Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Aug 1921

Vol. S No. 2


Fógraim go bhfuil an Dáil i Siosón anois is glaodhaim ar an Uachtarán chun a thuairisg a thabhairt don Dáil.

A Chinn Chomhairle, is a lucht na Dála, is dó liom go mba cheart dom i dtosach roinnt focal a rá i dtaobh obair na nAirí uile, ach tá an oiread san oibre eile le déanamh nách féidir dom dul isteach go cúramach ann anois. Sar a gcríochnófar obair an lae iniu tabharfaidh gach Aire cuntas ar obair a Aireachta féin. Nuair a cuireadh deire le h-obair an chéad lae bhíos ag trácht ar chúrsaí na síochána agus ós rud é go bhfuilim ag cainnt ní h-amháin leis an Dáil ach le muinntir na tíre is dó liom gur ceart dom gach ní atá agam le rá a rá as Béarla.

It would be usual that the President of the Ministry should summarise here the work of the several Departments, as I more or less concentrate in myself the whole Executive responsibility. Perhaps, to put it more definitely, I act for the Ministry as a whole. But as the questions we have to discuss—one question in particular—are of such transcendent importance, I think it better to leave such a summary aside and leave it to be gathered from the Reports of the Ministers.

The question I was speaking on when we adjourned yesterday was the question of the negotiations with Great Britain, and I am speaking to this Assembly now in English mainly because what I have to say affects not merely this Assembly and the whole of the Irish nation, but will be heard by the whole world.

From reports which I have seen this morning from the British and foreign Press, there seems to be a doubt in the mind of the world as to what our attitude is towards the British proposals. There seems to be a doubt as to whether what I have said, and as to whether our letter mean acceptance or rejection. I think there ought to be no doubt in any body's mind. We cannot, and we will not, on behalf of this nation, accept these terms.

There is an Indian proverb—I think it was an Indian who told it to me—"Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." The Irish people are not going to be fooled this time.

It is said that we are offered the status of Dominion Home Rule, that Ireland is offered the status of the British Dominions. Ireland is offered no such thing.

That very phrase "Ireland is offered Dominion status" contains two falsehoods. According to that, where is Ireland? There is no Ireland. There are two broken pieces of Ireland, and these two broken pieces of Ireland are offered this so-called Dominion status. It is not Dominion status. Ireland could never—because of the geographical facts which we are supposed to ignore— in the nature of things be offered such a thing as the status of Dominion Home Rule, because that status depends upon the fact that Australia and Canada and South Africa and the rest are not neighbours of Britain.

We are neighbours of Britain, and that is a geographical fact you have to take into account. The geographical fact is that the Almighty has placed this island beside another island. It is in the nature of things that we, the people of Ireland, wish to be neighbourly and because we are neighbours we want to enter into the best possible relations with the other people, because it is wise. It is good for them and for us.

From the geographical fact—this is fundamental—of being neighbours we want to be neighbourly; and if the people on the other side were wise they would want to be neighbourly too. If I am living beside a neighbour it is not neighbourly, nor is it right, nor does it tend to neighbourly relations, that that neighbour should claim the right to commandeer my house.

We are not between our neighbour and the world. That neighbour can go round us, but there is no right of way needed through our house. If they could claim a necessary right of way, there would be something in it; but we are not standing between Britain and the world.

The seas are around us, and Britain can get out to the world when she wants to. We are not shutting out the seas from her. We have no enmity to her—at least, I hope that, if this question were settled, there would be no enmity, and I believe there would be none. The basic fact—the fundamental fact—is that we are neighbours, and if we wish to be neighbours and have neighbourly relations, each should try not to trepass on the other's property. England claims the right to trespass on our ground, and we cannot have neighbourly relations if that is Britain's attitude.

We are asked to take historical facts into account. What are the historic facts? I cannot give them to you in better words than in the language of the Prime Minister himself:—

"Centuries of brutal and often ruthless injustice, and, what is worse, centuries of insolence and insult, have driven hatred of British rule into the very marrow of the Irish race. The long records of oppression, proscription, and expatriation have formed the greatest blot on the British fame of equity and eminence in the realm of government."

That is one of the historical facts. In other words, we had to bear what formed the greatest blot on the fame of England. That is the British Prime Minister's statement, made on March 7, 1917.

That is a fundamental, historical fact, and statesmen have to take these fundamental facts into account, and with them the fundamental fact of human nature.

We are the real realists. The fundamental fact that British statesmen and all statesmen must take into account is that Britain—because she did not want to act properly beside her neighbours, but wanted to trespass on her neighbour's property—has been for centuries guilty of ruthless oppression, which has engendered in the hearts of the people thus ruthlessly treated, hatred of British rule to the marrow of their bones.

Therefore, if we want to end these feelings and take that fundamental fact into account, the obvious thing to do is to end that rule, which is hated by the Irish people to the marrow of their bones.

It is said that the relations between Ireland and Britain constitute a problem. They do. They constitute a problem, the very problem that we have in our daily lives, where a strong and powerful and selfish person wishes to encroach upon the rights and property and freedom of a neighbour.

That is the problem, the fundamental problem, that has to be settled. And how can it be settled? Simply on the basis of that which everyone knows to be right and just.

I have laid great stress upon justice. Is it because of idealistic or foolish notions of my own that I am doing it? It is not. Because again we come to the fundamental basis in all these matters, which is human character. It is not in human nature, it is not in the nature of man to be content as long as injustice is being done him; and so long as injustice is being done to this nation, so long will you find Irishmen and Irishwomen ready to give up their lives to fight this injustice.

Therefore, you can have neither content, happiness, nor prosperity in a nation any more than in an individual if there is that continual thorn, that thorn of injustice, prickling. Therefore, those who really want peace, whether it be in Ireland or in the relations between Ireland and Britain, must—if they are not to leave human nature out of account altogether in considering the solution of the problem—take human nature into account.

And we claim that we are the real statesmen in this matter, and that it is we who are working for a complete and final settlement—we, who say that the relations between Ireland and Britain must be adjusted on the basis of right— that right and justice which would in itself not conflict with human conscience. You must do it in that way if you are to have a settlement that will be final or that will be satisfactory.

Therefore, in considering the problem, as I have said, it is the fundamental human problem, the problem of the weak who have right on their side against the strong who because of their strength can afford to be unjust. We have to try and settle that problem. It often happens that right clashes against right, and then statesmen have to give away, sometimes one a little and sometimes the other; but in this case it is so clearly a case of right against wrong that there can be no compromise; and if it is to be a final and satisfactory settlement there can be no compromise on the side of right.

It is, therefore, as a separate nation that we are talking, a nation which is defending itself against the encroachment of a foreign nation.

It is as such that we entered into negotiations with Britain, and if negotiations are to be continued, it is as such that we must enter into them.

If it had been demanded of me that before going to negotiate with the British Prime Minister I would first of all have to renounce our independent right, I would not have gone. If, on the other hand, seeing the claim that they are putting forward, I had said that, before I went, Britain would have to acknowledge our right absolutely, I might have been held to have been unreasonable, because then there would be no question of or necessity for negotiation.

In the same way, that the people of the north of Ireland can recognise themselves if they want to, we recognise ourselves. It is on such a basis there can be negotiations. But if negotiations can only begin when we have given up the right of this country to live its own life in its own way, there can be no negotiations at all with the north of Ireland or anywhere else.

If the north of Ireland—the people of the north of Ireland—are free to regard themselves from their own point of view in going into negotiations with us, they have not to give up that point of view.

As far as I am concerned, I would be willing to suggest to the Irish people to give up a good deal in order to have an Ireland that could look to the future without anticipating distracting internal problems.

That is what this negotiation has been so far as I am concerned. It has been all the time an attempt to get in touch with the people of the north of Ireland, and to tell them we have no enmity to them, because they are Irishmen living in Ireland, and that we were ready to make sacrifices we could never think of making for Britain.

Time after time it has been said that if there was any right of Ireland that could be shown to conflict with any right of Britain, we were ready to meet and to adjust these matters on the basis of mutual give and take, but it is all take on the British side—and it is supposed to be all give on the Irish side—and that is an attitude which can neither commend itself to the Irish people, nor to anybody who wishes for a satisfactory and final settlement.

England is a great Power. The population of her own island is nearly fifty millions. We have only four and a half millions. Yet this island with fifty millions pretends that it is afraid of us, and, to carry on the pretence, it says we must stipulate that our armaments must be reduced to a size they consider necessary in their island.

We are never likely to compete with Britain in armaments. Therefore, we have no hesitation in entering into any agreement on the limitation of armaments, provided it is obvious they intend it for that good and wise purpose, and not simply for the purpose of disarming us or making us helpless.

We do not mean to be helpless. We mean to strengthen ourselves to the utmost of our power, that we may be able to resist to the utmost of our power.

If it happens that we are compelled to give way—and great causes have had to give way to force—we shall do it boldly and we shall not seek to save our faces.

We may have to surrender to force, but we are not going to allow ourselves not merely to be led into the prison house, but to give our parole, in order that they will not have the trouble of providing guards for us.

I have no enmity to Britain. In all our discussions with my colleagues, I have never seen anything like enmity to Britain or the British people. I have never seen anything but love for Ireland, and it is love for Ireland and for the whole of it, that prompts our action, and not enmity to Britain.

The fact that we are near neighbours —as has been pointed out in our official Bulletin—would make for our cultivating proper relations with Britain, relations which would bring us more closely together for mutual interests than any other nation in the world.

But there is no likelihood that we shall see combination if it is simply combination with the enemy that has despoiled us most and that would seek in the combination an opportunity of despoiling us further.

Still, an association that would be consistent with our right to see that we were the judges of what was our own interests, and that we were not compelled to leave the judgment of what were our own interests or not to others—a combination of that sort would, I believe, commend itself to the majority of my colleagues. But it should be really a combination that would accord with the description that the British themselves gave of this offered association. Speaking of their Dominions, they described it, in terms at any rate, which amount to a free and friendly co-operation. Free and friendly co-operation is one thing. Forced co-operation is another. The co-operation of the British Dominions is free, British statesmen have admitted that it is free. They have said that as a proof that it was free, they could get out if they wanted to. They have not chosen to get out.

But we are told that we must stay in whether we like it or not; that no matter how our interests are affected, no matter how much the greater power of one of the parties is allowed to interfere with the rights of the smaller, we have no means whatever of securing that our interests will be considered.

We are not claiming any right to secede, because, as was pointed out in the Bulletin, there can never be in the case of Ireland a question of secession because there has never been a union. They talk as if there was a union. I say that, even if there was, that union was severed here on the 21st January, 1919.

We have not been able to secure that because, unfortunately, the major problem between Ireland and Britain has engendered another problem with a section of our own people. England has not suggested—it has no right to do anything but suggest—that there should be an arrangement by which the minority of this island might have their interests safeguarded. If that were done, we would have been ready to give them every safeguard in reason, every safeguard that any reasonable persons could say they were entitled to. We are ready to leave this question to external arbitration, we are ready to leave the whole question between Ireland and Britain to external arbitration. Why? Because we are basing our claims only on right, and because we know perfectly well that Ireland's claim, pleaded before any impartial tribunal could get a verdict, but in only one direction.

England's claims in Ireland are unreasonable; the claims of the minority in Ireland are unreasonable, but even though the claims of the minority are unreasonable we would be ready to consider them, and I for one would be ready to go a long way to give way to them, particularly to their sentiment, if we could get them to come with us and to consider the interests of their own country and not ally themselves with the foreigner.

I think I have made clear my attitude, and the attitude of the Ministry of Dáil Éireann. It is on that attitude we are here before you for judgment. It is on that attitude we are before the Irish people for judgment. I have stated it here in Public Session, so that the Irish people may judge; and I feel that as the Irish people in the past never flinched when force was brought against them to deprive them of their just rights, that the Irish people will not flinch now because more arms have been sent for.