The Anglo-Irish Treaty, commonly known as The Treaty and officially the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, is signed in the early morning hours of December 6, 1921 by representatives of the Irish government appointed by President Éamon de Valera and those negotiating for the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, ending the Irish War of Independence against Great Britain. It is then, and remains, one of the most debated moments in Irish history.
The Treaty provides for the establishment of the Irish Free State within a year as a self-governing dominion within the “community of nations known as the British Empire“, a status “the same as that of the Dominion of Canada.” It also provides Northern Ireland, which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, an option to opt out of the Irish Free State, which it exercises.
The agreement is signed in London by representatives of the British government, which includes Winston Churchill and Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who are old masters at the game of politics, and by representatives of the Irish Republic including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, who have nowhere near the political acumen of the British delegation. De Valera, a shrewd, experienced politician, may have been the only man in all of Ireland who might have matched them, but he refuses to join the negotiations.
The Irish representatives have plenipotentiary status acting on behalf of the Irish Republic, though the British government declines to recognise that status. As required by its terms, the Treaty is approved by “a meeting” of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and separately by the British Parliament. In reality, Dáil Éireann, the legislative assembly for the de facto Irish Republic, first debates then approves the treaty. Members then proceed with the “meeting.” Though the Treaty is narrowly approved, the split leads to the Irish Civil War, which is won by the pro-treaty side.
The Irish Free State as contemplated by the Treaty comes into existence when its constitution becomes law on December 6, 1922 by a royal proclamation.
(Pictured: Michael Collins signs the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6, 1921)