Belfast Telegraph

State papers: Shorts' lack of Catholic staff caused ripples in US

Shorts factory floor.
Shorts factory floor.

By Cate McCurry

A top American politician attempted to introduce legislation directly aimed at a Northern Ireland company which would prevent it receiving US contracts over its religious imbalance.

Correspondence from Irish government officials about Short Brothers aircraft factory in 1988 shows US political figures tried to ensure more Catholics were employed at the Belfast plant.

Shorts was the largest employer in Northern Ireland at the time with a workforce of 7,000 people. The firm had an overwhelming majority Protestant workforce, with Catholics making up just 11%, despite Catholics making up 40% of the general population.

Employment legislation was introduced at the time to ensure that companies adhered to fair employment practice.

In a bid to ensure that Short Brothers signed up to the legislation and committed to supporting equal opportunities, the US Defence Appropriations Bill included a provision that would prevent the company from receiving funds from a $60m (£47.3m) aircraft contract.

Part of the bill was aimed at prohibiting the award of US defence contracts to foreign or domestic companies that discriminated against workers in foreign countries where the contracts are fulfilled.

State papers, released in Dublin, show congressman Joe Kennedy proposed an amendment to the bill that would direct legislation towards Short Brothers. However, this provoked anger with US Democrat Jim Wright as he was friends with the lobbyist employed by Short Brothers.

As a result, the amendment included all foreign companies.

At the time, Dick Sinnott, Short's lobbyist, said the firm was committed to employing a minimum of 130 Catholics immediately in the Dunmurry factory and would set aside $5m (£4m) for predominately Catholic subcontracting firms.

In a confidential note from an Irish official, it emerged there was disagreement on the timetable of recruiting Catholics.

"Their understanding is that it would be 17.5% for 1988 and 25% for each of the two years, 1989 and 1990 and a goal of 33% thereafter was no specific timeframe," the official wrote.

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