No. 24 NAI DFA Secretary's Files A2
DUBLIN, 14 March 1941
Sir John Maffey called to see me at 11.30 this morning at his own request, and remained until about 1 o'clock.
The following is a general résumé of what he said to me. My part in the conversation was chiefly for the purpose of elucidating obscure points or correcting wrong impressions. He hung his remarks on the Taoiseach's reply to Deputy Mulcahy in the
Dáil when the latter asked him whether there was danger from both sides.1 The affirmative answer of the Taoiseach filled him with despair. He did not know how this atmosphere of suspicion between the two countries could ever be removed. As far as he was concerned, he had done everything to change the situation, but he did not seem to have had much success.
I reminded him that the atmosphere of suspicion had been built up over centuries and had continued very active down to the betrayal on the Partition issue in 1924.2 Nothing that he could do during his brief sojourn in this country could be expected to change this state of mind.
He went on to say that he realised how much more frankness was necessary to arrive at any solution of the present crisis. There was extreme uneasiness in England about Ireland, and he believed also in America. Whether we wished it or not, we were in a supremely important strategic position, and it might be that our help in some form would be vital to the British and American cause. We seemed to have no positive policy except to keep out of the war. We must realise that the time might come – indeed he believed it certainly would come – when Britain and/or America would have to bring serious pressure to bear on us. It would be better for us to prepare for such an eventuality, and, if possible, to avoid it. It would be against our dignity as a State to be dragged into the war against our inclination and outside the sphere of our Government's policy.
I said, at this stage, that our policy of neutrality, as he well knew, was a policy in no wise different from national survival. He had spoken of vital interests for his country. We thought it a vital interest for us (and it was in any case more clearly such for us than it was for them) to save the remnant of our nation from destruction. If circumstances did in effect so alter that our people would contemplate becoming belligerents, it could only be after having obtained the most absolute guarantee of our independence and unity for the future. Moreover, such a guarantee would have to come from the United States and the independence and unity of the country as a whole would have to be a fact before, not after, our departure from the attitude of neutrality. Assuming, again, that these things could be, what kind of preparation were the British now making to secure our goodwill for themselves in such a vital emergency as he described? They were holding back supplies from us, they refused to give us arms.
Sir John Maffey said that they could not give us arms unless they were absolutely certain that they would not be used against themselves. It might be that someday they would have to come in and take the ports, and they would not then want to be faced by arms which they themselves had put into our hands. So long as the Taoiseach maintained his downright attitude, they could not omit from their calculations the possibility of having to use force in a vital emergency. However, he wanted me to understand – talking in this perfectly friendly and frank fashion – that anything like a sudden attack or invasion with- out notice was quite out of the question. There would always be a request and conversations. The request was more likely to come first from America. We were wrong to rely on Irish-American opinion for support in the maintenance of an attitude which helped America's enemy. They would consider, and rightly in his view, that Ireland's neutrality constituted a menace for the forces of democracy. Already our neutrality made of Ireland a virtual base of operations against Britain. Apart from the possible use of our territory by spies, the privation of the port and land facilities available here operated, and would operate more and more, as a slowing-down factor in the effective arrival of American help to Britain. He knew that was not our desire, but our geographical situation created in our case factors that did not exist for other neutrals.
He thought it would be a good thing if the Taoiseach expressed the desire to have a talk with Cranborne. That might be the beginning of some sort of an approach leading at least to a better understanding. I asked him did he desire to see the Taoiseach himself. First he said it might be a good thing, and then, on reflection, he thought it might be better to have a little more time to think before he asked for an interview.
In the course of this talk, I returned several times to the question of the sup- ply of arms. He now admitted that arms were deliberately withheld. Surely the best way I said, to secure the defences (which, after all, was an exceedingly important gain) on this side of their territory was to give us an ample supply of arms and munitions. Moreover, if they had given us arms, an attitude of trust would by this time have been created. Generally, we should have arrived by this time at a better understanding though I did not at all believe that we should3 have abandoned our neutrality. Neither the British nor the American Governments had given us even an inkling of the plans they were making for the future of a world in which we, being as he had said such an important out- post of Europe, must be intended to play an important role. How could a good understanding be expected, or trust be expected, where no confidence was shown on the other side? And surely all right thinking required that it was Great Britain's duty to remove the distrust caused by her treatment of the Irish people? That was elementary psychology.
I feel quite convinced from this conversation with Maffey that we shall not have very long to wait before receiving proposals or demands from America and Britain. Maffey tentatively mentioned the possibility of Eden coming over to see the Taoiseach, possibly accompanied by Winant, the American Ambassador. I did not encourage or discourage the idea, but I said that, if somebody was to come over, I hoped – whether American or Britisher or both – they would come with an open mind ready to consider the welfare of our nation equally with their own needs. It was the Irish Government's duty to put the welfare of our people first, and no proposition which was opposed to that end would have any chance of being considered by them. Whatever suffering it involved, the Government intended to pursue a policy to the end which in their view would more certainly secure the survival of our nation.
[signed] J. P. WALSHE
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