No. 60  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P35

Blue code telegram from Joseph P. Walshe to Robert Brennan (Washington)
(No. 111)

DUBLIN, 13 May 1941

On the 28th of April, the American Minister, under instructions from his Government, read to the Taoiseach a memorandum which he subsequently left with him.

Broadly speaking, the memorandum might be summarised as follows:-

  1. The United States Government do not question the determination or the right of Ireland to preserve her neutrality.
  2. But they hold that there is a clear distinction between such a policy and one which, at least potentially, affords real encouragement to the Government of Germany.
  3. The United States Government will not make available to the Irish Government any military material unless and until the Irish Government are prepared to assume a more co-operative attitude.
  4. The United States Government view with genuine sympathy the position in which the people of Ireland find themselves in relation to the material scarcity of the normal food supplies resulting from the curtailment of shipping facilities, and, in view of the traditional and intimate friendship between the American and Irish peoples, are prepared to enter into negotiations with the Irish Government for the acquisition, either through charter or purchase preferably the former of two cargo ships which could be put to service in transporting food supplies to Ireland from the United States, but this offer is made directly to the head of the Irish Government, instead of to Mr. Aiken, because the latter 's point of view has appeared to officials of the United States Government to be one of 'blind hostility to the British Government and to the British people'.

The Irish Government appreciate the frank recognition by the Government of the United States of Ireland's right and determination to preserve its neutrality. They have never felt that the United States would adopt any other attitude. They are consequently at a loss to understand what it is intended to convey by the statement 'there is a clear distinction between such a policy and one which, at least potentially, affords real encouragement to the Government of Germany'. They can only assume that there is some fundamental misunderstanding as to Ireland's neutrality and her attitude towards Great Britain at the present time. The fact is that, notwithstanding the difficulties inherent in the situation created by partition, the relations between Ireland and Great Britain had steadily improved down to the beginning of the war. A considerable degree of co-operation existed between the two countries, and the resulting friendliness, so far as Ireland is concerned, has continued to the present moment.

As early as 1935 the Irish Government had declared it to be their firm policy not to allow their territory to be used as a basis of attack on Britain. In consequence, and for the first time in several centuries, Britain while engaged in a Continental war has not had to reckon with a hostile Ireland. In fact, in a number of ways Ireland has given Britain very real help. Our neutrality has been a benevolent one, and consistently we have leaned on the side of helpful and sympathetic understanding.

The Irish Government intend to maintain their attitude of friendliness to Great Britain, but their primary duty like that of all Governments is to provide for the safety of their own nation and people. Participation in the present war, or acts likely to lead to involvement in the war, are inconsistent with that duty and are therefore out of the question.

With a Christian civilisation nearly 2,000 years old, and with a consistent record of fighting for freedom longer perhaps than that of any other nation, Ireland has long proved her devotion to the cause of justice and the freedom of the human spirit, and no one can deny that she has contributed her share to the moral foundation on which the laws of men and nations are built. But at this moment Ireland's survival as a nation, and the safety of the remnant of her long persecuted people, depends on the maintenance of her neutrality. The Irish Government believe that the American Government would not lead their people into war or into the risk of war if America were in the same defenceless position as Ireland is, and they feel that it is hardly just to urge Ireland to courses which other nations, in similar circumstances, would be quick to reject. The Irish people have made no attempt to dictate to any other people what their national policy should be, and they do no more than claim for themselves the same absolute right to judge and decide the manner in which best to safeguard their own vital interests.

The Irish Government are grateful for the reference to the traditional and intimate friendship between the American and Irish people, and for the offer of negotiations with a view to the acquisition of two cargo ships. Ireland's need for these ships is great, and the possession of them might well mean the difference between extreme hardship and a hardship which would be tolerable. The manner, however, in which the offer is made, and the suggestion of certain implied conditions render it impossible for the Irish Government to accept. They cannot agree that the estimate of Mr. Aiken's attitude and the criticism directed against him is just. Nor have we had any communications which would support the contention that, prior to Mr. Aiken's arrival, negotiations in regard to food and ships had been proceeding satisfactorily. In the view of the Irish Government, based on long experience and intimate knowledge of Mr. Aiken as a colleague, he is no less well disposed to Great Britain than are the other members of the Irish Government, although, of course, like them, he regards it his duty to place the interests of his own country first. The Irish Government regard it as a matter for deep regret that the officials of the United States Government concerned should have come to a different conclusion.

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