No. 50 NAI Gavan Duffy Papers 1125/10

Memorandum on the attitude of France towards Ireland1

10 October 1920

1. English Propaganda.
At the end of 1918 Ireland stood unquestionably in very bad repute in France. English propaganda during the war against Berlin, unrestrained, aided by the censorship, working upon a public prejudiced, sensitive and ignorant, had painted us as the friends of Germany and enemies of France. Hardly anyone questioned the sincerity of the picture. Then, during 1919, we were portrayed as a species of anarchist, dangerously homicidal, to appease whom an indulgent England had vainly offered concession upon concession, all undeserved. During the first half of 1920, England's anxiety to prevent the wild Irish from flying at one another became the principal theme, with special stress upon the transcending virtues of what was called 'Ulster'. All these views of Ireland are still given together or at intervals in the varied course of English propaganda.

Latterly, however, the attacks have been less numerous: and, where they have consisted of articles, have generally been quite obvious pamphleteering, while, in the shape of press-agency messages, they have, on the whole, been rather less unscrupulous than formerly. But many of these telegrams are far from fair or satisfactory, and up to the present moment certain agencies in English pay remain our worst enemies in the formation of foreign opinion, for newspapers, with no rival cables to go upon, cannot easily distinguish the true and the false in Irish messages.

2. Present French Opinion.
It is quite certain that French opinion has greatly changed in favour of Ireland, but it is not instructed enough to be stable: there is plenty of good will, but it is due more to a revival of traditional sentiment than to reason: it is, moreover, proffered in many cases with some misgivings as to what we really are and what we really mean, though the growing anger against England and the fact that Ireland provides a useful reproach to fling on suitable occasions tends to silence these questionings. Intelligent knowledge of Irish events is not widespread, and, though the bitter prejudice of 1918 has disappeared, yet the intense anti-Irish war propaganda has left some traces, which it will take time to wipe out, and public interest, without being insincere, is still too superficial.

So much for French opinion as a whole: but it would not be fair to ignore the deep impression made in some more instructed circles by the Republic, nor to omit to note the very keen and zealous interest aroused in some special quarters.

3. Causes of Improvement.
Two main factors are responsible for the change:- first, the excellent work at home, secondly, the repeated excursions of English diplomacy into suspect channels ever since the European war ended.

English greed has killed the gratitude that France felt two years ago and its successive manifestations have gradually and cumulatively been disposing French opinion towards Ireland. Side by side with this development, the skill, the surprise and the success that have distinguished incident after incident in the Irish campaign have caught the French imagination. This is today so true [that] in the French press generally the Irish war looms as large as the Russian, in which France has special interests, and the press-agencies do not miss a day in sending telegrams about a topic so popular with their subscribers.

But mere publicity would in itself have been little use to us, and at present the agencies are doing as much harm as good, between them: the right sort of publicity was wanted, and what has been invaluable is the work done by the special correspondents of the great dailies, who have tried to convey to their public something of the exhilaration they have brought back from Ireland. I refrain, for brevity, from enlarging on this highly successful and reproductive side of the past year's activities, which is the more remarkable in that every special correspondent arrived at Dun Laoghaire with prejudices which had to be disarmed.

4. The Press and Ireland.
A sharp distinction is drawn in France between the great popular dailies, like the 'Matin', the 'Petit Parisien' and the 'Journal', which are regarded simply as purveyors of news, and the principal organs of opinion, whose avowed purpose is to guide the public mind, papers like the semi-official 'Temps', the rather pompously intellectual and independent 'Débats', the socialist 'Humanité', the catholic 'Croix' and the royalist 'Action Française'. The public goes to the second type of journal to find out what it ought to think about the news that it has read in the first. To succeed in France, a cause must, therefore, have support in both.

At present, Ireland has the newspapers proper with her, because she provides good copy. The organs of opinion are shier, as the majority follow the Government of the day in foreign politics and in dealing with Ireland are afraid to go much beyond English opinion. France's foreign policy has left her friendless: she does not believe that Germany will ever indemnify her, unless England insists: therefore, she dares not show her displeasure with England too pointedly nor incur too much displeasure at Downing Street.

The leading organs of opinion generally advocate dominion home rule, an attitude fortified by the prevalent conception of Ireland as a disturbed part of Great Britain, distinguished from the other parts mainly by religion. It is realised that ethnically the Irish are a distinct people and that Ireland has a history of its own, but there is a tendency to regard all this as matter of academic interest with little practical relation to present-day facts. We are looked upon, whatever the past may say, as having identified ourselves with the Englishman too closely to disclaim all connection with him. We speak his language, talk French in the same way, exhibit his peculiar tastes in dress and food, and look like him. Dominion home rule should therefore satisfy us, as it satisfies other children of Mother England, and we are putting the case too high when we claim to be as foreign to England as the French are. Incidentally, the feeling that we are, after all, a kind of Englishman or Briton had a good deal to do with French indignation at our refusal to shoulder the burden of conscription with 'other Englishmen' during the great war.

So, while atrocities and misgovernment call forth, even from a self-absorbed people, almost universal sympathy, our suppression of foreign government, good or bad, because foreign, is less readily followed and is heard with surprise, for the premises that justify our case have not yet penetrated the average Frenchman. The Poles, unlike us, have always been numerous and active in Paris. They have made many friends and have kept their cause well before the public for years past, with excellent results today. Ireland had been forgotten in France since the eighties, when there was a large output of Irish literature in Paris. Now France is rediscovering us, but the process will be gradual.

5. The French Government.
In France, the Government of the day always maintains very close relations with the press of all shades of politics, and nine-tenths of the daily papers will act upon a mot d'ordre from the Quai d'Orsay, especially in foreign politics and especially in the hard times through which France is now passing. Consequently, it would not be very surprising to see a series of attacks upon Ireland started - for a consideration - at any propitious moment, suggested by the British Embassy. Present newspaper sentiment is friendly enough to make it unlikely that such a campaign would be prolonged and public sentiment is sufficiently informed and interested to prevent much harm being done, but the effort would have some success; if England were to back it up in cash as well as by political concessions to the Government, the campaign would be more dangerous and she would get value for her money, so long as France continues to be only half educated on the question of Ireland. The French press is accustomed to being well paid for its favours, and the fact that Ireland has not had to pay is strong evidence of the fundamental sincerity of French feeling for Ireland.

The position taken up in official quarters is one of unfriendly neutrality, partly because of fears that Ireland may be allied with the Bolchevik movement, partly because of the conservative's mistrust of 'revolution', and largely because a revival of pro-Irish sentiment might go further than would suit the English Entente. At the same time, the Government was not sorry to see England annoyed. The incident of 1st September was typical: Lloyd George had boasted that he had 'got round' Millerand anent Russia: Millerand retaliated by recognising Wrangel: it was known that England was about to press for the Geneva conference which France was eager to avoid in spite of her previous agreement - England did in fact press the matter in her letter of 2nd September. When, therefore, the British Embassy sent for M. Berthelot on 1st September to press for action to stop Irish activities in Paris, it suited the Quai d'Orsay admirably to respond in a way that they calculated would cost them nothing and would give great satisfaction to England at the very moment when a very unfriendly act had been committed by France in respect of South Russia and another offensive line was about to be taken in regard to Geneva, two matters about which France cares a great deal. So, with the necessary delicate touch at the right moment and with no trouble, the balance was kept nicely adjusted to maintain the most cordial relations of the two countries at just the diplomatic pitch of unconcealed ill-will.

The French Government is in a critical position internationally and very uncertain of itself. It is living under very abnormal conditions and is nervous. It has not yet realised what the Republic of Ireland may mean for France.

6. Probable developments.
In present conditions, the germanophobe policy of official France, which corresponds to popular sentiment, has friendship with England as its necessary, but unpopular, corollary. This entente today has scarcely any basis but emergency and expediency and it does not look durable. The man in the street hates to make a virtue of necessity and he is doing nothing to conciliate English feeling. No one can say how long he will tolerate the present policy, but he will be quick to change it as soon as he feels he can do so safely. And the rapprochement of England and Germany is becoming more and more obvious to him.

Among those who are most keenly alive to this tendency is a group, largely composed of Catholics, which is strongly with us, because it sees future international relations as a struggle for mastery between Teuton and Protestant on the one hand and Celt and Latin on the other. It wishes to see English ambition kept in check by an alliance of Ireland, Belgium and France, geographically encircling Britain, with Spain, Portugal, Italy, Roumania and Austria co-operating politically and America favourable and friendly in the background. It is clear that the Irish Republic would be an exceedingly valuable member of such a group and, to make French support effective, it is most necessary to be able to show the practical utility to France of the independent Republic of Ireland.

Catholics generally are friendly, especially since the last Lenten Pastorals. The Socialists support Ireland on principle, but many of them are influenced by English Labour and nearly all hate the hold of religion in Ireland. These two groups may probably be estimated to form some two-thirds of the nation. The other third broadly constitutes the Bloc National, the inert and selfish mass without ideals, whose guiding principle is to get through life with as little trouble and as much comfort as possible. It is the main support upon which the Government can securely reply. On its left wing are the Radicals who are fiercely anti-clerical, but it is leavened throughout, if not dominated, by the Masonic interest, for Freemasonry, though it is being ousted by Theosophy as the secret mainspring of international politics, still plays an important part in home affairs. The Bloc National is no lover of England, but it is too wise to antagonise a friend it expects to need and too cynical to trouble much about Ireland until it sees a definite advantage to be got in exchange.

A great impetus would be given to cordial relations by direct trade: something outside politics seems to be wanted to make an effective appeal to French interests and nothing would make a stronger general appeal than the prospect of practical, material benefits readily obtainable.

7. Conclusion.
One conclusion that emerges cogently from these considerations, if the value of international propaganda be admitted, is this:- that the Catholic interest is that best worth cultivating, because its friendship is the sincerest, because it will take an increasing interest in Ireland as it realises more and more clearly that an independent Ireland will be a bulwark of religion in a godless world, because it is growing in power throughout France at the expense of other interests. It has more in common with Celtic and Catholic Ireland than any other interest and more to lose by Anglicisation in France. But such speeches as that of Lloyd George, depicting Ireland as a nest of murderers and justifying government by indiscriminate assassination, undoubtedly do harm and call for authoritative and convincing refutation. Nothing could be better for this purpose than a strong episcopal statement, if this could be obtained from the October Bishops' meeting.

This statement is meant to be a cold and frank analysis, without exaggeration, of things, pleasant and unpleasant, as they are, in order to show, on the one hand, that Ireland has in fact recovered a great part of her position in France, but, on the other, that much remains to be done to complete and consolidate the gains. Other countries in Europe, whether for various reasons more or less friendly, are certainly more ignorant than the people of France. That means plenty of solid and well-organised work to bring home the Republic as a living reality, that has vigorously come to stay, that will have to be reckoned with by its enemies and that will be a valuable aid to its friends. There are still publicists of influence who believe that Ireland, independent, is likely to be the complacent tool of an aggressive Germany.

1There is no indication of the identity of the author of this memorandum from the document.


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