1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty Exhibition
Last week I went to a very interesting exhibition at the British Academy. It was organised by the British and the Irish Academies together with the National Archives of Ireland and the Irish Embassy in London.
On show was the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Negotiation of the treaty began 100 years ago and it was signed on 6th December. It is a really important treaty and I expected to see a prestigious looking roll of velum. Instead, there were two disappointing looking booklets which to my mind the look of them sums up a disappointing treaty that did not bring peace.
1918 general election
In December 1918 a General Election was held in the UK. It was the first election that gave women the right to vote. Not all women, only those over 30 years old and who lived in a property that paid over £5 rates.
All men over 21 years old had the right to vote in this general election. Previously there had been property qualifications for male voters which meant the poorest could not vote. The number of male voters in the UK increased from 7.7 million to 12.9 million.
In Ireland where much of the population did not own property this chance of a vote for all men meant that Sinn Fein won by a landslide. This republican party won 73 of the 105 Irish seats. One of their candidates was Constance Markievicz, the first woman elected as an MP to the House of Commons.
The Sinn Fein MPs refused to take their seats in the House of Commons. Instead, a month after the election they established a government office in Dublin, the Dail Eireann and declared that Ireland was now a republic.
Not everyone in Ireland agreed with the republicans. The Government in London certainly did not. This declaration led to the Irish War of Independence 1919-21.
1920 Government of Ireland Act
In 1920 the Houses of Commons and Lords in London voted in the Government of Ireland Act. This act stated Ireland should have home rule in all things except foreign policy and defence where the power would remain with London. The Irish parliament would be based in Dublin. The Ulster Unionist Party in the north disagreed and wanted their own government in Belfast rather than be part of a centralised Irish government in Dublin. The idea of a separate government for the northern counties was not new but it was the 1920 Government of Ireland Act that led to the creation of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.
So, now Ireland had parliaments in the north and the south but this did end to the War of Independence.
Problems with the Treaty
The 1921 Treaty was signed to put a stop to the fighting. However, many issues were fudged. Ireland was given dominion status as a Free State. Hard line republicans thought it did not go far enough while unionists to keep closer ties to Britain.
The Dublin and London signatories hoped that there would be a centralised government in Ireland. This was unlikely to appeal to the Parliament of Northern Ireland but the Treaty allowed them to choose at a later date whether or not to accept dominion status. Another problem was that the boundaries between the Free State and the northern area were yet to be fixed.