No. 46 NAI DFA 5/57
Berlin, 3 May 1932
I have had many conversations recently with members of Embassies and other Legations here in regard to the present situation in Ireland. On the whole I have found them more eager to talk about it than Officials of the Foreign Office, who seem to regard it as a somewhat embarrassing and dangerous subject. Generally speaking I think it true to say that the willingness of such people to discuss our affairs increases with the distance of their country from our corner of the world, and also with the extent to which they are independent of English goodwill. The sympathy of their outlook seems to vary with the same factors. Thus, a western European will fight shy of the subject if he can, or, if he does talk about it, does so in a manner which implies that the Government is only playing a game or 'trying something on' without belief in its own case. We appear to them to be imperilling an advantageous position in regard to the British market - a market in which they themselves are anxious to participate as much as possible - and they say that we cannot be serious. On the other hand, a Turk will talk about us, if only with a view to ascertaining to what extent the present Irish proposals adumbrate a coming break up of the British Commonwealth - an event in the inevitableness of which he has always believed but which he feels is too good to be true. And the Japanese will canvass the situation eagerly and do their best to find out what it really means and what it may be expected to lead to.
German officials belong eminently to the class which finds the subject embarrassing and dangerous. Very possibly they already feel that they are well instructed in regard to it. But their shyness is undoubtedly due to the fact that Germany looks to England as her most powerful friend in international affairs and the source from which relief from her present oppressive burdens may be expected to come. German officials are therefore most circumspect in their behaviour lest they should give expression to any sentiment that might be interpreted as anti-English. This attitude does not date from the present crisis only, but was already in existence. For example, at least two years ago, a private individual whom I knew to be regularly in touch with a 'key' official in the Foreign Office, though not of any importance himself, was discussing Ireland's status with me one day, as we had done several times before, when suddenly he burst out with the remark: 'Yes, but we don't like it. Don't you see that while you are gaining your independence you are weakening England. That is all very well for you, but it means that England's influence is being reduced, and that is bad for us.'
When I asked him how precisely our independence was weakening England, he answered: 'Well, for example, you don't pay taxes to England any longer'. So his view, which I felt to be a view which he had heard expressed by more important people, was that Ireland as a tributary state to England would be more desirable to Germany just at present than an independent Ireland.
I think it also true to say that the average German is inhibited from appreciating the Irish view by his own feeling of respect for big organisations. A big Empire - which incidentally has recently proved itself too much for him - is something that he can understand and appreciate and even envy; while a small country like Ireland, which he was probably taught at school to regard as the poorer and less well-known part of England, seems to him just waspish and mischievous when it tries to extricate itself. He has the sentiments of a middle-class tradesman who sees a wealthy grandee, and possible customer, being bated by an impudent vagabond: he is more likely to go to the aid of the former than to be seen encouraging the latter. All this, of course, is not to be taken as gainsaying that there are many Germans sympathetically disposed towards Ireland, but the majority of them do not seem to think that German interests lie along the road which Ireland is following. The devotion of a few eminent German scholars to the Irish language would be absolutely misleading if regarded as a symptom of German interest in Irish matters; and, in any case, this stream of scholarship is now dying down to a thin trickle. Secondly, I doubt very much whether many Germans know that there was sympathy in Ireland for their side during the War. They know really very little about what happened outside Germany during the War, presumably because of the censorship; and when the War was over and other peoples were getting to know what had been happening elsewhere the Germans had a revolution, civil war and the inflation to occupy their attention.
[signed] Leo T. McCauley
The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.
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