Volume 1 1919~1922

Doc No.

No. 240 NAI DT S1801A

Extract from statement by Michael Collins on Northern Ireland policy


Dublin, 4 February 1922

Our claim was clear. Majorities must rule, and in any map marked on that principle under the above headings we secure immense anti-partition areas. If we go by counties, anti-partition has a clear majority in two of the six. Under the other headings the anti-partitionists gain very large areas in Down, Derry, Armagh, and remember that in the remaining area, Antrim and Belfast, there are large minorities of our people.

These are the facts, and we can only come to agreements on recognition of facts. It is useless to think or say otherwise.

Of the first agreement with Sir James Craig many of our followers were inclined to think we gave more than we received. This is the position: We were determined on a peace policy for the North-East. We made a generous gesture in recommending removal of the boycott, and if the response had been equally generous peace would not now be in danger, and I go so far as to say that the Boundary question would not have arisen in its present acute form. We had repeatedly said that the North-East had nothing to fear from us - that we would not coerce them or place them under disabilities. Equally, however, our people must not be coerced, must not be placed under disabilities. Having said this, it is a matter of common understanding, generosity and peace, or it is a matter of misunderstanding and strife. We are giving the peace policy a decent chance.

We also stated that the question was an Irish one, and given freedom from British interference, the good sense of Irishmen would soon find a means of adjusting it. The agreed removal of the British appointed Chairman naturally tended to this end. It would obviously be better for us to agree to a boundary than to have the boundary imposed by the casting vote of a Chairman. A boundary so imposed would leave local bitterness, which would never even arise in the case of an agreed boundary. This was and is our stand.

In conversation, Sir James Craig emphasised the abiding historical and sentimental attachment of his people to such places as Derry and Enniskillen. His people would never, he said, consent to their removal from the scope of the Northern Parliament. No less strong and deep and heartfelt is the attachment and love of our people for these same places, and, indeed, for places in Antrim and Down and Armagh, where we are now in a minority. Exclusion or inclusion, one way or the other will not bring salvation and peace to those places.

What will bring salvation and peace is that the Orange Protestant and the Nationalist Catholic shall be citizens of the same State - citizens alike in rights and in responsibilities. This can only be achieved in the unity of Ireland. My proposal to Sir James Craig, made with the full knowledge and authority of the Provisional Government, is the proposal that, we believe, will find the solution. It is made in a spirit of good-will. It is made in the light of the departure or imminent departure of the British forces from three-fourths of Ireland. With that departure privilege and ascendance must inevitably tend to disappear. Let us all realise this, and, if we do, our proposal will surely find favour, and is,

'That recognising the changed circumstances arising out of recent events, all the Parliamentary representatives of the whole of Ireland be called together to adopt a policy and frame a constitution for our common country.'

The alternative is a resumption of the old disturbances, the old conflicts, the old animosities. They will lead us nowhere. They must come to an end some time. The present may be the golden opportunity for ending them.

Finally, I should like to say that the present deadlock between Sir James Craig and myself is attributed by him to the fact that he was tricked by certain British statesmen. If that be so, then I suggest to him that it is a further convincing argument for dealing between Irishmen only on what are Irish issues only.

There were other matters discussed, the principal one being the question of prisoners captured since the truce. Naturally the question of the men under sentence of death was the main item. I can only say that we did not come to definite conclusions, but I am not without hope of getting a satisfactory result.

I must say also that I believe there are many economic and social matters that would create no difference between us if we were able to find common ground on the main issue - which is the Boundary question, or rather, through the Boundary question - the unity of Ireland.