No. 185 NAI DT S3452

Edward J. Phelan to Eoin MacNeill (Dublin)
(Confidential) (Copy)

Geneva, 17 January 1924

Dear Professor MacNeill,
Things have again become very critical as regards the question of our international status.

You will remember my last letter of 8th December1, concerning the ratification of the amendment to Article 393 of the Treaty of Versailles.
I was delighted to hear from you on 17th December that the matter had been brought before the Cabinet and that appropriate action would be taken.
I gather that a protest has been made but what has been the result?
The objectionable instrument of ratification is still with the League and no communication has been received by the League from London in connection therewith.
If, as I understand is the case, the Free State Government protested to London, the protest has just been conveniently shelved.
The League are now in the process of informing the Members of the ratification in question. They are obliged to take this course and cannot delay any longer. They have waited, or rather been persuaded to wait, for over two months and in the absence of anything official they have been obliged to go ahead.
You will remember I suggested that as a countermove we should ratify the Court Treaty.
The League have now been privately informed on high authority that the Free State is to be considered as covered by all the British ratifications of League Treaties communicated before the Free State became a member of the League.
I warned the Delegation to the Assembly that step by step we would be hemmed in and our status whittled down. It has now happened and our inertia is allowing our status to be undermined if not destroyed.
As regards the Labour Conventions, in application of the above doctrine the League have written officially to the Labour Office refusing to communicate to the Free State those conventions which were the subject of British ratification before Ireland joined the League - and this despite the fact that they have been the subject of separate ratification or non-ratification by Canada, S. Africa, etc.
The I.L.O. will raise certain objections on purely international grounds, so there will be a little time before it is announced that the Irish Free State is a party to a certain number of conventions on which it was never consulted, but as regards the League conventions it is more serious. Instructions were given to Flynn2 and to MacWhite to object to a certain article in the Customs and Transit conventions which was judged to diminish our independence and which had been reproduced from the Barcelona Conventions. It now appears that we were a party to the Barcelona Convention all the time! I can imagine nothing which could harm our prestige more. The authority of our representatives at such conferences is completely destroyed and their instructions will become a laughing stock in diplomatic circles.
Can we not pursue actively an immediate policy of staking out the status which we won with the Treaty with England before it is whittled down and diminished to something much less than the Irish people ever understood they accepted?
I have already drawn attention to how this is happening but only to the most urgent cases. There are others. There is a correspondence regarding the status of the Six Counties - the question of their separate representation in the international institutions will be the next to be raised and the way is being prepared now. The thing is yet in its initial stage but the whole thing is one manoeuvre. While we are absorbed in internal affairs we are losing inch by inch what we won with the Treaty. Day by day it gets more serious and it becomes more difficult for us to act. But act sooner or later we must. For instance the Labour Government in England is sure to result in enhanced importance and great publicity being given to our Labour Conventions. If questions are raised in the Dáil as a consequence, our situation is that the League considers us bound by the British ratifications. I cannot pretend to judge opinion in Ireland but surely the necessity for such an admission would be dangerous.
I see these questions of status very clearly here and I am very perturbed at our inaction. It may be justified by reasons of which I know nothing, but not knowing them I cannot but feel a certain responsibility for pointing out the dangers we are running and the way in which we are losing ground.
That must be my excuse for worrying you again.

With kindest regards and best wishes,
Yours very sincerely,
Signed - E.J. Phelan.

1 Not printed.

2 C.J. Flynn, Revenue Commissopners.

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