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'Decision to ratify the Treaty must have weighed on every single TD back in 1922' - Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will give a keynote speech today to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty.


THE DECISION ON whether to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 “must have weighed on every single TD over that Christmas break”, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is expected to say in a keynote speech on the centenary this evening. 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

After violence escalated for the first six months of the year, representatives of the Irish Republic and the British government agreed a truce in July 1921.

That led to months of lengthy negotiations before the War of Independence finally concluded with the signing of the treaty on 6 December, and ratification of the Treaty in the Dáil the following January, by just seven votes, after a month of impassioned debates. 

Varadkar will give a keynote speech at a Fine Gael online event this evening for the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty by Dáil Éireann, where he is expected to say: 

“It is very easy now, with the benefit of hindsight, to look back with confidence and say what should have happened, knowing as we do everything that took place over the last 100 years. Nothing was clear-cut or certain back then.”

He will state that it was the democratic decision of the Dáil, not the Civil War that followed, which gave the Treaty legitimacy and turned a stepping stone to freedom into a foundation stone of our new State which is why it’s important the vote 100 years ago is commemorated and remembered.

“I know from my own experiences in politics how heavy the decision must have weighed on every single TD over that Christmas break, before the Dáil resumed in January. There must have been difficult and heated conversations with family, friends, supporters and constituents.

“Knowing that there was no perfect outcome. Knowing that whatever was decided would shape the destiny of the country for good or for ill for decades afterwards. Knowing that people’s futures and possibly their lives were in your hands. Not a single one of the 121 TDs who voted one hundred years ago made their decision lightly, without thought for the consequences, and that too is worthy of recognition and respect,” he will state in his speech.

His speech will outline how men and women argued passionately about their reasons for rejecting or accepting the Treaty, stating that the debates were often tetchy and sometimes personalised, but that the different positions cannot be dismissed out of hand.

As Michael Collins said, immediately after it was announced the Treaty had been approved by 64 votes to 57, this was not ‘any kind of triumph over the other side’. It was about trying to do what was best for the future of the nation.
It was why Collins was so determined to try and find a way to prevent the political division becoming a public divide, a rift he feared would lead to civil war and terrible bloodshed.

michael-collins-eamon-de-valera-and-harry-boland-in-conversation-prior-to-the-signing-of-the-anglo-irish-treaty-collins-supported-the-treaty-whereas-boland-opposed-the-anglo-irish-treaty-along-wit Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera and Harry Boland in conversation prior to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Collins, supported the Treaty, whereas Boland opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty along with de Valera. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Describing it as a “bitter divide between two different types of idealists”, Varadkar will say in his speech that one set of idealists were imagining the future and how they might achieve it, and the other group of idealists felt bound by the promises of the past.

“And, as Collins prophesised, it would be left to ‘future generations’ to decide who was right and who was wrong. As we know, the prophesy that the Treaty was a stepping stone to freedom was fulfilled over the next century by men and women in politics, in public service, and in civil society, in so many different and extraordinary ways.

“The new Constitution of the Irish Free State, the Statute of Westminster, Bunreacht na hEireann in 1937 and the Republic of Ireland Act in 1948 were all made possible by the Treaty and built on it,” Varadkar will state, pointing out that Ireland joined the international stage when it joined the United Nations and voted to join Europe.

In his speech, the Tánaiste will state that both Collins and De Valera agreed that Northern Ireland could not be coerced.

“[Arthur] Griffith knew that the only way to achieve a truly united Irish nation was through justice and fairness, by listening to differences and respecting them, and not by trying to speak over them or assimilate them,” he says.

Varadkar will also use tonight as an opportunity to speak about modern-day Sinn Féin.

“It is perhaps worth pointing out, since some seem to deny it, that every single one of the 121 TDs who voted 100 years ago was a member of Sinn Féin.

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“A majority of Sinn Féin TDs endorsed the Treaty. In the recent decades, other people have come to claim that particular political identity and branding and their own. They can do so only by ignoring every single historical fact that clashes with their carefully fabricated self-image.

“They appeal to the past, based on a falsification of history and claim a lineage that is not real.

“Whenever the State succeeds, they seek to undermine it. Wherever there is hope, they sow despair. Whenever there are unpopular decisions to be made, they hide or blame others. They are, by their own admission, a populist party. They are, for the moment, a popular party. But they are not, and have never been, a principled party,” he will state.

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