The Emergency

From Academic Kids

For information about the 1975-1977 Emergency in India under Indira Gandhi, please see Indian Emergency

The Emergency was an official euphemism used by the Irish Government (of the State now known as the Republic of Ireland) during the 1940s to refer to its position during World War II. The State was officially neutral during World War II and in government media, direct references to the war were avoided. This was partly due to the political and nationalist tensions in Ireland at the time which resulted from the Anglo–Irish War and the Irish Civil War. The term has remained in use in, for example, school text books. The official state of emergency commenced on 2 September 1939, enabling the Emergency Powers Act to be passed the following day, giving sweeping new powers to the government for the duration of the Emergency. The Act was repealed on 2 September 1946. Although the state of emergency itself was not rescinded until 1 September 1976, no emergency legislation was ever in force after 1946 to exploit this anomaly.


Significant events

Eamon de Valera, who was Taoiseach (head of government) during the Emergency, introduced the Emergency Powers and Offences Against the State Acts to repress the Irish Republican Army (IRA), many members of which sought to provoke a confrontation between Britain and Ireland. In July 1940, three German agents were arrested after landing in Skibbereen, County Cork. Main article Operation Artur describes this event in some detail.

Belfast Blitz

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland (being still part of the United Kingdom) was certainly at war and the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast were among the strategic targets for German attack. The Luftwaffe carried out a bombing raid on Belfast on April 7 1941. 8 died. There was no defence of the city. On Easter Tuesday, April 15 1941, 180 Luftwaffe bombers attacked Belfast. Again, there was no defence from the RAF. There were only 7 anti-aircraft batteries in Belfast. However they ceased firing lest the damaged the (non-existent) RAF. Over 200 tons of explosives, 80 landmines attached to parachutes and 800 firebomb canisters were dropped. Over 1,000 died. Outside of London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Battle of Britain. At 4.30 AM Basil Brooke asked deV for assistance. Within two hours, 13 fire tenders from Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk and Dun Laoghaire were on their way to cross the Irish border to assist their Belfast colleagues. De Valera followed up with his “they are our people” speech and formally protested to Berlin. Although there was a later raid on May 4, it was confined to the docks and shipyards. Some 1,100 people died during Luftwaffe bombing between April and May 1941. Some 53% of the city's housing stock (some 56,000 houses) were damaged and around 100,000 became temporarily homeless.

Dublin Bombing

On the night of May 30 of the same year, Dublin's Northside was the target of a Luftwaffe air raid. Thirty-eight were killed and seventy houses were destroyed on Summerhill Parade, North Strand and the North Circular Road. The German government claimed the raid was an error and paid compensation after the war. However, it has been claimed that this was actually a deliberate warning by Germany not to assist the Allied war effort (since the Dublin fire brigade helped put out fires in Belfast and so bring the shipyards back into use more quickly). At the time, Germany apologised saying that high winds were to blame. Eduard Hempel claimed that they were captured aircraft flown by the British! On October 3, the German news agency announced that the German government would pay compensation for dropping bombs on Ireland

Winston Churchill, later conceded that the raids might have been the result of a British invention which distorted Luftwaffe radio guidance beams so as to throw their planes off course


Irish neutrality arose from a number of motives. De Valera had stated at the League of Nations in 1938 that, if the great nations were to behave irresponsibly, the small nations should not assist them. Indeed, most European countries were at least initially neutral: France and the United Kingdom were the only European nations to enter the war on the Allied side without first having been invaded.

The Irish state was however the only Commonwealth dominion to have an official policy of neutrality. Anti-British feeling, dating from the Anglo-Irish War in the 1920s was still high; continuing British rule of Northern Ireland was viewed by many as an illegal occupation. An alliance with Britain risked serious political instability. De Valera's policy of neutrality enabled the State to maintain internal political unity: Irish neutrality during World War II had broad support with only one vote against it in Dáil Eireann (the lower houser of parliament), from James Dillon, who argued that the State should side with the Allies.

The Irish Government also felt that the country could not handle a major war due to the economic problems of the time and the running-down of the military since the civil war. The government started a recruiting drive in case of invasion.

In 2005 documents were released from the UK Public Record Office regarding contacts between de Valera and a British MI6 officer in 1942 over the State joining the allies. Details of the meetings were not disclosed but it is believed the British made a vague offer to de Valera of a united Ireland. De Valera did not take the offer seriously, and was unhappy with the attempted deception.

Informal support for the Allies

Despite its official policy of neutrality the Irish Government offered a great deal of informal assistance to the Allies, some of which did not become public knowledge until the declassification of State papers in the 1990s. The positions of German submarines were regularly reported to the Royal Navy through secret messages. Detailed weather reports of conditions in the Atlantic Ocean were broadcast on a weak radio-telephone link, which had a range such that the Allies could intercept,but not the Germans. The timing of D-Day was based on weather reports supplied by the Irish Government which told of incoming weather conditions from the Atlantic. Many British servicemen who crashed over the State were allowed free if they could claim not to have been on a combat mission, otherwise they were allowed to 'escape' to the United Kingdom through Northern Ireland, while downed Germans were always interned. Secret meetings were also held to decide what to do if Germany invaded Ireland in order to attack Great Britain.

The chief German diplomat in Dublin also had his radio confiscated in 1943 to prevent him passing information to his leaders. There was a corridor near Donegal which British aircraft could use when flying from bases in Northern Ireland out over the Atlantic, which was used by, for example, the reconnaissance aircraft which spotted the German battleship Bismarck heading for France in 1941.

Some 43,000 citizens from what is now the Republic of Ireland and around 38,000 from Northern Ireland served with British forces during World War II. Opinions on this matter in the Republic remain somewhat divided and the issue of the Irish volunteers remains sensitive for many. It was many years until this was recognised by an Irish Government. However, in April 1995 Taoiseach John Bruton paid tribute to those who

"volunteered to fight against Nazi tyranny in Europe, at least 10,000 of whom were killed while serving in British uniforms. In recalling their bravery, we are recalling a shared experience of Irish and British people. We remember a British part of the inheritance of all who live in Ireland."

Relations with Germany

In pursuit of its policy of neutrality the Irish Government publicly refused to close the German and Japanese embassies. Before and in the early years of World War II the German government investigated whether the IRA could be used against the United Kingdom, as well as whether or not it would be tactically advantageous to invade Ireland or to persuade the Irish Government to side with the Axis powers. Germany courted Ireland to this end, before and during the war, but without success. The Nazis also made contact with IRA men interned at the Curragh. On the occasion of the death of Adolf Hitler, de Valera paid a controversial visit to Hempel, the German minister (ambassador) in Dublin, to express sympathy with the German people over the death of the Führer. This action was criticised by some of the victorious allies and proved to be a low point after the assistance that the Irish Government gave to the Allied effort, though the government felt it proper given the state's neutrality.

See also

External links

pt:A emergência


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