The truce that signalled the end of active hostilities in the Anglo-Irish war came into effect at noon on Monday, 11 July 1921, having been agreed two days earlier. It marked the end of two and a half years of intermittent if at times bitter combat between Crown and Republican forces and the beginning of five months of indirect and face-to-face negotiations between representatives of the British and Dáil Cabinets. It culminated in the signing by these representatives of the ‘Articles of Agreement’ (better known as the ‘Anglo-Irish Treaty’) on 6 December 1921. As will be seen the nature of the preliminary contacts prior to the opening of formal negotiations in London on 11 October had a significant bearing on both the conduct and outcome of those discussions. It was the precise form of the agreed text, however, that proved so controversial both at the time and since, and this text was determined primarily by the exchanges in London. It is necessary, therefore, to study both the contextual and immediate issues surrounding the signing of the Treaty before one can fully appreciate its long-term import.
2. A truce is agreed
The announcement of the truce took many by surprise, coming as it did after a series of hard-line pronouncements by the British Government regarding its Irish policy. In fact the Cabinet had been considering this conciliatory line since April. A number of considerations, however, delayed the opening of formal contacts with the Republican side for several weeks. The most important of these was the stated position of the British Government regarding the standing of the Sinn Féin leaders. Having utilised a ‘murder gang’ terminology for two years it was a cause of some embarrassment and discomfort to both military and political leaders in Britain to accept the bona fides of de Valera, Collins and the like. This was particularly true of the doctrinaire Tory element within the Government coalition at that time. On the other hand certain factors facilitated peace moves. Notable amongst these was the view of senior British military leaders that the alternative to a truce was a deployment of men and material on a scale, which dwarfed existing arrangements. The financial and political cost of such a line of action was simply too great to follow without a full investigation of other options.
As a result of such deliberations, several unofficial contacts were made and emissaries despatched to Ireland during May and June. None produced any immediate results although they did open a line of communication between Dublin and London hitherto unthinkable. It seems that the principal impetus to the calling of the ceasefire was the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament on 22 June. While most attention has focussed on the precise words used by the King on this occasion, which were far more accommodating than recent statements of British politicians, it was the partition of the island itself which the formal opening of the Parliament symbolised that was more significant. The establishment of this Unionist-dominated entity undermined, as far as the British were concerned, the claim of the Sinn Féin leadership to speak for all of the Irish people. This was to prove a useful tool in the negotiations over the course of summer months and left an indelible mark on the final form of the Treaty itself.
Lloyd George lost no time in following the King’s conciliatory speech with an invitation to de Valera and his nominees to attend a conference in London. De Valera, for his part, turned down the invitation after consultations with a range of interested figures that included Sir James Craig, the new Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. De Valera argued forcefully that such negotiations could only succeed if preceded by a cessation of active military operations. After due deliberation and notwithstanding the dangers inherent in such a step, which came at a time when British forces were starting to gain the upper hand in certain areas, the British Cabinet reluctantly agreed to this proposal.
The result was the truce of July 11th. Although no one could appreciate the fact at the time this saw the ending of armed hostilities between Irish and British forces. The cease-fire came under strain over the following months as both sides sought to use the peace to prepare for any possible resumption of the conflict. On several occasions, indeed it was close to collapse as British and Irish representatives alleged bad faith on the part of their opposite numbers. The peace held however, and created the breathing space for the much sought-anticipated political negotiations to proceed.
3. The Irish delegation leaves for London
The first stage in these negotiations was the despatch of an Irish delegation to London on 12 July. The party nominally consisted of de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Austin Stack and Erskine Childers but in reality, the only meaningful exchanges with British representatives came in the form of several one-to-one meetings between Lloyd George and de Valera over the course of the following days. These meetings, predictably, saw few concessions by either individual. They were characterised by the attempts of both men to gain an advantage over the other in framing a suitable form of words that would allow fully-fledged talks to begin. It was clear even at this stage that any attempt to find a compromise solution was going to prove very difficult in light of the clear differences in the position of the respective sides. Lloyd George was quite clear that the maximum offer he was prepared to make was that of Dominion status (with further restrictions regarding defence, trade, payment of war debt and no promise of an end to partition). De Valera for his part sought to emphasise Ireland’s claim to full sovereign independence. The outcome was unsatisfactory for both parties as the British proposals, which de Valera regarded as utterly unsatisfactory, were rejected in turn both by the Cabinet and by the Dáil, with the reasons being stated in a letter to Lloyd George on 10 August.
This deadlock was, however, even more unsatisfactory than the failed talks in London and led to the exchange of a series of letters between the two men over the following six weeks, the aim of which was to provide a satisfactory basis for comprehensive political talks. The obsession with semantics evident in the correspondence conveyed the concern of both men not to concede ground before a full conference opened; their desire to ensure that such talks took place in the most favourable context for their side; and their awareness of the likely military consequences should the process falter. In the event it was not until 30 September that de Valera signalled his acceptance of an invitation to London for comprehensive talks.
4. 'Talks about talks'
These talks had been conducted with a deal of circumspection on both sides, but the sub-text of their conclusion was significant. The British had repeatedly insisted that the prospect of a Republic was not open for discussion, and de Valera had been forced to moderate his language in this respect over the course of the correspondence. Whilst the fact that Sinn Féin leaders were now to meet members of the British Cabinet for personal discussions was of course an enormous advance on the situation obtaining even as recently as the Spring of 1921 they were to do so at a psychological disadvantage that encapsulated the fundamental difference in bargaining strength of the two delegations.
Two key issues now confronted the Dáil Cabinet: who should conduct these negotiations and what would be the most desirable outcome? It is striking in light of subsequent controversies that de Valera, while taking a passionate interest in the second question, decided that he himself would not be part of the negotiating team. This decision, which has ever since been the object of intense discussion, was made known to the Cabinet even before the conclusion of the correspondence with Lloyd George. In arriving at this position, de Valera seems to have been influenced by a variety of factors. His stated reasons—the desire to keep the office of President untainted by any unguarded concessions, and the advantage of referring proposals back to Dublin for detailed consideration—were sound in themselves but were not the only considerations which influenced his decision. Two other factors also played a part. On the one hand, he already had experience of the challenges arising from that face-to-face negotiations with such a wily opponent as Lloyd George (he was known as the “Welsh Wizard”), challenges that could only multiply as other senior British figures got involved.
Having been hurt by the personalised nature of the criticism he received while in America it is no surprise that he would have feared the outcome of any negotiations in which he was involved which did not meet popular, inflated expectations. In addition, the personal rift between Collins and himself had significantly widened since his return from America to the point where there was open competition between the two men for public acclamation as the authoritative voice of Irish republicanism. The inclusion of Collins (who, to his reported chagrin, had not been part of the July delegation to London) in the negotiating team removed a respected voice from the leading counsels in Dublin and thereby rendered easier the task of achieving a domestic consensus favourable to de Valera. At the same time, however, it meant that the perspective of the representatives in London differed in important respects from their counterparts in Dublin, differences that were to fester over coming months.
5. Who will negotiate?
The Cabinet formally ratified the selection of the team to conduct the negotiations on October 7th, and supplied it with its credentials. In addition to Collins, the other Cabinet Ministers were Arthur Griffith (then Minister for Foreign Affairs, and chairman of the delegation) and Robert Barton (Minister for Economic Affairs). Two other members of the Dáil, George Gavan Duffy and Eamonn Duggan, were also nominated largely on the basis of their legal experience. Secretarial assistance was provided by Finian Lynch, Diarmuid O’Hegarty, John Chartres and Erskine Childers. The delegates were styled ‘Envoys Plenipotentiary’ and given power to
‘negotiate and conclude … a treaty or treaties of settlement, association and accommodation between Ireland and the community of nations known as the British Commonwealth.’
In a move that was to prove highly controversial de Valera also issued written instructions to the delegates that were intended to clarify, but in practice qualified, their powers as Envoys Plenipotentiary. Crucial among these instructions was the direction that reference had to be made to the Cabinet in Dublin before decisions either on ‘a main question’ or ‘the complete text of the draft treaty about to be signed’. This limitation, which would inevitably prove vexatious given the difficulties of communication between London and Dublin, does not appear to have been the subject of much debate at the time as the prospect of reaching an agreement still seemed remote given the stated positions of both sides. Time was to prove, however, that it would add yet another layer of tension between the Irish representatives in London and their colleagues back in Dublin.
6. What type of settlement?
At this meeting the nominees were also given a copy of ‘Draft Treaty A’, which outlined the essential elements of a settlement from an Irish perspective. The defining characteristic of this document was that it embodied a form of association with Britain that was consistent with Ireland’s independence. In a nutshell, de Valera’s gaol was that of ‘external association’ whereby a united, independent, self-governing Ireland would be voluntarily associated with the British Commonwealth for purposes of common concern, and as such would recognise the authority of the Crown as head of that association. This formula sought to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable: London’s demand that Ireland remain an integral part of the British political superstructure and the insistence of Irish republicans on total separation and independence. It was an ingenious construct and one that in fact anticipated aspects of the future developments of the Commonwealth as a whole. In 1921, however, it was an unfamiliar, and, to British thinking, a dangerous concept which compromised the authority of Crown and threatened to diminish the influence of the British Government.
7. The British delegation
Several obstacles lay in the path of the Irish representatives on the road to a settlement. Not the least of these, of course, was the British team that would soon be facing them across the negotiating table. It is an indication of the seriousness with which the British side viewed the process that its nominees were drawn from the very front rank of British politics. At the head of the delegation was the Prime Minister himself, Lloyd George, who could already draw on several decades of political experience ranging from the parochial to the global. His correspondence with de Valera over the summer had already sensitised him to the essentials of the situation and he devoted a great deal of time over the following two months to personal contact with the Irish representatives. It was an approach that was to prove very fruitful for the ‘Welsh Wizard’. Indicative of the seriousness with which he approached the task was that his private secretary, Tom Jones, acted as one of the secretaries to the delegation Assisting Lloyd George in the negotiations were some of the most hallowed names in British politics, notably Austen Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Lord Birkenhead. Worthington Evans, Secretary for War, was in attendance as was Hamar Greenwood, then Chief Secretary for Ireland and the figure most tarnished in Irish eyes by his defence of the coercive methods pursued during the previous two years. The Attorney General, Sir Gordon Hewart, was on hand to proffer legal advice and Lionel Curtis co-operated with Tom Jones in providing secretarial assistance. It was, by any standards, a formidable selection.
The location of the talks compounded the problems faced by the Irish delegates. Located as they were in London the plenipotentiaries were inevitably isolated from shifts in Irish public opinion, albeit that Collins in particular made strenuous efforts to ensure that he was kept up to date with issues involving the cease-fire and other military matters. The rudimentary nature of the direct communications between Dublin and London—which remained dependent on the telegraph—meant that delegates were frequently obliged to travel in person to Dublin to brief the Cabinet on the latest situation or to receive instructions. Under such conditions, it is not surprising that the negotiations imposed a heavy physical burden on the delegation, particularly towards the end of November when the cumulative effects of several intensive weeks of negotiating and travelling combined with an intensification of British pressure to produce an almost unbearable situation, emotionally and physically.
8. The negotiations begin
But such issues were for the future. The negotiations proper began on the morning of 11 October at Downing Street with the full complement of both teams in attendance. This plenary session accomplished little beyond a forceful declaration of British aims and a more defensive performance by the Irish delegates, who revealed few of their desiderata and satisfied themselves with considered objections to the more aggressive British claims. Further such meetings were held that afternoon, and again on the 13, 14 and 17 October but to little avail. It was quite clear that less broad-ranging exchanges, involving fewer representatives on both sides, represented the only feasible option for future discussions. Thus the Conference was conducted increasingly by a small number of nominees of both sides acting in committee, with Collins and Griffith by far the most active and influential members on the Irish side.
The possibility that the negotiations might collapse was ever-present and the Irish side had devised an ‘escape plan’ in anticipation of such a development. It was agreed that, from a tactical perspective, such a break would be better if it came on the Ulster question rather than on the issue of the precise status of the independent state. In such an event, the delegates upon their return to Ireland could not be accused of compromising ‘essential unity’ and any mooted concessions on the status of an Irish state could be dismissed as mere negotiating tactics. It appeared to be quite a cunning strategy but it assumed two things. Firstly, that the negotiators, when the crisis came, would follow such an edict; and, secondly, that the British would be incapable of devising their own stratagems to ward off such an eventuality. As the negotiations progressed, it became evident that the Ulster question would not be the principal stumbling block and the Irish delegates were forced increasingly to consider the inevitability of British demands for limitations on full independence.
At this stage, the most serious, but still hardly fatal, obstacles to the negotiations came not from the substantive issues under discussion but from external matters. The most frequent, but ultimately least serious of these were complaints by both sides as to the military activities of the other. The terms of the ceasefire agreement left room for both sides to consolidate their existing forces. It is not surprising that both sides sought to use the lull in fighting to rest, re-train and re-equip in anticipation of any possible resumption in hostilities. The precise manner in which these processes were carried out created the scope for accusations of aggressive and provocative behaviour, most particularly within the fetid atmosphere of Ulster. Fortunately, for the negotiators these were never sufficiently grave as to threaten the progress of the talks although they certainly hindered their momentum.
The other source of division came from autonomous political developments, the most serious of which was an exchange of telegram’s between King George V and Pope Benedict XV wherein it appeared, to Republicans at least, that the claims of the Crown to the loyalty of the Irish people was being asserted in a surreptitious manner. De Valera’s reply, in the form of a personal telegram to the Pope, which explicitly repudiated such a claim, was badly received by the British Government. It furthermore placed the Irish delegates on the defensive precisely at the time that the exchanges between the two sides were moving away from general principles and on to specific proposals. The incident had no lasting impact upon the talks, but the unfavourable response to de Valera’s intervention on the part of the Irish plenipotentiaries did serve to indicate the problems that would inevitably arise because of de Valera’s absence.
As mentioned above the shifting focus of the negotiations was marked by two distinct but related developments: the increased use of sub-committees in place of plenary sessions, and the increasingly dominant role of Collins and Griffiths on the Irish side in such forums. Such developments inevitably increased the personal pressure on the two men, albeit that the political judgement of neither appears to have been materially affected at this stage. The development increased the likelihood of some form of agreement being reached, as it narrowed the scope for disagreements over terms within the Irish camp by excluding dissident voices. Conversely, however, it increased the danger that such an agreement might prove unacceptable to the Cabinet as a whole, for precisely the same reasons.
9. The first set of Irish draft proposals
The 24 October marked a significant date in this respect. Not only did it witness the last full plenary session and a short ‘private conference’ between Collins and Griffith on the one side and Lloyd George and Chamberlain on the other, it also saw the presentation of the first full set of Irish draft proposals. The document was extensive and a little diffuse at times, but it set out the vision of an Ireland, unfettered by British interference in her internal affairs, voluntarily ‘adhering’ to the Commonwealth of Nations. The phraseology was significant; without mentioning the word ‘Republic’ the draft proposed a renunciation by Britain of sovereignty over any part of a ‘free’ Ireland while allowing for certain concessions to the British on key issues which did not materially affect this freedom. At this stage in the proceedings, most attention was focussed on the key issue of defence, to which the British attached great practical importance. Both sides took a similar attitude on this issue in the context of the broader discussions, but for diametrically opposed reasons. The British felt that by extracting concessions from the Irish on defence, which were apparently forthcoming, this would ease the path towards extracting similar concessions on more symbolically important issues. The Irish side, for its part, felt that concession to reasonable British demands on security matters might help to elicit reciprocal concessions on matters more central to its concerns. The fundamental difficulty, however, remained that it was on the matter of the Crown, to which these concessions were directed, that the Irish were most determined to hold firm while the British were resolved not to give anything away. It remained to be seen how the negotiators in the settings of the sub-committee discussions handled this intriguing dilemma.
Some of the most crucial of these smaller meetings occurred on 2 November, which saw a series of conferences between Collins and Griffith from the Irish delegation and Lord Birkenhead, Lloyd George and Chamberlain from the British team. The context was a letter to Lloyd George which had been originally drafted by Griffith but which was ultimately sent in the name of the entire Irish delegation, and whose purpose was ostensibly to bolster Lloyd George’s position in advance of a Unionist party meeting later in the month. The original draft had promised, subject to important guarantees (of which unity was the most significant), ‘to recommend recognition of the crown’. The new letter only promised to recognise the Crown ‘as head of the proposed Association of Free States’ comprising the Commonwealth. The original phrase was satisfactory to the British, but the amendment was certainly not, raising as it did, the prospect of an Irish Free State externally associated with the Commonwealth rather than as an integral member of it—which, of course, was the original goal of the Irish negotiators. That it should have been Griffith who proposed the original, more constricting formula was no surprise but was of some significance during the rest of the discussions. He had never been a doctrinaire republican separatist and was willing to accept a symbolic connection with Britain as part of any settlement so long as it transferred key political and economic powers to an Irish government. What would be crucial was whether he could muster any support from the other Irish delegates for this position.
10. The 'External association' or 'Dominion status'?
The negotiations over the phraseology contained within the letter continued throughout the day, but ultimately Collins and Griffith accepted the phrase ‘free partnership with the other States associated within the British Commonwealth’ in the mistaken belief that this allowed for the Free State to be associated with but remain outside the Commonwealth. In fact, it was easier to construe the phrase as acceptance of full membership of the Commonwealth. While the matter was not of crucial matter at this stage of the negotiations, it represented a straw in the wind as to the direction affairs were taking. The Irish position was being subtly eroded, and Collins and Griffith, as the principal negotiators, were inexorably moving further away from ‘external association’ and edging towards Dominion status as an acceptable compromise short of the holy grail of an independent Republic.
11. The Ulster problem
Given that the British felt that their vital concerns on the matter of the Crown and forms of association had been addressed, it is not surprising that attention began to shift towards a resolution of the Ulster issue. Interest was expressed in the possibility of a border plebiscite as the most satisfactory means of undoing one of the glaring faults of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act: the inclusion within the jurisdiction of the northern parliament of areas adjacent to the border, which had clear nationalist sympathies. It is interesting to note from this perspective that on 8 November the Irish delegation were quietly content with the overall position. Despite having made important concessions on the issue of association they believed that Lloyd George’s coalition administration had committed itself to pressurising the Northern Ireland Cabinet, under Craig, into coming under the jurisdiction of an all-Ireland Parliament, with resignation being their preferred course of action in the event that Craig refused. Had this course of events transpired, the result, the Irish delegates believed, would have been the formation under Bonar Law of a weak Conservative Government, committed to, but unable to pursue, the resumption of hostilities with republicans. The position of the northern unionists would be correspondingly weakened and ‘essential unity’ guaranteed.
Over the course of the following days, however, this optimism was rapidly undermined. The meeting between Lloyd George and Griffith on 12 November was crucial in this regard. While there is some dispute as to the precise exchanges which took place between the two men it is certain that Griffith acquiesced in written proposals, which Lloyd George interpreted as signifying that Griffith would not bring down the negotiations on the Ulster issue. Griffith seems to have interpreted this assurance merely as a tactical device to protect Lloyd George against Conservative criticisms (whose strength Griffith almost certainly exaggerated), while he sought to exert the maximum pressure on Craig to come into an all-Ireland Parliament, with the threat of an extensive revision of the border as the only, highly unpalatable, alternative. As will be seen below, however, the effect was that it allowed the British to by-pass temporarily the Ulster question, knowing that in the event of a crisis in the talks Griffith would be prevented from collapsing the negotiations on the question of unity, as had been part of the original strategy of the Irish delegates.
The next three weeks of the discussions focussed on the exchange of views regarding successive attempts to draft an agreement as a whole. As was wholly predictable these early drafts saw both sides attempting to stake their claim on a number of fronts—defence, trade, finance, association, Ulster—and, equally predictably, much of the ground that had been traversed both during and since the initial plenary sessions was gone over again. The initial British draft of 16 November was incomplete, as a result of inadvertent omissions during the drafting process so that the Irish ‘memorandum’ (the term ‘draft’ being avoided lest it suggest an unwarranted finality to the proposals) of 22 November offered the first chance to survey the discussions in their entirety. Divided into ten sections the document reiterated, with slight amendments in language, the demand for external association albeit tempered by the offer of slight concessions on matters such as trade and naval defence. Little was said about Ulster except to state that the Irish assumed any agreement would guarantee ‘essential unity’ in return for which an Irish Parliament would respect the existing privileges of the Belfast Parliament.
12. Divisions emerge within the Irish delegation
At this point, some of the internal divisions within the Irish delegation became very serious. Childers, the secretary, had objected to most of the memorandum as being incompatible with the demand for an independent republic, while Barton and Duffy made known their unease as to their exclusion from most of the significant sub-committee discussions. It is impossible to know how much of these problems were known to the members of the Cabinet in Dublin. De Valera was receiving regular written updates from Griffith as head of the delegation, and had also discussed the situation with the other members of the team during their various brief sojourns in Dublin, but if he was aware of the personality differences now becoming manifest in London he did not intervene in any direct manner to stop them.
The British response, as conveyed to the Irish side by Lord Birkenhead in a meeting on 24 November, was firm: any settlement which did not acknowledge some form of symbolic role for the Crown within Ireland would be unacceptable to both the British people and British Government. That such symbolism was precisely the problem as far as the Irish side was concerned still does not seem to have registered with the British delegation at this time, or if it did they wilfully ignored such considerations. The Irish, it should be noted, did not press the matter and failed to pose the question as to why British sensibilities should be considered more important than Irish ones. In failing to do so, they lost perhaps the last opportunity to shift the negotiations conclusively in the direction of external association. Thereafter there could be no doubt that the Crown was to have some internal role within a future Irish state, and the only issue on this score was the form it would take.
In this respect, an apparent concession offered by the British during an after-dinner session on the evening of 28 November only served, paradoxically, to constrain still further the freedom of action of the Irish delegates. During the negotiations much had been made by the Irish side, and by Childers in particular, of the claim that the practical position of the Crown in any proposed Irish state could not be equivalent to its position within Canada or any other Dominion, by virtue of the long tradition of British involvement in Ireland and of its strategic position astride Britain’s Atlantic approaches. In a move which took the Irish side at the meeting completely by surprise Lloyd George offered to put into writing any phrase, which would copper-fasten Ireland’s equivalent status with Canada. While it was still possible to argue that such a guarantee could not ensure Britain might not intervene once more in Irish affairs if her vital national interests were threatened, this was always a possibility regardless of what form of words were agreed. The reality was that the promise would be a substantial, if not insurmountable, obstacle against such future encroachments and both Collins and Griffith knew it.
13. The British delegation present further proposals
The way now lay open for the British to offer their counter-proposals. These duly appeared on December 1st and were discussed by the full Irish Cabinet (including the delegates who made an exhausting journey to Dublin over night) on December 3rd. The views of the negotiating team were elicited. Griffith, Duggan and Collins (a little reluctantly) expressed their belief that the document represented the final word of the British. Barton and Childers disputed this analysis and expressed their dissatisfaction with the terms. Cathal Brugha’s provocative claim, that the British had ‘selected its men’ in negotiating primarily with Collins and Griffith, opened the divide still further. After a discussion which lasted the entire day, which covered the entire range of matters under review and which witnessed further personal unpleasantries several decisions were made prior to the return of the delegates to London. It was agreed that their original powers and instructions stood; that is, the goal of external association was reaffirmed. The British were to understand that no consent could be given to the Oath of Allegiance as worded in the British document, even if the outcome was a resumption of war. Furthermore, no final agreement would be signed without reference to the Dáil. It was also agreed that de Valera should not return with the delegates, even though there was some support for this proposal expressed at the meeting, and that if a breakdown in the negotiations appeared inevitable that the original plan, this should be on the Ulster issue, should be adhered to.
14. Conclusion: the negotiations draw to a close
The story of the last two days of negotiations in London is one of inexorable psychological pressure on the Irish delegates, and a display of diplomatic adroitness and crude threats by the British. In these, the final few hours of the negotiations, the glaring imbalance in power possessed by the two sides became obvious, as the threat of war, which had been an understated but ever-present element in the entire negotiating process, now became all too real. The meeting between the two sides on the evening of 4 December, which had fruitlessly discussed written Irish counter-proposals, ended dramatically when the British team (in an apparently stage-managed move) left the discussion en masse when Gavan Duffy observed that membership of the Empire was the crucial issue for the Irish team. Contrary to the original intention, which had been reaffirmed just the day before in Dublin, it appeared that the break had indeed come (as the British hoped it would) on association rather than (as the Irish intended) on the Ulster question.
The Sinn Féin delegates could not ignore the potentially devastating impact that this impasse would have on domestic and world opinion. Still less could they discount the awful consequences of a resumption of hostilities. The result was that when Lloyd George met Collins the following morning, with a view to re-establishing contact, the latter seems to have been predisposed to accept the prospect of a powerful Boundary Commission, which would guarantee substantial transfers of territory to the south, in return for association with the Empire on British terms.
On this basis the final session began in the afternoon, and two developments dominated the following hours. First, and to the evident discomfort of the Irish delegates, Lloyd George was able to produce the agreement of 12 November to which Griffith had given his assent and which indicated the latter’s willingness to enter the Empire given an effective Boundary Commission. While circumstances had changed in the intervening period, the fact that the chair of the Irish side had indicated his assent to such an arrangement effectively debarred the Irish from further discussion on this central concern. Secondly, Lloyd George gave the delegates the explicit choice of signing the text or of bearing the responsibility for the immediate resumption of war. This offer brooked no delay, offered no chance of referring the Ulster question to Craig or of taking the text unsigned to Dublin for the consideration of the Dáil.
It was under the weight of these considerations that, after one final short break in the talks and with a few minor textual emendations, the Irish delegation agreed to sign the ‘Articles of Agreement’ just after two o’clock on the morning of 6 December. Collins later wrote to his friend John O’Kane:
“When you have sweated, toiled, had mad dreams, hopeless nightmares, you find yourself in London’s streets, cold and dank in the night air. Think—what have I got for Ireland? Something which she has wanted these past seven hundred years. Will anyone be satisfied at the bargain? Will anyone? I tell you this; early this morning I signed my death warrant. I thought at the time how odd , how ridiculous —a bullet may just as well have done the job five years ago”
Griffith’s was the first name to appear on the Irish side, followed by Collins, Barton, Duggan and Duffy, with all signatures in Irish. Lloyd George’s name appeared at the head of the British signatories, followed by Chamberlain, Birkenhead, Churchill, Worthington Evans, Greenwood and Hewart. What the future of this ‘Treaty’ would be, only time would tell.