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DeValera, Churchill and Ukraine

As a child I recall having a record player in our house. My mother liked classical music and there were various 33’s lying around the place. There was just one 45 as far I can remember and, for some reason, it was floppy - a flexi-disc in industry parlance.

It was a recording of DeValera’s response to Churchill a few days after the end of World War 2. Churchill, in the first flush of victory, and just a week after the German surrender, took a swipe at ‘Devil-eire’ as he used to call him. He commended Britain’s remarkable restraint in not invading neutral Ireland at any point in the war. While the Brits were doing all the heavy lifting, the Irish were frolicking with Nazi and Japanese representatives in Dublin.


It was true that Dev had taken the bizarre decision to visit the German ambassador following Hitler’s suicide to express sympathy. While it was ostensibly a sign of respect for the Ambassador Hempel, it must pass as one of the most eccentric things he ever did.


Nevertheless, Churchill’s speech touched a nerve in Ireland.


Following Churchill’s less than gracious tirade, an expectation grew around Ireland that Dev would have to reply and to save the honour of Ireland while he was at it.


Being neutral is an article of faith for many but the neutrality practiced during the ‘emergency’ very much favoured the Allies on a day-to-day basis and in countless ways.


But Dev chose not to draw on this line of argument as he prepared his rebuke of the conceited Churchill. He also avoided anger and instead chose a school-masterly tone as though gently chiding an errant schoolboy from his teaching days.


In a memorably stinging phrase, he said that Churchill’s threat would result in “Britain’s necessity becoming a moral code”. The rights of small nations neighbouring larger ones would no longer matter. Ireland’s sovereign choice as an independent country to remain neutral would be swept aside by Britain’s need.


He said that this was precisely what had led to successive and disastrous wars. “A like justification can be framed for similar acts of aggression elsewhere and no small nations adjoining a great Power could ever hope to be permitted to go its own way in peace”.


He said “it is indeed hard for the strong to be just to the weak but acting justly always has its rewards.”


This speech was acclaimed in nationalist Ireland and copies of it were distributed around the country including in my home. It came to mind again this week as the Far Left Irish MEPs sought to make excuses for Russia’s aggressive stance in Ukraine before the invasion. Putin’s necessity, in their confused minds, has become a moral code.


The right of a smaller, weaker neighbour to make sovereign choices about its future does not seem to count.


My Far Left colleagues make the equally eccentric argument that NATO put Putin up to it and that he ‘fell for it’. This is Grade A conspiracy theory.


It is true that NATO has a disastrous recent history and that it was warmongering in 2003 with fake information. However, it was clear to all but the most misty-eyed Marxists that it was Putin who was warmongering with fake information on this occasion. The invasion confirmed all of my worst fears.


DeValera was coy in 1945 about the multiple ways in which help was offered to the Allies however I am heartened to see that Irish neutrality has evolved sufficiently for the Irish Government to draw a clear distinction between military and political neutrality and to stand firmly by Ukraine.


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