Officials rejected plan for president to sign certificates for tree project donations

Trees for Ireland project sought to help ‘Irish-Americans identify with the country’

A project involving tree-planting to be paid for by Irish-Americans got cautious government approval in 1984.

But a suggestion that president Patrick Hillery would sign a certificate of thanks for every person who donated $10 was rejected, archive documents from the Department of the Taoiseach show.

The project was suggested by Eoin McKiernan, head of the Irish American Cultural Institute, based in Minnesota, of which president Hillery was the patron. Its purpose was "not so much to finance afforestation schemes" as to help Irish-Americans "identify with the country in a practical way", the documents show. The money raised would be "ploughed back to cover publicity costs" in the first few years.

Promotional material for the project included an assertion that "the reduction of Ireland from a country of great timber resources to practically a treeless one has had unfortunate economic consequences".

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An early version of the proposal suggested a signed certificate from president Hillery. Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald was also mentioned as an alternative signatory.

But a note on the Department of the Taoiseach file, prepared for Dr FitzGerald and dated September 28th, said “neither the president nor yourself should allow your names to be used in the way suggested”.

The reasons included the fact it would not be practical to personally sign all “thank you” letters and it could be embarrassing if such letters were sent to “prominent Noraid members”.

It was also believed neither office should be used to raise funds for any organisation “however praiseworthy”.

“If the scheme is a flop, would you wish to be associated with it in such a personalised way,” the initialled note said.

Permission to use the names was declined and the Trees for Ireland project was launched in October 1984.

The project no longer operates, but according to the institute, it established “several forests in Ireland during its short lifespan”.

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