Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Eamon de Valera

Paul Brennan

De Valera's foreign policy

Ronan Fanning


En 1951, M. De Valera, Premier Ministre, abandonne le poste de responsable des affaires étrangères irlandaises. Auparavant, dès son arrivée au pouvoir en 1932 et jusqu'à 1948, il avait cumulé les deux fonctions. Dorénavant une nouvelle ère s'ouvre en matière de politique étrangère. Mais durant la première période De Valera avait obtenu la reconnaissance de la souveraineté de son pays et de son correlaire sa neutralité.

In 1951 Prime Minister de Valera surrendered the External Affairs portfolio. Between 1932 and 1948 he had assumed both functions. Henceforth a new era was opening up in foreign policy. Prior to that however de Valera had succeeded in having Irish sovereignity recognized internationally as well as its neutrality.

Texte intégral

  • 1 T.D. Williams, 'Irish foreign policy, 1949-69', in J.J. Lee (ed.), Ireland: 1945-70 (Dublin, 1979)

1'The de Valera tradition in foreign policy', wrote Desmond Williams in an essay published in 19791,'could be said to have ranged from 1932 to 1959, if not longer'. The dates span the quarter-century between the time when Eamon de Valera first became head of government in independent Ireland in 1932 and the moment, in 1959, when he finally stood down as head of government and became instead head of State. Certainly, and as Professor Williams hinted, if we wish to understand the underlying principles which guided de Valera's foreign policy throughout his long career we must take a broader time-span.

2What is at issue here - as in almost all other aspects of de Valera's political career - is how his experience during the revolutionary years (1916-21) and in the wilderness of opposition (1922-32) shaped his stance on foreign policy. These, indeed, are the first two of four phases into which an analysis of de Valera's foreign policy might appropriately be divided. These are:

  1. The pre-independence period when de Valera, as recognised leader of Irish revolutionary nationalism after 1917, first endeavoured to formulate the principles of the foreign policy which should be implemented if Ireland were to obtain in practice that independence which she already claimed in theory.
  2. De Valera's decade in opposition inaugurated by the treaty split of 1922 when he was impotent to influence foreign policy and when his impotence was compounded by what he considered the larger impotence of the Irish Free State's flawed independence.
  3. The years of de Valera's unquestioned primacy as a practicioner of foreign policy between 1932 and 1948, his first sixteen years as head of government when he assumed almost total control over foreign policy by retaining the portfolio of Minister for External Affairs in his own hands.
  4. The twilight years after 1951 when, in 1951-54 and in 1957-59, a blind and ageing de Valera, although retaining the headship of government with all that that implied for the direction of foreign policy, relinquished the External Affairs portfolio into the hands of Frank Aiken.

3Common to all four phases, however, is a central theme which provides the key to an understanding of de Valera's foreign policy. That key was cut from de Valera's greatest political passion: his obsession with Irish sovereignty. Put another way, what mattered most to de Valera was how absolute independence might best be achieved and, once achieved, how it might best be protected.

4De Valera was among the first of the Irish revolutionaries to confront an inescapable reality of international relations common to all small nation-states striving for sovereignty: that the methods most appropriate for the attainment of independence were not the methods most appropriate for its preservation. That reality was, and is, in the first instance geopolitical.

  • 2 Charles de Gaulle, War memoirs: I The Call to honour 1940-42 (London, 1955), p. 109.

5It seems apposite in a French journal to remind ourselves of the geopolitical vision of that great protagonist of French sovereignty, Charles de Gaulle: 'when all is said and done, Great Britain is an island; France the cape of a continent; America another world'2. In Gaullist and de Valerian perspective alike, Ireland was an offshore island behind that larger and mightier British island from whose dominion she was endeavouring to escape but with whose destiny she must remain forever intertwined. The Irish strategy of those seeking to sever the British connection by forming an alliance with Britain's most powerful continental enemy - be it Philip II's Spain, Napoleon's France, or Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany - no longer made sense once that connection had been severed.

6Eamon de Valera explicitly and publicly recognised that reality as early as February 1920 in a press interview in New York.

'An independent Ireland would see its own independence in jeopardy the moment it saw the independence of Britain seriously threatened. Mutual self-interest would make the people of these two islands, if both independent, the closest possible allies in a moment of real national danger to either.

If they are not so today, it is because Britain, in her selfishness, has robbed Ireland of every natural motive for such an alliance. The fish in the maw of one shark does not trouble about the possible advent of another shark. The mouse quivering in the jaws of the cat does not fear the approach of the terrier but, if anything, welcomes it.

  • 3 Maurice Moynihan (ed.), Speeches and statements by Eamon de Valera 1917-73 (Dublin, 1980), pp. 31- (...)

And so Ireland, deprived of its freedom by Britain - in dependence, and persecuted because it is not satisfied to remain in dependence - is impelled by every natural instinct and force to see hope in the downfall of Britain and hope, not fear, in every attack upon Britain. Whereas in an independent Ireland, the tendency would be all the other way'3.

7Here, then lies the geopolitical foundation of the doctrine of neutrality which was fundamental to de Valera's foreign policy. De Valera realised that an independent Ireland would be free to formulate an independent foreign policy - which, in the Irish situation, effectively meant a foreign policy independent of British foreign policy - only insofar as that policy did not represent a threat to Britain's vital strategic interests. The fact of Irish independence would not redress the unequal balance of power between the two islands and a putative alliance betwen a free Ireland and an enemy of Britain might only provoke the British once more to threaten Irish freedom.

8Neutrality, in short, represented the outer limit of how independent of British foreign policy Irish foreign policy could become.

9Not for nothing did the statement in which de Valera used the words quoted above become known as his Cuban declaration. Indeed de Valera drew an explicit analogy between U.S. - Cuban and Anglo-Irish relations, pointing to how

  • 4 Ibid., p. 33.

'the United States, by the Monroe Doctrine, made provision for its security without depriving the Latin republics of the South of their independence and their life. The United States safeguarded itself from the possible use of the island of Cuba as a base for an attack by a foreign power by stipulating:
'That the Government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorise or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain, by colonisation or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgement in or control over any portion of said island'.
Why doesn't Britain do thus with Ireland as the United States did with Cuba?
Why doesn't Britain declare a Monroe Doctrine for the two neighbouring islands? The people of Ireland, so far from objecting, would co-operate with their whole soul in a regional understanding of that sort'4.

  • 5 Ibid., p. 41.

10The significance of de Valera's Cuban analogy was immediately lost in a welter of controversy when he was attacked by his Irish-American opponents for having allegedly retreated from the position that an independent Ireland should be entitled to decide her own international relations. Although these criticisms deterred de Valera from reiterating the Cuban analogy, it nevertheless remained central to his perception of Anglo-Irish relations. In an open letter which he addressed to President Woodrow Wilson in October 1920, for example, he again declared that 'Ireland is quite ready by treaty to ensure England's safety and legitimate security against the danger of foreign powers seeking to use Ireland as a basis of attack against her'5. And he frequently returned to this theme after he came to power in 1932.

11De Valera likewise revealed the basic principles of his attitude towards international organisations in general, and the League of Nations in particular, in this early, pre-independence phase of his career. Indeed one of his earliest major speeches to the Dail on 11 April 1919, was on the subject of the League of Nations. Ireland, he declared, was

'ready to enter any League of Nations in which each nation would be under the obligation not to resort to arms against another nation in the League without first submitting the matter at issue to a court of arbitration. But they were not prepared to enter the league as it was appearing at present…

  • 6 Ibid., pp. 26, 28.

The new form which the League of Nations appeared to be taking now… was simply the form of tyranny. It simply meant an association to perpetuate power for those who had got it and to keep for ever in slavery those who had been kept in slavery by international rules, as they were called, but which were simply the rules of thieves for regulating their conduct amongst themselves'6.

  • 7 The Earl of Longford and Thomas P. O'Neill, Eamon de Valera (London, 1970), p. 465.

12De Valera never lost this engrained cynicism about the conduct of the great powers, within or without international organisations, and it may be that his perspective on international relations owed something to his reading of Machiavelli7.

13He was prescient from the beginning, moreover, about the shortcomings of the Versailles treaty and in that same speech to the Dail, even before that treaty had been concluded, he warned against the dangers of imposing a revanchist settlement on Germany:

  • 8 Moynihan, loc.cit.

'It is for those who have suffered less to compose France and to try to save her from an act that would endanger her future. We are here on behalf of the Irish people, and we are quite ready to take our place in a League of Nations which has as its foundation equality and right among nations. We hold that the subjection of any nation to another is slavery, and it is not we alone who hold that doctrine'8.

14De Valera's scepticism about the League's capacity to provide a fair hearing for small nations was compounded by the Irish delegation's being denied a hearing at the Paris peace talks.

  • 9 Ibid., pp. 220-1.

15When, in September 1923, Ireland was finally admitted to the League de Valera had lost power and was in jail in the aftermarth of the civil war. But, by a strange irony, the Presidency of the League's Council fell by rotation to the Irish Free State soon after de Valera first became its head of government in 1932. His presidential address to the League's Assembly in October 1932 recognised that 'there is on all sides complaint, criticism and suspicion… the smaller States, whilst being given a voice, have little real influence in the final determination of League action'9.

  • 10 Quoted in Conor Cruise O'Brien, 'Ireland in international affairs', in Owen Dudley Edwards (ed.), (...)

16During the twenties and early thirties, however, when war seemed a relatively remote possibility, the question of Irish neutrality semed correspondingly abstract and academic. Between 1932 and 1937, moreover, de Valera's energies were absorbed in unilaterally rewriting the constitutional relationship between the Irish Free State and the United Kingdom as he believed it should have been written at the time of the 1921 treaty. His decision to retain the External Affairs portfolio in his own hands, while simultaneously serving as head of government, bore witness to his variant of the maxim that all policy is foreign policy and that all foreign policy revolved around Anglo-Irish relations - or, in the well-known phrase of Desmond FitzGerald, one of his predecessors as Minister for External Affairs, that 'England was our most important external affair'10.

17But, by 1936 as the war-clouds loomed larger over Europe, de Valera again turned his attention to neutrality which he linked with the increasing vulnerability of Ireland and other small States as the League's inability to restrain the strong from attacking the weak was compellingly demonstrated.

18The Italian invasion and annexation of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935-6 was a classic case in point and de Valera linked the themes of Ireland's neutrality and the League's deficiencies in his Dail speech of 18 June 1936. After denouncing the failure of the League and stressing that the Irish 'position will have to be considered in the light of whether we feel it would be in the interests of our country to belong to the League', de Valera went on to reiterate that neutrality was the preferred government policy in the event of war. But he also recognised that the continued British occupation of Irish ports - at Berehaven, Cobh (Queenstown) and Lough Swilly under the terms of the defence annex to the 1921 treaty - 'will give, to any foreign country that may desire a pretext, an opportunity of ignoring our neutrality' and he made it a prime objective of policy 'that no part of our territory will be occupied by any forces except the forces that are immediately responsible to the government here'.

19De Valera then returned to the central theme of his Cuban declaration of 1920 when he renewed his assurances to the British that

  • 11 See Moynihan, De Valera, pp. 275-7.

'they are not going to be attacked through foreign states that might attempt to use this country as a base. We are prepared, and any government with which I have been associated has always been prepared, to give guarantees, so far as guarantees can be given, that that will not happen. We are prepared to meet the necessary expense and to make the necessary provision to see that the full strength of this nation will be used to resist any attempt by any foreign power to abuse our neutrality by using any portion of our territory as a base'11.

  • 12 See Ronan Fanning, Independent Ireland (Dublin, 1983), pp. 131-2.

20'We want to be neutral', de Valera baldly and unambiguously asserted in that same speech and, again in 1936, he underlined the primacy he accorded neutrality when he unhesitatingly resisted strong popular pressure - exerted through the press, through opposition spokesmen in the Dail and through the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church - to declare for Franco in the Spanish civil war12.

  • 13 John Bowman, De Valera and the Ulster question 1917-58 (Dublin, 1978), p. 181.

21This primacy of neutrality in de Valera's foreign policy explains why he regarded the Anglo-Irish agreement of 25 April 1938 as his 'greatest political achievement' - so he later told the doyen of historians of Irish foreign policy, Professor Desmond Williams13. The defence agreement he then concluded with Neville Chamberlain's government abrogated the offending articles of the 1921 treaty and, by transferring all port, aviation and other defence facilities to the Irish government, removed the largest single obstacle to Ireland's remaining neutral in the event of war. The agreement, de Valera told the Dail, 'recognises and finally establishes Irish sovereignty over the twenty-six counties and the territorial seas'. Yet again he reiterated his government's determination that their territory should not be used as a base for an attack on Britain.

  • 14 Moynihan, De Valera, pp. 346-8.

'It is obvious that to do so would immediately involve us in war with Britain, directly or indirectly; and, having got rid of British interference by peaceful measures now, we certainly would not be wise, and no Irish government would be wise, in involving itself in a war of the nature. I have always said that, in my view, an independent Ireland would have interests, very many interests, in common with Great Britain. In providing for our defence of our own interests, we would also of necessity be providing to a certain extent for British defence of British interests. I think that the British government that made this agreement has shown greater wisdom than any previous British government'14.

  • 15 See Ronan Fanning, The Irish Department of Finance 1922-58 (Dublin, 1978), p. 659, n.64.
  • 16 Deirdre McMahon, Republicans and imperialists - Anglo-Irish relations in the 1930s (New-Haven & Lo (...)

22De Valera's perception of British 'wisdom' mirrored British perceptions of de Valera's achievement. Two observations offered by two successive British prime ministers are especially apposite: Stanley Baldwin's description of de Valera as 'a medieval mystic and straight as a gun-barrel'15 and Neville Chamberlain's comment that he was 'a queer creature' though 'sincere'16 (my italics). Such attributions of straightness and sincerity suggest that, by 1938, the British political elite, whatever their impatience with de Valerian metaphysics, were clearly awarding de Valera marks for consistency and reliability with all that that entailed for his standing as a statesman. That de Valera kept repeating very much the same message in very much the same words clearly contributed to this conclusion.

23Once the treaty-ports had been secured and the first prerequisite for Irish neutrality thus fulfilled de Valera immediately felt able, in that same speech on the 1938 agreement, publicly and more explicitly to reassert the geopolitical realities which tied Irish to British interests. 'Just look at the map of Europe today', he urged the Dail:

  • 17 Moynihan, De Valera, p. 352.

'none of us would wish… to exchange the position of the two islands and go between Britain and the continent. Any Irishman who looks at a map must recognise that, from the Irish point of view, once Britain becomes friendly, once there is no interference with Irish affairs, no Irishman will regret that we are on the far side of Britain and not between Britain and Europe at the present time. In these conditions a strong Britain would be a defence, a barrier to attack from the continent. Once we were free and wanted to maintain our freedom, we would be anxious to see that Britain was strong and that Britain was not attacked - through us as the backdoor at any rate… It is good British policy to have an independent Ireland that is interested in maintaining its own independence; and, because it is interested in maintaining its own independence and that is has not to fear for that independence from Britain, it is interested in seeing a strong Britain as a shield and a barrier between her and the dangers of the continent'17.

  • 18 F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine (London, 1973 edt.), p. 554.
  • 19 See Robert Fisk, In time of war - Ireland, Ulster and the price of neutrality 1939-45 (London, 198 (...)

24De Valera here delineated the twin themes of his foreign policy throughout world war II: first, the implementation and preservation of Irish neutrality as the public proof of independence, 'the outward and visible sign of absolute sovereignty'18; second, the substantial assistance given secretly to Britain and her allies by an Irish government which did not want to lose their shield against German invasion and which accordingly adopted the stance, in de Valera's phrase, of 'a friendly neutral'19. The first was the ideological, the second the pragmatic, of the strands always interwoven in de Valera's foreign policy.

  • 20 T. Desmond Williams, 'Ireland and the war' in Kevin B. Nowlan and T. Desmond Williams (ed.), Irela (...)

25The story of how de Valera sustained Irish neutrality throughout world war II is well-known and needs little elaboration here. Ireland was a lucky neutral because geographical accident made her less vulnerable to invasion than most other European States and because neither of the warring blocs decided that the occupation of Irish territory was vital to their security; 'the advantages to be derived from any attempted occupation were not greater than the costs, moral and military, involved in such an operation'. But 'the skill of de Valera in convincing all parties that he would oppose by force the first power which tried to interfere with Irish neutrality'20 was also a factor. Here again we must recall the consistency of de Valera's foreign policy and the significance of his reputation for meaning what he said.

  • 21 Cf. Fanning, Independent Ireland, pp. 126-7.
  • 22 Moynihan, De Valera, p. 361.

26The intensive Anglo-American pressure applied by both Churchill's and Roosevelt's governments to abandon neutrality in favour of the allies ultimately had the effect of adding to de Valera's stature as a statesman, both at home and abroad. Neutrality, noted a perceptive English visitor in 1942, assumed 'an almost religous flavour; it has become a question of honour; and it is something which Ireland is not ashamed of, but tremendously proud'21. Indeed de Valera so successfully identified neutrality with national honour that what was originally as a means to an end - the end of sovereignty -tended instead to become an end in itself. This was especially true when, after American entry into the war, de Valera increasingly began to identify partition as a reason why Ireland would not join the allies. Here, too, however, de Valera had publicly spelt out his reasoning before the war began when, in October 1938, he stated 'categorically that no Irish leader will ever be able to get the Irish people to co-operate with Great Britain while partition remains. I wouldn't attempt it myself, for I know I should fail'22.

27The primacy of sovereignty in de Valera's foreign policy explains why he rejected Neville Chamberlain's offer, when France was falling in June 1940, of immediate British support for a 'United Ireland' if that 'United Ireland' first joined forces with the British. What de Valera wanted was an Ireland sovereign and united. Yet again he had publicly pledged himelf before the war began, in February 1939, that if he were faced with a choice between sovereignty and unity, he would choose sovereignty when he stated in parliament that,

  • 23 Cf. Fanning, op.cit., p. 140.

'although freedom for a part of this island is not the freedom we want,… (it is) something that I would not sacrifice, if by sacrificing it we were to get a united Ireland and that united Ireland was not free to determine its own form of government, to determine its relations with other countries'23 (My italics).

28The independence of de Valera's foreign policy, as first enunciated in 1920 and as theoretically established in 1936-38, was practically proven by his executing the policy of neutrality successfully throughout world war II.

29But the progressive ideologisation of neutrality during the war was but one factor making for a foreign policy that was more isolationist than internationalist. Other such factors were de Valera's preoccupation with the campaign to revive the Irish language which, whatever its advantages as an incentive to national cohesion, militated against an internationalist or cosmopolitan outlook which might have fostered interest in other European languages; the involuntary quarantine imposed on Ireland as an island marooned without either a merchant marine or a civil aviation fleet of any significance in the middle of the battle of the Atlantic; and, finally, the self-exile consequent upon remaining outside what became the grand alliance of the United Nations.

  • 24 Norman MacQueen, 'Ireland's entry to the United Nations, 1946-56', in Tom Gallagher and James O'Co (...)

30These factors together with de Valera's jaundiced view of the League of Nations may explain his luke-warm reaction to the decision to establish the United Nations in 1945. De Valera expressed much the same reservations about the United Nations as he had done about the League when the subject was discussed in the Dail in July 1945 and when he suggested that Ireland would 'not have in the new organisation the influence that they had in the old'24. Nothing, he told the Dail in December 1945, would be lost by delay. Not until July 1946 did de Valera's reluctance even to ventilate the issues involved prompt him 'to set the ball rolling'. His unenthusiastic exploration of the pros and cons led him to what he saw as the central question which he posed in traditionalist terms:

  • 25 Moynihan, De Valera, pp. 484-6.

'in what way, either by joining or not joining, are we most likely to preserve the independence of this country? That is really the net question. Is the independence and freedom which we have achieved and the independence and freedom to which we aspire for the whole country likely to be better guaranteed by our being a member of this organisation or by our not being a member of it'25.

31The questions unmistakeably identify Eamon de Valera as a believer in the doctrine that raison d'etat - and only raison d'etat - should guide the actions of the practitioner in international relations. For de Valera, the issue of United Nations membership, like all other foreign policy issues, was tested against the standard of independence, not against some utopian notion of interdependence. He acknowledged that those more internationally-minded than he might see things differently but he remained unrepentant. He deliberately avoided the advantages which Ireland might derive from membership or what role they might play in the new organisation. The 'net' question or test, he insisted, was

  • 26 Ibid., pp. 488-9.

'the method by which we are best able to preserve the freedom we have and to achieve the freedom we aspire to… It may be regarded as a lower test than that which other people might apply, but I think it is a realistic test which, if applied now, accepted and a decision taken in accordance with it, is one which will not fail us later'26.

  • 27 Ibid., p. 504.

32In the event, the Soviet veto of the Irish application to join the United Nations, first presented in August 1946, rendered de Valera's questions temporarily irrelevant. But his continued ambivalence was apparent in his admission - volunteered in a New York speech in April 1948 shortly after he had lost office for the first time since 1932 and when he was speaking as leader of the opposition - that he was 'rather glad' Ireland has not been admitted to the U.N.27.

33This interlude in opposition, from 1948 to 1951, saw independent Ireland's first coalition government (headed by 3ohn A. Costello and with the strongly republican Sean MacBride as Minister for External Affairs) take two major foreign policy decisions.

  • 28 See ibid., pp. 505-22.
  • 29 Ibid., p. 509.

34The first was their Republic of Ireland Act of 1948 which, by repealing de Valera's External Relations Act of 1936 (under which diplomatic representatives to and from Ireland were still appointed in the name of the King) and by describing the State as a republic, broke the last link with the British Commonwealth and removed the only remaining ambiguity about Irish sovereignty. De Valera, who had been contemplating such a measure for some time in the context of the possible misrepresentation of the External Relations Act, declared his party's unanimous support for the Bill28. He could hardly do otherwise given his obsession with sovereignty and he declared that he and his colleagues 'have been in public life not to retard, not to put barriers to, the onward march of the nation… (but) to try to secure that the age-long aspirations of our people would be achieved'29.

  • 30 Ronan Fanning, 'Irish neutrality - an historical review', in Irish Studies in International Affair (...)

35Bi-partisanship similarly characterised de Valera's response to the inter-party government's other notable decision when they rejected the invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) conveyed by the American Minister in Dublin in January 1949. The government's linkage of partition with their decision to reject the invitation 'reaffirmed the elevation of the anti-partitionist case for neutrality to the level of dogma'30. De Valera endorsed the linkage which he had himself enunciated before world war II when he told a press conference that, if returned to power and

  • 31 Fanning, Independent Ireland, p. 177.

'if the partition business were out of the way and Ireland had independence, he would advocate entrance into the Pact if Ireland was united. Until that was secured he did not think there was any chance of the people of Ireland wanting to go into the Pact'31.

  • 32 Fanning,'Irish neutrality', p. 36.
  • 33 Fanning, Independent Ireland, p. 205.

36De Valera's return as head of government in 1951 inaugurated what I have described as the twilight of his diplomatic career. Although he reiterated his position on NATO32, he was clearly becoming more and more pessimistic about an early resolution of the partition question33. Nor did anything remain for him to prove in regard to his principal preoccupation, the exercise of sovereignty. Sufficient proof had been provided by the implementation of neutrality and by the Republic of Ireland Act. There were, in short, no fresh foreign policy fields which de Valera sought to conquer. The absence of old compulsions was reflected in his decision to surrender the External Afairs portfolio to Frank Alken when he formed his new government in 1951, although it should be noted that Aiken was the most absolutist of de Valera's ministerial colleagues on the issue of neutrality.

  • 34 Cruise O'Brien, 'Ireland in international affairs', pp. 128-32.

37This was underlined when Aiken was reappointed as Minister for External Affairs in 1957 after an inter-party government again held office between 1954 and 1957 during which period they had presided over Ireland's eventual admission to the United Nations as part of the 'package deal' of 1955. Aiken, unlike his immediate predecessor, Liam Cosgrave, set special store by the so-called 'second principle' governing Irish actions in the U.N. This involved maintaining 'a position of independence' and avoiding 'becoming associated with particular blocs or groups as far as possible'34. Although official Irish archival records concerning these matters still remain closed, it seems significant that the ascendancy of this neutralist principle did not long survive de Valera's final departure as head of government in 1959 when he was succeeded as Taoiseach by Sean Lemass notwithstanding the fact that Aiken remained as Minister for External Affairs until 1969 - three years after Lemass himself had stood down as Taoiseach.

  • 35 See Fanning, 'Neutrality', pp. 36-7 and Independent Ireland, p. 203.

38The Lemass line on foreign policy, and on neutrality in particular, was much more low-key and pragmatic35. Throughout his career in government he had been identified with the economic ministries and he epitomised what might be described as the economic approach to foreign policy. Convinced that the world trend was towards free trade and away from the protectionist policies implemented by successive Fianna Fail governments since they first entered office in 1932, Lemass led the government which first decided to apply to join the E.E.C. in 1961 Although that application was not proceeded with after General de Gaulle vetoed British entry in 1963 - a rude reminder of Anglo-Irish economic inter-dependence!-the Irish E.E.C. application

'seemed a considerable change of direction for a country which had built its independence on the Sinn Fein concept of economic nationalism and self-sufficiency. That decision must most probably be attributed to Lemass while Aiken remained to a substantial extent aloof, if indeed his opposition did not go… as far as actual disapproval'.

  • 36 Williams, 'Irish foreign policy', pp. 143-4.

39De Valera was by then ensconced in the lofty eminence of the President's office where he was precluded from speaking publicly on foreign policy but the same authority suggests that 'de Valera's heart beat more with that of Aiken' and notes that 'he did make some sceptical noises about Europe and the materialism for which, in his view, it partly stood'36.

40Eamon de Valera was still serving as President and still remained silent when the Irish people voted by a massive majority to join the E.E.C. in the referendum of May 1972. Again, we have as yet no documentary evidence on his attitude towards, or how he voted in, that referendum but informed rumour and contemporary folklore suggests it would be wrong to equate his silence with acquiescence.

  • 37 Moynihan, De Valera, p. 490.

'On the question of sovereignty we have to realise that, whenever you enter into any combination and accept the rules, then, to that extent, you deny the right to decide for yourself - to that extent you surrender your sovereignty. That is inevitable in all organisations'37.

41So de Valera warned the Dail about the Irish application to join the U.N. in 1946. The available evidence suggests that he entertained still greater reservations about the Irish application to join the E.E.C. in 1973. But, for the moment at least, his attitude must remain wreathed in the ambiguity which was sometimes the hallmark of the style, although never of the substance, of his foreign policy.



1 T.D. Williams, 'Irish foreign policy, 1949-69', in J.J. Lee (ed.), Ireland: 1945-70 (Dublin, 1979).

2 Charles de Gaulle, War memoirs: I The Call to honour 1940-42 (London, 1955), p. 109.

3 Maurice Moynihan (ed.), Speeches and statements by Eamon de Valera 1917-73 (Dublin, 1980), pp. 31-4 - hereafter cited as Moynihan, De Valera.

4 Ibid., p. 33.

5 Ibid., p. 41.

6 Ibid., pp. 26, 28.

7 The Earl of Longford and Thomas P. O'Neill, Eamon de Valera (London, 1970), p. 465.

8 Moynihan, loc.cit.

9 Ibid., pp. 220-1.

10 Quoted in Conor Cruise O'Brien, 'Ireland in international affairs', in Owen Dudley Edwards (ed.), Conor Cruise O'Brien introduces Ireland (London, 1969), p. l07.

11 See Moynihan, De Valera, pp. 275-7.

12 See Ronan Fanning, Independent Ireland (Dublin, 1983), pp. 131-2.

13 John Bowman, De Valera and the Ulster question 1917-58 (Dublin, 1978), p. 181.

14 Moynihan, De Valera, pp. 346-8.

15 See Ronan Fanning, The Irish Department of Finance 1922-58 (Dublin, 1978), p. 659, n.64.

16 Deirdre McMahon, Republicans and imperialists - Anglo-Irish relations in the 1930s (New-Haven & London, 1984), p. 240.

17 Moynihan, De Valera, p. 352.

18 F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine (London, 1973 edt.), p. 554.

19 See Robert Fisk, In time of war - Ireland, Ulster and the price of neutrality 1939-45 (London, 1983), p. 281. See Fanning, Independent Ireland, pp. 123-5, for details of Irish assistance to the Allies.

20 T. Desmond Williams, 'Ireland and the war' in Kevin B. Nowlan and T. Desmond Williams (ed.), Ireland in the war years and after, 1939-51 (Dublin, 1969), pp. 25-6.

21 Cf. Fanning, Independent Ireland, pp. 126-7.

22 Moynihan, De Valera, p. 361.

23 Cf. Fanning, op.cit., p. 140.

24 Norman MacQueen, 'Ireland's entry to the United Nations, 1946-56', in Tom Gallagher and James O'Connell (ed.), Contemporary Irish studies (Manchester, 1983), p. 66.

25 Moynihan, De Valera, pp. 484-6.

26 Ibid., pp. 488-9.

27 Ibid., p. 504.

28 See ibid., pp. 505-22.

29 Ibid., p. 509.

30 Ronan Fanning, 'Irish neutrality - an historical review', in Irish Studies in International Affairs, vol. l, no.3, 1982, p. 34.

31 Fanning, Independent Ireland, p. 177.

32 Fanning,'Irish neutrality', p. 36.

33 Fanning, Independent Ireland, p. 205.

34 Cruise O'Brien, 'Ireland in international affairs', pp. 128-32.

35 See Fanning, 'Neutrality', pp. 36-7 and Independent Ireland, p. 203.

36 Williams, 'Irish foreign policy', pp. 143-4.

37 Moynihan, De Valera, p. 490.


Department of Modem Irish History
University College
Dubin, 4, Ireland

© Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1986

Conditions d’utilisation :