Neutrality

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2014), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—With regard to Brendan Ó Cathaoir’s letter about Britain’s offer of unification in 1940 (HI 21.6, Nov./Dec. 2013), he seems to suggest that de Valera’s decision to reject it was because he thought Germany was going to win the war and Britain could not be trusted to keep any agreement made. In fact he gave other reasons for his decision, which are included in minutes prepared by Malcolm MacDonald after the meetings:

As soon as neutrality was abandoned, the country was likely to be attacked by Germany to punish it for entering the war against them and as a warning to other countries not to intervene on Britain’s side. He did not share the British view that it would be invaded in any case.

Éire’s army did not have the means to resist tanks and mechanised troops, and defences against air raids were limited. MacDonald reported him as having made this argument ‘with an emphasis which made me feel that one of the decisive factors in the whole situation is his country’s nakedness of defence’. (De Valera told him that a meeting of the Defence Council had been held since the talks began during which ‘a review of the defence situation showed their dangerous condition’.)

He was sceptical that Britain would continue to resist Germany:

• The creation of a Joint Defence Council and a joint body to discuss an all-Ireland constitution as proposed by Britain would not persuade the Irish people to abandon neutrality.
• The country was unified on the basis of neutrality. If this was abandoned it would be split. The IRA might attack British forces that entered the country under the terms of the proposed agreement to help resist a German invasion.
• Britain wanted Éire to enter the war immediately but effectively postpone a united Ireland, there being no guarantee that the Northern Ireland government would agree to the proposals, as Britain ‘wasn’t going to coerce them’.

Incidentally, Neville Chamberlain was lord president of the Council by this time, having resigned as prime minister on 10 May 1940.—Yours etc.,

PAUL TURNELL
Buckinghamshire

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