De Valera and Britain's War Plans
On May 30 Mr J H Thomas, eulogising the unity of the Empire in preparation for war, boasted how from 'even the Free State' came no discordant note. At a conference on Imperial Defence (held on May 23, the day following the announcement in the House of Commons of the trebling of the British Air Force), the Free State representative got up and said: -
"We endorse the British policy. We want to proclaim to the world that, if they assume because of internal differences at the moment, they can use the Free State as a gate to attack England, then we, regardless of our political differences, hereby proclaim that they are deceived."
On the day following this declaration the political correspondent of the Daily Herald reported that the British government was engaged in informal conversations designed for the improvement of trade relations between the two countries.
Anxiety for a settlement with the Free State is strong in the British press. The Herald in a leading article supports the rapprochement, declaring that: -
"Mr De Valera has removed one of the main obstacles to a fundamental understanding by his unequivocal declaration that no Free State government would allow Ireland to be used as a base for hostile operations against Britain in the event of war."
The Daily Express, of whose friendship Irishmen have hitherto been curiously unaware, proclaims its editorial desire 'to bury for ever all feuds with Ireland, ancient and modern."
There could not be a greater mistake, however, than to imagine that this sudden desire to end the Economic War means the slightest change toward the one definite and unchanging demand of the Irish people - the demand for national independence.
The real meaning of the 'settlement' talk is exposed by the reactionary 'Express, which naively writes: -
"Wherever such deep divisions exist within the Empire the business of good citizens is to remove them, and build instead the common front. Every day that the world moves along its present course the need for Empire unity increases."
The desire to settle the Economic War is dictated by the approach of international war and the necessity of securing Ireland as a war base. There is no change in the British attitude, no mention of a concession to Republican feeling - today, as from the beginning of the Economic War, "there can be no settlement of the Irish question" except on the basis of Commonwealth acceptance and Irish alignment with imperialist war plans.
The meaning of the settlement talk is simply that the near approach of war makes it necessary for imperialism successfully to conclude its attempt to break Republican resistance and secure Ireland as a war base and that the statements of the Free State Government shows that, as far as it is concerned, the economic collapse of the Free State under its policy has made the time ripe for an imperialist victory."
On both sides of the Channel the way is being skilfully prepared for a surrender of the Free State to imperialist war plans. It is appropriate that the Labour Party Daily Herald, foremost propagandist of the Hitler alliance, should here also be the most active spreader of confusion in the interests of the British warlords.
The issue, according to the Herald, is simply Irish neutrality in the event of war.
The guarantee that, an Irish Republic once allowed, "the Irish people would use all their resources to see that no attack should come to Britain across Irish territory" has been repeatedly offered to the British Government by Mr De Valera - and repeatedly and completely ignored. The guarantee in question now is not a guarantee of Irish neutrality in war - it is a proposal for an offensive and defensive alliance with Britain.
There can be no question of Irish neutrality while part of Ireland is garrisoned by British troops. And while the strategic positions of the Free State coast are in British hands. Only an independent Republic could have neutrality. The whole policy of British imperialism has been directed to preventing Ireland securing the right to neutrality in a war in which Britain is engaged.
Irish Republicans support the statement of De Valera that a free Ireland would not allow its territory to be used for an attack on Britain. They are no more friendly to the war plans of any other imperialist power than they are to those of Britain. But there can be no question of neutrality until Ireland is free. Any settlement made with Britain on the present political basis, involving, as it would, the identification of the Free State with British war interests, will be repudiated and fought not only by the Republican movement, but by everybody who wishes Ireland to escape the horror of participation in an imperialist war in which she has no interest.
This fact is well realised by the Free State Government and is the explanation of the vigorous sideshow display of abolishing the Governor-Generalship, and the more significant proposal for a new Constitution for the Free State.
Whoever may be deceived as to the importance of Mr De Valera's "dramatic announcement", the British Government is certainly not. Mr Thomas, usually so sensitive to Free State "encroachments" on the rights of the Crown in Ireland, has not been provoked into so much as a mention of the Free State Government' on the office of the Governor-General. Mr De Valera's dire threat that next year it may not be necessary for the Free State to expend money upon the upkeep of a representative of the Crown leaves the Dominions Minister quite undisturbed.
The complete absence of any protest from the British side at the proposal to abolish the Governor-Generalship is a measure of how far a real surrender to imperialism has already gone. A year ago Mr De Valera's speech would have met with a strong reply from the British Government. It does not do so today because it serves as an effective smoke screen in the Free State for the negotiations being carried on in London - for the present through the useful Mr Dulanty. For Britain a victory in the Economic War would be well purchased at the price of a diplomatic formality.
The talk of a "new Constitution" is more significant. Details of this Charter of Irish Liberties (within the Empire) the Free State Government does not condescend to give; but, from what has been said, the functions are sufficiently plain: firstly, to stall the issue of the Republic and by paper measures of increased national freedom, to attempt to provide a popular basis for suppression of revolutionary forces; and, secondly. To provide a more effective machinery of repression.
We are treated to the familiar and ominous talk of order. The Irish revolutionary movement has had bitter experience in the past of the terrorism for which they cry 'Order must be maintained' has been the signal.
The agenda of the Free State Government today has its main aims; Capitulation in the Economic War, surrender to the war aims of British imperialism, and increased repression of the revolutionary advance.