Anglo-Irish treaty is signed
The 6th of December 1922 AD
As with the manner of wartime treaties, the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed in 1921 after protracted negotiations between representatives of the Irish Republic and the British Government, restored the preeminence of politics where the vacuum was hitherto filled by conflict.
Its significance was huge: it was proof that Britain recognised Ireland as an independent country, granting it powers that far exceeded home rule. And in ending the Irish War Of Independence it did bring some peace, albeit temporarily, for Ireland still had a bloody civil war coming round the corner. To fast forward to the late 1960s in Northern Ireland, there too would be a resumption of hostilities between unionists and republicans, so typical of the bitter internecine strife that ties the gordian knot of Irish politics.
The Treaty’s immediate legacy was the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Under the terms of the treaty, Northern Ireland – whose staunchly unionist majority opposed any incarnation of home rule – would have the option of opting out of the Free State, after which a Boundary Commission would be drawn up to establish Northern Ireland as a territory still firmly part of the United Kingdom. It was noted by the republicans, that with a unionist majority in certain areas, the Boundary Commission would divide the province along the lines of social politics; thus the republicans – predominantly the poorer Catholic underclasses – would have their land betrothed to the Irish Free State, whilst whatever was left would be for the unionists. As things transpired, and again alluding to the problems Northern Ireland has experienced in the modern era, this would not be amount to clinical partitionism – Northern Ireland was divided with a unionist majority, but with a sizable percentage of its population whose politics and social identity was more in tune with Dublin ’s rhetoric than Belfast ’s. The six county arrangement, meanwhile, suited the unionists; as the majority they would have control.
With the power of hindsight, it is easy to see where the modern ills that dog Northern Ireland’s politics arrived from. When Arthur Griffith, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Irish Republic and leader of the Irish delegates, and his British counterparts, including Sir Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George who headed the British delegation, the more immediate politics were what grasped their attention. Before the Easter Rising of 1916, home rule was ready to be granted to Ireland; the only note of caution coming from the British government concern the Ulster situation, where open conflict was a serious risk. 1916 in many respects, blundered into the political panorama, forcing the issue and creating a more fraught battleground for votes, sympathies and coherent strategy.
After the gore of the Irish War Of Independence, the Treaty brought more genuine autonomy, granting Ireland with the same dominion status as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. This still was seen as a compromise in some quarters. It was not a 32 county arrangement, and moreover, ceremonial sovereignty was still largely British – King George V was still head of state, there would be a governor general, and all members of the Irish Free State’s parliament would have to swear an oath of allegiance to a British monarch. Irish president Eamon de Valera was resolutely anti-Treaty, and he wasn’t alone. Eight months after signing the Treaty, Michael Collins, Minister for Finance, was assassinated. The role of the bullet was not yet over. A civil war would be waged between those for and against the Treaty. Looking back on the affair, de Valera regretted his opposition to the Treaty – many thought he should have been president, especially given his position as president. The divisions in the Dail spilled over onto a country where the whiff of cordite always accompanied political rancour. Ireland would have peace, but it would have to wait a little longer. It would have independence too, and the Anglo-Irish Treaty was certainly a step towards it.
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