Volume 4 1932~1936

Doc No.

No. 26 NAI DT S2264

Despatch from Eamon de Valera to J.H. Thomas (London)
(No. 59)

Dublin, 5 April 1932


The Government of the Irish Free State has had under consideration the views of the British Government communicated to me in your despatch No. 69 of the 23rd March.

2. Whether the Oath was or was not 'an integral part of the Treaty made ten years ago' is not now the issue. The real issue is that the Oath is an intolerable burden to the people of this State and that they have declared in the most formal manner that they desire its instant removal.

3. The suggestion in your despatch that the Government of the Irish Free State contemplates acting dishonourably cannot in justice be let pass. The pages of the history of the relations between Great Britain and Ireland are indeed stained by many breaches of faith, but I must remind you the guilty party has not been Ireland.

4. In justice also I must point out that the observance of the agreement of 1921 has involved no parity of sacrifice as between Great Britain and Ireland. This agreement gave effect to what was the will of the British Government. It was on the other hand directly opposed to the will of the Irish people and was submitted to by them only under the threat of immediate and terrible war. Since it was signed it has cost Britain nothing. In fact Britain's prestige throughout the world has been considerably enhanced by the belief, carefully fostered, that Ireland had at last been set free and the national aspirations of her people fully satisfied. For Ireland, however, this agreement has meant the consummation of the outrage of Partition, and the alienation of the most sacred part of our national territory with all the cultural and material loss that this unnatural separation entails.

British maintenance parties are still in occupation in some of our principal ports, even in the area of the Free State. Our coastal defence is still retained in British hands. Britain claims the right in times of war or strained relations with a foreign power to make demands upon Ireland which if granted will make our right to neutrality a mockery.

This agreement divided the people of Ireland into two hostile camps, those who deemed it a duty to resist, facing the consequences, and those who deemed it prudent in the national interest temporarily to submit, the latter being placed in the no less cruel position of having apparently to hold Ireland for England with 'an economy of English lives,' to quote from the late Lord Birkenhead's1 famous exposition of the policy in the House of Lords.

To England this agreement gave peace and added prestige. In Ireland it raised brother's hand against brother, gave us ten years of blood and tears and besmirched the name of Ireland wherever a foul propaganda has been able to misrepresent us.

During these ten years, moreover, there has been extracted from us, though in part only as a consequence of the agreement, a financial tribute which, relatively to population, puts a greater burden on the people of the Irish Free State than the burden of the war reparation payments on the people of Germany, and, relatively to taxable capacity, a burden ten times as heavy as the burden on the people of Britain of their debt payments to the United States of America.

5. But, as I have already indicated, we are dealing at the moment with the much narrower issue whether an oath is or is not to be imposed on members elected to sit in the Parliament of the Free State. The Government of the Irish Free State must maintain that this is a matter of purely domestic concern. The elimination of the Oath, and the removal of the Articles of the Constitution necessary for that purpose, is a measure required for the peace, order, and good government of the State. The competence of the legislature of the Irish Free State to pass such a measure is not open to question and has been expressly recognized by the British legislature itself. It is the intention of my Government, therefore, to introduce immediately on the reassembly of Parliament a Bill for the removal of Article 17 of the Constitution, and for such consequential changes as may be required to make the removal effective.

6. With regard to the Land Annuities: my Government will be obliged if you will state what is the 'formal and explicit undertaking to continue to pay the Land Annuities to the National Debt Commissioners,' to which you make reference in your despatch. The Government of the Irish Free State is not aware of any such undertaking, the British Government can rest assured that any just and lawful claims of Great Britain, or of any creditor of the Irish Free State, will be scrupulously honoured by its Government.

7. In conclusion, may I express my regret that in the statement conveying to the House of Commons the information given you by our High Commissioner2 that part of his message was omitted which assured your Government of the desire of the Government of the Irish Free State that the relations between the peoples of our respective countries should be friendly. These friendly relations cannot be established on pretence, but they can be established on the solid foundation of mutual respect and common interest, and they would long ago have been thus established had the forces that tend to bring us together not been interfered with by the attempts of one country to dominate the other.

I have the honour to be,
Faithfully yours,
Eamon de Valera

1 Frederick Edwin Smith (1872-1930), British Lord Chancellor (1919-22), Conservative member of the British Treaty delegation (1921), Secretary of State for India (1924-28).

2 John W. Dulanty.