#OTD in 1921 – Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and the other plenipotentiaries return from London to present Britain’s proposed treaty draft to government colleagues.

Presentation of the British draft of the Anglo-Irish Treaty took place from 1-6 December, with the delegates returning to Dublin on this date for two days to present the proposed draft to their colleagues, they returned to London to further negotiate and signed the Treaty (Articles of Agreement) on 6 December 1921.

Collins was not keen on leading the negotiating team, citing both his lack of experience in matters of state and his vulnerability in exposing himself should hostilities resume. In spite of this, Collins followed the orders of his ‘Chief’ and went to London. It was a decision that De Valera would later have cause to regret.

The seeds were being set for a bitterly divided cabinet which would eventually lead to civil war.

The negotiations that led to the Treaty essentially concerned three vital points. First, the unity of Ireland, second, the degree of independence an Irish government would have, and third the relationship of an Irish State to the British Empire.

The first of these points had already been decided before negotiations started. The Ulster Unionists had been the first Irish group to raise their own armed force back in 1912 in order to resist the implementation of Irish Home Rule, and were fiercely against living under Catholic, nationalist government.

In December 1920, in the midst of the War of Independence, the British had passed the Government of Ireland Act, creating two autonomous Irish political units, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Northern Ireland consisted of the six north-eastern counties of Ireland, and had a Protestant and unionist majority. The unionists were granted an autonomous government within the United Kingdom which was up and running by June 1921. Government of Ireland Act, 1920: https://goo.gl/zntliG

By the time of the Treaty negotiations, the partition of Ireland was therefore an established fact and no longer up for negotiation. Thus the Unionists, under James Craig, did not even take part in the Treaty talks. The Sinn Féin delegation insisted that they could not accept a settlement that made partition permanent, but the only element of the northern situation to be seriously discussed was the future of counties Fermanagh and Tyrone, both of which had Catholic majorities. The Irish wanted a county by county referendum on inclusion into the northern or southern states.

What they got in the end was that Northern Ireland as a whole was given the option of uniting with the southern state after a year. There would also be a Border Commission set up to arbitrate on how the border could be changed to reflect the wishes of the local population. It was the hope of Irish delegation that Northern Ireland’s viability would eventually be undermined by the defection of much of its Catholic-populated western and southern territory to the southern state. Nevertheless, the Treaty confirmed the partition of Ireland in the short-term.

Perhaps more important to the overwhelmingly southern members of the Irish delegation was the question of the independence of the southern state. The British had determined ahead of the talks that they would not grant the Irish an independent republic. Nor would the new state be allowed to secede completely from the British Commonwealth.

Photo: Arthur Griffith, Robert Barton, Michael Collins at Treaty Negotiations

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Stair na hÉireann is steeped in Ireland's turbulent history, culture, ancient secrets and thousands of places that link us to our past and the present. With insight to folklore, literature, art, and music, you’ll experience an irresistible tour through the remarkable Emerald Isle.

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