In my opinion the Truce of July, 1921, could have been secured in December, 1920, at the time His Grace Archbishop Clune endeavoured to mediate, but the opportunity was lost through the too precipitate action of certain of our public men and public bodies. The actions taken indicated an over-keen desire for peace, and although terms of Truce were virtually agreed upon, they were abandoned because the British leaders thought those actions indicated weakness, and they consequently decided to insist upon surrender of our arms. The result was the continuance of the struggle. British aggression went on unabated and our defence was kept up to the best of our ability.
I am not aware of any negotiations that preceded the Truce of July. I do know there was much visiting by well-meaning, but unauthorised persons. So far, however, as my knowledge goes, these did not have any effect on the communication from Mr. Lloyd George to President de Valera which opened up the period of correspondence between the two Governments and the subsequent negotiations in London.
If there were any official conversations prior to the Lloyd George Letter, they took place entirely without my knowledge. It has been variously stated that the Treaty was signed under duress. I did not sign the Treaty under duress, except in the sense that the position as between Ireland and England, historically, and because of superior forces on the part of England, has always been one of duress. The element of duress was present when we agreed to the Truce, because our simple right would have been to beat the English out of Ireland.
There was an element of duress in going to London to negotiate. But there was not, and could not have been, any personal duress. The threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’ did not matter overmuch to me. The position appeared to be then exactly as it appears now. The British would not, I think, have declared terrible and immediate war upon us. They had three courses of action open to them. First, to dissolve the parliaments and put their proposals before the country; second, to resume the war by courting openly and covertly breakages of the Truce (these breakages of the Truce might easily have come from either side); thirdly, to blockade Ireland, and at the same time encourage spasmodic internal conflict.
The first course of action seemed to me to be the most likely, and, as a result of a political win on our side either No. 2 or No. 3 would have been very easily managed by the British. A political reverse would have been more damaging to us than either 2 or 3. The threat of immediate and terrible war was probably bluff.
The immediate tactics would surely have been to put the offer of July 20, which the British considered a very good offer, before the country, and, if rejected, they would have very little difficulty in carrying their own people into a war against Ireland. Another thing I believe is that on resumption of hostilities the British would have been anxious to fight with us on the basis of belligerent rights. In such circumstances, I doubt if we would have been able to carry on a conflict with the success which had previously attended our efforts. I scarcely think that our resources would have been equal to bearing belligerent rights and responsibilities.
I am not impressed by the talk of duress, nor by threats of a declaration of immediate and terrible war. Britain has not made a declaration of war upon Egypt, neither has she made a declaration of war upon India. But is the conflict less terrible because of the absence of such declaration? We must not be misled by words and phrases. Unquestionably the alternative to the Treaty, sooner or later, was war, and if the Irish Nation had accepted that, I should have gladly accepted it. The opponents of the Treaty have declared over and over again that the alternative to the Treaty was not war.
In my judgement, this was misleading the Irish Nation. The decision of the Irish Nation should not be given on a false basis. That was, and is, my own attitude, and if indeed, it be true, as the antagonists of the Treaty say, that the alternative to the Treaty was not war, where, then, is the heroism? Where, then, is the necessity for the future sacrifices that have been talked of so freely?
To me it would have been a criminal act to refuse to allow the Irish Nation to give its opinion as to whether it would accept this settlement or resume hostilities. That, I maintain, is a democratic stand. It has always been the stand of public representatives who are alive to their responsibilities.
The Irish struggle has always been for freedom—freedom from English occupation, from English interference, from English domination—not for freedom with any particular label attached to it. What we fought for at any particular time was the greatest measure of freedom obtainable at that time, and it depended upon our strength whether the claim was greater than at another time or lesser than at another time.
When the national situation was very bad we lay inert; when it improved a little we looked for Repeal of the Union; when it receded again we looked for Home Rule under varying trade names; when it went still worse we spoke of some form of devolution. When our strength became greater our aim became higher, and we strove for a greater measure of freedom under the name of a Republic. But it was freedom we sought for, not the name of the form of government we should adopt when we got our freedom.
When I supported the approval of the Treaty at the meeting of Dáil Éireann I said it gave us freedom—not the ultimate freedom which all nations hope for and struggle for, but freedom to achieve that end. And I was, and am now, fully alive to the implications of that statement. Under the Treaty Ireland is about to become a fully constituted nation.
The whole of Ireland, as one nation, is to compose the Irish Free State, whose parliament will have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Ireland, with an executive responsible to that parliament. This is the whole basis of the Treaty. It is the bedrock from which our status springs, and any later Act of the British Parliament derives its force from the Treaty only. We have got the present position by virtue of the Treaty, and any forthcoming Act of the British Legislature will, likewise, be by virtue of the Treaty.
It is not the definition of any status which would secure to us that status, but our power to make secure, and to increase what we have gained; yet, obtaining by the Treaty the constitutional status of Canada, and that status being one of freedom and equality, we are free to take advantage of that status, and we shall set up our Constitution on independent Irish lines.
No conditions mentioned afterwards in the Treaty can affect or detract from the powers which the mention of that status in the Treaty gives us, especially when it has been proved, has been made good, by the withdrawal out of Ireland of English authority of every kind. In fact England has renounced all right to govern Ireland, and the withdrawal of her forces is the proof of this.
With the evacuation secured by the Treaty has come the end of British rule in Ireland. No foreigner will be able to intervene between our Government and our people. Not a single British soldier, nor a single British official, will ever step again upon our shores, except as guests of a free people.
Our Government will have complete control of our army, our schools, and our trade. Our soldiers, our judges, our ministers will be the soldiers, judges, and ministers of the Irish Free State. We can send our own ambassadors to Washington, to Paris, to the Vatican; we can have our own representatives on the League of Nations (if we wish).
It was freedom we fought for—freedom from British interference and domination. Let us ask ourselves these few questions: Are the English going? To what extent are they going? If the Treaty is put into operation will they, for all practical purposes, be gone? The answer to the first question is to be seen in the evacuation that is proceeding apace. We claimed that the Treaty would secure this evacuation. The claim is being fulfilled. The Auxiliaries are practically gone.
The regular British military forces are rapidly following them. The answer to the second and third questions is that they remain for negligible purposes in that the extent to which they remain is negligible. We shall have complete freedom for all our purposes. We shall be rid completely of British interference and British rule. We can establish in its place our own rule, and exactly what kind of rule we like. We can restore our Gaelic life in exactly what form we like. We can keep what we have gained and make it secure and strong. The little we have not yet gained we can go ahead and gain.
All other questions are really questions of arrangement, in which our voice shall be the deciding voice. Any names, any formulas, any figureheads, representing England’s wish to conceal the extent of her departure, to keep some pretence of her power over us, which is now gone, will be but names, formulas, figureheads. England exercised her power over us simply by the presence of her forces—military forces, police forces, legal, and social forces. Is it seriously to be suggested that in the new order, some functionary, no matter what we may call him, will serve the purpose of all these forces, or, apart from him, the particular interpretation of the words of a document?
The British Government could only be maintained by the presence of British forces. Once these are gone the British Government can no longer arrange the form our National Government and our National life will take, nor can they set any limits to either.
If we wish to make our nation a free and a great and a good nation we can do so now. But we cannot do it if we are to fight among ourselves as to whether it is to be called Saorstát or Poblacht. Whatever the name or the political phraseology, we cannot restore Ireland without a great united effort. Any difficulty now in making a noble Irish-Ireland will lie in our people themselves and in the hundreds of years of anglicisation to which we have been subjected.
The task before us, having got rid of the British, is to get rid of the British influences—to de-anglicise ourselves; for there are many among us who still cling to English ways, and any thoughtlessness, any carelessness, will tend to keep things on the old lines—the inevitable danger of the proximity of the two nations. Can any restriction or limitation in the Treaty prevent us making our nation great and potent?
Can the presence of a representative of the British Crown, depending on us for his resources, prevent us from doing that? Can the words of a document as to what our status is prevent us from doing that? One thing only can prevent us—disunion among ourselves. Can we not concentrate and unite, not on the negative, but on the positive, task of making a real Ireland distinct from Britain—a nation of our own?
The only way to get rid of British contamination and the evils of corrupt materialism is to secure a united Ireland intent on democratic ways, to make our free Ireland a fact, and not to keep it for ever in dreamland as something that will never come true, and which has no practical effect or reality except as giving rise to everlasting fighting and destruction, which seem almost to have become ends in themselves in the mind of some—some who appear to be unheeding and unmindful of what the real end is.
Ireland is one—perhaps the only—country in Europe which has now living hopes for a better civilization. We have a great opportunity. Much is within our grasp. Who can lay a finger on our liberties? If any power menaces our liberties, we are in a stronger position than before to repel the aggressor.
That position will grow stronger with each year of freedom if we will all unite for the aims we have in common. Let us advance and use these liberties to make Ireland a shining light in a dark world, to reconstruct our ancient civilization on modern lines, to avoid the errors, the miseries, the dangers, into which other nations, with their false civilizations, have fallen. In taking the Treaty we are not going in for the flesh-pots of the British Empire—not unless we wish to.
It is futile to suppose that all these tendencies would disappear under freedom by some other name, or that the government of an externally associated nation, or of a Republic, any more than a Free State, would be able to suppress them, and to force Gaelicism upon the nation. Whatever form of free government we had, it would be the Government of the Irish Nation.
All the other elements, old Unionists, Home Rulers, Devolutionists, would have to be allowed freedom and self- expression. The only way to build the nation solid and Irish is to effect these elements in a friendly national way—by attraction, not by compulsion, making them feel themselves welcomed into the Irish Nation, in which they can join and become absorbed, as long ago the Geraldines and the de Burgos became absorbed.
The Treaty is already vindicating itself. The English Die-hards said to Mr. Lloyd George and his Cabinet: ‘You have surrendered’. Our own Die-hards said to us: ‘You have surrendered’. There is a simple test. Those who are left in possession of the battlefield have won.