No. 259 NAI DT S1801J

Secret memorandum of proceedings of Conference on the Boundary Commission

London, 2 August 1924

The following were present at various stages of the Conference:

Representing the Irish Free State   1. President
  2. Mr. John O'Byrne, K.C., Attorney General.
Representing the British Government   1. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald,Prime Minister.
  2. Mr. J.H. Thomas, Secretary of State for the Colonies.
Representing the Northern Government   1. Lord Londonderry.1
  2. Mr. Pollock, Minister for Finance.

Resumé of the Proceedings of Conference in London

2nd August 1924 regarding BOUNDARY QUESTION.

The President, on Mr Thomas' invitation attended at the Colonial Office at 10 a.m. on 2nd August 1924, and met the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Mr. Thomas explained that a new situation had been created by the report of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on the questions submitted for their advice in connection with Article 12 of the Treaty. It was evident that further legislation would be required to enable the Boundary Commission to be set up if the Northern Government persisted in their refusal to appoint a representative. The British Government proposed to introduce such legislation at once. The President pointed out the necessity for having the proposed legislation enacted before the British Parliamentary recess, indicated the distrust which would be occasioned by delay, and foreshadowed the possibility of an Irish Government coming into power which would denounce the Treaty. Mr. Thomas said they could get legislation passed in Commons but were not sure of Lords.

The President and Mr. Thomas then saw Mr. MacDonald, with whom the arguments were again gone over.

On their return to the Colonial Office Lord Londonderry and Mr. Pollock of the Northern Government were introduced, and Mr. John O'Byrne, Attorney General, was also called in. The determination of the British Government to see that the Treaty was carried out was reiterated to the Northern representatives. In the discussion which followed Lord Londonderry in response to a suggestion that the North having made their protest should now appoint their representative said this was impossible.

A suggestion made from the British side that the President should with Sir James Craig endeavour to work out an agreed boundary and that any matter on which they could not agree should be referred to (a) Mr. Justice Feetham, or (b) the Colonial Office, or (c) the Boundary Commission, was turned down by Lord Londonderry. He undertook however to consult some of his people as to whether any action to obviate the difficulty of new legislation could be suggested.

While awaiting the re-assembly of the Conference, Lord Londonderry indicated to the President that in his view the safest course for the Irish Free State and the Northern Government would be to let the proposed legislation be proceeded with.

Upon resumption the Prime Minister made a strong appeal upon the grounds of empire stability for the agreed boundary proposal. The method of giving effect to decisions so reached was mentioned, and, when it was obvious that it would necessitate legislation in both parliaments the proposal was dropped. The legislation to be introduced was then considered. A suggestion that the Commission might be constituted of the two Commissioners already appointed was dismissed on the President pointing out that this would lay Mr. Justice Feetham open to criticism on the grounds of partiality.

The Prime Minister explained that their Bill would provide that the British Government would appoint the third representative if the Government of Northern Ireland persisted in their refusal. He said that this was regarded by the British Government as a matter affecting the honour of the British people and hinted at the possibility of constitutional changes being rendered necessary if the House of Lords threw out the Bill. He asked Mr. Pollock if there was any influence in England which, if brought to bear upon the Government of Northern Ireland, could assist them in justifying to their people the appointment of a Commissioner. Mr. Pollock was unable to reply, but said vaguely it would require consideration.

The Prime Minister then asked, if the Bill were introduced on 6th August and further consideration deferred for fourteen days, whether he could get an assurance that the North would either appoint their Commissioner, or offer no serious opposition to the Bill. Lord Londonderry favoured deferring the remaining stages until the re-assembly of Parliament in the normal course, as otherwise the North would say that the matter was being rushed. The President could not agree to a postponement over the ordinary recess. His Cabinet were definite that the Bill should go through at once. He offered however to consult his colleagues as to the proposal to defer the final stages of the Bill to the resumption of Parliament provided the resumption was fixed for an earlier date and the British Prime Minister gave in writing a guarantee of the intentions of H.M. Government that the passage of the Bill would be made a matter of confidence. These conditions were agreed to by the Prime Minister and the Conference concluded.

Subsequently Messrs Curtis and Whiskard2 visited the President and suggested that the Bills in both the British Parliament and in the Oireachtas should take the form of a confirmation by legislation of an agreement signed by the President on behalf of the Irish Government, and by the Prime Minister on behalf of the British Government. This course would prevent attempts at amending the agreement in Parliament. The President agreed and a draft was prepared in consultation with the Attorney General and Sir Francis Greer, as follows:-

In anticipation of the approval of the Executive Council the President signed two copies of the Agreement,3 the signature not to be regarded as effective unless and until the approval of the Executive Council had been notified to the British Government. As soon as this has been done the Agreement will be signed by the Prime Minister and one copy forwarded to the President for record purposes.

During the course of the conversations it was stated by the Prime Minister that he had approved of the British Government undertaking to provide funds to migrate persons who were unwilling to remain in the jurisdiction within which their places of residence were located following the operations of the Boundary Commission.

It was also incidentally mentioned that the British Government were prepared to offer a lump sum in settlement of outstanding Compensation Claims in dispute.

1Northern Ireland Minister of Education.

2Lionel Curtis, Geoffrey Whiskard.

3See No. 262 below.

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