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Memorandum to each member of the Executive Council by Kevin O’Shiel, with
I send you herewith a rather lengthy Memorandum on North-Eastern policy and the Boundary Commission.
2. Although it is unusually long it is important and contains carefully considered views and most carefully thought out plans in connection with the Boundary Question.
3. I trust you will have time to read it carefully as I intend to apply shortly for a special Meeting of the Executive Council to consider the Alpha and Omega of the whole North - Eastern position, and the information in this Memo. will assist you at such a Meeting.
Mise, le meas, CAOÍMHGHÍN Ó SÍÁDHAIL Assistant Legal Adviser
29th May, 1923
THE BOUNDARY ISSUE
1. With the complete collapse of the Irregulars the time seems opportune for starting the ball rolling in this tremendously important issue of the North- Eastern Boundaries.
2. Since I have been entrusted with this very important matter I have endeavoured to steer
a course as near to the policy of the late General Michael Collins as was humanly
possible under the circumstances.
The late General never made any secret of his distrust in the Boundary Commission as a
means of settlement per se. He used frequently to remark that 'the Boundary Commission
will settle nothing'. He realised that even after the Boundary Commission had sat and
made its decisions, and even if those decisions conceded to us our ultimate claim there
would still be an 'Hibernia Irredenta' to disturb the peace of future generations. Not only
that but there would be an increased feeling of intense hatred amongst the Northern
secessionist populations against the rest of Ireland. Though the territory of Saorstát might
be broadened, the gulf between Saorstát and these populations would also be broadened.
So fully aware of all this was the late General that on a number of occasions he went out
of his way to establish contact with the Belfast Authorities in the hope that such contact
would lead to a better and more enduring settlement between Irishmen.
3. Being convinced of the truth of General Collins' policy and at the same time bearing in
mind that the Government is under solemn pledges to carry out the entire Treaty – Article
XII no less than the other Articles – I have endeavoured to plan out a line of policy in the
matter which seeks to reconcile these two somewhat disparate positions, which whilst
enabling the Government to hold strongly to its pledges, yet allows ample room for the
operations of statesmanship.
4. I have outlined the plan in many previous Memoranda. It is roughly to look upon our
ultimate objective as not the securing of more territory, but as the securing of National
Union. Everything else should be subordinate to this great object, and should be used or
left according as circumstances show whether it would further or retard National Union.
Hence the Boundary Commission must be regarded as a weapon, probably the most
important weapon in this diplomatic war for National Union; and our aim should be to
extract from it and its 'bye-products' every ounce of value, and only in the last resource,
when all else fails and in the event of the North-East determining to continue obdurate to
the bitter end, let it take its course to the ultimate.
5. It is, of course, clear to Ministers that once the ball has commenced to roll in this game
we shall be to a greater or lesser extent victims of circumstances. I mean by this that the
position will be that of a ball rolling down a hill which may be frequently side tracked
and frequently compelled to slow, but which, once started, can never be absolutely
stopped until it reaches the foot of the hill, unless it is side tracked into a hollow.
(The hollow in this case would represent National Union! It is a poor metaphor, but, I
think, helps to make the position clear.)
6. The recent preliminary letter2 which it was intended to despatch some weeks ago to
Mr. Bonar Law will require some alterations in view of the accession of Mr. Baldwin to
the Premiership of Great Britain. It should be despatched as soon as these alterations have
7. THE NEW BRITISH PREMIER Mr. Stanley Baldwin, the new British Premier, is, as
far as I can learn, a person having strong Die-Hard sympathies. It will be recalled that he
was the mover of the motion in the Tory Revolt at the Meeting of the Conservative Party,
which was the direct cause of clearing out the Lloyd George Government and
discrediting Chamberlain and Birkenhead.
I have no doubt that he has strong pro-North-East sympathies and may have committed
himself to those people by pledges in former days. But the great outstanding fact remains
that as Bonar Law's successor in title he is committed as steadfastly to the Treaty as the
two former Premiers.
Many people are under the impression that we could get most from the Boundary Clause
by delaying until a Liberal or a Labour Government comes into power in Great Britain.
But I take the view that our best chance is to deal with this question whilst a Conservative
Government is in power. Apart from the fact that Conservatism is traditionally much
straighter and honester in its dealings than the other parties, there remains the most
important point that by forcing a Conservative Government to deal with Article XII, we
eliminate from the British Parliament the largest possible measure of opposition. By this
I mean that it would be utterly impossible for the Conservatives to adopt a strong 'pro-
Ulster' and anti-Irish attitude, as their party is in power and has pledged itself to carry out
the Treaty in good faith.
The Liberal and Labour Parties in the Commons will be strongly in our favour (if for no
other reason than that they largely depend upon the huge Irish vote), and thus the
situation will be considered in a Parliament in which the one potentially hostile Party to
us will be largely gagged because of the fact that it is the Government in power
responsible for carrying out the Treaty.
Now, with a former Die-Hard in complete control I have no doubt that the vehement 'pro- Ulster' enthusiasm of the Die-Hard Tories will be largely held in check. The position is a
delightful one for our purposes – almost Gilbertian.
8. A PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN
(A) Home – With regard to Home Propaganda the work will be more negative than positive, and will be directed more towards controlling and checking as diplomatically as
possible any foolish and unreasonable eruptions in our own Press which at a critical
moment might conceivably deal us a nasty blow. Our Weekly Bulletin will, of course,
keep going in its present quasi-official capacity. It may be necessary too to get our Press
to work up certain aspects now and again. In this connection I have got into friendly
alliance with the 'Freeman' people who are, as usual, willing and anxious to assist us in
every way; and also the North-Western Publishing Company. This Company has its
Headquarters in Omagh, and produces weekly the following papers, circulating in the
(1) 'The Ulster Herald' – Mid, South and East Tyrone.
(2) 'The Strabane Chronicle' – North Tyrone & East Tirconnaill.
(3) 'The Derry People' – Derry City, part of Co. Derry and Innishowen Peninsular, Co.
(4) 'The Fermanagh Herald' – Co. Fermanagh, South Tirconnaill, North Leitrim and parts
(5) 'The Frontier Sentinel' – Newry Borough, South & East Down, South Armagh and
It will be seen that this combine affords a perfect chain of opinion round the entire
debatable area. These papers are naturally inclined to be a bit 'Irredentist', but we can rely
always on their help so long as we are determined on the Boundary Commission.
We can also rely on the 'Derry Journal' in this connection, I think.
(B) Foreign – Once the Boundary Commission negotiations get well under sail this will
be far and away the most important field for our active propaganda.
This section falls naturally into three heads, viz., (a) British (b) Commonwealth & U.S.A.
Historical – Dr. MacNeill and Mr. J.W. Good
Statistical – Mr. Stephens and Mr. G.A. Ruth
Economic – Mr. Joseph Johnston
European Boundary Commissions – Mr. Waller
How Union was effected in Other Countries – Mr. Waller
The Question of Minorities and Analogous Continental Cases thereon – Mr. Murphy
It will be provided with 9 or 10 maps and diagrams (many of them the original work of
the Bureau) and an excellent index, so that information can be readily obtained.
It is intended to distribute this work free to all Statesmen, Public Representatives,
Political Bodies and Newspapers, etc. in Great Britain, U.S.A. and the Dominions, as
well as to Foreign Embassies, Consulates, etc., the League of Nations, etc.
Apart from this the Handbook will also be on sale in all these countries.
British – When I was in London before Xmas I obtained a good deal of information with
regard to the best methods of placing propaganda in Great Britain. My investigations led
me to the conclusion that in that country articles to be generally read must be first signed
by prominent and influential publicists, and secondly, printed in prominent, popular and
influential papers. Whilst there I met several leading Journalists who expressed
themselves willing to be of any assistance. Many of them were, however, not very well
informed (It was the extraordinary ignorance on the situation displayed by our friends
there that made me think of preparing the 'Handbook'). For these our Publicity
Department are preparing a series of skeleton articles with copious references from the
strong British standpoint. When the series is complete and when the time is ripe I will go
to London again and 'place' them.
These skeleton articles will deal with such topics as
(a) Danger to the Commonwealth of Failure to carry out Clause XII of the Treaty– Dealing with the terrible power the Irish Race are all over the World and especially in the
Nations of the Commonwealth; their numbers and instances of their influence overseas
(e.g. number of Dominion Statesmen of Irish blood, etc.); how fiercely they resent
Partition and how ardently they are depending on Article XII to reduce the Partitioned
area to a minimum.
Then there is the other point that failure to carry out this Clause would simply play into
the hands of the Irregulars and give them a renewed lease of life, etc. etc.
(b) Sir James Craig should assist the supporters of the Commonwealth in Ireland – Sir
James Craig and Carson by their unwise and foolish pronouncements and illegal actions
in 1912-14 were the main causes of modern physical force movement in Ireland and
contributed more than any other persons to the destruction of the Union in Ireland (under
'Home Rule' the United Kingdom would be preserved; now it is gone). Here copious
quotations from past utterances of Ulster Unionists.
The men who have done most to maintain the integrity of the Commonwealth [are the]
present Irish Government, which carried out to a successful conclusion a war against
Irregulars, Craig cannot now say these men [are] not in earnest about [the] Treaty. Debt
of £20,000,000 put on Ireland by these necessities and many of the best men in Ireland
[are] dead, e.g. Pres. Griffith, General Collins.
(N.B. it is to be remembered that these articles will be written by Englishmen purely from
the British point of view. The point about this particular article is to counteract Craig and
the Die-Hards should they attempt to repeat their 1912-14 tactics – a most probable
contingency – by reminding the British public of the pickle these tactics led them into at
the time of the European War.)
In general these articles are planned a) to impress British Commonwealth and American
opinion with the excellence of our case b) with the manifold dangers in the Boundary
Situation and the general danger of turning the Irish Race against them – especially now
when they can appeal to World opinion with a case at least as excellent as that which
compelled the Treaty.
The Dominions – Our particular wooing of the Dominions is of course due to the fact that
it must have a big effect at the Imperial Conference. It should not be too difficult to get
Dominion opinion overwhelmingly behind us on this matter, as they will be directly
concerned both because of analogous problems of a similar nature (e.g. Rhodesia,
Newfoundland) and because of the power of the Irish in these countries. We should also
'give the tip' to Irish papers in the Dominions to begin to wax enthusiastic about the
Boundary Commission, so that pressure can be brought to bear in time on the Dominion
statesmen who will go to the Imperial Conference.
Continental – We must also try to enlighten Continental opinion in view of the League of
Nations – a possible Court of Appeal in the last result. For this purpose we could not do
better than print some thousands of copies of Mr. Y.M. Goblet's 'La Frontiere de l'Ulster',
also sundry articles on the topic from 'La Revue des Deus Mondes'.
Other Propaganda Methods – We should also make use of other methods which were
very much in vogue at the time of the Home Rule agitation in 1912, viz., invite
distinguished Foreign and British Journalists to visit the disputed regions, and write up
9. IMMEDIATE STAGES IN THE ISSUE
'FESTINA LENTE' – With these two steps the issue will be very definitely and very
decidedly joined. We may expect ominous rumblings from Belfast and much solemn
pledging of what they will or will not do in the event of certain circumstances. We must,
at this period, keep resolutely the level and calm attitude that we have adopted since the
advent of this Administration. Nothing is more baffling, nothing more cooling for the
excitable Belfast temperament than this calm, objective, temperate and somewhat aloof
attitude. As I have said before our motto must be 'festina lente!', giving plenty of time for
the significance of every step in the game to sink deeply in. Time is now on our side.
Three months ago it was on the side of Sir James Craig. It is for us now to use this
valuable weapon of time to our best advantage.
After the President's statement the next important step – unless before that time a London
Conference is suggested – will be the nomination of our Boundary Commissioner.
About this I have already said something in my last Memo. and will say nothing further
here. The game we are playing, or will be playing, in connection with this matter of the
Boundaries, is very definitely, decidedly and undisguisedly a political game, and as such
we should not hesitate to use politics to help us. The most ideal way to go about the task
would be to work steadily along, step by step, and then, after giving latitude for much
discussion on possible Commissioners, appoint, on the eve of the Election, our
Commissioner, and after this dynamic stroke go to the country. There is no doubt that
such a stroke at such a time would enormously benefit the Government at the hustings;
and, as I have said before, it is essential to have this Government returned if this North-
East Question is to be dealt with in a sane and statesmanlike fashion.
However, it is problematical at this moment whether we will be able to hold back the
functioning of the Commission until after the Elections, if the Elections will not take
place until September or October.
Personally, I would not like to see the Commission actually sitting when the Government
was making its appeal to the country. Much valuable negotiation time would thereby be
lost, as it is not likely that the British Government would make proposals of a
considerable nature to a Government which was not in existence and which, as far as it
knew, may not be in existence. Then again, were the Commission operating whilst the
Government was at the country it is impossible to say what trick or decision might be
played or made.
If possible, our Commissioner should be appointed, but the Commission should not sit
until the return of the Government, and in the meantime one of the strong planks at the
Election should be the Boundary Commission, or the complete implementing of the
Returned on this issue (amongst others) our position would be enormously strengthened,
and we could confidently look forward to seeing something definite and enduring accomplished.
10. POINTS OF VIEW ON THE BOUNDARY COMMISSION
(a) There is the view-point – which is the Government's view-point – that the next great milestone to be reached in the progress of this Nation is the achievement of complete National Union. The advocates of this viewpoint consider everything in connection with Northern policy subordinate to this achievement. Whether they are psychological Republicans or not – hoping to see Ireland termed 'Poblacht' at some future time – they consider the chief advantage of the Treaty position is to enable them to halt a little on the way in order to get their separated countrymen united to them before they march forward to the ultimate goal.
(b) There is the point of view of people who consider that the next milestone must be, not National Union, but the ejection from the Constitution of that nefarious conglomeration of words called the 'Oath of Allegiance', and also sundry other demoniacal but utterly powerless phrases referring to a person called the King and expressing the right of Citizens of the Saorstát to appeal to the British Council – all precedental deadletters. These people who are in mental affinity with Irregular philosophy are hoping against hope that there will be a crash of the first magnitude with regard to the Boundary Commission, e.g., that Craig will refuse to nominate his Commissioner or that the Commission will not deal fairly with us. In these events their view is that it should go forth to the World that we have been let down and betrayed on the Treaty, and that we should thereupon repudiate the entire Treaty and set to work ourselves to eject the objectionable features from the Constitution. Persons of this school with whom I have had conversations are avowedly more anxious for this consummation out of the Boundary Commission than for the consummation of National Union. The idea behind their reasoning is, 'far better to get us all united in Saorstát first before we consider the North- Eastern position'. This opinion has many adherents amongst the official opposition. Ministers can see that there are possibilities in this course should the dice be weighted against us in the ultimate.
(c) There is the point of view of the North-Eastern Irredentists, who cannot see farther than the sheer carrying out of the Boundary Commission as soon as possible, and who are mainly concerned with the inclusion within the Free State of their own Parish. Their reasoning is that Partition is odious, and a crime and that if it is to exist they have a right to get out of the partitioned area as soon as possible. When confronted with the argument 'What of those who will be left behind?',they reply, 'It is to their advantage that “Northern Ireland” should be cut down to a minimum, as it cannot hold out without a hinterland and is bound to come in'. They regard themselves as the real advocates of National Unity. (d) There is the point of view of the East Ulster Nationalists who are avowedly in favour of scrapping the Boundary Commission and accepting a compromise co-operation settlement with Craig. Their reasons for this are chiefly the opposite reasons to the people in (c). In other words, they realise that no possible Boundary Commission could possibly get them out, and that therefore their best interests are served by having as big a hinterland of people of their own way of thinking as possible. These people have also a less altruistic but none the less potent reason for this point of view. It is this. They know full well that it is only within a North- Eastern area that their discredited politico-sectarian A.O.H. will get a chance to recuperate and support 'leaders' of the type of Mr. John D. Nugent in place and in power. In their heart of hearts many of these people, in spite of their utterances, are really not anxious for the advent of National Union at all. These are the four schools of thought on this Boundary issue amongst the people for whom the Government can speak.
11. A POSSIBLE CONFERENCE AND OUR PROPOSAL
As I have said we are angling for and hoping for the maturing of a position when the British Government, either because it realises the dangers itself, or because it will have become aware of them owing to pressure exerted through our propaganda, will invite both Free State and Belfast to London to a Conference to see what better plan than the Boundary Commission can be arranged. Should this Conference come off it will be second only in importance to the Treaty of London. It will in itself partake of something in the nature of a second Peace Conference and may probably sit for weeks and even months before it hammers out an enduring settlement. But given the Fact of the Conference and the existence of the present Government, I have no doubt whatever that if we manoeuvre the 'Problem of Ulster' at this stage to a Round Table Conference in London the representatives of the various interests and countries will not rise from that table without having worked out a new Treaty of Settlement – this time amongst Irishmen with England possibly as a Guaranteeing Power in order to soothe North-Eastern susceptibilities, and I cannot see any reason why that settlement should not be based on National Union. We should be prepared to meet that time – prepared to have a number of well-drafted proposals ready to set before that Conference, our minimum terms to be exposed first and then so on to our maximum – unless (which is not likely) they accept some one or other of the intermediaries. (N.B. At the present moment we are drafting a number of proposals in the Bureau to meet this contingency.)
[stamped] CAOÍMHGHÍN Ó SÍÁDHAIL Assistant Legal Adviser/div>
1Above No. 71
3Above No. 71.
This memo is dated 21 April. The word originally was 'reject', but the 'r' has been crossed out.