Ireland’s neutral foreign policy and World War 2

Melbourne Ph.D. student derides Sunday Times and Irish Independent for completely misquoting him in order to make de Valera look like a Nazi sympathiser.

A documentary called Ireland’s Nazis, which is co-produced by RTÉ and the History Channel, attempts to make a case that Ireland harboured Nazi war criminals. There is a fairly interesting discussion about it here, where there is a fair amount of scepticism displayed.

There are many issues at play here, as there often are surrounding the portrayal of Irish history, and it would be difficult to discuss them all at once.

This Time Magazine article is interesting in order to gauge de Valera’s real, working attitude to fascism. De Valera urged the League of Nations to defend the Abysinnians with arms, and was even prepared to have Irish soldiers under English command for the cause. He was influential in ensuring that Haile Selassie was able to address the League Assembly to make his personal appeal, which the League rejected. Many think that the League’s decision not to pursue military sanctions against Italy made war in Europe inevitable.

As the delegates hastily left Geneva for their home capitals, most privately agreed that by far the best speech of the week had been made by the Irish Free State’s Eamon de Valera and that these were his most trenchant words: “If the great powers of Europe would only meet now in that peace conference which will have to he held after Europe has once again been drenched in blood; if they would be prepared to make now, in advance, only a tithe of the sacrifice each of them would have to make when war was begun, the terrible menace which threatens us all today could be warded off. “The problems that distract Europe today should not be left for soldiers to decide … They should be tackled now by the statesmen.”

Ireland withdrew from the League of Nations some time after the Abysinnian débacle, with de Valera explaining that in the forthcoming conflict, small countries must endeavour to protect themselves, as larger nations would certainly not respect their rights or keep their promises. This was the origin of Ireland’s neutrality during the Second World War as a strategic decision.

De Valera publically stated his opposition to both Communism and Nazism. He also opposed and defeated a fascist movement in Ireland, making no attempt to conciliate its leaders. He stated Ireland’s intention to oppose German forces with arms in the event of invasion, and plans were drawn up with army leaders, although weapons were short due to an embargo by England and America. SOE, the arm of British intelligence which organised sabotage operations in Europe, and which was inspired by the 1919-1921 era IRA, proposed that they should work with the Irish government on a plan to oppose the German forces.  Churchill vetoed it, and MI6 drew up a report on de Valera to try and convince the British cabinet that that Ireland would be brought into the war (and hence its ports made available to England) if he was overthrown. Yet among the massaged facts, falsehoods and half-truths in the report – propaganda should always contain at least a grain of truth – there is no attempt to say that de Valera actually had any sympathy with the German cause.

I predicted about two years ago that very soon P.R. would have Ireland as collaborating with the Nazis, just as the War of Independence has been dubbed a sectarian and terrorist conflict by a certain newspaper group and a handful of soundbyte-spouting academics. It should be noted by advocates of fairness that those who seek to discredit Ireland’s role in both conflicts have mirrored the propaganda of those who sought Ireland’s defeat. I would also point to the fact that that Ireland’s Nazis is a part of the same series that also contained a documentary about Eoin O’Duffy which sought to rationalise his fascism.


6 thoughts on “Ireland’s neutral foreign policy and World War 2

  1. Interesting blog. I’m having a discussion with a Scottish historian on De Valera and his alleged anti-Semitism. It’s hard to square the man who visited the German embassy to offer condolences for Hitler to the man who had a forest planted in his honour so his “unwise but mathematically consistent” determination to stay neutral is possibly the reason for that strange act in 1945.

    • Thanks for your comment.
      I’m not sure it’s all that strange in diplomatic terms.

      As for de Valera’s alleged anti-Semitism, I simply see no evidence for its existence. The one instance put forward is his diplomatic visit to the German embassy, and that doesn’t stand up.

      On the other hand, Ireland was the only neutral country to be treated as an enemy by Britain and the U.S. during World War II because of its refusal of British demands for access to its ports, something which would have had little to no military advantage, but would have allowed Britain to retake Ireland as a colony in the postwar setting. Look at Sweden in contrast, which is said to have given the Nazis crucial mineral supplies yet was never molested. There are absolutely no instances of Ireland helping the Nazis, or being in their favour, which will tell you something about why the German embassy incident – which would have been an extremely minor incident had it not suited British and U.S. P.R. purposes at the time and since – gets so much publicity.

  2. I’m only beginning to work on this subject, but it seems to me that dV’s excessive politeness at the time of Hitler’s death may have been him thumbing his nose re. Feb. 1944 Anglo-American pressure to have German and Japanese missions in Dublin expelled.

    Because this was asked for in a formal note rather than the usual verbal manner, dV seems to have feared that – in preparation for the opening of the western front – the Allies had plans to invade Eire.

    dV called in the Canadian High Commissioner and asked him to intervene with the Americans and have the note withdrawn. This put Canada in an awkward position since, as a good daughter of the Empire, it was in no way going to help Eire against the Brits. I remark the highly patronizing tone Canadian officials adopted toward the Irish, seeing dV esp. as petulant, alarmist, and too give to gift-of-the gab.

    • I’d always accepted the idea of pedantic neutrality, since offical condolences had been tendered on Roosevelt’s death, but that’s an interesting idea. Have you read T Ryle Dwyer’s article in The Capuchin Annual of, I think, 1946? He gives an account of US and Canadian official attitudes towards Ireland during WW2, and I think he said that both engaged in extensive propaganda against Ireland.

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