Irish ministers and top civil servants were divided about whether Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s favourite SS commando, Otto Skorzeny, should be given permanent residence in Ireland in the late 1950s.
Skorzeny, who led the daring rescue of Mussolini from Allied hands, was a regular visitor to Ireland. He bought a farm in Co Kildare in 1959 and wanted to become a permanent resident here.
The latest volume of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy 1957-1961 contains a series of exchanges between officials and ministers about his requests to visit the State and become a permanent resident.
A note from Conor Cruise O’Brien, then a senior official in the Department of External Affairs, in June 1957 refers to a visa application from Skorzeny, who is described as well known for his military exploits with “special” units of the German army in the second World War including his rescue of Mussolini.
“Skorzeny, who is now stateless, resides in Spain. He is on the UK Home Office Black List as an undesirable character. I think this means no more than that he made their faces red in the matter of Mussolini. We are not aware of any specific war crimes charges against him,” he wrote.
“I see no objection either to the granting of the visa (if D/Justice assent, which they probably will on our recommendation). Of course if the Skorzenys come here there may be some adverse comment in the English popular press but I think we should be prepared to endure that with fortitude.”
The visa was granted and Skorzeny made a very public visit to Dublin where he was welcomed by a number of prominent people including an up and coming politician named Charles Haughey.
The publicity generated by Skorzeny’s visits aroused considerable local and international media interest. Iveagh House official Eoin MacWhite wrote to Cruise O’Brien saying he had doubted the wisdom of granting a visa and added: “He is the focus of a lot of bitterness in the US for the ‘werewolf’ operations and whether or not guilty of ‘war crimes’ letting him settle here only attracts to us a part of that odium without any corresponding advantage.”
Skorzeny bought Martinstown House, a gothic style house near the Curragh, and sought permission to become a permanent resident.
At the end of 1959 another official, Timothy Horan, pointed out that there were allegations in the French press that Skorzeny was using the fact of his residence in Spain to engage in the shipment of arms to Arab countries.
“We have no proof that he was engaged in this arms traffic but it seems to me that there is a reasonable presumption that he was, in fact, so engaged. He seems to be quite well off for a person who 10 years ago had nothing,” he said.
Horan objected to the way Skorzeny had attempted to force the issue by acquiring property here, in other words a permanent residence, before the question of his application for a visa has been disposed of.
“In all the circumstances, therefore, I think the application should be refused.”
The secretary of the Department of Justice Peter Berry advised that Skorzeny be given permanent residency. His view was supported by his minister Oscar Traynor. However, minister for external affairs Frank Aiken strongly advised Justice against granting residence. In the end permission was refused.