No. 31  NAI DFA Washington Embassy File 119

Extract from a letter from Robert Brennan to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

WASHINGTON, 26 March 1941

[matter omitted]
At 6 pm we saw Mr. Welles. He said he was glad to see Mr. Aiken and he would do everything possible to see that his requirements would be met. Mr. Aiken immediately raised the question of shipping and at his request I gave the details of the case of the S.S. Oklahoman in which I applied for the transfer of the flag on Feb. 21st (your cable 45)1 and since then had been sent from the Maritime Commission to the State Department and back again many times without getting a decision. Mr. Welles said he would look into the matter.

Mr. Aiken outlined the purpose of his visit. He gave instances to show Britain's unwillingness to help in the matter of armaments, shipping, gasoline and foreign exchange and said that in the last three of these Britain had broken agreements entered into at the outset of the war. He gave particulars. Mr. Welles said that no doubt a consideration was that the British themselves were short and that the policy of the American Government and people was to give Britain every aid. This was based not merely on sentiment but on self interest.

They would pursue that policy no matter what it might lead to and everything else would be subservient to that policy.

Mr. Aiken said that the British policy was very foolish. They should realise that the Irish people were determined to stick to their present policy and no amount of squeezing would change them. In fact it would have the opposite effect. He said that Mr. Welles might be able to advise the British on this point for their own benefit. Mr. Welles said that the British felt that Ireland was not as keen on a British victory as the Americans were. Mr. Aiken replied that they were right in that but the British had only themselves to blame. They had partitioned the country and that was the worst sort of aggression. The policy of the Irish Government had been to try and cultivate friendly relations between the two peoples, and they had asked the British to co-operate by removing the injustice of partition. Instead of that the British had allowed their press to carry on a campaign of misrepresentation throwing doubt on the sincerity of the Irish Government's policy of neutrality. The Irish Government in order to avoid the revival of bitterness against Britain had kept all such British attacks out of the Irish newspapers, and the members of the small party in Ireland which desired war against England had been put under lock and key. But in all this policy they got no encouragement from the British. As to active participation, no one, not even de Valera with all his power, could get the Irish people to enter the war. Any such step would break the present splendid solidarity of the people. They could not see the justice of Britain's stand as long as their own country was suffering aggression. Mr. Welles said that was what the Americans could not understand. A German victory would mean the end of everything and would be a disaster for Ireland. Mr. Aiken said that there was no use in talking to the Irish people about a potential aggressor when they were facing an active aggressor.

Mr. Aiken went on to say that the British had allowed a press campaign advocating British occupation of the Irish bases and had also tried to influence American opinion on the same matter. Mr. Welles intervened to say he wished to assure Mr. Aiken that there had been no approach to the American Government by the British Government on this matter. Mr. Aiken said that the British had made no demand on the Irish Government, but certain British newspapers continued to make the most vicious attacks on Ireland for refusing the use of the bases. As a matter of fact the ports mentioned were not really bases at all but anchorages and their occupation would give the British no advantage in present circumstances. They had few destroyers to put into them. They had only 160 destroyers at the beginning of this war as against 930 in 1917. If the British had a chain of islands every 500 miles right across the Atlantic from New York to Britain with all bases possible they would not ensure the safety of their convoys if they did not have the destroyers and fast fighter planes accompanying the convoys.

Mr. Aiken went on to say that if the British were wise they would recognise that Ireland would not change her policy which was supported by 99.9% of the people and that the British should base their policy on a recognition of that fact. In other words they should encourage the proposal to have Ireland armed to the teeth so that the Irish themselves could meet a German invasion if such were attempted. One gun in the hands of one Irishman would be equal to ten guns in the hands of ten Englishmen defending Irish soil.

Mr. Welles asked for a list of our requirements and this was handed in the following morning. Mr. Welles said that he would arrange another interview for early the following week and would see that we contacted the heads of the various Departments concerned. As usual the newspaper men were on hand outside Mr. Welles' office both before and after the interview, but we could only tell them that we had had a preliminary talk and that a further interview was being arranged. They pressed in vain for a reply to the question as to whether the matter of the Irish bases had been discussed.

On Friday we called on Senator O'Mahoney and he was doubtful on the question as to whether we would get our requirements. He said, however, he would do his best with Mr. Hull and the President. I should say here that all of the Senators and Congressmen we saw so far were satisfied on one point and that was that any attempt on the part of the British to seize Ireland or her ports would be bitterly resented amongst the Irish in America.

On Friday night we were invited to dinner by Representative John McCormack of Massachusetts, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. This meeting had been arranged by Mr. Mike Hennessey of the Boston Globe who was present as was also Mrs. McCormack. Mr. McCormack is 100% in favour of the Administration's policy and he has received very flattering compliments for his handling of the situation in the House during the passage of the Lend-Lease measure. It is stated that he is one of the few men who have access to Mr. Roosevelt who talks back to him. He listened to Mr. Aiken with great attention and took copious notes. He con- siders that we should get all the necessary supplies and he said he would put that view before the President. He also said that at no time had he changed his opinion that Ireland had every right to make up her own mind on this question of peace or war and that her attitude had been absolutely right.

[matter omitted]

1 Not printed.

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