No. 103 UCDA P150/2226
Ottawa, 8 August 1932
Dr. Ryan will be leaving here in a day or two, and, as he is fully informed on everything that has happened here so far as the Conference itself is concerned, and, in particular, with regard to our conversations with Thomas and our long talk with Baldwin and Thomas on Saturday, I have asked him to give you a detailed account of all happenings up to the time of his departure.
I think I will only, at this stage, give you a brief resume of my impressions of the discussions with Baldwin and Thomas, as far as they have gone.
It seems to me that the British are very keen on getting an early settlement of the present dispute. Baldwin said on Saturday to us that, in his opinion, this present dispute, and the penal tariffs on both sides, was ?a damn fool business'. He could not see any profit coming out of it on either side. It seems to me, nevertheless, that they feel that, now that the fight is on, they have us in a position where they can squeeze us to advantage for political purposes. I get the impression that they regret now their haste in imposing the tariffs, but they say to themselves, the unwise step having been taken, we may as well go forward now and get some profit out of it on the political side. It appears to me that, if they could get some even slight political profit of the nature of a statement or declaration by you that we would only progress nationally in a constitutional way, they would be prepared to make what we might regard as a reasonable settlement on the financial issue. Of course, I know that if they got the political statement they are looking for, they would immediately harden on the financial side. If, therefore, there be any thought of making a statement such as they would regard as satisfactory from their point of view, this should not be done until we had driven them to the utmost limit on the financial side. We should also, in my opinion, use the situation to settle the position of the Governor General to our satisfaction.
It is worthy of notice that in all my talks with Thomas, and in our joint conversations with Baldwin and Thomas on Saturday, the question of the Oath was never once mentioned. Perhaps it may be no harm to mention also that one night at dinner a couple of weeks ago, Mrs. Runciman, wife of the British Minister,1 said to Lemass that they (the British) 'did not care a damn about the Oath, but that they did not intend to let us get away with the Land Annuities.'
Judging by the brief summaries of the speeches delivered last weekend by Simon and Inskip2 of the British Cabinet, it would appear that the whole British Cabinet is being kept fully informed of our conversations here. Thomas told me more than once that he is in daily communication over the phone with MacDonald, and that sometimes he speaks to him twice a day. He told me also on Friday last that he had made his colleagues here, of the British Cabinet, fully aware of our talks and of the nature of them, and that they had approved of his continuing these conversations and had given their consent to his and Baldwin's meeting with us on Saturday.
When they were pressing us for a declaration on the constitutional position on Saturday, I told them that they might make up their minds that on no account would you, or any member of our Executive Council, speaking on behalf of the Government, make a statement that we would never leave the British Commonwealth, or that we would agree to throw aside our ideal of a complete independence. I did say that, while we would hold firmly to our ideal, it did not mean that we had pledged ourselves to try to bring about the realisation of that ideal next year or the year after, or that we were in any way pledged to force its realisation at any date. I distinctly told them, however, that, as an ideal, we would be bound to adhere to it.
I also asked them would it be possible for the head of the British Government to make a declaration on behalf of the Government to the effect that the Irish Free State, as the other States of the British Commonwealth of Nations, is free to stay in or go out of the British Commonwealth at any time.3 They said they would consider that matter.
Thomas did say that, if we decided now to leave the Commonwealth, it would be, in his opinion, regarded by Britain as a hostile act. He went on to enumerate a number of the retaliatory measures that Britain might adopt in case we decided, after the next general election, if we won, to leave the Commonwealth. He talked of the likelihood of their expatriating 350,000 or more Irish-born people in England and Scotland. He also talked of the likelihood of their cutting off hundreds of thousands of our people who are now drawing unemployment relief in England. Likewise, he mentioned the fact that there are in or about 10,000 Irish-born people employed in the British Civil Service who, it was suggested, would be returned to Ireland. He was reminded, of course, that this was a two-edged weapon, but he said he hoped things would not reach a stage where such measures would be necessary.
I think what I have said covers the ground fairly well. Dr. Ryan will fill in further details.
I got your cable about the Race Convention, New York, and agree that what you suggest is the best course.4 It is probable that when leaving here, we will go through New York, as we would be most likely to get a boat calling at Cobh by going that way. I think, in present circumstances, it would be better for us not to have to come home through England.
I have no idea yet when the Conference will close, but I think it should be concluded by the 20th. I hope so, at any rate.
Kindest regards and best wishes to yourself and to all at home.
Mise le meas,
[signed] Seán T. O'Ceallaigh
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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