January 1922 in the United Kingdom

January 1922 in the United Kingdom

"See also:" December 1921 in the United Kingdom, February 1922 in the United Kingdom, and the Timeline of British history.----

Unionists and General Election

The forces of discontent were already so strong at the beginning of the year that "The Times" spoke of a dissolution of Parliament as being a certainty at the end of January. The anticipated general election was averted, however, largely through the opposition of the Unionist Party, the spokesman of which was Sir George Younger, who was the head of the Unionist organization. He denounced an immediate general election as a complete betrayal of the Unionist Party, which he pointed out was the strongest section of the coalition. In point of fact the Coalition Unionists were nearly three times as numerous as the Coalition Liberals, the exact figures being 359 Unionists and 126 Liberals. The opposition of the Unionist Party to an immediate general election was largely based upon the view that the government were under an obligation to take in hand the reform of the House of Lords before relinquishing office, and also on the inexpediency of meeting the Labour Party in a general election at a time of severe industrial depression. It was feared that a hotly contested election, which would be in the main a conflict between the Coalition and Labour, would be likely, under existing circumstances, to raise the issue of capital versus labour in an acute form, and to create feeling which would take many months to abate. At length it became apparent that the Unionist disaffection was so profound and widespread that a united appeal to the country by the coalition would be impossible, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George accordingly decided to abandon the project. At the same time the meeting of Parliament, which was due for January 31, was postponed for a week to February 7.

peeches on the Situation by Chamberlain

It was generally believed that this postponement was due to dissensions in the cabinet between the Unionist and Liberal sections of the coalition. This belief was, however, denied by Austen Chamberlain, leader of the Unionist Party in the House of Commons, in a speech to Scottish Unionists at Glasgow on January 19. Chamberlain said that there could be no thought of dissolution until the Irish legislation was completed. That was the unanimous decision of the prime minister and of the colleagues whose opinion he had asked. No decision to dissolve had either been taken or sought by the prime minister, who was described by Chamberlain as the biggest influence in Europe. The reform of the House of Lords had got to be carried through, and although there were differences, they did not run on the old party lines. Both sections of the coalition agreed, he said, that some reform was necessary in the constitution of the House of Lords. Their powers must be revised and their relations with the House of Commons reviewed. No one desired to challenge the old-established control of the House of Commons over the finance of the country, but laws should not be made which would interfere in any matter of high trade policy. The task before the government was to reduce expenditure by something between 150 and 200 millions in order to make both ends meet. Chamberlain expressed the opinion that the Unionist Party would be false to its duty and false to its own cause if it allowed disunion to creep into its ranks. He deprecated any attempt wantonly to break the alliance with the Liberals which had steered the country through the perils of war, and brought it safely through the scarcely lesser difficulties of peace, and in the continuation of which he saw the greatest hope for Britain's national recuperation and her imperial position.

The attitude of the Coalition Liberals was expressed at the same time by Captain Guest, who affirmed that the Socialist menace was being realized and would bring all the sections together which believed in the main principles of private enterprise.

Asquith, Churchill

H. H. Asquith expressed the views of the Independent Liberals at a meeting of businessmen in the City of London on January 19. He pointed out that, although three years had passed since the cessation of hostilities, the country was still paying taxation on a war scale. The income tax at its present rate, he said, was a capital levy of the worst kind. In finance there were only two ways of making both ends meet, by taxation, or by borrowing, or by cutting down outgoings, and the last way was the best. If economy had been begun three, or even two, years before, hundreds of millions of pounds would have been saved. The axe should strike at all forms of unremunerative expenditure and at the policies of which they were the consequences. He warmly condemned the Safeguarding of Industries Act, and insisted that real economic restoration was impossible until the question of reparations and allied indebtedness had been fully adjusted. There must be an immediate lowering and an ultimate removal of all tariff barriers. There must be no entangling engagements but an effective prosecution of a universal policy of disarmament on sea, on land, and in the air.

The position of the Coalition Liberals was further defined in speeches by Winston Churchill and Sir Gordon Hewart in a conference of that party on January 20. Churchill stated that the central fact in the political situation was the Irish settlement, which had been achieved by the cooperation of both historic parties. Stability was the main interest of the nation at the present time; recuperation required national cooperation and not party strife. The trader and manufacturer must feel assured that a period of labour tranquillity lay before them, and that the burdens of taxation would be speedily reduced. The workman must know that earnest effort would reap its reward, and that the cost of living would fall under a free trade system. In Europe the need was for confidence and continuity; the national need was for a strong and durable instrument of government affording to all classes guarantees against either revolution or reaction. He said that we could not afford to return to party warfare; the organized propaganda of Socialism was a political danger of the gravest kind.

Sir Gordon Hewart, at the same conference, said that they were seeking to form, not a new party, but a new organization. They were out, uncompromisingly, for a policy of free trade. It was a primary part of their policy to cut down expenditure, and they looked forward with confident hope to an early remission of taxation.

Lloyd George and Lord Grey

Lloyd George himself addressed a National Liberal conference on January 21. He asked who had started the talk about a general election, saying that he had not, nor had he made up his mind upon the matter. The Coalition Liberals were as much pledged to reform of the House of Lords as any other Liberals. No single conference had settled European entanglements, but each conference was a rung in the ladder that led to ultimate peace. There were some who would go back to the old diplomacy, but he contended for meetings face to face. If men of all nations would go to Genoa determined to remove difficulties and not to create them, there would be a great pact of peace. He referred to the report of the Geddes committee, which, he said, would involve drastic and ruthless cutting down, and would provoke resistance, but it was necessary to take risks if they were to avoid the greater risk of bankruptcy. In an appeal for national unity he said that more depended on Britain than on any other land if Europe were to be restored.

Further speeches were delivered on January 23 by Asquith and by Lord Grey of Fallodon, who had now definitely emerged from his long retirement from the political arena. Lord Grey affirmed that the Supreme Council had undermined the trust and confidence which existed between Britain and France for so many years. The reestablishment of good relations with France was the most vital thing in European politics at the present time. The old confidence restored between the two nations would be the starting-point for the security of peace and reconstruction in Europe. He believed it was absolutely essential to restore wholesome, straightforward politics in this country, and the most important thing to do was to resuscitate and strengthen the Liberal Party. But he welcomed the cooperation of anyone outside the Liberal Party who felt, as they did, the necessities of the situation. There was a difference between cooperation arising from agreement, and agreement arising from a desire to cooperate. The prime minister's speech had no relation to facts. Who was going to vote for the government? Businessmen, labour, farmers, Ulster, the Diehards did not trust them. Did they trust each other? There would be no difficulty about an alternative government; more than one was in sight.

Further Speeches by Asquith and Churchill

At the same meeting Asquith stated that out of about 400 representative Liberal organizations in England 320 had openly declared themselves with the Independent Liberal Party. Free Liberals could afford to regard a dissolution, whenever it came, with perfect equanimity; no protest would come from them. To represent the Irish settlement as a triumph for men who acquiesced in reprisals until it was no longer possible, and who then claimed to have carried out the Gladstone tradition, was a piece of political effrontery. The government, which was now for ruthless economy, had been guilty of profligate expenditure, and vast, top-heavy, lopsided, and hopelessly incompetent bureaucratic experiments. Let the electors ask Coalition Liberals at the election if they would vote for the immediate repeal of the Safeguarding of Industries Act. The country needed a real government that it could trust, with settled and coherent principles, and a vigilant and well-organized opposition. The first thing was to get rid of the coalition. He concluded by saying that the Liberals were pledged to attempt a better constituted second chamber, but it must not be allowed to usurp the authority of the directly elected House.

Another important speech was delivered by Winston Churchill on January 25. He insisted that, as regards Ireland, the government had not only got as good a record, but a better record than either Gladstone or the present Liberal leader. Referring to the Geddes report, he said that it was a fine, massive, comprehensive piece of work. He was satisfied that there would be, during the present year, reductions in expenditure on an enormous scale. This task must be executed in a relentless spirit, and Liberals and Conservatives must cooperate in it. No doubt it was much harder to cooperate with the government than to criticize, but because a Liberal chose the more difficult path he should not be considered inferior to the Liberal who chose the easier. The five years since Lloyd George had assumed office had been a period of stupendous and unexampled difficulty. Asquith and Lord Grey simply sought in their speeches to excite partisanship on worn-out party lines by means of fault-finding against a government confronted with world events of prodigious and unprecedented complexity. While the whole world was infected by the doctrines of Russian Bolshevism, efforts were made to seize political power in this country through the agency of a general strike. The government had succeeded in breaking up that formidable confederacy. He appealed for union with their Conservative allies so long as the country extended to them its confidence and support.

Ireland: Debate in the Dáil Éireann on the Treaty

Irish affairs occupied an important place in politics throughout the year. On January 3 Dáil Éireann resumed the debate adjourned from December 22, 1921, which was to end in acceptance or rejection of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It was soon apparent that the unanimity which had been hoped for would not be realized. The debate proceeded placidly, speeches for the treaty alternating with speeches against. Michael Collins suggested that a division might be avoided if opponents of the treaty would allow the motion before them to go through, permit the establishment of the provisional government, and then, if they wished, contest elections to the provisional government. The suggestion brought no response, however, Eamon de Valera remarking that if the treaty were ratified the line of policy proposed was that which could be followed in any case. On the following day de Valera issued an impassioned proclamation to the people of Ireland, including a vigorous attack on the Irish press. At the same time he gave notice of an amendment to the motion for approval of the treaty.

When it became apparent that the parties in the Dáil were still sharply divided, nine deputies, realizing the danger of so complete a split, formed themselves into an unofficial committee to see if they could find some common ground of agreement. They did succeed in reaching substantial agreement over a number of vital points, but the leaders on either side found themselves unable to accept the committee's report. It was decided, however, that the committee should meet again in the hope that an acceptable basis of agreement might be established, and the Dáil suspended its session so as to afford an opportunity for so desirable an event. The efforts of the committee, however, were futile. On the morning of January 6 the Dáil met privately, but as soon as it resumed in public de Valera tendered the resignation of his office as president. The resignation was offered in order that de Valera might seek reelection, with power to reconstruct his cabinet and replace ministers who supported the treaty by other deputies who shared his own views. This reelection would, of course, have meant the end of the treaty. Another very important matter was also at issue. If he was to have the responsibility of office, de Valera declared, he must have all the powers of government to be able to execute the duties of his office properly. Not only must he have a cabinet which would think with him, but he would "have to have the full use of all the resources of the republic to defend the republic." The effect of de Valera's procedure in asking the Dáil to accept his resignation, and proceed to a new election of an executive head was fully realized by Arthur Griffith, who submitted that the motion before the House was for the approval of the treaty, and that until a vote had been taken they could not discuss the tendered resignation. After some discussion de Valera withdrew from the position that he had taken up, saying that he was sick and tired of politics, so sick that no matter what happened he was going back to private life. Thereupon the consideration of the treaty was resumed. The vote was taken on January 8, when the treaty was approved by 64 votes against 57. The majority of seven was small, but there was no doubt that it represented an immense majority of the people of Ireland, and the treaty was therefore regarded as safe and the foundations of the Irish Free State as secure.

De Valera's Resignation

As soon as the result was announced de Valera rose to resign his office as chief of the executive. There were cries of dissent, and de Valera added that he wished to say a word to the country and to the world. The Irish people, he continued, established the Irish Republic. The present vote simply approved of a certain resolution, and the republic could only be disestablished by the Irish people. He submitted that whatever happened the republic was the supreme sovereign body of the nation and must remain until the nation had dissolved it. Michael Collins, who followed, made it plain that he did not regard the passing of the motion as being any sort of triumph over the other side, and the only request he had to make was that, whatever contention there might be about the republic and the government in being, they should unite and do their best to preserve the public safety. In times of change, he said, in all countries that were passing from peace to war or from war to peace there were elements that made for disorder and chaos, and this was as true of Ireland as of any other country. He suggested that the vote should be regarded as determining a majority and a minority, and that it might be possible to form some sort of joint committee to tide them over a difficult period. De Valera, rising again, asked those who voted against the motion and supported the republic to meet him on the following day at the Mansion House. He spoke of a glorious record of four years, of magnificent discipline in the nation, and was proceeding with a speech on those lines when he broke down and resumed his seat. Sympathetic applause from the deputies gave way to a scene of excitement, when a man in the public part of the hall called for three cheers for the president of the republic. De Valera made no attempt to speak again, but walked out of the chamber, and the speaker then declared the Dáil to be adjourned.

It resumed on January 9. De Valera resigned his office as president, but accepted nomination for reelection. After a prolonged discussion, which was in effect a fresh debate on the treaty, associated with an appeal that the republic and all its resources should be kept intact during the period preceding the definite establishment of the Irish Free State, a vote was taken on the motion that de Valera be reelected as president of the Irish Republic. This motion was defeated by 60 votes to 58. There was no doubt that the motion was intended by the republican group to be an instrument to wreck the treaty. They relied on the personal popularity of de Valera to attract votes which would have led to a situation in which the head of a minority would have been placed in a position to nominate his own cabinet and to assume control of the republican army and the Sinn Féin funds. Robert Barton, and another deputy who voted for the treaty, supported the reelection of the president. Two private members did not vote, and de Valera himself took no part in the division. Griffith made it clear that the vote was not taken against de Valera, but that it was a vote to help the treaty, adding that no man thought more highly of de Valera than he did himself. De Valera, speaking before the vote was taken, said that he allowed his name to go forward because he believed it was the right thing to do, and because it would tend to keep up the unity and discipline of the nation. He referred to suggestions of fratricidal strife as being nonsense. The other side had work to do for Ireland, and to get through a portion of that work they would need the help of his side, and he would be with them against any outside enemy. In the meantime, he added, "you must simply regard us as an auxiliary army with an objective which is the complete independence of Ireland. In every step you take on that road we shall feel it our duty to be behind." The approval of the treaty by Dáil Éireann was warmly welcomed throughout Ireland, and there were few discordant notes outside the Dáil itself.

Griffith elected President of the Dáil - Provisional Government appointed

On January 10 Arthur Griffith was elected president of Dáil Éireann, and he appointed the following ministers chosen from supporters of the treaty:

FinanceMichael Collins
Foreign AffairsGeorge Gavan Duffy
Home AffairsEamonn Duggan
Local GovernmentWilliam Thomas Cosgrave
Economic AffairsKevin O'Higgins
DefenceRichard Mulcahy

De Valera and the minority party in the Dáil, with the knowledge that the motion to elect Griffith would be carried, refused to vote, and walked out of the chamber before the division was taken.

The debate was opened by de Valera, who asked Griffith whether, in the event of his election as president, he intended to act and function as the executive of the republic. The government of Dáil Éireann, he asserted, was the government of the Irish Republic and nothing else. Griffith replied that he would use his position to give effect to the constitutional vote of the assembly approving of the treaty. He would use the resources at their disposal for keeping public order and security until they had an election for the Free State parliament, and then let the will of the people decide whether they would have the Free State. This did not satisfy de Valera, and he told Griffith that if he wanted to be elected as president of the Dáil he would have to act as chief executive officer of the republic. The Republic of Ireland, Griffith replied, remained in being until the Free State came into operation. If he was elected he would occupy the position that de Valera occupied. The position was not that of president of the republic but of Dáil Éireann. De Valera submitted that, as president, Griffith would have to undertake not to use his power for any purpose except the maintenance of the republic until the other government was set up. When the motion was about to be put, de Valera declared that, as a protest against the election as president of the Irish Republic of the chairman of the delegation who was bound by the treaty conditions to set up a state subversive to the republic, and who in the meanwhile would of necessity have to take action tending to its destruction, he would have to leave the chamber while the vote was being taken. The republicans thereupon left the room in the midst of a passionate scene. When the vote for Griffith's election was taken it was unanimously carried, and Griffith proceeded to announce the nominations for his cabinet already mentioned.

When the Dáil reassembled later in the day, de Valera said he could not congratulate the president on his election, but he promised him a certain measure of assistance and every respect. Griffith in reply asked for nothing more than freedom from obstruction until they could go to the Irish people and ask them for a decision. Answering various questions, Griffith said that he had received only one communication from the British government in connection with the treaty, and this was unofficial. The legislation which the British government would pass to carry into effect the articles of agreement would be a Free State Act. He himself would summon the members of the Southern Parliament, and the provisional government would be elected from these members. If it were necessary to use the lord lieutenant as they used liaison officers, they would use him. The Dáil then adjourned until February 14.

On January 15, a meeting of elected members of the Southern Parliament was convened by President Griffith, and in less than an hour the treaty was unanimously approved by the members present. A provisional government was appointed and the last meeting of members of the Southern Parliament came to an end. The members of the provisional government were: M. Collins, W. Cosgrave, E.J. Duggan, P. Hogan, F. Lynch, J. McGrath, J. McNeill, and K. O'Higgins. The absence of the name of Griffith came as a surprise and was the subject of much comment and speculation. The provisional government was charged with carrying out the terms of the treaty and the taking over of the powers of the machinery hitherto held by the British government in Ireland. When this work had been accomplished it was the intention to dissolve Dáil Éireann and to decree a general election for the first parliament of the Irish Free State. The movers and seconders of the motion approving the treaty and appointing the provisional government contented themselves with few words, and neither motion was debated. In each case there was neither amendment nor objection, and the chairman declared both motions to be carried unanimously.

Transfer of Dublin Castle

On January 16 the Irish people were informed by the provisional government that Dublin Castle had that day been "surrendered" to them. The members of the provisional government went in a body to the castle, where they were received by Lord Fitzalan, the lord lieutenant. Michael Collins produced a copy of the treaty, on which the acceptance of its provisions by himself and his colleagues was endorsed. The existence and authority of the provisional government were then formally and officially acknowledged, and they were informed that the British government would be immediately communicated with in order that the necessary steps might be taken for the transfer to the provisional government of the powers of the machinery requisite for the discharge of its duties. The lord lieutenant expressed the earnest hope that under the new regime the ideal of a happy, free, and prosperous Ireland would be attained.

The transfer of Dublin Castle, which for centuries had been the symbol as well as the citadel of British rule in Ireland, was hailed in Dublin with profound satisfaction. It was regarded as the supreme outward and visible sign that British rule was indeed at an end, and that Ireland had at last come into her own. On January 19 control of the Irish postal services was formally taken over on behalf of the new government. On the same day a meeting of Unionists from the South and West of Ireland was held, at which a resolution was unanimously passed to the effect that the meeting, recognizing that a provisional government had been formed, desired to support their fellow-countrymen in that government in order that peace might be brought about and the welfare of the country secured.

Agreement between Michael Collins and Sir James Craig

On January 21 it was announced by Michael Collins and Sir James Craig, representing Southern and Northern Ireland respectively, that they had come to an agreement on various controversial issues. The first point of the agreement was for the alteration of the boundary commission as outlined in the treaty. The governments of Southern and Northern Ireland were to appoint one representative each to report to Collins and Sir James Craig, who would mutually agree on behalf of their respective governments on the future boundaries between the two. The second point in the agreement included an undertaking by Collins that the Belfast boycott should be discontinued immediately. Sir James Craig undertook to facilitate the return of Catholic workmen without tests to the shipyards, as soon as a trade revival enabled firms to absorb the present unemployed. In the meantime a system of relief on a large scale was being arranged to carry over the period of distress. Other points in the agreement had reference to a settlement of the railway dispute and to the devising of a scheme more suitable than that provided by the Council of Ireland for dealing with problems affecting all Ireland.

This agreement was acclaimed both in Dublin and Belfast, where it was considered to offer a new and substantial hope of real unity in Ireland. The southern boycott of Belfast was formally lifted on January 24, on which date free trade with Ulster was resumed.

The problem of the boundaries of Northern Ireland was not destined, however, to be settled so easily, and early in February it was announced that a critical position had arisen on the boundary commission. Michael Collins and Sir James Craig found themselves unable to agree, and measures were suggested which would, in effect, have been a declaration of war by the provisional government upon Northeast Ulster. The scene of the negotiations was then shifted to London, and important conferences took place on February 5 between Churchill and Collins and his colleagues.

Violence continued to occur from time to time during January. On the 11th a man and his wife were shot dead at Belfast. A number of men, believed to be Sinn Féiners, threw a bomb at a tramcar conveying workmen to the shipyards and opened fire upon it with revolvers. On January 12 it was announced from Dublin Castle that the king would grant a general amnesty in respect of all offenses committed in Ireland from political motives prior to the operation of the truce on July 11, 1921. There were at the time more than 1,000 prisoners of this class in Irish and English prisons. Preparations were also being made throughout Ireland for the removal of the crown forces.


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