No. 312  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P48A

Memorandum from Seán Nunan to Robert Brennan (Washington)

WASHINGTON, 20 August 1943

On Tuesday, the 17th instant, I had dinner with Mr. Gray, American Minister to Ireland, and Mr. Robert Stewart, of the European Division of the State Department. During the dinner, which was at the Washington Hotel, generalities about Ireland, such as the weather, fishing, the beauty of the country etc., were discussed and after dinner we adjourned to Mr. Stewart's apartment where, after some more generalities and personalities had been discussed, Mr. Gray said he wanted to talk about Ireland's position in the war.

He said that, of course, he did not expect me to criticise the position my Government had adopted and it was quite likely that I would disagree with his views as to what policy Ireland should follow, but nevertheless he would speak his mind as his dearest wish was to have a part in settling the Partition question and it was necessary to speak plainly about the matter.

He felt that if we would even now join the United Nations a united Ireland could be obtained, but the Taoiseach was unyielding on this point. I said that even if the Taoiseach did come out in favour of participation in the war he could not carry the country with him. Mr. Gray disagreed and said the Taoiseach could swing the people over if he so desired, but he was adamant on this point. If, said Mr. Gray, someone else were Prime Minister, he thought progress could be made and in this connection he mentioned the Ministers for Finance,1 Justice2 and Local Government3 as being 'practical' men. He also asked me if I knew Mr. Seán Moylan4 whom he considers a very able man and a 'realist' and said he would make it a point to talk to him on his return to Ireland.

He said we should be realistic about the matter as Britain might be tough on us after the war and, as the United States and Britain will be working closely together on post-war problems and the United States will need the goodwill of Britain, we can hardly expect the United States to support our claims. He had been talking to a number of friends of Ireland while here, including Archbishops, (he gave no names) and said their opinion was that we should be in the war and so ensure a place at the Peace Conference. He also said that the opinion of the man in the street, including many Irish Americans, was that we were not entitled to any help from America as we denied the use of the ports when they would have been useful to the Allies. He said that he and 'my Government' are anxious that Ireland be represented at the Peace Conference, but unless we cooperate we cannot expect to be invited there.

He asked me what suggestion I had and I said that to my mind there was only one thing to do – the right thing -; let England abolish Partition which she had set up. He then asked what about the Unionist majority in the North – they would not agree to come in and did I not think we could make some compromise. I asked why should we – the majority of the people of Ireland – be always expected to give way, why should not England and the Northern Government. They had nothing to fear from a United Ireland. There had been a suggestion that, to allay their fears, a separate parliament to deal with local affairs be established which should acknowledge the sovereignty of the National Parliament of a United Ireland in Dublin, to which would be reserved powers such as reside at present in the British Parliament.

Again he said we must get away from this idealism about right and wrong, become pragmatic and look for a solution as practical politicians. I was just as impracticable as the Taoiseach in insisting that we hold to our neutrality position and expect England to agree to a United Ireland without any guarantee that we would cast our lot in with them. (This I considered very flattering to me.)

He expressed concern over the possibility, in the event that Ireland was left out of the Peace Conference, as she would be if we did not join in the war, that the Taoiseach might come to America and campaign for support of Ireland's claim and so bring forth the 'usual resolutions' from Irish sympathisers here. From this I gathered that someone was worried lest the 'Irish Question' be used in a campaign against America's participation in whatever international post-war arrangement she may have in mind to be a party to. It will be recalled that Irish-American Societies were the spearhead of the opposition to America's joining the League of Nations after the last World War.

Mr. Gray said that while our neutrality might have [been] the wisest course at the time when it appeared that Germany would overrun England and Ireland, inasmuch as we might have figured that in the event of Germany winning she would be more likely to give us better treatment than would be the case if we had been allied with Britain, it was foolish now, when it is certain that Germany will be beaten and we have a lot to gain by being on the winning side, not to come in.

He spoke about the agitation for the reprieve of Williams of Belfast and his associates, and said that when he was approached to use his influence in the matter, (he did not say by whom) he enquired among his Irish friends who felt that the ends of justice would be served if two men hanged, and on a later occasion, after reprieves were granted to all except Williams, when a deputation of Republican sympathisers called on him to use his influence to obtain a reprieve for Williams also, he told them that after all a policeman had been murdered and someone should hang for the crime. He also told this deputation that he knew the Taoiseach was working to obtain a reprieve for Williams even though he was a member of the I.R.A. and remarked that the Taoiseach did not even forget his enemies, whereupon one of the deputation, (Mr. Gray said he was a barrister named O'Mahoney) said 'But he does forget his friends.'

Many times during the conversation, Mr. Gray expressed, in the highest terms, the admiration and regard in which he holds the Taoiseach. He also referred to the warm friendship he has for the Minister for Finance and to the great ability of the Minister for Justice, who he said was one of the ten ablest men in Ireland. He has, of course, a profound admiration for Deputy James Dillon who, he said, was a regular visitor to the Legation.

He said he realized that his attitude in regard to Ireland's position did not make him very popular with our Government and that he expected to be 'fired' some day from his post because of this.

Although I was totally opposed to most of the arguments made by Mr. Gray and, of course, expressed my point of view, the conversation, which lasted until almost 1 a.m., was most friendly. He praised everything in Ireland – even including the weather, which was quite understandable as the temperature in Washington that night was around 90° – except our attitude on the war.

While in Washington Mr. Gray is staying at the White House.

Incidentally, Mr. Gray asked Mr. Stewart whether he would like to be appointed to the Legation in Dublin if Mr. Packer leaves there. Mr. Stewart said he would like the appointment very much and Mr. Gray said he would take the matter up with the proper officials in the State Department.

[signed] SEÁN NUNAN

1 Seán T. O'Ceallaigh TD.

2 Gerald Boland TD.

3 Seán MacEntee TD.

4 Minister for Lands.

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