North Wales Western Front Association

Political settlements

The New Northern Ireland

  • Northern Ireland was set up as a reluctant compromise

Perhaps the most bizarre outcome of this whole decade of unrest in Ireland was one that nobody had set out to achieve and which was reluctantly accepted by unionists – partition of the island of Ireland.  In effect, those who were diametrically opposed to Home Rule in 1913 ended up getting it in 1921!  In the end, it was only six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster which formed the new Northern Ireland, which thus had a Protestant majority.  (Without losing Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal there would have only been a tiny majority of Protestants).  The border was the boundaries between the relevant counties, without amendment.  Such revision was promised at the time by the government but never happened, leaving Ireland with a border of byzantine complexity which even today runs through someone’s house in the village of Pettigoe in County Fermanagh.

  • Government of Ireland Act 1920

This set up a parliament for the North, which initially met in Belfast City Hall. The parliament buildings at Stormont on the outskirts of Belfast were finished in 1932.

  • Election in Northern Ireland, May 1921

One of the odd and scarcely known aspects of this election was that the hard-line nationalists from the south of Ireland stood for election to the new Northern parliament: De Valera stood in County Down, Collins stood in Armagh and Griffith in Fermanagh.  Ultimately, they had little success and the election result was a unionist landslide victory.

  • King opens new parliament in Belfast, 22nd June 1921

King George came to Belfast on a day trip to open the new parliament, against the advice of the government who feared for his safety.  He had had discussions with Jan Smuts, the South African leader, who had put it to the King that the war in Ireland could have no satisfactory outcome and that a political settlement was needed.  So, the King used the occasion to make a plea for peace and reconciliation which was aimed primarily at Lloyd George’s government in London.  In practical terms, by mid-1921, the government was faced with a stark choice of either negotiating or greatly increasing the army presence.

  • Edward Carson’s quote of this era, ie 1921, is worth including.  He only accepted partition reluctantly: “If the South and West of Ireland came forward tomorrow to Ulster and said – "Look here, we have to run our old island, and we have to run her together, and we will give up all this everlasting teaching of hatred of England, and we will shake hands with you, and you and we together, within the Empire, doing our best for ourselves and the United Kingdom, and for all His Majesty's Dominion will join together", I will undertake that we would accept the handshake.”  By this time, his influence in unionism had waned greatly.

Anglo-Irish Treaty

  • Truce was agreed by British and Irish on 8th July 1921

An Irish delegation was sent to London led by Griffith and Collins to engage in talks with the British government.  De Valera stayed in Dublin (though he had met Lloyd George during July in London to arrange the formal negotiations).  It is suggested that he was preparing the ground for him being able to reject a Treaty whose terms he did not like.  To some extent, he stitched up Collins and made him the fall guy for the potential chagrin of hard-line nationalists.  In many ways, the War of Independence had masked the differences in the Irish rebels as they had a common enemy.  With that enemy gone, the differences came out.

  • British side led by Lloyd George PM

The negotiations lasted three months.  Collins claimed that a key factor in the delegation signing the Treaty was that Lloyd George threatened “all-out war”.  This may have been archetypal Lloyd George bluff.  Certainly some of the ideas he came up with were impractical, such as the British forces retreating to the coast and controlling Ireland that way!

The Treaty was signed on 6th December 1921 by the Irish delegates but needed ratification by Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament).  The Treaty created “dominion” status, and the partition of Ireland.  The Dail ratified the Treaty by 62 to 57 votes with De Valera leading the opposition as he wanted full independence immediately.  De Valera led the walkout from the Dail.

The next section is here