Belfast Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Yes it's a special relationship, but the US still doesn't trust Ireland

US president Barack Obama laid it on thick as he emphasised the historic ties between the Republic of Ireland and the US.

"Ours is a proud, enduring, centuries-old relationship . . . we are bound by history and friendship and shared values," he told the crowd in College Green last week.

But the trust between Ireland and the US is cast in a somewhat different light by the Ireland Cables.

The US government makes sure to keep an eye on every aspect of the lives of their friends and seeks direct access to the highest levels of authority in this country.

The Ireland Cables reveal the depth of information amassed by the Americans on politics in Ireland. It also charts a clear pattern of political developments.

The intense level of engagement on the Northern Ireland peace process post-Good Friday Agreement was genuinely positive.

The Americans worked as an honest broker with the Irish and British to coax the nationalist and unionist communities towards a power-sharing agreement.

The low profile outcome of last month's Northern Assembly elections and the straightforward formation of a new executive is a far cry from the frustration of five years ago when the gap between the DUP and Sinn Fein appeared unbridgeable.

The relative normality in Northern Ireland politics was contributed to enormously by US perseverance, as reflected in the cables to Washington.

Successive US presidential administrations had an interest in seeing the North's peace process succeed so it could be held as a shining example of bringing an end to an intractable conflict.

The cables also provide a candid insight into some of the behind-the-scenes meetings.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's threat to take back Ireland's constitutional claim on Northern Ireland shows the level of frustration at the DUP's refusal to implement the Good Friday Agreement.

And even President Mary McAleese told the US government that pressure would have to be put on Ian Paisley's unionists to enter power-sharing government with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland as she was critical of the "appeasement" tactics of the British government.

What's truly surprising about the cables is the level of US monitoring of the political landscape in general and the level of contact with the most senior officials and politicians in the land.

WikiLeaks: US Embassy Cables
Click here to visit our WikiLeaks section and read more

The US does not deal with minions low down on the food chain.

As the economic and political crisis deepened, the Americans worked to forge closer links with Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Among the most prominent figures spoken to by the embassy were Fine Gael's economic adviser Andrew McDowell and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore's chief adviser Mark Garrett. Both now hold key roles in Government Buildings.

When the cabinet was announced in 2004, the embassy notes that five of the ministers were former participants in the Department of State's International Visitor programmes: Mary Coughlan, Dick Roche, Dermot Ahern, Mary Harney, and Seamus Brennan.

The embassy also noted Willie O'Dea's appointment as Irish defence minister "reflects his vote-getting potential, not his defence expertise".

In an intriguing and unexplained aside, a cable noted: "The United Kingdom is very disappointed by this appointment."

Every movement is assessed in terms of its potential effect on US interests -- with Shannon Airport popping up repeatedly at the top of the list of priorities.

Looking back at last week's formal meeting between Obama and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the only matter of significance discussed was the new Government's position on Shannon.

Recognising the importance the American side places on the issue, the Taoiseach made sure to emphasise there would no change. "I reiterated the no-change policy in respect of the use of Shannon in respect of American aircraft serving the UN resolutions passing through," he said.

Successive governments have held back from threatening to withdraw the facility, but the Americans place a high value on it and are clearly aware of the concerns on this side of the Atlantic about contributing to the US war effort and the allegations about rendition flights refuelling at Shannon.

Beneath the relationship lies a nervousness on the US part and they leave nothing to chance.

The current Taoiseach is not the first to ringfence Shannon.

In the Ireland Cables, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is described as "behind Ireland's steadfast support for the US in permitting US military transits at Shannon and Dublin Airports (347,000 troops in 2005) that backstop US actions, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan".

On the day Ahern announced his resignation, the embassy was on the hotline to Government Buildings and Iveagh House seeking reassurances.

The Americans' access to the highest levels means they expect to get an accurate picture of what is happening.

The seemingly off-the-record nature of their briefings means their contacts tend to be more open and honest in their appraisals.

Frequently, they appear to get information from Irish government and civil service sources before the public are informed.

Alarm bells began to ring after a meeting between the former Ambassador Thomas Foley in June 2008 when Mr Cowen offered "limited insight" into likely next steps of the Irish Government or the European Union. Cowen's failure to read the economic downturn is also highlighted.

"While he did acknowledge a significant downturn in the current year, Cowen believes that media reports are exaggerated and he is 'not too worried' about it," the ambassador wrote.

Within six months, the US deputy chief of mission in Dublin, Robert Faucher, said bluntly: "Many people in Ireland are beginning to ask: 'How long can Cowen hold on to his job?'"

Indeed, the US diplomats could serve as political consultants such is the frequent accuracy of their analysis.

The relationship is "proud, enduring, centuries-old" -- but Washington's man in Dublin makes sure to keep an ultra-close eye on activities in the old country.

The amount of preparation, security and logistical planning for Obama's 12 hours in Ireland certainly astounded many.

But it is clear the US keeps a 24-7-365 eye on events in the country.

And if they're this detailed in their monitoring of a friendly ally, imagine the set-up in other countries.

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