The United States is determined to continue to play an “honest broker” role in Northern Ireland but any expectations of economic aid should be dispelled, according to the leaked US cables.
A key cable describing US government objectives for the province stated that Northern Ireland would get continuing political and economic support but underlined the economy would be best assisted by the promotion of trade, not aid.
That warning was followed by a frank, private assessment in another cable from the US special economic envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, who stated political leaders should expect no more “Santa sacks” from America.
The key US policy objectives for Ulster were laid out in a joint cable to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on February 20, 2009, sent jointly by the Belfast consulate and the Dublin and London embassies.
It set out the main areas for concern and what the US might do about them.
Among the main aims and objectives, the cable said, were:
- Continuing to play neutral observer, or mediator, if necessary
- Finalising the devolution of policing and justice
- Helping to find ways of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles (victims and reconciliation)
- Promoting political stability through economic growth
- Maintaining community confidence in the institutions of government.
The Irish government in particular was keen for the US to continue to be “a critical neutral international observer — and, if needed, mediator — in the Northern Ireland Peace Process” — something the consulate and embassies did not dispute, the cable reveals.
Likewise, the authors did not disagree with the Irish government view that “sustained US involvement will encourage greater political co-operation between republicans and unionists (especially Sinn Fein and the DUP) and will help to maintain community confidence in the institutions of government in the North”.
It added: “In addition, they think that US involvement will help the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Irish government, and the British government deal effectively and peacefully with the volatile issues of unreconstructed republican dissidents and, as yet, still-armed unionist paramilitaries”.
The cable also suggested the reappointment of a powerful special envoy for Northern Ireland, following the departure of Paula Dobriansky with the change in presidential administration, although this suggestion was not taken up in Washington.
On the economy, the cable suggested it was now “time to move past direct funding in favour of encouraging increased international investment”, apparently raising questions over the £576 million funding invested by the International Fund for Ireland since 1986.
The increasing trend in US thinking towards “trade not aid” is further underscored in a cable towards the end of 2009 when Mr Kelly warned local political leaders that Washington was no longer prepared to play “Santa”.
In a blunt message, the special economic envoy said that it was time for businesses and community organisations to take charge of their own future.
He added that for too long the province has expected America to arrive with “Santa sacks”, and he warned this practice would no longer continue.
The comments were made during a visit to Dublin days after he took up the post. His approach revealed a steely determination on behalf of Washington to end any perception of Northern Ireland being spoon-fed.