No. 14 NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/14(2)

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Éamon de Valera (Dublin)
(Copy) (Secret)

London, 20 September 19451

Minister for External Affairs.
I saw Lord Addison the Dominions Secretary last evening.

He was unreservedly friendly. When I conveyed your kind regards and good wishes to him, and gave him the message that the Minister for Industry and Commerce was prepared to come over to talk about Aviation and Trade matters, he expressed great pleasure and said 'We are thinking on the same lines.'2 He repeated several times during the conversation 'You are pushing an open door'. He said he had sent a memorandum to his colleagues a few days ago on Ireland urging a resumption of friendly relations and close collaboration.

I was naturally amazed at such a welcome, as I expected to be reproached about our neutrality after the usual English official manner. In the circumstances I thought it safe to say that you and the members of the Government felt the greatest good will and sympathy for the Labour Government in the tremendous task of social reconstruction they had undertaken. Everybody in Ireland had a natural interest in their work and hoped for their success. If the advent of a Labour Government indicated a definite phase of a social revolution, we in Ireland could only rejoice that what had long since taken place in Ireland had at last become a fact in England. He said that they had three very hard years in front of them. There was a great deal to be done and most of it had to be put through in the first three years.

I sympathised with him on the hostility of the press and suggested it was strange that their worst enemies should also be ours. I was astonished to hear from Stephenson that the Beaverbrook press might have any intimidating influence upon the members of the Government but I didn't believe it possible that they were less hardened to abuse than we were. At this he launched out into a tirade against the Press lords, especially Beaverbrook. Such gentlemen, he said, would not exercise the slightest influence over the Labour Government, least of all in their friendliness for Ireland. If they were going to allow themselves to be influenced by the Tory Press they would not carry out any part of their programme.

He told me that he and Maffey (whom I had already praised) had talked at length last week on Ireland and he had said to him precisely what he had said to me to-day, that he was going to be a friend of Ireland and was anxious for very early contacts on the Ministerial plane. He would talk to his colleagues about the suggestion I had made on your behalf and would give John Maffey a message for us as soon as possible.

As it was abundantly clear from several of Lord Addison's remarks during the conversation that Maffey was in favour of early friendly contacts I thought it better to encourage him to send his message through that channel. When I was leaving Lord Addison asked me to give you his very kind regards, and his best wishes for friendship between our two countries. 'Tell him', he said 'I am his friend.' 'Friendship for Ireland will be the policy of my Department so long as I am in it.' I thanked him for having come into the office to receive me (he had not been in during the day) and I assured him you would be very pleased to hear what he had said to me.

This visit would have left me in very good spirits. Addison was quite genuine. There was no effusiveness, no gush. He was clear and determined in all he said, and I hope I am right in my judgment that he has decided - though not yet - in full consultation with his colleagues - to follow a policy of friendly relations with Ireland. He is quite confident that his memorandum (about the detailed contents of which I could not of course express any curiosity) will be accepted by the Government. I also feel that he will resist the anti-Irish animus in the Dominions Office. Without being too pointed I tried to let him see that I felt his task in overcoming the old prejudices there would be anything but easy. He will be presented with a test case in regard to the particular matter of the proposed visit of the Tánaiste.

I had explained to him at the beginning that you were anxious that an early move towards establishing personal contacts between Ministers should be made. If too much time were allowed a conflict of prestige might develop in which neither side would take the first step. You had decided to do so in the interest of both countries and quite apart from any immediate advantage to either. He expressed gratitude for your gesture, but he said he would have taken the step himself if you had not done so.

I presume there is nothing we can do now except to wait until Maffey brings the answer to our proposal.


Before going to see Addison I naturally had to call on Sir John Stephenson, Acting Undersecretary in the absence of Sir Eric Machtig who is seriously ill with a malignant duodenal. Stephenson started by being most unfriendly. I thought I should give him an outline of my purpose in order if possible to secure his good will. He at once flared up and delivered himself of the following sentiments. You should realise how intensely anti-Irish the people here feel. I should feel obliged to advise the Secretary of State that such a visit would provoke hostility in the Press and amongst the public. People would say that the Labour Government was making concessions to the Irish and the nett result would be bad for the Government. He would warn the Secretary of State about the 'hatred' existing in England for Ireland now and he did not think the Government would accept the suggestion. Moreover he said I should be fully aware of the way we had let them down, and the hostile attitude we had provoked.

I was not sorry to get the chance of a good row. Machtig had always tried to conceal the real Dominions Office attitude when talking to me and it was impossible to get down to fundamentals. It was an excellent opportunity to give an exposé of our whole position, basing myself on your speech in reply to Churchill. I also used the Civil War danger as an incidental factor. I spoke about the studied hostility of Emrys Evans' replies in the House of Commons and the folly of perpetuating a situation for which they alone were responsible. I also went back on the immediately pre-twenty-two period, and made it clear to him that the bad anti-Irish attitude of Sir Edward Harding3 and his Colonial office mind in regard to us had left a deep impression on the Dominions Office ever since. He should read Irish History if he wanted to deal fairly with Ireland. I had always found it quite incomprehensible that the great majority of cultured Englishmen know more about Ireland (and consequently knew where to place the blame) than the Officials in the Dominions Office. We had again and again invited them over to visit Ireland. When they came it was with reluctance and full of apprehensions lest they might find that they had been wrong all the time. Stephenson changed considerably before I left to go into Addison's room and he seemed a little nervous when I told him that I felt obliged to repeat our conversation to the Secretary of State. It was too serious a matter for both countries that there should be deep misunderstandings based on prejudice at a moment when at least good will, between our two countries as with the US and Western-Europe was vital to our survival.

After I had seen the Secretary of State and went back to Stephenson I found a very different man. He had thought over his indiscreet outburst and I hope over my rejoinder. We settled down to a friendly conversation. I tried to convince him that our step was a help to both sides - that apart from the national interests, it was the Civil Servant's task to promote good relations. Moreover as I had said to the Secretary of State, one side or the other would have had to take the step very soon and you had decided to waive petty considerations of national amour propre and to take the step now. I also argued with him that it was foolishness to be afraid of reactions in the Beaverbrook Press - a fear which his Minister had indignantly repudiated. Nothing as his Minister had said could ever be done on such a basis. I reminded him of the thousand and one helpful things we had done during the war and I urged him to inform his Minister of the attitude indicated by me on my Minister's instructions in my first talk with Anthony Eden in September 1939.4 I had then said on the Taoiseach's behalf that in our neutrality we should aim at maintaining the framework intact but in essence the British Government could consider our neutrality as entirely benevolent in their regard.

I also warned him, as one Civil Servant to another, of your statement in the Dáil that you had no intention of going cap in hand to anybody, and he should be careful not to stake the responsibility upon himself (by giving wrong advice to his Minister) of creating a wider gap between us, and thus postponing, perhaps indefinitely, these personal contacts upon which so much depended for all of us. My Minister had made a generous gesture. It would be extremely unwise to reject it.

He then began to discuss the details of the proposed visit of the Tánaiste. I suggested he should come, first of all, for a day or two, then leave the continuation of discussions to officials, and subsequently, towards the end of the discussions, meet the Air Minister again, either here or in Dublin. Stephenson then, went on to say, that he knew that the air officials wanted conversations now. They felt we had let them down by the agreement with the Americans, because, he said, the agreement deprived them of their best bargaining factor.5

Again I had a splendid opportunity. I told him of our repeated requests for information, for suggestions, for even an outline of their plans in relation to the Shannon. For two and a half years we had been fobbed off with silly excuses which wouldn't convince a bushman.

Even at Chicago we offered to make an agreement and were still received with coldness.6 Now we were accused of making their situation with America very difficult. Indeed the British view seemed to be that we should let all our investments in the Shannon project go to blazes. We could get nothing out of the British but we were not to secure our position with the Americans. It was not merely a dog in the manger policy. It was downright idiocy on the part of those responsible.

When I spoke about petrol, Stephenson said he did not see how they could do anything until the Lease-Lend discussions were over. I mentioned the tankers and gave the other arguments without producing an impression. He mentioned their generosity in dollars, and in this connection, he seemed to be completely au courant not only with total amounts but with individual transactions, a fact which contains a lesson for us.

We had quite a friendly conversation about the international situation which they are so worried about, that it is bound to be a prime element in their policy of friendship with us.

So far it did not seem that Stephenson had much knowledge of his Minister's views about Ireland or his intentions. I earnestly hope that the rumoured changes amongst high placed Tory Civil Servants will take in the Dominions Office or that, in the alternative, the Foreign Office may take charge in future.

1Enclosed with Boland to Walshe, 2 October 1945, No. 18 below.

2 See below No. 19.

3 Sir Edward John Harding (1880-1954), Permanent Under-Secretary, Dominions Office (1930-9).

4 See DIFP VI, No. 15.

5 Irish-American Air Transport Agreement, 1945. See DIFP VII, No. 533.

6 Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States were among a group of countries which met at Chicago in late 1944 and signed the International Air Services Transit Agreement on 7 December 1944.

Purchase Volumes Online

Purchase Volumes Online



The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

Free Download

International Counterparts

The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
Read more ....

Website design and developed by FUSIO