No. 89 NAI DFA Secretary's Files P70
OTTAWA, 4 June 1941
I have the honour to refer to your telegram No.45 Personal of the 22nd May1 and my telegrams to you Nos 53, 54 and 55 Personal2 on the subject of the recent threat to apply conscription in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. I beg to report as follows.
I received your telegram No. 45 Personal on the morning of the 23rd May. I got in touch at once with Mr. Norman Robertson3and asked him to arrange an appointment for me with the Prime Minister that day. I informed Mr. Robertson of the object of the interview. The interview was arranged for 5.30 p.m. at Laurier House. To meet the Prime Minister's convenience the hour was later put forward to 4.30 p.m.
I brought with me to the interview a paraphrase of your cable which I read to Mr. King. (I left a copy with him as an aide-mémoire). Mr. King became very grave as I slowly read the sense of your message, and quietly emphasised your words 'violence', 'evil', etc. in their respective contexts.
When I had read the message I outlined the situation with regard to the Nationalists in Northern Ireland. I referred to their numbers, one-third of the population – like French Canada here –, their exclusion from public representation owing to the denial of proportional representation and the jerrymandering of the constituencies, the taking away of their civil liberties, and the cold and calculated persecution to which they have been subjected for twenty years. I contrasted the treatment of the minority in the part of the national territory under the effective control of the National Government and Parliament. I based myself in the observations on Northern Ireland on facts and figures contained in a brief which the late Mr. Seán O'Cuiv4 prepared for me before I left home for this post. I concluded my references to the condition of things in Northern Ireland by asking the Prime Minister whether he had read the report made a few years ago by the English Civil Liberties Committee on the scandal of police rule etc. in Northern Ireland? Mr. King said his attention had been drawn to it at the time. He appeared to be familiar with its conclusions.
I then said that although we were not neutral on the subject of partition, we had left no stone unturned to solve the problem by peaceful means. I said that the laceration of the body of the Irish Nation was one of the most savage international crimes ever committed in the world. I emphasised the sacrifices the Taoiseach had made to secure a constitutional approach to the solution of the issue of national unity; and I took the liberty of adding my own view, as an observer of trends and tendencies at home, that the people would not follow the Taoiseach if he gave any more hostages to the cause of solving partition by peaceful methods. I told the Prime Minister that the Taoiseach had come into public life on the issue of national unity nearly thirty years ago. He had settled every major issue with Great Britain except that. The return of the ports, the settlement of the economic war and financial questions had laid the foundations of a permanent Anglo-Irish peace. So far as we were concerned there was nothing we desired more than happy relations with our great neighbour: no Irish statesman, living or dead, had worked for it so earnestly and so successfully as the Taoiseach, and I believed he himself would gladly write 'finis' to his life-work as an Irish leader if national unity were restored. If an attempt were made to conscript our people in Northern Ireland it would blast the hopes of the friends of Irish unity for another generation. No friend of real Anglo-Irish friendship could support such an attempt.
I then touched on the fact that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland were Irish citizens under our law, but (although the Prime Minister seemed greatly taken by this aspect of the matter) I did not pursue it. I said that that had been so even under the law of England in 1922, but that we did not wish to base our position, in the present crisis, on the technicalities of the Irish Nationality Law.
I drew the Prime Minister's attention to the declarations made by the people in the first Articles of the National Constitution, and said that these Articles clearly defined our position and policy on the subject of unity.
I concluded by repeating the words of the paraphrase of your cable and laid great emphasis on the point that if conscription were sought to be imposed on our people in Northern Ireland no one could foresee the whole consequences. The most callous and cruel irony of the war would be an attempt to force an enslaved people to fight abroad for liberties denied to them at home. It would be the final indignity and degradation.
The Prime Minister listened to me with great care. I have set down the case as I put it without referring to the Prime Minister's comments, questions, etc. as I want to place before you the line of approach I made. Mr. King's attitude throughout was sympathetic. At the very beginning of my remarks he said that 'this conscription business' was causing trouble for everyone. 'You know our situation here' he said. He did not go into it. He knew I had some knowledge of what the position is. 'The way I look at these things is that a dangerous situation anywhere – in Ireland for example – may mean danger elsewhere also'. He asked me to tell the Taoiseach that he was grateful to him for informing him of possible danger in Ireland. He asked me to add that he would have it in mind in considering the question of co-operation amongst members of the Commonwealth. He smiled at this stage and said 'By the way "Is Ireland a Member of the Commonwealth?” 'I thought this was not the time to take him over that fence and so I simply smiled also. But I did say that, I hoped we could have a long talk about that sometime. He said: 'I suppose you are a Member for some purposes and are not a Member for other purposes'. Mr. King then abruptly turned the conversation. 'Mr. de Valera's cable doesn't ask me to do anything?' I said that there was no specific request but that the Taoiseach was anxious that Mr. King should be made aware by him of the gravity of the danger to all concerned. I added that if I merely informed him in reply that the Prime Minister would have his message in mind in considering questions of Commonwealth co-operation he might not understand. I undertood, I said; but perhaps we could put it in some other way. 'Very well', Mr. King very graciously conceded 'say that I shall keep – no, have – it in mind in considering matters of mutual interest and concern. He will know what I mean by that. Mind you I cannot say that I will do anything, but that does not mean that I will do nothing, I want you to leave me absolutely free'. It is now clear to me that Mr. King did not want it to be made possible for anyone to say that he undertook to the Taoiseach to intervene. He wanted to base his case with Mr. Churchill on Canadian grounds. He wanted to give the impression of spontaneous action. Great publicity had been given in the Canadian press to the conscription issue in Northern Ireland, and in one letter at least a parallel was drawn between Quebec today and the Ireland – then part of the United Kingdom – of the War of 1914.
I thought it right to say to Mr. King before leaving him that one of the objects which Mr. de Valera had in mind in asking him to accept an Irish representative was to have someone here, whoever he might be, who would be able to put our point of view on difficulties that might arise from time to time between the two mother islands. I quoted the Taoiseach's speech at the dinner given by him to the late Mr. John Hall Kelly.5 Mr. King was immensely taken by this.
[signed] JOHN J. HEARNE
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