By Denis Staunton.
Days after Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973, Richard Nixon urged former Taoiseach Jack Lynch to act as a “broker” between European and American interests by discouraging protectionism.
The request came during a 30-minute meeting at the Oval Office on January 5th, 1973, a recording of which is part of 150 hours of newly released White House tapes.
Ireland had joined the Common Market, along with Britain and Denmark, just four days earlier and Nixon told Lynch he was worried about the bloc’s future trade policy.
“There’s a lot of concern in this country about what’s going to happen in relation to Europe. And I would think myself and would hope that Ireland would play, the Irish government would play frankly a broker’s role and say, look, we’d better look out for this. You may have more fish to fry with us than with some of these other people,” Nixon said.
“That’s right,” Lynch replied.
“We would hope so.”
Peter Flanigan, who was Nixon’s assistant for international economic affairs and attended the meeting with Lynch, confirmed to The Irish Times yesterday that the White House had indeed feared that the Common Market would move towards protectionism.
Lynch was in Washington to attend a memorial service for former president Harry Truman but he took the opportunity of the White House meeting to brief Nixon on developments in the North in the run-up to the Sunningdale Agreement and to discuss bilateral economic issues.
Much of the discussion focused on a dispute over the Shannon stopover, with the White House threatening to lift Aer Lingus’s right to land at Chicago unless the required stopover at Shannon for US carriers was shortened.
Nixon offered no concessions to Lynch on the landing rights issue but he advised the Taoiseach on how he could spin the meeting back in Ireland.
“You could say that the president directed that Mr Flanigan review the problem again, bearing in mind the points you made,” Nixon suggested.
Lynch told Nixon that the Irish economy was doing well and was a good venue for US investment, although he had harsh words for the unions.
“Our big problem, of course, is that our trade unionists have inherited all the bad habits of the British trade union movement. They’re looking for too much for too little work,” Lynch said.
The US president said it was difficult to handle unions, particularly if they were unable to impose discipline on their own members.
“You know, it’s really hard to be a responsible leader in Ireland, just as it’s hard to be a responsible leader in America,” said Nixon, who would resign from office the following year in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
Other newly released recordings cast further light on Nixon’s handling of the Watergate investigation and the former president’s attitude to abortion. After the supreme court struck down laws criminalizing abortion in June 1973, Nixon expressed concern that the ruling could encourage permissiveness but suggested that abortion could be necessary in some cases, including interracial pregnancies.
“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape,” he told an aide.