Volume 1 1919~1922

Doc No.

No. 238 NAI DFA ES Box 11 File 77

Preliminary report by Eoin MacNeill on the Irish Race Conference (Paris, January 1922)


3 February 1922

The following is only a preliminary account of the course of events. A more detailed report will be presented jointly by the Delegates appointed on behalf of the Irish Government.

On the way to Paris, Messrs. Hayes, Hyde, Coffey1 and myself discussed the probable character and the proceedings. From many evidences, we anticipated that no effort would be spared to capture the congress for the political support of Mr. de Valera. We had a copy of the letter sent to Mr. de Valera by Mr. Gavan Duffy inviting the appointment of Delegates for non-partisan purposes. The names of the Delegates appointed in response to that letter were significant enough. For our part we determined to adhere to the line of conduct counselled in the letter, and subsequent events justified our decision.

Throughout the time of the congress and in the days preceding and following it, Mr. de Valera's adherents carried on a constant campaign of partisan manoeuvring and misrepresentation of every kind and at every point. This campaign became evident in the meeting of delegates on Friday preceding the congress to appoint sub-committees for various purposes. It was evident that a number of so-called delegates were really appointed from Dublin, London or Paris, though nominally delegated from Irish associations in other parts of the world. There was unfortunately no clear definition or credentials. Miss Catherine Hughes, acting as secretary up to that time, was an active partisan against the Treaty. Her preparations for the programme of the Congress were ridiculous and had to be discarded, and her principal activities were spent on influencing Delegates in a partisan sense. However, she is a very ineffective agent.

The following evening, Mr. Sean T. O'Kelly, our ambassador in Paris gave a dinner, which I understand was official and at our Government's expense. There was a programme of toasts and speeches, for which Mr. O'Kelly must have been wholly responsible, since none of my co-delegates were consulted. Mr. de Valera was the principal speaker, and throughout the evening no opportunity was allowed to my co-delegates or myself to speak to any toast. Lord Mayor O'Neill at the end, on his own initiative, made a formal speech in compliment to Mr. O'Kelly who presided. The boycotting of our Delegation was obvious to many, including the Australian and other Delegates, who were very indignant. Next day, I asked Mr. O'Kelly for an explanation. He made no defence for the performance, and threw the blame for it entirely on Mr. de Valera. At the last session of the Congress, Rev. Dr. O'Reilly of Sydney, having drawn attention to this affair, Mr. O'Kelly twice endeavoured to prevent Mr. de Valera, who was in the Chair, from explaining, but Mr. de Valera disavowed responsibility. The incident proved very salutary, for it opened the eyes of many Delegates before the sittings of the Congress began.

For the most part the arrangements for the Congress fell into the hands of Mr. de Valera's supporters, who were numerous in Paris. The result was that, as regards the cultural and economic purposes of the Congress, the outcome was almost nil, the energies of Mr. de Valera and his adherents being bent on securing a world organisation to back their own purely political programme, and, as was avowed, to finance it. The Session on economic affairs was almost farcical.

On Wednesday and Friday, the Congress discussed the objects and organisation of the proposed world association. After a good deal of discussion, Mr. de Valera, who was Chairman in these days, gave a pledge that the organisation would not be used on his part for partisan purposes. On this understanding, when he was proposed as President and said he would not accept unless elected unanimously, I consented to his election, making it clear that on any other basis I would not consent (see official press report). I should say that at the beginning of the Congress, the non-party programme, as shown by the first vote taken, had a support of 29 delegates, as against 24 in favour of an anti-Treaty party programme. After this, Lord Mayor O'Neill returned to Dublin, Mr. Brown, representing Newfoundland, disappeared, Rev. Dr. O'Doherty Rector of Salamanca, fell ill, all these supporting the non-party line. In the meantime, delegates appointed by telegram, etc. and favouring Mr. de Valera, came on the scene. Among these was Mr. P.J. Little, whom I met in Dublin the day I left. He said he was most anxious to come but had no delegation. Three days later he arrived as delegate from Brazil. There were several others of the same type, and towards the end of the Congress Mr. de Valera's partisans were in the majority.

A central Committee was elected as follows:-

De Valera, President.   MacNeill, Vice President
Hutchison (Scotland)   T. Hughes Kelly, Hon. Sec.,
O'Connor (American)   Rev. Dr. Irwin, Hon. Treas.
Art O'Brien (Britain)    

The names in the first column represent the anti-Treaty Partisan element. Art O'Brien was elected by 29 votes against 21 for P.J. Kelly of Liverpool, both being anti-treaty. The other elections were unanimous. It would have been impossible at this stage to carry an opponent of the partisan programme on a division.

This Committee was to be the central executive of the new world organisation. An effort to invest it with powers of control was abandoned owing to our opposition. It was, however, to have charge of the central correspondence, etc., to form the bond of connection, and to run a press organ of some kind.

The first meeting of the Committee was on last Sunday morning. I was delayed by attending a long ceremonial Mass at the Madeleine, and soon after I arrived, Mr. de Valera, who was in the Chair, informed me that Mr. Robert Brennan had been proposed as central paid secretary. I said that this was the most important post in the organisation, and since Mr. Brennan was a strong partisan, I could not agree to his being sole secretary, and I proposed Mr. James Hughes as joint-secretary. This was opposed by Mr. de Valera and Mr. Art O'Brien, mainly on the plea that the secretary would be principal in charge and a dual control would be unworkable. Then I proposed that Mr. Hughes, being much more highly qualified in all respects than Mr. Brennan, should be appointed secretary, but this proposal was turned down. No vote was taken. After a long discussion the Committee adjourned to enable its members to keep other engagements. It met again at 10. p.m. same day - Sunday.

At this second meeting, new tactics were resorted to. In the interval Mr. Hughes Kelly, Hon. Sec., had been induced to accept responsibility for the nomination of Mr. Brennan, and to claim the right of appointment. I would not agree to this. Mr. Kelly also claimed that the paid secretary would be under his control, and could not act in a partisan spirit - I had no difficulty in showing that Robert Brennan was exceptionally partisan. Mr. de Valera supported this new contention. I asked him if he really believed the paid secretary would be under effective control, and he said he did. I said, if that was so, it disposed of the argument that two paid secretaries would be two principals in charge. Nothing I could say was of any effect. After two hour's argument the Committee decided to appoint Mr. Brennan, and refused to appoint Mr. Hughes along with him.

I then informed the Committee that they had deliberately violated the undertakings given at the Congress, by virtue of which they had been elected, and that they had thereby deprived themselves of all right or title to represent the Congress or to act on its behalf, and also, so far as lay in their power, they had wrecked the whole project. Whatever I might decide to do, I would not co-operate with them on these lines. Mr. Art O'Brien made some sort of appeal to me, and Mr. de Valera said that one member ought [not?] to try to dictate to the rest. I replied that I represented half the delegates more or less, and that he and his partisans present represented only half the delegates, more or less, that I represented an agreed programme, and that they had departed from the agreement. I said I would take steps to inform the delegates without delay of their action. I withdrew from the room and wrote a letter to Mr. Farrington, Hon. Sec., of the congress, for communication to the delegates.

Next day, Monday, a meeting of Delegates from Argentine, South Africa, Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, came together and decided to repudiate the action and authority of the Committee. They followed this up by a written declaration which they signed on the following day. The documents will accompany the full report.

The net result is that Mr. de Valera's attempt to capture and run the organisation, publicly disavowed but actually persisted in to the last moment, is nullified. His programme has gained no support that it did not possess already, and the Delegations from the Countries above named (except a single delegate, Mr. Ryan from Queensland), have been disillusioned and antagonised by their experience of the game of intrigue and evasion.

Eoin MacNeill
2 February 1922

(1) We are of opinion that the establishment of an Irish Race Organisation is desirable, but we concur with those delegates who have already expressed their opinion that the Organisation established in Paris is not one in which confidence can be placed. In support of this we refer to Annex 'G' and Annex 'F' of our attached report.2
(2) From the appointment of delegates by Mr. de Valera down to the last meeting of the Committee appointed in Paris, it was made evident to us that every effort would be made to use the organisation for partisan purposes by persons opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In support of this we refer to our attached report.
(3) We consider that the undertaking obtained from Mr. de Valera that party politics should not be introduced into the Congress, and that its funds and machinery would not be applied to party purposes has already been violated in one important particular, and that the undertaking in which Mr. de Valera and his nominees went to Paris as part of the official Irish Delegation was violated by them.

1 Michael Hayes, Douglas Hyde and Diarmuid Coffey.

2 Neither annex printed.