No. 59 NAI 2003/17/181
London, 20 May 1937
I have just returned from Mr. MacDonald's office. He said that he had asked me to call because he had now almost finished his own examination of our draft Constitution and there were two points about which he would like to be clear. The first was with reference to our second Act in December last (External Relations). He understood from the President during the London conversations in January2 last that the Irish Government intended to let this second Act stand side by side with the Constitution. It would not be embodied in the Constitution but would be, so to speak, supplementary to it.
The second point was that he understood that the President intended to make it as difficult to change materially the External Relations Act as it would be to change materially the Constitution itself.
He would be glad to know whether what he understood from the President to be the position on these two points in January last was the position today. May I be informed at an early date what answer should be given to Mr. MacDonald?
Our draft Constitution had been sent to each member of the United Kingdom Cabinet but the heavy list of Coronation engagements and the work of the Imperial Conference, in addition to the normal Departmental duties, had left scant time for adequate study of so important a document. He had put other matters aside and given himself up to a careful study of the draft. He hoped to be able to have the views of his colleagues in about a fortnight's time when he thought it likely that the United Kingdom Cabinet would have some comment to offer. My impression was that he anticipates difficulty with his colleagues3.
The business of the interview finished at this point and the conversation became, as it often does at the end of an interview, rather general. Mr. MacDonald walked to the door of the Dominions Office with me. He is always manifestly careful to avoid saying anything which might appear to disturb the relation of mutual trust and goodwill which he feels exist today4 between himself and the President. He said that, speaking personally and privately, he was sorry that the President had suggested that if a Saorstát delegation had been sent to the London Conference they would have been in a position of humiliation.
I pointed out that what the President had said was that he did not think we should be expected to run the risk of a recurrence of Ottawa. Even now, despite all that Mr. MacDonald himself had said, the two countries were still not in the position of making agreements. The coal-cattle pact, its renewals notwithstanding, had not reached the stage of agreement but was still merely an unwritten understanding - and one from which it could not be denied the British were considerable gainers. It was of course true that the President had said both in private to Mr. MacDonald and in public that he was ready when circumstances allowed to co-operate and be on the5 terms of good neighbours with Britain. The draft Constitution, whatever Mr. MacDonald's diehard colleagues might say, was a step in the right direction since it was saying once and for all certain things that in fairness to our people the President had to say. Attendance at the London Conference was, after all, not the one and only form of co-operation.
But, Mr. MacDonald rejoined, it must be clear to the President that the Ottawa position of their declining to enter into agreements with us had now been abandoned. The conversations with the President in January last, the frequent talks he had had with myself, the meetings which he had arranged for Sir Warren Fisher and Sir Horace Wilson to meet me6 were all proofs, he submitted, that they were anxious to reach agreement. He recalled that the plan for the Warren Fisher meetings he had pushed forward with, he thought, the President's concurrence, with the sole object of reaching a point where Ministers of both Governments could meet in the confident hope of arriving at agreements. Speaking entirely for himself he said there was some risk that 'The Times' report of the President's speech might be misleading because the ordinary reader might infer that the British had sent an invitation in humiliating terms to the Irish Government. So far from that being the case they would have welcomed a delegation from Ireland and would have treated that delegation in all matters on precisely the same basis as the other Member States of the Commonwealth. We could have contributed to the discussions or refrained. We could have agreed to enter into arrangements which might be suggested or we could have declined. We would have had, he continued, complete and absolute freedom at every point of the proceedings, and his own personal regret was that neither Mr. de Valera nor any member of his Government should not have met and discussed these questions of common concern with the other Member States of the Commonwealth. Our presence there instead of prejudicing the settlement of the questions outstanding between Ireland and England would, he thought, have helped forward their solution.
Mr. MacDonald's observations on the Imperial Conference were, I believe, intended to be strictly private, as distinct from the two points on which he sought information in the ordinary diplomatic way.
[signed] J.W. Dulanty
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