Volume 6 1939~1941

Doc No.

No. 66 NAI DFA Secretary's Files P4

Confidential report from John J. Hearne to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Ottawa, 8 November 1939

I have the honour to report as follows:-

I duly received your cable of the 31st of October1 containing a summary of certain facts of the situation at home. I am very grateful for it. I note that you are writing to me on the general neutrality situation as requested in my minute of the 12th of October.2

You state in your cable (as I have decoded it) that the Government have formally indicated to belligerents their intention of applying the provisions of the Hague Convention (No. 13) 1907 and other generally accepted rules of international law. I should be glad to be informed as to whether Canada is one of the belligerents with whom you have communicated or will communicate in that sense.

I note your direction to me to convey the following facts, namely, that (1) in deciding for neutrality, the Government were exercising a sovereign right; that (2) in the state of national sentiment and in the national interest no other policy was possible at the outbreak of the war; and that (3) after two months' hostilities, the people of Ireland are virtually unanimously in favour of the indefinite maintenance of the policy of neutrality. You will be glad to know that I had already been emphasising points (1) and (2). I am grateful for the instructions contained at (3), as there has been a general feeling here that the neutrality of Ireland in the war would be of temporary duration owing to the proximity of Ireland to the scene of the conflict and in particular her proximity and relations with the United Kingdom. The most emphatic view I heard expressed recently on our present national policy was that of Mr. Grattan O'Leary, the editor of the Ottawa Journal. At a dinner party given by Baron Silvercruys,3 Belgian Minister, on November the 3rd, in honour of the birthday of the King of the Belgians (at which the Governor-General attended), Mr. O'Leary stated very strongly to me that Ireland could not continue to remain neutral in the war. I did not have an opportunity of having a long conversation then but I am taking occasion to talk generally with him, as well as in the particular sense of your cable, as soon as I can.

I have found very little tendency to dispute the right of Ireland as a sovereign State to be and to remain neutral. And in the most sympathetic quarters the policy itself of neutrality, as distinct from the right to be neutral, is well understood, and is not the object of adverse comment at any rate not to me or to my colleague Mr. Conway.4 But here and there, however, we have in more recent weeks found criticism of the policy itself. It is invariably based upon the belief that the European War is a war of Christianity against paganism. Those who criticise our neutrality policy to us do so on the ground that a great Catholic country like Ireland cannot logically remain aloof from a war which our critics regard as a war to smash an anti-Christian German ideology and to smash at the same time the doctrine of force as an instrument of political action whether in the domain of domestic or foreign affairs. I have been taking the view, which I have not hesitated to express in conversation with others, that the Irish people as a whole are completely out of sympathy with, and opposed to Nazism in theory and in practice. I have at the same time emphasised the fact that the Irish Parliament is solid behind Mr. de Valera's Government, and that no alternative Government is possible in Ireland on a pro-war programme. I should be very grateful however for an authoritative statement from you containing a full exposition of the situation in so far as 'national sentiment' and 'national interest' (your cable) are concerned. It would, for example, be of great help if I had in a few sentences the answers which you consider I should give to questions like the following:- 1. Is there any considerable body of opinion in Ireland which is pro-German in the present war? 2. Is the neutrality policy based on a determination of the Government and people to remain out of all wars and to make Ireland virtually a member of the group of countries who have made neutrality, so far as they can do it, a permanent feature of their foreign policy? 3. How far are the war slogans, for example, 'Christianity gets Paganism', 'A war to put an end to force as a political method', etc., accepted in Ireland as in any way summing up the issues involved? 4. How far is the neutrality policy determined by the Anti-Partition policy of Mr. de Valera's Cabinet? The replies to questions of that kind would, I think, provide sufficient amplification of the expression 'national sentiment' in your cable of the 31st of October. Perhaps you could send me also a statement on the question as to how the 'national interest' is best served by the neutrality policy.

I have a fear that you may think I should be able to answer queries of that kind without asking for instructions. I am anxious, however, in a situation which is so grave at home and so delicate here, that any thing I may say, however privately, should be covered by more authority than my own view, for, notwithstanding the closeness of my association with the Minister's frame of mind and your own, there may be some danger that even in so short an interval as three months I may be out of touch, if not with the general trend of things, at any rate with day-to-day developments and tendencies of opinion of which, at so great a distance, I could have no knowledge.

There is yet another series of questions that have been put to us. For example the following:- Would Ireland stand in with Great Britain if the war were being waged at full intensity and Great Britain and France were, in fact, losing? What would her attitude be if the United States became a belligerent on the side of the Allies? I have been giving no answers to these hypothetical questions except the answer that the attitude of our people to situations of the kind referred to would be determined as the national interest required if and when occasion arises. I am sure that our neutrality policy has been decided upon apart from the alignment of belligerent countries, that it is a decision based upon an active determination to keep out of wars undertaken by other States in their own interests, or interests conceived to be their own, a decision not directed against any particular State or group of States. I have been putting it to myself that our external policy remains primarily, as it was before war broke out, a peace with all nations' policy which we are resolved to pursue no matter what countries are at war. And I have been assuming that nothing short of an attack on our country would deflect us from that course. If you consider that the views set down in this paragraph are generally sound perhaps you would be so good as to approve them.

[signed] John J. Hearne

1 See No. 64.

2 Not printed.

3 Baron Robert Silvercruys (1893-1971), Belgian Minister to Canada (1937-44), Ambassador to Canada (1944-5).

4 John M. Conway, Secretary, Irish High Commission, Ottawa.