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WikiLeaks envoy unfazed by Ritchie row

The top US official who described Margaret Ritchie as “wooden” has insisted the controversy will not prevent her from doing her job.

Speaking for the first time about her comments, Kamala Lakhdhir, the US Consul General, played down personal embarrassment over her description of the SDLP leader, as “stilted” and “lacking business acumen”.

This unflattering assessment of the SDLP leader was set out in a WikiLeaks cable sent to her State Department bosses in February last year that was revealed by the Belfast Telegraph.

In the cable Ms Lakhdhir criticised Ms Ritchie’s “faltering rhetorical skills” and said her lack of business acumen may limit her ability to take on Sinn Fein. The two women have not met since the cable was published, but, according to SDLP sources, there will be a meeting within weeks.

Ms Lakhdhir denied that publication of the cable’s contents had damaged her ability to do her job in Northern Ireland, where she has been posted for nearly two years.

“I continue to have very good working relationships across the political spectrum,” she said.

“I work with all the political leaders in Northern Ireland. That is my responsibility as Consul General. I meet with Margaret. I meet with many others. I see them at official receptions, official meetings, and I will continue to do so.”

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The cable also reported comments made to consulate staff by other SDLP members, including Dr Alasdair McDonnell and Conall McDevitt, at last year’s party conference.

Ms Lakhdhir appeared concerned that people might not talk so freely in future.

“There is an importance to confidentiality and trust when you have a working relationship with people, whether it is a political leader, whether it is a religious leader or a student leader,” she said. “It is important to have confidence that you can have private conversations and that those private conversations will not be released without any control.”

Asked if she had been embarrassed she said: “I am focused on the objectives of the US in Northern Ireland which are fundamentally about protecting and sustaining the peace process and helping Northern Ireland gain a prosperity which will underpin the peace process. That is what is important and personal embarrassment doesn’t come into it.”

In keeping with strict US global policy on dealing with WikiLeaks, the Consul General added: “I am unable to comment on classified documents and the impact of their release in Northern Ireland or worldwide.”

Story so far

Last month The Belfast Telegraph revealed the contents of WikiLeaks cables. One document revealed that Ms Lakhdhir believed that the SDLP leader “does not possess the rhetorical skills of predecessor Mark Durkan”. Margaret Ritchie laughed off the controversy by singing lines from ‘Wooden Heart’ by Elvis Presley.

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