Speech delivered in Dáil Éireann, December 19, 1921 during the debates on the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Nearly three months ago Dáil Éireann appointed Plenipotentiaries to go to London to treat with the British people and to make a bargain. We have made a bargain. We have brought it back. We were to go there to reconcile our aspirations, with the association of Ireland with the community of nations known as the British Empire. That task which was given to us was as hard as was ever placed on the shoulders of men. We faced that task.
We knew whatever happened we would have our critics, and we made up our minds to do whatever was right and disregard whatever criticism might occur. We could have shirked the responsibility.
We did not seek to go as Plenipotentiaries. Other men were asked and other men refused. We went. The responsibility is on our shoulders. We took the responsibility in London and we take the responsibility in Dublin.
I signed the Treaty, not as an ideal thing, but fully believing what I believe now, as a Treaty honourable to Ireland, and safe-guarding the interests of Ireland. Now by that Treaty I am going to stand, and every man with a scrap of honour who signed it will do the same. It is for the Irish people, who are our masters, not our servants, as some think, it is for the Irish people to say whether it is good enough. I hold that it is, and I hold that the Irish people, that 95 per cent of them, believe it to be good enough.
We are here, not as the dictators of the Irish people, but as the representatives of the Irish people, and if we misrepresent the Irish people, then the moral authority of Dáil Eireann, the strength behind it, and the fact that Dáil Eireann spoke the voice of the Irish people is gone and gone for ever.
An effort has been made to represent that a certain number of men stood uncompromisingly on the rock of the Republic; the Republic and nothing but the Republic. It has been stated also here that the man who made this division, the man who won the war – Michael Collins – compromised Ireland’s rights. In the letters that preceded the negotiations not once was a demand made for recognition of the Irish Republic – not once. If it had been made we knew it would have been refused. We went there to see how to reconcile the two positions, and I hold we have done it.
What we shall have to say is this, that the differences in this Cabinet and in this House are between half-recognising the British King and the British Empire and marching in, as one of the speakers said, with our heads up. The gentlemen on the other side are prepared to recognise the King of England as the head of the British Commonwealth. They are prepared to go half in the Empire and half out. They are prepared to use the Empire for war and peace and treaties, and that is what the Irish people have got to know is the difference. Does all this quibble of words – because it is merely a quibble of words – mean that Ireland is asked to throw away this Treaty and go back to war?
So far as my power or voice extends, not one single Irish life shall be lost in that quibble. I feel my responsibility to the Irish people, and the Irish people must know, and know in every detail, the difference that exists between us, and the Irish people must be our judges. When the Plenipotentiaries came back they were sought to be put in the dock. Well, if I am going to be tried I am going to be tried by the people of Ireland.
Now this Treaty has been attacked. It has been examined with a microscope to find defects, and this little thing and that little thing has been picked out and the people are told – one of the gentlemen here said it was less even than the proposals of July. It is the first Treaty signed between the representatives of the Irish Government and the representatives of the English Government since 1172, signed on an equal footing.
It is the first Treaty that admits the equality of Ireland. It is a Treaty of equality, and because of that, I am standing by it. We have come back from London with that Treaty, which recognised the Free State of Ireland. We have brought back the flag. We have brought back the evacuation of Ireland after 700 years by British troops, and the formation of an Irish army.
We have brought back to Ireland her full rights and powers of fiscal control. We have brought back to Ireland equality with England, equality with all nations which form the Commonwealth, an equal voice in the direction of foreign affairs in peace and war.
Well, we are told that it is a Treaty not to be accepted; that it is a poor thing, and that the Irish people ought to go back and fight for something more, and that something more is what I describe as a quibble of words.
At all events the Irish people are a people of great common sense. They would know that they had their flag, and their Free State, and their army, and control of their purse. They would know that the Treaty that gave these things was not a sham Treaty, and the sophists and the men of words would not mislead them…
[Here Mr. Griffith read a letter from Mr. Lloyd George, explaining some points on which criticism of the terms of the Treaty had been made.]
…That was what they brought back, peace with England, alliance with England, but Ireland developing her own life, carrying out her own way of existence and rebuilding their Gaelic civilisation.
I say we have brought this back. I ask the Dáil to pass this resolution, and I ask the people of Ireland and the Irish people everywhere to ratify this Treaty, and to end this bitter conflict of centuries, to end it for ever, to take away that poison that has been rankling in the two countries, and ruining their relationship and good neighbourhood.
Let us stand as free partners equal with England and make after 700 years the greatest revolution that has ever been made in the history of the world, in the history of Europe – a revolution which sees the two countries standing, not apart as enemies, but standing together as equals.
I ask you, therefore, to pass this resolution.