No. 191 NAI DT S1801D

Rough notes by Diarmuid O'Hegarty on the conference held to discuss the forthcoming meeting in London on the Boundary Question

(Strictly Confidential)

Dublin, 28 January 1924>

There were present:-

  1. The President, Professor MacNeill, Messrs. O'Higgins, Kennedy, Blythe, O'Shiel, Stephens, McElligott1 and O'Hegarty.
  2. Mr. Stephens undertook to provide each of the Delegates with a dossier containing pronouncements on the Boundary Question by British and Northern politicians, a copy of the Craig-Collins Pact and a number of schemes for settlement which had been propounded from time to time.
  3. Mr. McElligott undertook to examine the possibility of any proposal for Fiscal Union and generally the financial position of Northern Ireland as disclosed in its Balance Sheets.
  4. Mr. Stephens was of opinion that if a discussion on Fiscal Unity took place, it might be possible to get agreement as to the desirability of the same Fiscal system, so far as Customs and Excise were concerned, being adopted for all Ireland. This would involve some settlement of the Authority which would impose other taxation (e.g. Income Tax) on Northern Ireland, and both Mr. Stephens and Mr. McElligott expressed themselves of the opinion that this could be met by giving this competence to the Northern Parliament, thus obviating the Northern representation at Westminster. Professor MacNeill and Mr. O'Shiel were both in agreement that this aspect should not be allowed to side-track the main issue.
  5. Mr. O'Higgins raised the question as to the effect of the inclusion of Tyrone and Fermanagh in Saorstát ?ireann on Northern finances and strength. The general opinion was that though they could hold out from the Financial point of view, they would nevertheless be very much weakened, notwithstanding that in such case they would be dealing with a more homogenous and industrially centralised population, and their Police requirements would be considerably reduced. It was pointed out that they would be faced with exorbitant over-head charges, and that we would obtain a complete Railway system to their disadvantage. The possibility of their merging in the British system was mentioned, but was considered unlikely.
  6. Professor MacNeill thought a hard and fast stand should be made on the plebiscite system with the smallest possible area as unit. The Northern reading of Article 12 as providing merely for a rectification of the boundary gave away any case which might be put up regarding the sanctity of County boundaries, and hence would prevent them from using this as an argument for a plebiscite on a County basis.
  7. The likely procedure at the forthcoming Conference was considered. The President was of opinion that Mr. MacDonald would open with an expression of his desire for a solution and his hope for a United Ireland, and that after hearing replies from both parties would adumbrate his proposals.

    Our contribution in the first instance would be to the effect that the only real solution was a Parliament of all Ireland. Craig would probably reply on a 'what we have we hold' basis. He would use the 1920 Act as his argument.

    The Attorney General and others pointed out that the 1920 Act was an arbitrary division of Ireland without the consent of either population, that a United Parliament with a Northern Parliament subordinate thereto would not affect what the North held, as it would cover 'reserved matters'. The boundary provided by that Act disposed of large areas against the will of the population. Tyrone and Fermanagh had in two elections rejected the division. The Treaty provided machinery for revision of this injustice, and it was the duty of the British Government who had created the injustice to see that this machinery was availed of. Professor MacNeill was anxious that very sympathetic treatment should be accorded to the Labour Ministry unless they showed that they were unfair.

  8. Mr. O'Higgins said that no Irish Government could face the people having given away the Boundary Commission unless the North agreed to return to the position which existed before they opted out. It would be politically impossible for them to do that. Mr. Stephens urged that if there was a proposal to return to this position two questions should be attended to (a) the boundary as agreed should be sealed by the Treaty machinery of a Boundary Commissioner and (b) the protection of minorities in the Northern area.
  9. Delegates will be briefed by Mr. Stephens on the expulsion of Catholics from Belfast, the Peel Orange Lodge, the gerrymandering of constituencies and local electoral districts, and the re-introduction of the property qualification for Local Government franchise.
  10. A further Conference will be held before the departure of the Delegation.

1J.J. McElligott (Department of Finance).

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