After the rather warm topic that has engaged the Dáil for the last ten or twelve minutes, I think it will be a relief to come to the tranquil subject of the Boundary Commission, and in order to secure that, I am proposing the motion which stands in my name, and which reads as follows:—
"That Dáil Eireann expresses dissatisfaction with the course pursued in dealing with Article 12 of the Treaty and calls upon the Executive Council to cease participation in any further negotiations regarding the matter pending the setting up of the Boundary Commission; and, further, calls upon the Executive Council to fix a limit to the time to which it will assent to the constituting of the Commission."
I have seen in the Press, and it has come to my ears, that this motion is regarded in Ministerial circles as a motion of censure upon the Executive. I wish to state most emphatically that such is not my intention, and that it is in reality no more a motion of censure upon them than the action, let us say, of a steward on a ship awakening the captain at a certain time would be regarded as a reflection upon the captain's knowledge of navigation. If I desired to introduce a motion of censure I think I could find a topic upon which the armoury of the Ministers would be much more vulnerable than the question of the Boundary Commission. I have raised this question rather with the intention of strengthening their hands than of weakening their position; rather with the desire of making it clear to the representatives, or the spokesmen, of Britain that we are determined to test the sincerity of their professions in regard to this Boundary question. I think it was Mr. Joseph Chamberlain who, during the Boer negotiations, said that when you sup with the devil you must use a long spoon, and I am beginning to wonder if the spoon that our Executive has utilised in its negotiations with, I will not say the devil, but certain of his family relations, has been of quite sufficiently lengthy dimensions. The main reason for this motion. I think, should be perfectly clear. The reason is that I consider it is high time that a protest should go forth from this assembly, an emphatic protest, against the long series of evasions on the part of Britain in regard to Article 12 of the Treaty, and not merely a protest in that respect but a disclaimer, the significance of which cannot be ignored, a disclaimer of any responsibility, for a continuance of the delay which those evasions have involved. We of the Saorstát have kept full faith with Britain in the matter of the Treaty, kept faith at a terrible cost in blood and money, and I think it is time that we gave some indication that we intend equally well to keep full faith with those of our people who are in the Six Counties, even at the price of a little plain, straight, blunt talk to the politicians and the spokesmen of Britain. Whether the fulfilment of that faith to our people in the North who look to us for assistance will involve graver steps than merely plain, frank speech to the politicians of England is really a matter that depends and is more contingent upon the good faith and the honour of Britain in the matter than on our volition. Certainly we must keep our minds clear as to whither we are tending, and be very sure that the steps we are taking are being taken on the path that will lead us to the objective we have in mind. It is now two years since the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty were signed in London. It is 18 months since Article 12 of the Treaty became operative; it is almost 12 months since the representatives of the Saorstát on the Boundary Commission were appointed, and yet we have not got definitely to grips with the carrying out of Article 12 "without which," as the Governor-General says in his despatch of the 15th March last, to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, "the Treaty would never have been accepted."
Now what has happened since then? What have we had in the interval? Conversations, conferences, diplomatic correspondence—all conducted with exemplary tact and courtesy, and it is not my desire to mar, if such could be avoided, the tranquil atmosphere which has pervaded these occurrences. But I am somewhat doubtful if that can be avoided. I realise how necessary it is in dealing with delicate transactions into which elements of suspicion have been imported to use the utmost tact and courtesy. What I object to is the tact and courtesy which is being utilised to wheedle us out of a position of strategic advantage, and so render us impotent to assert our rights under the Treaty. I am quite sure that when the wolf has his eye on the lamb, and finds the lamb in a position which is difficult to attack, he will be very cautious, tactful and diplomatic, until he succeeds in coaxing the lamb out into the open, and then God help the lamb. Once we relax our grip on the strategic position which we hold under Article 12, the diplomatic, courteous and tactful language of those we are contending with will, I think, cease, and we will be told pretty abruptly and pretty sharply that if we do not like the position—well, we can do the other thing. What has happened in all that period? Every move in the game has been practically to our disadvantage. Those in the North-East of Ulster have been disputing the validity of the Treaty, and they have been using the time that has passed to their political advantage, and to the disadvantage of their political opponents, creating a position which has acute difficulties, and which did not exist when the Treaty was signed in 1921. There is the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, under which the Parliament of what is termed "Northern Ireland" received its reason for its existence. I contend that there has been a deliberate and serious violation of that Act, and that, too, without any remonstrance from the British Government, or the British Parliament, to which this Parliament in Northern Ireland is subordinate. Section 5 of the Government of Ireland Act says:
"In the exercise of their power to make laws under this Act, neither the Parliament of Southern Ireland, nor the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall make a law so as either directly or indirectly to establish or endow any religion, or prohibit or restrict the free exercise thereof, or give a preference or privilege or advantage or impose any disability or disadvantage on account of religious belief."
Those of us who have been in contact with the operations of legislation in that section of Ulster know that there has been a continuous series of Acts passed which do impose disabilities and disadvantages on account of the religious beliefs of a certain section of the citizens up there. That has been done without any remonstrance from the British Government, which is the overruling authority in respect of that body. Were we of the Saorstát to indulge in that kind of legislation I think we would have very sharp and striking remonstrances from the British Government with respect to that. Now, what is the position to-day? While the spokesmen of Britain acknowledge the binding authority of the Treaty on them, they seem to be exercising their minds as to whether or not the action, or inaction, of certain gentlemen not contracting parties to the Treaty, will disable Britain from fulfilling her obligations under it in respect of Clause 12.
The British Premier, speaking in the British Parliament on June 5, said:
"On the 29th April we informed the Government of Northern Ireland of the steps we were taking to appoint a chairman, and requested them to appoint their representative. On the 10th May the Governor replied that his Ministers respectfully declined to appoint a representative. This refusal naturally created a situation which His Majesty's Government were bound to take into serious consideration. It was a reply which made it necessary to consider what were the legal and constitutional powers which His Majesty's Government are bound to exercise. It must be held in mind that under Article 12 of the Treaty the boundary between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland has to be such as is determined by the Commission. A question may, therefore, be subsequestion raised in the courts as to whether a valid award has been made, involving the further question whether the Commission was legally constituted. His Majesty's Government have, therefore, decided to avail themselves of the power conferred on them by Section 4 of the Judicial Committee Act, 1833, to ask the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to advise them as to their legal and constitutional powers to constitute the Commission."
I have no intention to question the competence of the British Government to seek for information in whatever quarter they may desire which may elucidate what appears to them to be a constitutional dilemma, nor am I concerned as to whether the course they have adopted is expedient from their point of view or not. What is really of serious concern to the Dáil is how such matters affect the position of the Saorstát and when the British Premier states that the Judicial Committee to which he looks for guidance in the matter involved will not sit until July, then I contend that the delay involved in the procedure adopted by the British Government does affect us in a way and to a degree which we cannot ignore, and which calls for sharp remonstrance from us. I think it would be well that we should recall and that Britain should realise, if she does not already, the vital importance of Article 12. It is as vital a part of the Treaty as any other article, and its non-observance on the part of Britain will, in effect, be a denunciation of the Treaty, and will, in my judgment, have the effect of cancelling our contractual obligations under it, and of rendering it open to us, and moreover necessary for us, to revise the Constitution of An Saorstát, in which eventuality the probability is that several provisions of that Constitution would be altered and others deleted. Whether British statesmen are cognisant of that eventuality or not I cannot say. But it seems to me to be precisely the position for which they are heading, if the present unwarranted procrastination is persisted in.
The question seems to me seriously to have arisen of whether or not the subordinate Parliament, exercising from Belfast jurisdiction over a section of Ulster, is competent to denounce the Treaty between Ireland and Great Britain or to place the British Government in a position which virtually involves such a denunciation by them. If that position arises the responsibility will be Britain's, not ours. It is the duty of those who are concerned with the future and the honour of Ireland to see that such responsibility is placed on the right shoulders, as it is, one may assume, the duty of British statesmen to avert the advent of circumstances which would affix to their country the stigma of having dishonoured its bond.
I wish to refer now to the correspondence which has taken place between the Governor-General and the representatives of Britain and which has been recently circulated to Deputies. I take it that all the Deputies have perused this document, which throws invaluable light on the situation, and which discloses the fact that all through the negotiations or correspondence those who spoke for the Saorstát, through the Governor-General, did maintain an attitude of rigid insistence upon the honouring of this Treaty by Britain. In page 17 of this document there is a long despatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. J.H. Thomas) to the Governor-General in which he indicates the reasons why this investigation by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is being set up. As I presume most Deputies have read this it is not necessary for me to delay the Dáil by reading the despatch, save the interrogation or question with which the despatch concludes. It says:
"If the answer to all the preceding questions (that is, the questions presented to this Committee as more or less its terms of reference) is in the negative, whether there is any constitutional method of bringing the Commission into existence so long as the Ministers of Northern Ireland maintain their refusal."
I am not concerned with the phraseology of British Ministers in addressing those they seek advice from. But I am concerned with the implication that lies in this document, that these gentlemen in Belfast are competent to denounce the Treaty. I ask the Dáil to mark the phraseology:
"Whether there is any Constitutional method of bringing the Commission into existence so long as the Ministers of Northern Ireland maintain their refusal."
If it had been "what is the constitutional method," then the matter would be clear. But there is an implication in that language which has some vital concern for us, I think, and therefore I draw the attention of this Dáil to it. To assume, as seems to be the underlying assumption of the sentence I have quoted, that the decision of the subordinate Parliament in Belfast affects adversely the carrying through of Article 12, or that such decision can diminish the responsibility or relax the commitments of Britain in the matter, seems to postulate that some party, other than the contracting parties to the Treaty, are competent to denounce or terminate it. That I consider to be a highly dangerous doctrine for Britain to countenance and one which would shake the moral stability of any international Treaty which in future might be concluded.
Mr. Ramsay McDonald in the speech from which I have quoted, said:—
"We have by no means abandoned hope that the two Irish Governments may reach an agreed settlement before the Commission is constituted, though even in that event the Commission will be necessary to give formal effect to the agreement."
I believe his colleague, Mr. Thomas, some time ago also made a similar statement in which he dwelt on the desirability of Irishmen settling their differences amongst themselves. I, for one, am not in the slightest degree impressed by language of this kind. It seems to indicate a continuance in the minds of Englishmen, regardless of what particular political faction they represent, of the position that they are the keepers of the ring in which two Irish factions are having a family row. That is not the role which Englishmen have to play, and the sooner they realise it accurately and acutely the better for themselves, in the interests of their own country. Their role is not that of the benevolent peacemaker, but that of the repentant sinner, and their task is that of contributing their share, by adhering to the undertaking given in the Treaty, to the ending of the unhappy consequences of a malignant policy of centuries duration by their country towards ours.
I have taken up more time than I really expected to take, but there are one or two things I want to say in addition before I conclude. We have had a great amount of quibbling about the meaning of Article 12. I think it is time that we made it perfectly clear that quibbling is not going to settle this matter. It will have to be settled in accordance with the spirit of the Treaty and with the spirit of those who signed the Treaty, or it will never be settled rightly. We are told it simply means the rearrangement of the line of the Frontier, taking in a little here and a little there, to make the Boundary more symmetrical and more in accordance with local interests. It meant nothing of the kind. The men who signed the Treaty, the men who made the Free State—the late General Collins and the late President Griffith— would never have put their pens to it if that had been the understanding. The understanding was expressed in the terms of Article 12, that the Boundary Commission was to decide the new Frontier in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants.
When you speak of the wishes of the inhabitants you indicate that there must be some area in which these inhabitants live. You cannot simply speak of the inhabitants who live along a certain line, whether it be straight or crooked. I think it ought to be very clear, that that interpretation of Article 12 is going to be insisted on, and will not be deviated from. To those who are looking to us for assistance and help in those areas, who desire that the will of the people shall have effect there as well as in the Twenty-six Counties, I think we ought to send a message from this assembly that we have not abandoned either the hope or the determination that such will come to pass.
I received to-day from an unknown friend a copy of the "Belfast Telegraph" of June 9, in which there is underlined a sermon preached by the Rev. John Redmond, B.A., in St. Patrick's, Newtownards Road, Belfast. He says:—
"It is a very grave thing to look forward to, and a very grave thought to give expression to, but should we be deserted by the British Government, and, if there should be a determined effort on the part of Southern Ireland to wrench from us the two coveted counties and the other parts of our territory, it would be your solemn duty, and mine, to resist such a thing, in defence of the reformed faith, and the well-being of the Empire, by resorting even to the extent of arms."
There is also another passage in this sermon:—
"The Boundary Commission has been raised in an acute form of late, and they knew quite well that Southern Ireland was anxious to get the two coveted counties, and the other parts of Ulster territory. The reason was that, if the Free State succeeded in wrenching that territory from the Ulster Government, it would make their independence impossible, and so compel them, whether they liked it or not, to seek for union with Southern Ireland."
I cannot understand the mentality of any man, North or South, who does not seek for the union of the North and the South. We seek and we are striving for the union of the Saorstát and the rest of Ireland, or to recover the territory of the Saorstát that has, for the moment, been separated from it, not because we wish to exercise political domination over what happens to be the majority in that particular area, but because we want to bring to an end the hideous line of cleavage that centuries of artificially engendered spite has brought about.
These gentlemen in the North have said that they refused to be coerced by Southern Ireland. In this Parliament of the Free State, in which we have had many discussions on the question of our relations with the North-East, I have never yet heard one single syllable, suggestive of any desire on the part of the Saorstát, to coerce those who wish to keep out of it. But if their argument is good that it is right for them to refuse to be governed by an authority which they resent, equally effective is the argument on the part of those whom they govern against their will, at the moment, within the Six Counties, and who desire to be again joined with the Saorstát. That argument is equally conclusive on the part of those in the Six Counties who are now coerced. We must, I think, realise that whenever the Boundary Commission meets, and whatever it decides, it is quite unlikely to bring about that ideal of National unity for which we are striving, though it may take steps that will bring it much nearer than it is possible to hope for, under the existing circumstances.
Whatever be the decision with regard to territory, there must be something done to secure that those groups of Nationalists and Catholics, who are left under the control of the Northern jurisdiction, must have some guarantee of civil and religious liberty, and equality of citizenship. There must be some reciprocity. Those who differ from the majority in the Saorstát enjoy full civil, religious and civic equality. I think we should demand, emphatically, that one of the decisions of the Boundary Commission, when it sits, should be that guarantees of such sacred things will be assured to those who are living under the authority of the Government of Northern Ireland.
As I said at the beginning, I did not intend this motion as one of censure on the Executive. I think what I have said can be analysed thoroughly without finding in it one word that could be so construed. I think it is time it was made perfectly clear that we are going to stand no more unnecessary delay, that the time for talk must finish, and that this question must be grappled and dealt with. Many people in the Six Counties have looked forward to the decisions of the Boundary Commission as likely to restore to them the status of citizens of a civilised nation. To many of them the whole question has become a miserable long-drawn-out farce, and they are abandoning hope that any good can come from the Boundary Commission, or that the Commission will sit at all. I have never shared that outlook. I have always tried to instil into their minds the belief that they are not going to be let down; that there was going to be no betrayal of them by the Saorstát; that we look upon Ireland still as one and indivisible; and that we are going to see that the dream of generations of our people should not be denied or extinguished, or its realisation impeded, by a set of fanatical politicians, whether in the South or in the North.
I have raised this question to-day to try to refresh that hope in the minds of our people in the North, to try to rekindle the belief that we will stand by them, that we will stand by Article 12 of the Treaty as being vital and essential, and that if those who share with us from another country responsibility for that Article do not fulfil their share of the Treaty, the consequences, the responsibility and the shame will be theirs. It may make a change in the existing relations between the two countries, but it will not impede in the slightest degree the march of this nation to ultimate freedom in the fullest sense of the word.