To his colleagues at Iveagh House, the ornate Georgian palace off St Stephen’s Green once owned by the Guinness family but now the headquarters of the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Richard Ryan was known as ‘the man who dined for Ireland’.
With the Irish embassy in fashionable South Kensington as his base, it was Ryan’s task, during the months leading up to the 1985 Hillsborough Accord, to wine and dine Britain’s great and good, to discover what level of sympathy there was for Dublin’s ambitious hopes for an historic deal with Britain that would see off the burgeoning threat from Sinn Fein and to glean, if he could, the direction Mrs Thatcher and her ministers might be heading.
He also broke bread with fellow diplomats, especially those representing Britain’s allies, in an effort to discover what they might know. So it was that on or around April 30th, 1985, he lunched with one Peter Reams, an official in the US Embassy who previously had responsibility for Northern Ireland matters in the State Department in Washington.
His report of the meeting to his masters in Dublin was sent by courier service to Iveagh House. He had marked it ‘Confidential’ but on receipt his superiors upped that to ‘Secret’. A quick reading (thanks to the release of the document in 2015) especially of the final paragraph, provides the reason for that upgrading:
It is difficult to read that paragraph and not deduce two facts about the diplomats’ lunch. One is that Mr Reams, or was it Mr Ryan, had been a touch too generous with a doubtless excellent bottle of Bordeaux; the other was that the American diplomat’s remark was tantamount to an admission that Dublin’s favourite foreign ally was not beyond rummaging through Ireland’s dustbins, as it were.
Mr Ryan, who went on to become Irish ambassador to South Korea, appears to have had a knack at extracting spying admissions from officials of other governments. A month before his lunch with Mr Reams, he dined with Lord Gowrie, the second most senior minister in the Northern Ireland Office, who warned the Irish diplomat of a massive British spying operation targeted at Ryan’s colleagues.
As a result Ryan’s superiors decided to no longer trust electronic communication and instead used the services of a courier service, one of whose first missives delivered to Iveagh House seemingly warned of a similar exercise by the Americans.
Here, for posterity, is the full letter: