No. 46 NAI DFA Secretary's Files A2
DUBLIN, 22 April 1941
Besides the American Minister, Mr. David Gray; Mr. Biddle,1 and the Secretary2 and Military Attaché,3 there were present six Irish Ministers and the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs. The Ministers were the Tánaiste (Mr. O'Kelly),4 Mr. Ruttledge,5 Mr. Boland,6 Dr. Ryan, Mr. MacEntee and Mr. Lemass.
Towards the end of dinner, Mr. Gray asked Mr. Campbell to tell us about himself. Mr. Campbell stood up and spoke generally as follows.
He was a close personal friend of President Roosevelt, not perhaps so close as Harry Hopkins who stayed at the White House, but he was close enough to get an occasional meal on the cheap. He was asked by the President to come into the Government, but he replied that what he preferred to do now was to go over and do something in England in his own line. Apart from being a wheat exporter, in which capacity he had advised the Russian Government at the beginning of the Ten Years' Plan, he was chiefly an engineer and an author- ity on 'transportation'. It was in this latter capacity that he was examining the situation in Great Britain and Ireland. It had been his intention to spend at least a week in Ireland, but he now found that the debate on the adoption of the convoy system was to take place during the first days of May, and he was accordingly obliged to go back to England and thence to America the following day.
Transportation was the great problem before Great Britain. If she could get enough stuff from America, she could win the war and beat Hitler. He realised from the scenes he had witnessed in the bombings in England what a terrible man Hitler was and how necessary it was to put an end to the Nazi system. There was no possibility whatever of starving Germany either in food or in petrol. She now had in her possession areas in Europe, especially those in the Danube valley – which were the finest wheat-growing districts in the world. She could also increase several times over the output of the Roumanian oil wells by going deeper and using the latest methods. The only way, then, to put an end to the Nazis was to fight, and, in order to be able to fight, England had to have the weapons and the food. Transportation was thus the supremely important thing.
He was going back to America in a few days to advise President Roosevelt to adopt a convoy system, and he believed that the best way to bring stuff to England was to land it at the south-western tip of Ireland. This could be done without infringing Ireland's neutrality. (He said this without much conviction or hope of deceiving his audience.) Irish people in America, as well as other Americans, were finding it difficult to understand why Ireland remained out of a war for such very high ideals. He knew we had great difficulties, but he thought that our participation by the granting of port facilities would solve a lot of them. Recently, a British convoy of 15 ships had lost nine in one attack, and six of the nine were destroyed by planes. He was going to advise his President that a line of ships and aircraft carriers should be established across the Atlantic so that the Germans could be attacked at every point of their campaign against the transportation system. In all this Ireland could give great help, and he felt sure she would do so in this great fight for freedom and democracy.
When he sat down, there was a general look of puzzlement on all the Ministers' faces, arising, no doubt, mainly from the realisation that David Gray had brought them there to put them on the defensive and to influence them through this powerful friend of Roosevelt. I had personally never seen such an example of incorrectness and undiplomatic behaviour, and I think it should never be forgotten for Gray, who once more showed himself the worst enemy of the policy of neutrality which he knows to be that of the Irish people.
Although I had regarded it as somewhat of a tragedy that Gray had been able to secure the presence of six Ministers owing to the absence of co-ordination between them on these matters, I now felt very glad that an opportunity had arisen to make the position of the Government as a whole perfectly clear to the American Government. Indeed, it seemed that the dinner might prove to be a moment of vital import at this stage of Irish history.
The Tánaiste immediately began to reply to Campbell. He opened by speaking about our obligations to America, and for some ten or twelve minutes he emphasised the real debt of America to the Irish people, in fact he showed very adequately that Ireland's contribution to the building of the American nation was a very substantial one. He explained our great affection for America and our desire to become evermore intimate in our relationships with the American people.
He then turned to the main issue – that of our participation, directly or indirectly, in the war. He said that Ireland had known only one aggressor, and he gave a brief and very successful survey of our history down to the present day, including British trickery in relation to the Partition problem. Our people wanted to be neutral, our State existence depended on our neutrality, and it was folly for anybody outside Ireland to try and impose on the Irish people a policy which they did not want and would never accept.
The Tánaiste then sat down, but declared himself ready to go on giving further explanations. He suggested that Mr. Lemass should give a short review of the supply situation vis-à-vis the British to indicate the economic pressure to which we were being subjected in order to force us into the war.
Mr. Lemass complied with the Tánaiste's request, speaking very dispassionately and with the reservation that there might always be some other explanation for the British attitude in relation to supplies, though it was exceedingly difficult to see, especially in regard to petrol, tea and shipping, that the motive could be other than political.
Mr. Biddle (who is at present staying at the Legation and has had several semi-official humanitarian jobs from the White House since the war started) interrupted Mr. Lemass and said 'I am a realist, and I would put the question this way, Mr. Lemass. We have arms and wheat. You have the ports. Are you ready to do a deal?'
Mr. Lemass immediately replied 'There is no question of bargaining in this matter. The Irish people, as you know, have adopted the attitude of neutrality almost unanimously. Any departure from it would provoke a disastrous civil war. They would not enter into a war unless they were attacked. They do not see what they have to do with this war.'
Partition was then discussed, and David Gray said that he understood that, if the Cosgrave policy of reconciliation had been continued, the North would have come in. He said, furthermore, that, in his view, the people had forgotten about Partition and it was introduced in 1933 as a political stunt.
Mr. Boland at once explained that all of the Ministers there had passionately opposed the Treaty precisely because of Partition, and it was quite wrong to think that it was ever used by them as a political stunt. If the North were going to come in, as Mr. Gray had said, it would have been only on the condition of our accepting the Union Jack. Mr. Boland went on to say that he him- self felt very strongly opposed to the Germans and their system, but that it was better for the American Government to realise that the vast majority of the Nationalists in the Six-County area were absolutely pro-German on account of their unjust treatment by the British Government and their Belfast puppet. Partition was the greatest evil existing in Ireland. There could be no real co-operation with the British so long as it continued.
Mr. MacEntee joined in reinforcing what Mr. Boland had already said.
Mr. Campbell – and the same must be true of the American Minister – cannot have failed to realise that Mr. de Valera's policy had the passionate support of his Government (of whom only two members were absent), and, if Mr. Campbell's report to his President is fairly presented, the President will have the strongest reasons for not pursuing his plans for establishing a base in Ireland.
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