No. 70 UCDA P80/557

Letter from Desmond FitzGerald to Edward J. Phelan (Geneva)

Dublin, 24 March 1927

My dear Phelan,

I have been intending to write to you a full reply to your letter of the 18th1 - that is to say going into the whole matter of the whole of the 'inter se' clause in the Imperial Conference - but I haven't had time so far and haven't even now.

I may as well admit that it is one of the worst features of the report, but it was a matter of give and take and we gave the minimum and took the most. In that matter we were gravely handicapped by General Hertzog. He came over with a theory which he thought could be the basis of a great triumph. Inherent in his theory was the idea that the League of Nations knew that a special relationship existed among the members of the British Commonwealth as they entered the League under conditions unlike other members. I argued this matter with him before the Conference began, but his mind was so utterly wedded to his pet theory which led nowhere that nothing could be done; and I should say that, at the end of the Conference, he regarded as a triumph that one point which I regard as a defeat and that we must try to remedy sometime.

I am hurrying to answer your letter received this morning.2 You will have seen that I made a statement on the point in the Senate yesterday. Chamberlain's statement that he urged the change in the form of the Treaty at our request was quite true. You will see from the Imperial Conference report that it was agreed that an early opportunity should be taken to suggest this at the League. When we heard that he was going to do this at the Council we thought it necessary, to avoid the very thing that has arisen, to see that in doing so he should say that he acted on our request - seeing that we were committed to the proposal and could not stop him raising it. It is perfectly clear from the reported statement 'I sit here as the representative of Great Britain and the Dominions' was a general statement, unwarranted and untrue. We have only been delaying raising the matter with them as we were depending on the press reports. We are of course writing saying that the statement is incorrect, calculated to prejudice our position and that of the other Dominions and that he should take steps to correct the impression which he may have created.

We got rid of the covering clause 'British Empire'. I saw it was a move in the right direction, as we could not achieve the complete abolition of some sort of covering clause, to substitute the King for the British Empire as it indicated exactly the degree of association between the parts of the Commonwealth.

The 'inter se' thing I won't attempt to explain away. It was one of the debits which has to be balanced against the credits. I think that we came out fairly well on the credit side - more so than I expected when the Conference began and very much more so than I expected in the early part of the Conference when it looked as though the debit balance was going to be considerable.

As to the Mandates - as we have no mandates we did not participate. We should have asked to be excluded from association with that statement. There were other things which I think could have been avoided in the report and which I even flatter myself would have been avoided but for the fact that the English got away with their theory that it was a Prime Ministers' Conference and frequently had meetings of Heads of Delegations only, with the result that Kevin3 alone was present, and of course there were points raised at these meetings which conveyed little to him that might have conveyed more to me. I am not saying this in criticism. It is impossible to get all one wants at these Conferences and seeing the way everything is weighted against one - including the naiveté; and assurance of Hertzog among the weights - I can only congratulate ourselves that things were so good. I think that actually the net result was good.

I suppose you will be here sometime before September and look forward to seeing you then. I may even see you in Geneva. That depends on 'Vox Populi'. 'Vox Populi' will, in all probability, give the right answer but, as Kevin says, the 'vox' sometimes speaks with a hiccup. Dermot4 is at the moment in New York with an allowance from the Finance Department which I believe pays for part of his bed. I imagine he will come back to besiege the Finance Department, threatening them with his personal bankruptcy.

I am happy to hear that Heléne remembers me. I am surprised that she is still in Geneva. I was wondering where she was as I thought when I was there last she was on the point of going off to Barcelona. You can assure her that if 'vox populi' is hiccupless I look forward to seeing her in September.

The White Paper circulated in the Dáil I enclose. It is identical with the British one. I enclose also a copy of my statement by way of annotation and a copy of the debate on it.

[copy letter unsigned]

1 Not located.

2 See No. 69.

3 Kevin O'Higgins.

4 Diarmuid O'Hegarty.

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