1921 – Belligerent Treaty debate starts in Dail Eireann.

Ireland starts to tear itself apart as opposing forces debate the Treaty, setting the stage for a vicious civil war

Following are some passionate speeches from Arthur Griffith, Eamonn De Valeran and Michael Collins:

MR. ARTHUR GRIFFITH (MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS): Am I to understand, Sir, that that document we discussed at the Private Session is to be withheld from the Irish people?

PRESIDENT DE VALERA: No. But I don’t want to have the debate interfered with, the direct debate on the Treaty, by a discussion on a secondary document put forward for a certain purpose in Private Session. That document will be put forward in its proper place.

MR. GRIFFITH (MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS): It is not a question of courtesy; it is not a question of the rules of procedure; it is a question of the lives and fortunes of the people of Ireland. While I shall so far as I can respect President de Valera’s wish, I am not going to hide from the Irish people what the alternative is that is proposed. I move the motion standing in my name—

“That Dáil Eireann approves of the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, signed in London on December 6th, 1921.”

Nearly three months ago Dáil Eireann appointed plenipotentiaries to go to London to treat with the British Government and to make a bargain with them. We have made a bargain. We have brought it back. We were to go there to reconcile our aspirations with the association of the community of nations known as the British Empire. That task which was given to us was as hard as was ever placed on the shoulders of men. We faced that task; we knew that whatever happened we would have our critics, and we made up our minds to do whatever was right and disregard whatever criticism might occur. We could have shirked the responsibility. We did not seek to act as the plenipotentiaries; other men were asked and other men refused. We went. The responsibility is on our shoulders; we took the responsibility in London and we take the responsibility in Dublin. I signed that Treaty not as the ideal thing, but fully believing, as I believe now, it is a treaty honourable to Ireland, and safeguards the vital interests of Ireland.

And now by that Treaty I am going to stand, and every man with a scrap of honour who signed it is going to stand. It is for the Irish people—who are our masters (hear, hear), not our servants as some think—it is for the Irish people to say whether it is good enough. I hold that it is, and I hold that the Irish people—that 95 per cent. of them believe it to be good enough. We are here, not as the dictators of the Irish people, but as the representatives of the Irish people, and if we misrepresent the Irish people, then the moral authority of Dáil Eireann, the strength behind it, and the fact that Dáil Eireann spoke the voice of the Irish people, is gone, and gone for ever. Now, the President— and I am in a difficult position—does not wish a certain document referred to read. But I must refer to the substance of it. An effort has been made outside to represent that a certain number of men stood uncompromisingly on the rock of the Republic—the Republic, and no thing but the Republic.

It has been stated also here that the man who made this position, the man who won the war—Michael Collins— compromised Ireland’s rights. In the letters that preceded the negotiations not once was a demand made for recognition of the Irish Republic. If it had been made we knew it would have been refused. We went there to see how to reconcile the two positions, and I hold we have done it. The President does not wish this document to be read. What am I to do? What am I to say? Am I to keep my mouth shut and let the Irish people think about this uncompromising rock?

PRESIDENT DE VALERA: I will make my position in my speech quite clear.

MR. GRIFFITH (MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS): What we have to say is this, that the difference in this Cabinet and in this House is between half-recognising the British King and the British Empire, and between marching in, as one of the speakers said, with our heads up. The gentlemen on the other side are prepared to recognise the King of England as head of the British Commonwealth. They are prepared to go half in the Empire and half out. They are prepared to go into the Empire for war and peace and treaties, and to keep out for other matters, and that is what the Irish people have got to know is the difference. Does all this quibble of words —because it is merely a quibble of words—mean that Ireland is asked to throw away this Treaty and go back to war? So far as my power or voice extends, not one young Irishman’s life shall be lost on that quibble. We owe responsibility to the Irish people. I feel my responsibility to the Irish people, and the Irish people must know, and know in every detail, the difference that exists between us, and the Irish people must be our judges. When the plenipotentiaries came back they were sought to be put in the dock. Well, if I am going to be tried, I am going to be tried by the people of Ireland (hear, hear). Now this Treaty has been attacked. It has been examined with a microscope to find its defects, and this little thing and that little thing has been pointed out, and the people are told—one of the gentlemen said it here—that it was less even than the proposals of July. It is the first Treaty between the representatives of the Irish Government and the representatives of the English Government since 1172 signed on equal footing. It is the first Treaty that admits the equality of Ireland. It is a Treaty of equality, and because of that I am standing by it. We have come back from London with that Treaty—Saorstat na hEireann recognised—the Free State of Ireland. We have brought back the flag; we have brought back the evacuation of Ireland after 700 years by British troops and the formation of an Irish army (applause). We have brought back to Ireland her full rights and powers of fiscal control. We have brought back to Ireland equality with England, equality with all nations which form that Commonwealth, and an equal voice in the direction of foreign affairs in peace and war. Well, we are told that that Treaty is a derogation from our status; that it is a Treaty not to be accepted, that it is a poor thing, and that the Irish people ought to go back and fight for something more, and that something more is what I describe as a quibble of words. Now, I shall have an opportunity later on of replying to the very formidably arranged criticism that is going to be levelled at the Treaty to show its defects. At all events, the Irish people are a people of great common sense. They know that a Treaty that gives them their flag and their Free State and their Army (cheers) is not a sham Treaty, and the sophists and the men of words will not mislead them, I tell you. In connection with the Treaty men said this and said that, and I was requested to get from Mr. Lloyd George a definite statement covering points in the Treaty which some gentlemen misunderstood.

PRESIDENT DE VALERA: I think it would scarcely be in accordance with Standing Orders of the Dáil if I were to move directly the rejection of this Treaty. I daresay, however, it will be sufficient that I should appeal to this House not to approve of the Treaty. We were elected by the Irish people, and did the Irish people think we were liars when we said that we meant to uphold the Republic, which was ratified by the vote of the people three years ago, and was further ratified—expressly ratified—by the vote of the people at the elections last May? When the proposal for negotiation came from the British Government asking that we should try by negotiation to reconcile Irish national aspirations with the association of nations forming the British Empire, there was no one here as strong as I was to make sure that every human attempt should be made to find whether such reconciliation was possible. I am against this Treaty because it does not reconcile Irish national aspirations with association with the British Government. I am against this Treaty, not because I am a man of war, but a man of peace. I am against this Treaty because it will not end the centuries of conflict between the two nations of Great Britain and Ireland.

Had the Chairman of the delegation said he did not stand for the things they had said they stood for, he would not have been elected. The Irish people can change their minds if they wish to. The Irish people are our masters, and they can do as they like, but only the Irish people can do that, and we should give the people the credit that they meant what they said just as we mean what we say.

Therefore, I am once more asking you to reject the Treaty for two main reasons, that, as every Teachta knows, it is absolutely inconsistent with our position; it gives away Irish independence; it brings us into the British Empire; it acknowledges the head of the British Empire, not merely as the head of an association, but as the direct monarch of Ireland, as the source of executive authority in Ireland.

MR. MICHAEL COLLINS (MINISTER FOR FINANCE): “It has also been suggested that the Delegation broke down before the first bit of English bluff. I would remind the Deputy who used that expression that England put up quite a good bluff for the last five years here and I did not break down before that bluff (applause, and a voice, “That is the stuff”). And does anybody think that the respect I compelled from them in a few years was in any way lowered during two months of negotiations? That also is beside the point. The results of our labour are before the Dáil. Reject or accept. The President has suggested that a greater result could have been obtained by more skilful handling. Perhaps so. But there again the fault is not the delegation’s; it rests with the Dáil. It is not afterwards the Dáil should have found out our limitations…

The communication of September 29th from Lloyd George made it clear that they were going into a conference not on the recognition of the Irish Republic, and I say if we all stood on the recognition of the Irish Republic as a prelude to any conference we could very easily have said so, and there would be no conference. What I want to make clear is that it was the acceptance of the invitation that formed the compromise. I was sent there to form that adaptation, to bear the brunt of it. Now as one of the signatories of the document I naturally recommend its acceptance. I do not recommend it for more than it is. Equally I do not recommend it for less than it is. In my opinion it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve it.”

Photo: Arthur Griffith, Eamon de Valera, Laurence O’Neill, Michael Collins at Croke Park.

Read full Treaty debate 19 December 1921: http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/DT/D.T.192112190002.html

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