No. 46 NAI Gavan Duffy Papers 1125/13

Extract from a letter by George Gavan Duffy to Desmond FitzGerald (Dublin)
(Copy)

Brussels, 9 September 1920

[Matter omitted]
About 8.30 p.m. on the 31st Aug, a messenger came to the Grand Hotel from Millerand.1 M.[ichael] M.[acWhite] was present. The messenger speaking with extraordinary trepidation, told me he was instructed by the Premier to request me to leave France by the following day. I asked if this was definite. He said that it was absolutely definite and that a formal order of expulsion would be issued at once if I did not submit. I said I could not imagine any reason for this move. He said he had been given none. I said I desired to see Millerand personally the next day. He said he would report this. He hinted without particularising, that the French Govt. were compelled by outside pressure to a step which they took with the utmost reluctance. (There is no doubt whatever, from enquiries which I set on foot since in authoritative quarters, that the Br. Embassy was at the bottom of the whole business). He said further that a ticket and sleeper would be put at my disposal for any place I chose outside France and enquired where I would go. I said that if the order was final and I had to leave I should certainly go to England en route for home.

Next day, Sept 1st Millerand turned out to be out of town. M.M. saw the official in charge of the matter, M. Sicard who is liaison officer between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Surete General (General Police control). He confirmed what the messenger had said - I must leave that night and I could not see Millerand because he was away. The decision was irrevocable. But he added I could not go to London. I could choose between Switzerland and Belgium. At the end of the interview he said he MM had just got a further message to the effect that Belgium alone was to be open to me.

Both this man and the messenger Ferrier of the previous night were as polite and apologetic as they could possibly be. Both let it be understood that France was acting under compulsion, though speaking very evasively and indefinitely on this.

There was no doubt then (and there is no doubt now as a result of special enquiries) that the sole cause was my appeal to Millerand and its publication (together with the immense and sympathetic publicity given to this and the Lord Mayor's case and to Ireland generally in the French press). I was then faced with the alternative of insisting on a formal order of expulsion and being treated accordingly or acquiescing in the informal verbal order. I chose the latter course, because it seemed more consistent with the dignity of the Govt. of the I.[rish] R.[epublic], because it left open the possibility of no open breach between France and Ireland, because I had good hope that, given time, the matter would be reconsidered and because I had from Sicard the valuable promise of being allowed to return a week later for 3 days, necessary to leave the Delegation's affairs in order. Following this determination I left with Sicard my passport for the Belgian visa.

I hope this decision, to go without expulsion decree, will meet with the Executive's approval.

I came to Brussels, arriving here on the morning of the 2nd September, and took rooms at the Grand Hotel where I have stayed since.

In the meantime Downing St. has published the news gleefully, and the French F.O., while issuing no official statement whatever, has given out semi-officially a number of fables, designed to attenuate its fault, and these statements do not even all agree. It is not true 1. That I left of my own accord, 2. That I agreed it would be better to cease my work in France or to go away for a few days till the storm blew over, 3. That I or M.M. had any conversation whatever with any French official in which any objection was made to my previous conduct or to the 'violence' of my 'anti-British' propaganda or even to the real cause of my expulsion, the Millerand letter (save only that Sicard said to M.M. that I must recognise I had violated somewhat my duty towards French hospitality, this being a veiled reference to the Millerand letter, and nothing more precise of any kind being vouchsafed as explanation). In fact it is not true that any offer was made to me, or that any negotiations of any kind took place as to the terms on which I might stay.

The whole question was 'Will you get out to-night or must we kick you out?'

I naturally feel indignant at the lies to which the French Government have lent themselves, but I am trying to exclude all personal feeling and have, so far, kept silence. I may be driven to making a statement, but I should like to have instructions first or let the statement (if any be made) issue from H.Q. in Dublin or from me after hearing from you.

The position now is this.

  1. From reliable sources there is reason to believe that the French Govt. is very sorry it took the step, which diplomats blame as a blunder, because it recognises the active existence of a diplomatically non-existent Envoy, and because it may not only offend Ireland but also alienate American opinion; therefore, if I return for 3 days, it is likely I may be told I may return 10 days later and that if I then stay and don't make a noise, nothing more will be said. Would this backstairs entry be approved of ? (It would, incidentally involve silence as to the offences of the French Govt. in trying to exculpate itself.)
  2. The K.C. people are back in Paris. M.M. is to see them to-day. They are in a position to exact honourable amends and unconditional return. But I don't know yet what they will do. It is on account of their power to settle the matter that I have stayed here so far. I have no doubt of their power if only the head men have the will.
  3. The return for 3 days is certainly open to me. But I can hardly take advantage of it if it turns out that conditions are attached, and I am asked to sign them as if I had committed an offence. I do not yet know whether I shall be properly treated in this respect.
  4. S.T. and Sean O'B will be in Paris in a day or two. M.M. came here yesterday to inform me of the position and returned last night.
  5. On the general question of policy I submit we should not attack the French Govt. if we can help it, for they are not the French people, while (on the other hand) any attack on the Govt. will at once rally to the Govt. a lot of French opinion now friendly to us, for they can't stand attacks by foreigners on their leaders. As against that there is some reason to believe that Mac's wire to Walsh from P. and mine from here (per French express route) have been held up by France. Anyway Walsh has not replied. If it turns out cables were stopped by France, that, as I see it, would be such an outrage, in the circumstances, that we should have no option but to raise hell over the whole business. The American reporters are only too anxious to cable anything we give out. We have abstained so far. There is a very real feeling for us throughout France in nearly all quarters (though some attacks have been purposely inspired since I was fired out - appeals to prejudice chiefly) and I don't want to tread on French toes if I can help it. Finally, if (I) Walsh's wires were not stopped but (II) the K.C. people only obtain such a backstairs entry as I believe to be already half open to me, then I would suggest a mild statement of facts being issued by me or by you for the dignity of the I.R. I have tried to put the position fully and clearly and trust I may have explicitly your wishes as soon as possible.

Have just received A.[rthur] G[riffith]'s interim message as to staying here for the present. Will you consider the policy of my returning to London, if negotiations fail in P. and thus inviting arrest? It would create some excitement in France and the general effect would be excellent.

George Gavan Duffy

1 Alexandre Millerand, premier of France (1920), President of France (1920-1924).


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