No. 140 UCDA P150/2183

Handwritten letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Eamon de Valera (Dublin)

London, 8 February 1938

Dear President,
I haven't sent a report for some time. One day is more or less a repetition of another and I am simply keeping up the pressure on Harding and Batterbee.

There are however some things which deserve particular mention. Last Thursday I saw, with Batterbee, three military members of the Committee of Imperial Defence - Cols Hollis1, Lunn and Wing Commander Frazer2. They were cold and aloof and rather gave the impression that they were doing the task of the moment from a sense of duty exclusively. I don't think I was entirely wrong in my instinctive reaction that this beginning of a surrender of the defences of Ireland to Irishmen was distasteful to them.

Their curiosity was not excessive. They had before them the information given in our estimates for the current year and they were satisfied when I told them that we should prefer an estimate of our real defensive requirement to one based on our existing equipment and personnel. I gathered generally that they think that an extremely mobile force is best suited to the conditions which would have to be should an attack be made upon our coasts. They wanted to fit into - or to superimpose upon - our present cadre the further elements deemed necessary by them, keeping as close as possible to our present expenditure. They hoped to make up for numbers and for quantity of equipment by extreme mobility. I don't believe their original detailed questions had any other motive. They have easily available in their war stores dept. all the information they desire. I still feel that the military are suspicious of us and if there is an agreement we shall be obliged in our own interest to remove their suspicions as quickly as possible. Otherwise we shall not get any serious military information and there would be a slight risk of their advice being directed to keeping our forces so small that their aid would have to be asked for immediately on the occurrence of an emergency. There are of course, other reasons why they would not desire an extensive development of our forces until they had got rid of their suspicions. I thought it better to remark in confidence to Batterbee that there would have to be an easier atmosphere engendered before our military people and theirs got talking together; that, in fact, the British would have to examine the foundations of their suspicions of us with the same care as we examined the cause of our suspicions of them. There would have to be a freer atmosphere if we were to work together.

He will have conveyed this hint to the members of the C.I. Defence and I am earnestly hoping that when our military colleagues meet these officers they will not have the same cause to freeze up as I had.

This is a relatively trivial matter, and I should not have reported it did I not think it fitted with the background of the atmosphere of hostility which has always existed in military circles here - and to meet which we have to take definite measures. When talking with you on this subject I have occasionally referred to information given to me by a remote relative and friend of mine who was until recently lecturing in the Staff college. He had told me about modifications made in lectures because of the presence of Irish officers - of the very marked hostility in the army here to a settlement which would deprive them of the treaty rights in time of danger. He had suggested that Military Conferences of some kind would diminish the hostility and distrust felt towards us. My last conversation with him was in April 1937 and I had met him off and on since 1925. There had been no change of attitude during all those years.

I hope to have their draft plan and estimate on Saturday.

Partition is of course the main burden of all my talks with Batterbee and Harding (I see the former when Harding is not there). They continue to emphasize the extreme difficulty in which their P.M. will find himself when facing the problem of doing something about Partition. Harding repeats that Chamberlain 'can do nothing fundamental', and enlarges on the influence of the N. Eastern Unionists in England. I point out the injustice of the principle of partition, and emphasize with all the figures and quotations at my disposal the disgraceful position of the minority in the six counties. I think this repetition is beginning to have a serious effect and I regret, more and more, each time I talk to these officials that we did not prepare for the negotiations a year or so ago by sending them a series of despatches on the treatment of the minority.

Your statements to the Press have had good results, though I don't think they were enthusiastic about your German parallel in the message to Havas.

I am keeping in touch every day and endeavouring to sum up the position - seeing whether it is more or less favourable to us.

They still want a settlement. You have seen from Sean Leydon's report that they are ready to go the whole hog in trade - or nearly so - and that they will give us free entry for our agricultural products. Defence is the price and without it we shall get nothing. The millions will go up or down according to the extent to which you modify or accept the existing formula. If it remains as it is or substantially so you will certainly get them down to your ten millions.

Harding told me yesterday that they felt dissatisfied about the defence formula, and would ask for something much more definite if we insisted on introducing changes to suit our point of view. That may, or may not be, bluff but we shall have a hard task to get all the concessions we hope for without a substantially similar defence formula. We have no chance whatever in existing circumstances of getting any form of Parliament for the whole of Ireland. Even a form of council plus a formal renunciation of the principle of partition will be hard enough to get.

The crisis is not sufficiently obvious to their own people to enable them to force the pace on the six-counties question. They continue to argue that the first real step is an understanding on defence matters between London and Dublin. There is some stratum of truth in this and I think we should not forget that cooperation is a dynamic thing depending entirely on our will at any given moment. If we find that they are inclined to forget partition we shall have it in our power to show them by inaction or positive opposition that unity is our constant aim.

If we get the British out of the ports and establish a fairly effective defence force we shall be in a much better position to talk to them on unity. I should be ready to make real sacrifices to get rid of the Treaty. The sacrifice we are asked to make in defence is more apparent than real, because it is the only means of preventing the possible permanent loss of our independence in the almost certain crisis of a Great War.

I hope they will not have got very far with the Italians before the resumption of the negotiations. Some progress towards an agreement with the Italians and a pro-British policy resulting from the changes in Germany - would make the going more difficult for us on the 21st February. However the Germans are not likely to change so quickly in that direction, and the Japanese are getting more aggressive in the Hong Kong area, so I hope the factors will still be in our favour. However if the British agree to the postponement to the 21st we should not suggest a further postponement. The possible gains in relation to the six county issue might be offset by serious losses in the general atmosphere if world conditions became modified in favour of the British.

Although I should like a few days at home, I shall feel happier, on the whole, if I can remain in touch with things here. I think the advantages are on the side of my not leaving until the negotiations are finally over.

I beg to remain, dear President,
with great respect and esteem,
Yours sincerely,
J.P. Walshe

1 Colonel Leslie Chasemore Hollis (1887-1963), Admiralty representative on the Committee of Imperial Defence (1936-46).

2 Wing Commander Hugh Henry MacLeod Fraser (1896-1962).

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