The Bill, which I now ask permission to have printed and circulated, is entitled in full "A Bill to prevent the obstruction of legal remedies, and to provide for the better enforcement of law, and for other matters connected therewith"; its short title is "Enforcement of Law (Occasional Powers) Bill—1923." Its main provisions deal with the breakdown and the partial paralysis of the executive machinery of the Courts. The bailiff, as a factor in our civilisation, has not been particularly active or particularly effective of recent years. During the transition period, and for some time before the transition period, you had the position that when the judge, in his pomp and ermine, and all that, said: "let such and such a thing be done," and returned to the capital, such and such a thing was not done. That is the position we have to deal with. It seems to me it is among the cardinal duties of a Government to protect the lives of citizens, to protect the property of citizens, and to vindicate the legal rights of citizens. The Bill which it is proposed to introduce, provides for the employment, by the Sub-Sheriffs, of persons to act in the capacity of Sheriffs' Officers, to assist them in their duty of executing decrees. The number of such persons who shall be so employed will be in the discretion of the Sub-Sheriffs, and subject to the approval of the Home Affairs Ministry. It provides that goods seized in the execution of a decree may be sold at any time and in any place, whether inside or outside the bailiwick of the Sub-Sheriff making the particular seizure, and, if necessary, outside Saorstát Eireann.
It provides that the Under Sheriff shall not be liable for sale or seizure in excess of the amount of the debt, save it can be established that there has been fraud, malice or gross negligence. It gives power to the Minister for Home Affairs to appoint a deputy if, through illness or absence or otherwise, the Sub-Sheriff is unable to perform his duties. It asks for power for the Ministry for Home Affairs to appoint the scale of fees to Under Sheriffs and those engaged in the execution of decrees. Certain other deficiencies in the legal machinery arising out of the present situation have to be met. Power will be asked to enable the Civil Bill Courts and Quarter Sessions to be held, if necessary, otherwise than in the statutory place for such holding. Power will be asked to have the service of Civil Bills and Jurors' Service deemed good even if not in compliance with the statutory regulations existing heretofore, provided that the Judge is satisfied that in effect the service was made, and that all reasonable steps were taken to comply with the regulations. The life of this Bill will be six months unless repealed in the meantime.
There has been in this country, dating back to the Treaty and back to the Truce, a certain amount of static illegality—people living in more or less chronic conditions of being on the wrong side of the law-line, people taking advantage of the political and national situation, withholding payment to their neighbour for value received, withholding money due in various forms, whether through debts, rents, Land Commission annuities, or in any other form. It is the duty of the Government to set the wheels of civil machinery in motion to counteract that state of affairs and to remedy that state of affairs, and it is the intention of the Government to do that, and to ask from the Army, and to demand from the Army, all necessary protection and co-operation in what they are doing. The decrees of the Courts of the country will be enforced. Full, and even impressive, military protection will be given to those carrying out the orders of such Courts. No man will find illegality profitable henceforth, and if there is one message we would like to send out to-day, on the occasion of the first reading of this Bill, it is this, that the people who are living upon the wrong side of the line should take steps, and immediate steps, to come within the right side of the law-line, for illegality is no longer going to be profitable. There has been static illegality. There have been people unjustly, immorally, as well as illegally, withholding money due by them. There have been people hitherto in occupation, and effective possession and enjoyment, of property which was not theirs either by the law of the land or by a higher authority. There have been people engaged in illegal but profitable courses, such as poteen-making, and against all that class of static illegality it is the intention of the Government to wage relentless war. The provisions of this Bill are drastic. Drastic provisions are necessary. The man who has simply taken the view that he had a vested interest in the chaos and disorder prevailing in this country for months back, and that it suited him to have these conditions continue, because while they continued the writ of the Courts ran with a limp, or perhaps did not run at all, that man is going to find that the writ of the Court will run, and will be helped to run by the strongest resources that the Government can call upon. The provisions are drastic, but the people have warning. They have the warning of the introduction of this Bill, and they can put themselves on the right side of the law, they can pay what they owe before this Bill becomes effective and comes into operation. If they fail to do that, then the provisions of this Bill will be enforced. The blow that it gives will be sudden, will be strong, and will be expensive to them, more expensive than it will be to put themselves right with the law that made it necessary to take this stern action against them. There will be, between the time of seizure by the Sheriff and the time of sale, no unnecessary delay. The Sheriff will not be bound to a local auction within his own bailiwick, of which notice will be given. That at least is the proposal in the Bill; he can sell at any time and in any place. Generally the people against whom there are decrees at the moment in the hands of the Sub-Sheriffs of the country would be well advised to take stock of their position, to ask themselves whether in the long run it will be wise in their own interests to wait until the cumbrous and expensive machinery is put into motion against them, and whether it would not be better for them before that to avoid the costs that will be imposed in addition to the amount they owe. That is the proposition we put up to people who have been living in a position of chronic or static illegality. They have an opportunity of considering the matter. They may, if they so choose, take up an attitude of defiance to the Government. A Government that is met and defied in that spirit will be justified in taking very stern and very drastic action, for the issue is no less a one than its supremacy and the supremacy of its Courts, which are the Courts of the people, which are in existence now by the act and by the vote of this Parliament, which is responsible to the administration of the Courts that this Parliament has established, and administering only laws that have the sanction of this Parliament, and that this Parliament has power to amend or repeal. That is the position, and in acknowledging the supremacy of these Courts the people are asked to do no other thing than to bow their heads to the collective majesty of the citizens of the country. The Minister for Defence, speaking the other day, foreshadowed a development. It is not a very startling or a very novel development, but it is simply this, that we realise that there are Irregulars in the country who are not out with rifle or bomb or torch or pick and shovel against the railways, but there is in the country at the moment the problem of the passive Irregular as well as the problem of the active Irregular. The active Irregular is one proposition which perhaps only the military arm can deal with, and which the military arm is being braced to deal with. The passive Irregular is a gentleman of another type, a jackal that prowls near the fighting line, never going into the line of fire, but always ready to pick up the garbage of war. He is a proposition that the civil machinery can and will deal with, but all necessary protection and co-operation to the civil machinery will be given by the Army. This is a time when we cannot stand on technicalities or artificial limitations of functions, limitations which grew up as a matter of convenience, and should not survive the convenience.
Getting rid of technical terms and conventional ideas, we come down to bedrock and realise that the Government is simply a committee of the people, with a certain mandate to protect life, to protect property, to vindicate legal rights, to make certain conditions prevail, in short, and the Army and the members of the Army are the paid and armed servants of that Committee. It is in that spirit that we face the situation existing to-day in the country, realising that an unorthodox situation would have to be met by unorthodox methods, and that we cannot stand on technicalities or on artificial limitations of functions. The armed servants of this committee of the people will give all necessary protection and co-operation to assert the supremacy of the people's courts, set up by the people's Parliament, and administering laws sanctioned, if not created, by the people's Parliament. I will not go in a detailed way into all the provisions of the Bill. I simply ask the leave of the Dáil now to introduce that measure, and to have it printed and circulated. I propose to take the Second Reading of it on Wednesday next, and I hope to have copies in the hands of Deputies on Tuesday morning.