Peter Robinson attempted to stop big American firms from investing in Northern Ireland in 1986, Government files declassified today reveal.
The then DUP deputy leader made the request to the then US Consul General during a private meeting, but the puzzling intervention was later relayed to the Secretary of State by the American diplomat.
As First Minister, Mr Robinson now leads trade delegations to the US in an attempt to persuade American firms to come to Northern Ireland and is lobby for a cut in corporation tax in order to encourage more investment in the Province.
Last night the News Letter asked the DUP if Mr Robinson could explain what he hoped to achieve by such a request, given that unemployment at the time was more than 21 per cent. In a brief comment, the party said that the document was “complete rubbish”.
Mr Robinson’s intervention with the US Consul General — which seems to have been related to unionist protests aboutt he Anglo-Irish Agreement — came in a year where the declassified files show that the Government struggled to understand the DUP in general, and Mr Robinson in particular. The files also reveal that the RUC tipped off the Garda about Mr Robinson’s ‘invasion’ of Clontibret that year.
A note of US Consul General Robert Myers’ meeting with Secretary of State Tom King on 8 September 1986 said that Mr Myers “had been surprised to find stark contrasts here: on the one hand NI people were so friendly; and on the other hand there was the viciousness of some unionists.
“He had met Mr Peter Robinson who had said that there would be opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement no matter what the cost.
“Mr Robinson had suggested to Mr Myers that he should tell US firms thinking of investing here not to come.
“Even so, Mr Myers thought, looking at the recent ‘Shorts’ intimidation episode, that Mr Robinson and Dr Paisley might be more moderate than they like sometimes to appear.”
The Secretary of State told Mr Myers that Northern Ireland people “were indeed friendly notwithstanding that there were instances of extreme bigotry”.
Mr Myers also related how that he had been told by a Japanese merchant banking firm that Northern Ireland’s package of economic incentives “was second only to Luxembourg’s”.
However, Mr Robinson’s request that the US diplomat discourage investment in Northern Ireland appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
The minute added: “Mr Myers said that he would certainly want to encourage firms to come here and would be inviting businessmen, as well as (eg) legislators, to the residence”.
More from the declasified state papers