No. 137 UCDA P150/2183

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

London, 25 January 1938

Dear President,
I spent some two hours with Harding yesterday on the necessity of doing something substantial and evident on the partition question. I left him in no doubt that unless an inroad were made on partition at this moment of history it would be impossible for you to come to an agreement in relation to defence matters.

After this conversation I am, if possible, more convinced than before that an agreement which excludes defence would be of no real value to the British. I also feel that in our case such an agreement if it were feasible would be only postponing the evil day. The British are hankering after an agreement because it is essential for them to close the ranks as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, and still more because they want to get the goodwill and if possible the actual co-operation of the United States in the difficulties which are now facing them. Harding listened to all I had to say most carefully. I gave him the actual words of your letter1 and he can hardly have any illusions left about the possibility of a settlement without some concrete step towards unification.

At the same time I can see in Harding a pretty good representative of the main body of the Unionist party, and he did not hesitate to repeat what he had said to me so frequently before that the one thing the British Government could not do was to sacrifice their internal unity. It is clear that they value this internal unity more than the extra degree of goodwill and friendship which a settlement with us would bring them from America. They have set very definite limits to the concessions which they can make to us in relation to partition, and it is because these limits are somewhat narrow they are ready to give us practically everything in all the other matters in dispute. They still want a concrete suggestion from you. Do you think it wise to make one? If left to themselves I feel that they will hardly go beyond the Council of Ireland, slightly elaborated, and more definite with regard to dates of meetings and functions. In fact I think whether we make a suggestion or not that some such organ, which might be regarded as a symbol that the process of unification has begun, will be the limit of their concessions. With regard to the method they appear to be ready, if the suggestion is made by you or approved by you, to press its acceptance on Craigavon. Their fear of their party seems to be genuine, and Harding urged very strongly with me that we should not ask them to do anything which would make the position of the Prime Minister difficult. The slightest hint of coercion or of any intention to put an early end to partition would destroy the Government's position here and would make it impossible for them to make any settlement at all. I think we should take this as a relatively fair estimate of the difficulties of the British Government. The strongest element in the party seems to be as fanatical as the Belfast Government itself. I shall continue by every means in my power to persuade Harding of the gravity of the situation and to try and inform you as nearly as I can to what precise point you can push them without running the risk of getting nothing at all on partition or on the other matters being discussed.

I have given to Harding the Press telegrams from America and I shall continue to do so as I receive them. I am of course emphasising especially strongly the position of the Nationalists in the partitioned area. The High Commissioner argued in substantially the same manner with MacDonald. This afternoon we are trying to get Pakenham2 to write an answer to Craigavon's letter in today's 'Daily Telegraph'.

We shall keep the chief American Press correspondents here inspired in so far as it can be done: material sent from London seems to have more authority than the same material sent from Dublin.

As Sean Murphy has told you I feel that a direct appeal to Cordell Hull through MacWhite to move the British to take some concrete step would be more effective than an appeal going indirectly from the American Minister in Dublin who probably does not cut much ice with the State Department. A word from Cordell Hull to the British Ambassador in Washington would have more weight than all the propaganda we can do put together.

Meanwhile I have a very good hope that we shall secure all we desire in non partition matters and enough in relation to that question to enable us to carry out what the British regard as the essentials for an agreement.

I remain,
Dear President,
With great respect and esteem,
Yours sincerely,
[signed] J.P. Walshe

1 Possibly a reference to Document No. 136.

2 Frank Aungier Pakenham (Seventh Earl of Longford) (1905-2001), British Labour politician, and author (including Peace by Ordeal (London, 1935), an account of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations).

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