‘The Irish Are Delusional’: British Cabinet Papers & Anglo-Irish Treaty


The British Imperial War Cabinet, Downing Street gardens


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

About eamonntgardiner

I am a PhD Student at the National University of Ireland, Galway. I am conducting research into links between wartime traumatic-neurosis and evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst British First World War veterans serving as Auxiliary Policemen in Ireland during the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921. I have previously conducted research into local Irish Volunteer/Old IRA units in Munster as well as British responses to popular insurgencies in areas they administered. I have previously published a book on the British Counterinsurgency responses to the IV/IRA conflict in Ireland, 1919-1921, entitled 'Dublin Castle and the Anglo-Irish War: Counter Insurgency and Conflict.' I have also published papers on various aspects of that war and also on other insurgencies. I write a regular blog on those and other related matters, which can be read at https://eamonntgardiner.wordpress.com/ My research interests include Feminism and De-Colonialisation/Post-Colonialism, Insurgency, Police and Military Histories, Institutional Histories. Subaltern Studies, International History of the 20th Century, Modern Irish History, Historiography, History of Conflict, Peace Keeping/Enforcement/Protectorates, Spheres of Influence, Hegemonic Theories, Old and New Terrorism.
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One Response to ‘The Irish Are Delusional’: British Cabinet Papers & Anglo-Irish Treaty

  1. Pingback: ‘The Irish Are Delusional’: British Cabinet Papers & Anglo-Irish Treaty | eamonntgardiner

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