seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Dáil Éireann Declares War with Great Britain

first-dailThe President of the Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera, secures on March 11th, 1921, the chamber’s support for a formal declaration of war with Great Britain.

In January 1921, at his first Dáil meeting after his return to a country gripped by the War of Independence, de Valera introduces a motion calling on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to desist from ambushes and other tactics that are allowing the British to successfully portray it as a terrorist group, and to take on the British forces with conventional military methods. This they strongly oppose, and de Valera relents, issuing a statement expressing support for the IRA, and claims it is fully under the control of the Dáil. He then, along with Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, bring pressure to bear on Michael Collins to undertake a journey to the United States himself, on the pretext that only he can take up where de Valera had left off. Collins successfully resists this move and stays in Ireland.

The British government’s proposal of a Truce and negotiations over Ireland’s future is a result of both domestic and international factors. The British have been unable to defeat the Irish struggle for independence and there is a danger that the longer it continues the more radicalised it is becoming. In March 1921 Southern Unionist leader Lord Midleton also points to the strengthening of the independence movement, telling David Lloyd George and Hamar Greenwood that the resistance is now three times stronger than in July 1920. The following month Greenwood himself is talking of pacification taking years rather than months. British government policy in Ireland is also creating problems for it both internationally (especially in the United States) and in Britain itself. At the same time Britain is facing growing independence struggles in Egypt and India. It also faces an increasingly difficult financial situation. British foreign trade suffers a substantial collapse in 1921 as its exports fall by 48 percent over a twelve month period, its imports drop by 44 percent, and unemployment rapidly increases. The Economist describes 1921 as one of the worst years of depression since the industrial revolution began.

There is a substantial debate in the British Cabinet about whether or not to proceed along these lines. An example of this is the May 12, 1921 Cabinet meeting. Greenwood appears to have revised his view about how long pacification will take. He is opposed to the Truce proposal at this stage, feeling that the republicans are being worn down. Health Minister Christopher Addison disagrees and favours a truce. Winston Churchill, who has been in favour of the substantial escalation of coercion, now supports a truce partly because things are getting “very unpleasant as regards the interests of this country all over the world; we are getting an odious reputation; poisoning our relations with the United States.” Herbert Fisher, who is a historian and head of the Board of Education as well as a politician, also worries, “the present situation is degrading to the moral life of the whole country; a truce would mean a clear moral and political gain” and that if the IRA accepts the truce it will be hard for them to start up again, it will also “create a big rift in Sinn Féin ranks, the moderate Sinn Féin would have to come out into the open.” This meeting rejects the idea of a truce. In June, however, a memorandum from Nevil Macready states that beating the republicans will require coercion being carried out to the maximum and if this is done the cabinet will have to stand by 100 executions a week. Such a policy is a political impossibility. In this situation, Lloyd George proposes an Anglo-Irish conference and negotiations.


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Dáil Éireann Approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty

second-all-ireland-dailDáil Éireann votes to approve the Anglo-Irish Treaty on January 7, 1922, following a debate through late December 1921 and into January 1922. The vote is 64 in favour, 57 against, with the Ceann Comhairle and three others not voting. The Sinn Féin party splits into opposing sides in the aftermath of the Treaty vote, which leads to the Irish Civil War from June 1922 until May 1923. The treaty is signed in London on December 6, 1921.

Two elections take place in Ireland in 1921, as a result of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 to establish the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. The election is used by the Irish Republic as the basis of membership of the Second Dáil. The general election to the Northern Ireland House of Commons occurs on May 24, 1921. Of 52 seats, forty are won by unionists, six by moderate Irish nationalists, and six by Sinn Féin. No actual polling takes place in the Southern Ireland constituencies, as all 128 candidates are returned unopposed. Given the backdrop of the increasingly violent War of Independence, any candidates opposed to Sinn Féin and their supporters can expect to be harassed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Supporters of the Irish Labour Party stand aside to allow the constitutional situation to run its course. Of these 128, 124 are won by Sinn Féin, and four by independent unionists representing the University of Dublin constituency. Only the Sinn Féin candidates recognise the Second Dáil and five of these have been elected in two constituencies, one in each part of Ireland, so the total number of members who assemble in the Second Dáil is 125.

During the Second Dáil, the government of the Irish Republic and the British government of David Lloyd George agree to hold peace negotiations. On September 14, 1921 the Dáil ratifies the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan, and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. These envoys eventually sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6. After almost a month of acrimonious debate the treaty is formally ratified by Dáil Éireann on January 7, 1922.

To satisfy the requirements of the British constitution, the treaty also has to be ratified by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Thus Irish nationalists end their boycott of the home rule parliament to attend the southern House of Commons as MPs. This they do alongside the four Unionist MPs who had refused to recognise the Dáil. In this way the treaty is ratified a second time in Dublin, this time unanimously as the anti-Treaty TDs refuse to attend.

Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty a provisional parliament, considered by nationalists to be the Third Dáil, is elected in the 1922 general election on June 16. Collins and Éamon de Valera agree a pact between the pro- and anti-Treaty wings of Sinn Féin and this pact and the elections are endorsed by the Second Dáil. The new assembly is recognised both by nationalists and the British Government and so replaces both the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the Second Dáil with a single body. The anti-Treaty groups of IRA members, TDs, and their supporters are still bitterly opposed the settlement, despite the election result, and this leads to the Irish Civil War.

(Pictured: Second All-Ireland Dáil Éireann, elected in 1921)