Fragments 04-01-2007

Friday 6 January and Saturday 7 January 1922: the Treaty debates

The Dáil met in private session on the morning of Friday 6 January 1922 and went into public session at 3.20pm with the Speaker, Eoin MacNeill, in the chair. The first contributor was the president, Eamon de Valera.

Eamon de Valera: I entered politics as a soldier, as one who stood for the principles of those who proclaimed the Republic in 1916.

I was reared in a labourer's cottage here in Ireland [applause]. I have not lived solely amongst the intellectuals. The first 15 years of my life that formed my character were lived amongst the Irish people down in Limerick; therefore, I know what I am talking about; and whenever I wanted to know what the Irish people wanted I had only to examine my own heart and it told me straight off what the Irish people wanted.

(Eamon de Valera offered his resignation as president and there then followed a lengthy digression, involving points of order and demands that the issue of Eamon de Valera's resignation be debated before there was further discussion on the Treaty.)

Eamon de Valera: I am sick and tired of politics – so sick that no matter what happens I would go back to private life. I have only seen politics within the last three weeks or a month. It is the first time I have seen them and I am sick at the heart of them.

Harry Boland [died less than seven months later in the civil war]: I rise to speak against this treaty because, in my opinion, it denies a recognition of the Irish nation. I object to it on the ground of principle, and my chief objection is because I am asked to surrender the title of Irishman and accept the title of West Briton. I object because this treaty denies the sovereignty of the Irish nation and I stand by the principles I have always held – that the Irish people are by right a free people.

Cathal Brugha [Minister for Defence, later killed in the civil war]: A deputy from Tipperary and Waterford, one of my own colleagues, has sent me in a question which I will read. “In view of the fact that many members and several people are biased in favour of this proposed treaty because the minister of finance is in favour of ratification, and in view of the fact that many of these people, and many of these members, are of the opinion that Mr Michael Collins is a leader of the army and has fought many fights for the Republic, I think it is of great importance that an authoritative statement be made (a) defining the real position Mr Michael Collins held in the army, (b) telling what fights he has taken an active part in, provided this can be done without injustice to himself or danger to the country; or can it be authoritatively stated that he ever fired a shot at any enemy of Ireland?”

Mr Milroy: Is that in order?

Michael Collins [Minister for finance, later killed in the civil war]: Carry on.

Cathal Brugha: That is a matter which I approach with great reluctance; and I may tell you I would never have dealt with it, and this question would never have been asked, but for the statement made by the chairman of the delegation when he was speaking here; he referred to Mr Michael Collins as the man who won the war.

Michael Collins: I would like to rise to a point of order. Are we discussing the Treaty or are we discussing the minister of finance? I think we are discussing the Treaty.

Cathal Brugha: The minister of finance does not like what I have got to say. Tá go maith. It is necessary for me to define Michael Collins's position in the army. Now, I have my department divided up into sections. I have the ordinary ministerial part of it; the civil part of it; the liaison part of it; and then the Head Quarters staff. The Head Quarters staff is divided up again; at the head is the chief of staff; and at the head of each section of the Head Quarters staff is another man working under the chief of staff. One of those heads of the subsections is Mr Michael Collins; and to use a word which he has on more than one occasion used, and which he is fond of using, he is merely a subordinate in the department of defence. While the war was in progress I could not praise too highly the work done by the Head Quarters staff. The chief of staff and each of the leaders of the subsections – the members of the Head Quarters staff – were the best men we could get for the positions; each of them carried out efficiently, so far as I know, the work that was entrusted to him. They worked conscientiously and patriotically for Ireland without seeking any notoriety, with one exception; whether he is responsible or not for the notoriety I am not going to say [cries of “Shame” and “Get on with the Treaty”].

 Arthur Griffith: We went there to London, not as Republican doctrinaires, but looking for the substance of freedom and independence. If you think what we brought back is not the substance of independence that is a legitimate ground for attack upon us, but to attack us on the ground that we went there to get a republic is to attack us on false and lying grounds; and some of those who criticise on that ground know perfectly well the conditions under which we went.

[Referring to those who proposed opposing the Treaty] You will kill Dáil Éireann when you do that [“No! no!”]. You will remove from Dáil Éireann every vestige of moral authority, and they will no longer represent the people of Ireland. It will be a junta dictating to the people of Ireland, and the people of Ireland will deal with it.

Michael Collins: Let the Irish nation judge us now and for future years.

The Speaker: We will take a vote now in the usual way by calling the roll. The vote is on the motion by the minister for foreign affairs that Dáil Éireann approves of the Treaty. The result of the poll is 64 for approval and 57 against. That is a majority of seven in favour of approval of the Treaty.

Following the vote there were further exchanges.

Eamon de Valera: It will, of course, be my duty to resign my office as chief executive. I do not know that I should do it just now.

Michael Collins: No.

Eamon de Valera: There is one thing I want to say – I want it to go to the country and to the world, and it is this: the Irish people established a republic. This is simply approval of a certain resolution. The Republic can only be disestablished by the Irish people.

Michael Collins: I ask your permission to make a statement. I do not regard the passing of this thing as being any kind of triumph over the other side. I will do my best in the future, as I have done in the past, for the nation. What I have to say now is, whether there is something contentious about the Republic – about the government in being – or not, that we should unite on this: that we will all do our best to preserve the public safety [“Hear, hear”].

Eamon de Valera: Hear, hear.

Michael Collins: In times of change like that, when countries change from peace to war or war to peace, there are always elements that make for disorder and that make for chaos. If we could form some kind of joint committee to carry on – for carrying through the arrangements one way or another – I think that is what we ought to do. Now, I only want to say this to the people who are against us – and there are good people against us – so far as I am concerned this is not a question of politics, nor ever has been. I make the promise publicly to the Irish nation that I will do my best, and though some people here have said hard things of me – I would not stand things like that said about the other side – I have just as high a regard for some of them, and am prepared to do as much for them, now as always. The president knows how I tried to do my best for him.

Eamon de Valera: Hear, hear.

Michael Collins: Well, he has exactly the same position in my heart now as he always had [applause].

The House adjourned at 8.50pm until 11am on Monday, 9 January