Chapter 2. ALTERNATIVE TO THE TREATY
Notes by General Michael Collins August, 1922
ALTERNATIVE TO THE TREATY
Ireland `A Mother Country’
Document No. 2 Analyzed
The main difference between the Treaty and the alternative proposals put forward by Mr. de Valera (known as Document No. 2) is that one is signed by the Plenipotentiaries of both nations and has been approved by the representatives of both nations; the other is not signed. In my belief it would not be signed in its present form; not, indeed, that it contains much that is not in the Treaty, nor that it contains much that England objects to, but simply that in its construction it is too loose.
Undoubtedly, in the application of its details we should constantly have been faced with conflicting interpretations leading to inevitable discordance. It was claimed for the document by its sponsors that it would be approved by the English people; that, on the other hand, England never kept a Treaty, nor would she keep the present Treaty. The inference, of course, is that England would keep a Treaty which she had not signed but would not keep a Treaty which she had signed. The document was not drafted by Mr. de Valera. There is little difficulty in guessing the author. Dominionism tinges every line. No Irishman who understands the tradition and the history of Ireland would think or write of his country’s aspirations in the terms used in this document. In the official laudation given it by the organ of its supporters the following occurs: Clauses 3 and 4 must be read together.
What they mean is this, that the association in matters of common concern shall be a free one, not binding Ireland to submit to the decisions either of the British alone or of a majority of the States of the Commonwealth of which Britain is one. “It is on that footing that an Irish representative would attend meetings of the body known as the Imperial Conference, consisting of Dominion Premiers and British Cabinet Ministers to discuss and co-operate in matters of common concern. That is the footing on which the Commonwealth States act together now, and the words within quotation marks at the end of Clause 4 are taken from what is known as the Constitutional Resolution passed at the Imperial Conference of 1917. It will be seen that the Commonwealth States, including Britain are bound to consultation and no more. They are free to take action `as their several Governments may determine’ – a partnership based on individual freedom. Ireland would be in the same position.
Thus, Ireland is by our own free offer, under this document, represented at the Imperial Conference. Our status is taken from a Constitutional Resolution passed at an Imperial Conference. The outlook of the author of the document is bounded entirely by the horizon of the British Empire. This is not my stand, and at a Conference in London with the British representatives I made it quite clear 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.
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. Clause 1 of the document, which states: `That the legislative, executive and judicial authority of Ireland shall be derived solely from the people of Ireland’, is a declaration of rights more suitable to form the basis of the Constitution of a free nation than to be incorporated in a Treaty of Peace between two nations that had been at war. The opponents of the Treaty were most insistent on the argument that it was Britain (by passing the Treaty through her parliament) who conferred on us the Rights and Powers of the Treaty. But we definitely stipulate for a like British acquiescence in Document No. 2. That is clear from the clause asking for ratification by the British Parliament. British ratification is a legal thing. It is no worse in one case than in the other.
It is no better either. But surely no one recognises any right in Britain to agree or to disagree with that fundamental principle of freedom which concerns the people of Ireland alone. In fact, the Treaty secures this position. Under the Treaty the English will no longer have any legislative, executive, or judicial authority in Ireland. All such authority will be vested in the Parliament of Ireland, which alone will have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Ireland. Clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the document are all a loose paraphrase of the Treaty, dangerous and misleading in their looseness. They read: `That for purposes of common concern Ireland shall be associated with the States of the British Commonwealth, viz., the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa’. `That while voting as an associate, the rights, status, and privileges of Ireland shall be in no respect less than those enjoyed by any of the component States of the British Commonwealth’. `That the matters of common concern shall include Defence, Peace and War, Political Treaties, and all matters now treated as of common concern amongst the States of the British Commonwealth, and that in these matters there shall be between Ireland and the States of the British Commonwealth such concerted action, founded on consultation, as the several Governments may determine’. Under these clauses Ireland would be 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 could not have been asked, and would not have agreed, to commit themselves to anything so vague. Clause 4 does not mend the matter; it makes it worse, as common concern may include anything else besides the things named. In fact, it is common knowledge that there are many common concerns in the inter-dealings between the various States of the Commonwealth. This is a very vital point. 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. This is where we must be careful to protect ourselves as best we can against the disadvantages of geographical propinquity This is where 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 safeguards Canada. And it is obvious that the `association with the British Commonwealth’ mentioned in the British Prime Minister’s invitation, which was accepted by Mr. de Valera on behalf of Dáil Éireann, meant association of a different kind from that of mere alliance of isolated nations, and now to suggest otherwise is not straightforward.
The question was of an association which would be honourable to Ireland, which would give us full freedom to manage our own affairs, and prevent interference by Britain; which would give the maximum security that this freedom would be observed (and we may be trusted to see that it is so observed), and which would be acceptable to Ireland as recognising her nationhood. We negotiated from the standpoint of an independent sovereign nation, with a view to finding means of being honourably associated with the British group of nations in a way in which we were not associated with them before the negotiations. The link which binds that group is a link which binds free nations in a voluntary association. This is what we obtained in the Treaty – freedom within our nation, freedom of association without. The external association mentioned in Document No. 2 has 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. Actually in this regard the terms of the Treaty are less objectionable than the formulas of the document.
Restrictions in the Treaty there unquestionably are. Restrictions in Document No. 2 equally unquestionably there are. But the Treaty will be operative, and the restrictions must gradually tend to disappear as we go on more and more strongly solidifying and establishing ourselves as a free nation. Clause 5. `That in virtue of this association of Ireland with the States of the British Commonwealth citizens of Ireland in any of these States shall not be subject to any disabilities which a citizen of one of the component States of the British Commonwealth would not be subject to, and reciprocally for citizens of these States in Ireland’ is unintelligible, and does not meet the Irish wish to have some sentimental and racial ties with all the children of our race. The expression common citizenship in the Treaty is not ideal, but it is less indefinite, and it does not attempt to confine Ireland’s mother claims to the States of the British Commonwealth. Clause 6. `That for purposes of association, Ireland shall recognise his Britannic Majesty as head of association’ gives the recognition of the British Crown – a recognition which is as precise as any given in the Treaty. It was after discussion of this clause that Mr. de Valera’s alternative oath was produced.
That oath, which has already been published, was incorporated in a document submitted to the British by the Irish delegation. It reads as follows: `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’. It was explained at the Dáil debate by one of the foremost anti-Treatyites that the King of Great Britain could be regarded as a managing director, the explanation being that in these modern days industrial concerns were amalgamating and entering into agreements, etc. The King of Great Britain would then occupy the same relative position towards the Associated States as a managing director occupied towards associated businesses. Whereupon it was very wisely pointed out by a journalist who was listening to the debate that a managing director is one who manages and directs.
After all, whatever we may say of royal prerogatives, or anything of that kind, no modern democratic nation is managed and directed by one ruler. Plain people will not be impressed by this managing director nonsense. Plain people will see no difference between these oaths. We must always rely upon our own strength to keep the freedom we have obtained and to make it secure. And the constitutional status of Canada, defined in the Treaty, gives us stronger assurance of our immunity from interference by Britain than the indefinite clauses in Document No. 2. These clauses have nothing effective to back them. They have practically all the disadvantages of the Treaty. It is too uncertain to have our future relationship based on ifs and unless and terms like `so far as our resources permit’. These attempts at improvement are nothing but dangerous friction spots which it is the interest of Ireland to avoid. Much has been said by the opponents of the Treaty about `buttressing up the British Empire’. All these defence clauses in Document No. 2 are open to exactly the same attack. Under these clauses we could not assist an Indian or Egyptian craft that happened to get into Irish waters. These countries are at war with Britain, and we should be bound by our proffered agreement to help Britain.
Under the Treaty we should have a representative on the League of Nations (if we approved of a League of Nations), and that representative would have a real power to prevent aggression against Egypt and India. To deal with Clauses 7 and 10 together, these clauses have reference to the matter of defence, and to the ordinary observer there is little difference between them and the clauses of the Treaty covering the same subject. The Treaty secures that the harbours at certain ports can be used only for purposes of common defence, and not for any purpose of interfering with Irish freedom (and, again, we may be trusted to ensure that this shall be so). There is one other thing under these clauses that I should like to explain from my own knowledge of how the matter arose. The British representatives 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. Document No. 2 concedes this British claim fully. Britain does not mind if we build a dreadnought or two, a battleship or two. One submarine would be a greater menace to her than these. Document No. 2, therefore, gives way to her on the only point that really matters.
Such a concession to British necessity, real or supposed, is nothing but dishonesty. Let us agree, if need be, 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. The remaining clauses seem nothing but a repetition of the clauses 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. It is fair criticism that the Treaty contains obsolete phraseology no longer suited to the status of freedom and equality of the States of the British Commonwealth and out of touch with the realities of our freedom.
But phraseology does not alter the fact of our freedom, and we have the right and will exercise the right, to use a form of words to secure an interpretation more in accordance with the facts. As an improvement on the Treaty Document No. 2 is not honest. It may be more dictatorial in language. It does not contain in principle a `greater reconciliation with Irish national aspirations’. It merely attaches a fresh label to the same parcel, or, rather, a label written, on purpose, illegibly in the hope of making belief that the parcel is other than it is.