#OTD in 1939 – With the onset of World War II, the government of Éamon de Valera passes the Emergency Powers Act 1939.

The act gave the government wide sweeping security powers as it endeavored (successfully) to maintain Irish neutrality during what is euphemistically called “The Emergency.” In 1940, Irish Government would extend its wartime power with the introduction of the Emergency Powers (Amendment) Act providing authority for Irish-born citizens to be interned. The device was designed to intern IRA activists who were involved in activity on both sides of the border. Some of those interned under this legislation would have fought with De Valera twenty years previously.

In response to the break out of war and to reaffirm Ireland’s position as a neutral state, Taoiseach Éamon de Valera made a radio broadcast to the people of Ireland.

“With our history, with our experience of the last war and with a part of our country still unjustly severed from us, we felt that no other decision and no other policy was possible. In reaction to the outbreak of war the government passed the Emergency Powers Bill, which gave the government new powers to retain Ireland’s neutrality.”

Radio Éireann reported that war had broken out at 2.00pm on 3 September. Éamon de Valera’s address followed at 7.00pm.

The Emergency was a challenging time for Radio Éireann. Censorship was rigorously enforced over all the Irish media between 1939 and 1945 under the Emergency Powers Act. As a state-run service and accessible overseas, Radio Éireann broadcasts received particularly close attention. All news bulletins were read over the phone to Head of the Government Information Bureau prior to broadcast.

Neutrality brought other changes. All three Radio Éireann transmitters at Dublin, Cork and Athlone were synchronised onto a single frequency. This measure was intended to prevent the transmitters being used for direction-finding by aircraft.

Furthermore, weather forecasts were prohibited as they were considered strategically important.
Censorship brought in under the Emergency Powers Act was lifted on 11 May 1945.

Photo: Éamon de Valera in 1932, photographer: Joseph Cashman.

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