Location: Mansion House Round Room. Public meeting.
Mr. DE VALERA, speaking in Irish, said it was fitting that the Dáil should make a solemn pronouncement on the League of Nations, thus demonstrating that Ireland was not selfish or self-absorbed, recognising no obligation to anyone else. They were eager to take part in every great world-undertaking that the peoples of the world should impose upon themselves for the good of all, and to undertake the full duties of a free nation. They were ready to enter any League of Nations in which each nation would be under the obligation not to resort to arms against another nation in the League without first submitting the matter at issue to a Court of Arbitration. But they were not prepared to enter the League as it was appearing at present.
Speaking in English, he stated that the Government of the Irish Republic wanted to tell the world that they were willing to take their part in the world's affairs, to undertake responsibility corresponding to the rights given to them; that they were ready to become a constituent unit of the League of Nations based on the only principle on which it could stand, namely, equality of rights among nations great and small. He had a number of quotations indicating the attitude of various States during the war towards this question, and it was obvious they recognised during the war that the one great thing to be aimed at was a peace which would be a lasting peace. It was his view that a lasting peace was very unlikely to be attained if either side won a sweeping victory.
In an interview with a representative of an American paper before he (Mr. de Valera was arrested he was about to state his belief that if President Wilson's principles were about to triumph they could only triumph if there was a cessation of hostilities and if neither side won a complete victory. He had, he said, a pamphlet containing a speech delivered by President Wilson to the American Senate before America went into the war, which contained the following:—
President Woodrow Wilson’s speech to US Senate, 22 January 1917.
"Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor's terms imposed on the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation under duress at intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest not permanently, but only on quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last, only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit. The right state of mind, the right feeling between nations, is as necessary for a lasting peace as is the just settlement of vexed questions of territory or of racial and national allegiance. The equality of nations upon which peace must be founded, if it is to last, must be an equality of right; the guarantee exchanged must neither recognise nor imply a difference between big nations and small —between those that are powerful and those that are weak."
That, Mr. de Valera continued, expressed what were his feelings and those of three-fourths of the Irish people. There had not been a peace without victory—there had been a peace with victory (hear, hear). There was a great danger that President Wilson might lose sight of the fact that the principles he then enunciated were the real principles, and that he might be tempted under the pressure to which he was subjected, to forget them, and one of the objects in bringing forward this question now was that they might send him a message that if he stood by these principles now that a victory had been won, as firmly as he did before America went into the war, then there was one nation that would stand behind him anyhow, and that nation was the Irish nation.
To get a League of Nations founded required something more than the feeling that was in the hearts of the plain people. That feeling was, he firmly believed, in three-fourths of the world, but the people in whose hearts it was were unable to express it. It was only when that feeling formed in the hearts of the men who had the power that it could be made effective. And in the case of President Wilson he had the power. It was for the common people to fall in behind him and tell him they would support him no matter what pressure was brought against him. It was not sufficient for them to admire his principles. They should be ready to stand behind him and tell him that he would have their support in the carrying out of those principles. It was necessary that the plain people all over the world be organised in order to back him up.
"As far as we are concerned," said Mr. de Valera, "we will back him up if he wishes to establish a League of Nations in which equality and right amongst nations is the foundation stone. He needed that backing up, because of the position in which he was, and the fact that the whole world, from the Socialist in Berne to themselves in the Irish Republic, looked to him as leader in this crisis. The whole hope of the world was in him, and if they wished him to be strong they should tell him that they were ready to back him up. If they were simply individuals, without organisation they would be but as a flock of sheep."
Socialist International formed in Berne, Switzerland, 3-9 February 1919.
The new form which the League of Nations appeared to be taking now, continued the speaker, was simply the form of tyranny. It simply meant an association to perpetuate power for those who had got it, and to keep for ever in slavery those who had been kept in slavery by international rules, as they were called, but which were simply the rules of thieves for regulating their conduct amongst themselves. The people of America, enjoying liberty themselves, and having had to fight for it themselves against a Dominating Power, understand what liberty is. They had been long enough at the head of neutral nations before entering the war to be able to calmly judge what the war meant for the world and what a lasting peace would mean for the world. They had got out of the war probably with less sacrifice than any other nation, and they could look to them with confidence.
"We must try and save France from herself," said Mr. de Valera. If there is a Peace imposed on Germany now, there will be a desire for revenge on the part of the German people later on. The new Treaty will be violated like the Treaty of Versailles, and another war of revenge must surely follow. Therefore, while we can sympathise with France, and understand her attitude, we must remember that as far as that country is concerned she is suffering from too many terrible wounds to be calm at present. It is for those who have suffered less to compose France and to try to save her from an act that would endanger her future. We are here on behalf of the Irish people, and we are quite ready to take our part in a League of Nations which has as its foundation equality and right among nations. We hold that the subjection of any nation to another is slavery, and it is not we alone who hold that doctrine.
Mr. de Valera quoted Lecky in his book on "Democracy and Liberty":
—"Every government of one Nationality by another is of the nature of slavery, and is essentially illegitimate, and the true right of nations is the recognition of the full right of each nationality to acquire and maintain a separate existence, to create or to change its Government, according to its desires."
W. E. H. Lecky, historian, essayist, political theorist and Unionist MP for University of Dublin 1895 to 1903. His “A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century” was popular among nationalists.
"That," said Mr. de Valera, "expresses our opinion upon this question, and we say that no peace can last, or ought to last, in which that principle is not recognised, and acted on. If a League of Nations is formed in which that principle is recognised, then we are ready to enter and take part in it and to accept the responsibilities which will follow from the enjoyment of its rights. It is quite clear that the Covenant as it exists at present is not by any means a democratic Covenant. It cannot be accepted by the people of the world, and it is merely setting up a new and still greater tyranny than before. If we want a Covenant to be really lasting it must be based on the principles which occupied 10 of the 14 points of President Wilson—the rights of every nation to self-determination. We take up these principles because they are right, and we take them up particularly because the acceptance of these principles will mean that the long fight for Irish Liberty is at an end."
Mr. P. O'KEEFFE claimed that Ireland could justly address the nations, for she was the oldest, and perhaps the most illustrious, of the European nations. Her people had declared their will to nationhood three years ago, and again four months ago, in unmistakeable terms. She would enter a League of Nations with no underhand reservations. But if Ireland was excluded from the League, there would be no peace in Ireland—no peace in America —for the Irish Americans would see to that—and no peace in the world.
Mr. R. MULCAHY, speaking in Irish, said that the 14 points could only be effectively put into force if the order under which the peoples lived was changed. It involved political reconstruction inside the nations as well as above them. At Berne the Socialists had demanded a League of Peoples instead of a League of States. But he believed that the people of Ireland understood the issue better than did the socialists, and Ireland had an important part to play in the development of world policy in this respect.
Mr. S. MCENTEE declared that in the draft of the League of Nations there was no orifice for the entrance of the one breath of liberty. It was designed to stand as a vast field for arbitrary imperial power, and was a monster striving to subject the rights and liberties of smaller nations. He (Mr. McEntee) had no faith in President Wilson, whom he described as the Machiavelli of the new world, who used guile and treachery to accomplish his ends.
He believed President Wilson had a deep and secret purpose when he hoped to impose a sham League of Nations on prostrate humanity, and that it was meant to make smooth and easy the subjection of small peoples at the hands of a huge commercial empire. He (Mr. McEntee) would support the Presidential statement and vote for it, but not because he believed that out of this instrument of evil any good could come. A real League of Nations must be reared in the hearts and by the good-will of the common people.
Mr. MCCABE thought that the Ministry was well advised in having the question fully ventilated in Public Session, because it gave the country an excellent opportunity for voicing its belief in President Wilson's ideals. Although Ireland could carry on the struggle to ultimate victory whether the ideal of a League of Nations was recognised or not, he thought it was a duty they owed themselves as well as the world to lend a hand to the man who was at present fighting for its realisation.
The President could not think of admitting the yellow races on terms of equality, and there could be no real world League without equality. A powerful, self-respecting, and ambitious nation like Japan would never come in on any other terms, and who could blame her. There could be no perpetual peace while 500 millions of yellow men and 300 millions of Indians were treated as outcasts by the rest of the world. The Labour Internationale, being a phase of a Peace League, was an accomplished fact, and, thanks to the excellent impression created by their representatives at Berne, he did not think there was any League, born or unborn, that would listen more sympathetically to their claims than that body.
US President, Woodrow Wilson. During negotiations to form League of Nations, Japan wanted a clause upholding the principle of racial equality. Deeply opposed, particularly by American political sentiment.
Mr. J. O'DOHERTY regretted that the Ministerial statement did not include any reference to the Internationale at Berne—the body to which they should look for those proposals which would make the world safe for democracy. A repudiation of that body sitting in Paris would be more instrumental in gaining recognition of their status as an independent State than perhaps all the principles set out by President Wilson. The Internationale had recognised Ireland as a unit in the comity of nations, and Ireland's voice could be raised there.
Socialist International formed in Berne, Switzerland, 3 - 9 February 1919.
In the opinion of Mr. H. BOLAND, President Wilson had enough to bear without having this covenant of the League of Nations fathered on him. Any scheme built up by the British Government and by the Cecils must necessarily be evil to Ireland. The League of Nations was incompatible with the British Empire, and he thought they should repudiate there that day the League drawn up at Paris.
Mr. GINNELL, while agreeing with many of the comments, could not bring himself to the point of repudiating President Wilson until he knew he was guilty. If, after having posed as the Leader of a new international ideal, and having nurtured hope in the hearts of suffering peoples, he withdrew from that high level, all fair minded, liberty-loving people would in their hearts condemn and repudiate him. That was the severest punishment that could befall a man in President Wilson's position, because he would go down to history as either one or other of two things—the greatest man the world had ever produced, or its greatest humbug. President Wilson had yet ample time to make his words good. He thought they should send a cordial communication without any reservation except what was implied in the facts.
Mr. T. MCSWINEY said it was obvious that all the House was of one mind as regards the Credentials of the League of Nations being formed in Paris, for no League would be permanent if small and large nations were not admitted on equal terms. It could not be permanent if Germany and the neutral countries were not equally admitted. Ireland was the test case.
Mr. BURKE (Mid-Tipperary) expressed the view that it would be unwise to support any League of Nations without waiting to see whether its fine principles would be put into operation or not.
Mr. A. GRIFFITH reminded the assembly that they were not drawing up a scheme for a League of Nations, but asking the Dáil to support the principles enunciated by President Wilson. In saying that President Wilson should be executed before being found guilty, they were but following the example of England in Ireland. It was none of their business to insinuate that President Wilson was going to play them false. He was fighting to maintain his points and was fighting against England, France and Italy, and their message should be that they were with him in the principles he had enunciated.
MADAME MARKIEVICZ said some of their members were deluded by the English Press. They saw that President Wilson's telegram the other day was held up for two days in London. They were judging in the dark. They had the word of President Wilson and they should not be influenced by the inspired articles of the Press of the Government that was ruling this country.
Mr. LIAM DE ROISTE said the Irish nation would take its stand on the side of the rights of small nations and the rights of democracy.
Mr. M. COLLINS stated that the motion the Ministry wished to have adopted was:
"The elected Parliament and Government of the Irish Republic pledged the active support of the Irish Nation in translating into deeds the principles enunciated by the President of the U.S. at Washington's tomb on July 4th, 1918, and whole-heartedly accepted by the people of America during the war. We are eager and ready to enter a World League of Nations based on equality of rights, in which the guarantees exchanged neither recognise nor imply a difference between big nations and small, between those that are powerful and those that are weak. We are willing to accept all the duties, responsibilities, and burdens which inclusion in such a League implies."
Speech in which President Woodrow Wilson stated his war aims:
“What we seek is the reign of law, based upon the consent of the governed and sustained by the organised opinion of mankind.”
The principles enunciated by President Wilson, Mr. Collins said, would damage only the very allies they were issued to save. It was going to be a great diplomatic tug-o'-war between Lloyd George and the French "Tiger" on the one hand, and President Wilson and the democratic forces of the world on the other hand. If President Wilson got the support he desired the hypocrites would be dished.
Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France, 16 November 1917 to 20 January 1920; nicknamed “Le Tigre”.
The motion was seconded by Mr. W. COSGRAVE and passed.