No. 129 UCDA P194/540

Confidential report from Michael MacWhite to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(Confidential) (Copy)

Rome, 27 February 1940

The series of explosions and bombings attributed to the Irish Republican Army, which have taken place in England during the past year appear to have alienated much of the sympathy that educated Europeans have invariably felt for Ireland. Honourable methods to achieve success in a just cause are always applauded, but when disfigured by crime and injury to innocent parties, they bring shame and confusion in their train and effectively undo the work they are expected to accomplish.

For weeks, at a stretch, the Italian press gave more than the usual space to I.R.A. activities which were invariably featured under the heading 'I Terroristi Irlandesi', 'The Irish Terrorists', not, as one may conclude, from the title, out of sympathy for Ireland, but rather out of enmity for England, which is not the same thing, and which is but a passing phase of present day politics. Anybody reading continental newspapers and glancing at these headlines from day to day would be led to believe that the Irish were a nation of terrorists whose standards of civilisation compare unfavourably with those of other European countries. The political background of the bombings is not widely known abroad and it inspires but little sympathy even, in the limited circles, where it is best understood.

The name Ireland had made for herself in the international field since her admission to the League of Nations, eighteen years ago, through the independent attitude of her representatives at world conferences, has all but vanished and to restore it in our time will be a difficult undertaking. The damage to our national prestige is incalculable.

In Vatican circles, too, these bombing activities have created considerable embarrassment. Ireland has, after Italy, the highest percentage of Catholics and according to Monsignor Tardini,1 whom I met a few days ago, protestant Theologians and Divines cite Irish crime as an example of what may be expected in a country where the Catholic religion predominates. This explains, perhaps, why the official organ of the Vatican went to the trouble of telling the world that the Pope could not urge clemency for the two men executed at Birmingham in view of the fact that they had an impartial trial. Britain was, therefore, held up indirectly as a model of justice and fair dealing. Papal condemnation could not go much further. It is also likely to react unfavourably against Catholic priests of Irish origin as the question of the appointment of Bishops in countries like the United States or Canada presents itself. Vatican diplomacy is extremely subtle and sometimes exerts itself where least expected.

Another and more serious aspect of these I.R.A. bombings and the consequent loss of Irish prestige abroad would be keenly felt in case of any unexpected breach of our neutrality by any one of the belligerent powers. We would, unlike Finland, have but few friends to raise their voices on our behalf, as most people would be reluctant to plead the cause of a country that showed such a poor sense of its own responsibilities, for the disrepute affects the good name of the whole nation even though the organisation responsible for it may be able to boast of only a few hundred members.

1 Monsignor Domenico Tardini (1888-1961), long-serving aide to Pope Pius XII in the Vatican State Secretariat; appointed Cardinal Secretary of State in 1958.

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