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Neutrality by Ordeal

Pádraig Murphy
Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Vol VII, 1941-1945, Catriona Crowe, Ronan Fanning, Michael Kennedy, Dermot Keogh, Eunan O’Halpin, (eds), Royal Irish Academy, 720 pp, €45, ISBN: 978-1904890638 Also referred to: Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Vol II, Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 2000 That Neutral Island, Clair Wills, London, Faber and Faber, 2007 Spying on Ireland, Eunan O’Halpin, Oxford, O.U.P., 2008 Judging Dev, Diarmuid Ferriter, Dublin, RIA, 2007 Das Amt und die Vergangenheit, Eckart Conze, Norbert Frei, Peter Hayes, Moshe Zimmermann, Munich, Karl Blessing Verlag, 2010 Spies in Ireland, Enno Stephan, trans Arthur Davidson, London, Macdonald, 1963 The assertion and maintenance of neutrality by Ireland – then often called Éire – during the Second World War was the greatest test of the effective assertion of sovereignty that the then relatively new state had faced. It surpassed in this respect the campaign to join the League of Nations, which had reached a successful conclusion in 1923, and the subsequent, equally successful, effort to affirm our independence by registering the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the League. Eamon de Valera had pressed one step further in separation from Britain with the 1937 Constitution and the agreement to restore Cobh, Berehaven and Lough Swilly to Irish sovereignty in 1938 could be said to provide one of the most basic requirements of neutrality. For all that, the course of the world conflict would show up many continuing disadvantages with diplomatic representation and with expectations which could not be delivered on, arising from the by then vestigial membership of the British Commonwealth, so that it was merely the logical next step for the Costello government to take Ireland out in 1949. As well as this, the experience made plain, to those in charge in Dublin as in other countries affected by the war, the need for changes in the organisation of affairs both in Europe and at world level. Some of these were to be realised, others not, with more or less satisfactory results, some of which we are still experiencing today. Neutrality was decided upon early, even before the war. It was strongly influenced by Irish experience of the Versailles treaty – at the conference, President Wilson had in effect told the Dáil delegation they should go to hell as they were from a democratic country ‑ and the League of Nations, where Dev had concluded that the only recourse for small countries was to keep out…

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