Politicians shot down plans to honour Nelson Mandela with the Freedom of Dublin just five years before he was eventually awarded the accolade, classified files have revealed.
Although the late South African leader was conferred a Freeman of Dublin in 1988 — the first capital city in the world to do so — councillors dismissed the idea during behind-the-scenes meetings in 1983.
Documents released into the National Archives under the 30-year rule showed then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald ordered advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs after he became aware of the proposal.
But while government advisers suggested any diplomatic risk in conferring the honour would be outweighed by a positive international reaction, political parties on Dublin City Council could not agree.
Asked for advice, foreign affairs officials told the taoiseach that successive Irish governments had appealed for Mandela’s release and while it maintained contact with the ANC, it did not support its armed struggle.
“From the above it will be clear that the granting of the Freedom of the city of Dublin to Nelson Mandela would not be in conflict with the Government’s attitude to Mandela or with the Government’s general approach to the question of apartheid,” a memo stated.
Dublin’s then lord mayor Daniel Browne wrote to Kadar Asmal, chairman of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, on Jan 21 1983, to say there was no consensus on the plan.
“As I think I explained to you, the tradition is that the Freedom is only conferred where there is unanimous agreement,” the Labour mayor wrote.
“It has not been possible to secure this.”
Mr Browne said the accolade was not considered the “most appropriate” way to recognise Mr Mandela, and insteadsuggested that a sculpture by Elizabeth Frink, called Prisoner of Conscience, be erected in a park as a recognition of “the struggles of all prisoners of conscience”.
This was later unveiled in Merrion Square.
The newly released documents do not reveal why agreement could be not be made on conferring the freedom of the city, or which councillors were for or against the idea.
But a letter from the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement to Mr FitzGerald on his election as taoiseach suggests that both the Labour Party and the Workers’ Party supported the plan.
The letter asked Mr FitzGerald to lend his support through the Fine Gael group on the council, and to “convey your wishes” to party colleague Joe Doyle, a TD and representative on Dublin City Council.
Other notable members of the council at the time included Bertie Ahern, Tony Gregory, Gay Mitchell, Ben Briscoe, Mary Robinson, Michael Keating, Alice Glenn, and Fergus O’Brien.
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