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Also at the center of the decision was de Valera's dealings with Britain regarding partition and a struggle to further party representation in six county seats. He remained strong on his view of how this should play out strategically with Churchill. It is interesting that the Irish delegation's fight with Britain over county seat and tariffs should coincide with Britain's needs for the seaports. He did not back down and continued to use partition as leverage when it came to Ireland's needs. He believed that the ports belonged rightfully to Ireland and her people. No one else should gain from her assets. In his mind, Ireland's people did not have anything tangible to lose. The other bargaining items of decreased tariffs and increases annuities were not significant to his plan of protecting Ireland from the outside world. The concept of partition was most important to the conception of an Irish Free State. As a result of neutrality, Ireland took the financial responsibility of maintaining the seaports at a time its economy was suffering due to threat of world war. Britain threatened that the Irish Nation would be greatly imperiled if the ports were not available to their military (Coogan 518). Both Chamberlain and Churchill were unnerved by de Valera's victory and lack of concessions. Both men verbally slandered the Irish leader to the press. Chamberlain even went as far as to remark that de Valera resembled Hitler (Coogan 518). Still his action protected his people from the devastation of war and demonstrated the state's sovereignty. This act of neutrality allowed de Valera to focus on Irish issues like the increased violent activity of the IRA.
De Valera's Impact
Even the best decisions have ramifications. At the time maybe de Valera did not see the big picture of Ireland's future at an international level. At the time not many Irish understood de Valera's policy of protection. The negative would not appear for years. Little did he know that neutrality would cost Ireland self-suffiency and a diminished share in the benefits of post-war European reconstruction that would leave Ireland behind Western Europe in both cultural and economic seclusion (Coogan 522). Ireland's economic growth also suffered as a result. At the end of the war, Ireland's open economy remained small and weak to outside influences. Ireland had very little commerce. Ireland lacked industrial progress during this time still focusing on few traditional industries like agriculture, textiles and brewing of spirits. Due to the country's geographical position and transportation costs, Ireland's trade became restricted and dependent on Britain's market. This made opportunities for its people few and far between. Ireland became isolated from outside forces of change.
Another after effect of de Valera's action was social reform. He made the issue of health care a state issue. He had a vision to allow the state authority to provide medical care to all of Ireland's women and children. The idea went completely against the Catholic Church's doctrine of rights of the family, rights of the church in education and social teachings. The Church's influence on politics fueled the fire for conservative reform of such programs. This Health Bill gave the state power over its people's decisions concerning medical care and family planning. Abortion was outlawed, a sin in the eyes of the church. This closed the door to change further for sections of the population. It limited a woman's ability to be in the Irish workforce slowing the economy further of growth. It may have returned Ireland's values to focus on family but it also imposed an invasion of privacy. Decisions that should be personal and private were now at the control of government.
In closing, Eamon de Valera was a great leader that shaped the future of a modern Ireland. In a time of great hardship, he made difficult decisions on policy that he thought best for the people of Ireland. His impact can still be seen today in Ireland's culture.
Coogan, Tim Pat. Eamon De Valera: The Man Who Was Ireland. New York: Harper
Collins Publishers. 1993.
Fitzgibbon, Constantine. The Life and Times of Eamon de Valera. New…[continue]
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