October 2021 marks 100 years since the historical Anglo-Irish Conference. It could be said that the Irish Free State as it was then known, and which would become Ireland in 1937, was the product of negotiations conducted as part of that special conference. Certainly, the debate produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which legally created the Irish Free State following its approval by Dáil Éireann. The Conference was held in London, United Kingdom and lasted from 11 October to 6 December 1921.
The ‘Treaty negotiations’ began in London on 11 October 1921 and culminated in the signature, by British and Irish negotiators of ‘Articles of Agreement’ – better known as the Treaty – in the early morning of 6 December 1921. This led directly to the creation of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922, governing 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties.
The issues to be negotiated
For the British side, the principal issues of concern were the same as those that they had set out in July 1921 – membership of the empire and recognition of the crown. Secondary to these were naval defence, trade, and finance. Better prepared than their Irish counterparts, the British side quickly circulated their proposals on these topics early on in the negotiations, effectively shaping the agenda.
For the Irish, the crucial issues to be negotiated were sovereignty and Irish unity, with sovereignty becoming the ultimate crux of the matter by the time the Treaty was finally signed in December.
The notion of an Irish republic seemed to evolve as the negotiations went on. At the outset, the Dail cabinet had agreed to seek an outcome suggested by de Valera, in which Ireland would exist as an ‘external associate of the states of the British Commonwealth, as opposed to a full member. At a late stage in negotiations, the British side offered a clause in the treaty that would confirm the Irish Free State’s status as a Dominion with the same status as Canada. At the eleventh hour, demands for free trade between Britain and Ireland were disregarded.
It is interesting to note that only one year ago were Ireland – as part of the EU – and the United Kingdom once again locked in debate – and again, relating to trade. These negotiations led to the ratification of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement 2020. The trade agreement WAS negotiated under increasing time pressure due to the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Formal trade negotiations, in which Michel Barnier represented the EU and David Frost represented the UK, began on 31 March 2020. They were originally due to be concluded by the end of October 2020. However, negotiations continued and formally ended on 24 December 2020 when an agreement was reached in principle after ten negotiating rounds.
Perhaps, in 99 years’ time, we might find ourselves at the negotiating table once more with the United Kingdom – perish the thought…
- https://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/explainer-negotiating-the-treaty-october-december-1921 https://www.ft.com/content/ea4a0508-c5d4-42ef-80a2-ca87fb8a61b3