740A.00/6–2954: Despatch

No. 720
The Ambassador in Ireland (Taft)1 to the Department of State

No. 498
  • Subject: First Meetings with Members of the new Government.

The new Irish Coalition Government succeeding that of Mr. De Valera assumed office on June 2, and accordingly I have been paying “formal” calls on various members of the Government. I plan over a length of time to call on all of them.

On June 10 I called on the Taoiseach, Mr. Costello, for half an hour. He happens to be a good friend of mine from the past, and Mr. and Mrs. Costello both have been entertained several times in the past year at the Embassy. Hence he did not stand on ceremony, and in any case he does [not] retain the formal approach and aloofness of Mr. De Valera. His manner is pleasant and unassuming. He listens [Page 1563] to others with much greater interest and attention than his predecessor does. I have noted that he is somewhat impressionable and that his temper is easily aroused by what he considers unreasonable.

During our conversation he talked about the campaign and pointed out that no one had been surprised by the outcome of the election; the great surprise to Fine Gael Party members had come earlier during the landslide in the by-election at Cork. Everywhere he went during the campaign, he said, people had asked him not so much to bring down the price of tea or potatoes or bread, but rather to bring down butter prices. Butter, he pointed out, was a staple in the Irish diet above all other things; whatever the merits of oleomargarine, it had never been popular in Ireland and he is convinced that Mr. De Valera’s Government made its fatal mistake by destroying the subsidy on butter all at once. He pointed that he, and not Mr. Norton, the head of the Labor Party, was instrumental in the Government’s post-election promise to bring down the price of butter. Everybody had asked him to do so, and he had been impressed.

In answer to my question about wheat, he admitted that the Government was committed this year to the subsidy on wheat, but that he considered the subsidy for wheat growers during a period of glut on the world market was absurd. Without saying so, he suggested that there would be a change in the approach towards wheat subsidies in the future.

On June 15 I called on Mr. Liam Cosgrave, the new Minister for External Affairs. He also is an old acquaintance of mine, and I believe he will be pleasant to work with in the future. He is young (only in his early thirties), obviously intelligent, and friendly but at the same time very shy. He would never, as Mr. Aiken, his predecessor, has done, attempt to lecture me on political and financial matters. We discussed nothing of importance other than the Government’s anxiety to promote the release of the counterpart funds in Washington. Nothing was said of foreign affairs. It seemed best to leave these matters alone, although there has been some suggestion from knowledgeable people that the Government would explore ways and means of showing a more cooperative spirit towards the United States interest in collective defense than we could have hoped for from the former Government.

Last week I called on General Mulcahy, the head of the Fine Gael Party and now Minister for Education. General Mulcahy is a pleasantly suave individual, much interested in the Irish language and exceedingly polite about the United States, recalling frequently a visit there in 1926. He is obviously conversant with Irish history and literature, but neither during my call or previously have I [Page 1564] been struck by ideas from him which would denote any dynamic interest in improving Irish education. It is likely to remain as it now is with a shortage of money and a shortage of good teaching. Until education here achieves first consideration in any annual budget, there cannot in my opinion be much change in the difficulties and tenor of Irish life. General Mulcahy and the present Government will be too much concerned with retaining the other costly social amenities to improve the status of education.

June 28 I called on Mr. Norton, the head of the Labor Party, the Tanaiste, and now also Minister for Industry and Commerce. He, too, is pleasant and has never impressed me as a man with a radical outlook. In fact, he talks rather like a conservative. He is direct, intelligent, and interested in what others have to say. I asked him about the Health Bill which has placed the new Government in a quandary because it was sponsored by the Fianna Fail Government and is to go into effect August 1, and at that time the provisions of the current Assistance Act will lapse. Mr. Norton said that even Dr. Ryan’s own Secretary and other Fianna Fail members of the council set up to advise Dr. Ryan, who is the former Minister for Health, had voted unanimously (Dr. Noel Browne was absent) against establishing the Health Act until something like adequate facilities are available in hospital and medical quarters. He pointed out that existing facilities are entirely inadequate, and that a new Bill will be offered by next week attempting, as I understand it, to equate the facilities with the continued need to provide for those most needing help. Dr. Ryan, he said, had not even approached any voluntary hospitals to ask them concerning their ability to cope with the Health Bill as now laid down.

He pointed out also that the former Government had left many pieces of unfinished business which were going to be extremely difficult for him and his colleagues to deal with.

William H. Taft, III
  1. William Howard Taft III, as successor to Francis P. Matthews, presented his credentials May 13, 1953.