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Machinery Of Agreement

Volume 149: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1921

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I now come to the question of machinery, of how these provisions can be carried into effect. There are permanent and provisional arrangements to be made. With regard to the permanent arrangements these must be formulated by the Irish representatives themselves. Here we are going to follow the example which has been set in the framing of every constitution throughout the Empire. The constitution is drafted and decided by the Dominion, the Imperial Parliament taking such steps as may be necessary to legalise these decisions. Any proposal in contravention of this Agreement will be ultra vires. The position of the Crown must, therefore, be assured. Relationship to the Empire must be established, the rights of Ulster safe-guarded, and likewise provisions for the protection of religious minorities must be incorporated. Provisions as to the Army and Navy must also be inserted. Within these limits, Ireland herself determines the constitution of her own Government. Written assurances have been given by the plenipotentiaries that before they do so they are to take into full consultation the representatives of the Southern minority. I believe there have already been interchanges of views between them of the most friendly character. They are most anxious—I am convinced they are most anxious—to do everything in their power to retain the minority within their area. They want their experience, they want their training, they want the help which they can give to reconstruct the Ireland to which they are all attached; and I am convinced that the leaders of the majority in Ireland mean to do all in their power to make it not merely possible for the minority to live there, but to make it as attractive as possible for them to continue their citizenship among them.

Then there are the provisional arrangements. What is to be done before the Constitution is set up? There are two ways of dealing with that.

One would be the status quo, leaving the forces of the Crown there to operate. But that is obviously undesirable once we have arrived at an agreement. There is a danger of incidents occurring which might imperil the whole Agreement. We therefore propose that a Provisional Government should be set up with such powers as are now vested in the Crown. That Government must represent the existing majority of Irish representatives. As soon as that is arranged, the whole responsibility for the Government of Ireland outside the Northern Province would be handed over to this Provisional Government and the Crown forces will be withdrawn.

That is the substance of the Agreement we have entered into. There are such questions as Acts of Indemnity which are vital. We do not want questions to be raised on one side or the other which would involve the courts for years, and which would provoke controversies between the two countries. There must be an Act of Indemnity, and a Bill will be introduced into this House. It is only proposed now to take the ratification or sanction or assent or approval of this document; but a Bill will have to be introduced in another Session to ratify the arrangement, and give it statutory effect. If anything has been overlooked, if anything has to go into this Agreement, that must be agreed to between the various plenipotentiaries. But the introduction of Amendments without assent would undoubtedly break the Treaty, because the other party would not be bound by any alteration made either in one Parliament or the other. What applies to this Parliament equally applies to the Parliament of Southern Ireland. I have no doubt at all there will be Amendments moved there to leave out certain restrictions and limitations and qualifications. Once they are inserted, the Treaty goes. The same thing applies to any Amendment in this Parliament. Unless the wisdom of our entering into this Agreement is seriously challenged, it would only be a waste of the time of this House to enter into a defence of it.