Saturday, 6 July 2013

deValera and Irish neutrality

Thanks to the kindness of a friend, I have been able to retrieve many notes locked in old floppy disks. I shall publish some of them as I manage to render them into a readable form.

History teaches that neutrality was ever the position adopted by small European nations in the face of belligerence involving the larger ones. It was, of course, in no small measure due to the actions of the Westminster Parliament and the government of the United Kingdom that as war loomed in the late 1930s Ireland found herself to be, both in terms of population and the size of her economy, a much smaller nation than she ought to have by then been.

Less than a generation after the craven partition of the country following the Anglo-Irish war, which is characterised in the minds of the Irish by the brutal excesses of the Black and Tans; only a few generations after the Great Famine, which saw millions condemned to death by starvation and disease, or to essentially forced migration in the most Hellish, and often fatal, conditions; with the bitter memories of how they were abandoned on the high altars of both laissez faire economics and Disraeli’s vaulting ambition still an open sore; with all this borne in mind could anyone in their right senses honestly have expected an Irish government to exhort its people to come to the aid of the colonial oppressor?

And yet on 6 October 1937 Malcolm MacDonald, son of Ramsay and at the time Dominions Secretary, could cable London from Dublin and reassure the Prime Minister that de Valera “would guarantee that in any case the Irish Free State would NOT be used to embarrass us in war.” Dev had first given this assurance in the Dail on May 29, 1935 when he said “Our territory will NEVER be permitted to be used as a base for attack upon Britain.” (My emphasis, but he has been reported as having given the same emphasis in his speech.)

With so many in Ireland enjoying the closest ties of kinship with the diaspora on John Bull’s only island, how could Dev do, or even contemplate, otherwise?

Did de Valera, as has often been asserted by Ulster Unionist-suppporting right-wingers on this side of the Irish Sea, frustrate the extension of conscription to the six counties? No, but he did point out the utter hypocrisy which would be involved in seeking to force Irish Catholics in the six counties to fight for the freedom to self-determination of other small nations in Europe when they themselves were denied that self-same right.

Even without Dev intervening,  the Catholics in the north east corner of Ireland remembered well the lessons to be drawn from Redmond’s and wee Joe Devlin’s betrayal by Her Majesty’s Imperial Government after they had exhorted their followers to enlist at the outset of the First World War!

In the event it was not deValera, nor was it the weight of American public opinion, but rather JM Andrews, the Stormont Prime Minister, who towards the end of May 1941 persuaded Churchill to abandon any thoughts of conscription in the six counties.

Did de Valera “minimise co-operation with the Allies’ D-Day vital (contiguous) security clampdown” as one correspondent of the editor of The (Glasgow) Herald dared to suggest? Certainly not! In point of fact when the American General Jacob L Devers crash landed in Ireland late in 1943, his briefcase contained all the details of the proposed Operation Overlord. General Devers, his briefcase and the secrets of the D-Day landing were promptly repatriated safely, intact and secretly to Britain.

Not only that, as the D-Day landings approached, the Irish Government decided that the Curragh Interment Centre was too overcrowded. The Allied pilots who were transferred out to ease the problem somehow found themselves inexplicably delivered into the safekeeping of the military authorities in the six counties contrary to the Geneva Convention, but perfectly in tune with the spirit of Irish pro-British neutrality!

As for the old chestnut about de Valera’s call upon the German Ambassador, Dr Edward Hempel, the protocols covering diplomatic relations were largely worked out at the Court of St James, London. Since in Europe Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and Ireland were non-belligerents, English devised protocol dictated that they formally extend their condolences to the German people, via the Ambassador, on the death of the Head of State, irrespective of whomsoever or whatsoever that person be.

Eamon de Valera fully realised that he could, and perhaps should, have delegated this task to an underling. However, de Valera took the view, and I think rightly, that Dr Hempel had been a good friend to Ireland — and without betraying his own country, a good friend also to the American and British governments. In the only comment, at least that I am aware of, he ever volunteered on the matter, Dev said that he personally determined that he “certainly was not going to add to his humiliation in the hour of defeat.”

It had, to put it mildly, bugger at all to do with any liking for, or admiration of, Hitler!

In the course of the Clydebank Blitz, the Luftwaffe also bombed and damaged other areas in West-Central Scotland. Presumably by accident, they managed to hit the premises belonging to the German Consulate at 9 Park Circus, Charing Cross, Glasgow.

Dr Werner Grecor, the German Consul, had departed Glasgow, ostensibly on holiday, in August of 1939 before hostilities broke out. He left an envelope containing a contact address to be opened in case of emergency with the Consulate’s lawyers: Chalk, Bertram & Anderson, Solicitors, 38 Bath Street, Glasgow. In the event, when Mr George Chalk instructed his apprentice, Willie McAfee — who was in his 80s was still the proud possessor of the longest continuously held Practising Certificate at the Glasgow Bar when he informed me of all this — to check the contents of this envelope, it was found to contain the name and address of an hotel at Scappa Flow!

When hostilities did duly break out, in accordance with the rules governing the conduct of diplomatic relations, the Rules of the Court of St James, Switzerland was nominated as the “friendly power” to represent the German government’s interests in Britain. When the Swiss Embassy learned of the damage done to the German Consulate in Glasgow, Messrs Chalk & Co were instructed to ascertain the extent and value of the damage done to the German government’s property and to submit a claim for compensation in that amount to the Foreign Office in Whitehall.

In accordance with those diplomatic rules, Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet settled this claim from Hitler’s Nazi regime promptly and in full. Nazi Germany was reimbursed for the damage done to its premises in Glasgow by its own air force in the course of the Luftwaffe’s attempts to destroy the Clyde shipbuilding industry.

In effect Churchill authorised the British exchequer to help fund, at least in part, the Nazi war effort!

Obviously had this not been effectively hushed up, Churchill could not have sought to so grotesquely misrepresent deValera’s later act of personal kindness Dr Edward Hempel when that good man suddenly found himself in a parlous situation.

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