In 1921, on this day both the Irish and British government delegates sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty at Downing Street; thereby bringing an end to a conflict between British forces and Irish militants across the island of Ireland since April 1916, not to mention seven centuries of occupation of the British government over it's island neighbour.
A Republic With A Price by Gerry ShannonDays after the Truce that had ended the Anglo-Irish War, the President of the Irish Republic, Eamon De Valera met British Prime Minister Lloyd George in London four times in the week starting 14th July. Lloyd George sent his initial proposals on 20th July that were quite a departure from the Treaty that was eventually signed. This was followed by months of delay until October, when the Irish delegates set up headquarters in 22 Hand Pace, Knightsbridge.
The first two weeks of the negotiations were spent in formal sessions. Upon the request of De Valera and his Secretary of State for Finance (and Director of Intelligence in the Irish Republican Army), Michael Collins, the two delegations began informal negotiations, in which only two members of each negotiation team were allowed to attend (pictured). On the Irish side, these members were always Collins and De Valera, while on the British side, Neville Chamberlain always attended, though the second British negotiator would vary from day to day.
In late November, the Irish delegation returned to Dublin as per De Valera's promise to his cabinet colleagues to consult them, and again on 3rd December. Many points still had to be resolved, mainly surrounding the unionist allegiance to an Irish republic, but it was clear to all the politicians involved by this stage that it was not an option to partition the country into two states, north and south; thereby granting the unionist minority a majority in a six-county Northern Ireland state.
Collins, who would emerge in the new government as Commander of the Irish Republican Army, said later that at the last minute Lloyd George reminded his own delegation of a renewal of a "terrible and immediate war" from the Irish republicans if the Treaty was not signed at once. However, this was not mentioned as a fear in the Irish memorandum about the close of negotiations, merely a reflection of the reality; given the British forces having become increasingly overwhelmed by IRA activities across Ireland within the last few years.
Among noteworthy clauses of the Treaty were:
- British forces would withdraw from Ireland.
- The new country shall be known as the Republic of Ireland, and consist of the thirty-two counties of the island.
- It's parlimament, known as Dáil Eireann, would be responsible for governance and public services.
- Northern Ireland would not have the option of withdrawing from the Irish Republic once the Treaty came into effect. Instead, the elected representatives of the unionist minority were obliged to take their seats in the new Irish parliament.
- The Treaty would have superior status in Irish law, i.e., in the event of a conflict between it and the new 1922 constitution of the Irish Republic, the treaty would take precedence.
In Dublin, Vice-President of the Irish Republic, Arthur Griffith called a cabinet meeting to discuss the treaty on 8th December, the Vice-President himself supporting the Treaty as signed. The cabinet decided unanimously to recommend the Treaty to the Dáil on 14th December.
The Dáil voted to approve the Treaty, but this vote was problematic given the unionist minority, led by Edward Carson, still refused to recognize the government of the Irish Republic and were listed as being absent. The brewing discontent between nationalists and unionists would soon lead to the Irish Civil War. The refusal of the Irish delegation to allow the creation of a Northern Ireland state for the unionist minority would be a serious point of consternation between both sides; reverberating in conflicts political, social and violent for decades to follow.