NEGOTIATION AT GUNPOINT
DE VALERA left for London on 12th July. He was accompanied by Griffith, Barton, Stack and Childers. He met Lloyd George three times before he extracted from him written proposals he could put before his colleagues. The British Cabinet seems to have weighed their success in establishing Northern Ireland and found it not wanting. It enabled them to deal flexibly with the twenty-six counties. Their proposal was “Dominion” status. This involved allegiance to the English King, British retention of military and naval facilities, and free access of British goods to the Irish market. There was also a supremely objectionable provision, namely that the government of Northern Ireland was to retain all its “existing powers and privileges”. By these were implied not only those meagre capabilities with winch it was already endowed, but all those due to it under the constituent Act.
It was agreed that such terms were unacceptable to Ireland. De Valera made a special visit to Downing Street to convey this information. The Prime Minister, who had animated their first encounter with a hwyl of Pan-Celtic fraternity, now threatened full-scale war within days. The President knew a little about war and reached for his hat. The storm blew over instantly. There had been no harm meant. Perhaps Mr. De Valera would prepare a reasoned reply.
The negotiations were conducted on this basis from start to finish. The threat of war was never absent. Lloyd George knew well that a victory for the Republic in Ireland would strengthen immeasurably the independence movements in India and Egypt. On the other hand any appearance of unreasonable bellicosity would endanger the Pacific settlement which was now the main aim of British Foreign policy. The old master of bluff and duplicity found ample scope for his talents. On the Irish side, however, the negotiators were never able to make Lloyd George pay the political penalty for partition. This was because, having no internal solution to the Ulster problem, they could have no external policy either. It would be permissible to offer Ulster every legitimate economic concession within the framework of an Irish Republic. But once there was the slightest abatement of the claim to