From 1919: President Éamon de Valera on Ireland’s right to independence
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the June 7, 1919 issue of America.
For over 1,000 years Ireland possessed and fully exercised sovereign independence, and was recognized throughout Europe as a distinct sovereign State. The hope of recovering full and permanent sovereignty has always lived in the breasts of the Irish people, and has been the mainspring and the inspiration of their political activities. All liberty loving nations of the world owe to the Irish the recognition of the independence of Ireland, not only because of the indisputable right of the people of Ireland to govern their own national destinies, but also because that right is denied by England on grounds which are a negation of national liberty everywhere, and entirely subversive of international peace and order.
England being a maritime power, dependent for safety on her navy, because of the proximity of Ireland, deems it a practical necessity to dominate Ireland. Ireland is not as near to England as Belgium, or Holland, or France is to Germany, as Norway is to Sweden, or as Portugal is to Spain. Yet, England resists Ireland’s demand for independence on the ground that a free Ireland is incompatible with the security of England, or Great Britain, or the British Empire. On such a ground the subjugation of any small nation by a neighboring great power could be justified. Basing its action on the pattern of England, a State could claim the right to suppress the independence of any nation whose continued liberty that State declared incompatible with its own security.
De Valera: "For over 1,000 years Ireland possessed and fully exercised sovereign independence, and was recognized throughout Europe as a distinct sovereign State."
This very proximity makes independence essential to Ireland, if Irish rights are not to be sacrificed to English interests. Ireland, according to the British Navy League, is merely a naval out-port to be governed for the benefit of its foreign masters. English prosperity being dependent on her maritime commerce, Ireland’s national harbors, the best in Europe, are kept empty of mercantile shipping, except such as carries the restricted trade between Ireland and Great Britain. Ireland cannot admit that the interests of one country, be they what they may, shall be allowed to annul the national rights of another country. If England be justified in this respect, there is an end to national rights, and all nations must be prepared either to submit to armed interests or to make war against them.
English rule has never been for the benefit of Ireland, has never been intended for the benefit of Ireland. It has done all in its power to isolate Ireland from Europe and America, to retard her development, and to deprive her of a national civilization. So far as Ireland is lacking in internal peace, is behind other countries in education and material progress, is limited in her contributions to the common civilization of mankind, these defects are visible consequences of English intrusion and domination. The English temper towards the cause of Irish national liberty has produced intolerable results in Ireland. Chief of these results are depopulation, and destruction of industries and commerce; overtaxation; the diversion of rents, savings, and surplus incomes from Ireland to England; obstruction of economic development and social improvement; exploitation for the benefit of English capital; fomenting of religious animosities; repression of national culture; keeping Ireland “under the microscope” by a monstrous system of police rule; perversion of justice; subservience as the price of admission to the judiciary; corruption of the jury system; organized espionage, perjury and provoked crime; and military government.
“The government of a people by itself,” wrote John Stuart Mill (“Representative Government,” CXVIII) “has a meaning and a reality; but such a thing as the government of one people by another does not and cannot exist.” Consequently, the people of England depute the power they hold over Ireland to a succession of satraps, military and civil, who are quite irresponsible and independent of popular control, English or Irish, and who represent no interest of the Irish people.
De Valera: "English rule has never been for the benefit of Ireland, has never been intended for the benefit of Ireland."
Ireland’s complete liberation must follow upon the application of America’s principles. The rejection of these principles is implied in the refusal to recognize Ireland’s right of self-determination. We adhere to the numerous declarations by which America’s President has emphasized the persistence of an evident principle running through the whole program he has outlined. “It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak. Unless this principle be made its foundation, no part of the structure of international justice can stand.”
If England objects to the application of this principle in the settlement of the case of Ireland, England thereby testifies that her international policy is based on her own selfish interests and not on the recognition of the rights of others; that in her future dealings with other nations she may be expected, when opportunity arises, to make her interests prevail over others’ rights; and that she means to rule Ireland for profit to Ireland’s detriment, to prevent the establishment of beneficial intercourse between Ireland and other countries, and to possess securely both naval and mercantile domination in all seas, but especially in the north Atlantic.
De Valera: "Ireland’s voice in the council of nations will be wholly in favor of peace and justice. Her liberty cannot infringe on that of any other people."
Through a general election Ireland has already clearly demonstrated her will. The Irish people are thoroughly capable of taking immediate charge of their national and international affairs. They are at least not less capable than any of the people endowed with national status since the beginning of the war. By a procedure not less valid than has been held good elsewhere, they have constituted a national government. Ireland’s restoration to the society of free nations will be a warrant of the good faith of the new international order and a reassurance to all the smaller nations. It will be an earnest to other peoples if justice to Ireland be not “denied or sold or delayed,” that England’s naval power is not hostile to the rights and legitimate interests of other countries.
Ireland’s voice in the council of nations will be wholly in favor of peace and justice. Her liberty cannot infringe on that of any other people. She will not make or favor any war of aggression. The prosperity to which she looks forward confidently, fortified by the memory of her unexampled progress during a brief period of legislative but not executive independence (1782-1798), will contribute to the prosperity of all countries in relations with her.
The ambition of Ireland will be to recreate that period of her ancient independence of which she is proudest, when she gave freely of her great treasures to every nation within her reach, and entertained no thought of recompense or of selfish advantage. And in proportion as England gives earnest of disinterestedness and good will, in like proportion will Ireland show her readiness to join in making the past pass into history.