No. 352 NAI DFA 26/95

Extracts from a letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Geneva, 22 March 1930

[matter omitted]

My suggestions fall into two categories. The first, which was discussed with the Minister, is entirely independent of whether we are elected on the Council or not. It is for the immediate appointment of an energetic Secretary of the Legation. While this Office deals with no commercial enquiries as do most of our other offices abroad, I venture to think that the actual diplomatic work must be heavier. Since June last, the Representative has been a delegate at five international conferences, involving daily attendance for five and half months, apart from preparatory and subsequent work. In addition, there are numerous meetings of important League Committees which should be attended even if the Saorstát is not represented on the Committee. Since the Economic Conference began, for example, two important Committees: The Pact-Covenant Committee and the Transit Committee - have held sittings, each lasting 10 days or a fortnight. This omits all work connected with the meetings of the I.L.O. Governing Body and Committees which, in my opinion, should receive more attention, if for no other reason, on account of diplomatic and status interests. One Secretary is, I believe, the immediate minimum requirement, in addition to the work of Mlle. Jacquier in typing, filing and indexing correspondence and League documents. If we are to face the prospects of election to the Council, I would urge that there should be no delay in making this appointment, and would also recommend that the Officer selected should not be unacquainted with the work of our Department - if not with League work.

In the second category, I would urge that an arrangement be made, if possible, to secure when required further appointments without too much delay. I mean that in view of the inelasticity (on account of numbers) of our headquarters Staff, provisional arrangements should have received approval so that you should not have to undertake prolonged negotiations with the sanctioning authorities before appointing persons who would, even then, have so much to learn before they could be useful to the Representative on the Council. I should prefer to reserve until I make further enquiries any definite recommendation as to the Military Attaché. I have been told that such an appointment is essential, but it seems to me that in our case he need not be resident; that the requirement might be met by the appointment of an officer in the Department of Defence, exclusively to study the disarmament problems of the League and the course of past discussions. It would appear to be necessary that he should be given an opportunity for preliminary study here for a month or so; that he should always be available for meetings of the Commissions and should attend the Council as adviser to the Representative there on military questions.

With a Secretary of Legation, the assistance of a Defence Officer, as outlined above, and an additional woman assistant equivalent to the League Secretary-Typist rank, it seems to me we could make a beginning. You will notice that even with the appointments, the Irish staff would be smaller than the Canadian.

(May I add that when I asked Dr. Riddell if his Government proposed to reduce its staff when Canada left the Council, he said 'No', that they were going to take a greater interest than ever in the League work, and that the appointment of his fourth woman assistant was being recommended by his Department in spite of their forthcoming retirement from the Council.) This proposal appears to me to be the minimum, it should not be regarded as containing a bargaining margin, and it is made on the assumption that headquarters League work will increase in proportion.

With regard to your question about staff at the Department it has always seemed to me that the Government would do better to have a strong headquarters and no representation abroad rather than a weak headquarters whatever our representation abroad. Recent additions to the staff at home have enabled you, I understand, to allocate two officers to deal specially with League matters. If Ireland is not to be classified as a 'passenger' on the Council, I am sure you will agree that the League Section at home should be strengthened. In thinking thus, I am not unconscious of the fact that the Geneva staff and the League Section at home can be complementary to a much greater extent than is the case perhaps with the Legations elsewhere. The direction at home would no doubt gain substantially through the more specialised study and closer contact with the problems made possible by the increased staff at Geneva, but you would find, I suggest, that even in this case it would be no substitute for the work peculiar to headquarters, e.g. the coordination and direction of the activities at Geneva with the rest of the Foreign Services; the knowledge of British foreign policy which headquarters alone possesses and the extent of co-operation which the Minister may wish to give or demand from the other members of the Commonwealth; the sifting and adjustments of recommendations sent from abroad which are always necessary before you feel justified in advising the Ministers as to any course of action; etc.

[matter omitted]

Membership of the Council of the League of Nations would bring to the Saorstát many advantages and increased responsibilities. Our country would enter international life to an infinitely greater extent than at present. Prestige for a small State can be won only by arduous continuous labour directed by a wise and consistent policy. The Saorstát would gain immediate prestige by election, but unless we can 'make good' in a modest way, the State would ultimately lose in status. Prestige is not merely an intangible contribution to a sense of patriotic gratification: it means increased security, the one essential foundation on which the prosperity and future of Ireland can be built. These, perhaps platitudinous, remarks are to preface the opinion that unless the proposal is taken very 'seriously' and the Government are prepared to undertake the necessary expenditure, it would be better to postpone our candidature, and take what we can get in a gesture towards China.

In the most favourable circumstances as seen by me, the Minister for External Affairs will be undertaking an absorbing, perhaps fateful, and certainly onerous task and every month's delay that can be avoided will be advantageous.

Mise, le meas,
[signed] Seán Lester

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