No. 156 NAI DT S1801C

Handwritten letter from Eoin MacNeill to Kevin O’Higgins (Dublin)

LONDON, 2 November 19231

Dear Kevin

I called on the Duke of Devonshire this morning as a sort of leavetaking. When I made the appointment I thought I might be returning today or tomorrow, but I have to stay now over Tuesday. He asked me what about the Boundary question. I said that since I had been appointed commissioner I thought it proper to leave the other aspects of the matter in other hands, & I repeated what I said to Curtis who called on me a few days ago, that I thought the premiers & Cosgrave ought to meet without delay and settle the further proceedings. The Duke seemed to think that some delay might be needed, but I pointed out that this preliminary meeting might not last more than an hour and could be fitted into time among other engagements. He said that the conference itself could hardly meet before January, but I said that the preliminary conference would be best able to settle that.

The fact is that a big political fight is coming on in Gt Britain over the Protection issue and they are unable to think of anything else. The Impl Conference has nearly done its business, and from our point of view it has done it fairly well.

I think I wrote to the President2 saying that FitzGerald and I were agreed that no resolutions ought to be adopted by the Conference. As I hear the President is taking a holiday perhaps you would take the matter up and have us put in a position to say that this is also the view of our government. To my mind it is quite unconstitutional and may cause inconvenience and even friction if the Conference follows the precedent of 1921 in adopting resolutions. In fact, one of the 1921 resolutions regarding the status of Indian (Hindustan) residents in the Dominions was raised by question in the Canadian parliament, and the then premier, Meighan, had to say that the resolution had no binding force, though he was a member of the Conference that adopted it. Nevertheless, the same resolution was referred to by the Indian delegation at the present Conference as having the force of a binding pledge. At the '21 Conference Smuts refused to vote for this resolution. Now it is evident that to pass resolutions that have no binding force is futile, & that resolutions give occasion for variance and friction. Moreover, each minister at the Conference is responsible solely to his own govt and legislature, and cannot take on any other responsibility, and no minister has plenipotentiary powers on any matter great or small. The only effect of these resolutions is to create difficulties, and they tend to lessen, in appearance if not in fact, the independent status of the members.

The same applies in some degree to the adoption of reports sent up from committees of the Conference, unless it is made clear that adoption means no more than placing the reports on record for the information and advice of the respective governments. We, FitzG. and I, intend to make this clear, but on this point also it would be well if we could say (if necessary) that this is our govt's view.

If there is any correspondence about the prelim. conference, I think we shd ask to have it at the earliest possible date. It will probably be necessary for you to take the President's place.

Lloyd George is due back this day week, and there are bound to be developments. The situation will be worth watching.

Yours sincerely,

1MacNeill was in London attending the 1923 Imperial Conference.

1See No. 152 above.

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