In 1977 Seán MacBride was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. An invitation was extended to the members of the cabinet, including the Minster of Foreign Affairs, to attend the award ceremony on 20 September. This posed the government with a problem.
MacBride had been awarded the Nobel Prize in 1974 (pictured below). The Lenin Peace Prize was seen as the Eastern European counterpart for the “promotion of peace among nations”.
An article in the official government paper Izvestiya as the time described Seán MacBride as an “active supporter of the ideas of peaceful co-existence, general and complete disarmament and cultural and economic co-operation of states.”
It was felt in Iveagh House that to see him as a proponent of “general and complete disarmament” was “accurate and innocuous”.
“However, to say that he is the proponent of ‘peaceful co-existence’ with its special Leninist connotations of international class struggle etc. is tendentious and indicates that the recipients’ activities are considered to be in line with Soviet tactics and long term foreign policy goals.”
The writer reminded the Minister that MacBride had given an interview to Tass (the Soviet news agency) on September 2, 1977 in which he was quoted as saying: “The campaign in defence of so-called human rights that is now waged by the Western press against Socialist countries serves the interests of supporters of the cold war. Its end purpose ... is to frustrate detente. The mastermind of this campaign is the military industrial complex which has great influence in capitalist countries, particularly the US.”
The considered view in the department was that “notwithstanding the propaganda elements inseparable from the conferring of the prize” there were good arguments in favour of a high level Irish ministerial presence at the ceremony.
Though the prizes were seldom if ever given to person whose activates conflicted with Soviet aims, nevertheless it was “fair to say that the recipients generally have achieved an international reputation”.
This was certainly true of Mr MacBride.
The note concluded that “Mr MacBride is a distinguished Irishman, a former Irish Foreign Minister, and an Assistant Secretary-General of the UN and UN Commissioners for Namibia and Chairman of the International Commission of Jurists.”
The Minister went to the party after all.