No. 78 NAI DFA 219/49
Dublin, 29 November 1939
Your reports have been read with great interest.1 The last received here is dated the 28th October.2 Unfortunately our means of communicating with you at length is still very slow. The American lines, as you know, are now ceasing to call at Irish ports, and you must expect despatches to take some weeks to get to and from Ottawa.
Since your earlier reports the situation in the Canadian Press seems to have improved. J.B. McGeachy's articles from Dublin in the 'Winnipeg Free Press' must have helped to inform public opinion of the real situation here. While making the usual mistakes made by foreign correspondents, he succeeds in giving quite a good picture. The general feeling amongst our people is anti-Hitler because of his persecution of Christians and Jews. At the same time, the struggle is regarded as essentially one between two imperialisms for which Hitler's antics provide the immediate occasion. Britain's propaganda about small nations is received with scepticism and, as you know, always will be in this country until her new leaf has been turned over a little more completely. The tact of Herr Hempel, the German Minister, has deprived our neutrality of a lot of the problems which would otherwise have made it very difficult to observe. There has been no attempt by submarines against the normal commerce between these two islands, and that is a matter for satisfaction to the British as well as to ourselves. No doubt the British Government regret our neutrality for sentimental reasons, but we believe that they are slowly becoming as convinced as we are that Ireland's neutrality is an advantage for them. It has produced a feeling of contentment in this country, because it is a very clear proof to all shades of Nationalist opinion that our independence is genuine. That contentment has reacted on our people in America, and no doubt has been at least a small factor in bringing about the repeal of the arms embargo. From the point of view of the State, the Taoiseach regards neutrality as a very precious consolidation of the present Nationalist position. In his view, the loss of our neutrality through our fault would bring chaos at home, trouble with the British, and incidentally would have its corresponding reactions in the United States. There is no voice whatever raised in this country in favour of going into the war. Those who occasionally speak behind the scenes in favour of such a course are not regarded as friends of this country or friends of continued good relations between this country and Great Britain.
Two and half months' experience has made it clear that neutrality, contrary to the view of a lot of our sceptics, can be maintained in practice. The arrival of a German submarine at a remote Kerry village with a captured crew on board did not astonish public opinion here.3 Failing to find a neutral vessel on board which the captured crew might be placed, the submarine commander was obliged to make for the nearest neutral coast. He ran 36 hours on the surface before reaching Kerry, and he entered and left the little bay on the surface. There has been no question of the British occupying the Treaty ports. Any proposal to do so would at once be rejected by the Government, and any attempt to take them by force would be resisted. There is no shadow of division of opinion on this matter. The recent stand of the Finns against a similar demand by Russia has strengthened the resolution of our people never to yield on this vital question of sovereignty. The British and some of our Canadian friends may argue the submarine menace could be more easily crushed by the British if they could operate from Bantry and Cobh, but they could equally argue that Germany's military forces could be more easily crushed if the British were in occupation of Antwerp and Rotterdam. Abstention from acts of this kind is the price that Great Britain has to pay for the establishment of a regime of right and justice in the world. In the face of what she is preaching with regard to other small nations we do not believe that she will make any attempt to violate our sovereignty.
With regard to the question of unity, it cannot be said that any progress has been made in recent months. The Taoiseach has been overwhelmed with work immediately connected with the war situation. He has not been able to devote very much time to the unity issue. There is a feeling in the country, though not universally shared, that it is essential to continue the agitation during the war. There is no doubt in the mind of anyone that we should not allow the issue to be forgotten. A certain propaganda is being maintained, and the restoration of the unity of Ireland should constantly be in the minds of our representatives abroad as one of the aims for which they should endeavour to obtain the goodwill of the Government and people of the country to which they are accredited. If Britain would really put into practice in relation to Ireland her fine sentiments about freedom and justice the sentimental response amongst all Irishmen would be enormous, but she is still in the hands of a hopelessly narrow-minded and incompetent Civil Service in so far as her relations with the Dominions are concerned – and the hope that Mr. Eden can break through the darkness is not very good.
The Government found it necessary to take a strong stand against the practice of the hunger-strike amongst political prisoners. The majority of these latter gave up the struggle at a relatively early stage, but a few persisted until their lives were in real danger. The Government then decided to release them so that they would take food. It is believed that hunger-striking in our prisons is now at an end.
The policy of the revival of the language is to be pursued with ever-increasing vigour. The Taoiseach and the Government generally realise that the lot of small nations is going to be ever more difficult. If the present war is followed by a close European federation, our national distinctiveness will depend on the language more than on any other factor for its continued assertion. The Taoiseach is therefore very anxious indeed that all our representatives abroad and their Irish-born staffs should regard a knowledge of the language and pride in it as essential fundamentals for the pioneering work in which they are engaged.
The Taoiseach is beginning to wonder when a Canadian High Commissioner will be appointed to Dublin.4 From every point of view, the sooner the appointment is made the better. Sir John Maffey is getting on very well here. His presence has made what might have been a difficult situation between the two countries a relatively easy one, and all our difficulties in regard to neutrality and trade are being smoothed out. His Naval Attaché, Captain Greig5 has been most useful in putting an end to all the stupid rumours about the adventures of submarines in Irish bays and harbours. For a time every public-house around the coast had its pet submarine captain attached to it by the local imagination, but investigation has shown that there was not one single case in which the story could be verified. The same is true of the supply of petrol to submarines about which local imagination was equally fertile.
[stamped] (Signed) J.P. Walshe
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