No. 314 NAI DFA 226/1

Memorandum by Michael Rynne concerning Ireland's membership of the
League of Nations

Dublin, 21 October 1940

1. Owing to the disastrous effects that the war has had on the organisation and activities of the League of Nations, it is becoming clearly desirable to review with the Minister the question of Ireland's continued League Membership. It is hoped that the following observations may assist in such a review and, to some extent, serve as the basis of an explanatory memorandum for the Government should that be considered necessary at a later stage.

2. At the present moment the Department is confronted with this question, namely, (1) whether to prepare, at once, for submission to the Dáil early next year an estimate to cover our League contribution and connected expenditure for 1941-42, or (2) whether, when paying over our 1940 contribution in a few weeks' time, to take that opportunity to announce Ireland's withdrawal from her League Membership.

3. If the first-indicated course is to be adopted, a convincing case will have to be got ready for the Minister who may find next year, that, (contrary to other years), the onus will rest upon him to satisfy the House and the country that positive benefits may be anticipated to accrue from membership of a diminished League of Nations, which will cost the State funds over £15,000 per annum.

4. If, on the other hand, it is decided to give notice of withdrawal, a number of points will arise for immediate consideration, for example, (1) the question whether we are going to recognise the 'two year's notice of withdrawal' rule to the extent of continuing to pay our League contributions until 1943, and (2) the question of what action, if any, is going to be taken about Mr. Lester who has been released from the Department to act as Secretary General of the League.

These are the two most difficult points involved, but there would doubtless be others.

5. Arguments for remaining in the League of Nations will not be easy to invent. Generally speaking our case will have to depend on an appeal to the old argument that any change is bad, if there are not strong positive reasons for it, and that no policy which has worked over a period should be dropped in a hurry.

A case might also be made for the League on the ground that it is the only body which still purports to aim at international cooperation in a world at war. In the event of peace, a body such as the League of Nations might well be required to deal with post-war problems of all kinds, mainly at first, problems of a humanitarian kind, and the existing League's chance of becoming that body will to some extent depend on the present solidarity of its neutral Members.

It is scarcely necessary to point out that this is really a debating argument for, unless there is British victory in the European hostilities and a Japanese defeat in the Far East, the League is doomed whatever its few remaining Members may or may not do just now. However, there are a number of Deputies (e.g. Deputy J.M. O'Sullivan)1 in Dáil Éireann who may be expected to support an Estimate for a further £15,000 for the League on the basis of merely plausible arguments. Moreover, the fact that the League may have been entirely removed to the United States of America by next Spring, instead of discouraging the small pro-League element in the Dáil, will probably be welcomed by them as a further reason for continuing Ireland's membership.

There is no need therefore, to despair of a certain measure of support, at least in Dáil Éireann, for another League of Nations Vote next year. Whether the country will preserve its usual apathy in regard to the League, in view of the notoriously distressful conditions of that institution at present, is a question which cannot be answered hypothetically at this date. The most important aspect of the matter from the Government's point of view will doubtless lie, not in the immediate measure of support which they might secure for Ireland's continued League Membership from the Dáil and the people, but rather in their judgment of what is best in the long run for the country.

6. Taking all the known facts into consideration, it would seem to be most in the country's interest that no further contribution be made to the League after the £15,000 for the current year has been paid next month.

The Minister has already been furnished with the facts (in connection with a recent Parliamentary question) and it is, therefore, only necessary to resume very briefly the main points of note, viz.:-

(a) In 1923, when Ireland was admitted to the League of Nations, there were already over 50 other members. A few years later there were over 60 members. Now there are about 30 effective members.

(b) In the pre-war League all the Great Powers (except the U.S.A.) were members from time to time. There were never less than three Great Powers at any time. Now only one Great Power (Britain) definitely belongs to the League. Russia was debarred from Membership at the end of 1939 and France, having caused Mr. Avenol to resign, has shown no interest in the League since the Franco-German Armistice.

(c) Formerly, practically all the European States belonged to the League and their influence there far outweighed that of the non-European Members. Now only about eight European countries (including Ireland) make any pretence of remaining in the League. Important States such as Sweden and Spain which are still independent and could, if they wished, continue to frequent Geneva are notably absent and likely to remain so. The League consists mainly of a proportion of the Latin American countries, the British Empire and about ten so-called 'States' inhabited by coloured peoples in various remote parts of the world.

(d) Apart from its composition, the work of the League also shows a sharp decline.

Political activities have completely ceased and since the futile League Assembly on the subject of Russia's aggression in Finland, no attempt whatever has been made by the League to intervene in political questions. The humanitarian and social work of the League is now never heard of. War conditions in many countries have created tremendous tasks for international organisations, such as the Geneva Red Cross Society and religious or charitable bodies with branches in various places. The League of Nations has taken no part in such activities.

On the Administrative, Economic and financial sides, the League's work (or the work of the League and the I.L.O. together) still proceeds, but only on a scale so reduced as to be utterly negligible in comparison with former years.

(e) Owing to the great lengths to which it has been necessary to push the economy campaign, the League Secretariat has been reduced to a small fraction of its normal complement.

Although it still includes an expensive high political direction (Mr. Lester's immediate entourage) which does not function at all, the Secretariat as a whole consists of only about 150 permanent officials. There are, it is understood, some 40 temporary clerks, messengers, gardeners etc. still on the payroll and the I.L.O. still pays about 100 persons in various grades of whom three-fourths are in America. That is to say, the combined contributions of some thirty countries are now devoted to maintaining a skeleton staff, comparable in size to that of our Stationery Office. The League costs £300,000 yearly, the Stationery Office £195,000.

7. On the basis of the foregoing facts, it is submitted that the case to be made for our continued contributions to the League is not a good one and that our withdrawal from membership, after payment of our current £15,000, might be the best course to adopt. From the purely financial standpoint, it would seem that we are being asked to pay roughly the same amount every year for a service which is progressively declining in value and, in view of the present policy of transferring the League and I.L.O. to dollar countries, there is but slight hope of any reduction in the size of our League of Nations Vote.

From the political point of view, our continued Membership of the present League would seem to offer none of the advantages which we once associated therewith. On the contrary, there would appear to be a certain element of danger involved from the standpoint of Ireland's neutrality in remaining associated with a body which is clearly intended to be used by Britain to foster an Anglo-American alliance against Germany and other former League Members. Taking a still longer view, we may anticipate that a certain stigma will be regarded as attaching to League Membership in the event of a German victory. Such membership would in that event serve as a handicap rather than as an advantage. In other words, while leaving the League now would give offence to no other friendly State, remaining too long in the League might injure the good relations of Ireland with many of the principal European countries and perhaps debar her from participating in any new League which may evolve out of the present war.

[initialled] M.R.

1 Professor John Marcus O'Sullivan (1891-1948), Fine Gael TD for Kerry North (1937-43), Minister for Education (1926-32); a member of Ireland's delegation to the League of Nations in 1924, 1928, 1929 and 1930. See biographical details in DIFP III, p. xxvi.


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