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1982: Haughey, America and “The Troubles”

Newly released documents show Ireland’s attempts to engage American President Ronald Reagan on Northern Ireland and to counter British propaganda.

President Ronald Reagan during a St Patrick's Day luncheon at the White House in 1982 in honour of Taoiseach Charles Haughey, seated centre.
President Ronald Reagan during a St Patrick's Day luncheon at the White House in 1982 in honour of Taoiseach Charles Haughey, seated centre.
Image: Barry Thumma/AP/Press Association Images

NEW DOCUMENTS RELEASED by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach under the “30-year rule” give insight into the struggle by the Irish government to ensure that their policy on Northern Ireland was mirrored by the US, as opposed to the “neutral” stance which Ireland viewed as being equivalent to a “pro-British” one.

A visit by the then American Deputy Secretary of State William Clarke to Ireland in 1981 was considered by the department as a positive step, believing it to have shown “an interest which has been deeper than might have been anticipated when President Reagan took office.”

Question marks still remained over how important a role the US President could play, however, with documents noting:

The President is personally well disposed to Ireland though as is fairly clear his knowledge of Irish Affairs is not considerable.

Despite Clarke having been viewed as failing Ireland on two previous occasions “when we might have hoped for a more sympathetic US position”, he was still viewed as their best hope.

Other than that reaching him from Clarke, all the advice reaching the President warns him to keep away from the Irish situation. For foreign policy reasons the State Department is advising the President to take a “neutral” (that is pro-British), non-interventionist position.

Attempts to organise a face-to-face meeting between Haughey and Reagan in 1981 proved futile, with the possible reasons for this reported by the Irish Ambassador in Washington:

I feel that there may be some hesitation especially at official level in fixing a meeting with the president while the H-block situation remains a contentious issue in Anglo-Irish relations and while the president himself is uncertain as to what role, if any, he might be able to play in Irish affairs.

As further meeting between the Irish Ambassador and Clarke on 3 December 1981 left him suggesting another approach in order to help get Ireland’s point across to America.

To view larger image, please click here.

(Image taken from file 2012/90/639, available from the National Archives)

So who were the organisations in America that had Ireland worried?

Noraid, the Irish National Caucus and St Patrick’s Day

Irish Northern Aid (Noraid) was, and is, an American organisation which was set up as a result of “The Troubles” in order to raise funds to help establish a united Ireland.

Accused of using these monies to help fund the Provisional IRA, documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs, dated March 1982, questioned their continued ability raise money, now “that its most powerful propaganda weapon [the hunger strikers] has been removed.”

Of lesser concern to the Irish government at the time was the Irish National Caucus who, despite having recently “avoided outright statements of support for violence or the IRA”, was believed by the department to have “continued links” with Noraid.

As New York’s St Patrick’s Day Parade approached, a decision needed to be made as to whether “Government representatives and State-Sponsored Bodies” would attend the US celebrations, in light of the posthumous appointment of Bobby Sands as Honorary Grand Marshal.

Up until then, documents stated that “the practice had been for official representatives to withdraw from the reviewing stand when a Noraid/Caucus contingent is passing.” Having been assured that those organising the event would look to “minimise the Sands dimension”, it was hoped that representatives from both Air Lingus and Bord Fáilte would be able to attend, “especially as controversy on this issue is likely to be welcomed by Noraid.”

Countering anti-Irish propaganda

A number of meetings were held during 1982 between the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey and the leaders of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), who describe themselves as “the oldest and largest Irish Catholic organization in the United States”.

In a meeting on 11 May, 1982, the Taoiseach was asked “what he would specifically wish the AOH to do in the United States.” In response, Haughey said that they should “counter British propaganda on the North” and “promote support for the policy of the Irish Government.”

Reaching out to the AOH wasn’t without its problems for government, however, as the Department of the Taoiseach were all to aware that “a number of them wished to maintain links also with the Irish National Caucus and with Noraid, and generally to have the best of both worlds.”

US media coverage

Ireland’s government weren’t pinning all their hopes for more positive US coverage solely with the AOH.

The then Minister for Foreign Affairs Gerard Collins wrote to Haughey in September 1982 to suggest that “the media impact of my visit could be increased by preparatory action here.”

Having determined that both The New York Times and Washington Post provided “most Irish reporting in the States”, Collins’ hoped to “ensure sympathetic news reports” prior to his trip.

In order to ensure that an invitation from us would be promptly taken up and would lead to the filming of important reports, we would wish to be able to say that you are willing to receive the the journalist concerned for a full briefing on our policy including on-the-record statements.

Suggesting an approach to The New York Times rather than The Washington Post, Collins said that in addition to be it being the “more influential”, it was also more likely to report on Ireland in a sympathetic manner, noting that “Peter Osnos, the Washington Post correspondent, has the reputation of being an anglophile and might not be well disposed towards us”.

To view larger image, please click here.

(Image taken from file 2012/90/998, available from the National Archives)

READ: 1982 State Papers: 30 years on: The overview>

Read all of TheJournal.ie’s stories on the 1982 State papers, just released>

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