ACURIOUS little scene, of which the historical inevitability is shown by its repeated duplication, epitomises the surface politics of the ensuing period. The underlying reality was the establishment of the capitalist class in power in its two centres, while the workers stood aloof. What was immediately visible was the vacillation of the petite-bourgeoisie as its alliance faced the blow that was to wreck it.
The Dublin morning papers on 6th December carried the bare announcement that agreement had been reached in London. There had been no reference back. Hence it was widely believed in Ireland that Britain had at last relented and accepted the Dail terms. Mellows, Rory O’Connor, Cathal Brugha and some others were gathered after a day of rumour and speculation to talk over events and possibilities. To the general surprise Tom Johnson of the Irish Labour Party arrived and introduced the Scottish revolutionary, William Gallacher.1 He and his colleagues in the British Communist Party had learned that things were moving towards a capitulation and he had come with a warning. The “plenipotentiaries” were going to give in.
“They’ll never do that,” said Cathal Brugha confidently. But almost immediately word was brought in that the British terms had been substantially accepted. The “plenipotentiaries” were on their way back. “You must intercept them and arrest them,” said Gallacher. Mellows and O’Connor were immediately taken with the suggestion and leaped up ready to do it at once. Brugha demurred. “If you don’t arrest them,” said Gallacher, “it will not be long before they’re arresting you.” The Minister for Defence was unconvinced. “Irishmen won’t arrest Irishmen,” he replied.
The discussion continued until Brugha had to leave for the Mansion House, and the points were made so forcefully that Tom Johnson
1 It is difficult to be sure of the time of this incident from Gallacher’s account of it, Lloyd George’s ultimatum was after 8 p.m. The last boat train left Euston at 9.30 p.m. The signing of the Articles of Agreement took place at 2.15 a.m. The day boat train left Euston at 8.30 a.m. This may have carried both E. J. Duggan and Gallacher and they would arrive at Westland Row at 6 p.m. Late editions of British papers and early editions of the Evening Mail contained the oath clause. The full agreement was published at 8 p.m. It would seem that Gallacher travelled on the day boat after a “tip off” early on 6th December.