No. 14 NAI DFA Secretary's Files S1
Dublin, 18 March 1932
On Friday, 18th March the Minister for External Affairs received the High Commissioner with the Secretary of the Department. It was the first time that the Minister had met the High Commissioner, and he questioned him on several matters concerning our trade with Great Britain, and in particular concerning the present as well as the possible future reactions of the British Government and British opinion in general to the expressed determination of the Minister to abolish the Oath. The High Commissioner detailed to the Minister a purely personal conversation which he had had with Mr. Thomas, the Dominions Secretary, on Monday, March 14th. In that conversation Mr. Thomas had expressed some anxiety about the consequences of one-sided action in relation to the Oath. He feared it would be followed by an economic boycott. No member of the British Cabinet would stand for it, and the Parliament - almost entirely Tory - would be absolutely opposed. Following his talk with Mr. Thomas the High Commissioner met the Prime Minister on the stairs. The conversation with Mr. MacDonald only lasted a moment, and the Prime Minister merely expressed the hope that nothing would be done without consultation.
The Minister, having discussed with the High Commissioner and the Secretary his plans in relation to the Oath and having gone fully into the questions as to whether the British should or should not be given notice of his intentions and as to what, in effect, could be said to constitute notice of intention as between Governments, gave instructions to the High Commissioner in the following sense.
The High Commissioner was not to take the initiative in informing the British of the Minister's intentions, but if he were asked what they were he was to state them definitely in his official capacity as High Commissioner. He was not to say that he had been instructed by the Minister to make any communication, but simply that he in his capacity as High Commissioner had now been informed by the Minister of his proposals in relation to the Oath and was therefore in a position to inform the British Government officially as to their nature. He was furthermore to give the main reasons which motivated the Minister's intended action. The Oath was not mandatory in the Treaty. We had an absolute right to modify our Constitution as the people desired. The Constitution was the people's Constitution, and anything affecting it appertained to our internal sovereignty and was purely a domestic matter. But besides these legal and constitutional considerations there was another and paramount consideration more than sufficient in itself to make the Minister's decision final and irrevocable. The people had declared their will without ambiguity. The abolition of the Oath was the principal and the dominating issue before the electors. It had been the cause of all the strife and dissension in this country since the signing of the Treaty. The people - and not merely those who supported the present Government's policy in the past - regarded it as an intolerable burden, a relict of medievalism, a test imposed from outside under threat of 'immediate and terrible war.' The new Government had no desire whatever to be on unfriendly relations with Great Britain. Quite the contrary. But the British Government must realize that real peace in Ireland is impossible so long as the full and free representation of the people in their Parliament is rendered impossible by a test of this character. The Minister and his Government have the most sincere desire that relations between these two countries should be allowed to develop on normal lines. And normal relations between our two islands would naturally be close and friendly. But there could be no normal relations between us so long as one side insisted on imposing on the other a test which had no parallel in Treaty relationships between States. And even if the British Government held the view that the Oath was mandatory in the Treaty, they must recognize that such a test and imposition on the conscience of the people is completely out of place in a political agreement between two countries.
The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.
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