No. 71 NAI DT S2027

Strictly confidential memorandum to each member of the
Executive Council by Kevin O’Shiel

DUBLIN, 21 April 1923


1. These questions of the first magnitude have been wisely held back until all our preparations have been completed and until an opportunity most favourable for us has turned up.

Fortunately, circumstances governing our commitments on these great issues have favoured us and enabled us to play for time and such a suitable opportunity in which to raise these matters.

It so chanced that Article 12 of the Treaty, which prescribes the method for adjusting the present admittedly imperfect Land Frontier laid down no time limit, and we are thus well within our rights in awaiting an opportune moment - so important a factor for the success of our negotiations.

2. Apart from the excellent, and, in itself, conclusive reason that we are not ready, there were other excellent reasons why the Boundary Commission, in so far as we are concerned, has not yet been created. Chief amongst these was the state of turmoil and anarchy prevailing in Saorstát, which monopolised, and rightly monopolised all the Government's time and energy. To have raised the Boundary issue any time within the past six months would have been utter folly and would have played directly into the hands of Craig and his British Tory allies.

3. Happily the forces of the Government have prevailed against the forces of disorder, and the chaotic revolt against the people may now safely be said to be in its death agony. With the near advent of Peace and the prospect of the restoration and solid entrenchment of the Reign of Law, the opportune moment for dealing with this issue will have arrived.

4. I set down here very roughly a few notes on the present aspects of the situation for the information of the Ministry.

The period covering the negotiations seems to me to fall naturally into four distinct stages, viz.,

a) A Preliminary Stage, in which the opening announcement of policy which will set the ball rolling will be made, the British Government formally acquainted of our purpose and the Boundary Commissioners all duly appointed.

b) A Functioning Stage, in which the Boundary Commission will be engaged at its actual work as prescribed by Article 12.

c) A Stage terminating with the promulgation of the Commission's findings, and

d) A Final Stage (possibly) in which the findings of the Commission may be challenged, under certain circumstances, before a Higher Tribunal.

Now, as I have pointed out in earlier Memoranda, we should manoeuvre for a position during all these stages in which we will be able to effect friendly contact with the North-East and over a round table conference hammer out a better and more lasting type of agreement than that provided by the very imperfect Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission should only be regarded as merely an excellent weapon for furthering our great objective, viz., National Union.

It is clear that Stages a) & b) and, in a lesser degree, Stage c) are capable of presenting many opportunities for the establishment of such contact. For example, in Stage a) after the official announcements have been made and the British are duly acquainted of our purpose and the Boundary Commission appears very imminent it is by no means unlikely that Britain may make some move to both Craig and ourselves to meet in London and endeavour to fix up the thing. Failing that, other opportunities equally valuable will present themselves during Stage b). We have a far stronger case than is generally imagined. The British Government, undoubtedly, won't like to 'let down Ulster', but, on the other hand, it certainly won't like to offend us. We will be Members of the League presently and our voice there, should we will it, will count as something if used against her, and in alliance with France, Belgium and other countries that are not friendly to her at the moment. Besides, she fully realises by this time what it is to upset the international Irish 'Hornet's Nest' on her shoulders. Without doing anything childish like tearing up the whole Treaty because of the Commission's going against us, we can yet use our really powerful position as a Dominion in many ways against her, which will certainly not be pleasant.

All this England well knows and just such an impasse is created which will force her to cry out 'Can't you both come together and settle the confounded thing!'.

Our propaganda, etc. during these Stages will help towards this possibility.

If we go as far as Stage c) without any conference or suggestion of a conference I am afraid prospects of an amicable settlement will be hopeless indeed, and we will have to rely on the findings of the Commission and trust to the chance of bringing them up for review before the League of Nations or the Imperial Conference.

5. A curious crux will arise during Stage a) if Craig carries out his oft repeated threat and refuses to nominate a Commissioner. Craig will be thus acting once again along the traditional North-Eastern lines of ignoring any British Statutes that may be hostile to his policy. This action of his will add greatly to our moral prestige in the matter. We will, no doubt, notify Great Britain of this act with a view to getting her to take disciplinary action against her subordinate Parliament.

Should Craig continue and should Britain take no action we will be given a valid reason for bringing the whole matter up before the League of Nations or the Imperial Conference.

But that is not likely to happen, as British diplomatists are too shrewd to let it go to that extent. It is more likely that Craig will swallow his brave 'never, nevers' and appoint his man. But the most likely solution is that Britain will come to Craig's relief at this stage and suggest a conference. This would suit us down to the ground and is just what we are manoeuvring for.

I have it on fairly good authority that Britain will never let the matter get as far as a functioning Commission.

This being so it is all the more reason why we should, openly at any rate, keep a stiff upper lip, and make a show of being very resolute and determined as to pressing forward our claims. A little bit of the Ulster dourness and thick headedness at this stage will produce excellent results. Legally and morally we will be in the right and Craig will be in the wrong, and we should use this card for all we are worth. Depend upon it[,] Craig will not be sorry of a way out of the impasse created by his oft repeated determination to have nothing to do with the Commission.

6. Deputations from the North-East - There are signs that these deputations are becoming active again. At present a Hibernian deputation has been formed and awaits the word to see the President. I have already submitted my views on this. In my opinion it would be unwise for the President to receive a Hibernian deputation at this stage before a Sinn Féin deputation. This would be tantamount to admitting that Devlin had the Government's ear, and would have a very bad effect on our supporters, and create great jealousy.

My opinion is that either the President should call together our own Advisory Committee, which contains Sinn Féin as well as A.O.H.1 representatives, and address them first; or better still, ignore all Northern Ireland groups and make his first statement on future Northern policy from the Dáil, which is, after all, the Parliament of the Nation, and as such, representative of the entire Nation. This, to my mind, would be the best and safest course, particularly as we have decided to deal with this problem as a great National problem, and not as a petty parochial problem, and one purely in the interests of the people of Tyrone, Fermanagh and Down, etc. etc.

This statement should not be made until peace is definitely here, as it would be highly unwise for us to open up this affair until that event. In the meantime deputations should be informed that the President intends shortly to make an official statement on Northern policy in the Dáil, and that therefore he cannot receive any deputations, etc. etc.

7. 'Festina Lente' - My view is that this should be our motto during all the Boundary negotiations. Haste at any time would be very bad. I feel that time is on our side and that we have all to gain by going slowly and cautiously.

We should allow a good measure of time to elapse between every interval, as after the first outburst of indignation from the North-East a much more tolerant spirit will mature according as the thing becomes more and more inevitable. With perfect Peace behind us and the Reign of Law solidly reestablished in Saorstát we will puncture ab initio much of Craig's strongest argumentations.

I suggest that the steps in the negotiations should take the following form and order:

(a) The ball opens by a Governmental statement to the Press (and through the President's Secretary to Deputations) that as soon as Peace has been completely restored - a consummation which is shortly expected - it is the President's intention to make an official statement on future Northern policy in the Dáil.

(b) The President makes statement in the Dáil - This statement should take the form of a strong but unimpassioned pronouncement on our Treaty Rights under Clause 12 and on our adherence to those rights, and our intention of pressing our case on for the Boundary Commission.

It should display also a strong feeling of friendship for the North-East and a hope that now that the Reign of Law has been restored in Saorstát they may, at the eleventh hour, unite with us, etc. etc.

This statement should also explain that the Boundary Commission is an International Commission and therefore a matter solely for the Government as representing all the People of Ireland, and that in this the Government is carrying out procedure along International precedents. (This to out any interference as by right which certain groups may put forward.)

(c) Our Boundary Commissioner is nominated - (In this connection I hope presently to submit some names to the Executive Council for its consideration. Let me say here that we will require in this connection a man of great weight and sagacity, and one of irreproachable name. It matters not from what part of the country he hails, or even if he should come from outside our shores, as long as he has the requisite qualities. He should be a man without prejudice on the Northern Question, yet one who has a thorough mastery of the situation and with sufficient backbone to fight his corner hard and well, if necessary. Above all, he should be a person who is prepared to act on the Government's slightest suggestion - to go hard when the Government tells him to go hard, and to soften when the Government tells him to soften. This is particularly important in view of the possibility of negotiations for settlement proceeding outside the Commission, whilst the Commission is actually functioning.

An ideal person, in my opinion, would be Mr. James McNeill, our High Commissioner in London.

It may in the ultimate be necessary to ask him to take up this temporary work as I cannot, at the moment, imagine a more suitable person in every way).

(d) Notification to Great Britain of our Purpose and the Name of our Commissioner.

(This is merely formal and will probably be answered formally by Britain, notifying us of her Commissioner and that of Northern Ireland.)

These then are the immediate steps in connection with the Boundary Commission.

8. Work in the Bureau.

Mr. Stephens, secretary of the Bureau, is preparing a Report on the present stage of the work there. As this Report will be very shortly in the hands of Ministers, I will say nothing further here save that the work will be found to be very forward in every way. All our research and investigation work is practically concluded, and at the present we are engaged on two things, viz., the preparation of a 'Handbook on Ulster', and in drafting the introductory statement of claim of our case, which will accompany the several historical, economic, statistical and geographical annexes.

We have made our claim for two lots of territory - a maximum demand which we can argue well from the wishes of the inhabitants point of view, but not so well from the economic and geographic point of view, and a minimum demand which will give us all Fermanagh and the greater part of Tyrone, East and South Derry, South Armagh and South and East Down, and which is supported with unanswerable statistical, economic and geographic arguments.

1Ancient Order of Hibernians.

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