No. 325 NAI DFA Secretary's Files S60

Memorandum by Maurice Moynihan on foreign relations

Dublin, 21 March 1936


The Cabinet at its meeting on the 19th instant had under consideration the memorandum on the subject of foreign relations circulated by direction of the President at the meeting of the Cabinet held on the 13th instant1. This memorandum was intended to form the basis of a circular to be issued to all Departments with a view to securing unified control of relations with countries abroad.

The President emphasised the necessity for arrangements by which the Minister for External Affairs would be cognisant of any communications with external Governments. It was, he said, the function of the Minister for External Affairs to keep the Government right in everything affecting external relations, and in order that he might discharge that function it was essential that he should be aware from the beginning of any correspondence or communications affecting those relations.

It was recognised, the President said, that for the sake of convenience, certain defined classes of communications might be carried on directly by Departments of State in the Saorstát with corresponding departments abroad without the individual communications being brought to the notice of the Minister for External Affairs. An example of such direct communication wasfurnished by the correspondence on such matters as technical Conventions carried on by the Department of Post & Telegraphs with Post Office authorities in other countries.

The general feeling of Ministers appeared to be in agreement with the views so expressed by the President.

In considering the terms of the draft memorandum, however, Ministers were of opinion that the use of such expressions as 'framing ... a policy for his country in relation to other countries', 'the necessity for placing the whole external policy of the State under the direction and control of a single Minister', suggested the exercise by the Minister for External Affairs of functions which would overlap those of other Ministers. If the Minister for External Affairs were in the full sense to direct and control the policy of the State in regard to, for example, trade or financial relations with other countries, he would, to some extent, be taking over functions of the Minister for Industry & Commerce, the Minister for Finance or such other Minister as might be vested with the general functions relating to the particular subject.

The Minister for Industry & Commerce1 drew attention to the agreed statement of the relative functions in the matter of external trade of the Departments of Industry & Commerce and External Affairs which was drawn up at the time of the establishment of the Trade section in the latter Department. This statement expressly safeguarded the responsibility of the Minister for Industry & Commerce for trade policy, and in the Minister's view it was a good example of a satisfactory definition of the respective functions of the Department of External Affairs and other Departments in matters of external policy.2

The President pointed out that matters which might become the subject of communication with other countries fell broadly into three categories, namely

  1. those which are pre-eminently the concern of the Minister for External Affairs;
  2. those with which the Minister for External Affairs is concerned in an important degree but with which another Minister or other Ministers are similarly concerned, and
  3. matters of a well defined routine character in which new questions of external policy are very unlikely to arise and with which, therefore, the Minister for External Affairs is less concerned than with matters in categories 1 or 2.

He thought it should be possible to define future procedure in regard to external communications so as to have due regard in practice to the differences in procedure that might be necessary or desirable in dealing with the three categories to which he referred.

It was suggested that particulars should be obtained from all Departments of any matters in which it was their practice to correspond directly with Departments or Officials abroad, and that the information so obtained might be considered with a view to determining any necessary modifications in present practice. The general feeling, however, appeared to be that such consultation with Departments should take place at a later stage.

In regard to International Conferences, the President expressed the opinion that generally the Department of External Affairs should have an option to take part in such Conferences. In any case where it was contemplated that an agreement with a country or countries abroad would result from such a Conference it was in his view particularly clear that the Department of External Affairs should have an opportunity to take part from the beginning if it thought fit. Even where the Conferences were of a strictly technical nature, the Department of External Affairs, owing to its experience in dealing with foreign representatives, would often be in a position to assist the technical representatives of the Saorstát in negotiations. It was suggested that information should be obtained as to the practice of other Governments in regard to taking part by representatives of Departments of Foreign Affairs in International Conferences.

There was some discussion regarding the statement in the Department of External Affairs memorandum that 'by a well-settled rule diplomatic and consular agents accredited to a State have access to the Government through him' (the foreign Minister) 'and through him only'. Ministers felt that it was often convenient for representatives of other countries to have direct access to a Minister other than the Minister for External Affairs, and moreover that it would be difficult where a Foreign representative requested an interview, to refuse it on the ground that access should be through the Minister for External Affairs only. It was enquired whether the statement in the memorandum applied without modification to Foreign representatives whose functions related solely to trade. It was agreed that the matter of access to the Government by diplomatic and consular representatives should be further carefully examined with particular reference to the practice in other countries.


1 Not Printed

2 Seán Lemass

3 The text in italics has been highlighted by a hand drawn line in the left margin.

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