No. 75 NAI DFA ES London 1921

Extract from a memorandum from Art O'Brien to Eamon de Valera (Dublin)

(No. L - 20 - P.)

London, 14 April 1921

Work and Staff L[ondon] O[ffice] For months past I have had it before me to make a general report on the work and staffing of this office, but pressed continually with urgent requests from the various Ministries on the one side, and the Continental representatives on the other, together with the routine demands of an inadequately staffed office, I have been literally forced from day to day and from month to month to postpone the preparation of this report. To give time to it now I have to put on one side many pressing demands, but in more or less desperation I have to make the time, especially in view of the fact that for the last few weeks the work thrown on the office is very considerably on the increase.

The office opened in March 1919, and the sum of £1000 per annum was allocated for its maintenance. I started with no other staff than one stenographer. I have never been able to keep the expenses within the allotted amount. For the three half-yearly periods up to Oct. 31st 1920, my expenses had exceeded the allocation by the sum of £573. I have submitted detailed accounts to the Minister of Finance2 for each of these periods. I have also submitted an estimate of the annual expenditure, working on our present basis, which amounts to about £1700. If, however, the ever-increasing demands of the various Ministries are to be properly met and the work here effectively carried out a very much larger sum will be required for extra staff and extra establishment charges.

For the first six months I was able to carry on the work of the office with the one stenographer, though this meant a continued effort and a demand for long hours of work. My difficulties were added to by my stenographer becoming suddenly ill, in December 1919, and after several months of illness, the poor girl, (Miss Kathleen MacMahon) eventually died in a London hospital, in April 1920. In the middle of January, 1920, I myself met with an accident, causing the fracture of two ribs, afterwards followed by an attack of pneumonia and pleurisy, which kept me absent from the office for nearly four months. Almost immediately on my return I was faced with the crisis caused by the bringing of some hundreds of Irish prisoners to Wormwood Scrubs, during which crisis practically all routine work in the office had to be suspended. After that I went to Rome on the instructions of the Ministry and was absent for four weeks. Early in August, Archbishop Mannix's arrival in London precipitated another intense crisis, and at the end of the same month, the arrival of the late Terence MacSwiney at Brixton Jail produced another critical period, the intensity of which overshadowed everything, made it impossible almost to deal with any other work and which lasted until the end of October. During the whole of that time, I was at the office from 9 a.m. until 11 or 12 at night every day, including Sundays. On several occasions I was there until 3, 4 and 5 o'clock in the morning. During that period there were occasions when I interviewed 40 or 50 journalists and foreign correspondents during the day, besides relatives and friends of prisoners etc, etc. Often I was unable to look at my morning correspondence until 8 or 9 p.m. and then the accumulated work of the day had to be attended to. The strain of this effort had an adverse effect on my health, which had not recovered from the effects of my illness earlier in the year, and on my return from the funeral in Cork, in the early days of November last, I broke down again, was confined to bed for several months and was unable to do more than intermittent snatches of work up to the end of the year.

Rushed on from one crisis to another in this way, a vast amount of work has accumulated ever since January 1920. From the beginning of this year I have endeavoured to clear off the more urgent of the work in abeyance, such, for instance, as my office accounts, all the details of which I have to do myself, not having anyone on my staff to whom I could entrust them. These a/cs and other similar matters I have dealt with at odd intervals in the routine work, but I am still faced with an accumulation of unanswered letters and other documents calling for attention.

In the face of these various crises I have been forced to make other appointments on the staff without having an opportunity of reporting to the Ministry and requesting an increase in the amount allotted for maintenance of the office. The staff at the present moment consists of, in addition to myself --

Manager (Temporarily appointed for part time) Salary £250
Stenographer " £156
Clerk (who also acts as messenger) " £156

In connection with the question of staff I would refer again here to the arrest of Mr. Fintan Murphy who was acting as manager. I presume it will be the wish of the Ministry that I should continue the payment of his salary to his wife during the term of his internment. That will mean an addition of another £250 to the above figures. I would also point out that anyone appointed as manager, at present, is liable to arrest after some months, (or perhaps less), of activity, and as I presume it will be the desire of the Ministry that all such cases shall be equitably dealt with by the payment of salary to dependants, the annual salary list may be considerably added to. As I have already said the present staff, (whose salaries alone, with my own, considerably exceed the amount of the annual allocation), is inadequate to deal even with the present work, whilst if the ever increasing demands on the office are to be met, a much larger staff will be required.

Some members of the Ministry, with whose Departments I have not much correspondence, may desire to have some idea of the work carried on by the office. I will therefore summarise briefly the chief items in the purely routine work of the office, which makes no allowance for crises.
(1) Clearing office for correspondence to and from Representatives abroad.
(2) Dealing with requests for information and other demands from Continental Representatives.
(3) Receipt and Despatch of the Irish Bulletin.
(4) Issue of statements to foreign Press Correspondents, to the English Press, and to sections of the English people, (as instance a recent issue of the I[rish] B[ulletin] giving the pronouncements of the Irish Bishops, was reproduced and circulated to all the English and Scottish Catholic Hierarchy, and over 1000 of the regular clergy).
(5) Interviewing foreign Press correspondents, English Journalists and publicists. Arranging with foreign correspondents for visits to Ireland, providing them with literature, photos etc.
(6) Dealing with all cases of Irish prisoners sent to England - arranging for them to be visited by solicitor - recording their place of imprisonment with particulars of their cases - replying to inquiries from their friends and relatives. Issuing lists of prisoners to the Press.
(7) Instructing solicitor in all legal cases which arise here.
(8) Replying to inquiries from the different departments of the Ministry for various information.
(9) Attending to written or verbal requests for a variety of information from a variety of individuals both English and Foreign.
(10) Interviewing numbers of callers from Ireland, helping them in various ways - as with passports, general information, cashing cheques etc.
(11) Dealing with queries from and difficulties in various Irish organisations, supplying them with information and printed matter, advising them etc, etc.
(12) The keeping of the office and various other a/cs. (N.B. during 1920 over £3,000 passed through my hands, involving the opening of 34 separate a/cs, apart altogether from the office a/cs.)

To give some idea of the volume of correspondence, I have written from January 1st this year to April 13th - 598 letters to various Depts. of the Ministry, 110 letters to representatives on the Continent. In addition to this of course there is the routine correspondence of the office work which would entail anything from 10 to 30 letters per day.

Up to the present I have been obliged to attend to most of the details of correspondence and a/cs myself. Such a condition as that stated has long since ceased to be efficient or advisable either for the cause or for myself. The constant driving and concentration on one detail after another leaves me no opportunity for the consideration of development, for the seizing of opportunities for special propaganda, or for many other very necessary considerations, whilst the constant mental and physical strain, (I am at present working continually from 9 a.m. till midnight, without a break except for meals, and every day of the week including Sunday) will lead me on from one breakdown in health to another, until my constitution is undermined and I shall no longer be of service to the Republic.

I therefore ask the Ministry to give consideration to the requests which I now make for further allocation of monies and increase of staff at this office. [Matter omitted]

As to future possible developments I have many matters in mind the principal of which I will roughly outline.

There is a continual demand for the general circulation of news contained in the I.[rish] B.[ulletin]; this demand is strong amongst our own people. Three Branches of the I.S.D.L. here have started periodicals of their own with this object in view, but these voluntary efforts are not likely to last or to be generally effective, nor are those who edit them sufficiently closely informed. Outside the ranks of our own people, there is also a demand for similar news. Callers at the I.S.D.L. offices as well as my own include many English people and foreigners resident here, who enquire for printed matter giving particulars of happenings in Ireland. Of course, our own people in the I.S.D.L. and other organisations want also news of the happenings in those organisations. My proposition is to print in large numbers a review, at first monthly, but later weekly, which would reproduce the weekly Reviews and other matter in connection with Ireland. This publication would serve for general circulation. A special edition of it would be produced with an extra four pages in the centre, giving news of happenings in the Irish organisations in England. This special edition would be for circulation to the Irish organisations.

To take the I.S.D.L., the Branches would be requested to give permanent orders to their Head Office, which would be supplied with the total number which it would distribute, and for the payment of which it would be held responsible.

(N.B.) (I may say that this matter has already been discussed at an Executive meeting and the general outlines agreed to). I think on a conservative basis 10,000 would be called for by the I.S.D.L. alone, and the publication could be sold to them at a price which would well cover the printing of the whole issue, including both editions. The edition of the publication without the extra pages would be offered for sale to labour and political organisations, where I feel confident it would have a good circulation, and it would also be used for purposes of general information. I anticipate that this publication could be run at a profit, which would probably cover the cost of maintaining the staff for this particular work.

It has also been suggested to me that an Irish News Bureau should be organised at the office, which would prepare items of news, have them set in type and circulate in galley-form weekly to subscribers such as provincial newspapers and others interested. Those concerned would be circularised with particulars of the schemes and a yearly subscription taken in the usual manner of News Bureaux. If at all successful the subscriptions would probably cover the cost of this service.

The office might also be made a general information Bureau and Record Office for matters concerning Ireland. The former would be for the service of general callers, especially journalists, and the latter more for the service of the various Depts. of the Ministry, which would be kept in touch with any developments concerning their work, which appeared in Govt. or other publications here. This would entail a stock of good reference books, photographs, Govt. and other periodical publications; I think also that we should organise short conferences of foreign journalists from time to time on specific subjects concerning Ireland. I take for instance the question of what is known as 'Ulster'. It is still generally believed by foreign journalists that the political opposition in the North includes the whole province of Ulster. Other matters such as industry, trade, etc, etc, could be dealt with at such conferences. My idea would be to make these conferences quite short and have questions and answers at the conclusion of a short verbal exposition of the subject in hand; the conferences should be opened by one who has complete knowledge. Our own ministers would be the best for this purpose if they were free, but, pending the time when they will be free for such work, other prominent people in Ireland might be selected by them.

At the beginning I made a practice of sending printed matter to those writing letters to the papers, whenever their names and addresses were given. On account of the rush of work this has had to be dropped as a regular practice, and only continued spasmodically. With an adequate staff it could again be made a matter of routine practice.

The above are some of the principal possible developments. To carry them out would require more staff than I ask for to cover the present position. Their inauguration would of course have to be gradual and the staff added to as required.

For all the above reasons I would suggest to the Ministry the advisability of discontinuing a fixed allowance for the up-keep of this office and place it on the same footing as the other foreign missions, allowing it financial support in accordance with the development of its work.

I would ask that an early decision should be given on all these matters but more especially with reference to the permanent appointment of the office-manager and the engagement of an extra stenographer.

Art O'Briain

P.S. I have sent copies of this report to the Minister of Finance and Director of Publicity.

Art O'Briain

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