Roosevelt Papers

Draft Message From President Roosevelt to Prime Minister de Valera 1


In Your Excellency’s speech at Cork on December 14, 1941, you expressed a special sympathy for the people of the United States on the occasion of their entry into the war and made acknowledgment of American assistance in the establishment of the free Irish nation. In this statement you reaffirmed your policy of neutrality with the added qualification that toward the United States it would be a friendly one. Excerpts of this speech were transmitted through your Minister to this Government2 and were duly acknowledged by the President. In his note of appreciation he pointed out the danger threatening all free nations if they hesitated to unite in common defense of their liberties, trusting to fortune and the efforts of others for escape from the fate of those small states which elected the separatist policy.3

Since December 1941 the military situation has changed so fundamentally that it appears profitable to reexamine our respective policies in the light of our common interests. The obvious approach is now less from the viewpoint of war and more from the viewpoint of the peace that must follow. You have spoken of the ties of blood and sympathy that unite our two nations. It should be clear to you and to the Irish people that these considerations have continuously and notably shaped the policy of this Government toward Eire in spite of the exacting pressures of the war.

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In 1940 after the fall of France when the British Commonwealth of Nations was in desperate need of arms of every nature, when the American Government was anxiously preparing for the attack which reasonable foresight warned us would not be long delayed, we allotted you twenty thousand rifles which could ill be spared.

Although Eire with reason blocks the export of Irish funds to the United States and requisitions the property in the United States of Naturalized American citizens resident in Eire, who under your laws may also be regarded as Irish nationals, we have never interrupted the flow of American remittances to Ireland.

At a time when every ship was of vital importance we permitted you to charter two serviceable cargo vessels to assist you in importing your essential supplies. Both these vessels sailing under neutral markings and defenseless have been sunk by the Axis.

The American Red Cross is now in process of forwarding to you upwards of a half million dollars worth of medical supplies so that you may be prepared against attack either by the Axis Powers or by epidemic disease.

As long as possible we permitted the unregulated purchase and export of the things which your national economy required, though you very properly by executive order have conserved for your own people the things of which you had no surplus.

Requests for certain amounts of steel, copper and aluminum by the Irish Sugar Company for maintaining your nationally owned plants have been disallowed by the agencies charged with the allocation of strategic materials for our war effort. We have recently been informed that without these materials the 1944 crop of beet cannot be processed, thus leaving the Irish people without sugar. By direction of the President the request will now be approved.

It is believed that the Irish people should be informed that this is not an authorization for the sale of surplus commodities but the allocation of strategic materials in short supply for their special benefit. Though the amounts are small in relation to American production, the steel that will help to produce Irish sugar would have made either a certain number of tanks, the copper so many shell cases, the aluminum so many airplane parts or would have satisfied civilian needs which now will not be satisfied. It is as if you sent us foods which you need for your own people.

In accordance with this policy of special consideration for the Irish people, we have approved the reallocation to Eire by our Allies, the British Commonwealth of Nations, of various materials in short supply originating in the United States. In reduced quantity but nevertheless sufficient to maintain your national economy you have been [Page 620] supplied with American petroleum products allocated to you by Britain. This has enabled you to transport by motor truck practically the entire required supply of domestic heating fuel from your peat bogs to your towns and cities. In 1942 this amounted to about a half million tons of turf (peat) for the city of Dublin alone, involving a truck mileage of between fifteen and twenty million miles. It may here be observed that American city dwellers denied the use of their motor cars for escape to sea ‘and countryside, do not enjoy the thought of the representatives of Japan, Germany and Italy driving their automobiles about Ireland with American gasoline.

Though coal is temporarily in short supply in the United States, we permit your ships to refuel at our ports on equal terms with our combatant allies. By our contribution of American coal wherever practicable to the common war effort, Britain has been able to supply you with a coal ration, reduced to a third of your normal consumption, but still sufficient to operate your railways and permit a limited public gas service. Since 80 percent of the people of Dublin cook by gas some four hundred thousand persons have thus been preserved from serious hardship.

Enough steel has been furnished you for horseshoes and agricultural tools manufactured in Eire, enough woollen and cotton yarn to keep Irish mills operating. Irish manufacturers as a rule have profited financially by neutrality during this period.

In spite of great efforts on the part of the Irish farmer Eire, after the 1942 crop, was still in need of a considerable percentage of her wheat requirements. The United Nations without question granted export licenses for the amounts required.

For the year 1939–1940 during which war prevailed for six months, Irish imports appear to have been normal. For the following full year of war they rose by value, a half million pounds. For the following year they declined about one third. In the spring of this present year the Irish Minister for Finance,4 presenting his budget to the Irish Dail pointed with pride to the fact that since the outbreak of the war Eire had imported goods to the value of seventeen million pounds in excess of what she had exported.5

Irish exports, chiefly live stock, have found a ready market in Britain. Britain has been fortunate in having them available at her door and Irish farmers have been fortunate in finding the only market open to them glad to receive all offerings.

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Thanks to this policy of friendship and supply, normal standards of living have been less impaired in Eire as the result of war than in any country in Europe.

It has not always been easy in view of American opinion to maintain this policy. Friendship is not a one-way street and it cannot be denied that Americans were mystified and saddened by Your Excellency’s public protest against the use of bases in Northern Ireland by American forces sent there specifically to forestall Axis attack.6 Following this protest came the statement of the Cardinal Primate7 that “British and United States troops are overrunning our country against the will of the Nation”.8 The official censorship approved the publication of this statement together with the publication of resolutions applauding it, adopted by the Corporation of the City of Cork, though suppressing that portion of a pastoral of the Bishop of Achonry9 which condemned the bombing of Irish Nationals by the Germans.

While this government accepts the suggestion that Your Excellency’s protest was not made in an unfriendly spirit but to assert a claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland, it is unfortunate that your Government made no protest against the German bombing of the cities of Northern Ireland, with the attendant murder of Northern Irish people. Moreover, since the Irish Republican Army has issued a manifesto declaring war on the United States and is now presumably at war with us in conjunction with their Axis allies, Americans could only feel that pronouncements exciting antagonism against our troops in Northern Ireland constituted encouragement to this subversive organization and endangered the lives of American soldiers.

Many Americans understand and sympathize with the reasons which prompted Irish neutrality; how at the outbreak of the war Eire should wish to exercise her new sovereignty by declining to be involved in a conflict which at the time may have seemed not to involve her survival as a free nation and later after the fall of France when the victory of the Axis appeared inevitable, how prudence and self-interest dictated the continuance of that policy.

Your friendly promise that your neutrality should be benevolent toward the United States was duly appreciated by the American people, but unfortunately by reason of your geographical position it has operated in favor of the Axis Powers and against the United Nations. This has become increasingly apparent since the loss of the French channel ports. Every ship and airplane assigned to the defense of the [Page 622] Western approaches and the southern supply lines from the American continent would have its operating radius increased by two hundred miles were they based on Southwestern Eire rather than on Northern Ireland. Whether this unfavorable differential be measured in terms of increased fuel costs, diminished operating efficiency or in losses of ships and seamen who might otherwise have been saved is a problem for the military statisticians when the data are available. But the handicap is heavy and real and American opinion feels a sense of grievance that you make no contribution to the safety and maintenance of a supply line by which in so important measure your national economy is maintained.

The presence in Eire of representatives of Germany, Italy and Japan, the powers which treacherously attacked us, still further weighs down the balance of Irish neutrality in favor of our enemies. For on the territory of Eire they are in a favorable position to spy on us while we are not in a favorable position to spy on them. We recognize the good faith of the Irish Government in attempting to prevent and suppress the activities of enemy agents, but it is naive to believe that they are preventable as long as enemy missions enjoy diplomatic immunity to come and go, and to negotiate for espionage under the cover of correct social relations. The danger is the greater because of the number of misguided but reputable Irish nationals who oppose your Government and look to the Axis Powers as the hope of Irish liberty.

It is naive also to believe that the regime which prepared and precipitated the downfall of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, Holland, France, Greece and Jugoslavia by fifth column organization has not also laid the groundwork for an inside job on Eire, the key position for a major attack upon Britain. The recrudescence and mysterious financing of the banned I.R.A. in 1938, the capture of parachutists and sea borne agents in Eire possessing large sums of money, the strange escape from prison and long time harboring of a convicted German spy by respected Irish citizens point to such a conclusion. They raise the question also how many agents are now undetected and at large. We know that you have interned and jailed hundreds of members of these subversive groups, but their friends and sympathizers are free and constitute a depot of potential enemy agents. Since they work with honest convictions as well as for pay, they are faithful to their employers and often above suspicion.

The operation of these spy agencies is facilitated by the ease with which the border between Eire and Northern Ireland may be crossed. It is in fact like crossing from Connecticut to Massachusetts. North of the Border the military installations of the United States are readily [Page 623] studied and estimated. Between Northern Ireland and Britain there is no political barrier and the agent returning with reports of United Nations military dispositions has no difficulty in re-entering Eire. Once there the coastline with its hundreds of fishing craft plying the coastal waters offers exceptional opportunity for rendezvous with enemy submarines. How disastrous has been the information as to United Nations shipping thus conveyed we do not know, but it is reasonable, knowing the efficiency of the German spy system, to believe that it has been costly to the people of the United States.

Despite these circumstances which have made Irish neutrality gravely disadvantageous to the American people, their Government, as you know, has scrupulously respected it and has never questioned your right as a free nation to maintain it. While the Irish nation was defenceless and while the American Government lacked the means to equip your army and assist adequately in the defense of your cities, they have never felt justified in suggesting the reorientation of your policy. Now, however, the outcome of the war is no longer in doubt. Our victory is assured though it is not yet won, and it appears to the American Government to be a friendly act to offer the Irish people a share in that victory as we have given them a share of our supply.

Since in view of the military situation, such an offer cannot be construed as a plea for aid or as an effort to purchase cooperation, it does not appear that your past policy should be a bar to the acceptance of it. While it is true that regardless of your decision we shall win the war, it is also true that Eire can play a notable and honorable part in contributing to the shortening of its duration by leasing us bases for the protection of the Atlantic supply lines and by the elimination of Axis spy centers on Eire territory.

Your Excellency’s statement, made on leaving the United States in 1923 [1920], to the effect that if America ever needed Irish help it would not be lacking,10 makes it clear that your personal inclination must now be to join us and hasten the retribution due the totalitarian powers which have plotted against you as against us and have murdered your people and destroyed your property. It was recently stated in your Dail that the Irish taxpayers had been mulcted a million dollars to pay for damages resulting from the German bombing of your lighted cities and the killing of seventy-eight Irish citizens. It has been announced that the Axis by submarine and. air attack had sunk a dozen of your small fleet of ships. For these acts of war you now have the opportunity to exact satisfaction.

But in the American view, even more important than retribution is your place beside us in the post war future. The American people [Page 624] want your close friendship and the binding tie of common effort in the crushing of totalitarian lawlessness, and the reestablishment of international law. The American people wish to be able to share their supplies with you in the difficult years ahead when the needs of allies and enslaved peoples must be the first charge upon our resources. We believe that your interests both spiritual and material are bound up with ours and that if you fail to recognize the fact our traditional friendship must inevitably be weakened. We believe that we have done our part to maintain this friendship. It is for you to do yours.

The American Government trusts that Your Excellency will favor them with a reply at your early convenience and will understand that the American Government’s obligation to the American people will require the publication of this note and your reply thereto.

  1. Prepared by the Minister to Ireland (Gray) and forwarded under cover of the following note from Gray to Roosevelt’s secretary (Tully) dated August 16, 1943: “Here are two copies of a draft which the President would [like?] to take along with him.” The source text bears the following manuscript endorsement by Gray: “Copy for the President D.G.” According to telegram No. 8903 from the Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant) to Hull, dated December 22, 1943 (not printed), a draft along these lines was given to Churchill by Roosevelt at Hyde Park in August 1943. From an earlier message from Hull to Winant (see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iii, pp. 151152) it appears that it was Gray’s draft which Roosevelt gave to Churchill. If this draft was in fact handed to Churchill at Hyde Park, however, this must have been done on September 12, 1943, the only day following the preparation of the draft when Roosevelt and Churchill were together at Hyde Park. If the draft was given to Churchill in August, on the other hand, it must have been at Quebec during the First Quebec Conference. It seems probable that Roosevelt discussed the subject of bases in Ireland with Churchill and Gray when they were at Hyde Park together in August (see post, p. 831), that Gray then prepared this draft and sent it to Miss Tully just before Roosevelt’s departure from Washington for Quebec, and that a copy of the draft was given to Churchill at Quebec. For a revised draft submitted to the British Government in September 1943 and for further documentation on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iii, pp. 147 ff.
  2. Robert Brennan.
  3. For the text of Brennan’s note transmitting extracts from de Valera’s speech and for Roosevelt’s message to de Valera, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iii, pp. 250252.
  4. Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh (O’Kelly).
  5. See Parliamentary Debates: Dáil Eireann, Official Report, vol. 89, col. 2266 (May 5, 1943).
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. i, pp. 757758.
  7. Joseph Cardinal MacRory.
  8. For an account of the statement referred to, datelined Dublin, September 26, 1942, see New York Times, September 28, 1942, p. 3.
  9. Patrick Morrisroe.
  10. For the text of the statement referred to, released at New York City on December 31, 1920, see New York Times, January 1, 1921, p. 4.