No. 529 NAI DT S6164
Report of an interview between John W. Dulanty and Sir Harry Batterbee
London, 6 March 1931
Sir Henry Batterbee, at the request of Mr. J.H. Thomas, saw me today, and I beg to report, as under, the following conversation.
He referred to the conversation which he had last week with Mr. Walshe,2 and said that the suggested form of an Irish Free State Seal had been the subject of soundings by him since with his Minister and others 'in high quarters'. Whilst the whole of this conversation with me was on a semi-official and confidential basis, he had come to tell me that his Government would approve the suggested Seal. He had reason to believe that the King was in favour of the suggestion, and would much like to give a private audience to Mr. McGilligan and to receive from him at that audience a letter from His Majesty's Irish Free State Government advising His Majesty's acceptance of the Seal. The King would thereupon sign his approval and formally present the Seal to the Irish Free State Government.
Since some solution satisfactory to both Governments seemed to be in sight in the matter of the Great Seal, Sir Harry Batterbee enquired whether it was not even now possible to find some way out of the Privy Council difficulty which would similarly be acceptable to both Governments. Mr. Walshe had remarked in London last week3 that, instead of fighting the Saorstát Government on its Privy Council policy the Irish Protestant minority would be found to be content and to make no serious opposition. That statement, Sir Harry Batterbee thought, did, undoubtedly, create a new situation for his Government on that question. Would it be possible for my Government to give to the Protestant Unionist minority some public assurance - the form and substance of such assurance was not material to the British - which would enable the British Government to counter the effort which would be made over here to work up a case in Parliament by the Opposition on behalf of this supposed Minority interest? Such an action by the Saorstát Government would make an immense difference to the position of his Government, and he felt there was a good chance that a solution satisfactory here and in the Saorstát would emerge. His private opinion was that there was more likelihood of an agreement being reached with the existing British Government than with a Conservative Government, if, and when, that Party came into power.
Last evening, Mr. J.H. Thomas saw the Prime Minister on these two matters. They were both extremely anxious to meet the Saorstát Government, and, though he could, of course, give no guarantees, Sir Harry Batterbee felt that his political chiefs would fight hard for any settlement which might be indicated after further confidential explanatory talks between London and Dublin.
But it was vital, from their point of view, Sir Harry Batterbee said, that we should hold back, if possible, the proposed legislation on the Privy Council in the Dáil. The moment we introduced a Bill, his Government would be inundated with questions in the House, and a most unfavourable atmosphere would at once be created. There was a great risk of things being said which would cause deep dissatisfaction to all concerned.
When I suggested that, so far as these considerations had any force or reality today, they were no less before the British Government when the Imperial Conference was sitting, he rejoined that Mr. Walshe's point about the Old Unionist minority did make a different situation for them.
I said I could not, of course, say what view my Government could take of these confidential remarks of his, but I thought the arrangements for the new legislation were well advanced, and that further holding up might be impossible. If that were so, Sir Harry Batterbee pressed that the Minister might consider, instead of a Bill, proceeding with a Resolution in general terms when he went to the Dáil. Mr. Thomas could resist criticism in Westminster by saying he was not going to pass any opinion on a Resolution, whereas on a Bill he could not adopt that attitude.
Did I think there was any chance, as Mr. Walshe was away, that - as a special and urgent case - my Minister would see him (Sir Harry Batterbee) if he crossed to Dublin next week. This need not obviously commit the Minister in any way and it would give him (Sir Harry Batterbee) an opportunity of explaining matters more fully to the Minister. I said I would see whether this request could be complied with, though I had some doubts about that being possible.
I might close with this observation of my own. The British Government are, no doubt, anxious to 'dress their window'. The Naval agreement, the Irwin-Gandhi compact,4 are obviously most welcome, and they would probably be prepared to go rather further today than previously to say that, in addition to those two achievements, they had triumphed on these outstanding questions of ours where others had failed.
(Sgd) J.W. Dulanty