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Speech in Favor of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921

Speech in Favor of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921

7 January 1922

Arthur Griffith

Arthur Griffith headed the delegation that negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London between October and December 1921. Though the British prime minister David Lloyd George may have outmaneuvered him at a critical stage of the negotiations, preventing Griffith from breaking off the talks on the Ulster question when he failed to secure complete independence from Britain, the Irish delegates made a bargain that a slim majority of the Dáil, and a much larger majority of the general population, considered worthy of acceptance. Griffith offered a strong defense of the treaty in the Dáil on 7 January 1922, combating the main objections from Eamon de Valera and other staunch republicans.

SEE ALSO Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921; Griffith, Arthur; Politics: 1800 to 1921—Challenges to the Union; Politics: Independent Ireland since 1922

. . . We were sent to make some compromise, bargain, or arrangement; we made an arrangement; the arrangement we made is not satisfactory to many people. Let them criticise on that point, but do not let them say that we were sent to get one thing and that we got something else. We got a different type of arrangement from that which many wished; but when they charge us or insinuate that we went there with a mandate to demand a republic, and nothing but a republic, then they are maligning us; if we got that mandate, we would have finished up in five minutes in Downing Street. . . . We went there to London, not as republican doctrinaires, but looking for the substance of freedom and independence. If you think what we brought back is not the substance of independence, that is a legitimate ground for attack upon us, but to attack us on the ground that we went there to get a republic is to attack us on false and lying grounds; and some of those who criticise on that ground know perfectly the conditions under which we went. "We are ready," said President de Valera, . . . "to leave the whole question between Ireland and England to external arbitration." What did that mean? Need I comment on it? Is that saying you will have a republic and nothing but a republic? . . . I have listened here for days to discussions on the oath [of allegiance to the British crown required by the Treaty]. If you are going to have a form of association with the British empire, call it what you will, you must have an oath; and such an oath was suggested and put before us and not rejected, and put before the plenipotentiaries when going back to London. The difference between these two oaths is the difference in the terms. I am not going to speak in terms of theology or terms of law about them; we have had quite a considerable discussion on that point; but what I am going to speak about is this: that in this assembly there are men who have taken oath after oath to the king of England; and I noticed that these men applauded loudly when insulting or slighting references were made to the young soldiers here on account of the oath. . . . Ah! This hypocrisy that is going to involve the lives of gallant and brave men is damnable. . . .

You say we are dishonourable men; this does not affect the fact of the Treaty which has been discussed on the basis of the failure, at least, of the plenipotentiaries, and not discussed on what was in it. It has been discussed in the way that Carlyle once described—and I have thought of this many times while listening to the criticism of the Treaty—he describes the fly that crawled along the front of the Cologne cathedral and communicated to all the other flies what a horribly rough surface it was, because the fly was unable to see the edifice. Now, as to that Treaty, an effort has been made to put us in the position of saying that this Treaty is an ideal thing; an effort has been made to put us into a false position. That Treaty is not an ideal thing; it has faults. I could draw up a treaty—any of us could draw up a treaty which would be more satisfactory to the Irish people; we could "call spirits from the vasty deep," but will they come when you call them? We have a Treaty signed by the heads of the British government; we have nothing signed against it. I could draw up a much better treaty myself, one that would suit myself; but it is not going to be passed. We are therefore face to face with a practical situation. Does this Treaty give away the interests and the honour of Ireland? I say it does not. I say it serves the interests of Ireland; it is not dishonourable to Ireland. It is not an ideal thing; it could be better. It has no more finality than that we are the final generation on the face of the earth (applause). No man is going, as we quoted here—I have used, it all my life—"No man can set bounds to the march of a nation." But we here can accept the Treaty and deal with it in good faith with the English people, and through the files of events reach, if we desire it, any further status that we desire or require after[ward]. Who is going to say what the world is to be like in ten years hence? We can make peace on the basis of that Treaty; it does not forever bind us not to ask for any more. England is going beyond where she is at present; all nations are going beyond where they are at present; and in the meantime we can move on in comfort and peace to the ultimate goal. This Treaty gives the Irish people what they have not had for centuries; it gives them a foothold in their own country; it gives them solid ground on which to stand; and Ireland has been a quaking bog for three hundred years, where there was no foothold for the Irish people. Well, reject this Treaty; throw Ireland back into what she was before this Treaty came—I am not a prophet, though I have listened to many prophets here, and I can't argue with prophets; but I know where Ireland was twenty or thirty years ago, I know where Ireland was when there was only a few dozen of us up in Dublin trying to keep the national idea alive, not trying to keep it alive, because the Irish people never deserted it, but a few of us who had faith in our people and faith in our country, stood by her—you are going to throw Ireland back to that; to dishearten the men who made the fight and to let back into Irish politics the time-servers and men who let down Ireland before, and who will, through their weakness if not through dishonesty, let down Ireland again. You can take this Treaty and make it the basis of an Irish Ireland. . . .

I have heard in this assembly statements about the people of Ireland. The people of Ireland sent us here—we have no right and no authority except what we derive from the people of Ireland—we are here because the people of Ireland elected us, and our only right to speak is to seek what they want. I am told that the people of Ireland elected us to get a republic. They elected us in 1918 to get rid of the Parliamentary Party; they elected us in 1921 as a gesture, a proper gesture of defiance to the Black and Tans; they elected us, not as doctrinaire republicans, but as men looking for freedom and independence. When we agreed to enter into negotiations with England with the object of producing a treaty, we were bound, I hold, to respect whatever the Irish people—the people of Ireland—thought of that Treaty. I have heard one deputy saying here that it does not matter what his constituents say. I tell him it does. If representative government is going to remain on the earth, then a representative must voice the opinion of his constituents; if his conscience will not let him do that, he has only one way out, and that is to resign and refuse to misrepresent them; but that men who know their constituents want this Treaty should come her and tell us that, by virtue of the vote they derive from these constituents, they are going to vote against the Treaty—that is the negation of all democratic right; it is the negation of all freedom. . . .

Iris Dhail Éireann, Official Report: Debate on the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland Signed in London on the 6th [of] December, 1921 (n.d.), pp. 336–340.

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