State Papers1992-2002

Plan to build submarines in Cork shelved over fears of upsetting China

Dutch company intended to export the submarines from Ireland to Taiwan

The government rejected plans for submarines to be built in a Cork shipyard in the early 1990s over fears it would upset Ireland’s relations with China.

Newly-released State papers show the government opposed the project because it would lead to the export of the submarines to Taiwan, which would cause diplomatic difficulties for Ireland with China.

In addition, it did not want Ireland to become a significant producer or exporter of military equipment.

Dutch business interests wanted to construct submarines at the Cork Dockyard in Rushbrooke, Co Cork which was previously the location of the Dutch-owned Verolme Cork Dockyard which closed in 1984.


Verolme was the Republic’s biggest shipyard and employed over 1,100 staff at its peak.

The submarine initiative had the potential to allow for a big expansion of the shipbuilding industry in Cork. However, state files show the then minister for foreign affairs, David Andrews, said there would be “serious political difficulties” with the project.

A letter from a senior official in the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of Industry and Commerce in April 1992 said Mr Andrews regretted that he had to advise against supporting the proposal for several reasons.

Assistant secretary Ronan Murphy pointed out that Ireland recognised the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China including Taiwan.

“Given Chinese sensitivities, we are satisfied that the export from Ireland to Taiwan of military goods would be regarded by Beijing as a highly provocative act inviting retaliation, particularly as the number of submarines involved could more than treble Taiwan’s existing submarine fleet,” said Mr Murphy.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times