In the Republic of Ireland there is a school of thought that quite often prevails in some circles; namely, that Michael Collins ‘sold-out’ the Republic and accepted the Irish Free State. The thinking continues that this in turn led to the Civil War and Collins’ untimely death during it.
However this convenient school of thought neatly ignores the fact that the ‘Irish Question’ had effectively been decided years previously. British cabinet papers show that the Cabinet Committee for Ireland had recommended as early as December 1919, that primacy be given to the position of Ulster and thus Unionists, within any devolution of power and dilution of the Union. Mr James O’Connor, the Lord Justice for Ireland, is referenced in the Cabinet meeting as having stated that,
‘…the Irish people lived in an atmosphere of delusions and that Ireland was a land of delusions, where the population, who never read anything but their own newspapers, did not in the least understand the facts of the situation. They believed that the British people only had one desire, namely, to rob the Irish people of their patrimony.’
O’Connor later provided flawed insight in his belief that the Irish people would be willing to work with a plan based on the dual-Parliamentary scheme proposed by the British government.The cabinet discussion which followed coalesced around three main points:
- There should be a Parliament for the South and West of Ireland, but the Six Counties of Ulster should be allowed vote to remain part of the United Kingdom for all purposes.
- There should be a Parliament for the South and West and one for the whole of Ulster.
- There should be a Parliament for the South and West and one for the Six Counties.
The cabinet papers claim that the decision to allow for the exclusion of the Six Counties was granted legitimacy on the grounds that it reflected the position of the Post-war Versailles Conference of the Allied Powers on the right of Self Determination for Small Countries, which the British Government supported.
Eventually the cabinet reached the decision that to allow Ulster to vote in a plebiscite over whether or not they should remain as part of the Union would result in the hardening of all moderate attitudes in a Dominion Status Free State Ireland. They therefore decided to scrap that particular concept. The final Cabinet position was that Ireland must be kept intact as a 32 County Sovereign Parliament, with the greatest of ties to the Imperial Parliament in Westminster and to the Union, with all due deference to the position of those Ulster concerns.
Further concerns stated that the government wished to make the North as ‘homogeneous’ as possible to limit potential strife and avert internecine conflict. The Final passage of the Bill leaving the cabinet read as follows;
The Bill should be worked out for a Parliament for Ulster as well as for the Three Southern Provinces…If after the introduction of the Bill in Parliament, it was found that the limitation of the Parliamentary area to the Six Counties was more acceptable, the proposal might be reconsidered. It was recognised however that the administrative problems would then require very careful consideration.’
The Cabinet Papers may be viewed at the National Archives of the United Kingdom, by following the link: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/image/Index/D7652538?index=4&page=0