No. 135 NAI DT S3332

Memorandum by Kevin O’Shiel on the Boundary Issue and
League of Nations Policy

GENEVA, September 1923

1. The Welcome of Ireland: Perhaps the most unexpected and remarkable feature of Ireland's admission to the League of Nations was the astonishing and universal welcome she received from all the Nations. That this welcome was spontaneous and sincere there can be no manner of doubt, and it displayed, on the parts of the assembled peoples a far more intimate, acute and sympathetic knowledge with our history than any of us had given them credit for. It also spoke well for the efficacy of the old Dáil propaganda, which, carried on against seemingly overwhelming odds, sowed seeds which have now fructified in a very fortunate manner and at a very opportune moment for us.


2. Great Britain said 'Yes' to our admission and applauded our entry and the President's speech,1 but in spite of those overt manifestations of goodwill it would be unwise for us to ignore the underlying fact that Great Britain was by no means too pleased by the extent, enthusiasm and unanimity of the welcome or by the nature of the speech, with its strong implications. Great Britain finds now the country that for so many centuries she has been trying to suppress and coalesce with her own population not only free and amongst the free nations of the world, but also enthusiastically accepted by each and all of those nations as a friend, and, most disconcerting of all, showing all the signs of being accepted by them as a nation of great influence and great importance, and likely to play a big and independent part in future world policy.


3. It is well perhaps to mention here that the enthusiasm of our welcome by the little nations in particular was not wholly altruistic. There was a design in it. They welcomed us as yet a further useful addition to their class, the class of the little nations, and saw in our entry the prospects of one more vote against the designs and potency of the big powers which have always frightened them and against which they have always been struggling since the formation of the League.


4. To return to Great Britain. All these developments are, quite naturally, embarrassing and considerably upsetting to that country, particularly the prospects of our becoming a great moral influence in the League especially amongst the little Nations. In the League, as England knows so very well, there are several precedents for the rise to great influence and weight of quite small, numerically weak and economically poor countries. There is the well known case of Finland, a recently liberated country with a population not greater than that of Saorstát which, in a few years membership of the League has attained to a degree of great importance and influence amongst the Northern Countries.2 Similarly with Czecho Slovakia, another poor and rather small country, and Cuba which has attained to the position of Presidency of the entire Assembly. Perhaps the most disconcerting reflection for Britain is the thought that we may act far more independently than she would naturally wish. Efforts have been made by the Imperial Government to get all States in the Commonwealth to act and vote as much as possible together. And so far (at least on the great crucial questions), she has largely succeeded. Hence the fear that we may develop along another line in the League than that of the other Dominions is causing her a good deal of anxiety. It is not however the fashion for English statesmen to remain long idle when a line of policy is being carried out by another country (especially one by the Dominions) which they deem to be not in accord with the best interests of their country. And herein lies the main source of danger to us.


4a. All signs and omens that I have been able to read appear to me to point in the same direction, viz., that England, thoroughly alarmed at the success of our League venture will at once, indeed has actually set about the task of endeavouring to bring us to boot. This she will do in many and various ways with her usual persistence and patience, and with all the resources of her extraordinarily clever and successful diplomacy.

In this constitutional pull between England and ourselves most of the odds will be on England's side. It is true that we have now got into the Council of Nations once again, but once the Assembly is over and the great concourse of Nations at Geneva disperses[,] England will have most of the field to herself. She will be able to work through her great world chain of Ministries, Ambassadors and Consuls, and if she puts herself to it, it is quite conceivable that ere the meeting of the next Assembly she may have succeeded in clipping our wings considerably.


5. It is, I think, plain that Britain will make a huge effort to keep down our status to the dimensions of say New Zealand. There are many signs that in this task she has commenced work. Her papers lately, the 'TIMES' and the 'DAILY MAIL' have devoted considerable space to this aspect of the Irish question. Figgis' article to the 'Daily Mail' shows all the signs of having been prompted from London in order to clear the way for the 'Daily Mail' to reply. Probably F. was approached by a 'Daily Mail' Agent and asked to write on those lines. Then recently in the 'Times' there appeared a rather instructive leader on Ireland. There was praise in it but it ended up with just the suspicion of a threat. 'Ireland is at the cross-roads. She can elect to remain a loyal dominion or she can endeavour to use her new status as a stepping stone towards separation. Mr. Cosgrave has not yet said which of these roads he is going to travel. All we are certain of is that Britain cannot and will not concede another inch.' etc., etc. These are not the exact words but they are the meaning.

It is therefore clear that this whittling down of our status campaign has already commenced. In obedience to some instructions the press has got active and there is no doubt activity in many other channels as well. Now, whilst the Press is dangerous and will have to be watched, the most dangerous events for us in the near future are-

(1) the Imperial Conference,

(2) any negotiations in connection with the Boundary Commission,

(3) the Boundary Commission itself.

Whatever may have happened had we not gone to Geneva there is I think no doubt but that we will now find all manner of little tilts at our status on these occasions.


IMPERIAL CONFERENCE: This conference should be carefully watched as it is most likely that a big effort will be made to create an entirely new preferential tariff which in effect may almost nullify the importance of the present Customs frontier. I know that Britain is extraordinarily anxious to get our Customs barrier removed, and to my mind its existence is one of our strongest weapons.


NORTH EASTERN NEGOTIATIONS, BOUNDARY COMMISSION, ETC.: The time will soon arrive for the maturing of this matter when again the greatest vigilance will be needed. It is probable that the British themselves may call some sort of a conference ere the B.C. sits in order to see if something may not come out of it other than the actual B.C.

Owing to the way things went in Geneva[,] Britain may now be depended upon to play more vigorously the game of the North-East irreconcilables. She will not do it openly of course, but will be very strong on the point of their ?difficulties? etc., etc.

Proposals for the abolition of the Customs frontier are almost certain to be made at this juncture. We will, of course, turn down the suggestion of the U.K. frontier and then an attempt will be made to arrange commercial understandings with us so as to achieve the same thing, in that guise.

Finally (bearing in mind that the real objective in these conversations will be the whittling down of our status) a proposal as follows may be made should we prove to be sufficiently difficult:-

(1) Irish political union in some shape or form to be effected: provided that

(a) All the Six Counties remain under the local Belfast Parliament.

(b) Ireland to enter into an arrangement with Great Britain to remove for ever the Customs barrier.

(N.B. under this heading it will be represented to us that 'Ulster' turns naturally for trade purposes to Great Britain. Now more so than ever since the Boycott limits Belfast trade with the South and West. Therefore, this is an absolutely imperative condition precedent to Ulster coming in.)

(c) The Union Jack to be incorporated on the Irish tricolour flag (as in the other dominions) and the King's Head to be replaced on the stamps.

(N.B. It will be represented that this is essential to solace Ulster sentiment.)

(d) Special terms for 'Ulster' with regard to the control of patronage, finance, the Army and the Police 

(e) A solemn written guarantee by the Saorstát Government that it will remain for ever loyal to the King and the Commonwealth.

And as a quid pro quo for all this

(f) 'Ulster' to guarantee certain safeguards for her minorities in the matters of education and the exercise of the franchise, etc.

Now, it is quite probable that in the ultimate such a proposal may be put up to us and we will be called upon to decide whether we will accept or refuse it. The dangers in either event are big and very obvious. Supposing we refuse it, it will be then represented to the entire world that NOT Ulster but ourselves are the intolerant and unreasonable people. Ulster will be represented as having made superhuman sacrifices for the sake of Irish union and Irish peace. Sir James Craig will become the hero of the hour, and we will go to the B.C. in the position of the most unreasonable of unreasoning beings.

On the other hand, should we accept it we shall undoubtedly have gained the political semblance of national union (a very big thing indeed) but we shall have come down at least 50 degrees in our world status.

So as can be seen the situation has its pit-falls of which we must be careful. Personally I think the arguments on our side were never stronger. The President's Government has restored peace and achieved a stable Govt, out of chaos. Irishmen have died and much Irish blood has been shed for the Treaty position.

We cannot din in this argument too often and also the argument that Irregularism though broken is by no means dead. It is with us always present. The 443 Irregulars are in this sense a blessing in disguise and we can use the fact of their existence repeatedly in our conversations with the British. Please excuse these very rough and disconnected notes. They are not intended to be anything more than merely the roughest notes written down during odd intervals which I send in this rough form in the hope that they may be of some assistance.


1See ">No. 118.

2'Northern Counties' in the original.

3A reference to the 44 anti-Treaty Sinn Féin TDs elected at the 1923 General Election.

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