Tension between unionist hearts and pockets as relevant today as 100 years ago

Diarmaid Ferriter: In 1921 many also thought trade would provide impetus for Irish unity

   Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost: the Northern Ireland protocol needs to be urgently altered, partly because of substantial growth in trade between the North and South. Photograph: Paul Ellis

Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost: the Northern Ireland protocol needs to be urgently altered, partly because of substantial growth in trade between the North and South. Photograph: Paul Ellis

One hundred years ago today, Sinn Féin negotiators embarked on a voyage to London that would ultimately result in the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty two months later, a decision with consequences that reverberate to this day. Contemporary media coverage captured the mix of anxiety, hope and expectation that accompanied the delegation; when crowds assembled at 10 Downing Street for the formal beginning of dialogue some voices asked “Shall we have a republic?” Others knelt and recited the rosary.

There was no chance of a republic, but the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, was clear in his objective: he reminded his colleagues during the negotiations “we are after a settlement”. Whether the weight of that desire could withstand the pressures the Irish delegates were under in relation to Ulster and the Irish relationship with the crown, and the strain generated by his position as head of a coalition government that contained both moderates and Tories described as “diehards” in relation to Ireland, remained a fraught question throughout.

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