Queen wrote to Mary Robinson to share ‘distress’ over Somalia crisis

State papers: After visiting refugee camps in Somalia the president gave an emotional press conference in which she criticised the UN’s approach to the camps and did not hide her anger

Queen Elizabeth sent a letter to Mary Robinson in late 1992 expressing her appreciation of the then president’s visit to famine-struck Somalia in the autumn of that year.

Robinson’s high-profile visit to the east African country highlighted the way in which war had ravaged the country and how millions of people were suffering from hunger and starvation. The Irish embassy in London forwarded a copy of a book written by Robinson to Buckingham Place.

In December the queen’s personal secretary Robert Fellowes wrote to the Irish ambassador to the UK, Joseph Small, from the queen’s country residence, Sandringham in Norfolk.

He wrote: “The Queen was most grateful to your for forwarding a copy of the President’s book, and Her Majesty has asked that I pass her thanks, through you, to President Robinson for her kindness together with her warm good wishes for a happy new year. The Queen also much appreciated the letter from President Robinson, and shares with her the distress she feels at the dreadful situation in Somalia. Her Majesty looks forward to reading the President’s diary account of her visit.”


Robinson wrote up a diary-type book of 53 pages about her visit to the country. It was distributed to heads of state throughout the world.

In the file relating to the visit there are also several specific points in relation to the president’s diet in communications between officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is pointed out that Robinson had no special dietary requirements but a good supply of water was needed to avoid the risk of dehydration.

“What is the position on bottled water in Nairobi? Is it possible to get European spring water there?

“If so, suggest that you ensure that there is an adequate supply of it available for the period of the stay in Nairobi. Will it be possible to bring a supply into Somalia or is it intended to rely on water provided by the aid agencies? Please advise as Áras (an Uachtaráin) seems to be quite concerned about this question.”

The file also discloses that five of the party, including the president and her husband, flew first class at a cost of £3,657 per person, while a further three travelled business class at a cost of £3,359.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times