Liam Mellows’ Famous Fleshpots of Empire Speech January 4th, 1922

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06/11/2015 by socialistfight

Debate on the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, signed in London on the 6th December 1921: Sessions 14 December 1921 to 10 January 1922 (Author: The Deputies of Dáil Eireann)
Session 7, DÁIL EIREANN PUBLIC SESSION Wednesday, January 4th, 1922
THE SPEAKER (DR. EOIN MACNEILL) took the Chair at 11.15 a. m.
DÁIL EIREANN PUBLIC SESSION Wednesday, January 4th, 1922. http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/E900003-001/

MR. LIAM MELLOWS:

I have very little to say on this subject that is before us, because I stand definitely against this so-called Treaty and the arguments in favour of acceptance—of compromise, of departing from the straight road, of going off the path, and the only path that I believe this country can travel to its freedom. These arguments are always so many at all times and with all causes, while the arguments in favour of doing the right and straight thing are so few because they are so plain. That is why I say I have very little to say. An effort has been made here from time to time by speakers who are in favour of this Treaty, to show that everybody here in this Dáil was prepared mentally or otherwise to compromise on this point during the last few months.

I wish, anyway, as one person, to state that is not so. I am speaking for myself now on this, and I state certainly that, consciously or unconsciously, I did not agree to any form of compromise. We were told that when the negotiations took place we were compromised. We have been told that since this Dáil meeting. This is not so because negotiations do not connote compromise. Entering into negotiations with the British Government did not in the least presuppose that you were going to give away your case for independence. When the British Government, following upon the Truce, offered, as it did, to discuss this whole case of Ireland, Ireland had no option but to enter into such a discussion. To refuse to have done so would have been the worst thing for the Irish case, and would have put Ireland very wrong in the eyes of the world. There was no surrender involved in entering into such a discussion; and when the plenipotentiaries went on their journey to England they went, not as the plenipotentiaries of a Republican Party in Ireland, not as the envoys of any political creed in this country, but they went as the envoys plenipotentiary of the Irish Republican Government, and, as such, they had no power to do anything that would surrender the Irish Republic of which they were plenipotentiaries.

They were sent there to make, if they could, a treaty of settlement—personally I doubt if it could be done—but they were not sent to bring about what I can only call a surrender. I am not placing the plenipotentiaries in the dock by stating this, but I am stating what are plain facts. It is no reflection on them to state these things. In item 3 of the instructions given to the plenipotentiaries it is stated: ‘It is also understood that the complete text of the draft Treaty about to be signed will be similarly submitted to Dublin and a reply awaited’. The Dáil had no chance of discussing this Treaty as it should be discussed because the ground was cut from under the feet of the Dáil with the publication of this Treaty to the world before the Dáil had a chance of discussing it.

The delegates, I repeat, had no power to sign away the rights of Ireland and the Irish Republic. They had no mandate to sign away the independence of this country as this Treaty does. They had no power to agree to anything inconsistent with the existence of the Republic. Now either the Republic exists or it does not. If the Republic exists, why are we talking about stepping towards the Republic by means of this Treaty? I for one believed, and do believe, that the Republic exists, because it exists upon the only sure foundation upon which any government or Republic can exist, that is, because the people gave a mandate for that Republic to be declared. We are hearing a great deal here about the will of the people, and the newspapers—that never even recognised the Republic when it was the will of the people—use that as a text for telling Republicans in Ireland what the will of the people is. The will of the people, we are told by one of the Deputies who spoke here, is that this Treaty shall go through—that this Treaty shall be ratified [hear, hear].

The will of the people! Let me for a moment carry your minds back to the 21st January, 1919, and I am going to read to you—I make no apology to this House whatsoever for the length of time I keep them in reading it, or to the people of Ireland for the length of time they are waiting while this thing is being discussed—I am going to read the Declaration of the Independence of this country based upon the declared will of the people at the elections in 1918, and ratified since at every election [Applause]. This is the official translation of the Declaration of Independence as contained in the official report of the proceedings, of the Dáil on that date:

Whereas the Irish people is by right a free people: and whereas for seven hundred years the Irish people has never ceased to repudiate and has repeatedly protested in arms against foreign usurpation: and whereas English rule in this country is, and always has been, based upon force and fraud, and maintained by military occupation against the declared will of the people: and whereas the Irish Republic was proclaimed in Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916, by the Irish Republican Army acting on behalf of the Irish people: and whereas the Irish people is resolved to secure and maintain its complete independence in order to promote the common weal, to re-establish justice, to provide for future defence, to insure peace at home and goodwill with all nations and to constitute a national polity based upon the people’s will, with equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen: and whereas at the threshold of a new era in history the Irish electorate has, in the general election of December, 1918, seized the first occasion to declare, by an overwhelming majority, its firm allegiance to the Irish Republic: now therefore we, the elected representatives of the ancient Irish people in National Parliament assembled, do, in the name of the Irish nation, ratify the establishment of the Irish Republic and pledge ourselves and our people to make this declaration effective by every means at our command: we ordain that the elected representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance: we solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison: we claim for our national independence the recognition and support of every free nation of the world, and we proclaim that independence to be a condition precedent to international peace hereafter: in the name of the Irish people we humbly commit our destiny to Almighty God Who gave our fathers the courage and determination to persevere through long centuries of a ruthless tyranny, and strong in the justice of the cause which they have handed down to us, we ask His Divine blessing on this, the last stage of the struggle we have pledged ourselves to carry through to Freedom.

There, to my mind, is the will of the people. There is the Irish Republic existing, not a mandate to seek a step towards an Irish Republic that does not exist. The will of the people! The British Government has always sought, during the last century of this struggle in Ireland, to get the consent of the Irish people for whatever it wants to impose upon them. If the English Government wanted to make concessions to Ireland it had the power to do so even though it had not the right, and we could take whatever it was willing to give without giving away our case. But this Treaty gives away our case because it abrogates the Republic.

The British Government passed a Home Rule Bill; it is still upon the statute book of the British Government and was never put into force because, when the time came to put it into force, the British Government found that the Irish people did not want it. The British Government since then has passed Act after Act and each time has been forced to overlook its own Acts, to forget about them, and to-day through this Treaty the British Government seeks to gain the consent of the Irish people to this measure. The British Government intends to try and find a way out because it has more experience than ourselves of what it means to have the people of Ireland with it—to get the assent of the Irish people to whatever it wants to do with Ireland.

The will of the people! Why, even Lloyd George recognised the will of the people at one time. Speaking in the House of Commons in April, 1920, he said: ‘If you ask the people of Ireland what they would accept, by an emphatic majority they would say ‘we want independence and an Irish Republic’. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The elected representatives of Ireland now, by a clear definite majority, have declared in favour of independence—of secession.’ Now, when Lloyd George admits that, it seems strange when we ourselves say that we never believed in the Irish Republic; that it was only a myth, something that did not exist, and that to-day we are still working towards the Irish Republic.

To my mind the Republic does exist. It is a living tangible thing, something for which men gave their lives, for which men were hanged, for which men are in jail for which the people suffered, and for which men are still prepared to give their lives. It was not a question so far as I am aware, before any of us, or the people of Ireland, that the Irish heifer was going to be sold in the fair and that we were asking a high price so that we would get something less. There was no question of making a bargain over this thing, over the honour of Ireland, because I hold that the honour of Ireland is too sacred a thing to make a bargain over.

We are told this is a question as between document referred to as No. 1 and Document No. 2. At this moment there is only one document before this House, and when that is disposed of as I do hope it will be disposed of in the proper way, then we will deal with any other documents that come up in the same way if they are not in conformity with the Irish Republic. There is no question before us of two documents or two sides, but there is a question of maintaining the existing Republic of Ireland or going back on it, throwing it out and accepting something in substitution for it with a view to getting back again to the Irish Republic.

Let us face facts as we did so often during the last few years. We are not afraid of the facts. The facts are that the Irish Republic exists. People are talking to-day of the will of the people when the people themselves have been stampeded as I know because I paid a visit to my constituency. The people are being stampeded; in the people’s minds there is only one alternative to this Treaty and that is terrible, immediate war. During the adjournment I paid a trip to the country and I found that the people who are in favour of the Treaty are not in favour of the Treaty on its merits, but are in favour of the Treaty because they fear what is to happen if it be rejected. That is not the will of the people, that is the fear of the people [hear, hear].

The will of the people was when the people declared for a Republic. Under this Treaty—this Treaty constitutes concessions to Ireland. It is, if you like, a new Coercion act in the biggest sense in which any Coercion act was ever made to Ireland. One thing you must bear in mind and make up your minds about: the acceptance of this Treaty destroys the existing Irish Republic. Whether we like it or not we become British subjects, British citizens. We have now a common citizenship with the English people, and evidently there is going to be a new citizenship invented—Anglo-Irish Citizenship. It is well known what you are going to get under this Treaty. The very words ‘Irish Free State,’ so called, constitute a catch-phrase. It is not a state, it is part of a state; it is not free, because England controls every vital point; it is not Irish, because the people of Ireland established a Republ

Lloyd George may well to-day laugh up his sleeve. What must his thoughts have been, what must his idea have been, when he presented this document for signature? ‘lf they divide on this, we can let them fight it out, and we will be able to hold the country; if they accept, our interests are so well safeguarded that we can still afford to let them have it.’ Rejection, we are told, would mean war. I, for one, do not hold it would mean immediate war at all, but I do hold that the unanimous rejection of this Treaty would put our case in such a fashion before the world that I do not believe England would, until she got some other excuse, dare to make war on the basis of the rejection of that.

The question is not how to get a step towards the Republic. The question for us to decide here as the Government of the Irish Republic is how we are going to maintain the Republic, and how we are going to hold the Republic. Instead of discussing this Treaty here we should be considering how we are going to maintain the Republic after that Treaty has been rejected and put upon one side. We have acted up to this in the belief that the authority for Government in Ireland has been derived from the Irish people. We are now going to change that. If this Treaty goes through we are going to have authority in Ireland derived from a British act of Parliament, derived from the British Government under the authority of the British King. Somebody stated here there was more intelligent discussion down the country on this Treaty. I agree perfectly with him. I was in the country and I met the people at their firesides. I met people in favour of the Treaty, but I found no one under any delusion about it whatsoever.

We have been told, presumably as a reason for accepting this that before in Ireland chieftains and parliaments, and representatives of the people had admitted the right of the British Government to exist here. We were reminded of King John visiting the Irish chiefs and we know what happened the Irish chiefs when the Irish people realised what the Irish chiefs had done: We know the day when you had the Irish O’Donnells the ‘Queen’s O’Donnells,’ and the Irish O’Reillys the ‘Queen’s O’Reillys.’ I wonder will we ever see the day when we have the Irish Republicans the ‘King’s Republicans.’

The Parliament of 1782 did not represent the people of Ireland because it admitted the King as its head. This is the first assembly in the history of Ireland, since the British occupation, which is representative of the people of Ireland. It is here because the people of Ireland wished it to be here. The Parliamentary Party after years of efforts, when they in their turn had done their best, they went the way that all compromising parties go. Compromising parties may last for a time, may do good work for a time in so far as they are able to do that good work, but inevitably they go the way all compromising parties go. As it was with the Irish Parliamentary Party so it will be with the Irish Free State Parties and I say that with all respect. The Irish people have, thanks be to God, the tradition of coming out and speaking their true selves no matter how many times they may be led astray. Has the whole object of this fight and struggle in Ireland been to secure peace? Peace we have preached to us here day in and day out—peace, peace, peace——

A DEPUTY:
Peace with honour.
MR. MELLOWS:

Yes! That is what we want. We do not want peace with surrender, and we do not want peace with dishonour. If peace was the only object why, I say, was this fight ever started? Why did we ever negotiate for what we are now told is impossible? Why should men have ever been led on the road they travelled if peace was the only object? We could have had peace, and could have been peaceful in Ireland a long time ago if we were prepared to give up the ideal for which we fought. Have we now to give it up for the sake of this so-called peace? If peace is that which is to be the pursuit of the people then this Treaty will not bring them peace because there will be restless souls in the country who will not be satisfied under this Free State to make peace in this Free State possible.

I use no threats, but you cannot bring peace by compromise. You cannot bring peace to a people when it does not also bring honour. This Treaty brings neither honour nor anything else. It brings to the people certain material advantages, such, I say, as they could have had long ago if they were prepared to sink their identity as Scotland did. Ireland has never been prepared to do that, and I do not believe she shall ever be prepared to do it. If this is a step towards the Republic how can it be contended that it means peace? Under the terms of this Free State are you going to be strong enough to say to the British Government ‘Hands off’?

You will have an army, it is true, but it will be an army in which the incentive which kept the fight alive for the last few years will be lacking. Who will tell the British Government, when the time has come to tell it, keep its hands off? Will you be any more united then than you are now? Will all of you in favour of this Free State look forward to the time when you are going to say to the British Government: ‘You must not have anything more to do with us’? You will not. Human nature, even the strongest human nature, is weak, and the time will inevitably come, if this Free State comes into existence, when you will have a permanent government in the country, and permanent governments in any country have a dislike to being turned out, and they will seek to fight their own corner before anything else. Men will get into positions, men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed, or will not take a step that will mean removal in case of failure.

I only speak my mind on this matter. But to me it is very clear there is only one road this country can travel. It is the road we tried to travel together as best we could. It is the right road, and now if there should be a parting of the ways some of us, if God gives us the strength and courage, will travel it no matter what. Under this Treaty the Irish people are going to be committed within the British Empire. We have always in this country protested against being included within the British Empire. Now we are told that we are going into it with our heads up. The British Empire stands to me in the same relationship as the devil stands to religion. The British Empire represents to me nothing but the concentrated tyranny of ages.

You may talk about your constitution in Canada, your united South Africa or Commonwealth of Australia, but the British Empire to me does not mean that. It means to me that terrible thing that has spread its tentacles all over the earth that has crushed the lives out of people and exploited its own when it could not exploit anybody else. That British Empire is the thing that has crushed this country, yet we are told that we are going into it now with our heads up. We are going into the British Empire now to participate in the Empire’s shame even though we do not actually commit the act, to participate in the shame and the crucifixion of India and the degradation of Egypt. Is that what the Irish people fought for freedom for? We are told damn principles. Aye, if Ireland was fighting for nothing only to become as most of the other rich countries of the world have become, this fight should never have been entered upon. We hoped to make this country something the world should be proud of, and we did not enter into the fight to make this country as the other countries, where its word was not its bond, and where a treaty was something to be struggled for. That was not the ideal that inspired men in this cause in every age, and it is not the ideal which inspires us to-day.

We do not seek to make this country a materially great country at the expense of its honour in any way whatsoever. We would rather have this country poor and indigent, we would rather have the people of Ireland eking out a poor existence on the soil; as long as they possessed their souls, their minds, and their honour. This fight has been for something more than the fleshpots of Empire. Peace! peace! is the consideration. Is this Treaty going to bring you peace? No! Under Clause 7 you are going to be made a cock-pit of the next naval war in which England is engaged, because your docks and coast-line are given up, unfortunately, to the British Government to use as it sees fit. As against that we are told if we do not accept this Treaty we are going to have war.

Every argument that I heard here to-day in favour of this Treaty is the argument I heard years ago against the question of ever attaining an Irish Republic. Every argument used here was the argument used by the Irish Parliamentary Party when fighting elections in this country. Every argument I heard here to-day was the argument everyone here had to answer in reply to those who faced them years ago. War! we are told. Were the people of Ireland afraid of war when they faced conscription in this country? They were threatened with annihilation. It was a question then of whether they would fight at home or abroad and they decided to fight at home. When the General Election came on they were threatened with war again. They were told that the corollary to acceptance of the Republican mandate or the Republican platform was war. The people of Ireland did not flinch. They accepted the issue and the issue, as we have seen since, was not war, but the people of Ireland did not flinch.

David Lloyd George, French prime minister Georges Clemenceau and US president Woodrow Wilson on their way to the Versailles Peace Conference, June 1919.

This Treaty reminds me of the Treaty of Versailles, of the miserable end up to that bloody holocaust when the nations of the earth, after fighting supposedly for ideals, parcelled out amongst themselves the spoils of the young soldiers. The misguided young men who fought in that conflict were left disillusioned. Is this Treaty going to be a Treaty of Versailles? Are the Irish people to be told that when we spoke of a Republic we did not mean it? Are the Irish people to be told that when we spoke of independence we meant to be inside the British Empire and that when we spoke of ideals we meant morally? I say no! We did not mean that.

You could point out to me for all time, day after day as long as you like, the material advantages to be gained under this Treaty, and it would remind me very much of what I have read about our Saviour. Having fasted for forty days He was taken by the devil to a height from which He was shown the cities, towns and fair places of the earth and told He could have all those if, bowing down, He would adore the devil. We are told to-day that we will get these things in return for the selling of our honour. I say selling of our honour; others here may not mean it; others here may not have the same view of it as I have, but my view is that we are selling the honour of Ireland for this mess of pottage contained in the Treaty.

Under the future of this Free State, if it goes through, when are we going to know when we will have sincerity in Ireland about the Republic? After you get the Free State what will you take on hands, and what do you mean, when you talk of something next? The Government of the Free State will, with those who support it now liking it or not, eventually occupy the same relationship towards the people of Ireland as Dublin Castle does to-day, because, it will be the barrier government between the British and the Irish people. And the Irish people before they can struggle on will have to do something to remove that Free State Government. That, I think, has been the history of this country most of the time, as it is the history of most countries that go the way now urged by those who support the Free State.

If the Free State is accepted and put into operation it will provide the means for the British Government to get its hold back again. It could not beat Ireland with force, it did its best. No war the British Government initiated here could be worse than the terrible mental strain imposed on the people during the last eighteen months. And that war was not levelled so much against the Irish Republican Army as against the people of the Irish Republic, because the British Government had a surer view of the people than we had. They felt that if they could crush the people of Ireland that would mean the end of things in Ireland until the next necessity arose. The British Government did not, for very obvious reasons—because of what it would mean on conditions abroad, and because of what the outside world must necessarily conclude—allow this warfare, as far as it could prevent it, to become one as between the British Army and the Irish Army. But it tried to maintain the appearance of it being a warfare conducted by no representative people, by people who counted for nothing against the forces of the civil authority, and that is why the Black-and-Tans and the Auxiliary forces were organised for special service here.

The group includes two of Cork’s martyred Lord Mayors, Thomas MacCurtin (murdered by the RIC, 20 March 1920)) and Terence MacSwiney (died on hunger strike in Brixton, London, 25 October 1920). Also Michael O’Callaghan, one of the two murdered Mayors of Limerick killed by the Black and Tans on 7th March 1921. He had served as Mayor from January 1920 to January 1921.

The British Government still keep up the pretended show of maintaining the civil authority in Ireland, even though that civil authority had to be maintained by force of arms. And it was because the British Government saw there was a tangible government here that the Irish Republic did exist, that it had its hirelings to murder its representatives, to murder Lord Mayor MacCurtin, to murder Mayor O’Callaghan, and to do to death Terence MacSwiney. The British Government recognised that there was a Republic, even though some of our representatives now do not, and the British Government recognised that it must be at the representatives of the Republic that blow must be struck. It knows to-day that the people have the Republic in their minds, in their spirit, and that any act they can do cannot crush it.

We placed Ireland upon a pedestal for the first time in the history of this country. For the first time in the history of this country we had a Government established by the directly declared will of the people. That Government rested upon the surest of all foundations and placed Ireland in a position it was never in before, since its subjection. Ireland was put forth to the world as a headlight, as a beacon beginning to shine for all time to guide all those who were struggling. The whole world was looking to Ireland for a lead. This downtrodden, this miserable country, as some of you called it, was, during the last few years, the greatest country in God’s earth. ‘Are we always going to adopt the attitude of seeking something that is a little in front of us while the world always moves on?’
Ah! how little that Deputy knew of what the world is. How little that Deputy knew that here in this country of ours is contained the germ of great and wonderful things for the world. The world did not move on; it is Ireland has moved on and Ireland has left the world far behind.

We can get very insular sometimes, but it is well for us sometimes to see that we are not so downtrodden and miserable as some of us think we are. This country was one of the best in the world. It has fought a fight that will ring down through the ages, and maintained itself well against all the tortures and inflictions that a foreign tyranny knows so well how to impose. It maintained its way up to this stage, and now, not through the force of the British Government, not because of the weight of the British armies, but through the guile of the British Government, and the gullibility of ours we are going to throw away the Irish Republic.

Somebody talked about facts. These are facts. We are told that we must have unity. Yes, we want unity, and had unity in Ireland during the last few years, but we had it only on one basis—the basis of the Republic. Destroy that basis and you cannot have unity. Once you take yourselves off that pedestal you place yourselves in a position to pave the way for concession after concession, for compromise after compromise.

Once you begin to juggle with your mind or conscience in this matter God knows where you will end, no matter how you try to pull up later on. You can have unity by rejecting this thing; you cannot have unity by approving of it. Rejection means that the Irish Republic exists here, and that we are still the Government of the existing Irish Republic. Accept it and there is no Irish Republic existing because you have destroyed it, because you have abrogated the right of the Dáil, and this Dáil exists here as the Republican Government.
It did not exist here for the purpose of changing its status. It was placed here by the people to work for the recognition and the interests of the Republic not to take steps towards the gaining or abolition of it. The Republic is here because it is in our wills. Destroy that by accepting this Treaty and there is no Republic. And you will not have unity and you will not have peace. You can have unity though you may not have peace, but you certainly will have unity and honour by rejecting this Treaty.

Accept it and you will destroy the Republic, and even though you gain for Ireland the material advantages—you point out control of our language, etcetera—though you gain these things you throw away that which Ireland found since 1916, that which, after all, imbued Ireland in this phase of the struggle. 1916 did not represent the will of the people; 1916 found very little support from the people, but 1916 has been supported by the people since, and it has been 1916 that based their ideal when they declared for a Republic.
From 1916 down to the present day that struggle has gone on. Person after person has been induced to come in and do his or her part. Now, if you accept this Treaty you are going to establish in this country a Government that does away with the Irish Republic. It is not a step towards the Irish Republic but a step away from it. That Treaty admits the right of the British Government to control the destiny of Ireland. Even though you have control of some of the material resources of the country you are going to put yourselves in the position of being within the British Empire, and outside, away from the rest of the world.

During the last few years we were beginning to occupy a unique position in the world. As long as we looked upon ourselves as being independent we could appeal to the outside world and so long were we certain of receiving sympathy and help. Now you are inside the British Empire if you accept this Treaty, and, turn where you will, you will be told you are a domestic concern for the British Empire. The League of Nations—what does it mean to this country? The League of Nations—the League of Robbers! We stand, some of us, where we always stood and despite all that has been said in favour of this Treaty we mean to continue standing where we stood in the past.

Whatever may happen, whatever the road may be in front of us, we intend, with God’s help, to travel it. The time will come yet—I hope it will come soon—when those who are going to depart from the straight road will come back to it. Then we will be together to the end of this fight. I am sorry to inflict such a long statement upon the Dáil. It was not my intention to do so when I stood up, but ideas keep coming to your mind, probably, when you feel so keenly on a matter which represents the ideals for which one has struggled and fought, the ideals for which one is prepared to do the same again, but for which one is not prepared to compromise or surrender no matter what the advantages may be. [Applause].
[The House adjourned at 1.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.]
The House resumed at 3.45 p.m., the SPEAKER (Dr. Eoin MacNeill) in the chair.

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