The Edmondson Blog

Irish Home Rule

Éamon de Valera . . . . . Michael Collins

The British Government had, since 1914, desired home rule for the whole of Ireland. However, it believed that it could not possibly grant complete independence to all of Ireland in 1921 without provoking a massacre of Ulster Catholics at the hands of their heavily-armed Protestant Unionist neighbours.

The Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, creating the Irish Free State, were negotiated between the British Government and the Provisional Irish Government and signed on 6th December 1921.

Parts of the Treaty, especially the partition of Ulster were bitterly contraversial and Michael Collins, one of the senior Irish negotiators, recognised the terms would not be well received in Ireland. Upon signing the Treaty, he remarked "I have signed my own death warrant," and sure enough, he was assassinated in an ambush on 22nd August 1922.

The major political party, Sinn Féin, split into pro- and anti-Treaty factions. In the Irish general election on 18th June 1922, the pro-Treaty Sinn Féin party won the election with 239,193 votes to 133,864 for anti-Treaty Sinn Féin. A further 247,226 people voted for other parties, all of whom supported the Treaty. The election showed that the Irish electorate supported the Treaty and the foundation of the Irish Free State but Éamon de Valera, president of Sinn Féin, continued to oppose it and is quoted as saying, “The majority have no right to do wrong.”

A short but bitter civil war (June 1922 – April 1923) erupted between the supporters of the Treaty and its opponents. The victorious pro-Treaty “Free Staters,” who amounted to a majority of Sinn Féin TDs (Teachta Dála: equivalent to a Member of Parliament) and a majority of the electorate, set up the Irish Free State.

Because of the Irish Civil War, Northern Ireland was able to consolidate its existence and partition of Ireland was confirmed for the foreseeable future. Michael Collins, up to the outbreak of the civil war and possibly until his death, had been planning to launch a clandestine guerrilla campaign against the Northern state and was funnelling arms to the northern units of the IRA to this end. This may have led to open hostilities between north and south had the Irish Civil War not broken out.

De Valera eventually set up an alternative political party, Fianna Fáil which is, today, the largest party in Ireland.

Ironically, most people in Ireland today, including members of de Valera's own party, Fianna Fáil, agree that it was a mistake to oppose the Treaty and that it was the best deal possible in the circumstances. De Valera was once asked in a private conversation what had been his biggest mistake. His answer was blunt, “Not accepting the Treaty.”

During the Second World War the Irish government maintained the stance that both sides were equally as bad and used strict censorship to maintain this position. Ireland would not allow the Royal Navy to use its ports to extend the range of convoy protection even though the UK government continued to pass to the republic its quota of food imported by the convoys.

In 1945, de Valera went to the German embassy and signed the book of condolence after the death of Adolf Hitler. He did not go and sign the condolence book for President Roosevelt just a few weeks before.

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