No. 370 UCDA P150/2335

Note by the Department of External Affairs on conversations with Eamon
de Valera on letter from Sir Warren Fisher1

Dublin, 6 October 1936


(1) As intimated to Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, Fisher letter disappointing since it indicates all through failure on the part of the British to appreciate the real character of the problem.

(2) Do the British really want a settlement that will be satisfactory? If so, they must face the issue of a united Ireland. No agreement on the basis of Partition would be acceptable to the Irish people, and no such agreement could bring active good-will and co-operation. On two recent occasions in conversation with Mr. MacDonald, President gave full explanations on this fundamental point, saying that it was the conviction of the people and not merely his personal attitude or opinion.


(3) In the absence of any proposal for an all-Ireland settlement, President proposes to proceed with the Constitution, on which he has already made unequivocal statements in public. The President's aim in this Constitution is 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. This Constitution will itself envisage the unity of Ireland and will represent the nearest approach that we can now make to the creation of a constitutional system which would satisfy public opinion here and into which Northern Ireland could ultimately be incorporated without fundamental change. The inclusion of the Six Counties on the basis of the contemplated Constitution, the President thinks, would provide the framework for a comprehensive settlement.

(4) As has already been explained, 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 will contain a provision which will enable this to be done.

(5) The view expressed in the Fisher letter that the British Commonwealth is 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 is a view which the President cordially accepts.

(6) 'Within the British Empire' an impossible phrase. Willing co-operation with, and not inclusion in or 'allegiance', the vital principle.


(7) The Fisher letter especially hopeless as to relations of defence. There can be no master and servant relationship, only relationship is 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 are ours by right, and should of course be returned.

We are 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, or

(b) a common attack on both countries.

(8) Just as we could not agree to give any other country, so we cannot 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 come 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 that of benevolent neutrality.

(9) 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.


(10) The relationship of this to the question of defence already mentioned above. Apart from this we have no proposals to make.


(11) Provided financial question is dealt with satisfactorily, we should be ready to negotiate a Trade Agreement on the principle of reciprocity.

1 See above Nos 358, 359, 361, 362 and 363.

2 Handwritten: 'instructions for H.C. 6th Oct. 1936'.

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