171. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Ireland1

20314. Subj: Hillery Call on Secretary.

1. During 45-minute call on Secretary February 3 FonMin Hillery set forth GOI view of Northern Ireland situation in familiar terms. He said HMG seems firmly wedded to ever more disastrous military policy in NI, which growing into war on Irish people, and HMG will no longer even listen to GOI requests abandon present course and strive [Page 604] for political solution. In these circumstances, GOI hopes that USG as friend of Britain will make quiet approach urging HMG shift policy. Specifically, GOI would like HMG to stop internment and withdraw troops from Catholic areas in North. Hillery said if these two actions taken GOI could guarantee violence will cease and would then be possible work out new political settlement. He said that if present course kept up war of peoples will broaden, and GOI can and will summon up necessary force meet situation and make HMG listen.

2. On question of GOIHMG talks, Hillery said there have been no genuine discussions, that HMG has used talks with Lynch to advance own ends, that each Heath-Lynch meeting has been followed shortly by stepped-up repressive measures. When Secretary asked whether GOI still interested in talking to HMG, Hillery said yes, but only if talks are meaningful, no point in talking if HMG continues insist on military solution.

3. Secretary emphasized very deep concern of President and American people over tragic situation in NI, said he had spoken to President about it at length today,2 and that US desire see end of violence and peaceful solution very strong. However, he said that USG in no position judge, condemn, advocate any particular solution, or intervene in this tragic and complex situation. As good friend of both Ireland and UK, we encourage both to talk and to work out solution to problem. We are prepared consider playing any useful role both sides might wish us play to this end, but USG position can only be that of doing our best to encourage two good friends to solve the problem. He added that he had said same thing to British Ambassador yesterday.3 There was further discussion about conditions for talks, difficulty of deciding meaning of phrase QTE meaningful talks, UNQTE etc., and Secretary said that in situation this kind, what is needed is something damp down passions; if sides could only get into talking without worrying too much about pre-conditions or trying foresee exact outcome, there is hope for progress.

4. Hillery said he understands limitations on USG action but GOI not asking us do anything public or take any action or posture hostile to British. His position throughout discussion was that British simply misguided, stubbornly sticking on wrong course, and perhaps quiet word from friends like USG will help cause them alter policy. Secretary made clear several times that we perceive no useful role for US play [Page 605] other than that of urging those concerned get together and work out problem.

5. On specific points of interest, Hillery said planned demonstration next Sunday at Newry most immediate serious problem. When Secretary asked whether GOI permitted such protest-demonstrations, Hillery said matter out of their hands, as was burning of British Embassy,4 that there was no way for GOI prevent latter. Re HMG attitude, Hillery characterized as QTE old-fashioned, UNQTE said friends might be able tactfully point this out. In response to question about QTE meaningful talks UNQTE GOI has in mind, Hillery said would have to involve people in North, and that if British continue insist on military solution, Irish will beg, borrow, or somehow build up military force sufficient counter British. Secretary said we are certainly not going to convey this sort of thing to British, but we would be glad tell British GOI would like talk, thinks that if escalation of violence continues whole situation bound get worse, and would like try work out solution. Hillery merely said that he understands our problem, is not urging action hostile to British.

5. At conclusion meeting there was brief discussion press handling. Secretary recapitulated our position, said he would appreciate Hillery’s setting it out along lines indicated, and that he also hoped Hillery would not use occasion Washington visit to express views strongly critical of UK. Without making direct commitment Hillery said he had done all he could along this line in public before seeing Secretary.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 UK. Confidential. Drafted by Scott George (EUR/BMI) on February 3, cleared by Hillenbrand and Miller (S/S), and approved by Rogers. Repeated to USUN and all NATO capitals.
  2. No record of this conversation was found. The President’s Daily Diary indicates he talked with Rogers between 9:52 and 9:55 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  3. The meeting was reported in telegram 21093 to London, February 3. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 UK)
  4. On January 31, “Bloody Sunday,” British troops opened fire under disputed circumstances on a mass demonstration of Catholics in Londonderry, killing 13. On February 2, a mob in Dublin burned the British Embassy in retaliation. A protest march in Newry was announced on February 4. Prime Minister Heath called on Catholic leaders to call off their protest. The Catholics refused and on February 7 approximately 20,000 Catholics carried out a peaceful protest march in defiance of British orders.