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Was Ireland effectively a ‘non-belligerent’ rather than a ‘neutral’ during the Second World War?

Was Ireland effectively a ‘non-belligerent’ rather than a ‘neutral’ during the Second World War?

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Joe Langford. Originally submitted for BA (Hons) History and Politics at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Mervyn O'Driscoll in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Joe Langford. Originally submitted for BA (Hons) History and Politics at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Mervyn O'Driscoll in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Essay : 3,206 WordsAbstract: 495 Words 
Was Irelandeffectively a ‘non-belligerent’ ratherthan a ‘neutral’during the SecondWorld War?
 
Was Ireland effectively a ‘non-belligerent’ rather than a‘neutral’ during the Second World War?
Abstract
[495 Words]In this essay I contend that Irish policy during the Second World war wasnot the one of strict neutrality that it asserted to be but it was in reality closer to being one of determined non-belligerency. The return of theTreaty Ports from British control in 1938 permitted Ireland to put into practice the independent foreign policy of a sovereign State and soallowed for an unbound decision to declare neutrality at the outbreak of war. However, declaring neutrality was one thing but preserving it would prove to be yet another matter. From late 1940 onwards it would becomeclear that any threatened invasion of Britain and that of Ireland, by association, from Nazi Germany had effectively receded. The Irishgovernment would adopt a very pragmatic approach in its dealings withall belligerent states clearly demonstrating public impartiality at all times yet also maintaining close relations with those states where a guaranteeof ongoing stability in Ireland would be better achieved. The involvement of America in the war from the end of 1941 increased the tendency of what amounted to effective Irish co-operation with the Allies as recently released documentation would apeear to substantiate. This wouldmanifest itself in the sharing of intelligence, preferential treatment of captured Allied air crews and other clandestine yet pragmatic activitiesapproved by de Valera and the Irish government. Irish wartime neutrality is often remembered for public pronouncements which wouldmeticulously observe the strict neutrality conditions of the 1907 HagueConvention concerning ‘The Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers andPersons in case of war on Land’. However the notoriety which de Valeraand his administration are remembered for in instances such as thedelivery of condolences to the German Embassy in Dublin, the ‘AmericanNote’ affair and the very public rebuke of Churchill all contributed to theveritable illusion of a strictly neutral state which was the consistent andunwavering objective of de Valera throughout the wartime period.However, as documentation released in recent years demonstrates, therewas a more pragmatic approach adopted by the Irish government behindthe mask of neutrality, an attitude which would tend towards the generalinterests of the Allied cause as the War progressed and as it becameclearly evident as to what the outcome would be and its eventual victors. All neutrals would come to discover in time of war to pay less regard tothe rules of neutrality than the facts of power. Neutrality was essentially a means to an end whereby the end would be the independence andsovereignty finally endorsed and expressed in the form of an independent 
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foreign policy. It is my contention, therefore, in researching this unique period of Irish foreign policy and which I have clearly outlined in thisessay, that Irish Neutrality was an effective diplomatic device which deValera reasonably applied at a difficult time in the life of the embryonicIrish Free State in order to survive this period of world turmoil.
Introduction
 The Hague Convention (V) concerning ‘The Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in case of war on Land’, which wasagreed in 1907, details protections afforded to ‘neutral powers’but also responsibilities they must adhere to in wartime so asnot to create an advantage for any participating belligerent.
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However, in the reality of wartime, the clinical nature of thisConvention is almost impossible to observe to the letter, anobservation clearly enunciated by Michael Rynne, the legaladviser to the Irish Department of External Affairs, in hismemorandum of July, 1942 to the Secretary of the Department, Joseph Walshe, detailing ‘The Legal Basis for Ireland’sNeutrality’. In it, he asserts that unless the Irish Governmentwas determined to observe this Convention as strictly defined,a virtual impossibility in Rynne’s opinion, then Irish neutralitywould not survive one week.
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In the Second World War, Irelandwas unlike any other country which declared neutrality,primarily due to its geographical peripherality to the maintheatre of war yet its contiguous linkage to one of the principalbelligerents, Britain, through recent history, and closeeconomic ties. In fact as Eunan O’Halpin outlines, “Irishneutrality throughout the War cannot be properly understoodwithout reference to the influence of the legacy of theIndependence struggle on Anglo-Irish relations, Irish foreign
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Herbert W. Briggs (ed.),
The Law of Nations: Cases, Documents and Notes
(2
nd
ed.),(1953) , pp.1033-38
2
MIchael Kennedy (ed.),
Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) Vol. VII, 1941-45
, No.211, p.224
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