7 June 2007 Edition
Remembering the Past
The Collins-deValera Pact
Following the vote in Dáil Éireann on the Treaty in January 1922 there were many efforts to find agreement between the pro and anti-Treaty sides and to avoid armed conflict. These efforts culminated in late May and early June with the Collins-de-Valera Pact which was to be the final effort to prevent Civil War.
While de Valera and the anti-Treaty deputies had withdrawn from the Dáil after the vote on the Treaty, they subsequently returned and attended sessions up until June 1922. Throughout May peace efforts continued and at a meeting of the Dáil on 20 May it was announced that Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins had agreed an approach. This was greeted with applause by both sides in the Dáil.
The agreement centred on the forthcoming General Election. Republicans had argued that this should be postponed as the register was out of date. They also argued that the pro and anti-Treaty sides should not divide the electorate on the basis of the Treaty but should try to present a united front while they continued to seek a way forward after the election. De Valera and Collins agreed that the election should go ahead but that it would proceed on the basis of unity.
The Pact provided that the election should not be taken as deciding for or against the Treaty but should be for a National Coalition Government. A united Sinn Féin panel of candidates was to be put forward, made up of 66 nominated by the pro-Treaty party and 58 by the anti-Treaty party. This was to reflect the current strength of each side in the Dáil. The crucial difference would be that the new Government would represent both sides. It was agreed by Collins and de Valera that the new Government would consist of four anti-Treaty and five pro-Treaty Ministers, the President elected by the Dáil and a Minister for Defence elected by the army. As the election was to be held in the 26 Counties only it was provided that the constituencies in the Six Counties would continue to be represented by their current TDs in the new Dáil.
The Pact stated 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”. This was endorsed by the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis on 23 May and it seemed that unity was now possible.
The British government was enraged at the Pact. In the House of Commons Winston Churchill threatened a renewal of war if Republicans became members of a new Irish government without signing a declaration in support of the Treaty.
Parallel with the Pact and the election, the draft Constitution for the Free State was being drawn up. Collins made genuine efforts to stretch the text beyond the bounds of the Treaty so as to make it acceptable to all sides in the Dáil. The text was brought to London by a committee headed by Arthur Griffith. Again the British government set its face against the draft Constitution and Lloyd George had it re-drafted. The new text was strictly in line with the Treaty, preserving all the aspects most repugnant to Republicans, including the Oath of Alleigance to be taken by all TDs, the King as head of state, the British-appointed Governor-General and Partition.
Meanwhile the reality of Partition was seen in Belfast with renewed pogroms against nationalists. Many were killed and injured during May and June 1922 and refugees poured into Dublin as Unionist leader James Craig declared: “We are prepared to do all we can to make Ulster, the oldest of Britain’s colonies, a model of administration.”
Under pressure from the British and from those on the pro-Treaty side, such as Griffith, who wanted to plough on with the Treaty against all opposition, Collins gave way. On 15 June, the day before polling, Collins broke the Pact when he made a speech in Cork urging people to vote for pro-Treaty candidates. The Free State Constitution, dictated by the British government, was deliberately withheld from publication until the very day of the election so that most voters did not have the opportunity to assess it.
The Second Dáil held it last meeting before the ‘Pact election’ on 8 June, 1922, 85 years ago this week