Ireland is not rich in natural resources. It has almost no coal or oil, little gas and few minerals. But what it does have, in almost bottomless quantities which it will still be able to draw on when Saudi Arabia is importing oil from Saturn, is sanctimony. There is almost no moral issue taxing the world on which Ireland’s leaders do not know best, drawing from the country’s deep wells of supernatural goodness.
The entire Brexit drama was enacted in Ireland as a morality play in which the British government was portrayed as nasty, xenophobic bigots, as by extension were the British people, with the Irish remaining the only good Europeans in this archipelago. Why the Irish simply adore this conceit is a rather difficult question to answer, since the EU and the European Central Bank made Ireland cover German banking losses on the Irish property market in the 2000s to the value of €34,500 for every man, woman and child in the country.
But probably the main attraction about being good little Europeans is that it means we’re not seen to be British. The problem is that Ireland spends so little on defence that by the terms of a secret treaty with the otherwise despicable British it regularly calls in the RAF to see off Russian reconnaissance aircraft intruding in its airspace. Meanwhile, Ireland pays its navy so badly that 450 of its personnel have recently jumped ship, obliging it to mothball two of its fishery-protection vessels. This leaves just seven vessels to mind some 220 million acres of sea, in utter violation of its maritime undertakings to the much-loved EU.
This essay appears in the most recent Quadrant.
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Furthermore, Ireland’s President is never happier than when condemning British imperialist sins of the past, an activity that is not remotely within his legal or constitutional remit, but it goes down well with the conjoined media and academic classes. His most recent public foray was with Noam Chomsky, the veteran critic of the US and Israel, which brings us inevitably to the issue where Irish sanctimony now threatens to drown the entire island in a sickly treacle of self-congratulation: the Middle East.
In May, Ireland’s parliament, the Dail, condemned with an almost Arabic extravagance Israel’s record towards Palestinians and Gaza, denouncing the “de facto” annexation of land in Judaea and Samaria, or the West Bank. The anti-Israel motion was introduced by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, a relationship which in most sensible people’s eyes should naturally rob both the motion and its authors of any moral validity. But in Ireland of the Boundless Virtue the reverse is the case: the Irish coalition government accepted Sinn Fein’s unequivocal condemnation of Israel, merely adding a line that almost inaudibly criticised Hamas’s firing of over four thousand missiles into Israel.
The story of Ireland denouncing Israel then went round the world with (as intended) no one really noticing the sotto voce rebuke of Hamas, the terrorist organisation which had actually started the hostilities that cost some 270 lives. Also unnoticed and completely unreported in the Irish media were Sinn Fein’s deep anti-Semitic roots, which go back to the party’s origins at the end of the nineteenth century.
In 1899, the founder of Sinn Fein, Arthur Griffith, wrote of a Hyde Park rally in London in support of Alfred Dreyfus:
Some thirty thousand Jews and Jewesses, mostly of phenomenal ugliness, had come out of their East End dens at the summons of their rabbis. If they hated France, it was obvious that they hated soap and water even more acutely.
Five years later, Griffith strongly backed a rabble-rousing Catholic priest named Creagh who was leading a violent boycott of the small Jewish community of the city of Limerick. Though no Jews were killed, many were assaulted, and most of the Jewish community were driven out. Nor was anti-Semitism confined to the provinces. In September 1909, a Sinn Fein member named O’Meara petitioned in the courts in Dublin on behalf of the party against the presence of Jewish voters on the city’s electoral lists on the grounds that Jews were, by definition, “aliens”.
A long time ago? Of course. But it did not end there. In 1935, the Irish Parliament, Dail Eireann, responded to the rise of Hitler by passing the Aliens Act, which was primarily designed to keep any Jewish refugees out of Ireland, for nobody else but the desperate Jews of Central Europe would have had any reason to board the sinking ship that was isolationist Ireland of the 1930s. But some Jews did arrive, including a rabbi hoping to fill the vacancy left by the recent death of one local rabbi. His request to stay was refused, on the grounds that his appointment as a rabbi might prevent an Irish person getting the job, when of course no such Irish person existed. This prompted one Jewish politician to write: “our Instructor of Music in the [Irish] Army is a German who has not seen fit to become an Irish national … our Director of the Museum [Adolf Mahr] is an Austrian whose allegiance is to Mr Hitler who recently honoured him in his Birthday Honours.”
Matters soon grew worse, for Sinn Fein-IRA then signed a secret treaty with the Nazis which has never been renounced by either party, meaning that Sinn Fein-IRA remain (along with the Muslim Brotherhood and possibly a handful of barking geriatrics in a Paraguayan rainforest) the Nazi Party’s last remaining allies. A formal alliance between Sinn Fein-IRA (the two organisations are morally and functionally indivisible) and the Third Reich was agreed by IRA leaders and Nazi emissary Oskar Pfaus in a Dublin suburb in April 1939. The IRA undertook to declare war on Britain and in return would be armed and supplied by Nazi Germany.
The IRA-Sinn Fein delegation did not enter this deal in ignorance of Hitler’s anti-Semitic intentions. Just over two months earlier, on January 30, 1939, Hitler had announced to the world that in the event of a world war, the Jews of Europe would be exterminated. The Irish Times gave Hitler’s words headline coverage on its front page and inside pages as well. Five months after the IRA–Nazi pact was sealed, the IRA bombed Coventry, killing five people and injuring seventy, and the following week Germany invaded Poland.
Some months later, Sean Russell, a senior member of the IRA, travelled to wartime Berlin to intensify the German alliance. His primary contact in Berlin was an SS officer, Edmund Veesenmayer, who later had a major role in the extermination of the Jews of Yugoslavia and Hungary, totalling nearly a million people. Those glories were still to come when he and Russell discussed the IRA’s plans for Ireland. Russell’s intended role in the war was military; he was trained by the Special Forces of the Brandenburg Division in sabotage work, skills that he was expected to pass on to the IRA in its war against Britain.
In August 1940, Russell embarked on the German U-boat U-65, along with fellow IRA man Frank Ryan, bound for Ireland to wage a terrorist campaign in support of the Third Reich. Russell died aboard the vessel, apparently from a perforated ulcer, and his body was wrapped in the Nazi flag—not an honour lightly bestowed by the Kriegsmarin—and buried at sea. It is a measure of the importance of this mission to the Nazis that they were prepared to deploy a U-boat at the height of the Battle of Britain. The following November the Luftwaffe finished off what the IRA had begun in Coventry the year before.
Ambiguity—to put it mildly—towards the Third Reich was not confined to the IRA. In May 1945, the Irish prime minister Eamon de Valera—who genuinely was not an anti-Semite—nonetheless put on his top hat and tails to deliver to the German legate, Hempel, the formal condolences of the Irish people upon the death of Hitler. At this point de Valera knew about the Nazi death camps: Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau had been liberated by allied troops, though Irish government censors had removed all references to these Nazi concentration camps from Irish newspapers. His motivation for this insane deed remains beyond analysis.
It does not end there. The following year, Gerald Boland, Minister for Justice, justified restrictions on Jewish refugees coming to Ireland as follows: “it was always policy … to restrict the admission of Jewish aliens [lest it] give rise to an anti-Semitic problem”.
Two sets of refugees were allowed into Ireland after the war: 500 Christian orphans and 100 Jewish orphans. If the Christians wanted, they could stay, and many did. But the Jewish orphans were obliged to return to the wasteland from which they had fled, regardless of their wishes or those of the families that might have wanted to adopt them.
Meanwhile, across Western Europe a new political order was emerging, one which unhesitatingly rejected Nazism and all its allies, but with one exception: Ireland. Here minor German war criminals and their allies were made heartily welcome. SS man Otto Skorzeny, one of Hitler’s most favoured warriors, was given a warm reception at a seafront golf club outside Dublin and liked Ireland so much that he bought a home here. Dublin city council gave a site in a park for the erection of a statue honouring the memory of the Nazi collaborator Russell, paradoxically not far from where German bombs had accidentally—or so the Luftwaffe maintained—killed twenty-eight people in 1941. (No memorial for them, mind you.) And in 2003, beside that very statue, the newly emerging star of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement, and today its political leader, Mary Lou McDonald, at the annual ceremony to commemorate Russell’s death, reaffirmed the political and moral validity of his alliance with the Third Reich; unchanged, unregretted, unashamed and unapologetic.
Despite this utterly squalid record, Sinn Fein has since gone from strength to strength, and is now the most popular political party in Ireland. It is almost as if the Irish electorate inhabits a different planet with utterly dissimilar ethics to almost anywhere else in Europe, with perhaps a couple of exceptions in the Bavarian Alps. Certainly, no other democratic society would have electorally rewarded a political party that annually honours a Nazi collaborator. But then, no other society would ever have allowed a statue to a Nazi collaborator to have been erected in the first place, with successive governments then allowing it to remain standing.
This is what makes the acceptance of Dail Eireann of a motion from such a deeply contaminated source as Sinn Fein on the issue of Israel so deeply objectionable. Whereas I would not agree with a single line in the recent Dail motion condemning Israel’s policies on the West Bank, I can recognise that genuine feelings are honestly being expressed in the vote. But that does not excuse Sinn Fein’s substantive motion being accepted by the government, instead of a substitute being inserted. For its original omission of any reference to the four thousand rockets Hamas had fired into Israel was not some unhappy oversight. Quite the reverse. It was a fair statement of where the IRA’s political wing stands on Israel and on Jews generally: roughly where it stood in 1899, in 1904, in 1909, in 1935, in April 1939, in September 1939, in August 1940, in 2003 and in May 2021: an unbroken and consistently restated continuum of anti-Semitism.
Moreover, no Irish prime minister has ever rejected, condemned or apologised for de Valera’s condolences over Hitler. Indeed, public sympathies—even the cultural ones—have sometimes pointed in the opposite direction. The Nazi-sympathising writer Francis Stuart, who in 1939 raced to Berlin after war broke out in order to support Hitler’s cause, was decades later appointed a Saoi, or “distinguished artist”, by Aosdana, the government-sponsored body of Irish artists. This rare honour has only been awarded seventeen times in its history.
So the recent vote is not without precedent as one-sided sanctimony, admixed with covert anti-Semitism, once again erupted in unanalytical emoting. Grown-up analysis of the problem is now virtually impossible in Ireland, even though Gaza is very visibly a proxy for Iran, which is determined to exterminate Israel. What would happen if Israel did as Ireland wanted, and removed all settlers from the West Bank? Gaza has already supplied the answer to that: yet more of the same, with every corner of Israel within reach of Iranian rockets fired from Lebanon, Jericho and Gaza.
And is this ambition to make yet another corner of the world entirely Jew-free not a vaguely familiar concept? Is that not a description of both the entire Arab world and Iran? Was it also not true for much of Europe in 1945? Yet it is Israel, whose population is 20 per cent Arab, which Irish politicians accuse of running an apartheid state. The evidence against that assertion is ludicrously obvious: it was an Arab judge in Israel who imprisoned the former Israeli President for rape, and last year an Arab lieutenant-colonel in Israel’s Special Forces was killed in action against Hamas fighters in Gaza. With tragic symbolism, two of the Israeli victims of Hamas rockets were also Arab: but naturally, Khalil Awad and his sixteen-year-old daughter Nadine have gone almost unmentioned in the Irish media.
Moreover, just like the UN, Irish politicians and media commentators who so regularly denounce Israeli settlements in Judaea and Samaria stay silent over Turkish eviction of all Greeks in Northern Cyprus and their replacement by Turks from Anatolia. A comparable silence is observed over the forcible incarceration and relocation of millions of the Uighur Muslim population by the Chinese.
Selective vision, selective history, selective anger. These are the tools that Sinn Fein-IRA have used to negotiate their way to “respectability”. By needlessly and foolishly accepting the Sinn Fein motion on the West Bank, the Irish government allowed the political wing of the IRA to appear to be the moral voice of the Irish people. And, as constitutional politicians lose the will to oppose the insidiously-creeping Sinn Fein agenda, historically the most anti-Semitic party in Western Europe—and the Nazis’ last surviving ally—might well be in government, north and south, within a couple of years. Soon after that, the island of Ireland will probably be Judenrein as Ireland’s few remaining Jews sadly pack their bags and head for London or Israel, and Griffith, Creagh, O’Meara, Russell, Stuart and all the others can at last sleep soundly in their graves. Their job is done.