No. 465 NAI DT S4285

Letter from Patrick McGilligan to Ramsay MacDonald (London)

London, 4 November 1930

Dear Prime Minister,

As you are well aware, this matter of the Privy Council is of vital importance to us. It is not a new matter so far as we are concerned. It was already vital in 1926 and the Conference held in that year reported that 'it was no part of the policy of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain that questions affecting judicial appeals should be determined otherwise than in accordance with the wishes of the part of the Empire primarily affected. It was, however, generally recognised that where changes in the existing system were proposed which, while primarily affecting one part, raised issues in which other parts were also concerned, such changes ought only to be carried out after consultation and discussion'. So far as this went, it was entirely agreeable to us as it was clear that, so far as it concerned the Irish Free State, issues affecting other parts of the Commonwealth were not likely to arise.

You may not, however, be aware of the circumstances in which we agreed to the second paragraph, which states that we were not pressing the matter in relation to the then Conference, reserving our fight to bring up the matter at the present Imperial Conference. The agreement arose out of a meeting between Mr. Kevin O'Higgins and the late Lord Birkenhead. At that meeting, Lord Birkenhead, while conceding that we had all the rights of the matter, urged strongly that we should not then press it to a conclusion as he had already taken great political risks through the support he had given us and as a certain section of his party were filled with distrust of our every action. He pointed out that the time that had elapsed since the creation of the Irish Free State was too short a time for the overcoming of those suspicions. It would be urged that we were moving ahead too rapidly; and with these considerations in mind he would not be able, notwithstanding his recognition of the justice of our claim, to give us support for our action in that Conference. If Mr. O'Higgins would agree to that, he, Lord Birkenhead, would promise him the full weight of his support when the matter was brought up at the next Imperial Conference.

The outcome of this conversation was that the Report of 1926 would be on the lines already quoted - that we would not press the matter to a conclusion at that Conference and that it would be raised again at the present Conference, our claims having the support of Lord Birkenhead. The minutes of the 1926 Conference contain a reference to this conversation and its outcome, but do not, of course, elaborate the considerations which secured Mr. O'Higgins' agreement.

The urgency of this matter arises from the importance attached to it by every section in the Irish Free State and by reason of the tendency to test by reference to the position regarding Appeals to the Judicial Committee, the value of assurances publicly and privately given at the time of the Treaty, and since, that whatever measure of freedom Dominion status gives to Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa that will be extended to the Irish Free State. I do not think I need assure you that the whole policy of my Government has been directed towards securing ever-improving relations between our peoples, and that we are convinced that as long as this question remains in abeyance so long will it continue to be a hindrance to our endeavours to that end.

Yours sincerely,
P. Mc Gilligan

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