841D.24/29: Telegram

The Minister in Ireland ( Gray ) to the Secretary of State

23. Saturday afternoon, February 22, I had an interview with the Prime Minister at his request. He informed me that his Government had decided to send a special representative to Washington to explore the possibility of obtaining arms and other supplies; that it was [Page 219] thought desirable that he should be of Cabinet rank and that Frank Aiken, Minister for the Coordination of Defense had been selected. I said I thought it very advisable to send such a representative, as he would have his Government’s viewpoint clearly in mind and would be able to bring back authoritative information as to the American position. I said I understood that Mr. Aiken had the Premier’s complete confidence and was in unconditional sympathy with his policy regarding the existing crisis. I added that I understood he represented Leftist opinion in the Cabinet, but the Prime Minister said “not left, but center”. I said that in any case he was a man not likely to become influenced either by blandishment or pressure. Mr. Aiken took part as a boy in the Black and Tan War9 and in the Civil War10 opposed the treaty. He became Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and is reputed to have been of great service to the Government in influencing the Republican veterans organization to join with the Government in their recent defense measures. The Premier told me that he believed the most important service Ireland could render the Allied cause was to organize a quarter of a million highly trained and fully equipped fighting men who would protect England’s flank. I said that this was highly desirable but again raised the question as to what undertaking he would make that American arms and munitions would not be used against the British. He said that it was obvious that this could never occur unless the English came as aggressors, since if they came as an enemy they put themselves on the same plane as the Germans. I asked him if he still felt that he could not give undertakings conditioned on the events of German invasion. He said it was evident that they would wish to see the thing through but that he would not bind himself as to conditions which might arise and which he could not foresee. I said that this was the same reason that made the British unwilling to promise that no matter [apparent omission] situation arose they would not seize the ports; that it created a vicious circle from which men of good will should try to escape by mutual compromise. I asked him if it was true that as I am informed that a defensive front against Ulster had been organized? He replied that unfortunately it was a fact; that his Government had been forced to this measure by the effects upon the public mind of the British Prime Minister’s reference to the ports in a public statement. He deplored the fact that as a result of this action Anglo-Irish [relations?] had steadily deteriorated.

He talked with great frankness and parried no questions. I was impressed with his good faith and sincerity though not subscribing to all conclusions expressed.

Gray
  1. Conflict between the Irish Republican Army and British forces, 1920–21.
  2. Conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the Free State Army, 1922–23.