Spring 1922 – On the brink of disaster
Relics of a bygone era
As Tallants worked through his findings before delivering the report, he would have known that the Craig-Collins pacts were already a thing of the past.
The British had placed great faith in them, on paper they seemed to offer a chance for leaders from every part of the island to settle a new reality, without British involvement.
But Collins had played for time in her relationship with James Craig. He welcomed the notion of a separate Northern Ireland, while sanctioning and supporting IRA attacks on it, with the aim of delaying and possibly preventing the day when the treaty split within the IRA would break out into open war.
The chances of this had vanished for months, with the Anti-Treaty IRA declaring itself an independent entity and the sole defender of the original Republican cause. Any idea that there might be a Nordic sequel to the Revolutionary War did not cut the ice with the radical new leadership of men like Rory O’Connor and Liam Lynch.
Barely two weeks had passed after the March Pact, when this new republican leadership made its bold and ultimately foolish declaration of intent in occupying the four Dublin courts, to provide a focus for the anti-IRA treaty.
When, in the early hours of June 28, 1922, Michael Collins ordered the opening bombardment of the Four Courts, it marked not only the start of the Civil War, but also the end of his government’s involvement with Northern Ireland. .
Deprived of the support of the south of the Frontier, blocked by the new policy of internment without judgment of the government of the North, the “offensive” of the IRA runs out of steam. Fear of internment drove Northern IRA members south, many of whom joined the new National Army as it mobilized to confront the anti-Treaty IRA.
Expect 18 months, early 1924. The horror and tragedy of the Civil War was over, Griffith and Collins were dead.
James Craig’s government was about to entrench Unionist rule over Nationalists in Northern Ireland.
February 1 was the opening day of a conference called by the British government in London to try to agree membership of the Boundary Commission which was ultimately to decide the location of the boundary.
The new Colonial Secretary, JH Thomas, faced the First Minister of Northern Ireland, James Craig, and the Chairman of the Irish Executive Council, WT Cosgrave, across the table.
Should there not be, he suggested, an attempt to retry the London Compact (March 1922) as a mechanism for agreeing the future relationship of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland ?
The two men looked at him questioningly. He didn’t have an answer when asked how he saw this idea working.
It didn’t matter. Thomas had offered to exhume a corpse, and both Irish leaders knew it.
Craig rejected his March 1922 pact with Michael Collins saying: “It is now wholly inappropriate … it would be impossible to make it the basis of any new agreement”.