No. 50 NAI 2003/17/181
London, 30 April 1937
At Mr. Malcolm MacDonald's request I saw him in his office this evening. Mr. MacDonald said that he had seen in the newspapers a report of replies made by the President to questions in the Dáil as to whether the Government of Saorstát Éireann would be represented at the forthcoming Imperial Conference. He had had however no official communication. On the 27th March of last year the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom had communicated with the Member States of the Commonwealth and invited their agreement to the holding of the Conference in May of this year. All that the United Kingdom Government had received in reply thereto was a short note stating that the Government of Saorstát Éireann had no comment to make on the proposal to hold the Conference2.
The United Kingdom Government naturally would like to know whether the President intended to send a delegation. They had to decide on the circulation of important secret documents which were to be discussed at the Conference and he did not see how he could circulate these confidential papers to us if we did not propose to attend. There were other minor details of organisation such as the reservation of seats at the Conference table on which they could not proceed until they knew definitely and officially what our intentions were. I said that I would get instructions on this matter. I did however remind Mr. MacDonald of a conversation some time ago when I said that unless the United Kingdom Government bestirred themselves to reach a solution on all questions outstanding between them and us we did not see how any Government in Dublin could send a delegation to the London Conference.
Mr. MacDonald did not dispute this but he thought it was reasonable to expect us to inform them officially whether or not we were coming to the Conference. He sincerely hoped that we might be. It was scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the discussions which would take place in London this month. The United Kingdom Government would make the fullest and frankest statements about the European situation, particularly their relations with Germany and Italy, and also the fullest information would be given as regards the position in the Far East in their relations with Japan. Geneva he thought would be child's play compared with the far-reaching importance of the discussions on international politics and the dispositions of the United Kingdom forces for defence.
He referred again to the conversations with the President in January and said that it was due in large measure to personal contact with the President on that occasion that he had secured the assent of his colleagues to the view that our December Constitutional Acts did not bring about any fundamental alteration in our association with the Member States of the Commonwealth.
He had told his colleagues that he had understood from the President that when the constitutional question was resolved there would be much greater possibility of co-operation between the two countries. Mr. MacDonald thought that he had got the Cabinet to accept, though reluctantly, our December Acts and now there was a unique opportunity for co-operation of which the President apparently was refusing to avail himself.
I said that I was present at all the Grosvenor Hotel talks and there was certainly no ground for suggestion that if the Constitution problem was solved the President would attend the Imperial Conference. What the President said still held. There were opportunities for co-operation entirely apart from the Imperial Conference as Mr. MacDonald himself had shown in the importance which he attached to the secret informal conversations between myself, Sir Warren Fisher, and Sir Horace Wilson.
Mr. MacDonald thought that our abstention from the Conference would have a prejudicial effect on the minds of the other statesmen. My rejoinder to that was that differences between ourselves and the United Kingdom were limited to the political relations of these two islands and did not directly involve Canada, South Africa, or any other of the Member States. The fault for the division of our country could not be laid at their doors and I did not see how they could accept responsibility in any of the other questions such as the ports, financial settlement or trade agreement at present outstanding between us.
Mr. MacDonald agreed but went on to say that we could make an effective contribution on the discussions of vital interest to each member of the group, and then over and above those group questions the United Kingdom people and ourselves could, apart from the Conference, get to grips on the se other3 Irish-English4 questions.
I said that I would communicate these views and give him a reply as soon as possible on the question of our attendance or non-attendance at the London Conference.
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