Misgivings about Soviet diplomatic links

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 1 (Spring 2002), News, Volume 10

May Day parade in Red Square, Moscow c. 1970s—in 1971 only the Department of Defence opposed establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. (Connolly Books)

May Day parade in Red Square, Moscow c. 1970s—in 1971 only the Department of Defence opposed establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. (Connolly Books)

Cold War paranoia and hunger for new markets clashed in governmentdisscussions in 1971 on the desirability of establishing diplomaticlinks with the Soviet Union and Poland. In a memorandum of 28 October1971 the cabinet was informed:

The Minister for Foreign Affairs [Dr Patrick Hillery] considers thatthe establishment of formal relations with at least some of the easternEuropean countries would improve our trade prospects in their markets.He also feels that there are broad political reasons for deciding toestablish such relations.
The Minister believes that the exchange of residential diplomaticmissions would be justifiable in the case of the Soviet Union and thatdiplomatic relations should be opened with Poland through secondaryaccreditions of ambassadors resident in other capitals.

Before the matter was put to the government relevant departments wereconsulted. The Ministers for Finance (George Colley) and Industry andCommerce (Patrick Lalor) were wholeheartedly in favour of exchangingdiplomats. The Department of the Taoiseach had no observations to offerwhen first contacted but complained rather sniffily later on: ‘it isconsidered that this Department should have been consulted in regard tothe terms of the Memorandum [of 28/10/71] at the drafting stage’. Onbehalf of Des O’Malley it was stated: ‘The Minister for Justice doesnot wish to oppose the proposals if the Minister for Foreign Affairsfeels they are of some value but he has considerable misgivings onsecurity grounds.’
The only real opposition came from the Department of Defence headedby Jerry Cronin. A letter of 6 September 1971 (marked ‘secret’) fromthe secretary of that department, S. Ó Cearnaigh, to Foreign Affairsstated:

This Department is opposed to the establishment of a diplomatic missionof the Soviet Union in this country, even with the personnel involvedunder surveillance; such a mission would facilitate intelligenceactivities here and against other countries.
If, nevertheless your Departmant should decide to put therecommendation to the government it is suggested that the Memorandumshould cover in some detail the question of possible intelligenceactivities and, perhaps, the experience of other countries in thisregard.

Attached to the latter is a four-point memorandum in near-apocalyptic terms [words capitalised as in original]:

1    From a Security viewpoint the establishment of a Russiandiplomatic Service in this country even with proper surveillance teamsis NOT recommended because it would provide cover and direction forRussian intelligence operations targetted against us or against THIRDcountries friendly with us. This has been the experience elsewhere.

2    It must be pointed out that neither ESPIONAGE nor SABOTAGE cantake place effectively without SUBVERSION and we know that there aresome citizens of this country already subverted to MARXISM who wouldnot hesitate to do the Soviet bidding.

3    We know that out of a total of 500 Soviet citizens in a nearbycountry as many as 200 have been identified as having an intelligencefunction within that country.

4    Economic considerations should not be allowed outweigh securityconsiderations. The national interest must always supercede commercialconsiderations if the nation is to survive.

Despite these dire warnings, trade won out at the cabinet table and on21 December 1971 the government authorised the establishment ofdiplomatic relations with the USSR and Poland.


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