No. 18 NAI DFA Secretary's Files S1
London, 22 March 1932
Note of Conversations today with Mr. J.H. ThomasWhen I found on my return here from Dublin today that Mr. Thomas's Private Secretary1 had telephoned on Friday last to the effect that Mr. Thomas would like to see me, I caused a letter to be sent by hand this morning in the following terms:-
'Adverting to our telephone conversation on Friday last when you stated that Mr. Thomas wished to see the High Commissioner who was then, as I explained, in Dublin, I have just heard that the High Commissioner will be back by noon today. If you would kindly let me know by telephone what time the Secretary of State will be free I will try to arrange an appointment if possible today'.
This brought an immediate reply on the telephone saying that Mr. Thomas would be glad if I would see him at the House of Commons at 3 o'clock today.
I met him in his room at the House of Commons and explained that, whereas the talk between us on Monday the 14th March was avowedly personal and unofficial on both sides,2 I was there today in an official capacity only - a position which he readily accepted.
He asked me if I had now seen President de Valera and when I told him that I had he asked me if I could give him any information about the policy of the Irish Free State Government.
I replied that as High Commissioner in London I had been informed by the Minister of External Affairs of his Government's intentions with regard to the Oath, and gave him a summary of the information contained in the Secretary's letter to me of yesterday on that subject.3 I continued by saying that in view of the importance of the information and the obvious need for the strictest accuracy on my part in conveying that information, I would read a note covering what I had said on the position of my Government with regard to the Oath. I then read the note which is Enclosure 'A' to this report.4
In reply to his question I said that he could certainly understand that the information I had given was of an official character. He said that if that were so then he officially challenged the whole of the position which my Government had adopted. He was evidently much disquieted and said that an exceedingly grave situation had been created by the Irish Free State Government.
Could I say what was the position of my Government with regard to the Land Annuities? I told him that Mr. de Valera had already made several public pronouncements thereon. Mr. Thomas mentioned that he had seen a press report to the effect that the Labour party in Ireland were proposing consultations with the British Government. 'But' he said, 'I do not see how there can be any consultations on the question of the Oath'.
On his desk before him lay a typed answer to a question down for that day. The following is the question:- Colonel Wedgwood5 asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether his attention had been called to the position in Ireland; and when the next payment of the land purchase annuities from Ireland is due.
The answer already typed for reading out in the House was as follows:-
'The general attitude of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom is as stated in the reply which I gave to the Right Hon. Gentleman on 1st March, namely, that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom regard the relations between this country and the Irish Free State as resting upon the Treaty of 1921. As regards the particular question of the land annuities, I have seen various statements in the Press as to action now proposed by His Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State, but I have received no official communication from the Irish Free State Government with regard to it. The next payment is due in the latter part of June'.
He proposed to add to this question part of the information which I had just given him with reference to the Oath. He then wrote out as an addition to the foregoing reply the following note:-
'Since drafting the above statement I have seen the High Commissioner for the Irish Free State and in reply to my enquiry he informed me that the position of his Government was:-
(1) The Oath is not mandatory in the Treaty
(2) That they had an absolute right to modify their Constitution as their people desired.'
He asked me if I would initial that as being correct as far as it went. How he answered his own questions, he remarked, was his own business, but he wanted to be sure that, as far as it went, this addition was correct, and asked me to initial the addition. I did so, taking a copy of the proposed addition. I secured his initials on my copy and this I retain.
I said that I was returning to my Office to send him a letter which would place on record the information I had given to him. As we were leaving his room in the House of Commons and as he was on his way to the Chamber to make the reply he asked me if I could spare the note which I had used in conveying the information (enclosure 'A' to this report).6 I said he would get this word for word in my letter but he said that he would be glad if he might have the note then. I gave it to him.
I went to the Gallery of the House of Commons in order to hear Mr. Thomas answer the question. From the gallery I saw him in close consultation, on the front bench, with Mr. MacDonald, Mr. Baldwin, and Mr. Neville Chamberlain. They had been talking together for about five or six minutes when Mr. Thomas was called to give his answer. He read the reply as originally drafted, but instead of reading the addition which he had said in his room he would make, he made the following statement which was not read but appeared to be made ex tempore:-
'I ought to inform the House that since drafting that answer, and indeed since I have arrived at the House, I have received officially from the Irish Free State High Commissioner in London a very important and serious document dealing with this situation. It is too important to answer now, but I will take the earliest opportunity, probably tomorrow, to give an official answer. It is only fair to say that this communication only came to me since I drafted the answer, and I felt that I ought not to leave the House in any doubt as to the gravity and seriousness of the situation'.
Immediately on hearing this incorrect statement I went to Mr. Thomas and pointed out that there had been no communication or document from my Minister.7 I had simply answered his inquiry (as was clearly shown in his pro-posed answer to Colonel Wedgwood's question) by conveying information about my Minister's position on the Oath. He promised to correct this misstatement in the Official report. At about seven o'clock this evening he telephoned to say that he had tried to get the Hansard people to substitute the word 'information' for the word 'document' but that they had declined to accept the correction. (By the time Mr. Thomas had received the Hansard proof the London evening press had published his statement containing the word 'document'). But he went on to say that he was anxious to keep strictly to the fact of the earlier talk between us and he said 'This is the draft of the first part of my statement in the House tomorrow - which you will appreciate must be approved by Cabinet. He then read to me these words:-
'The High Commissioner for the Irish Free State in answer to my inquiries yesterday informed me that in the opinion of his Government the Oath &c. &c.'
I told him that a letter was then on its way to him confirming what I had said in our conversation and that in that letter I had pointed out the inaccuracy of his statement about a document.8 He said he quite understood and would reply accordingly.
He explained that he had certainly intended to answer Colonel Wedgwood's question on the lines he had decided upon in his conversation with me. When, however, he joined the Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, and Mr. Chamberlain, on the Front Bench, they all urged that he should not then say anything about our position on the Oath until the Cabinet had considered ?this grave issue'. Accordingly he made his 'impromptu' statement.
[signed] J.W. Dulanty
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