October 29, 2013

De Valera - Rejecting Irish Unity

In 1940 the nations of Europe were caught in a squalid world war. In the face of a fearsome German military and the axis forces, Churchill knew that in order to protect the convoys in the Atlantic the allied forces would need access to the Irish ports. Churchill had only one bargaining chip - Northern Ireland. And an offer was made. Fintan O'Toole said:
"I think that the offers of unity that were made at the beginning of the Second World War by the British were probably reasonably serious. You have to remember that if Churchill was prepared to deal with Stalin, he was certainly prepared to deal with de Valera. The war was the absolutely central aim that Churchill had and I think his loyalty to Northern Ireland protestants would not have been particularly strong in these circumstances." 
It seemed even some unionists were open to the idea. Professor Paul Bew said, "There's even evidence that some of the younger members of the Ulster Unionist Party cabinet took the view that if Irish neutrality was ended, the great priority was to defeat Hitler and that they would simply have to accept Irish unity in such a context."

Fintan O'Toole also said: "It's very striking that de Valera didn't take those offers very seriously or explore them at any level. Because what it told you was that ultimately de Valera was a southern Irish Catholic leader representing the southern Irish state."

Giving Northern Ireland to Ireland meant de Valera would have to take more than 800,000 northern Protestants into the electorate. In that context he would have found that his party - with its Catholic, gaelic and rural values - would see its political majority obliterated. Dr John Bowman, author of De Valera and The Ulster Question said:

"I think de Valera certainly wanted a united Ireland, but whether he was ready to pay the price for it, which would have been a much more pluralist, much less catholic, less Catholic state, whether he was prepared to pay that price for it is another question. And in a way he wasn't. So to that extent he can be faulted. But I'll tell you above all, he wanted the custody of the aspiration to unity. Because he knew there were much more dangerous forces potentially at work, northern republicans among them. He had to maintain the custody of the aspiration to Irish unity. One might say he rendered that into a permanently postponable aspiration."

Fintan O'Toole wrote in the Irish Times in October 2013: "Ireland is our dream - if it didn't have any Protestants in it."

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