Apologise for WWII neutrality? Will UK apologise for appeasement?

My column in today’s (16/05/2103) Herald respond to Ben McIntyre’s op-ed in last Friday’s Times entitled “Its refusal to resist Hitler still shames Ireland” 


Ben McIntyre writing in: The Times
Ben McIntyre writing in: The Times

As my dad used to say: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

His words came to mind reading Ben McIntyre’s extraordinary opinion piece in last Friday’s Times entitled ”Its refusal to resist Hitler still shames Ireland”.

The article’s sub-head read: “Dublin has pardoned soldiers who fought the Nazis. Now it must withdraw its condolences on the Führer’s death.” Thus McIntyre uses Minister Shatter’s WWII Amnesty and Immunity law as a pretext for demanding a withdrawal of condolences made 68 years ago this month.

I can understand why people feel we should now apologise for the subsequent treatment of those who deserted the Irish army to join the British army, even at a time when there was a real threat of invasion here.

Even so, after six years advising a Defence Minister I‘m uncomfortable with a law which seems to concede that there are circumstances where members of our Defence Forces can break the oath they take to:

… be faithful to Ireland and loyal to the Constitution and that while I am a member of the Defence Forces I will obey all lawful orders issued to me by my superior officers…

More worrying, however, are Shatter’s comments launching the Bill in which he dismissed our neutrality during WWII as “a principle of moral bankruptcy”. This makes his gesture look like a re-writing of history into what he wishes it had been.

This fear is exacerbated by McIntyre using Shatter’s comments to call our neutrality: “at the very least, an abdication of moral responsibility.”

Would Minister Shatter or Mr McIntyre dismiss the United States’ decision to remain neutral up to the end of 1941 as “moral bankruptcy” or shameful? Should it now amend its entry into the war to read 1939?

Of course not. The Nazi’s atrocities were no better known in Ireland at the time than they were in the States. So why, from this distance in time and perspective, level the charge at us?

America’s entry into WWII was not precipitated by its abhorrence of what was happening in Europe but by an attack on its sovereign territory at Pearl Harbour.

Though Roosevelt had been trying to gradually shift American opinion from an isolationist stance to one of supporting Britain, it took a direct attack to achieve it. Yet Ireland, which wasn’t attacked, is to be pilloried for not doing the same, less than 20 years after the Black and Tan’s were here attacking and terrorising us?

Following American’s entry into the war De Valera re-termed our position as “friendly neutral”. The practical impact was acknowledged at the time by Viscount Cranborne, the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, who reported, amongst other things that:
• Senior British and Irish army officers were contact in regarding co-operation against a possible German invasion of the South.
• The Irish granted the Allies permission to use the Atlantic Air Corridor (Lough Erne through Sligo/Donegal) and
• The Irish did not obstruct the departure from Ireland of those who wanted to serve in the UK Forces nor to their returning home on leave, provided they travelled in plain clothes.

Yet, when weighing up the effect of Ireland’s neutrality, rather than factoring in these actions McIntyre focuses just on Dev’s adherence to the diplomatic protocol of neutrality to the very end – Dev was Minister for External Relations as well as Taoiseach.

As Dev told the Dáil he saw the German Ambassador, Hempel, “as the representative of the [German] people and of the nation, not of the particular Government”. He also observed that his critics ignored his adjourning the Dáil a few weeks earlier as a mark of respect on the death of the President of the United States (FDR).

If Mr McIntyre wants to re-write history perhaps he can start a little closer to home and demand that the Tories erase Neville Chamberlain’s signature from the 1938 Munich Agreement?

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