No. 345 NAI 2003/17/181
Letter from John W. Dulanty to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
London, 24 June 1936
Mr. MacDonald telephoned to me late last evening saying that he would like to see me first thing this morning. We met in his Office at 10 o’clock.
He read to me the terms of the attached Aide Memoire1 to which he had yesterday received the assent of the British Cabinet.
Their examination of matters between our two countries, referred to in the third paragraph of the Aide Memoire, is now fairly well advanced and would be completed, he estimated, in about three weeks from now.
Mr. MacDonald asked that, when sending the Aide Memoire to the President, I would emphasise his strong wish to consider with the utmost care every question outstanding between us. Several times during the interview he said there was a genuine desire on the part of the British to do all they could to reach a solution, and – as the Aide Memoire showed – they would exclude nothing whatsoever from the suggested discussion.
He did not seem satisfied about the reference in paragraph two of the Aide Memoire to the Treaty of 1921. He said that the 1926 statement had obviously changed the position, but he felt that as a matter of form he had to make this reference to the Treaty. Would I assure the President that the Aide Memoire was meant to help and not to hinder?
I said to Mr. MacDonald that, as he would realise, I could not say whether the Government of Saorstát Éireann would be willing to accept this proposal, but if we assumed that they would be so willing, could he say what exactly he had in mind in the suggested discussions being 'conducted in the first instance privately and informally'. His view was that the discussions should be between high officials who would of course be fully instructed by and in close touch with their respective Governments. There would be, he contemplated, a first meeting at which the procedure and Agenda would be settled. At this meeting he supposed the order of subjects to be taken would be determined, for example there might be an agreement to take, first, constitutional questions, next defence, next trade.
He had thought that the question of a Governor General might have been a subject of discussion but he seemed anxious to avoid making any suggestion that would present any difficulty to the President. He was, he said, in no way tied to any particular conception of the office of Governor General. He did however feel that in some form or other there should be some recognition of the King. Did I know whether the new constitution would provide for that? I said that, whilst the new constitution was at this stage not even in a draft form, I thought the President’s intentions were that the King should not function in any way on our own purely internal affairs but that the King's position in relation to external matters would remain unchanged. How then would the elected President function, he enquired? Would he function in place of the Governor General? I said I presumed by that question he meant would the President act for the King. 'Yes' said Mr. MacDonald, 'that is what I meant'. My rejoinder was that I thought the President under the new constitution would act solely on behalf of the Irish people and not as representing any other authority. Mr. MacDonald feared that some of his colleagues might interpret such a change as tantamount to our leaving the Commonwealth and that, obviously, would present considerable difficulty for them. If we were to stay in the Commonwealth there were certain proposals, not as yet formulated, which he thought they could submit. If, on the other hand, we were not remaining in the Commonwealth there would clearly be a different set of proposals for them to put forward. Even in the latter event there would, to use his own words, be 'no rattling of sabres' but proposals put forward in all friendliness. What we did in the Free State he thought was our business and no one else's, but if Commonwealth association was accepted by us there were, he felt, certain Commonwealth obligations to be accepted.2
Later in the day we met at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon when I remarked to Mr. MacDonald that, speaking for myself only, I was not too sure of the procedure which he had outlined earlier in the day. I doubted whether there would be any use at all in a conference which began by the British enquiring whether or not we were proposing to leave the Commonwealth. The invitation was being put forward by them for a full unfettered discussion and it seemed – to me at any rate – reasonable to say that the British since they made the invitation and since they wished to maintain Commonwealth association should tender their proposals on that basis. It would then be for us to consider those proposals and to give our reply.
The British Dominions Secretary said that when he had been speaking to me about procedure he had been talking tentatively and he was not wedded to any particular method. The very last thing he wanted was a discussion which might prove abortive. He would infinitely prefer not to begin even informal discussions if there was not a reasonable probability of some form of agreement resulting. The point I had made to him in our second conversation he would like to consider. I received the impression that he agreed with my suggestion and would, if possible, adopt it.
He would have much liked to have had a conversation with the President on his way to Geneva but from what I had told him of the President's movements he saw that this would hardly be possible. The following weekend, that is, the 4th and 5th July, when the President would probably be returning, he, Mr. MacDonald, had promised to speak in his constituency. As he had already disappointed this part of his constituency once already he would like to keep the appointment, but even so he was ready to cancel it if there was an opportunity of talking to the President on the return journey. He had made enquiries at the Foreign Office and their anticipations were that the discussions in Geneva would possibly finish about Friday, the 3rd July. I pointed out that by that date the British would not, on his own reckoning, have completed their examination of the questions between us and I was therefore not clear as to why he was so anxious to see the President. He replied that when he was last speaking to the President he formed the impression that he was not over-sanguine about conferences, and recalled how Mr. de Valera said that on former occasions the British had ruled out certain questions for discussion. He was therefore very anxious to give the President directly an unqualified assurance that no question would be ruled out and that there was unquestionably a strong desire to find some solution.
Mr. MacDonald was, I think, earnest and sincere in all that he said in these two conversations. Notwithstanding that opinion however I would suggest that the appropriate time for the President to give Mr. MacDonald an interview would be when we have a statement of the British proposals.
[signed] J.W. Dulanty