No. 169 NAI DE 2/304/1

Memorandum by the Irish Representatives for the sub-committee on naval and air defence
(S.F.C. 11) (Secret)(Copy)

London, 18 October 1921

Naval The formula read by Mr. Churchill at the beginning of the meeting on October 17th was as follows:

'The Irish Government confides the responsibility for the naval defence of Irish interests on the high seas to the Royal Navy and for this purpose as well as for those of general Imperial defence places its ports, harbours and inlets unreservedly at the disposal of the Imperial Government in peace or war'.

This formula appears to go much beyond the specific requirements given in document C.P. 3409 'Memorandum by the First Lord of the Admiralty' dated October 15th, 1921,1 in regard to British Peace requirements on the Irish Coasts, besides beginning with a general statement as to the basis of these requirements, namely, that the Irish Government confides the responsibility for the naval defence of Irish interests on the high seas to the British Navy'.

Defence on the high seas in war does not necessitate placing all 'ports, harbours and inlets unreservedly at the disposal' of the defending power in peace, while the memorandum of the First Lord only specified certain ports and property for retention in peace, a provision which appears to be inconsistent with 'unreserved disposal' if we rightly understand the expression used as one going beyond the ordinary facilities given in peace by international usage to all ships.

The general principle of the formula is one that the Irish representatives could not accept. It is inconsistent with the neutralised status which they claim for Ireland. Even a Dominion Government would not subscribe to it. The Dominion Governments would not declare that they confide the responsibility for the naval defence of their interests on the high seas to the British Navy nor that they 'place their ports, harbours and inlets unreservedly at the disposal of the Imperial Government' in time of peace in any other sense than that in which they place them at the disposal of ships of all countries which seek shelter, repair and other facilities. In war, according to our view, they reserve their right to decide whether or not to place their ports, as well as their military and naval forces, at the disposal of the British Government.

In this connection we desire to renew our request to see a copy of the agreement relating to Simonstown, referred to both at the principal Conference and at the informal Committee on Naval Defence on October 13th.

The memorandum of the First Lord asks for the occupation in peace of three ports and the buildings and fortifications attached thereto together with the right in war or, 'during a period of strained relations' to take any sites or buildings in any part of the island and to have 'undivided control over Irish waters'.

As outlined in the discussion, the counter proposal of the Irish Representatives is that Ireland should receive the status of guaranteed neutrality implying that no part of her territory should be occupied by Britain in peace, and that in war her neutrality should be respected by all belligerents. This course, they contend, so far from injuriously affecting the interests of Great Britain, would on the contrary be the safest and most satisfactory course both for Ireland and Great Britain. The Irish people attach supreme importance to the need for keeping their territory from any occupation or right of occupation or control which would definitely lower their political status and place all their other political rights and immunities in jeopardy. They are also averse to incurring any obligation to engage in any war. On the other hand, like other neutralised states, and like other small nations without a guarantee of neutrality, they realise the importance of being prepared to defend their own shores to the best of their power against violation from any quarter and will willingly undertake to take the necessary measures.

It is in Britain's interest that Ireland should be completely satisfied and friendly and that on this basis there should be willing and amicable association and mutual intercourse for all peaceful purposes. Neutralisation will be the surest means of effecting this end.

The strategical interests of Great Britain would, we urge, also be satisfied by this solution.

We have inferred that there is no serious apprehension on the British side of a regular invasion of Ireland by a foreign power, or even of a serious landing. Important Naval bases have not been maintained in Ireland and the establishment in peace is little more than nominal.

We, therefore, place aside this contingency, only remarking that the defensive forces, military and maritime, which will in the normal course be organised by the Irish Government would, altogether apart from 'high seas' operations add immensely to the difficulty of any such landing. In the improbable event of Irish territory being so violated, it would, of course, be the interest as well as the duty of Great Britain as a guaranteeing power, to come to Ireland's assistance.

We must point out that the unlikelihood of such violation places Ireland in a wholly different category from Belgium, wedged in between two great competitive land powers and with no natural defensive frontiers. Holland, though actually contiguous for four years to sustained military and air operations, maintained her neutrality throughout the recent war, as did all the other small nations bordering the North Sea and Baltic, including Denmark and Sweden which flank the narrow Baltic entrances. As an island on the western flank of Europe, Ireland is in a more secure position than any of these nations.

The main apprehension expressed on the British side is that in war, without naval and air bases on the Irish coast, the British Naval forces may be unable to protect commerce on the neighbouring trade-routes from submarine attack. Connected with this fear has been the suggestion that enemy submarines attacking shipping may take shelter and even receive small supplies in Irish inlets.

As to the latter ports upon which, we gather, little emphasis is laid, Irish defensive coast patrols, submarine-chasers and minelaying craft could perfectly well deal with any such contingency, except perhaps for an occasional case of a submarine coming for shelter to a bay at night, a case which no precaution can wholly prevent on any coast, neutral or hostile.

As to the protection of Commerce in war, our contention is that no necessity exists for the use by British naval forces of Irish coasts and ports for the protection against submarines of Merchant ships travelling to Great Britain.

It must first be pointed out that there is no reasonable possibility in the future of any European power being able to undertake a Naval war with Great Britain and that the submarines of a power such as Russia, which was mentioned at the meeting, would have a great distance and successive narrow-waters to traverse before reaching the Irish coasts, while trans-atlantic submarines would have to sustain prolonged operations from bases thousands of miles away - a possibility hardly yet in sight.

But even if the assumption be accepted that submarine attacks on British commerce in the waters of Western Europe are a real danger, it must be pointed out in the second place that Ireland does not 'lie across the seaways' as stated in the British proposals of July 20th.2 She lies on the flank of certain sea-ways. Holding Ireland in the recent world-war, Great Britain made Naval use of Ireland as the most westerly point in the Atlantic and organised trade-routes along the south and north coasts of Ireland accordingly. To take the South first, the distance between Fastnet and Ushant, between which lie the approaches to the English channel and the Irish sea is about 240 sea-miles, so that, in the absence of Ireland as a base, the more southerly trade-routes would naturally be employed, vessels upon which could be given escorts and protection from Cornish ports, and as regards St. George's channel and the Irish sea itself from Welsh and Scotch ports. But it may be added that in view of the great range and power of modern destroyers, it would be feasible to supply escorts based on Welsh and English ports even for a trade-route nearer to the South coast of Ireland were it desired to keep one open. A point mid-way between Land's end and Fastnet is about 85 miles from each. Pembroke is about 175 miles from Fastnet and 115 miles from the mid-way point mentioned.

The North Channel into the Irish Sea and the Clyde, if it were employed, and the seaward approaches to it could be protected adequately from Scotch bases. Lamlash, for instance, is only 80 miles from Lough Swilly.

There remains the important north-about route round Scotland into the North Sea, and so to all the eastern and southern British ports, for the protection of which bases on the Irish coast are not necessary at all.

Ireland does not in any sense block the road to England. It is not denied that use of her coasts are an additional convenience to the British Admiralty, but this convenience is not vital and cannot be set against the grave disadvantage of curtailing the status of Ireland and thus making her people feel unsatisfied.

It is assumed throughout this memorandum that there is no desire to restrict the Irish Government in the creation of defensive naval forces of its own. It is England's direct interest that she should not be so restricted. An offensive fighting Navy is not, of course, feasible or dreamed of. Some apprehension, which we do not understand, has been expressed about Irish submarines, for no Irish naval forces could be a menace to England, which in a strategical sense dominates Ireland with an immense preponderance of power and could destroy Irish Submarine bases. But in point of fact Ireland would be very unlikely to plan the building of submarines which are eminently an offensive weapon out of harmony with her purely defensive policy.

Air The considerations set forth above apply to Air Defence also. We are not quite clear as to whether a claim is made for coastal air bases in Ireland in time of peace. No sites have been mentioned. But we contest the claim if it is made, both for peace and war, with the same arguments as those used in the naval question and point to the same alternative bases for aircraft used to protect shipping against submarines.

It was suggested that enemy Aircraft in war may operate against British Commerce from Carriers, but the access of these carriers to points within range of Irish waters is a naval question and in the face of the British Navy they are no more likely to obtain such access than other enemy fighting surface ships. On the other hand British carriers of modern design will be available for anti-submarine work and reconnaissance upon the trade routes in addition to Aircraft flown from shore bases.

In regard to commercial aviation, Ireland would naturally adhere to the international Aerial Convention and supply in Irish Aerodromes the necessary facilities for British Aircraft in passage across the Atlantic.

Recruiting. This question was raised incidentally at the Meeting of the 17th. The right to carry on recruiting in Ireland for the British naval, military and air forces would not, we believe, be consistent with the position of a neutralised State and that consideration would preclude us from agreeing to it.

But we do not, in any case, appreciate the importance of the right as demanded on the British side. Ireland will naturally be a recruiting ground for Irish forces and competitive recruiting would be undesirable.

1 Austin Stack.

2 No. 141 above.


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