Ireland’s Wars: The Anglo-Irish Treaty As A Military Document

Let us now take the time to look at the Anglo-Irish Treaty, especially from a military perspective, in what I hope will be a briefer entry than the last. The text is short enough, consisting of only 18 articles in a few pages, along with a brief annex. This may seems strange given that it took months to negotiate, but it must be remembered that the key divisions were only on a few points, and that a simplistic, almost vague, writing benefitted both sides when it came to getting the thing ratified.

Articles 1, 2 and 3 outline the new “Irish Free State” and its similar status to other British Dominions, specifically Canada. This would include a Governor-General figure, to be appointed in the same manner as they were appointed for Canada. In this, there is a clear difference from what many believed they had been fighting for in Ireland, and what was on the table. There was no mention of a Republic, or any kind of true sovereignty. Article 4 outlines the Oath of Allegiance, and the Free State’s position inside the Commonwealth, refuting de Valera’s idea of external association and any sort of republican state further; the only thing is that lawmakers are asked to swear allegiance to the Free State first. Article 5 states that the Free State will assume a “fair and equitable” portion of British debt, and war pensions, a holdover from the still fairly recent First World War. We should not dismiss that article too quickly as just mere housekeeping, as the amount was substantial and would be very much to the annoyance of more die-hard republicans who had never come close to supporting that conflict. But it was something the British were very insistent on, mindful of the tax base they were about to let go of.

#6 states that the Royal Navy will remain responsible for Ireland’s coastal defence until such time as a separate arrangement can be made; this does not include vessels that the Free State chooses to use for the protection of revenue and fisheries. As we shall see, it would not be too long at all before the Free State was playing fast-and-loose with this article, though with tacit British support. A lot would come down to what you considered “coastal defence”: that may not include using ships to move troops around, or for amphibious landings on hostile internal territory. The larger point allowed the Royal Navy to continue using the seas around Ireland as they wished, an important aspect of the larger naval defence of the “home islands”. It is fair to say that the British military would have little care for the Irish coastline, but they did not want potential enemy ships to be using it in the expectation that British ships could not follow.

#7 outlines the status of the ports that would remain in the charge of Britain, in times of peace and war, with no time limit on such ownership: the vague wording here would lead to all sorts of doom-laden interpretations of the British seizing control of additional Irish territory in the event of another major conflict, and it was not an unreasonable fear. The ports were Lough Swilly, Berehaven and Queenstown, they being substantial enough facilities, and it would not be too much of a stretch to say that British possession of them fatally weakened an Irish position in the event of a future war. Of course, it is unlikely that, in such an event, the Irish would have been capable of stopping a British landing even if their were no Treaty ports.

#8 sets a cap on the size of an established Irish Army, which must be in proportion to the Irish population as set against the British population; there seems to have been little in the way of dispute over this, as proportionally it still allowed the Free State to field a substantial military force if it so choose (and it would, soon enough). In some ways this must be considered somewhat of a meaningless amendment: the exact size of militaries was a difficult thing for foreign powers to track exactly, and in the absence of a conflict to fight, the Free State was not going to be able to sustain as military force of threatening size anyway. Details about a ban on submarines and the like would come up during the Treaty debates, but such things are not part of the Treaty text.

#9 covers access to other ports, in terms of custom duties and the like. #10 states that the Free State will be responsible for compensation to government and police officials who are let go or retire as a result of the government change. Mindful of how far this could be pushed, the British agree that it will not apply to “the Auxiliary Police Force or to persons recruited in Great Britain for the Royal Irish Constabulary during the two years.” Essentially, the British agree that they will cover “compensation” for the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans, allowing the Free State to avoid most of what was a political landmine. But of course the regular RIC were still a hated group, so this one also rankled with many of the more die-hard republicans, especially at a rank-and-file level.

#11 and #12 cover the North, allowing it to remain under the aegis of the Government of Ireland Act until the Treaty is ratified. If, within a month of that ratification, the northern parliament sought to be exempted from the Treaty’s terms, this will be allowed. Upon such an inevitability, a boundary commission consisting of a representative from the North, the Free State and Britain will decide a final border “so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions”. This was largely agreed to with the expectation that the Free State would gain territory, and few thought the opposite a possibility.

#13 transfers certain political responsibilities of “Southern Ireland” to the new Free State. #14 and #15 dealt with the possibility that the North would not seek to be exempted from the Treaty, and upon which eventuality additional steps would have taken place, in relation to Free State powers in the North. Given that no-one expected this eventuality to actually occur, they can be safely ignored.

#16 outlines that both the Free State and Northern Ireland must not pass laws that discriminate on the grounds of religion, especially from an educational standpoint, a well-meaning but largely empty promise. #17 outlined briefly that a provisional government would be formed in Ireland to fill the void between the Treaty being accepted and the Irish Free State coming into being, and that the members of this government must all signify, in writing, their acceptance of the Treaty and its terms. This provisional government would essentially be the pro-Treaty side in the coming Civil War. #18 stated that both sides would now move to get the Treaty passed by their respective Parliaments.

Annex 1 outlined the exact ports that the British would be remaining in possession of under Article 7. The remaining Annex articles concerned communication cables and the maintenance of coastal installations, and are not terribly interesting or relevant.

In essence, the Treaty was not really a military document for the most part: only three articles, 6, 7 and 8, really concerned significant military matters. This can be seen to reflect how the negotiations were not really focused on military affairs. The truce terms had largely dealt with that, and the larger questions, the most difficult ones, were on political matters, and on sovereignty. There were no prisoners to exchange, and the Dominion status explicitly meant that all British military forces, minus the Treaty ports, were going to be withdrawn. In that strict sense, the Treaty can be seen as a success for the IRA: the primary forces of the enemy, both in terms of regular military and the constabulary, were going to either be removed from the vast majority of the south of Ireland or be transformed under the aegis of a political entity dominated by Irish nationalists, albeit perhaps not republicans. The north was a separate case of course.

The Treaty, its signing and its terms became public knowledge later on the 6th December. As could be easily predicted, it provoked a storm of debate, discussion and recrimination from some parts of Ireland almost immediately. De Valera, who had been on a tour of the west, received the news with an apparent annoyance not so much on the terms, but that it had been signed without his approval: regardless of the truth of this, he certainly had an aura of anger when he ordered the delegation back to Dublin for an immediate cabinet meeting to discuss the matter. Within a few days, he would publicly air his inability to agree to the Treaty, thus setting in motion a split throughout the entire movement. He was far from alone though. All over, people digested the news: some were expressing satisfaction, some were already ready to declare their opposition. The first battlefield of what would become the Irish Civil War would be in the Dail chamber, as the Republic’s representatives decided the fate of the Treaty the delegation had brought back to them.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

This entry was posted in History, Ireland, Ireland's Wars, War and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: The Anglo-Irish Treaty As A Military Document

  1. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Index | Never Felt Better

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  5. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: The Civil War In Northern Ireland | Never Felt Better

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  7. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: The Post-Second World War Years And The Republic Of Ireland | Never Felt Better

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