No. 646 NAI DFA 27/18A

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(Confidential) (S. 7/11/60)

Geneva, 9 March 1932


A summary of my statement at the Special Assembly was telegraphed to you last night.1 Considering all the circumstances, and assuming that the Minister approves of the text, I think we have reason to congratulate ourselves. The statement gave the general impression of being strongly loyal to League principles, and yet it was really so contrived that it said nothing which had not been said by either the Council or the Council Committee of Twelve. Simon demonstratively applauded and afterward sent me a short note of congratulations. Londonderry and he separately spoke to me in the lobby afterward and I imagine their congratulations were something more than formality. On the other hand, leaders of the 'advanced' elements who are not pleased with the attitude of the Great Powers such as Britain, seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic in their congratulations.

Signor Madariaga, with whom through our Council work I am on terms of intimate frankness, came up to me while I was in the middle of a group with praise for what he said he had always expected from Ireland. On another occasion, his Minister for Foreign Affairs, Signor Zuleta, addressed me for about five minutes in terms of approbation and thanks for the reference I had made to his speech. Baron Ramel, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, who had made a very fine declaration, catching sight of me at the door of the Conference room, left his seat for the special purpose of offering his congratulations also. The Swiss delegate was equally generous in his felicitations. Professor Noel Baker, ex-parliamentary private Secretary to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and with whose strong international views you are acquainted, was also very pleased, as appeared to be the representatives of a number of the Northern and Baltic countries and several South-American States. The French and Italian delegates' congratulations were formal, but I have no reason to believe they disapproved of anything I said. Two or three of the veteran Members of the Secretariat and a large number of American and several English journalists seemed to have the impression from my statement that Ireland was very clearly 'on the right side'. It is interesting to note this as these latter people clearly represent independent opinion.

Mr. te Water (South Africa) seemed to find our attitude as expressed in the statement a perfectly normal one. Sir George Perley (Canada) (a politician aged about 70) said that he had expected something stronger. This remark is not to be taken as a criticism: perhaps rather as approval, especially when one considers that his own statement was absolutely negligible and that in all this matter he has merely rubber-stamped the British attitude.

In the course of the evening, Simon met me in the lobby and again made some congratulative remark. Incidentally, he also again apologised for any 'misunderstanding' which might have arisen from his remarks at the last Commonwealth meeting which I attended. He then produced a draft resolution which he intended to propose. He could not give me a copy. As far as I remember, its intention was to reaffirm solemnly the principles of the Covenant and of the Pact of Paris. Article 10 was specifically referred to in it and the declaration that no territorial or other changes would be recognised was restated. (This was referred to with approval but not in open terms in my statement.) There was also a paragraph reaffirming the Assembly resolution of March 4th, regarding hostilities, etc. At the end was a proposal that a committee should be set up. I told Simon that the resolution as far as it went was excellent but that I could not approve at this stage of the final proposal regarding procedure as there was considerable suspicion and doubt as to any such proposal and I would like to hear the question debated. Any decision regarding procedure would constitute a precedent of the utmost importance and would indeed be the final test of the efficacy of the Assembly. Simon then said that he had decided to drop this final paragraph and asked me if I would be a joint-proposer of the remainder. He told me that Germany, Italy, France, Hungary and some smaller States were joining with him in making it. I gave a provisional assent but did not feel very happy about it as, although the terms were excellent, I suspected a snag. I soon found it. Indeed, I had myself raised the point with Simon. There was no direct declaration that evacuation by the Japanese must be carried out. I went to Cadogan and asked him was there any reason for this, as it had been already declared several times by the Council (with the assent of Japan) and incidentally had been one of the central features in our statement. Cadogan argued that it might be held to be included in the March 4th resolution and on a second pleading that that was a point for subsequent decision by the Assembly. Personally I accept neither argument as valid.

In the course of the evening, opposition developed to the British, French and Italian plans led by Benes (Czechoslovakia) and ultimately the British were compelled to give up the idea of forcing a resolution that evening. On the proposal of Benes, it was decided that the Bureau plus the proposers of resolutions should meet this afternoon as a Drafting Committee. I was definitely pleased with this development. I may mention that after a conversation with Benes, Zuleta (Spain) had decided to become a party to the British proposal in order to be made a member of this Drafting Committee, although he also wanted evacuation included. It would be strange if the Assembly said less than the Council had said.

This morning I find the situation has changed. I was under the impression that I had been made a party with other States to Simon's proposals and that that would put me automatically on the Drafting Committee. A member of the British delegation rang up, however, and told me that in view of the Drafting Committee proposal the British had dropped their idea of a joint resolution. You will understand that the Great Powers party to the proposal will automatically be on the Committee as Members of the Bureau. The British decision eliminates Spain and Ireland from this Committee, unless separate proposals are putting in our respective names. I feel that in view of our previous instructions, you do not want me to take any such action.

[signed] Seán Lester

P.S. I overlooked drawing your special attention to the speech made by Mr. te Water (South Africa). Will you please read it. It caused a great deal of comment and in some ways, perhaps owing to the phraseology, may be the most extreme declaration made at the Assembly, especially as it more or less indicts the Great Powers. By the way, the two local political newspapers: 'Journal de Génève' and 'Journal des Nations' mention South Africa and Ireland as having separated themselves from British policy. I leave that for you to judge and remind you that British policy here means more than the declarations of policy publicly made by the British or indeed as made to the other States in the Commonwealth. Almost every other day, some rumour of a British intrigue is referred to, rightly or wrongly, in these newspapers.

[initialled] SL

1 See No. 645.

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