No. 324 NAI DFA 26/95

Letter from Daniel A. Binchy to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin) enclosing a memorandum on the Irish Free State candidature for election to the League of Nations Council

Berlin, 15 January 1930

My dear Joe,

I am not at all sure to what extent it is permissible for a Minister abroad to offer comments on the policy of the Department in international matters. At the same time I have thought so much over this question of our opposing Australia for membership of the Council that I should like to put a few considerations before you. Accordingly I am sending you personally the enclosed memorandum. If I am exceeding my duties in doing so, please put it down to the great interest which I take in these matters, and regard the memorandum merely as what I would say to you in your office were I still in Dublin.

There may be some circumstances in regard to this candidature of which I am unaware. But unless they are very special ones I am afraid I cannot regard it as anything except a most serious mistake. I feel sorry to be in such sharp disagreement with the policy of the Department, assuming that your decision is irrevocable.

Needless to say I will carry out faithfully, although with a heavy heart, any instructions you may give me. But I feel very diffident about addressing an official letter to the other Heads of Missions here. I can assure you that this has nothing to do with my own views on the question at issue. I should feel just as diffident if I were violently in favour of our candidature. The objection is one entirely of procedure. From private inquiries which I have made among friends in the Diplomatic Corps here (including the exceedingly competent Chargé d'Affaires at the Nunciature, Monsignor M.G.R. Centoz) I am told that it is quite unprecedented here to make communications of a political nature to Heads of Missions, with the request to transmit them to their Governments by means of the circular letter. Such letters are merely used for the purpose of giving information of a semi-social character such as the marriage of the sovereign, the death of the president etc. I see from correspondence received from O'Kelly this morning1 that he has apparently sent out some kind of official communication to his colleagues. I would be very grateful if you would dispense me from creating this new precedent and allow me merely to convey the information unofficially by means of private visits, assuming that the decision to go up for the Council stands. Apart from its incorrectness the proposed circular letter would make our dealings with the British Embassy still more disagreeable. I should say from what I noticed during my official visits that two-thirds of the Ministers here on receiving such a letter would inform some member of the British Embassy, if not officially, at least privately.

I was not sure whether I should send you regular reports of political or personal incidents according as they occurred or whether I should merely send you a bulky report every 3 months telling you everything of this nature, matters of immediate importance being dealt with in separate despatches. I had opted for the latter and was preparing the first of these lengthy reports. But I understand from Leo2 that you would prefer them seriatim, and from this I shall follow this method. I was also very surprised to hear from Leo that Cleary3 had given some of you the impression that I was contemplating resignation. I cannot conceive where he got such an extraordinary and unfounded impression. I did not exchange a single word with him except in Leo's presence and both of us are perfectly clear that resignation was never mentioned. I once alluded to the possible difficulty of getting my pictures through the customs when returning to Ireland and this can be the only conceivable source from what his imagination has drawn.

I was glad to hear that you were continuing well despite the arduous time you have been through. At the moment you are no doubt fully occupied with the newly arrived Nuncio.

With best wishes
Yours sincerely,
[signed] D.A. Binchy



Perhaps I might begin by pointing out that I was a member of the Delegation to the Assembly in 1926 at which the decision to go up for the Council was taken. At that time I was one of the most extreme supporters of that course of action which I consider still as the only possible one for the circumstances. A definite challenge had been given by Sir Austen Chamberlain to the principle that a Dominion was entitled to separate representation on the Council. That challenge had to be met and the principle had to be asserted. As a result of our action, although our candidature was heavily defeated, the fight was won, and the election of Canada next year was entirely due to our action in 1926.

    In the present case, as far as I see it, there is no question of principle involved. The decision to go up for election in 1930 seems to be rather a matter of policy and tactics. And for this reason I should like to be allowed to offer some criticism.

    It may be said that there is a question of principle involved, as the chief purpose of this proposed candidature is to break through once and for all the ridiculous convention of precedence according to seniority which the British Government have recently been trying to erect into a principle. I quite agree that this seniority sham must be destroyed. But the present does not seem to me to be either the right time or the right occasion for it.

    I take it as quite definite that in our candidature for the Council we shall be opposed by Australia which will have the support of Great Britain. Now even if Australia were still under the Bruce4 regime, I would not be in favour of going up against her. It seems to me that we are perhaps too inclined to think that other nations regard these questions through the same glasses as we do. Our view may be right, but we must be prepared for other nations, which have not had our opportunities of judging, taking the wrong view, and in an election like that contemplated it is their view and not ours which is going to count. I would say that their view would be, prima facie, in a contest between Ireland and Australia for membership of the Council, that the latter, quite apart even from British support, would have right on its side. After all Australia is a continent. It may justly claim to speak for a very large territory which has hitherto been unrepresented on the Council. I do not think that they would treat our claim to have a better right to representation than this continent, owing to our independent line at Geneva, very seriously.

    I am still more confirmed in this view since the fall of the Bruce Administration. The decision to oppose Australia was of course taken before the change of Government. It would seem to me that the advent of the Labour Government, manned to a certain extent by people of Irish descent, and by no means likely to follow in the imperialistic path of its predecessor, makes a very serious difference and necessitates the reconsideration of this decision. No doubt this has been done, but it is difficult for the ordinary observer to grasp the reasons why the decision should be maintained.

    Probably the chief reason remains the determination to break through the so-called rule of seniority. As I said, I am in entire agreement with this. I only question whether the occasion and the tactics are wise, and whether we are not unnecessarily risking too much in order to attempt the destruction of this rule. It seems to me that by exercising some patience we shall be able to destroy the seniority rule without any risk. In 1933, according to the so-called principle of seniority, it would be New Zealand's term to go up, a state which is not only territorially insignificant but has never taken any prominent part in League work. If we wait to oppose her, we have an infinitely better chance of doing so successfully and incidentally of winning a seat on the Council.

    For I presume we do not expect to win this seat in 1930. I write in this matter of course under correction as I have no inside information, but from past experience it would seem to me that the very most we could hope to do would be to secure sufficient votes in order to keep Australia off the Council and let in a third candidate. That we would thereby be doing a service to Dominion Status or to Ireland I very gravely doubt. We may not even succeed in achieving this, and Australia, backed by Great Britain, may be elected in spite of us. If one can judge by the prestige which Great Britain enjoys among the ranks of the Diplomatic Corps here in Berlin, there does not seem to be the least likelihood of a break away from her at Geneva large enough to secure our election, no matter what individual ministers may say in private conversation. For example I think it exceedingly unlikely, unless political circumstances change in the meantime, that we shall get Germany's vote in 1930 even though we apparently got it in 1926. And thus, whether we keep Australia out or not, we are likely to be beaten in our own candidature - and for the second time. The first beating was necessary and it won the battle. The second, it seems to me, will win nothing and will merely result in a fall of prestige. It may even give us the reputation of being a chronically unsuccessful candidate and in internal politics it will provide 'The Irish Times' with material for ponderous tilts at the Government.

    If we wait to fight New Zealand in 1933 I think we should avoid all this. We could make it perfectly clear that we repudiate the so-called rule of seniority immediately. But we could, I think, with dignity and no surrender of principle whatever agree to waive our candidature this time in favour of Australia in deference to the important territorial interests represented by that State, but without prejudice to our repudiation of the seniority principle. We could also at the same time give definite notice to the Commonwealth and to the Members of the League of our intention to go up for the Council in 1933. Apart from the fact that even if New Zealand opposed us we should have a much less formidable rival, this would give us ample time to prepare our campaign. I am inclined to believe that as far as the Commonwealth is concerned we should have a walk-over and might reckon at least on British neutrality. This would assure us a seat on the Council.

    As, in the absence of any indication to the contrary, I regard our defeat in the election as certain, I do not think it necessary to discuss the possible effects which a seat on the Council might have on our domestic politics. But it may be no harm to point out that the General Election of 1932 would come during our period of membership. If there should be a change of Government as a result of this I can foresee a very awkward situation arising for everyone concerned with Ireland's policy towards the Commonwealth and the League. On the other hand if we wait till 1933 the political situation at home will be perfectly clear.

[initialled] D.A.B.

1 Possibly No. 322 above.

2 Leo T. McCauley.

3 Timothy Cleary (1882-1967), Assistant Secretary, Revenue Commissioners (1923-37).

4 Stanley M. Bruce, Prime Minister of Australia (1923-29).

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