No. 274 NAI DT S4084

Memorandum by Kevin O'Higgins on the question of an offer to Northern Ireland, with covering letter by O'Higgins
(Confidential) (C. 1987/24)

Dublin, 29 September 1924

To each member of the Executive Council.

The memorandum which is circulated herewith is an elaboration of the one which I have previously circulated on the 25th instant1 on the question of the advisability of making some public offer to the North if the Bill providing for the final constitution of the Boundary Commission becomes law.

In view of the possibility that the Bill will secure a fairly speedy passage into law I think that the Executive Council would need to come to an early decision on the question of whether such an offer ought in fact be made and we could then consider the occasion on which, and the form in which, it should be made public.

I feel that an approach by the British soon after the Bill becomes law is almost inevitable and it is a question whether we ought not to be first in the field with a reasonable offer calculated to command support in England and even to some extent in the North-east.

Perhaps this matter could be dealt with by the Executive Council at a meeting called for some day this week.

[copy letter unsigned]
Aire Dlí agus Cirt

Draft outline of possible Offer to Northern Ireland.

N.B. This outline has been drawn up on the supposition that the Offer would be made in a speech or statement, immediately after the Agreement Bill has become Law in Great Britain.


  1. The Government of Saorstát Éireann considers that with the successful passage of the Confirmation of Agreement Bill through the British Parliament the time has come for a further statement of its position with regard to Northern Ireland.
  2. In the first place we must acknowledge that the British Government has kept faith, and has taken the necessary steps to implement the Treaty. The course is now plainly open to the Boundary Commission, and we believe that we can expect a fair deal from it. But before the Commission actually enters upon its work, we have thought it our duty to consider whether, in the interests of the country as a whole, the Commission does in fact provide the best method of dealing with the problem. In judging of this we have had several considerations in mind.

    (a) The Boundary Commission has never been regarded by us as the most satisfactory method. This may be seen from

    (1) The alternative put before Northern Ireland in Articles 14 and 15 of the Treaty.

    (2) The Craig-Collins Pact.

    (3) The appeal to Northern Ireland in a speech of President Cosgrave on the eve of their voting out.

    (b) The Boundary Commission, while adequate to its own purposes of determining a new Boundary, cannot deal with other and more important matters such as the alleviation of the condition of those of our supporters (probably the majority) who would still be left in Northern Ireland, or the larger questions of the future relations between North and South.

    (c) We, like the Northern Government, approach the Commission with a feeling of uncertainty as to its result, nor can either of us believe that a settlement imposed by an external arbitrator [will] be as satisfactory as one reached by agreement among Irishmen.

    (d) While we cannot be deterred by threats of violence from asserting the just rights of our people, and while we do not believe that the operation of a statutory Commission gives any excuse for such violence, nevertheless we would do all in our power to avoid bitterness and ill-feeling and to ensure goodwill among all sections of Irishmen.

  3. The Government has, therefore, decided to place all its cards on the table and to make a definite offer of an alternative form of settlement. We do this without prejudice to our rights (now fully acknowledged) to the Commission, to which we will have recourse should the alternative offer be rejected. But we put forward now what we believe to be a better way, in the interests of all Ireland, and we beg all the parties concerned to give it their most serious consideration.
  4. We do not believe that the Boundary question, taken by itself alone, is a matter on which agreement by negotiation is likely. It must not be taken by itself alone, but in conjunction with other matters, which are really of greater importance, and on which it is an obvious interest of both parties to reach agreement. There will be a general consensus of opinion that the interest of the country demands two things:

    (a) Not the shifting of the Boundary but the removal of the Boundary, or failing that the removal so far as possible of its disadvantages and inconveniences.

    (Quote Craig's speech saying he wishes such a state of things that no one should care which side of the Boundary he was on.)

    (b) Real peace and friendship between North and South, to be secured by the settlement of outstanding differences and by securing means of close co-operation for the future.

    It is scarcely open to question that the economic results of a Boundary, especially a Customs Boundary, are disadvantageous to both parts of the country; nor that real peace and prosperity is possible so long as the two Governments remain so completely aloof as at present.

    We do not propose to hark back to any of the plans formerly suggested, such as that contained in Articles 14 and 15 of the Treaty, nor the Council of Ireland, but to propound one which appears both sound and practicable.

  5. With these ends in view we propose:
  6. (a) An all-Ireland authority to be established, to consist of the Oireachtas and the Northern Parliament sitting together, [these to be elected on the same franchise, and]2 the number of members in each to be in proportion to population.

    (b) The Powers retained by the British Parliament under the Act of 1920 to be transferred either to the all-Ireland authority or to the Northern Parliament as specified.

    (c) The all-Ireland authority to control:

    (1) External Affairs. Northerners could thus be among the representatives at League of Nations, Imperial Conference etc.

    (2) Customs and Excise. (But see below (e)).

    (3) Imposition of Income Tax etc. (to ensure uniformity), but not necessarily collection of such taxes.

    (4) Such other matters as the two parties agree to transfer to central control.

    (It will probably be found that, if and when negotiations take place the desirability of centralisation will be plain in the case of e.g. Fisheries (as in Act of 1920), compilation of Census and other statistics, scientific research, etc.)

    (d) The all-Ireland authority to meet alternately in Dublin and Belfast. The Governor-General to be appointed alternately on the recommendation of the Free State and Northern Governments.

    (e) Abolition of the Customs barrier in Ireland, and collection of all Customs duties at the ports, under central authority. In order, however, to prevent any possible imposition of duties such as would injure Northern industries, a Customs Convention such as will suit those industries to be concluded as part of the original agreement and to remain in force for a fixed term of years.

    (This question of Customs will probably be the crux. In order to meet any possible objections an elaborate agreement may be necessary, corresponding to the Railway Agreement at the time of South African union.)

    (f) Restoration of Proportional Representation in Northern Ireland, reversal of gerrymandering, and disbandment of Specials.

    (g) Northern minority to enter the Northern Parliament.

    (h) Minor alterations of the Boundary by agreement. Or, if thought preferable, Northern Ireland to consist of Nine Counties.

  7. These proposals are put forward as covering the main points at issue, and as giving the outline of a practicable scheme. Obviously they will require elaboration in detail, such as is impossible in one short statement. We do not ask for immediate acceptance or rejection of the proposals as they stand, but we ask for their acceptance as a basis of negotiation. We propose that such negotiations should take place between the two Governments, in Ireland, at the earliest convenient moment.
  8. It may be well to recapitulate what is offered to the North:

    (a) No cutting down of territory except by consent.

    (b) Abolition of the drawbacks of the Boundary.

    (c) Financial advantages through the transfer to them of powers retained by Westminster.

    (d) Real peace and stability.

    In return what we hope to gain:

    (a) Fair treatment for our supporters in the North.

    (b) Cooperation of the whole country in necessary work.

    (c) Again, peace and stability.

    1 No.272 above.

    2 A handwritten marginal note reads: 'suggested omission' and the square brackets are inserted by hand.

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