Classified cables from the US Embassy in Dublin released by the Wikileaks organisation have revealed that the 26-County government acted contrary to nationalist interests and consistently briefed against Sinn Fein during the peace process in the North.
The six cables published so far in relation to the North of Ireland date from 2003 to 2006 and are attributed to US Ambassador in Dublin James C Kenny. A number of paragraphs in the cables and several names were censored by the Wikileaks organisation, for unknown reasons.
The documents summarised discussions held with the US embassy in Dublin, and reflect the ongoing concern of Fianna Fail at the rise in support for Sinn Fein on both sides of the border. Government officials “uniformly” expressed concern that the British government was being “too soft” on the party.
In the briefings, Fianna Fail politicians routinely spoke to embassy officials about how to “confront” the political rise of Sinn Fein in the 26 Counties as well as in the North.
“The argument is that Fianna Fail’s best way of confronting Sinn Fein in the Republic is to become an all-island party,” the cables noted. “Some think doing so could also give nationalists in the north an alternative to Sinn Fein, given the [rival] SDLP’s waning fortunes.”
Former Minister Martin Mansergh and other political operatives hoped that IRA actions would damage Sinn Fein’s poll numbers.
However, it was noted that “both the Garda... and political levels of the government will be careful to avoid the public perception that any legal pursuit of Sinn Fein/IRA-tied personalities in the South is politically connected”.
At a crucial juncture in the peace process -- prior to the signing of the St Andrew’s Agreement in 2006 -- government ministers were paranoid about Sinn Fein striking a deal with the British government without adequate consultation with them and Ian Paisley’s DUP.
One cable noted that “FM [Foreign Minister Dermot] Ahern was adamant that the Irish government was interested in a comprehensive deal only, and was concerned that the UK might be open to Sinn Fein’s desire to cut a side deal with London.”
Ahern claimed that “a bilateral deal between the UK and Sinn Fein would polarize the situation in Northern Ireland”.
Fianna Fail animosity to Sinn Fein served only to confuse the peace process, and even the PSNI ultimately told the Dublin government that “they should lighten up” on Sinn Fein if a deal was to be reached.
The identification in December 2005 of high ranking Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson as a British spy, and his death in April 2006, also featured in the cables.
The execution of Donaldson at a remote location in Donegal was finally claimed by the ‘Real IRA’ last year.
The cables indicated the belief that Sinn Fein “seemed surprised and shaken by the Donaldson murder and, ironically, had supported... the reestablishment of Stormont even more strongly as a result”.
The cables indicated that the then 26-County Justice Minister Michael McDowell believed the British government was responsible for the “outing” of Donaldson. He told US Ambassador it was “a clear message from the British Government that it had another, more valuable, source of information within the republican leadership.”
THE BAD WORD
McDowell, like the rest of the Dublin government was also convinced that the Northern Bank robbery in December 2004 was the work of the Provisional IRA, although this “was based almost exclusively on UK intelligence”, McDowell admitted.
It was believed at the time that only the IRA or ‘rogue’ Crown force operatives could have had the necessary discipline and intelligence required for the raid. Cash from the theft subsequently appeared at a sports club used by the PSNI in Belfast and at a house in Cork. However, no evidence ever emerged to link the IRA to the heist, and the possible involvement of members of the Crown forces was quickly dismissed by the PSNI.
Nevertheless, the potential for using the robbery as a means of opposing Sinn Fein featured heavily in the briefings given by Dublin officials to the US embassy, as was the death of Belfast man Robert McCartney in a knife-fight in January 2006.
In a heavy anti-republican ‘spin’, the reporting of the cables in the mainstream media focussed on regurgitating the Northern Bank allegation.
In a joint statement, both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness rejected the accusations that they knew in advance of the robbery.
“We both absolutely rejected these unfounded allegations at the time and do so again today,” they said.
“We publicly and privately challenged the Taoiseach [Bertie Ahern] to produce evidence to support his allegations. He didn’t. We told him they were groundless and untrue.
“It was and is our view that this had more to do with the electoral rivalries between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail.”
It was also revealed in the cables by the then Justice Minister that intelligence is handled very differently in the London and Dublin governments.
“In the Irish government, many officials, including himself [McDowell], do not receive any intelligence reports. The tradition instead is to take the word of the Garda,” the ambassador wrote.
US officials also believed in 2008 that the coalition government was “a bit optimistic” in its assessment of Ireland’s financial institutions when it issued the highly controversial bank guarantee that year.
Kevin Cardiff, Ireland’s second secretary general at the Department of Finance, insisted that the situation was manageable and that he expected more “Irish-like solutions” across Europe.
The author of the cable wrote: “It begs the question: if the level of impaired assets is not a problem, why the sudden pressure on Irish banks?”
The cable ended, intuitively, by saying that Ireland is facing its most significant challenge in decades.