No. 56 UCDA P150/137

Eamon de Valera to all members of the Dáil Ministry

Dublin, 17 January 1921

It is necessary for us to come to a decision at once on what our attitude is to be with regard to the elections for the Ulster Six County Parliament.1

The fundamental question is: How many Ulster representatives can be elected on the 'abstention' policy. That can be approximately determined by a careful examination of the results of the last parliamentary and local elections, supplemented by the consideration of whether the Republican voters of the last election will, under the new circumstances, stand for this abstention policy, and to what extent we can hope for an accession from the Nationalists. Unless we are able to secure about one-fourth (), or at least one-fifth () - say 10 members - of the total representation for the Republican and Nationalist side, I think it would be inadvisable to show up our weakness, for if the Unionists can secure a majority of much more than three to one, the British will use it in a world-wide way to make it appear that partition was justified.

It would be better in that case for us to boycott the elections altogether, but if we get over one-fourth or so of the representation I think that the arguments are altogether in favor of vigorously contesting the seats, it being understood that the representatives elected will become members of Dail Eireann.

The arguments it seems to me in favor of contesting the seats, provided the condition of a prospect of at least ten successful candidates be fulfilled, are these:

  1. It is the course most directly in line with our past policy and least liable to misrepresentation in foreign countries.
  2. The unity of Republican sentiment throughout Ireland will be demonstrated. Letting the elections go by default will be construed as a throwing up of the sponge on our part as far as the North is concerned. It will be taken that we have given way to 'Partition', and our friends in the North will be thrown of necessity into the Nationalist, or old Party camp, - a result which might later have a dangerous reactionary effect, by contagion, on the South.
  3. The contesting of the elections by us will strengthen our movement in the North, perhaps eliminating the old Party group altogether. This is bound also to have its effect on the South - a result favourable to us.
  4. Contesting the elections will prevent 'Independents' (Nationalist) from going forward. It is difficult to say how this can be affected otherwise, because they are sure to be attracted by the prospect of a substantial Nationalist or Republican vote which is likely to be given them resulting from the animosity towards the Unionists that undoubtedly exists in the North. Any such independent candidature would weaken our position.
  5. Contesting the elections will almost, as well as if we boycotted them, tend to divide the Unionists into Labour and Capitalist groups. If the Nationalists are not represented in the Parliament (assuming it functions at all), the struggle for power will be altogether between the Unionists themselves. This struggle of course will not reach its height until the Parliament is sitting, but if it is made clear in advance that the Nationalists will take no share in the working of the Parliament the struggle between the two sections of the Unionists will develop as early as the election campaign itself, though not perhaps as definitely as if we boycotted the elections.
  6. A great moral effect will be secured if, having contested the election and won a substantial proportion of the representation we boycott the Northern Parliament and attach this representation to Dail Eireann. If we boycott the elections, the extent and significance of the boycott can only be expressed in very indefinite terms through vague statistics which will not carry conviction to the outsider to anything like the extent that a definite number of members elected representing a definitely ascertained vote would. In fact, in my opinion, the boycott of the elections as distinct from a boycott of the Parliament, is bound to be interpreted in the sense referred to in (b) viz: as a throwing up of the sponge because of the weakness of which we were conscious.
  7. The fact that the elections will be under the P. R. system will diminish the danger that our entry would have in tending to solidify or amalgamate the Unionist groups. The reason for amalgamation in the past was as a rule the danger of three-cornered contests under the old system. I have not yet studied the P. R. system in use, but if it gives results even approximately 'proportional' the amalgamation of groups should give but comparatively little advantage.

In favour of a boycott of the elections, I can see only the following arguments:

  1. That the division between the Unionist sections would then develop more quickly and more intensely during the campaign as each of the sections would realise more clearly than if we were in the contest that the struggle for power is between themselves alone. It should be our business, however, to see that this effect is not lost even though we do enter into the contest. It should not be difficult to make it clear from the beginning that successes by us in the elections will have nothing to do with the power of parties in the parliament inasmuch as our representatives will not go to that parliament.
  2. Simplicity of 'not bothering' attitude.

1 The elections took place on 24 May 1921.

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