No. 288 NAI DT S1801L
Dublin, November 1924
The Government of the Irish Free State, believing that a just appreciation of the events leading up to and the circumstances surrounding the conclusion of the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland entered into at London on the 6th December, 1921, will be of assistance to the Boundary Commission, places the following statement before them. In doing so, it has endeavoured to avoid all controversial matters and to confine the statement to facts which are either matters of history or else are evidenced by public statutes and Parliamentary records.
The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland was never approved of or accepted by the people of Ireland. It gave rise to great and continuous discontent, resulting from time to time in armed revolt against the Government established under that Act. There was at the same time a continued constitutional agitation carried on in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and throughout the country generally, having for its object the setting up in Ireland of a Parliament for Ireland and a Government responsible thereto. This agitation resulted, on the 18th day of September, 1914, in the passing of the Government of Ireland Act, 1914, (4 & 5 Geo. V. C. 90), but on the same day was passed the Suspensory Act, 1914 (4 & 5 Geo. V. C. 88) providing that the Government of Ireland Act should not be put into operation until the expiration of twelve months from the passing of the Act, or such later date (not being later than the end of the War) as might be fixed by Order in Council. The suspension of the Government of Ireland Act, 1914, accentuated the pre-existing discontent, and created the belief in Ireland that the British Government were not observing good faith with Ireland.
In these circumstances an election was proclaimed in December, 1918, for the election of members to the British House of Commons. The Act of 1914 was still on the Statute Book, but, owing to the Suspensory Act, had not been put into operation.
The election was held in December, 1918, and the new House of Commons met in January, 1919. Of 105 members elected to represent Irish constituencies only 32 attended that Parliament. The remaining Irish members met in Dublin and established the First Dáil Éireann, which claimed to act for the whole of Ireland. This assembly included three members who had been elected to represent constituencies in the six North-Eastern Counties, which now comprise 'Northern Ireland', namely, Mr. Arthur Griffith, who represented North-East Tyrone, Mr. Eoin MacNeill, who represented Derry City, and Mr. Sean O'Mahony, who represented South Fermanagh.
On the 25th day of February, 1920, a Bill was introduced into the British House of Commons for the Government of Ireland. It became law as the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 (10 & 11 Geo. V. C. 67) on the 23rd day of December, 1920. No Irish member voted in favour of that Bill. The Government of Ireland Act, 1920 provided for the setting up of a Parliament for 'Northern Ireland', consisting of the parliamentary Counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry, and another Parliament for 'Southern Ireland', consisting of so much of Ireland as was not comprised in 'Northern Ireland'.
Early in May, 1921, elections were proclaimed by the Lord Lieutenant for the House of Commons of 'Southern Ireland' and for the House of Commons of 'Northern Ireland'. The First Dáil Éireann, by resolution, agreed to dissolve and to accept the foregoing elections as elections for a new Dáil Éireann. The elections were held on the 24th day of May, 1921.
The Parliament of 'Southern Ireland' was summoned for the 17th day of June, 1921. Of the persons elected to represent constituencies in 'Southern Ireland' none attended save the members elected to represent Dublin University, and accordingly that Parliament was unable to function and never, in fact, did function.
The Parliament of 'Northern Ireland' was opened on the 22nd day of June, 1921, but 12 members elected for constituencies in 'Northern Ireland' refused to recognise the jurisdiction of that Parliament, and never participated in any of its functions. The said 12 members were distributed as follows:- namely, 4 were elected for the Counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone, 2 for the County of Armagh, 1 for the County of Antrim, 1 for West Belfast, 2 for the County of Down, and 2 for the County of Londonderry (including the Borough of Londonderry).
The new Dáil Éireann, known as the Second Dáil Éireann, met in Dublin on the 16th day of August, 1921. It comprised all the members elected to represent constituencies in 'Southern Ireland' (except the members for Dublin University), and certain members elected to represent constituencies in 'Northern Ireland'. The Second Dáil Éireann, like the First Dáil Éireann, claimed to represent and to act for the whole of Ireland.
On the 14th day of September, 1921, the Second Dáil Éireann appointed five plenipotentiaries to negotiate and conclude a Treaty of accommodation and peace with representatives of the British Government. The plenipotentiaries were Mr. Arthur Griffith, Mr. Michael Collins, Mr. Robert Barton, Mr. Eamon Duggan and Mr. George Gavan Duffy. Of these plenipotentiaries Mr. Arthur Griffith and Mr. Michael Collins had both been elected in May, 1921, to represent constituencies in 'Northern Ireland'. Mr. Griffith represented the Counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone and Mr. Collins the County of Armagh.
The Treaty was concluded and signed on the 6th day of December, 1921, and was subsequently duly ratified.
The Irish plenipotentiaries claimed to speak and act on behalf of Ireland, and were dealt with on that basis by the British representatives. The Treaty is a Treaty with the whole of Ireland and not with any part of it. Its first Article is:-
Though the Irish Free State, as set up by the Treaty, thus comprises the whole of Ireland, it was nevertheless recognised that a real problem existed in the North-Eastern corner of Ireland, and that special provisions were required to deal with that problem. The real difficulty of the problem arose from the fact that, whilst some of the inhabitants of that area were anxious to avail themselves of the advantages secured for them by the Treaty, others preferred to stand by the Act of 1920, and to maintain the position created by that Act. The wishes of the inhabitants of the area were recognised to be the dominant factor, and accordingly it was provided that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State should not be exercisable in 'Northern Ireland' for the period of one month, so as to give the people of that area, through their Houses of Parliament, the right of choosing between the alternatives comprised in Articles 12 and 14 respectively of the Treaty.
Article 14 was based upon the Houses of the Parliament of 'Northern Ireland' electing to remain under the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State. In such event, it was provided that the Parliament and Government of 'Northern Ireland' should continue to exercise, as regards the whole of 'Northern Ireland', the powers conferred on them by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, but that the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State should, in 'Northern Ireland', have the same powers as in the rest of Ireland, in relation to matters in respect of which the Parliament of 'Northern Ireland' had not power to make laws under the said Act of 1920. In the foregoing event, the boundaries of 'Northern Ireland' would have remained intact, but provision was made by Article 15 for safeguarding the rights of the minorities in 'Northern Ireland'.
Article 12 of the Treaty provided for the possibility of the Houses of Parliament of 'Northern Ireland' electing not to remain under the jurisdiction of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State. It provided that in such event the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State should no longer extend to 'Northern Ireland', but that thereupon a Commission (being the Commission to whom this statement is addressed) should be set up to determine, in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, so far as might be compatible with economic and geographic conditions, the boundaries between 'Northern Ireland' and the rest of Ireland; and it was declared that, for the purposes of the Government of Ireland Act and of the Treaty, the boundary of 'Northern Ireland' should be such as might be determined by that Commission.
It is provided by the concluding words of Article 12 that 'for the purposes of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and of this instrument, the boundary of Northern Ireland shall be such as may be determined by such Commission'. That boundary has not yet been determined. The presentation of the address mentioned in Article 12 of the Treaty had the effect of staying for the moment, and pending the operations of the Boundary Commission, the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State in 'Northern Ireland'; but it was not contemplated by the Treaty that any area within 'Northern Ireland' should have the right to withdraw permanently from the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State, unless the majority of the inhabitants of such area were in favour of this course.
This Government considers that it is in the position of a trustee for such of the inhabitants of 'Northern Ireland' as wish to remain within the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State. It submits that the work of the Commission consists in ascertaining the wishes of the inhabitants of 'Northern Ireland', with a view to determining, in accordance with such wishes, so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions, what portions of that area are entitled to withdraw permanently from the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State.
The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.
The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
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