No. 121 NAI DFA 4/1

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Patrick McGilligan (Dublin)
(Secret) (Copy)

London, 30 November 1927

The Minister for External Affairs

Mr. FitzGerald1 and I saw Lord Lovat2 at the Dominions Office at 4 o'clock on the 29th November. He is a very genial type completely devoid of affectations.

'Who's Who' tells that he is the fourteenth baron of his line and that he has had a purely military career beginning with the raising of a regiment called Lovat's Scouts during the Boer War. He is fifty-six years of age.

2. Mr. FitzGerald opened the conversation by stating that - as Lord Lovat was aware - he had come to speak about the office of Governor General. It had become more or less definitely established that the period of office should not exceed five years and the Government of the Irish Free State had come to the conclusion that it was better to adhere to the existing custom in the case of the Irish Free State. The High Commissioner, Mr. James McNeill, was their choice as successor to the present holder of the office and they wished to advise His Majesty to appoint him accordingly. Lord Lovat said that he would inform the King of the wishes of the Irish Government. He made no suggestion whatever as to an alternative nominee. His whole attitude rather indicated that he knew beforehand the exact intentions of the Saorstát Government. He spoke very highly of Mr. McNeill. Mr. FitzGerald subsequently mentioned that the form of the 'Commission' and 'Instructions' to be issued to the Governor General could be discussed later. Lord Lovat assented, but I think he is hardly au courant with the finesses of Dominion status and the question will have to be taken up by despatch as soon as the formality of obtaining the King's assent has been completed so that there may be no mistake about our wishes as to the counter-signature.

3. Lord Lovat spoke at length about the position of the ex-servicemen in the Irish Free State. He emphasized the willingness of the British Government to give every possible help. If any of the ex-servicemen wished to emigrate to the Dominions and the necessary funds were procurable from some source in the Irish Free State, he felt sure that the Dominion Governments would provide all the facilities and financial aid given to ex-servicemen from Great Britain.

4. Lord Lovat mentioned a slight difficulty which might arise in connection with the maintenance of British Graves in the Irish Free State by the Irish Government. The Irish Government had undertaken the maintenance of all British Graves in Ireland. In all other parts of the World, British graves were being looked after by the War Graves Commission. He feared that some English people might not wish to correspond direct with the Board of Works in Dublin about the graves of their relatives and he wondered whether, in that case, there would be any objection to the correspondence going through the War Graves Commission in London. Mr. FitzGerald assured him that his Government would not make any difficulty.

5. The Minister and I visited Batterbee and Harding at their request after having left Lord Lovat. Batterbee inquired whether any information had been given to the Civil Servants expecting relief from the Privy Council decision in the Wigg and Cochrane3 case as to the contents of the Despatch recently sent to the Dominions Office. When requesting an interview with Lord Lovat they had told Batterbee that they knew the intentions of the Irish Government and they inquired whether a despatch had not been received on the matter. Batterbee's vague statements seemed to imply that the case made by the Saorstát was a good one and required a readjustment of the British view.

6. Harding wished to mention certain difficulties raised by demands made by the Minister for External Affairs in recent despatches:

a) They could not agree to abolish the expression 'Britannic Majesty' in the body of treaties or in describing His Majesty's representatives abroad. They would not however again use the expression 'His Britannic Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State'. (In order to make sure that the word 'Britannic' should not occur again in the latter case, we had urged the abolition of the word from all official documents.)
b) A new form would be proposed which would make it clear to foreign governments that the British Representative was acting at the request of the Dominions not proprio jure in exchanging notes with foreign powers. (We had objected to a note to the Czechoslovak Government on visa exemption covering all British subjects and proposed separate exchanges of notes for all the Dominions in future.)
c) The renewal of the Arbitration Treaty with the United States would not be made in the old form, i.e. through plenipotentiaries appointed on the advice of the British Government alone acting for all the Dominions. There would be joint signatures for the Commonwealth of separate representatives holding complete and exclusive full powers. (In replying to the British Despatch proposing to renew the Arbitration Treaty in the old form, we had informed them that their proposal was unconstitutional, that the only possible method of concluding the new treaty was through joint signatures of representatives empowered as above, or through separate instruments for each Member of the Commonwealth. We had added that we proposed to seek an early opportunity of concluding a separate arbitration treaty with the United States.)

5. In all these cases it will be noted that we demanded considerably more than our minimum requirements which in each case was ceded. We cannot reasonably expect at the moment to get rid of joint treaties made on a basis of equality. We are succeeding in getting rid of inclusion in treaties to which we are not formally parties. The Dominions Office will, of course, write to us officially on all the questions discussed.

6. The difficulty of properly exercising the right to advise the King is exemplified in the procedure which was imposed on us in this matter. The English Ministers see the King, tell him their wishes and the King at once assents and, if there is a document to be signed, signs it without more ado. The Ministers of the Governments of the Commonwealth advise the King through the channel of the Secretary of State for the Dominions. They have to rely on the latter to convey their advice intact and intended action on their part is delayed until they have learned from the Secretary of State that their advice was effective. There is now no doubt that their advice will be acted on in essentials, but publicists like Keith have still fairly solid ground for arguing that the Dominion Ministers do not advise the King at all and that they are consequently subordinate to the English Ministers.

1 Desmond FitzGerald was now Minister for Defence. He held the portfolio from June 1927 to March 1932.

2 Simon Joseph Fraser, 14th (sometimes reckoned 16th) Baron Lovat (1871-1933), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Dominions Office (1925-29).

3 A case taken by two former British civil servants, who had transferred to the Irish Free State civil service, to obtain a declaration that they were entitled to pension benefits under Article 10 of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty.

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