British interest in appointment of Kennedy-Smith as US ambassador in Dublin

Report of walk in the Phoenix Park by the new ambassador and the Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginness

British interest in the appointment of Jean Kennedy-Smith as US ambassador in Dublin in 1993 emerges in this year’s previously confidential files released by the Public Record Office in Belfast.

The files also contain a colourful report of a walk by the new ambassador in "mufti" with the Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginness in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

Kennedy-Smith's appointment was announced by the US president Bill Clinton on St Patrick's Day 1993 during the visit of Taoiseach Albert Reynolds to Washington. At the time it was seen as a gesture to Irish-Americans, and a symbol of the president's commitment to a settlement in Northern Ireland.

Kennedy-Smith – sister of the late president John F Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy – was seen in diplomatic eyes, particularly in London, as providing Clinton's "eyes and ears" in the Irish scene, as well as paving the way for an Irish presidential trip.


Unionists were generally suspicious of the appointment, a point raised by Northern Secretary Patrick Mayhew at a breakfast with the US ambassador to the UK Ray Seitz on July 23th, 1993. He told the ambassador that while the British government was pleased Kennedy-Smith wanted to come North, "we were anxious that the character and frequency of her visits should not fuel Unionist suspicions that their purpose was to confirm the territorial claim [by the Irish government]".

Mayhew also stressed the need for balance in any visits by Kennedy-Smith to the North.

The issue was followed up at a meeting between J McKervill, an Northern Ireland Office official, and Jim Glenn, first secretary at the American embassy in Dublin in July 1993.

Glenn reported that Kennedy-Smith was still on a learning curve but had remarked to him recently that “she felt the Irish government was not taking sufficient account of Unionist concerns”. The US diplomat was “very clear” on one point, McKervill said, “there would be no handshake with the Sinn Féin president!”

Phoenix Park walk

A further note in the file revealed that Maginness met Kennedy-Smith in Dublin in an encounter arranged by the Reverend John Dunlop. Maginness had said that the meeting had taken the form of a walk in the Phoenix Park.

An Northern Ireland official noted: “This had been intended to maintain maximum confidentiality but, in the event, several people had approached them wanting to shake Mr Maginness’s hand; apparently no one recognised Mrs Kennedy-Smith.”

During the meeting the ambassador had offered to arrange for the Unionist MP to meet two influential US senators, Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden [the future US vice-president]. Maginness had readily accepted her offer."

The official noted that “Mr Maginness’s role as a UUP trail-blazer is well known, and it is no surprise he should have encountered Mrs Kennedy-Smith in this way”.

The possibility of closer relations between unionism and Washington, the official noted, was to be welcomed.