From Irish Political Review: March 2006

Northern Nationalists In The Dáil: Under-Represented, Mis-Represented, Un-Represented

Part Three: Of Pacts & Tracts & Constitutions

In the period between the Dáil vote endorsing the 'Treaty' (by 64 votes to 57, on 7th. January 1922) and the shelling of the Four Courts (occupied by Republican forces on April 14th.) by the Free State army, with British guns and ammunition (on 28th. June 1922), Collins tried to substantiate his view of the Treaty as the "freedom to win freedom".

He made an election pact with de Valera in respect of the elections scheduled for June, to the Southern Parliament of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, aka the Third Dáil, which was ratified by the Second Dáil on 20th. May 1922, and proposed a united panel of pro- and anti-Treaty Sinn Féin candidates who would simply agree to differ on the issue of accepting the 'Treaty'. The agreement was that the new Government of the Free State established by the 'Treaty' would reflect the existing pro- and anti-Treaty proportions.

This was the period in which Collins' constitution for the Free State was being drafted. According to T. Ryle Dwyer:—"Collins tried to use the election deadline to rush the British into accepting a constitution compatible with [de Valera's] Document No. 2" (De Valera, The Man And The Myths, p109). And this without comment. From a man who intrudes his view wherever it suits him no view here intrudes.

Clearly, it did not suit him to comment on the incongruity here of the British having the final say on the content of the constitution of Ireland.

Not such a Free State after all.

Collins' draft constitution, as submitted to the ultimate arbiter of all things constitutional, stated: "…the legislative, executive, and judicial authority of Ireland shall be derived solely from the Irish people". But Collins had to submit this to a British Government for its approval. Where then was the legislative, executive, and judicial authority of Ireland solely derived from?

Another clause in Collins' draft constitution declared that only the Irish parliament could commit the Irish people to war. And Collins' draft constitution excluded the Treaty Oath.

Britain's response to all this was to exercise the full measure of that sovereignty which the Treaty had allowed it to retain.

And so the Treaty Oath was included in the document. Moreover the Treaty its very self, guaranteeing British sovereignty over the Irish (Free?) State, was scheduled to the Constitution, as the primary source of the legislative, executive, and judicial authority of Ireland. The Treaty that was stapled to the draft constitution was explicitly declared to take precedence over the document it was stapled to. In any dispute between the provisions of the Constitution and those of the Treaty, the Treaty ruled. Britain ruled.

It has to be remembered that the 'Treaty' was not between the British government and the Dáil Government of the Irish people in arms. The negotiations had effectively been that, because the negotiators on the Irish side were careful to remember who and what they represented, but not the document which emerged, under threat of "terrible and immediate war", from those negotiations. The Treaty was between the British Government and its creature, the Southern Irish Parliament as established by Britain's 1920 Government of Ireland Act. Though Dáil Éireann voted to ratify the 'Treaty', Dáil Éireann was never a party to the Treaty. And its ratification of the 'Treaty' was a self denying ordinance of suicidal proportions.

Breaking The Pact

Collins' Constitution was amended to accord with the will of the primary source of the legislative, executive, and judicial authority of Ireland. This was accomplished in a series of meetings held in London during May and early June 1922. The shape of the Constitution, its path to something other than freedom, was clear early on but Collins dragged the process out until 15th. June 1922. His pledge to have the 'Treaty' published before the election was then met by publishing it in time to appear in the press on the morning of the election (June 16th.). On June 14th., speaking in Cork, Collins repudiated his electoral pact with de Valera. This was eight days after both of them had issued a joint appeal in support of the Pact, though Collins then knew beyond any doubt that his Constitution had been transformed into a British charter. The Path To Freedom, it seems, was a somewhat rocky road. Rockier than Piaras Beaslai or whoever cobbled Collins' book together was prepared to recognise.

Freedom To Dream?

Not that The Path To Freedom was at all strong on recognising much in the way of reality. This is from the first chapter:—

"Under the Treaty Ireland is about to become a fully constituted nation.

"The whole of Ireland, as one nation, is to compose the Irish Free State, whose parliament will have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Ireland, with an executive responsible to that parliament. This is the whole basis of the Treaty. It is the bedrock from which our status springs, and any later Act of the British Parliament derives its force from the Treaty only. We have got the present position by virtue of the Treaty, and any forthcoming Act of the British Legislature will, likewise, be by virtue of the Treaty. It is not the definition of any status which would secure to us that status, but our power to make secure, and to increase what we have gained; yet, obtaining by the Treaty the constitutional status of Canada, and that status being one of freedom and equality, we are free to take advantage of that status, and we shall set up our Constitution on independent Irish lines.

"No conditions mentioned afterwards in the Treaty can affect or detract from the powers which the mention of that status in the Treaty gives us, especially when it has been proved, has been made good, by the withdrawal out of Ireland of English authority of every kind. In fact England has renounced all right to govern Ireland, and the withdrawal of her forces is the proof of this. With the evacuation secured by the Treaty has come the end of British rule in Ireland. No foreigner will be able to intervene between our Government and our people. Not a single British soldier, nor a single British official, will ever step again upon our shores, except as guests of a free people."

So the freedom of which he spoke was the freedom to dream? Dreams that could have been dreamed as easily in 1906 or 1926 as in 1922. Or perhaps, as the book was published posthumously, it was a case of being free in the sweet by and by?

The "freedom to win freedom" was something that Collins for six months imagined he had. But really he hadn't the freedom to get the text of his draft constitution past the British censors. For six months in an illusion of freedom Collins hurtled from pillar to post, living his life as freely as any man in a pinball machine possibly could. And really his freedom extended no further than the adaptation to his pugnacious temperament of a self-denying ordinance of suicidal proportions.

Pact With Craig

From pillar to post he ran, from pact to pact, from Craig to de Valera.

Collins met Craig on three occasions in 1922: January 24th., February 2nd., and March 30th. According to Patrick Buckland (A History Of Northern Ireland, p43, using a quotation for which he gives his own biography of Craig as the source): Craig said of the first meeting in London that Collins "made it clear that he wanted a real peace and that he had so many troubles in Southern Ireland, that he was prepared to establish cordial relations with Northern Ireland, and to abandon all attempts to coercion, but hoping to coax her into a union later". Which is probably accurate, given that the two agreed to scrap the Boundary Commission (which Collins, whatever he may have known or believed to the contrary, always assured Northern Nationalists was going to bring Fermanagh and Tyrone at least into the Free State) in favour of direct negotiation between the two governments.

At the second meeting, just over a week later in Dublin, Collins told Craig what he had been telling Northern Nationalists about Tyrone and Fermanagh and Craig at once stopped talking and went home. The Boundary Commission was back in business (the business of hanging about waiting to be set up).

The murder of members of the MacMahon family by Specials and regular police officers operating under Detective Inspector Nixon out of Brown Street Barracks (on March 24th., 1922) led to a third meeting on March 27th. This was convened by the British Government and was held in the Colonial Office in London between Craig, Churchill, Griffith and Collins. It resulted in a wonderful document which began "PEACE IS TODAY DECLARED".

And so it was. Declared. Peace was. In much the same way that Ireland under the Treaty became a fully constituted nation.

These anyway are the terms of the Peace Pact as given by Buckland:—

"The pact provided for the enrolment, with the help of a new committee, of a proportion of Catholics in the Northern police forces; the compulsory wearing of uniforms by and the numbering of all policemen in the North; the proper control of arms and ammunition; a specially constituted court for trial without jury; and a joint committee of Catholics and Protestants to investigate complaints of intimidation and outrage. IRA activities in Northern Ireland were to cease, for Collins boasted absolute control over the IRA. Political prisoners were to be released by agreement, and expelled persons re-admitted to their homes and jobs. The British government was to allow the Northern Ministry of Labour £500,000 for relief works, one-third for the benefit of Catholics, two-thirds for Protestants." (op cit p.44)

Craig Arrests Collins' Men

Some notion of the pact's effectiveness can be gauged from the fate of its Catholic Advisory Committee. This was set up under the pact with Catholics nominated by the Provisional Government. Those Catholic members of the Peace Pact's Catholic Advisory Committee were then arrested by the Northern Government, or their homes were shot up by that Government's Special Constabulary, or both.

So, really, another dead letter day for peace in Ireland.

Anyway, getting back to reality, or at least a more reasonable facsimile thereof, on 30th. January 1922, six days into the first phase of the Craig-Collins pacts, Eoin O'Duffy, chief of staff of the new national army, wrote to Collins (head of the Provisional Government in which Richard Mulcahy was Minister of Defence; he hadn't yet taken the title Commander in Chief, but he was just that):—

"I have information from many sources this morning that there is grave consternation in the counties of Monaghan, Cavan, Fermanagh and Tyrone over the continued detention by the A-Specials of Commandant Hogan, and the Officers of the 5th Northern Division, and they demand authority from me to take immediate action to bring public opinion to bear on the situation…

"You understand that I have arranged for the kidnapping of one hundred prominent Orangemen in Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. This was to take place last Tuesday, the 24th inst., but on account of the agreement arrived at between Sir James Craig and yourself I postponed action until tomorrow, Tuesday, 31st inst. and failing to hear from you to the contrary the kidnapping will commence at 7 o'clock tomorrow evening…

"The North and South Monaghan Comhairle Ceanntair jointly demand that the Boycott be not lifted in Co. Monaghan until the men that did so much to secure the present measure of freedom be released from the custody of the pogromists. I am anxious to reply to my Monaghan friends tonight.

"I should add that there are 54 affiliated Clubs in Co. Monaghan and each of them are sending two delegates to the Ard Fheis. This means 108 votes fore [sic] Monaghan for the Treaty…" (quoted in Coogan, Michael Collins, p344; the Ard Fheis is the one held on 22nd February 1922, which, although it had, as Collins admitted, a strong anti-Treaty majority in attendance, did not actually vote on the Treaty because of yet another pact, between Collins, Griffith and de Valera, which postponed scheduled elections for at least three months so that both Treaty and Constitution could be put to the electorate in good time, and we've seen how that worked out).

Coogan comments very reasonably that:

"…the letter from the Chief of Staff speaks volumes for the attitudes amongst his own supporters with which Collins had to deal. O'Duffy was telling him in plain language that if he needed those hundred Monaghan votes to help him uphold the Treaty and, ipso facto, law and order in the South, then, in the North, illegality and disorder would have to be countenanced and the one hundred Orangemen would have to be kidnapped" (ibid, p.344).

But then, whatever about the South, the North in this period had surely reverted to a state of nature. And what have law and order to do with a state of nature? Pray tell.

Sinn Fein North Advisory Committee

Forty-two people were kidnapped (detained at the Big Fella's pleasure?) in the ensuing raid which Sir James regarded as a "deliberate and organised attack on Ulster". Which it certainly was. More was to follow.

On March 3rd., Richard Mulcahy, Minister of Defence in the Provisional Government wrote to Collins:

"Aiken was tremendously relieved yesterday at the Ulster hitch. Previously in the day he came to speak to me about the Ulster position generally and the following are the points which he stressed very earnestly and asked me to stress with you:

"A better consultative body regarding Ulster than whatever one at present exists is absolutely necessary for the Provisional Government…this body is absolutely essential to preserve a link between a very strong body of Ulster Sinn Féiners and the Provisional Government.

"In your future dealings with Ulster you should not recognise Joe Devlin or his clique…there can be no vigorous or harmonious policy on our part inside Ulster if his people occupy any position in our circle" (quoted in Coogan, op cit, pp342-343).

(Frank Aiken from South Armagh was at that time O/C of the 4th Northern Division of the IRA. Later he was Chief of Staff of the post-war anti-Treaty IRA and then a Minister in successive Fianna Fail Governments. The consultative body already in existence was a very anti-treatyite Sinn Féin Advisory Committee which had been set up following Sinn Féin's February 1922 Ard Fheis by a group of northern Sinn Féiners led by the great Eamon Donnelly. Its work was very quickly undermined on behalf of the Provisional Government by Kevin O'Shiel. It has to be said of O'Shiel, who was also at the sharp end of Dublin's under-resourced Boundary Commission staff that, through his work with the Sinn Féin Courts and Police, he was a major force in the constructive activity that made a popular success of the wartime Dáil.)

Military council For the North

On March 10th. then General O'Duffy sent Collins an official memo announcing that a Military Council for the North had been established with Frank Aiken in command. Aiken's deputy was Seán MacEoin from Co. Longford (the fierce blacksmith of Ballinalee, for whose release from prison Collins had threatened to scupper the Truce; he became Chief of Staff of the Free State Army in 1928 and later twice stood unsuccessfully for the Presidency). This seems to have been the body which handled the smuggling of arms into the North (which were supplied by Liam Lynch's Southern Division in exchange for British arms handed over to the Free State forces. According to Coogan, quoting an affidavit from the 2nd Northern's Thomas Kelly, one of the best of the IRA smugglers was Charles J. Haughey's father, Seán).

At some point in April 1922 Seán MacEoin was promoted to Major-General in the National Army and appointed GOC of Western Command. Frank Aiken did not declare himself and the 4th Northern division of the IRA against the Treaty until near the end of July. So, if the Military Council for the North continued through April, Frank Aiken may have had a Free State Major-General as his deputy. Interesting times.

More interesting than Calton Younger is able or prepared to admit in his Ireland's Civil War where he quotes outrageously disingenuous statements from McEoin, such as this among others:

"The new agreement provided for the cessation of I.R.A activities in the Six Counties and for the reorganisation of the Belfast police. In mixed districts half the police were to be Roman Catholic—'How this was to be sorted out, I don't know', says McEoin. 'It is surprising that Craig agreed but he did and it certainly showed the extent of the goodwill which was between North and South and that Craig recognised that partition shouldn't be permanent'…" (p262).

North-East Advisory committee

The "better consultative body" which Frank Aiken had suggested, set up by Collins as the North-East Advisory Committee, held the first of only two meetings on 11th. April 1922. It was chaired by Collins and consisted of most of his cabinet (Griffith, Mulcahy, Fitzgerald, McGrath, and O'Higgins, 14 representatives of the Provisional Government in all) on the one side and 3 Bishops, some priests, some Shinners and some IRA men on the other. Bishop MacRory, Archdeacon Tierney, Dr. Russell McNabb, Cahir Healy (soon to go cruising for a few years, interned on the prison hulk, the Argenta) and Seamus Woods (O/C of the 3rd. Northern Division) were some of the better known of these.

Coogan (Michael Collins, pp. 356-358) and Enda Staunton (The Nationalists of Northern Ireland, pp. 57-60, 64-65, 67, 78) give similar accounts of the meeting. Staunton concentrates more on the Northern aspects of and input into the meeting, on it as a turning point in the history of Northern nationalism. Coogan is rather less detailed and describes the meeting more from Collins' point of view and as a turning point in the history of Southern nationalism. Both ways of going at the material are legitimate and interesting. So, Staunton first:

"At the first and penultimate meeting of the Provisional Government's North-East Ulster Advisory Committee, Belfast delegates stressed the total separateness of the Sinn Féin and IRA organisations in the city and how the former organisation, since the Truce, had expanded to 12 clubs with over 1,000 members, many of them people 'not in the firing line' during the War of Independence but now 'prepared to die in the last ditch'.

"…The conference highlighted the inefficiency of the Pact from the Catholics point of view—no inquiry had been held onto [sic] the Brown Street murder gang, raiding by the Specials had not stopped and release of prisoners had not taken place. The responses to this varied from those—in the minority—willing to break the Pact outright, and those, such as Dr McRory [sic], prepared to push the demand for an inquiry 'to breaking point' but worried of the consequences for Belfast Catholics if they were seen to break it. In the attitudes expressed, both to this question and the related one of Catholic recruitment to the Specials, it revealed the east-west of the Bann divide which was to become of greater importance in the years that followed. As one delegate commented, 'The Pact is all about Belfast'. While delegates from there saw no difficulty in getting their followers to join the constabulary if certain conditions were met, Gillespie from Cookstown and Healy from Fermanagh were adamant that only the Hibernians in their area would accept such an offer.

"An exchange involving a Derry delegate, the prominent Sinn Féiner Patrick Hegarty, encapsulated the difference:

"'The IRA split last week', he said, 'and there was dread the pogrom would start once more, but inside one hour the IRA and the Hibernians and the people of Derry that are deadly opposed to each other united again. At the last pogrom in Derry half a dozen houses was all that was burned of Protestant property and that was one of the principal reasons why the city remained quiet. The Freemason Gang has more to lose.'

"It was quickly pointed out by Bishop McRory [sic] and a Belfast priest that the analogy was invalid. Derry enjoyed easy access to the Free State and had a Catholic majority. 'One might as well be talking about London', McRory [sic] commented. The question was raised of how the Roman Catholic population would approach the issues of 'education' and 'local government' within the new constraints imposed by the Treaty. McRory [sic] had been worried about the position of St Mary's Training College. It had been largely on his urging that the boycott affecting up to one-third of Catholic secondary schools had been introduced in February. His message now was simple. 'If there is any disposition not to recognise the Belfast government in this matter or in any other matter, I am quite prepared to stand out and let our people suffer on. For I understand', he added ominously, 'there is every likelihood of their being recognised in other matters'. Events behind the scenes proved him right. Lord Londonderry had already approached the Provisional Government for an accommodation on the education question. In the light of such developments Archdeacon Tierney of Enniskillen told the delegates he 'would close with the northern authorities at once' if schools under the Catholic managers got the right to adopt the programme and timetables of southern Ireland.

"Further confirmation of McRory's [sic] point was provided at the meeting itself in the rejectionist remarks and cold shouldering attitude of the southern ministers. For instance, on the issue of local government there was, it was stated, a limit to the extent to which Dublin would subsidise the dissident northern Councils. Despite the encouragement given to public bodies in the north to declare allegiance to Dáil Éireann, no 'regular policy' had been inaugurated to deal with 'local government up there', as Cosgrave admitted. Neither 'the purse of Dáil Éireann' nor that of the Provisional Government was 'a bottomless one' in the changed situation, he told them. Healy voiced his feeling of grievance at this situation. 'They were put out of existence for recognising An Dáil and today we hear that the Dáil recommends a policy of surrender. It may be a good policy but it is not a palatable policy'…

"Despite all its reservations and objections, Dublin typically baulked at the idea of recommending that the dissolved councils be reinstated. That trenched upon the 'policy of abject surrender' deprecated by Cosgrave. Instead it was to be 'left to the chairman of each body' to decide. If they had a nationalist majority they would get back under the terms of the pact, O'Higgins assured them, otherwise the strategy of the Boundary Commission would be better served by leaving the Commissioner appointed by Belfast in place" (Staunton, pp57-60).

"Bound up with any consideration of the position of Catholics in Belfast was the position of the IRA there. At the meeting of the Ulster Advisory Committee in Dublin in April 1922, Woods had described the Pact as agreeable to the majority of the Catholic population. Whereas during three years of war the IRA had 'put up little fight as the civil population backed the enemy' the situation had changed since the Truce. As Dr Russell McNabb told it they now had the 'support of the whole people…of every Catholic in Belfast and were getting along famously when the Pact came'. Commenting on the incendiary campaign against unionists' property he rhapsodised about beautiful fires in Belfast each night, asserting that the burning campaign, if coupled with some arms, would bring unionists to heel. 'If they thought we were going to resume it again would be a deterrent to them' he concluded. Replying to this Collins acknowledged that Dublin had 'for many good months' done as much as possible to get property destroyed, adding that 'unionists thought a great deal more of property than of human life'. But more sober counsels prevailed. Mulcahy, the Minister of Defence, gave his opinion that the cost of paying for such destruction would eventually fall on an Irish government rather than a British one. Other voices, principally that of Bishop McRory [sic], also deprecated the idea. He outlined the starkness of the situation as he saw it: his flock was more dispirited, discouraged and cowed than ever before, the whole Stanhope Street district was deserted, 'our poor people are huddled in the Falls area and sleep on the floor'. Large parts of Belfast, he told them, could not be entered by the IRA for the purpose of incendiary attacks. And even that policy where possible would be counterproductive. 'I can assure you that if you burn houses you will intensify the slaughter and the men who do the burning will have to run away and hide', he told them, warning that it was impossible to do anything, even incendiarism, 'which will not bring down on you a terrible punishment.' Woods' testimony reinforced this. The Falls, he stated, was the only area in which a fight was possible, everywhere else in the city the nationalist people were 'striving for existence'. Volunteers faced the prospect of 'dying for nothing' or getting up to 15 years imprisonment with little prospect of release. 'Sooner or later', he predicted, 'we will have to clear out of Belfast'" (ibid pp64-65).

And now, Tim Pat Coogan:

"It was open knowledge at the Committee that Nixon and company had refused to turn up for the identification parade at Brown St Barracks after Aron St. Collins proposed holding their own inquiry but Bishop MacRory told him that he would need a 'regiment of soldiers' to protect such an inquiry if it were held in Belfast. With characteristic truculence Collins replied, 'We could hold it all right!' He then read out his correspondence with Craig and said that he believed there would be no inquiry and that Craig would attempt to gloss over the pogrom and attempt to represent the situation as being a direct consequence of a Catholic invasion along the border. Griffith explained the dilemma of the Provisional Government:

" 'We're sitting here as political cock-shots for our opponents and we are trying to defend the people of the North-East and our political opponents come along and call us traitors. We're quite prepared for that…and I am quite prepared to advocate the breaking with Craig and take all the consequences. I want to know your views.'

"Views rather than policy were what he got. Bishop MacRory pointed out how helpless the Catholics were, hounded out of jobs and penned into their ghettoes with the Specials rampant, and suggested that if the state and the new police force were recognised to the extent of Catholics taking up the places allotted to them it would at least put arms in some 1,000 Catholic hands. Without the Treaty and the Agreement Catholics were totally defenceless and dependant on relief. At least under the Agreement the one-third of the £500,000 was available. Fears were expressed on all sides as to the debilitating effect of a split in the South over the Treaty in relation to the forces available for Northern Ireland. No one contradicted Mulcahy when he observed 'I take it that under the terms of the Treaty we recognise that Parliament in order to destroy it…to carry out all its terms will ultimately unify the country and destroy the Northern Parliament.'…

"Collins read out correspondence from Lord Londonderry which made it clear that he had lied point-blank on the payments to teachers. He told him that as far as he was aware the Provisional Government was not responsible for the payments. The clerical representatives were not particularly enthusiastic about the payments policy. They were more concerned to have it understood that the schools would remain under Catholic church control. Archdeacon Tierney said firmly: "We have come here merely to attend to the National aspect of things…what I would suggest is that schools under Catholic managers would get the right to adopt the programme and timetable of Southern Ireland. If we get that I would close with them at once.'

"O'Higgins raised the uncomfortable point that the destruction of loyalist-owned property which was occurring in some areas in the South as an unsanctioned collateral of the Belfast boycott was giving the Orangemen a justification for their behaviour. Dr Russell McNabb said, however, that the destruction of property made the other side "uncomfortable" and remarked wistfully that there had been 'some beautiful fires in Belfast each night'. Collins said frankly, 'I know for a good many months we did as much as we could to get property destroyed. I know that if a good deal more property was destroyed…I know they think a great deal more of property than of human life. The whole thing again is what is proposed?' He did not get any clear answer. Nor was he able to give one to MacRory's fundamental query, 'Can you protect us?'…" (Coogan, op. cit., pp356-357).

Both accounts of the inaugural meeting of the North-East Advisory Committee are of great value in ruling out of court a raft of naive and disingenuous accounts of Collins' final year and his relations with his colleagues of the Provisional Government.


So wave goodbye to this from Calton Younger in his biography of Arthur Griffith:

"Both Griffith and Collins were deeply concerned about the North. There was trouble on the border and the Craig-Collins Pact [the one agreed on January 24th., JK] had puttered out. IRA forces moved to the North to protect the minority of Catholic-nationalists and Collins saw to it that they were armed, taking steps to ensure that the weapons could not be identified as British. As sectarian violence flared, Collins doubted Craig's ability to control the situation…Whilst refusing to give an inch on the working of the treaty, he became deeply involved with its opponents in attempting to ameliorate the plight of his co-religionists. The part he played he kept from Griffith, but information reaching the British cabinet made them wary.

"Collins was not trying to coerce the North, only to save Catholic lives, and he continued to seek a solution politically as well as militarily. IRA dissidents saw an opportunity to reunite the divided IRA by switching the emphasis from the Crown to partition, but in London, on 30 March, a second agreement was concluded between Craig and Lord Londonderry on the one hand and Griffith, Collins and Duggan on the other. The IRA's activities in the six counties were to cease and, in return, the Belfast police force was to be reorganised to include a proportion of Catholics in certain areas. But the religious feud continued and the lamentable Belfast Boycott was reimposed, not by the Dáil government but by the IRA, who were able to enforce it" (Arthur Griffith, published by Gill & Macmillan, 1981, page 140).

A later throwaway remark (on page 146) that British suspicions of Collins' involvement in IRA activity in the North were "not without reason" hardly rescues his account from charges of, at best, special pleading.

Also published by Gill & Macmillan is León Ó Broin's biography of Michael Collins which states by the way, in a paragraph about Collins' alleged involvement in the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson:

"[Collins] was involved, in collusion with both pro- and anti-Treaty sections of the IRA, in the whole cross-border campaign behind the backs of the Irish and British governments" (page 133).

BUT Collins was the Irish Government and not existentially capable of acting behind his own back—though as many as could of his Cabinet were no doubt playing deaf, dumb and blind, it was to matters that were unfolding in front of them. Matters which Mulcahy was up to his neck in. Matters about which Griffith, O'Higgins, Fitzgerald and McGrath engaged in conversations with the Northern IRA (and when General Seamus Woods had to retire from the field he was translated into a Free State as a Cumann na nGaedheal TD). A tangled tale no doubt.

So now then, as for Bishop MacRory's question to Collins and his Provisional Government: "Can you protect us?". No, they couldn't. But they weren't about to admit that while Collins was in the room. When Collins left the meeting early Griffith took the chair and all of a sudden succumbed to a degree of realism or, more accurately perhaps, despair, saying:

"These people are being murdered. We can always make reprisals, you can burn their property. That does not save the lives of the people. If you embark on a war policy, you can make things bad for Belfast but you certainly cannot make them better for our people…You can't hit them in Belfast without further exposing our people there to assassination…We have to look at it from one point or another—to save our people's lives or burn the property of our opponents" (quoted in Ronan Fanning, Independent Ireland, p31).

What was said in Collins' absence is of no consequence. Nonetheless Fanning's account of the North-East Advisory Committee meeting, from which that last quotation is taken, tries to present it as the occasion on which a "war policy" was ruled out. He then goes on to completely ignore the Military Council of the North, and the role of the Free State GHQ to claim, contrary to all evidence, that the border campaign was the work of anti-Treatyites. This is the paragraph in which he accomplishes that remarkable sleight of hand:

"Although their anguish and fury at the plight of northern Catholics led Collins and Mulcahy to continue supplying them with arms (albeit secretly and indirectly through the IRA) the process already described whereby they became locked ever more tightly into the treaty in the early summer of 1922 rendered enterprises jeopardising the treaty settlement increasingly foolhardy. It has been well said that 'the Republicans had nothing to lose by attacking the North, the Free Staters everything' and we have seen how the IRA forces in the Four Courts decided to attack the north in a last gamble to overthrow the treaty in the days before civil war began. Until then active non-cooperation remained Collins's order of the day" (ibid. p. 33, the quotation there is referenced to J. M. Curran, The Birth Of The Irish Free State 1921-23, p179, but there is no telling who actually made the remark, or on the basis of what evidence.).

It is a pass remarkable thing that Fanning, who has the mental agility and robust eyesight to see what isn't there, appears not to have seen what, in the case of the notorious McDowell letter, actually was there. But then again it's a combination of skills which may yet win him an OBE, so let's not be too quick to knock it.

Collins and his Provisional Government, the Great and the Good (Griffith and O'Higgins) included, couldn't think coherently about the Border in such a way as to develop plans for dealing with it. They could only fantasise about all the wonderful ways in which it would suddenly disappear, in not so much a whiff of grapeshot as a puff of smoke. Collins was not just living in an illusion of freedom; there was a delusion of power as well. (Collins' book, whoever wrote or cobbled it together, should have been subtitled, 'How To Win Friends And Get Them Killed'.)

IRA & National Army

Until the end of July 1922 all the Northern divisions of the IRA regarded the GHQ of the emerging Free State, National, Army as the one legitimate military authority in Ireland. They looked to it for guidance and support. They reported to it. In previous articles in this magazine I've quoted bits and pieces of Seamus Woods' report to GHQ of 20th. July 1922, detailing the position of the Belfast Brigade of the 3rd Northern Division. This is a much fuller version of the report (as given in Tim Pat Coogan, op. cit., pp380-382):

"Strength of Brigade - 800 men
Armament: 181 rifles and 11,600 rounds of ammunition. 308 service revolvers and autos, 7,400 rounds of ammunition. 5 Thompson guns and 1,220 rounds of ammunition.
Engineering material: 156 detonators
  12 stone war flour.
  20 lbs cheddar. [Home made explosives]
  12 lbs gelignite,
  20 ft time fuse.
Enemy strength in area:  
British military: 5,500
RUC: 2,650
Specials: 26,680
Total 34,830

"For a period of three months previous to our resuming the offensive the enemy was running loose murdering and harassing our people, and as the Army was not very active the people were gradually losing the respect they had for the IRA. This respect had been won, not so much out of sympathy with our National aspirations, and our fight for National freedom, but more on account of the part the Army had played in defending the minority against organised attacks by uniformed and non-uniformed Crown forces.

"When, however, we commenced a campaign of destruction of enemy property which hit the authors and promoters of the pogrom, and was having the effect of stopping the murder campaign, the sympathy and support of the people was slowly coming back to us.

"As I have already reported to GHQ there was a small Executive [the anti-treaty Four Courts Executive, JK] following in Belfast and on the 31st May they attempted to shoot two Specials. Most of our officers…were attending a Brigade Meeting when this happened, and before they could get back to their areas the Specials ran amok, and shot up practically every Catholic area in the City; the death toll for that day was twelve and upwards of 50 were wounded. This was the hardest blow the civil population had got, and it almost broke their morale. Notwithstanding that we kept up our campaign of burning, and in a short time the enemy realised that they would require to change their tactics. They set about establishing a series of block-houses throughout our areas, and selected their men especially with a view to fraternising with the Catholic population.

"This policy has met with great success as the people war-worn and long tired were glad of an opportunity of peace. Unfortunately however, the anti-Irish element of the population are taking advantage of the situation and are giving all available scraps of information to the enemy. Several of our dumps have been captured within the last few weeks, and in practically every case the raiding party went direct to the house.

"…many officers and men are forced to go on the run, necessarily in their own restricted areas. They find it difficult to get accommodation with the people now and in a particular area, seventeen of our best officers and men had to sleep in a refugee home where they were all captured.

"The enemy are continually raiding and arresting; the heavy sentences and particularly the 'floggings' making the civilians very loath to keep 'wanted men' or arms. The officers are feeling their position keenly. Recently a number of men were rounded up and detained in custody. The mother of one of the boys when bringing him food shouted out, in the presence of Crown forces, the name of the local o/c and made a tirade against him for misleading her boy into this movement.

"As I have mentioned before the economic position is very acute. To give a rough idea there are 171 married men with 405 dependants and 346 single men with 936 dependants. These figures are taken from cards returned by each company and where there were two brothers the number of dependants was divided. To relieve the situation it would require a grant of say £500 per week.

"The men are in a state of practical starvation and continually making applications for transfer to Dublin to join the 'Regular Army'…under the present circumstances it would be impossible to keep our Military Organisation alive and intact, as the morale of the men is going down day by day and the spirit of the people is practically dead."

That report was sent in to GHQ just a week or so before the campaign was called off, but the material circumstances were not so different when the campaign began. The Belfast Brigade then had 400 more men and not very much more in the way of arms and equipment. And Collins knew the position at the beginning as at the end of the campaign.

In April, at the North-East Advisory Committee meeting, Bishop MacRory told him: "I can assure you that if you burn houses you will intensify the slaughter and the men who do the burning will have to run away and hide". And the Belfast commander, O/C of the 3rd Northern Division, Seamus Woods told him at the same time: "Sooner or later we will have to clear out of Belfast". But Collins simply would not be told and went ahead with it.

The Assault

What Collins had decided to go ahead with, come what may, went ahead in the first instance in the 3rd Northern Division area on May 17th (the date given by Staunton, Coogan says it was May 18th). Not the best laid of plans, it went awry from the word go. The Belfast Brigade attacked Musgrave Street Barracks as planned on May 17th but the Down Brigade which was to have mounted simultaneous attacks was held up for two days. (It was in turmoil because its commander, Patrick Fox, and a strong minority of the rank and file had switched allegiance to the Four Courts Executive.)

According to Enda Staunton:

"The delay in the case of the No. 3 Brigade in Down meant this area was soon flooded with Special Constabulary from Newry. As Newry lay within the 4th Northern Divisional area, Woods sent his second in command to see the Chief of Staff [of the Northern Military Council, JK], Frank Aiken, who promised to commence operations. As McCorley later recalled, the 4th Northern failed to go off while the 2nd Northern, comprising the Mid-Ulster area, went off too soon. Woods kept the men in Antrim and Down 'under arms' in the hope of reinforcements. When these failed to materialise he gave the order to disband. With the introduction of the most sweeping provision of the Special Powers Act on 20 May, internment, and over 400 IRA suspects lifted, the movement was firmly on the defensive. After that it was downhill all the way for his Division, the 3rd Northern. Brigades Nos 2 and 3 were virtually destroyed within five weeks by demoralisation. No 1, Belfast itself, remained active through May and June, the campaign of incendiarism discussed by the Ulster Advisory Committee and by the cabinet continuing until the government called it off in July. In June alone 85 burnings were carried out. But defeat was on the way for the IRA in the city. Having braved the ferocity of the northern State, the attitude of its own people was to be the rock on which it finally perished" (The Nationalists Of Northern Ireland, 1918-1973, pp66-67).

So, assuming that the point of it all was not to fulfil some secret deal with the British by destroying the Northern IRA, what could have been the point of the campaign which destroyed the Northern IRA?

It couldn't have been military. More precisely it couldn't have been to provide a pretext for a full scale invasion of the six counties by a united (pro- and anti-Treaty) National army. Aside from the tragicomedies played out at Pettigo and Belleek in May and June 1922 the Free State Army stood aside from the actual fighting. I'm not aware of any plans for united action over and above the gun running. Collins was well aware that taking on the Crown forces in the North (as of May 10th., 9,000 British soldiers, 48,00 specials and a couple of thousand RUC, all of them extremely well armed) would have been suicidal. (But doesn't it do Hibernian hearts good to think of the Specials, all of the UVF that had survived the Somme, together with their relatives and neighbours, gathered to fight with their fellow Irishmen again, McAleese should come up and lay a wreath somewhere?) Somehow it didn't matter that it was even more suicidal for the rag, tag and bobtail Northern IRA.

So, was the Northern IRA expendable to some broader military purpose, in pursuit of some wider strategic aim? If anyone knows of any such will they please let me know. For myself I've seen nothing that suggests anything of the sort.

Or have it Calton Younger's way: "Collins was not trying to coerce the North, only to save Catholic lives". Which is certainly what Woods and McCorley and their men thought they were doing. And who in their position could have thought differently? But Collins, who was neither enmeshed in the bitter logic and brutal logistics of an ongoing sectarian struggle nor a complete fool, must have been aware of the arithmetic of deterrence and provocation. Where the balance of forces are roughly equal, or not too acutely unequal, burnings and assassinations can have a deterrent effect. In the North in 1922, in Belfast particularly, where the balance of forces was absurdly askew, IRA actions were provocations pure and simple. If anything, "Collins was not trying to coerce the North, only to get Catholics killed".

Before going into these matters in greater detail, I had thought that Collins' actions with regard to the North in 1922 stemmed from a considered National view of the looming prospect of entrenched partitionist politics. I thought he had armed the Northern IRA and included it under his GHQ in order to make it clear to Northern nationalists that the Treaty did not mean they had been abandoned by the emerging Free State. And I thought, on the basis of the correspondence between himself and de Valera regarding the 1921 elections to the Northern Parliament which I have quoted on a number of occasions in this magazine, that he intended a form of party organisation that would include the North and bring Northern representatives into the third and future Dáils. And this is what brings us, as always by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to the Collins - de Valera Pact.

Collins/De Valera Pact

This is the text of the Pact which was ratified by the 2nd Dáil on May 20th., 1922:

"We are agreed:—

"(1) That a National Coalition Panel for this Third Dáil, representing both Parties in the Dáil, and in the Sinn Féin Organisation, be sent forward on the ground that the national position requires the entrusting of the Government of the country into the joint hands of those who have been the strength of the national situation during the last few years, without prejudice to their present respective positions.

"(2) That this Coalition Panel be sent forward as from the Sinn Féin Organisation, the number for each Party being their present strength in the Dáil.

"(3) That the Candidates be nominated through each of the existing Party Executives.

"(4) That every and any interest is free to go up and contest the election equally with the National Sinn Féin Panel.

"(5) That constituencies where an election is not held shall continue to be represented by their present Deputies.

"(6) That after the election the Executive shall consist of the President, elected as formerly, the Minister of Defence, representing the Army, and nine other Ministers, five from the majority Party and four from the minority, each Party to choose its own nominees. The allocation will be in the hands of the President.

"(7) That in the event of the Coalition Government finding it necessary to dissolve, a General Election will be held as soon as possible on Adult Suffrage.

"Signed, Eamon de Valera, Mícheál O Coileáin."

The most interesting clause, in the precise context of Collins' motivations in his dealings with the Northern IRA, is the fifth, which states "That constituencies where an election is not held shall continue to be represented by their present Deputies". The constituencies referred to there are the Northern ones which were represented in the 2nd Dáil when it voted unanimously to ratify the Pact but which were not being contested in the elections to the 3rd Dáil. The vote on the Pact was taken as being included in a motion proposed by Arthur Griffith declaring an election in each of the Southern constituencies, which simply underlines the significance of Clause 5.

Excluding The North

I have to confess that the significance of Clause 5 escaped me until I read in Eamon Phoenix's Northern Nationalism that:

"…Hugh Kennedy, the Provisional Government's Law Officer, had warned Collins that the proposals for a coalition ministry and the inclusion of Northern MPs in the future Free State assembly were incompatible with the Treaty" (op.cit. p224; he references 'Kennedy to Collins. 20 May 1922, RMP P7A/145', which suggests that Collins had the memo in his pocket during the Dáil proceedings).

There is also this in Dorothy Macardle's The Irish Republic (Corgi Edition, 1968, p649):

"Partition was resisted on Clause 5 of the Pact which provided for the representation of constituencies in the Six-County area 'by their present representatives'."

But I'd missed that way back when.

(My most recent hop, skip and a jump through the ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT AS SIGNED on December 6th, 1921, aka The Treaty, leads me not unhappily to the conclusion that Kennedy's judgement on the inclusion of Northern MPs was at least open to debate. Only one clause of the Treaty seems to be relevant, Clause 11., which states, "no election shall be held for the return of members to serve in the Parliament of the Irish Free State for constituencies in Northern Ireland", but the Pact was specifically ruling out an election for those constituencies. Clause 17. might seem relevant, but only refers to the period before the election in June 1922 and regarding which I regret that Collins did not take steps, when Seán MacEntee gave him the opportunity (see below) to take steps, to make it clear to the world that he was no longer representing Armagh in the 2nd Dáil—which he had anyway recognised in signing the Treaty was an illusory body. Either an illusion or illegal, pretty much like the Freedom he imagined he was on the path to and the power he thought he had to affect developments in the North.)

Committee Of Ten

On May 3rd 1922, the Dáil set up a Committee of Ten (five each from the pro- and anti-Treaty sides of the question) to, in Miss McSwiney's words, "explore every possible avenue to a settlement, with a view to averting civil war". The five appointed on the pro-Treaty side were Seán Hales, P.O Maille, Seumas O Duibhir, Joseph McGuinness, and Seán McKeon. The five appointed on the anti-Treaty side were Mrs. Clarke, P.J. Ruttledge, Liam Mellowes, Seán Moylan, and Harry Boland. Mrs Kathleen Clarke chaired the Committee.

After a lot of toing and froing and hardly unexpected delay the Committee produced two reports, one for each side, on May 11th. The two reports could not be reconciled and so Miss McSwiney had the Committee sent back to do better. The Secretary to the Committee, Seumas O Duibhir, reported back to the Dáil on May 17th that the Committee still hadn't agreed and given its 5 by 5 composition never would. Dorothy McArdle summarises the whole drawn out business admirably in The Irish Republic:

"The suggestion of an agreed election and a Coalition Ministry of the Dáil had seemed acceptable to both sides. The ground of disagreement was the insistence of the pro-Treaty group that acceptance of the Treaty should be presumed. The difficulty resolved itself into a question of the proportion of candidates to be allocated to the respective parties. The Treaty Party demanded an increased representation but the Republicans would not agree, seeing that to increase that majority would imply acceptance of the Treaty" (ibid. pp645-646).

The reports of May 17th resulted in a Dáil debate (continuing over May 18th. and 19th.), in the course of which the matter of Northern representation in the as yet unelected 3rd Dáil was raised by Seán MacEntee:

"…we have heard a great deal in the course of this debate about standing between the people and the expression of its will. The Minister for Local Government said that this right of the people to express its will transcends all others. If so, why is it that those who were about to decree that an election be held in June specifically take steps to prevent the people of the six counties in the north declaring their will upon this Treaty? If the Minister for Local Government were sincere, if the Deputy for Tyrone, Mr. Seán Milroy, and if the President of this Assembly and the head of the Provisional Government, the Deputy for Armagh in this Assembly, were sincere in declaring that they wanted the whole will of the Irish people to be expressed in this matter, they would take steps to see that at least their own constituents who returned them as Republicans would have an opportunity of giving their allegiance again to the Republic which they helped to establish and which they helped to maintain and for which beyond all other people in Ireland they suffered the most…

"…Why do we hold so tenaciously to that clause of our memorandum that stipulates that the strength of the parties on the National Panel, as I would like to term it, shall be in proportion to their strength in the Dáil? Because that fact, Sir, would have been the most significant indication that so far as could be, the national unity, the political unity and the geographical unity of Ireland had been re-established and was again asserted as it existed before the Treaty was signed. That was the reason why we stood so tenaciously for that one fact and that is the reason why we are willing to break upon it because if we were to accept that clause then we would be accepting partition; we would be accepting the Treaty and common citizenship in the British Empire. Those are the things, under no circumstances and no matter what may be the cost of refusal, we shall never accept" (17th. May 1922).

The Deputy for Armagh, Michael Collins, who had been called first to cast his vote on the Treaty in precisely his capacity of Deputy for Armagh did not rise to answer that point. Nor did anyone else on the pro-Treaty side of the question rise to answer. The matter of Northern representation, of the North's practically silent, almost unnoticed slide out of the last Dáil in which it was represented, lay dormant then until towards the end of the debate on May 19th., when Harry Boland returned to it, saying:

"This Dáil was the first Dáil so decreed by the Irish people. We took advantage of the British electoral machinery to constitute the Parliament of the Republic. I was at that time Honorary Secretary to Sinn Féin, when most of the leaders were in prison, and I remember well the question being debated as to whether we should contest the elections in every constituency in Ireland, or not. It was pointed out then that we recognised Ireland as a unit and every constituency in Ireland should be contested. Every constituency in Ireland was contested and in so far as we could make it then and in so far as the Dáil could hold it since, a united Ireland is represented here. So long as the Deputy for Fermanagh sits in this House, and the Deputies for Armagh, Down, and Tyrone sit in this House, [so] long do we preserve, in so far as we can, the unity of Ireland. I am not approaching this question as if there was not an Ulster difficulty. The reason I am against this Treaty is that if it be carried out in the letter and the spirit, this Treaty will place a third obstacle in the read [sic] of those who will continue to fight for the Republic. We have two obstacles at present to our complete independence, one in Ulster and one in Britain. You men who signed the Treaty, if you do not draft a Constitution that will give the Republican ideal in Parliament will be guilty of a crime against the Irish nation, and you will commit this country to endless wars and revolution. I know thoroughly well there is an Ulster difficulty. I do not expect the President or Cabinet can get over that difficulty. But I ask, in so far as this Assembly of the Republic is concerned, that any decree emanating from it as such, should be a decree that an election be held throughout Ireland."

In those contributions to the debate Boland and MacEntee were making the vital and fundamental point that the way in which Collins and the Provisional Government were going about implementing the Treaty was such as to unnecessarily entrench the politics of partition. Though the Treaty had been forced upon them with the threat of "immediate and terrible war", they were acting as though they nonetheless felt obliged to draw out and concretise its every worst implication. A minimalist approach to the implementation of the Treaty (by Griffith and Collins) would have had them baulk at shattering the integrity of the body politic which, in 1918 and 1921, legitimised them (to among other things negotiate the Treaty). That should have been a firm principle to be surrendered if and when necessary under irresistible British pressure. Because they weren't baulking, because they weren't waiting to be put under pressure. Griffith and Collins were incapable of answering Boland and MacEntee; except, when it came to the bit, with British artillery and Churchill's hearty congratulations.

At the end of the debate on the Committee of Ten's Reports on May 19th Collins and de Valera were charged to build on the substantial common ground of the Reports and the debate on them (a common panel of Sinn Féin candidates leading to a joint cabinet). They did so and came back to the Dáil on the following day with the Pact.

John Bowman, in his De Valera and the Ulster Question 1917-1973 (page 73 and note 2), may have lost the narrative thread of the proceedings outlined above, or may just be compressing things a little clumsily. Either way he makes an interesting point:

"Attempts by the pro- and anti-Treaty factions to avoid an irrevocable split continued into May. A Committee of Ten drawn from each side held a series of meetings; among the points of disagreement—Collins believed it was a deliberate ploy to wreck the Treaty—was de Valera's insistence that members for northern constituencies should be free to take their seats in the Dáil" (note 2 at this point references "Committee of Ten, 19 May 1922, Mulcahy papers, P7/A/145").

The Committee of Ten held no meetings after their final reports were presented to the Dáil on May 17th., and Collins and de Valera were not members of the Committee of Ten, so I suppose the document Bowman refers to must relate in some way to the discussions over the 19th. and 20th. which led to the final form of the Collins/de Valera Pact. Until I can get down to Dublin with time to spare to visit the Mulcahy Papers (at UCD?) I will have to take John Bowman's word for it that by 19th. or 20th. May 1922, the positions established at the 1921 elections had been reversed, with de Valera now concerned to maintain the integrity of the body politic which had legitimised the war Dáils and Collins concerned to . . .

Really, Collins was floundering about in a welter of motives and inclinations in which all the imperatives were British. With Collins in Dublin wrapping the Treaty and all its provisions with all their implications in cotton wool; while across the Border Collins was flinging dynamite and incendiaries and the Northern IRA at that same Treaty and all its provisions with all their implications; and in London Collins was representing the interests of Northern Nationalists to Craig; and in Dublin again Collins was setting himself to disenfranchise those same Northern Nationalists as he dismembered the body politic, outside whose embrace he was just another illegitimate thug.

When the real Michael Collins stood up at Beál na mBlath, which Collins is it was shot?

Damned if I know.

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