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Remarks by Minister Flanagan at the launch of Documents in Irish Foreign Policy

Minister Charles Flanagan, Culture, Speech, Ireland, 2014


Remarks by Charles Flanagan, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade 

at the launch of 

Documents in Irish Foreign Policy, Volume IX

Iveagh House, 20 November 2014


Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to welcome you this evening to mark the launch of Volume Nine in the series Documents on Irish Foreign Policy.

Just last week, the broadcaster Philip Boucher Hayes recalled the day after the Berlin Wall came down, coming in to UCD to find his politics lecturer had cancelled their class on the grounds that NATO versus the Warsaw Pact was “history now, not politics” – A distinction perhaps more easily made by academics than politicians.

But it is the academics—and the archivists—that we must thank today for yet another extraordinary volume.

To the editorial team, Catriona Crowe of the National Archives, Professors Ronan Fanning, Dermot Keogh and Eunan O'Halpin, and especially, to the team of Michael Kennedy and Kate O’Malley; Executive Director and Assistant Editor of this project; our thanks and congratulations.

It is sixteen years since the first volume of Documents in Irish Foreign was published. In that time it has occupied a unique space in the national discourse.

A collaboration between the National Archives, the Royal Irish Academy and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, it marks a confluence point between the academic and the bureaucratic, the analytic and the practical, the anecdotal and the monumental. Put more simply, these volumes are a gripping read.

In this volume, covering the years 1948 to 1951, The Free State becomes a Republic and the first Inter-Party Government is established under Taoiseach John A. Costello.

In this volume, we see, in some considerable detail, the emergence of an issue which, in my own former role as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I have seen touch personally the lives of so many in ways that grander ‘matters of state’ perhaps do not.

The adoption of Irish infants overseas, we learn, was something of which the Department was suspicious, but could do little to prevent.

Reflecting Irish society during this time, our foreign policy was strongly influenced by Catholicism, despite Minister Sean MacBride’s Republican politics.

In the first days of the first Inter-Party government a “message of filial piety” is sent to the Pope, drafted by MacBride himself.

We see Ireland’s ambassador to the Holy See, Joseph Walshe, petitioning MacBride to divert Secret Service monies to help the Christian Democrats defeat the Communists in the 1948 Italian General Election.

And yet, that same year, Ambassador Walshe recommends that he himself be withdrawn in protest at the Vatican’s refusal to appoint an Irishman as Papal Nuncio in Dublin. “You will remember my saying to you, while Mr De Valera was minister, that this might be our first real struggle with the bad side of the Vatican, and that a stage might come when the Government might have to withdraw me for a few months”.

A similar tension, or ambivalence, perhaps, is evident in MacBride’s position on Israel and Palestine.

Often seen as a supporter of Palestinian rights, MacBride as minister drew analogies between Ireland’s and Israel’s claims for independence: “Just as the people of Israel, in their efforts to achieve national independence, have always felt a profound sympathy with the parallel struggle of the Irish nation, so too the memory of the earliest tribulations of Israel was amongst those that fortified the people of Ireland during the past centuries.”

It is during this period too that Ireland leaves the Commonwealth and becomes a Republic.

When Taoiseach Costello makes the unexpected announcement while visiting Canada in 1948, the Ambassador to Canada is suddenly ‘laid down with flu’. Ambassador flu was an early strain of man-flu but it has since mutated and can now affect any Head of Mission.

The Inter-Party Government laid greater emphasis on anti-partition policy, and while this made Ireland no friends internationally, the era saw the most successful developments in cross-border co-operation since partition; an agreement to develop the Erne Hydro-Electric scheme, laying the ground for the Foyle Fisheries Commission, and a series of direct North-South ministerial meetings concerning the future of the Dublin to Belfast railway line, marked real progress in North-South relations. Progress which continues today with the North South Implementation Bodies.

Volume IX also provides us with a range of views on Anglo Irish issues from that era.

Personal relations between our Ambassador in London and King George VI were good. Ambassador Dulanty writes: “Although there were other guests to be received, the King surprisingly left his place, walked along with me, and spoke of his regret at the forthcoming repeal of the External Relations Act.”

At a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, Winston Churchill tells Dulanty of his hopes for a United Ireland: “I said a few words in Parliament the other day about your country because I still hope for a united Ireland. You must get those fellows from the north in, though you can’t do it by force. There is not, and never was, any bitterness in my heart towards your country.” Churchill had hoped to visit Ireland in 1951 as his horse, Canyon Kid, was to run in the Irish Derby, but the horse died of heart failure. “I’m sorry,” he said to Frederick Boland, “I would have liked to have gone over and I’m sure the people would have given me a good reception – particularly if my horse had won. The Irish are a sporting people”.

In 1950, Ambassador Josephine MacNeill became Ireland’s first female head of mission, presenting her credentials to Queen Juliana of The Netherlands, who, ten years before, following the Nazi invasion of her country, had been offered safe haven in Ireland by De Valera.

Unfortunately, while Dublin was prepared to send a woman overseas to represent the new Republic, the prospect of Ms Perle Mesta becoming US ambassador to Dublin was met with resistance. An unsent, draft telegram reads: “You might anticipate such a suggestion being made by very discreetly letting it be known that we are not desirous of having a woman in the post”.

We don’t know whether this message was conveyed by methods other than telegram. Perhaps if the correspondent had the benefit of hindsight—and the privilege to have seen the contributions made by US Ambassadors Heckler and Kennedy-Smith—he might not merely have refrained from sending it, but have destroyed all evidence of its ever being drafted.

Ireland’s relationship with the US in this period is fluid. We see MacBride’s unsuccessful attempts to use the possibility of Ireland’s membership of NATO, and later, of an Atlantic Pact, in return for American help to end partition. Meanwhile, in Europe, Ireland is positive about the first steps towards European integration. The establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community marked an end to Franco-German hostility.

“The fact,” MacBride writes, “that this initiative was taken by France with great firmness, despite a strong British opposition, may well prove to be a turning point in European politics.”

Ireland’s role in 1948 as a founding member of the Council of Europe is covered here. That body today continues to advance the cause of Human Rights.

It is in the fusion of these two strands, economic development and the recognition of Human Rights, that today’s Europe functions most impressively; these two elements should never be disentangled.

In conclusion, once again let me thank the editorial team for bringing together these voices of colleagues past, some of whom have family members here this evening. Collectively, the sense we get is of a diplomatic corps that is imbued and energised with an extraordinary sense of ambition for such a small country. It is something of which we can be rightly proud. And we should be ever grateful to those diplomats who worked so hard to make our voices, the voices of the Irish people, heard.

I look forward to continuing this collaboration. I had the pleasure of hosting former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, on a return visit to Iveagh House, sixty years after his appointment as Minister for External Affairs in 1954. I was about to leave to address the UN General Assembly in New York and our conversation turned to Ireland’s accession to the UN, which Liam had overseen in 1955.

His memory of that process was as sharp and lively as many of the exchanges in this volume. It may be, as Philip Boucher Hayes said, that this is “history now, not politics”. But it is timely history nonetheless. I, like many in this room, look forward with relish and impatience, to the volumes still to come.

Thank you.