Dáil Éireann - Volume 90 - 26 May, 1943

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Sinking of “Irish Oak.”

Mr. Dillon asked the Minister for External Affairs whether he will state the circumstances in which the S.S. Irish Oak was torpedoed and sunk, and to what navy the submarine which attacked the ship in daylight belonged.

Minister for External Affairs (The Taoiseach): The circumstances of the sinking of the S.S. Irish Oak were stated in the announcement by Irish Shipping, Limited, published in the Press of the 21st May.

As was stated in the announcement, the attacking submarine was not seen by any member of the crew. There is, therefore, no proof as to its nationality.

Mr. Dillon: I should like to ask two supplementary questions. Was the submarine which torpedoed this ship seen on the surface by members of the crew at 5.30 on Friday evening, before the ship was torpedoed, and did it follow the ship through the night and torpedo it, without notice, at ten minutes past eight on Saturday morning? Secondly, after firing the first torpedo into the ship, and after the crew had taken to the boats, did the attacking submarine return and fire a second torpedo into the ship?

The Taoiseach: With regard to the question as to whether the submarine that fired the torpedo—assuming that it was a submarine -that fired the torpedo—had been seen the previous [538] day and followed the ship, that is not my information. My information is that a submarine was seen on the previous day, which was identified, not by any markings but by its general contour or silhouette, as a German submarine. That was seen some time between 2.30 and 5.30 on the previous day. That submarine was not seen after that. Therefore, it is not possible to establish any connection between that particular submarine and the one which fired the torpedo. There are more submarines than one, of course, and it would be very difficult to establish, without direct proof, the connection that the Deputy is trying to establish. One cannot say that it was that particular submarine which followed the ship during the night, as it was lost sight of about 5.30 or 6 o'clock. You cannot say it followed the ship during the night or that it was that particular submarine that fired the torpedo. With regard to the second question, I have no information further than that a first torpedo was fired and struck the ship forward on the port side; and that, after the crew had taken to the boats, a second torpedo was fired. The first torpedo was fired at 8.40 a.m. and the ship sank finally at 10 a.m.

Mr. Dillon: I take it that the master of the ship has been examined and has certified to the representatives of the Minister for External Affairs that he is not in a position to identify or to express an opinion, as to the nationality of the submarine that sank the ship?

The Taoiseach: The information which I have given to the Deputy and to the House is the information I got from the officers of my Department— the Department of External Affairs. May I say quite definitely that the captain was not able to identify the particular submarine which fired the torpedo?

Mr. Dillon: Or the nationality of that submarine?

The Taoiseach: Or the nationality.

Mr. Hickey: Is it established that this ship was out of convoy when it [539] was attacked? I ask that for more reasons than one.

The Taoiseach: Our ships are not travelling in convoy.

Mr. Hickey: I am glad to hear that. Those who are trying to cause trouble outside are stating that the ship was in convoy.

The Taoiseach: It was not. The firing of a torpedo at that ship was a wanton and inexcusable act.

Mr. Dillon: Hear, hear!

The Taoiseach: There was no possibility of mistake. The conditions of visibility were good, and the neutral markings on the ship were perfectly clear. No warning was given, and the first intimation that there was a submarine about, or that there was danger, was the explosion of the torpedo. We must regard it as an act of Providence that any of the crew was saved.

Mr. Norton: Would the Taoiseach state the nationality of the master of the ship?

The Taoiseach: I do not know it.

Mr. Hickey: I think the Taoiseach should take a deep interest in finding out the nationality of the captains of our ships.

Mr. MacEntee: What has that to do with the sinking of the ship?

The Taoiseach: There is no question whatever about the nationality of the captain or of independent members of the crew.

Mr. Hickey: Of the captain.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate question.

Mr. Everett: Is there any information given to convoys? Has the Taoiseach any knowledge that information was given to the British convoy by this ship that a submarine was supposed to be in sight?

[540] The Taoiseach: I am sure there was not.

Mr. Everett: I am glad to hear that publicly stated.

The Taoiseach: It is not the business of our ships to give information to anybody.

Mr. Davin: Is the Taoiseach aware that a recommendation was submitted that Irish nationals should get preference for these ships?

An Ceann Comhairle: Another separate question.

The Taoiseach: I want to be quite clear about this: there was no justification of any kind whatsoever for the attack.