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Chapter 14. – THE INVITATION TO NEGOTIATE

 CHAPTER XIV

 THE INVITATION TO NEGOTIATE

” THE excuse offered by the British Government for the brutish insensibility of the Black and Tans was that they were meting out to murderers just retribution. Mr. Lloyd George was ‘ firmly convinced that the men who are suffering in Ireland are the men who are engaged in a murderous conspiracy.’ At the London Guildhall he announced that the police were ‘ getting the right men.’ A demand for the truth about English repression in Ireland was beginning to make itself heard in all parts of the world. It was becoming ever more difficult to convince the world that the premeditated murder of Irishmen constituted legitimate acts of self-defence.”

Collins thus began the story of events leading up to the Treaty negotiations.

” At length, when the Terror, growing ever more violent and, consequently, ever more futile, failed to break the spirit of the Irish people failed as it was bound to fail concealment was no longer possible,” Collins continued. ” The true explanation was blurted out when Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Bonar Law declared that their acts were necessary to destroy the authority of the Irish national government which ‘ has all the symbols and all the realities of government.’

” But this announcement had an unexpected consequence. In the opinion of responsible men in the other States of the British Empire, such destruction had no justification. They expressed their opinion in emphatic fashion. They convinced British statesmen that it was essential for England to put herself right with the world the Irish slate had to be cleaned. So declared the Premiers of the Free Nations of the British Commonwealth then assembled at the Imperial Conference in London. There was only one course for the British Prime Minister to take to invite us, whom he had called ‘ murderers ‘ and ‘ heads of the murder gang to discuss with him terms of peace. The invitation was :” To discuss terms of peace to ascertain how the association of Ireland with the community of nations known as the British Empire may best be reconciled with Irish national aspirations.”

The world knows that we accepted that invitation.

” What is not known except only by those few of us who had to take the responsibility of accepting or refusing the invitation is the searching of our hearts and minds, the weighing of every consideration, the honest effort some of us made to put aside scepticism in order that the decision might be the fruit of our combined best judgement. There was much in our immediate path that undeniably prejudiced us as to the possibility of obtaining a generous peace from England. Beyond that were more than seven centuries of English misrule of Ireland. In our councils were men who believed and who still believe that to try to make a bargain with England could result only in Ireland’s getting the worst of it.

” I have always believed that Mr. Lloyd George foresaw the inevitable at least a year before his colleagues even considered the possibility of granting Ireland freedom. I base my belief on the fact that while the Terror was at its height the British Cabinet passed the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 better known as the Partition Act. In my opinion, Mr. Lloyd George intended the Act to allay world criticism. As propaganda it might do to draw attention away from British violence for a month or two longer. At the end of that period most of the English Ministers mistakenly believed Ireland would have been terrorised into submission. That desired end gained, a chastened nation would accept the crumb of freedom offered by the Act. Britain her idea of the principles of self-determination satisfied would be able to present a bold front again before the world.

” It seems to me this must have been what was in the mind of the British Cabinet in passing this measure. Certainly it was not asked for by Ireland. Nobody representing any Irish constituency in the British Parliament voted for it. We of the South took advantage of its election machinery only to repudiate the Act and to secure a fresh mandate from the people. Otherwise the Act was completely ignored by us. In the Six Counties almost one-fourth of the candidates were returned in non-recognition of the Act, while Sir James Craig himself said, referring to himself and his friends, ‘ we accept the Parliament conferred upon us by the Act only as a great sacrifice’

” I believe there was an understanding between Mr. Lloyd George and the Orange leaders. The Act entrenched them or appeared to within the Six Counties. No doubt, both the British Prime Minister and Sir James Craig had it in mind that if a bigger settlement had ultimately to be made with Ireland, at least the Act put them in a position from which they could bargain. In any ‘ settlement ‘ the North-East was to be let down gently by England. Pampered for so long, they had come to be able to dictate to and to bully the nation to which they professed loyalty. They were to be treated with tact in regard to any change of British policy towards Ireland.

” This much I was convinced of from the moment the Lloyd George proposal of peace reached us. In our councils I urged this view. I held that England now realised that both the Partition Act and the Terror had alike failed to achieve what had been expected of them. Ulster’s usefulness to England had ceased to be potent enough to prevent Irish freedom, but I urged that we should not be unmindful that Ulster could be useful in another way. She could buttress England in England’s determination that, while agreeing to our freedom, Ireland must remain associated with the British group of nations. England’s insistence upon this association as a minimum was based on her conviction that her own national safety can be assured by nothing less. In this view I HAD THE COMPLETE SUPPORT OF DE VALERA NOT ONLY DURING THESE PRELIMINARY CONFERENCES, BUT AT ALL TIMES DURING THE PROGRESS OF THE NEGOTIATIONS !

” What seemed to me to be our chief concern was so to make our moves that Britain would be obliged to give us the maximum limit of freedom. And from the outset I was convinced that that maximum limit would be bounded by association with the British Empire. I anticipated what subsequently turned out to be the fact. Britain must represent to us that the North-East would never acquiesce in more, while representing to them that in such a settlement they would be preserving that which they professed to have at heart, the sentimental tie with the nation to which they were supposed to be attached.

” In those preliminary conferences, a few of us held that any settlement which did not include the possibility of a united Ireland which was not predicated on the living truth, THAT EVERY IRISHMAN IS FIRST AN IRISHMAN WITH RIGHTS THE SAME AS THOSE OF EVERY OTHER IRISHMAN would be unacceptable to us. It was not so much the Partition Act itself that mattered it was an even more formidable legacy that England would leave us, PARTITION OF VIEW. That is there, and it has to be dealt with. It is for us, to whom union is an article of our national faith, to deal with it.

” For the most part De Valera at first seemed to be in accord with the views voiced by Griffiths and me. As, little by little, Childers wormed his way into our councils, however, De Valera’s attitude gradually changed. From beginning to end Stack and Brugha were unqualifiedly hostile to the whole idea of entering into negotiations with England. Yet for a long time we had all been agreed on the fundamental wisdom of no coercion for Ulster. Likewise we were one in our conviction that a divided Ireland could never be a free Ireland,

” It was and, more’s the pity, it still is this serious internal problem which led some of us to argue for the attainment of the final steps of freedom by evolution rather than by force. If we could obtain substantial freedom by consenting to association with the British Empire, it would at least give us time to teach the North-East to revolve in the Irish orbit and to get out of the orbit of Great Britain. We held that in acquiescing in a peace which would admittedly involve some postponement of the fulfilment of our national sentiment by agreeing to some association of our Irish nation with the British nations we would be going a long way towards meeting the sentiment of the North-East in its supposed attachment to England.

” Against these councils the uncompromising Republicans raised up the objection that by consenting to bargain with England before she recognised the Republic we should be letting the Republic down. But De Valera, himself, pointed to the fact that this was not an issue to be argued then. Mr. Lloyd George had already made it clear that no such recognition would be granted. Furthermore, it was pointed out that were the Irish Republic a recognised fact, we should have to use our resources to coerce North-East Ulster into submission. None of the conferees was prepared to sponsor such a course of action. We had long since concluded that coercion even if it succeeded could never have the lasting effects which conversation on our side, and acquiescence on theirs, would produce.

” Our position at this time, as it appeared to me, was one of greater strength than ever before in the history of Ireland under English rule. From the English viewpoint, peace with Ireland had become a necessity to the British Cabinet. Already Mr. Lloyd George in 1921 had made a peace offer to De Valera. That offer had not been acceptable to the Irish people. Referring to it, Mr. Churchill, at Dundee in September of the same year, had said : ” ‘ … this offer is put forward, not as the offer of a Party Government confronted by a formidable opposition and anxious to bargain for the Irish vote, but with the united sanction of both the historic parties in the State, and indeed all parties. It is a national offer.’

” Undoubtedly it was a national offer, representing English necessity to put herself right with world opinion. It had, at last, become essential that England find a way of peace with Ireland or a good case for further, and what unquestionably would have been more intensive, war.

” The important factors in the situation were known to all of us. We knew the Dominion Premiers were in England fresh from their people. They were able to express the views of their people. The Washington Conference was looming ahead. Lloyd George’s Cabinet had its economic difficulties. England’s relationships with foreign countries were growing increasingly unhappy. Recovery of the good opinion of the world had become indispensable. BUT I FOUGHT THE STUPID NOTION THAT WE WERE STRONG ENOUGH TO RELY ON FORCE ALONE.

” England wanted peace with Ireland, true ; but if Ireland made impossible demands we could be shown to be irreconcilables and then England would again have a free hand for whatever further measures of force might be necessary ‘ to restore law and order ‘ in a country that would not accept the responsibility of doing so for itself. I was under no delusion that the offer indicated any real change of heart on the part of England towards Ireland. In this respect I was entirely at one with the uncompromising Republicans. But I held that then, as always, England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity, and we should be fools to fail to seize it merely because behind the offer was no sincerity of good will. It seemed to me to make no difference that an awakening conscience had nothing to do with the English offer. It is true that there were stirrings of conscience felt by a minority of Englishmen the minority that had opposed England’s intervention in the European war. They were the peaceful group averse to bloodshed on principle. They were opposed to the killing we had to do in self-defence quite as much as they were opposed to the aggressive killing of our people by the British agents sent to Ireland for that purpose.

” I urged that we waste no time in considering this phase of the situation. Pacifists the world over are almost with- out any political power and have very little popular support. The point was that peace had become necessary to England. It was not because she had repented in the very middle of her Black and Tan terror. IT WAS NOT BECAUSE SHE COULD NOT SUBJUGATE us ! It was because she had not succeeded in subjugating us before the world’s conscience awakened and made itself felt.

” We had ample evidence of this. There was, for in- stance, the frank admission of Lord Birkenhead in the British House of Lords early in August :

” ‘ The progress of the coercive attempts made by the Government have proved in a high degree disappointing.’

” From every side came proofs that world sympathy was with us passive sympathy for the most part. If we had done no more and we had done much more this winning of world sympathy was itself a great asset in the proposed negotiations with England.

” What it was never possible to make the more extreme of our conferees appreciate was that we had not beaten AND NEVER COULD HOPE TO BEAT THE BRITISH MILITARY FORCES. We had thus far prevented them from conquering us, but that was the sum of our achievement. And in July, 1921, we had reached the high-water mark of what we could do in the way of economic and military resistance. I suppose there are Irishmen who will go to their graves still cherishing the notion that continuation of the struggle would have ended in an overwhelming victory for Irish arms. It is a pity, but it is a fact. To such men figures mean nothing, They will not see,

” But even some of these uncompromising Republicans had their moments of sanity. Some of them, at least, are on record as recognising our inability to beat the British out of Ireland. See what Mr. Barton had to say in The Republic of Ireland in its issue of February 21, 1922 : ‘ … it had become plain that it was physically impossible to secure Ireland’s ideal of a completely isolated Republic otherwise than by driving the overwhelmingly superior British forces out of the country.’ And yet Mr. Barton after he had put his signature to the Treaty talked at a session of Dail Eireann about having signed ‘ under duress ‘ ! Before we went to London to negotiate, Mr. Barton knew, as did we all, that the element of duress existed and would continue to exist so long as British power lasts.

” I have explained how we considered every phase of the situation before finally deciding to accept the offer.

I WANT TO MAKE IT ABSOLUTELY PLAIN THAT AT THE CONCLUSION OF OUR DELIBERATIONS WE HAD ABANDONED, FOR THE TIME BEING, THE HOPE OF ACHIEVING THE IDEAL OF AN ISOLATED REPUBLIC. FOR ANY OF THE MEN WHO PARTICIPATED IN THOSE CONFERENCES TO PRETEND OTHERWISE IS ABOMINABLE ! WE ALL CLEARLY RECOGNISED THAT OUR NATIONAL VIEW WAS NOT SHARED BY THE MAJORITY IN THE FOUR NORTH-EASTERN COUNTIES. WE KNEW THAT THAT MAJORITY HAD REFUSED TO GIVE ALLEGIANCE TO AN IRISH REPUBLIC. WE KNEW THAT THEY WOULD NOT YET ACQUIESCE IN ANY KIND OF ISOLATION FROM BRITAIN. BEFORE WE UNDERTOOK THE TREATY NEGOTIATIONS WE REALISED THESE FACTS AMONG OURSELVES. HAD WE NOT REALISED THEM HAD WE NOT ACCEPTED THEM AS FACTS THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO NEGOTIATIONS. LET THERE BE NO DOUBT ABOUT THAT.

“It is true that before we accepted the invitation sent by Mr. Lloyd George we endeavoured to get an unfettered basis for the conference. And after negotiations had been begun as I shall presently point out we continued to try. Document No 2 was an instance of this endeavour. But we did not succeed. Again and again we asserted our claim that the plenipotentiaries could enter such a conference only as the spokesmen of an independent sovereign State. It was a claim Britain tacitly admitted in inviting us to negotiate at all, but the fact remains that we finally went to London without recognition of our nation as an independent sovereign State. We went and in going WE ADMITTED THAT THERE WAS A POSSIBILITY OF THE IRISH PEOPLE RECONCILING’ IRISH NATIONAL ASPIRATIONS ‘ WITH ‘ ASSOCIATION OF IRELAND WITH THE GROUP OF NATIONS KNOWN AS THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH.’ Let us not fool ourselves about that

” Those who cannot, or who will not, look these facts in the face blame us now, and more than blame us. They find fault with us because in agreeing to some kind of association of our nation with the British nations we were not able, by the touch of a magic wand, to get rid of all language of Empire. That is not a fair attitude. We like that language no more, perhaps less, than do those who wish to make us responsible for its preservation. It is Britain’s affair not ours, that she cares to preserve the prevarication’s of obsolete feudalism. The British Empire is what it is. It is what it is with all its trappings, its symbols of monarchy, its feudal phraseology, its obsolete oaths of allegiance its king a figurehead having no individual power as a king maintaining the unhealthy atmosphere of mediaeval subservience translated into modern snobbery. But these are things that are not to be dissipated by the waving of a magic wand !

” MOREOVER, THE RESULT OF OUR DELIBERATIONS SPEAKS FOR ITSELF WE ENTERED INTO NEGOTIATIONS WITH THAT EMPIRE AND ITS LANGUAGE IS THE LANGUAGE WE HAD TO SPEAK.

“It is not any verbiage about sovereignty which can assure our power to shape our destinies. The important thing is to grasp everything which is of benefit to us to manage things for ourselves to make such a constitution as suits ourselves to make our Government and restore our national life along the lines which suit our national character and our national requirements best. It is now only fratricidal strife which can prevent us from making the Gaelic Ireland which is our goal.”

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