740.0011 European War 1939/11288: Telegram

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

55. For the Secretary and Under Secretary. Reference my telegram No. 54, May 24, 1 p.m. After sending this telegram yesterday I sent the Prime Minister the purport of the three recent telegrams on this subject, obviously reserving certain details. I said that if he were interested I would be glad to receive constructive suggestions by telephone. At 5 o’clock he telephoned apparently grateful for my good offices. He said it was exactly such a presentation of the subject as he would make if he were himself dealing with it objectively. He had no suggestions. I said I would be glad to work with him and would keep him informed if I had word from my Government.

His friendly tone pleased and surprised me as only last Tuesday I am informed he told an opposition leader that I had misrepresented Ireland to you, that if the situation were not so tense and if I were not a friend of the President he would ask for my recall. At 8 o’clock he telephoned asking me to call him. I called him at 11:30. His tone had changed, he said that I had asked for constructive suggestions and he wished now to make it clear that my proposal of a so-called escape clause for Catholics would not be satisfactory, that he could not accept conscription for Irishmen. I said, “Do you mean that Orangemen cannot conscript each other?” He evaded this point [Page 238] saying that public opinion in the South would not consent to it. I said that I refuse to take any part in a controversy that raises the issue of partition at this time and will so advise my Government. If you refuse any compromise that offers a temporary avoidance of a conflict without prejudice to either party you are taking a very dangerous course. I am concerned primarily for American interests, secondarily for Irish interests, and thirdly for British interests as they coincide with ours but in each case it is to the end of avoiding precipitating a situation which may well become irremediable. I am deeply disappointed that I cannot work with you except on these lines. We closed on a note of tension. I felt that he had shifted his ground as is characteristic of him when he felt an advantage offered.

This morning Maffy, British representative, came to see me. He told me he thought the revival of conscription came as the result of local conditions following the Belfast air raids. Volunteers have not come forward for the needed local services and manpower from Great Britain is lacking. He agreed that the situation should be handled with regard to the American political situation, the protection of the Irish opposition, and thirdly of the military needs in Ulster.

Later Mr. Cosgrave25 called and asked if we could help. I read to him the same digest of telegrams that I had sent the Prime Minister. He expressed gratification and said he would accept the escape clause as a temporary way out, but predicted that the Prime Minister would not, as he was looking for a political issue. At this moment Mr. de Valera telephoned to say that he realized that our talk last night had been unsatisfactory and would like to send me a note. This has just arrived. It is temperate and conciliatory, but states that for historic reasons his Government cannot accept less than the suspension of conscription.

I am writing him to the effect that I appreciate the friendly tone of his communication, that without instructions I can make no commitments, that recent information makes it appear that no decision has been taken in Westminster and that if he makes a statement Monday indicating his position before the event and calculated to excite anti-British feeling it will increase the difficulties of my Government in case they feel their interests are concerned.

I think a clash with this man is probably inevitable, but he should [not]26 be allowed to choose the issue and the time.

  1. William T. Cosgrave, leader of Fine Gael.
  2. Minister Gray inserted the word “not” on file copy of this telegram on July 28, 1943.