From the 2013 State Paper release: A breach of wartime neutrality or essential diplomacy?

Published in Blogging Irish History, The Emergency

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NAI 2013/51/93. Image reproduced by permission of the Director of the National Archives of Ireland.

The annual release of government files under the so-called ’30 year rule’ means that as of today, 27 December, one can now peek behind the scenes at some of the events of 1983.  But having looked through some of the files during the National Archives’ media preview in early December, one from ‘The Emergency’ caught the eye. NAI 2013/51/93 is a file relating to a set of surreptitious payments made to the Japanese consul-general in Dublin during the Second World War, and begins with an intriguing handwritten note, signed ‘W.B.B.’ and dated 13 August 1945:

 

‘I visited M. Nagata this afternoon and reminded him generally of the secrecy which we had requested should surround these payments and mentioned that, no doubt, if it were found necessary at any time to destroy official records, these papers relating to these payments would also be destroyed.

 

‘M. Nagata informed me that the papers in question had already been destroyed by him personally in order to give effect to our expressed wish for the greatest secrecy. The papers destroyed, I gathered from his reply to my question, included also those concerning payments to Irish priests in Manila, which might be connected with the payments. He repeated several times that he could assure me that he had destroyed all the relevant papers and added that when the chargé d’affaires returned from his sick leave he would take the opportunity of calling on him to inquire after his health and to repeat the assurance he had given me’.

 

The file includes a number of receipts for the sum of 87,000 Swiss francs – the equivalent of £5,000- received by the Irish Legation at the League of Nations in Berne) from their Japanese counterparts in 1944-45 Another note states that ‘the subject of funds from the consul-general, Dublin, should not be mentioned in any telegram or communication to Dublin’, that ‘any communication on the subject should be made through the Irish Legation, Berne’, and furthermore, ‘any reference to Tokyo in this matter should be made in the safest cipher’.

 

It appears that this was a way of channeling much-needed funds to the Japanese consul-general in Dublin: £5,000 was seen as enough money to last for six months. It seems that the Irish delegation agreed to act as a conduit for such funding under conditions of utmost secrecy. If the Japanese delegation lodged 87,000 francs in Berne, the Department of External Affiars would pay out the equivalent in sterling – £5,000 – in Dublin; an arrangement that had apparently been entered into as early as July 1944, and was continued as late as August 1945.

 

Japan was an Axis power: was such an arrangement a breach of neutrality, or an unavoidable necessity to ensure the smooth running of a diplomatic mission in Dublin? By 1944-45 Dublin was providing tacit assistance to the Allies in a variety of ways. But the request for discretion in this instance suggests that there was no illusion as to what the attitude of the Allies was likely to be should this particular arrangement become public knowledge.

 

The 1983 State Papers, along with the other files released,  are available for inspection in the National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin 8, from 2 January 2014. Further details at www.nationalarchives.ie

 

John Gibney

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