This volume of selected documents, the fourth in the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series, covers the development of Irish foreign policy from 10 March 1932 to 31 December 1936.
The volume opens with the first change of government since independence, when Fianna Fáil, led by Éamon de Valera, formed a minority administration following the February 1932 general election. Fianna Fáil’s election manifesto had sought the removal of article 17 of the 1922 Constitution, which made the oath of allegiance obligatory on members entering Dáil Éireann, and the retention of the land annuities hitherto handed over to the British government under the land acts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In addition to becoming President of the Executive Council, de Valera also took the External Affairs portfolio. This signalled the importance he attached to foreign policy and the re-direction of Ireland’s external relations, in particular British-Irish relations, in the years to follow.
With the President of the Executive Council also the Minister for External Affairs, the status and power of the Department of External Affairs grew within the Irish administrative system. Officials at External Affairs eagerly grasped the opportunities offered for developing policy under their new minister. In particular, the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Joseph Walshe, rapidly developed a close working and personal relationship with de Valera. By March 1936, much to Walshe’s annoyance, moves were made to contain the growing power of External Affairs by the Secretary of the Department of the President, Seán Moynihan. Nevertheless, Walshe remained central to de Valera’s foreign policy making and his department retained its increased status, never returning to the uncertain days of the 1920s where the incorporation of External Affairs into the Department of the President seemed a possibility.
In the spring of 1932, Irish diplomats began to play a central role in the implementation of de Valera’s vision, on which he and his party had been elected, of rewriting and ultimately abolishing many aspects of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. This process would eventually result, through the April 1938 Anglo-Irish Agreements, in a fundamental restructuring of British-Irish relations in the areas of defence, finance and trade. These agreements will be covered in Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume V.
This volume ends on New Year’s Eve 1936, in the weeks following the passing by Dáil Éireann of the Constitution (Amendment No 27) Act 1936 and the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act. The passage of these Acts, during the crisis in the Commonwealth surrounding the abdication of King Edward VIII, was a milestone which marked five years of continuous and comprehensive redefinition of British-Irish relations. The former Act ended the functions of the monarch in relation to internal affairs in the Irish Free State. The latter gave authority for the continued exercise by the monarch, on the advice of the Executive Council, of functions relating to the external relations of the Irish Free State. It brought into being the external association of the Irish Free State with the Commonwealth; a relationship that was to last until 1949.
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British-Irish relations were the most important aspect of Irish foreign policy in the 1930s and the selection process for this volume has sought to give predominance to documents charting the complex reorientation of the relationship between Ireland and Britain that took place between 1932 and 1936.
On taking office, Fianna Fáil immediately implemented their programme for restructuring the framework of British-Irish relations. The Department of External Affairs was at the forefront of these moves. Aided by the experienced legal team at the department, the government introduced legislation to abolish the oath of allegiance and withheld the land annuity payments. When, as a result, retaliatory tariffs were imposed by London on Irish exports to Britain, officials at External Affairs investigated new markets in continental Europe and North America. Joseph Walshe played a central role in de Valera’s downgrading of the office of the Governor General, privately acting as an intermediary between de Valera and Governor General James McNeill.
De Valera laid down new guidelines for British-Irish policy based on detailed advice from Joseph Walshe and from the legal adviser at the Department of External Affairs, John Hearne. The close relationship between de Valera and Walshe in the operation of British-Irish relations is evident from early on in the volume, as is the diplomatic skill of Walshe and the Irish High Commissioner in London, John Dulanty, in implementing de Valera’s policies. De Valera gave these men, two of his most senior and experienced diplomats, considerable latitude in the tactical execution of policy though not in its strategic direction.
Throughout 1932 de Valera acted unilaterally to restructure the British-Irish constitutional and financial relationship. An impasse was reached by the end of the year following a series of abortive British-Irish meetings in London in October. Nineteen thirty-three was a quiet year for British-Irish relations, but de Fianna Fáil’s return to power with a majority government following a snap general election in January 1933 indicated clearly to London that de Valera was not a transient on the political scene but a force to be reckoned with and one who would hold power for the foreseeable future.
The negotiation of the ‘coal-cattle pact’ in 1934, in which Dulanty played a key role, marked one small area of improvement in British-Irish relations. However, the broader political issue of Ireland’s relationship with the Commonwealth and the issue of the settlement of the annuities dispute still stood in the way of harmonious relations between Dublin and London.
Walshe and Dulanty had good working relationships with senior officials at the Dominions Office, in particular with the Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Edward Harding, and the Assistant Under-Secretary, Sir Harry Batterbee. However, the Irish relationship with the somewhat erratic James H. Thomas, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs from 1932 to 1935, was much more problematic. Despite forays and feints towards a new understanding between Dublin and London there was little movement of positions until Malcolm MacDonald replaced Thomas in November 1935. But, although de Valera and MacDonald quickly established a sense of common purpose to improve British-Irish relations, the political climate was not conducive to progress.
The death of King George V, the accession of King Edward VIII and attempts to renegotiate the ‘coal-cattle pact’ dominated British-Irish relations through the first months of 1936. A central concern was the place of the king in the new Irish constitution that de Valera was drafting with the assistance of John Hearne at External Affairs and Ireland’s intentions regarding continued membership of the Commonwealth. With war clouds looming on the European horizon, the question of the defence relationship between Ireland and Britain and the possible return of the three ‘Treaty Ports’, Cobh, Berehaven and Lough Swilly, which had been left in abeyance since 1927, began to assume a new urgency.
Preliminary talks between senior Irish and British civil servants took place in August and September 1936 to explore the possibility of a wider British-Irish settlement on defence, constitutional, financial and trade questions. The aim was to see where the two sides held almost common positions and to work for agreement on these minor points before tackling the larger issues. De Valera brought the talks to an end in October 1936 when he informed MacDonald that he considered that further discussion would achieve little until agreement in principle had been reached on the major matters at issue between Ireland and Britain.
While Dulanty discussed the impact of de Valera’s ending of the official level talks on relations between Dublin and London, in November 1936 the constitutional crisis arising from Edward VIII’s relationship with the divorced Mrs Wallis Simpson impinged upon British-Irish relations. De Valera was initially reluctant to respond to rumours of the relationship, which he regarded as a problem for Britain and the Church of England to solve. The timing was in one sense unfortunate: prior to the crisis de Valera had already indicated to London his intention to introduce legislation in the Dáil that would abolish the functions of the monarchy in Irish domestic affairs.
De Valera thus at first told British officials that the Dáil would not legislate for the abdication and, because of the Statute of Westminster, the Irish authorities knew that Westminster could not legislate for Edward VIII’s abdication to take effect in Ireland. But de Valera wanted to avoid Edward VIII’s remaining king in Ireland after he had abdicated in the rest of the Commonwealth. Edward VIII abdicated on 10 December 1936. On 11 December, de Valera introduced the Constitution (Amendment No 27) Bill 1936 and the Executive Authority (External Relations) Bill in the Dáil. The former ended the functions of the British monarch in relation to the internal affairs of the Irish Free State. The latter gave authority for the continued exercise by the monarch, on the advice of the Executive Council, of functions relating to the external relations of the Irish Free State. The Bills did not refer to Edward VIII by name. The British government, having examined the constitutional implications of the new Irish Acts, which could be interpreted as clarifying Ireland’s relationship with the Commonwealth, had to accept these developments.
Beyond British-Irish relations, between 1932 and 1936 Ireland was, through membership of the League of Nations, enjoying a period of unparalleled involvement with events on the wider international stage. In February 1932 the state was half way though a three-year term on the League of Nations Council that had begun in September 1930. Ireland’s representative to the League, Seán Lester, looked forward to de Valera’s first visit to Geneva in September 1932, when the Irish Free State would hold the presidency of the League Council. De Valera would open the yearly meeting of the League’s Assembly and chair the concurrent meeting of the Council.
De Valera’s opening address to the League Assembly in September 1932 marked him out as a respected contributor to debate on international affairs. Speaking from his own text, dispensing with that prepared for him by the League Secretariat, de Valera held the attention of delegates and the world media, telling them that the League had to maintain the letter of its covenant or it would cease to be effective.
De Valera’s regular attendance at meetings of the Assembly and the Council through 1932 and 1933 and Lester’s championing of the role of the League strengthened Ireland’s profile at Geneva. Together they ensured that Ireland played an active and impartial role on the League Council supporting the covenant and the rights of small states. Lester’s profile further increased through his involvement in League mediation in disputes in the Chaco and Leticia regions of South America and through Ireland’s prominent position in Council sessions during which the report of the Lytton Commission censured Japan for her September 1931 invasion of Manchuria. Highly thought of by the League Secretariat, Lester was seconded from the Irish diplomatic service to the position of League of Nations High Commissioner to Danzig in 1934. He later served as Deputy Secretary General and was the League’s last Secretary General from 1940 to 1946.
Japan’s withdrawal from the League in March 1933 in response to the report of the Lytton Commission, followed by Germany’s withdrawal in October 1933, further reduced the League’s diminishing prestige. Francis T. Cremins, who replaced Lester at Geneva in 1934, was far less sanguine about the League’s prospects than his predecessor. Cremins’ vision of the world was one of stark realpolitik, far removed from Lester’s internationalism. In the mid-1930s, though Ireland was no longer a member of the League Council, Cremins ensured that the Irish Free State played an active role at the League’s yearly assembly and in the organisation’s technical committees.
The League’s weak response to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935 saw a noticeable lessening of Irish commitment to Geneva. There was no Irish diplomatic representation to the Italian government, so it was through reports from William J.B. Macaulay, Irish Minister to the Holy See, that Dublin was informed on Italian perspectives on the international response to Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia and on the domestic situation in Italy.
Ireland loyally implemented League of Nations sanctions against Italy. However, the worsening prospects for peace and the collapse of an effective collective security system as Britain and France sought Italian participation in an alliance against Hitler’s Germany (all recurrent themes in Cremins’ reports to Dublin) made it expedient for Ireland to indicate that, though de Valera remained a supporter of the Geneva ideal, in the event of a global conflict Ireland would prefer to follow a course of neutrality.
Cremins’ reports from Geneva place the expansionist and militaristic intentions of a resurgent Germany under the Nazis at the centre of destabilising forces in Europe. Ireland had opened a legation in Berlin in 1929 and throughout 1933 it was the young Chargé d’Affaires at Berlin, Leo McCauley, who witnessed the Nazi takeover of all aspects of German society. McCauley’s reports provide chilling accounts of his social and official meetings with Hitler, of the burning of the Reichstag, Nazi racial policies and the first months of the campaign against Jews in Germany. McCauley also reported to Dublin on the passage of the Enabling Act and of Gleichschaltung, or the ordering of society, which made Nazi dominance complete.
McCauley was moved to New York to take up the post of Consul General in the summer of 1933. The new occupant of the Berlin legation was Charles Bewley. Formerly Ireland’s Minister to the Holy See, Bewley had served in Berlin, with mixed and troubled results, as Sinn Féin envoy in the early 1920s. Bewley was known to have a deep admiration for Germany and to be strongly anti-Semitic. On returning to Berlin in 1933 Bewley’s fascination with the Nazis was evident. He was not yet an uncritical admirer and his reports from 1932 to 1935 from Berlin show a considerable understanding of the tensions within Nazi power structures. Despite toning down his anti-Semitism, from 1935 Bewley was swiftly becoming intoxicated with the rhetoric of the regime. By 1936 his reports were deeply tainted with Nazi ideology. This, along with an ongoing dispute with Joseph Walshe over the direction of Irish policy at the League of Nations, where Bewley disagreed with Irish support, along with Britain, for League sanctions against Italy, reduced the department’s reliance on Ireland’s troublesome envoy in Berlin. With Bewley’s reports becoming less and less reliable, Cremins’ reports from Geneva on the shifting European balance of power came to have an increased importance. Aware that Bewley had become infatuated with Nazism, Joseph Walshe sidelined him, although it was not until 1939 that Bewley was removed from his post.
Where Geneva served as Dublin’s continent-wide European listening post, the legation at Paris was much less significant for the wider concerns of Irish foreign policy in the 1930s. Irish minister in Paris, Count O’Kelly de Gallagh, and his successor from 1935, Art O’Brien, kept Dublin informed of the political turmoil in France in the mid-1930s. The election of Léon Blum’s Popular Front government in June 1936 was one event which greatly interested Dublin. This was mainly due to the sympathy shown by Joseph Walshe towards the policies of the Popular Front.
Following the heightened diplomatic activity surrounding the establishment of the Irish legation to the Holy See and the appointment of a Papal Nuncio in Dublin in 1929-30, the salience of the Holy See in Irish foreign policy lessened in the early 1930s. Although the Holy See had reacted with some unease to Fianna Fáil’s election victory in 1932, de Valera and his government demonstrated their attachment to Catholic values at the Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in the summer of 1932, a signal strengthened by visits to Rome and the Vatican by de Valera and Vice-President Seán T. O’Ceallaigh in 1933.
De Valera made sure to sound out the Holy See in advance on certain foreign policy matters where there was a Catholic dimension. This allowed him to appear loyal to the Vatican while also countering any domestic opposition amongst the hierarchy or sections of public opinion by announcing that he had already obtained the considered views of the Holy See. This strategy was of particular importance to de Valera in two areas: the admission of the Soviet Union to the League of Nations in 1934 and the worsening political situation in Spain which would eventually lead to civil war.
Ireland’s small network of bilateral relations was augmented slightly in 1935 when a legation was opened at Madrid. This was the only expansion by Dublin of its network of foreign missions in the period covered by this volume. Leopold Kerney presented his credentials as Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary of the Irish Free State to Spain on 3 September 1935. Kerney’s immediate priorities revolved around duties in the Spanish state, contacts with the Irish community in Madrid and the development of Irish-Spanish trade. In his reporting on internal conditions in Spain, Kerney was soon prophesying the imminence of civil war. When civil war finally broke out in July 1936, he found himself cut off from Madrid and established an Irish mission at St Jean de Luz on the Spanish-French border, where he remained until the end of the conflict in 1939. In Ireland, de Valera faced considerable domestic political discontent over the conflict in Spain. Significant elements of popular opinion supported General Franco’s Nationalist forces which were perceived as standing against the atheistic communism of the Republicans. Despite this, Ireland supported the Anglo-French sponsored Non-Intervention Committee from its inception in August 1936. The Irish High Commissioner in London, John Dulanty, represented Ireland on the Committee, which met in London from September 1936. Ireland played its part in this system by ensuring that legislation was in place to restrict Irish volunteers travelling to Spain to fight on either side in the civil war. By November 1936, with the victory of the Nationalists looking increasingly inevitable, External Affairs was turning its attention to the likelihood that Dublin would soon have to recognise a de facto change of government in Spain.
Ireland’s only diplomatic representation outside Europe was in the United States of America where Michael MacWhite sought to assure the State Department that it should not fear an upsurge in anti-British Irish-American activity following de Valera’s election victory in 1932. MacWhite’s remit was divided between maintaining traditional contacts with the Irish-American community and enhancing Irish interests within the wider American political system. He sought to develop contacts with the Roosevelt administration after the November 1932 election and tried unsuccessfully to use his personal relationship with President Roosevelt, which dated back to 1918, to open negotiations for an Irish-American trade agreement. In developing Irish interests throughout America, MacWhite had the support of the chain of Irish consular posts at New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, which also served as publicity and promotional bureaux for the Irish Free State.
Records of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and other archival sources
Until the passage of the National Archives Act (1986), government departments in Ireland were under no compulsion to release their archives. The Department of the Taoiseach, however, has voluntarily released material since the mid-1970s. The Department of Foreign Affairs records have been released on an annual basis since 1991.
In the late 1920s the Department of External Affairs established a numerical registry system for filing its papers. Under this system a list of subject categories corresponding to the main areas of the department’s work was drawn up and each subject category was assigned a unique number code. For example the number code 26 was allocated to files and papers dealing with the League of Nations. Individual files within each number category were assigned a unique sub-number. For example file 26/95 deals with the Irish Free State’s candidature for the League of Nations Council in 1930.
This registry and filing system, known colloquially as ‘number series’ files, was further developed in the mid-1930s. The existing two-digit prefixes had the number 1 added to them with, for example, the previous 26 series becoming the 126 series and so on. A further development took place in the late 1930s with the 1 being replaced by a 2, thus 126 became 226. The majority of the Department of External Affairs documents reproduced in this volume are from the general registry ‘number series’ collection.
The most sensitive information held by the Department of External Affairs was kept in the Secretary’s Files series. This collection began in the 1920s, with files being designated S with a number following (not to be confused with the separate Department of the Taoiseach S Series files.). In later years A and P series were created, as well as a PS series for the Private Secretary to the Secretary. These series were held under lock and key in the Secretary’s office and were only made available to lower ranking officials under certain conditions. The S Series was a target for widespread destruction during the wartime invasion scares of 1939 and 1940. While the S series is relatively complete for the early years of the period covered by this volume, there are considerable gaps in the files covering the late 1930s. Volume IV reproduces a considerable number of documents from the S Series; in particular, documents relating to British-Irish relations.
Material generated in Irish missions abroad is held at the National Archives in Dublin in the Embassies Series collection. For the early to mid-1930s this material covers the missions in London, Washington, Geneva, Brussels, the Holy See, Paris, Berlin and Madrid. The Madrid mission, which opened in 1935, was Ireland’s first new overseas mission since 1929. Due to weeding and wartime destruction the Embassies Series is very patchy for the inter-war years. The collections for Paris/Brussels (1923-29) and Paris (from 1929) are the most complete. Joseph Walshe heavily weeded the Vatican files when he was Ambassador to the Vatican (1946-54) and the files of the Irish Legation in Berlin were almost completely destroyed after a bomb hit the chancellery during an air raid in 1943. Unfortunately, the majority of files of the Irish Embassy in London (Irish High Commission from 1923 to 1949) were shredded in the 1950s. Similarly, very little survives from the Washington Embassy for the period covered by this volume. Where files do survive there is an understandable degree of overlap with Headquarters’ number series files. Volume IV reproduces material from the Geneva Embassy series (these are the files of the office of the Irish representative to the League of Nations) and the London Embassy series.
The main files from the Department of the Taoiseach (known from 1922 to 1937 as the Department of the President of the Executive Council, or simply ‘the Department of the President’) are known as the ‘S-files’ series. They begin at S1 and progress numerically (S1, S2, S3 etc.) in a roughly chronological order. In contrast to the1920s,whenforeign policy matters appeared regularly on the agenda of the Executive Council and Cabinet, with de Valera as President of the Executive Council and Minister for External Affairs, there was a tendency for the members of the Government to leave foreign policy decisions solely to the President. Though through the 1930s, Executive Council and Cabinet decisions regarding foreign policy continued to be taken, the Department of the President played less of a role in foreign policy formulation than it had in the 1920s.
Readers of Volume IV will notice that both Executive Council minutes and Cabinet minutes are published. While in common parlance the Executive Council (as the Government of the Irish Free State was known from 1922 to 1937) and the Cabinet are considered to be the same body, there was a difference between the two. The Executive Council (from 1938 referred to as the Government) was the term given to members of the Government meeting under the functions devolving upon it by provision of the Constitution or the law. The Cabinet was the name given to the Government meeting to decide matters of policy as the main policy-making organ of the State. The distinction between Government decisions and Cabinet decisions was abolished with the commencement of the Eighteenth Government on 9 March, 1982.
In a departure from previous volumes the editors have reproduced documents from The National Archives, Kew, London. The ten documents reproduced are of two types. In relation to the first type the editors have reproduced four documents of Irish origin, copies of which could not be located in Irish archives. In relation to the second, the editors have included six documents by senior British figures concerning aspects of British-Irish relations. This step was taken in order to include material for periods where Irish documents had not survived or where it was clear that no Irish record had been kept.
Editorial policy and the selection of documents
The Executive Editor is responsible for the initial wide choice of documents. These documents are then assessed by the five Editors, meeting once a month, to select the most appropriate documents for publication. Documents are prioritised in terms of importance on a one to five scale and are processed by the Editors in geographical and thematic tranches.
The documents in this volume are presented in chronological order based on date of despatch. The text of documents has been reproduced as exactly as possible. Marginal notes and annotations have generally been reproduced in footnotes; annotations have however sometimes been reproduced in the body text when to have reproduced them as footnotes would have reduced the clarity of the document from the reader’s point of view. Where possible the authors of marginal notes have been identified. There have been no alterations of the text of documents nor have there been any deletions without indication being given of where changes have been made. Nothing was omitted that might conceal or gloss over defects in policymaking and policy execution. With the exception of one document, number 215, all material reproduced was already open to the public at the relevant repository. The extract from a letter from Leo McCauley to Joseph P. Walshe of 30 January 1934 on Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary’s File S78, which is reproduced as number 215, was de-restricted by the Department of Foreign Affairs. File S78 is McCauley’s personal file and all personal files are restricted by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Accordingly, the remainder of the letter and the file remain closed.
At some points in the text the footnotes refer to documents that were ‘not printed’. Either the document referred to could not be found or the document was either routine or repeated information found elsewhere in the documents selected and so was not printed. Where it was impossible to decipher a word or series of words, an ellipsis has been inserted or the assumed word inserted with an explanatory footnote. Spelling mistakes have been silently corrected, but capitalisation, punctuation, signatures and contemporary spelling have in the main been left as found in the originals and have been changed only where the sense is affected. Additions to the text appear in square brackets. Original abbreviations have been preserved and either spelt out between square brackets or explained in the list of abbreviations.
Where a sender has signed a document, either in original or copy form, the word ‘signed’, in square brackets, has been inserted. A similar practice has been followed with initialled or stamped documents, with the word ‘initialled’ or ‘stamped’ inserted in square brackets as appropriate. In all cases without an insertion in square brackets, the signature or initials were typed on the original document and are reproduced as found. Where an unsigned copy of a letter is reproduced, the words ‘copy letter unsigned’ have been inserted in square brackets. The Editors have at all times tried to confirm the identity of the senders and recipients of unsigned letters, and in cases where identity is impossible to establish a footnote has been inserted to that effect.
In correspondence, English was the working language of Irish diplomats. It is evident from the archives that written communication in Irish was only used for documents of symbolic national importance, although Irish was the spoken language of a number of diplomats, particularly Joseph Walshe, and many officials were bilingual. In correspondence, the Irish language was more commonly used for salutations and in signatures. In many cases there was no consistent spelling of Gaelicised names and in the volume many different spellings of the same name and salutation in Irish occur. These have not been standardised and are reproduced as found.
The authors of the documents reproduced tended to refer to Britain as ‘England’ or made no distinction between the two geographical entities and the Editors have not thought it necessary to insert (sic) at all relevant points throughout the volume.
The editors would like to thank all those who were involved in the production of Volume IV of the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series. The assistance of the following is particularly acknowledged.
At the Department of Foreign Affairs: Dermot Gallagher, Secretary General of the Department; Liam MacGabhann; Susan Conlon; Alma Ní Choigligh; Miriam Tiernan; Maureen Sweeney and Clare Hanratty.
At the Royal Irish Academy: Michael Ryan, President of the Academy; Patrick Buckley, Executive Secretary of the Academy; Professor Mary Daly and Dr James Slevin (successively Secretary of the Academy); Dr Úna uí Bheirn, Eagarthóir of the Academy’s Foclóir na Nua-Ghaeilge; James McGuire (Managing Editor) and Dr James Quinn (Executive Editor) of the Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, and Sanchia O’Connor.
At the National Archives: Dr David Craig, Director, for his generosity in providing access to the facilities and collections; Ken Hannigan, Keeper; and Paddy Sarsfield for photocopying the very large number of documents from which the initial selection for publication was made.
At the University College Dublin Archives Department: Dr John McCafferty, Director; Ailsa Holland; Kate Manning and Seamus Helferty. At The National Archives, London: Mrs Sarah Tyacke, Chief Executive and Dr Elizabeth Hallam-Smith, Director of Public Services.
At the Institute of Public Administration: Declan MacDonagh, Eileen Kelly, Jim Power, Hannah Ryan and Tom Turley.
We would also like to thank Commandant Victor Laing of Military Archives, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin; Helen Litton, Kelley Maxham and Maura O’Shea.
30 July 2004