Denis Fahy recalls an official visit by the newly installed president of Indonesia to Ireland in 1961, which was the shortest official visit to this country by any foreign leader.
When President Sean T O’Kelly opened his newspaper on Thursday, December 29th, 1949, he was surprised to read that he had sent ‘cordial personal wishes’ to President Sukarno of Indonesia on the occasion of the country becoming independent after 342 years of Dutch rule.
His private secretary, the formidable Michael McDunphy, got on the case. Memoranda circulated and it transpired that, because of what we might nowadays call a systems malfunction, a draft text prepared by the Department of External Affairs for O’Kelly’s signature had morphed prematurely into a press release from the Government Information Bureau.
Happily, there were no diplomatic repercussions, at least in Jakarta. The Taoiseach, John Costello, sent a formal letter of recognition to the Indonesian Prime Minister, Mohammad Hatta, on January 3rd but, apart from occasional visits by the ambassador in London, there was no further official contact between the two countries until 1961 when Sukarno made the shortest official visit to Ireland by any foreign leader.
The reasons for the visit, one of the first by a head of state to independent Ireland, are unclear but it’s likely that the initiative came from Sukarno himself as he was travelling around the world for the fourth time in four years.
He may have wanted to annoy the British government by coming to Ireland, while declining to visit London during the three month trip because of a “shortage of time”.