Epilogue (1922-1930) (2)

Eleanor Hull
Epilogue (1922-1930) | start of chapter

The discussions on the Treaty in the Dáil concentrated themselves chiefly, as was natural to a body that had lately been sworn to a Republic, on the question of the Oath of Allegiance, and much precious time in the earlier sessions was wasted in violent debates on this subject. Griffith believed that an oath of allegiance to the Free State of Ireland and of faithfulness to King George V in his capacity as head, and in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and the other nations comprising the British Commonwealth, was one which any Irishman could take with honour.

The position of Mr. de Valera, who led the opposition, was an equivocal one. More than once he is reported to have said “We have no conditions to impose and no claim to advance but one, that we be free from aggression,” and it is certain that when he commissioned the plenipotentiaries to go to London to discuss terms with the English Government, it was with the clear understanding that a Republic would not even be considered. Mr. Lloyd George had made this abundantly plain in one letter after another before the conference. Mr. de Valera’s own Document No. 2 had contained an oath of allegiance no less full and binding than the oath incorporated in the Treaty; he had even gone farther by making an offer of an annual gift towards His Majesty’s personal expenses.[16]

The question has a larger scope than the personal one, but it may be remarked in passing that the discussion was hardly gracious in consideration of the stimulus given to the proposals for the Treaty by the words of the King himself in his speech at the opening of the Ulster Parliament and his earlier offer of Buckingham Palace as the place of conference in the hope of bringing about a union between the North and South, a consummation desired by all Southerners, Republicans and Free Staters alike.

The question has, however, been a subject of discussion since the acceptance of the Treaty and in April 1927, Mr. Dan Breen, one of the chief independent leaders in the civil war, introduced a Bill to secure the removal of the Oath by amending the Constitution by the repeal of Article 17. But Mr. Cosgrave stood firm and personally moved its rejection without even the formality of a first reading. “It proposes,” he said, “to take out of the Constitution the Oath prescribed by the Treaty. … The Government opposes this Bill. We oppose its First Reading because we believe in honouring our bond, we believe in the sanctity of international agreements. We oppose its First Reading because our honour as the representatives of a nation which has approved of that Treaty is bound to the carrying out of our part of the transaction.”[17]

During the earlier sessions of Dáil Éireann, the Republicans, as objectors to the oath, honourably refrained from entering the house of representatives, but in the year 1927, they decided to take their seats in the fifth Dáil as an alternative to being obliterated as a party, but with the reservation that they regarded the oath as an “empty formula.”

On July 26, the first of these Deputies entered the house and subscribed the roll, and on August 12 the Fianna Fáil party, as they now styled themselves, complied with Article 17 and took their seats. They had secured 44 seats as against the 46 seats of the Treatyites (who adopted the name of Cumann na nGaedheal), Labour 22, Independents 14, and Farmers 11: the total membership being 153. The numbers have changed somewhat in the sixth or present Dáil, the Government now numbering 61 supporters as against 57 of the Fianna Fáil, 13 Labour and 12 Independents, but the farmers party has sunk to 6. It was the first occasion since the passing of the Constitution on which all the Deputies elected took the Oath and subscribed the roll.[18]

It is to be remarked that there has been practically no discussion about the national Flag, such as has played a large part in the debates in South Africa. The flag now adopted by the Free State, a tricolour of Green, White and Orange, has superseded the old green flag bearing the harp, with or without the crown; but no one seems clear as to when or by whom it was brought into use. It stands as a symbol of a hoped for future union between the North and the South, bound together by the white bond of amity.

A cognate question to that of the oath of allegiance was that of the right of appeal from the Irish Supreme Court to His Majesty in Council. Such an appeal to the English Privy Council seems to be a possibility contemplated in the Treaty and advantage has been taken of it to bring the final authority of the Irish Supreme Court into question. But any such position has been strenuously, and it would seem with justice, opposed by the Government of the Irish Free State, who hold that the continuance of the Judicial Committee is a menace to the judicial sovereignty of the Irish Free State, and that executive acts performed by His Majesty on the advice of that body are an infringement of the executive sovereignty of the Irish Free State.

The application for leave to appeal to His Majesty has, in practice, not been a success. It has resulted in a series of bad legal advices to His Majesty and the Judicial Committee is regarded by the Government of the Irish Free State as an institution which is effete, undemocratic, and harmful. The Government take the view that the Judicial Committee is not a judicial tribunal or court in the strict sense; and that their decision given to His Majesty the King in a given case is an advice given by a number of Privy Councillors, and not the judgment of a Court of Law; yet such advice enables His Majesty to perform an executive act by making an Order in Council directing certain courses of action in uniformity with the advice tendered. The Government hold that the only authority competent to advise His Majesty to perform an executive act relating to the Irish Free State is the Executive Council of the Irish Free State.

All such questions relating to the several Self-Governing Dominions which arise in actual practice have to be examined one by one, for as Lord Haldane has said in giving an opinion on an Irish petition for leave to appeal which came up in 1923, “the status of the new Irish Dominion is one which, although it has been likened to a number of the Dominions in the Treaty Act and in the Treaty, is not strictly analogous to any one of them.”

There are certain wide differences of circumstance and outlook in the different Dominions which might lead some of them to regard as a precious privilege the very thing which another might regard as an infringement of a right. The experience and wishes of each Dominion have, in fact, to be taken into account in determining such cases, and the Imperial Conferences form a natural occasion for thrashing out questions which are of importance to all the Dominions in greater or less measure.[19]

The Irish Free State entered the Commonwealth at a time when all the relations between the Self-Governing Dominions and the home Government were receiving a wide expansion in accordance with the growing power and independence of these Dominions, and sweeping changes and new adjustments were necessitated to meet the new conditions. The mutual interests of the group of States called for mutual adjustments because of the close economic and other relations actually existing between them.

Mr. Fitzgerald, as Minister for External Affairs, in presenting a Report of the Conference of 1926, declared that “the attitude of the Government is, and will remain, that those mutual arrangements should be dictated by that mutual interest and by that only.”[20]

The composition of the Seanad (Senate), thirty members of which are nominated by the President of the Executive Council, proves on what wide lines of public policy Mr. Cosgrave bases his actions. The fears of the Southern Unionists that they would have no place in the government of the country proved to be without foundation. Its first Chairman was Lord Glenavy, who, as Mr. J. H. Campbell, K.C., took part with Lord Carson in the Unionist campaign against the Home Rule Bill; and such well-known Peers as Lord Mayo and Lord Dunraven and the Marquess of Lansdowne were among the nominations to the first Seanad.

Business men of position, such as Mr. Andrew Jameson, and distinguished soldiers, such as Lieut.-General Sir Bryan Mahon and Major-General Hickie have sat in it. The Southern Unionists have, in return, shown their confidence in the survival of the Free State and their interest in its welfare, not only by their services in the Seanad but by subscribing largely to the loans floated from time to time by the Government; these loans having been more than once over-subscribed within a few days of their opening.

The first duty of the Government when it came into power was to raise an army competent to restore order. Ireland was in a peculiarly favoured position as regards man-power after the European war. In spite of the loss of 50,000 of her sons on the bloody plains of France and Flanders, the fact that Ireland had escaped conscription, together with the stoppage of emigration, had left the country with unusually large numbers of young men, thousands of them without regular employment.

Ireland, too, was wealthy as it had seldom been before, owing to the high prices that had been paid for food stuffs and cereals through the years of the great struggle, as well as to extra employment given in munition work either at home or in England. The inevitable slump quickly followed the conclusion of peace and the farmers and fishermen were left with considerable debts to meet for fishing boats and tackle, or for agricultural implements, which had been purchased on credit when prices were high and were in many cases only partially paid for.

The disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary after the establishment of the Free State, added to the numbers of the unemployed. The Constabulary had been a semi-military force, but the Government, in spite of the disordered state of the country, decided that the new Civic Guard should be unarmed. It was believed that the people at large would support the police, and so make armed men unnecessary; and the belief has been justified in the long run, though the men at first suffered attacks from the armed bands still going about the country.

For the new regular army men were recruited rapidly, the conditions in the city and outlying districts alike demanding a force to withstand the continued activities of the irregulars. Over 50,000 men were raised, but the difficulty of securing efficient officers to train and command them was very great, for General Mulcahy, who was engaged in forming the National Army, refused to employ retired Irish officers who had served in the British Army.

With the gradual quieting down of the disturbed districts and the disbandment of the irregular forces the army has been much reduced. The army estimates had risen to over £10,000,000 in 1924, owing to the civil war; but by 1926, expenses had been reduced owing to the demobilization of troops, to little over £1,600,000. It is not proposed at present to increase the army, which is designed solely for home-defence and the maintenance of order; for it is believed that the necessity to maintain a considerable body of men under arms has now passed away. But during the earlier years of the new Government there was a constant fear of fresh outbreaks.

A mutiny among the troops was suppressed and revolutionary propaganda heavily punished. Arms had been dumped but not surrendered, and efforts were being made to stir up the irregulars to fresh outbreaks. There still existed a head-quarters staff to direct operations and preparations were going on for revolutionary risings. Large quantities of arms and treasonable documents were found from time to time, even up to the year 1925, when the revolutionary forces seem to have cut themselves apart from the control of Mr. de Valera.

In the early years of its existence the Free State Government put down the insurgents with a strong hand and many of the most notable of the insurgent leaders, such as Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellowes, and Erskine Childers, who were their prisoners, were called upon to face the firing squad. In spite of the doctrinaire pronouncements of pacifists and well-meaning men, no Government has, as yet, found a method of suppressing anarchy without the use of force.

In 1926 and again in 1927, in order to meet these revolutionary activities the Government passed two strong Coercion Acts. The second of these two Acts, entitled the Public Safety Act, was introduced immediately after the assassination of Kevin O’Higgins and in consequence of the anger of the Ministry at being deprived by the bullet of one of their most able members. It was pushed rapidly through, and though the period of its operation was to cease in 1929, it gave in the meantime drastic powers of suppression and punishment to the Government. But the powers given by these Acts were sparingly used; and by the entry into the Dáil of Mr. de Valera and his Republican followers it was believed that danger from this source had ceased.