174. Telegram From the Embassy in Ireland to the Department of State1

740. Subj: Civair—Landing Rights. Ref: State 119421.2

1. On July 4 Ambassador and DCM met with FonMin Hillery and PermSec McCann to whom PM Lynch has delegated current responsibility for GOI efforts to settle landing rights question.

2. We conveyed contents of Deptel 119421 and pressed GOI to come now to grips with this issue on the basis that we will require some onward rights and will not grant what they call “political optics” such as right to put their Chicago flight through New York/Boston.

3. They pointed out in bitter terms that USG present demands now exceed levels we offered to accept in previous unsuccessful landing rights negotiations, and characterized present USG position as “punitive” and “vindictive” and totally unacceptable to GOI and Irish public. We pressed hard on the need for GOI to formulate some kind of position allowing us onward rights that could form at least the basis for a discussions.

4. Hillery reviewed again the political pressures on the GOI at this critical time and said that GOI had had to bite the bullet hard to make offer of Dublin landing rights conveyed to Dept by Ambassador in January and again to Peter Flanigan and Mr. Katz on June 27 (see Dublin 0657).3 Hillery said they were now willing to incur the hostility of Shannon area politicians, labor unions, clergy, etc. by granting Dublin rights but that conceding onward rights as well would also trigger revolt in Dublin area on part of airline lobby and the large and muscular Dublin labor unions concerned. This, he opined, would be an unacceptable political price which the government would reject.

5. Nevertheless he said he would consult Cabinet and sound out the airline management and union leaders.

6. July 5 we were summoned to FonOff and informed by McCann that Cabinet and airline management had been consulted and simply [Page 613] refused to consider granting any onward flights on substantive ground that this concession to American carriers would create a “hemorrhage” that would destroy Irish carrier. Words like “rape”, “vindictive” and “unfriendly” were quoted. McCann informed us confidentially that airline financial results to be published “later this month” would show loss of six million dollars on their transatlantic service. He said USG present position makes it appear we are prepared to destroy airline at time of tourist crisis in Ireland and political crisis in North.

7. Re our willingness to make public assurances that we would be prepared to consider remedial measures should the Irish carrier suffer losses, McCann bitterly repeated that they were already suffering severe losses and that GOI attitude was that they would not accept a situation which would worsen their situation and make their survival from year to year dependent on our sufferance. He said that it was unbecoming to the relationship between our two countries that we should wish to force them into a dependent position and queried what they could expect in actual help. He added our language gave GOI no idea of what was specifically meant. He repeated that, having now offered us what we essentially had been seeking prior to our terminating the bi-lateral, what we were now demanding in the way of onward rights was a substantial escalation of our earlier demands and our action appeared unfriendly and vindictive. He said in summary that the Irish would not accept our demands.

8. In discussing with McCann what will happen next, he appeared genuinely puzzled himself, saying he simply didn’t know. He reminded us again that the Irish are capable of acting in what we would perhaps consider to be an irrational, even masochistic, way. He said that, as matters now stand between USG and GOI, it appears that “the tragedy will simply have to unfold.” He, for his part, now proposes to exit from the stage and is leaving for three weeks vacation.

9. In trying to divine what considerations underlie Irish thinking, we believe that the following are paramount:

A) Political: With the expulsion June 26 of Neil Blaney from the government party, its control of the Dail became tenuous indeed—exactly 72 out of 144 Deputies with a by-election coming up in a Cork constituency formerly held by a government Deputy. In addition, the government expects to name a commissioner to the EEC within the next few months (probably Dr. Hillery himself), which will mean a second by-election—this one in County Clare, home of the “Shannon Lobby.” Hillery’s strong views on the unacceptability to the government of paying our full price for settling the landing rights issue therefore appear to be based on local political realities. So do McCann’s views on the bitterness that will result from our pressing the issue—at least so long as the present party remains in power.

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B) Economic: We are told that Irish Airlines has convinced GOI that any onward rights beyond Dublin would result in a diversion of traffic that would ultimately make their transatlantic service uneconomic. They are already in financial difficulty, and it appears they would rather meet the issue head-on in which case the blame for their financial difficulties could be firmly fixed on the USG rather than accede to an agreement that they believe would see their situation slowly wane.

C) Tactical: Although we have warned otherwise, the Irish probably feel that they can’t be much worse off, even if they change their minds and come around at the last minute, so that, taking everything else into account, they have simply decided to hold out and force USG to strongarm GOI. It may be that they feel there is not yet sufficient public pressure on them to settle. When we asked about this, however, McCann pointed out that the concomitant to the public pressure we’re talking about is what he had always thought would be an unacceptable deterioration of our bilateral relations.

10. For Governor Reagan:4 Understand you are fully briefed on landing rights issue. Since it is quite probable that you will be pressed on this question during your Irish visit, this cable is to keep you au courant.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 694, Country Files—Europe, Ireland. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Paris for Governor Ronald Reagan. Sent to the White House for Peter Flanigan, NSC, and U.S. Secret Service; to EUR for Springsteen and Scott George; and to the Economic Bureau for Armstrong, Rein, and Meadows.
  2. Dated July 1. It informed the Embassy that while the United States could not accept the package offered by McCann, it could accommodate the Irish on some areas of concern and was ready to use the offer as “a basis for negotiation” subject to modifications. (Ibid.)
  3. Dated June 15. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, AV 4 IRE–US)
  4. Reagan visited Denmark, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Ireland July 2–21. Documentation on the trip is ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 830, Name Files, Gov. Reagan. Reagan made reference to the trip in An American Life, pp. 187–188.