No. 253 NAI DFA D3904

James McNeill to Desmond FitzGerald (Dublin)

London, 15 July 1924

My dear Minister,

The High Commissioners were invited again to-day to the Colonial Office and Mr. Thomas stated that the British Delegation was to consist of the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Thomas and Sir Eyre Crowe.1 The French Government had intimated that they wished to have three ministerial delegates and the permanent head of the French Foreign Office. He was anxious to find out if some arrangement could not yet be made. The telegram dated 14th instant from the Prime Minister of Canada was read. I enclose a copy. It seemed doubtful whether this was or was not an assent to the panel system, under which full power delegates would be appointed in excess of the number admitted simultaneously to the session of the conference. Mr. Thomas sent to Canada from himself as Colonial Secretary a reply drafted at the meeting, acknowledging with thanks the assent which he took it to be to the panel system. Mr. Larkin is wiring for clear instructions. Mr. Thomas went on to say that if his interpretation proved correct he would cease to be a British representative and his place would be taken by a full power representative of each dominion in turn.

Please consider what our Government will do under these circumstances. If Canada accepts the panel system, i.e. appoints a full power representative (probably Senator Belcourt) who will be present at some sessions in his turn and always in touch, will the Irish Free State remain out unless represented at each session by an Irish Free State representative? Canada will reply to-night or to-morrow morning either assenting or dissenting clearly. I think the Canada telegram points to assent. I was told that the panel system was worked at Versailles.

If Canada dissents the conference will go on, constituted as above mentioned. The High Commissioners are invited to come to the Colonial Office and receive daily reports of transactions. The stenographic notes of each session will be supplied to them within a few hours of the close of the session, morning and afternoon.

Should Canada assent to the panel system and our Government agree to being represented in the same way you will have to name a representative. Probably the other High Commissioners will represent their several dominions on the panel. It would be better that our representative should be either yourself or failing you a member of the Dáil (Query - Professor O'Sullivan)2 who could speak in the Dáil later. If neither you nor a member of the Dáil can come I should as High Commissioner be most suitable.

The position is now that South Africa does not wish to be represented separately, New Zealand agrees to Empire representation if that is more convenient. Canada's exact position is doubtful. If Canada accepts panel system all Dominions (except South Africa) will be invited to accept panel and name a full power delegate who will remain in touch and attend a session in his turn, the order being fixed by ballot or some other method agreed upon. I think that our Government should agree if Canada does. I shall telephone as soon as I know to-morrow. If you have no other representative at once available you may appoint me without prejudice to my replacement at any time you wish during the conference. But it would be best to have you or, if you cannot come, a Dáil member. I don't think the duty in itself will be arduous, as I don't think the decisions arrived at will directly commit us to enforcement of sanctions of any kind.

A ground for accepting the arrangement, apart from Canada's assent, would be that the Prime Minister had undertaken to have the question of representation of dominions made the subject of a special conference in the near future. If Canada assents it would probably be impolitic to remain aloof. There would be no harm, I think, in assenting after Canada and being represented a day late.

During the meeting this morning Thomas interrupted Sir J. Cook who was talking rather generally and referring to the position in Canada and the Irish Free State, and stated inter alia there was as I (McNeill) knew a special trouble connected with the King's name. I said I knew only of the difficulty arising from the Dáil's objection to assent to agreements if there was no representative. It is a detail. I think Thomas meant partly to separate the two cases and partly to indicate that Cook was talking about things he didn't understand.

Yours sincerely,
James McNeill

P.S. Should Canada dissent I see no harm in accepting invitation to go to the Colonial Office daily and get information from Colonial Secretary, if Canada High Commissioner also does so.

1Sir Eyre Crowe, British Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office (1920-25).

2Professor John Marcus O'Sullivan.

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