No. 8 NAI 2003/17/181
London, 15 January 1937
(1) On Monday the 11th January Mr. Malcolm MacDonald telephoned to me asking whether it would be possible for him to call on the President when he was passing through London on his return home from Zurich. I conveyed this request to the President on his arrival in London at half-past eleven on the night of Wednesday, 13th January. The President said he was prepared to see Mr. MacDonald then but as that could not be arranged Mr. MacDonald said he would call on the President at the Grosvenor Hotel at half past ten o'clock the following morning, Thursday, the 14th January.
(2) Mr. MacDonald began by conveying the warm thanks of Mr. Baldwin and the other members of the Cabinet for the help they had received from the Government of An Saorstát in the difficult situation which suddenly confronted the British Government in the recent abdication crisis. He understood how difficult it was to get Parliament together in such a short time and to face the difficulties following thereon.
(3) Mr. MacDonald said he was glad to avail himself of the opportunity which this meeting provided of asking the President if he could oblige him with further information on certain points in connection with the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act 1936.
(4) The President said he was of course ready and willing to oblige Mr. MacDonald with any information. As on previous occasions he had expressed his willingness to co-operate with a view to establishing good relations between these two neighbouring States, but there was one point which it was incumbent on him to make clear to the British Government, namely, that the real solution lay in the establishment of an All-Ireland Republic on terms of active goodwill and co-operation with the United Kingdom Government. In any case the closer we approximate to that position the more satisfactory the result. If that could not be achieved at present, he had to repeat what he had said on so many former occasions, the immediate next step was to secure a united Ireland.
(5) Mr. MacDonald said that he and his colleagues were in no doubt as to the President's mind on these matters and they knew that from the President's point of view no immediate arrangement short of a united Ireland would be regarded as a settlement.
(6) Turning to the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, Mr. MacDonald read Clause 3 of that Act and asked whether the Act contemplated An Saorstát having a full membership of the community of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations, or a membership - such as an associate or partial membership - short of the full membership. His own interpretation was that reading that Clause together with Clause 1 of the present An Saorstát Constitution full membership was meant.
(7) The President replied that so long as the association continued full membership was intended even though at the present moment instead of enjoying any advantage An Saorstát suffered grave disadvantages from such association. The President added that if we had association it must be with all its advantages.
(8) He felt that he ought to let Mr. MacDonald know that it was not his intention to include Article 1 in the new Constitution and proceeded to explain his reasons for this. The President had promised that the new Constitution would not contain any reference to the King.
(9) Mr. MacDonald thought that such an omission presented difficulties since it appeared to him that the doubt as to whether we contemplated full membership would be increased. He appreciated the President's reasons for the proposed omission from the new Constitution and enquired whether it would be possible to amend the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act 1936 in such a way as to make clear that we intended full membership.
(10) The President feared that the difficulties in the way of an amendment of the Act precluded the possibility of his entertaining that suggestion.
(11) The Union of South Africa, Mr. MacDonald said, were anxious to have another declaration made which would make clear to the world the co-equality of each of the member states of the Commonwealth. It would be helpful from his point of view if and when such a declaration was made An Saorstát could be associated with it in such a way as to dispel any doubt about our being full members.
(12) The second question Mr. MacDonald said they would like to ask was whether we had it in mind that in our external affairs the King should perform no other functions than those indicated in Clause 3. He conceded that the functions where described were the only functions which he could think of at the present time. It was possible however that since the Commonwealth was a dynamic and not a static organisation other functions might be added at some later date. Supposing that in such circumstances in the future the other member states increased these functions, would we agree to do likewise?
(13) The President said that he would like to consider that matter further, but his immediate reaction was that Clause 3 as it stood covered all that was necessary. Was Mr. MacDonald thinking of the contingency of a declaration of a state of emergency or a state of war?
(14) Mr. MacDonald said he was not.
(15) The President continued that he thought it was likely that the Government of An Saorstát would use the King as a medium or organ by which a state of war would be declared.
(16) Mr. MacDonald asked whether it would be right for him to tell his colleagues that we would be willing to allow the King to do for us whatever it might be decided he should do for the other States of the Commonwealth. The President said that would be a matter for consideration when such a question arose.
(17) Mr. MacDonald said that he understood from the official reports of the Dáil Debates that the King's title in An Saorstát remained unchanged.
(18) The President agreed that the title remained unchanged.
(19) The Executive Authority (External Relations) Act 1936 the President emphasised did no more than record in a Statute the precise extent to which the King at present exercised functions for Saorstát Éireann.
(20) After thanking the President for the foregoing information Mr. MacDonald said that the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act 1936 dealing as it did with the internal affairs of An Saorstát was clearly the concern only of the people of An Saorstát. Absolute freedom in internal affairs was of course one of the bedrock principles of the Commonwealth, but it was equally clear that the principle of active co-operation between the member states was similarly essential. It seemed to him that An Saorstát had shown the will to co-operate by putting through the legislation which had been the subject of his enquiry that day. There was however a further principle of the recognition of the Crown as a symbol of co-operation or association of the Commonwealth. He was most anxious to avoid any words which might suggest that he was 'pushing the Crown' at us but if they had not recognition of the Crown he did not see how the Commonwealth could continue. Membership of the Commonwealth was clearly the requisite condition for the mutual advantages which the several States enjoyed in the form of trade and other preferences. Expressed in another way, he thought non-recognition of the Crown would put us in precisely the same position as a foreign state. The President said that he quite conceived a republic being a member and that co-operation was the essential link.
(21) If a foreign country took the United Kingdom to, say, the Hague Court on a question of Imperial Preference or Most-Favoured-Nation Clause they wanted to be in a position to prove that any State to which they gave special trade preferences was in the fullest sense a member of the Commonwealth and therefore entitled to such advantages.
(22) The President replied that so far as An Saorstát was concerned the advantages referred to were conspicuous by their absence. Our people as he had previously stated had no sentiment or feeling for the office of King. We did not want the Crown but if the other nations in the Commonwealth did want the Crown as a symbol of their co-operation we were accepting that position.
(23) Mr. MacDonald referred to the words 'so long as' which occurred in Clause 3 and asked whether it would be accurate to say that so long as An Saorstát was associated with the other nations at present forming the British Commonwealth we would accept the Crown as a symbol.
(24) The President said he was not sure of the precise origin and history of the phrase and he would therefore like to give the point further consideration. The functions which the symbol had been performing and still performs for us would be continued. That fact he thought constituted adequate recognition.
(25) After informing Mr. MacDonald of his present intention with regard to the omission of Article 1 of the present Constitution the President then gave an exposition in general terms of the new Constitution which he hoped to get placed on our Statute Book. He could not say exactly what attitude might be adopted by his own political organisation or his colleagues in the Executive Council. His objective was to place before the Irish people a Constitution for their acceptance, an acceptance which would be in the completest sense free and unfettered and in no way imposed by an authority outside that of the Irish people themselves. He wished to bring about a situation as clear of political trouble as he could make it so that the two countries could cooperate in act and deed rather than mere words. The two Acts passed in December last and the Constitution now under consideration and in process of construction had as their single aim the removal of obstacles to that cooperation. He had spoken in this way about the new Constitution in view of Mr. MacDonald's assurances that he also was most anxious to bring about the best possible relations between the two countries and he thought it well therefore that he should know now what his (the President's) intentions were. These remarks however he wished to be taken by Mr. MacDonald as personal and confidential to himself and not at present for the members of the British Cabinet since the Constitution was only in process of construction and had, as he had explained, not been submitted to the Executive Council. This reservation did not however apply to the proposed omission of Article 1 of the present Constitution. He thought that the British Cabinet should be informed of that intention.
(26) Expressing his gratitude for the exposition of the Constitution Mr. MacDonald said he would treat this as meant for him alone but would inform his colleagues about Article 1. At this stage Mr. MacDonald having to leave for a luncheon engagement said the President's explanations had been so helpful that he would greatly value a further conversation if that could be arranged. It was agreed that Mr. MacDonald should return later in the day. On his return during the evening of the same day the conversation was resumed.
(27)2 Mr. MacDonald stated that he would inform the British Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday the 27th January of the information which the President had been good enough to give him. Clearly he could not say what the decision of the Cabinet would be but he hoped that they would share his view that what we had done in our recent legislation and were intending to do in the new Constitution was not so far as they were concerned incompatible with full membership of the Commonwealth. In the event of that decision being reached would the President prefer to communicate with the other member states of the Commonwealth on the subject of his recent legislation or would he prefer that the United Kingdom Government should send the texts of our legislation and intimate at the same time, if the British Cabinet so decided, that so far as they were concerned the legislation was not incompatible with full membership of the Commonwealth? It was not material he thought whether they or we forwarded the Acts and he would do whatever the President wished.
(28) The President said that he would like to consider that question but, at the moment, he thought that there was no objection from his side in the Acts being sent by the United Kingdom Government. On the principle which he had emphasised earlier in the conversation that there had been no change in the situation so far as external relations were concerned it was perhaps hardly necessary for him to communicate with the other member states.
(29) Mr. MacDonald repeated the assurances he had frequently made to me in the past few weeks that as soon as the British Cabinet had taken the view that, so far as they were concerned, the principle of our membership was not in question he hoped to secure similar decision from the other members of the Commonwealth, and, that done, to resume at the earliest possible moment the discussion on such matters as the ports, financial settlement, and a trade agreement.
(30) I suggested that if the British Cabinet decided as Mr. MacDonald hoped the discussion on the ports and other questions need not wait until the views of the Dominions had been obtained. With this Mr. MacDonald agreed.
(31) On the question of Defence, the President said that the British must not seek entry into our ports except on our invitation and with our goodwill. We were not imperially minded and had no imperial interests. What our people really wanted was a position of neutrality. The nearer we approximated to that position the better. 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. It would be fatal he thought even to appear to insist upon occupation of the ports in any circumstances except by our free invitation, or to make the use of our ports by the British a condition in any settlement.
(32) The use of our ports Mr. MacDonald thought would be absolutely vital to them if they were at war but he agreed that any proposal that the British could require the use of these ports whenever they wanted them would be quite impossible for us. His personal view was that an arrangement about the ports could be made. He was not nearly so easy in his mind about the financial settlement on which of course depended a full trade agreement.
(33) Whilst not wishing to be contentious the President did not conceal his surprise to hear that a financial settlement would present such difficulty as was suggested since it appeared to him that on that question we had an unassailable case.
(34) On the question of the form of the Oath to be taken by the King at the Coronation Mr. MacDonald explained that the Government of the Union of South Africa wanted the Oath to be changed in such a way as to provide for each member state to be named individually. The United Kingdom Government had deliberately refrained from consulting us because they felt they would only cause the President embarrassment, but they had explained to General Hertzog3 that to name the Irish Free State specifically would present difficulties for us. Their efforts to get some collective formula accepted all round had not succeeded. On the contrary, Australia and Canada had now joined with South Africa in pressing for separate mention of each member state. As a possible way of meeting the difficulty he was disposed to suggest the repeating of the King's title where the word 'Ireland' would be used and the use of the words 'Irish Free State' thereby avoided.
(35) This question the President explained had not been before him until immediately prior to his leaving Dublin for Zurich. He was impressed by the great difficulty thus presented. Our attitude to the Crown being so fundamentally different from that of Britain or possibly of certain other member states it would be clear to Mr. MacDonald how completely unsuitable the whole Coronation procedure was for us. Was it not possible to lift the Oath completely out of what was avowedly a sectarian service? Whilst he did not wish to suggest the suppression of any act of religion whether of worship or devotion he could not regard the ritual under which the head of one particular denomination in England administered the Oath in the midst of that denomination's service as anything but impossible for our people. Although it did not seem possible at this moment that his Government could take part in the ceremony like the other member states he still felt he should say that the Oath should be a secular proceeding divorced from the proposed service.
(36) Mr. MacDonald said he would consult the Archbishop of Canterbury and see if it was possible to do anything on this question which he agreed was beset with great difficulties.
(37) The fact of Mr. MacDonald's visit to the President having appeared in the London newspapers it was decided to issue a communiqué. I submitted the following draft:
Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, M.P. called on Mr. de Valera, the President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, at his Hotel in London today when informal discussions took place on a number of matters affecting the relations between the two countries.which was approved.
(38) Mr. MacDonald again expressed his appreciation of the help which the two meetings had been to him. The conversations, informal but frank he ventured to think on both sides, had clarified the position in his mind.
(39) In saying good-bye to Mr. MacDonald the President reminded him of the view which he had expressed on a previous occasion at the Grosvenor Hotel, namely, that even if an acceptable settlement were reached a good deal of time would have to elapse before really cordial relations could be established4. Our people could not be expected to lay aside in a day the memories of centuries.
(Signed) J.W. Dulanty
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