No. 279UCDA P24/131

Report of the Committee appointed to consider an offer to Northern Ireland, with covering letter from Michael McDunphy to Ernest Blythe
(Secret) (S. 4048)

Dublin, 22 October 1924


Minister for Finance

On the 1st October the Executive Council appointed a Committee, consisting of the following:-

(a) Mr. J.J. McElligott
(b) Mr. D. O'Hegarty
(c) Mr. E. Stephens
(d) Mr. B.C. Waller
(e) Mr. J.A. Costello
(f) Mr. George Murnaghan

to consider and to make recommendations to the Government as to the nature of an offer which could reasonably be made to the North East after the completion of the constitution of the Boundary Commission.

The Committee has now made its report and I enclose a copy for your information.

It will be observed that the report has been signed by the first four above mentioned members of the Committee. The other two, namely, Messrs Costello and Murnaghan, were not available when the report was completed, nor have they seen it in its final form, but their views have been embodied as far as possible.

[signed] M MacDonnchadha
a.s. Rúnaí

Report of Committee appointed to consider an Offer to the North-East.

The Committee appointed by the Executive Council has given careful attention to a number of plans which might form the basis of a union of Ireland, to be proposed in an offer to the North-East.

There are many possible forms which such a union might take, and each of them is open to many modifications in detail. In considering the Plans put forward the Committee has had in mind two main criteria, first their inherent desirability and workability, and second the likelihood or otherwise of their acceptance. Since these two considerations are often in conflict, and since it is impossible without knowledge of all the political factors to determine what weight is to be given to either, the Committee has felt it impossible to recommend any single scheme worked out in detail as that which should be offered. Five possible schemes are, therefore, set out below.

The Committee finds itself, however, very nearly in agreement as to the main features of any plan which can stand a chance of acceptance in both parts of the country. The principal points which such a plan should embody are the following:-

(1) The setting up of an all-Ireland Assembly to administer through its own Executive such of the powers at present exercised over Northern Ireland by the British or Northern Parliaments, and such corresponding powers exercised over the Free State by the Oireachtas, as may be assigned to it by agreement.
(2) The transfer to Northern Ireland of such of the services now under the control of the British Parliament as are not assigned to the all-Ireland Assembly.
(3) The following are the powers some or all of which might be assigned to the all-Ireland Assembly under (1):-

(a) Powers reserved to Great Britain under Sections 4 and 9 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920.

(b) Council of Ireland Services under 1920 Act (Railways, Fisheries and Diseases of Animals).

(c) Certain services at present under the control of Northern Ireland, e.g. Agriculture, Registrar-General's Department (Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Census), Scientific Research.

The number of these matters to be centralised would be the subject of negotiation, and would vary considerably according to whether a looser or a more complete form of union were adopted.

(5) A provision ensuring that minorities will have a due voice in legislation, if possible by the continuance of Proportional Representation, and at least by the repeal of legislation for gerrymandering constituencies. Minority rights should also be protected in regard to local bodies.
(6) A provision that a majority shall not exercise undue powers in the distribution of patronage.
(7) Representation of Northern Ireland at Westminster to cease.
(8) Financial arrangements in the interests of both parts of the country including the alteration or waiving of Article 5 of the Treaty.
(9) It would be desirable to make some effort towards securing uniformity in the level of taxation in the two areas, particularly in regard to Customs, so as to remove the present land boundary. It is also recognised as desirable that Excise and Inland Revenue Duties should be as far as possible identical. At present there is a considerable disparity between the two areas in regard to quite a number of duties and taxes which either do not exist in the North or are charged there at a lower level. The abolition and reduction of these duties and taxes in the Saorstát so as to produce uniformity with the North are apparently not quite feasible at the moment and may not be for some time to come. Customs uniformity so as to eliminate the boundary is, however, not beyond the reach of possibility, but it should be noted that difference in internal duties, even though inevitable, will have various undesirable reactions which need not be specified here. The North would probably ask for some special understanding in regard to the non-imposition of tariffs which would injuriously affect Northern industries. There would be no objection to the giving of such an undertaking.

In setting out these main features to be included in a settlement the Committee has had in view the following points. First, it must conform to the principle of equality of citizenship, regarding a Northern citizen as entitled to equal consideration with a Southern citizen, and vice-versa, and must not establish any section in a position of predominance. Second, it must render a majority incapable of infringing 'the rights of a minority' as distinct from 'the privileges of a minority.'

For these reasons it seems necessary to place the Governments and legislatures which deal with the local affairs of North and South on level terms, while placing under central control as many powers and services as possible. This implies two things which may be considered objectionable, first some diminution of the powers at present held by the Oireachtas and second a considerable increase of the powers of Northern Ireland.

As regards the first point it can be replied that while the Oireachtas as at present constituted will give up certain of its powers to a central body, yet this is no real loss to the country if it means that those powers will in future be exercised by one central body over the whole of Ireland. It is a step towards that union which is generally desired, and in fact is inevitable in any scheme of union short of the complete absorption or the subordination of the North.

As to the second, objection may be taken to any plan which makes possible, now or in the future, the obtaining of Dominion powers by Northern Ireland. This might come through a breakdown at some time of the union, and the reversion of the centralised powers not to Great Britain, as formerly, but to Northern Ireland. The majority of the Committee hold, however, that this is a risk which must be run if any union is to be attained, and are confident that subsequent developments will be in the opposite direction, not towards a new separation but towards further union. Several members also are of the opinion that in any case it would not be possible or indeed desirable for us to prevent the gradual acquisition of Dominion powers by the North once the Boundary question was settled, if such powers were desired; and that therefore it is better to offer such an extension of powers combined with some centralisation. Also there are indeed many reasons for holding that from our point of view it would be preferable that Northern Ireland should obtain Dominion powers and do away with its representation at Westminster, even if that was combined with no centralisation at first, rather than that it should continue in its present position.

Five Plans of union are given in some detail below.1 They can here be briefly summarised, with the advantages and disadvantages which are considered to attach to each of them.

(A) Federation.
Legislatures for Southern and Northern Ireland with a Federal legislature. This is believed to be constitutionally sound and workable, and, if acceptable, would probably turn out the most satisfactory of the plans submitted. It would seem, however, to stand less chance of acceptance than some of the others, since it means a very large step towards complete union, and could be represented in the North as 'coming under a Dublin Parliament' and absorption in the Free State.

(B) Subordinate Parliament in Northern Ireland.
(As in Articles 14 and 15 of the Treaty).
This is held by one Member of the Committee to be the wisest and safest plan, as based definitely on the Treaty. The majority of the Committee, however, consider it offends against several of the principles laid down above, by placing the North in a position which is in some respects subordinate and in others privileged. Also since it has already been rejected, it seems very unlikely that it would be accepted if again put forward.

(C) Joint Sittings of Free State and Northern Legislatures, as one body with a responsible Executive. This bears a close resemblance to the Federal plan, attaining practically the same ends by different methods. It might prove more acceptable, as preserving more clearly the powers of the Northern Parliament. On the other hand it is objectionable as complicating the administrative and electoral machinery.

(D) Central Council of Ireland.
This, it should be noted, is not the Council provided for in the Act of 1920, but one formed on a different basis, partly by direct election, and partly by choice of the two legislatures. It gives less centralisation than the former plans and thus is less desirable, but perhaps more likely to be accepted for that very reason. Objection, has, however, been taken to it, as taking away from the powers of the Oireachtas and enabling the North to retain connection with Great Britain.

(E) Central Assembly with safeguards.
This provides for discussion in the Assembly of proposals affecting the whole country, but prevents their application to either area without its consent. The immediate centralisation would be of slight extent, but it would permit of easy development towards closer union. Because of its ample safeguards for the North it might prove more acceptable.

The Committee has given some consideration to the form in which an offer should be made. Should it present a detailed scheme of settlement, such as one of those outlined below; or should it be in more vague and general terms? The Committee are of opinion that it would be unwise to put forward too explicitly details of a scheme of future Government both because such details would be better worked out in the negotiations, and because much detail at present would mean presenting a bigger target for criticism, and would divert attention from the larger advantages held out in the offer. On the other hand the Committee believe that something more definite is required than a mere general proposal to discuss 'union,' and consider that the offer should embody most or all of the matters mentioned in the nine points suggested above. It would thus concentrate attention mainly on the objects which a scheme of union is designed to secure, rather than on the detailed machinery by which they are to be attained.

(Signed) J.J. McElligott
Diarmuid O'Hegarty
E.M. Stephens
B.C. Waller
21st October, 1924

1Not printed.

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