Leaving Cert History Revision Guide The Anglo Irish Treaty

  1. Why was a treaty proposed?
  2. What did both sides want?
  3. The problems facing the delegation (before, during, and after the negotiations)
  4. The reasons for signing.
  5. The consequences of signing.



The Anglo-Irish Treaty: Where did it all begin?

So, from 1919-1921, Ireland and Britain were at war with one another because Ireland wanted to leave the British Empire and become an independent country. In 1921 the fighting between the IRA and the British Army ended so that both sides could hold peace talks. Ireland sent a group of politicians (a delegation) to London to negotiate with the British government. 

What did Ireland and Britain want?

Ireland wanted to become a fully independent nation, completely free from British Rule.

Britain wanted to keep Ireland as part of the British Empire because Ireland provided Britain with security during wartime.

All Lloyd George would offer was Dominion Status, which basically meant that Ireland would have its own government and parliament, but the British government was still ultimately in charge.

Dominion Status: The Facts

When a country is given Dominion Status, think of it like becoming a teenager: you have more freedom than you once did, but you are still under the control of your parents. And nobody likes that, right? 

*Spoiler Alert! The delegates did NOT get the Treaty that everyone hoped for – instead, they were given Dominion Status. So why couldn't they negotiate better terms?*

The Irish Delegation: Early Problems

The problems arose even BEFORE the delegates left Dublin: some of the delegates disliked and distrusted each other. Some of the delegates were hard=line Republicans, and they were extremely stubborn with the British government, and some of them made a bad impression in London.

The delegates weren't even sure exactly how much power they were given by De Valera. The Dáil had unanimously agreed that the delegates should be given plenipotentiary power (full power) and could negotiate and sign a treaty on behalf of the government. But, De Valera told the delegates that they still could not sign anything until they checked to see if it was OK with De Valera in Dublin. This not only confused the delegates but also slowed down the negotiating process.

The Delegation Arrives in London: “Fish out of Water”  

So, when the delegates arrived in London they were already on bad footing. To make matters worse, De Valera chose not to accompany the delegates to London: there are many different theories as to why De Valera made this decision, but whatever the case may be, the Irish delegates were in London negotiating what was perhaps the biggest political deal in the Irish history without their leader.

When the delegates got to London, they were about to face one of the most ruthless, experienced negotiators in British history: David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister (pictured below). The Irish delegates had nowhere near Lloyd George’s experience in international politics – it was a very intimidating situation for the Irish delegation.

The British Advantage: “David versus Goliath”

  1. The negotiations took place in No. 10 Downing Street. This gave the British the home advantage: they were comfortable with the surroundings, the Irish were not.
  2. The British had access to highly trained legal advisers to offer an expert opinion – the Irish did not.
  3. The British leader, David Lloyd George led the negotiations – the Irish were in London without their leader.
  4. The British had the option of enforcing their terms by military force if the talks fell through – the Irish did not have this option.

The Question of Partition: What about Ulster? 

Partition was one of the biggest issues of the negotiations: you need to remember that NOT EVERYBODY living in Ireland wanted a republic… What would happen to the Northern counties that still wanted to remain part of the British Empire?

The Irish delegates suggested that the Ulster counties could vote on whether to stay in the British Empire or to join the South. If some counties wanted to stay with Britain, they could have their parliament in Belfast, but that parliament would be answerable to the Dáil, not to Westminster.

Lloyd George refused this: he said that he would only persuade the Northern Unionists to join an Irish government if the Irish agreed to remain a part of the Empire. It was a tough situation.

Partitioning Ireland: “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”

In the end, a compromise was reached: a Boundary Commission would redraw the boundary between North and North, nationalist counties could go to the South, and Unionists could stay with the Empire. But there was a catch… if this happened, Ireland would be partitioned permanently, and hard-line Republicans who had fought for an independent, unified Ireland would be extremely angry – it would seem like the sacrifices and the suffering during the War of Independence was all for nothing.

Well, in the end, that is exactly what happened; despite the best efforts of the delegates to get better terms, it was simply no use. Lloyd George offered the following terms:

  1.  Ireland would have Dominion Status within the Empire.
  2. The Irish politicians could swear allegiance to the Irish constitution – this was a better deal than most other Dominion States had. Regarding the British monarchy, the Irish only needed to promise to be faithful to the British King.

The ‘promise to be faithful to the King’ was a bit suspicious, and too hard-line Republicans back in Ireland it would have certainly sounded a lot like the oath of allegiance in disguise… surely the delegates would have realised this? 

So why did they sign the treaty?

The ‘Carrot and the Stick’: Why did the Delegates sign the Treaty?

The short answer is that they had no choice. Here’s why…

  1. The delegation asked to refer the terms to De Valera, but Lloyd George flatly refused and he reminded Collins that the Irish delegation were plenipotentiaries (ambassadors) and that they had the power to negotiate and sign on the behalf of Ireland. Therefore the delegates were forced to make a massive decision under extreme pressure without consulting De Valera.
  2. Lloyd George used the ‘carrot and the stick’ approach: either the Irish accept Britain’s offer (that was the ‘carrot’) and sign the treaty or Britain would go to war with Ireland (there’s the ‘stick’).
  3. Collins was a realist: he knew that the British would never offer full independence straight away, and he also knew that getting Dominion Status was better than nothing…it was a step in the right direction, a step towards full independence. The other Dominion States were moving closer to independence, and Collins believed that Ireland would follow suit.

Dark Days Ahead: The Threat of Civil War

In the end, the Treaty caused massive divisions in the Dáil. Moderate Republicans did not like the treaty, but they knew that it was better than nothing and that it might lead to full independence in the future. But De Valera openly opposed it and so did hard-line Republicans. Eventually, the entire country would be divided over the Treaty question, and Ireland would descend into a brutal Civil War in which pro-Treatyites and anti-Treatyites fought each other.

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