No. 400 NAI 2003/17/181

Memorandum by Joseph P. Walshe for Eamon de Valera (Dublin) on a
telephone conversation with Malcolm MacDonald

Dublin, 10 December 1936

Report No. 2

At 12.40 p.m. today, Mr. MacDonald, the British Secretary of State for the Dominions, called me on the phone. The following is a report of our conversation.

Having asked me to give his kind regards to you, Mr. MacDonald said that Batterbee had reported to him our conversation of this morning (vide my report No. 1 of today's date).1 His difficulties concerning our suggested reply to questions in the House of Commons were very great. The suggested reply, in view of what I had told Batterbee about our intention to make amendments in the Constitution, would be regarded as ambiguous when the provisions of the Irish Bill became known. Whatever the Prime Minister said would have to relate to a clearly defined Constitution. He would have to make clear what we propose to do, and the members of the House of Commons would want to know all the implications of the suggested answer if it were given by Mr. Baldwin. Mr. MacDonald then went on to say that it would help very much indeed if the Dáil could meet tomorrow and legislation were passed simultaneously. In fact, he felt quite sure that there was a considerable body of opinion in the House of Commons which would require postponement of the British legislation so that it would coincide with ours. He felt that it would be unfortunate and very difficult for them if they had to postpone a decision.

I told Mr. MacDonald that the difficulties you had in having the Dáil summoned tomorrow were very great indeed, and I did not know whether you would be able to surmount them. At any rate, I would tell you of his request, and I was sure that you would go as far as you possibly could to meet it. I further emphasised how difficult it would be for you to rush Parliament in this particular matter.

Mr. MacDonald then said that it was always understood up to date that the position would remain completely without prejudice to your desire to introduce legislation later on in connection with the new Constitution. He had no quarrel with that.

I promised him to get into touch with you at once, and to give him a reply as speedily as possible.

At 1.30 p.m., I phoned to Sir Harry Batterbee, and informed him, on your instructions, that, if you could at all secure agreement with the leaders of the other parties, you would endeavour to have a meeting of our Parliament tomorrow. You were already getting into touch with these leaders and having preliminary messages sent to all the deputies. I told him that you had no hope that our legislation would be completed tomorrow, but that you would do your best to have it completed for Saturday. The members of the Dáil would not tolerate being hustled in this particular matter.

Batterbee then referred to the reply which Mr. Baldwin should give if asked a question about our position this afternoon, and we finally agreed, with your concurrence, on the following answer:-

'I have received a message from Mr. de Valera that the Government of the Irish Free State are summoning their Parliament, if possible, tomorrow to make provision for the situation which has arisen in the Irish Free State.'

Batterbee did not think that the conclusion of their legislation could be postponed longer than tomorrow evening, but that was not his affair. He seemed to be in much better spirits on hearing that there was a chance of our Parliament considering this matter at the same time as theirs, and I got the impression that he was no longer much troubled about our constitutional amendments.

When I expressed the hope that the flood of cipher wires would soon cease between us to allow us to get back to our normal work, he said that he hoped it would soon start to flow again on a question which would be much more agreeable for both sides. I do not attach any importance to this last remark, except so far as it confirms the impression just noted.

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