Saturday 24 February 2018

Dev: right about the Treaty, wrong about the Civil War

The Sinn Fein leader had a clear insight into what it was possible for the British to concede if the negotiations had broken down, writes Charles Lysaght

THE debate on whether the Irish representatives should have signed the articles of agreement that came to be described in nationalist Ireland as the Treaty has suffered because insufficient attention has been given to the options open to the British if the negotiations had broken down. There has also been a reluctance to sever the question of whether the Irish delegation should have signed the Treaty from the question of whether it was justifiable to oppose its acceptance by armed force.

It is well known that the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had secured the signature of the Irish delegation by threats of all-out war against the rebels. What is less well known is that the testimony of Geoffrey Shakespeare (the official who carried tidings of the agreement to James Craig in Belfast) shows that the British delegation was surprised when the Irish representatives signed up.

They knew that Lloyd George's threat was empty and that an all-out war would solve nothing. They would still have been faced with the task of governing Ireland. There had been an outcry in Britain against the behaviour of the Black and Tans and a general consensus that Ireland had to be left to govern itself internally. A predominantly Conservative government had enacted the Government of Ireland, 1920, which provided for this.

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