I think it may be convenient to make a full statement in regard to the position in Ireland. Last week it was very difficult to tell from the reports which appeared in the newspapers and from those which we had received what had actually happened at the meeting of the Sinn Fein party in Dublin on Wednesday last. We therefore thought it better to invite the Irish signatories to the Treaty and Irish Ministers to come over here and discuss the position with us, and, in the meanwhile, to defer any statement. Mr. Griffith, Mr. Duggan and the legal adviser of the Irish Provisional Government, Mr. Kennedy, accordingly came here on Friday night, and a series of conferences has taken place.
The result of these conferences has been both satisfactory and reassuring.
The Irish Ministers have in no respect receded from the Treaty or weakened in their determination to carry it through in its integrity. Their opposition to the Republican party continues unabated. At the meeting of the Sinn Fein representatives, however, a very strong demand was put forward that the Irish people should have the Constitution before them as well as the Treaty when they are called upon to give their votes at the election. To this demand the Irish Provisional Government has deferred.
Their opponents have, I understand, promised that, in these circumstances, the election shall be facilitated and that the Provisional Government shall not be hampered either by the Dail or by the supporters of Mr. de Valera in the interval.
The result of this agreement will be to delay the election for six or seven weeks, and it is now expected to take place in the early part of June instead of in April. There is nothing in this change which affects the position of the British Government or which touches the Treaty in any way. All that is needed is a simple Amendment in the Bill before the House providing that instead of the election taking place as soon as may be, it shall take place within four months. In the meantime a technical committee appointed by the Provisional Government is understood to be at work in Ireland upon the Constitution. The Constitution will be framed in Ireland. The Constitution will be submitted to the Irish people by and with the authority of the Provisional Government, and not by and with the authority of the Dail Eireann. The Provisional Government recognise that they will have to take steps to satisfy themselves that the Constitution so framed is of a character that the British Government can accept as fulfilling the Treaty.
Both sides are now engaged in preparing their electoral and party machinery for any appeal to the Irish electorate. It is believed that the method which has now been adopted will enable that appeal to be conducted by constitutional methods, and will reduce intimidation to a minimum.
In these circumstances there is clearly no reason whatever for any change in the policy we are pursuing here. The evacuation of the British troops will continue stage by stage, and the Debate on the Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill will be resumed at the earliest convenient moment. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is prepared to assign Thursday and Friday to these discussions.