QUESTION OF PRIVILEGE.

Before proceeding I want to raise a question of privilege of which I gave you private notice. On Thursday last on the Order Paper there appeared a notification that a General Order by the Army Council had been laid on the table. It happened that on the previous day, that is on Wednesday, there had been placed in the Members' rooms a typewritten copy of this Order, and on its being laid on the table officially I obtained a copy of it. I naturally expected that publicity would have been given in the newspapers to so important a proposal. It will be remembered that in the discussions of September last a proposal was accepted by the Minister to the effect that any General Order was to be laid before the Dáil for four sitting days before coming into operation. I submit there was an intention in that that the members of the Dáil and, through the members of the Dáil, the public would be made acquainted with any proposal to issue a General Order by the Military Authorities, inasmuch as such Order, and especially this Order, affected the lives of the people and the general conduct of affairs very closely. Indeed, it was necessary, and is necessary, that the public should be given an opportunity to consider any such proposal. Not having seen anything in the newspapers relating to this Order, and in conversation with members of the Dáil finding out that very few knew anything about it, I considered it my duty to submit copies of this Order to the newspapers the day before yesterday. Yesterday morning I found that none of the newspapers had printed this Order or made any reference to it, and on inquiry I found the reason was that instructions had been given, I understand, by the Minister for External Affairs or some of his staff, that this Order was not to be published. I submit that that is an unjust use of authority, an abuse of authority. It is an interference with the Press. It is entirely uncalled for, and it is, more strictly and more emphatically, an interference with the privileges and the rights of the members of the Dáil. To-day is the last of the four days on which this Order was to be laid on the table before coming into operation. Without publicity no public opinion can be attracted to any matter of this kind, or any proposal the Government may make, which by the rules and direction of the Dáil must be laid upon the Table. Now, public opinion and the expression of public opinion are the very essence of Parliamentary government, but by the direction of a Minister or the Ministry—I do not know which—so important a document, affecting the liberties of the people, is refused publication. In fact, publication is prohibited until any way out, any opportunity for the reversal of the decision of the Army Council, is practically past.

It may be that that was an unconsidered act. If that is the case, then we can understand that it will not be repeated. If it is a considered act, and was a deliberate decision of the Ministry, then I consider it is a matter that the Dáil should take serious notice of, because it means that we are to be deprived of conveying to our supporters in the country, or to our friends in the country, or to any other persons in the country outside the Dáil, the contents of public documents, because this is a public document. It had been handed to the Dáil and referred to in the Orders of the Day, and we were entitled, and we are entitled, to discuss any such question and any such document with our friends and supporters, or with our opponents, as they may be, in the country, and, in short, with the public. Now it has so happened that the vehicle for reaching the public, in practice, is the Press, and, so far as I can understand it, there is not a title of excuse for refusing to publish a document of this kind, or from prohibiting the newspapers from publishing such a document which has already been presented to the Dáil.

I would suggest what is wrong here is that provision has not been made in our Standing Orders for meeting this matter of laying documents upon the Table of the Dáil. Substantially I would be in agreement with Deputy Johnson, but the matter ought to be decided in some way. There ought to be some set method of publishing documents that the Dáil desires to be published. It is provided that documents be laid upon the Table of the Dáil; it is not provided, specifically, that they be given to the Press. That being the case, until the Dáil has decided the matter, either by resolution or the adoption of a Standing Order, I do not know that it is really open to a member to give such a document to the Press. Deputy Johnson has assumed, and I think it might be admitted, that he was right, that the intention of laying a document upon the Table of the Dáil is for the purpose of giving it publicity, and that, at any rate, once a document has been laid upon the Table of the Dáil it is no longer to be regarded as a private document, but that has not been specifically accepted by the Dáil. For my part, I would be quite in favour of having the idea accepted by the Dáil, that when a documen is laid upon the Table in this Dáil, and where not ordered otherwise, such document should be given to the Press. Hitherto nothing at all has been laid down by the Dáil in that matter. It simply states that a document should be laid upon the Table of the Dáil, but does not specifically state that the document should be published, and certainly it does not state that the document should be given to the Press. I think, in the circumstances, probably—I would say possibly—it was not entirely correct on the part of Deputy Johnson to have given this particular document to the Press without having raised the matter here. The matter could have been raised on the adjournment, on any day since the document was first laid. A question could have been asked on the matter of privilege in regard to it at any time. The decision of the Dáil could have been obtained either formally by a vote or informally by a ruling of the Ceann Comhairle, which would have been accepted by the Dáil. But as nothing of the sort was done in the matter, and as possibly there might be a dispute, although I would not be the one to dispute it, I think the Minister for External Affairs, being in charge of these matters in connection with the Press, acted, on his part, correctly in stopping the publication of the document, pending a decision upon the whole matter.

If Deputy Johnson had acquainted me of his decision of sending a copy of this document to the Press, a considered opinion on the whole matter, and probably an agreed decision, could have been arrived at. I am inclined to agree that the document, as presented to the Dáil, should be given to the Press, unless the Dáil otherwise decided. I suggest now that the Committee on Procedure, when it meets on Friday morning, should frame a Standing Order to that effect, or to whatever effect they think might meet the case, and that Order might be considered by the whole Dáil at its next meeting, and the whole matter put into regular form.

I consider that is going the wrong way about it. The Minister is throwing the onus of applying for the generous leave of the Ministry before a member may exercise what I claim to be his right.

I do not think the Minister said that the Deputy should obtain the leave of the Ministry. I think his suggestion was similar to my own, that a Standing Order should be framed stating that documents presented to the Dáil should be given to the Press unless the Dáil otherwise orders, not that the Ministry should order.

That is not the point of privilege. The point of privilege is, whether my action in communicating a public document to a citizen is reprehensible. That is the first question— the question as it affects me. The question of the right of the Minister to prohibit publication is a separate and perhaps as important a matter, but it is a secondary matter. It is the right of the Deputy to publish that is interfered with.

On principle I certainly would not be disposed to refuse or to deny the right of the Deputy to publish, but that is a matter which has not been settled by the Dáil. If it comes to be settled by the Dáil, I will vote on the same side as Deputy Johnson.

But the denial of that right has not been settled either.

How can we do better than have the matter brought up and explicitly decided for future cases?

Assume the right exists until it is abrogated.