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No. 352 NAI DT S4720A

Draft notes of a conference held in the Board Room, Treasury Chambers,
Whitehall, London
(Secret) (C.A./H./48 – 7th Minutes)

LONDON, 7.45 pm, 2 December 1925

 

Present    
Great Britain.   Irish Free State.
The Right Hon. Stanley Baldwin, M.P., Prime Minister (In the Chair).   Mr. W.T. Cosgrave, T.D., President of the Executive Council, Irish Free.
The Right Hon. Austen Chamberlain, M.P., Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.    
The Right Hon. Sir William Joynson-Hicks, Bart., M.P., Secretary of State for Home Affairs.    
The Right Hon. L.S. Amery, M.P., Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs.    
     
     
     
Secretaries.    
Mr. T. Jones, Deputy Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.   Mr. D. O’Hegarty, Secretary to the Executive Council, Irish Free State.

 

MR. COSGRAVE said that a very serious and difficult situation had arisen in the Irish Free State. It was not confined to any one section, but it affected all, as was evident from the position taken up by the ‘Irish Times’. There was a strong feeling amongst them that the situation had developed in such a way that he could see no solution except by means of a Conference. A report issued by the Boundary Commission at the present moment would be felt to be that of two nominees of the British Government who have not interpreted the situation as it was at the time of the Treaty. There is already an acute situation in Donegal where it is understood a rich portion is to be taken away and transferred to Ulster.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN, intervening, said that the British representatives had no information as to the new boundary line proposed. The Boundary Commission would have been willing to communicate the information, but the British representatives had preferred to wait until the Irish representatives could attend the Commission with them.

MR. COSGRAVE said he was referring to the line which had appeared in the ‘Morning Post’, and which he understood from Mr. MacNeill to be substantially correct. This line had been disclosed in the ‘Morning Post’ about November 7th. Its publication created a furore in Donegal and disquiet in Tyrone and Fermanagh; feeling was much the same in Monaghan. There had been a reasonable expectation of additions to the Free State from the first two counties. Notwithstanding the disclosure in the ‘Morning Post’ Mr. MacNeill had made no statement to the Executive Council until the end of last week.1 With the publication of the forecast in the ‘Morning Post’, the confidence reposed in the Commission had broken down. It had been learnt that whereas in the case of Derry a sector of Donegal had been taken from the Irish Free State to help Derry, a quite different procedure had been adopted in the case of Newry.

MR. AMERY said that the Northern Government had similarly no information as to what the line was going to be, and the British representatives had declined to look at the map prepared by the Commission.

MR. COSGRAVE, continuing, said that in any event there had been a leakage, and his Government were immediately faced with deputations from the various border areas. One of the Dáil members for Donegal had handed in a motion to the effect that the published line did not conform to the wishes of the inhabitants, and was therefore a breach of the Treaty. He (Mr. Cosgrave) contrived to have this modified to indicate approval of the representations made to the Boundary Commission by the Executive Council that no transfer should take place from the South to the North. Had the original motion been put, it would have been carried. Since the debate in the Dáil, representations have continued to be made, and one of the Justices had reported that if the line proposed were adopted, there would certainly be disorder, especially in the relatively wealthy district of Donegal to which he had referred. Up to the present the position of the Free State Government had been that they could say with truth that both sides had carried out the spirit of the Treaty, but the Free State Government felt that the proposed line went against the spirit of the undertaking embodied in the Treaty. It was not satisfactory from any point of view as it left the minority in no better position.

Under Article 12, it had been open to Northern Ireland to opt out or to come in. If they came in then certain safeguards were to be inserted in the interests of Sir James Craig’s supporters. If they opted out, it was for the Nationalist minority to make a case for inclusion in the rest of the country. That seemed to have gone by the board. There was a majority in Tyrone and Fermanagh of some six thousand in favour of inclusion in the South. The crux of the matter had been the question of six counties or four, and it was on that issue that the Buckingham Palace Conference had broken down.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN said that it had never been in the mind of the Treaty Conference that the question of four or six counties was to be referred to the Boundary Commission.

MR. COSGRAVE agreed. Nevertheless, Article 12 had been drawn up to solve the situation and if the line now proposed were adopted, it would have been better never to have suggested Article 12. In his view, the question ought to be considered anew by a Conference which should have for its terms of reference the finding of a saner and better solution. Since 1921, certain local Government areas in Northern Ireland had been reorganised in such a way as to do violence to the feelings of the Nationalists. That was a matter which should receive attention and ought to be capable of appeasement. He thought that a Conference between representatives of the Cabinet and the Executive Council should take place.

SIR W. JOYNSON-HICKS said it was most improbable that the Government of Northern Ireland would consent at the suggestion of outsiders to change their local boundaries or even to discuss such a proposal.

MR. COSGRAVE said that at least an effort could be made in that direction and that he thought it would be preferable to hold a preliminary meeting of representatives of the Cabinet and Executive Council. He strongly urged that the Boundary Commission should not issue their award either now or at any time.

MR. AMERY reminded Mr. Cosgrave that the Commission had been appointed in accordance with the Treaty and that he was not sure that they were not absolutely entitled to issue their award, and could only be prevented by fresh legislation.

MR. COSGRAVE replied that the whole object of the Conference which terminated in the Treaty, was to arrive at better relations and to devise workable machinery to that end. If it were now found that this purpose was about to be defeated even although the law might technically stand in the way, there was a justice above the law. Why should not the bargain be reconsidered if it were now found to suit neither party?

The Irish Free State had an unarmed police force which, all things considered, had functioned very well. In the North the forces were armed. He was concerned with the position which would arise if the line were drawn, and the Northern ‘Specials’ were put in the transferred area. In the one area would be an unarmed police force, in the other, an armed force, and this armed force was regarded by many in the South as a political force. That was one of the gravest difficulties. How could they justify a settlement which did not in fact effect a settlement? He admitted that the fact of Mr. McNeill’s agreement on the 17th October was a difficult point. Had Mr. McNeill been in touch with border or Free State feeling, he could scarcely have been a party to that agreement. He had resigned; it was a deplorable situation, but it did not affect the judgment of the other Commissioners. The Commission had been held three or four years after the signing of the Treaty, and the situation which had developed since the signing of the Treaty was in their minds. That was not fair. Had the Commission been held immediately after the Treaty, there would have been a different orientation. In the meantime, the hostile feeling between the countries had been dwindling away; there was only one hostile section which was politically biased and losing influence. If the award of the Commission were to go forth, it would resurrect the heat and hate which had been dying away in the last few years.

SIR W. JOYNSON-HICKS asked if Mr. Cosgrave had thought out a course of procedure.

MR. COSGRAVE replied that he would rather not make suggestions himself.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN: You would prefer a suggestion from us?

MR. COSGRAVE assented. He had in mind that two or three of his Ministers should meet two or three members of the British Cabinet and confer. His position was that Article 12 had failed in its purpose. A settlement might be found which would be just; one which a judge could commend. Even if it did not give all that A wanted, B could accept.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN said that it was important that there should be time for careful reflection by the British members on the statement made by Mr. Cosgrave. He did not propose at that moment to speak on the substance of what had just been said, but as the only member of the Irish Treaty Conference present, he would like to make one or two observations of a historical character. It was important to recall some of the features of that Conference in their bearing on the question of a Boundary.

The representatives of Southern Ireland asked for a vote by Counties or by local Government areas, or for a plebiscite in some form or other. We said we were unable to accept any of these. On our side we always spoke of an adjustment. We excluded the drawing of a new boundary apart from and independent of the existing boundary. In all our subsequent public speeches we explained that, whilst we were not entitled to prejudge the Commissioners’ decision in the matter, we believed that to be the legal interpretation of the Article we had signed. Every British signatory spoke of territory being given not only by Ulster to the Free State, but by the Free State to Ulster. He himself was almost certain that he had taken as an illustration the case of a homogeneous area in Donegal bordering on Derry that might be attributed to Ulster, whilst more to the South were homogeneous areas which might go to the Free State. It must have been clear to Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins that this was an adjustment of an existing boundary implying some cession of territory from each side to the other. That was the position we took up in the House of Commons at a time when had they regarded it as improper Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins could have challenged it in the Dáil.

MR. AMERY said that at that time he was a junior member of the Government and very anxious as to the meaning of Article 12. In order to satisfy himself, he had privately consulted legal friends as to its interpretation. They were agreed that no lawyer would regard it as meaning other than an adjustment, and armed with these opinions, he had voted for the Treaty.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN said that perhaps even more important than what had passed in the Conference itself was the interpretation put by the signatories publicly in the House of Commons. It should be remembered that the British Government were pressed to await the decision of the Dáil, but we took the line that we ought to find out whether Parliament would ratify the Treaty before the Dáil considered it. Had it been possible for Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins to suggest that we were betraying the faith we had pledged, they would have protested at once, and would have refused to go to the Dáil till the misconception was cleared up.

MR. COSGRAVE said that the then British Prime Minister had referred to county and local areas as within the ambit of the discussion of the boundary. He could not emphasise too strongly what had been the real impression of the Irish people. Had it been mere rectification, they would not have asked for a Boundary Commission with all the trouble and delay involved. It would have been much simpler for Sir James Craig and himself to have met and endeavoured to settle matters together.

SIR W. JOYNSON-HICKS asked whether Mr. Cosgrave was now asking for a Conference charged with the task of drawing a new boundary line.

MR. COSGRAVE said that was not his suggestion. Whatever had happened it was clear that the intention of Article 12 had not been carried out. The people had lost confidence in it, and some new arrangement should be explored.

MR. AMERY asked Mr. Cosgrave whether he was suggesting the drawing of a new boundary other than the existing one and other than that proposed by the Commission.

MR. COSGRAVE replied that he would rather not answer that question as he had no knowledge of the views of Sir James Craig. If it transpired that there could be an agreement not contemplated by the Boundary Commission, and not necessarily coinciding with the present line, he would not close the door.

THE PRIME MINISTER asked what would the position have been had there been no leakage through the ‘Morning Post’, and had the award been signed.

MR. COSGRAVE replied that the leakage had made the political situation extremely difficult, and had led to the resignation of Mr. MacNeill, who had somehow got out of touch with the people of Ireland on the question.

At this stage THE PRIME MINISTER suggested that he would like to confer with his colleagues and consider the statement which Mr. Cosgrave had made to him.

MR. COSGRAVE and MR. O’HEGARTY withdrew.

On their being recalled at 12.10 p.m., the PRIME MINISTER addressing Mr. Cosgrave, said:

‘Our one idea, the idea of all three Governments, would be to prevent bloodshed in Ireland. You and we are partners in the Treaty. Both of us may have made sacrifices when that Treaty was concluded. The position to-day is that we have a Commission on the point of making a report which becomes law when made. We have to remember that we imposed this Commission on an extremely reluctant Ulster. If this unhappy disclosure had not been made, and had the report been favourable to you, you would have expected us to impose it on Ulster.’

MR. COSGRAVE: Yes.

THE PRIME MINISTER: It might have been such as to lead to Civil War. Now it looks as if the report, in the view of your people, is unfavourable to you, and they are in revolt against it. We cannot compel Ulster in any direction. We have no means of doing so. I have not been in communication with Ulster. We recognise your difficulty and I am prepared to see Sir James Craig before lunch, and put to him the result of our talk and to urge him to meet you on this matter. I would be willing to ask the Commissioners to hold up their promulgation in the hope that in a short interval, some agreement could be reached. We shall have to find some way of holding up the award.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN: That would probably mean legislation; they are under a statutory obligation.

THE PRIME MINISTER: We both realise the danger of an immediate promulgation. Whether you and Sir James Craig, having regard to the grave dangers of the situation, can come to an agreement, I do not know; but if I can help and you both wish it, I am willing to join you. All I can say at the moment is that I am willing to see him.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN: I should like to emphasise one more point as one of the Ministers who had to secure the assent of the House of Commons to the Treaty. In my Party, I took great risks in the confidence that Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins having set their hands to the Treaty would carry it through. We had to vote down Ulster – to impose upon a reluctant Ulster acceptance of the verdict of this Commission whatever it might be. It is impossible for me or any man who signed that Treaty now that the verdict is alleged to be unduly and unexpectedly favourable to Ulster to put my hand to any agreement which would deprive Ulster of the Commission’s findings except with the consent of Ulster. You have recognised that had the verdict been unexpectedly favourable to you, you would have regarded it as an act of dishonour to deprive you of it.

MR. COSGRAVE: Yes. You think it better to have a Conference now with Sir James Craig? I am still of opinion that it would be better if we had the Conference I suggested between the two Governments.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN: If a compromise is possible, he can make it: we cannot offer it. For us to offer it before we had consulted with him would make any compromise impossible.

MR. COSGRAVE then agreed to meet Sir James Craig later in the day if the Prime Minister found himself able to arrange the Conference.

1 See above No. 343.



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