No. 42 NAI DFA 11/3A

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S. 9/4/Conf. 22) (Secret)

Geneva, 27 April 1932

Disarmament Conference

I have attended during the past few days several Commonwealth meetings of experts - naval, military, etc. I have listened to expositions of the British case from the strategical and other points of view and have asked a few questions but have expressed no opinions.

In view of my previous letters referring to Anglo-Irish relations at Geneva I presume the Minister has considered the situation here in connection with the Government's policy relating to the oath, etc. If not, might I point out that the Geneva factor could be used?

There are always several British cabinet Ministers here, at the moment, Mr. MacDonald; Lord Hailsham (War); Lord Londonderry (Air); Sir John Simon (Foreign Office) and Mr. Malcolm MacDonald (Dominions).

Vital British interests are at stake. Our attitude here would have some reaction on British cabinet opinion with regard to the Saorstát when the oath has been removed. Up to the present my attitude has been one of caution; independent, no show of hostility, but in effect our ?cooperation' has been generally negative. Having got my way last week with regard to the Simon suggestion of a Commonwealth proposal1 I gave him support in public. But there was no one against him except France and her satellites. I was in company with the Sc.andinavian powers, U.S.A., Germany, etc.; and even then my support was qualified.

Now what I would like the Minister to consider is whether it would be worth while to instruct me to approach the British, inform them that there are points in their disarmament policy with which we are in agreement, but on many others we were inclined to take a different view (we might even hint at the French plan). In view, however, of the fact that very vital British interests are at stake, and that these were not opposed to our own national interests, the Minister had instructed me to offer the close collaboration and support of the Irish Delegation. The Minister will be able to estimate the possible gains and losses of such a proposal better than I at Geneva can, especially as I have not yet had an opportunity of being informed of the scope of the new Government's general international policy. It may be that the Minister does not anticipate any reactions to the ?oath policy' unfavourable to the Saorstát. On the other hand, he might wish to show Britain that, while determined to develop our independence to the fullest extent, Irish policy would not therefore be anti-British but that on the contrary the fewer the links between our two countries the more generous and effective would be our cooperation.

It would be wrong to assume that an offer of cooperation at a conference like this (six committees sat yesterday) with a delegation of one man would seem negligible to the British, though more help at Geneva would increase its value.

Should the idea seem to you to have any importance the question as to whether a more formal approach (by despatch) to London would be justified might also be considered although I myself would recommend Geneva as the right place.

In conclusion I would recommend that we keep a free hand with regard to the Far East dispute as in that case important League principles and our general reputation in the League are clearly concerned.

[signed] Seán Lester

P.S. Since writing the above, I have lunched with Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions. He mentioned to me that he had come to Geneva in view of the approaching discussion on Items 4 and 5 of the Agenda (including the French plan) in order to assist in keeping the Dominions Delegations fully informed, etc.

I think it is clear that no serious discussion can take place on these points since2 after the French election, when Mr. MacDonald states he will return to Geneva.

Should the Minister entertain my suggestion, it would be well, in order that the full effect be secured, that the ground should be prepared as soon as possible.

It would be of valuable guidance to me in other matters constantly arising here if you would be good enough to let me know the Minister's views on this matter.

1 See above Nos 35 and 37.

2 Lester may have meant 'until'.

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