Volume 8 1945~1948

Doc No.

No. 8 UCDA P150/2701

Speech to Heads of Missions Conference by Éamon de Valera on post-war Irish foreign policy and diplomatic relations

Dublin, 11 September 1945

I. General.
As several of you were already in Ireland or due to arrive on a holiday, I thought the opportunity should be used for a general consultation - a kind of council of war - with all our heads of missions for the purpose of exchanging ideas and giving you a general directive for the future.

All of you have had difficult times during the war, some more difficult than others. But for all it was a very trying period. I feel sure you realise that I am grateful to you for the manner in which you carried out your tasks. You have the consolation of having done your work well for the country and of having given an example to those who will follow you.

Here in Ireland, things have also been very difficult. At moments we had very real and dangerous crises, but, by God's Providence and with the unremitting zeal and loyalty of all concerned, we were able to come through the trial successfully.

Now at last we have a little leisure to examine the future and to consider our relations with other countries. In this connection, there are some fundamental things which you and we should always keep in mind. You are fully aware that you are not ordinary representatives engaged in protecting and promoting the interests of a long-established State whose people live and are governed within the historic boundaries of the nation. Our situation is very complicated because the jurisdiction of the State is held back from a substantial section of our territory and population by the act of a foreign Power. There is another factor which distinguishes us from old-established States, and that is the danger of losing our independence through losing our national distinctiveness. Our people are exposed in an ever-increasing degree, with the advance of modern science, to the denationalising influences of Great Britain, and in a lesser, but by no means small, degree to those of the United States. These influences, coupled with the inevitably slow progress of the language revival, impose upon our officials, at home as well as abroad, a special vigilance in maintaining and increasing all the elements and symbols of our national existence which testify to our separateness. In the special circumstances of our national life, it is our duty to perfect ourselves in the knowledge of the language and history of our country, and, not only to be distinctively Irish ourselves, but to give to the externals of the nation - and in your case to our Legations abroad and everything connected with them - a distinctively Irish character.

To do the work which we have to do in the very difficult times which lie ahead, especially for small nations, we require all the enthusiasm of that disinterested and distinguished group of Irishmen who are known to history as the Young Irelanders,1 and whose great work is being commemorated in the Davis celebrations beginning this week.2 They left us a great heritage and you can well imagine the zeal, enthusiasm and pride with which they would undertake the very honourable task of making Ireland known and esteemed in the principal countries of the world. They nourished themselves on the story, the language and the literature of their country, and, just like many Irishmen in more recent times, they derived their strength of purpose and their energy from that source. I do not want to overstress this point, but we must be frank with each other and, above all, with ourselves. It is the simplest common-sense that, when serving our country, no matter in what capacity, we can only succeed if we try to absorb the teachings of those who went before us so that our faith in our country may be constantly renewed.

These two main considerations - the partition of our country and the struggle to maintain and enhance our national distinctiveness as a necessary means of maintaining our separate and State life - must form the background to our activities and must colour our relations with foreigners and foreign Governments. The development of external trade is, of course, of the utmost importance, and the prosperity of our country depends upon it to no small degree. But that aspect of our external relations depends also on the extent to which we can make the country known and esteemed abroad. We are pioneers in a great cause and we must work like pioneers. It is a very special privilege to work for a country with such a noble history which, after so much persecution and reviling, is struggling to emerge from the shadow.

II. Relations with other countries.
It is clear that we can never have completely frank and friendly relations with our nearest neighbour until the British forces have evacuated the six counties and until that part of our territory becomes integrated in a united Ireland. No Irishman with a national tradition can be satisfied with the present situation, and it is a duty imposed on all of us to make that clear.

Many of our people, through natural lethargy and a desire for a peaceful life, close their eyes to this injustice. It is naturally one of the special tasks of our representatives abroad to make every opportunity in order to explain our claims. I do not pretend to foresee when the British can be persuaded to leave our territory, nor can I see precisely by what means. I do hope that, within the structure of a new League of Nations, we may be provided with opportunities which have been lacking up to now. It is also possible that, if the Russian threat to Christian civilisation ultimately corresponds to our worst fears of it, a closer union consisting of the Western European nations and the United States, may become essential. In that situation, as we are the only nation of the group part of whose territory is occupied by a foreign Power, there may be some hope of persuading the British and the Americans that Irish unity would be an important factor in the unity and harmony of the whole group. However that may be, we must meanwhile neglect no occasion and no means of propaganda to impress upon public opinion the iniquity of partition and the urgency of putting an end to it. With the revival of the language, that is the foremost aim for the Irishmen of this generation.

We must accept the position that our neutrality during the great war, while emphasising our independent status, as well as the partition of our country, has made our relations with the British and with the Americans somewhat more difficult. But this is a case where we must take the long view. Great problems, internal and external, arising out of the war, have to be solved by these two countries. And, as time goes on, peoples everywhere, whether victors or vanquished, becoming more conscious of the horrors of war and of the complete futility of the aims and aspirations connected with it, will take a calmer view of our attitude, and our neutrality will cease to be a subject of anti-Irish propaganda.

The experience of two great wars, begun and ended within the narrow compass of thirty years, should have convinced statesmen that wars bring nothing but evil to the world. It has now become quite clear that the misery of the vanquished has to be shared, to some extent at any rate, by the victors.

The sudden rise to power of a country which was until recently regarded as of relatively small account in the struggle for world domination creates a situation which no nation, (and especially no small nation) in Europe can afford to ignore. In foreign relations, it is always better to assume the worst and to prepare ourselves accordingly. The worst hypothesis is that Russia, notwithstanding her apparent present ignorance of the secrets of the new weapon or of the methods of manufacturing it, will, after a relatively short interval, endeavour to extend her conquests. Whether she does so by ideological or warlike means, or both, does not really matter. The result in any case will be a further retreat of European culture. The prevision of such events may cause the British and the Americans to adopt a more benevolent attitude towards our country for the purpose of securing our complete goodwill and cooperation. But we must not exclude the cruel possibility, however remote it may at present appear, of Britain, with the goodwill of official America, reverting boldly to her old policy of absorption, in the belief that the re-establishment of the United Kingdom would be the only adequate means of facing the coming danger. On the other hand, it is, of course, part of our constant task to let Britain see that, by doing justice to this country, she will create a situation where complete cooperation in a common danger can be taken as a matter of course.

The Russian menace is something so serious that the foreign policy of Britain and America especially will be dominated by it for years. In the inevitable linking-up with the Christian nations, we shall have to do our part in resisting the menace. I do not think for a moment that the new organisation now being framed on the basis of the United Nations Charter is likely to prevent the domination of the world by one or two Great Powers. The inherent and fatal defect of the Charter is its refusal to recognise the equality of nations, and its practical condonement of aggressive action by one of the Great Powers. The Charter will only become an effective instrument when it admits the principle of the equality of States and allows all international disputes to be brought before the organisation and obliges the countries concerned to accept decisions duly arrived at.

Since we cannot look forward in the immediate future to an abdication by the Great Powers, especially by Russia, of the power to act aggressively, we should be unwise to believe that the relations between the Governments of the Great Powers will be settled in a manner different from that which has obtained until now. Whether we will it or no, our lot for any foreseeable period of time is cast with Great Britain, North America and Western Europe, and, to a lesser extent, with the Dominions other than Canada.3

Notwithstanding the strong anti-Irish attitude taken by large numbers of people in these countries, and by a considerable section of the Press, we have in all of them an important nucleus of opinion, especially amongst people of Irish origin, which is definitely in our favour. And, although little can be achieved without the continued organisation and de-Anglicisation of our people at home, it is of supreme importance to enlarge by every means, short of blatant propaganda, the elements which are favourable to us in the countries I have mentioned.

It is on the question of the best form of propaganda to be used, not merely in the English-speaking countries, but in all the countries in which we have representatives, that I should like the subsequent discussion to concentrate. Should we, for example, issue weekly or monthly bulletins from all our Legations? Should we distribute short pamphlets on the history of Ireland and on different aspects of the national life? Small pamphlets seem to me to be the ideal form of propaganda, if they are well turned out and made attractive, and, above all, if they are brief. They are much more likely to be read than elaborate publications such as those issued by the Poles from London during the war. While the material could be supplied from home, it would perhaps be better if the pamphlets and/or the bulletins were composed and edited in each Legation. The requirements of each country are somewhat different. The pamphlet that might be suitable for Britain would not be suitable for the United States or perhaps the Dominions. The Latin countries might require a different type of propaganda.

These are matters for useful discussion, and I hope that this week of confer-ences will not end without definite conclusions being reached and definite decisions taken.

Another question for discussion is the advisability and appropriateness in the different countries of preparing and giving talks and lectures. I know that, in the old days, it was not good form for foreign representatives to give lectures, especially in European countries. In the new era, and with our special difficulties, we cannot afford to allow ourselves to be influenced by traditions appropriate to a very different period of history. The tradition has been broken down in America and Canada, and to a large extent in England, and there does not seem to be any reason why our representatives on the Continent should not follow the new practice. Invitations to give lectures or talks can easily be secured and should be eagerly sought.

There is another powerful means of doing propaganda employed already to a greater or less extent by all of you according to the facilities available. Close contact with the Catholic clergy is absolutely essential for all our representatives. The Church is the best propaganda organisation in the world, and, if you succeed in impressing the clergy with the role filled by Ireland as a Catholic nation, you will secure through them the sympathy and interest of the people amongst whom they work. Visits to seminaries and colleges and Catholic institutions should be a normal part of your work. You will probably find in them more receptive audiences than amongst lay people. But the sympathy of the lay people must be won also.

At this point, I should like to emphasise as strongly as I can the importance of the Latin countries and their Christian civilisation in our national development. We have a very old tradition of friendship and culture with these peoples, and they are in many ways much nearer to us than the English and American peoples. The still existing Irish colleges abroad are a living witness to our past cultural and religious dependence on Latin Europe. The Latins are nearer to us in ideas because they have remained Catholic and have retained their Catholic tradition. Their literature is a storehouse from which our language revival can draw great benefits. The more contacts we have with Western Europe, the closer we shall come to our own earlier traditions, and we earnestly hope that one of the advantages of aircraft development will be the restoration of direct communication with the Continent and greatly increased contact between Irishmen and Continental Europeans. Our representatives in Europe have a task just as important as our representatives in the English-speaking countries, notwithstanding the somewhat more pressing character of the economic and political problems affecting our relations with the latter.

The Press is doubtless the most difficult category to deal with, and, here again, different methods must be used in different countries. With the modern expansion of the Press, no Legation can be expected to keep in close contact with more than a relatively small number of newspaper offices and news agencies. But, in most countries, the Provincial Press is influenced to a certain extent by what is written in the great daily newspapers of the capital. And it is, therefore, your duty to maintain contact as close as may be with as many main organs of opinion as it is within your power to do.

In the past, we have not encouraged our representatives abroad to write open letters to the Press. We have rather advocated a friendly talk with the editor or proprietor, or a friendly letter not for publication. But the circum-stances of the war, especially in the United States and Canada, have imposed upon us the more ordinary method of sending a letter for publication when it seemed to serve some definitely useful purpose. I have not yet made up my mind whether a general instruction to reply in this way immediately to attacks would or would not be a wise course. I think the circumstances on each occasion must determine the line of action to be taken. Very shortly, all our offices, except those in North America, will be in telephonic communication with the Department, and advice can be sought in cases of doubt. But you should all be in the position in regard to the principal newspapers to talk to the proprietor or the editor or to some other person of importance connected with the particular newspaper.

We have a long road to travel before we have put an end to the false ideas about the Irish people which have been disseminated all over the world in order to justify British treatment of this country. A necessary part of your armoury of defence is a good library, and, whether in your personal library or in the official library of the Legation, you should have available all the best books as well as the most recent documents and pamphlets on Irish affairs.

In your reports home, you should endeavour to give a complete picture of the activities of the country to which you are accredited, as well as of your own activities in promoting Irish interests of every kind. These reports, apart from keeping me informed, naturally also have the excellent secondary effect of making your own knowledge more accurate and more extensive and of making yourselves better representatives.

You may well wonder how it is possible for you, with under-staffed Legations, - and most of our posts abroad are under-staffed - to accomplish all this work. It is my intention, now that the war period is coming to an end, to examine the means of extending the staffs of the Legations so that they may be able to do all the work which I know they feel they ought to do. It is foolish and uneconomical to allow Legation staffs to remain so low that a large amount of purely clerical work has to be done by the head of the mission and the Secretary. It will take some time to effect the necessary reform since good recruits are few and hard to find. I regret that we have not as yet the facilities for bringing home heads of missions for a year or two to the Department in order to re-make contact with the needs of the State and with Irish life generally. But I do hope that we can make arrangements allowing you to spend more frequent holidays at home and thus partly to achieve that purpose.

With regard to the personnel of the Legation other than the head of the mission, it is my intention to bring them back for service to the Department for intervals of a few years at a time and to keep up a constant exchange of posts between them and those of a corresponding grade in the Department.

You have all from time to time mentioned to the Department the burden imposed on you by diplomatic social engagements, especially during the afternoon when you would normally be engaged at your work. I realise how difficult it is to avoid what seems to be for the most part a real waste of time. Social engagements with the nationals of the country to which you are accredited can be occasions for doing valuable work, but social engagements confined to the members of the diplomatic corps should not be allowed to make serious inroads on your time. It is for yourselves, of course, to pick and choose your friends abroad, but I would urge upon you the need of making as many friends as possible amongst influential nationals, and I hope you can establish links, amongst others, with those members of the diplomatic corps who are likely to be of advantage to this country.

There is, of course, no objection to contacts with British missions, and I know you are all very careful to avoid as far as possible the assumption that our posts are in any way subordinate to the British Embassy. It is particularly important to make this clear as delicately as possible to those Governments which are still so strongly inclined to keep the British Embassy informed of all their dealings with us.

I have asked Messrs. McElligott, Leydon and Twomey to talk to you about the work of their respective Departments so that you may have a complete picture of the activities in this country which are of interest to your work and so that you may be able to get a clear idea of the kind of information which would be useful for the three Departments concerned.

I hope the discussions arranged for these four days will be of considerable value both to you and to us. I desire to provide all possible facilities for your work and I hope the discussions will be as free and as frank as possible.

1 An Irish mid-nineteenth century political, cultural and social nationalist movement.

2 Country-wide celebrations which took place in 1945 to commemorate the life of Thomas Davis (1814-45), writer, poet and main organiser of the Young Ireland movement.

3 Handwritten addition in italics.