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NI lobby group was accused of misleading investors about Republic to 'damage our national interest'

The spat was the subject of talks between a UK minister and an Irish ambassador in 1989.

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Dublin Port
Image: Shutterstock/abd

A LOBBY GROUP for Northern businesses was accused by an Irish diplomat of spreading misinformation about the Republic in 1989 to prevent South Korean firms from investing here.

Ireland’s ambassador to South Korea, Richard Ryan, raised the issue with then-Northern Ireland Office (NIO) Minister Richard Needham that year after the IDA’s representative in Seoul, Dan Coffey, alleged the body’s Northern equivalent, the Industrial Development Board (IDB), was lobbying firms with “unfair tactics”.

Coffey contacted the Irish embassy in South Korea after he claimed he heard misinformation about the Republic from four separate Korean companies, whom he knew the IDB was also lobbying.

The allegations included that the Republic was not a member of the European Economic Community, that “the Irish problem of violence” was mostly taking place south of the border, and that the Republic – not the North – was responsible for the “mistreatment of minorities” because the Protestant population there had been reduced to almost nothing.

Details of Coffey’s report to Ryan were included in a letter sent by the ambassador to the Department of Foreign Affairs in December 1989, released this week under the 30-year State Papers rule.

According to the letter, Ryan met with Needham to discuss the allegations during a visit by the latter to South Korea the same month.

Said Ryan:

I outlined the allegations and said I stood over the IDA’s report of them. I said that serious misrepresentations about the Republic, clearly intended to damage our national interest in the priority investment area, were completely unacceptable [...]

Needham, a Conservative MP who served as minister under Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke, was also informed that if the allegations persisted, Ryan would raise the issue formally with the Irish government, creating an “undesirable confrontation” with the UK.

‘A failed political entity’

According to the letter, although the NIO minister did not dispute the allegations, he alleged to Ryan that Irish politicians and the IDA had used similar tactics towards the North when they were lobbying in Korea.

Needham claimed that an IDB representative in Korea had told him that Ryan himself had “damned the North with faint praise”, and that Communications Minister Ray Burke had referred to the North as a “failed political entity” during a visit to Korea.

He also alleged that the Irish government had directly attempted to stop the Korean manufacturer Daewoo from setting up in the North the same year.

“The Irish government uses ‘dirty tricks’ elsewhere in the world viz-a-viz IDB efforts and the British side has come very close to raising this matter at the Inter-Governmental Conference,” Ryan said, reporting the Conservative MP’s comments to the department.

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Both Ryan and Needham agreed that the issue was unhelpful to both the Republic and the North, and according to the letter the NIO minister said he would work to stop the spread of false information.

Ryan said in the letter that he hoped Needham would stop the spread of disinformation about the Republic “and that I should therefore hear no further complaints about it, I suggest that this report be treated for information purposes”.

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