No. 397 NAI 2003/17/181

Memorandum from Joseph P. Walshe to Eamon de Valera (Dublin)

Dublin, 10 December 1936


I phoned Sir Harry Batterbee, Assistant Secretary of the Dominions Office, at 10.15 this morning. The following is a report of our conversation.

Batterbee understood that the abdication was actually taking place at that time. The British Government had not yet got word that the document of abdication had been signed by the King, nor had Batterbee seen the text. There should be no mention of abdication officially until Baldwin made his statement this afternoon in the House of Commons. If we found it necessary to call Parliament immediately, they would ask us to call it for the purpose of ?dealing with possible eventualities'. The text of the abdication would be communicated to us, immediately it was signed, by the King's Private Secretary, and an identical signed copy would be sent by mail this evening to all the States of the Commonwealth. When Baldwin made the announcement in the House of Commons this afternoon there would probably be a short debate. The Bill would be taken through all its stages tomorrow. In his speech this afternoon Baldwin would indicate in a general way that Courses 1 and 2 were unacceptable to all the Members of the Commonwealth in view of insuperable difficulties. He would not emphasise the view of any particular State of the Commonwealth, and he would especially make it clear that there was no forced abdication. The legislation in Great Britain could not, under any circumstances, be delayed.

Batterbee then went on to ask what we were doing about legislation. The assent of all the other States appearing on the face of the Bill would inevitably provoke questions as to the position of the Irish Free State. They wanted help from us as to what answer should be given to these questions. I told him that the President would not agree to any other answer than the following:- 'The Government of the Irish Free State are summoning Parliament to make provision for the situation which has arisen'. Batterbee insisted that it would be impossible for them to confine themselves to that answer. The Attorney-General would at least have to say that, as a lawyer, he had to look at the law and interpret the Constitution, especially Article 51, as implying 'that the King of the United Kingdom was the King in the Irish Free State within the meaning of the Irish Free State Constitution until the Dáil otherwise provided'. The Attorney-General would enunciate this doctrine as a mere theory if that would help us, but what was absolutely certain was that the Attorney-General could not refuse to answer questions relating to the position in the interval if cornered. I told Batterbee that any interpretation by them detrimental to our status would cause us very serious difficulties. In reply to this he said that he believed that some expression could be found which would be helpful to both sides, and he asked me to put the matter again before you and to endeavour to give him an answer as early as possible. He asked me then what our view was of the position in the interval between what he called their zero hour and our Act, and I told him that frankly we should have to regard King Edward as continuing his functions here until the Governor-General had given his Assent to our Bill.

He then asked me what we intended to do, and I made the following statement as instructed by you:-

'We intend to make legislative and Constitutional provision to meet the situation. In order to do so we are going to amend the existing Constitution so that the law would exactly express the realities of the Constitutional position in regard to the functions exercised directly by the King. The precise manner in which this is to be done has not yet been determined upon.'

As the situation was at present we could not call the Dáil together before Monday, and we hoped to conclude on Thursday.

Batterbee seemed to get very perturbed towards the end of this conversation, and he said that he hoped very much that we should do nothing to change the relations between the two countries or between ourselves and the King. He thought 'it would be deplorable to seize the present situation for that purpose'. He asked me whether he could repeat what I had said to the Attorney-General and his Prime Minister, and I replied that there was no objection to his doing so. He indicated that he would probably come back on the phone fairly soon.

I feel myself that the immediate calling of the Dáil would solve the main difficulty regarding the interval situation which they could, if they liked, regard as a device used by us for establishing the principle once for all of the several Monarchy. Indeed, there seems to be no doubt that during the interval Saorstát Éireann would be a completely independent Monarchy, and whatever their Attorney-General might say this view would be held by the majority of sincere Constitutional authorities. I expect we shall have an appeal from Baldwin to you in the course of the next few hours to allow them to say or do something which would prevent such a situation arising.

[initialled] J.P.W.

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