US dismissive about summit between Haughey and Gorbachev

‘Soviets skilfully and subtly underlined the benefits to Ireland of neutrality’

A summit between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and taoiseach Charles Haughey at Shannon airport in 1989 was noted dismissively by the US embassy here even though president George Bush snr sought to influence the discussions.

Documents release under the US Freedom of Information Act show a cable from then US ambassador Margeret Heckler to secretary of state Jim Baker reporting on the meeting.  She noted the PR success of the Soviets and the fact that “Gorbomania” was sweeping Ireland.

“The upshot was a solid victory for the Gorbachev charm offensive as the Irish let themselves be convinced that they have a role to play in the democratic evolution of the Soviet Union,” she added.

The ambassador commented that “substantively little was accomplished but Soviet-Irish economic ties have been given a boost,” by the one-hour meeting which took place on April 2nd, 1989 during Gorbachev’s Shannon stop en route to Cuba.


“The Irish are delighted with the visit. Haughey’s advisors tell us he is elated. One called the visit the ideal ‘soft photo op.’ The Soviets can also take satisfaction. A two-hour stopover has generated more positive publicity for the Soviet Union here than in the entire history of the state. The Soviets played it skilfully and subtly underlining, without ever mentioning the word, the benefits to Ireland of neutrality,” she concluded.

The day before the summit, Bush sent a letter to Haughey asking him to raise with Gorbachev the issue of how Soviet aid was getting to rebels in Central America.

Bush went on to tell Haughey that he had sent Gorbachev a letter on the eve of his departure for Havana outlining US concerns about, and urging a change in, Soviet policy towards Central America.

“In particular I underscored the difficulties we have reconciling the language of Soviet ‘new thinking’ with continuing high levels of Soviet and Cuban assistance to Nicaragua. As you know there is no conceivable military threat that justifies that assistance,” he said.

“Given Ireland’s interest in promoting democracy in Central America I hope that when you see general secretary Gorbachev at Shannon you will urge him to support diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the region by stopping the shipment of weapons to the region,” Bush added.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

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