Final step to normal relations of Harp and Crown
The visit of President Higgins to Britain represents the normalising of relations after a century of division
At the insistence of the British, the treaty contained an oath which would have to be taken by all those elected to the Dáil and Senate. Dubbed the oath of allegiance to the Crown by its republican opponents, it emerged as the most divisive element of the treaty and it proved to be the catalyst for the Civil War.
Strictly speaking, the oath was one of allegiance to the constitution of the Free State and its democratic institutions but it did require TDs to say they would be “faithful” to the crown by virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain.
The split over the oath poisoned Irish politics for decades and damaged the relationship between the independent state and the United Kingdom.
When he established Fianna Fáil in 1926 Eamon de Valera and his followers refused to take the oath and so were unable to take their seats in the Dáil.
The murder of Kevin O’Higgins in the summer of 1927 prompted the Cosgrave government to require all candidates for election to take the oath and that prompted de Valera and his followers to sign up to it on the basis that it was an “empty formula”.
When he came to power after winning the 1932 election de Valera proceeded to remove the oath from the constitution as a matter of priority. That was one of the primary reasons for the economic war which wreaked havoc with the Irish economy in the 1930s and further soured relations between the two countries.
The abdication crisis in the UK in 1936 provided de Valera with an opportunity to further weaken the link with the crown. The following year he published the new Constitution Bunreacht na hÉireann which established the institution of the presidency which in effect took over the functions theoretically exercised by the crown in Irish affairs.
The formal declaration of the Irish Republic in 1948 gave expression to the reality of the situation but it caused a further estrangement between the two countries, with Ireland leaving the Commonwealth.
In the following decades there was a frosty relationship between the Irish State and the British crown. In the course of her long reign Queen Elizabeth visited almost every corner of the globe, including Northern Ireland, but there was no question on either side of a visit to the Republic.
The long running political sore of Northern Ireland and the terror campaign of the Provisional IRA made it even more difficult to contemplate normalising relations, even though the two governments gradually established a working relationship.