740.0011 European War 1939/11291

The Irish Legation to the Department of State

The following is the text of the reply:

On April 28th, the American Minister, under instructions from his Government,21 read to Mr. de Valera a memorandum which he subsequently left with him.

[Here follows a summation of the contents of the memorandum read by Minister Gray to Mr. de Valera.]

The Irish Government appreciates the frank recognition by the Government of the United States of Ireland’s right and determination to preserve its neutrality. They have never felt that the United States would adopt any other attitude. They are consequently at a loss to understand what it is intended to convey by the statement “there is a clear distinction between such a policy and one which at least potentially affords real encouragement to the Government of Germany”. They can only assume that there is some fundamental misunderstanding as to Ireland’s neutrality and her attitude towards Great Britain at the present time. The fact is that notwithstanding difficulties inherent in situation by partition, the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain had steadily improved down to the beginning of the war. A considerable degree of co-operation exists between the two Countries and the resulting friendliness, so far as Ireland is concerned, has continued to the present moment.

As early as 1935 the Irish Government had declared it to be their firm policy not to allow their territory to be used as a basis of attack on Britain. In consequence of this and for the first time in several centuries, Britain whilst engaged in a continental war has not had to reckon with a hostile Ireland. In fact in a number of ways Ireland has given Britain very real help. Our neutrality has been a benevolent one, and consequently we have leaned on the side of helpful and sympathetic understanding.

The Irish Government intends to maintain their attitude of friendliness to Great Britain, but their primary duty—like that of all Governments—is to provide for safety of their own nation and people. Participation in the present war, or acts likely to lead to involvement in war, are inconsistent with that duty and are therefore out of the question.

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With a Christian civilization nearly 2000 years old, and with a consistent record of fighting for freedom longer perhaps than that of any other nation, Ireland has long proved her devotion to the cause of justice and freedom of the human spirit, and no one can deny she has contributed her share to the moral foundation on which the laws of men and of nations are built. But at this moment Ireland’s survival as a nation and the safety of the remnant of her long persecuted people depends on the maintenance of her neutrality. The Irish Government believe that the American Government would not lead their people into war or into the risk of war if America were in the same defenseless position as Ireland is, and they feel that it is hardly just to urge Ireland to a course which other nations, in similar circumstances, would be quick to reject. The Irish people have made no attempts to dictate to any other people what their national policy should be, and they do no more than claim themselves the same absolute right to judge and decide the manner best calculated to safeguard their own vital interests.

The Irish Government are grateful for the reference to the traditional and intimate friendship between the American and Irish peoples, and for the offer of negotiations with a view to the acquisition of two cargo ships. Ireland’s needs for the ships is great and possession of them might well mean the difference between extreme hardship and a hardship which would be tolerable. The manner, however, in which the offer is made and the suggestion of certain implied conditions render it impossible for the Irish Government to accept. They cannot agree that the estimate of Mr. Aiken’s attitude and the criticism directed against him is just. Nor have we had any communication which would support the contention that prior to Mr. Aiken’s arrival negotiations in regard to food and ships had been proceeding satisfactorily. In the view of the Irish Government based on long experience and intimate knowledge of Mr. Aiken as a colleague, he is not less well-disposed to Great Britain than the other members of the Irish Government, although of course like them he regards it as his duty to place the interests of his own country first. The Irish Government regards it as a matter for deep regret that officials of the United States Government concerned should have come to a different conclusion.

  1. See telegram No. 18, April 25, 6 p.m., to the Minister in Ireland, p. 226.