Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Sir,—Joseph E.A. Connell Jr writes (100 Years Ago, HI 29.6, Nov./Dec. 2021): ‘Later de Valera told the Dáil “now I would like everybody clearly to understand that the plenipotentiaries went over to negotiate a Treaty, that they could differ from the Cabinet if they wanted to, and that in anything of consequence they could take their decision against the decision of the Cabinet”.’ This is taken from T. Ryle Dwyer’s De Valera, the man and the myths (Poolbeg Press, 1992) but it is a truncated sentence from de Valera, who had concluded ‘but of course they would know the consequence’ (Dáil Éireann, 14 Dec. 1921, Vol. T, No. 2).

This omission changes the implied meaning completely, as it clearly indicates that de Valera meant that the plenipotentiaries could take decisions against decisions of the cabinet but that they should not do so because of the consequences—the consequences obviously being that it was a clear breach of their cabinet instructions of 7 October. Those instructions were that as plenipotentiaries they could negotiate any document they deemed adequate, but not sign anything until so agreed and instructed by cabinet—which, of course, is exactly what they didn’t do, a breach they later justified on the basis of a British threat of unleashing ‘immediate and terrible war’.
Those instructions sought to maintain cabinet unity at all costs, and the decision by the plenipotentiaries to act independently of the cabinet broke that instruction and inevitably maximised cabinet divisions, which was the crucial fact that led to the débâcle that followed.—Yours etc.,

Aubane Historical Society

For Joseph E.A. Connell Jr’s response, go to ‘Letters Extra’ on our website, We didn’t have room for it here—Ed.


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