Neutrality and VE Day

Sir, – Joseph Quinn is too kind to Éamon de Valera in describing his insistence on visiting the German embassy in person – against strong advice from the Department of External Affairs – to convey his condolences on the death of Hitler, as merely a "tactical error . . . a blunder" ("Why Ireland can take pride in both neutrality and VE Day", Opinion & Analysis, May 8th).

The horror of the concentration camps was already known. British troops had liberated Bergen-Belsen weeks earlier.

Outrage at de Valera’s action was particularly strong in America.

The New York Times asked, “Have you seen the motion pictures of the victims of German concentration camps, de Valera? Have you seen the bodies of little children murdered by Nazi hands? Have you seen the living dead, de Valera? Skin stretched over bone, and too weak to walk?”


The Herald Tribune concluded, “If this is neutrality, it is neutrality gone mad”.

The Washington Post accused de Valera of “moral myopia”.

The taoiseach was not wholly without support: the (underground) British Union of Fascists expressed deep appreciation at the visit and conveyed “its gratitude to the government of Éire for thus honouring the memory of the greatest German in history”. – Yours, etc,


Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Dhún na nGall.

Sir, – For the generations born in Ireland since the end of the second World War, it is understandably difficult for some of them to envisage the state of public opinion on the issue of Irish neutrality during that conflict.

There has been much comment, mostly of a critical nature, on the morality of Ireland’s policy of neutrality during the conflict, which in 1945 led to students on the roof of Trinity College burning the Tricolour and throwing it on to the lawn beneath.

There are some who even regard Ireland’s stance as not so much neutral but pro-Nazi. These critics make no reference to countries like Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden which adopted a policy of armed neutrality, while most of the nations embroiled in the war remained neutral until they were invaded or attacked, including the US and the Soviet Union.

During the war years, the fallout from partition following the Anglo-Irish conflict was still vivid in the public mind, seeing as how it was just 17 years since the guns of the Civil War had fallen silent, and for both sides in the bitter internecine bloodbath the British were still the common enemy.

The decision of Dáil Éireann – not just that of Éamon de Valera or the government – to remain neutral in all probability avoided an outbreak of a second civil conflict here.

Critics ignore the fact that all political parties in the Dáil, along with public opinion outside, favoured the policy of neutrality. Indeed just one TD, James Dillon, voiced disapproval at our neutrality.

Even those Dáil members who were strong supporters of the Allied cause, and there were many, voted to remain neutral.

Furthermore, proposals from Churchill in 1940 for the offer of a united Ireland as a quid pro quo for Irish entry into the war were rejected by de Valera. Our neutrality, sovereignty and independence were not for sale.

Despite our position as a non-belligerent neutral state, Ireland did not introduce a prohibition on her citizens opting for foreign enlistment before or during the war, nor did Ireland introduce conscription into her armed forces. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.