Mandela arrived from the US, where he had been received by then president George Bush snr.

The itinerary for this three-day visit to Ireland had been arranged by the ANC which insisted he fly to Ireland with Aer Lingus, and also use the airline for his onward journey to London.

In a briefing not written ahead of his visit, the taoiseach’s special adviser Martin Mansergh noted the symbolism of him meeting Haughey first and being flown to Britain on an Aer Lingus plane.

“It is very appropriate that [the ANC] had insisted that Nelson Mandela should come to Ireland before meeting Mrs Thatcher,” he wrote in an internal memo.

The records of preparations for the historic visit are among the State papers released under the 30-year rule and made available to the National Archive.

On April 26th, an Irish diplomat based in Lusaka, Zambia, sent a telex to confirm the visit.

He said that Mandela would stay from July 1st to July 3rd, and there would be a small delegation including Winnie Mandela.

The ANC asked that the itinerary be drawn up in conjunction with Kadar and Louise Asmal, leading figures in the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement along with Donal Nevin and the Rev Terence McCaughey. Asmal, a South-African-born lecturer in TCD, later became a minister in the first ANC government in South Africa.

The programme included a televised address by Mandela to the Dáil, an open-air ceremony at City Hall to receive the Freedom of Dublin (which had been conferred on him in 1988) and a courtesy call to then president Patrick Hillery.

In a private meeting with Haughey (file 2020/22/13), Mandela thanked the taoiseach for the work done by Ireland at the EU Summit in Dublin on the maintenance of sanctions.

He also said the ANC had set up a trust to receive funding to help it campaign for political change in South Africa. He told Haughey he had a distinguished board that would ensure that donors’ money did not “sink in a bottomless pit”.

Quoted Yeats

Haughey said he had been been impressed by the fact that Mandela had put peace and unity first rather than concentrating on the ANC’s interests.

In his address to the Dáil, Mandela quoted a famous line from poet William Butler Yeats: “Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart.”

Mandela added: “[Yeats] could feel within himself the pain of the suffering that Irish men and women of conscience had had to endure in centuries of struggle against an unrelenting tyranny. But then he also spoke of love.”

Mandela had visited London in April but had not met Thatcher, after the meeting was effectively boycotted by ANC officials, over the British prime minister’s views. She was alone among European leaders in calling for sanctions against South Africa to be eased, arguing that its then president FW de Klerk was a reforming politician. Relationships between Thatcher and Mandela improved after a three-hour meeting in Downing Street on July 3rd.

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