Policy Statement Prepared in the Department of State 1



a. objectives

US objectives toward Ireland are to maintain and strengthen the friendly relations which traditionally have existed between the peoples of the United States and Ireland, to encourage the participation of Ireland in international affairs, and to ensure in so far as possible the collaboration of Ireland as an ally with the western powers in any future conflict.

b. policies

Political. Close and cordial relations have traditionally existed between the United States and Ireland. A strain was placed upon these relations by the Irish policy of neutrality during the recent war, but specific issues arising out of that neutrality have been settled between the two governments. There has been a distinct improvement in the overall state of our relations and concrete cases of agreement and advance can be cited. Ireland participates in the European Recovery Program and has shown a cooperative and helpful attitude in the OEEC. Recent months have seen the signature by the two governments of a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, a Consular Convention, two conventions for the avoidance of double taxation, and an agreement for the waiver of visa fees. Agreement was also reached for the elevation of our respective legations to the rank of embassies, a change which was effected in April of this year.2

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In the international field the Irish Government has shown a somewhat greater willingness to collaborate with other powers. Besides taking a leading role among the small nations in the OEEC, Ireland has become a member of the Council of Europe, and has increased the number of its diplomatic missions abroad.

In spite of these favorable developments there are certain matters which constitute irritants or areas of uncertainty in Irish relations with other governments. Thus, for example, it appears likely that the Irish will seek to continue their policy of neutrality in the event of war. Although they desire Catholic solidarity in opposition to Communist advance, and are clearly in the western camp ideologically, this orientation is counterbalanced by a fear of becoming involved in atomic warfare, wishful thinking that neutrality can be maintained, and that belief that they are afforded a shield by British and west European defenses. Similarly, Ireland’s increasing cooperation with other states is hampered by isolationist and parochial viewpoints which are still powerful in that country, while participation in the Council of Europe appears to be motivated as much by determination to air claims to the six counties of Northern Ireland as by desire to play a more constructive role in international affairs.

The United States wishes to encourage the participation of Ireland in international organizations as a means for overcoming Irish isolationism, lessening the likelihood of Irish neutrality in a future wary and obtaining Ireland’s cooperation in broad aspects of our foreign policy. We have supported Ireland’s application for membership in the United Nations, which has twice been vetoed by the Soviet Union. We have urged the Irish Government not to withdraw its application, even though we can hold forth little hope that the veto will not be used again, and have stated that we would support Irish applications for membership in specialized agencies of the United Nations.

The question of partition—the political separation of the six counties of Northern Ireland, which are an integral part of the United Kingdom, from the Republic of Ireland—remains the principal issue in Irish domestic and foreign policy. Agitation of this matter lessens the usefulness of Ireland in international organizations and complicates strategic planning for western Europe. In 1948 the Irish Government refused an invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty, on the grounds that it could not do so as long as partition exists. The Government later protested those terms of the Treaty which in its view had the effect of guaranteeing the borders of Northern Ireland. The signatory powers have taken the position that questions of this kind do not fall within the purview or the purposes of that Treaty.

It is desirable that Ireland should be integrated into the defense planning of the North Atlantic area, for its strategic position and [Page 1470] present lack of defensive capacity are matters of significance, but this cannot be done upon the terms at present advanced by the Irish Government. The United States could not enter into a purely bilateral defensive relation with Ireland, because of the adverse effect which such action would have upon the solidarity of the NAT organization; the fact that it would be tantamount to a unilateral guarantee of Ireland’s security by this country; and the precedent it would provide for other nations who desire similar undertakings on our part. In the absence of full Irish cooperation, we look to the United Kingdom to continue, and if necessary to expand, its present function of supplying military equipment to Ireland and planning for the defense of the British Isles.

Efforts are constantly being made by and on behalf of the Irish Government to induce us to intervene with the United Kingdom to end partition by bringing about the forcible union of Northern Ireland with the Republic. We have consistently taken the position that the altering of political boundaries between these two friendly states, or other arrangements affecting their internal political affairs, are not matters in which we can properly intrude. We believe, moreover, that while a mutually satisfactory solution of the question would be desirable, as a stabilizing factor in Anglo-Irish relations and an encouragement to increased Irish collaboration in political and military matters, any settlement arrived at by the two interested powers should provide suitable guarantees for the strategic unity of the British Isles in time of war, so that the full cooperation of Ireland would be assured and bases and other necessary facilities would be made available.

In the absence of some such settlement our policy is to facilitate good relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom, always observing the principle of our non-intervention in matters of domestic and primary concern to the two governments. Maintenance of this principle is rendered difficult by the pressure of Irish-American groups in this country, particularly in Congress, and by active propaganda which is carried on by Irish diplomatic and consular representatives here and abroad. The interjection of Irish issues into US domestic politics is, however, less influential than formerly. We should avoid being drawn into discussions of the rights and wrongs of such issues and demonstrate by words and actions our neutrality on the partition question.

As a means of improving relations and correcting misconceptions of the United States on the part of the Irish people, we will shortly inaugurate a modest program of information and educational exchange in Ireland. This will be designed to present US policy through the press, radio and films; to increase knowledge of American life through a US Information Library, and by educational exchanges; [Page 1471] and to give in music, lectures and literature a true picture of American culture.

Economic. In applying the objectives of our policy to the economic field, we desire to encourage the cooperative participation of Ireland in the European Recovery Program and in our general program for the expansion of world trade and employment. We desire to facilitate harmonious economic relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom, to the benefit of both countries, as well as with other countries, and to encourage the improvement of Irish agriculture and industry as a contribution to the economic recovery of western Europe.

Ireland participates in the European Recovery Program because its economy, which deteriorated during the recent war, is an important part of the British economy and Ireland faces an acute dollar problem as a result of dependence on the United Kingdom for foreign exchange. The country’s dollar earnings have always been but a small part of its dollar outlays and postwar economic problems have increased the dollar deficit. The pattern of Ireland’s balance of payments is such that most earnings from exports and other items come from the United Kingdom in the form of sterling, but imports and other services from abroad are much more diversified as to source and include a substantial amount of dollar goods. In the past, Ireland obtained its dollar requirements through the conversion of sterling earnings. However, British postwar economic difficulties obliged Ireland to agree to the severe limitation of the amount of sterling to be converted into dollars. Were Ireland not a participant in the ERP, her current dollar requirements would remain a burden on the United Kingdom. Thus ECA assistance to Ireland is of benefit to both countries.

Under the ECA program there will be a gradual reduction in Ireland’s dollar deficit, which it is estimated will be 35.3 million dollars in 1951–52, the last year of the ERP, as against 65.8 million dollars for the current fiscal year. Since this deficit, if the estimate is correct, will still exceed the amount of ECA aid likely to be available in 1951–52 by more than 10 million dollars, either some carrying forward of aid from the current year, or some net drawing on the sterling area dollar pool, or a reduction of Ireland’s dollar imports, will be necessary. Over the long-run the dollar deficit should again be covered by converting sterling, as improvement in the dollar position of the sterling area permits. However, the financing of Ireland’s dollar deficit after 1952 remains a continuing problem. The nature of the arrangements to be made in this matter may have an important bearing on Anglo-Irish relations and, indirectly, on Irish relations with this country.

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Our policy accordingly is to encourage the Irish Government to make all possible efforts to narrow, although it can probably never eliminate, the serious dollar gap and to develop the country’s economy. In the past the Irish have taken too defeatist an attitude toward the dollar problem and a good many extra dollars could be earned, particularly by a more progressive attitude toward tourism and greater efforts to expand exports to dollar markets. We are therefore urging the Irish Government to make the maximum use of the ECA technical assistance program with which Ireland has recently become associated. It is hoped that Ireland in this way may be assisted toward a more balanced economy, a solution of its chronic unemployment problem, and a substantial reduction of its annual dollar deficit.

The amount of dollars to be made available to Ireland during the final years of the ERP, and the form such assistance should take, are also problems requiring continuing consideration. The former policy issue as to whether assistance to Ireland should be entirely on a loan basis has been resolved with the allocation of a token grant of three million dollars to Ireland for the fiscal year 1950, although the loan-grant ratio to be applied to Ireland must await future determination.

With respect to the removal of exchange controls and import licensing vis-à-vis other participants in the OEEC, a policy which the United States is promoting as one of the first steps in economic coordination in western Europe, Ireland is cooperating well. Ireland has never engaged in state trading to any appreciable extent and quantitative restraints on imports are minor. As a member of the sterling area, Ireland has not operated exchange controls against imports from the United Kingdom, and late in 1949 Ireland took steps to liberalize exchange controls as they affected other OEEC participants. Nearly 64 percent of Irish imports from all other participants, with the exception of Belgium, Switzerland and Western Germany, are now free of controls. Moreover, as a matter of general policy Ireland has favored strengthening of the OEEC and increased economic collaboration among its members.

Continued cooperation from Ireland along these lines is to be expected. However, steps in European integration involving either a customs union or abridgement of sovereignty are not likely to obtain Irish support. As a new nation Ireland is highly conscious of its sovereign status and strongly protectionist, using tariffs in an effort to build up industries in which it is seriously deficient.

The United States wishes to obtain Ireland’s participation in the program for the expansion of world trade and employment, of which the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Havana Charter for an International Trade Organization are the main features. Ireland [Page 1473] has signed the final act of the Havana Charter, although it has not yet definitely accepted the Charter. Ireland is not a signatory to GATT, but the Irish Government has indicated that it is seriously considering acceding to that Agreement. We recognize, however, that even should Ireland accede, it would have to maintain certain restrictions on trade and financial transactions because of the dollar deficit, and we would not expect the Irish Government to be able to implement immediately the obligations it would assume under GATT and the ITO Charter. The United States does not have an agreement with Ireland under the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act because the extraordinary one sidedness of Irish-American trade has offered little basis on which the two governments could enter trade negotiations.

Economic affairs in general offer the most promising area for the constructive development of Irish-American relations. To provide a modern and comprehensive basis for these relations, a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation was signed in Dublin in January 1950. The signature of this Treaty, and the conclusion of two conventions for the avoidance of double taxation, extended the area of agreement between our two governments. The chief outstanding issue with Ireland in the economic field today is our desire to revise the bilateral Civil Aviation Agreement of 19453 in accordance with overall US aviation policy of favoring international air transport free of artificial restrictions. In the fall of 1949, a third unsuccessful attempt was made to renegotiate this Agreement in order to eliminate the mandatory stop at Shannon and obtain landing rights in Dublin. On alleged grounds of economy, the Irish representatives refused to agree to these changes, although it has become clear that the chief obstacle to concurrence lies in the political consequences for the coalition government should it agree to an apparent reduction in the importance of Shannon and western Ireland. US objectives were squarely put to the Irish, in a note from our Mission, when it became evident that their negotiators were under instructions to deny our requests.4 This note remains unanswered and there is no indication that the Irish Government will reply in the absence of strong pressure on our part. We have chosen for the present to leave the matter as an unresolved issue rather than force a negative reply to our note. We will, however, continue to press for a revision of the Agreement as circumstances may warrant.

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c. relations with other states

Ireland has no diplomatic relations with the USSR and Irish Catholicism tends to align the country with the western powers in the present ideological conflict. There is no Communist Party in the Irish Republic, although there are a few small and insignificant front organizations and a Communist Party exists in Northern Ireland.

Ireland’s relations with the United Kingdom remain the most important consideration in Irish foreign and economic policy. Anything which tends to estrange or impede the development of good relations between those two countries tends also to weaken the strategic unity of the British Isles and to injure the functioning of their complementary economies. Our desire accordingly is for the improvement of Anglo-Irish relations, in the hope that the legacy of past bitterness may be dissipated to the advantage of both nations.

British acquiescence in Ireland’s neutrality during the war had a salutary effect on promoting a better Anglo-Irish political temper. With the establishment of a coalition government in Ireland in February 1948 the two countries appeared to be entering upon a new era of friendship. It was therefore a surprise when in the fall of the same year Prime Minister Costello announced that Ireland would repeal the External Relations Act, and thus leave the Commonwealth. Although Irish leaders contended that this step would constitute a healthy clarification of Ireland’s international position and thereby improve Anglo-Irish relations, it led to a sense of renewed tension between the two countries. In spite of this tension, however, it was agreed with the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries that Ireland should continue to enjoy Commonwealth preferences and that special citizenship rights should be provided for British and Irish subjects. Unfortunately, the wording of the British Government’s Ireland Bill, introduced to regularize this relationship, particularly the provision that the status of Northern Ireland could not be changed without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, was bitterly resented in the Irish Republic. The British were surprised by this reaction and replied that the British Parliament was not attempting to freeze the status of Northern Ireland as charged by the Irish. While fears of serious violence by the illegal Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other dissident elements have not materialized, the danger of such activities persists.

Since the Government and a majority of the people of Northern Ireland are determined to retain the British connection, it is difficulty given the present temper of the parties at issue, to foresee any compromise solution of the partition question. The situation is thus a stalemate, in which the British hope the Irish Government will eventually [Page 1475] be discouraged from further efforts by the failure of its campaign to obtain foreign support. They also count upon the apathy of a large part of the Irish people toward this question to assist in the maintenance of the status quo. The Irish Government continues to assert that it will seek a solution only by peaceful means and will not condone any sort of violence. It is clear, however, that the increased agitation of this issue might at any time help spark an incident which could lead to serious disorder.

As a result of these Anglo-Irish political differences and for doctrinaire reasons, the Irish Government has shown an increasing desire to lessen the country’s economic dependence upon Britain. Proposals have been put forward for repatriating a large part of Ireland’s sterling assets held in the United Kingdom. The feasibility of severing the Irish currency link with the pound sterling has also been under discussion for some time. In present world economic conditions, however, the two countries have too great a need of each other to allow serious friction in their economic relations, although economic dependence on Britain must not be over-estimated as a factor limiting the freedom of action of the Irish Government.

d. policy evaluation

The fundamental problem of Ireland is the reconciliation of nationalistic aspiration with strategic, economic and political realities. The need for this reconciliation, which is still far from attainment, is the root of Irish difficulties. Under de Valera the policy of the Irish Government was separatist, based on nationalism, neutrality and a desire for economic self-sufficiency. It lessened the ties with the Commonwealth, contributed to the trade war which existed with the United Kingdom from 1932–38, and, after the failure of the League of Nations, left Ireland isolated during the war and postwar years. The coalition government has broadened the scope of Irish international activity, but by its concentration on the partition question and attitude toward the North Atlantic Treaty, it has brought about no real change in policy nor in Ireland’s comparatively isolated position. Having begun with overtures of friendship to the United Kingdom and assurances of cooperation in the event of war, the present government has severed Ireland’s final ties with the Commonwealth and currently displays an increasing tendency toward neutrality in any future conflict. Conscious of its failure thus far to obtain its objectives, emphasizing its nationalist independence of the United Kingdom, and aware of the need for foreign assistance, the Irish Government has recently turned more and more to the United States for support. It has undertaken the current campaign to induce US [Page 1476] intervention in the partition issue and has sought on occasions great and small to stress its friendly relations with this country.

This Irish desire for closer rapprochement is, of course, in many ways favorable to our interests and should be utilized to obtain our objectives. Yet while doing all that is possible to improve our relations—such as paying punctilious attention to those small international courtesies to which the Irish as a sensitive new nation attach considerable importance—we should make it clear at all times that Ireland’s relations with the United States, however cordial they may become, can form no substitute for healthy relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. History, economic conditions and, above all, geography, have made those two countries irrevocable partners. The Irish Government should concentrate its attention upon better Anglo-Irish relations and should not be allowed to believe that it can play off the United States against Great Britain. In particular, we should discourage, insofar as possible, the Irish tendency to appeal to American public opinion and certain Congressional circles for support, instead of dealing directly with the United States Government in the conduct of their international affairs.

  1. Policy statements on various countries were prepared periodically in the Department of State and updated every year or two. The previous statement on Ireland was dated October 1, 1948, but apparently all copies were destroyed upon receipt of this revision. Copies of the source text were sent to Moscow, Paris, Brussels, London, Pretoria, Ottawa, Canberra, Wellington, Dublin, and the United States Mission to the United Nations.
  2. For the text of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation, signed at Dublin on January 21, 1950, see Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 2155; for the text of the consular convention, signed at Dublin on May 1, 1950, see ibid., No. 2984; for the texts of the two conventions on double taxation, signed at Dublin on September 13, 1949, see ibid., Nos. 2355 and 2356; for the text of the agreement on the waiver of visa fees, effected by an exchange of notes at Dublin on August 1, 1949, see ibid., No. 2050.
  3. For the text of the Civil Aviation Agreement, effected by an exchange of notes signed at Washington on February 3, 1945, see Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 460.
  4. The text of this note was transmitted in telegram 179, December 24, 1949, to Dublin, not printed (711.41d27/11–2149).