Markievicz speech against the 1921 Treaty


Constance Markievicz, January 3, 1922


A Chinn Chomhairle agus a lucht na Dala, taim im’ sheasamh go laidir agus go fior anso iniu i gcuis Phoblacht na hEireann d’eirigh i Seachtain na Casga, cuig bliana o shoin.

I rise today to oppose with all the force of my will, with all the force of my whole existence, this so-called Treaty – this Home Rule Bill covered over with the sugar of a Treaty.  My reasons are twofold.

First, I stand true to my principles as a Republican, and to my principles as one pledged to the teeth for freedom for Ireland.  I stand on that first and foremost.  I stand, too, on the common sense of the Treaty itself, which, I say, does not mean what it professes to mean, and can be read in two ways.

I would like you first to take the Treaty, to draw your attention to clauses 17 and 18 and to ask the delegates what limiting power England and the English Parliament will have on the constitution which they are prepared to draft.  I would also like to ask them what they mean by number 17: “Steps shall be taken forthwith for summoning a meeting of Members of Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland since the passing of the Government of Ireland Act.”

What do they mean by that?  Is that a meeting of the Southern Parliament, or is it a sort of committee which is to be formed , or what does it stand for?  It is not An Dail; it is not called a meeting of the Southern Parliament.  It is called a meeting of Members of Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland.  What power has England to set up such elected representatives as a Government?  She has power under the last Bill, I believe, to set up Crown Colony Government, but I doubt whether she has power to set up this as a Government for Ireland.  That is a thing I would like to ask the plenipotentiaries, if they have thought about it.

Then I see in that letter that Mr Griffith quoted with regard to the setting up of this Constitution for Ireland – discussing the Second Chamber, Lloyd George says: “The establishment and composition of the Second Chamber is therefore in the discretion of the Irish people.  There is nothing in the Articles of Agreement to suggest that Ireland is, in this respect, bound to the Canadian model.”

Well, Mr Griffith published the letter which he wrote to the Southern Unionists.  It was dealt with today by Mr Art O’Connor.  This is the letter:

“Sir, I write to inform you that at a meeting I had with representatives of Southern Unionists I agreed that a scheme should be devised to give them their full share of representation in the First Chamber of the Irish Parliament, and that as to the Upper Chamber we will consult them on its constitution and undertake that their interests will be duly represented.”

Now I want to know by what authority the Chairman of the Delegation said this.  And I want to know also what it means.  Does it mean that the Chairman of the Delegation wishes to alter the form of representation of this country by some syndicalist representation, or representation by classes, or by trade unions, or by public bodies, or something else?

Mr Griffith, surely, does not mean that they would merely get their proper representation or the representation they are entitled to.  It must mean something special.  Now why are these men to be given something special?  And what do the Southern Unionists stand for?

You will all allow they stand for two things.  First and foremost as the people who, in Southern Ireland, have been the English garrison against Ireland and the rights of Ireland.  But in Ireland they stand for something bigger still and worse, something more malignant; for that class of capitalists who have been more crushing, cruel and grinding on the people of the nation than any class of capitalists of whom I ever read in any other country, while the people were dying on the roadsides.

They are the people who have combined together against the workers of Ireland, who have used the English soldiers, the English police and every institution in the country to ruin the farmer, and more especially the small farmer, and to send the people of Ireland to drift in the emigrant ships and to die of horrible disease or to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic.

And these anti-Irish Irishmen are to be given some select way of entering this House, some select privileges – privileges they have earned by their cruelty to the Irish people and to the working classes of Ireland; and not only that, but they are to be consulted as to how the Upper House is to be constituted.

As a Republican who means that the Republic means government by the consent of the people (hear, hear) I object to any sort of government of that sort, whereby a privileged number of classes established here by British rule are to be given a say – to this small minority of traitors and oppressors – in the form of an Upper Chamber as against all, I might say, modern ideas of common sense, of the people who wish to build up a prosperous, contented nation.

But looking as I do for the prosperity of the many, for the happiness and content of the workers, for what I stand, James Connolly’s ideal of a Workers’ Republic – (A pro-Treaty deputy interjects: Soviet Republic) – co-operative commonwealth, these men who have opposed everything, are to be elected and upheld by our plenipotentiaries; and I suppose they are to be the Free State, or the Cheap State,* Army, or whatever selection these men are, to be set up to uphold English interests in Ireland, to uphold the capitalists’ interests in Ireland, to block every ideal that the nation may wish to formulate; to block the teaching of Irish, to block the education of the poorer classes; to block, in fact, every bit of progress that every man and woman in Ireland today amongst working people desire to see put into force.

That is one of the biggest blots on this Treaty; this deliberate attempt to set up a privileged class in this, what they call a Free State, that is not free.

I would like the people here who represent the workers to take that into consideration – to say to themselves, what can the working people expect in an Ireland that is being run by men who, at the time of the Treaty, are willing to guarantee this sort of privilege to a class that every thinking man and woman in Ireland despises.

Now, there are one or two things that I would like an answer to.  It strikes me that our opponents in speaking have been extraordinarily vague.  We had Mr Hogan, Deputy for Galway, before the recess talking a great deal about the king, and he was rather sneering at the idea of the king being head of a Free State.  In fact his ideas about the king amounted merely to one thing – an individual’s ideas of a modern king.  What he lost sight of is this: that the king today in England – when you mention the king – you mean the British Cabinet.  Allegiance to the king like that does not even get you the freedom that is implied – a dual monarchy.

The king today is a figurehead, a thing that presides at banquets, waves a flag, and reads his speeches someone else makes for him; which mean absolutely nothing but words put into his mouth by his cabinet.

Also the same vagueness comes into the question of the oath.  As a Republican I naturally object to the king, because the king really stands in politics for his prime minister, the court of which he also is the head and centre, the pivot around which he turns – well it is not one of the things that tends to elevate and improve the country.

It tends to develop all sorts of corruption, all sorts of luxury and all sorts of immorality.  The court centre in any country has never, in the history of the world, for more than a very short period proved anything, through the centuries, but a centre from which vice and wrong ideals emanated.

Now, with regard to the oath, I say to anyone – go truthfully and take this oath, take it.  If they take it under duress there may be some excuse for them, but let them remember that nobody here took their Republican oath under duress.  They took it knowing that it might mean death; and they took it meaning that.  And when they took that oath to the Irish Republic they meant, I hope, every honest man and every woman – I know the women – they took it meaning to keep it to death.

Now what I have against that oath is that it is a dishonourable oath.  It is not a straight oath.  It is an oath that can be twisted in every imaginable form.  You have heard the last speaker explain to you that this oath meant nothing; that it was a thing you could walk through and trample on; that, in fact, the Irish nation could publicly pledge themselves to the king of England, and that you, the Irish people, could consider yourselves at the same time free, and not bound by it.

Now, I have here some opinions, English opinions, as to what the oath is; but mind you, when you swear that oath the English people believe you mean it.  Lloyd George in the House of Commons on the 14th December said:  “The main operation of this scheme is the raising of Ireland to the status of a Dominion of the British Empire with a common citizenship, and by virtue of that membership in the Empire, and of that common citizenship, owing allegiance to the king – (Mr R. MacNeill: Owning allegiance) – and swearing allegiance to the king.”

For the moment I will confine myself to the statement that there has been complete acceptance of allegiance to the British Crown and acceptance of membership in the Empire, and acceptance of common citizenship; that she (Ireland) has accepted allegiance to the Crown and partnership in the same Empire.

Mr Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on the 15th of December, 1921, said: “In our view they promise allegiance to the Crown and membership of the Empire.  (Hon. Members: No, no.)  That is our view.  The oath comprises acceptance of the British Constitution, which is, by Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution, exactly assimilated to the Constitution of our Dominions.  This oath is far more precise and searching than the ordinary oath which is taken elsewhere.  (Hon. Members: No, no.)  It mentions specifically membership of the Empire, common citizenship, and faithfulness to the Crown, whereas only one of these matters is dealt with in the Dominion Oath.”

Now here is a curious thing.  Sir W. Davidson asked why should they not take the Canadian Oath, and the answer by Mr Churchill is this:

“The oath they are asked to take is more carefully and precisely drawn than the existing oath, and it was chosen because it was more acceptable to the people whose allegiance we are seeking, and whose incorporation in the British Empire we are certainly desirous of securing.”

“Sir L. Worthington Evans: What does ‘as by law established’ mean?  It means that presently – next Session – we shall be asked in this House to establish a Constitution for the Irish Free State, and part of the terms of the settlement will be that the members who go to serve in that Free State Parliament will have to swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution as passed by this House of Commons.  How is it possible to say that within the terms of that oath they can set up a Republic and still maintain their oath?”

Now here is one important extract I want to read to you on this point:

“Sir L. Worthington Evans: Then it was suggested by the Hon. Member for Burton that this oath contained no allegiance to the Throne, but merely fidelity to the King.  I have not time to go into the history of the oaths which have from time to time been taken in this Parliament, but I did have time while the Hon. Member was speaking to look up Anson on Constitutional Law, and I extracted this: ‘There were at one time three oaths.  There was the Oath of Allegiance’ – and this is how Anson defines it – ‘it was a declaration of fidelity to the reigning sovereign. . . But Anson’s description of the Oath of Allegiance is that it was a declaration of fidelity to the throne, so that in this oath as included in the Treaty we have got this: we have got the Oath of Allegiance in the declaration of fidelity, ‘I will be faithful to His Majesty King George V, his heirs and successors by law.’  And we have got something in addition – a declaration of fidelity to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established, and, in further addition, we have the declaration of fidelity to the Empire itself.”

Now, personally, I being an honourable woman, would sooner die than give a declaration of fidelity to King George or the British Empire.

I saw a picture the other day of India, Ireland and Egypt fighting England, and Ireland crawling out with her hands up.  Do you like that?  I don’t.

Now, if we pledge ourselves to this oath we pledge our allegiance to this thing, whether you call it Empire or Commonwealth of Nations, that is treading down the people of Egypt and of India.

And in Ireland this Treaty, as they call it, mar dheadh, that is to be ratified by a Home Rule Bill, binds us to stand by and enter no protest while England crushes Egypt and India.  And, mind you, England wants peace in Ireland to bring her troops over to India and Egypt.

She wants the Republican Army to be turned into a Free State Army, and mind, the army is centred in the king or the representative of the king.  He is the head of the army.  The army is to hold itself faithful to the Commonwealth of Nations while the Commonwealth sends its Black-and-Tans to India.

Of course you may want to send the Black-and-Tans out of this country.  Now mind you, there are people in Ireland who were not afraid to face them before, and I believe would not be afraid to face them again.

You are here labouring under a mistake if you believe that England, for the first time in her life, is treating you honourably.

Now I believe, and we are against the Treaty believing, that England is being more dishonourable and acting in a cleverer way than she ever did before, because I believe we never sent cleverer men over than we sent this time, yet they have been tricked.

Now you all know me, you know that my people came over here in Henry VIII’s time, and by that bad black drop of English blood in me I know the English – that’s the truth.  I say it is because of that black drop in me that I know the English personally better perhaps than the people who went over on the delegation.  (Laughter)

(A pro-Treaty deputy interjects: Why didn’t you go over?)

Why didn’t you send me?  I tell you, don’t trust the English with gifts in their hands.  That’s not original, someone said it before of the Greeks – but it is true.  The English come to you today offering you great gifts; I tell you this, those gifts are not genuine.  I tell you, you will come out of it a defeated nation.  No-one ever got the benefits of the promises the English made them.

It seems absurd to talk to the Irish people about trusting the English, but you know how the O’Neills and the O’Donnells went over and always came back with the promises and guarantees that their lands would be left them and that their religion would not be touched.

What is England’s record?  It was self-aggrandisement and Empire.  You will notice how does she work – by a change of names.  They subjugated Wales by giving them a Prince of Wales, and now they want to subjugate Ireland by a Free State Parliament and a Governor-General at the head of it.

I could tell you something about Governor-Generals and people of that sort.  You can’t have a Governor-General without the Union Jack, and a suite, and general household and other sort of official running in a large way.

The interests of England are the interests of the capitalistic class.  Your Governor-General is the centre for your southern Unionists, for whom Mr Griffith has been so obliging.  He is the centre from which anti-Irish ideals will go through Ireland, and English ideals will come: love of luxury, love of wealth, love of competition, trample on your neighbours to get to the top, immorality and divorce laws of the English nation.  All these things you will find centred in this Governor-General.

I heard there was a suggestion – there was a brother of the king’s or queen’s suggested as Governor-General, and I heard also that this Lascelles was going to be Governor.  I also heard that there is a suggestion that Princess Mary’s wedding is to be broken off, and that the Princess Mary is to be married to Michael Collins who will be appointed first Governor of our Saorstat na hEireann.

All these are mere nonsense.  You will find that the English people, the rank-and-file of the common people, will all take it that we are entering their Empire and that we are going to help them.

All the people who are in favour of it here claim it to be a step towards Irish freedom, claim it to be nothing but allegiance to the Free State.  Now what will the world think of it?  What the world thinks of it is this: Ireland has long been held up to the scorn of the world through the British press.  According to that press Ireland is a nation that lay down, that never protested.  The people in other countries have scorned us.  So Ireland can bear to be scorned again, even if she takes the oath that pledges her support to the Commonwealth of Nations.  But I say, what do Irishmen think in their own hearts?

Can any Irishman take that oath honourably and then go back and prepare to fight for an Irish Republic or even to work for an the Republic?  It is like a person going to get married plotting a divorce.

I would make a Treaty with England once Ireland was free, and I would stand with President de Valera in this, that if Ireland were a free republic I would welcome the king of England over here on a visit.  But while Ireland is not free I remain a rebel, unconverted and unconvertible.  There is no word strong enough for it.  I am pledged as a rebel, an unconvertible rebel, to the one thing – a free and independent Republic.

Now, we have been sneered at for being Republicans by even men who fought for the Republic.  We have been told that we didn’t know what we meant.  Now I know what I mean – a state run by the Irish people for the people.  That means a Government that looks after the rights of the people before the rights of property.

And I don’t wish under the Saorstat to anticipate that the directors of this and the capitalists’ interests are to be at the head of it.  My idea is the Workers Republic for which Connolly died.  And I say that that is one of the things that England wishes to prevent.

She would sooner give us Home Rule than a democratic Republic.  It is the capitalists’ interests in England and Ireland that are pushing this Treaty to block the march of the working people in England and Ireland.

Now, we were offered a Treaty in the first place because England was in a tight place.  She wanted her troops for more dirty work elsewhere.  Because Dail Eireann was too democratic, because her Law Courts were too just, because the will of the people was being done, and justice was being done, and the well-being of the people was considered, the whole people were behind us.

You talk very glibly about England evacuating the country.  Has anybody questioned that?   How long did it take her to evacuate Egypt?  What guarantee have we that England will do more than begin to evacuate Ireland directly the Treaty has been ratified?  She will begin to evacuate, I have no doubt; she will send a certain number of troops to her other war fronts.

Now there is one deputy – not more than one, I hope – who charged that we rattled the bones of the dead.  I must protest about the phrase of rattling the bones of our dead.  Now I would like to ask where would Ireland stand without the noble dead?  I would like to ask can any of you remember, as I can, the first time you read Robert Emmet’s speech from the dock?  Yes, it is all very well for those who now talk Dominion Home Rule to try to be scornful of the phrases – voices of men from the grave, who call on us to die for the cause they died for.

I don’t think it is fair to say what dead men might say if they had been here today.  What I do think fair is to read the messages they left behind them, and to mould our lives with them.

James Connolly said, the last time I heard him speak – he spoke to me and to others – a few phrases that very much sum up the situation today.  It was just before Easter Week in 1916.  We had heard the news that certain people had called off the Rising.  One man wishing to excuse them, to exonerate them, said: “So-and-so does not care to take the responsibility of letting people go to their death when there is so little chance of victory.”  “Oh,” said Connolly, “there is only one sort of responsibility I am afraid of and that is preventing the men and women of Ireland fighting and dying for Ireland if they are so minded.”

That was almost the last word that was said to me be a man who died for Ireland, a man who was my Commandant, and I have always thought of that since, and I have always felt that that was a message which I had to deliver to the people of Ireland.

We hear a great deal of the renewal of warfare.  I am of quite a pacific mind.  I don’t like to kill.  I don’t like death, but I am not afraid to die and, not being afraid to die myself, I don’t see why I should say that I should take it for granted that the Irish people were not as ready to die now in this this year 1922, any more than they were afraid in the past.

I fear dishonour; I don’t fear death, and I feel at all events that death is preferable to dishonour; and sooner than see the people of Ireland take that oath meaning to build up your Republic on a lie, I would sooner say to the people of Ireland: “Stand by me and fight to the death.”

I think that a real Treaty between a free Ireland and a free England – with Ireland standing as a free sovereign state – I believe it would be possible to get that now; but even if it were impossible, I myself would stand for what is noblest and what is truest.  That is the thing that to me I can grasp in my nature.  I have seen the stars, and I am not going to follow a flickering will-o’-the-wisp, and I am not going to follow any person juggling with constitutions and introducing petty, tricky ways into this Republican movement which we built up – you and not I, because I have been in jail.  It has been built up and are we now going back to this tricky Parliamentarianism, because I tell you this document is nothing else.

Pearse Beasley gave us to understand that this is the beginning of something great and that Ireland is struggling to be born.  I say that the new Ireland was born in Easter Week 1916, that Ireland is not struggling to be born.  I say that the Irish language has begun to grow, that we are pushing it in the schools, and I don’t see that giving up our rights, that going into the British Empire is going to help.

In any case the thing is not what you might call a practical thing.  It won’t help our commerce, but it is not that; we are idealists believing in and loving Ireland, and I believe that Ireland held by the Black-and-Tans did more for Ireland than Ireland held by Parliamentarianism – the road that meant commercial success for those who took it and, meaning other things, meant prestige for those who took it.

But there is the other stoney road that leads to ultimate freedom and the regeneration of Ireland; the road that so many of our heroes walked, and I for one, will stand on the road with Terence MacSwiney and Kevin Barry and the men of Easter Week.  I know the brave soldiers of Ireland will stand there, and I stand humbly behind them, men who have given themselves for Ireland, and I will devote to it the same amount that is left to me of energy and life; and I stand here today to make the last protest, for we only speak but once, and to ask you read most carefully, not to take everything for granted, and to realise above all that you strive for one thing, your allegiance to the men who have fought and died.

But look at the results.  Look at what we gain.  We gained more in those few years of fighting than we gained by parliamentary agitation since the days of O’Connell.  O’Connell said that Ireland’s freedom was not worth a drop of blood.  Now I say that Ireland’s freedom is worth blood, and worth my blood, and I will willingly give it for it, and I appeal to the men of the Dail to stand true.  They ought to stand true and remember what God has put into your hearts and not be lead astray by phantasmagoria.  Stand true to Ireland, stand true to your oaths and put a little trust in God.


Posted on September 7, 2011, in Civil War period, Constance Markievicz, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Historiography and historical texts, Republicanism post-1900, War for Independence period, Women in republican history. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Markievicz speech against the 1921 Treaty.

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