The visit of the Minister for External Affairs to His Majesty The King at Buckingham Palace on the 19th March1 was concerned with constitutional matters of the highest importance, namely the new procedure to be adopted by the Government of the Irish Free State in tendering advice to the King and the execution of certain documents having an international character.
It will be recalled that the report of the Imperial Conference of 1926 recorded the fact that the Governor General holds 'in all essential respects the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the Dominion as is held by His Majesty in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative or agent of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain or of any Department of that Government'. In matters of internal administration, for example, the function of assenting to Bills of Parliament, etc: advice is tendered by the Irish Government to the Governor General who, on that advice, signifies the assent of the King. In matters relating to external administration, namely the issue of full power to negotiate and conclude International Treaties, and the ratification of such Treaties, the practice has been to tender advice to the King through the Secretary of State for the Dominions in London. The advice so tendered was solely and exclusively the advice of the Irish Government, but it was tendered through the channel referred to.
The fact that that channel of communication with His Majesty was used in matters of external administration, and also the fact that the document issued by the King containing either full power to a plenipotentiary to negotiate and conclude a Treaty or the King's ratification of a Treaty was sealed with the Great Seal of the Realm, a purely British Seal, gave rise to considerable confusion in the minds of foreign Governments and of eminent International lawyers in other countries as to the precise Constitutional status of the Irish Free State and of its responsibility in International Law for the transactions concluded.
In order to remove this confusion the Irish Government expressed the view that the channel of communication heretofore used between the Governments of the States of the Commonwealth and the King should be discontinued. It was urged by them that advice tendered to the King should be communicated direct to His Majesty and not through the channel of any British Minister. It was also their view that the Seal to be used by the King on a particular document of the kind referred to should be a seal struck, kept, and released by the Government of the Irish Free State on whose advice the document was issued by the King.
The arrangement now made is that the Government of the Irish Free State will advise His Majesty direct, and that the channel of communication heretofore used, namely the Secretary of State for the Dominions, will no longer be used. In addition, a Seal will be struck in the Irish Free State to be used on all documents of that kind referred to issued by the King on the advice of the Government of the Irish Free State and on which the Great Seal of the Realm has been used heretofore. The new Seal will be the property of the Irish Free State, and will be struck, kept, and controlled in the Irish Free State. A Signet Seal will also be struck, and will be affixed by the Minister for External Affairs on all documents relating to the Irish Free State issued by His Majesty on the advice of the Government of the Irish Free State other than those on which the Great Seal of the Realm has heretofore been used. These developments mark another stage in the success of the policy of the Irish Government to bring Constitutional forms into conformity with the Constitutional position now existing.