Dev had good reason to be nice to Hitler’s envoy until the bitter end

NOT content with President Mary McAleese’s apology for her recent gaffe, people are now looking for an apology to Jewish people for Eamon de Valera’s condolence gesture to the German minister following the death of Hitler.

With the approach of the 60th anniversary, we are likely to hear more of this, and Sinn Féin might even try to justify their fascist tactics on the distorted premise that the Long Fellow was some kind of closet Nazi.

De Valera publicly proclaimed his determination to stay out of World War II long before the first shot was fired. Early in the hostilities he assured the British he would do what he could, short of war, to help them. He believed Britain had right on her side because Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had done "everything a man could do to prevent this tragedy".

The Taoiseach told British representative Sir John Maffey in September 1939: "England has a moral position today. Hitler might have his early success, but the moral position would tell."

Edouard Hempel, the German minister, reported that De Valera candidly told him the Irish Government would have to show "a certain consideration" for Britain out of economic necessity.

David Gray, the American minister, was the greatest danger. He knew as much about statesmanship as a goose knows about geometry. He even conspired against the Irish Government.

At one point, he advocated that Britain should provoke a famine here and then seize Irish bases on the pretext of needing them to protect food shipments to this country. His proposal was as impractical as it was amoral.

In 1943 and '44, Gray conspired with Roosevelt and Churchill to discredit De Valera by depicting him as a threat to the lives of American soldiers because he would not close down the German legation in Dublin. Last year, Tim Pat Coogan, who seems ever ready to smear De Valera these days, suggested that Hempel was using his transmitter to help sink American ships.

No shred of credible evidence has ever been produced to support that charge. If Gray had any, he would certainly have used it.

Tim Pat suggested that the sinking of "the Iroquois in September 1939 is certainly attributed to Hempel (Ireland in the 20th Century, p 269)".

That was pure crap, as Albert Reynolds might say. The passenger liner Iroquois left Cobh on October 3, 1939, with 566 American passengers and arrived unscathed in New York eight days later. It was subsequently converted to a hospital ship and used in the Pacific until damaged at Iwo Jima in 1945. Even Tim Pat couldn't blame Dev for that!

Maffey quietly told his government it could be assured Hempel would be of no more effective use to Germany than the polar bear in Dublin Zoo would be to Greenland. The American note suggested, however, that Ireland should realise that diplomats were often used as spies.

In September 1943, De Valera secretly authorised the use of Irish diplomats in Berlin, Rome and Vichy as American spies, at the request of American intelligence. The Long Fellow sent Joe Walshe of the Department of External Affairs to London to warn the Americans that if they disclosed this, all co-operation would be terminated.

American intelligence promptly used its influence with the White House to block a follow-up note in relation to the diplomats. But that did not stop Gray and Roosevelt from smearing De Valera with other scams, such as a request for an assurance that Dublin would not grant asylum to any Germans who assisted their country's war effort in any way.

De Valera refused to bind himself in advance, which the Americans depicted as a rejection of their request. On April 30, 1945, Gray presented another request for American forces be allowed to seize the German legation in Dublin in order to get hold of German codes in case some U-boats tried to carry on the struggle after Germany's impending surrender.

As Gray lectured him, "De Valera grew red and looked very sour. He was evidently annoyed, but his manners were correct".

"When I finished, he slapped the copy of the memorandum, which I had presented him, on his desk. 'This is a matter for my legal advisers,' the Taoiseach said; 'it is not a matter I can discuss with you now'."

Time was of the essence, Gray argued, but De Valera terminated the discussion.

Next day Gray was informed that Hempel would be told to hand over his keys once Germany surrendered. The Americans could then, and only then, take charge of the legation.

THEY were not going to have to wait very long because the news broke that day of Hitler's death.

De Valera responded by going to express condolence to Hempel, who warned that there could be trouble over the visit. "I do what I think is right," De Valera told him.

Following the death of US President Roosevelt little over two weeks earlier, de Valera paid a moving tribute and had the Dáil adjourn as a mark a respect, but there were no such gestures for Hitler. Why did the Taoiseach go to such lengths to express sympathy for the death of a man he despised? "Common gentlemanly feelings of sympathy with Dr Hempel in the hour of the country's collapse called for a gesture," De Valera explained privately. "Hitler was dead and there was no possibility of my reinforcing an already lost cause."

It would have been an "unpardonable discourtesy to the German nation and to Dr Hempel himself" not to have made an official gesture, De Valera added. And he was not about to insult Hempel, for whom he had a much higher regard than he had for Gray.

"During the whole of the war," the Taoiseach wrote, "Dr Hempel's conduct was irreproachable. He was always friendly and invariably correct in marked contrast with Gray. I certainly was not going to add to his humiliation in the hour of defeat."

De Valera's sympathy was not for Hitler or the Nazis, but for Edouard Hempel, a diplomat of the old school who helped the Irish Government to stay out of the war.

One irate writer indicated a couple of weeks ago that he was getting in touch with the family of Paddy Moran to have them demand a retraction of my comments in this column about Moran being hanged for the wrong crime in 1921.

He was hanged for a killing in Mount Street on Bloody Sunday, whereas he was actually in charge of two killings in the Gresham Hotel. The same person wrote again a couple of days later to explain that Moran's family "always held that he was completely innocent and that was the position up until a few months ago".

But the family "now accepts that he was involved with the squad on Bloody Sunday and took part in the execution of British agents in the Gresham Hotel".

Lest the IRA try to exploit those, let it be understood that one of the men killed, Capt Patrick McCormack, was a veterinarian who had nothing to do with intelligence and was not on the list to be killed.

The IRA got the wrong man.

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