Events dealt with in the twelfth volume of documents on Irish foreign policy featured in reports on RTÉ television in the early 1960s.
Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) is a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Royal Irish Academy and the National Archives. Since 1998 it has published archival material on Ireland's foreign relations from 1919.
The twelfth volume of documents in the DIFP series, covering the early to mid-1960s, like its predecessors contains a mixture of high-level correspondence, eyewitness reportage, and technical memoranda on an often bewilderingly diverse range of subjects that allows readers to explore Irish history through diplomacy. The documents themselves are taken from the National Archives, along with other repositories like UCD Archives.
As the DIFP series reaches the 1960s, it has come to a period in which Irish life was being captured by television as well. The latest DIFP volume covers the period from October 1961 to April 1965, when Fianna Fáil were in power under Seán Lemass. The subjects it explores include Irish attempts to join the European Economic Community (EEC), the 1963 visit of US President John F. Kennedy, the deployment of the Irish Defence Forces on UN peacekeeping missions in the Congo and Cyprus, the repatriation of the remains of the executed 1916 leader Roger Casement, and even the economic and strategic importance of the newly developed town of Shannon, with its airport and industrial zone.
Many of these events and individuals were also being covered in programmes and reports made for RTÉ Television. Here we have linked some documents on Irish foreign policy to stories broadcast on Irish television.
1: IRELAND AND THE EEC
'I desire to emphasise that the political aims of the Community are aims to which the Irish Government and people are ready to subscribe and in the realisation of which they wish to play an active part. As I have already said, the Irish nation has always had a strong sense of belonging to Europe. We are also very conscious of the great advantages which can accrue to all the countries concerned and to world peace from a strong and united Europe. These considerations were an important factor in the decision taken by my Government in July. That decision was discussed at the time in our National Parliament and, I am happy to say, met with almost unanimous approval. But long before the formal decision was taken the European Economic Community and our position in relation to it were matters of wide public interest and debate. I can, therefore, say that our application not only represents a deliberate decision on the part of the Government but also corresponds to the sentiments of our people generally’.
Statement by Taoiseach Seán Lemass to EEC Council of Ministers, 18 January 1962.
‘I then told the President that there was a political aspect involved and that membership of the E.E.C. by ourselves and by Northern Ireland would go a long way towards eroding partition. He was keenly interested in this aspect which was obviously new to him and asked why I thought this would be a possible result. In answering, I referred not only to the removal of the Customs barrier but to the freedom of movement of people without permits of any kind. He said that that would be a wonderful way of ending partition as it would not involve futile attempts at getting a formal agreement with Northern Ireland or the British which seemed to be impossible at this stage.’
Thomas J. Kiernan, ambassador to the United States, reports on a conversation with US President John F. Kennedy, 28 March 1962.
‘He then brought up a subject which he has raised with me before namely, the effect of our joining the E.E.C. on our attitude towards NATO, and went on to point out that membership of the Community would eventually mean that the Border would lose a great deal of its significance. There was the obvious implication that membership of NATO would virtually finish the job’
Frank Biggar, head of the Irish mission to the European Communities, reports on a conversation with US ambassador to the European Communities William Butterworth, 27 June 1962.
'World This Week' broadcast on 1 April 1962. - How long will the border last?
2: JFK VISIT 1963
‘The President looked as if another headache had struck him and asked me was he expected to say anything in public. I repeated that we were not asking for this but only that we hoped for his continued goodwill towards a solution of the reunification of the country. He said he would study the dossier, and was getting up to conclude the interview… He then said, rather earnestly, ‘Is it understood that I am not expected to refer publicly to partition’? I assured him, to his relief I think, that this was so’.
Thomas J. Kiernan reports on a preparatory meeting with President John F. Kennedy at the White House prior to his visit to Ireland, 17 June 1963.
3: UN PEACEKEEPING IN CONGO
‘If ONUC were now to rely on force to eject the mercenaries and to restore Congolese unity, the presence of a strong U.N. Force would probably be required for a very long time in order to keep the Congo united…I need hardly assure you that in the discharge of the heavy responsibilities incumbent on you in connection with the Congo, you can rely on the fullest support and understanding of the Irish Government’.
Minister for External Affairs Frank Aiken to UN Secretary-General U Thant, 27 Nov 1961.
‘He said that Ireland has now assumed a new position of importance in the State Department and he mentioned that our contribution of soldiers to the Congo had contributed most materially to this’.
Thomas J. Kiernan reporting on a conversation with Joseph Sweeney of the US State Department, 14 June 1962.
‘In reply to your letter of yesterday about the request from the United Nations to replace, in due course, the 37th Battalion at present serving with the United Nations’ Force in the Congo, the Taoiseach, following consultation with the available Ministers, has decided that the request should be acceded to,
and you may notify the Acting Secretary-General of the United Nations accordingly’.
Letter from Nicholas Nolan, Secretary to the Government, to Con Cremin, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, 5 October 1962.
4: UN PEACEKEEPING IN CYPRUS
Telegram from Irish delegation to UN, 7 February 1964.
‘The name of Ireland is increasingly mentioned in connection with a possible non-NATO peace force in Cyprus. We have used every effort to discourage this in conversations with colleagues and journalists who have approached us on the subject. The line we have taken is that our government doubts the wisdom of
sending a UN force to Cyprus in present circumstances and would therefore be reluctant to serve in such a force’.
Telegram from Irish delegation to UN, 7 February 1964.
‘Mr. George Crombie, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim, British Embassy, called to see me urgently this afternoon at his request. The purpose of his visit was to ascertain in the strictest confidence and as a matter of urgency whether the Irish Government would respond favourably to an appeal to send a contingent of Irish troops for a peace-keeping force in Cyprus’.
Note by Hugh McCann, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, 10 February 1964.
‘The Minister would also be reluctant to send Irish troops into a situation where they might be accused of supporting the type of partition that exists at present in Cyprus, or some other form of partition that might be agreed upon there in the future. The dispute involves great bitterness between all the parties concerned and, if the position were to get out of hand, it is possible that an Irish contingent might attract blame for a situation it could do little to remedy...The main argument which may be advanced in favour of urging us to send an Irish contingent to Cyprus is that we are one of the very few countries acceptable to all the parties involved’.
Memorandum by the Department of External Affairs, 11 February 1964.
5: SEÁN LEMASS AND TERENCE O’NEILL, 1965
‘Inside we sat round the fire in the P.M.’s office. Captain O’Neill, who had described the meeting at lunch as a historic one (meriting champagne), began by saying how glad he was it had at last come about, and the Taoiseach replied that he had been anxious for a meeting for some years to explore possibilities
of practical co-operation in the interests of the whole of Ireland’.
Memorandum by T.K Whitaker, Secretary of the Department of Finance, 15 January 1965.
‘There are likely to be various meetings – at Ministerial and official levels – in addition to the return visit of Captain O’Neill to Dublin and it seems important that early arrangements be made to ensure that all concerned in these contacts know what is happening in other fields and that there is some central coordination to ensure both consistency of approach and maintenance of the original impetus’.
Letter from T.K Whitaker to Nicholas Nolan, 29 January 1965.
6: THE REPATRIATION OF THE REMAINS OF ROGER CASEMENT, 1965
‘In the past, there has been reluctance to accede to requests for the transfer to Ireland of the remains of Roger Casement because it was thought that the granting of the request might involve the risk of re-awakening memories of past differences. So far from this being the case, the Government and all political parties here feel very strongly that the transfer to Ireland of Casement’s remains would remove an unnecessary irritant in the relations between our two countries and would redound to the credit of the British Government which sanctioned it’.
Letter from Seán Lemass to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, 11 November 1964.
‘If the point which Mr. Wilson wished to discuss with the Taoiseach is the question of ensuring that the Casement remains would be interred in Dublin, the Ambassador might refer again to the fact that a grave had been selected by Casement’s sister and purchased in Glasnevin Cemetery and it is the intention, if
the remains are transferred, to inter them in Dublin’.
Minute by Hugh McCann on possible conversations about return of Casement’s remains that might coincide with Winston Churchill’s funeral, 23 January 1965.
‘The principal British difficulty with regard to the return of the remains at the present time was that the Home Secretary and the other Ministers involved felt they had to be in a position to assure Parliament that they were satisfied by the Irish Government that Sir Roger would be buried in Dublin and that there was no question of his transfer to Murlough or of unfriendly demonstrations arising on the occasion of his burial’.
Note by Paul Keating, counsellor at the Irish embassy in London, 5 February 1965.
‘We did not wash the skull since there was some remains of skin and perhaps even brain remaining and we did not want to wash it away. We left it to dry and then put it into the coffin.
The next task was to discover the other leg and feet bones under the other step at the other end of the grave. When this was done and the bones were washed we felt that we had practically all of them that could possibly have survived the action of the quick lime and of 49 years in a waterlogged grave. It is possible that we missed a number of smaller bones due to the action of the water in shifting them to the grave1 and to other difficulties under which the grave diggers worked. The prison doctor, however, said that he felt that we had at least three-fifths of the body and when one weighs the importance of the bones discovered, Mr. Ronan and Mr. Ward felt that one has, perhaps, 85% of all that could be found.
The question remains whether these were in fact the bones of Roger Casement. On this matter, I have no doubt’.
Memorandum by Paul Keating on the exhumation of Casement’s remains from Pentonville Prison on 22 February, dated 4 March 1965.
7: SHANNON AIRPORT
‘Mr. Prince of the U.S. Embassy called this afternoon at his own request. He said that though they had received no instructions on the matter from the State Department, his Ambassador felt that he should advise the Department about the amount of traffic going through Shannon to and from Cuba. He therefore wished
to know whether we would have any objection to supplying such information as the frequency of flights, scheduled and non-scheduled now and in the past etc’.
Note by Sheila Murphy, counsellor at the Department of External Affairs, during Cuban missile crisis, 23 October 1962.
‘Later in the day, the Canadian Ambassador, who had called about another matter, referred to the Canadian decision to subject to a search for arms Czech and Cuban planes on the Prague–Shannon–Gander–Havana route. He wondered whether we were contemplating similar action’.
Note by Sheila Murphy during Cuban missile crisis, 25 October 1962.
‘He made it clear that Washington has been worried about the extent to which the traffic through Shannon may have helped in the build-up in Cuba, and, in particular, in the transport of technical personnel and, possibly, of arms’.
Note by Con Cremin on conversation with Joseph Sweeney, 2 November 1962.
‘Shannon, the whole concept and growth of Shannon with all its ramifications, in a sense represents a particularly suitable example with which to illustrate the theme. A great many Americans, even those with little Irish interest, know the name Shannon nowadays. In fact, Shannon Airport is rapidly displacing
Killarney as the best-known symbol of Ireland. Its remarkable development over the past thirty years, from a swamp-land into a modern industrial and transport complex, is perhaps the best and most striking practical example of what Mr. Lemass has been doing for Ireland and is trying to do for Ireland’.
Memorandum by Kevin Rush, counsellor at Irish embassy in Washington DC, on the emphasis to be laid on Irish economic progress by Seán Lemass during his impending visit to the United States, dated 26 September 1963.
8: ST PATRICKS DAY, 1965
‘Sir Saville Garner brought up the question of the North–South talks and commented that they appeared to be going along very smoothly. He added, however, that Mr. Wilson nearly rocked the boat with his suggestion at the St. Patrick’s night banquet for tripartite talks in London. Sir Saville Garner suggested that this was perhaps just a post-prandial remark’.
Memorandum by Hugh McCann, 24 March 1965.
The documents quoted above are retained in the National Archives and are reproduced in Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Vol. XII, 1961-1965, published in November 2020. The documents published in the DIFP series for the period 1919-48 are freely accessible at www.difp.ie. Document images reproduced by permission of the Director of the National Archives.