3 January 2022
Liam Mellows defends the Irish Republic
Remembering the Past - Dáil Treaty debate 100 year ago
Dáil Éireann debated the Treaty in December 1921 and early January 1922. One of the most enduring speeches is that of Liam Mellows, senior IRA officer, former envoy in the United States, 1916 Rising leader in Galway, former Fianna Éireann organiser. He argued that the Republic existed and that the Treaty surrendered it. He warned prophetically of what would happen when politicians took power in the Free State and his message was strongly anti-imperialist, pointing to the crimes of the British Empire across the globe. The speech was delivered 100 years ago on 4 January 1922 and we carry key extracts here.
Signing the Treaty
Entering into negotiations with the British Government did not in the least presuppose that you were going to give away your case for independence. When the British Government, following upon the Truce, offered, as it did, to discuss this whole case of Ireland, Ireland had no option but to enter into such a discussion. To refuse to have done so would have been the worse thing for the Irish case, and would have put Ireland very wrong in the eyes of the world. There was no surrender involved in entering into such a discussion; and when the plenipotentiaries went on their journey to England they went, not as the plenipotentiaries of a Republican Party in Ireland, not as the envoys of any political creed in this country, but they went as the Envoys Plenipotentiary of the Irish Republican Government, and, as such, they had no power to do anything that would surrender the Irish Republic of which they were plenipotentiaries.
They were sent there to make, if they could, a treaty of settlement—personally I doubt if it could be done—but they were not sent to bring about what I can only call a surrender. I am not placing the plenipotentiaries in the dock by stating this, but I am stating what are plain facts. It is no reflection on them to state these things. In item 3 of the instructions given to the plenipotentiaries it is stated: “It is also understood that the complete text of the draft Treaty about to be signed will be similarly submitted to Dublin’s and a reply awaited.” The Dáil had no chance of discussing this Treaty as it should be discussed because the ground was cut from under the feet of the Dáil with the publication of this Treaty to the world before the Dáil had a chance of discussing it. The delegates, I repeat, had no power to sign away the rights of Ireland and the Irish Republic…
The Republic exists
I for one believed, and do believe, that the Republic exists, because it exists upon the only sure foundation upon which any government or republic can exist, that is, because the people gave a mandate for that Republic to be declared. We are hearing a great deal here about the will of the people, and the newspapers—that never even recognised the Republic when it was the will of the people—use that as a text for telling Republicans in Ireland what the will of the people is…
The will of the people! Why, even Lloyd George recognised the will of the people at one time. Speaking in the House of Commons in April, 1920, he said: “If you ask the people of Ireland what they would accept, by an emphatic majority they would say ‘we want independence and an Irish Republic.’ There is absolutely no doubt about that. The elected representatives of Ireland now, by a clear definite majority, have declared in favour of independence—of secession.” Now, when Lloyd George admits that, it seems strange when we ourselves say that we never believed in the Irish Republic; that it was only a myth, something that did not exist, and that to-day we are still working towards the Irish Republic.
To my mind the Republic does exist. It is a living tangible thing, something for which men gave their lives, for which men were hanged, for which men are in jail, for which the people suffered, and for which men are still prepared to give their lives. It was not a question so far as I am aware, before any of us, or the people of Ireland, that the Irish heifer was going to be sold in the fair and that we were asking a high price so that we would get something less. There was no question of making a bargain over this thing, over the honour of Ireland, because I hold that the honour of Ireland is too sacred a thing to make a bargain over…
• Sinn Féin TDs Harry Boland, Liam Mellows, Éamon de Valera, Pat McCartan and Diarmuid Lynch. (John Devoy seated)
Fear of war
People are talking to-day of the will of the people when the people themselves have been stampeded as I know because I paid a visit to my constituency. The people are being stampeded: in the people’s minds there is only one alternative to this Treaty and that is terrible, immediate war. During the adjournment I paid a trip to the country and I found that the people who are in favour of the Treaty are not in favour of the Treaty on its merits, but are in favour of the Treaty because they fear what is to happen if it be rejected. That is not the will of the people, that is the fear of the people…
Rejection, we are told, would mean war. I, for one, do not hold it would mean immediate war at all, but I do hold that the unanimous rejection of this Treaty would put our case in such a fashion before the world that I do not believe England would, until she got some other excuse, dare to make war on the basis of the rejection of that. The question is not how to get a step towards the Republic. The question for us to decide here as the Government of the Irish Republic is how we are going to maintain the Republic, and how we are going to hold the Republic. Instead of discussing this Treaty here we should be considering how we are going to maintain the Republic after that Treaty has been rejected and put upon one side. We have acted up to this in the belief that the authority for Government in Ireland has been derived from the Irish people…
The Free State
Who will tell the British Government, when the time has come to tell it, keep its hands off? Will you be any more united then than you are now? Will all of you in favour of this Free State look forward to the time when you are going to say to the British Government: “You must not have anything more to do with us”? You will not. Human nature, even the strongest human nature, is weak, and the time will inevitably come, if this Free State comes into existence, when you will have a permanent government in the country, and permanent governments in any country have a dislike to being turned out, and they will seek to fight their own corner before anything else. Men will get into positions, men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed, or will not take a step that will mean removal in case of failure…
British Empire tyranny
We have always in this country protested against being included within the British Empire. Now we are told that we are going into it with our heads up. The British Empire stands to me in the same relationship as the devil stands to religion. The British Empire represents to me nothing but the concentrated tyranny of ages. You may talk about your constitution in Canada, your united South Africa or Commonwealth of Australia, but the British Empire to me does not mean that. It means to me that terrible thing that has spread its tentacles all over the earth, that has crushed the lives out of people and exploited its own when it could not exploit anybody else. That British Empire is the thing that has crushed this country; yet we are told that we are going into it now with our heads up. We are going into the British Empire now to participate in the Empire’s shame even though we do not actually commit the act, to participate in the shame and the crucifixion of India and the degradation of Egypt. Is that what the Irish people fought for freedom for?
We can get very insular sometimes, but it is well for us sometimes to see that we are not so downtrodden and miserable as some of us think we are. This country was one of the best in the world. It has fought a fight that will ring down through the ages, and maintained itself well against all the tortures and inflictions that a foreign tyranny knows so well how to impose. It maintained its way up to this stage, and now, not through the force of the British Government, not because of the weight of the British armies, but through the guile of the British Government, and the gullibility of ours we are going to throw away the Irish Republic.