No. 24 NAI DFA EA 1/3

Letter from Count Gerald O'Kelly de Gallagh to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin), enclosing a memorandum on the status of Irish Free State representatives overseas

Brussels, 28 August 1926

A Chara,

In view of the Imperial Conference to be held next October and of the eminently unsatisfactory present situation of An Saorstát's Foreign Representation I have the honour to enclose herewith a memorandum dealing with the question, which I trust may be of use to the Minister.

I would take this opportunity of renewing my previous request that I be kept informed,1 confidentially if necessary, of the policy of the Government on this and all other questions. You will, I am sure, recognise how much out of touch with things in Ireland a representative abroad is likely to become under the present regime and for that reason I have no hesitation in impressing upon you once more the need for keeping me in constant touch with the mind of the Department on all things concerning foreign relations.

It is obvious that in my dealings not only with the British Embassy, but with officialdom at large in the course of my every day work, my attitude must be governed by my knowledge of the intentions of the Government on any given subject. For that reason I am particularly anxious to know what the attitude of the Government is at the moment towards the question of its foreign representation and what line it is intended to adopt at the forthcoming Imperial Conference.

Hitherto, with your sanction, I have proceeded to establish a position by means of precedents. I understand from your letter of the 26th of July, Ref. 224/138,2 that according to the present policy 'there does not appear to be any objection from the British side to the making of diplomatic appointments and that consequently there is no object in continuing the policy of establishing precedents'. As you have only given me this instruction incidentally in the course of a letter on another subject, you will appreciate how difficult it has been for me fully to know the mind of the Government on the subject. It is for this reason that I would ask you once more to let me have, in as great detail as possible, your views on this subject as well as the policy of the Government on all subjects bearing on external relations.

You will, I am sure, readily appreciate how difficult it is for me to avoid blundering if I am not kept fully au courant in such matters.

Mise, do chara,
[copy letter unsigned]




The question of status of the Saorstát Representative would appear to have been the principal cause of friction between the Irish Mission and the British Embassy in Brussels for the last eighteen months. So long as the Irish Representative was completely unknown, this question did not arise and the British Embassy were quite courteous to him. When however he began to be known politically, officially and socially, the question of his status automatically came to the fore and the British Embassy adopted the strictly protocolaire attitude which refuses to recognise any de facto situation unprovided for by the Protocol of Vienna of a century ago. This attitude, inevitably enough, was gradually adopted by the Belgian authorities and the result is that whereas Ireland is known politically to be represented in Belgium, yet the public wonders why her Representative is always ignored on all official occasions. Officially he does not exist. His absence from Cardinal Mercier's funeral and his quite irregular presence on the official tribune on the occasion of an International Sporting event, when he presented the Saorstát Minister of Posts and Telegraphs3 to H.M. the King of the Belgians, in spite of the expressed claim of a junior British secretary to do so, illustrate the unsatisfactory nature of his anomalous situation. The Embassy's communiqué to the Belgian press, which immediately followed this latter incident and which expressly denied the existence of a Saorstát Representative other than a commercial commissioner, claiming that the British Embassy was alone authorised to represent Ireland - a communiqué issued without consultation with the Saorstát Representative - is a striking instance of the friction which exists and of the mentality of the British Embassy which makes the friction inevitable.

A piquant commentary on the claim of the British Embassy to represent the Irish Free State has been the statement made in the course of conversation to the Representative or his wife, on different occasions, by both the British Ambassador and the Counsellor of the Embassy, when the bearing of a given line of action in Brussels on the political situation in Ireland was mentioned. Both the Ambassador and the Counsellor apparently quite spontaneously stated that, of course, they knew nothing about Irish politics and made this statement not as if they considered this ignorance a handicap to them in their functions, but rather as if they were proud of it.

A further instance of the antagonistic frame of mind of the British Embassy towards the Irish Mission was to be found in the refusal of any member of the British Embassy to assist at the first official reception given by the Irish Representative in June 1925. Other minor instances of rudeness to the Representative or to his wife in public on the part of members of the Embassy staff have arisen from time to time.

There is good reason to believe that this attitude of mind has its roots chiefly in professional jealousy and is not the outcome of instructions from London. It is practically certain that this professional spleen, which cannot stomach the expansion of a non-diplomat such as is the Irish Representative, would quite disappear were the Representative given diplomatic status. His status should be cut and dried and should, it would appear, whatever his title, be next in precedence to that of the Head of the British mission in the capital to which he is accredited. There is no question but that the Head of a Dominion Mission should automatically take precedence of any subordinate officer in the British Mission. He will, unofficially, be automatically accorded this status by the general public, and if he has not got it officially, human nature being what it is, friction will inevitably ensue.

If internationally it should be necessary to give the head of the mission the rank of Minister or Chargé d'Affaires, then there is no doubt but that he should have that rank. The higher the rank, the better for the prestige of the country and the greater the Representative's opportunities for spreading his sphere of influence. The present anomalous situation is fraught with constant grave risks and should be regularised with the least possible delay.

[signed] Count O'Kelly de Gallagh

1 See No. 2.

2 See No. 21.

3 J.J. Walsh

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