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Chapter 15. – THE TREATY NEGOTIATIONS

CHAPTER XV

THE TREATY NEGOTIATIONS

” MY going to London as one of the plenipotentiaries was in spite of my conviction that any other Irishman, would serve the cause of Irish freedom better than I at least, so far as the Treaty negotiations were concerned. For three hours one night, after the decision had been made to send a delegation to London, I pleaded with De Valera to leave me at home and let some other man take my place as a negotiator. But it was no use. My arguments seemed to fall on deaf ears. I had no choice. I had to go.”

This statement Collins made to me many months after he had told me the inside story of the Treaty negotiations and in view of all the circumstances it was, perhaps, one of the most astounding things he ever told me.

” Of course we all knew,” he continued, ” that whatever the outcome of the negotiations we could never hope to bring back all that Ireland wanted and deserved to have and we therefore knew that more or less opprobrium would be the best reward we could hope to win. But as Arthur Griffith has told you, we went when others refused to go because it was a job that had to be done by somebody. For my own part, I anticipated the loss of the position I occupied in the hearts of the Irish people as a result of my share in what was bound to be an unsatisfactory bargain. And to have and bold the regard of one’s fellow-countrymen is surely a boon not to be lost while there is a way to avoid it. But this consideration was not at all what moved me to try to keep out of the negotiations.

” The point that I tried to impress upon De Valera was that for several years rightly or wrongly makes no difference the English had held me to be the one man most necessary to capture because they held me to be the one man responsible for the smashing of their Secret Service organisation and for their failure to terrorise the Irish people with their Black and Tans. Brugha has spoken of this English legend as having been altogether of newspaper manufacture. What difference does that make ? The important fact was that in England, as in Ireland, the Michael Collins legend existed. It pictured me a mysterious active menace elusive, unknown, unaccountable. And in this respect I was the only living Irishman of whom this could be said. If and as long as the legend continued to exert its influence on English minds, the accruing advantage to our cause would continue. Bring me into the spotlight of a London conference and quickly would be discovered the common clay of which I am made ! The glamour of the legendary figure would be gone for ever.

” Whether De Valera underestimated the advantage of keeping me in the background whether he believed my presence in the delegation would be of greater value OR WHETHER FOR MOTIVES BEST NOT ENQUIRED INTO HE WISHED TO INCLUDE ME AMONG THE SCAPEGOATS WHO MUST INEVITABLY FAIL TO WIN COMPLETE SUCCESS is of little importance. The only fact that may appeal to the careful reader as significant is that BEFORE THE NEGOTIATIONS BEGAN NO DOUBT OF DE VALERA’S SINCERITY HAD PLACE IN MY MIND !

” As I have before stated, I objected to the presence of Childers in the secretariat because, as I have already pointed out, I considered him at least altogether too radical and impractical and, at worst, an enemy of Ireland. But just as I failed in my plea to be kept off the delegation so De Valera would not listen to Childers’ exclusion. His argument was that, aside from whatever truth there might be in my view that the menace I constituted was of advantage to us, Ireland needed her ablest advocates at the conference table and he insisted I belonged in that category. As for Childers and here I am convinced he was quite sincere he said he considered him the most brilliant constitutional authority Ireland had ever had, and his presence in the delegation an essential of success.

” So my wishes were thwarted. Instead of being kept in the background against all eventualities to be offered in a crisis as a final sacrifice with which to win our way to freedom I had to walk into Whitehall and deal, face to face, with the heads of the British Empire. AT THE VERY MOMENT I WAS SHAKING HANDS WITH MR. LLOYD GEORGE ON THE OCCASION OF OUR FIRST MEETING THERE WAS STILL IN EXISTENCE THE DUBLIN CASTLE REWARD OF TEN THOUSAND POUNDS FOR MY CAPTURE, DEAD OR ALIVE ! SUBSEQUENTLY

I REMINDED THE BRITISH PRIME MINISTER OF THIS INCONGRUOUS STATE OF AFFAIRS BUT THAT DID NOT HAPPEN UNTIL I HAD DISCOVERED THAT HE KNEW HOW TO LAUGH !

” From beginning to end the English plenipotentiaries dealt candidly, fairly, sympathetically. Much criticism has been directed at Griffith and me because frequently we went into conference alone with Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Churchill. It seems to me the point is not well taken. I have never heard of anyone’s criticising De Valera for having conferred quite alone with Mr. Lloyd George a few months earlier. There are inevitably details in the course of negotiations of this character which are best discussed by a few men, rather than by dozens. It comes to this : confidence in the negotiators. And if, as Brugha charged, we were bungling amateurs the fault lies with those who sent us as their plenipotentiaries.

” It would be poor return for the treatment accorded us in London to overstep the bounds of strict ethics by divulging anything of the negotiations which in any way could prove offensive to the English participants. I have no intention of doing so. But with that said, there are certain points which I may shed light upon without committing that unpardonable offence. And, to begin with, there is one matter that I can deal with without any breach of confidence or without any departure from etiquette.

” It has been charged that we signed the Treaty under duress. It has been said we signed the Treaty under a threat of ‘ immediate and terrible war.’ That is not true. It was Barton who first made this charge and by his own statement proved himself a man who could be successfully threatened ! BUT BARTON CHALLENGED TO QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS USED BY ANY OF THE ENGLISH PLENIPOTENTIARIES IN FRAMING THE ALLEGED THREAT ADMITTED THAT IT HAD NEVER BEEN VOICED IN WORDS ! Nevertheless, Barton, having signed the Treaty, opposed it and gave as his justification his having acted under a threat which was never made ! It is time this kind of thing received the attention it merits.

” Surely I have made it plain enough that British armed force could wipe the Irish nation out of existence. Is it necessary to labour a self-evident fact ? No one but a madman would question it. And in that sense, then, there was, during the negotiations as there has always been as between England and Ireland, the element of duress present. Nobody doubts that had we been able to do it we should have beaten the English out of Ireland as our simple right. Our acceptance of the truce, our consenting to negotiate yes, and in the same sense our signing of the Treaty all these proved that there existed the element of duress. Had we been able to do it we should have whipped England decisively and then the Treaty negotiations would have been conducted in Dublin, and we should have been a conqueror nation announcing terms of surrender to a vanquished foe ! The only reason that did not happen was because we could not make it happen ! What good end is to be served by pretending otherwise ?

” I dwell on this point because in many quarters this charge of duress has been interpreted to mean that we plenipotentiaries were subjected to personal duress. Of course, this is nonsense. Obviously there was not, and could not have been, any personal duress. But the unfortunate impression that individual members of our delegation were directly threatened has found lodgement in the minds of men not conversant with the fundamental rules of conduct of negotiations between two sovereign States. Of frankness there was plenty. Plain speaking was to our liking. And there was little of subtlety and drawing of fine distinctions. Meantime, however, the weeks dragged along, and we could see small chance of arriving at any possible agreement.

” Time after time duly reported in the world Press we adjourned the conference, and went back to our colleagues in Dublin with nothing that was encouraging to report. It was during the first of these return visits that De Valera brought forward the first rough draft of what later came to be the ‘ Mysterious Document No. 2.’ Its right to the title lay in the fact that it was not of De Valera’s composition. Put forward by him as his alternative to the proposed Treaty, it was, in fact, the work of Erskine Childers. I had little difficulty in guessing the identity of the author as soon as I read it. Dominionism tinged every line of this production. No Irishman who understood the tradition and the history of Ireland would have thought or written of his country’s aspirations in the terms used in this document.

” Under the terms of this document Ireland, by our own free offer, was to be represented at the Imperial Conference. Thus our status would have been taken from a Constitutional Resolution passed at an Imperial Conference ! It was quite clear that the outlook of the author of the document was bounded entirely by the horizon of the British Empire.

BUT DE VALERA WAS INSISTENT THAT WE CARRY THE ALTERNATIVE PROPOSAL BACK TO LONDON AND THERE SUBMIT IT AS OUR IRREDUCIBLE MINIMUM !

” We did so. The English delegates turned it down flatly. We brought it back to Dublin, and it was revised and amended and again we took it to Downing Street. Again it was turned down. And again we returned to De Valera with the twice-rejected document. But a third time revisions and amendments were made, and a third time we presented ourselves in London with the Childers’ compromise. When Mr. Lloyd George let us understand that further repetitions of this kind could mean only the final breaking up of conference, we shelved Document No. 2 shelved it for once and all, as we thought. But that was an error.

” Meantime, I had come to have what I believed and believe was a clear understanding of the basic facts of the situation. And when the opportunity arose I made it quite clear to the British representatives that my stand was different from that of the author of the thrice-rejected proposals. I stated that Ireland was a mother country, with the duties and responsibilities and feelings and devotions of a mother country. This simple statement had more effect on the British delegates than all the arguments about dominion status, or all the arguments basing the claim of our historic nation on any new-found idea. I told them that Irish nationhood springs from the Irish people, not from any comparison with any other nation, not from any equality inherent or acquired with any other nation.

” In the course of our conversations Griffith and I soon learned that the imposing conferees were primarily men who dealt in facts, men to whom facts appealed. In this respect they were like ourselves. In the Mansion House in Dublin there was much of fine idealism and almost as much of impractical dreaming. In Whitehall there were no illusions and idealism had no place. But in Whitehall, at least, we knew where we stood.

” As I have said, I hesitate to do anything that can be construed as a breach of etiquette, but to make my point quite clear I must risk the charge by citing two instances of this downright frankness which characterised the English statesmen with whom we dealt.

” It happened during the conference between Mr. Churchill and Lord Beatty and Childers and myself in the Colonial Office to which I have already referred. In my embarrassment over Childers’ failure to produce anything approaching a reasonable idea to back up his statement that he could prove that Ireland was of no concern to Britain, I searched my mind for something to say that would at least make my colleague’s impracticability less glaring It will be remembered that Childers had insisted that Plymouth was a better base for submarine chasers than any Irish port ! While Lord Beatty was pointing to the map and thus flatly disproving the truth of this assertion, I had an idea. Pointing to the French coast I suggested that Le Havre, for instance, would have made an excellent base for the British forces engaged in hunting submarines.

” ‘ Quite so,’ replied Lord Beatty. Then he smiled, and added, ‘ BUT WE CAN’T TAKE A FRENCH PORT ! ‘

” If that constitutes duress, I’ll admit that we were under duress. But to my way of thinking it is plain talk, right talk, and the kind of talk I prefer my opponent to use.

” The other instance of this willingness on the part of the Englishmen with whom we were dealing to say what they mean was furnished by Mr. Lloyd George. I think he will have no objection to my quoting him. As I have already stated, I know he can laugh !

” It was in the midst of our consideration of the defence clauses in the British proposals. Mr. Lloyd George made it quite clear to us that the British people could not, or would not, for the sake of their own safety, allow any Irish Government to build submarines. England did not mind if we built a dreadnought or two, a battleship or two although these concessions do not appear in the signed Treaty. In fighting for vital concessions we were not weakening our position by claiming anything so obviously useless as the right to build and man a few capital ships ! It must be apparent to everyone that to do such a ridiculous thing would be to play England’s game.

” We could indulge our vanity if we were foolish enough to waste public funds in such a manner by having an infant navy that could never mean anything at all to the British sea power BUT WE COULD NOT HAVE ONE SUBMARINE ! SUBMARINES ARE CHEAP TO BUILD AND REQUIRE FEW MEN TO OPERATE THEM ! SUBMARINES ARE A REAL MENACE TO ENGLAND

” I fought my best to try to argue the point. ‘ After all I said to the British Prime Minister, ‘, Ireland could never hope to wage an aggressive war against England.’ Restricting our offensive armament seemed to me on a par with muzzling a Skye terrier. ‘ ‘ Submarines replied Mr. Lloyd George, ‘ are the flying columns of the seas.’ He looked at me straight as he said this, and slowly a twinkle came into his eyes. Then he spoke again. ‘ And I am sure,’ he said, ‘ there is no need for me to tell you, Mr. Collins, how much damage can be inflicted by flying columns ! We have had experience with your flying columns on land ! ‘

” There was nothing to be said then ! He knew what he was talking about. More than that he knew that I knew !

” But De Valera and Childers saw nothing disadvantageous to us in this prohibition of submarines. Perhaps it would be more nearly accurate to say that De Valera did not visualise the potential value of Irish submarines and that Childers did ! In any event, Document No. 2 conceded this British claim fully. Document No. 2 gave way to England on a point that really mattered ! This cannot be stated too emphatically. Such a concession to British necessity, real or supposed, was nothing but rank dishonesty. LET US AGREE SINCE WE MUST THAT WE SHALL NOT BUILD SUBMARINES, BUT DON’T LET US PRETEND THAT WE ARE DOING IT FROM ANY MOTIVE OTHER THAN THE REAL MOTIVE !

” With the Treaty finally signed, what was the position ? After 750 years, Ireland was about to become a fully constituted nation the whole of Ireland as one nation to compose the Irish Free State with a Parliament to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Ireland, and with an Executive responsible to that Parliament. This is the whole basis of the Treaty, and it must be borne clearly in mind that the Treaty (and a treaty, be it remembered, is between equals) is the bedrock from which our status springs, and that any later Act of the British Legislature derives its force from the Treaty only. We have the constitutional status of Canada, and that status being one of freedom and equality we are free to take advantage of that status. In fact, England has renounced all right to govern Ireland, and the withdrawal of her forces is the proof of this. With the evacuation, secured by the Treaty, has come the end of British rule in Ireland. No foreigner will be able to intervene between our Government and our people. WILL IRISHMEN CONTINUE TO INTERVENE BETWEEN OUR GOVERNMENT AND OUR PEOPLE ?

” The Treaty we brought home gave us the freedom we fought to win freedom from British interference and domination. The Black and Tans are no more. The regular British Military Forces are gone. The Royal Irish Constabulary is only a memory in the twenty-six counties. And these are the results of the Treaty. And we knew that December night when we boarded the train, bound for home, that these were to be the results of our many months of arduous labours. If it were not a triumph for the cause of Ireland, at least it was a greater measure of success than any of us had dared hope. And it seemed that the Irish people resident in London considered it a triumph. For at the station there were thousands of them men, women and children waving the tricolour and cheering us and singing happy folk-songs. It was a heartening sight. Was it only a forerunner of our greeting in Dublin ? We all wondered.

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