De Valera's condolences excessive zeal, says McDowell

 

The decision of the former Taoiseach, Mr Eamon de Valera, to offer condolences to the German ambassador on the death of Adolf Hitler was an exercise in "excessive zeal" to protect Ireland's second World War neutrality, the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, has said.

"It was very much an event of its time. I think that certainly Eamon de Valera did not intend to offer any insult to anybody," said the Minister, speaking following the launch of a new anti-racism programme by the Government.

Earlier, President Mary McAleese, had repeatedly avoided answering questions about whether the Government should apologise for Mr de Valera's action.

Following Hitler's suicide in May 1945, Mr de Valera went to the residence of the German ambassador in Dublin, Eduoard Hempel, to offer the country's sympathies. Speaking on RTÉ radio 1's Morning Ireland programme, Mrs McAleese said she "wondered sometimes" whether there were words to describe something as "devastatingly huge and massive" as the Holocaust. However, she said, Ireland's response in the later 1930s and early 1940s to the impending destruction of European Jewry was not enough. "We can all hang our heads in shame that we did not make space for people who were so grievously in need of a friend, who needed an embrace, who needed a fáilte," she declared.

Last night, Government sources said the President had not been issued with any advice about what to say if questioned about Mr de Valera's actions.

* Mrs McAleese has been criticised for comparing the Nazis' hatred of the Jews with how Catholics were viewed in Northern Ireland. In a radio interview Mrs McAleese condemned the intolerance that led to ethnic hatred and mentioned her background as a Roman Catholic from Northern Ireland. "They [the Nazis] gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational hatred, for example, of Catholics, in the same way that people give to their children an outrageous and irrational hatred of those who are of different colour and all of those things."

Reacting to this last night, Mr Ian Paisley Jnr said: "So much for bridge-building Mary. Her comments are completely irrational and are designed to insult the integrity of the Protestant community and damn an entire generation of Protestant people."

The Ulster Unionists also criticised the remarks. Mr Michael McGimpsey, a former minister in the NI executive, said : " It is outrageous for Mary McAleese to equate the Holocaust with Northern Ireland. It shows firstly a total lack of understanding and sympathy for Jews under the Nazis, and secondly, a deep-seated sectarianism".