De Valera advocated forcefully moving one million Protestants

THE re-partition plan presented to Ted Heath in July 1972 attracted more attention than any of the other documents released this week.

The proposal amounted to ethnic cleansing, in which Catholics would be moved from Protestant areas of Northern Ireland to Catholic areas that could be handed over to the Republic.

The author of this contingency plan suggested in the event of a doomsday scenario recognised from the outset that trying to move half a million people would be highly dangerous. If people thought that was crazy, how would they characterise Eamon de Valera's plan to move four times as many people?

As early as 1934 de Valera cited the exchange of certain populations between Greece and Turkey in line with the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) as his justification for advocating the moving of one million Protestants to Britain and replacing them with a similar number of British Catholics of Irish extraction. He was still suggesting this solution as late as 1943.

One can imagine the problems of forcefully repatriating a million Protestants. Where in Britain were they going to find a million Catholics of Irish extraction willing to move to Ireland? They, or their forbearers, had not emigrated because they were enamoured with conditions at home.

For decades the ending of partition was presented as a panacea to end all of this country's problems. While most of the coverage of the newly opened state papers concentrated on events of the early 1970s, an enormous amount of material was also released on earlier periods, such as the talks leading to the negotiations that culminated in the Anglo-Irish Agreements of 1938, as well as the voluminous records of the Mansion House All-Party Anti-Partition Conference set up in 1949.

Those records show the sterility of the thinking about partition. We could have learned from those mistakes, but instead we buried them in the archives, and made some of the same old mistakes again in the 1970s.

In the 1930s Anglo-Irish relations were strained due to the Economic War, initiated by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in 1932.

On becoming Dominions Secretary in 1936, MacDonald's son, Malcolm, tried desperately to resolve the problems. He proposed ministerial talks between the two governments and gave "an unqualified assurance that no questions would be ruled out," but de Valera balked because, he said, the British had previously insisted that partition could not be discussed.

The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Warren Fisher, told Irish High Commissioner John Dulanty on September 15, 1936, that the English people would not "insist upon the present artificial and absurd boundary of the Six Counties being made very permanent. In his view it was a stupid and ludicrous arrangement, and if he could end it tomorrow he would do so," according to Dulanty.

Malcolm MacDonald was so anxious for a settlement that Dulanty argued that the time was right to settle other issues. In the next four years MacDonald played a major role in ending of the Economic War and handing over the Treaty ports, thus making way for Ireland to stay out of World War II.

In June 1940 MacDonald even conveyed a secret offer to de Valera to end partition in return for the use of Irish bases.

But ending partition was never the Long Fellow's main aim. He was always more interested in exploiting the grievances both real and imagined.

After Fianna Fáil lost power in 1948, de Valera went along with the new government's anti-partition campaign by joining the committee of the All-Party Anti-Partition Conference, which met at the Mansion House for the first time on January 27, 1949.

The committee comprised Taoiseach John A Costello; William Norton, Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party; Seán MacBride, Minister for External Affairs and leader of Clann na Poblachta; Eamon de Valera, leader of Fianna Fáil; and Frank Aiken, former Fianna Fáil Minister. They decided to wage an international propaganda campaign, allocating funds to anti-partition candidates in the North.

On August 8, 1949, former Cumann na nGaedheal minister Ernest Blythe, wrote to Costello, denouncing the anti-partition campaign. A Northern Protestant who had taken an active part in War of Independence, Blythe helped negotiate the scrapping of the Boundary Commission in 1925.

"I feel that in relation to Partition we have been going deeper and deeper into a cul-de-sac for the last 28 years, and that if we are ever to get anywhere we must now turn round," he wrote, enclosing a51-page memorandum detailing the futility of the South's approach to the problem.

"If the Unionists of the North are, for the most part, devoid of any clear understanding of the outlook of the ordinary Nationalist of the South," he contended, "the Nationalists of the South, with rare exceptions, know even less of the outlook of the Northern Unionists.

"I know some people declare that they are not thinking of coercion of the Northern majority when they ask the British to go out of the Six Counties and to hand over to us the power which they have been exercising there," Blythe continued. It was folly to think that Dublin could assume the governmental functions if the British simply withdrew from the North. This would lead to a bloody civil war, he believed.

"We must realise the true basis of Partition is religious bigotry, and the fears and suspicions which go with it, all adding up to a fanatical resolve not to be put under a Catholic Parliament and Government," he continued.

People foolishly thought the USA could persuade Britain to end partition. "That notion represents the most puerile kind of wishful thinking," he warned. Fearing that we would waste another 28 years or more on the same "futile and stultifying" policy, he argued that the country should adopt a realistic policy towards Protestant fears immediately, rather than just promising to do so if partition were ended.

"It is surely very simple-minded to expect opponents who are in an apparently almost impregnable position to be suddenly moved to gratitude or friendship by a promise that, if they give in, they will be allowed to retain privileges and immunities which they already have firmly in hand," Blythe argued.

Conor Cruise O'Brien became one of the driving forces of the anti-partition campaign in 1950, attending all of the conference meetings on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs. But the Mansion House campaign was exposed and undermined during the Mother and Child controversy of 1951, when the government made obsequious protestations of obedience and servitude to the Catholic hierarchy.

The conference did not sit from 1955 until late 1968, when members of the committee gathered again, like some Over the Hill Gang. John A Costello presided with the other old hands in attendance Eamon de Valera, Seán MacBride and Frank Aiken, while Brendan Corish sat in for the late William Norton as the Labour Party's representative. The committee replaced two deceased trustees and adjourned for over another year.

At the last committee meeting on December 23, 1969, they deferred a decision on what to do with the committee's assets. For all we know, they may still be holding meetings about partition. All they ever did about it was talk, without so much as a practical suggestion between the lot of them. The proposal amounted to ethnic cleansing, in which Catholics would be moved from Protestant areas of Northern Ireland to Catholic areas that could be handed over to the Republic.

The author of this contingency plan suggested in the event of a doomsday scenario recognised from the outset that trying to move half a million people would be highly dangerous. If people thought that was crazy, how would they characterise Eamon de Valera's plan to move four times as many people?

As early as 1934 de Valera cited the exchange of certain populations between Greece and Turkey in line with the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) as his justification for advocating the moving of one million Protestants to Britain and replacing them with a similar number of British Catholics of Irish extraction. He was still suggesting this solution as late as 1943.

One can imagine the problems of forcefully repatriating a million Protestants. Where in Britain were they going to find a million Catholics of Irish extraction willing to move to Ireland? They, or their forbearers, had not emigrated because they were enamoured with conditions at home.

For decades the ending of partition was presented as a panacea to end all of this country's problems. While most of the coverage of the newly opened state papers concentrated on events of the early 1970s, an enormous amount of material was also released on earlier periods, such as the talks leading to the negotiations that culminated in the Anglo-Irish Agreements of 1938, as well as the voluminous records of the Mansion House All-Party Anti-Partition Conference set up in 1949.

Those records show the sterility of the thinking about partition. We could have learned from those mistakes, but instead we buried them in the archives, and made some of the same old mistakes again in the 1970s.

In the 1930s Anglo-Irish relations were strained due to the Economic War, initiated by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in 1932.

On becoming Dominions Secretary in 1936, MacDonald's son, Malcolm, tried desperately to resolve the problems. He proposed ministerial talks between the two governments and gave "an unqualified assurance that no questions would be ruled out," but de Valera balked because, he said, the British had previously insisted that partition could not be discussed.

The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Warren Fisher, told Irish High Commissioner John Dulanty on September 15, 1936, that the English people would not "insist upon the present artificial and absurd boundary of the Six Counties being made very permanent. In his view it was a stupid and ludicrous arrangement, and if he could end it tomorrow he would do so," according to Dulanty.

Malcolm MacDonald was so anxious for a settlement that Dulanty argued that the time was right to settle other issues. In the next four years MacDonald played a major role in ending of the Economic War and handing over the Treaty ports, thus making way for Ireland to stay out of World War II. In June 1940 MacDonald even conveyed a secret offer to de Valera to end partition in return for the use of Irish bases.

But ending partition was never the Long Fellow's main aim. He was always more interested in exploiting the grievances both real and imagined.

After Fianna Fáil lost power in 1948, de Valera went along with the new government's anti-partition campaign by joining the committee of the All-Party Anti-Partition Conference, which met at the Mansion House for the first time on January 27, 1949.

The committee comprised Taoiseach John A Costello; William Norton, Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party; Seán MacBride, Minister for External Affairs and leader of Clann na Poblachta; Eamon de Valera, leader of Fianna Fáil; and Frank Aiken, former Fianna Fáil Minister. They decided to wage an international propaganda campaign, allocating funds to anti-partition candidates in the North.

On August 8, 1949, former Cumann na nGaedheal minister Ernest Blythe, wrote to Costello, denouncing the anti-partition campaign. A Northern Protestant who had taken an active part in War of Independence, Blythe helped negotiate the scrapping of the Boundary Commission in 1925.

"I feel that in relation to Partition we have been going deeper and deeper into a cul-de-sac for the last 28 years, and that if we are ever to get anywhere we must now turn round," he wrote, enclosing a51-page memorandum detailing the futility of the South's approach to the problem.

"If the Unionists of the North are, for the most part, devoid of any clear understanding of the outlook of the ordinary Nationalist of the South," he contended, "the Nationalists of the South, with rare exceptions, know even less of the outlook of the Northern Unionists.

"I know some people declare that they are not thinking of coercion of the Northern majority when they ask the British to go out of the Six Counties and to hand over to us the power which they have been exercising there," Blythe continued. It was folly to think that Dublin could assume the governmental functions if the British simply withdrew from the North. This would lead to a bloody civil war, he believed.

"We must realise the true basis of Partition is religious bigotry, and the fears and suspicions which go with it, all adding up to a fanatical resolve not to be put under a Catholic Parliament and Government," he continued.

People foolishly thought the USA could persuade Britain to end partition. "That notion represents the most puerile kind of wishful thinking," he warned. Fearing that we would waste another 28 years or more on the same "futile and stultifying" policy, he argued that the country should adopt a realistic policy towards Protestant fears immediately, rather than just promising to do so if partition were ended.

"It is surely very simple-minded to expect opponents who are in an apparently almost impregnable position to be suddenly moved to gratitude or friendship by a promise that, if they give in, they will be allowed to retain privileges and immunities which they already have firmly in hand," Blythe argued.

Conor Cruise O'Brien became one of the driving forces of the anti-partition campaign in 1950, attending all of the conference meetings on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs. But the Mansion House campaign was exposed and undermined during the Mother and Child controversy of 1951, when the government made obsequious protestations of obedience and servitude to the Catholic hierarchy.

The conference did not sit from 1955 until late 1968, when members of the committee gathered again, like some Over the Hill Gang. John A Costello presided with the other old hands in attendance Eamon de Valera, Seán MacBride and Frank Aiken, while Brendan Corish sat in for the late William Norton as the Labour Party's representative. The committee replaced two deceased trustees and adjourned for over another year.

At the last committee meeting on December 23, 1969, they deferred a decision on what to do with the committee's assets. For all we know, they may still be holding meetings about partition. All they ever did about it was talk, without so much as a practical suggestion between the lot of them.

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