No. 48 NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/14/1
LONDON, 23 April 1941
Thinking it might be of interest to ascertain as far as possible the views of Mr. Menzies after his conversations with An Taoiseach I had a long conversation with him recently.
He said he was glad he had visited Ireland and thought it should not have been left to him whose home was seventeen thousand miles away to be the first British Minister to talk to Mr. de Valera and Mr. Andrews.1
Listening to some people here you would think Mr. de Valera was a doctrinaire isolationist, impervious to reason and with so rigid an outlook as to make him altogether impossible. He found him, as he had since told the British War Cabinet, to be a statesman with a high unvulgar cast of mind and he (Mr. Menzies) had an understanding sympathy for the difficulties with which An Taoiseach had to contend. In his view it was unfortunate that no attempt had been made by the British to discuss the whole question of the relations of the two countries. When he was in England in 1937 he had urged the British to solve the Irish problem but had been disappointed at the lack of response. He would like to see even at this late date the Dominions Secretary, or, preferably, a member of the War Cabinet, cross to Dublin and go fully into matters with Mr. de Valera who, in return, might come to London and discuss the problem with the British War Cabinet.
He read a few extracts from a report which he had made to the War Cabinet which extracts criticised their inactivity. The report looked to be a document of at least eight or nine foolscap sheets.
His two conversations with Mr. de Valera he said had consisted not so much of arguments by him as of questions of his to which Mr. de Valera gave full and frank answers. From An Taoiseach's exposition he got a clearer picture of our grounds for neutrality and also of the toughness of the problem of Partition. When he gathered from Mr. de Valera that his idea of a merger of the Six Counties with the rest of Ireland would involve the whole of the coun- try becoming neutral with the consequent withdrawal of British forces, together with the complete absence of any British naval protection on the vital North Western approaches, he put it to Mr. de Valera that no power, big or little, could be expected to commit so spectacular a suicide. Mr. de Valera frankly recognised the tremendous difficulties which the existing situation presented to both countries.
If his interpretation of the present position was right the following points emerged:-
As matters now stood there was of course no question that Mr. de Valera had the active support of a united people on the question of neutrality. Whilst he surmised that Mr. de Valera's view was based on first principles he felt that an even more compelling factor was the comparatively defenceless state of the country. Even if the Irish people should shed their prejudices for which there was clearly historical justification the absence of modern defensive weapons in Ireland made Mr. de Valera shrink from throwing his country into the horrors of war.
Although he was critical of Whitehall there was no doubt that the object he had in mind in suggesting conferences between the Governments was our entry into the war. I therefore said that whilst everyone would welcome any step which made for the removal of misconceptions and the consequent better understanding between the two peoples I thought he would have realised from his Dublin conversations that there was no question of our abandoning neutrality. I reminded him of An Taoiseach's public statement long before the war about resisting any attempt to make our country a base of attack on England and the equally clear statement that we would resist invasion from whatever quarter it came. He was emphatic in his rejoinder that there was no intention on the part of the British to take action in our territory unless and until we asked them.
He was a realist and was not blind to the real difficulties of the position.
Nevertheless he thought that if he could have stayed in Europe longer he was not without hope that he could have brought the three parties – ourselves, the British, and the Six County people – to some agreement. It was to be borne in mind that in framing and working their own Australian Constitution they had surmounted difficulties, not dissimilar to some of our own, which many had thought unsurmountable.
I made a necessarily gentle attempt to find his views after the Northern
Ireland part of his visit but he was not responsive, though my well informed friend told me that Mr. Menzies upon his return had said in reply to a remark that he had 'probably found us as mad as ever ', that if Dublin were mad, Belfast was madder, and Whitehall was maddest of all. I next asked whether he could tell me what had been the reaction of the War Cabinet on his report. He said that Brendan Bracken2 had told him that Churchill had been giving a good deal of his time to a study of the report but so far there was nothing he could say. He continued however 'When you told me in 1937 that Churchill was hostile to Ireland I did not agree. I find that I was wrong. He is hostile – as he is to anyone or anything where he considers they are impeding the progress of the British in the war, but you may take it that there is no hostility on the part of Sinclair and the Labour members of the Cabinet'.
He repeated his remark about there being no intention of invading our territory saying that even suspicion ought to have some basis in reality. Then why, I enquired, had the British for so long a time past refused us the arms to enable us to defend ourselves. Would it not have been in their own interest to do so, and why had they allowed the Press to exacerbate their own people as well as ours? The frigid calculated lying of some of their newspapers had embittered the feelings of our people not a few of whom were beginning to feel increased sympathy for the sufferings of the British people.
About munitions, he knew that the British had started a long way behind the Germans but it was not until he reached Europe that he realised what an immense gap there was between the German arms position and that of the British. For a good while before the war and subsequently they in Australia never got anything like the munitions for which they had pressed. New Zealand had the same experience. Even now at the meetings of the War Cabinet it was daily brought home to him the still serious lack of mechanical equipment.
Of the activities of the Press he was not well informed so could make no comment.
He concluded by expressing his own private opinion that Mr. de Valera in his heart of hearts was not happy because the Irish who had fought so long on their own ground and in addition had battled on so many fields abroad for the principles of democracy were unable to take part in a struggle which he (Mr. Menzies) was convinced meant nothing less than the saving of civilisation.
He then had to leave hurriedly and enjoined on me the strictest secrecy about our conversation.
[signed] J. W. DULANTY
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