81 Evatt to Chifley

Cablegram Austdel 262 PARIS, 23 November 1948, 4 a.m.


As the messages will have informed you, the position with regard to Eire has changed very rapidly as a result of the recent talks in Paris by Peter Fraser, Pearson of Canada and Beasley and myself with United Kingdom and also Irish Ministers.

2. Prior to these talks it was the firm intention of the United Kingdom Government to announce that after the repeal of the External Relations Act Eire would automatically become a foreign country. Accordingly any benefits given to Eire over and above those given to a foreign country would probably have to cease otherwise the most favoured foreign nation clauses in many treaties would be breached. The United Kingdom Government took the matter so far as to draft a direct ultimatum to this effect which they wished the three Dominion Ministers to agree to for the purposes of being handed to Irish Ministers.

3. In the opinion of the Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Ministers the view of the United Kingdom Government was constitutionally unsound and politically suicidal. For one thing it is extremely unlikely that any foreign country would even think of the point. For another the fact that there is an exchange of rights of citizenship between Eire on the one hand and United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries on the other and also that in United Kingdom the Statute law now expressly declares that citizens of Eire are not aliens strongly negative any argument that the relationship between Commonwealth countries and Eire would be that of a British country to a foreign country.

4. I need not repeat the arguments. The Irish Delegates duly arrived and I drafted during the course of the meeting a statement intended for public use by the Eire Government when it introduced its repealing bill. The statement was drafted both from the political and legal angle and it is reproduced without any alteration whatever in the United Kingdom communication you have received as the proposed Eire statement.

5. The essence of the Eire statement is that after the repeal of the external relations act the Government will not regard countries like United Kingdom or Australia or New Zealand or Canada as foreign countries. The citizenship rights I have mentioned completely negative this idea and it is the firm intention of the Eire Government to maintain a very special association with Commonwealth countries and to strengthen that relationship. Other portions of the general undertakings which we were able to induce the Eire Ministers to give are set out in the United Kingdom telegram which you will have received. [1] The result will be to put in firm statutory form some of the privileges which are now given as a matter of executive discretion to United Kingdom and Commonwealth citizens while in Ireland.

6. After considerable thought the United Kingdom Government as now indicated in their telegram and the draft statement to be issued by them have completely reversed their position. They will now say that after repeal of the act United Kingdom and Eire will not be foreign countries. Political wisdom and second thoughts on the legal position seem to have prevailed.

7. The practical position which I suggest you might now adopt is as follows:-

(a) Answer the United Kingdom Government that having heard fully from myself you accept generally the position they will publicly indicate in their draft statement. (You will note the draft statement has already been amended in several respects, is subject also to further amendments which are being suggested by myself and will of course be communicated to you.) (b) Make a statement in the House to synchronize with the United Kingdom statement on Thursday. I suggest the form of it should be along the lines indicated in a separate telegram. [2] It will be desirable, I think, for you to read both the Irish statement and also the United Kingdom statement before making your own comment.

8. You will have seen from the exchange of documents that the Irish insist they will not be members of the British Commonwealth in the future. We cannot resist their insistence on this, regrettable though it is. You will observe from the draft statement in my following telegram that I make a special reference to Commonwealth status which it seems to me would be useful for you to make because it will clear up our own position in relation both to the King and to the use of the word British in relation to the Government.

1 Not found.

2 Cablegram AUSTDEL 263 of 23 November 1948. Not published here.

Chifley made a statement in the House of Representatives on 26 November.

[AA: A3195, 1948, 1.18643]