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388 Memorandum by Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister
n.d. [between 5 and 10 April 1941]
On Thursday last, April 3rd, I flew to Belfast, where I had a
series of conversations with Mr. Andrews, the Prime Minister, and
with other leading citizens. On Friday morning I proceeded to
Dublin, where on Friday and Saturday I had lengthy discussions
with Mr. De Valera  and with several of his senior colleagues.
In each place my attitude was one of enquiry, because I felt that
to achieve any useful result I must aim at getting a real
understanding of the various points of view. It would be
impossible for me to give any detailed account of conversations
which covered a total of many hours, and most of which in any
event were of a confidential character, and I therefore propose to
set out in this memorandum certain conclusions at which I arrived
as a result of my talks. I emphasise that these conclusions are
based upon inference rather than upon explicit statements, but I
have no doubt that they are accurate.
There is a very strong and indeed bitter feeling in Ulster about
Eire. Though the whole of my own instinctive bias is in favour of
Ulster, I was occasionally a little disturbed to find myself
wondering whether the Ulster attitude is entirely a reasoned one.
just as there are some Protestants whose Protestantism is an
expression of hostility rather than of faith, so there are
undoubtedly Ulstermen whose loyalty to Great Britain seems chiefly
founded upon a dislike of the South. These remarks do not, of
course, apply to the majority of those who determine Ulster's
policy, but at the same time the fact must be recorded that
recruiting in Ulster is indifferent and that some comment is
beginning to arise from the fact that the existing recruiting is
greatly stimulated by a stream which flows from Eire into Ulster,
a stream which has now got up to a volume of something like 650
men per month. There is among responsible leaders a strong feeling
that conscription should have been extended to Ulster and that the
refusal so to extend it was dictated by a tenderness for the
feelings of the Roman Catholic minority in Ulster which they felt
was unwarranted. This view, widely held, has no doubt affected
recruiting. Another thing which is having its effect is the
abnormally high unemployment, the figure being put at something
like 45,000. Unemployment can easily have a depressing effect upon
recruiting if the view becomes current that the man who enlists
will after the war find his occupation gone. The Ulster
unemployment is no doubt primarily due to the slackening of
business at the linen mills, but there is undoubtedly a feeling
that it could be substantially taken up if more use were made by
the British Government of the munitions manufacturing potential of
Ulster. Another related factor which I thought had something to do
with the recruiting position is the fear that the recruit's civil
job will be taken by somebody coming into Ulster from the South.
It is not my business to discuss the policy of the British
Government on these matters, but I do suggest that many of these
factors could be dealt with if conscription was applied to
Northern Ireland side by side with a law protecting the conscript
in relation to his civil employment, and if at the same time the
Ministry of Supply could with a certain measure of publicity
investigate the industrial resources of Ulster. There are no doubt
weighty arguments to the contrary, and my opinion may therefore be
quite wrong, but I feel no doubt that the present position
irritates Ulster and provokes avoidable comment in Eire.
I was informed quite unanimously that the unification of Ireland
would be forcibly resisted by Ulster for three principal reasons-
(a) Ulster will not forgo its allegiance to the Throne.
(b) It refuses to be voted into neutrality by the Roman Catholic
majority in the South.
(c) Ulstermen fear that their industrial establishments would be
dissipated or weakened by the economic or fiscal policies of a
united Irish Parliament.
The people of this 'distressful country', or at any rate those who
govern it, are in a state of exaggerated self-consciousness. They
are not very realistic in their approach to the problems of the
war. They are ready to take offence. They resented the fact that
Colonel Donovan's  visit was only for a couple of hours. They
feel, and I think with some justification, that their point of
view has been either not examined or impatiently examined. These
comments are specially true of De Valera himself. He interested me
very much. He is at first sight a somewhat saturnine figure,
particularly when he sallies abroad in a long dark frieze overcoat
and a broad brimmed black hat. Personal contact with him however,
indicates that he is educated, I think sincere, and with a mind in
which acute intelligence is found to contain many blind spots
occasioned by prejudice, bitter personal experience, and a marked
slavery to past history. It was clear to me that whatever the
position may be in the provinces (as to which I know nothing), he
has a large and fanatical following in Dublin. He is the 'chief.
The very clerks in the offices stand promptly to attention as he
strides past. His Ministers speak with freedom in his absence, but
are restrained and obedient in his presence. Some of these
Ministers are possessed of more flexible minds than his, and I
found them merry fellows, but in the last resort I am quite sure
that his view will prevail. On the whole, with all my prejudices,
I liked him and occasionally succeeded in invoking from him a sort
of wintry humour, which was not without charm. His mind must be
studied promptly but patiently if the Irish problem is to be
settled. He professes to attach little importance to personal
contacts and is accustomed to deal with things from behind a
barrier of maps, charts and records; but my own experience with
him indicates that in fact he responds to the personal touch and
is not incapable of being affected by the right kind of approach.
I will attempt to state his views, not as he precisely formulated
them, because he is not given to preciseness in relation to modern
events, but as I inferred them, I think accurately, from hours of
discussion, discussion which was confidential and as to the terms
of which I would therefore desire not to be quoted.
(1) He is of the opinion that Britain's cause in this war is a
just one and that the war was forced upon her.
(2) He would like Britain to win and feels that 80% at least of
the people of Eire, though they are by instinct distrustful of the
British, would like the same thing.
(3) He has no grievance against Great Britain, except that Ireland
is still a divided country. He is, however, convinced that the
present British Government is hostile and unsympathetic.
(4) He tells a story of injustices to the Roman Catholic minority
in Ulster, which after all is in two of the six counties, a Roman
Catholic majority. These injustices, to use his own phrase, 'make
his blood boil'. Yet on examination these injustices appear
somewhat shadowy. There is the old controversy about a separate
capital grant to Roman Catholic schools, which are in fact more
liberally treated in Ulster than they are in Australia. There is
the suggestion that Roman Catholics are prejudiced in employment.
There is the statement that the Northern electorates have been so
gerrymandered that inadequate minority representation in the
Ulster Parliament results. This last seems of small moment, since
the Ulster Parliament has a law that no elected member may sit
without taking the Oath of Allegiance, and consequently this
minority demand is for the right to elect members who will after
election not sit in Parliament! This complaint is therefore [a]
strange intellectual phenomenon, which could perhaps be found in
no country other than Ireland.
(5) This minority agitation in Ulster is, I think, largely
fomented by Cardinal MacRory , and De Valera is prepared upon
pressure to admit that the anti-partition feeling is much stronger
among the Roman Catholics of Ulster than it is in Eire itself.
(6) When brought face to face with the fact, he recognises that
Great Britain could not possibly throw Ulster into Eire if that
meant that Ulster was also to become neutral and that Great
Britain was to be deprived of even those bases which she now has.
He infers from this, and admits reluctantly, that the united
scheme cannot very well be pressed during the war so long as Eire
(7) He affirms, however, that there is a passionate desire in the
Irish heart to be neutral in the war; a strange passion to invade
the average Irish heart but, nevertheless, one the existence of
which he vigorously maintains. I questioned him repeatedly as to
the reason for this and as a rule he slipped easily and skilfully
into a discussion of past history; but with some regularity I
found him coming back to another reason which struck me as much
more comprehensible and much more capable of being dealt with.
That reason was that 'Ireland is defenceless', that 'Dublin has
practically no anti-aircraft guns', that 'there is practically no
air force', and that 'the army is without modern equipment'. In
other words, I am quite sure that De Valera's neutrality policy is
founded not only upon a traditional distrust of Great Britain, but
also and perhaps principally upon fear of German attack,
particularly from the air.
(8) He recognises that the British people are not likely to be
willing to provide arms which may conceivably be used against
them. He asserts that no possibility of such use will arise unless
Eire is invaded by the British. This line of argument is, of
course, well known, but I was left, after many repetitions, with a
very definite feeling that, as this fear of attack is the
principal obsession, the possibility of removing it by some
material assistance on the munitions and aircraft side should be
promptly explored. It may be improbable, but it is certainly not
impossible, that a country which wishes us to win should be
willing to give us some assistance, provided we can reduce the
risks involved in the giving of that assistance; and the right way
to reduce those risks is to give the Irish weapons, not
unconditionally, but as the price of co-operation.
(9) De Valera does not appreciate the immediate war problem. He
stands in front of the map and cannot understand why naval bases
in Ireland should be of the slightest importance to Great Britain.
I found it necessary to explain to him the importance of air bases
as a platform for fighting aircraft. He did not appear to have
appreciated the immense significance of even a hundred miles in
the zone of operations of fighters. I think he would understand
these things much better if he had some of his own. He told me
with great earnestness that with arms Eire could protect herself
and therefore protect Britain's flank. But when I pointed out that
the British flank was on the western and northwestern approaches
and that these could not be protected by a neutral, but only by
belligerent ships and aircraft, I had the impression that this
platitude came to him almost as a new idea.
(10) He firmly believes that the United States is coming into the
war, but has not yet faced, though I asked him to do so, the
effect which this would have on Irish American opinion.
(11) He feels that Eire could supply more foodstuffs to Great
Britain, but that Great Britain is prepared to go a little hungry
in order to injure Eire.
The paragraphs I have written above contain, as I realise, much
exasperating information. They may convey the impression that De
Valera is an entirely impossible person. This is not altogether
the case. He has in my opinion some fine qualities. His fixed
ideas, like those of his people, cannot be removed by aloofness or
by force. They can be removed only by a genuine attempt to get at
their foundations by enquiry and, wherever possible, by
understanding. To the outsider, like myself, and particularly to
one who travelled seventeen thousand miles to confer with his
colleagues of the British Government, it is fantastic to be told
that De Valera and Andrews have never met, and that I have had
more conversation with De Valera than any British Minister has had
since the war began. I therefore suggest very strongly that the
whole question of the defence of Eire should be looked at, that
the Secretary of State for the Dominions  should pay an early
visit to Belfast and Dublin, and that if he receives the slightest
encouragement he should invite De Valera and a couple of his
colleagues to come to London for discussions with the Prime
Minister  and other members of the British Cabinet. I know that
such a meeting would be welcomed by some members of the Irish
Cabinet who are beginning to realise that neutrality has its
defeats no less renowned than war; and I would be by no means
pessimistic about the outcome. But even if such discussions
failed, they would give a very different colour to any subsequent
policy which it was found necessary to adopt in relation to
Ireland and would be of great value in regard to world opinion.
[DEFENCE: SPECIAL COLLECTION 1, BOX 629, EIRE-FUTURE POLICY. VISIT
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