Former Minister calls for respect during commemorations to mark the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and Civil War

Martin Mansergh echoes President Michael D Higgins in arguing that no side had a monopoly of right in their actions

Former Minister of State Martin Mansergh. Photograph: David Sleator

Former Minister of State Martin Mansergh. Photograph: David Sleator


Commemorative events to mark the centenary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the subsequent Civil War should be fully explored and debated but not in an overly partisan manner, historian and former Minister of State Martin Mansergh declared at a republican commemoration on Sunday.

Delivering the oration at the Liam Lynch Commemoration at Kilcrumper in Fermoy where the leading anti-Treaty commander is buried, Mr Mansergh echoed comments made by President Michael D Higgins at Beal na Blath in August where he called for honesty in the commemorations to come.

“Inevitably as we approach the centenary of the Treaty split and the civil war, the rights and wrongs on all sides will continue to be explored and debated but as the President has emphasised, it should not be done in an overly partisan manner or in a spirit of bitterness or recrimination.

“No side had the monopoly of right in their actions and it must never be forgotten that there that was a third party, viz the departing British power,” said Dr Mansergh who is Vice Chairman of the Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations.

Paying tribute to Lynch who was killed in a firefight with Free State troops in the Knockmealdown Mountains in April 1923 in the last days of the Civil War, Dr Mansergh noted how Lynch had been influenced in his thought by the events of Easter Rebellion and the executions of the 1916 leaders.

He noted that while most people gratefully acknowledge that the Rising was the catalyst for the process that led to Irish independence, there were still critics who query the necessity or morality of resorting to force on the Irish side while never expressing any views on the British use of force.

Recalling the cursory trials and summary executions of the 1916 leaders and how it was supported by organs of Irish Unionist opinion at the time including The Irish Times, Dr Mansergh was critical of argument by former Taoiseach, John Bruton that Home Rule would have led to Irish independence,

Dr Mansergh pointed out that David Lloyd George as a minister of the British Cabinet tried to fast track Home Rule through in June 1916 in the aftermath of the Easter Rising following initial agreement with Unionist leader, Edward Carson and Irish nationalist, John Redmond.

Lloyd George’s idea was to proceed with the partition plan that had been suspended at the outbreak of World War I in 1914 but his plan was vetoed by the Irish Unionists and their Cabinet allies while a year later, an attempt to revive Home Rule on a 32 county basis was blocked by Ulster Unionists.

“So by the time, the Lloyd George-led Coalition manifesto was published for the December 1918 General Election, it stated that Home Rule could not be implemented because of what it called ‘the present condition of Ireland’,” he said.

Dr Mansergh said in case anyone thought it was because Irish nationalists were seeking a republic, Lloyd George said in the House of Commons that it was not about whether Ireland was to be a republic but rather its very demand for sovereign independence which could not be permitted.

Dr Mansergh noted that the late Fine Gael Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald did not share Mr Bruton’s view that Home Rule would have led to independence, describing such a thesis as “alternative history gone mad”.

“He (Dr Fitzgerald) argued that ‘there is little reason to believe that Britain would have permitted Ireland to secure independence at least until many decades after the Second World War and by then the financial costs, because of the welfare state, would have been prohibitive’.”