No. 142 NAI DT S1801C

Kevin O’Shiel to William T. Cosgrave (Dublin)
(Strictly Confidential)

DUBLIN, 5 October 1923

A Chara,

Re: Reply to British Government's Boundary Letter

On a more careful examination of the British Government's letter to us suggesting a Conference on the Boundary Question a number of points have occurred to me which require care in dealing with as I think they are of very great importance.


2. In the first place I am of the opinion that our reply should be drafted in preparation for publication, for it is almost certain that sooner or later this correspondence will have to be published. Therefore, it is necessary to choose very carefully the words and phrases employed in the answer, as some or all of them may eventually attain an importance and significance out of all proportion to their meaning at the present moment.


3. A mere acceptance without qualification of the British invitation to a Conference in the form in which it appears in the Duke's letter would commit us to a Conference purely and mainly on the unexecuted provisions of Article 12 dealing with the Boundary Commission. This acceptance of a Conference to deal with the Boundary matter instead of holding fast to our Treaty rights in the matter, must tend to weaken very much a final resort to the method prescribed in the Treaty for dealing with the Boundary matter. Such an acceptance by us would undoubtedly be construed by our Irradentists and the large body of Southern opinion that supports them, as being a virtual waiver of our Treaty rights under Article 12. The cry of their being 'betrayed again', after many assurances of standing by the Treaty, would rise up with greater vehemence than ever. On the other hand, such an unqualified acceptance would give immense gratification to Craig, who all along has said that there will be no Boundary Commission. The Northern Press would come out with long articles to this effect showing once again the wonderful leading powers of Craig.

From the words of the British despatch it is quite clear that the phrase 'the matters in question' in the second paragraph refers back to 'the provisions of Article 12 of the Treaty' in the final line of the first paragraph. From the British standpoint it is apparently to be a Conference solely and only on Article 12 and the Boundary Commission, and in my opinion should not be accepted as it stands.


4. In preparing our reply we should prepare it with a view to its utility in keeping us right in the event of the proposed negotiations breaking down. Therefore, I think we should courteously, but firmly1 and in guarded sentences, hold to the point of view that ample provision has already been made in the Treaty for dealing with the question of the Boundaries, but that we never had, and have not now, or at any future time, any objection to meet our fellow countrymen of the North and discuss with them matters of interest to our common country, with a view to adjusting in an amicable manner the entire relationship that at present exists between the Six Counties and the rest of Ireland, which in our opinion has proved detrimental to Ireland as a whole, and which will be an ever present obstacle to the goodwill and concord between Great Britain and Ireland until it is finally settled in a manner satisfactory to all concerned.

We should mention that it is in this spirit that we enter the Conference, and we should lay stress on the fact that we have always been ready to discuss matters with these Northern people, but whilst doing so we should give ourselves any amount of scope to retreat back on to an unshaken Article 12 position. We should make it perfectly clear now whilst there is time, and before anything happens that may militate against us, that we enter this discussion without prejudice to our rights under Article 12 of the Treaty.

I feel that this is very important and most necessary even for the position and prestige of the Government in this country in the event of anything going wrong.

Even if we are a trifle strong in the letter Britain will understand as we can, if necessary, cause her to know that the reason is largely due to the great body of opinion in the country represented by the 44 Irregular T.D's. These 44 Irregular T.D's are, at the present juncture, almost a blessing in disguise, as they will enable us to fight a much harder fight in this great matter of the future North-South relationship, and (possibly) drive a harder bargain than we could have done, say before the last Election.

We can blame everything on to them and the British cannot say anything in reply. I am particularly anxious about our keeping the way clear for an easy retreat back on to Article 12, as recently I read a very illuminating article in the 'Morning Post' which admitted that Craig's interpretation (viz., a mere revision of the Boundary) of the meaning of Article 12 was wrong and that our interpretation (viz., the transfer of large tracts of territory and population) was right. The 'Morning Post' went on to say that the only decent solution was for Britain to give us large pecuniary compensation.

Please excuse this rough note, but I thought you should know the position as we in the Bureau have been able to see it.

Mise, do chara,
[signed] K. O'SHIEL
Assistant Legal Adviser

1This word is unclear, it may also read 'grimly'.

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