Volume 1 1919~1922

Doc No.

No. 256 NAI DT S1801A

Statement by Michael Collins on relations with Northern Ireland

Dublin, 27 March 1922

The Provisional Government have never asked for a meeting, but, true to their consistent desire for peace and harmony in all Ireland, they will now, as hitherto, put no difficulties in the way of such a meeting and will accept the British Government's invitation.

The Provisional Government have been always ready, as the British Ministers well know to do everything in their power to bring about a peaceful arrangement with Sir James Craig.

On several occasions they have gone far to meet him, and he cannot deny that they have never broken any undertaking that they have given him. Unfortunately Sir James Craig has not been so meticulous in his attitude towards us. He has neither kept his undertakings with us nor done anything to meet us on the several points of controversy.

At this very moment it is no harm to retrace briefly events since the signing of the Pact between Sir James Craig and myself.

This pact was agreed to between us and signed on Saturday 21st January. I undertook by it to get the Belfast Boycott discontinued immediately and Sir James Craig undertook 'to facilitate in every possible way' the return of Catholic workmen who had been expelled from the Belfast shipyards and various other concerns.

It will be remembered that my part of the agreement was carried out at once, and Northern commercial men have been free to enter and sell their wares in any corner of the twenty-six counties since, and I have not heard of one case in which they have been interfered with.

On the other hand, what has Sir James Craig done? It is exactly nine weeks to-day since that agreement was signed, and in all that time not one single expelled Nationalist or Catholic worker has been reinstated in his employment, nor has Sir James Craig, to my knowledge, taken any action whatever or even publicly expressed a wish that his part of the agreement should be honoured.

There are at present 9,000 workers, all citizens of Belfast, who have been driven out of their employment solely because they happen to hold different political and religious views from the 'Sam M'Guffins of the crowd.'

Sir James Craig has not kept his honourable undertaking with me.

On Tuesday last, a Deputation, seven in number, representing the expelled workers, met Sir James Craig, but got nothing from him but a bare statement to the effect that he could not keep his undertaking with me owing to the difference existing from the Boundaries question and the tense feeling created by other causes.

Feeling over the Boundaries question and over the horrible Belfast atrocities, which have revolted the civilized world, is just as keen and just as tense in all parts of Ireland, inside and outside the Six Counties, as it is in the portion of the Six Counties which supports Sir James Craig, but still that did not prevent our part of the agreement being honoured.

If this is the way Sir James Craig intends to honour any obligations he may incur with us, meetings will, I am afraid, serve no good purpose, as he obviously looks upon such agreements as mere scraps of paper.

His accusation that we were promoting trouble in Belfast is an indication of his defined attitude of hostility towards our people and his disregard for the simple truth of the situation. 'Southern Ireland' he declared in a speech in the Belfast Parliament on the 15th instant 'desires to coerce Ulster citizens and stir up strife here by bombing our citizens and sniping at them, and carrying on their warfare to the best of their ability.' This is, of course, an absolute fabrication, but I must say that I consider it an outrageous statement for any man in Sir James Craig's position to make at any time, but especially at the present tense moment.

Sir Dawson Bates, Sir James Craig's Home Minister, told the Belfast Parliament on the same occasion that as soon as he took up office he ordered their constabulary to refuse to continue the liaison arrangements under the Truce. This was another clear indication of his attitude.

Our position with regard to the North-East corner, as I have stated earlier, has been consistently one of willingness to do all we can to effect peace in that portion of the country and to meet the objections and difficulties of Sir James Craig's party as far as we possibly can. We are always ready to attend every meeting where there is any likelihood of this object being attained, and in this spirit we have accepted the present invitation from the British Government.

But whilst hoping for the best, I can only say that I see no way out of the Northern impasse until Sir James Craig radically alters his present inimical attitude towards the Government of Ireland and towards the helpless minority in Belfast.