No. 116 NAI DFA Secretary's Files S113

Letter from Eamon de Valera to Anthony Eden (London)

Dublin, 29 January 1940

Dear Mr. Eden,

Although I am sure that Sir John Maffey has already given you a full report of my views in the case of the condemned men, Barnes and Richards, I feel, on account of its importance and its bearing on the relations between our two countries, that I should myself write to you about it.

I realise all the difficulties which the exercise of the prerogative in this case will present to your Government. I know that these men have been convicted of murder, in accordance with law, and that a considerable body of your public opinion may demand that the full penalty be exacted. I know, too, that at the present time, in the circumstances of war, your Government may think that it is necessary to be stern and feel that clemency may be misunderstood.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that it will be a mistake if you let these considerations prevail. There are, in my opinion, considerations of higher policy which dictate the opposite course. The history of the relations between our two countries has already been much stained with blood. Each succeeding generation of your countrymen have deplored the unwisdom of their predecessors and themselves fallen into the very errors they condemned. Ought you not to make sure that you avoid doing likewise, and should we not on both sides endeavour with all our strength to prevent the old round of violence and counter-violence beginning afresh. Our two Governments have achieved much towards putting the relations between the two countries on a level of decency. Is it not the best statesmanship to persevere resolutely in that course?

I believe that if your Government give this matter full consideration, they will agree. If these men are executed, the relations between our peoples will almost certainly deteriorate. It will matter little that Barnes and Richards have been found guilty of murder. With the background of our history, and the existence of partition, many will refuse to regard their action in that light. They will think only of the cause these men had it in mind to serve.

The moment Barnes and Richards are dead, they may well, in popular opinion, be enrolled in the long list of Irishmen who in varying conditions gave their lives in an effort to free their people, or to resist oppression. The execution of these men will give rise to new and bitter antagonisms between us which countries who see their profit in them will not hesitate to exploit. Is it wise, with eyes open, to permit this thing to happen?

Sincerely yours,
(Signed) Eamon de Valera

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