740.0011 European War 1939/11272: Telegram

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

54. For Secretary and Under Secretary. I am confidentially informed that Mr. Churchill23a intends on Friday next to announce the operation of conscription in Ulster. The Irish Nationalist Conference in the North yesterday adopted this pledge:

“Denying the right of the Churchill Government to enforce compulsory conscription in Ireland we pledge ourselves solemnly to one another to resist conscription by the most effective means at our disposal consonant with the law of God.”

Eire Government leaders yesterday conferred with leaders of both opposition parties. This is the news leader this morning.

Opposition leaders yesterday informed me that conscription without a conscientious objector’s escape clause for minority Catholic nationalists will constitute a major irretrievable and probably fatal political blunder at this time and play directly into de Valera’s hands with grave possibilities for American interests. They predict draft riots, the escape of draft dodgers to Southern Ireland who will be acclaimed as hero martyrs by three-quarters of the population and the fomenting of trouble by Republicans and Fifth Columnists. The clearest headed leader predicts that de Valera will seize the opportunity to escape from economic and political realities by proclaiming himself the leader of the oppressed minority and with the blessings of [Page 236] the Cardinal will rouse anti-British feeling and call a Holy War. I think it a very likely prediction. All classes of opinion here unite in condemning the move as calamitous. It appears to be a repetition of the same fatal blunder made during the last war. The weak and failing Ulster Government is probably seeking to sustain itself by provoking a crisis. Unless Great Britain is prepared from a military point of view to seize the whole country it appears to be madness. So little can be gained and so much lost.

Eighty thousand Irish volunteers in British Army will be disaffected, there will be no material number of Nationalist conscripts, a government, a popular majority and an army inclined to be friendly to Great Britain rather than to the Axis will become definitely hostile, possibly giving active aid to Germany and most important of all the pro-British opposition will be helpless and the opportunity for dividing the country on the question of the ports will be lost for the duration [apparent omission]. The effect on Irish-American opinion at this juncture is not for me to estimate. This is a grave situation.

I talked with Winant24 last night. He had heard no discussion of the matter. I shall probably acquaint the Irish Prime Minister with the purport of this telegram and ask him for constructive suggestions. However justified our complaints of Irish-American pressure group methods opposing our aid for Britain policy I believe our interest and Irish interests the same in this matter.

If the Secretary and Under Secretary are not immediately available please rush this to the President.

Gray
  1. Winston S. Churchill, British Prime Minister.
  2. John G. Winant, American Ambassador in the United Kingdom.