Society of Ireland

World War II and The Emergency

The policy of Irish neutrality during World War II was adopted by the Oireachtas (parliament of Ireland) at the instigation of Eamon de Valera, the Taoiseach upon the outbreak of hostilities in Europe. It was maintained throughout the conflict, in spite of several German air raids and attacks on Ireland's shipping fleet by Allies and Axis alike. De Valera refrained from joining either the Allies or Axis powers. While the possibility of not only a German but also a British invasion were discussed in the Dail, and either eventuality was prepared for, with the most detailed preparations being done in tandem with the Allies under Plan W. De Valera's ruling party, Fianna Fail, supported his neutral policy for the duration of the war. This period is known in Ireland as the Emergency, owing to the wording of the constitutional article employed to suspend normal government of the country. Pursuing a policy of neutrality required attaining a balance between the strict observance of non-alignment and the taking of practical steps in order to repel or discourage an invasion from either of the two concerned parties. Despite the official position of neutrality, there were many unpublicized contraventions of this, such as permitting the use of the Donegal Corridor to allied military aircraft, and extensive cooperation between Allied and Irish intelligence, the exchanges of information, such as detailed weather reports of the Atlantic Ocean; with for example the decision to go ahead with the D-day landings being decided by a weather report from Blacksod Bay, County Mayo.

he Irish government had good reason to be concerned lest the War in Europe re-open the wounds of the Civil War. There were pro- and anti-fascist movements in Ireland, and the IRA continued to pursue its own agenda. Former Old IRA commander and founder of the Fine Gael Party General Eoin O'Duffy became a leader of the fascist Blueshirt organisation in 1932-33, although Fine Gael were not in power during the war.[9] He was active in creating links between the IRA and German Nazi politicians.[citation needed] The pro-Nazi sympathies and anti-semitism of some Irish politicians during World War II were once airbrushed from history, but Ireland is now beginning to acknowledge them. In recognition of his consistent support for Ireland's Jews, Eamon De Valera, Ireland's Taoiseach, during the war has a forest in Israel named in his honor. In this context, it is relevant to note that two Irish contingents fought in the 1937 Spanish Civil War Ц but on opposing sides. O'Duffy's pro-Nationalist (Fascist) Irish Brigade fought with the Nationalists and the pro-Republican Irish contingent of the International Brigades fought with the Republicans, though neither had government support. In the six months prior to the onset of war there had been an escalation of Irish Republican Army violence and a bombing campaign in Britain under the new leadership of Sean Russell. De Valera, who had tolerated the IRA as recently as 1936, responded with the Offences against the State Act, 1939. Upon the outbreak of the main conflict in September, subversive activity was regarded as endangering the security of the state. There were fears that the United Kingdom, eager to secure Irish ports for their air and naval forces, might use the attacks as a pretext for an invasion of Ireland and a forcible seizure of the assets in question. Furthermore, the possibility that the IRA (in line with the Irish nationalist tradition of courting allies in Europe) might link up with German agents, thereby compromising Irish non-involvement, was considered.[citation needed] This threat was real: Russell, in May 1940, travelled to Berlin in an effort to get arms and support for the IRA. He received training in German ordnance but died on a submarine while returning to Ireland as part of Operation Dove.[13] A small number of inadequately-prepared German agents were sent to Ireland, but those that did arrive were quickly picked up by the G2 (the Irish military intelligence branch). Active republicans were interned at the Curragh or given prison sentences; six men were hanged under newly legislated acts of treason and three more died on hunger strike. The Germans also later came to realize they had overestimated the abilities of the IRA. By 1943, the IRA had all but ceased to exist. In the Free State, neutrality was popular, despite rationing and economic pressure.



ESHSI, Department of Modern History, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland Contact: Membership Secretary