No. 166 NAI DT S5685

Edward J. Phelan to William T. Cosgrave

GENEVA, 8 December 1923

My Dear President

When you were in Geneva I had several talks with you on the question of the Status of the Free State particularly as regards ratification of treaties or conventions.

A very grave situation has now arisen to which I think your personal attention should be drawn.

An amendment to Article 393 of the Treaty of Versailles is at present under ratification. (Art. 393 concerns the composition of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office.)

A ratification was communicated to the League about a month ago by the British Government. The question was raised as to what the ratification covered, and, in particular, whether it covered the Irish Free State. The British Delegation communicated with London and the following communication has just been received from the British Ministry of Labour by the International Labour Office:- 'I have made enquiries as to the scope of H.M's ratification of the amendment to Article 393 and find that as I anticipated the ratification applies to the whole Empire and extends to the Irish Free State as well as to Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, and India. We would suggest therefore that in describing the ratification in official publications the most suitable formula would be to say that it is on behalf of the British Empire, Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State, and India.' Publication of the ratification was held up pending the receipt of information concerning its exact application.

Publication will now have to be made and it seems to me that the effect will be disastrous. It will amount to an official intimation to all the Members of the League that our independence and sovereignty are non-existent and it will entirely stultify your speech at the Assembly.

I was very much distressed and discouraged by the resolution adopted by the Imperial Conference concerning ratifications, but this goes very much further. The Free State has never had this amendment communicated to it, has not signed it, and has had no opportunity to consider it.

I am communicating the above information to you and to the A.G. confidentially and therefore it cannot be used officially. I was very much afraid that something would be done to diminish our Treaty rights in this way and that was why I urged that we should forestall any such attempt. It is now too late to prevent this precedent being created against us although something may be done after it becomes an official fact. I think however that we should immediately proceed to ratify independently say the Court of International Justice Treaty so as to protect ourselves by a precedent on the other side. I wrote to the A.G.1 and to O'Shiel when first this ratification was put in[,] drawing attention to the circumstances which would arise and I have no doubt but that the A.G. has considered the matter. I also fully explained the matter to Professor Whelehan2 before he left Geneva.

You will I hope forgive me for adding to your many preoccupations but I think you will agree that the matter is of the first importance and that unless action is taken at once our whole position will be gravely compromised.

I have been delighted to see the success of the loan and I hope you will accept my congratulations.

With kindest regards
Yours very sincerely
[signed] E.J. PHELAN

1See above No. 150.

2J.B. Whelehan, Department of Industry and Commerce, Government of Ireland delegate to the International Labour Conference (1923).

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