Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin) enclosing a memorandum (extracts printed) on a secret meeting of the League of Nations Council
(S.Gen. 20/18) (Secret)
Geneva, 23 January 1931
I enclose copy of a memorandum recording briefly the secret meeting of the Council on the night of the 22nd instant.
A copy has also been handed to the Delegation.1
This record will, of course, have to be read in conjunction with the general report on the Council to be supplied later.2
I need not emphasise that, apart from decisions to be announced tomorrow in the Council, care should be taken as to secrecy of the discussions.
A summary of the proceedings of the secret meeting held to-night (23rd inst) will be prepared as soon as possible.
The second secret meeting of the Council was held on the 22nd January 1931 at 5.30 p.m. and lasted until about 7.30.
As it had been understood that there was a possibility of Dr. Curtius supporting the Irish proposition of an American chairman, I thought it well to intervene after M. Briand. The following statement is written from recollection. It is correct as far as it goes, but is not quite complete:
Mr. Lester first expressed regret for the absence of the Minister for External Affairs who was confined to bed with an attack of influenza. Mr. McGilligan had, however, charged him to make a suggestion in view of the difficulty with which the Council was faced in the matter of a President of the Conference. There was general agreement as to the supreme importance of the Conference and it was also recognised that the degree of confidence reposed in the President would be an important factor in making for success. There were certain difficulties in selecting a chairman from Europe. Mr. Henderson had appealed to the Representatives to speak frankly, to give a candid, conscientious expression of their opinion. That was also the view of Mr. McGilligan with regard to that discussion and for that reason he had instructed Mr. Lester to suggest for the very serious consideration of the Council whether it would not be well to look outside Europe for a president. They all knew that the only difficulty about appointing a European Chairman was the political difficulty. Reference had been made to a gentleman whose name had been canvassed. That name came to the knowledge of the Irish Government only through the newspapers. In no other way had it been brought to their knowledge. It was certainly regrettable that the name had so frequently been mentioned as, in the view of previous speakers, it might seem to tie the hands of the Council. But surely when the Council was considering a matter like the Disarmament Conference they could not allow the newspapers to select the chairman. As far as his Government was concerned they had the highest esteem for the Gentleman who had been mentioned for his complete integrity and very remarkable ability. And if the Council selected him the Irish Government was sure that they would give the Conference an able and quite impartial chairman. But that was not all the case. It was in the circumstances that there were misgivings in certain quarters that led the Minister for External affairs to suggest an American Chairman. In making that suggestion he (Mr. Lester) wished it to be quite clearly understood that he did so without knowing if the statesman they had in mind would personally be willing. He might say, however, that the gentleman in question had a great deal of European experience and had taken part in most important international work. Mr. McGilligan was content that the proposition should be brought to the attention of the Council and thought it might prove to be a way out of the difficulty.
As the Council was about to adjourn, I thought we might again emphasise our suggestion, especially as it had not been directly referred to by any of the speakers. I said that I had a suggestion to make, but in regard to it I would leave myself entirely in the hands of our experienced President. It was as to whether the Council would approve of the American Government being approached with regard to their views on the Presidency and whether they would object to an American Chairman at the same time as the approach was made to them concerning their views on preparatory work. Mr. Henderson said that he understood the American Government did not at this stage wish to be associated with the question of the Presidency. M. Briand also intervened, but I cannot recall his exact remarks. I then asked whether I was right in understanding that the American Government did not wish to have an American Chairman and the President, Mr. Henderson, replied that that was his information and that it applied also to the Vice-Presidency.
It is to be understood that this report, which is strictly secret, is written from very few notes and partly from memory.