Ambassador’s view of leading Irish figures


In July 1989, the new minister for foreign affairs Gerry Collins took US ambassador Margaret Heckler aside at his initial meeting with the diplomatic corps to express concern that the US might advise its citizens not to visit Ireland because of the IRA bombing of the Dublin-Belfast rail link, according to the cables.

“He argued that the situation did not merit such drastic action and urged in the strongest terms that we not issue an advisory,” wrote the ambassador to the secretary of state.

“It would grant the PIRA a major propaganda victory. It would have a long-term negative impact on investment in Northern Ireland which is critical to dry up PIRA’s recruiting poll among the unemployed.

"I promised Collins I would relay his views to Washington and that I would keep him informed of our deliberations."


Ambassador Heckler added at the end of her cable: “Comment: From our perspective this situation would not yet seem to warrant a travel advisory or other public warning to the travelling public. In fact we tend to agree with the Irish that under the circumstances an advisory would be a substantial propaganda victory for the PIRA.”

In a cable the same month entitled “Ireland’s new Foreign Minister”, ambassador Heckler wrote that Collins was “reputedly a hard man to work for” but was also “astute” and “a professional” who had “worked to mend his fences with his British counterparts”.

“ . . . The expectation is that Collins will seek to develop with the new Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Brooke, the same excellent working relationship enjoyed by their predecessors, Brian Lenihan and Tom King. However, while Lenihan and King spoke the same language (and cracked jokes at the end of the working day over a couple of large whiskeys), the personalities of the two new men seem quite different. It remains to be seen whether contact will be made or sparks will fly when Brooke’s Oxbridge mannerisms run up against Collins’ bluff Irishness.”


In May 1989 Heckler sent a message to secretary of state James Baker about US-European relations based on a conversation she had with Peter Sutherland, who had been Ireland's EU commissioner up to a few months earlier.

There were serious tensions between Nato and West Germany in the spring of 1989 over a stockpile of short-range nuclear forces (SNF) based in Germany which chancellor Kohl wanted reduced.

“During the course of a wide ranging discussion on US-EC relations at my residence May 2nd Peter kept coming back to his preoccupation about Germany. Preoccupations Peter maintained were shared [by] some members of the current EC Commission.

"Peter fears that current tensions between Bonn and London, and to a lesser extent Washington, on SNF could very well spill over into the economic relationship. In Peter's view the Germans have been playing a key role in keeping French, Italian and others' protectionist tendencies under control. This has been crucial to both the Uruguay round (world trade talks) and EC movement towards a single market.

“A serious rift with London and Washington on Alliance issues could push the Germans into the hands of the protectionists. Another key factor according to Peter and others with whom I have spoken is Thatcher’s persistent personal unpopularity with her EC partners and the risk we face in the current crisis of becoming too identified with her stridency.

“On another subject, your message to Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey in Washington (during the St Patrick’s Day visit) made a strong impression and he has quoted you often with admiration since his return,” wrote the ambassador.


In January 1989 Heckler sent the state department a profile of Ireland's new EU commissioner Ray MacSharry who had been minister for finance for the previous two years.

“MacSharry, aged 50, is the heir-apparent to Prime Minister Haughey as leader of Fianna Fail standing head and shoulders above other contenders in the governing party. Indeed, so firmly is his eventual succession set in the public mind that the recent serious illness of the Prime Minister provoked a round of speculation that MacSharry would not be going to Brussels after all.

“As a self-made man (in agricultural services) lacking a university education, MacSharry is a hard worker with the reputation of a powerful memory.

“He uses his staff well, trusting in their advice. He has received high marks for all his Ministerial stints, notably in the EEC context as Agriculture Minister during the 1979 Irish presidency. (He was an MEP 1984-87)

“His political career, however, has not been without dark periods. First elected to the Irish parliament in 1969 he made his career move as a junior Minister, by opposing his Minister in the succession to Jack Lynch as Fianna Fail leader in 1979 and backing, actually nominating, the eventual winner, Charles Haughey.

“He has remained constant to Haughey throughout the subsequent challenges to his leadership.

“In one such challenge he was caught up on the periphery of a bugging scandal.

“Though his personal honor was vindicated he had to resign his front bench post and for five years did not return to a leadership position until named Minister for Finance in March, 1987.

“As Finance Minister he has enjoyed the confidence and esteem of virtually all parties as he brought public finances back from the virtual bankruptcy of the mid-1980s.”

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times