No. 282 NAI DT S1801K

James McNeill to Desmond FitzGerald (Dublin)

London, 31 October 1924

My dear Minister,

I enclose a note which I wrote in anticipation of election results, when the coming defeat of the Labour Government was certain. When asking for instructions I have ventured to place my own views before you. As Mr. O'Higgins was passing through when the note was ready for despatch I showed it to him. I don't know what his considered opinion will be as to the action to be taken but he agreed unreservedly as to the need for serious consideration at once.

Yours sincerely,
(signed) James McNeill


It seems desirable to consider now the need for obtaining from the new Conservative Government here a definite assurance as to its attitude towards the findings of the Boundary Commission. President Cosgrave has, on behalf of the Free State, stated that the findings of the Commission would be accepted. It ought to go without saying that the British Government would accept a division of Ireland settled by a Commission of which two out of three members were its own nominees. But it does not go without saying. The statements of Conservatives likely to be Ministers point to refusal to be honourably bound by any decision which the Six County Government would like to resist. Their conduct as regards Article 12 in the recent past is anything but a guarantee that they will not take advantage of any pretext for refusing to abide by the decision, and their attitude towards Ireland in the previous past must excite graver distrust. The seventy-one peers who resolved on the 8th instant that nothing but a mere readjustment of boundary could be enforced include men who would be in any conservative or coalition ministry. That explanatory resolution will now presumably rank as an honourable pledge published on this occasion to all the world.

When the new British Government comes into office our Government ought to be able to state at an early date that that Government has undertaken to abide by the decision. It may claim to be placed in that position as a matter of right. It owes it to its own people (not merely its sectional supporters) who accept the position that the decision binds both parties to have all reasonable doubts removed. It is needful to ensure that in any boundary discussions with Six County representatives it is recognised that the Free State's right to have the decision enforced cannot be evaded. Conferences in which the finality of the Commission's decisions is not regarded as undoubted, however distasteful that may be to the Northern Government, would be either useless or mischievous. If the British Government claims on grounds of 'equity' or fidelity to party pledges the right to abstain from preventing its subjects from violently resisting the decision, the fact should be elicited beforehand. We thought we knew what Conservative ministers meant by Article 12. We find that their later statements did not justify our belief.

If President Cosgrave is asked in Dáil Éireann whether the British Government has definitely undertaken loyally to abide by the Commission's award what will he say? Will he pledge his Government's credit for them and state that the 'honourable' party pledges given by Conservative ministers will be disregarded, even if a substantial area and population are removed from the jurisdiction of the Northern Government? Will he say he sees no reason to ask for a definite assurance?

Should there be no pronouncement from the new Government the organisers of fanaticism here and their dupes in Ulster will work up opposition in advance, and there will be murder and lawlessness not merely on the border but all over the six counties if the fanatics are disappointed as we believe they will be. If the British Government speaks out now there will be a great deal of furious talk both here and there for a time but little or no trouble later. Even the most elusive Conservative Unionist minister would find it hard to explain away a definite undertaking. He would not be allowed to do so by British, Colonial and American opinion. We should, I think, take pains to obviate a crop of McMahon cases and Cushendall cases, the crime of most of the new victims being a desire to be governed by their own countrymen after the British claim to govern them had been extinguished.

If the new Government is allowed to remain silent until the decision is announced they can then cast about for an excuse for honouring party pledges especially if the anti-Irish firebrands here and the fanatics in Ulster have been organising opposition. It is difficult to see what we can gain by delay in coming to a clear understanding or how we can pretend to have no uneasiness and no fear of another and much worse pogrom in the six counties. Possibly some Unionist elements in the Free State would think and speak more clearly if the point was settled at once.

The British Government might make the announcement in its own way provided it made it. Possibly its opponents will ask questions in Parliament. Should we leave the task of elucidation to Labour or Radical members of Parliament here? I think in similar circumstances Canada, Australia, etc., would do as I suggest.

I quite recognise that if our Government asks for a definite assurance and receives an unsatisfactory reply it may have to reconsider its whole attitude to the Commission. That would be most unpleasant but the Council have individually and collectively accepted unpleasant consequences before now. I don't know how the British Government will be constituted, or if there will be a coalition. But I cannot imagine any Government or party or combination which would not be rent asunder if it objected to giving an assurance. I think you will get a just view of balanced Imperialist, but not pro-Irish, opinion in an article on Ireland in the October Quarterly Review. No British Government could in cold blood refuse to be bound, and it is our business to see that the assurance is given in cold blood. I do not suggest that any menacing representation be made but I think it should be stated that our participation in the commission assumed unqualified acceptance of the Commission's decision. We should ask for an assurance of reciprocity. President Cosgrave's recognition of the good faith of previous Governments seems to provide a convenient peg for a new Ulster coat to be hung on.

Another consideration is that it would be well to obtain the assurance before Feetham's attitude was known or could be forecasted. Probably our Commissioner might like to know whether he should get down to real work before his Government was satisfied that the decision would be operative. Are the decisions to be final as against him only? Will the government behind his two colleagues be allowed to reserve a power of review of which his Government has publicly divested itself?

I suggest that the matter be considered without delay. You will understand that I am anxious to do what is right here. Am I to meet the new ministers on the basis of leaving it an open question whether they will accept or reject the decision? You will appreciate my need for precise instructions. The alternative is that on all occasions I speak only my own mind. I do not want to be in the position of talking my own mind when I can talk the mind of the Council and carry out its wishes.

For ready reference a short note is appended giving references to relevant parliamentary utterances of Conservative and other leaders.1 Your publicity office will be able to locate other utterances, letters and speeches, in the British press during the last two months.

1 Not located.

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