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Behind the scenes of the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations, 100 years on

Exactly 100 years ago, the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations were entering their closing hours. In this extract from The Treaty, her pacy, page-turning history of the talks between Britain and Ireland, Gretchen Friemann explains that while the British team of Lloyd George, Birkenhead, Churchill and others were clear about what success looked like, the Sinn Féin delegation was riven by rivalries and ambition

The artist at the Illustrated London News captured the British and Irish negotiation teams at work during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

IN the century that has elapsed since the signing of the Treaty on December 6 1921, much has been made of the naiveté and relative inexperience of the Irish negotiators compared to their British counterparts.

There can be no disputing this: David Lloyd George, the prime minister, was a past master at the art of diplomatic deal-making, and the cabinet colleagues he relied upon most in the negotiations - Austen Chamberlain, Lord Birkenhead and Winston Churchill - were all experienced statesmen.

But there was another advantage: clarity on what success looked like. In a situation where unholy compromises were inevitable, the Irish were conflicted about where their red lines lay, and from the outset the Sinn Féin delegation was riven by simmering personal rivalries and divided political ambitions.

It was against this background of dissension that Arthur Griffith, on November 13, gave his famous written pledge to Lloyd George, in which he promised not to obstruct the prime minister on his plan for a Boundary Commission.

Most of the key players in the delegation were back in Dublin at this point, and would not learn of the document's existence until the final, dramatic hours of the talks. They had left London because the British had told them that there would be no significant developments in the negotiations until after the annual Conservative Party conference, which was to be held in Liverpool on November 17.

But days before this the British changed tack, and summoned the absent Irish delegation members back to London, where in a disorientating change of pace, they were plunged straight into the drama generated by the draft Treaty.

It arrived at lunchtime and looked more like an anonymous memo than an official document. But if the presentation came as a surprise, so too did the content. Ireland was to remain within the Empire and assume Dominion powers along the lines of those possessed by Canada.

Its army would be limited to 40,000 men and the responsibility for coastal defence would fall to Britain until the two countries mutually agreed an alternative arrangement.

There were to be no trade restrictions, although both governments were free to impose duties to prevent dumping and unfair competition.

In essence then, the draft differed little from the July 20 proposals except in one important respect: the accommodation on Northern Ireland. Craig's government would have up to a year to opt out of the new Irish state but faced higher taxes and a share of the imperial debt burden if they pursued this path.

The frontier between the north and the south would be redrawn by a boundary commission. Crucially, though, and in a stipulation that assumed renewed significance years later, these alterations were to be made "in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants".

In the radically different political climate of spring 1924, John Chartres, a principal secretary to the Sinn Féin delegation, pointed out that the draft Treaty had imposed "no limitation whatever" on the commission's remit, and maintained that Griffith would never have warmed to Dominion status if he believed only "minor rectifications" to the border were possible.

But it was the compromise on the Crown and Empire that infuriated the delegation's hardliners. Childers, Barton and Gavan Duffy demanded a delegates' meeting, with Gavan Duffy insisting that Lloyd George must be written to at once and informed that his Treaty was "unacceptable". He told Griffith, "We shall draft another."

Griffith dismissed the suggestion, reminding his agitated colleagues that it was the eve of the Liverpool conference, so there was not much point in kicking up a fuss at this stage. That triggered another round of bickering, with Barton hurling accusations about their ill-treatment; how they had been frozen out of the talks, and "not told enough".

Collins, meanwhile, retreated to the relative calm of Cadogan Gardens. The boredom and discomfort of sitting most of the day for Sir John Lavery, who was painting his portrait, had soured his mood. "Absolute torture" was how he described the experience to Kitty Kiernan in a letter that afternoon, for he had been "expected to keep still... a thing I cannot do". Lavery never complained though; in fact, quite the opposite.

Leo Whelan, who painted Collins in 1922, characterised him as the "worst sitter he ever had". Perhaps that explains why neither artist captured their subject's restless energy, let alone anything approaching his nature or essence.

The Collins who emerges from Lavery's portrait is an insipid, uninspiring figure; fleshy-cheeked, dew-eyed and one-dimensional, devoid of soul, character or presence.

Yet given the pressure of events, it is hardly surprising that Collins felt conflicted at idling away his time in an artist's studio. It was there that he met the beguilingly beautiful Hazel Lavery and the friendship that sprang up between them ensured her name became indelibly linked with his.

After his death, those close to Collins dismissed Lady Lavery as a "fantasist". More recently she has been cast as a fearless manipulator, a siren who promoted and then profited from the salacious interest in their putative affair.

The historian Peter Hart labelled her a "super groupie" and presented her as someone who fed off Collins' celebrity status. Regardless of the truth, the rumours of a sexual liaison between them thrilled and titillated London's high society, and, over the decades the nature of their relationship has remained a source of enduring fascination.

In his letter to Kitty that afternoon, Collins made no mention of Lady Lavery. But he also omitted any reference to the more pressing matter of the day: the fatal shooting of Cork alderman Tadhg Barry at Ballykinlar internment camp.

News of his death ignited a firestorm of outrage in Ireland after it transpired that the 39-year-old republican had been shot by a British sentry for venturing too close to the wire. Collins instantly made preparations to attend the funeral, to be held that weekend in Cork city.

Meanwhile, the British, anxious to ease tensions, promised an independent inquiry to follow the inquest. As it turned out, however, there was no inquiry, and the inquest into Barry's death, which apportioned no blame, was adjourned until after the Treaty, when all internees in Ireland were released.

The next day, Thursday November 17, with the Ballykinlar incident still dominating the Irish media, the Sinn Féin delegates attempted to turn up the heat on the British by firing off a formal letter of protest to Lloyd George, condemning the conditions at another internment camp in Co Kildare, where two prisoners were bayoneted while attempting to escape.

Childers, who drafted the missive, called for "immediate action". But by this stage both sides felt they were moving into the endgame. Collins had said as much in a recent letter to Kitty Kiernan, declaring that "they were getting into the heart of things now and I don't suppose we will be here much longer".

The renewed pressures strained the feuding delegation to breaking point. Earlier in the day, as Childers noted witheringly in his diary, he had gone through the draft Treaty "paragraph by paragraph [with the delegates]... slowly disillusioning" them, and yet throughout, Griffith "affected indifference... to its demerits".

Back in Dublin, de Valera's patience was wearing thin. In his view, there had been too "much beating around the bush" and he urged Griffith "to get down to definite business and send them... our final word".

In a letter written in response to the draft Treaty, he underlined how important it was to maintain "the consistency of our position". That meant presenting the British with Draft Treaty A, "modified somewhat to meet the exact position".

He wanted the delegates to serve up another offer of External Association. But by this point, Collins had virtually reconciled himself to Dominion status, seeing it as "beneficial", if only as a temporary settlement. In a letter to his friend John O'Kane, written in early November, Collins categorised it as a "first step", arguing that, for the moment, more "than this could not be expected".

His views must have been partly influenced by the rapport established with Birkenhead, and the close ties forged with Griffith, although he also read widely on the subject, particularly Smuts' pioneering arguments in favour of a "decentralised Commonwealth of Nations".

He pored, too, over a memorandum Curtis had produced earlier in the conference, which purported to show "how Dominion status actually works". From this, Collins concluded that the Commonwealth states were moving gradually, but inexorably, towards full independence; meaning that what Dominion status offered was the freedom to achieve freedom.

His chief problem, and Griffith's, was not so much the dissent in the delegation but the attitude in Dublin. Collins constantly blamed the Cabinet for its inadequate and confusing instructions, and frequently complained about the futility of their task, knowing that any settlement opened them up to accusations of apostasy.

In a swipe at de Valera, he told O'Kane at one point that he had been "warned more times than I can recall about the one [i.e., de Valera]. And when I was caught for this delegation my immediate thought was how easily I walked into the preparations. But having walked in I had to stay".

On November 17, he wrote in a similar vein to his friend, describing Griffith as "particularly dour today. He said to me - 'You realise what we have on our hands?' I replied that I realised it long ago. He meant [the] Dublin reaction to whatever happens here" - adding that Griffith told him, "We stand or fall in this together."

:: The Treaty: The Gripping Story of the Negotiations that brought

about Irish Independence and led to the Civil War by Gretchen Friemann is published by Merrion Press, merrionpress.ie.

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