Volume 2 1922~1926

Doc No.

No. 134 NAI DFA 26/102

Extracts from the report of the Irish delegation to the
Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations (September 1923)

DUBLIN, September 1923


The Delegation of Ireland to the Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations was composed of the following:-

(1)First Delegate and Chief of the Delegation:-

President W.T. Cosgrave, T.D., President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State;

(2)Delegates:- Dr. Eoin MacNeill, T.D., Minister for Education, Mr. Desmond FitzGerald, T.D., Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Hugh Kennedy, Attorney General, the Marquis MacSwiney of Mashonaglas and Mr. O. Grattan Esmonde, T.D.

(3)Substitute Delegate:- Mr. Kevin R. O'Shiel, Assistant Legal Adviser to the Executive Council;

(4)Secretary-General:- Mr. Michael MacWhite, Representative of the Irish Free State in Geneva;.

(5)Experts and Attachés:- Mr. Diarmuid O'Hegarty, Secretary to the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, Mr. Gearoid McGann, Principal Secretary to the President, and Col. Joseph O'Reilly, Assistant Secretary to the President.

The Delegation left for Geneva on the evening of the 29th day of August, 1923 by the Mail Boat from Dun Laoghaire.



The most notable incident on the journey to Geneva was the official reception accorded to the President by the Government of the French Republic.

When the boat arrived at Calais Pier she was boarded by the Sous-Prefect of the Department of the Pas de Calais, by the Mayor of Calais and by the local Deputy, who in the name of the Government of France extended a very cordial welcome to the President on the occasion of his first official visit to that country. These gentlemen accompanied the President and the Delegation to the train, where they saw them off. That evening they were met on the arrival of the train in Paris by a high Military Officer from the Maison Militaire, representing the President of the Republic, as well as by representatives of the French Foreign Office.

On his homeward journey from Geneva the President was received at Paris in a similar manner by the French Government.



A section of the Delegation arrived at Geneva on the 1st September, and were joined a few days later by the President and the main body from Bobbio, whither they had gone to attend the celebrations in honour of Saint Columbanus.

During the Session of the Fourth Assembly the Delegation fell naturally into two periods - the first period from the 3rd September till the 12th September, when the entire Delegation was present under the direction of the President; and the second period from the 12th September to the end of the Session, during which the Delegation comprised the Marquis MacSwiney of Mashonaglass, Mr. O'Shiel and Mr. MacWhite, under the Chairmanship of Dr. MacNeill.

The chief event during the first period was the admission of Ireland into the League of Nations. This occurred at the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Assembly on Monday the 10th September.



For the better despatch of business the Assembly of the League appoints six Committees for the duration of the Session, and delegates to each of these Committees certain specific classes of work appearing on the agenda or arising during the deliberations. These Committees are composed of one representative from each Member State, and it is their duty to deal in the first instance with all matters and to submit reports and recommendations thereon to the Assembly for discussion and final decision.

The importance of these Committees is very great for in nearly every instance since the establishment of the League (and certainly in every instance at the recent Assembly) their recommendations and resolutions are passed by the Plenary Meeting of the Assembly without alteration.

[Matter omitted]

Apart from these Six Main Committees, which can now be said to be practically permanent adjuncts of the Assembly, there are other Special Committees appointed by the Council or by the Assembly, and many Sub-Committees appointed by the main Committees for the consideration of particularly urgent matters.

An important Special Committee of Jurists was set up by the Council to cooperate with the Third Committee in drawing up the final draft of the Treaty of Mutual Assistance.

[Matter omitted]

Professor Barthelemy was elected Chairman and M. Rolin Secretary of this Committee. On Mr. Kennedy's departure to Ireland Mr. O'Shiel was appointed by the Council to take his place.

Perhaps the most important of the Sub-Committees was the Sub-Committee of the Sixth Committee charged with the special duty of examining into the request for admission into the League of any new State. It consisted of seven Members elected from the Delegations of Great Britain, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Persia and Roumania.

Other important Sub-Committees were:-

A Sub-Committee appointed by the Third Committee to draft for its consideration an interpretation of the provisions of Article 10 of the Covenant affected by the Canadian Amendment;

A Sub-Committee appointed by the Fifth Committee to consider a Resolution effecting a change in the Constitution of the Committee on Intellectual Co- Operation, on which the Marquis MacSwiney of Mashonaglas was co-opted; and a Sub-Committee appointed by the Sixth Committee to deal with the matter of Eastern Carelia put forward by Finland.




[Matter omitted]

Amid scenes of remarkable enthusiasm the Delegates of Ireland proceeded to their appointed seats in the Hall. All the representatives in the Assembly, as well as the occupants of the diplomatic, press and public galleries stood up and for several minutes applauded the new delegates. The President then called upon President Cosgrave, the First delegate of Ireland to address the Meeting. The President spoke as follows:- Opening in Irish he said:- 'In the name of God, to this Assembly of the League of Nations, life and health. We are Delegates from Saorstát Éireann, from its Parliament and Government, who have come to you to signify that Saorstát Éireann desires to acquire Membership of the League of Nations and to participate in the great work of this League. You have unanimously agreed to this request. We have found welcome and generosity from you all. We thank you, and we pray that our peace and friendship may be lasting.1

[Matter omitted]



The remarkable reception accorded to Ireland on her admission into the League was certainly one of the outstanding features of the recent Assembly. There is no doubt that the large group of little Nations who form a clear majority in the League welcomed the coming of Ireland as an important and useful addition to their class and as a country that was likely to take an impartial and courageous stand on all essential matters affecting those principles of liberty and harmony upon which the foundations of the League are said to have been laid, and which are the only certain safeguard of their own existences.

A large number of Delegates was found to have a pretty accurate knowledge of the main incidents of the history of Ireland - her manifold sufferings, her age-long struggle for liberty, her triumph, her freedom from international entanglements of any kind - and this knowledge led them to the opinion in the words of one great European Statesman, that 'Ireland although in the category of the little Nations geographically was in the category of the Great Nations morally'.

Thus very much was and will be expected of the Delegation of Ireland at Geneva.

The Irish Delegation maintained throughout the proceedings the position of representatives of a free and independent State linked by the terms of the Treaty of London to Great Britain and the other States in the British Commonwealth, and cultivating a spirit of friendship and friendly consultation with these States.

In accordance with the custom in Geneva the national tricolour was flown from the apartments of the delegates, and from the official motor car of the Delegation, and its novelty created a good deal of interest amongst the general public.

On one occasion a statement was made by M. Adatci, the Japanese Delegate on the Second Committee, involving not directly the status of the Free State but the constitutional position of all the Dominions. The incident occurred during a debate in the Committee on the problem of the status of foreigners when M. Adatci used words implying that in his view the countries of the British Commonwealth were subordinate in status to Great Britain. The Marquis MacSwiney, the Irish Delegate, immediately corrected the implication and was strongly corroborated by the British Delegate, Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith. The Canadian Delegate, Col. Graham, Canadian Federal Minister of Railways, subsequently saw Dr. MacNeill, Chairman of the Irish Delegation, and spoke to him in warm approval of the Marquis's action.

The presence of the Delegation in Geneva during the whole of the proceedings of the Fourth Assembly gave it the opportunity of testing the accuracy of some of the charges levelled against the League. One of the commonest allegations is that the League is entirely controlled by the great Powers, of which Great Britain is the dominant influence. Whatever may have been the case in the early days of the League the great Powers certainly cannot now be said to control the League, although they naturally possess a considerable degree of influence in its Councils, and Great Britain is most decidedly not the dominating factor that ill-informed people imagine her to be.

The recent Assembly was remarkable for the activity of the little Nations and the strong tendency amongst them to assert themselves on the big important issues. This was a notable departure from their attitude at the past Assemblies when, with few exceptions, they remained largely quiescent on all important matters, allowing the big Powers to have it mostly their own way. It will be interesting to watch the development of this tendency amongst the little Nations - for, at the moment, it is not much more than a tendency. Fortunately, the atmosphere in the League is favourable for its development, and there would appear to be a genuine desire amongst the little States themselves to act purely on principle when they can, as they have realised that in the ultimate their best and surest safeguard is the just and impartial operation of the League Covenant.

It will take time for this tendency to develop and grow into a strong movement, but it must come if the League is to endure as a real peace tribunal.



This tendency of the little Nations to assert themselves manifested itself very strongly during the debates on the Italo-Greek episode.

In the course of the existence of the League the little States have seen only too much evidence of the avoidance of inquiry into actions which deliberately defied the Covenant, when these actions had been committed by one of the great Powers. On the other hand, when the smaller Powers initiated this bad example there was an immediate inquiry resulting sometimes even in the putting into operation of the punitive clauses of the Covenant against the offending country.

The Italo-Greek affair raised anew the whole question of the competence of the League to interfere in the event of a dispute between two Member-States. Undoubtedly, Greece had weakened to some degree the claim of the League's rights in such matters by her appeal in the first instance to the Council of Ambassadors, a Body created by the Peace Treaties, and which has become an anachronism since the operation of the League.

Nevertheless, the little Nations taking alarm at the disposition of the Council of the League to overlook the violation of the fundamental principles involved in the dispute, instinctively came together and expressed very openly their profound disappointment at the Council's attitude. Their displeasure had effect for, at a Meeting of the Council on the 29th September Lord Robert Cecil raised the question again, and it was unanimously resolved by all Members including Italy that they were 'in agreement that any dispute between the Members of the League likely to lead to a rupture is within the sphere of the action of the League, and that if any such dispute cannot be settled by diplomacy, arbitration or judicial settlement it is the duty of the Council to deal with it in accordance with the terms of Article 15 of the Covenant'.

Furthermore, they decided to refer to a Committee of Jurists four questions on the matter of competence. The Jurists are to have their answers to these questions ready for the Meeting of the Council in December.

At the debate in the Assembly on this resolution a good number of the small independent Nations expressed their relief at the favourable ending of the unhappy incident in this very definite and unanimous recognition of the important principle of the right and competence of the League to interfere in such disputes.

This was the particular occasion on which Dr. MacNeill spoke with such good effect on behalf of the Delegation of Ireland.

In the course of his remarks Dr. McNeill said that the chief anxiety that beset the minds of the participants in that Assembly had been, not lest a particular set of events should result in a particular rupture of peace, not that a solution might not be found for a particular difficulty, but lest the work to which they had all put their hands might be undone, and the hopes which so many Nations had reposed in that great effort of good will to establish the foundations of peace might be brought to nothing. He hoped he was speaking the minds of all present when he said that there was assurance, real assurance, in the words of the statement presented by the President of the Council. He concluded with these words:

'There is only one other thing I desire to say. The test of our desire for peace, the test of our sincerity, the test of our fidelity to the principles and the solemn engagements to which we have subscribed, must be held to be our willingness, our readiness when a rupture arises, to have recourse in the first instance to the means of settlement which the League of Nations can afford.'

This was the first interference of Ireland in the Assembly since the day of her admission, and the speech of Dr. MacNeill was commented on with approval and satisfaction in many quarters.


[Matter omitted]



A matter which was of special and peculiar interest to the Irish Delegation was the dispute between Finland and Russia over the district now known as Eastern Carelia, which was brought before the Sixth Committee and subsequently before the Assembly by the Finnish Delegation.

Carelia is a large district embracing all South-Eastern Finland, that portion of the Government of Petrograd which is adjacent to Lake Ladoga, and part of the Governments of Olonetz and Archangel, extending on the East as far as the White Sea.

Carelia was a Duchy invaded and conquered several times by both Swedes and Russians. By the Treaty of Noteburg in 1323 it was partitioned between the Duchy of Novgerod and Sweden. The Eastern and Southern portions of Carelia were annexed to Russia by virtue of the Treaty of Nystadt in 1721; the remainder formed part of the Duchy of Finland and shared its fate during the following centuries.

The population of Carelia probably does not exceed 300,000 persons who are overwhelmingly of the Finnish race, speaking a dialect of the Finnish language. Indeed Carelia is not only in population Finnish, but it is source of some of the finest and most beautiful of the ancient Finnish sagas and folk-lore including the great Finnish epic of 'Kalevala', which comes from the Eastern part of the district.

The only distinction which exists amongst the people of Carelia is a religious distinction, the people of Western Carelia being of the Lutheran confession, which is the faith of the great mass of the Finnish race, whilst those living in Eastern Carelia are almost all members of the Orthodox Greek Catholic Church. Amongst these two communions of the same race there would appear to have been some contentions in the past, though never of a very violent or prolonged nature as their common language, customs and culture did much to assuage the sharpness of their religious divisions.

Western Carelia is entirely within the ambit of the present Republic of Finland, whilst Eastern Carelia, since the Russo-Finnish Treaty of Dorpat (October 14th, 1920) is now entirely included in the territories of the Russian Federal Soviet Republic.

Eastern Carelia is bounded on the West by the present frontier of Finland, on the South by Lake Ladoga, on the East by Lake Onega and the shore of the White Sea, whilst on the North it adjoins the Kola Peninsula. It has an area of about 150 square kilometres and a population of about 250,000.

The Treaty of Dorpat which was signed on October 14th, 1920 concluded the war between the Republic of Finland and the Russian Soviet State and defined the present boundaries between the two countries. Eastern Carelia went entirely to Russia, but Russia guaranteed in the Treaty itself, and more definitely by a special solemn declaration which is an Annex to the Treaty, that Eastern Carelia would be an 'autonomous territory' enjoying the 'full rights of national self-determination belonging on federative principles to the Russian State'.

Finland was also promised by the same declaration that the Eastern Carelian dialect of the Finnish language would be the language of the local administrative jurisdiction and popular education, and furthermore, that a local militia corps would be formed which would supersede the garrisons of the Russian standing Army in the district.

In November 1921 the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Finland called the attention of the Council of the League to the situation created in Eastern Carelia by the non-application of the provisions of the Treaty of Dorpat which had been registered at the Secretariat of the League the previous March. The Latvian, Esthonian and Polish Governments supported the action taken by Finland, and the Lithuanian Government requested the Council of the League to use 'its prestige to find a peaceful settlement which would safeguard the legal rights of the interested parties'.

The Council declared its readiness to consider the question with a view to arriving at a satisfactory settlement if the two parties concerned would agree, and requested one of the interested State Members of the League which was in diplomatic relations with the Government of Moscow, to ascertain that Government's intentions in that respect. The Soviet Government declared that the question of Eastern Carelia was one of domestic policy, and refused to support further efforts for mediation. Subsequently, the Finnish Government requested the Council of the League to obtain from the Permanent Court of International Justice in accordance with Article 14 of the Covenant an advisory opinion on the question of Eastern Carelia, and on the 21st April, 1923 the Council adopted the following Resolution:-

'The Council of the League of Nations requests the Permanent Court of International Justice to give an advisory opinion on the following question, taking into consideration the information which the countries concerned may equally present to the Court.

Do Articles 10 and 11 of the Treaty of Peace between Finland and Russia signed at Dorpat, October 14th, 1920, and the annexed declaration of the Russian Delegation regarding the autonomy of Eastern Carelia constitute engagements of an international character which place Russia under an obligation to Finland as to the carrying out of the provisions contained therein?'

The Permanent Court of International Justice after having considered the question at its Meeting on July 23rd, 1923 laid down that the Powers Members of the League of Nations in signing the Covenant had accepted the obligation resulting from the provisions of the Covenant concerning the peaceful settlement of international disputes, but that for those countries which were not Members of the League, and consequently not affected by the Covenant, the case was different and the League could not deal with any such dispute without their consent. Therefore, the Court decided by a majority that it was not competent even to give an advisory opinion in this particular dispute.

But the question was too important for Finland, and consequently the Finnish Delegation at the recent Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations raised the matter again. It came before the Sixth Committee in the ordinary course, who in turn sent it for special consideration to a Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee drafted the following Resolution:-

'The Assembly of the League of Nations

Recognising the importance of the question of Eastern Carelia Notes the declaration of the Finnish Delegation that the Finnish Government in the absence of any decision or any contrary opinion pronounced by international jurisdiction maintains its right to consider the Clauses of the Treaty of Dorpat and the Supplementary Declarations relating to the Statute of Eastern Carelia as agreements of an international order:

And requests the Council to continue to collect all useful information relating to this question with a view to reaching as satisfactory a solution as ulterior circumstances may permit'.

This Resolution came before the Sixth Committee at its Meeting on September 20th, and was strongly supported by Mr. Kevin O'Shiel, the Irish Delegate on the Committee, and by M. Moierovics, the Latvian Delegate, and by Poland, Lithuania and Esthonia. Mr. O'Shiel expressed the interest which the Delegation of Ireland took in this important matter, and declared that no harm could be done to any country interested by throwing more light on this dispute. The League of Nations was primarily established for the purpose of smoothing away the causes of contention and healing the discord between Nations, and not for dealing with the peace that might exist between Nations.

This motion was ultimately unanimously adopted by the Fourth Assembly, and thus Finland has been able to keep public interest alive in a question of such great importance to her.

1No Irish original has been found, the remainder of the speech is reproduced as No. 118 above.