No. 372 NAI 2003/17/181

Letter from John W. Dulanty to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(No. 80) (Secret)

London, 14 October 1936

(1) When I received your Secret minute of the 6th October1 forwarding the President's authorised note of our conversations with him I telephoned to Sir Harry Batterbee saying that I was now ready to attend a further meeting of the British officials. Sir Warren Fisher being away on a week's leave I was told the meeting could not be held until today.

(2) At his request I therefore met Sir Warren Fisher in his room this evening at the Treasury, together with Sir Horace Wilson, Sir Harry Batterbee and Sir Grattan Bushe. I told these gentlemen that I had had conversations with the President on Sir Warren Fisher's letter of the 14th September and that I could give them now what I believed to be his views thereon. As the President had not discussed the matter with either the Executive Council or his own political party the views I was expressing at this meeting had not as yet received the approval of either of the bodies named.

(3) I said that, as I had already told Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, the letter was a disappointment since from start to finish it indicated a failure on the part of the British to appreciate the real character of the problem. If the British really wanted a satisfactory settlement they must face the issue of a united Ireland, because as the President himself had informed Mr. MacDonald on two recent occasions no agreement on the basis of partition could be accepted by the Irish people and no such agreement could produce active goodwill and co-operation between the two peoples.

(4) New Constitution. On the question of the Constitution, the President in the absence of any proposal for an all Ireland settlement was proceeding with the Constitution, about which he had already made statements in public. The President's aim in this new Constitution would be to establish now such a relationship with the Members of the British Commonwealth of Nations that, in the event of the Six Counties voluntarily accepting union with the rest of Ireland, the Constitution would not necessarily require amendment. It would envisage the unity of Ireland and would represent the nearest approach that we could now make to the creation of a constitutional system which would satisfy public opinion in the Irish Free State and into which Northern Ireland could ultimately be incorporated without fundamental change. I thought the President would regard the inclusion of the Six Counties on the basis of the contemplated Constitution as providing the framework for a comprehensive settlement.

(5) As I explained on a former occasion, it is proposed that the functions actually performed by the Monarch in respect of Executive Acts of Saorstát Éireann in the domain of external relations should continue to be exercised. The Constitution would contain provision expressly enabling this to be done.

(6) Sir Warren Fisher's view expressed in his letter already referred to, that the British Commonwealth was founded on mutual goodwill and willingness to co-operate and that without such a foundation the British Commonwealth of Nations could hardly hope to continue, was a view which the President cordially accepted.

(7) 'Within the British Empire' I explained was an impossible phrase. Willing co-operation with and not inclusion in or 'allegiance' was in the President's opinion the vital principle.

(8) DEFENCE. Sir Warren Fisher's letter was especially hopeless as to relations of defence. There could be no master and servant relationship: only relationship was obviously that of equals with common interests to serve by co-operation. Our freedom to refuse to accept any proposed agreement for co-operation must be without question.

As regards the ports, they were ours by right, and should of course be returned.

We were ready to remove any fears the British may have by putting our defences in order to provide against:

(a) an attack on Britain through our country,


(b) a common attack on both countries.

(9) Just as we could not agree to give any other country, so we could not agree to give England an automatic right to our ports. Neither could we accept an arrangement with England which involved us in war whenever or wherever she was at war. If the British ever came into our territory, on land or sea, it must only be on our invitation. On the basis of mutual advantage, our relations might bear some similarity to those, for example, of Belgium, with France. If no common interest were at stake, our attitude would be that of benevolent neutrality.

(10) The Irish people have no Imperial ambitions. Their aim is to make their country safe for their own people. They are willing at the same time to see that a free Ireland is not a source of danger to Britain. In doing what is necessary in the way of defence provision, war stores and equipment could - commercial considerations being equal - be obtained from Britain if settlement were reached on the financial question, this settlement being necessary to enable us to have the money to make adequate defence provision.

(11) FINANCE. The relationship of this to the question of defence I had already just mentioned. Apart from this, we had no proposals to make.

(12) TRADE POLICY. Provided financial question was dealt with satisfactorily, we would be ready to negotiate a Trade Agreement on the principle of reciprocity.

(13) After I had made the foregoing authorised statement Sir Warren Fisher began the discussion by saying that he would like immediately to repeat what he had said at our last meeting about the form, character, and manifest limitations of his letter. He spoke with such energy that I felt I ought to enquire why he had signed the letter. His answer was that whilst he did not conceal his dislike of the letter he had nevertheless signed it because it seemed to him that it left the door open - indeed widely open - for negotiations. There was certainly no intention on the part of the British even to suggest a 'master and servant relationship' in respect of any matter between the two countries. The Statute of Westminster had made clear beyond any question the fact that the members of the free association known as the British Commonwealth of Nations were equal one with another.

(14) He thought we did not sufficiently appreciate the, to them, important fact that there was widely prevalent on this side of the Irish Sea a complete lack of interest in the question of the relations between the two countries. Sir Warren Fisher enlarged at some length on this point which led me to enquire what significance he wished to attach to it. He said that the absence of a live political interest made the work of Mr. Malcolm MacDonald and the other members of the Cabinet exceedingly difficult. My rejoinder was to repeat that whilst I believed what I had said to them that evening represented the President's views, they could not, for the reason I had given, be taken at this stage as representing the views of the Executive Council nor of the political forces that returned Mr. de Valera to power - which forces had given such significant approvals of his policy in the recent bye-election victories.2 It would be no path of roses for the President to carry his views through to legislation and I suggested that the apathy which Sir Warren Fisher alleged, but about which I was not so sure, might be easier to handle than active and convinced opposition.

(15) The supreme consideration for any permanent settlement the President had repeatedly stated was that of a united Ireland. I reminded the British officials that they had stated at our last meeting that they had received no instructions from their political chiefs on this subject. Was that still the position? Sir Warren Fisher said that it was.

(16) Which of the two questions (a) a united Ireland or (b) a proposed modification of the position of the monarchy in the future Constitution, Sir Warren Fisher enquired, did I think the President was most anxious to resolve? I said I did not perceive the purpose of this question. In explanation he mentioned his doubts as to whether we could get solutions of either if the two questions were taken together: our proposals as to (b) would make he thought the achievement of (a) far more difficult.

(17) Although his own personal view was that the President was unquestionably right in insisting on an all Ireland settlement he had grave doubts as to the practicability of doing anything with the Northern Ireland Government. Once more he referred to the pledges given by the British to the Northern Ireland Government and once more I reminded him of the position of the Nationalist majority in Fermanagh and Tyrone and the large numbers in the remaining four Counties. He admitted these facts, especially Fermanagh and Tyrone, and said even if we were to talk in terms of four Counties instead of six he doubted whether much, if anything, could be done.

(18) Sir Warren Fisher wondered whether a conference representing An Saorstát, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments would advance matters. Lord Hailsham would of course fight to the death against any alteration of the present position but there were other members of their Cabinet, such as Lord Halifax,3 who might be able to influence the mind of the Six Counties Government. I said I would of course put to the President any proposal which the British Government wished to make, but it seemed to me that it was incumbent on their Government to initiate proposals with that of Northern Ireland.

(19) Sir Grattan Bushe asked whether the intention was that the King should in no way be associated with the internal affairs of the Irish Free State. I said I thought that was the President's intention. Sir Grattan Bushe said that this proposal really meant the expulsion of the King, a matter on which he, as a lawyer, could say nothing.

(20) Sir Warren Fisher emphasised this point of expulsion and said that he thought it would present political difficulties of the gravest character. I suggested that since the King had never been accepted by the Irish people, in the sense in which Australia and Canada had accepted him, any question of expulsion could not arise. You could hardly expel someone who you had never received. What we were doing was to devise a Constitution which would fit the realities of our national life. The Governor General was a sham which not one of those present would now wish to defend. Sir Warren Fisher agreed as to the Governor General and thought his disappearance would not create any difficulty, but he argued that the Free State was in reality a Republic, just as the United Kingdom was a Republic with the King acting symbolically as the head of the States forming the free association of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Yet Mr. Baldwin went to the King and he saw no reason why, cutting out any Governor General, Mr. de Valera should not do the same. I said that I had stated what I believed to be the President's views on the matter but if I were to [state] my own thought it would be to suggest that we never had a King in the sense in which England had a King since the reign of Queen Anne. I thought I was right in saying that the hereditary title of the English Kings finished then and the true basis since had been a Parliamentary title. What a Parliament could give it could withhold.

(21) Sir Warren Fisher thought a good deal could be done on the question of Defence, but he did not think we could make progress on that subject nor on Finance and Trade Policy until we could get closer to grips with and in sight of some solution of the Constitutional question. Sir Horace Wilson expressed much the same view. He said he would like me to put to the President a strong personal appeal that they might see before its introduction in the Dáil or before it was made public in any other way a draft of the proposed Constitution. He emphasised that this was not in any sense a submission of the Constitution for them to consider for approval or otherwise, nor for influencing the Irish people in its policy, but solely that they might have in good time Mr. de Valera's Constitution in his own words. He agreed with the view of Sir Grattan Bushe that some form of words could be found which would meet both Governments on the constitutional problem and they would then be free to proceed with the consideration of the other questions. Sir Warren Fisher said that they appreciated that in his dealings with them the President had always shown the fullest courtesy. He sincerely hoped that Mr. de Valera could assist them by giving them an advance view of the Constitution.

(22) I replied that this suggestion would be submitted to the President but I thought they should recall to their minds the fact that when Mr. Malcolm MacDonald first proposed these conversations to me I said that I understood that nothing which might transpire in the conversations could affect the structure and content of the proposed Constitution, which position Mr. MacDonald accepted.

[copy letter unsigned] High Commissioner

1 See above No. 370.

2 There were four by-elections during the period 1935-36 (Dublin County (1935), Galway (1935), Galway (1936) and Wexford (1936)). Fianna Fáil candidates were victorious in three of the four elections, being defeated only in the Dublin County by-election.

3 Edward Frederick Lindley Wood (1881-1959), Conservative MP, Secretary of State for War (1935), Lord Privy Seal (1935-37), Leader of House of Lords (1935-38), British Foreign Secretary (1938-41).

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