No. 119 NAI DFA LN 1/6

Memorandum from Joseph P. Walshe to Patrick McGilligan on Irish Free State policy at the Eighth Assembly of the League of Nations
(L.N. 1927) (Secret)

Dublin, 11 October 1927


1. I am writing a full summary of the activities of the VIII Assembly to be used by you as the basis of a speech in the Dáil or as a report for distribution to the Deputies. The present Secret Memorandum deals rather with our general external position with particular reference to certain aspects of the work of the VIII Assembly.

2. The League is worth our very serious and constant attention for two main reasons. The first is that the Foreign Office believe that it is the best publicity centre for those Dominions which desire to make their sovereign status clear to the World and to obtain recognition for that position and it is consequently at the League that our status can suffer most from their insidious attacks. The second is that the League is in fact what the Foreign Office believe it to be, and at its conferences and assemblies the position gained in our purely inter se relations will either be strengthened or weakened. It cannot remain unaffected. Canada's election to the Council is a good illustration of both.

3. You will remember that M. Lapointe promised Mr. O'Higgins during the Naval Conference in June-July that he would wire to his chief to obtain a definite decision as to whether or not Canada would present her candidature, Lapointe declaring for an affirmative decision.? No reply had been received by the end of the Conference and this Department began to send a series of cables to the Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs1 in Ottawa urging the need for an immediate decision and informing him that if Canada decided to abstain the Saorstát would go forward. Evasive replies were received to each cable, but the situation had so developed by the end of August that Canada was put under the obligation of going up herself if she wished to escape the accusation of having prevented us from taking the necessary steps to forward our candidature. Mr. Skelton felt that the interpretation of a delaying action was too obvious and he apologised to me for their indecision, putting the entire blame on the Premier2 who was afraid of being accused by the pro-British element in Canada of emphasising Canada's independence. Mr. Skelton was clearly doubtful himself about the wisdom of going forward, and it can be taken as a fact that without the pressure exercised from the Saorstát between June and September, Canada would not have become a candidate. The final instructions (which were apparently vague enough to allow Senator Dandurand to go forward or not according as he judged the circumstances on the spot) only arrived at 9 o'clock on the evening of Sunday 4th, just one hour before a meeting of the Commonwealth delegations was to be held at the Beau Rivage. Fortunately Senator Dandurand's vanity had been sufficiently swollen by his presidency of the Assembly to make him regard the prospect of himself in the position of Canada's representative on the Council with a slight bias, and when Sir Austen had finished a banal statement on the work of the Assembly without even hinting at the possibility or desirability of a Dominion candidature for the Council, Senator Dandurand delivered himself of his message with a certain malicious pleasure. He added that he would explore the situation within the following twenty-four hours and would inform the Commonwealth delegates whether the prospects were good or otherwise. Sir Austen remarked that the matter should have been brought to his notice earlier, that certain preliminary preparations were necessary, etc. He almost said that he hoped Canada might reconsider her decision. He certainly made it clear that he thought so. South Africa, Ireland and Australia immediately promised their support to Canada as did New Zealand through Sir James Parr,3 with qualifications which he himself did not understand. No other meeting was held having any relation to the Council elections. No instructions of any kind were proffered by the British on the best way of canvassing or of voting for Canada. This was in the sharpest contrast with the invariable action of the British when they desire to have anything done at the League, and Canada could not have failed to notice it, even if her attention had not been helped in that direction by the Irish Delegation.

4. I have already stated that Canada would not have become a candidate without pressure from the Saorstát. It is equally true that her candidature would not have been successful without the work done on her behalf by the Saorstát Delegation. It was of the utmost importance that Belgium should not succeed in her request for re-eligibility to the Council. Had she succeeded, Canada would have been rejected. The Saorstát Delegation had to urge strongly on Canada herself as well as on the other Dominions to vote against Belgium on this question. Even two days before the election Senator Dandurand was still doubtful and expressed his intention of voting 'Yes' on Belgium's request until it was explained to him that an affirmative vote for Belgium was equivalent to a vote against Canada. When Belgium's request was voted on she received twenty-nine out of the 32 (two-thirds majority) votes required. In the election for the Council Canada was third with twenty-six votes. As the twenty-nine states voting for Belgium's re-eligibility would naturally have voted for her in the Council election, Canada would almost certainly have failed to secure election had at least three of the Commonwealth States not voted against Belgium. Mr. Skelton thanked the Irish Delegation after the election for their help and fully acknowledged that without our help Canada would not have secured election. In this whole matter Mr. MacWhite's knowledge of League affairs and his friendly relations with some members of almost every delegation were a deciding factor.

5. Sir Austen Chamberlain at the March Meeting of the Council said something concerning his representative capacity on the Council which was translated into the provisional minutes as a definite statement that he represented the dominions as well as Great Britain on the Council. The Department at once called the attention of London to 'the notetaker's error' and asked for an immediate rectification.4 We at the same time cabled Canada telling her what had occurred and what action we had taken. Canada also sent a despatch to London and the combined démarche secured the removal of the offending paragraph, the British using the avenue of retreat which we had provided for them. Immediately after Canada's election to the Council articles appeared in the 'Daily Telegraph' and the 'Times' setting out the advantages of the increased representation of the 'British Empire' on the Council. Chamberlain also gave an interview to the press which was full of ambiguities as to his representative capacity in the League. This smoke screen was deliberately sent out by the Foreign Office to obscure the obvious conclusions to be drawn from Canada's election, namely, that her right to be on the Council as a non-permanent member was equal to that of any other state in the League and especially that she had no share in membership of the Council through another power.

6. Canada's election to the Council puts an end to Great Britain's pretence to represent the other states of the Commonwealth. Canada was elected to represent the Assembly like all the other non-permanent members and theoretically there should be no difficulty in having other states of the Commonwealth elected during Canada's period of office, though in practice there would be serious difficulties.

7. CONCLUSIONS. The VIII Assembly therefore marks another step forward in the evolution of the Dominions, and no occasion should be lost to emphasize its significance. Our status will only be recognised by the world in proportion as we exercise the powers of a Sovereign State through concrete acts. The question 'when are you appointing consuls and ministers in Europe?' is being constantly put to us by Delegations to the League and there seems no doubt that the very early appointment of two or three ministers and at least one consul would do a good deal to establish our position both at home and abroad and to eliminate for ever the idea of the 'British Empire' being a single constitutional and international unit. That is a necessary preliminary condition of any complete survey of our future trade and general relations with the continent and the framing of a definite external and intra-commonwealth policy. Perhaps the time has also come to exchange notes with all countries whatsoever with which we have even the most exiguous trade relations declaring that we wish our trade relations to be regulated by the Commercial Treaty of such a date made between the late United Kingdom and the country in question until such time as a special treaty can be arranged. That is the position in actual fact at the moment but we are losing the advantages which would arise from making the independent declaration. This method has been followed by Austria and Hungary in respect of the old Dual Monarchy treaties.

[signed] J.P. Walshe

1 Oscar Skelton.

2 W.L. MacKenzie King.

3 Sir Christopher James Parr (1869-1941), New Zealand High Commissioner to London, concurrently New Zealand Representative to the League of Nations (1926-29), appointed to London for a second term (1936-39), also held various portfolios in the New Zealand Cabinet.

4 See no. 72

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