No. 337 NAI DFA 19/50A

Extracts from a confidential report from Charles Bewley to
Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Berlin, 18 May 1936

I1 have refrained for some time from sending a general report on the political situation, as the face of affairs in Europe has been so completely changed by the Italian victory in Abyssinia and the proclamation of the King of Italy as Emperor of Ethiopia that it is difficult to see exactly what the reactions will be on European diplomacy. In the case of Germany, in particular, where the policy is to remain friendly with both Italy and England in the hope of obtaining concessions from the one or the other as occasion may arise, it is almost impossible to forecast the reaction of the Government to any new situation in the political world.

I have however come to the conclusion that at the present moment, when a new state of affairs has arisen which will necessitate a re-consideration of policy by all the states of Europe, it may be of assistance to the Minister to have a review of the facts which have led up to the present situation as they appear in a milieu where the influences of England and Geneva are not strong. I have not, of course, any apprehension that official circles in Ireland accept the items of news which are allowed by the English telegraphic agencies to appear in the Irish press as a correct record of the events which have taken place, although I could not help noticing when I was in Dublin in February that even the most nationalist sections of the public had apparently swallowed English propaganda wholesale on the political situation in Europe. I do however think it possible that it is not realized even by official circles in Ireland to what an extent the picture of recent events as seen by the average man throughout Europe and reflected in the international press differs from that seen in the distorting mirror of Geneva and placed before the Irish public by the English agencies.

[matter omitted]

There is therefore, so far as I can judge, no moral indignation whatever against Italy in any quarter, such as prevails in England and apparently in Saorstát Éireann. The whole Abyssinian expedition is regarded as a trial of strength between Italy and England, in which England has used the Abyssinians to fight her battles and then abandoned them as she abandoned the Greeks in Asia Minor after the Great War. While sympathies vary according to the individual's nationality, personal connections, or political views, I have spoken with no one who takes seriously either the theory of the League that Italy should be treated as a malefactor for her breach of the Covenant or the professions of the English Government that England has no private interests involved, but has taken the lead in the League of Nations merely from principles of abstract justice. Moreover the ill-judged English propaganda with regard to the impossibility of the Italian enterprise meeting with success owing to the climate, terrain, guerrilla warfare, and the like, has naturally created a greater respect for the Italian achievement than would even otherwise be the case. Similarly the fact that Egypt, which is generally supposed to possess a more ancient and highly developed civilization than Abyssinia, is occupied against the will of its people by English forces at the very moment when England protests against the presence of Italian forces in Abyssinia, has been particularly unfortunate for English propaganda, especially when contrasted with the liberation of the Abyssinian slaves by the Italian invaders. But of course the main factor which counts in the general opinion is the Italian success, coupled with the fact that England after despatching the Home Fleet to the Mediterranean and asking whether she could count on the support of Spain, France, Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey, retreated under cover of the League of Nations when it became apparent that Italy would resist any attempts to rob her of her victory.

[matter omitted]

The general consensus of opinion, then, so far as I have been able to observe it, is that the future peace of Europe, as distinct from the vindication of principles formulated by the League of Nations at the suggestion of one nation or another, must depend on the cooperation of Italy. The League of Nations failed in its attempt to settle the Abyssinian dispute because in the long run an imposed settlement must depend on force, and in the case of Italy and Abyssinia the force available was insufficient, largely owing to the fact that the majority of European nations were very far from being convinced, in spite of the League resolutions, that Italy was morally guilty. Any policy which, in the interests of England or any other state, tends to diminish the force available for the resistance to an aggressor where the aggression is incontrovertible naturally encourages the potential aggressor. Of course this point of view is not shared by those to whom the important matter is the maintenance of British power in the Mediterranean or the overthrow of Fascism in favour of parliamentary democracy on the English model; but it would seem to be generally held by those whose concern is the maintenance of peace.

[matter omitted]

I have naturally attempted so far as possible to ascertain the general opinion on the present position of Saorstát Éireann, but have found that it is regarded with a certain sympathy but with very great perplexity. As I stated to the President when I had the privilege of meeting him at the beginning of March, the policy of Saorstát Éireann at Geneva has had a most unfortunate result on our international reputation. A French paper has referred to 'England's seven extra votes in the League of Nations - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Ireland and Irak.' Although no German newspaper has gone quite so far, it is quite obvious that the same idea is generally held here. A member of the diplomatic corps, not an Italian, said to me recently, 'I suppose your country has to vote in the League as England wishes?' His reply to my denial was a smile and shrug of the shoulders. The reports from England in the German press encourage the same idea by a variety of misrepresentations: an article referring to the President's recent illness laid emphasis on the fact that his absence from politics was greatly regretted in England where he was not regarded as hostile; another paragraph on recent arrests was headed, 'Arrest in Ireland of persons hostile to England.'

As I have on many previous occasion pointed out, the prevailing German opinion, taken naturally from English sources, is that the Irish are a backward and uncultivated variety of the English race. The Sinn Féin campaign did something to break down this theory, but it has unfortunately revived very much since then, and it is a regrettable fact that, however it may have been justified from other points of view, the policy of supporting resolutions introduced by England at the League of Nations has made it almost impossible to convince public opinion that Saorstát Éireann is not a loyal and contented member of the British Empire. The opinion is widely held that in a conflict between the Empire from which we wish to obtain our independence and another great power it would be natural that we should take the side against the country which puts a penal tariff on our exports and occupies our harbours; and it is not understood why the Irish Free State should apply sanctions against a country which has never interfered with it in conformance with the policy of the country from which it is endeavouring to secure its freedom. Even less is it understood why a Catholic country should take the side of England and Russia against the nation whom the Pope recently described as a 'great and good people in their joy and triumph at a peace which will be an efficacious factor and a prelude to true peace in Europe and the world.'

It is impossible to convince either German or other non-English public opinion that the Irish desire for complete independence is genuine or deep-rooted if Irish policy at Geneva coincides with English policy in matters affecting England's vital interests. Any suggestion that it was dictated by sympathy towards Abyssinia as the victim of aggression is liable to be met by the question whether Ireland itself and Egypt are not victims of aggression, and why their cases are not raised; and more than once I have been met with what was obviously intended to be a charitable explanation, 'I suppose your Government is afraid of English reprisals.'

I realize of course that in deciding on a course of foreign policy the effect on international opinion is not by any means the only matter to be considered; but it has always been regarded as an important matter, and will no doubt be taken into account as well as the other factors in the case.

There is nothing of importance to report on the situation in Germany at the moment. The English questionnaire is presumably being considered, but it is regarded as a method of gaining time and no one expects sensational developments. In fact it is regarded as extremely unlikely that anything of importance will occur before the Olympic Games are safely over.

[signed] C. Bewley

1 Marginal note: 'Seen by A/Secy, S.G.M., 27/5'.

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