When the king's marital difficulty became Dev's opportunity


DECEMBER 14TH, 1936: The abdication of King Edward VIII from the British throne on December 10th, 1936, in order to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson caused all sorts of legal, constitutional and political problems for the Fianna Fáil government.

It responded with two Bills that prompted a convoluted Dáil debate and an outraged leader fromThe Irish Times , from which this is an excerpt.

THERE ARE times when plain speaking is necessary, and we feel that it is our duty on this occasion to say what so many of the Irish people must be thinking today. In our opinion, the Free State Government has been guilty of a deplorable breach of good manners. Not only did it not show the slightest sign of sympathy with the people of the neighbouring island, but it actually went out of its way to offend them in the most gratuitous fashion.

When King Edward abdicated, it was necessary under the terms of the Westminster Statute – largely an Irish creation – that the instrument of abdication should be ratified by all the Dominion Parliaments, as well as by that of the United Kingdom.

All that was needed was a simple Bill, which could have been passed through all its stages in half an hour. The other Dominions followed the lead of His Majesty’s government in the United Kingdom; but such straightforward action was not sufficient for President de Valera. He took advantage of the occasion, when the British government was sorely embarrassed, to rush through Dáil Éireann two new Bills of such a confused and tangled character that neither he nor his legal advisers seem to have been able to make head or tail of them.

All that can be stated for certain is that they represent an attempt to weaken the Commonwealth bond. One of them provides that there shall be no king in the domestic affairs of the Saorstát. Every nook and cranny of the Constitution has been ransacked for mention of His Majesty’s name, and henceforth there will be only one estate in the Oireachtas – namely, Dáil Éireann, or, more properly, President de Valera, who rules the Dáil with an iron rod.

The second measure provides that for certain purposes of external affairs, defined in the loosest and most slovenly terms, the king shall act on behalf of the Free State, on the advice, needless to say, once more of President de Valera. Internally, therefore, the Free State becomes a Republic, while externally it remains a Dominion. Possibly, the President knows what it all means; we confess that we are baffled.

What will the British people, and the other peoples of the Commonwealth, think of us in this country? Hurtful things have been said and done in the past; but the events of the last few days have no precedent. Maladroitness could go no farther.

The Free State Government has chosen this time to make little of the Crown, and yet to retain it for its own purposes. What would happen if the British should decide to put an end to all this pantomime, and to take President de Valera at his word?

So far as we can see, the Free State’s position in the Commonwealth is an entirely one-sided affair. It gets everything and gives nothing.

In condescending manner President de Valera agrees to allow the king to act for the Saorstát in certain matters of international concern. He takes the fullest advantage of the British diplomatic and consular services, of the imperial defence forces, and of the economic privileges that flow from membership of the Commonwealth.

Furthermore, the Free State citizens have the inestimable advantage that they can get jobs in any part of the Empire. Apart from the many thousands of workers who have found employment in Great Britain, how many doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists and other professional men find employment under the British flag; how many Irish soldiers, sailors and airmen are in the king’s service; and how many civil servants in all parts of the Commonwealth claim the Saorstát as their home? What do all these people think of President de Valera’s hair-splitting and logic-chopping, of his contemptuous treatment of those symbols which every Briton holds dear?