Derry’s Joseph O’Doherty and the Treaty vote of January 7, 1922

On this day 100 years ago the fateful vote on the Anglo-Irish Treaty took place in the Dáil paving the way for the recognition of partition, the creation of the Free State, the split in the national movement and the Civil War.

Joseph O’Doherty, pictured in the second row alongside members of the First Dáil in 1919. 1st row: L. Ginell, Michael Collins (leader of the Irish Republican Army), Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith (founder of Sinn Féin), Eamon de Valera (president of the Irish Republic), Count E. MacNeill, William Cosgrave and E. Blythe; 2nd row: P. Maloney, Terence McSwiney (Lord Mayor of Dublin), Richard Mulcahy, J. O’Doherty, J. O’Mahony, J. Dolan, J. McGuinness, P. O’Keefe, Michael Staines, McGrath, Dr. B. Cussack, L. de Roiste, W. Colivet and the Reverend Father Michael O’Flanagan (vice-president of Sinn Fein); 3rd row: P. War, A. McCabe, D. Fitzgerald, J. Sweeney, Dr. Hayes, C. Collins, P. O’Maillie, J. O’Mara, B. O’Higgins, J. Burke and Kevin O’Higgins; 4th row: J. McDonagh and J. McEntee.
Joseph O’Doherty, pictured in the second row alongside members of the First Dáil in 1919. 1st row: L. Ginell, Michael Collins (leader of the Irish Republican Army), Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith (founder of Sinn Féin), Eamon de Valera (president of the Irish Republic), Count E. MacNeill, William Cosgrave and E. Blythe; 2nd row: P. Maloney, Terence McSwiney (Lord Mayor of Dublin), Richard Mulcahy, J. O’Doherty, J. O’Mahony, J. Dolan, J. McGuinness, P. O’Keefe, Michael Staines, McGrath, Dr. B. Cussack, L. de Roiste, W. Colivet and the Reverend Father Michael O’Flanagan (vice-president of Sinn Fein); 3rd row: P. War, A. McCabe, D. Fitzgerald, J. Sweeney, Dr. Hayes, C. Collins, P. O’Maillie, J. O’Mara, B. O’Higgins, J. Burke and Kevin O’Higgins; 4th row: J. McDonagh and J. McEntee.

Playing a central role was Joseph O’Doherty, the Bogside-born Irish Volunteer and Sinn Féiner who made an impassioned speech against the Treaty immediately prior to the vote.

Tensions had been high since the signing of the accord in London on December 6, 1921, due to the fact that it condemned Ireland to dominion status and an acceptance of partition in the form of separate northern and southern parliaments as provided for under Britain’s Government of Ireland Act of 1920.

Other controversial provisions included a requirement that members of a new Free State parliament must swear an oath to ‘be faithful to H.M. King George V., his heirs and successors by law’ and the imposition of a Governor-General who would be appointed by a British monarch.

O’Doherty regarded the Treaty as a betrayal of the Republic declared at Easter 1916 and mandated by the first and second dáils to which he had been returned as a member for Donegal.

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By January 7, 1922, these arguments had been aired both inside and outside the Dáil amid such rancour that the T.D. for Derry City and County and Ceann Comhairle Eoin MacNeill, made an eleventh hour attempted to assuage republican concerns by tabling a last minute motion ahead of the final vote.

MacNeill, who did not vote on the Treaty but was in favour of accepting it, moved that: “Dáil Eireann affirms that Ireland is a sovereign nation deriving its sovereignty in all respects from the will of the people of Ireland; that all the international relations of Ireland are governed on the part of Ireland by this sovereign status; and that all facilities and accommodations accorded by Ireland to another state or country are subject to the right of the Irish Government to take care that the liberty and well-being of the people of Ireland are not endangered.”

MacNeill’s conciliatory gesture fell on deaf ears as the deep fissures within the independence movement were laid bare in the debate.

O’Doherty laid out succinctly the republican objections to the treaty.

“When I read the terms of the Treaty signed in London everything that was in me that I can call good revolted against those terms,” he said, before adding, “no argument that has been produced by those who are for this Treaty has made any influence on me.

“I see in it the giving away of the whole case of Irish independence.

“I see in it, not the coming nearer of the day when liberty will be throughout the land, but the going farther away from that day.

“I can’t be a coward, and I would be a coward if I said anything else. I can’t be on the side of those who are swallowing pills and taking the backward step in the hope that in the near future they will find themselves in a better position than they are today.”

O’Doherty did acknowledge that he believed the people of Donegal would have accepted the Treaty at that moment but he said they were doing so under the threat of military aggression.

“They are accepting it under duress and at the point of the bayonet, and as a stop to terrible and immediate war.

“It is not peace they are getting. It is not the liberty they are getting which they are told they are getting and they know it and I will tell them honestly if I go to North Donegal again, what they are getting.”

O’Doherty claimed that Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins would have known when they signed the Treaty that ‘there would be a split in the Cabinet, that there would be a split in the Dáil and a split in the country’.

“It is the great question of Irish sovereignty, and as long as I have a weapon to fight for that cause I shall not be a party to voting away the sovereignty of this nation (applause),” he said.

A very different position was outlined by another T.D. for Donegal Joseph McGinley. who claimed that the Republic upheld by O’Doherty and others was ephemeral.

“The point for me is this - we have not a Republic functioning in this country. We have a paper Republic. The people of Donegal are sick of this paper Republic.

“If we have a Republic, how is it that the British institutions are functioning in this country as well? Every honest man in this Dáil must admit that; and are not British troops in Ireland and British institutions functioning in Ireland? We have got no national recognition from any country in the world,” said McGinley.

He said he would be voting according to the mandate given to him by his constituents.

“It might be said that our men might have got better terms in London.

“Perhaps they might, but I can tell you the people of Donegal, anyhow, have the very greatest confidence in the ability of Arthur Griffith and the sincerity of Michael Collins; and they believe that, taking all the circumstances of the case into account, they did what was best for Ireland.”

When the Treaty was put to a vote McGinley was one of 64 TDs who voted in favour while O’Doherty was among the 57 who voted against.

The ratification of the Treaty amounted to the de facto acceptance of partition. Civil War broke out in June 1922.