Thursday, May 14, 2015

Celtic Corner - May 2015


The Truce- an uneasy peace

        The war ended in a Truce on July 11, 1921. In some respects, the conflict was at a stalemate. Talks that had looked promising the previous year had petered out in December when Lloyd George insisted that the IRA first surrender their arms. Fresh talks, after the Prime Minister had come under pressure from Hebert Henry Asquith and the Liberal opposition the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress, resumed in the spring and resulted in the Truce. From the point of view of the British government it appeared as if the IRA’s guerilla campaign would continue indefinitely, with spiraling costs in British casualties and in money. More importantly, the British government was facing severe criticism at home and abroad for the actions of Crown Forces in Ireland. On the other side, IRA leaders and in particular Michael Collins, felt that the IRA, as it was then organized, could not continue indefinitely. It had been hard pressed by the deployment of more regular British soldiers into Ireland and by the lack of arms and ammunition.

          The initial breakthrough that led to the Truce was credited to three people: King George V, General Jan Smuts of South Africa and British Prime Minister David Lloyd Georg. The King, who had made his unhappiness at the behavior of the Black and Tans in Ireland well known to his government, was unhappy at the official speech prepared for him for the opening of the new Parliament of Northern Ireland created through the partition of Ireland. Smuts, a close friend of the King, suggested to him that the opportunity should be used to make an appeal for reconciliation in Ireland. The King asked him to draft his ideas on paper. Smuts prepared this draft and gave copies to the King and to Lloyd Georg. Lloyd George then invited Smuts to attend a British cabinet meeting convened to hold consultations on the interesting proposals Lloyd George had received, without either man informing the Cabinet that Smuts had been their author. Faced with the endorsement of them by Smuts, the King and the Prime Minister, ministers reluctantly agreed to the King’s planned ‘reconciliation in Ireland’ speech.

        The speech, when delivered, had a massive impact. Seizing the momentum Lloyd George then issued an appeal for talks to Eamon de Valera in July 1921, The Irish, (unaware of the extent to which the speech did not fully represent the views of all the British government, but was to a significant degree a ‘peace move’ engineered by the King, Smuts and Lloyd George and reluctantly consented to in cabinet), responded by agreeing to talks. De Valera and Lloyd George ultimately agreed to a truce that was intended to end the fighting and lay the ground for detailed negotiations. These were delayed for some months as the British government insisted that the IRA first decommission its weapons, but this demand was eventually dropped. It was agreed that British troops would remain confined to their barracks. Most IRA officers on the ground interpreted the Truce merely as a temporary respite and continued recruiting and training volunteers. The continuing militancy of many IRA leaders was one of the main factors in the outbreak of the Irish Civil War as they refused to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty that Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith negotiated with the British.

The Treaty

          Ultimately, the peace talks led to the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921), which was then triply ratified:-by Dail Eireann in December 1921 (so giving it legal legitimacy under the governmental system of the Irish Republic) by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland in January 1922, so giving it constitutional legitimacy according to British theory of who was the legal government in Ireland), and by both Houses of the British parliament.

          The Treaty allowed Northern Ireland, which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, to opt out of the Free State if it wished; it duly did so under the procedures laid down. As agreed, an Irish Boundary Commission was than created to decide on the precise location of the border of the Free State and Northern Ireland. The Irish negotiators understood that the Commission would redraw the border according to local nationalist or unionist majorities. Since the 1920 local elections in Ireland had resulted in outright nationalist majorities in County Fermanagh, County Tyrone, the City of Derry and in many District Electoral Divisions of county Armagh and County Derry (all north and west of the interim border), this might well have left Northern Ireland unviable. However, the Commission chose to leave the border unchanged.

          A new system of government was created for the Irish Free Sate, though for the first year two governments co-existed: an Aireacht answerable to the Dail and headed by President Griffith, and a Provisional Government nominally answerable to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. (The complexity of this was even shown in the matter by which Lord FitzAlan ‘appointed’ Collins as head of the Provisional Government. In British theory, they met to allow Collins to ‘Kiss Hands’. In Irish theory they met to allow Collins take the surrender of Dublin Castle). Most of the Irish independence movement’s leaders were willing to accept this compromise, at least for the time being, though many militant Republicans were not. A minority of those involved in the War of Independence, led by resigned president Eamon de Valera, refused to accept the Treaty and started an insurrection against the new Free State government, which it accused of betraying the ideal of the Irish Republic.  


Here's to the grey goose
With the golden wing;
A free country
And a Fenian King


Frank Darcy