Volume 1 1919~1922

Doc No.

No. 129 UCDA P150/1902

Memorandum by James O'Connor of an interview with Edward Carson


First interview:- Thursday 27th January 1921. This interview took place at Sir E. Carson's house, 5 Eaton Place, London, as did also the two other interviews. The date is Thursday 27th January 1921.

Lord Justice O'Connor saw Sir Edward Carson by appointment; O'Connor told Carson that he thought that there was a great desire in Ireland for peace, and that he could see no insuperable objection to peace so far as separate treatment for Ulster was concerned; that the Sinn Fein movement was a perfectly honest movement, without anything in it of self-seeking or sectarianism. Carson replied that he also was anxious for peace, and now that the right of Ulster to separate treatment was accorded by the Home Rule Act, he would do anything within reason to promote peace.

O'Connor said he thought Dominion Home Rule would bring peace, and the Act could be amended so as to bring it within what is called Dominion Home Rule; and that fiscal autonomy was essential.

Carson said that there was this difficulty about fiscal autonomy, that Ulster was genuinely apprehensive of its results on their industrial centre, and that they would not agree to it.

O'Connor said, would they not agree to it for the rest of Ireland.

Carson said that would lead to inconvenient customs barriers, and that he thought that way impracticable. He added 'Would it settle the Irish question if Ireland got off Imperial contribution altogether. The idea of a tribute is revolting to me as well as to those for whom I speak. It savours of subserviency _ it would be much better to leave the question of contribution to come from Ireland itself as a voluntary thing'.

O'Connor said that the question of Imperial contribution was a very big thing: and of course that Ireland should escape it would be a big incentive, and the idea was well worthy of consideration; he thought Southern Ireland would not, for many a year at any rate, vote any Imperial contribution.

The general question of Irish unity was discussed. O'Connor understood Carson to be in favour of ultimate unity, th[r]ough the means of the Council of Ireland set up under the Home Rule Act.

The question of education in Northern Ireland was also mentioned, and Carson said that any provision safe-guarding and providing for the religious education of Catholics in the schools would have his approval, and that he had offered this when the Belfast Education Bill was on the tapis.

O'Connor said that Carson's desire for settlement, and his general outlook, led him to hope that a settlement might be arrived at; would Carson see Father O'Flanagan? Carson said he would.

O'Connor then asked if Carson would see de Valera. Carson said he would, and that he thought the quietest place (it had at the outset been agreed that the meeting should be confidential, and the fact of its taking place, or its import, should not be told to any person save those concerned _ the Prime Minister, de Valera, Father O'Flanagan), would be his residence. An appointment was made for the following Sunday night to meet Father O'Flanagan.

During this interview, Carson also mentioned that an agreement could be come to to allot seats in Northern Ireland so as to avoid contests.

Second interview, Sunday, 30th January, 1921

Carson, Father O'Flanagan, O'Connor were present at 5 Eaton Place. Father O'Flanagan expressed the view that the best prospect of peace lay by an interchange of views between Irishmen themselves. Carson agreed. Father O'Flanagan explained the Sinn Fein view as to a Republic. Carson said he understood the position; but that a Republic was obviously out of the question. Father O'Flanagan said that it would be impossible to get the Irish people to accept anything less. Carson said he understood that; and he thought that all that could be expected of Sinn Fein leaders would be to say:- 'Here is such and such a settlement. We do not accept it. It falls short of our demands. But we will work it. It is a step nearer to liberty. And we will work it in good faith'. In this connection Carson went on to outline a speech which, under these circumstances, he would deliver if he were in de Valera's place.

The consultation then drifted on to the question of a settlement. Carson said the difficulty the Prime Minister had was that there was no one to deliver the goods; no one to say on behalf of the Irish people that he would work any settlement, as Father O'Flanagan had admitted to the Prime Minister, and also to him (Carson) that he had no authority. Father O'Flanagan admitted the force of this, but said that on the other side there was the objection that if Sinn Fein receded from its position they would lose ground without any certainty of the settlement being seen through. O'Connor remarked that if neither party would express its mind, no progress could ever be made; he thought the difficulty could be got over by a confidential interchange of views to men like Father O'Flanagan and himself (O'Connor)?

The question of terms was here gone into, and Carson's attitude was a repetition of that outlined in respect of the Thursday interview. Carson said he did not know if Lloyd George would let Ireland off an Imperial contribution, but that he would try and see him to-morrow (Monday).

Father O'Flanagan expressed neither assent nor dissent to Carson's scheme.

Monday 31st January, 1921

Carson, O'Flanagan, O'Connor, 5 Eaton Place. Carson said he had seen the Prime Minister and Bonar Law together, and though he had no authority to say so, he thought there would be no difficulty in getting off all Imperial contribution if some reasonable assurance could be given that if the Act were amended accordingly it would be worked. Carson said that the Prime Minister had suggested either (1) a meeting between de Valera, O'Flanagan, O'Connor, Carson and Craig, to be followed by a meeting between the above five and the Prime Minister and Bonar Law; or, at de Valera's option, (2) a meeting between de Valera, O'Flanagan, O'Connor, the Prime Minister and Bonar Law in the first instance.

James O'Connor