THE GENERAL ELECTION.

Abhdhar rúin ó Mháire nic Shuibhne, T.D.—(Motion by Miss nic Shuibhne, T.D.):—
"That this Assembly—as the sovereign Parliament of the Irish Nation—decrees that no election can be held in Ireland for three months or until the Constitution of the Free State in its final form ‘as by law established' in accordance with the Articles of Agreement signed in London on December 6th, 1921, and approved by a majority in Dáil Éireann on January 7th, 1922, shall be ready to be submitted to the Irish people."

I do not think consideration of that motion will take very long. I should like to say at the outset that in putting it on the paper I did so expecting that it would be entirely a matter of form, in order to sanction by this sovereign Assembly the agreement come to at the recent Ard Fheis. I would like to emphasise that I have not brought that motion forward here with any desire to create disturbance, to break the agreement, or any of the various reasons or suggestions which are made by some Ministers yesterday in connection with resolutions or questions brought forward. I took it in fact when I put it on the paper that it would be seconded probably by a member of the House not in agreement with my views and passed unanimously. That is the spirit in which I put it forward and I only did so because any agreement come to by an association such as the Convention of the Ard Fheis was would be signed by people concerned more in their capacity as private citizens or members of a political organisation and has not the force which a Decree of this House would have.

I want at the outset to make it quite clear that I would resent very much any suggestion that in proposing this I am in any way desirous of postponing or obstructing an expression of the will of the people. The only object of our coming to an agreement at the Ard Fheis was in order that the Irish people may not be fooled again, and if, as it was said, Ulster knew the Constitution with which she should have to be associated it is to my mind far more important that Ireland should not come to a decision until Ireland knows the association under which she will have to live. It was in the interests of Ireland getting exact particulars of that Constitution without any possibility whatever of the change of a comma afterwards by anybody in or outside of Ireland—in the interests of the Irish people —that agreement was made in the Ard Fheis and that I bring this forward now. I, therefore, take it that it will be passed unanimously by the House and I think it would be a good thing if it were seconded by one of the other side.

I want to ask a question. As Miss MacSwiney states it is merely for ratification will she make it "that the agreement entered into is hereby ratified"?

I want it just as it is here. I cannot see why the President would object to it. Perhaps he would tell me the grounds of his objections. It seems to me there is nothing to object to.

I do not quite know why Miss MacSwiney, if she wants the agreement ratified, objects to that—that the agreement entered into be ratified.

If we are to have a discussion perhaps it would be as well to have it seconded.

In answer to the President's question, again I see no reason for a change. I consider my motion is just as good as any amendment he can offer. If he has any objection to any word in it I would like to hear that objection. I know the Irish people will believe me when I say that I do not mean this dishonestly.

I propose as an amendment—

"That the agreement entered into be and is hereby ratified."

Miss MacSwiney has stated she wants the agreement ratified. This amendment provides for ratification of the agreement. If that is all she wants this amendment provides for it and it can be seconded and disposed of without further discussion.

I second that amendment.

On a point of order, I would really like if the President would explain what sinister motive he thinks I have. I have said three times over I have none. Honestly, I cannot help suspecting a sinister motive in crossing out my motion for no reason I can see. I am not used to any sort of political dodgery of this kind. My motion is perfectly straight-forward and I cannot see why it should be objected to. Would the President point out to me what implications he thinks that I have, for I do not know myself? If he is going to make it a contentious question then I will ask the Irish people to judge between us in the matter. I mean no implications.

As the proposer of the amendment, I would like to say that the objection to this document, in the form it is put forward, is that instead of asking for ratification of an agreement it is construing an agreement. If she merely wants the agreement ratified we all know the ratification object is what she professes to want.

As the seconder of the amendment, I would like to say that this agreement was come to in the Ard-Fheis after about two or three hours careful thought. It was carefully worded, as it should be, as it was a very important agreement. Miss MacSwiney proposes to completely change the wording. She proposes to pass into law an agreement which says the same thing but which is worded in an entirely different way and to do all that in about ten minutes. Now it took three hours to word the agreement that was come to at the Ard-Fheis so that it would exactly express what was meant by all parties, and what is the object of bringing up another agreement here now, professing to mean the same thing, but differently worded, if it is not for the mere purpose of obstruction? Here we are on both sides, we want the same thing. We were all satisfied at the Ard-Fheis when the agreement was before us. It was very carefully drafted; every detail was thought out. It was done in a proper way. Deputy Miss MacSwiney comes along to-day, meaning the same thing and she produces an agreement worded in an entirely different way —with phrases brought into it in inverted commas. What is the object of that? Do we want to do our business or do we not? We did business at the Ard-Fheis. What is the use of re-doing it in a different way here to-day?

I am in thorough agreement with Deputy Hogan's remarks. Let us see what happened at the Ard-Fheis. President Griffith gave an undertaking. Deputy de Valera professed himself absolutely satisfied with that undertaking. Now Deputy Miss MacSwiney proposes that we pass a law in order that President Griffith and Mr. M. Collins keep the undertaking which they gave at the Ard-Fheis. This kind of legislation—legislation to ensure an honourable undertaking given by two parties in this Assembly—does not appeal to me as a profitable way of spending the time of this Assembly. Let us face the realities of the situation. It is just a little like "Nero fiddling while Rome is burning." We are on the verge of a Post Office strike and there are 150,000 people out of employment in the country and we sit here fiddling.

The purpose of this motion is to ensure that an agreement relating to the Constitution of this House shall be taken official cognisance of.

That is the purpose of the amendment.

I think it is to obstruct the business and to prevent anything tangible being done to give effect to that agreement.

As I proposed the amendment I would like to reply to that. If you are ratifying an agreement ratify the agreement in the words in which the agreement was entered into. The resolution which is brought forward, while it professes to be for the purpose of ratifying the agreement is really for the purpose of ratifying the agreement plus words which are not in the agreement. My amendment means absolutely what Miss MacSwiney wants.

ACTING SPEAKER:

I have to call Deputies to order for speaking twice.

On a point of personal explanation, am I in order in saying my statement about ratifying the agreement applied to one thing? I expected a unanimous decision of the House on this motion. The motion was not brought forward to ratify the agreement at all, and I never said so. I said that owing to the agreement I expected a unanimous decision. The motion is to safeguard the interests of the Irish people. I see no reason, in face of the agreement, why it should be refused.

There is one reason I see. Three months was the time specified in the agreement. Now —a week later—there is another three months put in. I have a suspicion of these alterations of dates. The proposed Decree is not exactly in accordance with the agreement that was come to. Why not put in the agreement and say let that be the Decree? That is not what is being done. If every agreement that one side comes to with another has to be made the subject of a Decree we will be kept very busy here, and I do not know the necessity for it. If there is a suspicion that either side does not mean to keep the agreement let us have it.

A Chinn Comhairle, I was interrupted by the Minister for Home Affairs, on a point of order, and I sat down. Now, Sir, with regard to the amendment which has been suggested I say it is a wholly improper amendment, because it takes cognisance of a good many other things than are within the power of this Assembly to take cognisance of. By a Decree of the Dáil we are not going to try and bind political organisations in their legitimate functions. We are going if we can to give the greatest possible opportunity to political organisations in this country. We are not going to say they are to be governed by such and such persons. If we pass the amendment in its present form it would make it impossible if within three months the Ard-Fheis of Sinn Féin desired to ask for a conciliation of that agreement or to have it modified in any form. The Sinn Féin organisation is to be governed by the Officer Board and the Officer Board only. Now the motion is entirely proper; it relates only to the elections and it must take notice of that agreement because the agreement itself refers to the Constitution of this House, and it only asks that the agreement, so far as it relates to the Constitution of this House, be regularised by a Decree of this Assembly. I think it is a perfectly proper one to submit. There is no force in the point which has been made by the Minister for Local Government that we are attempting to take advantage of the wording. I am sure the proposer of the motion will agree with me and will assent to it that by three months we understand three months dating from the date of the agreement. Apart altogether from that, it is laid down in the agreement that when the Constitution of the Free State in its final form, as by law established, and approved by the majority of Dáil Éireann shall be ready to be submitted to the Irish people on that date an election can be called. It may be earlier than three months or later, but at all events there is absolutely no idea in the mind of the proposer of taking advantage of a mere quibble of dates to withhold the elections for a day or so longer. I submit therefore that we are quite in order in asking the House in exercise of the powers vested in it, for a Decree that no election be held for three months.

As one of the parties to the agreement, I say that undoubtedly there is matter in this agreement which is extraneous to the work of the Dáil. The Dáil is concerned with 2 (C) of the agreement: "That no Parliamentary elections shall be held and that when held the Constitution of the Saorstát in its final form shall be presented at the same time as the Articles of Agreement." It is that particular item of agreement which ought to be confirmed here by simply stating that Article 2 (C) of the agreement signed on February 22nd at the Ard-Fheis stipulating "that no Parliamentary elections shall be held and that when held the Constitution of the Saorstát in its final form shall be presented at the same time as the Articles of Agreement" be and is hereby confirmed. That is the article that we wish to have confirmed. The question of interpretation comes in. What is meant by the Constitution in its final form? That question was asked at the Ard-Fheis and the answer I gave satisfied the President at the time. The answer was that it is the form in which the present Cobinet of Dáil Éireann will present the Conairle stitution to the Irish people and the form in which they are ready to stand by or to fall by. In other words, that is the form in which if it is not accepted they are willing to ask the Irish nation to repudiate the whole Treaty.

Yes; that is exactly so.

That is the interpretation I give to-day. That was the interpretation in my mind. I understand that in another place an attempt to change it may be made. Undoubtedly, the present Executive will have an opportunity of negotiating or conferring and they will have an opportunity of getting assurances if they want them. The point for the Irish people to know is that if the Executive of Dáil Éireann—the majority party—finds that a comma is changed in that Constitution as they present it they will be in a position to repudiate the whole agreement. Therefore we will be together if by any chance such a thing were to happen. That changes may be attempted we know. As far as I am concerned my attitude all the time has been this: I am against the Treaty, but as long as the majority of this House is trying to get whatever its policy is to get, and if we are not able to secure the majority I hope we will secure, I am for backing them up. I have said that and I will stand by it. I am anxious and was anxious in coming to this agreement that the whole Irish people should again be united. I believe there will be trickery and I believe that those who are working for the present agreement will find that—and very soon. I wish not merely that this Constitution should be before the people but I wish also that the arbitration, which the Minister of Finance talks about so lightly, and the fact that Ireland will get rid of burdens so lightly, should also be decided. I think, if there is to be fairness to the people of Belfast, there ought to be fairness to the people of the rest of Ireland. It is only fair that if they (the people of Belfast) are going to see what they are going to commit themselves to, the people of the rest of Ireland should see what they are going to commit themselves to. I believe, when the Irish people realise to the full what they are committing themselves to by the terms of the Treaty, that they will do that which will do them honour and reject it completely. As I said before "To be pitied are those who do wrong and are poor after it." We want to ensure, no matter what policy is set before the Irish people, that they will not be poor after it if the wrong course is taken.

Now we are getting clearer. Obviously there will be no election this year, and obviously there will be no election next year. We will be kept here talking.

The Deputy has spoken already on the motion.

ACTING SPEAKER:

He is in order.

I suppose I may be allowed the privilege to speak without interruption.

ACTING SPEAKER:

You are in order this time.

We have been just treated to another dissertation on the Treaty. I thought that had been discussed at considerable length and that we would hear no more about it until the elections, except from the platforms —that, as far as this House at any rate was concerned, we would not hear any more about it. I bring the attention of the Dáil back to the day on which the debate opened—14th December—and it will be within the recollection——

Is this in order?

Mr. De Valera can speak as long as he likes about the Treaty. He can point out the pitfalls.

On a point of order, I wanted to explain a material point.

I move that the question be now put.

After eight days, we got Document No. 2. It was discussed for three days and it was gagged after the third day.

I move that the question be now put.

Then Document No. 2 became Document No. 3 and Document No. 3 having been ineffective——

What is the point of this?

I am coming to it. Having disposed of Document No. 3, I am now coming to the agreement of the Ard-Fheis. The Ard-Fheis agreement was that until the Constitution was before us there would be no election. Now another point comes along. If you look up Document No. 3 you will find precisely the same arrangement in it that there is in the Treaty regarding the financial adjustment between the two countries.

ACTING SPEAKER:

Try to keep to the order on the paper.

If members of the House talk about every question——

I have a special reason for what I am doing. After dealing with the Constitution, which we are providing three months to have framed, we are now coming along to the financial arrangements. It is pointed out there are great pitfalls. "We are simple but we are honest." That sort of simple honesty will not do. People want something more than simplicity. They want business. The proposal is going to be that three months is not enough. If five months be given it will not be enough. In twelve months time they still will not be ready. These are people who can never make up their minds about anything. They are always watching out to see if they can get somebody else to make up their minds. I am satisfied, from what I have seen here and from what I have heard and from the proposals still on the Agenda, that it is not the intention of the minority to have an election within three months. They wish to postpone the issue; they are afraid to meet the people; they were afraid from the beginning to put the issue before the people. If they are not afraid, there is no necessity for all these precautions.

I think I have a form of words that will make it clear—"That the agreement entered into by the Ard-Fheis, in so far as it concerns the Dáil, be and is hereby ratified."

Let us be specific. I would suggest that we simply say that this Assembly as the Sovereign Parliament of the Irish Nation decrees that Article No. 2 (C) signed at the Ard-Fheis on February 22nd be and is hereby ratified, namely "That no Parliamentary elections shall be held and that when held the Constitution of the Saorstát in its final form shall be presented at the same time as the Articles of Agreement."

Any statements I made were made as a party to the agreement, in order to make quite clear the construction that was placed upon it by the signatories in so far as I was able to understand it. I gave my own interpretation, and it has been accepted by the President as being the same as his interpretation. I wanted to make it quite clear that it was a reasonable interpretation. I wanted also to make clear what my personal attitude in coming to the agreement was. That was the sole object of my speech.

You did not put the time limit of three months.

That date is on the agreement.

You have also left out Paragraph 2 (B) which concerns the Dáil.

It concerns the Dáil but it does not require a Decree.

Amendment proposed by Mr. Duggan and seconded by Mr. Stack:

"That this Assembly as the Sovereign Parliament of the Irish nation, decrees that the following agreement entered into at the Ard-Fheis on February 22nd, 1922, in so far as it relates to the Dáil and the elections, be and the same is hereby ratified:—

‘In order to avoid a division of the Sinn Féin organization, to avert the danger to the country of an immediate election, to give an opportunity to the signatories of the London agreement to draft the Constitution, so that when the people are asked to vote in elections to decide between the Republic and the Saorstát, the Constitution of the latter may be definitely before them, it is hereby agreed that:—

‘(1) This Ard-Fheis shall stand adjourned for three months.

‘(2) That in the meantime:—

‘(a) The Officer Board of the Organization shall act as Standing Committee.

‘(b) Dáil Éireann shall meet regularly and continue to function in all of its Departments as before the signing of the Articles of Agreement and that no vote in Dáil Éireann shall be regarded as a Party vote requiring the resignation of the President and the Cabinet.

‘(c) That no Parliamentary elections shall be held and that when held the Constitution of the Saorstát in its final form shall be presented at the same time as the Articles of Agreement.

‘(3) That this agreement shall be submitted to the Ard-Fheis and if approved shall be binding.

‘(Signed) Eamonn de Valera.

‘Aibhistin de Staic.

‘Art O Gríobhtha.

Mícheál O Coileáin.'"

I would like to speak about that for a moment. I had not this agreement of the Ard Fheis before me when I wrote my motion. Its object was to safeguard the people of Ireland so that they would have, as Ulster has, the right not to come to a decision until they knew what they were doing. The reason I hesitated about this is because I believe—any Deputy on the other side of the House who does not believe it would want to look his history up—that Lloyd George is out to fool the people of Ireland again as he has done in the past. My hesitation about this amendment is on the point that "in its final form" means "in its final form." Now, I am going to say straight out where I see the danger. The Constitution may be drawn up in its final form according as the members responsible want it. They may wish to stand by it and if it is a very good Constitution—the better it is the better chance they have of getting it through at the elections— they will be returned by a large majority. Have we got an assurance that after they have won and the Treaty and the Constitution have been accepted by the Irish people and the Republic has been dis-established that, "in its final form" will not mean that Lloyd George may come along and tamper with it? The present members of the opposition —the majority of the House in opposition to the Republic—now say they will not tolerate any change. But they will have a new House to deal with then. I want to safeguard the people against irrevocably committing themselves to the Treaty. Now I believe that the present Ministers want to be quite honest in this matter and that they are going to do their best to see that Lloyd George does not fool them again. To look at recent history, Mr. Michael Collins was told the Boundary Commission would deal with large territories. Sir James Craig was told the reverse. Lloyd George says he never said there were large territories involved, while we were all given to understand that we were to get Tyrone and Fermanagh. I am very glad to believe that no member of this House or in this country can equal Lloyd George in trickery or scoundrelism, but I tell you you have got to mind what "in its final form" means. I take it that the Constitution and the Treaty are not to be submitted to the people until it is beyond the power of Lloyd George or anybody who succeeds him to alter a comma. In that spirit, accepted by both sides of the House, I agree to that amendment as proposed.

The assembly then agreed to have Miss MacSwiney's resolution withdrawn and the Acting Speaker put the amendment in the form in which it was read, and declared it carried.

ACTING SPEAKER:

I wish to say that I have given permission to Deputy Seamus Mac Gearailt to raise a question on the adjournment.

SEUMAS MAC GEARAILT:

I will raise the question on the adjournment this evening.

The House adjourned for luncheon at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 4.5 p.m., MR. DE ROISTE in the Chair.