An edited version of this letter was published in the Irish edition of the British Sunday Times on 15 November 2009 in response to letters in the 8 November edition:
A mainstay of John Turi’s argument that Eamon de Valera was a British operative was William Wylie’s statement that de Valera had never been court-martialled. Wylie did indeed make this claim, or at least that he personally had not prosecuted any such trial. However, while Wylie was highly regarded in Ireland after the Rising due to his attempt to prosecute fairly at the courts-martial, his accounts of the trials have not always been consistent or, indeed, accordant with known fact. For example, his claim that Countess Markievicz behaved cravenly at her trial is not borne out by the official record, but originated as one of several wild rumours circulated about the Countess immediately after the Rising. His accounts of Markievicz demonstrates a clear animosity towards her, and his attitude towards de Valera is similarly emotional: “But for Dev there would have been no split at the time of the Treaty… none of the burning of houses and destruction of property and life that took place in 1922 and 1923…” (Leon O Broin, ‘W.E. Wylie and the Irish Revolution’, p. 33.)
As I understand, a central element in Mr Turi’s thesis was the fact that de Valera’s court-martial record was not available with those of the other 1916 participants in the British National Archives. When MI5 created a system of personal files in 1917 (the number of files is now in the millions) de Valera’s was one of the first to be created, two of the others being Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Illich Lenin. It is likely that de Valera’s court-martial record was moved to this or another secret file, a common practice when a person is under surveillance by an intelligence organisation. It may also have been appropriated as part of the British government’s attempts to clear up the matter of de Valera’s citizenship in 1916. (In 1919, the British government took the position that he was not a British citizen and that he was to be denied re-entry to Ireland.)*
Mr Turi’s reasoning is thus: de Valera’s trial record is missing or incomplete; Major Ivor Price** was persuasive; de Valera’s mental state was questioned by his opponents; QED, de Valera was a British spy. The notion that de Valera was mentally unstable, a conceit that has circulated amongst some writers and which Mr Turi adopts, was originally generated by Dublin Castle propaganda to try to discredit his leadership during the War of Independence. The notion that de Valera suffered from anything more than considerable eccentricity is unlikely, and has never been suggested by any credible qualified source. To suggest that de Valera was involved in Michael Collins’s killing a charge which none of his Irish detractors accepts, for the simple reason that it is unsustainable.
To make the suggestion that an anti-imperialist leader was under imperialist control needs something more than a stated dislike by the author, his dislike the leader’s policies, and that the leader was on the side of a civil war that the author disapproves of, [and] opens the author to the charge of sensationalism.
Dublin 7, Ireland
*De Valera was at that time in the U.S. to promote international acceptance of the Irish Republic as declared in January 1919.
**British intelligence officer. There is no evidence, nor has it been suggested by anyone other than John Turi, that he ever talked to de Valera.
Edit: a detailed review of Turi’s book (I did not write this!).