No. 383 TNA: PRO CAB 127/156

Memorandum by Sir Harry Batterbee on talks in Dublin with Eamon de
Valera, Joseph P. Walshe, John Dulanty and John Hearne

29 November 1936

Mr. de Valera received me in his room at Government Buildings at 11.30 am on Sunday, November 29th. The interview lasted for two hours, and Mr. Dulanty and Mr. Walshe were present during the greater part of it.

The interview began with an expression on Mr. de Valera's part of hope that the Prime Minister was fully restored to health, and of sympathy with him in all his anxieties. I, on my side, said that Mr. Baldwin had asked me to convey to Mr. de Valera his good wishes and to express his pleasure that the report of his occulist was so satisfactory.

I then handed Mr. de Valera the Prime Minister's letter1 and the message which, in answer to Mr. de Valera's enquiry, I explained was identical with that sent to the Prime Ministers of the four overseas Dominions. (I took the opportunity to explain the machinery adopted to send the message to the Dominion Prime Ministers, and emphasised the necessity for absolute secrecy.) Mr. de Valera was prepared for the contents of the message by the information he had already received from Mr. Dulanty, and at once began to give me his comments in the most frank and friendly way. I emphasised at the beginning of our talk that all the Prime Minister's conversations had been on an entirely informal basis and that at present he was only communicating in an informal way the facts of the situation so far, and asking Mr. de Valera for any comments which he might have in the same informal way.

Mr. de Valera desired to emphasise at the outset that they, in the Irish Free State, must necessarily look on the matter in an entirely different way to the people of the United Kingdom: their interest in the King was purely from the point of view of function and not from any personal point of view: as I knew, he was proposing shortly to introduce into the Dáil legislation abolishing the King altogether so far as internal affairs were concerned but recognising his position in external affairs to the extent that provision would be made for the performance in relation to the Irish Free State of whatever functions were performed by the King in relation to other States Members of the Commonwealth with which the Irish Free State desired to be associated (I have tried to reproduce as closely as possible Mr. de Valera's actual language on this point) - and he was very sorry that this legislation had not been introduced before the present crisis had occurred.

He questioned me as to the need for legislation in the case of alternatives (2) and (3).2 He appeared to think at first that the mere declaration of the King's intention would have been sufficient and that as regards abdication a voluntary abdication would be equivalent to a death. Speaking only as a layman I said that this was not so and that, so far as I understood the matter, legislation amending the Act of Settlement would be necessary in either case.

The talk then turned to the Statute of Westminster, and the position arising from the Preamble and the provisions of Section 4. As regards the latter, he said that it could be regarded as certain that the Irish Free State Government could not give their consent in a case of this kind without the express approval of the Dáil. Any debate in the Dáil could not but lead to speeches which might have most damaging consequences to the relations between the two countries. As regards the Preamble, he appreciated the difficulty of the United Kingdom Government arising from the wording of that Preamble, and he felt sure that Mr. Baldwin would appreciate the grave difficulties of his position also. Frankly it was politically impossible for him at the present time to ask the Dáil to do anything regarding the Succession to the Crown or to declare their consent to the UK Parliament legislating.

He asked me to tell Mr. Baldwin that, with every desire to help, this was simply impossible for him and that he had been casting around in his mind whether the matter could not be covered in some way in the new legislation he was about to introduce. He had hoped to communicate to us the relevant provisions shortly, but he felt now that it would be necessary to hold up the draft for a little while to consider the matter further in the light of the new situation.

He asked me how soon the crisis was likely to develop. I said that it was impossible to say but that obviously it was necessary to be prepared for the crisis coming very quickly.

What Mr. de Valera said as to the absolute impossibility of the Dáil expressly legislating enabled me to say that we entirely agreed that the simplest procedure with the minimum of discussion and debate was most strongly to be desired in the circumstances, and that from this point of view it seemed to us that legislation by the UK Parliament only would probably be best, the Dominions taking the minimum action necessary to give effect to it so far as they were concerned.

Mr. de Valera said that this put him on the other horn of the dilemma: he could not consent to the UK Parliament legislating 'off their own bat' without exposing himself to the charge that he had not preserved for the Irish Free State the position of complete equality in constitutional matters which had been attained under the Statute of Westminster. He admitted however, with a smile, in reply to a little argument from me, that he could not ?have it both ways', and that, if he had to choose, it might have to be on the side of cutting right out of the present constitutional position under the Statue of Westminster: he did not define what exactly he meant by this.

I also tentatively observed in the course of the argument at this point that, if the Dáil took no action, the Irish Free State might find herself in the position of still having Edward VIII as her King after he had ceased to be King in other parts of the Empire. This point was quickly taken by Mr. Dulanty and Mr. Walshe, and it was clear that it went home.

The conversation then turned to the various alternatives. Mr. de Valera somewhat surprised me by saying that at first blush he would be inclined to favour the second. King Edward was undoubtedly popular everywhere including Ireland, and he thought that every avenue ought to be explored before he was excluded from the Throne. It was true that divorce was not recognised in Catholic countries but King Edward was a Protestant and in Protestant countries the attitude to divorce was different. He thought that many - especially young people - throughout the Empire would, in these democratic days, be attracted by the idea of a young King ready to give up all for love. Mr. Dulanty and Mr. Walshe expressed their strong agreement with this point of view - so much so that I wondered whether there had not been some discussion beforehand on this point.

I thought it necessary at this stage to give some information as to Mrs. Simpson's antecedents and the divorce proceedings. The attitude of the people in this country towards the Crown was very different to that in the Irish Free State: most of us regarded it with an almost religious veneration and all our information went to show that public opinion in this country - I specially mentioned the almost certain attitude of the Churches - would not tolerate the King marrying a woman of the nature of Mrs. Simpson - Caesar's wife must be above suspicion. What I said clearly impressed Mr. de Valera, and he finally said that, if it was clear that public opinion would not stand for anything in the nature of a morganatic marriage then he supposed that there was nothing for it but alternative (3).

I also took occasion during the discussion on this side of the question to make the point that, whatever might be Mr. de Valera's views as to the relations of the Irish Free State to the Crown, there could be no doubt that in the present dangerous and crumbling international situation the British monarchy was a pillar of stability against the forces of Bolshevism, and that, from this point of view, it was important to avoid anything which would impair its integrity. It was clear that this point went home.

Mr. de Valera asked me whether the Prime Minister had as yet had any indication as to opinion among the other members of the Commonwealth. I said that there had not yet been time to obtain opinion in any authoritative way but such information as we had showed the damage that was likely to be done if the present situation was allowed to continue.

At the end of the interview Mr. de Valera had some conversation with me alone, in which, after recapitulating what he had said, he spoke most gravely of the results of what seemed likely to occur to the relations between the two countries. I said that I appreciated the great difficulties but it seemed to me to be a situation in which every attempt ought to be made to snatch good out of evil.

At the end of our talk Mr. de Valera asked me to say to Mr. Baldwin, what indeed he had mentioned in the course of the discussion, viz. that if he were in the position of the Prime Minister of Canada, he would wish himself to come to London and talk to the King personally. I asked him if he personally would like an opportunity of seeing the King but he said 'No'.

Mr. de Valera was throughout most frank and friendly, but he evidently felt, and desired to impress upon me, that the present crisis meant that, for better or worse, we had reached the parting of the ways.

In the course of Sunday afternoon I had a long talk with Mr. Walshe and Mr. Hearne (who, I gathered, had been told the outline of the situation but not the details). They were impressed with the highly embarrassing situation created by the Statute of Westminster, and thought that the only real solution was to make a supreme attempt to settle the constitutional issue between the two countries. 'Things must either get much worse or much better'. They insisted that it was no good going into details - what was wanted in the present situation was to reach agreement as to the principles of a settlement which could be accepted by both sides.

Speaking privately they said again and again that they believed that for the principle of a United Ireland and for that alone, Mr. de Valera would be prepared to concede the retention of the King as he existed at present. They urged upon me most earnestly that Lord Craigavon had the supreme chance of showing his loyalty by agreeing to a settlement which would mean that for all time Ireland would remain within the Empire.

As the result of much talk there gradually emerged the following picture of a conceivable settlement:-

  1. The King to remain, as present, 'King of Ireland' which would remain a part of the King's Dominions.
  2. A joint body to be created, drawn from representatives of the two Parliaments of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, to deal with matters common to the two parts of Ireland, and with the label ?United Ireland'. Powers of such a body would be very limited at first but, given time and goodwill, could grow as confidence was engendered. The example of South Africa was mentioned to show the possibility of federation growing into union. It was insisted that such a body - and the IFS officials argued that it should be termed a 'Parliament' - must be set up by agreement, not by Act of the UK Parliament which would be fatal.
  3. Ministers to foreign countries to be accredited by the King in the name of Ireland.
  4. All persons belonging to the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland to be 'Irish citizens'. In Northern Ireland such persons to continue to be called 'British subjects'. This was impossible in the Irish Free State at present but it was suggested that there would be no objection to some such phrase as 'national of Ireland, British Commonwealth of Nations': I suggested 'citizens of the Commonwealth'. The whole idea would be that there would be no compulsion on either side provided the position was accepted that both the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland were parts of Ireland which was a part of the Commonwealth.
  5. A generous financial settlement. I gathered that Mr. Walshe and Mr. Hearne, though they were not prepared to commit themselves, thought that the utmost possible which Mr. de Valera would be prepared to concede was that each side should be responsible for the payments made to persons in its own country. Of course I committed myself to nothing but said that I would be prepared to put such a suggestion forward as part of an all round settlement.
  6. A Trade Agreement on the Ottawa model.
  7. Co-operation in defence and the handing back of the Treaty Ports.
  8. Guarantees as to religion, etc.

It was agreed on both sides that, apart from the difficulty of getting agreement to the details of the plan, especially the scheme for a federal body for the whole of Ireland, there was the very difficult question of who was to make the first move. The Irish Free State officials said that Mr. de Valera could not be expected to discuss the possibility of retaining the King unless he had the firm offer of the principle of a United Ireland and I, on the other hand, said that UK Ministers could not be expected to discuss the principle of a United Ireland unless they had a firm offer of the retention of the King. It was suggested, however, that soundings could be taken on both sides and that the further visits from one side to the other which the new crisis would necessitate would appear to afford an opportunity which ought not to be lost to explore the possibility of a larger settlement.

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