Today In Irish History – Mary MacSwiney & The Dail Treaty Debates, 21 December


Today in 1921, the Dail was a few days into debating the treaty, the full debate lasted into January 1922, being passed on 7th but continued discussion went through to the 1oth.

On this day though Mary MacSwiney, sister of the Republican martyr Terence MacSwiney spoke against the treaty for a reputed three hours. Her speech can be read here. On re-reading it, one passage struck me forcefully:

I love my people, every single one of them; I love the country, and I have faith in the people, but I am under no delusions about any of us. We are not a race of archangels, and you allow that Governor – General’s residence, with drawing-rooms, levees, and honours and invitations to be scattered broadcast to your wives and your sisters and your daughters, and mothers even, with all the baits that will be held out to them to come in for the first time by consent of the Irish people in the social atmosphere of the Governor-General’s residence.

Remember that there will be functions there which will be partly social and partly political, which will be Governmental functions. The Ministers of the Government of the Irish Free State—I will omit for the sake of argument the offensive words “his Majesty’s Ministers”—will be obliged to attend the Governor-General’s functions and he will attend theirs. Wherever the Governor-General is, or the representative of the Crown in Ireland is, there you will have the Union Jack and “God Save the King,” and you will have the Union Jack and “God Save the King” for the first time with the consent of the people of Ireland.

You may say to me, some of you, that there will be, perhaps, a self-denying ordinance clause which will prevent the Ministers of the Irish Government, or any person belonging to the Irish Government, entering the portals of the Governor-General’s house. You cannot. You will have to have him there as representative of the King with certain functions to perform. You cannot exclude him. You cannot stay away from him.

You will have to get his signature to documents. You will have to get his signature to every law that is passed by the Irish Free State Government, and if the Minister for Foreign Affairs stands up and contradicts that, if he says we can make a Constitution which will take care that the Governor-General does not have to sign any such document, again I say, “wait and see,” wait until your Constitution has come through Westminster, wait till the English Government, by means of this instrument of theirs, signed by the Irish Delegation—they have demoralised the people of this country as they had already demoralised some of the men in this assembly by their specious arguments.

Your Constitution must be “as by law established.” Wait and see whether it will get you out of the English representative’s domicile in Dublin. You may tell me that the patronage—abominable word—think of the word patronage being used to an Irish Republican Assembly—“his Majesty’s patronage” will be under the control of the Irish Government.

I have no doubt, none whatever, but that any Minister of the Irish Free State, any one of those advocating support of this Treaty in the present Dáil, would refuse a title from his Majesty’s Government, but wait a little while until the first fervour of the Irish Free State is worn out, wait a little while until a stage is reached when the demoralisation has eaten into the soul of the people of this country, and the next Parliament won’t be so very self-denying with regard to honours and patronage.

Perhaps Mary was wrong about the way things would go early on in the Free State, but when retiring ministers in the current Dail receive lucrative pensions, and even ordinary members of the Dail are paid salaries far in excess of the Average Industrial Wage, we should be reading that section and pondering whether the republic we are citizens of needs renewal.

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