George Gavan Duffy and the 1922 Constitution

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 1 (Spring 2001), Letters, Volume 9

Sir,—In her interesting article on the George Gavan Duffy papers (HIWinter 2000), Mary Kotsonouris wonders why, as late as 1951, GavanDuffy reiterated his view that the 1922 constitution could haverecovered the independence lost in the Treaty.
The reason is that Gavan Duffy believed that a more ‘republican’constitution could have reconciled many anti-treatyites, thus greatlyreducing the impact the Civil War would have. In fact it may even haveaverted hostilities entirely. He believed that the constitution wouldinterpret the Treaty and he charged those who would draft it with thetask of relegating the king ‘to the exterior darkness’ (Dáil ÉireannTreaty debates). Writing to Collins on 22 March 1922, he expressed thehope that this would ‘knock the bottom out of the opposition’.
Gavan Duffy was fully aware of the draft presented in London on 26May 1922 and urged Collins to be firm in resisting the predictedBritish amendments to it. He advocated the calling of a constitutionalconference of the dominions which would discuss the contentious points(obviously most centred on the Crown and were of interest to alldominions). It was with dismay that Gavan Duffy read the revised text(including a compulsory oath of allegiance) in the newspapers on 16June 1922. He had not been given a preview as Griffith had promised.Consequently he resigned as Minister for External Affairs but postponedhis departure due to the Civil War.
In a letter to the Irish Independent on 25 September 1922 hedescribed the oath as ‘the outstanding defect’ of the constitution. Bythen he was taking an independent line following his resignation fromoffice. While deploring the anti-treaty camp’s decision to fight, hewas highly critical of much of the prosecution of the war by theProvisional Government. He never wavered from the view that the samegovernment’s weakness had helped to precipitate that crisis.—Yours,etc.,
County Longford


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