In moving the second stage of this Amnesty Bill we expect the Dáil will agree that it is not so much the terms of an Act of Parliament in a case such as this, but rather the meaning we attach to a proposal of this sort, which really matters. This Act is for the purpose of indemnifying persons who supported the British Government for the last few years, by carrying out orders, or being in any way responsible for acts, which would be or might be the subject of legal proceedings. The terms of the proclamation of the late Commander-in-Chief were a little bit wider than what was proposed in the Act. It was the spirit of the proclamation that he wished to see carried out in asking every citizen to assist and support the underlying principle that was embodied in a proclamation of that sort. This is a cold, legal, formal Amnesty Bill, and it is in that spirit that it is put forward. It simply insures persons who have been engaged on the British side for the last few years against actions at law for acts which may have been done. I am glad to be able to announce the release of the Connaught Rangers, which is agreed to be a further proof of the British Government's desire to efface bitter memories of the recent trouble. The difficulties in the way of a complete amnesty were known, having regard to the way with which the case was viewed from the severe standpoint of the British Army, and in ordering the release of those prisoners the British Government gave proof that it has acted in the spirit of goodwill towards us and towards the Irish people everywhere. We are now carrying out our own side of the contract, and in that spirit I put it to the Dáil and formally move the Second Reading of the Bill.
AMNESTY (BRITISH MILITARY) BILL.
I beg to second it.
While offering no particular objection to the principles of the Bill, and not much objection, perhaps, to the details, and while saying we are all very glad to hear of the release of the Connaught Rangers, I would be glad if the President would be able to say whether there is any likelihood of some other prisoners still in British custody being released. I think, if my recollection is right, that Dowling who landed on the coast of Clare in 1918, about the Conscription period, is still in prison. In addition to that—I do not know whether anything could be done at the moment—but I would like an assurance that the Government is not passing the matter over without consideration, the fact that a number, not a very large number of prisoners, citizens of the Free State are in the custody of the Belfast Government. There are one or two— one at all events to my own knowledge, who is undergoing a very long sentence of penal servitude altogether out of proportion to the offence, if there was any offence committed, and I should like an assurance from the President that these cases will be looked into.
There is just one small point, or two, perhaps— the first is really a Committee point which I will raise later. The question I would like to raise now, is in regard to a particular class of cases which were ruled out of the compensation claims, and of which there are a very large number of instances. These were cases of theft— commandeering without authority of motor cars, and the taking of goods out of shops, not coming under the title of official looting, but known to everybody in the neighbourhood as looting. I understand that there is no claim against any fund whatever in regard to these cases, although it is known quite well that the culprits were servants under the British Crown at the time. It seems to me if we pass this Bill in this form we cut off any chance of relief to those who suffered this loss, and we are exonerating crime. These acts, no doubt, were not accepted as being committed by servants of the British Crown in Ireland, and by passing this Bill in this form we are exonerating those people, who happen to have been British servants, and the claim that I am putting forward is that if there is going to be a general amnesty against all persons who happen to have been British servants, there ought to be some way of compensating those who suffered from thefts committed by those people, and where the case is clearly provable to the ordinary citizen, although perhaps not legally provable against any individual, I hope that a way will be found to compensate in some fashion or other those who suffered. The class of case I am referring to is that in which claims for damages, when put forward in the courts, have been ruled out as mere larceny, but larceny that is known in a general way to be attributable to men who were then servants of the British Crown, but to whom individual guilt could not be applied. I think there ought to be some way found for compensating the sufferers to some degree, at any rate, in such cases.
While not in any way objecting to the general spirit of this Bill, but arising out of the announcement which the President made, which we were all very glad to hear, I think that Deputy Cathal O'Shannon has rendered service in drawing the attention to one or two outstanding cases which ought to be emphasised at this stage. He referred to the case of Dowling. Those of us who had occasion to remember Dowling's landing in Clare know that he did at that time stand his ground as a man and should not be forgotten, and, I hope, will not be forgotten. I remember when the late Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence McSwiney, was in jail at Brixton, one of the visitors to him told me that she had heard there were some other Irish prisoners who had been taken in connection with the Rising in 1916, and who were still there, and that these cases had passed altogether from attention. I think it is quite possible there may be a number of cases of that kind, where very considerable hardship may have occurred not through neglect on this side, but inevitably from oversight. I think, probably, there are a number of persons in this country who could give information in regard to such odd cases. I do know with regard to two of them that Deputy Gavan Duffy had been interesting himself when in London in 1917. I am afraid there may be a large number of cases dating right back to 1916, of men who may be obscure, but who did service for their country, or were suspected of having done service for their country, and whose cases have been overlooked altogether. I think some method ought to be adopted by which the possibility of such cases could be searched out, and I am perfectly sure the President will give them his attention.
I think it right to ease immediately the minds of Deputies and remove any impression that Deputy Figgis's statement may have created. There are no cases of obscure men languishing in English jails, and forgotten by the Irish Government. Most exhaustive enquiries have been made and the British Home Office put at the disposal of our representatives a complete list of the prisoners in the various jails, and when the first preliminary amnesty took place we had every opportunity of going through such lists of prisoners and of the names of those whom we definitely claimed as being political prisoners. There were certain exceptions. There were the Connaught Rangers, and there was the man Dowling from Maryborough, who landed on Clare Island in 1917 or 1918. There was a sailor named Mara from Bagnalstown, and there were three men in Scotland whose cases were considered doubtful, at the time, by the British authorities, and were ruled out. The Connaughts and Dowling were a class to themselves, inasmuch as they were in under separate military jurisdiction, and I take it that the Army people in England were jealous of that separate military jurisdiction, and were anxious to establish the principle that political amnesty did not, and could not, be held to cover cases of that kind. Now, we hold no brief for that particular point of view. Since the Provisional Government was set up we have pressed the cases of all these prisoners by every means at our disposal, by correspondence and personal interviews, and on all possible and even impossible occasions. Now, as to the Connaught Rangers, the most that we succeeded in doing in regard to them was in getting very considerable reductions in their sentences, which involved the release of some thirty or forty of them, and now the complete release is given. I cannot believe that either the British Government or the British military authorities, having swallowed what must have seemed to them the camel—the release of the Connaught Rangers—will strain at what is comparatively the gnat — release of this poor man who has served his four or five years' imprisonment and whose offence, as of course from their particular angle it was an offence, arose from the circumstances of the struggle of the last four or five years which is now officially closed. The sailor, Bernard Mara, was, of course, a sailor in the British Navy, from H.M.S. "Resolution," I think. He was home on leave and he attempted to use an influence which he imagined he possessed with a soldier to induce him to sell his arms to the local I.R.A. He did not succeed and the soldier informed on him and he was tried by courtmartial and sentenced. Certainly that does not seem a case so grave that they would have grounds for claiming that it did not come within the circle of general amnesty. I am sure that the release of both Mara and Dowling and the three men in Scotland whose cases were considered doubtful, but which have since been inquired into, will rapidly follow on the release of the Connaughts. There is no case, there could not be a case, so obscure that our investigations could have failed to reach it, and they were those only too anxious to place all possible information at our disposal and to throw open lists for investigation and say, "There are the lists, go through them, call in the Irish representatives in England and search out the men you claim as political prisoners." I am certainly prepared to state in the most emphatic way that there could not be any such cases as Deputy Figgis has mentioned.
I would just like to say one word to express the satisfaction at the release of the Connaught Rangers. I think there is no act that the English have done for the last twelve months, to my mind, which indicates more their change of mind and change of attitude towards this country. I think their case was particularly difficult to the British Government. They released the prisoners they had in the convict prisons in England immediately after the Treaty was signed, but in regard to the Connaught Rangers they were in a very difficult position. These men were out in India and had sworn allegiance to England when they joined up, and they not alone fought against England, but they broke that pledge, so that the English could have charged them with a double offence. Therefore, I think their release is a token of a very good spirit and I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill on that account. Their release will be received with great pleasure in Connaught and throughout the country.
I would like to put an aspect of the case which has, perhaps, been lost sight of in this discussion. If my estimate be correct, the officers and men in the service of the British Government had a larger number of casualties, and sustained a larger number of deaths in the struggle than was sustained on our side, and they held a very much larger number of prisoners on their side than we held. In the case of prisoners whom they held, scarcely any parallel would exist as far as our side is concerned, but I think disciplinary action taken against a prisoner charged in the same way as the Connaught Rangers were, or the persons mentioned by Deputy Cathal O'Shannon would be much severer on our side, so from their point of view, having regard to the circumstances which they must consider, the act as far as they are concerned is a gracious act. This Bill that we put forward is in effect what Deputies have urged us to secure for the Connaught Rangers and others like them, and it would be unfortunate if we would not now consent on our side to give what we ask in these cases. What is asked in the Bill is a free pardon and freedom from legal proceedings of persons who were engaged, or who assisted the British in the struggle that has gone on for the last few years. As to the case mentioned by Deputy Johnson, it is not the case that we ask for amnesty for persons who have been guilty of criminal acts. That is to say it is the legal side, in which the individual himself would be made responsible for an action at law, rather than a criminal proceeding, and nothing is given away in this Amnesty Act which deprives a person of rights he had before this Act was passed. In other words, if a man suffered loss of property, and I am sure many members perhaps on all sides of the Dáil did suffer something, their rights are not interfered with by this Amnesty Bill. We are not removing from them any opportunity they would have of securing compensation or money for the loss so sustained, and any person guilty of criminal acts, if there were any criminal acts committed, is not given an absolution by the passing of this Amnesty Bill. A Deputy asked me if those engaged in the diabolical attempt to remove a certain portion of the anatomy of a particular member of this Dáil would be included in the Amnesty. I do not think they would. This is a point I would like to draw the particular attention of the Deputies to. In this Amnesty Bill we are asking the Dáil to do a generous act towards those who were recently engaged in the struggle on the other side.
When will we take the Committee stage?
If possible to-morrow, as I would like to get the Bill away quickly. I would also like to finish the Comptroller and Auditor-General Bill to-morrow. I expect the Dáil is aware of the fact that not having a Comptroller and Auditor-General places us in a very difficult position. I would like to be permitted to-morrow to finish that Bill if it is agreeable to the Dáil. I would ask to be excused from moving the Ministers Bill as I am not in a position to do so at present.
When is it proposed to take the Second Reading of the Comptroller and Auditor-General Bill?
The next matter on the Order Paper is being withdrawn by leave of the Dáil.
On that point, the first stage is not going to be moved, but we have on the Order Paper this phrase. "Ministries Bill, First Stage." Our Standing Orders laid down that there should be placed on the Agenda some short description as well as the title of the Bill. On the face of it this might be understood by innocent members as having something to do with the ministers of the Wesleyan Church and possibly be unconstitutional. I do not know whether there are such innocent Deputies. At any rate we have adopted Standing Orders indicating and compelling that there should be a description of the Bill as well as the title. I would like that some effort would be made to comply with them.
No. 2 is not moved. The question of the second stage of the Comptroller and Auditor-General Bill was put down, as originally arranged, for to-morrow. Does not that answer Deputy Figgis's question? The President desires to take the further Committee stage to-morrow as well. Is that correct?
Will it be in order to suggest that you might just as well have all stages to-day?
Yes, if the Dáil is willing.
There is very little serious work for to-morrow.
I am not quite clear as to what is intended, by this Comptroller and Auditor-General Bill. Are we to have it printed and distributed to the Dáil so that we will understand what we are dealing with to-morrow?