CHAPTER 1 – THE PATH TO FREEDOM
THE PATH TO FREEDOM
Notes by General Michael Collins August, 1922
After a national struggle sustained through many centuries, we have today in Ireland a native Government deriving its authority solely from the Irish people, and acknowledged by England and the other nations of the world. Through those centuries – through hopes and through disappointments – the Irish people have struggled to get rid of a foreign Power which was preventing them from exercising their simple right to live and to govern themselves as they pleased – which tried to destroy our nationality, our institutions, which tried to abolish our customs and blot out our civilization, – all that made us Irish, all that united us as a nation. But Irish nationality survived. It did not perish when native government was destroyed, and a foreign military despotism was set up. And for this reason, that it was not made by the old native government and it could not be destroyed by the foreign usurping government. It was the national spirit which created the old native government, and not the native government which created the national spirit. And nothing that the foreign government could do could destroy the national spirit. But though it survived, the soul of the nation drooped and weakened. Without the protection of a native government we were exposed to the poison of foreign ways. The national character was infected and the life of the nation was endangered. We had armed risings and political agitation. We were not strong enough to put out the foreign Power until the national consciousness was fully re- awakened. This was why the Gaelic Movement and Sinn Féin were necessary for our last successful effort.
Success came with the inspiration which the new national movement gave to our military and political effort. The Gaelic spirit working through the Dáil and the Army was irresistible. In this light we must look at the present situation. The new spirit of self-reliance and our splendid unity, and an international situation which we were able to use to our advantage, enabled our generation to make the greatest and most successful national effort in our history. The right of Ireland as a nation under arms to decide its own destiny was acknowledged.
We were invited to a Peace Conference. With the authority of Ireland’s elected representatives negotiations were entered into between the two belligerent nations in order to find a basis of peace. During the war we had gathered strength by the justice of our cause, and by the way in which we had carried on the struggle. We had organised our own government, and had made the most of our military resources. The united nation showed not only endurance and courage but a humanity which was in marked contrast with the conduct of the enemy. All this gave us a moral strength in the negotiations of which we took full advantage. But in any sane view our military resources were terribly slender in the face of those of the British Empire which had just emerged victorious from the world war. It was obvious what would have been involved in a renewal of armed conflict on a scale which we had never met before. And it was obvious what we should have lost in strength if the support of the world which had hitherto been on our side had been alienated, if Ireland had rejected terms which most nations would have regarded as terms we could honourably accept. We had not an easy task.
We were faced with a critical military situation over against an enemy of infinitely greater potential strength. We had to face the pride and prejudice of a powerful nation which had claimed for centuries to hold Ireland as a province. We had to face all the traditions, and political experience, and strength of the British nation. And on our flank we had a section of our own people who had identified their outlook and interests with those of Britain. It may be claimed that we did not fail in our task. We got the substance of freedom, as has already been made real before our eyes by the withdrawal of the British power.
And the people approved. And they were anxious to use the freedom secured.
The national instinct was sound – that the essence of our struggle was to secure freedom to order our own life, without attaching undue importance to the formulas under which that freedom would be expressed. The people knew that our government could and would be moulded by the nation itself according to its needs. The nation would make the government, not the government the nation. But on the return of Ireland’s representatives from London, Mr. de Valera, who was then leader of the nation, condemned the Treaty in a public statement, while supporting similar proposals for peace which he described as differing `only by a shadow’. But he, and all the Deputies, joined in discussing and voting on the Treaty, and after full discussion and expressions of opinion from all parts of the country, the Treaty was approved. And Mr. de Valera declared that there was a constitutional way of solving our differences.
He expressed his readiness to accept the decision of the people. He resigned office, and a Provisional Government was formed to act with Dáil Éireann. Two duties faced that Government: To take over the Executive from the English, and to maintain public order during the transition from foreign to native government; and to give shape in a constitution to the freedom secured. If the Government had been allowed to carry out these duties no difficulty would have arisen with England, who carried out her part by evacuating her army and her administration. No trouble would have arisen among our own people. And the general trend of development, and the undoubted advantages of unity, would have brought the North-East quietly into union with the rest of the country, as soon as a stable national government had been established into which they could have come with confidence. Mr. de Valera, and those who supported him in the Dáil, were asked to take part in the interim government, without prejudice to their principles, and their right to oppose the ratification of the Treaty at the elections.
They were asked to help in keeping an orderly united nation with the greatest possible strength ever against England, exercising the greatest possible peaceful pressure towards the union of all Ireland, and with the greatest amount of credit for us in the eyes of the world, and with the greatest advantage to the nation itself in having a strong united government to start the departments of State, and to deal with the urgent problems of housing, land, hunger, and unemployment. They did not find it possible to accept this offer of patriotic service. Another offer was then made. If they would not join in the work of transition, would they not co-operate in preserving order to allow that transition peacefully to take place? Would they not co-operate in keeping the army united, free from political bias, so as to preserve its strength for the proper purpose of defending the country in the exercise of its rights? This also was refused.
It must be remembered that the country was emerging from a revolutionary struggle. And, as was to be expected, some of our people were in a state of excitement, and it was obviously the duty of all leaders to direct the thoughts of the people away from violence and into the steady channels of peace and obedience to authority.
No one could have been blind to the course things were bound to take if this duty were neglected. It was neglected, and events took their course. Our ideal of nationality was distorted in hair-splitting over the meaning of sovereignty and other foreign words, under advice from minds dominated by English ideas of nationality; and, led away, some soon got out of control and betook themselves to the very methods we had learned to detest in the English and had united to drive out of the country. By the time the Árd Fheis met the drift had become apparent.
And the feeling in favour of keeping the national forces united was so strong that a belated agreement was arrived at.
In return for a postponement of the elections, the Anti- Treaty Party pledged themselves to allow the work of the Provisional Government to proceed. What came of that pledge? Attempts to stampede meetings by revolver shootings, to wreck trains, the suppression of free speech, of the liberty of the Press, terrorisation and sabotage of a kind that we were familiar with a year ago. And with what object; With the sole object of preventing the people from expressing their will, and of making the government of Ireland by the representatives of the people as impossible as the English Government was made impossible by the united forces a year ago.
The policy of the Anti-Treaty Party had now become clear – to prevent the people’s will from being carried out because it differed from their own, to create trouble in order to break up the only possible national government, and to destroy the Treaty with utter recklessness as to the consequences. A section of the army, in an attempt at a military despotism, seized public buildings, took possession of the Chief Courts of Law of the Nation, dislocating private and national business, reinforced the Belfast Boycott which had been discontinued by the people’s government, and commandeered public and private funds, and the property of the people.
Met by this reckless and wrecking opposition, and yet unwilling to use force against our own countrymen, we made attempt after attempt at conciliation. We appealed to the soldiers to avoid strife, to let the old feelings of brotherhood and solidarity continue. We met and made advances over and over again to the politicians, standing out alone on the one fundamental point on which we owed an unquestioned duty to the people – that we must maintain for them the position of freedom they had secured.
We could get no guarantee that we would be allowed to carry out that duty.
The country was face to face with disaster, economic ruin, and the imminent danger of the loss of the position we had won by the national effort. If order could not be maintained, if no National Government was to be allowed to function, a vacuum would be created, into which the English would be necessarily drawn back. To allow that to happen would have been the greatest betrayal of the Irish people, whose one wish was to take and to secure and to make use of the freedom which had been won. Seeing the trend of events, soldiers from both sides met to try and reach an understanding, on the basis that the people were admittedly in favour of the Treaty, that the only legitimate government could be one based on the people’s will and that the practicable course was to keep the peace, and to make use of the position we had secured.
Those honourable efforts were defeated by the politicians. But at the eleventh hour an agreement was reached between Mr. de Valera and myself for which I have been severely criticised. It was said that I gave away too much, that I went too far to meet them, that I had exceeded my powers in making a pact which, to some extent, interfered with the people’s right to make a free and full choice at the elections. It was a last effort on our part to avoid strife, to prevent the use of force by Irishmen against Irishmen.
We refrained from opposing the Anti-Treaty Party at the elections. We stood aside from political conflict, so that, so far as we were concerned, our opponents might retain the full number of seats which they had held in the previous Dáil. And I undertook, with the approval of the Government, that they should hold four out of the nine offices in the new Ministry. They calculated that in this way they would have the same position in the new Dáil as in the old.
But their calculations were upset by the people themselves, and they then dropped all pretence of representing the people, and turned definitely against them. The Irregular Forces in the Four Courts continued in their mutinous attitude. They openly defied the newly expressed will of the people. On the pretext of enforcing a boycott of Belfast goods, they raided and looted a Dublin garage, and when the leader of the raid was arrested by the National Forces, they retaliated by the seizure of one of the principal officers of the National Army. Such a challenge left two courses open to the National Government: either to betray its trust and surrender to the mutineers, or to fulfil its duty and carry out the work entrusted to it by the people. The Government did its duty.
Having given them one last opportunity to accept the situation, to obey the people’s will, when the offer was rejected the Government took the necessary measures to protect the rights and property of the people and to disperse the armed bands which had outlawed themselves and were preying upon the nation.
Unbelievers had said that there was not, and had never been, an Irish Nation capable of harmonious, orderly development. That it was not the foreign invader but the character of the Irish themselves which throughout history had made of our country a scene of strife. We knew this to be a libel. Our historians had shown our nationality as existing from legendary ages, and through centuries of foreign oppression. What made Ireland a nation was a common way of life, which no military force, no political change could destroy. Our strength lay in a common ideal of how a people should live, bound together by mutual ties, and by a devotion to Ireland which shrank from no individual sacrifice. This consciousness of unity carried us to success in our last great struggle. In that spirit we fought and won.
The old fighting spirit was as strong as ever, but it had gained a fresh strength in discipline in our generation. Every county sent its boys whose unrecorded deeds were done in the spirit of Cuchulain at the Ford. But the fight was not for one section of the nation against another, but for Ireland against the foreign oppressor. We fought for that for which alone fighting is really justified – for national freedom, for the right of the whole people to live as a nation. And we fought in a way we had never fought before, and Ireland won a victory she had never won before.
The foreign Power was withdrawn. The civil administration passed into the hands of the elected representatives of the people. The fight with the English enemy was ended. The function of our armed forces was changed. Their duty now was to preserve the freedom won – to enable the people to use it, to realise that for which they had fought – a free, prosperous, self-governing Gaelic Ireland. Differences as to political ideals such as remained or might develop amongst us – these were not a matter for the army, these were not a matter for force, for violence. Under the democratic system which was being established by the representatives of the people – the freest and most democratic system yet devised – the rights of every minority were secured, and the fullest opportunity was open for every section of opinion to express and advocate its views by appeal to reason and patriotic sentiment.
In these circumstances, the only way in which individual views could be rightly put forward by patriotic Irishmen was by peaceful argument and appeal. The time had come when the best policy for Ireland could be promoted in ways which would keep the nation united – strong against the outside world, and settling its own differences peacefully at home. To allow such a situation to develop successfully required only common sense and patriotism in the political leaders.
No one denied that the new Government had the support of the people. Of all forms of government a democracy allows the greatest freedom – the greatest possibilities for the good of all. But such a government, like all governments, must be recognised and obeyed.
The first duty of the new Government was to maintain public order, security of life, personal liberty, and property. The duty of the leaders was to secure free discussion of public policy, and to get all parties to recognise that, while they differed, they were fellow-citizens of one free State. It should have been the political glory of Ireland to show that our differences of opinion could express themselves so as to promote, and not to destroy, the national life. The army had to recognise that they were the servants and not the masters of the people – that their function was not to impose their will on the people but to secure to the people the right to express their own will and to order their lives accordingly. All this might indeed appear obvious to all patriotic persons. But with the removal of the pressure of the English enemy, the spirit of order, and unity, and devotion to Ireland as a whole was suddenly weakened in some directions. The readiness to fight remained after the occasion for fighting was gone.
Some lost grasp of the ideal for which they had fought and magnified personal differences into a conflict of principles. The road was clear for us to march forward, peaceful and united, to achieve our goal and the revival of our Gaelic civilization. The peace and order necessary for that progress was rudely broken. The united forward movement was held up by an outbreak of anarchic violence. The nation which had kept the old heroic temper, but had learnt to govern it so that violence should be directed against the national enemy, and its differences should be matters of friendly rivalry, found itself faced with a small minority determined to break up the national unity and to destroy the government in which the nation had just shown its confidence.
They claimed to be fighting for the nation. That might be possible if there were any enemies of the nation opposing them. There are not. Resolved to fight, they are fighting, not against an enemy, but against their own nation. Blind to facts, and false to ideals, they are making war on the Irish people. To conceal this truth they claim to be opposing the National Government which they declare to be a usurpation. In view of the elections this is absurd enough. No one can deny that the present Government rests on the will of the people, the sole authority for any government. And what was the usurpation they complained of? Simply that the Government refused to allow authority to be wrested from it by an armed minority.
If it is not right for a National Government to keep public order, to prevent murder, arson, and brigandage, what are the duties of a government? But it is not the fact that they have directed their fight against the National Government and the National Army. It was against the Irish people themselves that they directed their operations. The anti-national character of their campaign became clear when we saw them pursuing exactly the same course as the English Black and Tans. They robbed and destroyed, not merely for the sake of loot, and from a criminal instinct to destroy (though in any candid view of their operations these elements must be seen to have been present) but on a plan, and for a definite purpose. Just as the English claimed that they were directing their attack against a `murder gang’, so the irregulars claim that they are making war on a `usurping’ government. But, in reality, the operations and the motives in both cases were, and are, something quite different – namely, the persecution and terrorism of the unarmed population, and the attempt by economic destruction, famine, and violence, to `make an appropriate hell’ in Ireland, in the hope of breaking up the organised National Government and undermining the loyalty of the people.
And of what is it all the inevitable outcome? Of the course to which the unthinking enthusiasm of some was directed when they were told repeatedly that it might be necessary to turn their arms against their brothers and to wade through Irish blood. But the true nature of the whole movement has now demonstrated itself so that no one can doubt it. A tree is known by its fruits – we have seen the fruits. The Irish people will be confirmed in its conviction that those fruits are deadly. They will have no sympathy with anarchy and violence. The Irish people know that true Irish nationality does not express itself in these ways. They know it is the Government, and not those who call themselves Republicans, who are upholding the national ideal. The tactics of disruption and disorder were anti-national in paralysing the energies which were needed for building up the new Ireland. Worse still, their violence and the passions it aroused have broken up the united concentration on the revival of our language and of our Irish life. Worst of all, their action has been a crime against the nation in this – that the anarchy and ruin they were bringing about was undermining the confidence of the nation in itself.
So far as it succeeded it was proving that our enemies were right, that we were incapable of self-government. When left to ourselves in freedom we could show nothing of the native civilization we had claimed as our own. The Black and Tans with all their foreign brutality were unable to make of Ireland `an appropriate hell’. The irregulars brought their country to the brink of a real hell, the black pit in which our country’s name and credit would have sunk, in which our existence as a distinct nation, our belief in ourselves as a nation might have perished for ever. If they had succeeded in destroying the National Government, and reducing the country to anarchy, the greatest evil would have been, not that the English would have come back, that would indeed have been terrible enough, but that they would have been welcomed back, that they would have come not as enemies, but as the only protectors who could bring order and peace.
For hundreds of years we had preserved our national hopes. We were on the point of achieving them, but when the real test came the national consciousness lapsed in the minds of some whom the nation had trusted. The wrong done was not merely to the material prospects of the nation but to its soul. The calamity was unnecessary. There lies the wrong to the nation. A simple acceptance of the people’s will! That was all that was asked of them. What principle could such an acceptance have violated? All further measures necessary will be taken to maintain peace and order.
We have to face realities. There is no British Government any longer in Ireland. It is gone. It is no longer the enemy. We have now a native government, constitutionally elected, and it is the duty of every Irish man and woman to obey it. Anyone who fails to obey it is an enemy of the people and must expect to be treated as such. We have to learn that attitudes and actions which were justifiable when directed against an alien administration, holding its position by force, are wholly unjustifiable against a native government which exists only to carry out the people’s will, and which can be changed the moment it ceases to do so. We have to learn that freedom imposes responsibilities. This parliament is now the controlling body. With the unification of the administration it will be clothed with full authority. Through the parliament the people have the right, and the power, to get the constitution, the legislation, and the economic and educational arrangements they desire. The courts of law, which are now our own courts, will be reorganised to make them national in character, and the people will be able to go to them with confidence of receiving justice. That being so, the Government believes it will have the whole force of public opinion behind it in dealing sternly with all unlawful acts of every kind, no matter under what name of political or patriotic, or any other policy that may be carried out.
The National Army, and the new Irish Police Force, acting in obedience to the Administration, will defend the freedom and rights of the Nation, and will put down crime of whatever nature, sectarian, agrarian or confiscatory. In the special circumstances I have had to stress the Government’s determination to establish the foundations of the state, to preserve the very life of the Nation. But a policy of development is engaging the attention of all departments, and will shortly be made known. We have a difficult task before us. We have taken over an alien and cumbersome administration.
We have to begin the upbuilding of the nation with foreign tools. But before we can scrap them we must first forge fresh Gaelic ones to take their place, and must temper their steel. But if we will all work together in a mutually helpful spirit, recognising that we all seek the same end, the good of Ireland, the difficulties will disappear. The Irish Nation is the whole people, of every class, creed, and outlook. We recognise no distinction. It will be our aim to weld all our people nationally together who have hitherto been divided in political and social and economic outlook. Labour will be free to take its rightful place as an element in the life of the nation.
In Ireland more than in any other country lies the hope of the rational adjustment of the rights and interests of all sections, and the new government starts with the resolve that Irish Labour shall be free to play the part which belongs to it in helping to shape our industrial and commercial future. The freedom, strength, and greatness of the nation will be measured by the independence, economic well-being, physical strength and intellectual greatness of the people. A new page of Irish history is beginning. We have a rich and fertile country – a sturdy and intelligent people. With peace, security and union, no one can foresee the limits of greatness and well-being to which our country may not aspire. But it is not only within our country that we have a new outlook. Ireland has now a recognised international status. Not only as an equal nation in association with the British nations, but as a member of the wider group forming the League of Nations. As a member of these groups, Ireland’s representatives will have a voice in international affairs, and will use that voice to promote harmony and peaceful intercourse among all friendly nations. In this way Ireland will be able to play a part in the new world movement, and to play that part in accordance with the old Irish tradition of an independent distinctive Irish nation, at harmony, and in close trading, cultural, and social relations, with all other friendly nations. In this sense our outlook is new. But our national aim remains the same – a free, united Irish nation and united Irish race all over the world, bent on achieving the common aim of Ireland’s prosperity and good name.
Underlying the change of outlook there is this continuity of outlook. For 700 years the united effort has been to get the English out of Ireland. For this end, peaceful internal development had to be left neglected, and the various interests which would have had distinct aims had to sink all diversity and unite in the effort of resistance, and the ejection of the English power. This particular united effort is now at an end. But it is to be followed by a new united effort for the actual achievement of the common goal. The negative work of expelling the English power is done. The positive work of building a Gaelic Ireland in the vacuum left has now to be undertaken. This requires not merely unity, but diversity in unity.
Each Irish interest, each phase of Irish life, industrial, commercial, cultural, social, must find expression and have a voice in the development of the country, partly by the government, and partly by co-operation and individual effort. But they must express themselves and use their influence, not in hostility to one another, but in co-operation. And in furthering their special aims, they must do so in the light of the common ideal – a united, distinctive Irish nationality. And there must be, to reach this ideal, and particularly so at this moment, allegiance to and support of the National Government, democratically elected. At least to the extent of assisting it to restore and maintain peace and public order, rights of life and property according to law, freedom for all individuals, parties, and creeds, to express themselves lawfully. This is why we claim that the measures to restore order which we have taken are not repressive. They are seen to be carrying the liberative movement to completion, clearing away the débris in order to lay firm and solid the foundations on which to build the new Ireland. Those who are restoring order, not those who tried to destroy it, are the preservers of Irish nationality.
Fidelity to the real Ireland lies in uniting to build up a real Ireland in conformity with our ideal, and not in disruption and destruction as a sacrifice to the false gods of foreign-made political formulas. The ideal is no good unless it lights our present path. Otherwise it is but a vain sentiment, or misleading will-o’-the-wisp. We can all be faithful to what is our national ideal – the Ireland of poetic tradition, and the future Ireland which will one day be – the best of what our country was, and can be again, and the perfect freedom in which it alone can be the best. It is because this ideal is not a fact now, that we must be faithful to it, and our faithfulness to it consists in making it a fact so far as we can in ourselves and in our day. Accepting the freedom which we have here and now is to recognise facts and is to be faithful to the national ideal as taking the best practical means to achieve as much as we can of the ideal at the moment. We grasp the substance of freedom, and are true to Ireland in using that freedom to make an actual Ireland as near to the ideal one as possible. We have not got, and cannot get now at the moment, (certainly cannot get without sacrificing the hope of things more important and essential for our true ideal) – the political Republic.
If we had got it, we should not necessarily be much further forward towards our true goal – a Gaelic Ireland. We must be true to facts if we would achieve anything in this life. We must be true to our ideal, if we would achieve anything worthy. The Ireland to which we are true, to which we are devoted and faithful, is the ideal Ireland, which means there is always something more to strive for. The true devotion lies not in melodramatic defiance or self-sacrifice for something falsely said to exist, or for mere words and formalities, which are empty, and which might be but the house newly swept and garnished to which seven worse devils entered in. It is the steady, earnest effort in face of actual possibilities towards the solid achievement of our hopes and visions, the laying of stone upon stone of a building which is actual and in accordance with the ideal pattern.
In this way, what we can do in our time, being done in faithfulness to the traditions of the past, and to the vision of the future, becomes significant and glorified beyond what it is if looked at as only the day’s momentary partial work. This is where our Irish temperament, tenacity of the past, its vivid sense of past and future greatness, readiness for personal sacrifice, belief and pride in our race, can play an unique part, if it can stand out in its intellectual and moral strength, and shake off the weaknesses which long generations of subjection and inaction have imposed upon it. Let the nation show its true and best character: use its courage, tenacity, clear swift intellect, its pride in the service of the national ideal as our reason directs us. `Advance and use our liberties’
In my opinion the Truce of July, 1921, could have been secured in December, 1920, at the time His Grace Archbishop Clune endeavoured to mediate, but the opportunity was lost through the too precipitate action of certain of our public men and public bodies. The actions taken indicated an over-keen desire for peace, and although terms of Truce were virtually agreed upon, they were abandoned because the British leaders thought those actions indicated weakness, and they consequently decided to insist upon surrender of our arms. The result was the continuance of the struggle. British aggression went on unabated and our defence was kept up to the best of our ability.
I am not aware of any negotiations that preceded the Truce of July. I do know there was much visiting by well-meaning, but unauthorised persons. So far, however, as my knowledge goes, these did not have any effect on the communication from Mr. Lloyd George to President de Valera which opened up the period of correspondence between the two Governments and the subsequent negotiations in London. If there were any official conversations prior to the Lloyd George Letter, they took place entirely without my knowledge. It has been variously stated that the Treaty was signed under duress. I did not sign the Treaty under duress, except in the sense that the position as between Ireland and England, historically, and because of superior forces on the part of England, has always been one of duress. The element of duress was present when we agreed to the Truce, because our simple right would have been to beat the English out of Ireland. There was an element of duress in going to London to negotiate. But there was not, and could not have been, any personal duress. The threat of `immediate and terrible war’ did not matter overmuch to me. The position appeared to be then exactly as it appears now. The British would not, I think, have declared terrible and immediate war upon us. They had three courses of action open to them. First, to dissolve the parliaments and put their proposals before the country; second, to resume the war by courting openly and covertly breakages of the Truce (these breakages of the Truce might easily have come from either side); thirdly, to blockade Ireland, and at the same time encourage spasmodic internal conflict.
The first course of action seemed to me to be the most likely, and, as a result of a political win on our side either No. 2 or No. 3 would have been very easily managed by the British. A political reverse would have been more damaging to us than either 2 or 3. The threat of immediate and terrible war was probably bluff. The immediate tactics would surely have been to put the offer of July 20, which the British considered a very good offer, before the country, and, if rejected, they would have very little difficulty in carrying their own people into a war against Ireland. Another thing I believe is that on resumption of hostilities the British would have been anxious to fight with us on the basis of belligerent rights. In such circumstances, I doubt if we would have been able to carry on a conflict with the success which had previously attended our efforts. I scarcely think that our resources would have been equal to bearing belligerent rights and responsibilities.
I am not impressed by the talk of duress, nor by threats of a declaration of immediate and terrible war. Britain has not made a declaration of war upon Egypt, neither has she made a declaration of war upon India. But is the conflict less terrible because of the absence of such declaration? We must not be misled by words and phrases. Unquestionably the alternative to the Treaty, sooner or later, was war, and if the Irish Nation had accepted that, I should have gladly accepted it. The opponents of the Treaty have declared over and over again that the alternative to the Treaty was not war.
In my judgement, this was misleading the Irish Nation. The decision of the Irish Nation should not be given on a false basis. That was, and is, my own attitude, and if indeed, it be true, as the antagonists of the Treaty say, that the alternative to the Treaty was not war, where, then, is the heroism? Where, then, is the necessity for the future sacrifices that have been talked of so freely? To me it would have been a criminal act to refuse to allow the Irish Nation to give its opinion as to whether it would accept this settlement or resume hostilities. That, I maintain, is a democratic stand. It has always been the stand of public representatives who are alive to their responsibilities. The Irish struggle has always been for freedom – freedom from English occupation, from English interference, from English domination – not for freedom with any particular label attached to it. What we fought for at any particular time was the greatest measure of freedom obtainable at that time, and it depended upon our strength whether the claim was greater than at another time or lesser than at another time.
When the national situation was very bad we lay inert; when it improved a little we looked for Repeal of the Union; when it receded again we looked for Home Rule under varying trade names; when it went still worse we spoke of some form of devolution. When our strength became greater our aim became higher, and we strove for a greater measure of freedom under the name of a Republic. But it was freedom we sought for, not the name of the form of government we should adopt when we got our freedom.
When I supported the approval of the Treaty at the meeting of Dáil Éireann I said it gave us freedom – not the ultimate freedom which all nations hope for and struggle for, but freedom to achieve that end. And I was, and am now, fully alive to the implications of that statement. Under the Treaty Ireland is about to become a fully constituted nation.
The whole of Ireland, as one nation, is to compose the Irish Free State, whose parliament will have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Ireland, with an executive responsible to that parliament. This is the whole basis of the Treaty. It is the bedrock from which our status springs, and any later Act of the British Parliament derives its force from the Treaty only. We have got the present position by virtue of the Treaty, and any forthcoming Act of the British Legislature will, likewise, be by virtue of the Treaty. It is not the definition of any status which would secure to us that status, but our power to make secure, and to increase what we have gained; yet, obtaining by the Treaty the constitutional status of Canada, and that status being one of freedom and equality, we are free to take advantage of that status, and we shall set up our Constitution on independent Irish lines.
No conditions mentioned afterwards in the Treaty can affect or detract from the powers which the mention of that status in the Treaty gives us, especially when it has been proved, has been made good, by the withdrawal out of Ireland of English authority of every kind. 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. Not a single British soldier, nor a single British official, will ever step again upon our shores, except as guests of a free people.
Our Government will have complete control of our army, our schools, and our trade. Our soldiers, our judges, our ministers will be the soldiers, judges, and ministers of the Irish Free State. We can send our own ambassadors to Washington, to Paris, to the Vatican; we can have our own representatives on the League of Nations (if we wish).
It was freedom we fought for – freedom from British interference and domination. Let us ask ourselves these few questions: Are the English going? To what extent are they going? If the Treaty is put into operation will they, for all practical purposes, be gone? The answer to the first question is to be seen in the evacuation that is proceeding apace. We claimed that the Treaty would secure this evacuation. The claim is being fulfilled. The Auxiliaries are practically gone. The regular British military forces are rapidly following them. The answer to the second and third questions is that they remain for negligible purposes in that the extent to which they remain is negligible. We shall have complete freedom for all our purposes. We shall be rid completely of British interference and British rule. We can establish in its place our own rule, and exactly what kind of rule we like. We can restore our Gaelic life in exactly what form we like. We can keep what we have gained and make it secure and strong. The little we have not yet gained we can go ahead and gain.
All other questions are really questions of arrangement, in which our voice shall be the deciding voice. Any names, any formulas, any figureheads, representing England’s wish to conceal the extent of her departure, to keep some pretence of her power over us, which is now gone, will be but names, formulas, figureheads. England exercised her power over us simply by the presence of her forces – military forces, police forces, legal, and social forces. Is it seriously to be suggested that in the new order, some functionary, no matter what we may call him, will serve the purpose of all these forces, or, apart from him, the particular interpretation of the words of a document? The British Government could only be maintained by the presence of British forces. Once these are gone the British Government can no longer arrange the form our National Government and our National life will take, nor can they set any limits to either.
If we wish to make our nation a free and a great and a good nation we can do so now. But we cannot do it if we are to fight among ourselves as to whether it is to be called Saorstát or Poblacht. Whatever the name or the political phraseology, we cannot restore Ireland without a great united effort. Any difficulty now in making a noble Irish-Ireland will lie in our people themselves and in the hundreds of years of anglicisation to which we have been subjected. The task before us, having got rid of the British, is to get rid of the British influences – to de-anglicise ourselves; for there are many among us who still cling to English ways, and any thoughtlessness, any carelessness, will tend to keep things on the old lines – the inevitable danger of the proximity of the two nations. Can any restriction or limitation in the Treaty prevent us making our nation great and potent? Can the presence of a representative of the British Crown, depending on us for his resources, prevent us from doing that? Can the words of a document as to what our status is prevent us from doing that? One thing only can prevent us – disunion among ourselves. Can we not concentrate and unite, not on the negative, but on the positive, task of making a real Ireland distinct from Britain – a nation of our own? The only way to get rid of British contamination and the evils of corrupt materialism is to secure a united Ireland intent on democratic ways, to make our free Ireland a fact, and not to keep it for ever in dreamland as something that will never come true, and which has no practical effect or reality except as giving rise to everlasting fighting and destruction, which seem almost to have become ends in themselves in the mind of some – some who appear to be unheeding and unmindful of what the real end is. Ireland is one – perhaps the only – country in Europe which has now living hopes for a better civilization. We have a great opportunity. Much is within our grasp. Who can lay a finger on our liberties? If any power menaces our liberties, we are in a stronger position than before to repel the aggressor.
That position will grow stronger with each year of freedom if we will all unite for the aims we have in common. Let us advance and use these liberties to make Ireland a shining light in a dark world, to reconstruct our ancient civilization on modern lines, to avoid the errors, the miseries, the dangers, into which other nations, with their false civilizations, have fallen. In taking the Treaty we are not going in for the flesh-pots of the British Empire – not unless we wish to. It is futile to suppose that all these tendencies would disappear under freedom by some other name, or that the government of an externally associated nation, or of a Republic, any more than a Free State, would be able to suppress them, and to force Gaelicism upon the nation. Whatever form of free government we had, it would be the Government of the Irish Nation.
All the other elements, old Unionists, Home Rulers, Devolutionists, would have to be allowed freedom and self- expression. The only way to build the nation solid and Irish is to effect these elements in a friendly national way – by attraction, not by compulsion, making them feel themselves welcomed into the Irish Nation, in which they can join and become absorbed, as long ago the Geraldines and the de Burgos became absorbed. The Treaty is already vindicating itself. The English Die-hards said to Mr. Lloyd George and his Cabinet: `You have surrendered’. Our own Die-hards said to us: `You have surrendered’. There is a simple test. Those who are left in possession of the battlefield have won.