Volume 3 1926~1932

Doc No.

No. 56 NAI DT S5337

Memorandum by Joseph P. Walshe on the future development and status of the Department of External Affairs
(Private and Confidential) (Copy)

Dublin, December 1926

1. A considerable increase in the actual volume of the work of this Department, and a closer study of all international instruments to which Great Britain is a party, seem to be among the most obvious consequences for us of the Report of the 1926 Imperial Conference. From past experience it can be said, with a fair degree of certainty, that every effort will be made by the British Foreign Office to gradually whittle down in practice the value of the principles admitted and formally noted. That institution has yet to learn that methods of chicanery and bluff - whatever purpose they serve in the relations of Great Britain with other Powers - can serve no good purpose in her relations with the other States of the Commonwealth. Every despatch - no matter how unimportant the subject matter - has to be subjected to the most rigorous examination so that no sentence may be allowed to pass which contains any implication contrary to accepted principles. The change of the channel of communication from the Governor General to the Minister for External Affairs;1 the control and examination by the Minister of all the Foreign Office prints which arrive daily in the Vice Regal Lodge; the establishment of a United States Legation in Dublin with its necessary repercussions in the Department, are amongst the new factors vitally necessitating the consideration of its entire position by the Executive Council.

2. In every country the Foreign Affairs Department is regarded as being of primary importance to the welfare of the State. Its Executive Head takes precedence of all Ministers except the Prime Minister. In the Saorstát, internal troubles and the resulting concentration of interest on the departments more immediately concerned with providing a remedy for them, led to the relegation - in the minds of the people - of External Affairs to a position of relative unimportance. In the eyes of the other Departments the External Affairs Department had largely the character of an experiment, and it appeared to be rather a transient ornament of a statehood founded on the political expediency of the moment than a permanent and necessary organ in the State system created for the purpose of bringing the external functions of the State into constantly closer harmony with the principles upon which it was founded. The time has definitely come to destroy the basis of these false assumptions. They have been allowed to stand too long, and if not eliminated now they can only tend to make the work of the Department - already difficult - impossible.

3.    The definite recognition of the status and utility of the Department involves the consideration of the following points:-

I. The position of the higher staff at home.
II. The necessity for making Foreign Affairs a special branch of the Service.
III. The need for removing all ambiguity in the position of our Representatives abroad.
IV. Our position at the League.
V. Representation at Ottawa.


I.      The position of the higher staff at home

The position of the heads of any Department is intimately connected with the general status and interests of the Department and of its Minister, and consequently with those of the State itself. Status and recognition must be considered no less than material conditions; and this is especially true of the External Affairs Department, which requires its principle officers to use their leisure time at home and on holidays for the purpose of improving their knowledge of languages, and for keeping in touch with developments in constitutional and international law in relation both to the Dominions and to non-Commonwealth States. Concentration and whole-hearted zeal of this character are almost impossible when the absence of position and prospects is aggravated by inadequate remuneration. No other officers in the Service have the same moral obligations to incur personal expense in virtue of their office. The functions of the Department of External Affairs are no less important than those of the other great departments of State. In some respects they are even more important. There is no reason, therefore, why the higher officials of this Department should not be treated on a footing of equality with officers holding posts of equal responsibility in the other Executive Ministers' Departments.

    The present position is unsatisfactory to an extreme degree. The Head of the Department has no official status. He is carefully informed of that fact - almost taunted with it - by the Department of Finance at the beginning of a large proportion of their letters addressed to this Department. His inferior position does not help his relations with other Departments, with Foreign Representatives nor with our own staffs outside Ireland. Without the remuneration and fixed status proportionate to his responsibilities it is impossible for him to maintain the usual relations outside office hours with Foreign Representatives or their staffs in Dublin, or while on duty abroad with officers exercising functions corresponding to his own.

    The second officer, Mr. Seán Murphy, is in a completely analogous position. From a salary of £1,000 as Representative in Paris, he was scaled down to £500 without increment at Headquarters because 'he could not have a salary equal to - or better than - the Head of the Department' whose salary was £600 without increment (since made incremental). Mr. Murphy is the only member of the higher staff at home or abroad who has had no addition or increment of any sort for over three years. He is responsible for running the Department when the Minister and Secretary are absent.

    These two Officers have the usual Foreign Affairs qualifications of a professional legal education, residence abroad, a good knowledge of at least one Continental language, together with the more necessary requirement of responsible experience in the Department since its foundation.

    The third Officer, Mr. Lester, who is on a special salary of £600, is proving to be a very useful addition to the Department. When the opportunity offers he should be sent for a few months to Geneva in order to acquire a knowledge of the working of the League system and to make a good start in French.

    The fourth Officer who has to deal directly with External Affairs is Miss Austin.2 She has been with us for nearly five years. She has a knowledge of five continental languages and is learning Irish. Her experience in the Department enables her to keep us supplied with reference to international - especially League - documents, reviews, newspapers, British and foreign, which constitute the main section of our documentation. Almost more than in any other section of the Department experience and the right type of political-constitutional mentality are necessary in this post. The Ministry of Finance, however, inform us that she must be dismissed because she is temporary. And in reply to a letter conveying the Minister's views that Miss Austin's knowledge of language and experience were indispensable in the special circumstances of the Department, they informed us that 'while a knowledge of language may be necessary' there were clerical officers from whom a selection could be made and that arrangements were being made to secure a suitably qualified clerical officer to replace Miss Austin.

    The Department is not engaged in a policy of extension - it is merely trying to hold together a nucleus without which there will be no Department. Even the bones of its body are still incomplete. Its efficient working still depends on a very small number of officers and it cannot be sacrificed to meet a technical general rule, the original purpose of which was surely to secure efficiency, not to destroy it. If Miss Austin is dismissed the Heads of the Department will have to waste a good part of their time each day in hunting for material which is now handed to them. A new Officer, even possessing the language and outlook qualifications, would take at least two years to become moderately useful in the post.


II.    The Necessity for Making the Department a special Branch of the Service

It is quite clear that the Department of External Affairs will have to be treated with more - not with less - consideration than the other departments. The totality of the qualifications required is different from that required for the work of the rest of the Civil Service. That is true of all Foreign Departments all over the world, and it is in a manner more true of our Department which requires the ordinary 'foreign sense' to be diluted with an intra-Commonwealth sense. It must be regarded as a special branch of the Service, and for many years to come the general Service rules must be given the broadest possible interpretation in their application to it. So far the treatment of this Department by the Finance Department could only be interpreted as deliberately calculated to prepare for its early demise.

    Candidates must be recruited specifically for the Foreign Service. In the normal course no transfers and no dismissals should take place without the express agreement of the Minister. Policy and constitutional evolution are so closely interwoven with the everyday work of the External Affairs Department that the Minister alone must be the final arbiter in every modification however trivial which takes place in his staff.

    The appointment of two Administrative Officers to Headquarters is urgently necessary. The fact that the main brunt of the strictly External Affairs work falls on so few officers makes it impossible to maintain sufficiently close contact with the work of our representatives abroad and with the League of Nations. The absence of that close contact has caused certain errors to be committed and has allowed our representatives abroad to regard themselves as free agents in matters directly affecting the good name of the State. Definite plans will have to be made for the gradual and profitable development of our Foreign Service, but the most urgent need is the recognition of existing responsibilities.

    In general a legal education, a good knowledge of at least one Continental language and a readiness to learn to read at least three others should be taken as the necessary initial qualifications for External Affairs appointments. Another, and a vital qualification without which technical qualifications are useless, is a sane national outlook and a genuine zeal for work in the national interest. It is a matter of common observation that officers isolated from their own country are frequently inclined to look to their own aggrandisement rather than to the real interests of their country. A necessary concomitant of the zeal referred to is perfect mobility. All the officers from top to bottom of the Department must be ready to move at short notice without question to any other part of the Foreign Service. The advantages of leaving a man for a long time in any post abroad are entirely outweighed by the disadvantages. The practice of relatively frequent transfers which has now become the rule in all foreign services is the outcome of the general experience that the holder of a post abroad for any considerable time tends to regard his post as a personal perquisite, and to allow his personal prejudices and local ties and friendships to become the dominating factor in his work.


III.   Position of Our Representatives Abroad

The ambiguity attaching to the position of our representatives abroad has made for much confusion, misunderstanding and inefficiency. In the past it could be regarded as part and parcel of the confusion inherent in our whole international position. The implications of the Imperial Conference Report and the appointment of full diplomatic representatives by a second Commonwealth State call for a change of policy. The right to appoint fully exequatured consuls follows from the right to appoint diplomatic representatives. The acceptance of Consuls by a State implies recognition by that State of the international status of the sending State. Consuls have the legal right to accept fees for services appropriate to their office and they have a definitely recognised status in every country.

    It is suggested that Consuls be appointed immediately to the United States, France or Belgium and Germany, residing at New York, Paris or Brussels and Hamburg. The Brussels and Paris Establishments should be merged. The present Trade Officer in New York should be transferred to Europe and replaced by an officer possessing the requisite outlook qualifications and a legal training. This officer would be in control of the passport office in New York. Apart from the qualifications required for notarial duties it seems to be fairly generally accepted that the best man for promoting international trade is the man with good general qualifications, not the technical businessman.

    If these changes are made, instead of having three unrecognised establishments abroad with ill-defined functions and providing a source of irritation in our relations with the British Representatives abroad, we shall have three Consulates fully recognised.

    The total cost at the beginning will be very little more than that of the existing offices and in the course of time as the Saorstát Consuls take over the functions exercised on our behalf by the British Consuls the cost will be considerably less.

    The Staff of the Washington Legation now consists of one man with a salary equivalent to that of a Junior Executive Officer at home, and one typist. The officer in charge of a Legation has a well-defined social position to maintain. He is described as First Secretary in the Diplomatic List and ranks higher than a Consul. He becomes Chargé d'Affaires in the absence of the Minister, and the general prestige of the Legation is almost as much in his keeping as in that of the Minister. He is the ordinary channel of communication between the Department of State and the Minister.

    The post should be placed on a proper salary basis immediately and a Second Officer appointed.

    The Passport Control Officer in New York3 is also on a salary which takes into account neither the cost of living in the U.S.A. nor the responsibilities of the post.


IV.   League of Nations

The Dominions will have to depend largely on their position and activities in the League to complete their recognition as international entities. Its conferences and assemblies as well as the conventions resulting therefrom are becoming increasingly important from this point of view. The acquisition of a position of prestige in the League is a possibility well within reach of a country situated as we are without the need of backstairs intrigue. The post of Representative at the League should therefore be maintained. It may, however, be considered whether the principle of relatively frequent changes should not be applied in Geneva. Our present Representative is excellent in many ways, but the post seems to require an officer with fresher ideas and a training better calculated to promote a detailed interest in the intricacies of international negotiations and a clearer perception of their import. The League Representative more than any other of our representatives abroad has an opportunity of getting the active good-will of all countries including Great Britain for the Saorstát, and of studying their methods of diplomacy. He has to defeat these methods with friendly correctness when they tend to manifest themselves in conclusions derogatory to the status of the Dominions. He has to keep his Department at home in detailed and constant touch with every aspect of the League's activities so that our Delegates may be prepared long beforehand to take an active part in all the discussions of the Assembly.

    The post at Geneva is a fully recognised diplomatic post. The salary attached to it (£750 and residence) is inadequate.

    Every country in the League of Nations has a section of its Foreign Department devoted entirely to the work of the League. Owing to the small number of our Staff, even with the suggested additions, it will not be possible to establish here an exclusively League of Nations section. Nor is it advisable to do so. The League for us is too closely connected with status within and without the Commonwealth to allow of efficient work being done in connection with it by an officer who is not in constant touch with the whole trend of intra-Commonwealth relations. For that reason our Second Officer, Mr. Seán Murphy, will henceforth have chief charge of League of Nations matters as well as of all matters connected with British Treaties. The Delegation to Geneva should in future be accompanied by a staff of at least three Officers from this Department.


V.    Representation at Ottawa

The question of appointing a representative in Canada merits consideration. On our arrival at the Imperial Conference this year we found the Canadians uninitiated as far as the chief modal difficulties in the general constitutional and international position of the Commonwealth States were concerned. They were sympathetic but they did not and could not realise with sufficient conviction in such a short time that declarations of status were only valuable to the extent of their application in practice. There seems to be no other way of getting the effective support of Canada in rounding off our international position, than by appointing a representative in Ottawa who will find constant opportunity for pointing out the implications of remaining anomalies in every day relations with Great Britain. The unequivocal support of the Chief Canadian Delegate would make it possible to eliminate finally the technical right of the British Parliament to legislate for the Dominions, and the technical right of British Ministers to advise the King in Dominion Affairs.

    The Experts Committee may do much to smoothen the way for this elimination, but it is unlikely that there will be any real renunciation of that technical right unless Canada and the Saorstát make common cause. A good Representative in Ottawa would have a very fruitful field to work in. Apart from constitutional questions he could do a good deal to interest Canadians, particularly Irish Canadians, in this country. The need for encouraging interest in the Saorstát in potentially friendly countries like the U.S. and Canada, will perhaps make itself more tangibly felt when the Shannon Scheme results in the production of exportable manufactured articles, but the work of preparation should be begun now.



The definite recognition of the status of the Department of External Affairs is a necessity for its continued useful existence. From the political, international or efficiency points of view there is no ground for continuing its position of inferiority. Sane national opinion in the Dáil and in the country will favour the existence of the Department when it is taken out of the experimental stage and frankly treated as a national necessity on a footing of equality with the other Departments. The importance attached to national status must have a definite relation in the minds of thinking people to the status of the Department mainly entrusted with matters concerning national status.

    The present absolute cost of the Department (Headquarters and six Offices abroad) is about twenty thousand pounds. The immediate additional expenditure to meet the foregoing suggestions would not be more than three or four thousand and will be very much less when the passport visa system is extended and the Consuls have fully entered on their duties.

    The Executive Council are requested to approve in principle the proper establishment of the Department irrespective of immediate financial considerations. Its work - when the long view is taken - must give results which eventually are converted into material advantages, but it should not be handicapped because its work (other than in the Passport Section) cannot be immediately tabulated in terms of cash.

    A direction from the Executive Council to the Minister for Finance that the Department shall be given the opportunity to establish itself on a proper footing has become an urgent necessity.


1 This change took place in May 1927.

2 Rosita Austin (1883-1974), entered Dáil Éireann civil service (1922), translator and librarian, Department of External Affairs (1922-48).

3 Matthew Murphy.