Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Irish leader de Valera a godfather of IRA - Sinn Féin violence 1970-1998

President de Valera kisses the ring of John Charles McQuaid, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, at the Turning of the Sod ceremony for the new University College Dublin (UCD) campus at Belfield in South Dublin, September 1962 UCD Archives

Éamon de Valera (1882-1975) was the most consequential Irish political leader of the 20th century who held high office as taoiseach (prime minister) and president for 35 of the 41 years in the period 1932-1973. He had three particular obsessions 1) searching for proof that his claimed Spanish father Vivion de Valera (Valero) was not a fiction and had been married to his mother when de Valera was born in New York 2) the revival of the Gaelic language and 3) the ending of the political Partition of the island of Ireland.

He failed in all three objectives.

De Valera had a deeply long-term hostile attitude to the Belfast government and he even travelled as far as New Zealand to lobby the British government to support a United Ireland.

He had various positions on how unity would be established from the expulsion of the Protestant population that did not accept majority rule, to the use of force or a peaceful handover of control. 

In 1964 he cited the case of Cyprus to a group of historians saying that the minority citizen be he Turk or Ulster Unionist "must decide his priority: land or allegiance. If the former was more important, then he must accept subjection to the political will of the majority of the island; if being Turkish or British was the more important, then he should return forthwith to the favoured country, Turkey or Britain," according to John Bowman, historian and broadcaster.

The fears of a takeover by the South fanned inter-community tensions in the North and the hostile government in Dublin had no input to the protection of minority rights, which was included in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

British governments ignored discrimination against the minority population. This was the verdict of the UK Ministry of Defence:

"By the early 1960s discrimination had become institutionalised … In 1969 Londonderry was the most deprived city in the UK. 33,000 of the 36,000 Catholics were crowded into the Victorian slums of the Creggan and Bogside. Unemployment in Londonderry was the highest in the UK. A similar pattern applied in Belfast and many of the other towns throughout Northern Ireland … By the late 1960s poverty and social deprivation in the Catholic enclaves of Londonderry and Belfast was appalling. In some cases families of 14 lived in four rooms with children aged five woken at 2am every night to roam the streets, in order to allow sleeping in shifts. This deprivation and discrimination was well‐known in Stormont. (Operation Banner, 2006: chapter 2, p.2)" 

Operation Banner was the operational name for the British Armed Forces' operation in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007.

Seán Lemass, de Valera's successor as taoiseach, met his counterpart, Terence O'Neill, in Belfast in 1965 ─ the first meeting of prime ministers in 40 years! It was too late.

Loyalists (the term for extremist Unionists) led by Ian Paisley, a demagogic preacher, railed against O'Neill for being too "soft" in dealing with civil rights protestors while on the Catholic side Northern Ireland members of the Irish Republican Army paramilitary group split as they supported violence to achieve a United Ireland. The so-called Provisional IRA [PIRA] effectively hijacked the civil rights campaign.

The name Provisional Sinn Féin ("We Ourselves") was initially used for the political front of the Provisional IRA armed group that was founded in Belfast in January 1970, which hijacked the civil rights movement.

Five separate groups have used that name since 1907 (the founding date of the first Sinn Féin was backdated to 1905.)

The High Court in Dublin ruled in 1948 in respect of funds that the Sinn Féin named organisation, as reconstituted in 1923, was "not in any legal sense a continuation" of the party that had "melted away" in 1922, to which the funds had belonged.

An ard fheis (party meeting of members) held in October 1923 to revive Sinn Féin was, according to the court "not properly constituted according to the Rules (existing prior to 1922) and its actions and resolutions can have no validity in preserving the continuity of the organisation."

Religion statistics

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 provided for Partition with parliaments in Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland. In June 1921 the Northern Ireland parliament was opened by King George V and in January of 1922, the majority of members of Dáil Éireann (Irish parliament) in Dublin voted for the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty which provided for Dominion status similar to Canada's.

De Valera had refused to lead negotiations in London with the British and he rejected the Treaty as it did not provide for a republic. A general election endorsed the Treaty but de Valera endorsed a Civil War. His insurgents were defeated in 1923.

The Irish Free State was formally established in December 1922 and 9 years later aided by the Depression de Valera's Fianna Fáil party entered government after a peaceful transition of power.

Censuses were carried out in both Irish jurisdictions in 1926. The Free State had a population of 2.97mn and non-Catholics comprised 7.4% of the population compared with 10.4% in 1911 in the same area. 

In 1926 Northern Ireland had a population of 1.26mn and 34% were Catholic and by 1961 it was 35%, while in the Republic of Ireland the percentage of non-Catholics had dropped to 5.1% (more recent censuses in both jurisdictions have no religion/ not stated in their returns).

A Catholic State and Protestant State

De Valera and his insurgents had been strongly criticised by the Catholic Hierarchy for starting a civil war and in government in the first half of 1932, it had an opportunity to mend fences.

In June 1932 the Irish Free State hosted a Eucharistic Congress when about 1mn people, including foreign visitors, were on the streets of Dublin and at a mass at Phoenix Park. The event was a celebration of the 1,500th anniversary of the arrival of St Patrick in Ireland, to promote Christianity. 

The Italian-born Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri crossed the border to visit Newry and Armagh in Northern Ireland.

In April 1934, James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon and prime minister said in answer to a parliamentary question at the House of Commons in Belfast, "The hon. Member must remember that in the South they boasted of a Catholic State. They still boast of Southern Ireland being a Catholic State. All I boast of is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State. It would be rather interesting for historians of the future to compare a Catholic State launched in the South with a Protestant State launched in the North and to see which gets on the better and prospers the more."

Craig had one meeting with de Valera in May 1921 in Dublin. It didn't go well.

In a broadcast to America on St Patrick's Day 1935 de Valera said "Since the coming of St Patrick, fifteen hundred years ago, Ireland has been a Christian and a Catholic nation ... she remains a Catholic nation."

In the same year, the importation of contraceptives was made illegal. Divorce had been banned since 1925 and the ban was stated in the 1937 Constitution. 

Joseph Lee wrote in 'Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society' (1989) "De Valera declared himself convinced that his constitution would give a lead to the world as a 'Catholic nation' and yet form  'a secure basis' for unification.” 

Seán T. O'Kelly, de Valera's deputy, said that "the constitution was worthy of a Catholic nation and brought nearer the promised land of a united republic." 

Article 2 of the new constitution stated "The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas." Article 44 (1)(2) stated "The State recognises the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens."

During the Dáil debates on the Constitution of Ireland in 1937, the Fianna Fáil minister for finance Seán MacEntee described it as "the constitution of a Catholic State."

MacEntee was a Catholic native of Belfast and he drafted a remarkable letter of resignation dated February 17, 1938. De Valera was coming under pressure from hardliners in his cabinet and Northern nationalists including Catholic bishops, to reject a deal with Britain on a so-called economic war unless Britain ended Partition. In 1932 the Irish Free State had stopped the payment of land annuities to the UK that related to pre-independence funding by the British government of the purchase by tenants of their landholdings. 

"I feel that the Partition problem cannot be solved except with the consent of the majority of the Northern non-Catholic population. It certainly cannot be solved by their coercion. Hitherto we as the Government here have done nothing of ourselves to secure a solution, but on the contrary have done and are doing certain things which have made a solution more difficult. The demand which we make continuously that the British should compel the Craigavonites to come in with us, has only had the effect of stiffening them against us. Our only hope is to cultivate a better feeling in the North towards us, and we shall not do that by refusing to agree to defend ourselves unless Britain exerts either physical or economic compulsion upon Belfast and the contiguous areas. And if we are sincere in our conviction belief that the problem coercion cannot be used solved by that conviction must be adhered to with rigid consistency. We must resist temptation to invoke coercion directly or indirectly whenever the circumstances appear to us to favour it, as they do now, otherwise we shall only intensify the distrust of the people in the North whose confidence we wish to win.

I believe that the British Government alone cannot end Partition." 

The editors of the "Documents on Irish Foreign Policy" project say "This draft letter of resignation is from MacEntee's personal papers and there is no indication that it was sent to de Valera. The editors have included it because the document shows MacEntee's strong feelings on policy towards Northern Ireland and his perception of the shortcomings of Irish defence policy."

In 1936 de Valera reintroduced the Public Safety Act of 1931 banning the IRA and imprisoning its leader.

In 1939 with the terrorist group involved in a bombing campaign in England and a European war threatened, the Offences Against the State Act became law in June of that year.

In 1940 two republican prisoners were allowed die on hunger strikes and two killers of two Gardaí (police) in Dublin were executed by firing squads after decisions by a military court ─ when de Valera was trying to bring down the Free State government he decried execution verdicts by military courts.

Seán Russell, the IRA commander, moved to Berlin in May 1940. In the event of a German victory over Britain, it was possible that Russell could have become the leader of an all-Ireland puppet government like Norway's Quisling.

Russell died in August 1940 aboard a German submarine, about 160 km west of County Galway, Ireland.

During the Second World War (after the fall of France in 1940, and after Pearl Harbour in 1941) de Valera rejected British overtures that participation in the war could be helpful to Irish unity.

De Valera (centre) and Irish minister Frank Aiken on his right, Honolulu, Hawaii, April 1948

De Valera's quixotic world tour

Out of office in early 1948 de Valera began a world tour to pressure the British government to issue a statement supporting Irish unification.

De Valera met President Truman at the White House on March 10th but Irish partition wasn't mentioned. The president said they discussed "Social things" such as "The welfare of the people of Ireland and the hope that he would have a very pleasant visit in the United States."

Ireland had been neutral during the Second World War while between 1942 and 1945 around 300,000 American service personnel passed through Northern Ireland. These were issues that were better ignored as was what the late historian Prof Ronan Fanning called "de Valera’s pedantically grotesque error of judgement when he called at the home of the German envoy to Ireland to offer his condolences on the death of Hitler."

After a month in the US sustained by adulation from Irish Americans who supported the end of Partition, he travelled to Australia and New Zealand (27 April–11 June), next to India (14–16 June); and in the autumn anti-Partition gatherings in Britain in October and November.

The Irish Government announced in late 1948 it would declare Ireland a republic in 1949 and leave the British Commonwealth.

It had set up an All-Party Anti-Partition Committee earlier in the year to ensure that de Valera would not have a monopoly in milking the Partition issue for political gain.

On May 3, 1949, the British government formally announced 'The Ireland Bill' in response to the Republic of Ireland leaving the Commonwealth.

Clement Attlee, the Labour prime minister, was exasperated with de Valera. He told the House of Commons on May 11 "We... came to the conclusion that we should reciprocally decide that the people of Eire and the people of Britain should not be foreign to one another (Hansard)." 

The Bill stated, "It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of His Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of His Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland."

'The Ireland Act' became law in June 1949.

According to Prof Stephen Kelly, de Valera "felt that the Act was further evidence of the poisoning effect of Partition on Anglo-Irish relations. His anti-Partition propaganda speeches took on a new level of intensity not before seen during his propaganda campaign. He believed that the British had embarked on a 'mad course' and instead of cementing good relations with Ireland they had chosen to 'blow them up.' He found it 'hard to believe' and wrote that 'it makes one desperate.”

Back in the office of taoiseach in 1951 de Valera admitted that his anti-Partition crusade had been a failure.

"If I am asked, 'Have you a solution for [partition]?,' in the sense 'Is there a line of policy which you propose to pursue which you think can, within a reasonable time, be effective?,' I have to say that I have not and neither has anybody else."

In 1957 and 1958 de Valera and his minister of external affairs, Frank Aiken, made secret proposals to the British. They proposed that Northern Ireland should surrender its direct allegiance to the queen in return for a united Republic of Ireland within the Commonwealth, which would recognise the queen as its head.

The proposals were rejected.


De Valera's Cold War with Northern Ireland and his development of a Catholic state strengthened Partition while being of no benefit to the Catholic minority. His responsibility for a civil war endorsed the use of violence for political ends, even though later when in office he turned on his former comrades.

IRA - Sinn Féin's "armed struggle" from 1970 has put off the likelihood of unification for decades.

De Valera had no legitimacy in starting a civil war ─ he ignored a vote of the Dáil and a general election. He said his Volunteers "would have to wade through Irish blood, through the blood of the soldiers of the Irish government and through, perhaps, the blood of some of the members of the government in order to get Irish freedom."

Deriving inspiration from the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne — where Greece and Turkey had exchanged populations, de Valera brought up population exchange at a meeting of the League of Nations in 1934. He wanted to expel 1m Protestants and he speculated that the Irish in Britain would return to take their place. In December 1939 de Valera at a party annual conference told the delegates that Northern Ireland population exchange could be part of a postwar European settlement.

Making Minorities History: Population Transfer in Twentieth-Century Europe By Matthew Frank

In June 1943 de Valera brought up the issue of ethnic cleansing with David Gray, the American ambassador in Dublin.

In 1972 there was a proposal to the British cabinet to hive off part of the Northern Ireland area to the Republic but it was difficult to get an area where there was a low population of Protestants while Belfast had a significant Catholic population.

Bernadette C. Hayes and Ian McAllister in a 2005 paper say "More people have died in communal violence in the past quarter-century in Northern Ireland — 3,352 by the end of 2002 — than in any similar period in Ireland over the past two centuries, with the possible exception of the 1922–23 Irish Civil War. 

"In addition, 48,029 injuries show that the Northern Ireland conflict is easily the most intense violent conflict in Europe, accounting for the majority of terrorist incidents in Europe... If we extrapolate these figures to Great Britain, some 126,000 people would have died, with 1.8 million people injured. This represents just under half of all British deaths (265,000) during World War II. Further extrapolating the deaths to the United States, some 608,000 would have died, notably more than died during World War II (405,000) and nine times the American war dead in Vietnam."

Civilians accounted for over 71% of the deaths from 1969-2002.

In 2019 a book by the RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy and Irish Times Northern Correspondent Freya McClements chronicled the murders of 186 children by the extremists of both communities. See the Irish Times article.

'Children of the Troubles,' is based on original interviews with almost 100 families and includes children who have never previously been publicly acknowledged as victims of the Troubles.

1972 was the worst year for casualties in what became known as the Troubles, with about 479 people killed (including 130 British soldiers) and 4,876 injured. Over half of the deaths were civilians.

In December 1971 15 Catholics were killed by a bomb at McGurk's pub in North Belfast that had been planted by what were called Loyalists. Later in the month, 4 Protestant civilians were killed by an IRA bomb on Shankill Road including 2 children.

Then on January 30th, the British Army killed 13 unarmed civilians in Derry. "Money, guns and recruits flooded into the IRA," Gerry Adams, a leading IRA commander, wrote later.

In February bombs at the Aldershot Military Barracks in Hampshire, England, killed 7 people; a Catholic priest, a gardener and 5 women working in catering. In July the IRA exploded about 20 bombs across Belfast over 80 minutes.

In December the IRA abducted Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 children. She was a Protestant and she had been married to a Catholic former British soldier. McConville's crime to the IRA was that she had been seen assisting a dying British soldier outside her house.

Jean McConville was murdered and her body was found buried near a beach south of the border 31 years later. 

In 1972 the British government suspended the Stormont parliament and it took direct control of the province. Several civil rights leglislation measures had been enacted.

Irish America financed the IRA campaign and in the early days, Charles Haughey, the Irish minister of finance, diverted money that had been reserved for civilian support of Catholics in Belfast, to buy arms.

The IRA also relied on Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator.

The first Libyan arms shipment to the IRA took place in 1972–1973 and in March 1973, the Irish Government received intelligence that the vessel named Claudia was carrying a consignment of weapons. On 28 March, 3 Irish Navy Service patrol vessels intercepted the Claudia in Irish territorial waters off Helvick Head, County Waterford. It had 5 tonnes of Libyan small arms and ammunition on board as well as Joe Cahill, a senior IRA official.

In late 1973 there was an agreement at Sunningdale, England, for a cross-community government in Belfast and a role for the Irish Government in a Council of Ireland. However, a province-wide workers' strike by Protestants and the IRA's campaign of bombings resulted in the collapse of the regional government in May 1974.

An IRA gang brought its sectarian war to the Republic in March 1974. They set fire to the home of the Protestant Coulson family in Monaghan after ransacking it. Billy Fox, a Protestant member of the Irish Senate (Upper House of Parliament) who had gone to investigate the fire as he was engaged to one of the family, was murdered.

Loyalists bombed Monaghan and Dublin in May 1974 resulting in 34 deaths (27 in Dublin and 7 in Monaghan). In October 1974 the IRA bombed two pubs in Guilford, England and 4 of the 5 deaths were of soldiers. A month later, two pubs in Bermingham, England, were bombed and 21 people were murdered.

The litany of terror went on for almost a quarter-century and in the year of peace, 1998, a breakaway unit of the IRA unleashed its savagery on families shopping just after 3 pm on the Saturday afternoon of August 15th, in the market town of Omagh, County Tyrone. They massacred 29 people and left over 300 injured.

Liam Kennedy, emeritus professor at Queen's University Belfast, in his 2020 book 'Who was Responsible for the Troubles?' examines the part played by around a dozen participants in the conflict. He says Provisional IRA (PIRA) - Sinn Féin was responsible for 60% of the paramilitary deaths plus those caused by security services.

In the first issue of An Phoblacht in February 1970 it stated that “there is no doubt [PIRA] wasn’t just a defensive organisation,” but rather was arguing that the British could only be got out of Ireland by force of arms.

Kennedy writes "there is a deeper if counter-intuitive sense in which armed loyalists and republicans were questionable defenders of their respective communities. To take the Provisional IRA first: 3 Catholic civilians were murdered by loyalists between 1966 and the end of 1969, that is before the Provisional IRA became the ostentatious defenders of the Catholic and nationalist people. Three decades later, well over 500 Catholic civilians had been murdered by loyalist killers. 

The story was much the same on the loyalist side. Armed republicans were responsible for more than 2,000 Troubles-related deaths... Hundreds of Protestant, and indeed Catholic civilians, died at the hands of the IRA. Remarkably, less than 2% of IRA killings, or 28 to be precise, were of loyalist paramilitaries. Loyalist paramilitaries had little to fear directly from the IRA. The same was true the other way round."  

Both sides brutally policed their respective enclaves.

In 2020 in a radio interview Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that the armed campaign by the IRA was "justified to take on the British state" but she was not justifying every action "at all at all."

It was a typical political dodge of having one's cake and eating it but McDonald was also echoing Éamon de Valera's persistent position that it was a British government that could end Partition. At least he had a solution for the 1m Protestants even though repugnant.

As cited above from the draft letter of Seán MacEntee, de Valera's ministerial colleague, on unity noted "I feel that the Partition problem cannot be solved except with the consent of the majority of the Northern non-Catholic population. It certainly cannot be solved by their coercion... I believe that the British Government alone cannot end Partition" ─ that was written 83 years ago.

The Irish Times reported in 2015 that the Irish American funders of terror continued to provide cash. "Sinn Féin has raised $12m (€10.7m) from some of America’s biggest construction companies as well as trade unions, Hollywood stars and small donors in a 20-year fundraising effort across the United States."

The past funders of terror raised their tally to $15m in 2019.

Ireland also had a parliamentary tradition which was the reason that there was a peaceful transfer of power in 1932. It had also been evident in the successful pressure on British governments to end the land tenancy system years before political independence.

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) which is an amateur sporting and cultural organisation, focused primarily on promoting indigenous Gaelic games, maintained a ban until 1971, on members playing other field sports or even attending social events. The other field sports were called foreign games such as football (soccer) and rugby.

Douglas Hyde, President of Ireland (centre top) is with Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, on his right. They were attending a football game where Ireland beat Poland by 3 goals to 2 in Dalymount Park, Dublin, on 13 November 1938. The inspired people who ran the GAA removed Hyde as a patron of the association.

The Catholic Church banned its members from attending Trinity College (University of Dublin) for nearly 100 years. Trinity College, which was chartered in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I of England opened attendance to Catholics in 1793 but the Catholic bishops banned Catholics from studying at Trinity in 1871. The ban was lifted in 1970.


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