No. 39 NAI 2003/17/181
London, 23 March 1937
Confirming my telephone conversation with the Secretary on the 16th, I saw Mr. Malcolm MacDonald at his request in the House of Commons on that day.
He told me that he had sent fairly long cables on Tuesday of last week to the Dominions on the subject of our Constitutional Acts. His hope was that these other States would take the same line that the United Kingdom Government had taken, namely that the amendments to our Constitution were not incompatible with membership of the Commonwealth. In view, however, of the disappointing delay which he had experienced in getting replies from the Dominions on this question he would not give a date when he thought that position would be reached. At the outside, however, he hoped the United Kingdom Government would have replies to their cables in about a fortnight, - that is about the 29th March.
Assuming that agreement was reached with the other States, what did I think our position would be in regard to resuming conversations on the questions of defence, financial settlement, and trade agreement? I said that I had no instructions on the matter but I thought it likely that our position would be that which was outlined at the Grosvenor Hotel conversations with the President on the 15th January last when it was agreed that discussions on these questions might proceed before the views of the other Dominions had been obtained1.
Mr. MacDonald enquired whether the President would be ready to send Defence experts for the discussion on the ports etc. I said that the President whilst willing to send experts later would not consider it either necessary or desirable to send them until the general principles of our relations with Britain on defence had been determined. I reminded him that the previous conversations had not been really satisfactory from our point of view and I hoped that if they were resumed it would be on the basis of the United Kingdom representatives being able to put forward fairly definite statements. He reminded me that when they last tried to put definite statements in writing the result was not happy. I said that if they had a definite policy with regard to such a matter of defence it was surely not difficult to express it with better results than was the case with the Fisher letter2. He said that he would see what could be done in this regard.
Mr. MacDonald next said that he hoped on the question of financial settlement we could see our way to make some proposal. I told him that our position with regard to the annuities was clear. Throughout the conversations with the British officials I had been instructed to say that on this question we had no proposal to make since it appeared to us our position there was unassailable. Mr. MacDonald said he was quite sure the President would not think he was trying to manoeuvre so as to get some political advantage when asking for this proposal. His difficulty was that he doubted whether he could get his people to move at all unless we put forward some suggestion. I reminded him that we had months ago said on the ports that we were ready to remove any fears the British might have by putting our defences in such order as would provide against:
(a) an attack on Britain through our country, or
(b) a common attack on both countries,
that our aim was to make our country safe for our own people and that we were willing at the same time to see that a free Ireland was not a source of danger to Britain. A condition precedent however to all this suggested defence provision of ours would be a financial settlement. Without that the money would not be available.
Mr. MacDonald said he thought when we got down to close consideration we would find that the defence provision would not cost a great deal. In giving that opinion, which was his own merely, he was bearing in mind the relative strengths of the British and Irish exchequers.
Turning to the question of the arrangements for the Coronation he mentioned that they had got rid of the Lord High Constable of Ireland and also of the Dublin Herald attending the Westminster Abbey ceremony. They were trying to do the same with regard to the Ulster King-At-Arms but there the difficulty was that he was still functioning in that capacity and they were doubtful whether they could prohibit his attendance. The Lord High Steward of Ireland would attend in virtue of the fact that he would be discharging functions of the descendants of those who formerly acted in the same capacity. It was on this basis it will be recalled that the President told me informally he would not cause difficulty by raising objection.
With regard to the Standard Bearer of Ireland, Mr. MacDonald said they were in this difficulty. The Irish Standard was simply one of the quarterings of the Royal Standard and the bearing of the Royal Standard would be incomplete without the standard for each of the quarterings. I pointed out that this was not an hereditary office and whilst it was called a Standard of Ireland it could hardly be said to be representative of the Irish people. Its significance appeared to me to be merely historical and if the President were approached formally on the matter and decided to advise the King against the bearing of such a Standard the question would be settled. Mr. MacDonald said that he had had that point in mind already but the Royal Standard and its quarterings were matters of ancient royal prerogative. He hoped that in the circumstances we would not raise objection to this. I said I thought such a course might present real difficulties for us but Mr. MacDonald suggested that since the President had not been formally or officially approached he hoped he (the President) would regard himself as being free of the question.
[signed] J.W. Dulanty
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