The Birth of the Irish Free State, 1921-1923

By Joseph M. Curran | Go to book overview

Chapter 10

Dail Eireann and the Treaty:
December 1921-January 1922

The Dail was ill prepared for the responsibility thrust on it by the Cabinet's split over the Treaty. Most deputies had not been selected for office because of their political experience or mature judgment but because of their separatist credentials and willingness to follow orders. The Cabinet had concluded a truce without consulting the Dail and rejected Britain's original peace proposals before consulting it. Most deputies were not even aware of the Cabinet's peace proposals during the London negotiations. What had been a rubber-stamp assembly was suddenly charged with making a decision of paramount importance. 1

The Treaty debate took place in the Senate Chamber of University College, Dublin. After a short public session on December 14, the Dail went into private session to discuss confidential matters. Public meetings resumed on December 19 and lasted four days, with a brief private session on military affairs on the 20th. The Dail recessed on December 22; debate resumed on January 3 and lasted five days. After the vote on the Treaty on January 7, two more public sessions were held on January 9 and 10 to discuss matters arising from the vote.

President de Valera opened the first day's debate by claiming the delegates had failed to carry out their instructions by not consulting the Cabinet before signing the Treaty. 2 At the same time, he declared that the Treaty should be discussed on its merits and he offered to answer any questions about the negotiations. Griffith and Collins challenged de Valera's contention that the delegates had somehow exceeded their powers, and Collins urged that the Cabinet's final proposals be made public so they could be compared with the Treaty. The Dail then decided to go into private session to discuss the negotiations. 3

In its private meetings, the Dail heard a long and involved account of the final stages of negotiations from Cabinet members and delegates, with copies of relevant documents circulated for the deputies' consideration. The president spoke often and at length to explain his position and to dispel any suspicion that he had "let down" either the Republic or the delegation. While admitting that he had "battered down the wall of the isolated Republic," he maintained that peace could only be negotiated through some sort of association with Britain. He conceded the people would accept the Treaty under British duress, but it would split the

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