MARCH 11TH, 1944: US petitions de Valera to expel diplomats


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One of the main challenges to Irish neutrality during the second World War came from the United States at the end of February 1944 as preparations were under way for the D-Day landings in France. In what became known as the ‘‘American Note’’ incident, the US secretary of state, Cordell Hull, demanded that the German and Japanese ambassadors be expelled from Dublin because of the risk of their spies acquiring details of the invasion plans. The demand was rejected by the government and led to short-term fears of an invasion by American and British troops from the North and a subsequent ban on all cross-channel travel by Britain. The text of the ‘‘Note’’, from which this is an extract, was published in the censored Irish newspapers on this date.

‘‘One of the gravest and most inequitable results of this situation is the opportunity for highly organised espionage which the geographical position of Ireland affords to the Axis and denies to the United Nations.

‘‘Situated, as you are, in close proximity to Britain and divided only by an intangible boundary from Northern Ireland, where are situated important American bases, with a continuous traffic to and from both countries, Axis agents enjoy an almost unrestricted opportunity for bringing military information of vital importance from Great Britain and Northern Ireland into Ireland and, from there, transmitting it by various routes and methods to Germany.

‘‘We do not question the good faith of the Irish Government in its efforts to suppress Axis espionage. Whether, or to what extent it has succeeded in preventing acts of espionage against American shipping and American forces in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is, of course, impossible to determine with certainty. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the German and Japanese Diplomatic and Consular representatives still continue to reside in Dublin and enjoy the special privileges and immunities customarily afforded such officials.

‘‘That Axis representatives in neutral countries use those special privileges and immunities as a cloak for espionage activities against the United Nations has been demonstrated over and over again.

‘‘It would be naive to assume that Axis agencies did not exploit the conditions to the full in Ireland, as they have in other countries. It is our understanding that the German Legation in Dublin, until recently, at least, has had in its possession a radio-sending set. . .

‘‘Supporting evidence was furnished by two parachutists, equipped with radio-sending sets, dropped on your territory by German planes.

‘‘Not only the success of the operations, but the lives of thousands of United Nations’ soldiers are at stake.

‘‘We request, therefore, that the Irish Government take appropriate steps for the recall of the German and Japanese representatives in Ireland. . .

‘‘You will, of course, readily understand the compelling reasons why we ask as an absolute minimum the removal of these Axis representatives . . . It is hardly necessary to point out that time is of extreme importance, and that, we trust, Your Excellency will favour us with your reply at your early convenience.’’