No. 47 NAI 2003/17/181
London, 26 April 1937
In accordance with the arrangement already notified to the Department I met at the British Treasury Sir Warren Fisher, Sir Horace Wilson, and Sir Edward Harding, on the 23rd instant. Sir Warren Fisher enquired what had taken place in the conversations after he had had to drop out of the talks last Autumn2. Sir Horace Wilson said that he and Sir Harry Batterbee had had conversations with me which turned on the constitutional aspect. Until the questions on that had been resolved it had not been possible to discuss even in a tentative way questions of defence, financial settlement, and trade agreement.
In answer to Sir Warren Fisher I explained the main provisions of our two Constitutional Acts of December last and gave a summary of what had passed between the President and Mr. MacDonald in London in January last3 . (Sir Edward Harding was away on tour in Australia and New Zealand when the President and Mr. MacDonald met.)
Sir Warren Fisher repeated what he had said last Autumn about the paragraphs dealing with defence in his letter4. This letter he said he had signed against his better judgment. Whilst of course nobody could force him to sign the letter he had signed it because he felt that unless a letter of some kind issued conversations were not likely to begin. He asked me again to assure the President that neither he nor his colleagues wished on this matter of defence to assume what I had myself described as a 'master and servant relationship' instead of that of free equals. The United Kingdom would be glad to consider the question of defence. If his letter were not satisfactory would I tell him in what particular respect or respects it failed? I expressed surprise at this question because our position had been made crystal clear when the President talked to Mr. MacDonald on the 15th January last5. The position then clearly defined by the President was that the ports were Irish and not British ports. The British had no right there. They ought to leave and not seek to return except on our invitation and with our goodwill. We were not imperially minded nor had we any imperial interests. The nearer we could get to a position of neutrality the better. The President had made it clear that in our own interests we would not allow our territory to be used as a base of attack on Britain, but obviously we could only be at war when our interests were jeopardised and the Dáil had so decided. Our first aim must always be to make our country safe for our own people but we would see to it that a free Ireland was not a source of danger to Britain.
I recalled that months ago I had told these gentlemen that we were ready and willing to remove any fears the British might have by putting our defences in such order as would provide against:
If the British genuinely wanted to meet us what they must avoid was even the appearance of insisting upon occupation of the ports in any circumstances except by our free invitation. In this, as in other matters, the true basis of co-operation was the mutual interests of both parties. It would from our point of view be fatal for the British to endeavour to make the use of our ports by them whenever they wanted a condition of any settlement.
Sir Warren Fisher said that he could well understand the President's point of view and he did not think that the British Government would press for the use of our ports whenever they wanted them. Sir Horace Wilson also recognised the difficulties from our point of view but he hoped that we would see that if England were at war with a European power the fact that Ireland - apart entirely from any Commonwealth connection - was an immediate and valuable source of strength to England for food and possibly other supplies would mean that England's enemies would inevitably attack Ireland. Even if the war were in Asia, with for example Japan, enemy ships coming through the Panama Canal and travelling at the great pace which modern vessels have achieved could easily jeopardise England's trade routes for supplies of food and munitions. He thought that something could be done to meet the President's difficulty about prior assurance. The United Kingdom had understandings with Dominions and certain foreign countries of a mutual and reciprocal character. Avoiding entirely the idea of assurances or undertakings from us and aiming solely at a mutual reciprocal understanding could we not suggest some form of words which would not infringe our sovereignty and at the same time meet Britain's requirements by allaying their fears about the use - even though against our will - of Irish territory by enemy forces attacking Britain. I said that I would put this suggestion before my Government. Speaking for myself, I thought that some understanding such as that which I believe existed before 1914 between Belgium and France might have a suggestive value for the proposed formula.
[signed] J.W. DULANTY
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