Cables prove there is no such thing as a free St Patrick’s Day lunch in the White House
Relationships between Ireland and the US were not all plain sailing
Servile vs pragmatic
Haughey’s approach might be seen as servile or pragmatic or even both, but the likelihood is that he was playing it safe, as promoting Soviet-Irish economic ties was far more important to the Irish than US relations with Nicaragua, and, in Heckler’s view, “the Soviets played it skilfully and subtly, underlining, without ever mentioning the word, the benefits to Ireland of neutrality”.
Understandably, when Haughey died in 2006 there was much space devoted to consideration of his impact and legacy. But in the absence of archival material, State and personal, any conclusions had to be qualified. Much of the relevant State material in relation to his time in office in the 1980s, for example, would fall under the 30-year rule as established in Ireland under the National Archives Act of 1986.
Given that 30-year rule, caution on the part of the historian is still advisable in relation to reaching conclusions about the Haughey era. However, as these 1989 cables illustrate, one of the interesting developments of recent times in relation to access to archival documents has been the release of material to journalists under freedom of information Acts that offer fascinating glimpses of what was going on behind the scenes less than 30 years ago. Alongside that development, Britain is intent, from 2014, on releasing two years of records until a 20-year rule is established, creating an interesting dilemma for the Irish State. If it sticks to its 30-year rule, will its record releases significantly lag behind the US and British releases, creating a new challenge for the researcher in terms of a balanced perspective that can incorporate all the angles, US, British and Irish?
Whatever about the merits of reducing the 30-year rule (and such a move raises troubling issues about material too sensitive to be released, people referred to in the documents still living, and an insufficient time lapse to see issues in their proper historical context), there is also a practical issue.
The National Archives of Ireland is chronically underfunded and simply does not have the space or resources to operate a 20-year rule. Without proper investment, by next year, the archives will not even be able to cope with processing releases under the 30-year rule. That is how critical and embarrassing, given what is happening elsewhere, the Irish situation has become.
Diarmaid Ferriter is professor of modern Irish history at UCD