9 THE TREATY RATIFIED
THE TREATY RATIFIED
The Irish Delegation had been given a rapturous send-off from London, but when they returned to Dublin and Duggan presented de Valera with a copy of the Treaty, he found that de Valera had already read details of it in the Evening Mail newspaper and was in a rage because the Treaty had not been referred to him before publication.
The next day de Valera summoned a Cabinet meeting and announced that he was calling on the absent ministers – Griffith, Collins and Barton – to resign. W.T. Cosgrave objected and advised a delay until they had heard what the three ministers had to say. Realising that a combination of Cosgrave, Collins, Griffith and Barton would out-vote Brugha, Stack and himself, de Valera changed his mind and issued a statement announcing that he was summoning all ministers to a Cabinet meeting for 12 noon the next day.
De Valera spoke at great length at that Cabinet meeting which lasted from noon until late at night. His main objection was that the delegates had signed without referring to himself, as Griffith had promised to do, and he said that he would have gone to London himself had it not been for Griffith’s promise. Barton replied that de Valera had been pressed to go to London but had refused. The circumstances of the signing were explained and there was a long argument about signing under duress. Collins said that they were envoys plenipotentiary and that the agreement was the best bargain that a small nation could get from a mighty empire. The final vote was taken, Cosgrave supported Griffith, Collins and Barton against de Valera, Brugha and Stack.
After the vote theCabinet decided that de Valera should issue a statement defining his own position and that of Brugha and Stack and that a public session of the Dail should be called for 14th December. The statement read:
“The terms of this agreement are in violent conflict with the wishes of the majority of this nation, as expressed freely in successive elections during the past three years. I feel it my duty to inform you immediately that I cannot recommend the acceptance of this Treaty either to Dail Eireann or to the country. I am supported by the Ministers of Home Affairs and Defence …”.
That statement made obvious the split in the Cabinet and helped split the I.R.B., the I.R.A. and the general public. It led eventually to the foundation of two political parties that still exist but, more importantly, it heralded Civil War.
On Wednesday 14th December, 1921 the Dail, assembled in the Aula Maxima of University College, Dublin (now the National Concert-Hall) to arrive at a conclusion as to whether the Treaty, should be ratified. That assembly is sometimes described as the clash between the realists and the idealists. Personal differences and jealousies surfaced. Some Dail deputies called Collins a traitor. Brugha said that Collins had not taken an active part in the fighting but, as a subordinate to himself, had claimed credit for the work of others. The women deputies were extremely hostile and insulting towards Collins. Many of the senior officers of the I.R.A brigades, who had been invited to attend the debate, were amazed at the intemperate speeches and at the disunity in the Cabinet.
Collins emphatically upheld the Treaty and thought it was the best bargain obtainable from the British. He called it independence “real and solid”. “In my opinion”, he stated, “it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire, but the freedom to achieve it”. Griffith told the Dail that he had tried for a Republic but could not bring it back and that ” I do not care whether the King of England or the symbol of the Crown be in Ireland so long as the people in Ireland are free to shape their own destinies”. He strongly defended Collins, whom Seamus Robinson (Tipperary) and Brugha had savagely attacked. Robinson said that Collins had never taken part in any armed conflict and that there was no record of his having fired a shot for Ireland, while Brugha said that Collins was merely a subordinate in the Department of Defence. Griffith said that Collins was the man who won the war. “Collins”, he said, “was the man who made the situation…..He was the man whose matchless energy, whose indomitable will carried Ireland through the terrible crisis.. “if my name is to go down in history, I want it associated with the name of Michael Collins. Michael Collins was the man who fought the Black and Tan terror for twelve months until England was forced to offer terms”. That bitter three-week debate sowed further seeds of national disunity.
Finally on 7th January, 1922 the Dail ratified the Treaty by 64 votes to 57. The vote brought tears to some. De Valera, before he left the chamber uttered the following: “I would like my last words here to be these; we have had a glorious record for four years; it has been four years of magnificent discipline in our nation. The world is looking at us now”. He is recorded as having broken down at this point.
On Monday 9th January, the Dail reassembled and de Valera tendered his resignation as President. A motion to re-elect him as President was defeated by two votes with two, including de Valera abstaining. On Tuesday 10th January on the proposal of Collins, Griffith – Mr. de Valera and his supporters not being present – was elected unopposed, as President. De Valera had an argument over what title Griffith should use in his capacity as head of the Provisional Government and shortly afterwards he announced that he was walking out of the Dail “as a protest against the election as President of the Irish Republic of the Chairman of the Delegation who is bound by the Treaty conditions to set up a State which is to subvert the Republic”. De Valera and his followers were walking out of the House, when an angry exchange took place:
Collins : Deserters all! We will now call on the Irish people
to rally to us. Deserters all.
David Ceannt : Up the Republic.
Collins: Deserters all to the Irish Nation in her hour of trial.
We will stand by her.
Madame Markiewicz : Oath breakers and cowards. .
Collins: Foreigners – Americans – English
Madame Markiewicz: Lloyd Georgeites
On 14th January, the sixty-four pro-Treaty members plus the four Trinity College representatives met in the Mansion House. They elected a Provisional Government with Collins as Chairman. The Provisional Government was to hold office until 6th December 1922, the day on which the British Government had agreed to formally hand over all authority. Collins as Chairman declared his intention to have a general election at the earliest possible moment.
Although the Treaty split the Irish nation the majority of the people were war-weary, wanted peace and were for the Treaty. The I.R.A split , the majority of the I.R.A. Brigades voting not to accept the Treaty because it surrendered the declared Republic. However, a substantial minority followed Collins , accepted his arguments for supporting the Treaty and said “if it is good enough for Mick, it is good enough for me”. The I.R.B also split with most of the Dublin and Midland members following Collins while the important South Munster Division with 1,170 members followed Liam Lynch, Chief-of-Staff of the First Southern Division, who said, “we have declared a Republic and will not live under any other law”. As a further complication, the voting in the Supreme Council of the I.R.B. was eleven for and four, including Liam Lynch and Harry Boland, against.
The Oath of Allegiance to the King and the failure to retain the declared Republican status of the country was the main reason why idealistic young Republicans did not accept the Treaty. In time, as Collins foresaw, and as de Valera ultimately proved, the Oath could be repealed and the symbol of the Crown removed. The other fundamental consequence of the Treaty – the formal acceptance of partition of the Ireland – did not immediately assume major importance and only a tiny proportion of the Treaty debate focussed on the Ulster problem.
The failure to debate the crucial Article 12 which dealt with the question of the Boundary Commission and its imprecise legal wording would later have the most profound long-term effects. The ensuing Civil War which was to encompass in different ways the deaths of Griffith and Collins resulted in the new Provisional Government becoming fully absorbed in its own survival and the refusal of Craig to appoint a representative to the Commission delayed the proceeding of the Boundary Commission. When it was finally established in 1924, its independent Chairman, a South African, Judge Feetham ruled that the Commission did not even have the power to hold local plebiscites. In the result, the Six County state retained a substantial disaffected nationalist minority within its boundaries.
Immediately following the signing of the Treaty, sectarian riots occurred in Belfast and in many other Northern towns. Tensions increased greatly and thousands of Catholic refugees fled to the South. The potentially inflammable nature of the situation began to cause serious worries for the British government.
In mid-January 1922 the Monaghan football team was arrested in the North on their way to play Derry in the final of the Ulster Championship. In February the I.R.A. responded by kidnapping forty-two prominent loyalists in Fermanagh and Tyrone and held them as hostages. A party of eighteen armed B-Specials, when travelling by train to Enniskillen, were stopped at Clones railway station in Co Monaghan by an I.R.A. group. The B-Specials reacted immediately by shooting Commander Fitzpatrick. His colleagues retaliated by fatally shooting four Specials and arresting the survivors. Trouble in the North was at boiling point and in the three days after the Clones incident thirty people were murdered in Belfast.
Pressure from Churchill and Chamberlain on Craig and Collins helped to secure the release of the Monaghan footballers and the Fermanagh/Tyrone loyalists but for some time the British suspended the evacuation of troops from Ireland.
Collins and Craig had further discussions in Dublin in early February but the meeting broke down over the question of the boundary revision. Craig informed reporters that he had the assurance of the British Government that the Boundary Commission would make only slight changes. He complained that the maps which Collins produced led him (Craig) to the assumption that Collins had already been promised almost half of Northern Ireland. Craig would agree to minor changes but if North and South failed to agree, there would be no change at all. Collins issued a statement which refused to admit any ambiguity and said that majorities must rule.
The British and the Provisional Government finally agreed that an Irish Free State Agreement Bill would legalise the Treaty and the transfer of power to the Provisional Government and would authorise the election of a Provisional Parliament to enact the Free State Constitution. Final ratification of the Treaty would be deferred until the British confirmed the Free State Constitution; only then would Northern Ireland be allowed to exclude itself formally from the Free State.
All the Republican forces in the South united in response to the Northern troubles and, in March, an Ulster Council Command was established with Frank Aiken in charge and Sean MacEoin as second-in-command. The type of outrage occurring in the North that month included a particularly revolting murder which occurred in the early hours of 24th March. Uniformed men broke into the house of the MacMahons in Belfast and slaughtered the entire family of seven except for the youngest child who had succeeded in hiding. On the same day the bodies of three young Catholics were found lying on the roadside in Co. Tyrone.
As far as the British were concerned, Collins had no official function in the Ulster Council Command. Yet, in fact he had an important unofficial role and he pretended to the British that he was doing his best to reduce the level of violence. In practice, Collins was deeply involved in discussions with Liam Lynch of the First Southern Division of the I.R.A, and in mid-April made an arrangement with Lynch whereby 500 rifles handed over to the Provisional Government on the takeover of the British army barracks would be exchanged for an equal number of rifles used by the I.R.A.. in the Anglo Irish War. By this subterfuge the British would be unable to trace the rifles numbers as ex-British Army property in the event of capture.
Arrangements were also made for a number of senior officers from the First Southern Division, including Sean Lehane, Moss Donegan and Charlie Daly to join the locally based 2nd, 3rd and 4th Northern Divisions and some 500 Volunteers from the Northern Divisions joined the new Provisional Government army for intensive training at the Curragh.
In the previous September, mainly through the influence of Bonar Law and Balfour, the British Government, despite strong advice from its own experts, agreed to the formation of a Special Constabulary in the North to maintain law and order. Three categories, A, B and C were approved, The A-Specials were full-time and received the same arms and pay as the R.I.C. The B-Specials were a part-time body, with an allowance, whose duties were to patrol, man road-blocks and conduct searches, while the C Category were an un-paid reserve for calling out in emergencies and for collecting intelligence. They were chosen by all-loyalist selection committees and by the end of 1921, A-Specials numbered 4,200, B-Specials 6,000 and C-Specials 22,000. In addition, there were 9,000 British troops stationed in the North.
The British Government, in response to requests from loyalists in the South, urged the Provisional Government to give assurances and guarantees of fair treatment and representation to minority groups. Griffith subsequently met representatives of these groups and assured them that they would be treated as full and equal citizens. Unfortunately the British Government did not deem it necessary to get similar guarantees from the subordinate government in Northern Ireland, which made no attempt to conciliate its disaffected Catholic minority.
Despite the huge number of men who were armed and paid by the British Government to maintain order, violence in Belfast and the Border areas increased. Orange mobs continually attacked the Catholic areas. Police murder gangs were identified as responsible for several sectarian killings.
In late March, 1922, Churchill made a further effort to reduce the violence and was responsible for the Craig-Collins agreement of 30th March. For his part, Collins agreed to use his authority to stop I.R.A. activities in the North, to end the economic boycott and to release those kidnapped in border incidents. Craig undertook to do his best for expelled Catholic shipyard workers and to release some political prisoners. Committees were to be established to conciliate in disputes and to deal with policing problems, and to achieve an adequate representation for Catholics in the North’s security forces. In a period of high unemployment, Craig was unable to restore the 10,000 displaced Catholic workers to their old jobs in the shipyard and linen industries.
By mid-April it was obvious that the Craig-Collins agreement was not working. The I.R.A. under Frank Aiken, with the support of Collins and Lynch, then undertook a joint offensive in the North. It was badly organised, received limited local support and several hundred active I.R.A. supporters were seized and interned. In May, 1922 sixty-three people were killed in Belfast, of whom forty were Catholics. The Northern I.R.A. offensive ended up as a total military failure and actually left the minority Catholic population more vulnerable than previously. Collins was particularly incensed by the anti-Catholic atrocities in the North and in the early months of 1922, the leaders of both the pro- and anti-Treaty factions in the South made many attempts to compromise their differences and at all times had agreed common ground in their Northern policy.
In the interests of an orderly and peaceful withdrawal of their troops, the British were anxious to hand over some of their military positions quickly. The first barracks handed over was that at Beggar’s Bush, Dublin which the Provisional Government forces took over on 31st January 1922. There was a confusion with other barracks and, while all of the Dublin barracks were taken over by Provisional Government troops, many of the country barracks , together with their armaments, were taken over by anti-Treaty forces. A potentially serious confrontation occurred in Limerick but Liam Lynch, who at the time was very active in trying to reconcile both factions, succeeded in effecting a compromise which averted an immediate confrontation between Brennan’s pro-Treaty troops and Erni O’Malley’s anti-Treaty men.
An anti-Treaty Army Convention was held on 26th March and attended by 52 out of 73 I.R.A. Brigades in the country. The First Southern Division, which was represented by 54 delegates, constituted more than a quarter of the I.R.A. strength.
The Convention reaffirmed that its forces were the army of the Republic and agreed that they should be under the control of the Army Executive. The new fifteen-man Executive was chosen by the Convention. Sean O’Hegarty, Commandant of Cork No. 1 Brigade ,was elected to the Executive, but when he heard the views expressed by other members of the Executive, he drafted the following letter and had it read out in the meeting:-
“My attitude is in direct conflict with the majority view of the Executive as evidenced by this afternoon’s discussion on policy and makes it impossible for me to continue as a member of the Executive and accordingly I hereby tender my resignation”.
This letter of resignation showed that at least some of those present were most unhappy with the views being expressed. The proceedings were reported by the press and the reported dictatorial statements of the Chairman, Liam Mellows, were largely responsible for a further fall in public support. The public were in no further doubt that two armies existed in the country and that one, the Republican Army, had no allegiance to the Provisional Government. On the night of 29th March the Army Executive forces smashed up the presses of the Freeman’s Journal newspaper at Abbey St., Dublin for publishing a misleading account of the Convention’s proceedings.
At this time there was a great deal of lawlessness, including agrarian disputes, commandeering of vehicles, stealing of goods and a large number of bank robberies. A small number of well-known loyalists and members of the Crown forces were shot. The country was disintegrating into chaos. The public, the Church and the Provisional Government blamed the Republicans to whom they referred as “The Irregulars”. They in turn, usually referred to the Provisional Government as that of the “Free State” or as “Staters”.
In the immediate post-Treaty period the anti-Treaty or Republican forces had greater numbers and were more powerful than the Provisional Government Army but the Republican Army suffered from major disadvantages. It had no barracks nor food supplies, had no recognised uniform and received no daily pay. Meanwhile, two experienced military officers, Emmet Dalton (ex-British army) and J.J. O’Connell, (ex-U.S. army) began quickly to build up a paid, uniformed army loyal to the Provisional Government. In a period of high unemployment there was no scarcity of recruits – many were ex-British army. A plentiful supply of guns, ammunition and vehicles was made available to the Provisional Government Army by the withdrawing British forces. Volunteers with previous I.R.A. service were automatically promoted to officer rank on joining the Provisional Government Army.
In April, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson publicly declared that “the 26 counties of the South and West were reduced to a welter of chaos and murder difficult to believe, impossible to describe”. Wilson painted a very dismal picture of conditions in the South but remained silent on the far worse situation in the North for which, as Collins felt, Wilson was in large part responsible.
In late May, on one of Collins’s frequent visits to London with Griffith and Cosgrave, Churchill could not meet them immediately but gave them tickets to attend the House of Commons. There they saw a stormy session with Sir Henry Wilson challenging Churchill: “What”, asked Wilson, “were the British troops in Dublin doing?… They are not there to keep order – because they are not allowed to keep order”. Wilson then shouted another question; “Were not the Colonial Secretary’s reports to the House from end to end an admission that every single development of the Irish problem had been mis-calculated”.
Churchill replied “We shall not under any circumstances agree to deviate from the Treaty” and he added: “The outcome of the election now scheduled for 16thJune will go far towards clarifying the situation”. Wilson shouted back “The Colonial Secretary says we can wait. Can we? All this time murders are going on at the rate of six or seven a day”. Churchill answered: “I think there are only three of four murders in Southern Ireland in the last ten days. The number has been larger in Northern Ireland”.
The increase in lawlessness and the danger of a complete break-down in public order worried both the Provisional Government and the British Government and Ministers of the latter were subjected to constant attack in Parliament by Conservative members who claimed that vital British interests had been surrendered in the Treaty.