WikiLeaks: The deal to relocate 5,000 jobs from Dublin to Belfast
Officials behind a high-profile deal which could have seen thousands of jobs transferred from Dublin to Northern Ireland thought it was preferable they went to Belfast rather than Poland, according to a leaked embassy cable.
The US were allegedly told the agreement, which could have resulted in 5,000 high-powered financial services positions being relocated north, emerged because those involved wanted to keep jobs on the island rather than lose them to mainland Europe.
The controversial claims are detailed in a confidential dispatch from then Irish Ambassador Thomas Foley.
It was written following the April 2008 announcement that companies operating within the Irish Financial Services Centre in Dublin could expand northwards without having to pay more tax.
Corporation tax in Northern Ireland stood at 28% at the time and only 12.5% in the Republic.
The cable also claims a public statement acknowledging a preference for Belfast was quickly ruled out because it “would run afoul of EU law”.
The deal was hailed as a key example of cross-border co-operation and trumpeted as a major economic coup for the region’s economy. At the time Peter Robinson, who would soon swap his finance portfolio for the First Minister’s job, said: “This is the outcome of us having worked together.”
However, it’s understood the proposed jobs plan was never put into practice because of the economic collapse in the Republic.
The leaked cable, written three weeks afterwards, reports on the lead-up to the announcement following a briefing between an embassy official and Kevin Cardiff, secretary general in the Department of Finance.
According to the cable, Mr Cardiff said keeping jobs in Ireland was the main motivation in expanding into Northern Ireland.
“Cardiff said that what was unsaid — but very much part of the thinking of those who crafted the announcement — was that if jobs were going to move from the Republic, Irish officials ‘would much prefer they go to Belfast than Poland’,” the cable states.
US diplomats were briefed that not all Northern Ireland officials were in agreement about the value of the announcement.
In an explanatory comment, the ambassador notes: “There are significant pockets of unionism that see stronger links with the South as an end-run to subjugate unionist communities in the North”.
Some northern officials wanted Dublin to explicitly state that moving jobs to Belfast was preferable to moving them to other parts of the EU.
But according to the cable, Mr Cardiff said no-one in the Department of Finance seriously considered such a statement, which “would run afoul of EU law”.
At the end of the cable, Mr Foley comments that the jobs deal came at a time when the Irish economy was starting to decline.
“While this announcement was genuine in terms of the Irish Government’s wish to promote economic growth in the North, and certainly added luster to North-South co-operation, it was also mildly disingenuous,” he remarks.
At the time, Taoiseach Brian Cowen described the move as beneficial for Dublin and the north.