#OTD in 1921 – Vitriolic Treaty debate starts in Dail Éireann.

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, Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins.

Arthur Griffith:

“(I move) that Dáil Éireann approves of the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, signed in London on December 6th, 1921.”

Nearly three months ago Dáil Éireann 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 Éireann, the strength behind it, and the fact that Dáil Éireann spoke the voice of the Irish people, is gone, and gone for ever…

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 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…

We took an oath to the Irish Republic, but, as President de Valera himself said, he understood that oath to bind him to do the best he could for Ireland. So do we. We have done the best we could for Ireland. If the Irish people say “We have got everything else but the name Republic, and we will fight for it,” I would say to them that they are fools, but I will follow in the ranks. I will take no responsibility. But the Irish people will not do that. Now it has become rather a custom for men to speak of what they did, and did not do, in the past. I am not going to speak of that aspect, except one thing. It is this. The prophet I followed throughout my life, the man whose words and teachings I tried to translate into practice in politics, the man whom I revered above all Irish patriots was Thomas Davis. In the hard way of fitting practical affairs into idealism I have made Thomas Davis my guide. I have never departed in my life one inch from the principles of Thomas Davis, and in signing this Treaty and bringing it here and asking Ireland to ratify it I am following Thomas Davis still.”

De Valera responded just as passionately:

“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.

The Ministers of Ireland will be His Majesty’s Ministers, the Army that Commandant MacKeon spoke of will be His Majesty’s Army. (Voices: “No.”) You may sneer at words, but I say words mean, and I say in a Treaty words do mean something, else why should they be put down? They have meanings and they have facts, great realities that you cannot close your eyes to. This Treaty means that the Ministers of the Irish Free State will be His Majesty’s Ministers (cries of “No, no,”) and the Irish Forces will be His Majesty’s Forces (“No, no.”) Well, time will tell, and I hope it won’t have a chance, because you will throw this out. If you accept it, time will tell; it cannot be one way in this assembly and another way in the British House of Commons. The Treaty is an agreed document, and there ought to be pretty fairly common interpretation of it. If there are differences of interpretation we know who will get the best of them.

I hold, and I don’t mind my words being on record, that the chief executive authority in Ireland is the British Monarch—the British authority. It is in virtue of that authority the Irish Ministers will function. It is to the Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Army, who will be the English Monarch, they will swear allegiance, these soldiers of Ireland. It is on these grounds as being inconsistent with our position, and with the whole national tradition for 750 years, that it cannot bring peace. Do you think that because you sign documents like this you can change the current of tradition? You cannot. Some of you are relying on that ‘cannot’ to sign this Treaty. But don’t put a barrier in the way of future generations.”

Michael Collins Response:

“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.”

Read full Treaty debate

Photo credit | Ms O’Keeffe’s History Class

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