Chapter 17. – DISHONEST TACTICS
” THERE were 1,200 of us in the internment camp. Almost every man of the lot had done his share in digging the tunnel through which a few of us would be able to make our escape. By mutual agreement this number was fixed at thirty. If a greater number attempted it the escape would be foredoomed to failure. The point was how to nominate the lucky thirty. Every one of us knew in his heart that our return to the army meant more to Ireland than that of any other man ! That was only human, of course. The selection was not safely to be left in our hands. Only some one less self-interested ought to name the thirty.
” Among ourselves we discussed our various leaders to find one upon whose judgement we could all rely. Brugha, as titular head of the army, was objectionable to many of us. De Valera likewise was voted down. Finally, Collins was proposed. Not one man of the 1,200 had any objections to him. And so we left our fate in his hands. We did it because we had implicit trust in him.”
This little story was told me several months after the signing of the Treaty by Desmond Fitzgerald. I tell it here to make clear the wonderful hold Collins had on all classes of Irishmen. In their eyes he was the embodiment of honesty and fair dealing. But in the case of De Valera there was also a kind of blind faith on the part of hundreds of thousands of Irish people which accounted for his very real power in Dail Eireann. They are a simple people, the Irish. They must have an object of devotion. And once a national hero has won their affection, it is neither easy nor wise to attempt to disillusionise them. And this fact must be borne in mind while considering Collins’ steadfast refusal to tell the Irish people what he himself had discovered THAT DE VALERA’S ” IDEALISM ” WAS NOT GENUINE.
” The unnatural campaign of destruction being waged by the uncompromising Republicans,” Collins said at one of our last conferences, ” had its beginnings in the bitter fight in the early sessions of the Dail. For a long time I struggled with myself to keep from believing the evidence of my own eyes and ears, but finally I had to realise that the man we had made President of the Republic was capable of resorting to dishonest methods. Griffith came to this conclusion before I did, but in the end we were both of one mind. Also we saw eye to eye as to the inadvisability of making this deplorable fact known among the people. No good end was to be served by such a course. We felt that we were strong enough within the Dail itself to remove De Valera as a potent factor of disruption. But now the time has come to establish the grave charge I have made.
” De Valera would not head the delegation that went to London. Every member of the Cabinet and every Teachtai of Dail Eireann wanted him to conduct the Treaty negotiations, and many of us pleaded with him not to remain behind. But he was immovable. The reason he gave was twofold. First, he said, it was beneath his dignity, as President of the Irish Republic, to leave his country ; and, second, he could not afford to put himself in a position in which he might do his nation irreparable harm by a chance word across the conference table. He insisted his value to the Irish people would be greatest by remaining in Dublin, and from that distance guiding us in our task.
“I for one accepted what he said as being his sincere belief, although I differed from him. But when he persisted in forcing us to present to the British delegation Document No. 2 after we had told him time and again that it meant the breaking off of the negotiations a doubt of his sincerity began to form in my mind. Subsequent developments have removed that doubt. There is no longer any doubt about it. De Valera was animated by only one purpose the collapse of the negotiations to be effected by our stubborn unreasonableness !
” De Valera’s alternative contained very little that was not in the Treaty, and little that England could have objected to, but for that very reason our insistence on its supplanting the Treaty merited the unequivocal refusal our insistence met. Besides that, De Valera’s document was lost in its construction. In the application of its details we should have been constantly faced with conflicting interpretations leading to inevitable discordance. But such considerations meant nothing to De Valera. HE NEITHER EXPECTED NOR WANTED HIS ALTERNATIVE ACCEPTED !
” He stated that England had never kept a treaty, and would not keep this Treaty. He used this argument in support of his contention that his Document No. 2 should have been forced upon the British Government. Yet a blind man can see the fallacy of such an argument. England, said De Valera in effect, would not keep the Treaty which she had signed and would keep a treaty she had not signed ! The truth is that De Valera, under the malignant influence of Childers, had reached that point of paranoia at which persecutory delusions become fixed. He would effect the ruin of his own country before he would admit that peace and friendship between Ireland and England were possible. AND YET HE IS THE MAN WHO ACCEPTED IN THE NAME OF THE IRISH PEOPLE THE ENGLISH INVITATION TO FIND A WAY FOR THE TWO NATIONS TO LIVE SIDE BY SIDE IN AMITY. I SAY AND I CHOOSE MY WORDS DELIBERATELY THAT HIS ACCEPTANCE OF THAT INVITATION WAS A DISHONEST ACT.
” Of course it has been abundantly established that Document No. 2 was not of De Valera’s authorship, to begin with. And it is fact that cannot be controverted that De Valera claimed its authorship. It is relatively unimportant, but it is an added proof of my charge. As to the differences between the Treaty and this alternative, such as there are, they all bespeak the dishonesty of purpose of their author. There is, for instance, the definite stipulation in Document No. 2 for Britain’s ratification of the alternative. And hand in hand with that fact is De Valera’s vehement protest against the British conferring on us of the rights and powers of the Treaty. That is not honest.
” Under certain clauses of the alternative Ireland is committed to an association so vague that it might afford grounds for claims by Britain which might give her an opportunity to press for control in Irish affairs as ‘ common concerns,’ and to use or to threaten to use force. The Irish people would never have agreed to commit themselves to anything so vague. We know that there are many things which the States of the British Commonwealth can afford to regard as ‘ common concerns ‘ which we could not afford so to regard one of the disadvantages of geographical propinquity. We had to find some form of association which would safeguard us as far as we could be safeguarded in somewhat the same degree as the 3,000 miles of ocean safeguard Canada.
” De Valera knew when he accepted the British Prime Minister’s invitation to discuss ‘ association with the British Commonwealth ‘ that that meant association of a different kind from that of mere alliance of isolated nations. For him to have suggested otherwise was dishonest. More than that, the association of the Treaty is less equivocal than the association proposed in Document No. 2. The external association mentioned in Document No. 2 had neither the honesty of complete isolation a questionable advantage in these days of warring nationalities when it is not too easy for a small nation to stand rigidly alone nor the strength of free partnership satisfying the different partners. Such external association was not practical politics.
” De Valera and Childers laboured long over the framing of an oath which they knew had to be incorporated in any agreement that would be acceptable to Britain. Their first essay read as follows : ” ‘ That for the purposes of the association Ireland shall recognise His Britannic Majesty as head of the association.’
Here merely is recognition as precise as that given in the Treaty but it met with such disapproval that De Valera and Childers shelved it in favour of another, namely : ” ‘ I do swear to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of Ireland and to the Treaty of Association of Ireland with the British Commonwealth of Nations and to recognise the King of Great Britain as head of the associated States.’
This alternative oath was discussed by the Dail for many long, weary days in private sessions. De Valera attempted to explain that the King of Great Britain might fairly be regarded as a managing director a mere name in common usage these days when industrial concerns are amalgamating and entering into agreements. The King of Great Britain would thus occupy the same relative position towards the associated States as a managing director occupies towards associated businesses. Now a managing director is one who manages and directs. Whatever the practical value of royal prerogatives, no modern democratic nation is managed and directed by one ruler. This talk of a managing director was as nonsensical as it was dishonest.
” Throughout the Childers document there are dangerous friction spots which obviously were to be avoided by any one with Ireland’s interests at heart. Ireland, being the weaker nation, could not fail to suffer if a misleading clause had to be interpreted. As for the defence clauses, I have already told how De Valera and Childers gave way to England on the only point that really mattered, agreement not to build submarines. It will not do for them to say submarines would be of no use to us. Childers, with his experience in the Royal Navy, knows better. I cannot believe that De Valera is so ignorant as not to know better.
IF HE BELIEVES WHAT I HAVE TOLD HIM MORE THAN ONCE, HE DOES KNOW BETTER !
” But without going into tiresome details I want to state again that from beginning to end this document is for the most part a repetition of the Treaty WITH ONLY SUCH SLIGHT VERBAL ALTERATIONS AS NO ONE BUT A FACTIONIST, LOOKING FOR MEANS OF MAKING MISCHIEF, WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT WORTH WHILE TO HAVE RISKED WRECKING THE TREATY FOR.
“As an improvement on the Treaty, Document No. 2 is not honest. It may be more dictatorial in language, but it does not contain in principle a great ‘ reconciliation with Irish national aspirations.’ It merely sought to attach a fresh label to the same parcel, or, rather, a label written of purpose illegibly in the hope of making believe that the parcel was other than it is.
” What is this idealism that is supposed to be animating De Valera and his followers ? Without attempting to answer that question, let me point to its proven consequences. We are back in slavery ! At the very moment that we had been lifted out of the worst slough of destitution these idealists began their senseless, wicked campaign, the underlying purpose of which is to destroy us as a nation ! We were turning our eyes towards the light of liberty, and beginning to lift our heads as Irish men and Irish women, with a land of our own, and with traditions and hopes of which no nation need feel ashamed and then from East to West, from North to South, a handful of desperate madmen brought down upon the people all the wicked anguish of fratricidal strife ! They have done and are still doing their best to prove true the degrading lie that what is English is respectable, and what is Irish is low and mean !
BUT THEY WILL NEVER SUCCEED IN THAT.
” Let a world who stands by now and expresses scorn of a people who permit outrages to be practised upon them by a negligible minority understand that this is not fair to the Irish people. Let the world remember that there have been only brief intervals between long periods of starvation periods in which we could reflect upon our condition and awaken to the cause of our miseries. The presence of the English had deprived us of life and liberty. An infamous machine was destroying us. Now that it has gone, the ravaging effects remain. National consciousness is not an overnight growth. Of patriotic fervour there is no lack, but a people must be schooled for generations to know how effectively to put their patriotism to practical ends.
” The history of 700 years must be reversed before we shall know the meaning of national freedom. And first of all we must acquire the habit of standing together. Already to a large degree the advantages of the Treaty have been irretrievably lost. Our very national life is being threatened by this continued disunion. The country is too small to stand a big cleavage in the national ranks. The opposition as represented by De Valera and his Irregulars has already proved nearly fatal to the national interests. If De Valera succeeds in his opposition, he will undoubtedly destroy the nation as a whole. BUT DE VALERA WILL NOT SUCCEED ! THAT IS THE ONE EVENTUALITY AND PERHAPS THE ONLY ONE WHICH WILL NEVER HAPPEN SO LONG AS THERE REMAIN ALIVE SANE IRISHMEN.
” When, during the Terror, England issued the order I have already referred to, making it a criminal offence for an Irishman to be in possession of arms, it was held to be a deathblow to our fight for freedom. Yet to-day we are faced with a greater misfortune disunity among ourselves. Until now I have refrained from speaking plainly about those men who are leading the nation into black chaos but nothing less than the brutal truth will serve now.
” More than once in Ireland’s history has an Irish army been betrayed by Irishmen. Once, for instance, the Volunteers were betrayed by Grattan who, when it suited his purpose, spoke of them as ‘ an armed rabble.’ The old saying that the only real lesson of history is that the lessons of history are never learned, is peculiarly applicable to some of the Irish people to-day. If De Valera has his way, the Irish army of to-day will be rendered useless, as were the armies of 1652, 1691 and 1782. BUT DE VALERA WILL NOT HAVE HIS WAY. THE NATIONAL ARMY IS THE PEOPLE’S ARMY, AND IT WILL BRING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY MOST DESIRE ABIDING PEACE.
” Finally, let there be no doubt anywhere that the vast majority of responsible opinion in Ireland is absolutely against De Valera and his followers. See what the bishops of Ireland said at a general meeting, held in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, April 26, 1922 :
‘ The condition of the country is a subject of the deepest distress and humiliation. On the great national question of the Treaty every Irishman is entitled to his own opinion, subject to truth and responsibility to God. It is a national question to be settled by the national will and ascertained by an election. It is painful to have to use the language of condemnation, but principles are being openly defended which are in fundamental conflict with the law of God. The army as a whole, and still more a part of the army, has no moral right to declare itself independent of all civil authority in the country. Such a claim is subversive of all civil liberty. The army more than any other order in society, from the nature of its institution, is the servant of the nation’s government. . . .
” ‘ We appeal in the name of God, of Ireland and of all national dignity to the leaders on both sides, civil and military, to meet again, to remember old fellowship in danger and suffering, and if they cannot agree upon the main question to agree upon two things at all events that the use of the revolver must cease, and the elections, the national expression of self-determination, be allowed to be held free from all violence.’
” To this appeal Griffith and I responded whole heartedly. The result is known by the world. The Military Executive that was set up in the Four Courts was the answer of the extremists who clung to De Valera’s idealistic (!) pronouncement that Ireland was theirs ‘ for the taking ‘ clung to it as greedy vultures cling to a carcass. The die was cast. It was now only a question of weeks, perhaps days, before the people’s army would have to go forth and defend the people’s rights. It was heart-sickening. But the fact remained.”