No. 471 NAI DT S4285

Letter from Diarmuid O'Hegarty to Michael McDunphy (Dublin)

London, 7 November 1930

Dear McDunphy,

You have no doubt already explained to the President the position regarding the Privy Council, but having regard to your telephone message of last night perhaps it would be no harm if I gave you a short resumé for his information. The discussion on the Privy Council started over a week ago at the Sankey Committee. The ball was opened by Lord Sankey on the question of the Southern Unionists. This gave a particular turn to the discussion and no other aspect of the question was touched in the short time devoted to this subject at the end of a meeting.

On Monday morning last Mr. McGilligan and Mr. FitzGerald went to see the Prime Minister. They explained to him that the question of the Privy Council had been kept in the background and that it would have to be discussed as it was a matter of vital importance to them and their attitude on other issues might be affected by the decision in this regard. On Tuesday morning (meeting of Heads of Delegations) he said that it was purely a House of Commons matter, that once the Statute of Westminster was passed the power of repeal would lie with the Irish Parliament and that while the logic on our side was unanswerable the practical issue would be decided in the House of Commons Division lobbies, probably on the second reading of the Statute of Westminster. He therefore wished to have an opportunity of speaking to Mr. Baldwin before the subject was discussed at the Conference. At the private meeting he had asked Mr. McGilligan to give him a letter dealing with the O'Higgins-Birkenhead negotiations in 1926 which he could show to Mr. Baldwin.

A letter was duly sent and Ramsay saw Baldwin on Tuesday evening. (A copy of this letter is attached.)1 On Wednesday morning he reported that he had seen Baldwin and Hailsham.2 The latter, as well as our Attorney General, had been present at the 1926 meeting between O'Higgins and Birkenhead.

Ramsay's report on his conversation with Baldwin and Hogg showed that the latter had presented him with a garbled version of the negotiations, based to some extent upon a mistake of Hogg's that we could not change the Treaty for eight years, and that this was one of the reasons why we had agreed to postpone the Privy Council from 1926 to 1929. In fine Mr. MacDonald was informed that Mr. Baldwin's party would oppose any attempt to consent to the removal of the appeal and he had already known that Mr. Lloyd George was bitterly hostile.

In these circumstances the obvious course would have been for His Majesty's Government in Great Britain to say: 'Gentlemen, we are very sorry, we acknowledge you are right but we cannot do anything because of the weight of Parliamentary opposition'. Instead of this they fought us on the question of the Treaty, quoted Mr. Blythe against us time after time although indeed without much effect, for Mr. Blythe's speech was safeguarded by the words: 'in so far as the right exists'. We were supported by Scullin and Hertzog; Bennett endeavoured to prevent the discussion from proceeding, on the grounds that the interpretation of the Treaty was not a matter for the Imperial Conference. Sankey bullied and cross-examined Hertzog. He tried to bully Mr. McGilligan but failed.

The above resumé will show that it is absolutely essential to maintain an extremely stiff front. It will also show what I communicated to you to-day that Sankey is entirely untrustworthy and his use of Lord Granard is the monkey's use of the cat. We have seen a short summary of the letter of Their Graces of Armagh and Dublin.3 We were expecting this before now, and its source is not difficult to determine. The President may, I think, take it that the Labour Government are entirely devoid of courage and the sole test they apply to anything is one of Parliamentary majority. This being the case we will get no agreement for the removal of the Privy Council by Act of the British Parliament. In this connection it will be of interest to observe that Their Graces are aware of the proposal to restrict appeals by the Chief Justice's certificate, a course to which we are very adverse for grave legal reasons, and have recorded their dissent from such a proposal. It seems quite clear that the Bishops have been called forth to bolster up the British case and that the strongest support which the Delegation here can get will be an attitude on the part of the President that in no circumstances could the Delegation here yield to any compromise which would delay or prevent the removal of the appeal.

Incidentally the Treaty argument is the most serious breach of faith with which we have yet been faced. It means, as I think we told you, that they are endeavouring to rely upon the contention that our Dominion status is the status of Canada in 1921 and is static as such - a contention to which we of course could never agree.

Yours Sincerely,
[signed] Diarmuid O hÉigeartaigh

1 Not printed.

2 The Attorney General, Sir Douglas Hogg, was created Lord Hailsham in 1928, becoming Lord Chancellor in succession to Lord Cave.

3 See No. 469

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