ÉAMON de Valera’s ‘finest hour’ in Irish politics was keeping Ireland neutral during the Second World War, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar was speaking at the launch of David McCullagh’s new book De Valera: Volume I: Rise 1882–1932, when he paid tribute to one of the most contentious figures in Irish history.
Lauding de Valera for his stance taken during World War Two, Varadkar also praised the former Taoiseach and President for giving rise to the “modern free, Irish democratic state.”
But the Irish PM further argued that the same stubbornness which helped de Valera forge the Irish state inflamed tensions leading up to the Civil War of 1922-1923.
“Ireland benefitted from this single-minded determination during the Second World War, as de Valera affirmed our independence, and pursued a neutral course even in the face of considerable hardships and threats,” Mr Varadkar said.
“That was probably his finest hour, building on some of his political successes in the 1930s.”
Mr Varadkar said there should be more discussions in Ireland “removed from the point-scoring of daily politics, where we have an opportunity to reflect on people who devoted their lives to the service of the country”.
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He praised de Valera for bringing his own party Fianna Fáil into the Dáil in 1927, but said he disapproved of the oath of allegiance to the British royal family.
“Éamon de Valera confirmed the legitimacy of the institutions of the State despite his reservations about the way they were treated,” Varadkar said.
“This was an important service to Irish democracy and should not be underestimated.
“At a time when the new democracies of Europe – created after the First World War – were falling victim to disorder and dictatorship, Ireland provided a unique example of how old disagreements could be put aside."
He added: “This could have been the story of the fall of Ireland into dictatorship. Instead it tells the story of the rise of the modern free, Irish democratic state.”
De Valera – who died in 1975 aged 92 – is one of the most contentious historical figures in Ireland, especially over his relationship with revolutionary leader Michael Collins.
Born George de Valero in New York City in 1882, his mother Catherine Coll was an Irishwoman from Co. Limerick, while his father Juan Vivion de Valero was an artist born in the Basque Country.
David McCullagh’s new chronicle De Valera: Volume I: Rise (1882–1932) is out this week via Gill Books. For more information you can click here.