No. 97  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P18

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Robert C. Ferguson (Dublin)
(P. 18) (Secret)

DUBLIN, 16 June 1941

I am directed by the Minister for External Affairs to refer to your minute T.I.W.

581 of the 4th June,1 and to make the following observations on the memorandum enclosed with your minute2 dealing with the defensive arming of Irish merchant ships:-

1. It is recognised that German attacks on our shipping in the Irish Sea have become a serious problem, from the practical no less than from the political point of view. From the point of view of damage to Irish ships, and the consequent loss of their services, however, the provision of defensive armament would not be likely to make any material difference in the situation. In fact it might well have the effect of making the situation worse than it is. Moreover, so far as the attitude of the crews of Irish ships is concerned, if the effect of providing defensive armament were to lead to more frequent and intensive attacks on our ships, as it well might, the problem might become more serious than it is at present.

2. It is, no doubt, for these reasons among others that, both in the present and in the last war, neutral countries have decided against installing armament on their merchant ships, even in the face of the wholesale refusal of crews to sail. On the 1st June 1941 for example, Sweden had lost by belligerent action, including mines, 102 vessels of a total displacement of 392,470 gross registered tons. Much of Sweden's remaining tonnage is tied up owing to difficulties with the crews. But Sweden has not armed her merchant ships and there seems to be no question of her doing so. This Department is not aware of any other neutral country in the present war which has provided defensive armament on its merchant vessels.

3. Apart from practical considerations, however, there are the strongest objections, on the ground of our neutrality, to the arming of Irish merchant ships. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a precedent for such a course in the general practice of neutral states. The defensive armament would inevitably be used in a manner for which it would be impossible to find warrant in inter- national law. There is no guarantee that the provision of armament would render attacks on Irish ships less frequent in occurrence or less damaging in their effects and such incidents as did occur would be invested with a new degree of gravity from the point of view of the maintenance of the county's neutrality. For the general reason, therefore, that the political dangers of arming Irish ships would be out of all proportion to any practical advantages likely to be secured, the Minister for External Affairs is opposed to the proposal that Irish merchant vessels should be defensively armed.

[stamped] (SIGNED) J. P. WALSHE


1 Not printed.

2 Not printed.

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