No. 169 UCDA P150/2571

Report from Joseph P. Walshe to Eamon de Valera (Dublin)
(Most Secret)

London, 6 May 1940

1. I saw Mr. Eden by appointment at 3 p.m. on Friday, 3rd May. The time had been arranged by Sir John Maffey but I asked the High Commissioner to accompany me. Mr. Eden received me in his usual very friendly way. I gave him your special good wishes and told him that you felt great satisfaction that our friendly relations had continued so successfully, notwithstanding all the difficulties created by the war.

2. I told him that you were particularly glad that you had been able to maintain your position of benevolent neutrality. The strict framework of neutrality had been maintained but Mr. Eden was fully aware that we were giving positive help in several ways. I then detailed to him the categories in which that help was being given. The list was quite an impressive one and he seemed to be getting the picture as a whole for the first time. I deliberately began in this way in order to let him see that his Government were very much in our debt.

3. I then went on to talk to him about the appearance of an anti-Irish article in the British press at almost regular fortnightly intervals and I gave him the News Review placard which was appearing all over London with the caption 'Nazi Activities in Ireland'. I pointed out to him in detail how very serious to our good relations the continuance of such articles might prove. Quite a lot of our people were beginning to believe that there was some sinister purpose behind it. It was all very well for him and his officials to say to the High Commissioner and myself that the News Review and the other papers in which hostile articles had appeared were papers of no importance. He must remember that the worst prejudices were formed by the very people – the lower middle classes no doubt – who read these papers; such prejudices were bound to percolate upwards and eventually to influence the whole population against us. I had told Maffey before that I had a remote suspicion myself that these articles were encouraged by some branch of the Naval Intelligence. At any rate I succeeded in making Eden look quite worried and he expressed his determination to put an end to this type of article in the British press. At first apart from arguing the unimportance of the papers in which these articles were appearing, he hinted that their censorship had no real power to prevent the publication in the press of any particular type of article except it were of such a type as to provide information to the enemy. His argument is in effect contradicted by their own censorship regulations and I put it to Eden that if similar articles were being written against America, or Belgium or Holland they would very soon be stopped. The High Commissioner was rather opposed to my making a strong case in this matter on account of the relative unimportance of the press involved but I could not accept his view. His view was that to make too much of such matters might appear to Eden to be somewhat 'parochial'. I don't know whether you share that view but I feel myself that we must remain completely indifferent to what they may think of any particular protest. No doubt any interest of any member of the group of States with which they have special relations would appear to them to be of a relatively unimportant character and I can't feel that I have made a mistake in pressing for a real effort to put an end to anti-Irish articles. I intend to use every opportunity (as I already have done) with all the officials I meet to deplore such an interference with our good relations and to urge that appropriate measures should be taken.

4. I told Eden once more that any interference by them with our neutrality would be a disaster for them as well as for us. It would immediately turn against them the sympathy which had been evoked in their favour by the fact that they were opposed to a dictatorship which was largely anti-Christian in its outlook. Our neutrality should constitute for them a very real help in the United States where Irish opinion was free (because of what our neutrality symbolised) to follow its natural tendency to oppose anti-Christian forces. I did not however conceal from him that the establishment of close relations with Russia (however remote that might be) might make a very real change in the general Irish attitude towards the Allies. The leaders of Germany were indeed anti-Christian but a large section of the German people were good Catholics and good Protestants and might be trusted in the end to re-establish the prestige of Christianity in their own country, but Russia's atheism was aggressive and incurable. That country had moreover committed two acts of aggression which were just as bad as those committed by Germany. Eden said he really didn't believe that they would ever succeed in getting Russia on their side but at the same time he felt that they could not reject any help from that quarter.

5. I spoke to him about the impossible position in which their slowness in fulfilling our Army orders had placed us. Our Air Force might soon be grounded through want of spare parts. Moreover, our aircraft were largely without the necessary machine guns and wireless equipment. Our coast patrols might soon become impossible and our Army would not have the essential aid of the Air Force in repelling possible attempts at landing from the sea or from the air. I told him that I intended, in conjunction with the High Commissioner, to visit the higher officials more immediately concerned with this question. Eden, while admitting that we should get spare parts and aeroplane equipment with all possible speed, said it was quite hopeless to expect more aeroplanes or more anti-aircraft guns. I had been more or less prepared for this attitude by Maffey in the course of a long conversation in the train between Liverpool and London. He said – and he was obviously repeating what he had been told by the military and naval people here – that he could not see what on earth we wanted to do with anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank guns, and similar equipment. There is not any doubt that we never should have asked for anti-tank guns because such a request was bound to make them suspicious and to extend their suspicions to all our demands. I thought it better to say to both Eden and Maffey that we were ready to discuss with the people concerned here what they really could give us outside the categories which they declared to be impossible to deliver now or within any reasonable period of time. I feel that we can get very soon Bren guns1 and ammunition for them, aeroplane spare parts, and the necessary equipment in wireless and machine guns. They believe that this equipment would serve their interests as well as ours, and I don't believe it is of any use our trying to exert further pressure with regard to our general demands. If we do not concentrate on what they are ready to give us we might find ourselves in the position of getting nothing at all. It looks as if we might have to rely on Bren and other machine guns as our major defence weapon.

6. I tried to impress upon Eden the need for persuading his colleagues of the necessity of making trade concessions to us. The effect on public opinion would be considerable. He had plenty of political arguments to give his colleagues and they should be aware that the best propaganda the British could do in Ireland, which had a largely farming community, would be to give us better prices for our agricultural products.

7. I told him that you were constantly thinking of the unity of Ireland and that you earnestly hoped that he would give his serious attention to the restoration of the Six Counties. Although there was no time to receive any instruction from you on the particular point I did say that there was nothing on earth to prevent them handing over immediately Tyrone and Fermanagh as there could not be the slightest dispute as to what was the desire of the inhabitants. After all, they were fighting for small nations and public opinion could not oppose a measure which was so strictly in accordance with the ideals they were fighting for. Of course you do not renounce for a moment Ireland's claim to the whole excluded area but you could not see that there was any difficulty at all for them with regard to the two counties whatever internal political difficulties there might be with regard to the Six. Eden said it was not so easy as I thought and even the restoration of the two counties, would present serious difficulty. However, I think the raising of this question made him feel more acutely that they were illogical in making this exception to their general attitude and I feel that it had some effect in making him more determined to give us concessions on the trade side.

8. I learned from the Deputy Secretary of the Dominions Office2 on Saturday afternoon, in the course of a drive into the country, that Maffey had been exceptionally helpful and that he kept impressing on all the Ministers concerned that it was a political necessity to make some real concessions to us on the trade side.

[initialled] J.P.W.

1 The Bren gun was the main infantry light machine gun used by British forces during the Second World War. It remained in use late into the twentieth century in conflicts including the Falklands War and the First Gulf War. The weapon saw service with the Irish Defence Forces from the Second World War until the early 2000s.

2 Sir Eric Machtig.

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