740.0011 European War 1939/10546: Telegram

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

42. For the Secretary and the Under Secretary. April 28 I had a conversation with the Irish Prime Minister pursuant to your telegram No. 10 [17?], April 10, and your telegram 18, April 25. I told him that I had been instructed some days ago to transmit certain views [Page 230] and to make inquiry as to certain statements of his and that before I carried out this instruction I had received a further one so that I would now discuss both matters. I then read what I entitled “Notes for Conversation with the Prime Minister”. The first part of this impressed upon him our policy of aid for Great Britain and the determination of the American people and their Government to carry out this policy to the end of defeating the aggressors. The second part is as follows.

“The information which I am instructed to request from you relates to a statement in your St. Patrick’s Day broadcast recorded as follows ‘that both sides in blockading each other were blockading us.’ This statement, according to the official report December 16 debates in the Dail, was repeated by you in debate on April 3, 1941, and in substance was reiterated by the Vice Premier in the Senate on March 19th. It appears therefore to be a considered statement. If in fact it be such a considered statement is my Government to understand that it is the policy of the Irish Government to represent to the American people that Britain is blockading Ireland? The facts as known to the American Government appear not to support this view. Available statistics indicate that the value of Irish imports from Britain for the calendar year 1939 was generally speaking a normal average, although the war began in September; that for the calendar year 1940 the value of imports from Britain instead of diminishing actually increased to the extent of several hundred thousand pounds over 1939; that in spite of extremely adverse conditions created by British shortages and the German blockade Irish imports from Britain during the early months of the present year remained at approximately three quarters of the value of those for the corresponding months of the previous year. Furthermore from the best sources of information available substantially all imports that you have been receiving for a considerable period have come from England or in British ships or neutral ships convoyed by British sea power although you have made no contribution to the safety of British sea-borne commerce. It is further on record that your Government has announced the sinking by Germany of various Irish vessels and of attacks on others but no charge has been made that Britain has attacked your shipping.”

At this point he flushed angrily and shouted that it was impertinent to question the statements of a head of a state. I said that I would not argue that but that I wished to point out that he had made his statement at a time of tense feeling in America when anti-British elements to whom he chiefly appealed had attempted to defeat the present administration, the Lend and Lease Law, and was now engaged in sabotaging our Aid for Britain policy; that he could not expect that support given these elements could be ignored. I then continued from my “notes”:

“Unless therefore there is some interpretation of your statement other than its plain meaning it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in omitting to state these pertinent facts in the course of a broadcast purporting as head of the Irish Government to inform the American people of conditions in Ireland and in framing your statement as you [Page 231] did you intended to put a responsibility on Great Britain for Irish privations equal to that imposed on Germany and to withhold credit from Great Britain for her services in supplying you in the measure that she has. The effect of creating such an impression on your American audience as you must see, whether or not it was so intended, could only be to excite antagonism against that nation which it is our national policy to aid, and thus to weaken popular support in America for that policy. It is obvious that in the present emergency policies antagonistic to the British war effort are antagonistic to American interests.”

He then calmed down and said that the plain meaning of the statement showed that there was no intent to incite anti-British sentiment.

I proceeded to read a paraphrase of your telegram No. 18 which I entitled Memorandum for Conversation with the Prime Minister. At the end he said … that Aiken like himself realized that a German victory would be a calamity for Ireland though he could not do more about it than he [apparent omission] doing. A long discussion followed on this line. He stated that Under Secretary and Churchill’s reference to the ports excited anti-British sentiment. He also said that he had evidence from high Irish civil servants that Great Britain was preparing to shut down on supplies and that he had made the statement in the broadcast because he wanted to show Great Britain that he knew they were contemplating a blockade. This seems at variance with his contention that no anti-British significance attached to the broadcast statement. He asked me what we wanted him to do about the statement. I said we had no wish to embarrass him and that I would report that I was assured that he had no intention of inciting American sentiment against Great Britain and that would be the end of it. He said that certain of his friends thought that I was more British than the British and would do better to mind American interests. I replied that for the duration of the present emergency I considered British interests the same as American interests. He said that he understood that though others did not. I asked him to send for me when he had come to a decision about the two views and handed him a copy of the memorandum I had read.

I think the effect of a stiff attitude will be sobering. It is the only way to impress him that there are realities closing in upon him. No one has ever taken this line with him. He always outmaneuvered Chamberlain.20a I no longer hope to get anything from him by generosity and conciliation. He must be made to realize that it is possible that a situation is approaching in which if it be essential to survival his ports will be seized with the approval of the liberal sentiment of the world, that he will have only the choice of fighting on the side of Great Britain or Germany.

[Page 232]

The Under Secretary’s memorandum of conversation with Aiken just received. Very helpful here. Full report by mail.

  1. Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister, May 28, 1937, to May 10, 1940.