The Birth of the Irish Free State, 1921-1923

By Joseph M. Curran | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5

Preliminary Negotiations:
July-October 1921

De Valera met with Lloyd George four times—July 14, 15, 18, and 21. All four discussions took place at No. 10 Downing Street, and the prime minister conducted the opening discussion with great showmanship, greeting de Valera warmly as a brother Celt and using all his charm and eloquence to win over the cautious and formal Sinn Feiner. Describing the evolution of the British Empire, Lloyd George said that its representatives were presently meeting on equal terms in an Imperial Conference, and a place in those deliberations was reserved for Ireland. When de Valera did not respond, the prime minister resorted to menace, warning that if the conference failed, the situation would become much more terrible than before the truce. De Valera accused him of threatening coercion, but Lloyd George replied that he was simply predicting what must happen if no settlement were reached. He also made clear that there could be no question of recognizing an Irish Republic. After the interview ended, Lloyd George believed that progress had been made toward an understanding. 1

At their second meeting, the prime minister found de Valera a trifle more rigid and attributed this to consultation with his colleagues. The Irish president continued to press for an independent but associated Republic, but Lloyd George reiterated that Britain would never agree to this. In the interval between the second and third meetings, Lloyd George saw Craig but made no headway toward securing Irish unity. Smuts, meanwhile, tried to impress on de Valera the seriousness of the Ulster problem for the British government, but de Valera thought the British were using Ulster solely to frighten him. 2

When the two leaders met again, the prime minister offered an outline of peace terms, which de Valera criticized as inadequate, emphasizing Sinn Fein's demand for a united Ireland. Lloyd George warned that attempts to force Ulster into an Irish state could lead to a civil war which would involve the whole Empire. De Valera maintained that the South would never allow itself to become involved in civil war; it would rather let Ulster alone. Lloyd George countered by asking why Sinn Fein would not leave Ulster alone now. Eventually, de Valera said he must consult his Cabinet about the British proposals, and Lloyd George agreed to send him a draft of the terms before their next meeting. 3

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