By David McCullagh, Conor McMorrow and Justin McCarthy

The State Papers are the secret letters, memos and minutes written by politicians and civil servants as they wrestled with the problems of the day. They were not meant for the eyes of the public – until now.

Here are 12 things we learned from the first batch of documents released this year:

1. Haughey took issue with venison pâté at EU dinner

Taoiseach Charles Haughey ordered civil servants to bring in the chef from one of his favourite restaurants, Le Coq Hardi, to cater for EU leaders, after a meal served up at an Irish hosted summit in 1990 was deemed to be "only of good pub grub standard".

The taoiseach took particular issue with the venison pâté served at the lunch, which he said was "a disaster". Civil servants noted that "the sauce served with the trout was also subject to adverse comment".

The meal was prepared by the catering division of Aer Lingus which, the taoiseach proposed, should be replaced for the June summit by John Howard of Le Coq Hardi. The restaurant was one of the most exclusive in Dublin and was regularly frequented by Haughey (in 1999 the Moriarty Tribunal heard that £15,000 was paid to Le Coq Hardi in just one year, out of the party's leader's allowance account).

But the fine dining was only for the top tier; Haughey confirmed to his officials that, while the chef from Le Coq Hardi should cater for European leaders, he had no objection to Aer Lingus being retained to cater for lower order advisors, officials and general staff.

2. Ahern's warning to Blair after China trip

Pity the lot of the globetrotting world statesman – all that jetlag, indigestion after heavy State dinners – and covert surveillance.

In October 1998, taoiseach Bertie Ahern warned Britain's Tony Blair about listening devices in accommodation supplied by the Chinese government.

Tony Blair in China in 1998

Asking Blair how his recent trip to China had gone ("Did you like that… nice country house that they had?"), he confided: "I'd say there's bugs everywhere".

As 'proof', he recounted his own experience in China: "I couldn't work the TV you see, so we were talking about trying to work this television. So, we went out, said nothing to nobody, we came back – and this guy was in there helping us to operate the TV!"

3. Cúpla focail from the queen's footman

Fourteen years before Queen Elizabeth uttered the words "A Uachtaráin agus a chairde" in an historic gesture of goodwill during a State banquet in Dublin Castle in 2011, there is an official account of the "cúpla focail" being spoken in her own London residence, Buckingham Palace.

Irish ambassador Ted Barrington sent a dispatch to Dublin in 1997, to report on his attendance at a reception for the Diplomatic Corps, hosted by members of the Royal family.

The positivity towards Ireland in the Royal household was obvious from early in the evening, with the ambassador noting that "the military band played several Irish tunes, including The Rose of Tralee. The queen herself was "in good form" he said, and was "warm and friendly towards Ireland".

But the real evidence that the Royal household was positively disposed towards Ireland came as the ambassador departed.

"One of the elderly footmen, dressed in a red cloak, and a white hat, bade us good night, saying 'Oíche mhaith, slán agus beannacht'", reported the ambassador to his colleagues in Dublin.

4. Queen Mother eager to go to Ireland

More evidence of the Royal family's fondness for Ireland here: After a successful visit by Prince Charles to the Republic of Ireland in 1995, the prospect of the first ever State visit to Ireland by his mother Queen Elizabeth was raised.

Irish businessman Ned Ryan, an antique dealer friend of the queen's sister Princess Margaret, said to the queen that he presumed she would be next to visit Ireland.

The queen replied that while she was delighted with the success of her son's visit, she herself would not be going "just yet".

However, she said that the Queen Mother was "dying to go".

It would be another 16 years before Queen Elizabeth made her historic State visit to Ireland.

5. An early lunch with Boris Johnson

A lunch in London with Boris Johnson, who was described as "Thatcherite and Eurosceptic", was documented by an Irish Foreign Affairs official in April 1995.

He noted that the future prime minister of the United Kingdom, (who was then the political correspondent with The Spectator, and columnist with The Daily Telegraph) had written "approvingly, if naively, of the Northern Ireland Tories".

There appeared to be none of the characteristic bombast that we have since come to expect from Boris Johnson at the lunch. But the official noted one apparently salient remark from Johnson, who said that the prime minister (John Major) was determined to proceed with the Northern Ireland peace process at a pace "just a little on the right side of stalling".

6. Jumbo's jumbo bill

When President Patrick Hillery visited Tanzania in 1979, he was presented with the gift of a live elephant that would go on to become the subject of a diplomatic row.

The animal was flown to Ireland by the Tanzanian government, who wrote to the Irish Embassy in Dar es Salaam a year later seeking reimbursement of the transport costs.

'I had forgotten about the elephant'

Tanzanian diplomats stated that the Irish government had promised to pay for the shipping, but Irish officials were unable to verify whether any such pledge had been given.

In a memo to the taoiseach's department, an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs added that, in any case, the department did not have the funds to meet the shipping costs of some IR£4,005.

In a handwritten response, an official from the taoiseach's office wrote: "I had forgotten about the elephant – its transport would seem to be a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs."

The elephant, a three-year-old female who was known by the name of Mimi, was donated to Dublin Zoo upon arrival in Ireland in May 1980. She went to Southampton Zoo two years later.

7. Adams and the queen's English

When Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams visited the Irish Embassy in London for the first time in 1994, staff found him "more relaxed than his public image might have led one to expect. He was very friendly and careful not to make demands of the Embassy or to express harsh opinions".

They were, however, surprised that when ambassador Joseph Small greeted Adams in Irish, the Sinn Féin leader "did not deviate from the queen's English!"

8. Haughey looked at a visit to Baghdad

In July 1990, taoiseach Charlie Haughey considered travelling to Baghdad to try to get money owed to beef baron Larry Goodman paid over.

Goodman was owed in the region of $240m, but the Iraqis were only paying in "dribs and drabs".

Noting that he had previously been invited to Baghdad, the taoiseach thought about a visit. "Perhaps the only way of cutting the knot and impressing the seriousness of the situation on the Iraqis was for him to talk directly to President Hussein".

It was probably a good job he didn't follow up on the idea: Saddam invaded Kuwait just three weeks later, leading to the Gulf War.

State Papers 1991-94: The rocky road to peace
British 'hurt' by US backing for Adams visa
'The shared objective of reaching peace'

9. Thanks, but no thanks, for the Áras donation

A proposal to use private money to do up Áras an Uachtaráin was turned down by the government in 1989.

A Mr Prosperi of Florida had suggested that a fund should be established to pay for the restoration of the Áras. He even sent a personal donation of $1,000 to start the ball rolling.

But according to the documents, the cheque was returned, with thanks, because taoiseach Charles Haughey was "totally opposed" to accepting such private donations.

As later tribunal revelations showed, he was less opposed to private donations when it came to his own finances.

10. Durkan's State Honours system rolled over

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan, currently making waves over the Lotto, was in the news in 1991 too. But his number failed to come up, as his campaign for a State Honours system was rolled over.

Deputy Durkan had been pushing the idea in the Dáil, and taoiseach Charles Haughey was interested.

Bernard Durkan wanted State honours system (

But civil servants pointed out that there was very little public interest in the idea, and the only reason there was any media coverage was that Durkan kept talking about it in the Dáil.

In the end, officials suggested the proposal should be considered by a committee – a sure sign it would never happen.

11. Special licences for Imelda Marcos's bodyguards

Special firearms licences were granted to two bodyguards travelling with Imelda Marcos, the wife of former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, when she visited Ireland in 1973.

Her visit followed an assassination attempt on her in Manila two months earlier.

Files released from the State Archive reveal that the government was made aware of the private visit, and it assured the Philippines authorities that the Department of Justice would "take all necessary steps regarding the security aspect of the visit".

A Department of Foreign Affairs memo noted that around 18 people would be involved in the Marcos group – including four security personnel, two of whom were permitted to carry revolvers while in Ireland.

Mrs Marcos stayed with the Marquis and Marchioness of Headfort at their home in Kells, Co Meath, and she also met Lord Mountcharles at Slane Castle.

Her husband, President Ferdinand Marcos, ran a dictatorship from 1972 until 1981, and kept power until 1986 when he was finally ousted.

His rule was known for the unlawful killing and the torture of opponents, and the misappropriation of billions.

12. Mayhew's son was serving in North in 1992

Secretary of state for Northern Ireland Patrick Mayhew told Irish government ministers that his own son was serving with British Army in the North, during an exchange about army border checkpoints in 1992.

He was responding to the justice minister, Padraig Flynn, who asked Mayhew about a range of issues – including army checkpoints near Newry.

Mayhew replied: "I know the situation. I have a son myself with the army in Northern Ireland. The IRA removed the [Cloghoge] guard post [with a bomb] and we were told definitely that it was necessary to restore it.

"The IRA 'removed' it at the cost of the life of a very brave soldier. I had unequivocal advice from the Chief Constable that it was necessary to restore it."

Mayhew had 'no doubt' Conservatives would lose 1997 election

Mayhew was secretary of state from April 1992 until May 1997, and a confidential account of a farewell dinner for him in the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast reveal that the job was not quite what he had expected before taking it up.

Irish diplomats recorded in March 1997 that: "Sir Patrick regretted that he had not prepared himself fully for it in advance. He freely admitted that the interest he had long entertained in becoming Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had been essentially 'Vice-Regal’, i.e. he had wished to round off a mainly legal career with what he imagined would be a relatively undemanding assignment in a quiet backwater of Government."

Mayhew was in no doubt in March 1997 about the outcome the upcoming general election (which took place on 1 May). The Secretariat noted: "Sir Patrick made no attempt to disguise his expectation that the Conservatives will lose the election and that Mo Mowlam, 'a good egg’, will be the next Secretary of State."

Based on documents now available to view in the National Archives of Ireland.