No. 143 TNA: PRO DO 35/398/1

Note by Sir Edward J. Harding of a conversation with Joseph P. Walshe

London, 28 October 1932


Mr. Walshe called this morning at 10.30 a.m. and had a talk with Sir. H. Batterbee and myself which lasted until nearly 1 p.m.

Sir H. Batterbee and I based ourselves on the memorandum approved for communication to Mr. Walshe and explained the points in that memorandum to Mr. Walshe in detail. We were careful to make it clear that in so doing we were expressing a purely personal view but that this view resulted from a talk which we had had with Mr. Thomas. At the end of the meeting Mr. Walshe took down, practically verbatim, the memorandum in question1 and read it over to us so that we were satisfied that it covered all the essential points, and followed almost throughout, and particularly in the passages of chief importance, the exact wording.

Mr. Walshe's first reactions may be summarised as follows.

On the first point (viz: the acceptance of the 1921 Treaty) he was inclined at first to think that the I.F.S. Government would not go further than an agreement which would state in the Preamble that it was made ?as between two co-equal members of the Commonwealth'. Later on he somewhat modified this view as will be explained later.

On the second point (the validity of the Financial Settlement) Mr. Walshe did not appear to anticipate any great difficulty. He seemed to think that if agreement were reached on the other issues involved, a form of words could be found, by means of skilful drafting which would dispose of this particular difficulty.

On the first part of the third point (viz. the giving of an undertaking not to proceed further with the Oath Bill) Mr. Walshe thought that Mr. de Valera would find this quite impossible. We, on our part, emphasised that, according to the best of our belief, it was the point to which the Secretary of State attached the greatest possible importance.

On the second part of the third point (i.e. arrangements as regards the Governor-Generalship) Mr. Walshe realised the constitutional difficulties, but obviously favoured the solution of a Commission of Three consisting of the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the Dáil, and Mr. de Valera. We had only a very general discussion on this, and Sir H. Batterbee and I confined ourselves to hinting at the advisability of a possible discussion between the legal advisers of the two Governments since the question arising was one of the interpretation of the Letters Patent and Royal Instructions, as well as of the Treaty and I.F.S. constitution.

Mr. Walshe admitted that if any question of interpretation of the Treaty arose, the United Kingdom Government had a right to come into the discussion.

On the question of possible concessions by the United Kingdom Government, Mr. Walshe made the following observations.

As regards (1) (possible modification of the present wording of the Oath) he observed that he thought that a form of Oath in closer correspondence with the wording employed in any other Dominion would not be a concession to the Free State.

On this we called attention to the words ?For example' and said that, as indeed appeared from the wording used, we did not think that this phrasing was meant to be 'exclusive'.

On the question of mitigation of some part of the present financial burden of the sums due to the United Kingdom, we were able to find an opportunity of explaining to Mr. Walshe in the sense indicated in the Minutes of the Irish Situation Committee, viz. that we were in no position to commit the U.K. Government, any more than he was in a position to commit Mr. de Valera; that we had no authority to discuss figures; but that we felt sure that there could be no question of reaching a settlement on the political issues and then making an offer which would be valueless from the point of view of the I.F.S. Government; in short that if a settlement were reached on the essential points the I.F.S. Government might be sure of a 'fair deal' on the financial issue. We made it clear that, if it came to a question of figures, the figures would have to be settled by Ministers but, of his own accord, Mr. Walshe volunteered the view that he thought that he could bring Mr. de Valera up to a payment of £2,500,000; he did not think that more was possible.

As to the question of a trade agreement, we had no detailed discussion; it was indeed obvious that Mr. Walshe had no special views as to such agreement beyond the fact that it was important that it should be negotiated and brought into force quickly.

Obviously he had in his mind November 15th.

The following further points in the discussion deserve mention.

(a) In connection with Mr. Walshe's suggestion that any new agreement might contain a statement in the preamble to the effect that it was made as between two equal members of the Commonwealth, we pointed out that if the agreement itself consisted merely of mitigation of the burden as regards payments and a trade agreement, the United Kingdom, so far as we could judge, would have no reply to the criticism that they had given everything away and received no consideration. Mr. Walshe appeared to realise the force of this observation, and thought that there would be no difficulty in finding a form of words which could be used as one of the Articles in any new agreement. The form of words which he appeared to have in mind was something like this. 'This agreement is made between two co-equal members of the Commonwealth with a sincere desire for whole-hearted co-operation in the future.'

(b) Mr. Walshe came back again and again to the point that an undertaking not to proceed further with the Oath Bill presented the greatest difficulty of all. We, on the other hand, repeatedly called his attention to the fact that this question was the beginning of the whole trouble; that Mr. de Valera had taken action without any reference to the British Government and in a manner entirely contrary to our interpretation of the Treaty. In these circumstances, we said, was it surprising that Ministers should feel that a settlement on this point was essential? Mr. Walshe took note of our views. He emphasised Mr. de Valera's difficulties but volunteered to think over whether it would be practicable to suggest, as a possible part of any agreement, a form of words which might make clear that the King was the acknowledged head of the Irish Free State. He also begged us to report to Mr. Thomas the difficulties which he had explained to us as to Mr. de Valera's position in this respect and we, of course, promised that we would do so, though we were careful to give him not the slightest hope that the Secretary of State would modify his view.

(c) Whilst our discussion on the Governor-Generalship was primarily concerned with the question of the interim arrangements desirable to provide for the position after 1st November, Mr. Walshe informed us that it had been the view of almost all the members of the Cosgrave Government (with the exception of Mr. Blythe) that, having regard to the geographical position of the Irish Free State, the Governor-Generalship was not necessary and that a far better arrangement would be for there to be no intervening authority between the King and his Irish Free State Ministers, except that for the purpose of giving assent to I.F.S. Acts and perhaps some other matters, it would be desirable for there to be a Commission of Three appointed by the King for this purpose. He expressed the personal view that Mr. de Valera could be brought to agree to an arrangement of this kind. We did not make any comment on this.

(d) We put the following point, which had already been raised at the meeting between Ministers a fortnight ago, to Mr. Walshe. Supposing it were found possible to reach an agreement, what security would the United Kingdom Government have that Mr. de Valera might not, in his turn, be repudiated, with the result that the position would be worse than before.

Mr. Walshe's reply to this was that Mr. de Valera would, as he had said, put any new agreement before the Dáil for ratification. He would stake his whole political future upon it. If Mr. de Valera were once won over to the British Commonwealth, there would be no party worth the name left in the I.F.S. which would seek to overthrow the Commonwealth connection.

(e) Generally Mr. Walshe expressed the view that Mr. de Valera was moving to the 'right'. He was now most careful to carry out all the constitutional forms in relation to the King e.g. by approaching His Majesty informally before tendering formal advice. When he had first assumed office, he was opposed to approaching the King at all. In this connection Mr. Walshe told us that Mr. de Valera, in the Dáil yesterday, in reply to a Question by Mr. McGilligan,2 had stated that he was not afraid to say that the Letter of Credence in connection with the appointment of an I.F.S. Minister at Brussels had been signed by the King.

Mr. Walshe said, in effect, was not the real solution of the political difficulty to continue the process of bringing Mr. de Valera into the Commonwealth 'by degrees', i.e. by encouraging him to follow up the practice of submitting documents for the King's own signature, and by arranging, if possible, that he should have personal audience of the King?

As to this we observed that, whilst the situation in this respect was, of course, realised by those in the United Kingdom who were in a position to understand the most recent developments, it was emphatically one which was not understood by the community in general and it did not carry us very far. For example, it would be impossible to use Mr. de Valera's advance in this respect as a public argument e.g. in favour of an agreement which made no express reference to the Oath question.


The position was left thus. Mr. Walshe took away the document explaining the attitude of the United Kingdom Government, which he had taken down in writing, and promised to think over, during the rest of the day, the possibility of sketching out the heads of a draft agreement, going as far as he thought Mr. de Valera would go in the direction of meeting the views of the United Kingdom Government. He was rather tired as a result of having spent in travelling three nights out of the last four, and we accordingly arranged a further meeting for tomorrow morning.

Generally speaking, his view seemed to be that if there were to be any chance of an agreement, it was of the essence that the proceedings should be kept informal and absolutely secret up to the latest possible moment.


  1. The essential points on which the United Kingdom Government must insist in any settlement with the Irish Free State Government are:-
    1. the acceptance by the Irish Free State Government of the 1921 Treaty as valid and to be observed according to its terms unless and until it is altered by agreement;
    2. that no further question should be raised by the Irish Free State Government as to validity of the Financial Settlement, as embodied in the Financial Agreements of 1923 and 1926 and the Boundary Agreement of 1925;
    3. that the acceptance of the Treaty should be accompanied on the part of the Irish Free State Government by
      1. an undertaking not to proceed further with the Oath Bill,
      2. suitable arrangements, in accordance with the Treaty, to take effect on Mr. McNeill's relinquishing the office of Governor-General.
  2. If the above points were accepted, the United Kingdom Government, with the object of arriving at a friendly settlement as between two members of the Commonwealth, would be prepared:-
    1. to discuss any modification of the present wording of the Oath,as,for example, to bring it into closer correspondence with the wording employed in any other Dominion;
    2. to discuss with the Irish Free State Government methods by which the present burden of the sums due to the Government of the United Kingdom under the Financial Agreements mentioned above could be mitigated; to proceed forthwith to the negotiation of a Trade Agreement.

1 Copy attached to this document as Appendix I.

2 Patrick McGilligan (1889-1979) TD (Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1924-32), Minister for External Affairs (1927-32), Minister for Finance (1948-51), Attorney-General (1954-57).

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