International Press Correspondence

De Valera and Britain's War Plans

By Charlie Donnelly (Irish Republican Army), June 8th 1935

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.

International Press Correspondence

Irish Free State Capitalism Enters Fourth Year of Economic Year

Charles Donnelly, 11th January 1936

The third year of the Economic War between the Irish Free State and Britain, the third year of the high-speed, state manipulated development of capitalism in southern Ireland, closes with a question mark. That the Free State has actually stood the strain without breaking for three years, has been a source of the greatest surprise to the imperialists in Ireland, and the question for them is, having stood the strain for this time, is the Free State going to prove capable of carrying through the programme of industrial development along capitalist lines, in face of the British economic attack and the political attack of the active pro-imperialist exporting and commercial interests.

In 1929 Irish Free State exports were valued at approximately £44 millions, or about two-fifths of the national production, in 1932 they had fallen to approximately £26 millions, in 1933 £19 millions, in 1934 £18 millions. The decline in imports lagged far behind. Imports, valued at £42 ½ millions in 1932, were £34 millions in the following year, and rose again to £39 millions in 1934. This year the adverse balance has been decreased by £3 millions. Against the adverse balance must be set the Free State's invisible exports, approximately £14 millions entering the country annually in interest on foreign investments, pensions, remittances from relatives abroad.

It is, of course, completely unfair to attribute the entire decline as the imperialists do, to the Economic War. Nor is the position merely that there would have been a decline in Free State agricultural exports in any case, but that it has been intensified by the economic conflict with Britain. The truth of the matter is that the growth of the crisis left the Free State in the position in 1932 that she could retain the British market for agricultural produce only at the cost of what would practically have amounted to a Customs Union with Britain, only at the price of a guarantee of raising no further tariffs against British exports or even of modifying what tariffs she then had. This, in act, was the recognised position at the beginning of 1932, before Cosgrove's government, representing the agricultural exporters and commercial and financial interests and the bigger capitalists with established positions, [a small part of this is missing - CC], extended unemployment relief. But the signs point out, that heavily burdened as the Exchequer is with the cost of its concession to the capitalists, these experiments, inadequate as they are, will have to be modified in the future. Already unemployment relief has been withdrawn from certain classes of farm labourers.

Against the relief schemes of the government must also be set its budgetary juggling to throw a heavy portion of the burden of building capitalism on the working class consumer. In the Free State indirect taxation, which in 1934 accounted for £11 ½ millions out of the £19 millions total revenue, last year accounted for approximately £12 ½ millions out of £20 millions. Due to the burden of inordinate taxation, as well as to the rise consequent on protection and other causes, the cost of living has risen enormously on the Free State over the last few years.

The trend of the Irish Free State under capitalism may be summed up, therefore, as increasing production, decreasing purchasing power - not a very original direction despite all the talk from De Valera's mouthpiece of the 'New Industrial System.'

The conclusion of such a line of development is obvious- search for external markers, completely contradicting the propaganda of 'national self-sufficiency.' Already, indeed, the Free State manufacturers have cast their eyes abroad for markers which don't exist, and which not even Mr De Valera's faith can conjure into existence.

Politically, there can be no longer any doubt that De Valera has accommodated himself to the Empire. The opportunity at Geneva of exposing British Imperialism's 'Peace' plan was one which a De Valera who wanted to fight would certainly not have missed. The fact that the Free State has fallen into line in the pro-war scheme of imperial air consolidation proves this also.

The prestige which De Valera has gained over the last year in the eyes of even bigger industrial interests, and the softened attitude on his part to the exporting and pro-imperialist interests which we may expect as a result of the failure of hide-bound economic nationalism, point toward De Valera replacing Cosgrave as the champion of British imperialism in southern Ireland.

International Press Correspondence

Eleventh Hour for the Irish Republican Army

Charles Donnelly, 4th July 1936

Mr Cosgrave's 'Civil Powers Act', 1931, in addition to setting up a military tribunal with very wide powers, and conferring special powers of raid, arrest and detention on the police, placed under a ban practically all the republican and left-wing organisations in the Free State, they became illegal organisations, membership of which was an offence bringing the person concerned within the uncontrolled jurisdiction of the military tribunal. The 'Coercion Act' featured by government spokesmen as an attack on the 'Communistic tendencies' which clerical propaganda declared to be rife in the republican organisations, was really provoked by the enormous success with which the IRA had reorganised itself, and a number of incidents proving that agrarian discontent was widespread, intense and dangerously allied to republican politics.

The watchword of farmer discontent was the 'Down with Land Annuities' slogan, raised originally by Peadar O'Donnell, at the time connected with IRA headquarters. De Valera made this slogan the main plank in his election campaigning of 1933, and by his undertaking to abolish coercion secured the official support of the IRA, whose policy prevented it from putting forward independent candidates. The first act of the new government was to release the republican prisoners sentenced by the military tribunal. The Coercion Act was not removed from the Statute Book, but De Valera realised that trying to kill the IRA by coercion was like killing a dog by choking him with butter. He commenced a policy of annihilation by attrition.

The first step was the establishment of a new Volunteer Reserve Force. The Volunteers were given their own distinctive uniform, popularised as a 'republican' army; everything was done to establish the Reserve in public opinion as something completely different from the unpopular Free State army. Finally, Mr De Valera made a dramatic appeal to members of the IRA to join the new force which was just as republican and had the sanction of legality.

The Economic War and his extension of social legislation gave considerable weight to the appeal for a united front. Nevertheless, the new volunteer force did not seriously affect the numerical strength of the IRA.

Meanwhile the Coercion Act formulated by Mr Cosgrave had been invoked against his own followers. An ex-servicemen's organisation, the Army Comrades Association, fascists in outlook and methods, chiefly composed of men with unsavoury records and including in its ranks a number of drug attacks and other criminal types, was incorporated in the united front welded together by Mr Cosgrave; it formed the nucleus of the blueshirt organisation. The blueshirts were eventually banned, after their activities had approached the pitch of civil war. The activities of the blueshirts further strengthened De Valera's position as the leader of republican feeling.

Considerable changes had by this time been made or begun in the Free State constitution. Among them was the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance. From the beginning of its career the present government party took the attitude that so long as an oath of allegiance to the British King was a compulsory pre-condition of membership of the Free State parliament, republicans were being deprived of their right of participation in parliament. With its abolition this condition no longer obtained, and the IRA, it was repeatedly emphasised, had no longer any reason for standing apart from normal democratic political methods. By the early summer of last year the government was in a position to take active steps to break the IRA without running the risk of antagonising its own supporters. In April 1935 about 30 prominent republicans were arrested; before that, suppressions of the IRA organ, An Phoblacht, had been frequent, and this frequency increased until by the autumn of the year the paper was sent into temporary bankruptcy.

The record of the IRA leadership, in face of De Valera's brilliant politics, can only be described as a record of gross political cowardice and incompetence.

The 1932 election proved to the farsighted republicans that in practice the theory of abstention from politics confined the effectiveness of eth IRA machine to an influence from the left on the policy on Mr De Valera/s party. They urged that the IRA should act as an independent force and held that with its influence, it could, if it tried, convene a united front of all shades of republicans big enough to raise the republic as a practical political goal, clear of what they described as De Valera's 'judicial formulae'. This was the view of a small majority of the organisation, and a minority of the leadership. After the vote of the leadership had succeeded in defeating the proposal for a republican conference, members of the IRA supporting the idea formed a separate political organisation, the Republican Congress, to organise a united front. They were attacked as 'tired revolutionaries', supporters of the Free State, Communists and enemies of religion, among other things, and expelled from the IRA. That was the first stage of the decline.

In the long run the Republican Congress Movement, opposed both from the government side and the IRA side and supported only by a small number of trade unions and the Communist Party, proved unable to accomplish the task it had set itself.

The government attacks on the IRA launched shortly after wards, raised a new crisis inside that organisation. The IRA leaders debated whether they should support the Labour Party, resuscitate the practically defunct Sinn Fein abstentionist party - or form a new party. Eventually they did what, before, they had wrongly accused the Congress republicans of doing - formed a political party, Cumann Phoblacht na h-Eireann.

Its formation consummated the process of disintegration. What was left of the Dublin IRA organisation, once a powerful contingent, revolted against this entry into 'politics'. Throughout the country the strength of the army rapidly weakened.

A Free State general election will be held next summer. It will be contested, on an abstractionist [abstentionist?] basis, by the new republican party. The leaders of the new party claim that the p[resent determined attack on republicanism is directed to disorganising the new party in view of the election.

The fact remains, however, that, on the eve of an election, De Valera feels able, with safety, to operate the Coercion Act, enforce the ban on the IRA, repeatedly suppress its organ, arrest its leaders and sentence them to long periods of imprisonment.

The explanation of this, in the long run, is the failure of the IRA over the last three years to win an independent mass backing and to free its politics from the limitations of a fanatical militarism which has isolated it from a population essentially in sympathy with its objects. A more immediate cause is the political terrorism, recent instances of which are the ostensible reasons for the arrests and other actions against the IRA. The IRA have on several occasions emphasised that the arrests have no connection with the shootings, and at all events, it is certain that IRA headquarters had no connection with the shootings. These unfortunate occurrences, outbursts of political neurosis due to the abuse of real healthy political activity, have, however, done much to make possible the attack on the organisation.

The banning of the Bodenstown commemoration ceremony indicates a really bad position. Bodenstown cemetery, in County Kildare, is the burial place of Wolfe Tone who planned with the French Revolutionary Directorates for the establishment of an Irish republic, and whose efforts were finally defeated in 1798. Wolfe Tone is recognised by all sections as the founder of the national movement, and Mr De Valera's own party holds a commemoration at Bodenstown on the Sunday succeeding the IRA ceremony. The banning of the demonstration indicates the determination of the government to stand by the letter of the law making the IRA illegal; in other words, a determination to smash the IRA once and for all. We must conclude that De Valera believes he can do so without seriously endangering his prospects at the coming election.

This calculation will almost certainly prove correct if the form of opposition taken at the election is that of a republican abstentionist party. It is the nemesis of the purely militaristic policy so long and stubbornly pursued by the IRA leadership, that even its own members, not to mention casual supporters, are far from clear as to the differences of policy between that organisation and the government party. It is doubtful, indeed, whether many of the leaders themselves have any clear conceptions, except as to methods.

De Valera is at present elaborating a proposed new constitution for the Free State, on which he will take his stand in the election. The new party intends to fight on a republican ticket; members returned will not enter the Free State Dáil, but will meet as a separate Assembly. Under no shape or form, and in none of its ramifications, must the Free State be 'recognised'. It is possible, though not very likely at a time when important social issues are forcing themselves on the people, that after a long period a greater number of candidates would be returned 'outside' than 'inside' the Free State assembly, republicans in the meantime enjoying the advantages of government completely free from their control. Long before such an event, however, the IRA would have ceased to exist.

It remains to be seen whether, at this eleventh hour, the leaders of the IRA will put their hands to the work of creating a labour republican people's front making effective the opposition to coercion which otherwise will reach no further than small-town grumbles. One thing is certain, that if those who are backing the abstentionist party venture, made the attempt many of the government party branches and labour parties could be brought behind a republican programme, linked with popular economic reforms. Coupled with the numerous republican sections, these would form a serious challenge to the government in the election.

Other local newspaper reports here.

Extracts from the Left press of the period

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