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had been given, I understand, by the Minister for External Affairs or some of his staff, that this Order was not to be published.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.