Mike Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland
Editors’ note: Four years after he finished his second term as governor of Wyoming, Casper attorney Mike Sullivan was named U.S. ambassador to Ireland by President Bill Clinton. Sullivan arrived in Dublin in January 1999 at a time when the ink was barely dry on the Good Friday Agreement, signed nine months earlier, bringing peace in Northern Ireland after three decades of bombings, murders and stalemate. The stalemate was political, among parties and interests--and military, among paramilitary forces of the largely Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA), the mostly Protestant Loyalist fighters like the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and others—and the British Army. No agreement would have been possible without the participation of the government of the Republic of Ireland, as well as the United Kingdom, in addition to the political and paramilitary forces of the North. American pressure, from the Clinton Administration and well-organized Irish-Americans working in concert, played a large role in the settlement as well.
Key to the agreement was an essentially open border between Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic. After nearly 21 years of a complicated, sometimes uneasy peace, as this oral history is published, the arrangement is again in peril as the U.K. contemplates departure from the European Union—Brexit—which may mean the return to a hard border and with it the return of many old, hard feelings that even now could jeopardize the agreements.
In a largely separate matter, Sullivan also recounts how he was recruited near the end of his term as ambassador by Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush to join the Bush administration as secretary of the Interior.
This interview was conducted Jan. 8, 2019 at the Casper College Western History Center in Casper, Wyo., by WyoHistory.org Editor Tom Rea. Special thanks to the center and to Vince Crolla, archivist, for the transcription and the audio.
Play the audio
Tom Rea: So your last name is Sullivan.
Gov. Mike Sullivan: It is.
Rea: Can you tell me a little about how your family got to here and your roots in Ireland?
Sullivan: Sure. On my mother’s side, which they were Hamiltons, they were Irish as well. But her family was in the railroad, worked with the railroad. Her grandfather was an engineer and her father ended up to be an engineer for the Union Pacific. She was born in—my mother was born in Evanston and then moved. When I was a kid, my Grandfather was working in Torrington for the railroad. Head of the roundhouse in Torrington. And so I don’t know exactly how they came over. They were here before I learned about ‘em. And—but I did meet uh relatives in Ireland from their time in Ireland. They lived in the midlands in Longford.
Sullivan: County Longford. And then on my father’s side, they were County Cork from Ireland and my great-grandfather came over during the—I think the tail end of the potato famine and was a miner in the Beara Peninsula  in Cork. And they—copper or whatever they were mining there, I think it was copper, ran out, so they all came over. Not all of them, a number of them. As a—he came over as a young man and went to the iron mines in Michigan. And then a—a man named O’Neill, Colonel—I think was John O’Neill who was a—from the Civil War and a zealot of Ireland who attacked Canada three times to—to remove the Queen from—
Rea: The Fenians  , right?
Sullivan: Yeah, that’s right.
Rea: Yep, uh huh, uh huh.
Sullivan: And he ended up ultimately getting thrown in jail and finally I think decided that was a lost cause so gave it up. But he ended going to the—to the iron mines in Michigan and encouraging the iron miners to—said, “You’re not being treated any better here than you were in Ireland. They’re giving away land in the West. Follow me.” So they called ‘em the Michiganders and they went to O’Neill, Nebraska and formed O’Neill in the late 1800s or—I don’t know, I’m not sure exactly when they got there. I have it in my information because I met, in Ireland, an American lady who’s—who grew up in O’Neill and whose grandfather was one of the—or great-grandfather was one of the Michiganders, which was kind of fun. But so he—he was a farmer in O’Neill and had 7 or 8 children. My grandfather was one of those. And my grandfather graduated from Creighton Law School and came to Wyoming. First came to Casper, he was in Casper in a year or two, about 1900. And then went to Laramie to practice law. And so my father was born in Laramie, my mother in Evanston. And they met at the University [of Wyoming], but my dad went off to work for the Federal Land Bank [in Omaha] and later my—that was the only place he could get a job in the early 30s and then later my mother went off and worked for the Federal Land Bank. Not following him, because they weren’t dating until they got to Omaha.
Rea: Oh I see.
Sullivan: And they were married in Omaha and my older brother and I were born in Omaha.
Sullivan: It’s one big cross that I have borne all my life.
Sullivan: Everyone in my family was born in Wyoming but me. So at the Centennial, when I was governor, I was only one in my family who couldn’t get a “Made in Wyoming” button.
Rea: [Laughs] I didn’t know that. That’s interesting. Yeah. I should say before we get any farther into this, I’m sitting here with former governor Mike Sullivan here in Casper. It’s the—it’s the 8thof January, 2019. My name’s Tom Rea, I’m the editor of Wyohistory.org and we’re asking Mike today about his Irish connections. And so-
Sullivan: And my time in Ireland as Ambassador.
Rea: And your time as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland after he was governor of Wyoming. So as you were growing up, did you have a feeling about Ireland? Was it something your family talked about much? It’s fairly far back for you.
Sullivan: It’s an interesting question.
Sullivan: Which—which I’ve contemplated a lot because I did and I didn’t. My dad used to sing some Irish songs and we always were happy on St. Patrick’s Day but we weren’t what I’d call “professional Irish.”
Sullivan: We—we were proud of it. But we didn’t spend a lot of time on it, nor did I learn a lot about it, nor I didn’t learn until later in life my—my grandparents’ travels and how they got here. That wasn’t something we talked a lot about. I think it was—there was more Irish in Laramie when we visit my grandparents in—in Laramie. And it was a more—their family—my grandfather and grandmother were more sort of traditional Irish and big breakfasts, and my grandfather never drove a car. My grandmother drove him around. He came home, put on a smoking jacket. She waited on him. So I think that’s more traditional Irish. Anyway so it was there and it wasn’t there and none of my family—I had an aunt on my mother’s side who—and an aunt on my father’s side, his sister, who went to Ireland while I was—sometime between growing up and adulthood. My growing up and adulthood. So but-
Rea: You mean they moved there? Or they traveled there?
Sullivan: No, well actually my aunt, my dad’s sister ended up living in Ireland for a couple of years because she was married to a guy who worked for Marathon and they were in—working for Marathon in Scotland and Ireland. But, you know, nobody in the family really went back to Ireland or there wasn’t any particular need or it wasn’t on the—the top of anyone’s priorities. So it was a part of our lives, but not a priority or significant part. Yet, when I ultimately went to Ireland and as I matured and learned more both about Ireland and Irish people, I started realizing that all of the old couples that my parents sort of helped along the way and my dad who was a lawyer in Douglas represented and took care of the widows and so on. And the same in Laramie, the O'Flannigans and the Cocklands and so on. They were all Irish. So there was a—a much higher presence than I appreciated as a—as a young man. Because they were—they were taking care of the Irish and concerned and their friends, at least the ones that they were helping, I mean they had lots of friends that weren’t Irish, but they were always as I learned when I started looking at the pubs in Ireland, the names of the pubs, the O’Learys and those kinds of names that I really didn’t connect up as Irish. And so it was an important part of my parents’ lives.
Rea: And I think of there being longtime Irish communities in Wyoming, a lot of them sheep ranching families-
Sullivan: A lot-
Rea: Ellises and Tobins-
Sullivan: And—and more of a presence here in Casper.
Sullivan: Than—than otherwise and that’s, you know, the—the Mackins and O’Learys and the Collins and—and others were sort of isolated instances. They didn’t really have the community because Douglas, where I grew up, wasn’t that big a community. But here [in Casper], I think it was more of a community of Irish and it would have—probably would have occurred to me earlier. In fact, just as—as an aside, when I got to Ireland, and I had never been to Ireland before, and had no particular connection with my family apart from what I learned from my aunts.
And—but, because I was from Casper, Wyoming at that point in time, the Sheep’s Head Peninsula  , which is sort of the center of the Casper Irish, in County Cork, assumed that I was part of the Sullivans from Casper. Which, I wasn’t. I was happy to take credit for being a part of them, but I wasn’t. And yet the Beara Peninsula, which is the next peninsula north of the Sheepshead Peninsula, knew from some background, that I was really a Beara Sullivan. And so that created a little bit of—of competition between the two. And I didn’t ever, I didn’t ever try to claim both, but I took advantage of both. Because they were still cousins of—of the Murphys and the Sullivans and—and the Ellises and others that came from the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, there were a lot of relatives there. There weren’t many rel—I wasn’t able to trace direct relatives except I was related to everybody on Beara as near as I could tell.
Sullivan: But I got the benefit of being connected with both and that added to the—added to the pleasure of—of the experience.
Rea: Uh huh. Okay. So you served as governor from 198—must have been 87 through 93.
Rea: Oh yeah, okay.
Sullivan: Actually January of 95 it would have been the inauguration.
Sullivan: Was yesterday.
Rea: [Laughs] that’s right.
Sullivan: I think was the 6thof the January when I was—when I went out as Governor.
Rea: Alright, and then you ran for the [U.S.] Senate two years later?
Sullivan: No, I ran for the senate that year that I was retiring as governor, so I ran in 86—no excuse me, not 86. 94.
Rea: Okay. Right.
Rea: Alright and you—and lost to Craig Thomas  .
Sullivan: Lost to Craig Thomas.
Rea: And then, so how did the Clinton appointment of you as U.S. Ambassador come about?
Sullivan: Well, Bill Clinton and I were very good friends. We served as governors together. And served on the Executive Committee of the National Governors Association together. And I had great respect and admiration for him and—and had told him one time that—I said, “When are you going to run for president?” We were having a cocktail after dinner in Washington and I said, “When are you going to run?” He said, “I don’t know.” But everybody knew he was gonna run. And I said, “Well, when you run, let me know, I’d be happy to support you.” Well as it turned out, that was in about—that was 90 or something when we had that conversation. Or it was a little before—it was before that I guess. Anyway, when he decided to run in 90, I think it was 90. He was elected 90-
Rea: He was elected in 92.
Sullivan: Yeah, okay.
Sullivan: That’s probably right. Okay. He started. Anyway, he—he called and said, “Remember our conversation?” And I said, “I do.” He said, “I’m gonna run.” I said, “Don’t think it’s a little early?” Because nobody anticipated that he would win that election. He said, “Well, and I understand that it’s probably early, but I think there’s—there’s a potential there.” And so I said, “Well, I told you, that was the case, I’m ready to support you.” So I did support him.
Rea: I remember that. I remember your coming out and endorsing him-
Sullivan: I was the first—first governor-
Rea: Well before the [national Democratic] convention [of 1992] and before the primaries were settled.
Sullivan: He needed—he needed some—some credible support. And I said, “I don’t think I’m that credible. We’re just a small state out here.”
Sullivan: You’re not going to gain a lot of electoral votes by my endorsement. But no, I said, “No.” So he flew out.
Sullivan: To Cheyenne. And—and Kathy Karpan, then [Wyoming]secretary of State, and I endorsed him. And so fast forward, he—he was elected. I was defeated. I was out as governor. He wanted me to come to Washington and do something. I said, “No, I don’t think I want to go to Washington.” I mean, I agreed to run for the Senate, but I wasn’t totally devastated by not getting to go to Washington as a—as a senator. You know, I don’t diminish the—the job, or the fact that I would have enjoyed doing it, but I thought, I’ll want to go back to practice law, wasn’t a politician to begin with. And I’d be happy to back and be a lawyer again. Anyway, I said, “But, you know, if a—if an ambassadorial position comes up that—where they speak English, ‘cause I don’t speak anything else, you know, the Vatican, New Zealand, or Ireland, I’d be happy to consider doing something like that.” Well, the Vatican did come up, and he ended up having—not having to, but appointing Cokie Roberts’s mother  , who was a congresswoman, whose husband had been killed in airplane crash. And, so, that didn’t happen. And then Ireland came up again because Jean Kennedy Smith  , President Kennedy’s sister, who had been there for five years. Her time—she ex—five years is a long time for a political appointee to be in, but she was a special political appointment.
Rea: Yes, yeah, yeah.
Sullivan: So it was open and I knew it was, but I didn’t ever talk to anybody because I thought, it’s one of the prime appointments, and you know, the people in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, and Boston, were lining up for it. And so I didn’t anticipate that I had any potential. So I never raised it. So I’m sitting in my office here in Casper one day and the phone rings and it’s the White House. And they said, “Governor Sullivan, you know there’s a—there’s an opening in Ireland for the ambassador.” And I said, “I understand that.” And she said, “Well your name’s on the list.” And I said, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” And she said, “It doesn’t fall off.”
Sullivan: “It doesn’t seem to fall off and—and we thought we better find out whether you had any interest before it went any further.” And I said, “Well, I can tell you right now I have an interest, but I can’t make that decision until I—until I talk to my wife Jane  .” She’s just sort of getting her roots back. This is a couple three years after we’ve gotten out of the governor’s office. And, “I couldn’t make that decision without talking to her about it, let me call you back tomorrow.” So I went home and I knew I was going to have to approach this carefully. So we had dinner and we were having a glass of wine out on the deck, it was a nice summer, early summer evening. And finally Jane says, “How was your day?” And I said, “Oh it was interesting.” She says, “What do you mean?” “Well,” I said, “How would you like to go to Ireland?” And she said, “On vacation?” And I said, “No, I got a call from the White House.” She said, “And you waited four hours to tell about this?”
Sullivan: So we talked about it and she said, “That would be an interesting.” And so I called back and said, “Yes,” and then waited and—and the nomination came ultimately and then it almost ran out of steam because of the posing impeachment.
Rea: Oh, right then-
Sullivan: Of—it was running into, well two things: One, I took a physical for the appointment, found out I had heart disease and had to have five-way bypass.
Rea: Oh my gosh.
Sullivan: In August.
Rea: So this was 1998?
Sullivan: 1990—98 yeah. It was just 20 years ago. And so in August I had the surgery. At that point the paperwork was in pretty much, but it wasn’t going anywhere partly because of politics and partly because of—of the pending impeachment  . And, you know, everybody was distracted. But I got the surgery done and two, I think, two and a half weeks after the surgery, I went to Washington to see if I could do something about getting the paperwork moving because I figured if I stayed—well two things: one, I was in limbo in my law practice. And two, if I stayed around too long and the impeachment went through, I’d never get to Ireland.
Sullivan: And I thought, yeah, I ought to at least get there, and enjoy that. And so when I got there they said, “Well, we have an agreement with congress—with the House, that—that—no the Senate, that there will be no more hearings on ambassadorial appointments before they go out the end of the year.
Rea: Oh, uh hm.
Sullivan: And I said, “Well, I want to get as far as I can get.” Well as it turned out, being from Wyoming has its special benefits, because the congressional delegation, all republican, were very supportive and were pleased for my appointment. So it was Liz Brimmer, who was on [U.S. Sen.] Craig Thomas’s staff, arranged to get me a spot in the last hearing before the Senate went out [of session]. And that was going to be held, much to the consternation of the State Department because you’re not supposed to be dealing with-
Rea: Directly with—with the Senate—without—
Sullivan: With the delegation of the Congress without, you know, having all of the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted. And uh—but she did it. It wasn’t because I was imposing it, she did it. So she said, “You get the paperwork done and we’ll,” and they agreed to have the hearing. And so we got it done and had the hearing and I think it was one of the last actions the Senate took following the hearing was to approve three appointments. There were three of us who went through—
Rea: So this would have been late in the year, maybe even after the election.
Sullivan: This was, yeah, this was-
Sullivan: October-November  . And so then I went the 1stof January of 1999. And my first stop was in New York to try to introduce myself to the sort of professional Irish in New York because they weren’t—they didn’t understand why somebody from Wyoming got their—this appointment. There weren’t any real Irishmen, in New York. So Jane and I were there for three or four days before we went to Ireland and had a lovely time meeting some wonderful people in New York who finally decided, okay.
Rea: He’ll be okay.
Rea: Ah, that’s really interesting. Okay. So you were there—then so you were in Dublin by around early January?
Sullivan: We—yeah shortly after the 1stof the year. Yeah.
Rea: Yep. Okay.
Sullivan: So we finally got to Ireland. After all this time.
Rea: No, that’s good. This is really interesting. I’ve been reading a lot about the trouble and the politics and, and so but before we talk about that, tell me a little more about what you found there and what your job really was and what Jane’s job really was?
Sullivan: Well, it—what we found there were—was that the—the position and the accommodations were about as good as it gets. The position, being ambassador to Ireland from the United States puts you at a—at an extremely high profile and a high level of acceptance in Ireland because of the unique relationship between the United States and Ireland over so many years-
Sullivan: And so many cousins and relatives in the United States and—and the impact that that emigration to the United States from Ireland had on Ireland during its most difficult times. They—you’ve heard—many have heard about letters from home, or letters to—to home from people that came over and established themselves and were successful ultimately. Through some difficult times, but ultimately successful in the United States. And—and they sent money home to the—to the extent that at one time, for a period of time, there was a budgetary line in the Irish national budget that was letters from America, or something to that effect. Because it had enough of a—of an impact on the domestic product in Ireland that it warranted being carried in the budget. So that—the U.S. ambassador was—was something. And having followed Jean Kennedy Smith, everybody was saying, “Okay, who’s this guy?” I mean, she was pretty special. And so it—and the U.S. because of its influence and U.S. Ambassador, not because of the personality, but because of the office, occupied, some people said, like the third highest profile in-
Rea: Mm-hmm, in the Republic.
Sullivan: In Ireland. Whether that’s true or not I suppose it’s debatable, but, that plus the U.S. Ambassador’s residence was situate in Phoenix Park, which is the largest walled park in Europe.
Rea: Didn’t know it had a wall around it. Yeah, uh-huh.
Sullivan: The whole thing. And I think it’s 1200 acres or something and there are two houses, basically. There’s caretaker’s houses. But there are two houses: the President of Ireland and the U.S. ambassador.
Rea: The U.S. ambassador.
Sullivan: And they were both built by the British in the s—our—our house was built 1776. And for the British-
Sullivan: Viceroy, yep.
Sullivan: And so you couldn’t have had better circumstances. And it was—was beyond any ability I had to even think about ever having been in a position like that. And so-
Rea: So—so you had a staff?
Sullivan: We had a staff. We had a butler. Head butler, assistant butler, two cooks, two or three people on the grounds, and an additional couple people taking care of the house.
Rea: And the U.S. Embassy staff also in Dublin, right?
Sullivan: The U.S. Embassy was situated across town and it had a staff of about 125 as I recall. Mostly Irish. About 100 Irish and 25 U.S.-
Rea: State Department people.
Sullivan: State Department people. And—and—and we had good—a good staff on both—both ends and so the circumstances were hard to—hard to beat.
Sullivan: And—and—and then the work which we’ll get into I expect is—was significant enough to make it a very satisfying-
Sullivan: And intense. It wasn’t as intense as being governor but it—it was—it was real work as distinguished from some ambassadorial positions were you—you really don’t have to work. Now the beauty of it is if I suppose if you didn’t want to work, you wouldn’t really have to. You had plenty of staff at—at the embassy. There were—there were expectations of course but you could—you could adjust your work level at pretty much two or three different levels, from top to bottom.
Rea: Was there sort of a chief of staff at the embassy? Or somebody who had been there a long time and knew the ropes?
Sullivan: Yes, there’s a deputy of—I lose track of the State Department names. But there’s a deputy who in the absence of the ambassador is the charge d'affaires and is in charge of the embassy and takes that. And when I got there, he had been in that position for some time. And—and was in charge for probably about six months before I got there. And then there was a press affairs person, an economic advisor, a political advisor, the c—the [U.S.] Commerce Department had a representative there, the Defense Department had a representative.
Sullivan: And uh so it was—it was good.
Rea: Uh huh. Uh huh. Oh Okay, so—and when you got there, so early 1999, so the Good Friday Accords had been signed I think in the spring of 1997 and then there was referendums-
Sullivan: No, ‘98.
Rea: Okay, that’s right. Okay.
Sullivan: They were about 6 months. The Good Friday Agreement  was about six months from having been signed.
Sullivan: It was signed on Good Friday of ’98, I think.
Rea: Right, right. And there was still then a referendum on it yet to come, or-
Sullivan: I don’t remember whether the referendum was before I got there or after I got there.
Sullivan: But it was—it was pretty well signed and sealed by the time I got there.
Rea: Right, right.
Sullivan: The—the challenge in it became though—probably the next to the safety of Americans, which the ambassadors always—that would be the first priority, would be safety of Americans in the country that you rep—that you’re stationed. That’s the embassy’s first and foremost assignment. The Good Friday Agreement and its implications were probably the most responsible issue that we had to deal with. And that was, as you would know from knowing something about the Good Friday Agreement, it was signed, but it wasn’t stable.
Sullivan: And so the assignment we had was to try to make sure the parties held it together and do whatever we could to—to assure that was the case. So we were—and even though I was in the Republic and Northern Ireland and Belfast were under the jurisdiction of the British, the ambassador to Great Britain—the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, we were still involved in the—in the process and because of the Republic through the—through the government of Ireland and through the fact the English—the British Ambassador in Ireland had both assignments.
Rea: The U.K. Ambassador to the Republic.
Sullivan: Yes, to the Republic. He had—he had the whole island.
Rea: Uh huh. Oh.
Sullivan: So he was deeply involved with it. And I ended up doing a lot of business with him.
Rea: What’s hi—what was his name?
Sullivan: Ivor Roberts  .
Sullivan: And he’s now Sir Ivor Roberts. He’s a really a talented career diplomat from the U.K. and we became very close friends. I ended up doing things in the North, but you were always, with the exception of Jean Kennedy Smith, Jean Kennedy Smith, she figured she could do whatever she wanted. She had a little bit of a—a little tension between Jean Kennedy Smith and the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain because she didn’t really pay attention to whose jurisdiction it was. She just went when she wanted to go. It was anticipated that you’d—you’d clear it, you know. If I was going to Belfast, I’d call the British Ambassador to the U.S., Ambassador to Britain, and clear that. And at the time, his name was Phil Lader  . We had a good relationship, so it didn’t, it didn’t cause any trouble. We went a couple of times [to Northern Ireland] together. But—but that was—that was always kind of a balancing act. But so we were dealing with the Republic of Ireland, the political parties in Northern Ireland, and Sinn Fein  , who was the political arm of the former IRA.
Sullivan: In Northern Ireland and in the Republic. And that so it was a challenging and enjoyable experience.
Rea: Yeah. Yeah. And this—I just read a big fat book on the Troubles by a former journalist named Tim Pat Coogan  . Did you ever meet him?
Sullivan: Time Pat Coogan. I did! I had lunch with him a couple of times.
Rea: Uh huh. Uh huh.
Sullivan: Yeah, he was bigger than lions.
Rea: I’ll bet he was.
Sullivan: He was.
Rea: The book’s this fat. I felt like—yeah—I felt like he’d written it all off the top of this head, kind of. But yeah. But he-
Sullivan: That’s the kind of the guy he was.
Sullivan: He was a big boisterous Irishman.
Rea: Right, right, right. Well he talks in that book about, he kind of describes the moving towards [peace] talks in the late 80s and early 90s as really having been made, this kind of a longtime, vicious stalemate having in a way being broken by American influence in the—in the—that kind of came to—that had a lot to do with Jean Kennedy Smith and her Kennedy connections, but also-
Sullivan: He was a very close friend of hers as well.
Rea: Yeah, uh huh. Uh huh.
Sullivan: And it—and it did—and it came about through intervention, both of the government, the U.S. government, and private interests. There were a number of people whom I dealt with and worked with regularly that had been coming over [from the U.S.] to try to work with all of the parties.
Sullivan: Yes, Americans, to work with all of the parties to encourage them and—and so on. And I think that reached its zenith when they wanted to give Gerry Adams a visa  .
Sullivan: And Jean Kennedy Smith was active in that that there was a lot of—of resistance to that politically in the U.S. just because of the—of the IRA background, the terrorist background [of Adams]. And Jean Kennedy Smith and President Clinton and these, [former Coca-Cola President] Don Keough  , who was uh—there were—there were two of—two guys. One was president of Mutual of America and then his successor who is [Irish-American businessman] Tom Moran  that I just learned passed away a few months ago, who became a very close friend of mine. They had been coming over—they might come over on a monthly basis. Sometimes more often than that. And they’d go to Belfast and work with people there and then come down and report to the government. And so there was a lot of—a lot of private interests that helped along the way.
Rea: Mm hm, yeah, Coogan talks about a guy named O’Dowd? an American-
Sullivan: Yeah, I think Niall, Niall O’Dowd  .
Rea: Right, uh huh.
Sullivan: He had the—he has the Irish America Magazine. And those were all people that, most of them, we met when we were in New York when we were there. Niall O’Dowd and Tom Moran, and—and others. And they were very—very important in the—t
Rea: Uh huh. What about George Mitchell  was he still over there?
Sullivan: Yeah, he was, he had of course from—from the official side he was—he was the—the best of the best and was still doing the same—he was trying to make sure it [the peace talks] stayed together too.
Rea: Former—former U.S. Senator from Maine, right? It was-
Sullivan: Right, and-
Rea: Who Clinton had appointed too, as a kind of a head of a commission, to help with the talks.
Sullivan: He was—yeah he was appointed to as the representative of the U.S. to try help facilitate the Good Friday—what became the Good Friday Agreement. And worked for years with ultimate patience. He was a former federal judge as well as U.S. Senator and in my opinion, maybe the most impressive politician I’ve ever met. As well as having more patience than any other politician I’ve ever met. He—for—for years, you know, he was sitting around and—and talking to both sides who weren’t talking to each other. They were just talking through him. And—but he per—he persisted and was successful. But then it got almost as difficult afterwards as they were trying to figure out how to maintain this and everybody was making demands and largely the demands were for the—for the IRA and its associates to give up their arms.
Sullivan: And so we were—we were working on—on that.
Rea: Right, that whole question of, “do you have to give up your arms before we can talk?” “Well, no.” “Well, then when?”
Sullivan: Yeah, when?
Rea: Yeah. Uh huh.
Sullivan: And that was—in fact they hadn’t quite given them up when I left, I don’t think. But it was shortly after that. But they didn’t figure out the—the process by which they would get that done.
Rea: Yeah. Yeah.
Sullivan: And we were working another person that we worked closely with and I worked closely with was the president of Ireland, who was Mary McAleese  at the time. And she had—that’s a constitutional position, so the prime minister is the chief sort of political position. But she has a—missing the word now as to how you describe it. She has the constitutional position and is-
Rea: Sort of analogous to the Queen of the English constitution, right?
Sullivan: Yes, right. It’s that kind of-
Rea: Or the President of France.
Sullivan: Some ultimate parliamentary responsibility but—and constitutional responsibility. The rest of it is pretty much representational. But she was the person who wasn’t necessarily content just to be representational. She was a former law professor from Belfast. And—and so she was deeply involved. And then—and I worked—and this was—and this is a—an aside, her husband, who was a dentist, ended becoming deeply involved in the relationships between the north and the south. And we worked together on that, a lot. And I attribute a lot of credit to him. Not in the same sense as George Mitchell, but he was working down here-
Rea: Uh huh, really?
Sullivan: with the—with the uh-
Rea: ‘Cause he had—‘cause they had Belfast connections, but they were—they were Catholics I suppose? I suppose if they were in the Republic, yeah?
Sullivan: Uh huh, uh huh.
Rea: And—and right, so when—doesn’t the Good Friday Accord set up new sort of North-South, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland-
Rea: Institutions and committees and bodies-
Sullivan: Right, bodies.
Rea: That weren’t there before, is that right?
Sullivan: And, and formalized some that were—were there before. And set up a new government that was representational from both sides and that was difficult-
Sullivan: To put together. And then still—they’re still having their difficulties. It’s not—it’s not a cake walk at the present time.
Rea: Well it’s such a—so yeah—so Ireland has 32 counties. Six of them are Northern Ireland.
Sullivan: Uh huh.
Rea: The traditional Ulster actually had nine counties, but the—but the six counties with a strong Protestant majority at the time were set up as—to continue as a province of the UK after World War I, when the rest of the Ireland split off from the British Empire.
Rea: And—and always then, you sort of had an impossible, seemed to me, political problem where the mostly Catholic people in Northern Ireland felt themselves as Irish. The mostly Protestant people in Northern Ireland felt themselves as British at the time of the partition. The—the majority was probably 2 to 1, or maybe larger, of Protestant to Catholic-
Sullivan: Uh huh, that’s correct.
Rea: By 1990 or so, it was coming pretty—it was coming a lot closer to even, isn’t that true?
Sullivan: Well that was when—that—yes. And, I think there were two—two things. Well more than two, it would be over simplifying it, but that—that sort of moved it into a position where [we] could ultimately get some kind of agreement. Because it was an impossible situation. The maj—it was a majority-minority clearly and the majority had no um concern about whether they were abusing the rights of the minority or anything else. And—and as I always said, one of the problems in Europe that we—we don’t have here, not nearly to the degree is, they carry the cross of history on their backs. And it’s not a short history, it’s a three- or four-hundred-year history and it’s even greater than that in other areas. But they’re all looking back to what happened 300 years ago and saying, “Well this is, whether it’s the potato famine or whatever else.
Sullivan: And so that makes it much more difficult, but two of the things that were happening then, one was what you just pointed out, is that the numbers were changing. The Irish Catholics in the north were starting to move to a point where they were ultimately going to become the majority and that was clear demographically. And—and that caused everybody to start thinking: well, we better—we ought to plan for this. The second thing is that the—the hard men, the fighters, were getting older. They weren’t being replaced by that many. And that was on both sides. Because there were, there were bad guys on—on both sides of the issue. And so that was pretty clear, they were getting tired of fighting. And—and then—and then a very, I think, strong influence was the combination of Bertie Ahern,  who was the prime minister of Ireland, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair  . And all three of them and—and I think the fact that Clinton was willing to step out, stick his neck out and say, “I’m gonna take this on, this issue,” which was—was recommended that he not do that. It was too sensitive and it was a loser. He said, “No, I’m gonna—I think we can help get this done.” And that made a big—big difference.
Rea: And also the flip in the British government from John Major  to Tony Blair. Coogan talks a lot—Coogan, who finished his book before, you know, after the first IRA ceasefire, but before the agreement, talks about how as Major’s power in Parliament, as his—as his majority was shrinking and shrinking and shrinking, he had to depend more and more on the Protestant Irish, Northern Ireland, to maintain his majority, so he could—and he kept making, sort of, concessions to them that would—that would set the process back another three months or six months and—and then finally he was—you know they had a general election, he was voted out, Tony Blair [came in].
Sullivan: Yep, and I always said, in fact I [coughs] as we were—as we were dealing with, how do you get the—the IRA to give up their arms?
Sullivan: I was meeting with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness  , you know, just-
Rea: Those are the main I-
Sullivan: trying to encourage-
Rea: You know, political IRA, Sinn Fein…—
Sullivan: For your grandchildren and your children. You need to get this done. And I always said to them, “You know, the stars have crossed, you’ve got Blair and Clinton and Bertie, all working on this. And that’s a unique time. A unique opportunity. Do it. You just gotta do this.” Well they were, one thing I learned along with the cross of history that I mentioned earlier, these guys were in for the long game. They—they weren’t—one of the—instant gratification wasn’t—didn’t matter to them. They had—every time I talked to them, I thought, this is—this is a great big waste of time. They know where—exactly where they’re going.
Sullivan: But they were very—they were very courteous. And—and you know, ultimately, that—all of that pressure helped—helped move ‘em, but they were—they were very strategic.
Rea: Mm hm. Mm hm. And they probably have some pretty tricky politics on their—on their other flank.
Sullivan: Oh sure. They—they were—and you gotta say this about-
Rea: On the Republican side—
Rea: Irish Republican side--
Sullivan: both McGuinness and-
Sullivan: And Gerry Adams, they were hugely courageous because they put their—not only their political reputations, but their lives on the line. And they were all the time having to bring the peop—people in and the hard men along, and with a lot resistance.
Rea: Yeah, what about on the Unionist side. Did you ever meet Ian Paisley?
Sullivan: I did meet Ian Paisley  . And I met—I met most of the—of the leaders on the Unionist side. I didn’t spend a lot of time with them--
Sullivan: I did. David Trimble  . I had a number of meetings with—with Trimble. And-
Rea: He was the—was he the—let’s see, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?
Sullivan: He—yeah, he was the leader at that time.
Rea: Yeah, yeah.
Sullivan: And John Hume  on the-
Sullivan: On the—the Republic-
Rea: Yeah, sort of the-
Rea: Sort of the Nationalist [side], yeah.
Sullivan: He was—he and Trimble were the two major leaders at the time when I got there. Some of that changed while I was there. But it was very interesting.
Sullivan: And—and there were some—some of the leaders of the lesser Northern Irish parties that were impactful in getting it—getting some things done. And then Mo McGuinness—was it Mo McGuinness? Mo . . .
Rea: I don’t know who that is. [Sullivan here is remembering Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam  , British secretary of state for Northern Ireland.]
Sullivan: She was a lady who was appointed uh to uh handle Northern Ireland. And ultimately she was there and then she—she died after I left I think. But she was very-
Rea: She was a British representative?
Sullivan: Yeah she was British.
Rea: Okay, uh huh.
Sullivan: And—a real character. But uh it was a—it was very interesting.
Rea: And meanwhile, the big Orange marches  were continuing every July?
Sullivan: They were continuing-
Rea: While you were there?
Sullivan: But I never saw an Orange march. But it wasn’t a place for an American ambassador to be found, I don’t think. But they were continuing. That was one of the—one of the additional efforts. Along with the arms.
Rea: Uh huh. Okay. It’s interesting, then so the arms was a thing—the question of decommissioning, of disarming, was still trailing out long after the agreement.
Rea: Yeah. On both sides I suppose. Right? Is that right?
Sullivan: Yeah, but—but the—and that was all part of the argument, but the major—the major issue was the IRA’s, their disarm—disarmament. And ultimate—and—and—and it—I think the key was they were never going to really turn them over. They—they may decommission, but they weren’t going to give them to the British. And so the—the secret sauce had to be, okay how do you do that? And con—and confirm to everybody that they had, in face, decommissioned them.
Sullivan: That they’re not just saying that.
Rea: And Mitchell played a role in that, right?
Sullivan: Mitchell was deep—deeply involved. He was back and forth and he’s—we—we met him a lot. He stayed with us a couple of times. That’s where I developed such a great respect—I had it anyway, I liked—I like him when he was—before he ever got to that point. The other, just as an aside, you were talking about the—the bodies that were developed from the—as a result of the agreement, Mitchell was appointed, initially by Clinton as the U.S.’s Economic Advisor to the North—to Northern Ireland.
Sullivan: Trying to help with the economy and as a part developing the econ—the economy, reached an agreement that would ultimately hold. Then when Clinton decided to put both feet into the—into the fray, he moved Mitchell to the—to the peace process as Peace Advisor. And appointed a man named Jim Lyons,  who ultimately became my law partner, he was from—Jim was from Denver.
Sullivan: And he took Mitchell’s place as economic advisor about the time, maybe—maybe—well no, it was probably two or three years before I got to Ireland and he was a guy I had known as a—faced in a lo—couple of lawsuits and then he was on Clinton’s—he traveled with Clinton for a year during the campaign.
Sullivan: He took it off because he had the same respect—anyway, he was appointed as the Economic Advisor so he had the position of—the same level ambassador, but he was only a half-time position. He continued to practice law in Denver and then he’d go off to Ireland. It was a, you know, an intense thing. But so, he was another—another one of those people that I worked with and—and we became friends. And ultimately, when I came back from Ireland, his firm set up a—an office here and I went to work for them. And so he was—and so he was deeply involved in the peace process as well with the economic arrow.
Rea: So that was—so he was a U.S.—he was a State Department person and his—so he was helping to bring American companies to invest in—in the North or on the border or both—
Sullivan: . . .Developing programs and was a part of the, I forget what they called it, may have been the Northern Irish Economic Council, or something like that, that was a combination of Irish and American interests. And so there were a lot of, lot of different ways. But I—I—we were talking about decommissioning.
Sullivan: And one of the—the—secret sauce as to how you get it done, and ultimately, in—in discussions that we—we had, it—the recommendation, and I’m not sure now ultimately how it—how it rolled out, because it rolled out after I left, but was the idea that you’d find a priest that could go out with the IRA and attest to the fact that the arms had been decommissioned.
Rea: And did that mean [the arms and explosives were] put in a hole in the ground or I mean dumped in the sea? Or did it mean-
Rea: Walked away from?
Sullivan: It meant any number of things. Mostly, you know, maybe put in a hole in the ground, encased in concrete. Or something like that. That—would—would assure that they’d never be used again, but nobody would know where they were and—and that was the—
Rea: And that was the one thing everybody could agree to was that Father Somebody goes out-
Sullivan: Well not sure how—they were—that was a proposal when I left, it was still in the discussion stages.
Rea: Were there still any bombs going off while you were there?
Sullivan: No, not—not really. The last one, Omagh  , I think was before I got there.
Sullivan: But not that long.
Rea: That was a huge one. That was after the Accord had been signed.
Sullivan: Yeah. And so—but it was mostly—it was pretty quiet. And everybody said, “Oh, aren’t you afraid to go to Northern Ireland?” And by that point, there wasn’t any reason to be fearful about it.
Rea: Did you have security with you when you went places?
Sullivan: I di—when I got—when I went to Northern Ireland, once I crossed the border, they as—they—I had security. [Coughs]. In the Republic, I didn’t have security, except at the residence, at the gate, there were guards. And they patrolled the—the boundaries. We had 70 acres. And so that was the extent of security. I did not travel with security. And we had the marines at the embassy. But they were there to take care of the—the embassy paperwork and the classified materials.
Sullivan: They weren’t so necessarily they would, of course, [have] taken care of the ambassador too, but that wasn’t their primary responsibility. But if I went to Northern Ireland, we would pick up security at the border.
Rea: Were those Irish, Northern Irish policemen? Were they, were they-
Sullivan: No—they were Northern Irish police, yes.
Rea: How many times did you go, do you think?
Sullivan: Oh probably 10 or 12.
Rea: Oh, yeah, a lot, frequently.
Sullivan: And the most memorable was when I went with—when I went with the British Ambassador [Ivor Roberts]. And we had really good security then.
Rea: Yeah, uh huh.
Sullivan: Because it was both us and—and he needed to have—I mean, they killed a British Ambassador  -
Sullivan: In Northern Ireland. So they’ve always had big security with him, but we got—we got into Northern Irish police car, and there was one ahead of us and one behind us, and we whipped up that—that divided highway at about 100 miles an hour and it was—it was pretty impressive security.
Rea: Yeah, yeah.
Sullivan: Now after I left, 9/11 occurred shortly after I left and that that occasioned additional security. The [U.S.] ambassador [to Ireland] now travels with security wherever he goes.
Rea: Oh. Did you get to go around the island much?
Sullivan: We did. Yeah. And I—I loved that we—Jane and I traveled a lot. We traveled a little in Europe but mostly in Ireland. And, and it was great. Jane used to say, “Mike didn’t know he was ambassador, he thought he was governor.”
Sullivan: But we did—we did a lot. And that was a part of the—the two sides of course are the—the responsibility with peace process and safely of Americans and commerce, facilitating U.S. business in—in the Republic. All of those are—are the meat of the job and then there’s the representational side which it takes just about as much or more time. So we were on the go a lot. And—and visiting different places and giving speeches in small towns and large towns. And it was—it was great.
Rea: It’s nice. I spent a month in Ireland in 1972 hitchhiking around with a friend of mine and I’ve always wanted to go back.
Sullivan: I’m envious.
Rea: [Laughs] We were mostly just misbehaving and not hurrying—
Sullivan: Yeah, but you—it was—it’s a great place to do that or anything else as far as I’m concerned because people are so friendly.
Rea: Yeah, they were. They were, very friendly. So I also think ambassadorships as being sort of having a lot of dinner parties. Were you—was that part of the deal?
Sullivan: That’s the representational side. And we did. We—there was a ballroom in the—in the residence where we could have a large dinner, in a large dining room. And so you could have a medium sized dinner or a large dinner, either one. And we—we had plenty of that. You asked early on we’ve never gotten there, what Jane’s job was.
Rea: Yeah, yeah.
Sullivan: Well Jane had no job, officially. But—she had—there were expectations. She—she ran the house, did the bookkeeping, kept track of our expenditures and with the things we had to do on our own and then get reimbursed for. And do things like dinners and—and entertainment of many different kinds—the biggest event at any embassy—U.S. Embassy—throughout the world is July 4th.
Rea: I see.
Sullivan: And that’s a big celebration where the ambassador has a July 4thparty and invites government representatives and private representatives and people you know and have run into and so it was a great, great time and everybody enjoyed it. We did—we did a western theme each year and I guess we only did two. But we had a great time and enjoyed it lot. And people enjoyed it, and that, the other—the other one which we enjoyed particularly was Thanksgiving. We always had a, what I’d they call mid-sized dinner maybe, 30-40 people, for Thanksgiving dinner. And because nobody in another country is used to—
Rea: Taking that Thursday off? [Laughs].
Sullivan: Taking Thursday off or celebrating Thanksgiving, they—they didn’t know anything about it and uh, “well, do we bring gifts?” “Well, what do we do?” No, no, you just come. And you eat, and we—and we give thanks.
Rea: Uh huh, that’s nice.
Sullivan: And so it was a great—
Rea: So those weren’t just Americans in Dublin, those were—those were—
Sullivan: No we invited Americans in Dublin, but we also invited people from outside of Dublin that we’d met. Couples that we’d met. And it was always—
Rea: Do they have turkeys in Ireland? [Laughs]
Sullivan: Well we were able to get turkeys through the commissary in London. The—the embassy was—would be able to secure—secure that. But they don’t have—you couldn’t—you couldn’t buy a turkey you’d want to eat in Ireland, I don’t think. Somebody could, I suppose, but we wouldn’t have—we wouldn’t have found [one]. But it was a—it was always fun.
Rea: And did you think of using—oh well I guess that’s fair—using those social engagements as ways to make—connect—get people connected who might not have otherwise have been, and you needed to?
Sullivan: Absolutely, yeah.
Rea: As sort of—
Sullivan: And then I had private breakfasts and lunches at the—at the residence as well with, with representatives from—from various places.
Rea: Uh huh. What about the press?
Sullivan: Various organizations.
Rea: Did you have much connection with the Irish press?
Sullivan: I did have a—a good—a good bit. I wouldn’t say on a—on a regular basis, except when I’d be places that same—the same press people, it would be like here.
Sullivan: And we—we had a press officer who dealt directly with the press. More directly than I did. But I did. And I’d have lunch with—with press from time to time. And I loved the Irish press.
Rea: [Laughs] Yeah, I—I—I’d like to read those more. Yeah, yeah.
Sullivan: The—the—the Irish newspapers are—you could just spend your life reading Irish newspapers because they’re—they’re so literate and—and fun.
Rea: [Laughs] Were there British reporters too, in Dublin I suppose? Or were they—
Sullivan: There were, but I didn’t have any-
Rea: Nobody seems to—yeah, yeah.
Sullivan: I didn’t have much connection with them. Then, you know, from—from a dinner—from the representational side as well, we would, if any other embassy was having, like the equivalent of July 4thof their nation’s day, we would be invited there. And—and other things as well. So.
Rea: Hm hm. And that—this all—this English connection too reminds me of—of a—of one other thing that—so when Coogan, in his book, is talking about the late 80s and the early 90s and how there—maybe it was after Clinton was elected, there was NSC staff was really more sympathetic to the Nationalist Republican side in Ireland than the—than the U.S. State Department was, which some people described as “Brits with American Accents.” And I—I wondered if—if you ever—if that was—some of that might have still been true when you got there. If you ever felt that the U.S. State Department was more sympathetic with—with the U.K. point of view in this whole dispute than maybe Clinton had brought into the question.
Sullivan: Well, I think it was probably had been fairly well leveled by the time we got there, but—but it—if you think about it, it wouldn’t be surprising, because the British—the British embassy is of such higher level of both budget and—and importance economically—
Rea: In Washington.
Sullivan: In Washington, than—than would be the Irish. And unless you had this sort of uniquely Irish contact, or background. You know, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t think much about Ireland. You wouldn’t, wouldn’t necessarily know.
Rea: If you were an American politician in Washington.
Sullivan: Yeah, yeah. If you were in the State Department or in the bureaucracy.
Sullivan: You know, if you weren’t an Irishman, well what that—those dollars don’t mean that much. But, when I—when we were there, there were over 600 U.S. companies doing business in Ireland. It was—it was the peak of economic cycle that they went through. And so, it—it had a lot of different attractions. It was attractive from the economic standpoint. It was sort of a stopping over place as—as congressional delegations, anytime they went that direction, they’d usually stop in Ireland on the way back. And that’s another—another part of what we did, in the economic and commerce of side of things. We had congressional delegations that came through, we had trade delegations that came through, and—and the companies were all—they had big—big staffs and lots of employees in Ireland so they’d have their own unique events. So there was—there was a lot to do. And then, you know, there was the—the good part: golf as a part of the business in Ireland, so I got to play—play a lot of golf and participate in—in events associated with companies, or—or events associated with American—Americans that related to golf. So that was a great and enjoyable part of the…
Rea: And then about the border, it was still a hard—it was still a—a border with gates that came down, and people would stop [you] and ask to see your passport when you were there?
Sullivan: No, no, by the—by the time I got there, that was probably one of the first things from the Good Friday Agreement, was to get rid of the hard border. And so it was I don’t think I—maybe—maybe early on I may have gone through a checkpoint, but I don’t think there were still towers at the border. But they weren’t, [there wasn’t] any stopping. It was pretty free.
Rea: Uh huh. And that’s made it much easier to do business, I’m sure. Especially for people on the border counties.
Sullivan: Right. Therein lies on of the—one of the big difficulties with Brexit—
Sullivan: Apparently is to, okay, how are we going to handle this?
Sullivan: And nobody associated with the—with the issues in Northern Ireland and the Republic want to a hard border because that just raises—brings back all the old—
Sullivan: Old issues.
Rea: Yeah, I’m pretty, yeah. And also, it also looks to me like Theresa May  is in a very similar political position to what John Major was at the last—at the end of his time, which was she needs those Northern Ireland [Unionist] MPs to keep her majority and so she makes stuff to keep them happy, instead of-
Sullivan: A lot of concessions.
Rea: Yeah, so that—I mean that seems to be really dangerous.
Sullivan: And it’s, it will be very interesting to see what happens to that.
Rea: Yeah, could be terrible actually.
Rea: Yeah, yeah.
Sullivan: That’d be a real setback if, if it got messy.
Rea: Yeah, yeah.
Rea: Okay. What was your favorite place in Ireland? Did you—did you—did you—did you. Were there any places you got especially fond of?
Sullivan: We got especially fond of a lot of places.
Sullivan: And people ask me that question and a lot of Irish said, before we left, “Well aren’t you going to buy a place over here?” I shouldn’t, I said, “No, a long way from home to start with. And two, I wouldn’t want to have a place which I’d have to go to, because I liked too many places in Ireland. And so it’d be hard for me to pick out my favorite places. We did—we spent a good bit of time with a couple named Denny and Mary McGuire who were Americans that lived in Kinsale for six months of the year.
Rea: Where is that?
Sullivan: It’s in Cork, south—southeast Cork. On the—on the ocean. It’s a lovely town and—and Denny McGuire had been an orthopedic surgeon in Sheridan, whom we didn’t know when we went over there. But as we were leaving [Wyoming for Ireland], everybody told us, “Well you gotta—gotta meet the McGuires, they’re over there six months.” And uh—and we did and they became good friends and so when we needed an escape go that direction to them. And another—we found another farmhouse, sort of hospitality in that same general area, that we loved to just disappear to. We didn’t do that often, but three or four times we ended up going down and the food was great. There wasn’t any-
Rea: Imagine that, good food.
Rea: In Ireland.
Sullivan: Yeah, well that’s where it—that’s where it—it—it transferred from—from when you were there and the—the whole, you know, Ireland was always viewed as, well that’s a nice place, but the food is sure awful.
Sullivan: But by the time we got there, that had all changed. They were—they had really good food. Great fresh fish. So it was—it was much more hospitable in that regard than it had been in the past.
Rea: Uh huh. Yeah, that’s where I learned to eat blood sausage and other things like that [laughs].
Sullivan: I did as well [laughs].
Rea: Blood pudding.
Sullivan: Yeah, blood pudding. Black and white.
Sullivan: But they’re also—they’re eating—they’re eating habits hadn’t changed much. They didn’t start until 9 or 10 o’clock. And that took some getting used to.
Rea: Yeah. Yeah. Have you been back since?
Sullivan: Well for—we left in June, I think, of 2002.
Rea: 2002? Ye—okay.
Sullivan: Yeah. Well, no, 2001. So we were there two and a half years. And ended up with about two or three months additional because of Dick Cheney being in the White House, I said, you know, everybody had to give their—when the new—when the Bush administration took over, was—you were advised to expect your resignation of political appointees. And the date you terminate is like April 1st. And I ended up having a conversation with Cheney during that time, I said, “Leave me here as long as you can.” I wo—actually I wrote him a letter. And I said, “Dick, you know, I think it’s nuts that when the administrations change, all of a sudden, these political appointees just get terminated. It doesn’t do anything for the position.”
Rea: Right, to have-
Sullivan: Emphasize the—the fact that you’re a political hack.
Sullivan: And two, by that time, you know, you do—it doesn’t take you long when you’re over there, for you to recognize you’re representing the country. This isn’t a political position. This is a privilege to be representing the country and we ought to be doing whatever we can to enhance the authority of the position. And the authority of the position isn’t enhanced by being ceremoniously removed when the administration changes. And in any event, ultimately, for that and for other reasons, I said to Dick, “Leave me as long as you can. I like it here.”
Sullivan: And, you know, we hadn’t been home. Well we went home the Chris—we came home Christmas before that, because we knew we’d be coming back and we had some things we had to get done. But we hadn’t been home, we hadn’t been to the United States, except for St. Patrick’s Day, when everybody in the official Ireland comes to the U.S.
Sullivan: And goes to the—to Congress, yeah, it’s a wonderful. And the Prime Minister presents a—a shamrock to the President.
Rea: Oh. Uh huh.
Sullivan: And everybody celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in Washington. But, so we ended staying—ended up being in Ireland for an additional two or three months longer than we otherwise would have and then—then we came home.
Rea: And who succeeded you in that position?
Sullivan: I was succeeded by Richard Egan  , who was the chairman and founder of EMC Corporation. And-
Rea: I don’t know that company.
Sullivan: He was—well it was a Boston, Massachusetts technology company making him—making a huge amount of money. In fact, he brought his plane and his wife brought her plane.
Rea: Oh my-
Sullivan: When they came to Ireland.
Sullivan: Then he didn’t last long. Turned out, uh, he didn’t particularly like the job. Well he was a corporate CEO and had his own company, so he’d been in charge. And the fact is, you’re not in charge over there in the sense that you are delivering the policies and messages of the administration. And, you know, you’re expected to do that. And so he—he wasn’t particularly happy. I think he was there a year maybe. And then he was succeeded by a man named Tom Foley, who is also from Boston I think. Who was succeeded—no, there was a Tom [actually] Kenny, who was from Chicago. Then Tom Foley, and then Dan Rooney  , who’s the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rea: Oh, yeah. I should know that.
Sullivan: And in fact I used to tell people after I got back, it was worth going to Ireland just to meet Dan Rooney because he was one of those professional Irishmen that came over, helped with—with peace process and other things there. Was revered in—in Ireland. And so he was there a number of times from when we were there and I got to meet both he and his family. It was—he was a remarkable guy.
Rea: Uh huh. Great. I’m out of questions. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you want to tell me about this?
Sullivan: No. It doesn’t have to do with this, but it’s probably worth it, since this is oral history, to have it in history somewhere. It goes back to my conversations with Dick Cheney. I got a call in November  I think, when we were in Ireland, President Bush was going to be the new President, Cheney was going to be Vice President. And he called and said, “We’re looking at cabinet positions, would you be interested in being secretary of the Interior?”
Rea: They did?
Sullivan: And I said, “Oh, I don’t know.”
Rea: Geez, Mike.
Sullivan: I said, “Geez Dick, that’d be-” He said, “We could have a lot of fun.” And, so I said, “Eh, I don’t know. Does—Don’t know that it makes a lot of sense. The wrong—I’m the wrong party and—and.” Well he said, “We need, you know, we need a Democrat or two in the cabinet.” I said, “Well I’ll—I’ll talk to—.” He said, “Are you—are you coming back?” And I said, “Well in fact, we’re coming back for Christmas, that’s the first time we’ll have been back.” He said, “Well, come down and talk to us, we’ll make arrangements.” So we flew in Christmas, and arrived on one day. We were about three or four days ahead of Christmas. And the next day, I went out and a jet met me, got in, flew to Austin, [Tex.] went to the, I don’t know whether it’s the residence or the capitol building. It was downtown. I think it was the capitol, but it may have been the residence. And visited with Andy—Andrew Card  and Cheney about the job. And I said, “Well I—I’d have an interest, but I want to, if you’re really serious, I want to check with some Democrats in Washington to know that, you know, I don’t want to be a man without an island. I want to know that I can have some bipartisan support. If I’m doing the job. And I’ve met a number of people who, in the course of this job that I have, confidence in, I’d like to talk to. So I can’t tell you now.” “Well, we’d like to have you do it now.” And so then they went out and brought the Pre—Bush in. And he said, “Just say yes.” And I said, “Mr. President, I just—I—I can’t do that.” I needed to have more support. And so then we came back and interestingly enough, before, before I really ultimately made the decision, it got into the—some of the local Republicans. And-
Rea: Here in Casper?
Sullivan: In Wyoming.
Rea: In Wyoming, yeah.
Sullivan: And they raised hell and—and so it went—
Rea: I mean, they were horrified that they—they would appoint a Democrat like you to the cabinet?
Sullivan: Yeah, yeah, more or less.
Sullivan: And, you know, it wasn’t—I had—I would have had some friends as well and that would have been—I think arguably, you could argue it would be good for Wyoming, but, some of the—the real high conservative-
Rea: Can you tell me who those people might have been?
Sullivan: No, I wouldn’t do that, but you can guess.
Sullivan: Ob—objected and—and so it kind of went. But in Cheney’s book, he makes reference to it.
Sullivan: And he said he gave me—he—he did a nice job for me, he said he turned us down.
Rea: Uh huh.
Rea: And I forgot that, who—who—who did—was the first secretary of the Interior [in the Bush-Cheney administration]?
Sullivan: Uh she was former Attorney General at—from Colorado. Gale Norton  .
Rea: Oh, okay, right.
Sullivan: And, so anyway, it was—it was interesting.
Rea: That’s an interesting moment. Yeah.
Rea: Yeah, some other . . . Interior secretaries.
Sullivan: You know, as I looked at it afterwards, I was glad that—
Rea: Glad that it came out that way?
Sullivan: That it came it came out that way. Because I think it would have been an impossible position. You know, the—the secretary, under the best of circumstances, is going to be a controversial position.
Rea: Yes. Right.
Sullivan: And to not be—to-
Rea: To be uncertain with the Senate, especially-
Sullivan: Under suspect by both sides.
Rea: Yeah, yeah.
Sullivan: It would be—would be tough.
Sullivan: There you have it. That’s all I can think of.
Rea: And had you gotten to know them some as ambassador?
Sullivan: Yeah. Yeah, then I—they were very close to the Irish government and all of the issues. So when I went back for my hearing and for other things in Washington, I visited with them. Asked for their support in my nomination. And Pat Leahy  was another one that was deeply involved with—with Ireland. So. But that was a—fun fact, I’m cleaning, as I mentioned I think, trying to get moved out of my office downtown. I was looking through some stuff, and I found a note from Gerry Adams, that said he’d—he’d finally gotten a Stetson.
Sullivan: He wanted me to know that. And I had some pictures of—it was just before we left, John McCain  , Chris Dodd, and the actor from Tennessee, or wherever it was, Fred Thompson  , came over on a trip to Ireland. And we were actually having a—a final big party where the President, who had become close friends of ours, Mary McAleese, was the honored guest. And so they all joined us.
Rea: Oh yeah.
Sullivan: But Nancy Pelosi was—she went through three or four times.
Rea: Oh, uh huh.
Sullivan: She actually, I think, had a daughter who got married in Ireland while we were there.
Rea: She was speaker [of the U.S. House of Representatives] then.
Rea: Yeah, ok.
Sullivan: And so it was—it was good.
Rea: Yeah. Ah.
Sullivan: Great experience.
Rea: Must have been.
Sullivan: A wonderful privilege.
Rea: Uh huh. Uh huh.
Sullivan: Just an unbelievable privilege.
Rea: Yeah. Great thing. Good.
Rea: Alright, we can push stop now.
For further reading
- Coogan, Tim Pat. The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace. New York: Palgrave, 1996. A comprehensive account, published two years before the Good Friday Agreement.
- The 2016 photo of Mike Sullivan at the time he was named Citizen of the West by the National Western Stock Show is from the Denver Post. Used with thanks.
- The photo of the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Dublin is from Wikipedia. Used with thanks.
 The Beara Peninsula in counties Kerry and Cork on the southwest coast of Ireland lies between the Kenmare "river" on the north side and Bantry Bay on the south.
 John O’Neill was an Irish-American Union Army veteran who led the Fenians—most of them Irish-American war veterans like himself—on three armed invasions of Canada after the American Civil War.
 The Sheep’s Head Peninsula lies between Bantry Bay and Dunmurus Bay in County Cork in southwestern Ireland
 Craig Thomas served as U.S. senator from Wyoming from 1995 until he died in 2007.
 Lindy Boggs served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Louisiana from 1973-1991, and as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See from 1997-2001.
 Jean Kennedy Smith served U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 1993-1998.
 Mike Sullivan married Jane Metzler in 1961.
 President Bill Clinton was impeachedby the U.S. House of Representatives in December 1998 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and acquitted by the U.S. Senate in February 1999.
 Sullivan was officially appointed ambassador to Ireland Oct. 22, 1998.
 The Good Friday or Belfast Agreement was signed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on April 10, 1998, largely ending the so-called Troubles that had plagued Northern Ireland for 30 years. The pact established a variety of institutions that shared power between the North and the Republic of Ireland—while at the same time allowing Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom and opening the border between the North and South. Further, residents of Northern Ireland were allowed to maintain citizenship in the U.K., the Republic of Ireland, or both. Large majorities of the electorate, in referendums both North and South, subsequently approved the details of the agreement.
 Longtime diplomat Ivor Roberts served as British ambassador to Ireland from 1999-2003.
 Philip Lader served as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom from September 1997 through February 2001.
 Sinn Fein is a political party representing Irish Republican interest in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, and long seen as the political arm of the IRA.
 Tim Pat Coogan edited the Irish Press newspaper from 1968-87 and has written many books on Irish politics and history, including The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal 1966–1995 and the Search for Peace.
 Gerry Adams led the Sinn Fein Party in Ireland from 1983-2018 and was a key figure in the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.
 Former Coca-Cola President and prominent Irish-American Don Keough was elected to the Irish-American Hall of fame in 2010.
 Mutual of America President Tom Moran was closely involved in the peace process of the mid-1990s and died in August 2018.
 Irish-born journalist and activist Niall O’Dowd, founder of Irish America Magazine and The Irish Voice in New York City and founder also of Americans for a New Irish Agenda, was instrumental in lobbying Congress to help bring peace to Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s. See also Coogan, The Troubles, 415-418.
 George Mitchell served as U.S. Senator from Maine from 1980-1995 and as U.S. Special Envoy to Ireland from 1995-2001. In that capacity he played a large role in the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday agreement.
 Mary McAleese served as president of Ireland from 1997-2011.
 Fianna Fail politician Bertie Ahern served as Taoiseach, or prime minister, of the Republic of Ireland from 1997 to 2008. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are the two parties that have dominated politics in the Republic since the 1920s; both are considered center-right and are to the right of Labour and Sinn Fein parties.
 Labour politician Tony Blair served as prime minister of the U.K. from 1997 to 2007.
 Conservative politician John Major served as prime minister of the U.K. from 1990 to 1997.
 Sinn Fein politician and former IRA leader Martin McGuinness served as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland from 2007 to 2017 and, with Gerry Adams, played a prominent role on the Republican side in the peace negotiations of the 1990s.
 Loyalist politician and fundamentalist Protestant religious leader—his critics saw him as a demagogue—Ian Paisley was a staunch leader of the forces opposed to the Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland from the 1960s through the following 30 years of the Troubles.
 Loyalist politician and Ulster Unionist Party member David Trimble, first minister of Northern Ireland from 1996 to 2002, played a central role on the loyalist side in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement, and together with Irish politician John Hume won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.
 Northern Irish politician John Hume was a founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and was among the most important figures in the peace process that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Together with Loyalist politician David Trimble he won the Nobel Peace Prize that year.
 English Labour Party politician Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam served as a member of Parliament and as British secretary of state for Northern Ireland in the Tony Blair cabinet. She died in 2005.
 Hundreds of so-called Orange walks take place across Northern Ireland every July, leading up to the July 12 anniversary of the victory of the Protestant forces of King William of Orange over the Catholic forces of King James II at the Boyne River in 1690. See a short video on the topic at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8LCsV6JWc8.
 Denver attorney Jim Lyons replaced George Mitchell as a special advisor to President Clinton on Northern Ireland in 1997.
 The Omagh bombing of August 15, 1998, four months after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, killed 29 people in Omagh, County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland and injured 220 more. It was carried out by a group called the Real Irish Republican Army, a splinter group of the Provisional IRA, which had emerged in the late 1960s as a successor to the original IRA.
 Christopher Ewart-Biggs, newly appointed British ambassador to Ireland and Judith Cooke, a British civil servant, were killed by an IRA bomb outside Dublin in 1976.
 Conservative party leader Theresa May has been serving as prime minister of the U.K. since 2016.
 American businessman Richard Egan served as U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 2001 to 2003.
 James Kenny served as U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 2003-2006; Tom Foley from 2006-2009; Daniel Rooney from 2009-2012.
 Andrew Card served as chief of staff in the George W. Bush White House from 2001-2006.
 Gale Norton served as U.S. secretary of Interior from 2001-2006.
 Democrat Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts served as U.S. senator from 1962 until he died in 2009.
 Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut, served as U.S. senator from 1981 to 2011.
 Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974, and continues to serve.
 Republican John McCain of Arizona served as U.S. senator from 1987 until he died in 2018.
 Republican Fred Thompson of Tennessee served as U.S. senator from 1994 to 2003.