Time Will Tell

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"Time Will Tell"

19 December 1921

Eamon de Valera

In the following speech by Eamon de Valera in Dáil Éireann against the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, de Valera was responding to a speech by Arthur Griffith in which Griffith moved that the treaty should be adopted by Dáil Éireann. De Valera argued that the treaty would not end the centuries of conflict between Britain and Ireland; he made very specific objections to the oath of allegiance. Like the majority of Dáil deputies who spoke either in favor or against the treaty, he did not mention partition.

SEE ALSO Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921; Civil War; de Valera, Eamon; Politics: 1800 to 1921—Challenges to the Union

I think it would scarcely be in accordance with standing orders of the Dáil if I were to move directly the rejection of this Treaty. I daresay, however, it will be sufficient that I should appeal to this House not to approve of the Treaty.

We were elected by the Irish people, and did the Irish people think we were liars when we said that we meant to uphold the Republic, which was ratified by the vote of the people three years ago and was further ratified—expressly ratified—by the vote of the people at the elections last May? When the proposal for negotiation came from the British government asking that we should try by negotiation to reconcile Irish national aspirations with the association of nations forming the British empire, there was no one here as strong as I was to make sure that every human attempt should be made to find whether such reconciliation was possible. I am against this Treaty because it does not reconcile Irish national aspirations with association with the British government. I am against this Treaty, not because I am a man of war, but a man of peace. I am against this Treaty because it will not end the centuries of conflict between the two nations of Great Britain and Ireland. We went out to effect such a reconciliation, and we have brought back a thing which will not even reconcile our own people, much less reconcile Britain and Ireland.

If there was to be reconciliation, it is obvious that the party in Ireland which typifies national aspirations for centuries should be satisfied, and the test of every agreement would be the test of whether the people were satisfied or not. A war-weary people will take things which are not in accordance with their aspirations. You may have a snatch election now, and you may get a vote of the people, but I will tell you that Treaty will renew the contest, that it is going to begin the same history that the Union began, and Lloyd George is going to have the same fruit for his labours as Pitt had. When in Downing Street the proposals to which we could unanimously assent in the cabinet were practically turned down at the point of the pistol and immediate war was threatened upon our people, it was only then that this document was signed; and that document has been signed by plenipotentiaries, not perhaps individually under duress, but it has been signed, and would only affect this nation as a document signed under duress, and this nation would not respect it.

I wanted, and the cabinet wanted, to get a document we could stand by, a document that could enable Irishmen to meet Englishmen and shake hands with them as fellow-citizens of the world. That document makes British authority our masters in Ireland. It was said that they had only an oath to the British king in virtue of common citizenship, but you have an oath to the Irish constitution, and that constitution will be a constitution which will have the king of Great Britain as head of Ireland. You will swear allegiance to that constitution and to that king; and if the representatives of the Republic should ask the people of Ireland to do that which is inconsistent with the Republic, I say they are subverting the Republic. It would be a surrender which was never heard of in Ireland since the days of Henry II; and are we in this generation, which has made Irishmen famous throughout the world, to sign our names to the most ignoble document that could be signed?

When I was in prison in solitary confinement, our warders told us that we could go from our cells into the hall, which was about fifty feet by forty. We did go out from the cells to the hall, but we did not give our word to the British jailer that he had the right to detain us in prison because we got that privilege. Again, on another occasion, we were told that we could get out to a "garden party," where we could see the flowers and the hills, but we did not for the privilege of going out to garden parties sign a document handing over our souls and bodies to the jailers. Rather than sign a document which would give Britain authority in Ireland, they should be ready to go into slavery until the Almighty had blotted out their tyrants. If the British government passed a Home Rule Act or something of that kind, I would not have said to the Irish people, "Do not take it." I would have said, "Very well; this is a case of the jailer leading you from the cell to the hall," but by getting that we did not sign away our right to whatever form of government we pleased.

It was said that an uncompromising stand for a Republic was not made. The stand made by some of them [us?] was to try and reconcile a Republic with an association. [Editors' note: De Valera is here referring to his idea of the external association of Ireland with the countries making up the British Commonwealth.] There was a document presented to this House to try to get unanimity, to see whether the views which I hold could be reconciled to that party which typified the national aspirations of Ireland for centuries. The document was put there for that purpose, and I defy anybody in this House to say otherwise than that I was trying to bring forward before this assembly a document which would bring real peace between Great Britain and Ireland—a sort of document we would have tried to get and would not have agreed if we did not get. It would be a document that would give real peace to the people of Great Britain and Ireland, and not the officials [politicians?]. I know it would not be a politicians' peace. I know the politician in England who would take it would risk his political future, but it would be a peace between peoples and would be consistent with the Irish people being full masters of everything within their own shores.

Criticism of this Treaty is scarcely necessary from this point of view, that it could not be ratified because it would not be legal for this assembly to ratify it, because it would be inconsistent with our position. We were elected here to be the guardians of an independent Irish state, a state that had declared its independence; and this House could—no more than the ignominious House that voted away the colonial parliament that was in Ireland in 1800, unless we wished to follow the example of that House and vote away the independence of our people—we could not ratify that instrument if it were brought before us for ratification. It is therefore to be brought before us not for ratification, because it would be inconsistent, and the very fact that it is inconsistent shows that it could not be reconciled with Irish aspirations, because the aspirations of the Irish people have been crystallised into the form of government they have at the present time.

As far as I was concerned, I am probably the freest man here to express my opinion. Before I was elected president at the private session, I said, "Remember, I do not take, as far as I am concerned, oaths as regards forms of government. I regard myself here to maintain the independence of Ireland and to do the best for the Irish people," and it is to do the best for the Irish people that I ask you not to approve but to reject this Treaty.

You will be forsaking the best interest of Ireland if you pretend to the world that this will lay the foundation of a lasting peace, and you know perfectly well that even if Mr Griffith and Mr Collins set up a Provisional Government in Dublin Castle, until the Irish people would have voted upon it, the government would be looked upon as a usurpation equally with Dublin Castle in the past.

We know perfectly well there is nobody here who has expressed more strongly dissent from any attacks of any kind upon the delegates that went to London than I did. There is no one who knew better than I did how difficult is the task they had to perform. I appealed to the Dáil, telling them the delegates had to do something a mighty army or a mighty navy would not be able to do. I hold that, and I hold that it was in their excessive love for Ireland they have done what they have.

I am as anxious as anyone for the material prosperity of Ireland and the Irish people, but I cannot do anything that would make the Irish people hang their heads. I would rather see the same thing over again than that Irishmen should have to hang their heads in shame for having signed and put their hands to a document handing over their authority to a foreign country. The Irish people would not want me to save them materially at the expense of their national honour. I say it is quite within the competence of the Irish people if they wished to enter into an association with other peoples, to enter into the British empire; it is within their competence if they want to choose the British monarch as their king, but does this assembly think the Irish people have changed so much within the past year or two that they now want to get into the British empire after seven centuries of fighting? Have they so changed that they now want to choose the person of the British monarch, whose forces they have been fighting against and who . . . [has] been associated with all the barbarities of the past couple of years—have they changed so much that they want to choose the king as their monarch? It is not King George as a monarch they choose: it is Lloyd George, because it is not the personal monarch they are choosing, it is British power and authority as sovereign authority in this country. The sad part of it, as I was saying, is that a grand peace could at this moment be made—and to see the difference! I say, for instance, if approved by the Irish people, and if Mr Griffith, or whoever might be in his place, thought it wise to ask King George over to open parliament, he would see black flags in the streets of Dublin. Do you think that that would make for harmony between the two peoples? What would the people of Great Britain say when they saw the king accepted by the Irish people greeted in Dublin with black flags? If a Treaty was entered into, if it was a right Treaty, he could have been brought here. Yes, he could. Why not? I say if a proper peace had been made, you could bring, for instance, the president of France, the king of Spain, or the president of America here, or the head of any other friendly nation here, in the name of the Irish state, and the Irish people would extend to them in a very different way a welcome as the head of a friendly nation coming on a friendly visit to their country, and not as a monarch who came to call Ireland his legitimate possession. In one case the Irish people would regard him as a usurper, in the other case it would be the same as a distinguished visitor to their country. Therefore, I am against the Treaty because it does not do the fundamental thing and bring us peace. The Treaty leaves us a country going through a period of internal strife just as the Act of Union did.

One of the great misfortunes in Ireland for past centuries has been the fact that our internal problems and our internal domestic questions could not be gone into because of the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain. Just as in America during the last presidential election, it was not the internal affairs of the country were uppermost; it was other matters. It was the big international question. That was the misfortune for America at the time, and it was the great misfortune for Ireland for 120 years; and if the present pact is agreed on, that will continue. I am against it because it is inconsistent with our position, because if we are to say the Irish people do not mean it, then they should have told us that they did not mean it.

Had the chairman of the delegation said he did not stand for the things they had said they stood for, he would not have been elected. The Irish people can change their minds if they wish to. The Irish people are our masters, and they can do as they like, but only the Irish people can do that, and we should give the people credit that they meant what they said just as we mean what we say.

I do not think I should continue any further on this matter. I have spoken generally, and if you wish, we can take these documents up, article by article, but they have been discussed in private session and I do not think there is any necessity for doing so.

Therefore, I am once more asking you to reject the Treaty for two main reasons: that, as every teachta [deputy] knows, it is absolutely inconsistent with our position; it gives away Irish independence; it brings us into the British empire; it acknowledges the head of the British empire, not merely as the head of an association, but as the direct monarch of Ireland, as the source of executive authority in Ireland.

The ministers of Ireland will be his majesty's ministers, the army that Commandant MacKeon spoke of will be his majesty's army. You may sneer at words, but I say words mean, and I say in a Treaty words do mean something—else why should they be put down? They have meanings and they have facts, great realities that you cannot close your eyes to. This Treaty means that the ministers of the Irish Free State will be his majesty's ministers, and the Irish forces will be his majesty's forces. Well, time will tell, and I hope it will not have a chance because you will throw this out. If you accept it, time will tell. It cannot be one way in this assembly and another way in the British House of Commons. The Treaty is an agreed document, and there ought to be pretty fairly common interpretation of it. If there are differences of interpretation, we know who will get the best of them.

I hold, and I do not mind my words being on record, that the chief executive authority in Ireland is the British monarch—the British authority. It is in virtue of that authority the Irish ministers will function. It is to the commander-in-chief of the Irish army, who will be the English monarch, they will swear allegiance, these soldiers of Ireland. It is on these grounds, as being inconsistent with our position and with the whole national tradition for 750 years, that it cannot bring peace. Do you think that because you sign documents like this you can change the current of tradition? You cannot. Some of you are relying on that "cannot" to sign this Treaty. But do not put a barrier in the way of future generations.

Parnell was asked to do something like this—to say it was a final settlement. . . . Parnell said, practically, "You have no right to ask me, because I have no right to say that any man can set boundaries to the march of a nation." As far as you can, if you take this, you are presuming to set bounds to the onward march of a nation.

Speeches and Statements by Eamon de Valera, 1917–73, edited by Maurice Moynihan (1980), pp. 87–91. Reproduced by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC, and Gill & Macmillan, Dublin.