Volume 6 1939~1941

Doc No.

No. 37 TNA PREM 1/340

Memorandum by Sir John Maffey to Anthony Eden (London)

Dublin, 24 September 1939

Owing to much travelling it has not been possible to turn these notes into a report proper. They are submitted in diary form and perhaps in this way give the better picture of the personalities and problems concerned. There are many points in the notes which need consideration or action, but these can be sorted out in the Department.

Wednesday, 20th September.

I did not arrive in Dublin till the evening, my journey via Stranraer and Belfast having taken nearly twenty-four hours from London owing to various delays. I established touch with Mr. Walshe, Secretary for External Affairs, by telephone and was told that Mr. de Valera would see me that same evening at 8 p.m. if convenient. Mr. Walshe came to drive me round.

I was alone with Mr. de Valera from 8 p.m. till 9.45. After our first greeting I handed him Mr. Neville Chamberlain's letter.1 I said that I understood that our Prime Minister had addressed him as 'Dear Prime Minister' and that I had learnt that this was not the mode of address which found favour. If incorrect it was an unintentional mistake. He smiled and said that he did not mind and gave me a constitutional lecture, which I did not follow entirely, explaining why 'Prime Minister' was inappropriate. Dominions Office should note this. 'President' is not a good alternative, since the President is President Hyde. 'Mr. de Valera' is the best solution.

After asking me whether the letter was germane to our discussion he proceeded to open it with extraordinary difficulty, holding it close to his nose. The reading of it was even more laborious. He obviously made no progress and kept looking away. Finally he said: 'Excuse my difficulty in reading. My sight is very bad and my trip to America, which I have had to cancel, was intended to benefit my eyes'.

I asked if I might read it out aloud to him and he gratefully accepted.

When I had finished, he at once turned on the old arguments as to why 'Minister' was a possible title for a United Kingdom agent in Dublin and why 'Representative' was impossible. He is a difficult man to interrupt. But interrupt him you must. He shows no resentment when this happens and his nimble mind is quickly lifted on to the new line you have started.

However, to start with he had a good run on the old scent.

Though he fully saw our difficulties, etc., etc., he could not face the danger and embarrassment resulting from a new and unusual title applied to a new British post. To do so would be to more than undo any possible good results. Every action he took in any matter affecting neutrality or relationship with Great Britain was watched by most critical eyes. He was known to be pro-British in sentiment on the question of the war. No doubt, half or more of his people shared this sentiment. But it was a delicate balance. A clumsy step on his part would lose him much of that support. The striking German successes in the war had produced a good many waverers. That was the way of the world. However, he said, early successes do not mean everything. The way in which suspicion could be excited and susceptibilities aroused in Ireland was beyond belief. For instance, a most natural and proper suggestion had been put forward that some of the women and children evacuated from danger zones in England should be offered hospitality in Éire. It had at once provoked outspoken opposition, as suspicion was aroused that there was 'something behind it'.

It was now time for me to intervene. I said that Mr. Chamberlain was concerned somehow or other to find a practical solution to a very grave problem, which would day by day grow more insistent. Éire was pursuing a path of neutrality. She had proscribed submarines in her waters and we acquiesced.2 But the whole thing was in reality an empty gesture. The last war and German methods generally showed plainly what might and what probably would happen in the secret places of the Irish coast. Already tongues were beginning to wag. The President must surely see that unless a closer relationship was established in Dublin, unless the Admiralty felt that through that relationship they had established a real liaison with and source of information in the Irish system of watch and ward, any happenings off the Irish coast would start a justifiable outcry and our two Governments would meet in headlong collision simply because we had not established reasonable contacts and collaboration. The same considerations applied to other questions.

The President agreed to this but said that the solution proposed was not acceptable. His Government was not strong enough to take such a step and risk the consequences. If he went, who would come in? There was a delusion in some peoples' minds that if he went a government of the right would come in. This was utter nonsense. The only alternative to his government was a government of the left.

I intervened again to say that if he could swallow the word 'Minister' it seemed difficult to see the enormous difference between that and the term 'Representative'. A stand on that point would make it look as if a side issue was being exploited in order to gain a point in the constitutional game. This stung. He exclaimed that any such view was quite unjustified. He could assure me that there was no such thought in his mind. And after all, if it came to a question of quibbles, what were the objections to using the term 'Minister' for a post which would, like that of a High Commissioner, be mainly diplomatic in character. I said that if the King appointed a Minister it could only be done by the procedure applicable to foreign countries, by exequatur, etc. The King could not appoint a Minister to himself.

He then went off on the line that he would not expect the same formal methods of appointment to be applied in this case. Let the name be Minister or Ambassador, and he could explain away to his people the difference in the accrediting on the score that it was a post established to balance his High Commissioner in London and that the appointment was of a special character as from Government to Government. I said that we only knew one way of appointing a Minister and a Minister to us had a certain defined meaning. However, in his reply to Mr. Chamberlain's letter he could explain the difficulties and make his suggestion. I gave no encouragement to the idea, though it may not be as repellent to some people as it is to others. Therefore I did not kill it then and there.

I went on to make one or two other points. I said that if representation here in some form was to be arranged it could not be long delayed. A debate in the House of Commons might at any moment reveal the natural anxiety in England at seeing other countries, enemy countries too, represented in Dublin, while we with our old traditions and our many links today, commercial, cultural and social, were not represented at all. As it would be doubly difficult for him to act after such a debate, he would no doubt bear that in mind.

I also said that in times of grave emergency it was important for London to know what was in his mind. Did we know at present? We had our doubts. He fully agreed as to this and said where Mr. Dulanty succeeded and where he failed, though I had not intended my comment to be a criticism of Mr. Dulanty.

Having so far failed to get any sign of yielding to the request put forward in Mr. Chamberlain's letter, I turned the conversation in search of a consolation prize. Whatever happens on the question of a representative, the problem of liaison with our Admiralty in regard to watch and ward along the coast and the difficulties to be anticipated from the Éire policy of neutrality remain to be tackled. They would be greatly helped by the presence of a representative. But they cannot be allowed to drift, even if we have no representative. I therefore put the Admiralty difficulty to the President and said: 'It is obvious beyond all dispute that there must be liaison and information. Otherwise your neutrality will be non-operative and will be a positive danger to us. Do you agree to the appointment in some unobtrusive way of a liaison officer representing the Admiralty and having under him in the watch and ward service three or four men, Royal Navy Irishmen preferably, who will be his active agents in promoting the efficiency of your coastal service?'.

After some consideration Mr. de Valera said that he thought such an arrangement possible. And I said: 'If a submarine is reported in your territorial waters what happens?'. He said: 'Information of its whereabouts will be wirelessed at once, not to you specially. Your Admiralty must pick it up. We shall wireless it to the world. I shall tell the German Minister of our intention to do this.' (I am certain his wish is to make it thoroughly unhealthy for a German submarine to use Irish waters.)

I said: 'You realise that on receipt of such information our destroyers, if available, would attack wherever the submarine happened to be'. He said: 'We do not want you to take action in our territorial waters.' I said: 'It will happen and you will have to turn the blind eye'. He did not know what to say to this except that if they had information they should find it easy to lie up outside and deal with the enemy. I said that there was too many a slip between the cup and the lip. A submarine could create many perils once having dived out of view.

He said that they needed swift patrol boats, and gear of various kinds in order to deal with these matters themselves. I agreed and said that the Admiralty would certainly help. A patrol of civil aircraft would also greatly help him to gain his objective. He was interested in this suggestion.

He spoke of the delay in the supply of anti-aircraft guns and said that though he understood it the delay gave a bad impression in Éire. Could we not hurry matters up?

More than once he asked that these military and naval requirements which are to serve the British should not be charged up against Éire at a high price. I must emphasize his repeated request for consideration in this matter of price. He said that people think they are out of the war and do not approve of the expenditure. Besides, with falling tariffs, we are hard-hit financially. A low scale of prices is of great moment to us.

He turned now to the general questions arising under Éire's neutrality.

He had put in the ban on submarines to please us. To balance that he had put a ban on military aircraft. I said that he must not suppose that the ban on our submarines meant nothing to us. Submarines were a weapon in anti-submarine measures. However, we accepted the ban because obviously, broadly speaking, it was to our advantage.

He then reverted to military and naval aircraft. Cases had already occurred of their alighting in the territorial waters of Éire. I said that it would happen again. This upset him somewhat and he asked why. I said: 'Because, no longer having the facilities of the Irish coast, they have to take a longer flight out and back and this lands some of them like “exhausted birds” on your shores. I hope you will go slow with any specific rules about aircraft'. Then he said: 'Shall I leave out all mention of submarines? But I have already communicated with the German and French Governments'. I suggested fuller consultation with London. The whole fabric of neutrality was beginning to look healthier from our point of view. Indeed, at the moment it seems to be in a tangle and the longer it remains so the better. Still an attempt will be made to introduce rules or make a statement. I suggested a vague formula (vide my instructions), viz., a neutrality in general accordance with the practice of international law and a specific formula as to submarines. But the difficulty over the submarine point persists in his mind if he cannot balance it in some way to prove his basic neutrality.

I gathered from Mr. Walshe that any mention at present of facilities at Berehaven would upset the applecart.3 As progress was being made by me on certain other lines, I thought it best not to jeopardise this progress at present and I hope the First Lord4 will understand this. Action at Berehaven would undoubtedly shake the President's position. If such action is vital we shall have to take it. But we must think twice and count the gain and the loss.

Generally speaking, he revealed to me a much warmer pro-British attitude than on the last occasion. I am sure that he greatly appreciated the fact that Mr. Neville Chamberlain had written a personal letter to him. The more that kind of thing can be done, the better.

But, apart from that, in his actions he is definitely showing a bias in our favour, and we must be most careful not to deflect it.

He spoke of his Red Cross campaign. Of course, it is entirely neutral in constitution and aims but everyone knows that it is only the British who can benefit.

He said: 'Recruiting is active here for the British forces. We place no obstacle whatsoever in the way. I believe there are as many men recruited here now as in 1914 in spite of all Redmond's5 big talk. But you would help us and help yourselves if the men did not come into Éire in uniform'.6

It is again one of those unreasoning prejudices to which attention must be paid. He had no particular feelings himself about it, except in so far as here lay a source of possible trouble. Perhaps the War Office and Admiralty will take note of this in an understanding spirit.

I now rose to leave and most surprisingly he said: 'I am turning over in my mind the question of “Minister” or “Representative”'. I shall make a choice after discussion with my constitutional lawyers. I want to examine the case for each of them from every point of view'. This was much more forthcoming than anything I had dared to hope for and shows that some of the seed sown has not been wasted. However, it may well all be reversed again before I leave Dublin.

As I left the room he led me to his black map of Éire with its white blemish on the North East corner and said: 'There's the real source of all our trouble'. He could not let me go without that.

Thursday, 21st September.

I lunched with Mr. Walshe at his house today. He tells me that the President has come on surprisingly in the matter of a Representative and he anticipates that the thing will go through.

A letter is being drafted by the President and Mr. Walshe is to see it today.7

Mr. Walshe and I had some further discussion on the subject of neutrality

legislation, and it looks as if the matter will be left in a vague condition for the

present. We can ask for nothing better. To emphasise the facilities which the Éire Government has given Mr. Walshe quoted to me the case of the 'Cabot' (Imperial Airways) Flying Boat which spotted a submarine 70 miles outside Foynes. Foynes repeated the Cabot's message to the Admiralty en clair. It was agreed by the President that if such a thing happened again the message should be forwarded, but by code. This indicates helpfulness. I told Mr. Walshe that I had warned the President that if one of our destroyers heard of a submarine in Irish territorial waters it would certainly attack and that the only help for it was a 'blind eye'. Mr. Walshe seemed to accept the situation – if silence is acceptance.

He asked for help in regard to the attitude of Mr. Dyce (Board of Trade or Food Control in London) who was refusing to buy Irish cattle here and would only buy it in the English market by weight. The Irish farmers are on strike about this and ask for the cattle to be bought and paid for in Éire. Great feeling apparently.

Mr. Walshe said that the President had discussed again with him the difficult question arising under neutrality in regard to our planes alighting in Irish limits. He was thinking about transferring any such plane to the Government of Éire, who need aircraft for purposes useful to us. As regards the crews, he was considering the possibility of releasing them or of retaining them in Éire service as they need pilots. All this is very nebulous at present. But the problem will arise and London must be ready with their arguments, though it by no means follows that they will be accepted.

Tonight Mr. Walshe dined with me and in our talk afterwards he showed himself less happy as to the President's latest thoughts on the subject of representation. He has gone back to his apprehensions and the draft reply to Mr. Neville Chamberlain is getting more and more controversial. The President meets his Cabinet to-morrow (22nd) at 11 a.m. and will put the matter to them.8 Mr. Walshe thinks that I must go over the ground again with Mr. de Valera and try and pull him back to where he was yesterday.

Friday, 22nd September.

Mr. Walshe tells me that the President is still thinking it over. The difficulty now is the name 'United Kingdom Representative'! The United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland! Hence the objection. I said that we on our side obviously could not announce it as anything else. The President is holding a special meeting of his Cabinet today9 and will see me after that.

Finally the time fixed was 8 p.m.

22nd September (later).

I was asked to see Mr. de Valera at 8 p.m. and he gave me a letter to Mr. Neville Chamberlain10 and told me that it contained acceptance in principle of his request. I said that our Prime Minister would greatly appreciate this helpful attitude, etc., etc.

Mr. de Valera asked me to give a verbal message from him to the Prime Minister on the subject of the use of the term 'Ambassador' or 'Minister' to designate the post at a later appropriate date. He did not wish the term 'United Kingdom Representative' to be regarded as other than temporary. He hoped I should emphasize to the Prime Minister the genuineness of the difficulties in which the use of this name involved him. He said that no doubt the incumbent would be referred to as 'United Kingdom Representative' over here but that in Éire they would speak of him as 'British Representative' in common parlance. His residence also should, if possible, not be labeled 'United Kingdom'. I said I thought these points would present no difficulty.

He then went over some of the old ground in regard to neutrality. He repeated a phrase he has used before:- 'I do not want Irish freedom to become a source of British insecurity.' This dictum may have its uses in the course of the war.

He spoke again of the critical eyes which watched his every step in the matter of neutrality. There were members of the I.R.A. established in Berlin. He noted in a recent issue of the 'Standard' – an Irish newspaper – a criticism of his form of neutrality as compared with the correct and rigid neutrality of Holland. In fact, he was prejudiced in favour of the British and this was duly noted by his critics. Still, he must try to be fair to Germany. There were some things he could not do. A suggestion had been made that the Athlone broadcast should occasionally be switched over to Droitwich to mislead German submarines. This was a trap to which he could not give his assent.

He desired me to emphasize two matters in London and to have action taken if possible:-

(a) The return to Éire in uniform of Irishmen who had joined our fighting forces should be stopped. It caused trouble and that trouble would 'snowball'. He gave us this advice knowing that it was friendly and helpful advice. We shall get more recruits by adopting it.

(b) A new Controller was operating in London in the matter of Irish cattle imports in a manner very prejudicial to Irish farmers. He would only pay for deadweight in the place where the cattle were slaughtered. It was impossible to trace the cattle of individual farmers in that way. A great agitation was developing and he asked for a readjustment of the methods employed to be considered without delay.

In the matter of essential supplies from Éire to England, he suggested better co-ordination of industrial effort. There was a closing down of business in certain directions in Éire. Yet these activities might serve a purpose taking a long view of our needs.

I had been given a copy of a statement made by the Captain of the s.s. 'Inverliffey', carrying the flag of Éire and sunk in the Channel by a German submarine.11 The idea was that this would impress Dublin. Before I left I was told by the Admiralty that the action could not be regarded as abnormal, since the 'Inverliffey' carried contraband of war, viz., petrol. I refrained, therefore, from attempting to make any great use of this incident and merely handed the paper to Mr. Walshe.

Mr. de Valera asked that our Representative should not employ secret service funds and methods in Dublin. It was a small world there and everything would be known. He and his Government would be quite frank and outspoken with us.

Mr. de Valera spoke of his high hopes of future association and bade me a most friendly good-bye.

(Sgd.) J.L. Maffey

1 See No. 29.

2 See No. 19.

3 A marginal note in type at this point reads: 'No coup de main'.

4 Winston Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and became a member of Chamberlain's War Cabinet on the outbreak of the war.

5 John Redmond (1856-1918), MP (1880-1918), leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1900- 18). Redmond was an enthusiastic exponent of the recruitment of Irish volunteers to fight in the British forces during the First World War.

6 Marginal note by Anthony Eden: 'I agree A.E.'.

7 See No. 33.

8 See No. 32.

9 See No. 32.

10 See No. 33.

11 The vessel, an oil tanker, had capacity for 13,000 tons of gasoline and, although registered at Dublin, was managed by Andrew Weir and Co of London, Glasgow and Middlesbrough. Inverliffey was sunk by gunfire from U-38 on 11 September 1939. All forty-nine crew survived.