A Chinn Chomhairle, I rise to stand over my signature to the Treaty and to recommend it to you in pursuance of the pledge I gave. But in giving that pledge I did not pledge myself to conceal from you nor from the people of Ireland the circumstances under which that pledge was extorted from me. Let me make it clear that I am not here to make any apology for the action I took, believing then that it was right, and believing now it was right, but I am here to give the Irish people the explanation to which they are entitled, and I think it is necessary that the circumstances should be driven home and impressed upon the minds of the Irish people, even at the risk of reiterating a good deal that Deputy Barton has said, for two main reasons, one in order that the historic record of this transaction might be clear beyond all possible doubt, and two in order to impress upon you the solemn warning that it gives us. I wish it to be understood that I speak absolutely for myself, without desiring to commit any other member of the Delegation. I am going to recommend this Treaty to you very reluctantly, but very sincerely, because I see no alternative. I have no sympathy with those who acclaim this partial composition as if it was payment in full, with compound interest; nor have I any sympathy with those who would treat this agreement as if it were utterly valueless. Indeed at the risk of being accused of having a slave mind, I cannot help enjoying such a statement as that which I find in the Morning Post—the best friend that Ireland ever had in England—of yesterday. It begins its leading article:—“Like humble suppliants on the doorstep waiting for an answer to their plea for charity, the Government and people of this once proud and powerful country are now hanging expectant on the discussions of an illegal assembly, self-styled Dáil Eireann, to know whether or not that body will graciously condescend to accept their submission.” I think it is difficult for any of us to look at this matter perfectly fairly, because when you feel jubilant your feelings are apt to run away with you. I tried to look at it fairly, and it must be realised that the Irish people have an achievement to their credit in this respect at least, that this Treaty gives them what they have not had for hundreds of years; it gives them power, it puts power of control, power of Government, military power in the hands of our people and our Government. And the answer to those who assert that that power will be filched from us by dishonest Englishmen across the water, is that that will depend upon us, that we shall be in a far better position to resist aggression and to maintain and increase that power than ever we were before. The vital defect of this Treaty is that it inflicts a grievous wound upon the dignity of this nation by thrusting the King of England upon us, thrusting an alien King upon us, with his alien Governor, and I do not want to minimise for a moment the evil of that portion of the Treaty. On the other hand, I do not like to hear people whose word has weight overstating their case and asking you to believe such things as that the Irish Army will be governed by his Majesty's officers, a statement that seems to me to be just as true as if you were to say that the Irish Flag will be the Union Jack, or that because the Canadian “bucks” bear on their face “Georgis Rex, Defender of the Faith,” that therefore we shall have coins of the same description. The argument upon which such suggestions as that are founded is an argument which would justify the assumption that the Union Jack will be the flag of this country, and it is not fair to attack the Treaty on such grounds as that. It will be the duty of those who frame the Constitution to frame it in accordance with the wishes of the Irish people so far as the Treaty allows them; it will be their duty, therefore, to relegate the King of England to the exterior darkness as far as they can, and they can to a very considerable extent. It has not been sufficiently affirmed that the Constitution is left to us subject to the Treaty. I admit that his Majesty is not written all over the Treaty. The first clause deals with our status in the community of nations known as the British Empire, the second with our relations with Great Britain. All our internal affairs so far as the Constitution is concerned are left to our fashioning and any Government worthy of the name will be able to place that foreign King at a very considerable distance from the Irish people. Now I am trying to be fair about the matter. That does not take away the objection to the Treaty. You are still left with the fact that his Majesty's Minister will be here; you are still left with the fact that the Irish people are to pledge themselves to a gentleman who necessarily symbolises in himself the just anger and the just resentment of this people for 750 years. Therefore it was that when this Treaty was first presented to me as a proposal for peace with power on the one hand, but national dignity the purchase price on the other, I rejected it, for I could not forget that we in London had done our best in our counter proposals to maintain Irish independence in connection with the association that we were offering. I could not forget that this nation has won the admiration of the world by putting up the noblest and most heroic national fight of all history and that it is unconquered still (applause). I did not forget these things, and yet I signed. I will tell you why. On the 4th of December a sub-conference was held between the two sides at which Lloyd George broke with us on the Empire and broke definitely, subject to confirmation by his Cabinet the next morning. It might have been, or it might not have been, bluff. At all events contact was renewed and the next day a further sub-conference was held, attended by Messrs. Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and Robert Barton, and, after four-and-a-half hours of discussion, our delegates returned to us to inform us that four times they had all but broken and that the fate of Ireland must be decided that night. Lloyd George had issued to them an ultimatum to this effect: “It must now be peace or war. My messenger goes to-night to Belfast. I have here two answers, one enclosing the Treaty, the other declaring a rupture, and, if it be a rupture, you shall have immediate war, and the only way to avert that immediate war is to bring me the undertaking to sign of every one of the plenipotentiaries, with a further undertaking to recommend the Treaty to Dáil Eireann and to bring me that by 10 o'clock. Take your choice.” I shall not forget the anguish of that night, torn as one was between conflicting duties. Again this ultimatum might have been bluff, but every one of those who had heard the British Prime Minister believed beyond all reasonable doubt that this time he was not play acting, and that he meant what he said. It is, I think, worth while recording that the semi-official organ of Mr. Lloyd George—the Daily Chronicle—confirmed that attitude. The next day it stated quite openly in the most shameless manner:—
"Before the delegates separated for dinner the Prime Minister made his final appeal. He made it clear that the draft before them was the last concession which any British Government could make. The issue now was the grim choice between acceptance and immediate war."
I wonder do you realise the monstrous iniquity. An ingenious attempt has been made on behalf of the British Government to refute what Deputy Barton told you the other day in what is called a semi-official denial issued through the Press Association. I make no apology for reading it, for the matter is of importance. They say:—
"The statement by Mr. Robert Barton, one of the Irish Peace Treaty signatories, that the agreement was signed under duress, and that Mr. Lloyd George ‘threatened' war in the event of a refusal occasioned no undue surprise in authoritative quarters in London to-day. It was pointed out that the Irish Envoys, who, it must be remembered, were Plenipotentiaries, had negotiated during the preceding weeks with full knowledge of the alternative in the event of a final rejection of the terms.
"‘They accepted the proposals under duress of circumstances or duress of their own minds and not because of any eleventh hour declaration on the part of the Prime Minister,' declared an authority this (Tuesday) evening. ‘In so far as it was well known that the alternative to acceptance was war, there is an element of truth in the statement'."
The complaint is not that the alternative to signing a Treaty was war; the complaint is that the alternative to our signing that particular Treaty was immediate war; that we who were sent to London as the apostles of peace—the qualified apostles of peace—were suddenly to be transformed into the unqualified arbiters of war; that we had to make this choice within three hours and to make it without any reference to our Cabinet, to our Parliament or to our people. And that monstrous iniquity was perpetrated by the man who had invited us under his roof in order, moryah, to make a friendly settlement. So that the position was this, that if we, every one of us, did not sign and undertake to recommend, fresh hordes of savages would be let loose upon this country to trample and torture and terrify it, and whether the Cabinet, Dáil Eireann, or the people of Ireland willed war or not, the iron heel would come down upon their heads with all the force which a last desperate effort at terrorism could impart to it. This is the complaint. We found ourselves faced with these alternatives, either to save the national dignity by unyielding principle, or to save the lives of the people by yielding to force majeure, and that is why I stand where I do. We lost the Republic of Ireland in order to save the people of Ireland. I do not wish to sit down without emphasising the warning that one cannot but take away from that transaction. We cannot look without apprehension to the true designs of these people in the working out of the Treaty, for we cannot have confidence in men who make the bludgeon the implement of their goodwill. If they had been statesmen they would have recognised and proclaimed that the tie of blood which truly unites the British Dominions to England is no tie between Ireland and England no more than between the Englishman and the Boer, the Englishman and the Egyptian, the Englishman and the Indian, or the Englishman and the French Canadian. They would have realised that the tie of blood is a bond of steel and that such a bond can stand any strain. The truth is they were afraid; they knew well how much to give, but they were afraid to make full atonement and sought to justify themselves by professing to believe that they did make full atonement. If they had kept their King out of Ireland an honest settlement would have been easy. Instead of that they have chosen to give us once more grave reasons to doubt them by showing us over again that for all their canticles of peace and goodwill and atonement the British Bible is still the cover for a British gun. That is what they call statesmanship across the water; that is the statecraft before which the world bows low; that is the statecraft which throughout the history of the British Empire has spread mistrust, enmity and war. There is another statesman, and he was heard at Manchester a week ago, when one of the greatest English statesmen, Lord Grey, proclaimed that no peace with Ireland was any use unless it was a peace made upon equal terms. I subscribe to that, and it is well for the British people to know that they can have peace, solid peace, lasting peace with this country on the day that peace is made between our Government and theirs on equal terms, and not before. I do not love this Treaty now any more than I loved it when I signed it, but I do not think that that is an adequate answer, that it is an adequate motive for rejection to point out that some of us signed the Treaty under duress, nor to say that this Treaty will not lead to permanent peace. It is necessary before you reject the Treaty to go further than that and to produce to the people of Ireland a rational alternative (hear, hear). My heart is with those who are against the Treaty, but my reason is against them, because I can see no rational alternative. You may reject the Treaty and gamble, for it is a gamble, upon what will happen next. You may have a plebiscite in this country, which no serious man can wish to have, because after what you have seen here it is obvious that it will rend the country from one end to the other, and leave memories of bitterness and acrimony that will last a generation. You may gamble on the prospects of a renewal of that horrible war, which I for one have only seen from afar, but which I know those who have so nobly withstood do not wish to see begun again without a clear prospect of getting further than they are to-day. We are told that this is a surrender of principle. If that be so, we must be asked to believe that every one of those who have gone before us in previous fights, and who in the end have had to lay down their arms or surrender in order to avert a greater evil to the people, have likewise been guilty of a breach of principle. I do not think an argument of that kind will get you much further. No! The solid principle, the solid basis upon which every honest man ought to make up his mind on this issue, may be summed up in the principle that we all claimed when it was first enunciated by the President, the principle of government by the consent of the governed. I say that no serious person here, whatever his feelings, knowing as he must what the people of this country think of the matter, will be doing his duty if, under these circumstances, he refuses to ratify the Treaty. Ratify it with the most dignified protest you can, ratify because you cannot do otherwise, but ratify it in the interests of the people you must.