740.0011 European War 1939/13690

The Irish Minister ( Brennan ) to the Acting Secretary of State

The Minister of Ireland presents his compliments to the Honourable the Acting Secretary of State of the United States and has the honour to refer to the statement made by President Roosevelt on the 27th of June 194129 to the effect that he had received no definite assurance that the Irish would defend themselves against an attack by Germany.

This statement has caused astonishment and speculation in Ireland where it has given rise to a debate in Dail Eireann in the course of which the Administration was subjected to criticism for having, as alleged, left President Roosevelt under a misapprehension.

The Minister is at a loss to understand President Roosevelt’s statement in view of the following facts:

On the 9th November 1940 he handed in to the State Department a copy of Mr. De Valera’s speech delivered in Dail Eireann on the 7th November 1940 in which the following passage occurs:

“Now, as I have said, we want friendly relations with the people of Britain as we want friendly relations with all other peoples but we naturally want them with Britain because Britain is the nearest country to us on the globe. We have many relations of various kinds which make it desirable that the two peoples should live in friendship. It was partly for that reason and partly because I knew perfectly that it was a condition of neutrality that years before we came into office and several times since we came into office, I announced it that it would be our policy to use our strength to the utmost to see that this island was not going to be used as a base of attack upon Britain. We have never swerved in the slightest from that declaration. Everything [Page 241] that we could do has been done to make it sure that that policy would be made as effective as it was within our power to make it.”

In a statement by the Minister, a copy of which he handed in at the same time,30 there is the following passage:

“Mr. De Valera asserted on the 7th November that Ireland would resist by force any attempt to occupy the ports or to impair Ireland’s sovereignty by any of the belligerents. That is the determination of the government and of the people. Under no circumstances will this policy be departed from.”

In the Memorandum which the Minister handed to Mr. Welles on the 2nd June 194131 the following statement is made by the Irish Government:

“But they, the Irish Government, must express the earnest hope that the United States Government will find it possible at a later stage to make arms and equipment available for purchase by the Irish Government since it is the declared policy, frequently re-iterated, of that Government to use the arms exclusively in defence of the Irish people against aggression.”

Moreover, the Minister would like to point out that General Aiken and himself gave the assurance that Ireland would defend her shores against any aggressor in personal interviews with President Roosevelt, Vice-President Wallace, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Navy, the Undersecretary of State, and several other officers of the State Department.

The Minister is further informed that Mr. De Valera gave the same assurance to the American Minister at Dublin on various occasions.

Apart from these direct representations the Minister would like to point out that the position of his Government has been made clear on numerous occasions. In a speech delivered in Dail Eireann on May 28, 1935 Mr. De Valera stated:

“We are going to get our independence of Britain but we are not going to allow our territory under any conditions whatever to be made use of by some foreign power as the base of attack against Britain.”

Mr. De Valera made a speech broadcast to America over the Columbia Broadcasting System on St. Patrick’s Day, 1941, in the course of which he said:

“The situation is then that the Irish Government and an overwhelming majority of the Irish people have decided that they will not be involved in the War. Some American publicists have said that they fear that our country may be used as a base of attack against Britain. We have pledged ourselves that this shall not be. We are [Page 242] determined that no one of the belligerents shall use the territory of our State as a base of attack upon another. For us to permit such a thing to be done would be to involve ourselves in the War.”

The Minister handed in to the State Department a copy of General Aiken’s speech delivered at Boston on April 14, 1941. The following is a passage from that speech:

“Long before the European War appeared likely to you on this side of the Atlantic, in fact in 1935, De Valera declared that in the event of war we would not allow our territory to be used as a base of attack against England. That declaration was confirmed at the beginning of the War by our declaration of neutrality, and it has been faithfully kept to the certain knowledge of the British Government, if not to the knowledge of certain short-sighted, trouble-making journalists.”

General Aiken, in a broadcast over the Columbia Network on June 21, 1941, said:

“Again our leader, Eamon De Valera, declared as far back as 1935, that we would not allow our territory to be used as a base of attack against England …32

“When they have said that we are likely to be overwhelmed, we have pointed out that we are organising all our home resources of men and material and that we are prepared to spend our considerable fund of foreign assets in order to purchase the arms and equipment we need to make our defences more effective. We have unfortunately been unable to purchase these arms here in the United States, and so if we are attacked we will have to defend ourselves as best we can against our aggressor with the arms we have. This we will do. And we will do so vigorously as a United people confident of the justice of our cause. And with God’s help our defence will be successful.

“Recently the fear was expressed that Ireland might be a pillar in the bridge over which America might be invaded from Europe. I don’t know how deep this fear is. But I can assure the American people that we are very much more vitally concerned that our country should not be used as a bridge or as a base of attack against any country in America or Europe—more concerned than the people of any other country could possibly be.”

The Minister would further like to point out that in every public statement he has made on this matter he has left no doubt as to Ireland’s attitude. For instance, in a speech at the United Irish Counties Annual Feis at Fordham University, New York, on June 22, 1941, he said:

“We have always stood for the ideals of democracy. Today even with our own small resources and in a land whose population was reduced by one-half in the last century, we stand ready as ever to defend them against any aggressor who comes to our shores.”

[Page 243]

Since the President’s statement appeared, Mr. De Valera has dealt with this matter. Speaking at Ennis, County Clare, on Saturday, June 28, 1941, he stated:

“We have pledged to defend ourselves against attack no matter from what quarter it comes. That is our duty from the point of view of neutrality. It is to our interests to do that and nobody can have the slightest doubt that it is our intention to defend ourselves to the utmost against attack no matter from whom it comes.”

In the course of a statement in Dail Eireann on Tuesday, July 8, 1941, Mr. De Valera said:

“Our determination to resist attack in all circumstances had been frequently repeated and made abundantly clear.”

In a debate in Dail Eireann on the same day members of the Opposition commented on President Roosevelt’s statement and also referred to Ireland’s determination to resist attack from any quarter.

General Mulcahy, a leader of the Opposition, said:

“We could not afford to allow such a misunderstanding. The Taoiseach (Mr. De Valera) should tell President Roosevelt that our policy was complete neutrality and that we intended to resist all aggressors.”

Mr. James Dillon, another Opposition leader, said:

“Opportunities should be taken to express to President Roosevelt the firm resolution of this country to meet with all the resources at its disposal aggression whence ever it might come.”

Mr. De Valera in replying to this on Wednesday, the 9th July 1941 said:

“If one fact were universally known it was that the nation was neutral and had organized all means at its disposal to defend itself against attack coming from any quarter. That was known to every State represented here and to every State in which we were represented.”

In view of the foregoing the Minister finds it difficult to understand how the President could have made a statement so much in conflict with the repeated declarations of the Irish Government on this matter and, in view of the embarrassment caused to his Government, he is instructed to inquire how President Roosevelt’s statement is to be interpreted.

  1. New York Times, June 28, 1941, p. 5, col. 3.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. iii, p. 167.
  3. Not printed; the memorandum related to negotiations for the purchase of two freight vessels by Ireland from the United States.
  4. Omission indicated in the original note.