What was the contemporary popular opinion of the Anglo-Irish Treaty?

What was the contemporary popular opinion of the Anglo-Irish Treaty?

After the Irish War of Independence (also known as The [Black and] Tan War), the Irish and British signed a treaty in 1921, which created the Irish Free State and started the process of gradual independence from British rule.

The Irish Republican Army, which had been the primary military force on the Irish side, split in reaction to the treaty, because it failed to grant their demands:

  • Complete independence from Britain (the treaty granted only partial autonomy and self-determination of domestic affairs, but not total independence and sovereignty over international relations and self defense).

  • An Irish Republic encompassing the entire island of Ireland (only 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland were included in the Free State).

  • The total separation from the British crown (the treaty required Irish politicians to sign an oath of loyalty to the crown).

As a result of the split within the ranks of the IRA, a disastrous civil war ensued, in which more lives were lost than had been lost in the war of independence. The rival factions were labeled "Pro-treaty" (or "Treatyites") and "Anti-treaty" forces.

Do we have any contemporary evidence of popular opinion in the Irish Free State regarding the treaty?

The best barometer we have of the attitude of the general population of the Irish Free State towards the Anglo-Irish Treaty are the "Pact Elections" of 16 June 1922. They occurred twelve days before the commencement of hostilities in the Irish Civil War. As the linked Wikipedia article points out, 75% percent of the electorate supported pro-Treaty parties. We can also bear witness to the Irish electorate's overwhelming and uninterrupted support of Charles Stewart Parnell's Irish Parliamentary Party from the 1870s through WWI, during which time Parnell and his successor John Redmond advocated for a much more conservative form of Irish home rule than was stipulated in the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

I think it's still within the scope of your question to discuss why you are asking it in the first place (i.e., Why, if the Irish electorate overwhelming supported the treaty, did civil war break out?) In his excellent biography on Michael Collins, TP Coogan makes a convincing argument that the Irish Civil War was less a "civil war" than a conflict between highly factionalized professionals (i.e. opposing members of the Irish political establishment and their respective supporters in the Republican Army). On the one side, you had Michael Collins and the other "compromisers" who genuinely believed that they had, through tireless negotiation with their haughty British overlords, finally delivered to Ireland the "freedom to achieve her freedom". And on the other side, you had the majority of the Republican Army, whose members, for practical and logistical reasons, had been left out of the negotiating process and whose fiercely anti-British ideology prevented them from accepting anything less than total independence (which you point out in your question).

Since both groups were heavily armed and seasoned veterans from years of conflict with the British, a violent clash of ideology vs. compromise was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Yet according to Coogan, in this time period, everyday Irish citizens prioritized their confessional and economic freedom over unadulterated Irish nationalism (though this would shift later in the century as unification with North Ireland emerged as a major political cause celebre), hence, they did not feel drawn to engage in partisan violence.

This summary is grossly over-simplified for the sake of space. If you haven't already, I'd suggest you explore biographies of both Michael Collins (see TP Coogan's) and Eamon de Valera (a great one also written by Coogan). Both of these men had an insane amount of influence on the process of shaping modern Ireland. In fact, if it weren't for de Valera's public repudiation of the Treaty, the Republican Army would have had little pretext to do the same, and the Irish Civil War probably wouldn't have happened.

Why 1921 was a remarkable year of conversion for the island of Ireland

“Think what have I got for Ireland … Something which she has wanted these past 700 years. Will anyone be satisfied with this bargain? Will anyone? I tell you this, early this morning I have signed my death warrant.” Michael Collins

Leaving Certificate history students become acutely familiar with the above quotation as they participate in the study of this momentous era of Irish history. 1921 was a remarkable year of conversion for the island of Ireland: partition under British law materialised on May 3rd, a ceasefire ending the Anglo-Irish war was called on July 11th, and the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on December 6th. Such weighty historical events offer Leaving Certificate students vast amounts of opportunities to work with rich and abundant evidence.

Working with evidence

The “working with evidence” principle of the syllabus is core, and this supplement provides a bountiful assortment of sources suitable to utilise in the classroom to practise that historical skill of analysing and making judgments on sources from the past.

The divisive Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 is listed as a case study in the Modern Ireland topic 3: Sovereignty and Partition. Case studies involve an in-depth investigation of a particularly significant or representative aspect of an historical period the treaty indeed having profound significance in this era of Irish history, ending the Anglo-Irish war, and launching the Irish Free State. The evidence provided in this supplement can support the process of inquiry for students investigating the treaty while considering different explanations in an open-minded spirit of evaluation.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty is an emotive topic for students to engage with. The controversy surrounding the course and outcome of the negotiations from October to December 1921 is explored. Controversies such as De Valera’s absence, the Irish delegation’s role as plenipotentiaries and the perplexity surrounding De Valera’s “external association” proposal. By examining the evidence provided in this supplement, students can discover the different perspectives related to these contentions, analysing and making judgments on their significance and how they contributed to the agreement that was ultimately signed.

Concentrated search

Within the inquiry-based approach, questions can be composed to focus the inquiry, allowing students to approach the evidence with a concentrated search in mind. Questions that may fulfil that purpose in relation to the treaty are:

Emancipation of catholics effected the anglo-irish relation

What was the impact of Catholic emancipation on Anglo-Irish relations?

The Roman Catholic Relief Act, passed by Parliament in 1829, was the culmination of the process of Catholic Emancipation throughout Britain. In Ireland it repealed the Test Act and the remaining Penal Laws which had been in force since the passing of the Disenfranchising Act of the Irish Parliament of 1728. During the campaign for Catholic emancipation in Ireland, Daniel O'Connell, organizer of the Catholic Association, was the main leader of the campaign but many others were active as well, both for and against. As the Roman Catholic Relief Act was being passed by parliament, there was a rise of unionism, which divided protestant unionists and catholic republicans in 1829, and this effectively meant many different factors impacted more negatively than positively on the Anglo-Irish relation.

Catholic emancipation gave many Catholics a new sense of political power, and was directed into the Tithe War of 1831. Tithes, which was a tax of 10% paid on crops and animals by all denominations for the upkeep of the Anglican Church of Ireland, had caused much resentment towards parliament from Irish Catholics, as it was irrespective of an individual's religious adherence. The secondary source written by Brian Jenkins, Era of Emancipation, published 1988: British Government of Ireland, explains that ‘’the government blithely ignored all warnings, private as well as public, that the taxes were extremely unpopular, and were uniting Ireland against Britain, for it was infected with a new spirit.’’ This shows how the taxes angered the Irish Catholics, as they were getting harshly taxed, for nothing in return, such as Catholics being able to stand for parliament and take their seat. In the beginning of the 1830’s the resistance became more organised and many refused to pay. Therefore, as Irish Catholics begun to refuse the Tithes, the Anglo-Irish relation weakened, England and Ireland partitioned.

‘The End of the Conflict of Centuries is at Hand’ – The Signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 1921

This note, hastily written by Arthur Griffith, was the statement which told the world of his belief that the war between Ireland and Britain was at an end. It was the first message to the public on the outcome of the negotiations which led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Written for issue to the World Press immediately after signing the Treaty on 6 December, it reads

I have signed a Treaty of peace between Ireland and Great Britain. I believe that treaty will lay foundations of peace and friendship between the two Nations. What I have signed I shall stand by in the belief that the end of the conflict of centuries is at hand”.

Arthur Griffith, born in Dublin in 1871, was a journalist and politician. He had been involved in nationalist movements from an early stage he was a member of the Gaelic League and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, co-founded Cumann na nGaedheal in 1900, and founded the political movement Sinn Féin in 1905. Having worked as a printer, he established a series of nationalist newspapers, including United Irishman, Sinn Féin, Éire and Nationality. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, but did not take part in the 1916 Rising. Despite this his connection with Sinn Féin, whom the British authorities believed were responsible for the rising, led to his arrest and internment in Reading Jail until 1917. After his release he became Vice-President of Sinn Féin under Éamon de Valera, and was elected as MP for East Cavan. Instead of taking their seats in the House of Commons, the Sinn Féin MPs established Dáil Éireann as the government of the Irish Republic on 21 January 1919 with de Valera as President. Griffth became Acting President during the War of Independence, and was again imprisoned from December 1920 until July 1921.

The War of Independence is generally recognised as having started on 21 January 1919 in Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary, when seven members of the IRA shot and killed two RIC constables. A series of actions in the form of raids and reprisals followed over the next year. In 1920 the RIC received reinforcements in the form of the British recruited Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries a division made up of ex-British Army Officers, and the conflict intensified. In December that year, after the events of Bloody Sunday, Ireland was placed under Martial law. From this point the violence and death toll escalated, and when British Prime Minister Davd Lloyd George suggested a conference between the two governments Sinn Féin agreed, and a Truce was called in July 1921.

A series of meetings were held and in October an official delegation, headed by Arthur Griffith and including Michael Collins, was formed to carry out the negotiations with the British government. After two months an agreement was reached, officially known as The Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland. The Treaty would see the withdrawal of British troops from the majority of the country, but gave dominion status to Ireland rather than that of an independent Republic, retained the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, and provided for the establishment of a Boundary Commission to create a border between the Irish Free State and the Northern counties which opted to remain under British rule. The Irish negotiators Griffith, Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy, though not happy with the terms, were told by Lloyd George that non-acceptance would lead to a resumption of the war which, at the point the Truce was called, was being lost by the IRA. The delegation eventually recommended the Treaty to Dáil Éireann, and it was signed on the 6 December.

The Treaty was rejected by de Valera and split Republican opinion. Though it was narrowly ratified in the Dáil, this split eventually led to civil war, which started with the occupation of the Four Courts by Anti-Treaty Republicans in April 1922 and its bombardment by Pro-Treaty Republicans, now the Free State Forces, on 28 June.

By its close in May 1923 many leaders in the Irish Republican movement were dead, with 77 official executions of Anti-Treaty Republicans during the war. Arthur Griffith died of heart failure on 12 August 1922, and Michael Collins was killed in an ambush and gun battle at Béal na Bláth, Co. Cork, ten days later. While this conflict lasted only 10 months, it was to effect Irish politics for the next decade, and lived long in the memory of the Irish people. The Irish Free State of 26 counties officially became the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

A copy of the Articles of Agreement bearing the signatures of the Irish and British delegates, including Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Eamonn Duggan, George Gavan Duffy, Lord Birkenhead, David Lloyd George, and Austin Chamberlain, is on display in the Understanding 1916 exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks.

The National Museum of Ireland is pleased to announce that it has received funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht which is being used to digitise important documents in the NMI’s collections. Historically significant items, such as Griffith’s statement, the last letters of the 1916 Rising leaders, original political documents, and prison autograph books will be digitised and made available to the public online.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.


Ireland United Kingdom
Coat of Arms
Anthem Amhrán na bhFiann God Save the Queen
Capital Dublin London
Official languages Irish (36%) English (99%)
(Both de facto and de jure)
English (98%)
(de facto)
Ethnic groups 91.7% White (82.2% White Irish, 9.5% Other White), 1.7% Asian, 1.3% Black, 1.5% Other, 2.6% Not Stated, 0.7% Irish Traveller, 0.4% Chinese (2016 Census) 87% White (81.9% White British), 7% Asian, 3% Black, 2% Mixed Race, 1% Others (2011 Census)
Main religions 78.3% Catholic, 10.1% Non-religious, 4.2% Protestant
1.3% Islam, 6.1% Other christians and other religions. [4]
59.3% Christianity, 25.1% Non-religious, 7.2% Unstated, 4.8% Islam,
1.5% Hinduism, 0.8% Sikhism, 0.5% Judaism, 0.4% Buddhism
Government Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Head of state Michael D. Higgins, President Elizabeth II, Queen
Head of government Micheál Martin, Taoiseach Boris Johnson, Prime Minister
Population 4,757,976 (2016 census) 65,110,000 (2016 estimate)
Area 70,273 km 2 (27,133 sq mi) 243,610 km 2 (94,060 sq mi )
Population density 67.7/km 2 (175.3/sq mi) 255.6/km 2 (662.0/sq mi)
Largest city Dublin – 553,165 (1,904,806 Metro) London – 8,673,713 (13,879,757 Metro)
GDP (PPP) $102 billion, $24,375 per capita $2.790 trillion, $42,514 per capita
GDP (nominal) $308 billion, $65,871 per capita $2.650 trillion, $43,902 per capita
Expatriate populations 503,288 Irish born people live in the UK (2015 UN Estimate) [5] 250,000 British-born people live in Ireland (2015)
Military expenditures $1.35 billion $62.7 billion

There have been relations between the people inhabiting the British Isles for as much as we know of their history. A Romano-Briton, Patricius, later known as Saint Patrick, brought Christianity to Ireland and, following the fall of the Roman Empire, missionaries from Ireland re-introduced Christianity to Britain.

The expansion of Gaelic culture into what became known as Scotland (after the Latin Scoti, meaning Gaels) brought close political and familial ties between people in Ireland and people in Great Britain, lasting from the early Middle Ages to the 17th century, including a common Gaelic language spoken on both islands. Norse-Gaels in the Kingdom of Dublin and Norman invasion of Ireland added religious, political, economic and social ties between Northumbria and Wales with Leinster in the Pale, the Isle of Man and Galloway, including Hiberno-English.

War and colonisation during the 16th and 17th centuries brought Ireland securely under English control. However, this was at a cost of great resentment over land ownership and inequitable laws. This resulted in Gaelic ties between Scotland and Ireland withering dramatically over the course of the 17th century, including a divergence in the Gaelic language into two distinct languages.

1782–1914 Edit

Although Ireland gained near-independence from Great Britain in 1782, there were revolutionary movements in the 1790s that favored France, Britain's great enemy. Secret societies staged the failed 1798 Rebellion. Therefore the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland were merged in 1801 to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. On 1 January 1801, the first day of the 19th century, the Great Britain and Ireland joined to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Act of Union 1800 was passed in both the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland, dominated by the Protestant Ascendancy and lacking representation of the country's Roman Catholic population. Substantial majorities were achieved, and according to contemporary documents this was assisted by bribery in the form of the awarding of peerages and honours to opponents to gain their votes. [6]

The separate Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland were now abolished, and replaced by a united Parliament of the United Kingdom. Ireland thus became an integral part of the United Kingdom, sending around 100 MPs to the House of Commons at Westminster and 28 representative peers to the House of Lords, elected from among their number by the Irish peers themselves, except that Roman Catholic peers were not permitted to take their seats in the Lords. Part of the trade-off for the Irish Catholics was to be the granting of Catholic Emancipation, which had been fiercely resisted by the all-Anglican Irish Parliament. However, this was blocked by King George III, who argued that emancipating the Roman Catholics would breach his Coronation Oath. The Roman Catholic hierarchy had endorsed the Union. However the decision to block Catholic Emancipation fatally undermined the appeal of the Union. [7] [8]

Independence 1914–1922 Edit

19th century violent and constitutional campaigns for autonomy or independence culminated in an election in 1918 returning almost 70% of seats to Sinn Féin, who declared Irish independence from Britain and set up a parliament in Dublin, and declared the independence of Ireland from the United Kingdom. A war of independence followed that ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, which partitioned Ireland between the Irish Free State, which gained dominion status within the British Empire, and a devolved administration in Northern Ireland, which remained part of the UK. In 1937, Ireland declared itself fully independent of the United Kingdom. [9]

Today, the British Isles contain two sovereign states: Ireland (alternatively described as the Republic of Ireland) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom comprises four countries of the United Kingdom. [10] All but Northern Ireland have been independent states at one point.

There are also three Crown dependencies, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, in the archipelago which are not part of the United Kingdom, although the United Kingdom maintains responsibility for certain affairs such as international affairs and ensuring good governance, on behalf of the British crown, and can legislate directly for them. These participate in the shared institutions created between Ireland and the United Kingdom under the Good Friday Agreement. The United Kingdom and the Crown dependencies form what are called the British Islands.

The devolved administrations of the United Kingdom and the three Crown Dependencies also participate in the shared institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement.

The British monarch was head of state of all of these states and countries of the archipelago from the Union of the Crowns in 1603 until their role in Ireland became ambiguous with the enactment of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937. The remaining functions of the monarch in Ireland were transferred to the President of Ireland, with coming into effect of the Republic of Ireland Act in 1949.

Academic perspectives Edit

Several academic perspectives are important in the study and understanding of Ireland–United Kingdom relations. Important strands of scholarship include research on identity, especially Britishness and Irishness, and studies of the major political movements, such as separatism, unionism and nationalism. The concept of post-nationalism is also contemporary trend in studies of history, culture and politics in the isles. [ citation needed ]

Boundary commission Edit

The day after the establishment of the Irish Free State, the Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland resolved to make an address to the King so as to opt out of the Irish Free State [11] Immediately afterwards, the need to settle an agreed border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland arose. In response to this issue a commission was set up involving representatives from the Government of the Irish Free State, the Government of Northern Ireland, and the Government of the United Kingdom which would chair the Commission. Ultimately and after some controversy, the present border was fixed, not by the Commission but by agreement between the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland) and the Irish Free State.

Anglo-Irish Trade War Edit

A further dispute arose in 1930 over the issue of the Irish government's refusal to reimburse the United Kingdom with "land annuities". These annuities were derived from government financed soft loans given to Irish tenant farmers before independence to allow them to buy out their farms from landlords (see Irish Land Acts). These loans were intended to redress the issue of landownership in Ireland arising from the wars of the 17th century. The refusal of the Irish government to pass on monies it collected from these loans to the British government led to a retaliatory and escalating trade war between the two states from 1932 until 1938, a period known as the Anglo-Irish Trade War or the Economic War.

While the UK was less affected by the Economic War, the Irish economy was virtually crippled by the resulting capital flight. Unemployment was extremely high and the effects of the Great Depression compounded the difficulties. The government urged people to support the confrontation with the UK as a national hardship to be shared by every citizen. Pressures, especially from agricultural producers in Ireland and exporters in the UK, led to an agreement between the two governments in 1938 resolving the dispute.

Many infant industries were established during this "economic war". Almost complete import substitution was achieved in many sectors [12] behind a protective tariff barrier. These industries proved valuable during the war years as they reduced the need for imports. Under the terms of resulting Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement, all duties imposed during the previous five years were lifted but Ireland was still entitled to impose tariffs on British imports to protect new Irish "infant" industries. Ireland was to pay a one-off £10 million sum to the United Kingdom (as opposed to annual repayments of £250,000 over 47 more years). Arguably the most significant outcome, however, was the return of so-called "Treaty Ports", three ports in Ireland maintained by the UK as sovereign bases under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The handover of these ports facilitated Irish neutrality during World War II, [ citation needed ] and made it much harder for Britain to ensure the safety of the Atlantic Conveys. [13]

Articles 2 and 3 and the name Ireland Edit

Ireland adopted a new constitution in 1937. This declared Ireland to be a sovereign, independent state, but did not explicitly declare Ireland to be a republic. However, it did change the name of the state from Irish Free State to Ireland (or Éire in the Irish language). It also contained irredentist claims on Northern Ireland, stating that the "national territory [of the Irish state] consists of the whole island of Ireland" (Article 2). This was measured in some way by Article 3, which stated that, "Pending the re-integration of the national territory . the laws enacted by the parliament [of Ireland] shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws of Saorstat Éireann" (Saorstát Éireann is the Irish language name of the Irish Free State).

The United Kingdom initially accepted the change in the name to Ireland. [14] However, it subsequently changed its practice and passed legislation providing that the Irish state could be called Eire (notably without a fada) in British law. For some time, the United Kingdom was supported by some other Commonwealth countries. However, by the mid-1960s, Ireland was the accepted diplomatic name of the Irish state.

During the Troubles, the disagreement led to request for extradition of terrorist suspects to be struck invalid by the Supreme Court of Ireland unless the name Ireland was used. Increasingly positive relations between the two states required the two states to explore imaginative work-arounds to the disagreement. For example, while the United Kingdom would not agree to refer to Mary Robinson as President of Ireland on an official visit to Queen Elizabeth II (the first such visit in the two states' history), they agreed to refer to her instead as "President Robinson of Ireland". [ citation needed ]

As a consequence of the Northern Ireland peace process, Articles 2 and 3 were changed in 1999 formalising shared Irish and British citizenship in Northern Ireland, removing the irredentist claim and making provisions for common "[institutions] with executive powers and functions . in respect of all or any part of the island."

Abdication crisis and the Republic of Ireland Act Edit

The Irish Free State had been governed, at least until 1936, under a form of constitutional monarchy linked to the United Kingdom. The King had a number of symbolically important duties, including exercising the executive authority of the state, appointing the cabinet and promulgating the law. However, when Edward VIII proposed to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite and divorcée, in 1936, it caused a constitutional crisis across the British Empire. In the chaos that ensued his abdication, the Irish Free State took the opportunity to amend its constitution and remove all of the functions of the King except one: that of representing the state abroad.

In 1937, a new constitution was adopted which entrenched the monarch's diminished role by transferring many of the functions performed by the King until 1936 to a new office of the President of Ireland, who was declared to "take precedence over all other persons in the State". However, the 1937 constitution did not explicitly declare that the state was a republic, nor that the President was head of state. Without explicit mention, the King continued to retain his role in external relations and the Irish Free State continued to be regarded as a member of the British Commonwealth and to be associated with the United Kingdom.

During the period from December 1936 to April 1949, it was unclear whether or not the Irish state was a republic or a form of constitutional monarchy and (from 1937) whether its head of state was the President of Ireland (Douglas Hyde until 1945, and Seán T. O'Kelly afterwards) or the King of Ireland (George VI). The exact constitutional status of the state during this period has been a matter of scholarly and political dispute.

The state's ambiguous status ended in 1949, when the Republic of Ireland Act stripped the King of his role in external relations and declared that the state may be described as the Republic of Ireland. The decision to do so was sudden and unilateral. However, it did not result in greatly strained relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The question of the head of the Irish state from 1936 to 1949 was largely a matter of symbolism and had little practical significance. The UK response was to legislate that it would not grant Northern Ireland to the Irish state without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland (which was unlikely to happen in unionist-majority Northern Ireland).

One practical implication of explicitly declaring the state to be a republic in 1949 was that it automatically terminated the state's membership of the British Commonwealth, in accordance with the rules in operation at the time. However, despite this, the United Kingdom legislated that Irish citizens would retain similar rights to Commonwealth subjects and were not to be regarded as foreigners.

The Republic of Ireland Act came into force on 18 April 1949. Ten days later, 28 April 1949, the rules of the Commonwealth of Nations were changed through the London Declaration so that, when India declared itself a republic, it would not have to leave. The prospect of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth, even today, is still occasionally raised but has never been formally considered by the Irish government.

Toponyms Edit

A minor, through recurring, source of antagonism between Britain and Ireland is the name of the archipelago in which they both are located. Commonly known as the British Isles, this name is opposed by some in Ireland and its use is objected to by the Irish Government.

A spokesman for the Irish Embassy in London recently said, "The British Isles has a dated ring to it, as if we are still part of the Empire. We are independent, we are not part of Britain, not even in geographical terms. We would discourage its usage [sic].". [15]

No consensus on another name for the islands exists. In practice, the two Governments and the shared institutions of the archipelago avoid use of the term, frequently using the euphemism these islands in place of any term.

The Troubles Edit

Political violence broke out in Northern Ireland in 1968 following clashes over a civil rights campaign. The civil rights campaign demanding an end to institutionalised discrimination against nationalists by the unionist Government of Northern Ireland. As the violence escalated, rioting and attacks by nationalist and unionist groups began to de-stabilise the province and required the presence of British troops on the ground.

In the wake of the riots, the Republic of Ireland expressed its concern about the situation. In a televised broadcast, Taoiseach Jack Lynch stated that the Irish Government could "no longer stand by" while hundreds of people were being injured. This was interpreted as a threat of military intervention. [16] While a plan for an Irish invasion of Northern Ireland was rejected by the Government of Ireland, a secret [ citation needed ] Irish government fund of £100,000 was dedicated to helping refugees from the violence. [ citation needed ] Some more actively nationalist Irish Ministers were tried in 1970 when it emerged that some of the fund had been spent covertly on buying arms for nationalists. [ citation needed ]

Angry crowds burned down the British Embassy in Dublin in protest at the shooting by British troops of 13 civilians in Derry, Northern Ireland on Bloody Sunday (1972) and in 1981 protesters tried to storm the British Embassy in response to the IRA hunger strikes of that year. In 1978, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) trial Ireland v. the United Kingdom ruled that the techniques used in interrogating prisoners in Northern Ireland "amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment", in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

An attempt by the two governments to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland politically in 1972 through the Sunningdale Agreement failed due to opposition by hard-line factions in Northern Ireland. With no resolution to the conflict in sight, the Irish government established the New Ireland Forum in 1984 to look into solutions. While the British UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher rejected the forum's proposals, it informed the British government's opinion and it is said to have given the Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald a mandate during the negotiation of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, which was directed at resolving the conflict. [17] [18] The 1992 Downing Street Declaration further consolidated the views of the two Governments and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement eventually formed the basis for peace in the province.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs established a "Reconciliation Fund" in 1982 to support organisations whose work tends to improve cross-community or North–South relations. [19] Since 2006, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has hosted an annual "Reconciliation Networking Forum" (sometimes called the "Reconciliation Forum" not to be confused with the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation) in Dublin to which such groups are invited. [20] [21]

Brexit Edit

There is a controversy about the impact that Britain's withdrawal from the European Union will have at the end of the transition period on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, in particular the impact it may have on the economy and people of the island were customs or immigration checks to be put in place at the border. It was prioritized as one of the three most important areas to resolve in order to reach the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union. [22]

The people of the UK voted to leave the European Union in a non-binding referendum on 23 June 2016, an act which would effectively make the Republic of Ireland-Northern Ireland border an external EU border. [23] Due to the lack of supporting legislation, all referendums in the UK are not legally binding, which was confirmed by a Supreme Court judge in November 2016. [24] Despite this, the UK government chose to proceed with the departure from the European Union. All parties have stated that they want to avoid a hard border in Ireland particularly due to the sensitive nature of the border. The border issue is concerned by a protocol related to the withdrawal agreement, known as the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. [25]

The British felt the issue of Northern Ireland, was settled, but Brexit reopened it. Since 2007, Northern Ireland has been jointly controlled by the two historic enemies, the DUP and Sinn Féin who cooperated smoothly under the 1998 power-sharing agreement. The UK favoured Brexit because of the English vote, in which Irish issues were rarely discussed. The decision for Brexit which upset a delicate balance and focused attention on the century-old partition of Ireland. The snap general election called by Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017 gave the DUP—the party founded by hard-liner Protestant Ian Paisley—a decisive role. The role of the 10 Unionist Democratic MPs opposing any differential treatment for Northern Ireland blocked the implementation of Brexit and provoked another snap election in 2019. Memory mattered as people recalled the unpleasantries of the past such as the bloody Irish War of Independence and the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement and the outbreak of the Troubles. Nevertheless observers reported a growing element of people from Northern Ireland are seeking to escape the traditional dichotomy between orange and green. [26] [27]

The conflict in Northern Ireland, as well as dividing both Governments, paradoxically also led to increasingly closer co-operation and improved relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. A 1981 meeting between the two governments established the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. This was further developed in 1985 under the Anglo-Irish Agreement whereby the two governments created the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, under the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council, as a regular forum for the two Governments to reach agreement on, "(i) political matters (ii) security and related matters (iii) legal matters, including the administration of justice (iv) the promotion of cross-border co-operation." The Conference was "mainly concerned with Northern Ireland but some of the matters under consideration will involve cooperative action in both parts of the island of Ireland, and possibly also in Great Britain." The Agreement also recommended the establishment of the Anglo-Irish Interparliamentary Body, a body where parliamentarians from the Houses of the Oireachtas (Ireland) and Houses of Parliament (United Kingdom) would regularly meet to share views and ideas. This was created in 1990 as the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body.

The Northern Ireland peace process culminated in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that further developed the institutions established under these Anglo-Irish Agreement. New institutions were established interlocking across "strands":

  • Strand I: an Assembly and Executive for Northern Ireland based on the D'Hondt system
  • Strand II: a North-South Ministerial Council to develop co-operation and common policies within the island of Ireland
  • Strand III:
    1. a British-Irish Council "to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands"
    2. a new British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference, established under the British–Irish Agreement, replaced the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council and the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

The scope of the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference is broader that the original Conference, and is intended to "bring together the British and Irish Governments to promote bilateral co-operation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of both Governments." The Conference also provides a joint institution for the government of Northern Ireland on non-devolved matters (or all matters when the Northern Ireland Assembly is suspended). However, the United Kingdom retains ultimate sovereignty over Northern Ireland. Representatives from Northern Ireland participate in the Conference when matters relating to Northern Ireland are concerned.

The members of the British-Irish Council (sometimes called the Council of the Isles) are representatives of the Irish and British Governments, the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, together with representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It meets regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest divided into work areas (such as energy, environment or housing) allocated to individual members to work and report on.

The Anglo-Irish Interparliamentary Body developed independently over the same period, eventually becoming known as the British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly and including members from the devolved administrations of the UK and the Crown Dependencies.

The development of these institutions was supported by acts such the visit of efforts by Mary Robinson (as President of Ireland) to the Queen Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom), an apology by Tony Blair (as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) to Irish people for the failures of the British Government during the Great Famine of 1845—1852 and the creation of the Island of Ireland Peace Park. A state visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in May 2011 – including the laying of a wreath at a memorial to IRA fighters in the Anglo-Irish war – symbolically sealed the change in relationships between the two states following the transfer of police and justice powers to Northern Ireland. The visit came a century after her grandfather, King George V, was the last monarch of the United Kingdom to pay a state visit to Ireland in July 1911, while it was still part of the United Kingdom.

The British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference provides for co-operation between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom on all matters of mutual interest for which they have competence. Meetings take the form of summits between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Irish Taoiseach, on an "as required" basis. Otherwise, the two governments are represented by the appropriate ministers. In light of Ireland's particular interest in the governance of Northern Ireland, "regular and frequent" meetings co-chaired by the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, dealing with non-devolved matters to do with Northern Ireland and non-devolved all-Ireland issues, are required to take place under the establishing treaty.

At these meetings, the Irish government may put forward views and proposals, however sovereignty over Northern Ireland remains with the United Kingdom. In all of the work of the Conference, "All decisions will be by agreement between both Governments [who] will make determined efforts to resolve disagreements between them." The Conference is supported by a standing secretariat located at Belfast, Northern Ireland, dealing with non-devolved matters affecting Northern Ireland.

'All-islands' institutions Edit

The British-Irish Council (BIC) is an international organisation [28] laid out under the Belfast Agreement in 1998 and created by the established by the two Governments in 1999. Its members are:

  • the two sovereign governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom
  • the three devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
  • the three governments of the Crown dependencies of Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.

The Council formally came into being on 2 December 1999. Its stated aim is to "promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands". The BIC has a standing secretariat, located in Edinburgh, Scotland, and meets in bi-annual summits and regular sectoral meetings. Summit meetings are attended by the heads of each administrations (e.g. the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) whereas sectoral meetings are attended by the relevant ministers form each administration.

While the Council is made up of representatives from the executive of the various administrations in the region, it does not have executive power itself. Instead, its decisions, so far as they exist, are implemented separately by each administration on the basis of consensus. Given this – that the Council has no means to force its member administrations into implementing programmes of action – the Council has been dismissed as a "talking shop" and its current role appears to be one mainly of "information exchange and consultation". [29]

In addition to the Council, the British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) is composed of members of the legislative bodies in the United Kingdom, including the devolved legislatures, Ireland, and the British Crown dependencies. It is the older of the two 'all-islands' institutions (BIC and BIPA) having been founded in 1990 as the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. Its purpose is to foster common understanding between elected representatives from these jurisdictions and, while having no legislative power, it conducts parliamentary activities such as receiving oral submissions, preparing reports and debating topical issues. The Assembly meets in plenary on a bi-annual basis, alternating in venue between Britain and Ireland, and maintains on-going work in committee.

These institutions have been described as part of a confederal approach to the government of the British-Irish archipelago. [29] [30]

All-Ireland institutions Edit

The North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) coordinates activity and exercises certain governmental functions across the island of Ireland. The Council is responsible for developing and executing policy in at least twelve areas of co-operation, of which:

  • at least six are executed separately in each jurisdiction
  • at least six are executed by an all-Ireland "implementation body"

Further development of the role and function of the Council are possible "with the specific endorsement of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Oireachtas, subject to the extent of the competences and responsibility of the two Administrations."

The North/South Ministerial Council and the Northern Ireland Assembly are defined in the Good Friday Agreement as being "mutually inter-dependent, and that one cannot successfully function without the other." Participation in the Council is a requisite for the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly and participation in the Northern Ireland Executive. When devolution in Northern Ireland is suspended, the powers of the Northern Ireland Executive revert to the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

Meetings of the Council take the form of "regular and frequent" sectoral meetings between ministers from the Government of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive. Plenary meetings, attended by all ministers and led by the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Taoiseach, take place twice a year. Institutional and cross-sectoral meetings, including matters in relation to the EU or to resolved disagreements, happen "in an appropriate format" on a ad hoc basis. The Council has a permanent office located in Armagh, Northern Ireland, staffed by a standing secretariat.

There is no joint parliamentary forum for the island of Ireland. However, under the Good Friday Agreement, the Oireachtas and Northern Ireland Assembly are asked to consider developing one. The Agreement also contains a suggestion for the creation of a consultative forum composed of members of civil society from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Under the 2007, St. Andrew's Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to support the establishment of a North/South Consultative Forum and to encourage parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly to support the creation of a North/South parliamentary forum.

Inter-regional relationships Edit

Independent of the direct involvement of Government of the United Kingdom, the devolved administrations of the mainland United Kingdom and the Crown dependencies also have relationships and with Ireland.

For example, the Irish and Welsh governments collaborate on various economic development projects through the Ireland Wales Programme, under the Interreg initiative of the European Union. [31] The governments of Ireland and Scotland, together with the Northern Ireland Executive, also collaborated on the ISLES project under the aegis of the Special EU Programmes Body, set up under the Good Friday Agreement. [32] The project was to facilitate the development of offshore renewable energy sources, such as wind, wave and tidal energy, and trade in renewable energy between Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Common Travel Area Edit

Ireland and the United Kingdom are the only parts of the European Union not obliged to join the Schengen free-travel area. The Crown Dependencies, which are outside of the EU, are not members either. Instead, a Common Travel Area exists between the two states and the Crown Dependencies. The Common Travel Areas is not founded on any formal agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom and is not provided for in legislation. Instead, it is an informal arrangement between the states. When the Schengen Area was incorporated into the European Union through the 1992 Amsterdam Treaty, the first formal recognition of the Common Travel areas was made though an annexed protocol exempting their obligations to join.

The UK's reluctance to join the Schengen Area, through concerns over loss of independent border controls, is usually cited as the reason for not joining. Britain argued that, for an island, frontier controls are a better and less intrusive way to prevent illegal immigration than other measures, such as identity cards, residence permits, and registration with the police. Consequent difficulties for Ireland, given its location and shared border with the United Kingdom (at which border points would have to be set up), would then make it very difficult for Ireland to join without the United Kingdom.

Except for a period during and in the years after World War II, neither Ireland nor the UK have placed restrictions on travel between each other for citizens resident in each others states since Irish independence. Even during wartime, when Ireland remained neutral and the United Kingdom was a belligerent during World War II, the only significant restrictions on travel between the states were an Irish prohibition on the wearing of military uniforms by British citizens when in Irish territory and the instatement of passport controls between Great Britain and the island of Ireland. When Ireland suddenly declared itself a republic in 1949, thus making it impossible to remain in the British Commonwealth, the UK government legislated that even though the Republic of Ireland was no longer a British dominion, it would not be treated as a foreign country for the purposes of British law.

Prior to post-World War II, both states mutually recognised each other's entry visas for foreigners. However, in 1952 changes to UK law rescinded this arrangement. In 2011, the first public agreement between the British and Irish governments concerning the maintenance of the Common Travel Area was published. [33]

The agreement, which is non-binding, envisions increased co-ordination between Irish and British immigration arrangements and that, from July 2011 Ireland would recognise UK short terms visas on an 18-month pilot basis for nationals of 16 countries. The agreement also mooted the possibility of "Common Travel Area visit visa" including the possibility of a pilot project.

There are no special arrangements for travel between the Common Travel Area and the Schengen Area and a Schengen visa entitle entry. However, citizens of the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland may enter as a right using only their passports.

Citizenship and citizens rights Edit

As a dominion of the British Empire, citizens of the Irish Free State were regarded as British subjects in common with all other members of the Empire. Historically, as late as 1942, British jurisprudence was that Irish citizenship "did no more than confer . a national character as an Irish citizen within the wider British nationality". Indeed, for some years, the British authorities refused to accept Irish passports. [34]

Starting from the basis of common citizenship, the two states to this day provide reciprocal recognition to each others' citizens. British and Irish citizens can avail themselves of public services (for example, health care and social welfare) in each other's jurisdictions on an equal basis and are entitled to the right of abode, with deportation only in the most exceptional of circumstances. They each have equal voting (and standing) rights in all elections held across the United Kingdom and Ireland (except for the election of the President of Ireland and referenda).

Northern Ireland occupies a unique location in the citizenship of the islands, with Northern Ireland people being recognised under the Good Friday Agreement as (in general terms) simultaneously British and/or Irish citizens according to their choice.

The interaction of overlapping citizens rights and laws has led to some cases of exploitation of loopholes to avoid the intention of the law. For example, the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland was required to amend the potential for abuse of the rights of Irish citizenship to the right to abode in the United Kingdom. Before then, Irish citizenship was granted on the basis of jus soli (i.e. being born on the island of Ireland was reason in itself to be considered an Irish citizen). In one case, a Chinese migrant to the UK, living in Wales on Great Britain, chose to give birth to a child in Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland, to take advantage of Irish citizenship laws. Consequently, her child was born an Irish citizen by virtue of jus soli and so was entitled to permanent abode in the UK even though the mother did not have the right to visit the Republic of Ireland. The mother and father then claimed the right to stay in the United Kingdom by virtue of being the guardians of a citizen of the European Union who would be unable to look after itself should they be deported. [ citation needed ]

Energy Edit

A single wholesale electricity market exists on the island of Ireland since 2007. Work towards common arrangements for the transmission and distributions of natural gas, including a common retail market arrangements by 2014, on the island are also underway. [35]

In 2004, a natural gas interconnection agreement was signed between the United Kingdom and Ireland, linking Ireland with Scotland via the Isle of Man. [36]

In 2011, the members of the British-Irish Council agreed an "All Islands Approach (AIA)" to electricity grid infrastructure and have launched a programme of joint work examining renewable energy trading as well as interconnection and market integration. [37]

Shared bodies Edit

The United Kingdom and Ireland share a number of civic bodies such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, that provides sea-rescue across Britain and Ireland.

The three lighthouse authorities in the archipelago (the Northern Lighthouse Board, Trinity House Lighthouse Service and the Commissioners of Irish Lights) are funded by a single General Lighthouse Fund managed by the UK Department for Transport and paid for by light dues levied on ships calling at British and Irish ports. While this broad arrangement will continue, the total cost of the Commissioners of Irish Lights' work in Ireland (not Northern Ireland) will be met from income raised domestically as from 2015—16. [38]

Military cooperation Edit

The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom normalised military cooperation with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Irish Department of Defence and the British Ministry of Defence in January 2015.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) provides a framework for developing and furthering bilateral co-operation and relations between the Department of Defence and the UK Ministry of Defence. The MOU takes into account matters such as military forces training exercises and military education exchange of views on EU Common Security and Defence Policy potential for joint contributions to UN Crisis Management Operations joint procurement initiatives pooling and sharing resources general sharing of reform in defence services potential for staff exchanges sharing of information, and joint contribution to Security Sector Reform and capacity building in crisis locations. It envisages cooperation and exchanges involving both civil and military personnel. The signing of the MoU places already existing co-operation arrangements in the Defence area between Ireland and the UK on a more formal and transparent footing, while fully respecting the differing policy positions and security arrangements of both States.

To date, I have not been requested to appear before the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to discuss the Agreement. However, I would welcome the opportunity to brief the Committee should the opportunity arise.

Dáil approval was not required for the Memorandum of Understanding. However, in the interests of transparency and good administrative practices, the Document has been laid before Dáil Éireann by lodging it to the Dáil Library on 21 January 2015.

Historically, Ireland has maintained a policy of strict military neutrality since the foundation of the state. As a result, Ireland has never joined the UK as an active ally, during any modern conflict. [ citation needed ]

An important political movement in several countries in the Isles is British unionism, an ideology favouring the continued union of the United Kingdom. It is most prevalent in Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Ireland. British unionism has close ties to British nationalism. Another movement is Loyalism, which manifests itself as loyalism to the British Crown.

The converse of unionism, nationalism, is also an important factor for politics in the Isles. Nationalism can take the form of Welsh nationalism, Cornish nationalism, English nationalism, Scottish nationalism, Northern Ireland nationalism, Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland or independence movements in the Isle of Man or Channel Islands. [40]

The Green Party is the only political party present in all of the major countries but these grassroots based parties focus on representation in their own devolved administrations there exists no formal overarching "National/Inter-island" structure.

Several Irish parties are organised on both sides of the Irish border. In recent years, Sinn Féin and the Green Party have won seats in Dáil and Assembly elections in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, respectively. Fianna Fáil won a seat in the 1933 general election to the former Parliament of Northern Ireland but refused to take the seat.

Pan-Celticism is also a movement which is present in several countries which have a Celtic heritage.

Irish migration to Great Britain is an important factor in the politics and labour markets of the Isles. Irish people have been the largest ethnic minority group in Britain for centuries, regularly migrating across the Irish Sea. From the earliest recorded history to the present, there has been a continuous movement of people between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain due to their proximity. This tide has ebbed and flowed in response to politics, economics and social conditions of both places. At the 2011 census, there were 869,000 Irish-born residents in the United Kingdom. [41]

As of 2013, the Britons represent the largest immigrant minority of European origin in the Republic of Ireland.

The United Kingdom and Ireland have separate media, although British television, newspapers and magazines are widely available in Ireland, [42] giving people in Ireland a high level of familiarity with cultural matters in the United Kingdom. Republic of Ireland newspapers and magazines are commonly available in Northern Ireland, and the two main Irish broadsheets, The Irish Times and the Irish Independent are frequently available to the diaspora in Great Britain. Certain reality TV shows have embraced the whole of the islands, for example The X Factor, seasons 3, 4 and 7 of which featured auditions in Dublin, were open to voters in the Republic, while the show previously known as Britain's Next Top Model became Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model in 2011.

Ireland and the United Kingdom have agreed to a deal on the digital broadcast of BBC Northern Ireland and Channel 4 into the Republic of Ireland and of RTÉ and TG4 into Northern Ireland. Tara Television, which broadcast Irish programming into Great Britain, was wound up in 2002. A replacement, under the working title of RTÉ International, has been postponed due to financial conditions. Instead, RTÉ Player provides a subset of programming for audiences outside Ireland.

Some cultural events are organised for the island group as a whole. For example, the Costa Book Awards are awarded to authors resident in the UK or Ireland. The Man Booker Prize is awarded to authors from the Commonwealth of Nations and Ireland. The Mercury Music Prize is handed out every year to the best album from an Irish or British musician or group.

The British and Irish Lions is a team made up of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales that undertakes tours of the southern hemisphere rugby playing nations every four years. The Ryder Cup in golf was originally played between a United States team and a team representing Great Britain and Ireland. From 1979 onwards this was expanded to include the whole of Europe.

In 2012, the Olympic torch visited Dublin on a tour of the UK ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Dublin was the only place outside of the UK (apart from the traditional lighting ceremony in Greece) that the torch visited. UK Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, said: "The Republic of Ireland is the only country outside the UK to be visited by the torch and rightly so, given the unique and deep ties between Ireland and the UK." [43]

Many of the countries and regions of the isles, especially Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, and Scotland share a common Celtic heritage, and all of these countries have branches of the Celtic league.

Due to the linguistic, cultural and legal (both as common law countries) similarities between the UK and Ireland, many businesses in both countries have operations in each other country. Both countries have each other as their biggest business partner, and both in the same trade organisations include the European Union and World Trade Organization.

Examples of notable British companies that have an Irish operations come as diverse as the supermarket chain Tesco (Tesco Ireland), the department store Marks & Spencer, the commercial bank NatWest Group, which operates through its Ulster Bank subsidiary, telecoms company BT (BT Ireland) and electric company SSE plc (Airtricity). Notable Irish companies that work in the UK includes the airline Ryanair, fashion retailer Primark (founded in Dublin but now owned by Associated British Foods), food processor Kerry Group and electric management company ESB.

Due to the closeness, some businesses often treat both countries of trade, finance and marketing as a single unit as quoting for "UK and Ireland" rather than two separate countries.

When Dev defaulted: the land annuities dispute, 1926–38

Taking over the ‘Treaty ports’—Eamon de Valera leads a delegation to Spike Island, 11 July 1938. Following negotiation of the 1938 Anglo-Irish Agreement, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told Dev that he could go home and ‘make a great deal of the fact that the United Kingdom government had agreed to wipe out the land annuity payments’. (Irish Press)

In the Irish Free State, the land purchase annuities amounted to over £3m per annum, a substantial figure (given that the total revenue intake in the early 1930s was approximately £25m). The average burden of the annuities on the individual farmer was not huge—about 10% of net income—but it was a fixed amount, so the burden increased in difficult times. There had been proposals in the revolutionary period to withhold annuities as a protest strategy—such as during the conscription crisis of 1918, or to offset local government grants withheld by the British government. The consensus, however, was that such a move would damage the embryonic state’s credit rating and hamper ongoing land transfers. It was during a debate on this issue in 1923 that Minister for Home Affairs Kevin O’Higgins made his famous comment about their being ‘the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution’. The 1920 Government of Ireland Act allowed for the respective governments of Northern and Southern Ireland to retain the annuities this obviously never came into force in the south, but remained the position in Northern Ireland. Under Article 5 of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, annuities were included as part of what the Irish Free State would pay to service the United Kingdom public debt. In 1923 the Free State government agreed to collect annuities from tenants and pay them into the British land purchase fund. The Boundary Agreement of December 1925 released the Free State from its Treaty obligations to service the UK public debt, but the paying over of annuities continued and in March 1926 the Cumann na nGaedheal government agreed officially with the British that the Irish state would continue to do so.

Peadar O’Donnell (centre)—the crucial figure in the anti-annuities agitation—with the delegation of the recently formed Irish Working Farmers’ Committee (IWFC) at the Congress of Peasants International (Krestintern), Berlin, March 1930.

Peadar O’Donnell and the beginning of grassroots resistance

In the mid-1920s the annuities issue slowly emerged as a source of contention and political mobilisation. Substantial arrears had built up during the Troubles, and the Irish state set about retrieving them in 1925–6. A new law was passed in 1926 giving the Land Commission additional powers to seize animals and goods in lieu of payment thousands of civil bills were issued, and many farmers feared for their futures. Enter Peadar O’Donnell, the socialist republican agitator, leading member of the IRA and editor of An Phoblacht, who organised a small farmer committee dedicated to organising resistance to the annuities in his native Donegal. He later wrote:

Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy warned of the danger of a ‘red terror’ in the countryside arising from O’Donnell’s annuities agitation. He would later support a non-payment campaign wearing a different hat—and a different shirt. (Cork Examiner)

‘Here was what [Fintan] Lalor sighed for: a tax directly payable to Britain: a tax devoid of any vestige of moral sanction. Refuse this tax, have the people take their stand on that refusal, and you faced the government with a challenge it could not refuse and a fight it could not win. Republicans could roast the Treaty in the fire from this kindling.’

On 13 August 1934, c. 3,000 Blueshirts protested in Cork city against cattle seizures resulting from the non-payment of annuities and rates. Marsh’s Yard, where the cattle were being held for sale, was the focus of the protests. Fifteen Blueshirts drove a lorry through the police cordon and the closed yard gate, followed by a small group on foot. Armed Special Branch detectives inside the yard opened fire, injuring six and killing 22-year-old Michael Patrick Lynch from Carrignavar, Co. Cork. Uniformed Gardaí clashed with hundreds more protestors outside the gates. Lynch became a Blueshirt martyr. Thousands of uniformed Blueshirts attended his funeral, where leader Eoin O’Duffy delivered the oration. (Cork Examiner)

Anti-Tribute League: Fianna Fáil moves to the front

Colonel Maurice Moore, a senator who had joined Fianna Fáil, had been speaking out in the Senate about the immorality and illegality of the land annuities and produced a pamphlet, British plunder and Irish blunder. He joined forces with O’Donnell to launch the Anti-Tribute League in early 1928, a key aim being to force Fianna Fáil to embrace the issue. Many of its TDs and councillors came on board, taking effective leadership of the campaign while eschewing its more overtly illegal aspects and the whiff of cordite surrounding it and many of its activists. The campaign focused on county councils, and by the end of 1928 Clare, Galway, Kerry and Leitrim councils had passed resolutions against payment, while the Fianna Fáil árd fheis had come out against the annuities. De Valera’s party was now at the forefront of the opposition. Its position was based on straightforward moral and pragmatic financial arguments from the Moore thesis, bolstered by the opinions of eight legal experts employed to analyse the issue. The arguments were as follows. 1. British landlords had no moral right to the land of Ireland in the first place. In de Valera’s words, the lands to which the annuities related were ‘rewards given in the past to military adventurers from England . . . the British government has found it desirable to convert those land rewards into money, and it was manifestly unfair to ask the citizens of the Irish Free State, from whom the land had been taken, to pay compensation to the persons who had deprived them of it’. 2. The retained monies would be of major benefit to the Irish economy and would fund measures such as agricultural de-rating and land redistribution. 3. The British had no legal right to the annuities, which were a contingent liability for the Irish share of the UK public debt under the Treaty the removal of this debt obligation under the 1925 Boundary Agreement also removed the annuities payment obligation. In addition, the 1923 and 1926 agreements between the Free State and British governments had not been ratified by the Dáil and thus were not binding. So the payment of £3m a year was a free gift to the British.

According to Cumann na nGaedheal and the British government, the bulk of the annuities was not part of the UK public debt. Lands purchased under the 1891–1909 acts had been financed by the issue of stock Irish purchasers repaid these stockholders, and even though the state provided the machinery of collection, payment and guarantee it was not the direct beneficiary. They also maintained that the 1923 and 1926 agreements were binding as it was never specified that they were subject to ratification. With the Great Depression of 1929, the numbers of defaulters rose rapidly. There was also a general radicalisation in Irish politics and a strengthening of the developing republican–communist nexus. O’Donnell was a crucial figure in this and in 1930 helped to form an Irish Working Farmers’ Committee (IWFC) as a branch of Krestintern, the communist Peasant International. The IWFC became a central plank of the IRA’s socialist platform, Saor Éire, formed in 1931. Saor Éire, the IWFC, the IRA and a plethora of other left-wing and republican groups were banned in 1931 amidst a flurry of church condemnation, red scare-mongering and state repression. An unintended beneficiary of the red scare and repression was Fianna Fáil, which swept to power in March 1932.

Annuities retained

The new Fianna Fáil government withheld the general annuities payment, due on 1 July, and retained it in the Irish exchequer. The British responded swiftly with a tax on Irish imports designed to recoup the amount, which in turn provoked Irish tariffs on British imports, and thus began the Economic War. The British offered to put the annuities issue to an arbitration tribunal but insisted that it be made up of British Commonwealth representatives, to which de Valera would not agree. British records show that the cabinet was unsure of its ground and feared that ‘a certain arbitrator might hold that Mr de Valera is right from a purely legal and technical view’. In Ireland, in the meantime, the amount collected was about to be drastically reduced, through government concessions, which saw the annuities payments reduced by 50%, and a new anti-annuities agitation, spearheaded this time from the right rather than the left. Large cattle-farmers (‘the ranchers’ or graziers, the 8% of farmers who owned 50% of the land and who had benefited most from Cumann na nGaedheal’s policies) were hardest hit by the trade war. Part of their response was a campaign of resistance to the payment of annuities, led initially by the National Farmers and Ratepayers Association (Centre Party), which became a constituent part of the new Fine Gael party established in September 1933, along with Cumann na nGaedheal and the fascistic Blueshirts. The latter, led by former Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy, began to reorient themselves as an agrarian protest organisation, mobilising to resist seizures and auctioning of cattle, and attacking those charged with collecting annuities. Subsequent clashes with the Gardaí included the fatal shooting of Michael Lynch in Marsh’s cattle yard in Cork in August 1934. O’Duffy pushed for an annuities and rent strike, but Fine Gael baulked at the idea of advocating illegal action and the radicals lost the initiative this, combined with the deployment of special Garda units to counter the agitators and the easing of the Economic War from 1935, contributed to the demise of the campaign.

Vindication? The 1938 agreement

In early 1938, de Valera and his officials opened negotiations with London to end the Economic War. De Valera told his British counterparts that ‘if a solution could be found on the basis of making a certain payment, it would have to be made clear that such a payment did not include anything in respect of the land annuity claim’. The British eventually accepted this, and agreed that the Irish would make a one-off £10m payment in respect of the remaining annuities and other payments (amounting in total to approximately £100m). Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told Dev that he could go home and ‘make a great deal of the fact that the United Kingdom government had agreed to wipe out the Land Annuity payments’. This he did, and the 1938 Anglo-Irish Agreement, which included the return of the ‘Treaty ports’ as well as the resolution of the annuities dispute, was presented, quite plausibly, as a triumph by Fianna Fáil. The settlement represented a ‘victory’ on the annuities, despite the trade war’s negative impact on Ireland’s exports and broader economic fortunes, though this has often been exaggerated. It could be argued that it vindicated de Valera’s bold decision to default—certainly with regard to Fianna Fáil’s political fortunes, if not Ireland’s economic ones. The annuities issue had been a flexible political weapon, wielded at various times by the far left, far right and militant republicans. Ultimately, it was Fianna Fáil that wielded it most successfully, symbolising its broader success over its political opponents on the left and right in these turbulent years of economic depression and political radicalism. HI Donal Ó Drisceoil lectures in the School of History, University College Cork. Further reading: M. Kennedy et al. (eds), Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Volumes IV and V: 1932–39 (Dublin, 2004 and 2006). D. MacMahon, Republicans and imperialists: Anglo-Irish relations in the 1930s (London and New Haven, 1984). P. O’Donnell, There will be another day (Dublin, 1963). D. Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O’Donnell (Cork, 2001).


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Brown, T. (2004). Ireland: A social and Cultural History 1922-2002. London: Harper Perennial.

Coogan, T. P. (1993). De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow. London: Hutchinson.

Dwyer, T. R. (1992). De Valera: The man and the myths. Dublin: Poolbeg.

Dwyer, T. R. (1981). Michael Collins and the Treaty: His differences with De Valera. Dublin: Mercier.

Ferriter, D. (2007). Judging Dev. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.

Ferriter, D. (2005). The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000. London: Pofile Books.

Foster, R. F. (1989). Modern Ireland 1600-1972. London: Penguin.

Jackson, A. (1999). Ireland 1798-1998. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Keogh, D. (2005). Twentieth Century Ireland. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

Lee, J. (1990). Ireland 1912-1985 Politics and Society. Cambridge University Press.

Lee, J., & O Tuathaigh, G. (1982). The Age of de Valera. Dublin: Ward River Press.

Longford, E. o., & O’Neill, T. P. (1970). Eamon de Valera. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan.

McCaffrey, L. J. (1995). The Irish Question: Two Centuries of Conflict. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Neeson, E. (1998). Birth of a Republic. Dublin: Prestige Books.

O’Carroll, J., & Murphy, J. A. (Eds.). (1986). De Valera and his times. Cork University Press.


Separatism, rebellion and partition Edit

From Union in 1801 until 6 December 1922 the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. However, from the 1880s, there had been long-standing nationalist agitation for autonomy or Home Rule. Other, more radical voices such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood called for independence, but these were in a minority. [9]

In 1912–1913, the Liberal government in Britain proposed a Bill for Home Rule. Alarmed, unionists in the north organized the Ulster Volunteers, an armed militia proposing to resist Home Rule by force. Nationalists in response founded the Irish Volunteers. Arising out of this stand off, the partition of Ireland was proposed in three way talks between the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Unionist Party and the British government. In 1914, the UK Parliament enacted a Third Irish Home Rule Bill but suspended its effect until after World War I.

The nationalist leader John Redmond pledged support for the British war effort and many Irishmen served in the British Army (see Ireland and World War I), but the war and the frustration of nationalist ambitions regarding Home Rule led to a radicalisation of Irish nationalism. In 1916, a group of IRB activists within the Irish Volunteers led an insurrection aimed at Irish independence in Dublin, known as the Easter Rising. The rebellion did not have popular support and was put down within a week, but the execution of its leaders, and the subsequent wholesale arrest of radical nationalist activists proved very unpopular with the nationalist public. [10] Coming directly after the Rising, a further attempt was made at the Irish Convention to resolve the impasse over Home Rule, but without success. Finally, the British proposal to extend conscription for the war to Ireland provoked widespread resistance, (see Conscription Crisis of 1918) and discredited the Irish Parliamentary Party who had supported the British war effort. [11]

All of these factors led to a swing towards support for Sinn Féin – the party which was led by veterans of the Easter Rising and which stood for an independent Irish Republic. In the 1918 Irish general election, Sinn Féin won the vast majority of seats, many of which were uncontested. Sinn Féin's elected candidates refused to attend the UK Parliament at Westminster and instead assembled in Dublin as a new revolutionary parliament called "Dáil Éireann". They declared the existence of a new state called the "Irish Republic" and established a system of government to rival the institutions of the United Kingdom.

The first meeting of the Dáil coincided with an unauthorised shooting of two RIC men in Tipperary, now regarded as the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence. From 1919 to 1921 the Irish Volunteers (now renamed as the Irish Republican Army, being deemed by the Dáil to be the army of the new Irish Republic) engaged in guerrilla warfare against the British army, the RIC and paramilitary police units known as the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. The violence started out slowly, with only 19 deaths in 1919, but escalated sharply from the second half of 1920 and in the first six months of 1921 alone there were 1,000 deaths on all sides. [12] The principle political leader of the republican movement was Éamon de Valera – the President of the Republic. However he spent much of the conflict in the United States, raising money and support for the Irish cause. In his absence, two young men, Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy rose to prominence as the clandestine leaders of the IRA – respectively Director of Intelligence and Chief of Staff of the guerrilla organisation.

There were several failed attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict. In the summer of 1920, the British government proposed the Government of Ireland Act 1920 (which passed into law on 3 May 1921) that envisaged the partition of the island of Ireland into two autonomous regions Northern Ireland (six northeastern counties) and Southern Ireland (the rest of the island, including its most northerly county, Donegal). [13] However, this was not acceptable to southern republicans and only the entity of Northern Ireland was established under the Act in 1921. [14] The political entity of Southern Ireland was superseded in 1922 by the creation of the Irish Free State.

After further failed talks in December 1920, the guerrilla conflict was brought to an end in July 1921, with a truce agreed between the IRA and the British. Talks were then formally begun in pursuit of a peace settlement. [15]

To some extent, the War of Independence exposed political and religious fissures in Irish society. The IRA killed over 200 civilians as alleged informers in the conflict. [16] It has been alleged that groups like Protestants and ex-servicemen were disproportionately represented in this figure – an argument disputed by other historians. [17] However whether due to violence and intimidation or due to their loyalty to the British presence in Ireland, between 1911 and 1926 some 34 percent of the Free State's Protestant population – or about 40,000 people – left the 26 counties, mostly for Northern Ireland or Great Britain. [18] While there were many reasons for this, secession from the United Kingdom was a factor in Protestant emigration.

Anglo-Irish Treaty Edit

Negotiations between the British and Irish negotiating teams produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty, concluded on 6 December 1921. The Irish team was led by Michael Collins, who had organised the IRA intelligence during the War of Independence. The British team led by David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were prepared to make concessions on Irish independence but would not concede a republic. Towards the end of negotiations, Lloyd George threatened, "immediate and terrible war" if the Irish did not accept the terms offered.

The Treaty envisaged a new system of Irish self-government, known as "dominion status", with a new state, to be called the Irish Free State. The Free State was considerably more independent than a Home Rule Parliament would have been. It had its own police and armed forces and control over its own taxation and fiscal policy, none of which had been envisaged under Home Rule. However, there were some limits to its sovereignty. It remained a dominion of the British Commonwealth and members of its parliament had to swear an oath of loyalty to the British monarch. The British also retained three naval bases, known as the Treaty Ports. In addition, the Irish state was obliged to honour the contracts of the existing civil service—with the exception of the Royal Irish Constabulary, which was disbanded, albeit with full pensions—payable by the Irish state. [19]

There was also the question of partition, which pre-dated the Treaty but which was copper-fastened by it. In theory, Northern Ireland was included under the terms of the Treaty but under Article 12 was, given the option to opt out within a month. (See Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922) Thus for three days from midnight on 6 December 1922 the newly established Irish Free State, in theory included all of the island of Ireland (including Northern Ireland). [20] However, in practice, Northern Ireland was already a functioning autonomous area by this time and it formally left the Irish Free State on 8 December 1922.

As a result of these limits to the Free State's sovereignty, and because the Treaty dismantled the Republic declared by nationalists in 1918, the Sinn Féin movement, the Dáil and the IRA were all deeply split over whether to accept the Treaty. Éamon de Valera, the President of the Republic was the most prominent leader of those who rejected the Treaty. Among other things, he objected to the fact that Collins and the negotiating team had signed it without the authorisation of the Dáil Cabinet.

Civil War Edit

On a vote of 64 to 57, the Dáil narrowly passed the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 7 January 1922. [21] Éamon de Valera, President of the Republic and several other cabinet members resigned in protest.

The pro-Treaty leadership of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, organised in a Provisional Government, set about establishing the Irish Free State created by the Treaty. To this end, they began recruiting for a new army, based initially at Beggars Bush Barracks in Dublin, composed of pro-Treaty IRA units. They also began recruiting for a new police, the Civic Guard, to replace the RIC which was disbanded as of August 1922. [22]

However a majority of the IRA led by Rory O'Connor opposed the Treaty, on the grounds that it disestablished the Irish republic, which they argued they were sworn to defend, and that it imposed a declaration of fidelity to the British monarch on Irish parliamentarians. The IRA held a convention in March 1922, in which they renounced their allegiance to the Dáil and vested it in their own Army Council. [23] O'Connor in April led the occupation by anti-Treaty forces of several public buildings in Dublin, notably the Four Courts – centre of the Irish legal system. Éamon de Valera, while not in command of the anti-Treaty IRA, also led political opposition to the Treaty in a new party named Cumann na Poblachta. [24]

With two rival Irish armed forces now in the country, civil war looked likely from the spring of 1922. Three events set it off. The first was the election of 18 June 1922, which the pro-Treaty Sinn Féin party won, giving the Free State a popular mandate. The second was the assassination by Irish republicans in London of a retired British general Henry Hughes Wilson. While it is not clear who ordered the killing, the British government assumed it was the anti-Treaty IRA and ordered Collins to act against them or risk armed British intervention to do it. The third trigger was the kidnapping by the IRA in the Four Courts of Free State general, JJ "Ginger" O'Connell. This combination of events forced the Collins government to assault and take the anti-Treaty positions in Dublin, which it succeeded in doing after a week's fighting in July 1922. [25] Éamon de Valera declared his support for the anti-Treaty IRA after the outbreak of hostilities.

A further military offensive secured the Free State control over the other major towns and cities in its territory by the beginning of August. Despite their defeat in open warfare, the IRA regrouped and took up a guerrilla campaign, as they saw it, to restore the Irish Republic. The war dragged on in a guerrilla form until April 1923. In August 1922, the Free State was rocked by the death of its two main leaders. Michael Collins was killed in an ambush at Béal na mBláth, Cork, on 22 August 1922 and Arthur Griffith died of a stroke a week earlier. W. T. Cosgrave assumed control of both the Irish Republic's cabinet and the Provisional Government and both administrations disappeared simultaneously shortly afterwards, replaced by the institutions of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922.

The anti-Treaty IRA under Liam Lynch tried to use the same guerrilla tactics against the Free State as they had against the British in 1919–1921. However, without the same degree of popular support, they were less effective. By late 1922, the Irish National Army had taken all the major towns in the country and reduced the IRA's campaign to small scale attacks. A very large number of anti-Treaty fighters, some 12,000 in all, were interned by the Free State. Moreover, as it went on the war produced acts of great cruelty on both sides. The Free State embarked on a policy of selective executions – 77 prisoners were judicially shot with over 100 more 'unofficially' killed in the field. The anti-Treaty forces assassinated one pro-Treaty member of Parliament, and several other civilian politicians, wounded more and burned their houses. However the Free State's tactics of internment and executions combined to cripple the anti-Treaty forces by April 1923. [26]

The death in action of Liam Lynch in this month led to the anti-Treaty IRA, under the orders of Frank Aiken and on the urgings of civilian leader de Valera, calling a ceasefire and to "dump arms". There was no negotiated end to the war however. [27]

The Civil War between Irish nationalists created a great deal of bitterness and the Civil War cleavage also produced the two main parties of independent Ireland in the 20th century. The number of dead has yet to be accurately counted but is considered to be around 2,000 at least as high as the number killed in the preceding War of Independence.

Immediately after the Civil War, elections were held in which anti-Treaty Sinn Féin were allowed to participate. Although many of their candidates, including Éamon de Valera, were imprisoned, they won about one third of the vote. However the pro-Treaty side, organised in Cumann na nGaedheal, won a comfortable majority and went on to form the government of the new state until 1932.

The Cumann na nGaedheal governments, led by WT Cosgrave, were highly conservative – being more concerned with establishing the state's basic institutions after the havoc of the Civil War than with social or political reform. According to Kevin O'Higgins, the Minister for Justice, "we were the most conservative group of revolutionaries ever to have carried out a successful revolution".

The Irish Civil Service was largely inherited intact from the British and senior civil servants such as C.J. Gregg were 'lent' to the Irish from London to get the new state's bureaucracy off the ground. The new service, and especially its comptroller, Joseph Brennan were initially most concerned with balancing the state's budget and avoiding long-term in-debtedness [28] The Free State printed its own notes (the punt), and minted its own coins but their value remained tied to British sterling currency until the 1970s.

Whereas the British had devolved much power to local government in the 1890s, one of the Free State's first acts was to abolish many of the powers of County Councils and replace them with unelected County managers. [29] This was partly due to the allegiance of some councils to the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, but also due to the belief that giving power to local government bred corruption. One of the major successes of the Cumann na nGaedheal governments was to establish the police, the Garda Síochána, as an unarmed and politically neutral force, relatively untainted by the bitterness of the civil war.

On the economic front, the Cosgrave administration saw its role as supporting the Irish agricultural export sector by consolidating farms and improving the quality of their produce. Ernest Blythe, the first Minister for Finance, in a bid to reduce the public debt, cut public expenditure from £42 million in 1923 to £27 million in 1926. The Cumann na nGeadhael governments did not see providing social services as a priority and instead cut income tax from 5 shillings to 3 shillings. [30] One exception to the generally low level of public spending was the Shannon hydroelectric scheme, which provided Ireland's first autonomous source of electricity.

While the last prisoners of the Civil War were released in 1924, the Free State retained extensive emergency powers to intern and even execute political opponents, under a series of Public Safety Acts (1923, 1926 and 1931). These powers were used after the IRA assassinated Minister Kevin O'Higgins (in revenge for the executions during the Civil War) in 1927 after which several hundred IRA suspects were interned.

Fianna Fáil comes to power Edit

The political representatives of the anti-Treaty side had re-grouped in 1926 as Fianna Fáil, leaving only a minority of intransigent republicans in Sinn Féin and the IRA who refused to recognise the legitimacy of the state. Fianna Fáil initially refused to take their seats after being elected to the Dáil. However, they entered the parliament in 1927, in part to disassociate themselves from the killing of Kevin O'Higgins.

Initially Cumann na nGaedheal had been popular as the party that had established the state, but by 1932, their economic conservatism and continued repression of anti-Treaty Republicans was becoming unpopular. Fianna Fáil won the 1932 election on a programme of developing Irish industry, creating jobs, providing more social services and cutting the remaining links with the British Empire. In 1932, Fianna Fáil entered government in coalition with the Labour Party, but a year later they won an absolute majority. They would be in government without interruption until 1948 and for much of the rest of the 20th century.

One of Fianna Fáil's first actions in government was to legalise the IRA and to release imprisoned republicans. IRA members began attacking Cumann na nGaedhal supporters, who they considered "traitors" at rallies. This greatly antagonised pro-Treaty Civil War veterans, who in response formed the quasi-fascist Blueshirts (initially the "Army Comrades Association"), led by the former Garda Commissioner Eoin O'Duffy to oppose the IRA. There were frequent riots and occasional shootings between the two factions in the early 1930s. De Valera banned the Blueshirts in 1933, after a threatened march on the Dáil, in imitation of Mussolini's March on Rome. Not long afterwards, in 1936, de Valera made a clean break with political violence when he banned the increasingly left-wing IRA after they murdered a landlord's agent, Richard More O'Farrell, in a land dispute and fired shots at police during a strike of Tramway workers in Dublin. [31] In 1939 it enacted the Offences against the State Act for the prosecution of illegal armed groups, an act similar to those passed by previous governments to combat dissident militant groups.

Economic nationalism and trade war with Britain Edit

Fianna Fáil's economic programme marked a sharp break with their predecessors in Cumann na nGaedheal. Instead of free trade, which benefited mainly substantial farmers, Fianna Fáil pursued the nationalist aim of establishing Irish domestic industries, which were protected from foreign competitors by tariffs and subsidies. Fianna Fáil made it mandatory for foreign companies to have a quota of Irish members on their boards. They also set up a large number of semi-state companies such as the Electricity Supply Board and the Turf Development Board. While this state-led strategy had some positive results, emigration remained high throughout this period, with up to 75,000 leaving for Britain in the late 1930s. [32]

In the course of their pursuit of economic independence, Fianna Fáil also provoked what is known as the Anglo-Irish Trade War with Britain in 1933, by refusing to continue paying back "land annuities" – money provided under the Land Purchase (Ireland) Act 1903 by the British Government to enable Irish farmers purchase their own land. The British in retaliation raised tariffs on Irish agricultural produces, hurting Ireland's export trade. De Valera in turn raised taxes on the importation of British goods. The burden of this standoff fell on the cattle farmers, who could no longer sell their cattle at competitive rates in Britain. Additionally the Fianna Fáil government continued to collect half the land annuities as taxation. Police and sometimes troops were used to seize cattle off farmers who would not or could not pay. Farmers aggrieved at these policies were one of the principal support bases of the Blueshirt movement [33]

The dispute with Britain was finally settled in 1939. Half of the land annuity debt (c. £90 million) was written off and the rest paid as lump sum. The British also returned to Ireland the Treaty ports, which they had retained since the Treaty of 1922. Irish control over these bases made possible Irish neutrality in the looming Second World War. [34]

Constitutional status Edit

The Free State from 1922–1937 was a constitutional monarchy over which the British monarch reigned (from 1927 with the title "King of Ireland"). The Representative of the Crown was known as the Governor-General. The Free State had a bicameral parliament and a cabinet, called the "Executive Council" answerable to the lower house of parliament, the Free State Dáil. The head of government was called the President of the Executive Council.

The parliament of the UK passed The Statute of Westminster 1931, which granted legislative independence to the six Dominions, Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa. In 1932, after Éamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil's victory in the general election, the 1922 Irish Free State constitution was amended through a series of legislative changes, was subsequently replaced with a new constitution. This document was drawn up by the de Valera administration. It was approved by the electorate in a plebiscite by a simple majority.

On 29 December 1937, the new "Constitution of Ireland" came into effect, renaming the Irish Free State to simply "Éire" or in the English language "Ireland". The Governor-General was replaced by a President of Ireland and a new more powerful prime minister, called the "Taoiseach", came into being, while the Executive Council was renamed the "Government". Though it had a president, the new state was not a republic. The British monarch continued to reign theoretically as "King of Ireland", and was used as an "organ" in international and diplomatic relations, with the President of Ireland relegated to symbolic functions within the state but never outside it.

Status of Northern Ireland Edit

The Anglo–Irish Treaty provided that should Northern Ireland choose not be included in the Free State, a Boundary Commission would be set up to revise the borders between the two jurisdictions. The Irish perspective was that this was intended to allow largely nationalist areas of Northern Ireland to join the Free State, and shortly after the establishment of the Free State this commission came into being. However the commission concentrated on economic and topographic factors, rather than the political aspirations of the people who would be living near the new border. In 1925, the Boundary Commission report, contrary to expectations, proposed ceding some small areas of the Free State to Northern Ireland. For a variety of reasons the governments agreed to accept the original Northern Ireland/Southern Ireland delineation in return for Britain dropping the Irish obligation to share in paying Britain's Imperial debts. The Dáil approved the boundary by a large margin of 71 to 20.

The outbreak of the Second World War put the state and the de Valera government in a difficult situation. It came under pressure from Britain and later the US, to enter the war, or at least to allow the allies to use its ports. However, there remained a minority who felt that national independence had yet to be achieved and who were resolutely opposed to any alliance with Britain. For this reason, de Valera ensured that the state remained neutral throughout the War which was officially known as the "Emergency". The state's decision to adopt neutrality was influenced by memories of the Anglo–Irish War and the Civil War, and the state's lack of military preparedness for involvement in a war.

The remnants of the IRA, which had split several times into ever smaller groupings since 1922, embarked on a bombing campaign in Britain (see Sabotage Campaign (IRA)) and some attacks in Northern Ireland (see Northern Campaign), intended to force a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Some of its leadership, notably Seán Russell, sought help from Nazi Germany for this project. De Valera, considering this activity a threat to Irish neutrality and therefore to the state's vital interests, interned all active IRA members and executed several. Another was hanged in Northern Ireland for shooting a policeman.

Behind the scenes the Irish state worked with the Allies in 1940, the government agreed provisionally with Britain that it would accept the entry of British troops and put its own armed forces under their command should the Germans invade Ireland – see Plan W. There was a provisional German plan for an invasion of Ireland, known as Operation Green, but it was never carried out. Additionally, Irish fire fighters were sent to Northern Ireland to help fight the fires caused by the German bombing of Belfast in 1941 (See Belfast Blitz).

There were a number of further examples of cooperation. German pilots who crashed in Ireland were interned while Allied airmen were returned to Britain. There was also mutual sharing of intelligence. For example, the date of the D-Day Normandy landings was decided on the basis of transatlantic weather reports supplied by the Irish state. It is estimated that between 43,000 and 150,000 men from Ireland took part, with that number roughly evenly divided between Northern Ireland and the southern state. [35]

Conversely, following the suicide of Adolf Hitler, de Valera, following diplomatic protocol, controversially offered condolences to the German ambassador.

Economically, the war was a difficult time for the state. Industrial production fell by 25%. [36] Unlike the First World War, when Irish farmers had made substantial profits selling food to Britain, in the Second World War, Britain imposed strict price controls on Irish agricultural imports. Due to the war, imports to Ireland dried up, leading to a drive for self-sufficiency in food and strict rationing, which continued until the 1950s. Nevertheless, as a result of neutrality, Ireland emerged from the war having been spared the physical destruction and extreme hardship undergone by combatant nations on the European mainland.

On 18 April 1949 the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, which had been enacted by the Oireachtas, came into force. That legislation described Ireland as the Republic of Ireland but did not change the country's name. The international and diplomatic functions previously vested in or exercised by the king were now vested in the President of Ireland who finally became unambiguously the Irish head of state. Under the Commonwealth rules then in force, the declaration of a republic automatically terminated the state's membership of the British Commonwealth. Unlike India, which became a republic shortly afterwards, Ireland chose not to reapply for admittance to the Commonwealth.

Though a republic since 1949, the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 that had established the Kingdom of Ireland was not finally repealed until 1962, along with many other obsolete Parliament of Ireland statutes. [37] However, long before that, the British Government in its Ireland Act 1949 recognised that "the Republic of Ireland had ceased to be part of His Majesty's dominions" (but would not be "a foreign country" for the purposes of any law). [38]

The state joined the United Nations in December 1955, after a lengthy veto by the Soviet Union. [39] Turned away by the veto of France in 1961, the state finally succeeded in joining the European Economic Community (now known as the European Union) in 1973.

Economic, political and social history, 1945–1998 Edit

Ireland emerged from the Second World War in better condition than many European countries, having been spared direct involvement in the war and with an income per capita higher than that of most belligerent countries. Ireland also benefited from a loan under the Marshal Plan $36 million, at 2% interest. The money was spent on an extensive housing and slum-clearing project and a successful campaign to eradicate tuberculosis. [40]

However, whereas most European countries experienced a sustained economic boom in the 1950s, Ireland did not, its economy growing by only 1% a year during the decade. Ireland as a result experienced sharp emigration of around 50,000 per year during the decade and the population of the state fell to an all-time low of 2.81 million. [41] The policies of protectionism and low public spending which had predominated since the 1930s were widely viewed to be failing.

Fianna Fáil's political dominance was broken in 1948–51 and in 1954–1957, when coalitions led by Fine Gael (descendants of Cumann na nGaedheal), and including the Labour Party and Clann na Poblachta won elections and formed the government. However, the periods of coalition rule did little to radically alter government policies. An initiative by Noël Browne, the Minister for Health, to introduce the Mother and Child Scheme, providing free medical care to mothers and children, came to nothing when opposed by the Catholic Church and by private medical practitioners.

Poor economic growth and lack of social services led Seán Lemass, who succeeded the veteran Éamon de Valera as leader of Fianna Fáil and as Taoiseach in 1958, to state that if economic performance did not improve, the very future of the independent Irish state was at risk. "[Something] has got to be done now. If we fail everything else goes with it and all the hopes of the past will have been falsified". [42]

Lemass, along with T. K. Whitaker as Secretary of the Department of Finance, set specific plans for economic growth, including planned investment in industrial infrastructure and dropping of many protective tariffs and giving tax incentives to foreign manufacturing companies to set up in Ireland. Attracting foreign direct investment has remained a central part of Irish economic planning since that time. The economic plans of the Lemass era yielded economic growth of 4% a year between 1959 and 1973. A result of having more public revenue was more investment in social infrastructure – free secondary education, for instance, was instituted in 1968, by the then Minister for Education, Donough O'Malley. Emigration fell as living standards in Ireland went up by 50% and began to catch up with the European average. [43]

However, in the 1970s, the world energy crisis – where OPEC countries withheld supplies of oil – resulted in rising inflation and a budget deficit in Ireland. From 1973 to 1977 a coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour tried to keep spending under control by imposing a series of cuts in public spending.

The period of economic crisis of the late 1970s provoked a new economic crisis in Ireland that would endure throughout the 1980s. Fianna Fáil, back in power after the 1977 election, tried to reactivate the economy by increasing public spending, which by 1981 amounted to 65% of Irish GNP. Irish national debt in 1980 was £7 billion or 81% of GNP. By 1986, it was over £23 billion – 142% of Irish GNP. [44]

This massive public debt hindered Irish economic performance throughout the 1980s. The governments of Charles Haughey (Fianna Fáil) and Garret FitzGerald (Fine Gael/Labour) borrowed even more, and income tax rates went up to between 35% and 60% of wage earners' income. The combination of high taxes and high unemployment caused emigration to pick up again, with up to 40,000 leaving the country each year in that decade. Power alternated between the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, with some governments not even lasting a year, and in one case, three elections in a period of 18 months.

Starting in 1989 there were significant policy changes with economic reform, tax cuts, welfare reform, an increase in competition, and a ban on borrowing to fund current spending. There was also a "Social Partnership Agreement" with the trade unions, whereby unions agreed not to strike in return for gradual, negotiated pay increases. These policies was started by the 1989–1992 Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat government, with the support of the opposition Fine Gael, and continued by the subsequent Fianna Fáil/Labour government (1992–1994) and Fine Gael/Labour Party/Democratic Left governments (1994–1997). This was known as the Tallaght Strategy, where the opposition promised not to oppose certain necessary economic measures brought in by the government of the day.

The Irish economy returned to growth by the 1990s but unemployment remained high until the second half of that decade.

"Celtic Tiger" Economic growth of 1990s–2008 Edit

The state had had a disappointing economic performance for much of its existence, but it became one of the fastest growing economies in the world by the 1990s, a phenomenon known as the Celtic Tiger. One factor in this was a policy of attracting foreign investment by offering very low taxes on profits ("corporations taxes", which were set at 12%) and by investing in education – offering a well-educated work force at relatively low wages and access to the now-open European market. The second factor was getting public spending under control by a series of agreements, termed 'social partnership' with the trade unions – where gradual increases in pay were awarded in return for no industrial action. However it was not until the second half of the 1990s that figures for unemployment and emigration were reversed. [45]

By the early 2000s, the Republic had become the second richest (in terms of GDP per capita, adjusted for purchasing power parity) member of the European Union, had moved from being a net recipient of EU funds to a net contributor, and from a position of net emigration to one of net immigration. In 2005, its per capita GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity) became the second highest in the world (behind Switzerland) with 10 percent of the population born abroad. The population grew to an all-time high for the state of about 4.5 million.

By 2000 Ireland had a substantial budget surplus and the first decade of the new millennium also saw a significant expansion of public spending on infrastructure and social services. As against this, several state-run industries were also privatised – Eircom for instance. In 2002, Irish national debt was 32% of GNP and fell further until 2007. [46]

The Celtic Tiger started in the mid-1990s and boomed until 2001, when it slowed down, only to pick up again in 2003. It slowed again in 2007 and in June 2008 the Irish Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) predicted that Ireland would go into recession briefly before growth would resume. [47] [48]

However, since 2001, the Irish economy had been heavily dependent of the property market and when this crashed in 2008, the country's economy was badly hit.

Economic and political history 2008–present Edit

The Irish banks had invested heavily in loans to property developers and were facing ruin as result of the property markets' collapse and also the international 'Credit crunch' or drying up of loans from abroad. Much of the Irish economy and public finances had also depended on the property market and its collapse at roughly the same time as the banking crisis impacted all parts of the Irish economy. It also meant that revenue collected by the state fell radically.

This situation was compounded by the assumption by the state of the banks' debts in 2008. The Irish government led by Brian Cowen, following a late-night meeting with all the senior banking officials in the country on 30 September 2008, agreed to cover all of the banks' debts. This debt, now estimated at over €50 billion, (over half of which will be paid to Anglo Irish Bank) imposed a heavy burden on the tax-payer and severely damaged Ireland's ability to borrow money from the International Bond markets.

The second problem is that public spending, which rose steeply in the 2000s, was now unsustainable. The total Irish budget deficit as of December 2010, stood at 93.4 billion with General Government Debt at 148.6 billion or 94.2% of GDP. [49] As it was not clear how much money would be needed to revitalise the banks – to clear their debts and supply them with enough money to start lending again – the international markets were unwilling to lend Ireland money at an interest rate it could afford.

Under pressure from the European Union, which feared a 'run' (selling causing a collapse in value) of the euro, Ireland was forced to accept a 16-year loan of €85 billion at just under 6% interest from IMF and EU itself. [50] Not only were the interest rates of the loan high, but the deal also involved a humiliating loss of sovereignty, in which Irish budgets had to first be approved by other parliaments of the EU – notably that of Germany.

The political result of this crisis was the fall of the Cowen government and a shattering defeat for Fianna Fáil in the 2011 Irish general election, in which the party won just 17% of the vote and retained only 20 out of its 71 seats in the Dáil. Emigration from Ireland has again picked up and many remain anxious about the economic future. [51] Leader of Fine Gael, Enda Kenny, became the new Prime Minister after the election to succeed Brian Cowen. [52]

In the 2016 general election, Fine Gael remained the largest party in parliament, but lost seats. [53] After the resignation of Enda Kenny, Leo Varadkar became the new Prime Minister and leader of Fine Gael, in June 2017. The background of Varadkar, as gay son of Indian immigrant, made his choice historical [54]

In early 2020, the general election was an unprecedented three-way race, with the three largest parties each winning a share of the vote between 20% and 25%. Fianna Fáil finished with 38 seats (including the Ceann Comhairle). Sinn Féin made significant gains it received the most first-preference votes, and won 37 seats, the party's best result since its modern iteration in 1970. Fine Gael, the governing party led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, finished third both in seats (35) and in first-preference votes. [55]

International news outlets described the result as a historic break from the two-party system, as it was the first time in almost a century that neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael won the most votes. Furthermore, the combined vote share of the two traditional main parties fell to a historic low. [56] [57] The leaders of those parties had long ruled out forming a coalition government with Sinn Féin. [58]

In June 2020, leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, became the new Irish prime minister (taoiseach). He formed a historical three-party coalition consisting of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. It was the first time in history that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were in the same government. The previous prime minister and leader of Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar, became the deputy prime minister (tánaiste). Martin was scheduled to lead the country as Prime Minister until December 2022, before changing posts with Varadkar. [59]

The official position of the Irish state, as laid out in the 1937 constitution, was that the territory of the state comprised the whole island of Ireland, but that its laws applied only to the territory of the Free State, as outlined in the 1922 Treaty. Thereafter the policies of Irish governments pursued the peaceful unification of Ireland through the pressure groups such as the anti-Partition League. However, at the same time, the state recognised that paramilitary groups – in particular the IRA – were also a threat to its own security. Furthermore, their attacks on Northern Ireland could drag the Irish state into an unwanted confrontation with Britain.

In the 1950s, the IRA launched a campaign of attacks on Northern security targets along the border (the Border Campaign). The Irish government first detained the IRA's leaders under the Offences Against the State Act and later introduced internment for all IRA activists. This helped to halt the campaign in its tracks, and the IRA called it off in 1962. In the aftermath of this episode, the southern government under Seán Lemass, himself an IRA veteran of the War of Independence and Civil War, tried to forge closer ties with the authorities in Northern Ireland to promote peaceful co-operation on the island. He and Northern premier Terence O'Neill exchanged visits, the first of the respective heads of state to do so since the very early days of partition in 1922.

However, in 1969, the Irish government found itself placed in a very difficult position when conflict erupted in Northern Ireland in the form of rioting in Derry, Belfast and other urban centres. The violence arose out of agitation by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association for the redress of grievances of Catholics and nationalists in Northern Ireland. Two episodes in particular caused concern – the Battle of the Bogside in Derry, in which nationalists fought the police for three days and the rioting in Belfast, in which several Catholic neighbourhoods were attacked and burned by loyalists.

Taoiseach Jack Lynch in a televised address, said, "we can not stand by and watch innocent people being injured and perhaps worse", comments taken to mean that Irish troops would be sent over the border to assist Northern nationalists. This was not done, but Irish Army field hospitals were set up and some money and arms were covertly supplied to nationalist groups for self-defence. Government ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, were later put on trial for allegedly supplying arms to republican paramilitaries. [60]

At the same time, the Provisional IRA, emerged from the 1969 rioting intending to launch an armed campaign against the Northern state. By 1972, their campaign was of considerable intensity, killing over 100 British soldiers in that year alone. Unlike the IRA campaign of the 1950s, this campaign was viewed as having considerable public support among Northern nationalists and for this reason, Irish governments did not introduce internment as they had previously, in the absence of a political settlement in Northern Ireland. The Irish government also refused to allow British and Northern Ireland security units to pursue Republican paramilitaries over the border into the Republic and arrested those soldiers or police who did enter its territory armed. [61]

The Irish governments however, continued to view illegal armed activity by republicans on its territory as a major security risk. The Gardaí and the Irish Army were used to try to impede the activities of republican paramilitary groups throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles (c. 1968–1998). The paramilitaries' activities in the south included bank robberies, kidnappings and occasional attacks on the Irish security forces (killing 6 gardaí and one Irish soldier) as well as attacks on British forces over the border. Representatives of republican paramilitaries were forbidden from appearing on television or radio by Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, (1971). [62]

There were also some attacks by loyalist paramilitary groups in southern territory, notably the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, which killed 33 people.

In 1985, the Irish government was part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, in which the British government recognised that the Irish government had a role to play in a future peace settlement in the North. In 1994, the Irish government was heavily involved in negotiations which brought about an IRA ceasefire.

In 1998, the Irish authorities were again party to a settlement, the Good Friday Agreement, which set up power-sharing institutions within Northern Ireland, North-South instructions and links between the various components of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish state also changed Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution to acknowledge both the existence of Northern Ireland and the desire of Irish nationalists for a united Ireland. Even in the wake of the post-Good Friday Agreement incorporation of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin into electoral politics, there remain several republican paramilitary groups who wish to use force to destabilise Northern Ireland – such as the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. Irish security forces continue to be used to try to prevent attacks by such groups.

In the late twentieth century, Irish society underwent rapid social change. After the introduction of free education in the late 1960s, many more people had access to second and third level qualifications. The relative economic success of the 1960s and 1970s also decreased emigration, meaning that Ireland became a younger and much more urban society than before. The spread of television and other mass media also exposed Irish citizens to a far wider range of influences than previously. All of these factors loosened the power of the traditional political parties and the Catholic Church over society.

By the 1980s, some were calling for liberalisation of the state's laws, particularly a review of the bans on divorce, contraception, and homosexuality. However, they were also opposed by well-organised groups who accused the reformers of being irreligious and "anti-family". That decade saw bitter disagreement between socially conservative, principally religious, elements and liberals over a series of referendums.

In 1983, the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign campaigned for and won a referendum, explicitly including a ban on abortion into the constitution – the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland.

The liberals had a victory in 1985, when it was made legal to buy condoms and spermicides without prescription. Nevertheless, it was not until 1993 that all restrictions on information and sale of contraceptives were abolished. [63] In 1986, the Fine Gael/Labour coalition proposed to remove the ban on divorce. This was opposed by Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church and the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 1986 was defeated in a referendum.

Since 1992, the state has become less socially conservative. Liberalisation has been championed by figures like Mary Robinson, a radical feminist senator who became President of Ireland, and David Norris, who led the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform. Homosexual sex was decriminalised by an act of parliament in 1993.

The constitutional ban on abortion was softened somewhat in 1992. After a referendum in that year, the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 1992 was approved, it was made legal to perform an abortion to save the life of a mother, to give information about abortion and to travel to another country for an abortion.

In 1995, after a referendum, the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland legalised divorce.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, these questions were deeply divisive in the Republic of Ireland and exposed deep social cleavages between religious and secular-minded people, urban and rural, middle and working classes. Issues such as divorce, contraception and homosexuality have since become accepted by many and have ceased to be matters of serious political debate. However, legalising abortion remained controversial. Opinion poll evidence on the subject of abortion was mixed. [64] [65]

In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by means of popular referendum, when the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland was passed by just over 60% of voters. [66]

In 2018, a referendum repealing the ban on abortion was passed, the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland. Legislation to allow abortion on demand up to 12 weeks and under restrictions after that time was enacted in the form of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. Abortion services began on 1 January 2019. [67]

Part of the reason why social liberalisaton was widely accepted by the 1990s was due to a very damaging series of scandals in that decade. The revelation that one senior Catholic bishop, Eamon Casey, fathered a child by a divorcée caused a major reaction, as did the discovery of a child abuse ring whereby offenders became clerics in order to use their position in the Roman Catholic Church to obtain access to victims—notably the infamous paedophile Father Brendan Smyth. Another bishop, McGee, subsequently resigned over his mishandling of child abuse cases in his diocese. [68] It was also revealed, in the 2000s, after an enquiry, the Ryan Commission, that there had been widespread physical and sexual abuse of children in secular and Church-run industrial schools and orphanages from the 1920s until the 1960s. These were institutions which were set up to house children without families or with very poor parents. In some cases, it was claimed, these children had been removed from their parents only to be put into institutions worse than their previous state. [69]

While other factors have also played a role, the scandals in the Catholic Church have contributed to a steep decline in church attendance among Irish Catholics. While in 1991, 92% of the Republic's population identified themselves as Roman Catholics, by 2006 this had dropped to 86%. More starkly, whereas in 1990, 85% of Catholics attended mass weekly, by 2008 this had fallen to 43% among Catholics and 40% of the population in general. [70] (See also Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Ireland)

In the 1990s, a series of tribunals began inquiring into major allegations of corruption against senior politicians. Ray Burke, who served as Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1997 was gaoled on charges of tax evasion in January 2005. [71] The Beef Tribunal in the early 1990s found that major food companies, notably in Iraq had been given preferential treatment by the Fianna Fáil government in return for donations to that party. [72] Former Taoisigh Charles Haughey and Bertie Ahern were also brought before Tribunals to explain their acceptance of very large personal donations of money to them by private businessmen. [73]

Speech in Favor of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921

Arthur Griffith headed the delegation that negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London between October and December 1921. Though the British prime minister David Lloyd George may have outmaneuvered him at a critical stage of the negotiations, preventing Griffith from breaking off the talks on the Ulster question when he failed to secure complete independence from Britain, the Irish delegates made a bargain that a slim majority of the Dáil, and a much larger majority of the general population, considered worthy of acceptance. Griffith offered a strong defense of the treaty in the Dáil on 7 January 1922, combating the main objections from Eamon de Valera and other staunch republicans.

. . . We were sent to make some compromise, bargain, or arrangement we made an arrangement the arrangement we made is not satisfactory to many people. Let them criticise on that point, but do not let them say that we were sent to get one thing and that we got something else. We got a different type of arrangement from that which many wished but when they charge us or insinuate that we went there with a mandate to demand a republic, and nothing but a republic, then they are maligning us if we got that mandate, we would have finished up in five minutes in Downing Street. . . . We went there to London, not as republican doctrinaires, but looking for the substance of freedom and independence. If you think what we brought back is not the substance of independence, that is a legitimate ground for attack upon us, but to attack us on the ground that we went there to get a republic is to attack us on false and lying grounds and some of those who criticise on that ground know perfectly the conditions under which we went. "We are ready," said President de Valera, . . . "to leave the whole question between Ireland and England to external arbitration." What did that mean? Need I comment on it? Is that saying you will have a republic and nothing but a republic? . . . I have listened here for days to discussions on the oath [of allegiance to the British crown required by the Treaty]. If you are going to have a form of association with the British empire, call it what you will, you must have an oath and such an oath was suggested and put before us and not rejected, and put before the plenipotentiaries when going back to London. The difference between these two oaths is the difference in the terms. I am not going to speak in terms of theology or terms of law about them we have had quite a considerable discussion on that point but what I am going to speak about is this: that in this assembly there are men who have taken oath after oath to the king of England and I noticed that these men applauded loudly when insulting or slighting references were made to the young soldiers here on account of the oath. . . . Ah! This hypocrisy that is going to involve the lives of gallant and brave men is damnable. . . .

You say we are dishonourable men this does not affect the fact of the Treaty which has been discussed on the basis of the failure, at least, of the plenipotentiaries, and not discussed on what was in it. It has been discussed in the way that Carlyle once described—and I have thought of this many times while listening to the criticism of the Treaty—he describes the fly that crawled along the front of the Cologne cathedral and communicated to all the other flies what a horribly rough surface it was, because the fly was unable to see the edifice. Now, as to that Treaty, an effort has been made to put us in the position of saying that this Treaty is an ideal thing an effort has been made to put us into a false position. That Treaty is not an ideal thing it has faults. I could draw up a treaty—any of us could draw up a treaty which would be more satisfactory to the Irish people we could "call spirits from the vasty deep," but will they come when you call them? We have a Treaty signed by the heads of the British government we have nothing signed against it. I could draw up a much better treaty myself, one that would suit myself but it is not going to be passed. We are therefore face to face with a practical situation. Does this Treaty give away the interests and the honour of Ireland? I say it does not. I say it serves the interests of Ireland it is not dishonourable to Ireland. It is not an ideal thing it could be better. It has no more finality than that we are the final generation on the face of the earth (applause). No man is going, as we quoted here—I have used, it all my life—"No man can set bounds to the march of a nation." But we here can accept the Treaty and deal with it in good faith with the English people, and through the files of events reach, if we desire it, any further status that we desire or require after[ward]. Who is going to say what the world is to be like in ten years hence? We can make peace on the basis of that Treaty it does not forever bind us not to ask for any more. England is going beyond where she is at present all nations are going beyond where they are at present and in the meantime we can move on in comfort and peace to the ultimate goal. This Treaty gives the Irish people what they have not had for centuries it gives them a foothold in their own country it gives them solid ground on which to stand and Ireland has been a quaking bog for three hundred years, where there was no foothold for the Irish people. Well, reject this Treaty throw Ireland back into what she was before this Treaty came—I am not a prophet, though I have listened to many prophets here, and I can't argue with prophets but I know where Ireland was twenty or thirty years ago, I know where Ireland was when there was only a few dozen of us up in Dublin trying to keep the national idea alive, not trying to keep it alive, because the Irish people never deserted it, but a few of us who had faith in our people and faith in our country, stood by her—you are going to throw Ireland back to that to dishearten the men who made the fight and to let back into Irish politics the time-servers and men who let down Ireland before, and who will, through their weakness if not through dishonesty, let down Ireland again. You can take this Treaty and make it the basis of an Irish Ireland. . . .

I have heard in this assembly statements about the people of Ireland. The people of Ireland sent us here—we have no right and no authority except what we derive from the people of Ireland—we are here because the people of Ireland elected us, and our only right to speak is to seek what they want. I am told that the people of Ireland elected us to get a republic. They elected us in 1918 to get rid of the Parliamentary Party they elected us in 1921 as a gesture, a proper gesture of defiance to the Black and Tans they elected us, not as doctrinaire republicans, but as men looking for freedom and independence. When we agreed to enter into negotiations with England with the object of producing a treaty, we were bound, I hold, to respect whatever the Irish people—the people of Ireland—thought of that Treaty. I have heard one deputy saying here that it does not matter what his constituents say. I tell him it does. If representative government is going to remain on the earth, then a representative must voice the opinion of his constituents if his conscience will not let him do that, he has only one way out, and that is to resign and refuse to misrepresent them but that men who know their constituents want this Treaty should come her and tell us that, by virtue of the vote they derive from these constituents, they are going to vote against the Treaty—that is the negation of all democratic right it is the negation of all freedom. . . .

Iris Dhail Éireann, Official Report: Debate on the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland Signed in London on the 6th [of] December, 1921 (n.d.), pp. 336–340.

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Divisions in Sinn Fein were the most important reason for the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in 1922. How far do you agree with this verdict?

It has been argued that divisions in Sinn Fein were the most important reason for the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in 1922. Indeed, the only uniting factor within Sinn Fein was the ultimate aim of Irish independence otherwise, Sinn Fein was essentially an umbrella organisation embracing all forms of advanced nationalism. These divisions especially came to the fore in reference to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and whether or not to agree to it, especially with regards to the oath of allegiance to the British king. However, other reasons have been highlighted as the main contributing factor to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in 1922, notably the split of the IRA into the Anti and Pro-Treaty factions, over the Irish Anglo-Treaty with a particular emphasis on the oath of allegiance.

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Sinn Fein only became a large, connected organisation at the Ard Fheis in October 1917. Before this, advanced nationalists were broken into a range of different groups with divergent ideas about how Ireland should be governed. For example, party leader Arthur Griffith was contented for Ireland to remain within the British Empire, whereas Eamon DeValera was a committed Irish republican, who wanted to sever all ties with the British. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 caused these differences to reemerge. Indeed, Frank O’Connor highlights that long before the Treaty, within Sinn Fein there were ‘two words, two philosophies, running in very doubtful harness’.Divisions within Sinn Fein were exacerbated by the Treaty. The Treaty caused deep divisions among nationalists in Ireland. It was the subject of furious debates in the Dail – the assembly set up by the Sinn Fein party after its election victory in December 1918. Those who favoured acceptance argued that the powers it granted made it worthy of support that it would lead to Irish unity, as Collins stated ‘it grants us the freedom to achieve independence’ that it had the support of most Irish people and that the only alternative was renewed war with Britain. In addition, Sean Hales TD, who was later murdered in the civil war, was cited at the time ‘in one year or ten Ireland will regain that freedom which is her destiny’. However, others within the party were not so sure. Critics within the party argued that it failed to secure what the Irish had been fighting for since 1916, and many were outraged with the oath of allegiance to the British King, who would remain head of state. Richard English has highlighted that the pro-treaty movement demonstrated ‘mature pragmatism rather than dreamy, unrealistic idealism’ while the ‘anti-treaty arguments were often cast in high moralistic terms’. It could be stated that this fundamental split within Sinn Fein is what led to the outbreak of hostilities

The Rising: Ireland: Easter 1916

In the middle of the First World War during Easter week 1916, Irish separatists staged an armed insurrection against the British government, an event which is popularly recognised as the foundation date of independent Ireland. The centenary of the Easter Rising was marked in 2016 with public lectures, documentaries, television adaptations, theatrical productions, re-enactments, exhibits, parades, art installations, school visits, conferences, heritage walks, and thousands of assorted community events. While some cultural commentators began to complain of ‘1916 fatigue’ even before the centenary year began, the Easter Rising commemorations clearly demonstrated a seemingly insatiable demand in Ireland for accessible scholarship about the revolutionary period in general, and the Easter Rising in particular.

The enduring appeal of the Rising can be attributed in part to its planners, who deliberately staged a theatrical spectacle in order to capture international attention. The rebellion occurred within a narrow time (one week) and space (Dublin’s city centre). The main stage was the General Post Office, an impressive neoclassical building located on Dublin’s main thoroughfare (Sackville Street, now called O’Connell Street). It concluded with the execution of 15 rebel leaders, which shocked Irish public opinion. Although the rebellion failed militarily, its political success would have surprised even the most optimistic insurgent strategist. The Irish public rallied to the independence movement, which essentially overthrew the Irish political establishment in little over two years. From 1919 to 1921, Irish republicans undertook an armed insurgency which forced the British government to concede a significant advance on Home Rule. However, that final settlement (the Anglo-Irish Treaty) was only fully accepted after a bitter civil war between militant republicans and moderate Irish nationalists. The victory of the latter established the Irish Free State, a dominion within the British Empire, which was later reconstituted as the Republic of Ireland.

The legacy of internecine conflict remains visible in contemporary Irish politics, with the state’s two major political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, tracing their lineage to the Civil War split. The partition of the island in 1922 produced the problematic state of Northern Ireland, which experienced a low-intensity civil war from 1969 to 1998. With such a contested conclusion to the Irish Revolution, perhaps it was natural that the Easter Rising was chosen to act as independent Ireland’s symbolic foundation event. Leaders associated with the state’s three major political parties had all participated in the rebellion. The 1916 insurrection had been a relatively brief affair fought in the open, unlike the more troubling guerrilla conflicts of the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War.

Annual commemorations of the Easter Rising became increasingly elaborate in the 1930s and 1940s. The 50th anniversary in 1966 was extravagant, with a week-long celebration receiving continuous coverage on the new national television network.(1) The outbreak of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ in 1969 made public celebrations of an armed rebellion against the British state much more problematic. The Irish government abandoned its annual Easter Rising military parade in 1972, and commemorations of the rebellion (both official and unofficial) became much more muted, in case they were seen to legitimize republican violence in Northern Ireland. However, the Northern Ireland Peace Process in the 1990s normalized Anglo-Irish relations, which in turn encouraged public re-engagement with the 1916 Rising. The state’s resumption of the Easter Rising parade drew massive crowds to O’Connell Street in 2006, while Queen Elizabeth’s successful state visit to Ireland in 2011 reassured uneasy observers that the Irish public could be trusted to deal with their troubled past in a peaceful and largely positive manner.

Despite some misgivings within ‘official’ Ireland, the centenary year of 2016 passed off without major incident, and has been viewed by many as an unqualified success. Particular attention was paid to recovered ‘lost’ histories of the Rising, such as the role played by women in the rebellion, and the deaths of 40 children during the Dublin fighting.(2) Historians managed to meet public demand by producing 200 individual books on the revolutionary period in the past three years. Among the most appealing is Fearghal McGarry’s, The Rising, Ireland: Easter 1916. Oxford University Press beat the rush by publishing the first edition in 2010, and has recently released a 2016 edition, augmented by a new introduction.

Professor of History at Queen’s University Belfast, McGarry is best known for his trilogy about Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which included the acclaimed biography, Eoin O’Duffy, A Self-Made Hero. Here, McGarry sets out to tell ‘the story of the Rising from within and below, describing the events of the period from the perspective of those who lived through it’ (p. 4). He has done so after trawling through thousands of pages of witness testimony deposited in the Military Archive’s Bureau of Military History. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Irish state undertook a remarkable oral history project to document the Irish Revolution. Over 1,700 republican activists were interviewed or invited to submit statements about their subversive activity (Owing to the lingering tensions surrounding the Irish Civil War, the Bureau limited the statements largely to pre-1922 events). Hundreds of individual witness statements deal with the events before and during the Easter Rising, and are deployed to great effect in The Rising.

McGarry uses the veterans’ testimony to explore the radical trajectory of the independence movement, asks why ordinary men and women fought in the Rising, and view events through the eyes of participants. He has constructed a complex and compelling narrative, rich with social and cultural insights. Evocative testimony paints vivid portraits of the motivated and often practical activists who participated in the insurrection. As the narrative moves to the fighting of Easter Week, veterans relate tales of daring, cowardice, pettiness, and nobility, capturing also the carnivalesque atmosphere of a city besieged. There is something haunting in testimony about the final moments of the rebellion. Huddling insurgents await their fate with mounting despair, often sheltering near terrified civilians caught in the crossfire. This historical moment is a lived experience, giving the veterans’ voices a texture often lacking in scholastic treatments of the period.

The Rising benefits from McGarry’s superior writing and story-telling skills. Synthesising thousands of pages of testimony, he manages to remain concise and focused. His brevity pushes the text along at a rattling pace, keeping a firm grip on the reader. Yet, McGarry also pauses at critical moments to reflect on what we have just experienced. The tone is honest and fair, willing to prescribe empathy or scepticism as required. The overall effect gives The Rising a remarkable accessibility, as the book pulls off the rare feat of being both scholarly and readable.

While the events of Easter week have been well-covered in recent literature, the growth of radical separatism prior to 1916 has not. It is in these discussions that The Rising makes its most significant contributions to Irish revolutionary scholarship. McGarry provides a layered view of Irish nationalism at the eve of the First World War. Rather than reducing it to a simple binary between non-violent constitutionalism and physical-force republicanism, McGarry instead shows the interconnections and overlaps between these two wings of nationalism prior to 1914. Voters viewed constitutionalism pragmatically, as the most likely means to achieve self-government. However, Irish faith in British parliamentary democracy was shattered by the Home Rule Crisis of 1913–14. Ulster Unionists derailed the Irish Home Rule Bill by threatening armed insurrection via their militia, the Ulster Volunteer Force. This remarkable step towards civil war was supported by much of the British political and military elite. The Irish Party offered no effective response, creating an opening for the marginalized Irish separatists to form their own militia, the Irish Volunteers. The Rising captures the heady months prior to the outbreak of the First World War, as the Irish Volunteer movement swept the south. European militarism, which fuelled the catastrophic First World War, found its Irish manifestations among the tens of thousands of nationalists (and unionists) marching and drilling in crowded urban centres and lonely hinterlands across the island. This reshaping of the Irish political landscape was halted by the outbreak of the First World War. John Redmond’s Irish Party supported the war, splitting the Irish Volunteer organization, with most members following Redmond’s lead. Militant republicans found themselves with a much reduced organization, albeit one with an ideological coherent rank-and-file firmly opposed to Irish participation in the war.

McGarry then leads his readers into the critical year of 1915, a period usually bypassed by Irish historians. The author explains the different motivations which drove thousands of Irish men and women to join a subversive movement working against the popular war effort. Most held a separatist worldview which opposed British military endeavours yet they also were subjected to the same martial pressures as other young men in Europe, including the 130,000 Irishmen who enlisted in the British Army. The initially successful mobilization of the Irish public for a patriotic imperial war caused anxiety and depression among advanced nationalists, many of whom feared they were witnessing the death of Irish separatism. Most rank-and-file Irish Volunteers prepared for armed resistance, but believed it would only occur if the government introduced conscription or tried to disarm the Volunteer organization. Few seemed to have anticipated Irish Volunteer leaders initiating a rebellion without any reasonable hope for success. As McGarry shows, this led to utter confusion and indecision within Volunteer units across the country just prior to the Rising, owing to a split in the national leadership about the decision to launch the rebellion. Ultimately, most outside of Dublin sat out the Rising, with the notable exceptions of Volunteers in counties Wexford, Galway, and Meath.

This essential context allows The Rising to question the motivations of the rebel leaders. McGarry disregards the simplistic ‘blood sacrifice’ thesis of the Rising, and adapts a more sophisticated ‘protest by arms’ model, which was particularly relevant to the First World War environment. McGarry writes (p. 101): ‘If a single belief united the organizers it was not blood sacrifice but the conviction that action was preferable to inaction that the potential advantages of defeat – the reassertion of separatist credibility, the long-term survival of the physical-force tradition, the possibility of inspiring popular support and of destroying Home Rule – outweighed the advantages of inaction. The Rising represented a last throw of the dice: in a phrase used at the time, ‘the last fight’ before the extinction of Irish nationality’.

The book enters more familiar territory when it moves onto the events of ‘Easter Week’. McGarry engages with one of the most contested issues about the insurrection: civilian losses. Dublin civilians accounted for over half of the rebellion’s 485 fatalities, with many victims coming from the impoverished labouring class. Historians such as David Fitpatrick have argued that the Rising planners deliberately positioned their strongholds within civilian population centres, to maximize the human carnage so as to increase the event’s public impact. McGarry, however, convincingly argues that the rebels tried to avoid civilian casualties, and fought according to the rules of war when possible, in order to better appeal to international sympathy. While explaining the combat confusion which added to the casualties, McGarry also criticizes the rebels’ decision to fight within an urban centre, to which he attributes the high civilian death toll. This discussion would have benefited from consideration of two additional factors. Like all First World War combatants, the rebels underestimated the firepower of modern weaponry, which proved far more devastating than anticipated. We should also not overlook the British Army’s role in causing casualties: British artillery destroyed the city centre, setting fires that swept through both rebel positions and the densely populated streets surrounding them. The book provides only cursory coverage of the North King Street ‘Massacre’, when British troops killed 15 male civilians uninvolved in the fighting, who were found in a series of connected homes near where British troops had taken heavy casualties from the rebels. Publicity of those killings helped turn public opinion towards the republicans, and also foreshadowed both the likelihood and impact of Crown force reprisals in the ensuing Irish War of Independence (1919–21). The inadequate interrogation of state violence is not unique to The Rising, as it remains a major deficiency in the scholarship of the Irish Revolutionary period.

While McGarry engages with some of the contested questions surrounding the Easter Rising, readers cannot always discern where precisely he stands on certain issues. A similar pattern is apparent in the 2016 edition’s new introduction, which covers additions to the field since 2010. McGarry avoids commenting on the merit of the works cited in his literature review, thereby limiting its impact. When discussing recent Irish revolution literature, historian Brian Hanley has noted the tendency of what can be called ‘post-revisionist’ historians to sidestep major academic disputes.(3) Though charged debates remain an uncomfortable feature of Irish Revolutionary scholarship, sometimes they cannot be avoided. As one of the top historians working in this field, McGarry’s opinions carry weight.

My only serious critique of the book is its over-reliance on the Bureau of Military History witness statements. Like all specialists in this field, McGarry is well aware of the strengths and limitations of this source material, which he acknowledges in the text. Yet, there is persistent danger that his approach privileges veteran testimony over other sources. For example, McGarry uses isolated Bureau statements to argue that a low number of Cork Volunteers turned out during the Easter Sunday mobilisation. This conclusion challenges Gerry White’s and Brendan O’Shea’s estimated Cork turnout figures of 70 per cent.(4) Those numbers come from republican historian Florence O’Donoghue’s carefully tabulated individual company returns, compiled after extensive correspondence and consultations with surviving veterans in the 1950s.(5) First-hand accounts such as the Bureau statements often seem authoritative, but they must be read critically and weighed with other material. This point is especially relevant for War of Independence historians who eagerly anticipate the release of thousands of IRA pension files in the coming years.

Despite such misgivings, it is hard to object to a work offering such a wealth of thought-provoking material. McGarry easily organises rich evidence, offers insightful analysis, and writes a compelling narrative. For this this reader, The Rising has joined Charles Townshend’s Easter 1916 and Clair Wills’ Dublin 1916 as essential to anyone interested in the Easter Rising. I would also bracket it with Lucy McDiarmid’s At Home in the Revolution: What Women Said and Did in 1916 (Royal Irish Academy, 2015) as an outstanding example of strong scholarship which is accessible to general readers.(6)

Watch the video: Lecture: The Anglo-Irish Treaty - Ivan Gibbons (January 2022).