No. 3 NAI 2003/17/1811
London, 4 January 1937
Mr. Malcolm MacDonald telephoned yesterday saying that he would like to have a conversation with me that day before leaving for nine or ten days in the North of Scotland. I spent about an hour and a half with him at his home in Hampstead in the late afternoon.
He said he would like me to assure the President of the British appreciation for the assistance which the Saorstát Government had given them in a difficult situation arising out of the abdication. Twice previously he had had at the last minute to cancel visits to his constituency, the last occasion being owing to the abdication. His next visit unfortunately was fixed for the coming week. He was leaving Euston that night for a tour of his constituency in the North of Scotland. If it had been at all possible to get out of this engagement he would gladly have done so because of his anxiety to speak to the President.
Mr. MacDonald said that he had curtailed his holiday in order to have an opportunity of studying our two Acts on the Constitution and the official reports of the debates in the Dáil last month. He had not yet completed this study nor had he had, owing to the Christmas holidays, an opportunity of consulting certain members of the Cabinet. He hoped that the President would agree to informal conversations taking place between representatives of both sides. His own idea was that Sir Horace Wilson, Sir Grattan Bushe2 and Sir Harry Batterbee might talk to Mr. Walshe, Mr. Hearne and myself. I reminded Mr. MacDonald of a fairly recent conversation when he made the same suggestion and when I said that I thought that as a first step the British ought to let us have, in whatever form they considered appropriate, a statement of the points on which they wished to have further information. I did not see how the President could authorise representatives of his to go into conference, however informal, without some idea being given beforehand of the matters to be discussed.
He said that he was most reluctant to put anything on paper at all at this stage. In addition to the Fisher letter,3 recent experience had shown in other matters how easily misconceptions of the written word could arise. I then said that they must have some idea of the questions on which they were anxious to secure further information and if that were the case couldn't he at least tell me so that I could let my Government know. He said that his own examination was not yet complete and before the conversations began he wanted the assent of certain of his colleagues in the British Cabinet to the questions which he proposed for exploration. Owing to his absence from London as well as that also of his colleagues, this consultation would not be possible until the week beginning Monday, the 11th January.
Trying first by one question and then another to ascertain a little more of the difficulties, which for my own part I believe Mr. MacDonald honestly feels, I at last ascertained from him that there would be no discussion at all on our first Bill.4 On the constitutional structure which we had decided upon for our own internal affairs there would not be any question. The conversations which he was most anxious to get started would be concerned wholly and solely with our second Bill governing the relationship between An Saorstát and the other member states of the British Commonwealth.5 Though I made no pretence to an informed appreciation of constitutional matters, I thought I was right in saying that, shortly put, the functions of the King in relation to our external affairs would continue as heretofore, and that the position created by our second Act far from being of an ambiguous or complicated character was really simple.
Mr. MacDonald again urged that I should represent to the President on Tuesday next the great importance which he, Mr. MacDonald, attached to the proposed talks. At the two meetings in the Grosvenor Hotel6 the President he thought had accepted his suggestion of conversations, adding of course with some emphasis that the British must not think there was any final solution between the two countries to be reached whilst Ireland was divided as it was now. He had informed the British Cabinet of the President's attitude and conversations had in fact taken place. He could say for his part that these conversations had been distinctly helpful. He did not want to add to his present difficulties with certain of the British Cabinet and he was afraid that if we did not at least make an attempt by these informal conversations to clear up constitutional points his task in the British Cabinet would be harder.
An ideal procedure from his point of view would be to have the suggested talks in the week beginning 11th January; then, with the results of these talks before them, the President and he could have a meeting on Mr. de Valera's return through London. He pointed out that in addressing the Ard Fheis in November last the President had said that the terms of co-operation between the Irish people and any other people must be mutually agreed upon, and that if some scheme of co-operation were decided upon, the Irish people not ready to accept dictation from anyone equally had no right to tell other people what those terms of co-operation must be. There must be mutual agreement and co-operation. It was this offer of co-operation on the part of the President which Mr. MacDonald was most anxious to accept and work out to the full value for both parties.7
As on a former occasion Mr. MacDonald said that he felt, speaking for himself, there was a very good chance of getting rid of the difficulties between the two countries, and he was anxious the moment he could get the Constitution matter out of the way to go forward to the work of expediting a settlement.
My own impression is that Mr. MacDonald honestly believes that he can carry through the British Cabinet and the British Houses of Parliament a large measure of settlement. At the same time there can be no doubt that he is excessively cautious and obviously genuinely apprehensive of making a wrong step. If the situation be properly handled he has high hopes of a real advance on the road to8 settlement but the least slip he feels may easily make the problem more difficult, if not for the present insoluble.
[signed] J.W. DULANTY
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.
The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
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