Treaty Debate- Michael Collins Speech
Michael Collins (October 16 1890 – August 22 1922 Collins, as an officer in the Irish Yolunteers, was present in a junior role in the GPO garrison in 1916. Interned following the Rising he emerged as major figure in the subsequent War of Independence. He held numerous posts in early Irish governments including Minister of Finance and Army Commander-in-Chief. Collins was ambushed and killed at Beal na Blath, Cork, on the 22nd of August,1922. The speech forms part of the heated Dail debates on the Anglo-Irish Treaty between December 14th 1921 and January 7th 1922,
Speech of Michael Collins – DECEMBER 19th 1921
A Chinn Chomhairle, Much has been said in Private Session about the action of the plenipotentiaries in signing at all or in signing without first putting their document before the Cabinet. I want to state as clearly as I can, and as briefly as I can, I cannot promise you to be very brief – what the exact position was. It has been fully explained how the Delegation returned from London that momentous Saturday to meet the Cabinet at home. We came back with a document from the British Delegation which we presented to the Cabinet. Certain things happened at that Cabinet Meeting, and the Delegation, on returning, put before the British Delegation as well as they could their impressions of the decisions – I will not say conclusions – arrived at atthat Cabinet Meeting. I do not want unduly to press the word decisions. I want to be fair to everybody. I can only say they were decisions in this way, that we went away with certain impressions in our minds and that we did our best faithfully to transmit these impressions to paper in the memorandum we handed in to the British Delegation. It was well understood at that Cabinet Meeting that Sir James Craig was receiving a reply from the British Premier on Tuesday morning. Some conclusion as between the British Delegation and ourselves had therefore, to be come to and handed in to the British Delegation on the Monday night. Now, we went away with a document which none of us would sign. It must have been obvious, that being so, that in the meantime a document arose which we thought we could sign. There was no opportunity of referring it to our people at home. Actually on the Monday night we did arrive at conclusions which we thought we could agree to and we had to say “Yes” across the table, and I may say that we said “Yes.” It was later on that same day that the document was signed. But I do not now, and I did not then, regard my word as being anything more important, or a bit less important, than my signature on a document.
Now, I also want to make this clear. The answer which I gave and that signature which I put on that document would be the same in Dublin or in Berlin, or in New York or in Paris. If we had been in Dublin the difference in distance would have made this difference, that we would have been able to consult not only the members of the Cabinet but many members of the D6i1 and many good friends. There has been talk about “the atmosphere of London” and there has been talk about “slippery slopes.” Such talk is beside the point. I knew the atmosphere of London of old and I knew many other things about it of old. If the members knew so much about “slippery slopes” before we went there why did they not speak then? The slopes were surely slippery but it is easy to be wise afterwards. I submit that such observations are entirely beside the point. And if my signature has been given in error, I stand by it whether it has or not, and I am not going to take refuge behind and’ kind of subterfuge. I stand up over that signature and I give the same decision at this moment in this assembly.
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 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 Dail. 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 Dail. It is not afterwards the Dai1 should have found out our limitations. Surely the D6il knew it when they selected us, and our abilities could not have been expected to increase because we were chosen as plenipotentiaries by the Dai1. The delegates have been blamed for various things. It is scarcely too much to say that they have been blamed for not returning with recognition of the Irish Republic…
It is further suggested that by the result of their labours the delegation made a resumption of hostilities certain. That again rests with the Dai1; they should have chosen a better delegation, and it was before we went to London that should have been done, not when we returned…
A Deputy has stated that the delegation should introduce this Treaty not, he describes, as bagmen for England, but with an apology for its introduction. I cannot imagine anything more mean, anything more despicable, anything more unmanly than this dishonouring of one’s signature. Rightly or wrongly when you make a bargain you cannot alter it, you cannot go back and get sorry for it and say “I ought to have made a better bargain.” Business cannot be done on those bases. I must make reference to the signing of the Treaty. This Treaty was not signed under personal intimidation. If personal intimidation had been attempted no member of the delegation would have signed it.
At a fateful moment I was called upon to make a decision, and if I were called upon at the present moment for a decision on the same question my decision would be the same. Let there be no mistake and no misunderstanding about that.
I have used the word “intimidation.” The whole attitude of Britain towards Ireland in the past was an attitude of intimidation, and we, as negotiators, were not in the position of conquerors dictating terms of peace to a vanquished foe. We had not beaten the enemy out of our country by force of arms.
To return to the Treaty, hardly anyone, even those who support it, really understands it, and it is necessary to explain it, and the immense powers and liberties it secures. This is my justification for having signed it, and for recommending it to the nation. Should the Dail reject it, I am, as I said, no longer responsible. But I am responsible for making the nation fully understand what it gains by accepting it, and what is involved in its rejection. So long as I have made that clear I am perfectly happy and satisfied. Now we must look facts in the face. For our continued national and spiritual existence two things are necessary – security and freedom. If the Treaty gives us these or helps us to get at these, then I maintain that it satisfies our national aspirations.
The history of this nation has not been, as is so often said, the history of a military struggle of 750 years; it has been much more a history of peaceful penetration of 750 years. It has not been a struggle for the ideal of freedom for 750 years symbolised in the name Republic. It has been a story of slow, steady, economic encroach by England. It has been a struggle on our part to prevent that, a struggle against exploitation, a struggle against the cancer that was eating up our lives, and it was only after discovering that, that it was economic penetration. that we discovered that political freedom was necessary in order that that should be stopped. Our aspirations, by whatever term they may be symbolised, had one thing in front all the time, that was to rid the country of the enemy strength. Now it was not by any form of communication except through their military strength that the English held this country. That is simply a plain fact which,I think, nobody will deny.It wasn’t by any forms of government, it wasn’t by their judiciary or anything of that kind. These people could not operate except for the military strength that was always there. Now, starting from that, I maintain that the disappearance of that military strength gives us the chief proof that our national liberties are established. And as to what has been said about guarantees of the withdrawal of that military strength, no guarantees, I say, can alter the fact of their withdrawal, because we are a weaker nation, and we shall be a weaker nation for a long time to come. But certain things do give us a certain guarantee.
I say that this Treaty gives us, not recognition of the Irish Republic, but it gives us more recognition on the part of Great Britain and the associated States than we have got from any other nation. Again I want to speak plainly. America did not recognise the Irish Republic. As things in London were coming to a close I received cablegrams from America. I understand that my name is pretty well known in America, and what I am going to say now will make me unpopular there for the rest of my life, but I am not going to say anything or hide anything for the sake of American popularity. I received a cablegram from San Francisco, saying, “Stand fast. we will send you a million dollars a month.” Well, my reply to that is, “Send us half a million and send us a thousand men fully equipped.” I received another cablegram from a branch of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic and they said to me, “Don’t weaken now, stand with de Valera.” well. let that branch come over and stand with us both. The question before me was w’ere we going to go on with this fight, without referring it to the Irish people, for the sake of propaganda in America? I was not going to take that responsibility.
And as this may be the last opportunity I shall ever have of speaking publicly to the Dail, I want to say that there was never an Irishman placed in such a position as I was by reason of these negotiations. I had got a certain name, whether I deserved it or not, and I knew when I was going over there that I was being placed in a position that I could not reconcile, and that could not in the public mind be reconciled with what they thought I stood for, no matter what we brought back, – and if we brought back the recognition of the Republic – but I knew that the English would make a greater effort if I were there than they would if I were not there, and I didn’t care if my popularity was sacrificed or not. I should have been unfair to my own country if I did not go there. Members of the Dail well remember that I protested against being selected.
I want to say another thing. It will be remembered that a certain incident occurred in the South of Ireland, an incident which led to the excommunication of the whole population of that district. At the time I took responsibility for that in our private councils. I take responsibility for it now publicly. I only want to say that I stand for every action as an individual member of the Cabinet, which I suppose I shall be no longer; I stand for every action, no matter how it looked publicly, and I shall always like the men to remember me like that. In coming to the decision I did I tried to weigh what my own responsibility was. Deputies have spoken about whether dead men would approve of it, and they have spoken of whether children yet unborn will approve of it, but few of them have spoken as to whether the living approve of it.In my own small way I tried to have before my mind what the whole lot of them would think of it. And the proper way for us to look at it is in that way. There is no man here who has more regard for the dead men than I have. I don’t think it is fair to be quoting them against us. I think the decision ought to be a clear decision on the documents as they are before us – on the Treaty as it is before us. On that we
shall be judged, as to whether we have done the right thing in our own conscience or not. Don’t let us put the responsibility, the individual responsibility, upon anybody else. Let us take that responsibility ourselves and let us in God’s name abide by the decision.