Volume 2 1922~1926

Doc No.

No. 138 NAI DT S3332

Extract from a report on the Fourth Assembly of the
League of Nations (September 1923) by Eoin MacNeill

DUBLIN, 4 October 1923

[Matter omitted]

Almost throughout the month, the Italo-Greek crises dominated the minds of the Assembly, though it was little discussed in the formal proceedings. At the outset, the Council came to the conclusion that it would not be practicable to deal with this affair through the instrumentality of the League. Their reason undoubtedly was a fear that Italy, rather than submit the issues to the League, would withdraw from the League. In that case the League would suffer a severe shock from the withdrawal or would be forced to attempt to impose its will on one of the principal powers. If it failed in this attempt, it would be still more fatally discredited. My opinion is that the attempt would not have been made. I could find no evidence of any disposition on the part of the other three powers of the Big Four - Great Britain, France, and Japan - to compel Italy to conform to the letter and spirit of the League Covenant. The Council adopted a very ingenious way out of the difficulty, which agitated many of the small Nations, especially those of the Baltic group, who felt that the resort to force by Italy, if not dealt with by the League, might involve the practical annulment of the Covenant and render the League useless for the protection of small States and the preservation of Peace. The murdered Italian Officers had been engaged on a special task to which they had been appointed by the Council of Ambassadors. 1 The result is known. Greece agreed (having no help for it) to pay Italy 50 million lire and Italy agreed to evacuate Corfu. On the second last day of the session of the Assembly (Sept. 28th) the Council of the League presented a report to the Assembly on the subject of this settlement - in which the League had no part - and embodied in the report a declaration of the competence of the League to require its members to observe the Covenant. This was obvious fa￿e - windowdressing. Nevertheless it was probably the wisest and most effective course that could have been taken in the circumstances.

In the discussion on the Council's report, Nansen voiced the feelings of the Baltic group and of many other small States in a speech which showed deep dissatisfaction with the whole affairs and the handling of it. He was proceeding to impugn the conduct of Italy when the President stopped him. Later in the discussion, I made a short speech, in which I excused the Report on the ground that the League was still too immature to make full use of its formal powers. I said that the affirmation of competence - which I quoted - would give some reassurance. I ended by saying that it was the plain duty of all members of the League - a duty to which they were solemnly engaged - to have recourse to the League in the first instance, before taking any hostile step, when a dispute should arise that threatened a rupture of peace. We were afterwards assured by many that my speech gave wide satisfaction and gained very general approval.

The fact is that the non-representation of the United States and Germany tends to leave the League ineffective for its main purpose, the maintenance of international peace. Germany originally refused to join, and is now believed to be willing, but France opposes.

The smaller nations in the League do not act in concert. There are three chief groups. There is an American group, including all the American States south of Mexico as well as the Republic of Haiti. Mexico is not a member. The S. American member states number 19, more than a third of the total. They are already protected by the Monroe Doctrine and are consequently not heavily concerned in the efficiency of the League to prevent aggression. A group in close touch with France comprises Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Roumania. To these may be added Abyssinia, the last admitted Nation. The Baltic group, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Esthonia, Latvia and Lithuania, act more or less together, with a leaning toward Great Britain. Hungary is isolated, and so apparently is Greece. China exercises little influence in proportion to its enormous population and territory, hardly if at all more than Siam and Persia.



The Irish Delegation maintained throughout the position of representatives of a foreign independent state linked by the terms of the Treaty to Great Britain and the Dominion States, and cultivating a spirit of friendship and friendly consultation with these. This is also the attitude of Canada, South Africa and Australia. New Zealand claims this status less pronouncedly, though I do not know if anything inconsistent with it could be specified.

The position of India is sufficiently seen in the fact that the head of the Indian Delegation is Lord Hardinge, who may represent Indian economic and cultural interests to some extent, but is politically a representative of Great Britain. India is the only member of the League that has not autonomy or any constitution properly so called, and is a member by virtue of specific inclusion under the original Covenant, not having the qualifications for admission otherwise.

The full Status of Ireland was universally admitted. Once at a meeting of a Commission, the Japanese Delegate present used words implying that in his view the countries of the British Commonwealth were subordinate in Status to Great Britain. The Marquis MacSwiney immediately corrected the implication, and was corroborated by the British Delegate, Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith. The Canadian Delegate, Mr. Graham, Canadian Minister of Defence, afterwards spoke to me in warm approval of Marquis MacSwiney's action. Many delegates spoke of the Saorstát as la Republique Irlandaise, as also did various press organs. At the same time, I wish to observe (1) that we always avoided making unnecessary protestations, and (2) that we adopted a wholly friendly attitude towards Great Britain, and gave expression to this attitude whenever any particular occasion arose. I should also add that nothing was done or suggested on the part of the British Delegation to limit our freedom of action.

One incident arose, which, I think expressed the desire of the British Delegation or of some members of it to honour Lord Robert Cecil and perhaps to advance his prestige. Almost at the end of the session, when the Italo-Greek composition became known, Sir Willoughby Dickinson circulated for signature by the 'Commonwealth' group a letter in which the first part congratulated the League on the success of the settlement and the second part attributed the success 'largely' to the work of Lord Robert. When Sir W. D. placed this letter before me, during the sitting of the Assembly, I saw that it already bore the signatures of the chief delegates of the Dominions. He indicated that the letter was to be published. I said that I would gladly testify to the good work of Lord R. Cecil but that I could not sign without consulting my colleagues. In my own mind, I objected to the procedure of asking me to sign a joint statement when I had not been consulted in the preparation of it, and I thought that part of the intention of the document was to advertise the signatories as representing a distinct unit - which, however proper elsewhere, was not desirable in connection with the League of Nations. Sir W. D. then left me an unsigned copy to show to my colleagues. On reading it, I came to the conclusion that the first paragraph, claiming success for the League in settling the Italo-Greek crises would stultify both the League and the signatories and be nowise helpful to Lord R. Cecil. My colleagues all agreed with this view. I called that evening on Sir Lormer Gouin, chief of the Canadian Delegation, who had signed the letter, and explained to him my objection to signing. I did this, lest I should be made out to have slighted the other signatories. Sir Lorner became uneasy and asked me if I had a copy of the document. I showed him the copy. He then said that he had signed it without much examination, regarding it merely as a compliment to Lord Robert Cecil. I said I would gladly bear witness to Lord Robert's excellent work, but that this document began with a statement which I did not believe to be at all true. Sir Lorner said that he thought he could make a good defence for the statement. I replied that I did not doubt his ability, it was my own ability to defend the statement that I could not sustain, and so we parted. I then wrote to Sir W. Dickinson, explaining that our delegation could not agree to sign and why. Mr. MacWhite has copies of the correspondence. He sent me a rather lame reply and I have heard no more of the document. Next day, the last day of the Assembly, our delegation called on Lord Robert Cecil to take leave, and, without mention of the proposed round robin, we congratulated him on his personal work and in particular on the peaceful ending of the Corfu affair.

The second matter of importance was Canada's proposed Amendment of Article 10 of the Covenant. This was long and warmly debated in the First Commission, in which I was a Member. There was strong opposition to the amendment, which proposed to allow each State to decide whether it would participate in warlike measures adopted by the Council of the League. Since unanimity is necessary for amendments to the Covenant, this amendment, being opposed by many States, was withdrawn, and a resolution was substituted interpreting Article 10 in a mitigated sense. My belief, which I could explain if required, is that the whole discussion was about nothing. In any case, it did not affect Ireland particularly, since our Constitution, which was put in along with our claim to admission, expressly requires the assent of the Oireachtas to any participation in war. The interpretative resolution was adopted by the Commission and afterwards by the Assembly, but will have no binding force, as it was not adopted unanimously.

The question of the admission of Abyssinia brought some interesting facts to our knowledge. Abyssinia retains the tradition of a very ancient civilisation, with a distinct language, literature, and customs and institutions, but has been almost wholly out of the current of modern development. For some time past, an organisation of the State has been going on under the direction of Frenchmen serving the Abyssinian Government. The British in Egypt and Somaliland, the Italians in Eritrea, would prefer Abyssinia to remain weak and disorganised, with a view to establishing 'spheres of influence' and ultimately to annexation, and there is evidence of an understanding to that effect. Neither Britain nor Italy directly opposed the claim of Abyssinia for admission to the League, but some objection cropped up on the ground of slave trade said to be tolerated by Abyssinia. In the end, Abyssinia has obtained admission, and since this means a guarantee of territorial integrity on the part of all Members of the League, it is to be expected that the aims of Britain and Italy to the contrary will be found to be abandoned. The existence of such joint aims on the part of two of the 'Big Four', if it were generally known to the smaller States, would help to explain the impotence of the League in certain directions.

There was, in fact, only one notable success in the work of the League to be reported to the Fourth Assembly, namely, the reconstruction of the State finance of Austria. The details deserve to be studied by us. Similar work under League auspices has been undertaken for Hungary.

An American organisation in favour of the entry of the United States into the League was represented early in the Session, and came into touch with our Delegation. The opinion was expressed by some of the Americans that Ireland's adhesion to the League would have great effect in the United States. Some said it would mean a turn over of a million votes. It was suggested that we should send a mission to the States to advocate America's entrance, but we did not believe that we were entitled to undertake such a step or that it would have the desired effect if we undertook it.

It would be well, however, if all our spokesmen were clear on this point. The American objection is partly a party affair and partly based on argument. The Republicans are anti-League and scored heavily by Wilson's inability to make good. The main argument is that joining the League would impair American sovereignty. This argument was mainly based on Article 10 which can be interpreted to read that America could be compelled against her will to take part in Old World quarrels - she is already bound by the Monroe Doctrine in the New World. Again, the idea is put forward that the League will evolve into a 'super-state'[,] a kind of world empire which would be operated through alliances and combinations within the League. This idea finds support in the exceptional position of the Big Four and in the grouping of the small nations. On the other hand, it is a crude and mistaken notion to think that the liberty of any country is diminished by entering the League. One might as well imagine that the citizen of a free state has less liberty than a man who is a citizen of no state. The members of the League are themselves vigilant opponents of the 'super-state' idea, and nothing would do more to reduce the Big Four to a level of equality with other States in the League than the entry of America. It goes without saying that America's adhesion would immensely strengthen Ireland's position. It would be well if friends of Ireland who have the ear of the American public would take the matter up over there.

There are side-shows to the League's work which do not seem to be in the way of accomplishing much, though they enable some fine things to be said and also some inanities. Marquis MacSwiney took a useful part in criticising certain proposals and in procuring amendments. In particular, he spoke successfully in favour of a wholly amended form of a Spanish proposal to set up a sort of super-university; he secured the inclusion of Ireland, in a League commission for international cultural purposes; and he effectively converted a proposal for the encouragement of boy scouts and girl guides on their travels into a proposal for the encouragement of travelling students. The Marquis helped our position by speaking in French on most occasions, though he did not ostentatiously avoid speaking English at times. He showed great discretion, and held his own tenaciously but with courtesy, so that he evoked no hostile feeling. He was probably the best linguist in the Assembly, being able to speak English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese with complete fluency, and to some extent several other languages, including Irish.

Mr. O'Shiel was diligent and efficient as usual and secured to make his mark and create good feeling towards Ireland in every quarter where he found an opportunity.

I cannot speak too highly of the work of Mr. MacWhite. His wife's illness and the death of his child did not prevent him from being of constant and valuable service. He has good tact and judgment and a remarkable knowledge of political personages and the press. Besides being an active member of the Delegation, he did all its secretarial work, including the laborious work of exchanging cards, arranging for invitations, and taking charge of our agenda and Timetable.

I must also put on record the invaluable assistance that our Delegation received throughout the Session from Mr. Edward Phelan. Mr. Phelan has a remarkable knowledge of European politics and Politicians and of technical matters connected with the League. He was always watchful for the advantage of Ireland, and his advice never failed us and never misled us. Mr. Kennedy is aware of the trouble he took in the early days of our work at Geneva and he continued to place himself equally at our service until our departure. He and Mr. MacWhite more than made up for the inexperience of the rest of us and it is due to them that our Delegation[,] without any straining for effect, kept abreast of the other Delegations generally.

Our quota of contribution to the League was fixed at £10,000. In view of the assessment on other States, we are satisfied that this is a moderate charge. I cannot say without inquiry when this contribution falls due, Mr. MacWhite will ascertain that, if he does not know it already. I presume it will be the subject of a special Vote in the DÁIL.

It might be well if the Marquis, MacWhite and O'Shiel sent in special reports without delay to External Affairs. Presumably some statement of the work of the Delegation and the effect of its participation will have to be presented to the DÁIL at an early date. I think such a statement should come in the first instance from External Affairs, and if there is any criticism I could reply.

We had to make some return for the social invitations which we so abundantly received. The accounts will show that we acted prudently in this respect. The social Meetings give good opportunities of getting on friendly terms with the representatives of various countries.

I would urgently represent that a special official in the Department of External Affairs should in future have charge of League of Nations affairs. I do not know whether it would be found possible to assign this duty to Mr. O'Shiel. His work on the Boundary Commission must now be nearly complete. It may be found possible to maintain a current of international relations through this medium, whereas it is impossible to keep up relations with many countries in the old-fashioned diplomatic way. There will be questions of the Labour Conference, Customs Conference, the permanent Committees of the League, etc., which will need special attention, and the proceedings of the Council of the League, of which Ireland is not a Member, will require to be kept in view.

The election of the non-permanent members of the Council resulted satisfactorily from our standpoint. The permanent members are the Big Four. The others are chosen by election. Each Delegation votes for six, and the six who get most votes are elected. Five of the six who received our vote were elected, and we calculated beforehand that this would be the result, though we were not certain which one of our six would fail to get in. There was much canvassing for the votes, and it may be remarked that those who were actively engaged in canvassing recognised our freedom to vote as we pleased without being bound to act with any State or group. Our object was to have as many as possible of the more outstanding and independent among the small nations put on the Council.

Our policy with regard to the League should be to strengthen the position of the small nations, by which I mean all the nation states of small or moderate size which are not looking for bits of Africa or Asia. As I have said above, most of these are formed into groups and the support of those groups is sought after by France and England, while there are possible combinations within the Big Four, involving their supporters and friends among the small nations. This state of things tends towards the old European policy of balance and power, which has always led to unrest and wars. It tends to nullify the principles and aims adopted by the League, and to make it possible for the stronger members, or for the weaker with the backing of the stronger, to act as if they were not members of the League and as if the League did not exist. The League will not realise its aims and principles until the small nations break away from the group system and act in harmony.

Not a few of the Delegates of other countries expressed the intention of visiting Ireland soon. It must be pointed out that we have no arrangements in view for the suitable reception of visitors of international importance. Our estimates provide £150 for the purpose! Our Ministry consists entirely of men of small means - in fact it is a Ministry of the Proletariat. I do not think that any official plan of entertaining representatives of other nations is at present possible. I therefore think that we should look for a non-official plan. We have placed a number of fairly wealthy men on the Seanad, and these might form the nucleus of a citizen's union of hospitality which, at the Government's request, would undertake the function of entertaining the Nation's guests. I am quite sure that this method would, if adopted, be far superior to any governmental plan, however magnificent, and that it would be characteristic and distinctive of Dublin and of Ireland.

Before we left Geneva I had a long and friendly conversation with M. Hanotaux, Mr. Phelan acting as interpreter. Hanotaux was chief of the French Delegation, though the nominal chief was Leon Bourgeois, who was present only for a few days. Hanotaux was formerly Foreign Minister for France and ranks as one of the statesmen of France. It was at his request that I went to see him at his Hotel. He conversed for about an hour. He opened the conversation by expressing gratification at the new status acquired by Ireland, and assured me of the desire of France to establish the most friendly relations with Ireland. I said that Ireland was no less desirous of cordial relations with France and that the people of Ireland had always been attracted towards France. I took care also to make it clear that in the new state of things it was our intention to cultivate amicable relations with Great Britain, a position which he said he fully appreciated. He then said that there were two relationships, economic and intellectual, which he desired to see fostered between us. I outlined to him the economic position of Ireland, her large export and import trade, probably nine-tenths of it at present confined to Great Britain. I said that even in our trade with France, Great Britain was middleman probably for nine tenths, and the conversion of this into direct trade would be a gain to both France and Ireland. He showed the keenest interest in this view, and went on to suggest that a plan of trade agencies for Ireland in France would be more productive of result than the operation of consulships, though he did not state it just so plainly. (I may remark here that Mr. Dempsey2 in Paris, on our way back, without having heard of my conversation with Hanotaux, expressed the same view very emphatically. He said that the Consulate, by the rules of consular action, was actually tied up from opening lines of trade which a trade agency could open up). M. Hanotaux added that, if agents on behalf of Irish trade went to work in ports like Havre or Bordeaux, he hoped they would have recourse to the French Government for special facilities and we could rely on such facilities being accorded. In the matter of intellectual relations, he said the French Government would welcome the establishment of a hostel in Paris for students from Ireland, and he recommended such a hostel, because Paris might not be conducive to studious habits for youths at large in the city. I thanked him for the suggestion - (if it is acted on, it may mean that the French Government will help, perhaps in providing the building) and I said that we might also hope for a plan of interchange of University professors for occasional terms of lectures, a suggestion which drew his approval.

There is no doubt that this interview was of a very special and significant character and ought to be followed up.

I made close enquiry about the Spahlinger Institute at Geneva for the cure and prevention of tuberculosis. Dr. Spahlinger made proposals of such importance that I propose to deal with them in a special memorandum, as they have no particular relation to the business of the League of Nations.3


1The following is handwritten in the margin: 'The Council of the League referred the examination of the affair, and also the settlement of it, to the Council of Ambassadors'.

2Vaughan Dempsey of the Irish office in Paris.

3Not printed.