No. 10 NAI DFA Secretary's Files A2
DUBLIN, 19 February 1941
Sir John Maffey came to see me today after his visit of four or five days to London. Before he went over, I had asked him to try and improve the situation with regard to our supplies, especially of arms and petrol. I had also asked him to try to persuade his Government to make a formal statement declaring that they would not invade this country for the purpose of seizing our ports or in any way violate our neutrality. We had furthermore discussed the question of exchanging the German against the British internees, and I had told him that we were making clear to the German Government in relation to certain of the German internees that we did not intend accepting the doctrine of shipwreck.
He had discussed all these matters with his Government. They would not agree to an exchange of internees, and Sir John Maffey said that his people were very annoyed with us for interning British airmen. They did not see why we could not find some means of ignoring their presence when they made a false landing or of giving them an opportunity of escaping.
There was no chance, as far as he could see, of an improvement in the situation with regard to the supply of arms. Their own demands in England were increasing as more men came to the colours, and they had to send supplies to their own troops in the Mediterranean and to the Greeks.
I said that this attitude was very difficult for us to understand. Britain's greatest danger was an invasion from Germany. The British Government had always said that an invasion of Ireland was likely to take place at the same time. We must, therefore, be a definite factor in all their calculations for defence against invasion. Yet we found an extraordinary unwillingness to give us an adequate supply of arms. When we took this fact in conjunction with the unwillingness of the British Government to make a declaration of their peaceful intentions towards us, we felt bound to come to the conclusion that they had not excluded an invasion of this country from their considerations.
Sir John Maffey said at this stage that his Government could not make a declaration without a mental reservation, because, if the British felt the Germans had them by the throat, they wanted to be free to take whatever measures here might be necessary to defend themselves.
I replied that, by taking violent action of that kind, they would be doing exactly what the Germans had done in Belgium and Holland.
Sir John Maffey said that in Belgium and Holland the Germans had acted for the purpose of carrying out an offensive against their enemy, whereas the British in coming into Ireland would be taking a measure essential in their view for their own defence.
I did not accept his contention that there was any difference between the two forms of violence.
He then went on to say that there was a considerable amount of annoyance with us for not having accepted the setting up of the boom.1
I asked him how on earth the British could expect us to aid the taking of measures here destined exclusively to strengthen the position of British troops which might occupy our territory, while the British Government refused to give us arms to protect ourselves. He must realise that the least of our duties to our people was that we should not increase the helplessness of our present position vis-à-vis either belligerent. If the British Government wanted us to place a boom in a position where it was likely to be of service to the British forces, they must accept the logical corollary and give us the arms which would in themselves be a sufficient security against the possible misuse of the advantages derived by the British forces from the existence of the harbour defence in question. No matter how friendly we might feel towards the British, we had the fundamental duty to maintain the people's defences against all possible aggressors. The British Government should realise that this one-sided policy of pressure and refusal to arm us was bound in the end to change the friendly atmosphere existing towards them in this country. Even if our historical relations had pursued a normal course, it would still be the Government's bounden duty to avoid the creation of circumstances which might in certain contingencies place our own forces at a disadvantage. We had no exaggerated suspicions about British intentions, but he should not expect us to neglect pre- cautions which the British Government themselves would take if placed in a similar situation.
Sir John Maffey said, before leaving, that our neutrality was an advantage to the Germans and a danger to them. When I asked him in what particular way it was a danger, he replied that the harbouring of a German Legation here constituted a positive element of risk for Great Britain, since valuable information could be transmitted by that channel to Germany. He mentioned in particular the possibility of the German Legation having a secret wireless.
I said that any neutral country to which English people were allowed to travel was just as likely to be a channel of information for Germany as ours. Indeed, considering the possibilities of control which the British had at all points of egress to this country, it was their own fault if any information leaked through. In any case, the presence of a German Legation here was a natural part of our neutrality, and, unless the British wanted to deny us the right to be free, neutrality in time of war was part – and for us an essential part – of freedom.
This conversation took place in an atmosphere of complete friendliness, and, when Sir John Maffey was going away, he said he would consider what I had said about the implications of their refusing to supply us with arms. The British Representative had never before been so frank about British dislike for our neutrality, and I feel that his frankness is a presage to a suggestion of some kind, whether good or bad I cannot guess.
[initialled] J. P. W.
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