Memorandum by the Minister in Ireland (Gray) on Recommendations for the Adoption of a Joint Anglo-American Economic Policy Toward Eire Shaped With Reference to Political Considerations 2


Early in February 1943, the British Representative to Eire, Sir John Maffey, informed me that he and the Canadian High Commissioner, the Honorable John Kearney, were exchanging personal views as to the desirability of recommending to their respective Governments some action designed to improve the position of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations and if possible of the United Nations also as regards Eire. It was felt that, in the first place, some practical benefits for the Allied war effort might be obtained and, in the second place, that if military advantages were not forthcoming, it was desirable, in order to clarify Eire’s position in the post-war period, that her Government be invited to make that position clear without undue delay.

It was suggested that a request be made for what are called “the ports.” If the request were acceded to, we should have the much needed facilities. If not, Eire would be definitely on record as having refused a specific request made now for the first time. Otherwise, she might say with truth, “You never asked us for the ports.” It was felt that if the record was not made clear, Eire would be in a better position later on to claim benefits to which she was not entitled on the basis of her attitude during the war, especially in view of the contingent of Eire volunteers in the British Army, published reference to whom is now prohibited by Government censorship. It is obvious that, although these volunteers are now regarded as renegades and traitors by the extreme nationalist group, they would probably be claimed as an asset by the Irish Government to obtain post-war advantages [Page 133] unless the position of Eire was more definitely established than it has been.

About the same time, the Canadian High Commissioner gave me the substance of a memorandum which he had addressed to his Government outlining the situation as he saw it, and making certain practical suggestions for a plan of procedure which involved joint action with the United Nations—a plan in which it was thought desirable that the United States Government should act as spokesman—with a general proposal for a joint policy and for some action which would clarify Mr. de Valera’s3 position. My personal view was in agreement with the proposal for some such line of action as was suggested, and I expressed myself in favor of recommending to my own Government that, in view of the peculiar and complex nature of the Irish situation, a joint plan and such joint action as might be feasible was desirable.

During the first week in January 1943, Sir John returned from London and told me that the Dominions Office was in accord with the general proposal for a joint Anglo-American policy toward Eire, but had not considered the idea of closely correlating the economic aspects of such a policy with political considerations. He had gained the impression that the military services for the time being at least were resigned to doing without the ports and that it was thought unwise to stir this matter up at the present time inasmuch as Anglo-Irish relations were on the whole as satisfactory as could be expected in view of Irish neutrality. The Canadian Representative gained a similar impression of his Government’s attitude.

Examination of Existing Situation

During the time which has since elapsed there has been no change in Eire policy which would indicate that the Eire Government were taking a more realistic view of the situation or intended to pursue a policy actively helpful to the cause of the United Nations, in spite of the evidently minimized risk of such a course. This is significant because a neutrality which might have been dictated by prudence in 1939 and 1940 had become an entirely voluntary and gratuitous neutrality in 1943 and can only be interpreted as a neutrality for material profit or a neutrality insensible to the moral issues of the war.

It seems therefore desirable to review the existing military, political and economic situation in Eire for your consideration to the end that you may have a basis for independent judgment as to whether existing policy toward Eire should be continued or made more drastic in conjunction with Britain and Canada for the attainment of specified ends. It should be clearly understood that your Minister would not recommend any course of action to which the British Government took exception, inasmuch as that Government cannot escape a primary [Page 134] responsibility for the consequences of any joint policy which might prove unprofitable. It should also be understood that your Minister appreciates the political situation in the United States which makes an openly proclaimed Anglo-American joint policy toward Eire of doubtful usefulness. Your Minister’s memorandum is, as far as practicable, factual and intended to serve the policy making officers of the Government. At the same time, he wishes to point out the dangers of inaction. It is his belief that, generally speaking, a positive policy is to be preferred when dealing with Mr. de Valera. Though there has been no avowed change in Mr. de Valera’s policy, the pressure of events has undoubtedly affected him. He has come to believe in an Allied victory, which he doubted as late as our expedition to North Africa4 and perhaps later. He has evidently considered the disadvantages of not being one of the United Nations, for he has stated privately that, even if he wanted to, he could not come in now when it was safe, because he would be “mocked at.” In his keynote speech on May 8th opening the campaign preliminary to the elections to be held in June, he laid stress on the need for good relations with Britain. But he also laid stress on the issue of Partition and warned that it was the one difference which prevented cooperation with Britain. By curious coincidence, on the following day Mr. Churchill’s5 letter to Mr. Andrews, the retiring Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, was published, in which he expressed the gratitude of Britain to Northern Ireland for the facilities which made the survival of Britain possible during 1940 and 1941, and assured Northern Ireland that its bond with Britain was unbreakable. This was again followed by a proclamation of the new Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir Basil Brooke, making it clear that union with Britain rather than with Eire was the keystone of Northern Ireland policy and warning Eire that if she wished to maintain happy relations with the North, she must refrain from interfering in Northern affairs. Mr. de Valera at present writing has made no reply, but it has become increasingly clear during the past months that he and his group rely upon the issue of Partition for post-war purposes. For this it prefers the grievance rather than the solution. Nearly a year ago Mr. de Valera stated to an American newspaper man, who asked him if he were not anxious as to Eire’s position in the post-war period, that he was not anxious; that he relied on the inevitable falling out of Great Britain and the United States, as a consequence of which he would secure the support of the United States. It has become increasingly apparent that he intends to use the alleged wrong of partition to open this rift and to [Page 135] enlist the sympathies and support of the Irish-American groups to this end.

Recently Mr. Robert Stewart6 has forwarded to me a copy of an able and pertinent memorandum7 prepared by him for the Department, in the course of which he cites what might be regarded as the opening gun of such a campaign—a resolution from The Federation of American Societies for Irish Independence asking that our Congress should insure the independence and unity of Ireland; that is, secure the merger of the Government of Northern Ireland into that of Eire, during the negotiations for peace. The Irish Minister to the United States8 in a recent article in The New York Times entitled “The Case for Ireland’s Neutrality” stresses the same note.

The question that now poses itself is whether it is advisable to take any measures to forestall this strategy and at the same time attain or endeavor to attain other desirable ends, and, if it is advisable, to decide what those measures should be and how they should be taken. It would seem that the obvious means of putting pressure upon Eire and discrediting the leadership of the de Valera group, from which trouble is to be expected in the post-war period, is by withholding supplies. The United Nations control the supplies and without injustice have the moral as well as legal right to withhold them in their own interest from separatist nations who refuse to take responsibility for the common survival. More than that, if the association of United Nations has reality, it constitutes a trusteeship of all supply with the obligation to allot it or withhold it for the advancement of United Nations interests. The decision to give or withhold is essentially a joint one.

If we examine the facts as to Eire’s claims to self-sufficiency put forward by the de Valera group and the figures showing Eire imports since the outbreak of the war, we obtain a picture of the situation and of the thus far benevolent attitude of the British Government. Eire produces a surplus of food animals, and coarse wools. She has her own fisheries. She now produces about two-thirds of her required wheat, her oats and barley, her own dairy products, her fruits and vegetables, peat for domestic fuel and an insignificant amount of anthracite coal. She has abundance of limestone for cement manufacture. There is also a small amount of native timber for manufacture and fuel. Everything else, which is practically everything, she imports either as consumers goods or raw materials.

British economic policy toward Eire since the outbreak of war is revealed by the figures for Irish imports from 1938 onward, inasmuch as Britain under normal condition is the main source of Irish supply and, with the advent of war conditions, almost the sole source of essential [Page 136] materials. Irish statistics give £41,414,051 of imports for 1938, £43,415,139 for 1939, £46,790,207 for 1940, £29,530,215 in 1941, and £34,663,729 in 1942.

Imports from the United States for 1941 amounted to £2,294,958; in 1942 £3,050,841, and for the first quarter of 1943 £688,908. These figures indicate that United States exports comprised about one-tenth of the total in 1941 and about one-eleventh in 1942. For the same two years there was a total of goods sent to Eire from the United States amounting to £5,345,799 and a total of £1,001,748 received from Eire. These figures make it clear that, in spite of increasingly real and economically planned scarcity in Britain, very generous allotments have been made to Eire. During the last two years of scarcity she has been deprived of only about a fourth of normal requirements.

The Irish Minister for Finance, in presenting his Budget before the Irish Parliament on May 5, 1943, is quoted as saying “visible imports since the beginning of the war had up to March 31 last exceeded visible exports by seventeen and three-tenths million (pounds) in value. This is an achievement on which the trading interests concerned, as well as the State Departments, deserve recognition.”

When it is realized that a large percentage of these visible imports were brought to Britain in British ships at a very considerable cost of British lives and thereafter allotted to Eire who made no contribution to the safety of the supply line, the nature of the transaction becomes clear.

This British policy appears to have been inaugurated at the outset of the war in the somewhat optimistic spirit of Chamberlain9 conciliation, and was probably continued after the fall of France by reason of well-grounded anxieties as to the position of the Eire Government in the case of German invasion. It was then imperative to appease even at the cost of sacrifice. There was also the possibility that action with regard to naval and air facilities in Eire would become imperative by reason of military necessity and if such action had to be taken, it was desirable that the Irish people should be without economic grievance.

Since the military position has so greatly improved, these reasons for supplying Ireland have lost cogency, but it has been deemed unwise by the British Government to make any sharp break in the existing policy that might give grounds for the charge of punitive coercion. Allotments of coal and petroleum products have been materially reduced, but are still sufficient to maintain the essential transportation services. It has been considered desirable to keep the railways operating in order that Irish live stock and other food exports may be moved to export ports.

[Page 137]

Although Eire has no other market for her surplus food products than Britain, it has appeared desirable to allot manufactured goods and certain raw materials in sufficient quantities to maintain a fairly balanced trade. It is probably also true that trade interests in Irish customers on the part of British firms have been influential in procuring liberal allotments for Eire in the absence of any clearly defined governmental policy of withholding supply. It should be noted that under normal conditions Britain obtains only between five and seven per cent, of her food from Eire by value consisting mostly of fresh meat and other foods that are first restricted in times of war stringency. Therefore, Britain in a pinch can do without Irish food, whereas the whole economic system of Eire depends upon imports from Britain. During the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Eire, cattle exports were suspended for nine months without noticeable effect on the British food situation.

Of late, economic conditions in Britain, chiefly due to the need of tonnage for war purposes, have begun to bring into force toward Eire a more realistic policy based on the thesis that it was unnecessary, as well as unjust, that Irish standards of living and supply should be maintained at a higher level than that prevailing in Britain and that some adequate return should be obtained for what was given. It should be noted that this new phase of British policy is not in conflict with the conception of a United Nations trusteeship of all supply for the advancement of United Nations interests.

For the first three months of 1943, allotments of coal have been reduced, as compared with the first quarter of 1942, from about 300,000 tons to 250,000, and allotments of petrol from 4,500,000 gallons to 1,750,000. Textiles chiefly for Irish manufacture have been reduced by about two-thirds. It should be noted at this point that Eire cotton mills have been and are sustained principally by importation of American cotton yarns. With the ominously increasing needs for both coal and petroleum products in Britain, it is possible that this new attitude toward Irish supply might result in the not distant future of a total withholding of both coal and oil. The effect of this on Irish economy and especially on Eire’s industry, transportation, and distribution systems is not wholly clear, but it would inevitably be serious. The rural population comprising about three-quarters of the whole would be incommoded, but would suffer no serious hardship or serious impairment of its living standards. Eire produces adequate food supplies for its population, though certain articles to which the Irish people are accustomed are in short supply. However, the problem of feeding Dublin’s population of five hundred thousand would tax Irish administration severely. Nevertheless, it is a problem which by improvising elementary railway and motor truck services with wood, turf (peat), and anthracite coal as fuel should not prove insoluble. The [Page 138] possibility of such a situation has recently been discussed by Ministers of State in public addresses and not in a spirit of despair. The sharply diminished imports from Britain during the first quarter of the present year have thus far evoked no publicized resentment against Britain or charge of economic pressure. It is probable that the Irish conscience is uneasy on this point. It serves Britain’s book that this should be so. But it is not apparent that the previous generous measure of British supply has had any effect in fostering a favorable view of the cause of the United Nations. It is certain that it has not in any way modified the policy of the Eire Government in a practical manner more favorable to Britain or the Allied cause. Supply seems to be taken as a matter of course—something arranged by an astute Government who have cleverly succeeded in getting things for the Irish people without contributing to the safety of the communications on which the supply depends.

The group which has benefited most from Irish neutrality are the tariff-protected manufacturers who, in spite of difficulties, have generally been able to continue operations on a profitable basis. Presumably, a large percentage of political campaign funds is subscribed to the de Valera Party by this group and its influence in support of the neutrality policy is considerable. The question therefore poses itself whether, if the raw materials needful in Irish manufactures were progressively restricted to the vanishing point, the industrialist group would demand a change of policy. Although the war will be won regardless of any action Eire may or may not take, there are at least three points on which United States and British interests are gravely prejudiced by the policy of the Irish Government, to wit:

The withholding of facilities for the protection of sea communications between America and Britain.
The maintenance of Axis Missions which are inevitably espionage centers on the borders of Britain, the European bridgehead of the United Nations.
The claim on the part of the Irish Prime Minister to de jure sovereignty over Northern Ireland, which it is now apparent that he plans to use to the end of creating post-war disagreement between Britain and the United States, if not to foment trouble in Northern Ireland to the detriment of the common war effort.

It is unlikely, in the view of the British Representative and myself, that economic pressure on the industrialist group in itself would result (1) in the Irish Government’s ceding air and port facilities to the United Nations or (2) in breaking diplomatic relations with the Axis Powers, but such action might very well prepare the way to these ends by impressing upon both the Irish Government and the Irish people a more realistic sense of their dependence upon and indebtedness to the United Nations for political independence, for economic supply, and for military security. At present there is no general [Page 139] appreciation of these facts. Such a realization must precede any radical change in State policy.

As to the third point, the de Valera claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland is a matter for concern to those charged with the maintenance of cooperation and good-will between the United States and the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Not only has the protest of the Eire Government against the use of bases in Northern Ireland by American troops, followed by the Eire Government-approved statement of the Cardinal Primate that “British and American troops overrun our country against the will of the Nation” tended to incite anti-American and anti-British feeling, both in Northern Ireland and in Eire, and to encourage I.R.A.10 outrages, but, as Mr. Robert Stewart points out, there is evidence that the anti-British campaign has already again been carried to the United States by Mr. de Valera’s agents.

Possible Courses of Action

If Anglo-American solidarity is to be preserved, both during the war and afterwards, this situation should be met by joint counsel and joint action without undue delay. Measures that would be politically impossible after the war appear now to be possible and, if properly executed, would force the issue and discredit the isolationist non-cooperative group of extreme nationalists in Eire whose political existence constitutes the chief obstacle to a happy and prosperous Ireland enjoying mutually advantageous relations with the British Commonwealth of Nations. It seems desirable that without undue delay the challenge of this group be accepted. It is obviously wiser to accept it on grounds chosen by ourselves and at a moment of our own choosing, than to wait for the Irish Prime Minister to develop his skillful and mischievous intrigue. Whatever the rights and wrongs of partition, it should be clearly understood that a solution on any basis of reason and compromise is not the primary object of the de Valera leadership at this time. The grievance is politically of more importance than the solution. I have recently received direct evidence of this from persons close to the Prime Minister. It is probable that if Eire had joined the other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations in prosecuting the war, the influence of the British Government would have been exerted to end Partition and unite Ulster with the Twenty-six Counties. Inasmuch, however, as the de Valera policy has been not only to remain neutral but progressively to establish Eire as an independent foreign nation, disclaiming association with the neighboring Island, it is obvious that the British Government must and will support the political views of the [Page 140] majority in Northern Ireland. Mr. de Valera has definitely put an end to any hope of solving this problem in any predictable future, unless he should reverse his whole political philosophy. The Manchester Guardian, the organ of British Liberal opinion and traditional supporter of Irish Home Rule, observes in its issue of April 30, 1943, “One thing the war has done and that is to confirm Partition. So much Eire’s neutrality has secured. Ulster needs no longer to base her politics on negations; no section of British (or American) opinion will wish to coerce her to satisfy Mr. de Valera’s aspirations.”

After enjoying the use of bases in Northern Ireland denied to us by Eire, it is unlikely that American opinion would support the coercion of Ulster. But, if Mr. de Valera has lost his chance to end Partition, he has not lost his power to foment trouble in Northern Ireland among the four hundred thousand Catholic population whom he claims as fellow nationalists, and there is reason to fear that he will continue to exert it unless he is made to realize that to do so will invite economic consequences disadvantageous to his authority and aspirations.

There seem to be several tactical approaches to meeting and forcing the issue before it develops further to our disadvantage. By this is meant action which conveys a sobering warning to Mr. de Valera and provides an educational experience for the Irish people as to their essential dependence on the United Nations. I enumerate four of them as follows:

1. A demand in the name of the United Nations for the lease of air and port facilities for the protection of the Western approaches, on the ground that Eire’s supply depends upon United Nations sea-borne transport.

2. A demand that Axis Missions be removed, on the ground that their presence is a menace to United Nations vital interests.

A demand that Eire clarify her position toward the British Commonwealth of Nations. Is she in or out?

An unsatisfactory reply to any of these demands would result in the progressive shutting off of raw materials for Irish industries, on the ground that if Eire chooses to exercise her right to an isolationist position, she must assume responsibility for her own supply.

4. Perhaps the most effective manner of meeting the issue from the American political viewpoint would be the enforcement of conscription in Northern Ireland. There is little doubt that American opinion would support a measure which put an end to the escape of Northern Ireland slackers from duties imposed upon American youth. But it must be recognized that there is likelihood of bloodshed in Northern Ireland if conscription should be enforced and the political consequences should be carefully weighed before a decision were taken. It could, however, be truthfully said that new bloodshed could hardly increase the political capital manufactured out of the executions of 1916.

[Page 141]

There are difficulties and dangers in all these suggested courses, but they may well be inconsiderable in comparison with those resulting from inaction and postponement to a less favorable time and less auspicious conditions. The important thing from the viewpoint of Anglo-American cooperation is to bring to the notice of the American people the unfair and destructive policy of the de Valera politicians at the time when British and American interests are essentially the same and to obtain a verdict of American disapproval which will remove the pressure of the Irish question from Anglo-American relations. Joint Anglo-American understanding is obviously desirable in the adoption of any of these policies and at least a degree of joint action in the execution.

It appears that a liaison committee representing the British Ministry of Economic Warfare sits with the American Board of Economic Warfare and considers jointly with the American Board the requests made by would-be Irish purchasers for export licenses for the commodities which they desire to purchase. The Ministry of Economic Warfare is therefore cognizant of American licensed exports to Eire. These two agencies for economic warfare acting jointly would seem to constitute the adequate machinery for such correlated economic action as might be approved. It would only remain for the policymaking agencies of the respective Governments to decide on the line to be pursued and delegate the implementing of the decision to the existing Boards of Economic Warfare. It should be made clear that your Minister is not assuming to advise the British Government, but only to suggest to his own Government various procedures by which we might properly assist the British Government in forestalling Irish menace to our mutually friendly and cooperative relations, which are of basic importance if our hope for the future is to be realized.

No important trade interests, either British or American, would be jeopardized by such proposed economic action if indeed it were planned and executed in a spirit of cooperative understanding, for Eire is and must remain primarily a customer of Britain. There is no market for Irish agricultural products, except in Britain, and so Eire must hold that market by buying British. The United States in peace-time finds Eire a logical customer for feeding grains and some manufactured specialties and is a purchaser of Irish specialties such as whiskey, luxury bacon, handmade tweeds, Irish poplins and carpet wool. But it seems desirable that during the war neither Britain nor America should undertake to supplant each other’s legitimate trade by supplying to Irish buyers what the other is unable or unwilling to supply, regardless of political considerations. This desirable end a joint trade policy toward Eire would incidentally assure.

[Page 142]

It is difficult to frame an objective and dispassionate appraisal of current events at close range and it is possible that the facts set forth above should be otherwise interpreted as pointing to other courses of action. It may be wiser to take no action at all but leave to time and imponderable forces the working out of the problems presented by the Irish situation. But, however attractive the policy of doing nothing may appear, there is an inescapable decision which the United Nations must presently face, to wit: Can Eire as a geographical strategic keystone in the common defense of the British Isles and as the controlling area for the protection of Anglo-American communications again be permitted the right to refuse cooperation in time of crisis and endanger our existence? If it cannot, the choice of the United Nations is between making their decision now while the realistic pressures of war continue, and postponement to the period of post-war loosening of the bonds of common interests.

D[avid] G[ray]
  1. Transmitted to the Department by the Minister in Ireland in his despatch No. 625, May 14, 1943, not printed.
  2. Eamon de Valera, Irish Prime Minister.
  3. The occupation of French North Africa by Allied forces was begun by landings on November 8, 1942.
  4. Winston S. Churchill, British Prime Minister.
  5. Of the Division of European Affairs.
  6. Not found in Department files.
  7. Robert Brennan.
  8. Neville Chamberlain, former British Prime Minister.
  9. Irish Republican Army.