A new battlefield

Wed, Oct 17, 2012, 01:00

In July 1926 the fifth International Congress of WILPF was held in Dublin, attended by 150 delegates representing 20 countries. This was the first gathering of an international organisation held in the Irish Free State. A reception to mark its opening was attended by both Éamon de Valera and WT Cosgrave. This first public function attended by both leaders since the Civil War attracted much comment.

During the next four years further dissension developed within the IIL, with the election to its committee of some women with republican sympathies. In 1929 Bennett informed Geneva she believed a split was inevitable due to disagreement between the “really pacifist” group and those who believed the use of force “essential” to achieve national freedom.

A series of stormy meetings, allied to the clash between the strong personalities of Bennett and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, led ultimately to its demise in 1931. The issue of justifiable warfare was divisive in many national sections of WILPF up to and after the second World War. While condemning militarism in its imperialistic mode, some Irish women justified military action to attain national objectives. This the “really pacifist” members of Irish WILPF could not accept. It is ironic that the group foundered on differing emphases on the words “peace” and “freedom” in its title.

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