Volume 2 1922~1926

Doc No.

No. 179 NAI DT S1971

Joseph P Walshe to Diarmuid O'Hegarty (Dublin) enclosing a memorandum (copy) from Desmond FitzGerald to Walshe and with explanatory notes by Walshe

Dublin, 28 December 1923

A Chara,
The attached report of his interview with the British Authorities on the use of the description 'British Subject' in Irish Passports has been received from the Minister.

I have sent a copy to Mr. Kennedy.

Please be good enough to ask the President whether the report should be circulated to the Members of the Executive Council. 1

[signed] S.P. Breathnach

I enclose a few explanatory notes on the British contentions.

[initialled] S.P.B.

[enclosure 1]

21 December 1923

J. P. Walshe, Esq.,
Ministry of External Affairs,
D U B L I N.

Yesterday I saw Curtis, Martin, Passport Officer, and Adams of the Foreign Office. Adams is a most objectionable person. Curtis's line was that the description 'Citizen of the Irish Free State' and the omission 'British Subject' was a breach of the Treaty (1)2. Adams said the British Government had entered into an agreement (I think he referred to the League of Nations 1922) that all British passports would state clearly that the bearer was a British subject (2). It was impossible for Consular agents to know whether a man was or was not a British subject and the omission would cause endless trouble and confusion (3). At one stage he said that they were not going to have Irishmen in America going about saying that they are not British subjects (4). I told him his arguments did not interest me, but that if Curtis demonstrated to me that the failure to state clearly that the bearer is a British subject is a breach of the Treaty that that would influence me. Adams said that his instructions were not to yield on the point. In the earlier stages they suggested that we should agree to their despatch, but they were prepared, if I insisted, to put the matter before the Cabinet, and they could assure me that no British Government could agree. I said that there was no question as to whether or not it would come before the Cabinet because our reply must necessarily take up the argument and not agree.

These are the chief points of the discussion. Of course they urged hundreds of considerations and quoted numerous examples. To my mind if they can make a good case for its being a breach of the Treaty or causing international complications we shall have to fall back on the proposal to print in 'Whether bearer has the status of a British Subject - Yes or No' (5).

I strongly objected to the attitude of the Foreign Office man. I shall be glad if you will get Kennedy on to the question of the Treaty. I suggested at one time that the term 'British Subject' included everyone from Mr. Baldwin to an undiscovered savage in British Guiana, that there was no uniformity of position for the holders of passports with such a description, instancing the difference between say Mr. Baldwin going to South Africa and an Indian coolie who would not be allowed to vote or to have his shop in certain parts of Natal, and in other places would not be allowed to own lands in uplands. They said that all holders of passports in the King's name, described as British subjects would have equal consideration and protection of His Majesty's Consular representatives. They could not, of course, interfere with South African legislation, but if the undiscovered savage, say, went a little further into Lorenzo Marques (Portuguese) all the power of the British Empire would be behind him for his protection. They instanced some celebrated case of a man who was either a Portuguese Jew or Spanish Jew who had been naturalised British, and for the protection of whom they nearly went to war.

A point that I did not make was the point arising out of the Lausanne Treaty, viz: that if we agreed only to the ratification on our behalf of the general Treaty and not of the two additional Conventions - the Trade Convention and the Rights of Foreigners - then, in Turkey a Turkish Government would have to distinguish between citizens of the Irish Free State and Englishmen or people from any Dominion which ratified the reciprocal Rights of Foreigners agreement. I think in view of the fight I put up with them that we must be prepared for a little more delay in the issue of the passports and send another despatch something on the lines of the one I prepared holding in reserve the proposal to print an additional line on the front page. I am seeing Curtis this afternoon and may have more to add to this.


I saw Curtis this afternoon. He was much less emphatic alone. In talking to him he seemed rather to justify their action on the ground that we asked the British Government to take action. This rather suggests a new trend of thought; for instance, that we might in a later despatch say that if they objected to notifying Governments under these circumstances we ourselves would notify them, or we might say, in the event of our having to agree, that we reserved to ourselves the right to make a separate arrangement with any other Government - say with the American Government - that they would accept passports or similar documents from us in which the bearer was described as a citizen of the Irish Free State. This brings to one's mind the existing arrangement between Canada and America. Obviously the Canadian Government must have made an arrangement with the American Government about the Identification Cards (6). It seems to me doubtful that the Canadian Government describes holders of Identification Cards as other than Canadian citizens. With regard to Smiddy it seems better to wait before taking action in this matter until there is a new Government here.

Think about the Canadian Identification Cards and their analogy to the passport arrangement and you will see that it may give us an entirely new ground to combat the 'difficulty with Foreign nations' plea.

I expect to be here until Monday, probably in Monte Carlo on Wednesday. Keep me informed of what Kennedy says and what you yourself think about this.

D. FitzGerald

[enclosure 2]


  1. There can be no question of a breach of the Treaty except by interpreting Article 2 as binding us to follow Canadian precedent so closely as to include forms of every description.

    We have already departed from Canadian usage in some important respects, e.g. in the preamble to Acts of Parliament.

    All the Dominions without exception use the description 'British Subject' on their passports.

  2. There is no such agreement. There was a resolution of a Passport Conference in 1920 referring to the material make-up of the Passport. None of the parties have acted on the resolution. There was no question as to the nature of the description of the bearer.
  3. This is mere bluff. The Consular Agents can be instructed to treat all the holders of Irish passports as having the status of local or Imperial British subjects. When the holders are local British subjects only (foreigners having seven years residence in Ireland on the 6th December, 1922) there will be a definite clause inserted on the passport to that effect. Where no qualifying clause is added to the description 'Citizen of the Irish Free State' (the vast majority of cases) the bearer is to be regarded as having the status of an Imperial British subject. The British Consular Officers have very much more complicated instructions than this to carry out.
  4. This is the real motive of the British objection. From our point of view to describe a citizen of the Saorstát as a British subject or as having the status of British subject would be detrimental to our interests at home and in the States.

    British sentiment and Irish sentiment are definitely opposed on this point. But the issue is more vital for us. The British can afford to dispense with the form for the reality since our international status is definitely that of British subjects.

  5. Mr. Kennedy suggests as the limit of compromise that the question 'Whether bearer has the status of British subject? (Yes - No)' should be added on the description page of the Passport. It is felt however that the difficulty of explaining the distinction to ordinary people would be considerable.
  6. There is no reliable information to hand yet about the Canadian system of Identification cards. In any case it is a local arrangement and the description of status employed would have no significance of a general international application.


1 Handwritten note by Cosgrove:'circulate to all members of the Exec[utive] Council and ask for ob[servation]s by Monday'.

2 These numbers in parentheses refer to the numbered explanatory notes in Walshe's enclosure 2 below.

3 The number 1 to 6 refer to the numbers in parentheses in the above document.