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In April 1941 de Valera discussed the issue of the bases with Australian prime minister Robert Menzies, who reported that standing in front of a map the Long Fellow could not "understand why naval bases in Ireland should be of the slightest importance to Great Britain."

Before the war the British had renounced their treaty rights to Irish bases. With bases in England and France, the Admiralty concluded that Irish bases were unnecessary. After the fall of France, shipping going by the south of Ireland was too vulnerable to attack from German aircraft based in France, so all Atlantic shipping was routed around Northern Ireland, where the British had bases.

Churchill had advocated seizing Irish bases early in the war, but he backed off because of the political damage de Valera could do in the US with the help of Irish-Americans. Fearing de Valera might seek to disrupt any post-war peace settlement that did not end partition, David Gray, the US Minister to Ireland, personally persuaded Roosevelt and Churchill to discredit de Valera politically in American eyes in 1943.

The plan was to ask for Irish bases not because they desired them, but to get de Valera's refusal on record. The American and British military chiefs objected, however, because they feared de Valera might comply and they argued that Irish bases would only be a liability.

After that scheme was blocked, Gray suggested they ask de Valera to expel the German legation as a supposed espionage danger to Allied plans to invade the continent. At the insistence of de Valera the German legation had already surrendered its radio transmitter. Its only means of communication with Berlin was via cable to Berne, Switzerland. As this cable passed through London, the British could cut it off at will.

The British were reading all German messages to Berlin since 1942 and MI5 warned that expelling the German diplomats could actually endanger security because the Germans might replace the legation with an effective spy. Thus the American note demanding the expulsion of the Axis diplomats had nothing to do with security. It was strictly a ploy in which security was actually sacrificed for political expediency. Gray carried the security scam a step further at the end of April 1945 when he asked de Valera to allow the Americans to seize the German legation in order to get their hands on German codes in case U-boats continued to wage war in the Atlantic. The Allies already had the codes, so that was utter nonsense. The whole thing was just another ploy.

Gray, who was fully informed about the secret Irish cooperation, was effectively telling de Valera this was the least Ireland could do, as the war was virtually over and it had provided no help so far. De Valera terminated the interview, telling Gray he would get his answer in due course. Within hours news broke of the death of Hitler, and de Valera made his extraordinary condolence visit to the German minister next day.

TWO weeks earlier, following the death of President Franklin D Roosevelt, Gray wrote to Roosevelt's widow that "Mr de Valera made a very moving tribute to the President in the Dáil this morning and moved adjournment till tomorrow. I thought I knew this country and its people, but this was something new. There was a great deal of genuine feeling."

In the circumstances de Valera felt it would have been an "unpardonable discourtesy to the German nation and to Dr Hempel himself" not to proffer official condolence to the German minister. Throughout the war it had been patently obvious that the Dublin government had favoured the Allies. Hempel could have caused real problems, but he never tried to do so.

"During the whole of the war," de Valera wrote to Robert Brennan, the Irish minister in Washington, "Dr Hempel's conduct was irreproachable. He was always and invariably correct - in marked contrast with Gray. I certainly was not going to add to his humiliation in the hour of defeat."

His condolence to Hempel was not an expression of regret at the death of Hitler, but a personal gesture of appreciation to Hempel in the hour of defeat. It was understandable, but it was a serious political mistake because it reinforced the misconception that de Valera had in some ways been sympathetic to the Nazis.

- Ryle Dwyer's latest book, Behind the Green Curtain, Ireland's Phoney Neutrality During World War II has just been published by Gill and Macmillan.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, September 26, 2009

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Q: What kind of pressure did US ambassador David Gray place on De Velara to abandon his policy of neutrality in World War 2?
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