No. 78 NAI DFA ES Box 32 File 233
Capetown, 21 April 1921
I have arranged to meet Dr. Welch to-night and Mr. Clerc-Sheridan to-morrow morning and others within the next few days. My main object is an interview with Gen. Smuts, but I think it wiser to be thoroughly informed of the situation, of his character and influences which may affect him, before I see him. There is no danger of his leaving till the middle of May but of course I shall not wait so long; in a few days I ought to know as much as I shall in a month.1
The position is very difficult for us and I think his is not very easy in spite of his victory. I took the opportunity of the voyage to discuss South African politics with some of my fellow travellers, returning officials, etc., some had Irish names but were colonial born. I also ventured on the Irish question, though I had to be careful not to be 'Esmonded'.2 All the English South Africans are very imperialistic and have become more so owing to the violent anti-separation campaign, the Anglo-Irish are mildly sympathetic (Redmond) but absolutely inactive and unwilling to believe atrocities. The Republican question is by no means ended and will continue to divide people for many years; each party is doing what it can to strengthen its position. It seems to me that it has become impossible for Smuts or his supporters, (even if they had formerly approved) to advocate a Republic in Ireland, while opposing it in their own country; though history and circumstances are not identical they appear sufficiently similar to put them in a logical difficulty. The Unionists clearly would not have ever been inclined to help such a proposal. The Dutch who have followed Smuts may have been sympathetic but cannot now go so far.
I found on board ship that the Unionists are very antagonistic to Ireland, regular 'Die-hards', and on shore no English written newspaper will accept a notice, a letter or even news the smallest favourable, or reflecting on the conduct of the English propaganda. All the cable and wire-less companies southward and eastward are in English hands and publish only propaganda; that was the same on board ship.
I am told that the majority of the Irish and Irish South Africans are favourable to us, but, as far as South African politics are concerned, are followers of Smuts: being English speaking they naturally fall in line with their fellow speakers. They are quite ignorant of Irish history or the Irish question, but may be redeemed by the movement now taking place and by the 'REPUBLIC' newspaper which I hear is doing good work and has a circulation of 2,300.
I gather that the Dutch Republicans are sympathetic and their newspapers are willing to publish our news, but the policy adopted by the Irish has been to keep aloof from South African parties, and this is of course right, though for the moment it leaves us rather lonely.
Smuts being at the head of a Coalition and dependent on Unionist votes places him in a different position from what he was in at the head of the South African Party (Dutch). He will be very much tied down as far as our interests are concerned and indeed as far as I can judge on this short examination he seems to be in a difficult position in his home politics. It will be hard to pass any measure that will not offend some of his followers. I hear he is, therefore avoiding any legislation and trying to end the Session. He is not trusted by the Dutch as Botha was.
The influence which can be brought to bear on Smuts and his friends are small; the transference of the Irish vote, even if it could be effected, would not, I am told, effect more than two or three seats; yet when parties are close even this is not to be neglected. On the other hand Smuts' majority is considerable and newly elected may last five years.
There remains the personal inclination of Smuts to help the Irish for three reasons:
This last however would not carry him to independence.
My idea is to induce Smuts to advocate freedom for Ireland in as wide an extent as his sympathy and his policy will permit; as far as he can bring himself to go; and to insist on this as an immediate measure, brooking no delay. He can hardly refuse to go as far as South African Constitution, though many of his Unionist followers will not like even that; yet he is indispensable to them and he can force them to submit. I think it can be shown to him that considering his relative distance from England and the greater influence due to proximity a larger measure is necessary to produce equality of treatment. I fear he will not go beyond 'Repeal of Union' - that would not mean that we would accept that, or give him to understand that it might be final settlement.
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