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Cobh's 'military' potential and nuclear dumping in Donegal: concerns about Ireland at end of Cold War

US officials conveyed their worries about a Cobh shipyard to the Taoiseach in 1989.

Image: Google Street View

US OFFICIALS FRETTED that a former dockyard in Co Cork could have been used by the USSR’s navy at the end of the Cold War.

State papers show that a former official at the US embassy in Dublin, Dean Curran, contacted the Taoiseach’s office in May 1989 to relay US worries about the possible use of the Verolme Dockyard at Rushbrooke, near Cobh, by Russia “for military purposes”.

The Dutch-owned shipyard had closed five years previously following the collapse in the global shipbuilding industry at the start of the 1980s.

According to a note prepared for the Taoiseach, released this week under the 30-year State papers rule, Curran sought to pass on “worries which ‘some persons’ in Washington had conveyed to him” following a state visit by Charles Haughey to Moscow.

It read:

These concerned, essentially, the Verolme dockyard in Cork and the possibility that it might be used for military purposes.
He said that it was well established that the Russian “fishing” fleet in the North Atlantic and elsewhere indulged in many activities which would not be described, by the widest stretch of the imagination, as “fishing”.

The note stressed that the comments were not official or a representation, but simply an attempt by US officials to share their concerns about the future use of the dockyards.

In response, the official who prepared the note said they would note what Curran had said and assured him that Irish neutrality “was something that did not work in one way only”.

There is no evidence that the USSR ever used the dockyard before the end of the Cold War later that year.

The yard was bought by Cornelius Verolme in the late 1950s to assist in the development of the Irish shipping industry. It opened in 1960 and saw 33 ships built during its 24 years in operation, with over 1,500 employed at the yard at its peak.

The site is now used by the Doyle Shipping Group, who removed the iconic twin cranes used by Verolme to build ships last year.

Nuclear dumping

The same year, the Department of Foreign Affairs was also forced to make reassurances about a possible nuclear situation at the other end of the country.

In June, Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher contacted Minister for Foreign Affairs Gerard Collins after one of his constituents wrote to him about their fears that chemical weapons could be “indiscriminately” dumped off the coast of Donegal following the end of the Cold War.

In a letter on 7 June 1990, the individual claimed that “big belligerents” would continue to dump weapons near Ireland’s coasts “as they have done for the past forty-odd years”, and also told Gallagher that the nuclear powers would “deny everything” when they did.

They further called on the government to publicly ask nuclear powers for compensation for their actions “at the very least”, adding:

The Fianna Fáil government would need to take steps immediately to prevent this. They will not be consulted, naturally, and the ‘powers’ will do it in greatest secrecy and cunning.

On 11 June, Gallagher – who was then-Minister of State for the Gaeltacht – forwarded the letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, calling on Gerard Collins to comment on the “dumping of chemicals by foreign countries off the coast of Donegal”.

The letter was subsequently acknowledged by the Minister on 19 June, but it wasn’t until 16 July that an individual from the department’s disarmament section addressed the concerns about nuclear dumping.

Addressing the constituent, they wrote:

We are not aware of any proposals to dump chemical weapons off Donegal, or of any allegations that such dumping has taken place in the past.
[Chemical weapons] are normally destroyed by burning, rather than by dumping at sea.

Gallagher was contacted for comment, but did not respond to TheJournal.ie by the time of publication.

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