December 15th, 1921


FROM THE ARCHIVES: A correspondent reported the start of the Treaty debates

Yesterday’s meeting of An Dáil Éireann, so far as the public part of it was concerned, at any rate, was rather disappointing. Yet it made two things clear. The split in the Sinn Féin Cabinet is very real, and Dáil Éireann still has something to learn before it can conduct the affairs of the Irish nation with that efficiency which is essential to success.

The meeting was scheduled to begin in the National University buildings in Earlsfort Terrace at 11 o’clock. It was nearly half an hour behind time . . . The Dáil foregathered in one half of a large double room; the other half was allotted to the Press. The Speaker’s dais was right in the middle, with the result that the newspapermen were all behind his back, and could follow the proceedings only with difficulty.

There was a full attendance. Madame Markievicz was early on the premises, and she was followed shortly afterwards by Mr Gavan Duffy, who looked far more like a Russian Ambassador than an Irish Deputy.

Mr de Valera, for once, had discarded his sombre black attire and was garbed in brown; he arrived with the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Mr Michael Collins was almost unrecognisable without his moustache, while Mr Barton was as spruce as ever.

Some kind of preliminary discussion must have been held outside the precincts of the “House,” for the meeting did not start until nearly three-quarters of an hour after the last of the Deputies had arrived.

When it did start, the serious nature of the issue to be faced was apparent from the demeanour of the assembly.

Everybody looked very grave and business-like, and while Mr Diarmuid O’Hegarty’s rich voice was calling over the roll, one noticed that the two parties in the Ministry were sitting on opposite sides of the Speaker’s chair – Messrs de Valera, Stack, Brugha, and Erskine Childers to the left; and Messrs Griffith, Collins, Barton, and Duggan to the right.

According to plan, Dr White’s motion for a private session should have been introduced immediately after the calling of the roll, but after prayers Mr de Valera was quickly on his feet. He gave a long explanation of the way in which the difference of opinion over the London Agreement had arisen, and, while he was careful to make light of its significance, did not hesitate to assert that Messrs Griffith and Collins had exceeded their instructions from him in signing the treaty without first having submitted a draft of it to Dublin for the whole Cabinet’s approval.

This development led to a rather painful scene. Mr Griffith protested quietly against the charge of his chief, who insisted on his point. Mr Collins protested not so quietly, but Mr de Valera would not be gainsaid. Then tempers began to rise, and the atmosphere was becoming highly charged, when somebody reminded the House that a motion was to be put. This saved the situation for the moment; but the gloves were off, and it was very obvious that the difference of opinion between the de Valera and Griffith groups was something more than a mere matter of technicality.

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