No. 221  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/14

Confidential report from John W. Dulanty to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(No. 25) (Secret)

LONDON, 28 August 1942

As I mentioned on the telephone after some difficulty owing to his arrears of work after a week's leave I secured an appointment this evening with the Home Secretary.1

His reply to my representations was that the case was beset with difficulty and, to be perfectly frank, he was reluctant to intervene.

I then pointed out that the Governor in Northern Ireland2 was not in anything like the same position constitutionally as the Governors-General in the Dominions. This he accepted and said that it was constitutionally possible, he supposed, for the Governor of Northern Ireland to receive advice from his Ministers and recommendations he didn't think he could say directions of a contrary character from Whitehall.

When Sir John Anderson3 refused to reprieve the two men at Coventry the bombing died down.4 I suggested it died down because of the war. He said there was probably something in that.

The argument of six against one did not impress him because he said it might lead hot-headed young men to expect immunity from punishment if they went about in fives or sixes instead of alone. He was terrified of the possibility of gangsterism over here. In America they would all have been shot dead on the spot. I said there was no kind of analogy between the open and avowed criminal gangsters of America, with their armed bootlegging bands formed for the unconcealed purpose of murder, and these six young men who in their original purpose were doing no more than assisting their fellow-countrymen to celebrate the anniversary of a shining event in their own history. Was it not a commonplace that all of us in our 19s and 20s thought that the history of heroism was the history of youth and even he, Mr. Morrison, was a full-blooded extremist at that age. His rejoinder was that he was as extremist as the next fellow but he didn't go about shooting. I suggested there was a difference between Battersea (when he lived when he was 19) and Belfast. He said he thought that was true.

He said Williams had admitted shooting but there was evidently some other person who fired, and of course the defendants had refused to say who this was. It would be rather a dreadful thing to hang Williams and hang one of the others on suspicion and let the rest off. I made the instant and obvious point that it would be immeasurably worse to hang all six. I said that I thought I had discerned a slight change for the better in the attitude of people over here towards Ireland. He knew that in many ways, to put it at its lowest, we were not unhelpful to them. This also he readily accepted, and I said it would be a blunder of the first order to take a step which would undo all the good that had been done.

He would know that the Northern Government had been much embarrassed by the Belfast maladministration and the suggestion had reached me that the Northern Government might not be unwilling to let a political agitation grow up to obscure their own present difficulties.

In the course of our conversation Mr. Morrison explained that these matters of reprieve did not normally go to the Cabinet. All the reprieves in this country were settled absolutely by the Home Secretary and if anything were to be done on the Belfast case it would be his affair. He would go carefully into the matter and promised nothing beyond that he would see whether anything could be done.

I told him of the grave view which my Government took of the whole matter and it was clearly incumbent on me to do everything possible to impress the view of my Government on the British both in Whitehall, Fleet Street, and wherever it seemed desirable to act. For that reason I had seen a number of his colleagues and I hoped he would not mind if I continued to see others. 'Frankly I would rather you didn't' he said, adding with a smile that 'it is better not to tamper with the Court'. I said that if that was his wish I would of course refrain from talking to any more of his colleagues.

[signed] J. W. DULANTY

1 Herbert Morrison (1888-1965), Home Secretary (1940-5).

2 James Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn (1869-1953), Governor of Northern Ireland (1922-45).

3 Sir John Anderson, 1st Viscount Waverly (1882-1950), former Joint Under-Secretary for Ireland (1920-2), Home Secretary (1939-40), Chancellor of the Exchequer (1943-5).

4 Peter Barnes (1908-40) and James Richards (aka McCormick) (1911-40) were sentenced to death by hanging after they were found guilty of planting a bomb which exploded in Coventry on 25 August 1939 killing five people. Richards admitted being a member of the IRA while Barnes maintained that he had no link with the organisation. Both men were executed on 7 February 1940. See DIFP VI for further details.


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