No. 303  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/5

Extract from a letter from John J. Hearne to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

OTTAWA, 26 July 1943

[matter omitted]

I congratulated Mr. Robertson on Mr. L. B. Pearson's appointment as Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Food and Agriculture. I told him that I had sent my good wishes to Mr. Pearson. I referred to the Taoiseach's Reply to the Parliamentary Question by General Mulcahy (prior to the general election) as to the omission to invite us to Hot Springs.1 Mr. Robertson said that, for the time being, the Food Commission would be a United Nations affair. 'But', he added, 'it cannot remain a United Nations affair. It concerns every country'. Mr. Robertson then said: 'Ireland must come into the whole picture and play her rightful part in the general task of European rehabilitation ahead. I have a suggestion to make for your consideration, refugees'. He then went on to say that it would make a good impression if we took a definite line on the refugee question. There are so many refugees, he said, in Spain and Portugal, for example, who need friends and protection. No small country can really afford to take many, but all countries could do a little, that is, all countries in which the protégés would really be safe from the nightmare through which they had been. I mentioned Dr. Schrödinger,2 and our talks with Lord Duncannon3 even before the war began. He said that he knew about Dr. Schrödinger and referred to your conversation with the late Mr. John Hall Kelly about him. 'The Swedes and the Swiss', Mr. Robertson continued, 'have done a lot for refugees. They have taken the initiative. The Swedes, for example, offered us ships on their own account to carry wheat to Greece. We ourselves have taken many refugees and we shall take many more. And we shall do all we can to provide food for starving populations.' What he had in mind, he added, was that Ireland would have a part to play in the task of rehabilitating Europe when the war ended. It might be worth considering whether a beginning could not be made by our taking the initiative now in helping to solve the refugee problem. The number of refugees we could actually succour and protect might not be large, but the moral effect generally of a positive refugee policy would be great.

I told Mr. Robertson that the attitude of our Government and people to European refugees was one of deep compassion. No country in the world understood the suffering of persecution and of enforced emigration so well as our own. He would appreciate, therefore, our goodwill towards and our support, in principle, of measures to promote the welfare of European refugees. Our goodwill would greatly exceed our ability to help, our active co-operation would be limited by what we could do, but, I thought, only by that. I said that I would be very glad indeed to report the suggestion Mr. Robertson had made.

[signed] JOHN J. HEARNE

1 The United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture was held at Hot Springs, Virginia, USA, from 18 May to 3 June 1943.

2 Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), Austrian theoretical physicist (winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933) who was resident in Ireland from 1940 to 1955 and was Director of the School of Theoretical Physics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

3 Frederick 'Eric' Ponsonby (1913-93), eleventh Viscount Duncannon, tenth Earl of Bessborough (on inheriting his father's earldom in 1956), had worked for the League of Nations High Commission on Refugees in the late 1930s.

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