No. 112 NAI 2006/39

Confidential report from John W. Dulanty to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(No. 54) (Secret)

London, 16 December 1937

Mr. Malcolm MacDonald told me last evening that he got a shock when he opened 'The Times' and found a report that our Government had decided to recognise the King of Italy as the Emperor of Ethiopia.

The Irish Free State was at present a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. He had understood from the President that he was willing to co-operate with the Commonwealth on international matters of common concern. It might well be that the President took the view that this was not a matter of common concern and therefore consultation was unnecessary. That was not his (Mr. MacDonald's) view but the President was perfectly free to take that view if he wished. But even on that basis he thought that the President might have told him, not as a matter of consultation but merely as a matter of information, what he proposed to do.

I enquired what precisely was the advantage which Mr. MacDonald attached to our telling him merely as a matter of information. He said that he thought it was not a desirable position for him when lobby Correspondents could tell him of a matter such as this and of which he had no knowledge. He remembered the President's attitude in Geneva on the question of Palestine. The President had then said that if he had known that the question of the partition of Palestine was to come up at the meeting in the form in which it did he would certainly before the meeting have told Mr. Eden and Mr. MacDonald what his views were. That was a perfectly understandable position, but here we were taking up a position on a matter on which we could not fail to know that Britain and other members of the Commonwealth had views, and clearly their difficulties in this matter are increased by the line which the Irish Free State Government had taken.

The setting up of an Irish Legation in Rome, I pointed out, had been before my Government for a very long time and I felt sure the Irish Government could not defer action any further without appearing to be discourteous to the Italian Government who had, as Mr. MacDonald was aware, appointed a Minister in Dublin some months ago.

I was still not clear, I told him, about his contention that we should have communicated our intentions as a matter merely of information. A reference of that limited character clearly shut out any question of action or even of comment by them, what then was the difficulty for them?

He would recall the President's definite attitude on the question of reference about our Abdication legislation just about a year ago, and also the matter of our new Constitution. On neither occasion of those incomparably more important matters was any reference made to the British even on the simple basis of information. Not only was this procedure right and proper from our point of view but it seemed to us that it had advantages for the British.

Mr. MacDonald's rejoinder was that they kept us well informed by Foreign Office Secret reports and by their own cables. When I suggested that these documents usually related to questions already resolved or actions already taken Mr. MacDonald said that was not so. They informed us well in advance of their intention to appoint an Agent to General Franco. They informed us well in advance of their intention to allow General Franco to search ships flying their flag but only if no British man-of-war were near. (At this point of the conversation Mr. MacDonald appeared to be suggesting that they could have given orders about the search of our ships as well as their own. I immediately corrected this.) He went on to say that not entirely but largely because of our refusal to let British naval officers board and search our ships they, the British, abandoned the plan for their own ships. This was an example of the value of information before the event. From time to time Canada, South Africa, and other partner Governments had made comments or suggestions on the cables sent by the United Kingdom Government and very often that Government had modified its action in the light of these suggestions.

If the United Kingdom or any other Partner Government took action on some international matter which we felt we were concerned, we would he felt sure show keen dissatisfaction.

What he was sorry about was that it would give the Dictators a big lift - a help which he felt might be repugnant to the President's own feelings.

He was as he had frequently informed me, anxious to get as good a political atmosphere as was possible for the projected conversations in the near future. He was afraid that certain of his colleagues whose approach to our question was different to his would be disposed to think that we were ready to co-operate with the other members of the group when we wanted something or when in some other way it suited us, but that on an occasion such as the present when co-operation would be welcomed by all the members of the group we were rather determined to go our own way and show no disposition to be helpful. From that point of view he thought our action had been singularly unfortunate.

Taking up his reference to proposed conversations I said that if he and his colleagues were prepared to take the right line with us conversations such as that we were now agreed upon would come to a sharp and welcome end.

[copy letter unsigned]
High Commissioner

Purchase Volumes Online

Purchase Volumes Online



The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

Free Download

International Counterparts

The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
Read more ....

Website design and developed by FUSIO