Volume 2 1922~1926

Doc No.

No. 380 NAI DT S4743

Final Report of the North-Eastern Boundary Bureau
E.M. Stephens to Kevin O'Higgins (Dublin)

DUBLIN, 26 February 1926

Minister for Justice:

The North-Eastern Boundary Bureau was set up on the authority of a Minute of the Provisional Government dated 2nd October, 1922,2 authorising Mr. Kevin O'Shiel, then Assistant Law Adviser, to take all necessary steps for the collection and compilation of data in connection with the Boundary Commission. Mr. O'Shiel remained Director of the Bureau until his appointment to the Irish Land Commission in November, 1923.

The Bureau was not only assigned the duty of collecting and compiling data for the Commission, but also of collecting information on Northern matters generally, of acting as a channel of communication between the Government and the Northern Nationalists for whom they were acting, and also of carrying on a publicity campaign so that public opinion might be informed as to the true implications of Article 12 of the Treaty.

The Offices of the North-Eastern Boundary Bureau were opened at 16, Kildare Street, on the 12th October, 1922. These premises had been in the occupation of the Constitution Committee, which had completed its labours, and the members of the staff of that Committee then remaining were transferred to the Bureau. On the 21st February, 1923, the Bureau moved to Offices in the College of Science, and on the 26th September, 1924, moved to Offices in Government Buildings, which it has since occupied.

At the time the North-Eastern Boundary Bureau was set up the Treaty had not been fully ratified, and consequently no formal decision had been taken by the Belfast Parliament to dissociate itself from the Free State. This decision was, however, anticipated, and the anticipation justified by the event on the 7th December, 1922. The decision of the Northern Government to remain under the jurisdiction of Westminster brought the provision for the setting up of the Boundary Commission, in Article 12 of the Treaty, into legal operation. It was only when the recent agreement between representatives of the Governments of Great Britain, the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland received the force of law, that the proviso of Article 12 ceased to have legal effect, and that the work of this Office reached its conclusion.

At the time the North-Eastern Boundary Bureau was set up the Treaty had not been fully ratified, and consequently no formal decision had been taken by the Belfast Parliament to dissociate itself from the Free State. This decision was, however, anticipated, and the anticipation justified by the event on the 7th December, 1922. The decision of the Northern Government to remain under the jurisdiction of Westminster brought the provision for the setting up of the Boundary Commission, in Article 12 of the Treaty, into legal operation. It was only when the recent agreement between representatives of the Governments of Great Britain, the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland received the force of law, that the proviso of Article 12 ceased to have legal effect, and that the work of this Office reached its conclusion.

While the closest co-operation between all members of the Staff was necessary in carrying out the work assigned to us, it was, at the same time, found convenient at the beginning of our operations to divide the work as far as possible into sections for which different members of the Staff were primarily responsible. The statistical, historical and economic sections, a section dealing with international precedents and procedure, and a publicity section, were organised. Contact with the Nationalist population in the North was established by the appointment of legal agents, one of whom was in Belfast and the others in districts that would be affected by the Boundary Commission. With this system in operation the position of the Free State in relation to Northern Ireland created by the Treaty was reviewed in all its aspects. The facts were analysed, the information required by the Government was furnished in the form of memoranda, and the material suitable for publication furnished to the press by means of leaflets, pamphlets, the Weekly Bulletin, and letters.

For the statistical and mapping section of our work, Mr. George A. Ruth, of the Registrar General's Department, was primarily responsible. Mr. D. St. P. Murphy, B.L., took charge of the historical research work, which subsequently proved comparatively unimportant. Mr. Joseph Johnston, F.T.C.D., Lecturer on Economics, was appointed Economic Adviser, and Mr. Lionel Smith Gordon, then Manager of the National Land Bank Limited, kindly agreed to act as voluntary adviser on financial matters. Mr. B.C. Waller dealt with international precedents and procedure in connection with Boundary Commissions, and other kindred matters. Mr. Hugh A. MacCartan, on loan from the National Health Insurance Commission, took charge of the publicity section. With these sections of the work I will deal in detail later.

The following were the legal agents appointed:-
Mr. P.J. Agnew, Solicitor, Magherafelt,
" J.H. Collins, do. Newry,
" Alex Donnelly, do. Omagh,
" T.J. Harbison, do. Cookstown,
" P. Lavery, do. Armagh,
" W.P. Maguire, do. Enniskillen,
" G. Martin, do. Belfast,
" J. Tracy, do. Derry.

It was the duty of these agents, with the exception of Mr. Martin, to furnish the Bureau with the case for inclusion in the Free State of their respective areas, in brief form, setting out all local facts and circumstances. Mr. G. Martin, Belfast, could not of course, prepare a case of this kind. He was assigned the duty of preparing the case of the Belfast Catholics against their treatment by the Northern Government.

When the North-Eastern Boundary Bureau was inaugurated the method of procedure before the Boundary Commission had not been determined. It was not prescribed by the Treaty, and, as the Boundary Commission itself was not in existence, there was no authority to prescribe the procedure by which the claim of the Northern Nationalists was to be presented. It was at this time thought that, in accordance with certain continental precedents, the claim might be put forward by the Government of the Irish Free State for a specified area and facts and figures produced to the Commission to substantiate this claim. It was, moreover, desirable that the effect of the application of Article 12 to the local circumstances should be examined in detail. The first work of the Office was accordingly to prepare maps showing possible boundary lines and accompanying reports showing the effect of such suggested lines in respect of the transfer of inhabitants and the economic and geographical conditions of the neighbourhoods concerned.

These maps and reports were considered by the Government, and it was eventually decided that as the Government were trustees for persons unascertained, no specific claim should be made for a definite area, but that the area to be assigned to the Free State should be regarded as a matter for the Commission to decide on evidence provided by the people themselves. On this view the Commission subsequently acted, hearing Counsel for the State on matters of law and interpretation, and making enquiries on the spot as to the wishes of the inhabitants and the economic and geographical conditions affecting the disputed areas.

In order to facilitate the inhabitants of areas in Northern Ireland who sought inclusion in the Free State, and to make available for publication the salient facts of the case, the Handbook of the Ulster Question was compiled and issued by this Office. It served both purposes well. It was furnished to leading papers in Ireland, Great Britain, and America. It was supplied free to statesmen and politicians likely to be interested or influential in the matters with which it dealt, and was placed on sale for the information of the general public. When the inhabitants of the different areas came to formulate their cases for the Commission the Handbook served in all districts as a book of reference, and as an indication of the form in which the cases should be presented.

Some delay was occasioned in the appointment of the Free State representative on the Boundary Commission by the disordered state of the country in the spring of 1923. It was not until the 19th July that Dr. MacNeill's appointment was communicated to the British Government accompanied by a request that the personnel of the Commission should be completed. It was not, however, until the 6th June, 1924, that the announcement of Mr. Justice Feetham's appointment as the Chairman of the Commission was made by the British Government, and the personnel of the Commission was not completed by the appointment of Mr. Fisher by the British Government to represent Northern Ireland until the 29th October, 1924.

This long delay in the constitution of the Commission was occasioned in the first place by the obstructive policy of the Northern Government. It was delayed in the second place by General Elections both in the Free State and Great Britain.

The period which intervened was availed of by the Northern Government and its supporters to create a situation which would render it as difficult as possible for the British Government to carry out its obligations under Article 12 of the Treaty. The principal method adopted was a gigantic press campaign conducted for the most part through influential newspapers favourable to the Northern Government in Great Britain. This course was adopted in the hope of obtaining political support in Great Britain for the 'not an inch' policy adopted in direct defiance of the Treaty.

During this period a large part of our work was devoted to combating this publicity campaign and to correcting mis-statements which were constantly appearing. In order to do this it was necessary that every public statement made by the supporters of the Northern policy should be examined and the facts it alleged analysed. Such public statements dealt with every phase of the Northern question; the interpretation of the Treaty, the financial position of Northern Ireland, the position of trading centres such as Derry, and other matters too numerous to mention in detail. In order to meet the campaign in the British press it was found necessary to send Mr. MacCartan to London to carry on his publicity work in the High Commissioner's Office, where during part of the campaign Mr. MacCartan had the assistance of other members of the staff.

As mentioned above the Boundary Commission was fully constituted on the 29th October 1924, and preparations had at once to be made for the presentation of their cases for inclusion in the Free State by the Nationalists of Northern Ireland. On the 4th December the Commission heard Counsel on behalf of the Free State Government who laid before the Commission all such considerations as might be regarded as generally applicable to the case of the Northern Nationalists as a whole and their position under the Treaty. When this hearing had concluded the Commission proceeded to Ireland and made an informal tour of the border counties. When this had been done the Commission advertised the fact that they were anxious to receive representations from any parties affected by the re-drawing of the Boundary, containing any claim which they wished to put forward for investigation. The Commission received a large number of representations of various kinds, of which the principal Nationalist representations were submitted on behalf of districts in which our legal agents had been working, and dealt separately with the districts assigned to the respective agents. When all these representations had been received the Boundary Commission arranged its sittings for hearing of evidence in support of representations from those on whose behalf they had been submitted. The method of presenting the case for any locality was left entirely to the discretion of the inhabitants or those authorised by them to act on their behalf. This Office was at the same time put entirely at their disposal for advice and assistance of which Northern Nationalists gladly availed themselves.

Preliminary meetings of witnesses were held at the different centres which I was usually asked to address. When the Boundary Commission sat to hear evidence I attended the sittings at the request of those conducting the case in each locality and reviewed the evidence with each witness before he made his statement to the Commission.

While the Boundary Commission was sitting this Office acted as an information bureau for those giving evidence. In the two principal distributing centres, Newry and Derry, Mr. Johnston, Economic Adviser, gave evidence on the economic conditions, producing figures and statistics, derived from customs and railway returns and other sources which would not have been accessible to local witnesses.

After the evidence had been heard the Commission again heard Counsel for the Free State and then held private sittings in London and prepared a report which was about to be made public when the proceedings of the Commission were arrested by the resignation of the Free State representative and the negotiations which followed, terminating, as they did, in the agreement which has become law, thus concluding the work of the North-Eastern Boundary Bureau.

Having briefly reviewed the scope of operations and the work done by this Office I now turn to the manner in which the work was carried out. As mentioned above the Office was as far as possible divided into sections which have already been enumerated. With the work of these sections I will now deal in greater detail.

From the nature of the circumstances the statistical and mapping section, of which Mr. Ruth was in charge, was the first called upon to outline the problem with which we had to deal. The religious census was taken as a basis which would indicate the political complexion of the population in the districts under consideration. Maps were prepared of new boundaries based on the wishes of the inhabitants as shown by the census. These maps were submitted to the Executive Council, accompanied by reports showing the effect of drawing such proposed boundaries in terms of the transfer of willing and unwilling citizens.

When this work was done the statistical section of the Handbook was prepared for publication. This contained maps and diagrams showing the wishes of the inhabitants and detailed tables setting out the population figures for each administrative area and District Electoral Division. A statistical map, showing, in coloured squares, the distribution of the population and its political complexion by District Electoral Divisions, was prepared for printing by the Ordnance Survey Office. Copies of this map were enclosed in a folder at the end of the Handbook. The statistical tables and this map were in constant use among those presenting the case for the Boundary Commission for the different districts in Northern Ireland during the preparation of the case and the hearing of evidence.

Our statistical section was always at the disposal of the Northern Nationalists and its services were constantly availed of both for the checking of figures and for research.

During our publicity campaign figures dealing with population, finance, and elections, were prepared for publication. A number of maps were prepared during this campaign, some of which were published in pamphlet form, and some furnished to the press.

Maps illustrating the contention made in the presentation of the case on behalf of the Government of the Free State before the Commission that the Poor Law Union, with its principal town as a market centre, should be taken as a unit for transfer, were prepared and furnished to Mr. George Murnaghan, Solicitor, acting for the Irish Free State.

Through the activities of this section a body of statistical evidence was placed on the records of the Boundary Commission which, had the terms of reference been interpreted in the sense in which they were understood by the signatories of the Treaty, must have resulted in the transfer of a considerable area now in Northern Ireland to the jurisdiction of the Free State.

At the beginning of our work we carried out an historical investigation of the Northern Question. Of this work Mr. D. St. P. Murphy took charge. This work was undertaken partly because it was necessary to be fully informed on all matters which might have a bearing on the boundary question, but chiefly because, as mentioned above, the question of procedure had not at that time been determined, and had it been thought advisable for the Government to present a printed case for a specific area, the historical argument would have assumed a much greater importance than it did under the procedure which was eventually adopted. Historical material was collected in connection with the Plantation of Ulster, and portions of Bohn's history of this subject translated from the German. An historical and political section was prepared for publication in the Handbook of the Ulster Question, to which Dr. MacNeill, Mr. J. Good, and Mr. MacCartan, contributed. Mr. Murphy resigned at the end of August 1923, and Miss Kathleen Sullivan, who was at that time appointed to our staff, continued any necessary research work in connection with modern political events.

Mr. Joseph Johnston, F.T.C.D., was appointed Economic Adviser and worked as a part time officer. It was Mr. Johnston's duty to consider and, when necessary, to report upon the financial position of different districts in the North, as affected by the boundary, and to forecast the possible economic effects of possible boundary lines. He also was concerned with the general financial position of Northern Ireland, and in this connection had to advise on the contents of financial White Papers or other such information which we were able to obtain. Many complicated questions arose, particularly at the time of the setting up of the customs frontier, and Mr. Johnston was on several occasions sent to the North to make special reports on difficulties which had arisen.

The work of reviewing political proposals of a financial nature made by Northern leaders belonged to our economic section. Mr. Johnston was responsible for the preparation of the economic section of our Handbook, to which Captain Henry Harrison also contributed.

During the course of the preparation of the local claims for inclusion in the Free State and during their hearing before the Boundary Commission, our economic work proved particularly important. The general survey of the economic conditions which had been made, enabled me to assist the witnesses, who represented different business interests in the North, in relating the facts of their individual experience to the general question of the boundary line. At the request of Mr. J.H. Collins, who was conducting the case for Newry, and of Mr. J. Tracy, who was conducting the case for Derry, Mr. Johnston gave evidence before the Boundary Commission in both these centres.

In order to supply the material for Mr. Johnston's work, and for his evidence before the Boundary Commission, we had to collect a very large mass of statistics, showing the distribution, by land and by sea, of different classes of goods, and particularly of dutiable goods. Statistics of this kind were supplied by the courtesy of the Great Northern Railway, and also by the courtesy of the Commissioners of Revenue and the Department of Statistics. Besides these sources, to which we were indebted for a large body of information, we had many sources of local information from which statistics of this kind were derived. Mr. Johnston handed in, both in Newry and Derry, memoranda outlining his evidence, accompanied in both cases by an epitome of statistics on which he relied. His memorandum, handed to the Commission in Derry, entitled 'A Statistical Determination of Derry's Hinterland,' contained very detailed and conclusive proof that the economic life of the city was chiefly dependent on Free State trade.

The section of our work which dealt with international precedents and procedure in connection with Boundary Commissions was in charge of Mr. B.C. Waller. Mr. Waller was first employed as a part time Officer, but it was soon found necessary to arrange that he should become a whole time member of the staff. Mr. Waller's first duty was research. It was necessary to investigate all the difficulties presented by the drawing of international boundaries, particularly those which were drawn in post war territorial settlements. In this connection the terms of reference of the Boundary Commissions, their mode of interpretation, methods of voting, political effects, and the international relations involved, had to be examined. These investigations were rendered difficult by the fact that much of the material required was not readily available. It was found necessary to send Mr. Waller to London in order to make investigations direct from persons who had been involved in conducting proceedings for Boundary Commissions, and by consulting documents of which it was impossible to obtain copies here. Mr. Waller was in a position to accomplish this work as he had acted as Secretary of the Peace with Ireland Council in London prior to the Truce, and was consequently in touch with a circle of people who were anxious to give all assistance possible with the work on which he was engaged. Mr. Waller also dealt with the relation of the League of Nations to Boundary disputes, a subject on which, as an expert on the League, his advice was particularly valuable. He contributed to the Handbook the section entitled 'Analogous Problems in Other Countries.'

Mr. Waller also assisted in the general work of the Office, and particularly in the publicity section, in which he assisted Mr. MacCartan both here and in London. While still a member of the Staff Mr. Waller won the Filene Prize of £1,000 for the best plan for securing world peace. At the end of November, 1924, as Mr. Waller's work was completed, and the Boundary Commission was about to begin its sittings, Mr. Waller resigned, in order to devote his whole time to literary work in connection with international affairs.

Our publicity section, in charge of Mr. H.A. MacCartan, had a very arduous task to perform. During the whole Boundary Commission controversy it was essential to keep the public, both in this country, and, as far as possible, in Great Britain, informed as to the facts and real difficulties of the situation. There was certain material suitable for publication derived from other branches of our work which it was the duty of the publicity section to issue in suitable form for the particular public for which it was intended.

The first work which the publicity section had to undertake was in connection with the British General Election of 1922. For this election leaflets were prepared for circulation and their distribution was arranged in different centres in Great Britain where the Irish vote was considerable. In order to focus public opinion at home on the important features of the boundary trouble small paragraphs were prepared, each stating some important point. These the press published, in leaded type, framed, on the front page.

From November, 1922 until the British Government invited a conference on the Northern question, a weekly bulletin was issued to the press, which dealt with current controversy on the boundary or partition questions. It analysed the facts or financial statements which might be relevant to this issue. In this and all other publications which were issued from the Bureau, all acrimonious arguments were omitted. Our literature was specially designed to remove the Northern question as far as possible from the realm of heated controversy, and make it a matter of reasoned political argument. The Bulletin was greatly appreciated by the press. The material it contained was often used, as was intended, in an unacknowledged form, while some papers frequently published the bulletin in full.

Copies of the bulletin, in addition to being sent to the press, were also sent to the Consuls, our agents in the north, and other persons likely to be interested. When it was considered wise to discontinue the bulletin, owing to the change in circumstances, a press analysis was prepared each week for the Executive Council, which was continued during the time that the setting up of the Boundary Commission was a matter of public controversy.

Northern politicians, and their supporters in Great Britain, carried on a publicity campaign on a gigantic scale, in order to deflect public sympathy from the Free State case for the transfer of Nationalist areas under the provisions of the Treaty. This campaign was made easy for the supporters of the Northern Government, not only because of the large sums of money at their disposal, and their numerous individual supporters throughout Great Britain, but also because most of the influential newspapers in Great Britain were definitely pro-North in sympathy. Our counter campaign had, in consequence, to be carried on against overwhelming odds. In the February of 1924 it was arranged that our publicity work in Great Britain should be conducted from the High Commissioner's Office, and Mr. MacCartan went to London to take charge of this work.

It was impossible to obtain publication for much of our material in the hostile British press, but by taking part in newspaper controversy Mr. MacCartan was able to obtain publication of hundreds of letters in both the London and the provincial newspapers, and by continually contradicting misstatements of facts he was able to restrict the efforts of the Belfast propagandists. In order to obtain the co-operation of the Irish in England, Mr. MacCartan got in touch with the Irish organisers there, and invited correspondence. He compiled lists of organisers and sympathisers, to whom were distributed thousands of leaflets by post.

Mr. MacCartan contributed to portion of the historical section of the Handbook. He was in charge of the record of current events which was compiled from the Press. In order to obtain material for his publicity work Mr. MacCartan visited the north on several occasions, in order that he might by personal observation, give a more exact account of northern conditions. He also assisted in the preliminary organisation in the Cookstown-Dungannon area, before the sitting of the Boundary Commission.

While the work of the Office was, as far as possible, divided into the sections described, in practice many matters could not be classified under any one section. For publicity purposes it was necessary to draw on the information collected under all the other headings from time to time. This necessitated close co-operation between the different members of the staff. It was indeed only through their very willing and loyal co-operation that our work was carried out successfully.

When the Boundary Commission had been fully constituted and preparations were being made for its sitting, the assistance of this Office in the work of organising the presentation of the claims presented by the different areas in the North, was invited by those who were appointed by the inhabitants locally of the different districts represented before the Commission. This assistance was very willingly given. I took charge, personally, of the work in the North which this arrangement entailed. The representative men in charge in different districts called meetings of witnesses, which they invited me to address. Meetings of this kind were held in Armagh, Newry, Enniskillen and Omagh. In Derry no meeting was called, but it was arranged that the witnesses should meet me at the Offices of Mr. Tracey, Solicitor, where I was accompanied by Mr. Johnston.

When the sittings of the Boundary Commission itself took place, I attended in the witnesses' room, and reviewed the evidence of each witness separately, before he presented himself for examination before the Boundary Commission.

During the sittings of the Boundary Commission, as the evidence proceeded, the questions which the witnesses were asked, and the representations made to the Commission on behalf of those who wished to remain in Northern Ireland, made the lines of argument more definite. All matters on which further research was required were referred to this Office, which, as mentioned above, acted as an information bureau during the sittings of the Commission.

The case presented to the Commission by the representatives appointed for the different areas, and supported by large numbers of witnesses for each district, when taken together, constituted a very remarkable statement of the case of the Northern Nationalists for inclusion under the authority of the national Government. The case was ably presented and was enthusiastically supported by the individual witnesses. The arguments in support of the case were clear, and quite free from acrimony. I feel sure that the way in which the case was presented and the facts concerning the minority in the north, and the interdependence, for trade purposes, of north and south, which the evidence disclosed, did much to render possible the recent agreement. It is a matter of deep personal disappointment for everybody engaged on the presentation of the Nationalists' case to the Commission, that those on behalf of whom the case was made were not returned, by the Commission, to the Government of their choice. In the altered circumstances, however, it may prove that the work of investigating the relations between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, and of investigating the effect of a customs barrier in Ireland, wherever drawn, may, in the end, instead of resulting in improved partition, contribute something to the case of ultimate union.

[signed] E.M. STEPHENS