Irish government officials privately branded Northern Ireland’s Civil Service as oversized, inefficient and rooted in the past, according to a leaked US embassy cable.
The hard-hitting comments were made in January 2008. The cable quoted Pat Hennessy from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Martin Fraser, an international affairs adviser to then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
According to the dispatch, both warned “a lack of capability” in the NI Civil Service could adversely affect economic development and community reconciliation.
Mr Fraser is also said to have described civil servants here as “inexperienced” when it came to international relations.
The cable, which was marked ‘confidential’, said the comments were made to Kathy Allegrone, a US official specialising in European affairs visiting Dublin.
It was later circulated by then US Ambassador Thomas Foley to the State Department in Washington and American embassies across the EU.
Although both Irish officials noted there had been remarkable progress, they identified several problems, with the civil service in Northern Ireland singled out for particular criticism.
In the cable, Mr Fraser is said to have commented to Ms Allegrone that it was “in need of reform”.
“Not only is it too big it is also generally unresponsive to the sort of innovative change needed as the North develops its economy and reconciles its communities,” the cable reads.
Mr Fraser was particularly concerned that these shortcomings could adversely affect an upcoming US/Northern Ireland investment conference, which was to take place in May of that year.
The three-day conference would involve 120 senior executives from 80 leading US corporations and was being billed as a key boost to the region’s economy.
Mr Fraser also expressed concerns about the attitude of parts of the Northern Ireland Civil Service towards their counterparts in the south, saying some officials “appear reluctant to deal with government of Ireland officials”.
According to the cable, Mr Fraser also claimed civil servants and politicians here had much to learn about international relations.
He thought the Northern Ireland civil service — and, indeed, the politicians — were very inexperienced at playing on the international stage.
Mr Fraser said they seemed to take access to senior officials in the UK, EU and US for granted and didn’t take good advantage of such access, not realising that the window of opportunity for such contacts is closing.
He concluded that the Assembly needed all the help it can get.
The cable states that Mr Hennessy concurred with his colleague’s overall assessment.
The investment conference was a major success, paving the way for millions of pounds of US investment. It also strengthened links with corporate America, with firms including Citygroup and the New York Stock Exchange establishing a presence here.