Cutting Ireland in Two


IN June 1921, when murder and counter-murder were rife in Ireland, Sir James Craig entrusted himself to emissaries of Sinn Fein and was conducted blindfold to the presence of Mr. de Valera. What passed at this interview history will never perhaps know, but legend affirms that Mr. de Valera’s discourse on the Irish Question began with the invasion of Strongbow. It was not till the Southern Leader had reached the age of Cromwell that the Northern Leader produced his pipe, asking for permission to smoke till Mr. de Valera had come to the twentieth century.

As Mr. Lloyd George said in the recent debates in Parliament: ‘The Celt is an imaginative being. Yes, thank God for it. It is very useful sometimes, but it is troublesome also when you are settling disputes. You settle a quarrel in Ireland, and find that it started with Brian Boru.'

In order to explain the quarrel in its present phase, it is necessary to begin as Mr. de Valera began. From the reign of Henry II to that of James I, Welsh and English adventurers invaded Ireland, as in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Dutch and Huguenots invaded South Africa. They carved out for themselves large estates from the tribal lands of the native inhabitants, who remained to work the soil as their tenants. It follows that their descendants and successors are distributed broadcast over the country, and except in the port towns are seldom found in concentrated groups. Catholics up to the reign of Henry VIII, they were quickly absorbed by the native Irishry.

The spirit of enterprise which followed the discovery of America swelled the stream of adventurers, who after the Reformation in England, Scotland, and Wales were mostly Protestants with the zeal of converts. Then absorption into the Catholic Irishry was checked by the religious difference, though not entirely stopped. Protestant landlords of English descent were thus distributed broadcast over the greater part of Ireland. As they were surrounded by a subject population to which they were aliens in faith as well as in race, their weakness as a Protestant garrison was obvious.

At the end of the Tudor period preparations were made for remedying this defect by clearing the northeastern part of Ireland of a great number of the native inhabitants and driving them into the wilds of Connaught. It was intended to colonize the area so vacated with English settlers, but Elizabeth died before the settlement could be made, and her Scottish successor, James I, seized the opportunity to flood northeastern Ireland with his own countrymen. Ulster was thus converted into an area in which the majority of the peasants as well as of the landlords were identified with the Protestant interest. The country was not of course completely cleared before the settlement. The best of the land which lay in the valleys was taken for the Protestant immigrants, while the mountain areas were left to the Catholic Irishry. Hence to-day the mountainous centre of Tyrone is mainly Catholic, while the majority of Protestants are often to be found in the valleys which surround that centre.

The change introduced by James I was a serious departure from the scheme as originally conceived. The Tudor sovereigns had intended to hold Catholic Ireland through the agency of a garrison which was not merely Protestant, but Episcopalian. From the English standpoint the majority of the Presbyterian settlers from Scotland were Nonconformists. They, like the Catholics, were excluded from political power, and until 1780 the Irish Parliament represented Episcopalians alone. This partly explains why so large a number of Washington’s soldiers, and those the most combative, were drawn from the Presbyterians of Northern Ireland. ‘The Irish Presbyterians,’ says Lecky, ‘appear to have been everywhere bitterly anti-English, and outside New England it is probable that they did more of the real fighting of the Revolution than any other class.’ It explains why the independence of Grattan’s Parliament was achieved by the support of 80,000 armed Protestants with their centre in Belfast. It explains why the most resolute opposition to the Act of Union in 1800 came from Ulster.

The Catholics on the whole supported the Union because it was accompanied by the promise that they would be admitted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to political rights, a promise the fulfillment of which was delayed until 1829. But for the delay, Catholic Ireland might well have become reconciled to the Union, as Scotland had done a century before. The industrial North meanwhile had come to recognize the benefits of free trade which the Union secured for their manufactures in Great Britain. The tardy concession of equal political rights obviously meant that Catholics would rule Ireland if the Union were repealed. After 1829 the grandchildren of the Presbyterians, whose bayonets had achieved Irish autonomy in 1780, became its most resolute opponents. The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871 removed the last serious difference which divided the Protestant camp. Industrial Dissenters in the North combined with Episcopalian landlords in the South to influence if not to control Irish policy through Parliament and also through the administrative offices of Dublin Castle.


In seeking the repeal of the Union, Nationalist Ireland has always been divided into two camps. From the days of Emmet to those of the Fenians and Sinn Fein there was always a party which believed only in physical force. The other section — led by men like Daniel O’Connell, Isaac Butt, Parnell, and Redmond — trusted to constitutional methods. The conversion of Gladstone to their cause in 1886 strengthened their hands, and of course gravely alarmed the Protestant Unionists. Gladstone’s defeat in the Lords, however, in 1886 and again in 1893, allowed them to hope that further projects of Irish autonomy could always be frustrated by constitutional methods. The Parliament Act of 1911, which enabled the Commons to override the veto of the Lords by passing a measure in three successive sessions, destroyed the safeguard to which they had trusted since 1886. On September 28, 1912, began the signing of a ‘Solemn Covenant’ which ran as follows: —

Being convinced in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as to the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we whose names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George V, humbly relying on the God whom our fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, hereby pledge ourselves in Solemn Covenant throughout this our time of threatened calamity to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland; and, in the event of such a Parliament being forced upon us, we further solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognize its authority. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names, and, further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.

To this Covenant the great body of Protestants in the nine counties of Ulster subscribed. Its occasion was the Home Rule Bill for all Ireland, which had been published on April 11, 1912. It is now known that when this measure was in preparation a minority in the Cabinet, which included Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Churchill, had been in favor of excluding from its operations the four counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, and Londonderry, which contained Protestant minorities. Lord Loreburn persuaded the Cabinet to reject their counsels. In Parliament, however, the matter was raised by Mr. Agar-Robartes, himself a Liberal, who moved to exclude the four counties. The amendment was lost.

The Bill was rejected by the Lords, passed once more by the Commons in 1913, and again in 1914. The Ulster Covenanters meanwhile had organized and armed themselves to resist the measure. On May 25, 1914, when asking for the third vote necessary to override the veto of the Lords, Mr. Asquith undertook that, if an agreement could be reached with the Ulster Unionists as to the area to be excluded from the Bill, statutory effect would be given to it. In the meantime the Home Rule Bill would not be presented for the King’s assent. On July 21, no agreement having matured, the King summoned a conference of party leaders at Buckingham Palace. The Ulster leaders who had stood out for the exclusion of all nine counties were now willing to agree to the exclusion of six, the Nationalist leaders to accept the exclusion of four. The difference which could not be settled was over Fermanagh and Tyrone, in which the Catholics had small majorities.

When the breakdown of the conference was announced on July 24 it seemed as if events must lead inevitably to the cataclysm of civil war. The state of affairs in Ireland certainly encouraged Germany to believe that England might be ignored in the crisis of those momentous hours. A national catastrophe was averted by that which Germany forced on the world. When she invaded Belgium, Redmond and Carson both rallied to the support of the British cause.

In September the Government decided on the one hand to present the Home Rule Bill as it stood for the royal assent, and on the other to submit to Parliament a Bill suspending its operation till the end of the war. The measure was passed subject to an explicit undertaking from Mr. Asquith that Ulster would not be coerced and that a Bill amending the Home Rule Act in the interests of Ulster would be introduced before the Act was brought into operation.

And so the matter rested until the outbreak of the rebellion in Dublin on Easter Day, 1916. In the early summer Mr. Lloyd George, acting on behalf of the Cabinet, negotiated with Redmond and Carson an agreement whereby Home Rule was to come into immediate operation for the twenty-six counties. The six counties were to remain as they were till the end of the war, when their ultimate destiny was to be submitted to an Imperial conference. There was a latent misunderstanding as to whether the six counties were to be bound by the findings of the conference. Both leaders secured the assent of their respective party organizations to the plan as they understood it, though not without protests, so far as the North was concerned, from the 70,000 Protestants and Covenanters in the three Ulster counties of Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan, who were to come under the Dublin Parliament. The plan was actually wrecked by Unionist members of the Cabinet, who refused to agree that Irish members should continue to sit in Parliament at Westminster pending the settlement at the end of the war.

The events which followed upon the Easter rebellion, including the acceptance by Redmond and his followers of the exclusion of the six counties, destroyed the Constitutional Party in Ireland. At a time when nothing in the world seemed to count but physical force, the great mass of their followers went over to Sinn Fein. With the opening of 1917 it became apparent that the issue of the war would mainly depend upon whether the United States would throw her unexhausted resources into the struggle on the side of the Allies. The condition of Ireland was a main obstacle, and in March Mr. Lloyd George tried the expedient of remitting the problem to an Irish Convention. Sinn Fein, which now represented a vast majority of Catholic Irish, stood aloof. The representatives of the North refused to come under an Irish parliament on any terms. A majority in the Convention refused to accept partition.

The Armistice of November 11, 1918, was quickly followed by a general election. The Conservatives joined forces with the Liberal section which followed Mr. Lloyd George, who pledged himself in a letter to Mr. Bonar Law against any attempt to settle the Irish question which interfered with the existing position of the six counties. The Coalition was returned by an overwhelming majority. In Ireland the Nationalist Party was almost wiped out. The seventythree members returned for Sinn Fein abstained from taking their seats, declared an Irish republic, and constituted themselves as its government under the title of Dail Eireann. Thenceforward there rapidly developed in Ireland a state of affairs comparable only to the Balkans at their worst. For four years homicide and arson became endemic. In the Protestant North and in the forces of the Crown were elements which adopted the practice of fighting Sinn Fein with its own weapons. These terrible consequences might have been forestalled had the British Government tackled the problem immediately after the war. But criticism dies on the lips of those who remember the tasks which that Government was called upon to face.

The matter was eventually forced upon the attention of the Government by the curious fact that the signature of peace with Turkey which was pending would in terms of the suspending Act of September 1914 bring the Home Rule Act into operation. By the end of 1919 something had to be done to redeem the pledges given to Ulster by Mr. Asquith in 1914, and by the leaders of the Coalition in 1918.

Under the inspiration of certain Irishmen connected with the Convention of 1917, Lord Northcliffe had been advocating through the Times a solution based on a new principle. The idea was to establish Home Rule in the twenty-six counties, and at the same time to give to the other six a separate and exactly similar constitution. To this was to be added machinery to facilitate the union of Ireland by mutual agreement between both areas and governments. The Government appointed a committee, under Mr. Walter Long, to prepare a scheme, the outlines of which were foreshadowed in a speech which Mr. Lloyd George made in the House on December 22, 1919. There were four alternatives, he said, with regard to boundaries. The first was to give the whole of Ulster to the North, the second to leave the choice to the option of each county, the third to take the six counties. ‘The fourth suggestion is that we should ascertain what is the homogeneous northeastern section, and constitute it into a separate area, taking the six counties as a basis, eliminating, where practicable, the Catholic communities, while including Protestant communities from the coterminous Catholic counties of Ireland, in order to produce an area as homogeneous as it is possible to achieve under these circumstances.’ He indicated his own preference for this course.

As we now know from his recent statements in the House, the suggestion had come from the Northern leaders themselves. Their fellow Covenanters in Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan were raising passionate protests against the abandonment of 70,000 Ulster Protestants to the South. The idea of tracing some fresh line which could include more Protestants and fewer Catholics was certain to be discussed.

In view of the pledge given at the election of 1918, the Government probably felt that Ulster must be given the final word. On May 13, 1920, Sir Edward Carson said in the House of Commons: —

‘ We called in six or seven hundred delegates from the whole of Ulster; we thrashed this out—I am glad to say with very good temper all around. We heard what the delegates had to say from the three counties, and from the six counties. I do not say that they were unanimous — that would not be true; but a very vast majority of the delegates representing the whole of Ulster were in favor of maintaining the Bill as it had been brought in by the Government.’

The idea of a commission to readjust the boundaries of the six counties in such a manner that it would include as many Protestants and exclude as many Catholics as possible went by the board. Nor is it difficult to conjecture why. Delegates from the six counties were in a vast majority over those from the three. Each of the former must have felt that, if the six counties were taken as they were, his constituents were once for all safe within the fold. If the matter were left to a commission, some of them, embedded in a larger mass of Catholics, might be transferred to the South. The delegates in the six counties voted strictly in the interests of those they represented, and were able to outvote the delegates who represented Protestant groups in the three counties who were anxious for inclusion in the six.

The difficulty of holding a boundary commission in the then disturbed state of the country supplied the Government with an additional reason for adopting the course of least resistance. So the area of Northern Ireland was defined in the Act as ‘the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry.’

The result was a boundary which included two counties — Fermanagh and Tyrone — in which the Catholics held the majority and controlled the county councils and most of the minor local authorities. Considerable Protestant communities in the other three Ulster counties viewed with resentment the action of their fellow Covenanters in handing them over to the Catholic majority of Southern Ireland. And, as a glance at the map will show, the boundary established by the Act was one calculated to inflict on both areas the maximum of economic and administrative inconvenience.

The last section of the Act of 1920 repealing the Home Rule Act of 1914 was denounced by Captain Redmond and Mr. T. P. O’Connor as a breach of a treaty with Ireland. The Ulster members themselves refused to vote for the measure, in order to signify their objection on principle to Home Rule in any shape or form. As, however, they agreed that it was now inevitable that Home Rule should be granted to the greater part of Ireland, they preferred to accept Home Rule for the six counties on the ground that they would not then be placed under the Dublin Parliament except with their own consent. In the Commons they insisted that while they would accept the measure they did not want it. By all parties in Southern Ireland, including the Loyalists, it was passionately denounced, and fears seem to have been entertained that it might be rejected by the Lords on the ground that no one in Ireland approved it. The Lord Chancellor in introducing it read to the Lords a letter from Sir Edward Carson, written on behalf of his Ulster colleagues, in which he denied that ‘no one in Ireland wants the Bill passed into law.’ Recognizing the fact that the Home Rule Bill for 1914 was on the statute book, the Protestants of the six counties were anxious for the Bill to pass.

These wishes were fulfilled, and in 1921 the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland were constituted. In Southern Ireland there were no contested elections. All the members but four were nominated by Sinn Fein and refused to take the oath. The legislature and executive of Southern Ireland were never constituted. The struggle continued to develop with ever-increasing ferocity on both sides, till an appeal from the King at the opening of the Parliament in Belfast led to a truce in July and eventually to a conference between representatives of the British Government and Sinn Fein, which met in the following October. The Government of Northern Ireland preferred to stand aloof, subject to a promise that nothing should be done to affect their rights under the act of 1920 without consulting them. By November 10 a tentative agreement had been reached under which the whole of Ireland was to assume the status of a dominion. As the proposals included the six counties, Mr. Lloyd George wrote to Sir James Craig describing them in detail, and invited the Government of Northern Ireland to discuss them with His Majesty’s Government. Northern Ireland was to retain its present government inside that dominion, and would occupy at Dublin exactly the same position it then occupied at Westminster. ‘The question of the area within the special jurisdiction of the Northern Parliament we have reserved for discussion with you. The creation of an All-Ireland Parliament would clearly further an amicable settlement of the problem.’ On the eleventh of November, Sir James Craig replied, declining to discuss any proposal which involved a parliament for all Ireland. In particular he protested against the suggestion that the Northern area was still open to revision, on the ground that it was finally settled in 1920. As a result of subsequent correspondence he eventually consented to a personal interview with Mr. Lloyd George, which took place on Wednesday, November 23. On Tuesday, November 29, he informed the House of Commons of Northern Ireland that at this interview Mr. Lloyd George had authorized him to give them the following information: ‘The message which he agreed both he and I might release at three o’clock is this. By Tuesday next either negotiations will have broken down or the Prime Minister will send me new proposals for consideration by the Cabinet. In the meantime the rights of Ulster will be in no way sacrificed or compromised.’

After November 11 and before December 6 the proposals as submitted to the Government of Northern Ireland had been revised into the shape in which they appear in the Treaty as signed. Under these proposals, as revised, Northern Ireland was still to be included in the Free State, but might opt out within one month of its final establishment. ‘In the latter case, however, we should feel unable to defend the existing boundary, which must be subject to revision on one side and on the other by a Boundary Commission under the terms of the instrument.’

These were the words used by Mr. Lloyd George in the letter under cover of which the Treaty was conveyed to Sir James Craig in Belfast on December 6. Whether, at his interview on the twenty-third of November, Mr. Lloyd George mentioned the agreements now embodied in Article 12 as part of the agreement which the Irish delegates were to be asked to sign has never been stated. That Mr. Griffith had already discussed these proposals with Mr. Lloyd George we know from a letter recently disclosed by Mr. de Valera. We do not know whether they had been drafted in their present form on November 23 or, if so, whether Sir James Craig saw the draft. That he was aware that Mr. Lloyd George did not regard the boundary as settled once for all by the Act of 1920 is proved by his letter of November 11.


Peace with Ireland involved the solution of two principal issues: independence, and the partition of Ireland. To the first, Sinn Fein as an organization was committed; but it well knew that among the Irish at large there was no real desire to renounce their status as British citizens. The partition of Ireland had stirred feelings which were deeper, wider, and far more permanent. Had the Treaty contained no modification whatever of the arrangements imposed by the Act of 1920, its chance of approval in Dublin when signed would have been slender indeed. The resumption of a struggle conducted by methods of which both sides were in their hearts ashamed was the only alternative to signature. It was useless, however, for Griffith and Collins to sign a treaty they knew their followers would not endorse. As after-events have shown, little was needed to turn the scale against it. The absence of any provision to revise the boundary would have supplied that little.

On the fourteenth of December Sir James Craig replied to the letter under cover of which Mr. Lloyd George had sent him the Treaty on December 6. He intimated that Northern Ireland would opt out of the Free State and that his Government reserved the right of dissenting from the appointment of any boundary commission. From the speech which Lord Londonderry made the following day in the House of Lords, it is clear that Sir James Craig and his colleagues had not yet realized the defect in the Treaty which the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was afterward to disclose.

Reappearing in the House on December 15, after long retirement, Mr. Bonar Law said that in view of the pledges given at the election of 1918 the people of Northern Ireland were entitled to consider their boundaries as ‘settled, and settled forever.’ ‘I am going to be fair in this matter if I can, for if anyone ought to know both the difficulties and responsibilities of the Government, and if anyone ought to know how little there is in the idea that people are doing certain things because they wish to stick to office, I am that man. No one ought to know that better than I. I am going to look at the thing fairly. It would not be any defense, to me, that Sir James Craig declined to enter a conference to consider the possibility of an All-Ireland Parliament. Very likely the Government felt that if they did not conclude negotiations right away they might not conclude them at all. If so, I think that that is a defense which ought to be seriously taken into account by the Ulster representatives. I say further that if the Boundaries Commission is carried out in a spirit worthy of the agreement, which means not the possibility of throwing out a county but a real adjustment of boundaries . . . I think Ulster would make a very great mistake if it refused to have anything to do with the agreement on that account.’

Since the separation of the six counties had taken place, Erskine Childers had produced on behalf of Sinn Fein a series of maps, showing in graphic form the results of parliamentary and local elections in Northern Ireland. Wherever an election area, whether large or small, showed a Catholic majority it was marked in black, the argument being that the principle of self-determination involved its transfer to the South. The result would of course have been such a mutilation of Northern Ireland that its existence as a separate area of government would have been impossible. From subsequent statements we know that the Irish delegates produced such maps in the discussions which took place over Article 12, and argued their claim to the transfer of the two counties in which Catholic majorities were shown and also to Londonderry and Newry. We also know that the British delegates refused to accept any clause which would make the revision of the boundary depend on votes taken in counties, districts, parishes, or any other existing electoral areas. Article 12 as it now stands is clearly inspired by the idea that, subject to economic and geographical considerations, the commission should be left free to trace a boundary which would include the largest possible number of Protestants in the North and the largest possible number of Catholics in the South, taking the six counties as a basis. It was, in fact, a reversion to the plan originally mooted by the Ulster leaders, which Mr. Lloyd George had foreshadowed in his speech of December 22, 1919, but which was rejected by the delegates from the six counties shortly after.

In a speech which Lord Birkenhead made on the seventh of December, he used language which might be and has been interpreted to imply that Article 12 meant option by counties. In the parliamentary debates, however, of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth, he and the other British signatories made it clear that so far as they were concerned the article was intended to mean what Mr. Bonar Law, in the passage above recited, said it ought to mean. No objection was made to their statements by the Irish signatories. Nor was the subject raised in the raging discussions of the Dail which followed and were only brought to a close in January, when the Treaty was approved by a narrow majority. The members of that body were obsessed by the abstract question of independence, which made no real appeal to the majority of Irish electors.

As soon as the Treaty had been approved in Dublin the Provisional Government under Collins was established in accordance with Article 17. Its functions were to administer the twenty-six counties until a constitution framed by themselves in accordance with the Treaty had been given the force of law. The Free State would then be finally established and Northern Ireland would then have to decide within one month whether to remain in the Free State or to separate, subject to a revision of the boundary.

On January 21, Mr. Collins met Sir James Craig in London and agreed that in place of the Commission, as provided in the Treaty, the boundary should be settled between themselves. Another meeting was arranged at Dublin, with a view to settlement of further points at issue. Both leaders were immediately pressed by their followers to say how they meant to interpret the agreement. A speech by Sir James Craig raised feelings of distrust in the Northern Catholics. Deputations of protest poured into Dublin from beyond the border, in reply to which Mr. Collins made promises equally extreme as to the claims he intended to make. The Childers maps were freely produced and circulated in the North, where they lashed the Protestants into a fever of suspicion. When Sir James Craig reached Dublin for the second conference he met Collins fresh from an interview with a stormy deputation from Newry. The results were announced in the following statement to the evening papers: —

The following agreed statement was issued this afternoon by Mr. Michael Collins, Chairman of the Provisional Government, and Sir James Craig. The discussion between Mr. Collins and Sir James Craig was almost entirely confined to the subject of the Boundary Commission. Owing to the fact that Mr. Collins stands on the Boundary Commission and the Irish Delegation’s agreement with Mr. Lloyd George that large territories were involved in the Agreement and not merely a boundary line, as Sir James Craig was given to understand privately by several British Ministers and the statement of Mr. Lloyd George in the House of Commons, no further agreement was reached, and a very serious situation has consequently arisen.

So ended an agreement which if it had matured would have saved Ireland from miseries untold. As in all revolutions, there were elements which its leaders could not control. Certain members of the Irish Republican Army were under sentence of death for murder in Northern Ireland. As the Northern ministers refused to advise their reprieve, the Imperial Government instructed the Viceroy to reprieve them. A few hours before this decision was announced armed bands from Southern Ireland crossed the border, captured a number of Protestant hostages, and conveyed them south of the line. Appeals for assistance made by Sir James Craig to the British Government met with an immediate response. The Protestant manhood of Northern Ireland were organized as special constables armed with rifles supplied from England, and maintained by the British Treasury at the cost of several millions. Thenceforward the Protestant majority was organized and equipped not only to guard the border, but also to hold in check the minority which refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the Northern Government.

No little credit is due Mr. Churchill for the manner in which he dealt with this iniquitous outrage on behalf of the British Government. His patience and forbearance at this critical juncture alone saved the Treaty. But any hope for better relations between North and South was postponed for several years. This outrage opened the door to a bloody chapter of reprisals and counter-reprisals. It accustomed the Protestant majority of the North to the habit of dominating the Catholic minority by armed force.

The British Government, however, did not allow this incident to deflect it from the policy of helping the signatories of the Treaty to establish a constitutional government in accordance with its terms. It was quickly realized that until the Treaty was given the force of law the Provisional Government in Dublin would possess no legal powers. In February 1922, the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act was introduced into Parliament to legalize the Treaty and to give the Provisional Government the powers they needed until such time as a formal constitution could be framed and enacted. The provisions of Article 12 thus came under discussion again, while the controversy between Mr. Collins and Sir James Craig was fresh in men’s minds.

On behalf of the Ulster members various amendments were moved, some in the Commons, others in the Lords. One prescribed the omission of the boundary provisions from the Treaty; another, that they should not operate except with the approval of Northern Ireland; a third imposed on the Commissioners the interpretation of Article 12 which the British signatories had placed upon it. These amendments were opposed by the British signatories on the ground that (a) Article 12 was an integral part of the Treaty, without which the Irish delegates would not have signed; (b) it was expressly intended that the Commission should interpret Article 12 for itself; (c) the Treaty could be altered only by agreement — an attempt by Parliament to alter its terms would destroy the whole Treaty and immediately lead to a resumption of war. The amendments were negatived by overwhelming majorities in both Houses and the Treaty became law as it stood.

In the course of this debate it was first suggested that a ref usal on the part of Northern Ireland to appoint their representative would prevent the constitution of the Boundary Commission. It was presently announced that the Government of Northern Ireland had been so informed by their legal advisers and would act accordingly.


The Free State (Agreement) Act did more than legalize the Treaty. It provided for the creation of a provisional legislature for which an election was to be held in the twenty-six counties. The Southern Irish electorate showed that it approved the Treaty by substantial majorities. Its opponents then resorted to physical force. Rory O’Connor was already encamped at the Four Courts in the centre of Dublin. The Provisional Government temporized, till the coldblooded murder of Sir Henry Wilson in London precipitated the issue. The civil war between the two sections of Sinn Fein who were for and against the Treaty was opened by the storming of the Four Courts. Rory O’Connor and the rest of his associates who had not been killed in action were imprisoned, to be executed some months later as a reprisal for the murder of a Free State officer. Murder and arson became rife once more. The offices of the Provisional Government were converted into a fortress. The property of Loyalists and Free-Staters alike went up in flames. In August, Griffith died. A few weeks later Collins perished in an ambush, and was succeeded by Cosgrave, who became head of the Provisional Government. A renewed boycott enforced by terror, with other outrages perpetrated by Republicans, inflamed Protestant opinion in Northern Ireland. Before its Government could suppress the campaign of murder and counter-murder which raged in Belfast, more Catholics had perished than Protestants. And yet in these evil days the Provisional Government succeeded in producing a Constitution for the Free State, which the British Government was prepared to submit for the approval of Parliament. When the Coalition Government fell at Westminster, the Provisional Government at Dublin was due to expire on the sixth of December; and unless the Constitution was legalized by that date, the Treaty would in practice have lapsed. Mr. Bonar Law on assuming office in October had no choice but to dissolv e Parliament. It was just possible to do this in time to pass the Free State Constitution by December 6. In appealing to the electorate he and all other parties pledged themselves to sustain the Treaty. In the event, the necessary legislation received the royal assent on the fifth of December without a division in either House.

The struggle in Ireland pursued its devastating course till the early summer of 1923. When the Republican resistance at length collapsed, the Free State Government had put some 50,000 men into the field, had interned upward of 12,000, and had executed some 80 of their former associates. For the houses burned by the Republicans vast liabilities had to be assumed. In July, however, it became possible to fix the first elections to be held under the Free State Constitution, for August. The Free State also appointed Dr. John MacNeil as its representative on the Boundary Commission, and on July 19 called upon the British Government to constitute that body. The Duke of Devonshire replied that as soon as that election had been held (which also involved the reconstitution of the Free State executive) he would have a communication to address to both Governments in Ireland. The elections resulted in the return of a considerable minority of Republicans — so many, in fact, that President Cosgrave could depend on a majority only so long as the Republican deputies refrained from taking the oath.

In September, President Cosgrave headed a deputation to Geneva to support the application of the Free State for admission to the League of Nations. The application was supported by the two British ministers, Lord Robert Cecil and Mr. Edward Wood, who represented the Government at the head of which Mr. Baldwin had now taken the place of Mr. Bonar Law. The report to the Assembly upon which the Free State was admitted, and to which these two cabinet ministers were parties, contained the following passages: —

According to precedent the subcommittee has based its investigations on the questionnaire used for the admission of new members of the three first assemblies.

Question number 3 reads thus: —

Does the country possess a stable government and well-defined frontiers?

The answer to this question given in the report is as follows: —

To the third question the subcommittee replies in the affirmative. The subcommittee has been informed that provision for the final delimitation of a part of the boundary has been made in the Treaty, dated December 6, 1921, embodied in the fundamental law constituting the Irish Free State.

When the Dail met, Mr. Cosgrave was reelected to the office of President, and on September 22 invitations were addressed to him and to Sir James Craig by the British Government to appoint delegates to a conference to see whether the boundary could not be settled by agreement. The British Government reaffirmed its duty to carry out the provisions of the Treaty if no agreement could be reached. Both Governments agreed to the conference, but its meeting was postponed, first by the session of the Imperial Conference in October, then by the resultant dissolution of Parliament, and again by the result of the election, which involved the fall of Mr. Baldwin’s Government when the new House met in January. One of the earliest acts of the Labor Government which succeeded to office was to summon the conference, which met in London February 1, 1924. On the second of February it adjourned, and ow ing to the serious illness of Sir James Craig it did not meet again till April 24, when it finally broke down. These delays, fully exploited by the enemies of the Free State, were gravely embarrassing to its Government. In the course of these negotiations Mr. Thomas, the Colonial Secretary, made no secret of the fact that in his view the problem could be solved only by the union of North and South, and that the final definition of the boundary under the Treaty, except by consent of both parties, would indefinitely postpone the prospects of union. President Cosgrave and his colleagues probably shared those views, but their hands were tied by the claims of the Catholics in Northern Ireland. Order had been established in the six counties since 1922, but only by the precarious expedient of arming the majority while disarming the minority. The Catholics used their dominant position in the local authorities of Fermanagh and Tyrone to thwart the Northern Government. That government first suppressed them and then enacted a law so altering the franchise and the distribution of constituencies as to ensure a Protestant ascendancy in the local authorities even of the two border counties. They made no secret of their intention to abolish at the first opportunity the system of transferable votes which secures to the Catholics their due proportion of representation in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The continued refusal of the Catholic members to take their seats in the House opened the way to such measures. They gravely accentuated the irredentist demand for the revision of the boundary, which the Free State Government was unable to disregard. It must be added that the Protestant minority in the South has no such grounds for complaint against the Free State.

Against any approach toward union between North and South the Free State Government had itself created serious obstacles. Meticulously faithful to the letter of the Treaty, in exercising the rights of full dominion autonomy they ignored the susceptibilities of the North. They converted the boundary into a customs frontier, and eliminated every recognition of their connection with the Crown and Empire except where it was enjoined by the express terms of the Treaty. The Union Jack no longer waves over any public building in the Free State. The Royal Arms have vanished from the Courts, the King’s name from commissions, his image from the stamp; the red postboxes were repainted green. Behind the harsh and dominating features of the North the South has failed to perceive that there burn ideals, deep, sincere, and unconquerable as their own. History has taught both parties to trust but little in arguments other than those of coercion.

All attempts at conciliation having failed, the British Government on the twenty-ninth of April requested the Government of Northern Ireland to appoint a representative and proceeded to select Mr. Justice Feetham, an eminent member of the South African bench, as Chairman. On the tenth of May the Government of Northern Ireland formally refused to appoint. The British Government then requested the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to advise whether the Commission could be legally constituted in the absence of an appointment by the Government of Northern Ireland. The Chief Justice of Australia and an eminent Canadian judge were invited to attend the Committee, and while they were on their way renewed attempts to bring about a settlement by agreement were made, first by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, and then, at his request, by Mr. Justice Feetham — both without result.

In July the Judicial Committee sat and reported that, failing an appointment by Northern Ireland, the Commission could not be constituted under the Act. The absence of any provision under this contingency was described as a casus improvisus. In the course of the argument before the Committee, counsel for Northern Ireland agreed with Lord Dunedin, the presiding judge, that the defect could be legally remedied by an Act of Parliament. The question whether this could be done constitutionally was not discussed.

As soon as the findings of the Judicial Committee were known, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald invited Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Lloyd George, and the other signatories of the Treaty who were still in Parliament, to a conference. Subsequent events have shown that Mr. Lloyd George agreed that the defect must be remedied by legislation. Mr. Baldwin, however, was opposed to legislation, unless the Commission was also restricted to a mere rectification of the boundary.

An agreement was then made with the Free State that the British Government should be empowered by legislation to constitute the Commission by appointing the third representative in default of the Government of Northern Ireland. The agreement was signed by Mr. MacDonald and President Cosgrave. Early in August bills legalizing this agreement were introduced into Parliament and the Dail. It was announced that Parliament would meet to take the second reading on September 29, and that when the agreement had been legalized at Westminster the Dail would meet to complete its ratification. Both legislatures then adjourned. Mr. John Devoy, the aged Fenian leader, on a visit to Ireland made a strong appeal for settlement by agreement, on the ground that fixture of the boundary by compulsory arbitration would operate as a bar to Irish union. The appeal, like all its predecessors, was without result, but it is worth noting that it came from the leader of a party which has in the past stood for physical force. The Irish Statesman, edited by G. W. Russell (Æ), was zealous in the same cause.


On September 30 Parliament met. In moving the Bill, Mr. MacDonald argued that in 1922 Parliament and also the electorate had both explicitly decided that the boundary must be subject to a revision by a commission which must also be left free to determine for itself the meaning of Article 12. British honor was involved in removing the unforeseen error in draftsmanship which prevented the Government from giving effect to the clear intention of the Treaty. He made it clear that unless the Bill was carried the government would go to the country. Mr. Baldwin intimated that the Unionist Party as such would not divide against the Bill, but in committee would move an amendment restricting the commission to rectification. The second reading, however, was opposed by the Ulster members, but was carried by 291 votes to 124, some Liberals as well as Conservatives voting against it.

This debate was closed by a speech from Mr. Thomas, which a distinguished member of the Opposition described as the ablest which the House of Commons had heard in recent years. The Conservative amendment was negatived by 257 votes to 207, and the Bill then went to the Lords.

The most positive assurances have been given to the House by Mr. Thomas that he will use his powers under the Act to appoint a member of the Commission who will represent, not the views of the British Government, but those of the Government of Northern Ireland. In reference to this statement Sir James Craig spoke as follows on October 7 in the Parliament of Northern Ireland: —

‘If this new compulsory Boundary Commission is persisted in, and the finding is such that it is acceptable to the Parliament of Northern Ireland as representing the people — well and good. On the other hand, no matter whom the British Government may nominate as the third member, if the decision is such that it cannot be accepted by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, I for my part will not hesitate for a moment, if no other honorable way out is open, to decline to be responsible for carrying on the government. I would then resign and place myself at the disposal of the people, no longer as Prime Minister, but as their chosen leader, to defend any territory which we may consider has been unfairly transferred from under Ulster, Great Britain, and the Flag of the Empire.’

The debates in the second chamber took place on the seventh, eighth, and ninth of October. To the motion that ‘the Bill be now read a second time’ Lord Salisbury moved to insert after the word ‘that’ these words: ‘this House, having taken note of the opinions expressed in Parliament and elsewhere in connection with the passage into law of the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922, by the Members of His Majesty’s Government who were signatories of the Irish Treaty, that Article 12 of that instrument contemplated nothing more than a readjustment of boundaries between Northern Ireland and the Free State, and believing that no other interpretation is acceptable, or could be enforced, resolves that.’

In the Commons such an amendment would have been disallowed by the Speaker, but under the laxer procedure of the Lords it went to a division. The Government opposed it; but the amendment was carried by 71 votes to 38. It has, of course, no legislative effect whatever, and merely served as a record of the personal views of those who voted for it. In Committee on October 9 Lord Carson moved an amendment providing that, in view of Sir James Craig’s speech, the measure could not come into operation until it had received the assent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland; but he did not press it to a division, and the measure received the royal assent and became law that night. It does not come into operation, however, until the scheduled agreement has also been approved by the Free State Legislature.

On October 8 the Government was defeated in the House of Commons on a motion for a committee of inquiry into the conduct of the AttorneyGeneral in withdrawing a prosecution for sedition against the acting-editor of the Worker’s Weekly. On the ninth the Prime Minister announced that the King had accepted his advice to dissolve Parliament, which was accordingly dissolved. Whatever the results of the General Election on October 29, it may be presumed that the Free State Legislature will have confirmed the agreement in time for the Labor Government to appoint a member on behalf of Northern Ireland and so constitute the Commission. The ultimate decision will then rest for the most part with Judge Feetham. Seldom has a heavier burden been placed on judicial shoulders. But even if the boundary can be fixed without disturbing the peace of Ireland, a compulsory award will operate to defer the day of Irish Union — unless perchance the spirit of Abraham Lincoln should descend upon some leader, in the Free State or in Ulster, and nerve him to master his own Vindictives.