No. 408 NAI 2003/17/181

Despatch from John W. Dulanty to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(No. 101) (Secret)

London, 18 December 1936

On returning from Dublin last evening I found that Mr. Malcolm MacDonald had been making telephone enquiries as to whether I was back in London. I therefore arranged an appointment and saw him this evening.

Before I had time to say anything Mr. MacDonald asked me to convey to Mr. de Valera his warm thanks and that of his colleagues for the co-operation which the President had shown in summoning the Dáil last week. It was of incalculable help to them and he realised how difficult it was at such short notice to get the Dáil together.

I said I would take care to convey this message of thanks. My last directions from the President before leaving Dublin were that I was to make it clear to the British Government that the action which he had taken in summoning the Dáil and in passing the two Constitution Bills was in no sense a manoeuvre but was meant as an act of assistance to the British.

Mr. MacDonald said that he fully appreciated this. He had seen the President's speeches on the intended Constitution some weeks ago and he recalled that I had repeatedly stated in the recent conversations that the Irish Government would make it as clear as possible in the new Constitution that there would be no outside interference of any kind in the internal affairs of our country, but that certain external functions would continue to be discharged as before.

The British Cabinet had not yet considered the position arising out of these constitutional changes. He had however had informal conversations with a few of his colleagues. His own view was that, subject to the discussion later in the Cabinet, whilst there were parts of our new legislation which he regretted and which he thought his colleagues would also regret, he nevertheless thought that the position was one which could be held to satisfy the requirements of Commonwealth association. It was he thought 'a holdable position'. He did not know how far we had acquainted the other members of the Commonwealth with what we had done, but he felt sure that when the British Cabinet came to consider the constitutional changes they would take the line that the last word on a Commonwealth question did not rest with them any more than with the Irish Free State but with the Commonwealth as a whole. I reminded Mr. MacDonald that in the course of conversations in the past few weeks he had agreed with the suggestion that it was not vital, and possibly not desirable, that the constitutional links within the Commonwealth should all be of a stereotyped uniform pattern. To this suggestion Mr. MacDonald again assented. He said that his own private hope was that the British and other Commonwealth Governments would feel that Commonwealth association requirements were satisfied by the second Act passed last week in the Dáil. On the first Act his attitude was that it was entirely our own affair and he did not wish to offer any comment or criticism. On the second Act however he felt there were certain constitutional points on which he would like further information. There was bound to be a number of questions put to him when the British Parliament opened in the third week of January - on my return to the office I see there is one question already submitted by a Conservative member, Mr. Oswald Lewis.

Two Six County members of the British Parliament had been to him with questions and also certain other British Conservative members. He had persuaded them all to postpone these questions until after the Christmas recess. He was most anxious that when he had to face questions or discussion in Parliament he should be completely and perfectly briefed. He was waiting for the official report of our Debates, and then he hoped that the President might see his way to allow his Legal Advisers in Dublin to confer with the Legal Advisers in the Dominions Office. He thought in this way these abstruse and difficult points could be cleared up more satisfactorily and he, Mr. MacDonald, would feel that he was fully seized of the President's position.

I said that with every disposition to help I thought it might be better if when Mr. MacDonald and his experts had studied the Act and the official reports of the Dáil Debates they set out fully a note of any points of doubt or difficulty, we could then give them a memorandum in writing which I hoped would resolve these questions.

Mr. MacDonald said that after the defence paragraphs in the Fisher letter he was very nervous about putting anything in writing at all. My rejoinder was the obvious one that failure to express themselves in the Fisher letter was no reason why they should not express themselves more clearly in another letter. Mr. MacDonald said when you got into the realm of constitutional law he was perfectly sure that a couple of hours conversation between experts would prevent misconceptions which not even the best-written memoranda entirely avoided. It was a commonplace that direct talk was far better than writing long letters. The Irish Government had sent officials to confer on difficult questions about the air, the coal-cattle pact, and many other matters, and he really could not see any reason why we should not help him to forward the constitutional position by allowing officials to confer on that also. If we preferred it his Legal Adviser, who was not known in Dublin, could go over to Ireland, or if the President preferred it he thought he could get the British Attorney-General, Sir Donald Somerville, to cross to Ireland. He emphasised that these conversations need commit nobody but they would help him, when he stood up to the attack which he felt sure would be made in their Parliament, to be 'word perfect' about the President's constitutional position.

If we would help him he thought he could get through the constitutional question early in the year so far as the British Parliament was concerned. That done he was anxious immediately to resume conversations to which a halt had been called until the British knew more definitely what our intentions were as regarded the constitutional reforms. 'At present I can only speak for myself', he said, 'but if I can get my way I shall clear the constitutional hurdle and then go quickly ahead so as to do everything to hand over the ports and make every effort to reach a financial settlement and a trade agreement.'

I got the impression from this conversation that Mr. MacDonald himself feels that our Second Act clears the air. The doubt he so frequently expressed before as to whether we were to be 'in or out' of the Commonwealth has in his view now been settled and I think he sees the possibility of a considerable political triumph for himself if, our basis of Commonwealth association being accepted, he can reach a fairly large measure of agreement about the ports, a financial settlement, and a trade agreement.

I mentioned that his conversation had so far contained no reference to the question of a united Ireland, and reminded him once again of the President's emphatic statements that no complete settlement was possible with the existing partition. Mr. MacDonald said that he was afraid that our legislation last week would not be too encouraging to certain people in the Six Counties but he repeated his willingness to consider any suggestions we could make in the direction of even a formal unity of Ireland. Neither he nor his colleagues were under any illusion that permanent peace and active goodwill between the two countries would only be reached when a united Ireland had been achieved.

The conversation then turned to the coal-cattle pact which forms the subject of a separate report, No.102 of today's date.1

[signed] J.W. Dulanty
High Commissioner

1 Not located.

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