Culpable negligence

Household insurance at Redfellow Hovel requires three locks on the rear doors to the garden. After all, that’s the weaker, less observed point of access. So very reasonable stuff.

richard-mulcahy-michael-collinsIn another context Malcolm found himself reviewing how Éire coped with the outbreak of World War II. That’s a far bigger topic than can easily be contained here; and others — Brian Girvin, John Duggan, and Clair Wills sit on Malcolm’s shelves, alongside more general histories — have done it more than adequately anyway.

In the course of his fossicking, Malcolm hit on this, from Questions in Dáil Éireann on Thursday 25th April, 1940:

Risteárd Ua Maolchatha: asked the Minister for External Affairs if he will state the number of occasions since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 25th April, 1938, on which there was direct personal discussion between Irish and British Ministers on matters of mutual trade, and if he will say in respect of each such occasion the date, the various Ministers who took direct part in the discussion, and the matters discussed.Minister for External Affairs (The Taoiseach): There have been no direct discussions between Irish and British Ministers since April, 1938. Questions connected with the trade between the two countries have, of course, been discussed from time to time through the High Commissioner and the British representative here, and within the last few months officials of the Department of Supplies and the Department of Agriculture, acting on behalf of their respective Ministers, have had direct discussions with officials of the corresponding Departments in Great Britain. I may add that, following these latter discussions, the Minister for Supplies and the Minister for Agriculture will go to London next week for conversations on certain outstanding points with the British Ministers concerned.

General Mulcahy: Seven months of the war situation have passed without any of our Ministers discussing their problems with the British, and nearly two years have passed since the Agreement was made. Is that so?

The Taoiseach: That is so.

General Mulcahy: Will the Taoiseach say whether he intends to report to the House, as a result of the meeting that, happily, it is proposed should take place next week after such a long period?

The Taoiseach: I do not know. Any arrangements that may be made will have to be reported to the House in one form or another.

 Read, mark and inwardly digest!

Most sentient beings here present may be raising a knowing eyebrow.

  • That was happening a fortnight after the German invasion of Denmark and Norway, and six days after the Dutch PM announced a “state of siege” (doubtless aware of troop movements next door).
  • Risteárd Ua Maolchatha had been Chief of Staff for Óglaíg na hÉireann (should you prefer: the IRA), and it was his signature on the ceasefire order for 11th July 1921, when the Treaty negotiations were begun.
  • The Taoiseach is none other than de Valera, himself. Dev was never one to use words lightly, and without deliberation.
  • Richard Mulcahy was no goat’s toe: the image at the top of this post is Mulcahy, watching his back, while Michael Collins wonders what he has just stepped in. Even in 1940 Mulcahy was the coming man in Fine Gael. Ua Maolchatha was, as far back as the War of Independence, Mulcahy’s backstop. Even if this was no “planted question”, the speed with with Mulcahy jumps in, and de Valera’s reply implies all parties were aware more was being said than being spoken.

The question was, ostensibly, about “trade”; but the answer seems more general: “There have been no direct discussions between Irish and British Ministers since April, 1938″.

That has to be a clue to intense frustration in Dublin. In any case, “trade” (the ostensible subject of that question) was code for beef, bacon and butter in exchange for fuel and some minimal matériel for the Defence Force.

There had been constipation in London. A proper diplomatic channel with Dublin had not been opened. De Valera wanted a British minister or ambassador in Dublin (a grandeur which Chamberlain couldn’t accept). The term “high commissioner” was too colonial for de Valera: its parallel was the British High Commissioner in Egypt, the de facto power in the land. The gap was finally plugged by Sir John Maffey, retired as permanent under-secretary for the colonies, becoming the British “representative” in Dublin — a rôle to which he was shackled for the next decade. All too little, too late.

We’d need to have in mind the other numerous other frustrations the British imposed, mainly out of necessity, on the Irish. All telegraphic and external postal traffic — and pretty well all other communications — went through London. Folk from Donegal could not pass through Northern Ireland into Great Britain — Sam Beckett, born in Dublin, claiming Irish citizenship, was refused permission to return to France by the only route possible. And so on.

Meanwhile Churchill, in the Cabinet, was muttering about invasion and seizing the Treaty Ports.

What had Neville Chamberlain’s Government in London had done to keep De Valera and Éire on side? Even after eight months of the war, had no serious attempt been made to lock the back door?

Incredible! But, apparently, true.


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Filed under Britain, De Valera, History, Ireland, Irish politics, World War 2

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