Friday 23 February 2018

Yes, Michael D is still his own man - but this may be his 'Dev' moment

President Michael D Higgins. Photo credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
President Michael D Higgins. Photo credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Eamon Delaney

Eamon Delaney

I was at a summer school in the North once, where a gathering of academics and historians were discussing the Republic's neutrality during World War II. There were a few trendy media people there (Channel 4, the 'Guardian', etc) and you could see their boredom as the debate noodled on about national identity and 'the Irish struggle'. Until someone mentioned about how Eamon de Valera had signed the book of condolences for Adolf Hitler in 1945.

The book of condolences for Adolf Hitler? You could hear the air go out of the room, and I found myself suddenly having to explain the 'context' for Dev's diplomatic gesture - the strict application of neutrality, the need to show pure even-handedness, etc. Until I just gave up and said that, yes, it was a crazy thing to do and there are times when strict diplomatic procedures just have to be set aside. And this was one of them.

If Dev could have restarted that day, I said, he might have done it differently. Or his advisers might have made him do differently. But it is hard to know. Dev was a single-minded politician and may have brushed aside such advice.

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