Thursday 19 October 2017

Dermot Keogh: How Dev's masterstroke won back our treaty ports

British troops left Spike Island in 1938. Pictured is Cpl EJ Thomas and his family leaving on July 11, 1938.
British troops left Spike Island in 1938. Pictured is Cpl EJ Thomas and his family leaving on July 11, 1938.

Dermot Keogh

IN a decade of centenaries commemorating the great events in the struggle for Irish independence, there may be a tendency not to give due weight to the less dramatic side of the 'fight for Irish freedom'. The London Agreement, or Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1938, is possibly one such neglected milestone on the road to peaceful relations between old 'enemies'.

The agreement was one of De Valera's major political achievements and, paradoxically, a vindication of the constitutional strategy of Michael Collins propelling him to sign the Treaty in 1921 as a stepping stone to greater independence and as a "freedom to achieve freedom". Nobody understood that approach better than De Valera after he came to power in 1932 and – by peaceful means – he dismantled the Irish Free State constitution in contentious areas, completing his constitutional crusade in 1937 with the introduction of a new Constitution.

Naturally, the British government in 1932 had looked with disquiet at De Valera's arrival in power, and those fears were realised by the new Irish government's refusal to pay land annuities. The trade war with London which followed proved very damaging to Irish economic interests. In the end, Dublin found it necessary to break the deadlock and the new British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was amenable.

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