Issue 1 - 2023 front

21 October 1999 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Michael Collins' unfinished revolution


The Graffiti on the wall in Belfast a few years ago screamed its warning: ``Adams remember Collins!''

This was based on received wisdom of 'what every republican knows about Michael Collins'. Collins sold out, turned his gun on former comrades and abandoned the nationalists of the North to Sammy in Stormont.


The guy whose operators stiffed the cream of British Intelligence one Sunday morning in 1920 ended up fighting to impose Westminster's will on the Irish people?


The reality is much more interesting. The role of Michael Collins during the set-up of the Northern state is something that might cause Michael Noonan to get rid of the bust of ``The Big Fellow'' from his desk.

To listen today to the ``Michael Collins Wing'' of Fine Gael, one would conclude that Collins had embraced partition as a recognition of the ``two nations'' in Ireland. This nonsense is, essentially, what John West Bruton believes in.

Collins' attitude to partition was much more Fenian.

Close associate, Dick Barrett, described Collins' attitude to the entire process as ``...a tinker swapping donkeys at a fair; he was suspicious of what he was getting but contented himself that what he was giving was not an honest beast.''

Featured on this page is the full text of the ``Craig-Collins Pact''.

Collins' strategy in the Six Counties after partition amounted to nothing less than the tactical use of armed struggle
The birth pangs of the Orange State were a pogrom of nationalists in Belfast led by the police. Mick Collins was aware that the partition settlement would only hold if it appeared that northern nationalists were not being abandoned to Orange repression (which is exactly what happened).

The key issue in all of that was policing - just as it is today with the non-implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Collins brokered a deal with Unionist Craig that in many ways - went further in its proposals than does Patten.

Collins did try and build into the DNA of the Orange State a parity of esteem before the law. His bargaining chip was the fact he was arming and directing the northern units of the IRA right up until his death. After his death, the Craig-Collins agreement was never implemented. So here we have - in 1922 - an attempt to get Billy to behave like a human being towards his neighbours.

Collins was famed for being able to cut through the crap and focus on the business at hand. So. What for Collins was THE issue to be dealt with before peace and stability would come to the North East? Policing.

Collins realised that if Stormont was allowed a free hand in policing, then there would only be one outcome - an Orange militia. The rules on Catholic recruitment and the control of firearms issued to Special Constables are all in advance of anything that happened in the 50 years of Orange misrule after Collins' death in 1922.

One thing becomes glaringly apparent when picking through the twists and turns of these negotiations between the newly installed Stormont regime and the Provisional government in Dublin. Collins did intend to do something on the North and that ``something'' was to be of a military nature.

His relationship with his old comrades in the Four Courts was fascinating. There was cordial communications right up until Emmet Dalton gave the order to begin shelling (forget the Jordan film, Collins wasn't there - never mind gave the order to begin using the borrowed English artillery). It is also a simple fact that there were no executions of republican prisoners until after his death.

In researching this article on his attempts to get a humane system of policing for the Six Counties, it became apparent how close Collins was to walking away from the whole process. Collins and Griffiths had a long conference with Lloyd George and Chamberlain on 30 May 1923. Collins was furious about the continued pogrom of nationalists in Belfast.

He told Tom Jones, assistant secretary to the British cabinet, in an anteroom that the gap between the British and Irish sides seemed unbridgeable and talked of going back to fight alongside his comrades.

An indication of how the Northern government moved away from the promise of peace and parity of esteem written into the second Craig-Collins pact was evident by May1922.

The Stormont regime brought in a bill abolishing PR for local government elections. With a gerrymandered border, they then set about to gerrymander within it.

The Craig Collins pacts are not a historical footnote for the academically inclined. Here is written evidence that there was an attempt to persuade Northern unionism to steer a path away from discrimination and exclusion of Northern nationalists within their own state. They refused and decided to build a cold house.

The rest is our history - let it be unionism's epitaph. The next century cannot be theirs.

Everyone in this movement should remember Collins. Collins' strategy in the Six Counties after partition amounted to nothing less than the tactical use of armed struggle.

He rearmed and reinforced the Northern divisions of the IRA with the assistance of his anti-Treaty comrades in the Four Courts.

In a letter from Mountjoy in August 1922, O'Connor described a meeting attended by Richard Mulcahy, Eoin O'Duffy, Liam Mellows, Liam Lynch and Rory O'Connor himself. O'Connor alleged that at that meeting a joint officer was appointed who would command both Republican and Free State troops within the Six Counties.

He wrote that Mulcahy joked that while the Anti-Treaty forces held the Four Courts, the war in North East Ulster would be attributed to O'Connor's men and not to the Free State.

O'Connor wrote: ``We, of course, had no objection. From this you will see the real reason why we were not asked to evacuate the Four Courts.''

The IRA in the Four Courts during the stand off were, quite literally Collins' Ho Chi Min trail to the Six Counties.

Collins knew that a well-equipped IRA in the Six Counties was an essential tool in his mission to put manners on Stormont. While negotiating the introduction of a humane police service with Craig (see inset) Collins knew that the people still needed the People's army in the background.

In the middle of the donkey trading with Craig, he made sure that the IRA in the Six Counties and along the Border had what they needed. He also had no problem with using physical force to remove difficulties to negotiating a settlement.

Craig had been encouraged to mount an invasion of the South by Sir Henry Wilson, who thought that a military victory against the IRA was within Britain's grasp. Wilson was involved in attempting to get a vast armoury in Dublin sent north for the use of Stormont's Specials. This stockpile - which had belonged to the RIC - included armoured cars that would spearhead an invasion of Monaghan.

Securocrat Wilson was a prime mover in this; Collins saw him as a problem. Collins had him plugged. Tactical use of armed struggle.

After Collins' death, the Free State did Britain's bidding and crushed Anti-Treaty dissent in the 26 Counties. The Dublin government also closed off the logistics to the IRA in the Six Counties, allowing Stormont to do with their Taigs as they saw fit.

Collins would not have been party to any of that. His death ushered in a carnival of reaction on this island that would last generations.

Yes. We should all remember Collins.



Heads of agreement between the Provisional Government and the Government of Northern Ireland.

Peace is today declared.

From today the two Governments undertake to co-operate in every way in their power with a view to the restoration of peaceful conditions in the unsettled areas.

The police in Belfast to be organised in general in accordance with the following conditions:

Special police in mixed districts to be composed half of Catholics and half of Protestants, special arrangement to be made where catholics or Protestants are living in other districts. All specials not required for this force to be withdrawn to their homes and their arms handed in.

An Advisory Committee, composed of Catholics, to be set up to assist in the selection of Catholic recruits for the Special Police.

All police on duty, except the usual secret service, to be in uniform and officially numbered.

All arms and ammunition issued to police to be deposited in barracks in charge of a military or other competent officer when the policeman is not on duty, and an official record to be kept of all arms issued, and of all ammunition issued and used.

Any search for arms to be carried out by police forces composed of Catholics and half of Protestants, the military rendering any necessary assistance.

A court to be constituted for the trial without jury of persons charged with serious crime, the Court to consist of the Lord Chief Justice and one of the Lords Justices of Appeal on Northern Ireland. Any person committed for trial for a serious crime to be tried by that court:

if he so requests, or

if the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland so directs.

Serious crime should be taken to mean any offence punishable with death, penal servitude, or imprisonment for a term exceeding six months. The Government of Northern Ireland will take steps for passing the legislation necessary to give effect to this article.

A Committee to be set up in Belfast of equal numbers Catholic and Protestant with an independent Chairman, preferably Catholic and Protestant alternately in successive weeks, to hear and investigate complaints as to intimidation, outrages, etc., such Committee to have direct access to the heads of the Government. The local press to be approached with a view to inserting only such reports of disturbances, etc., as shall have been considered and communicated by this committee.

IRA activity to cease in the Six Counties, and thereupon the method of organising the special police in the Six Counties outside Belfast shall proceed as speedily as possible upon lines similiar to those agreed to for Belfast.

During the month immediately following the passing into law of the Bill confirming the constitution of the Free State (being the month within which the Northern parliament is to exercise its option) and before any address in accordance with Article 12 of the treaty is presented there shall be a further meeting between the signatories to this agreement with a view to ascertaining:

Whether means can be devised to secure the unity of Ireland.

Failing this, whether agreement can be arrived at on the boundary question otherwise than by recourse to the Boundary Commission outlined in Article 12 of the Treaty.

The return to their homes of persons who have been expelled to be secured by the respective Governments, the advice of the Committee mentioned in Article 5 to be sought in cases of difficulty.

In view of the special conditions consequent on the political situation in Belfast and neighbourhood, the British Government will submit to Parliament a vote not exceeding £500,000 for the Ministry of Labour of Northern Ireland to be expended exclusively on relief work, one-third for the benefit of Roman Catholics and two-thirds for the benefit of Protestants. The Northern signatories agree to use every effort to secure the restoration of the expelled workers,and wherever this proves impracticable at the moment owing to trade depression, they will be afforded employment on the relief works referred to in this article so far as the one-third limit will allow.

Protestant ex-service men to be given first preference in respect to the two-thirds of the said fund.

The two Governments shall in cases agreed upon between the signatories arrange for the release of political prisoners in prison for offences before the date hereof. No offences committed after March 31st,1922, shall be open to consideration.

The two Governments unite in appealing to all concerned to refrain from inflammatory speeches and to exercise restraint in the interests of peace.

Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government:

Mícheál O Coileáin, E.S. O Dugain, Caoimhghín OhUigín, Art O Griobhtha.

Signed on behalf of the Government of Northern Ireland:

James Craig, Londonderry, E. M. Archdale.

Countersigned on behalf of the British Government:

Winston S. Churchill, L.Worthington-Evans.

Signed on March 30 1922.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1