Lloyd George announces Britain’s war aims
De Valera sceptical about what it means for Ireland
Westminster, 8 January 1918 - The British Prime Minister David Lloyd George has set out in the clearest terms Britain’s aims as the Great War enters its fourth year.
Speaking to trade union delegates at Westminster, Lloyd George said that Britain and its allies were fighting for a set of goals that included: the restoration of Belgium and reparation for its devastation; the restoration of Serbia, Montenegro, and the occupied parts of France, Italy, and Romania; reconsideration of the Alsace-Lorraine question; an independent Poland; self-government for Austria’s separate nationalities; an internationalised Dardanelles; and an international organisation to limit armaments and diminish the likelihood of future hostilities.
Alongside the list of what Britain wanted from the war, Lloyd George clarified the outcomes that Britain is not pursuing. Britain is not seeking the destruction Austria or of Germany’s position in the world. It is not looking to interfere with the German constitution, nor will it be pursuing any war indemnity.
The Irish question
The Prime Minister’s speech has been widely praised in British political circles and across the allied press. One Labour MP, J.H. Thomas, described it as a ‘magnificent step towards sanity’.
Another Labour MP, Arthur Henderson, described it as a clear statement of war aims and saw in it a lesson for the future resolution of the Irish question.
‘We accept the principle of self-determination of nationalities. The future of Ireland depends upon the decision of a Convention of Irishmen now sitting in Dublin. The Labour Party will welcome without qualification any solution arrived at by the different parties and groups represented on that body.’
Sinn Féin is boycotting that convention and the party's president, Éamon de Valera, likewise picked up on the Prime Minister’s reference to the ‘equality of right amongst nations, big and small’ being a fundamental war aim of the Allies.
Questioned about Lloyd George’s speech by the Irish Independent, de Valera expressed the view that it was the ‘usual hypocritical cant’.
‘If England admits Ireland’s right to sovereign independence I shall be prepared to believe there is something genuine in it. On a plebiscite the great majority of the Irish people would vote for an independent Republic and separation from England.’
[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]