ENFORCEMENT OF LAW (OCCASIONAL POWERS) BILL, 1923 - SECOND READING.

As I explained on the First Reading of this Bill, its introduction was deemed necessary because of the fact that, in some counties at any rate, many decrees of the courts were in the hands of the Sub-Sheriffs, and were, under present circumstances and with the resources at present available for Sub-Sheriffs, incapable of execution. It is a bad thing for a country, and a bad thing for the trade of a country, when credit collapses or is seriously impaired, and credit is a sensitive thing. To-day it crosses the seas, and cargoes are sent from the ends of the earth merely on a promise to pay, and to-morrow some adverse circumstances smash credit even within the confines of the country itself. If there is no commercial security, no credit within a country, then it is safe to say that there will be no international credit, no credit with other countries. Now, the position is not quite as serious as that here, but it is as well that the people on whom the responsibility rests should take adequate steps to prevent any such collapse of commercial security in the country. One paper, commenting upon the introduction of this Bill, said that they would have preferred some statement as to how we propose to deal with a certain type of outrage, and that there was little to be said for the safeguarding of commercial security if there was no commerce. Well, of course, that was a very wise comment, and at first view very sound, but assuredly one of the factors that would make more speedily for the disappearance of commerce would be the serious impairment of credit within the country itself. Moreover, nothing will make so speedily for the intensification of the already intense and acute unemployment in the country. At the risk of emphasising the obvious, let me trace the force of the thing. The shopkeeper, feeling that he has not at his disposal the means of recovery, closes down on credit. I think we may safely assume that when credit is stopped there will be less purchasing. There are people within the country whose incomes come into them periodically; if they have not the facilities of credit, in the interval between the receipt of instalments of salary, then their purchasing power is reduced. That being so, the orders back to the factory from the retail trader will be considerably diminished, and if the output of the factory is seriously diminished you can take it that that will react in turn on the worker and that unemployment will, in that way, spread. Now, the chief thing that occasioned this Bill was the failure of the bailiff as a factor in our civilisation. The bailiff, no doubt, was a person enjoying, or not enjoying, a certain amount of odium in this country, largely for reasons dating back some 15 or 20 years, perhaps more. He was a most useful public functionary, as is proved by the situation that arises when he ceases to function. Since the transition period, and because of the troubles attending that transition, the bailiff has not been functioning. Decrees were given by the Courts; judges heard cases, and said "let such and such a thing be done," having heard the evidence of both parties to the dispute, and "such and such a thing" was not done, and that is the situation we have to face. Why it was not done is not quite so easy a matter to say; it was difficult to get men to perform that particular public duty, because of the disturbances in the country and the intimidation that prevailed in many counties. The pound system was another bit of Governmental machinery, or of legal machinery, which has collapsed. There was an incident, I think in Ballinasloe some time ago, when certain live stock, horses I think, were seized on foot of some decree or set of decrees, and they were taken and put securely behind a 7ft. stone wall and an iron gate. That evening the iron gate was smashed down and the horses released amidst general jubilation. I do not think there should have been general jubilation. I think the people who rejoiced scarcely understood the serious consequences if there was to be a collapse of security and credit in the country, a collapse of law, for in any country which has its own Parliament law is simply a set of rules by which the people agree to govern themselves through their representatives. There are laws in existence in this country now which were not initiated and not originally passed by this Parliament, but they have the sanction and acquiescence of this Parliament, and they have been adopted by this Parliament, and to the extent to which they have been adopted, they become the laws of this Parliament, and so the poor people who rejoiced in Ballinasloe scarcely realised that they were rejoicing at something which, if it extended, meant the breakdown of civilisation and the return to primitive conditions where every man's hand was against every other man, and simply the law of the stone axe prevails. The pound then needs strengthening, or better still, needs abolition, and the local auction is something which is not calculated to prove useful or beneficial while present conditions last. We propose, therefore, to abolish both the pound and the local auction. Men cannot receive value, whether it be across the counter in a house called a shop or in any other way, and withhold payment, payment which is due by the law of man and by a higher law. That is the principle upon which this Bill is based, and any provisions in this Bill are inserted merely with a view to ensuring that payment will be made in all cases where it is legally and morally due, and perhaps, going a little further, to ensure that people will realise that on the whole it is going to be a less costly business for themselves to pay in the first instance, and that the small loop-holes which existed in the past by which astute fireside lawyers were able to evade their liabilities will perhaps be closed now. We will go in detail in the Committee Stage into this Bill. I take it that at this Second Reading we will confine ourselves to the general principles. The Bill in the first section imposes on me functions which I never expected to exercise, certain functions up till recently exercised by the Lord Lieutenant under some section of an Act of 1920. It authorises Sub-Sheriffs to employ men in whatever number and at whatever remuneration is deemed necessary, subject to approval. It gives power to the Sub-Sheriffs to sell at any time. There will not necessarily be a period of grace, wherein a man who has withheld payment, possibly for a year, or possibly for two years, will have an opportunity of changing his mind. The three days' notice which was generally given in the past was not a right of the debtor; it was a provision inserted in favour of the creditor, in point of fact, and was intended to secure full publicity for the auction with a view to securing a better price. It very often had not just that result, but it is now abolished, and the Sub-Sheriff, on seizure, may sell at any time. Further, he may sell at any place. He is not confined to his own particular bailiwick, for the sale of that which he seized. He is not even confined to the area of jurisdiction of Saorstát. Section 5 states:—"Every person who after the passing of this Act shall in good faith purchase at a sale held by or under the authority of an Under-Sheriff any goods, animals or other chattels taken in execution by such Under-Sheriff shall acquire a good title valid against all persons to the goods, animals and chattels so purchased notwithstanding any invalidity or irregularity in or about the seizure or sale of such goods, animals or chattels, and whether he knows or ought or could have known or is affected with any kind of notice that the sale is a sale by or under the authority of an Under-Sheriff or not."

It was necessary in the past that an Under-Sheriff selling goods give due notice of the sale and say it was an Under-Sheriff's sale, for this reason that he could pass no better title than he himself had. Section 5 of this Bill does away with that. There may be many reasons why it would be impossible to give to all buyers, or prospective buyers, full notice that the particular live stock, or the particular chattels, in course of sale were live stock or chattels that had been seized by an Under-Sheriff, in the execution of a debt—cattle brought to a cattle market here, elsewhere, and so on. Whether the Sub-Sheriff's own particular title be good or bad, the sale will pass a legal title. That is the intention of Section 5 of this Bill. Section 6 provides that interruption of Under-Sheriff's custody will not prejudice a sale; that is it will not be necessary for either the Sub-Sheriff or a direct agent of the Sub-Sheriff to be in permanent or constant effective custody of the seized articles or live stock. That might be impossible. If it were a question of sending them by train somewhere, or sending them by boat somewhere, obviously the Sub-Sheriff, or his immediate agent. could not remain in constant custody of the seized articles. Section 7 provides that no action shall lie against an Under-Sheriff for entering or breaking premises. By Section 8 the Under-Sheriff shall not be liable for seizing or selling in excess, provided that there be no evidence of fraud, malice or gross negligence. Section 9 empowers that a certain scale of fees may be drawn up to be paid to the Under-Sheriff or his officers. There are certain other provisions in the Bill to meet some difficulties arising out of the present situation, such as giving power to hold the Quarter Sessions elsewhere than the statutory place. Obviously if a town is in a particularly bad military area it may necessitate the holding of the Sessions elsewhere. Then there are provisions for dealing with the service of Civil Bills and Jurors summonses. It is provided that they may be deemed good if reasonable care has been taken to ensure service. The main provisions of the Bill, of course, are the provisions dealing with this question of the execution of decrees. On the First Reading I said, and I say again, that all necessary resources at the disposal of the Government would be used to uphold the writs of its courts, the writs of the peoples' courts, administering law sanctioned by the people's Parliament. It would be a bad thing for the people— the humblest people, the people who least realise it—if that were not to happen. A distinct military unit will be assigned to each county for the purpose of assisting and co-operating in matters that in more normal times would be almost a purely civil administration. Adequate and even impressive protection will be given to the agents of Sub-Sheriffs in the execution of decrees. Matters further that in more normal and settled times and with more stable Government would be purely Police matters such as the potheen traffic and other matters of that kind will be dealt with either wholly or partly by this military unit assigned to each county. That particular traffic is degrading the people. A particularly loathsome murder occurred in the West lately, obviously the act of a man crazed with potheen. It is simply universally admitted that the consumption of it reacts on future generations. It may not be overstating the position to say that quite a big proportion of lunacy in the country is due to the consumption of potheen. We will make war on that particular traffic as the enemy of our people—as a factor making for the degradation of our people—and in dealing with the suppression of it we will not stand on technicalities. The people may take it generally that there is a determination to grapple with static outlawry in the country—with the man who, under cover of disturbances which in their origin, at any rate, were political, is reaping illegal profits and is in effective possession and enjoyment of property, whether land or chattels, he is not legally or morally entitled to—people who have plundered land and are either using it themselves, or are subletting it. It may be said that that is going somewhat off this Bill, but I speak in this strain because this Bill is merely a manifestation of the particular determination the Executive Council has come to to grapple with the passive irregular as well as with the active irregular. It is no reply to say—"we would sooner have heard of your proposals for dealing with such and such a difficulty, and such and such a type of outrage." There are difficulties and outrages in the country which only the military arm can deal with, and the military arm is being braced to deal with them. There are other difficulties which the civil machinery must deal with, and in dealing with them by the civil machinery all necessary protection will be asked for from the military arm. No man is going to evade his legal or moral liabilities because he has a little gun or a big stick, and can terrify the civil officer. The writ of this Dáil may be running with a limp in certain counties at the moment. We intend it shall not be running with a limp in three or four weeks time, and against all the matters that signify a breakdown of the idea of law, or that are symptoms of the possibility of a breakdown of the idea of law in the minds of the people, we will take the strongest action, just as in the military sphere. We have to face the fact that certain people must now be classed with the wolf or the mad dog, and dealt with accordingly—the men who are hacking the face of their motherland, with no constructive programme, with nothing but a negative destructive programme their greatest hope being simply to reduce their own country to a state of anarchy and chaos. According to our lights we will act up to our responsibilities, and in acting up to them as we see them we ask the support and co-operation of every member of this Dáil regardless of parties. We ask them to face this situation as a whole, to visualise what the consequences would be to those to whom they have responsibilities if that programme, or any of its side issues, were to prevail; or if any manifestations of the mentality which prompts it were to prevail in this country. I have pointed out that the disappearance of credit reacts firstly and most strongly on the weakest, and that the people who in a light-hearted way rejoiced at the little victory over a piece of legal machinery did not realise that that was so. And yet it is so. It is a profound truth to say that when commercial enterprise or commercial security in this country disappears the first to be hit is not the person whom someone would call a bloated capitalist, and others an enterprising business man, but the poor man who is paid off from his factory because the orders from the shop are not as great as they were a month or two months ago. We will discuss the provisions of this Bill in detail. There has been no provision set down or written in with any other intention than simply to ensure, by leaving no loophole, that it will not be necessary to take this drastic action in very many cases and that people reading the Bill and realising that they are face to face with an administration that means business, will simply do now what they should have done long since but for the natural wickedness of human nature which prevailed for the moment, and that they will act up to their legal and moral liabilities.

I beg to second the motion.

With a good deal in the way of general principles that the Minister has enunciated we can all agree. We all agree that it is necessary to bring about in the country a recognition of responsibility for legal and moral debts incurred and that it is not a good thing for the country to have a general sense of irresponsibility, but I want to submit that this Bill will bring about that very thing that the Minister decries. It is a Bill which will encourage a sense of irresponsibility—irresponsibility in Governmental and Executive circles. The object sought is a commendable one, but in making the case, strikes me that the Minister has only looked at one side of the shield and there has been no discrimination exercised in drafting the Bill between people who can, but will not pay, and people who cannot pay though they would. The assumption behind this Bill seems to be that all debtors have some sort of criminal intent not to pay debts. There is no discrimination in the method of collecting a debt or executing a decree against the debtor. There is no discrimination made between the business man who in the ordinary course is unable to pay his debts and the trader who, as the Minister has said, is hiding behind the general unrest and state of warfare in the country, to avoid paying his debts. The object sought for in this Bill is commendable, but as I can read the Bill, and even as it has been outlined by the Minister himself, the machinery is bad and utterly rotten for the purpose. One would imagine that it is only in Ireland and only as a consequence of the fighting of the last 12 months that people have been unable to pay debts and the courts have not been brought into activity. But that is by no means the case. Debts are lying unpaid and the decrees that have been obtained have not been enforced in many other countries, besides Ireland, and it is not enough to make out the case that a considerable section of the people are deliberately avoiding payment of debts when they could pay. It is not enough to make out a case for the reorganization of the whole system of executive action in the manner which this Bill proposes to do. There is, I might suggest, something not altogether on the wrong side in the present state of commerce and trade, in spite of the non-payment of debts. In fact, this is one factor that ought to be taken into account, when we consider the ineffectiveness of the courts. It is the fact of a moratorium. Decrees cannot be enforced, and bankruptcies cannot be made. We all know, at least any of us who may have been listening in to the sound waves of the world's commerce, that the Banks have actually agreed to a voluntary moratorium. They are not enforcing payment of debts in order to avoid the commercial collapse that will inevitably ensue following upon any actual enforcement of payment of debts not only in Ireland but in England and throughout Europe. That is only an aside, but it is worth taking into account. Under this particular Bill, if it becomes an Act, you invite the British wholesaler, who is a creditor and has got decrees by the hundred against traders in Ireland, but who has not enforced them owing to the condition of the country—you are inviting such creditors to enforce those decrees, and, as I suggest, the likely consequence is to bring around a cumulative system of bankruptcy throughout the country. The Minister has only looked on one side of the shield, on that particular portion of the community which is refusing to pay although it can pay, but you are not confining the use of this machine to the enforcement of payment of those particular debts and decrees. You are making this particular machine adaptable for enforcement of decrees of other kinds, such for example as the commercial debt owing by shopkeepers to the wholesale manufacturers of England, of Ulster, or of other parts of Ireland. There is no time limit. Debts that were incurred in pre-truce times, debts that were incurred and responsibilities that were entered into during the time that the struggle was going on here, leaving many hundreds of extensive traders and farmers absolutely in the hands of the wholesalers and manufacturers are included, and decrees have been obtained against these people, but they have not been enforced, because of the state of the country. Give them this machinery to enforce these decrees, and you will have the traders going bankrupt, and the Irish wholesalers following in bankruptcy and such other consequences as you can imagine. It is not only the case of the men that owe money and will not pay, to the trader or to the local council or public body of any kind, but you have got also to think of the other side, I am now indicating, where the manufacturer and the wholesaler can utilise this machinery for destroying the credit of the country in a way that the Minister quite rightly wants to avoid. Now, the method whereby this enforcement of decrees is to be brought into play is going to make for many evils in my opinion. A Birmingham manufacturer gets a decree against a trader in the town of Mullingar or Limerick; that trader, perhaps, also has some land and cattle, and you are proposing to remove all the checks upon this executive officer, hitherto called the bailiff, and allow him, in any circumstances, to get hold of the property of the trader, carry that property off to England, sell it at any price he likes—and you cannot make him accountable unless you prove malice, which is a very difficult thing to do—and return to that trader such sum as with expenses, which may be unlimited, would make the amount of the sale. You are playing into the hands, in this Bill, of all the conspirators in the country. You are encouraging all kinds of conspiracy to fraud, to collusion between the debtor and his friends, and to collusion between the creditor and his friends. There was some good reason for putting in these checks upon the activities of the bailiff in the case of sale. He was supposed to sell publicly. All the circumstances surrounding the sale were published. The debtor would know the conditions under which the sale was made. You are removing all that, you are removing every check, you are inviting the Sub-Sheriff, or the person—note this—the person who will be appointed by the Minister to act as deputy for the Sub-Sheriff, you are encouraging, and making it possible for the deputy or the Sub-Sheriff, as the case may be, to do anything at all, once he has got a decree, with the debtor's property. For a decree of £200 he can collect cattle worth £1,000 and take them to Lincoln, or Aberdeen, or Peterborough, and he can incur any amount of expenses in the selling of these cattle and he can sell them at any price at his discretion, and he can make arrangements with his friends to buy them at that price, and you have practically no check unless you can prove malice against the Sub-Sheriff. That is not going to make for the public interest or for the proper recognition or the dignity of the law or for any respect for the executive arm of the Government. The Minister made rather light of the suggestion that it would be pleasanter to hear that the Executive had first brought order to the country. I submit that was a very wise comment to make upon his First Reading speech. You would get much better results from a Bill of this kind if you could precede it by a state of order, and, then, You might have some good sound reason for enforcing debts against those who can, but who will not pay, while giving a chance to those who would, but cannot pay. If there was order the risk of these successive cumulative bankruptcies that I foresee would be minimised because, given a period of order, the wholesale manufacturers would be inclined to give extended credit and the banks the same, but in a period of disorder when they can get cattle or stocks from a trader on the spot they are not going to run any risks in the future. You ought to have preceded this kind of enactment by a state of order. Now, what kind of debtors are going to be brought into the purview of this Bill. It is not only the men who incurred debts since the Truce, it is men who incurred debts because of the war, in the course of the war, and as a practical consequence of the support they gave in the carrying on of the war. Debts were incurred by these people in these circumstances, and decrees have been obtained, and will be obtained, against these people, and, under this Bill, will be enforced, and these people will be brought into bankruptcy with the assistance of the Ministry, pushed over by the Ministry into bankruptcy when they have not been provided with the opportunity of pulling themselves out of the mud. There were many debts incurred by traders for goods which were bought from Belfast houses. Decrees have been obtained against merchants for those goods, which goods never reached the merchants owing to the activities before the Truce, about which the Ministry knows something. You are going to assist the Belfast merchants to push these men down the slope of bankruptcy. There is a Rent Increases Act. Many debts have been incurred in consequence of the refusal to pay the increase in rent according to the British Act, which British Act was countermanded by the Dáil. Those are debts, according to the Minister legal debts, and the decrees against these debtors can be enforced by this means. The execution or seizure of goods can be made under this Act, and the sales can take place in England, Scotland, or Belfast, or any other part of the world which the Sub-Sheriff may choose. So far as I can see, even the Minister has not any authority to intervene with the activities of the Sub-Sheriff in such circumstances. I suppose during the pre-Truce days there were many fines inflicted in addition to imprisonment. Perhaps some of the Ministers are debtors. Perhaps some of them have decrees against them dating from those pre-Truce days, and I can imagine the enforcement of these decrees by the aid of the persons the Sub-Sheriff may call in. There are some very pretty complications that might arise under this Bill. I think it was suggested in one question on the paper to-day that that body, that extra legal body called the National Army, has incurred many debts, and who knows but decrees may be obtained against them. The Sub-Sheriff would call in the aid of whomsoever he might, armed or unarmed, to seize the property of this body called the National Army. It might be guns; and if you take these guns away into County Mayo and sell them at the best price, or at such price as he may deem advisable, it would all be perfectly legal under this Bill if it becomes an Act. A very pretty complication. It seems to me that the intention of the Minister is to destroy all checks upon the Executive; that is to say, to irregularise, to make irresponsible, the Executive authority. Once a decree has been issued and handed to the Sub-Sheriff, or the person whom the Ministry may appoint in the place of the Sub-Sheriff, that individual has practically unlimited power to do what he likes without any public check and practically no legal check whatever. That, I say, is bad legislation, and will not tend towards that state of order and appreciation of the authority of the law that the Minister would seem to aim at. These people whom the Sub-Sheriff may engage on a special job in any numbers and at any pay he may fix are to be free to break into any house or premises at any time and take from out of that house anything of any value for the payment of a debt no matter how small. That may seem an exaggeration, but it is not exaggeration. That is contained in this Bill. For a debt of £20 a body of men may break into a house and take all kinds of treasures of which they may or may not know the value and sell them anywhere at any price, and there is no public check of any kind. No notice is to be given to the debtor when and where these goods will be sold and no accounting of what they made or to whom they were sold has to be made to the debtor, or even to the Court. The Minister said that payment will be made in all cases where it is legally and morally due. I was very glad to hear the conjunction of legally and morally, because there will be many cases, or may be many cases, brought forward under this if it becomes an Act, where the morality of the debt and the morality of the resistance to the payment of that debt will be a factor. The legal claims of debtors may be quite clear, but the Minister for Defence reminded us that you had not to rely only upon the legality of actions during the last few years. You had to make superior to that the social and political morality of the action, and if you are going to try to enforce this by these means, simply because they are legally enforceable, you are not going to have very much peace and you are not going to get much confidence from the people, who at your instigation refused to pay these legitimate debts—legal debts. The collapse of law which the Minister referred to is undoubtedly an evil, and it is necessary that law should be resuscitated and made all powerful. At the back of the law, or the mere formal decree of the Court, is the executive arm, but if that executive arm—the police and the army—has not at its back public opinion then all the talk about the revival of law is useless. Will you have public opinion at the back of the executive arm if you try to enforce, by decrees of the courts, and by means such as are outlined in this Bill, debts which are not moral, but are only legal? I contend that upon the activities of executive officers such as bailiffs, sheriffs and the like, the check of public opinion and publicity is necessary. You are removing that check, and you are allowing to that executive officer, who is a subordinate, who does not stand in the position of a man who is always in the public eye—a man who is a subordinate officer and can be brought into conspiracy with very little trouble—you are removing any check upon that man's activity by the procedure outlined in this Bill. I contend that it is premature to bring in this Bill, unless you are going to discriminate between the debts due owing to defiance of the law and debts due owing to inability to pay. There is no sign of any discrimination. You are simply altering the whole machinery of debt collection, and I believe it will react very detrimentally upon the Ministerial plan and will not assist in the revival of respect for law and respect for the ordinary social obligations.

I welcome this Bill, in so far as it is a serious attempt to deal with that particularly mean form of thief who is trying to take advantage of the present chaos to swindle his neighbour, a gentleman without any convictions, political or otherwise, except the one conviction that he is going to look after himself and batten on the present chaos as long as he can. The Bill as produced is a great deal more revolutionary than it looks. I do not want to go over the ground that Deputy Johnson has covered. but I want to point out one or two other salient matters. I should like first to refer to the very serious question of making a difference between thieves and honest people. Surely a Bill of this kind ought to be accompanied by a provision, that no execution shall issue under it without special leave of the court. There is ample precedent, a recent precedent as the law adviser knows, for such a clause insisting that the judge shall be satisfied that the debtor is a type of person you want to get at, before he allows the sheriff to proceed. I commend to the Minister that suggestion as a way of discriminating between the sheep and the wolves. Take another thing. I do not think there is any legal obligation upon the sheriff at present to make an inventory or to give a receipt. Whether or not sheriffs are in the habit of doing so I do not know, but I think it is absolutely essential that it should be specifically provided here that the under-sheriff should do these two things, make an inventory and give a copy to the debtor, with a receipt for what he has taken. You are putting these functions of collecting debts into the hands of new men. The bailiffs were often bad enough, but they knew what they could do, and what they had a legal right to do. Here you will have people who will be very ignorant of legal rights, whose main object will be to get the stuff, and those gentlemen in the public interest should be made to give a proper inventory and a proper receipt for what they take. I also commend that suggestion to the Minister. It is obvious that it is the more necessary to have an inventory for this reason. Your goods may be transported beyond the sea. That clause, I hope, will be dropped. For the reason that you are giving such extended powers to new men, it is doubly necessary to protect the debtor by having an account of what is taken from him. I want to call particular attention to Clause 7 which, as drafted, seems exceedingly dangerous. I am going to propose that it be left out altogether, but let me point out first one or two items which will need amendment in any case. The section says, "No action whether for damage or trespass or otherwise shall lie against the under-sheriff." Teachtai who belonged to the last Dáil will remember an occassion upon which a certain Minister introduced a Bill of pains and penalties against certain persons in which he provided that they were to be punished by fine, imprisonment or otherwise. In introducing the Bill he ingenuously avowed that "or otherwise" meant "or by death," consequently one is a little nervous of this clause, "or otherwise," since that day and when I look at this "or otherwise" clause I ask myself what it means. This section appears to be directed to preventing the Sheriff from exposing himself to an action for breaking into premises, but those words "or otherwise" are liable to make it mean, not merely that the Sheriff will be immune from action for wrongly breaking into premises, but that he will also be immune from action for seizing wrong goods, for seizing goods which belong to somebody who is not a debtor at all. "No action whether for damages, for trespass, or for trover," or taking the wrong man's goods, it might read "Or otherwise" is one of these vague things that cover such cases. I do not suggest that it is contemplated by the Minister, but I suggest that phrase should be altered, because you will certainly have people contending that that is the meaning, and creating difficulties accordingly. I should like to be enlightened on the point, and I think the suggestion is one which would very likely be accepted. I have not drafted any amendments because I have been otherwise engaged and also because I would like these amendments to be made by the official draughtsmen if they are accepted. I take it that the object of this clause is really to enable the sheriff to break into the house of a debtor in order to get his goods. If it means that, and we are dealing with a debtor who can perfectly well pay, on the hypothesis that that is what the Bill is introduced for—and I hope this is what the Minister is going to make clear by his amendment—if it means that— that the recalcitrant debtor who can pay is no longer going to be protected by the inadequate law that says you cannot break into his house, I agree with it. We are in this extraordinary position at present, according to the law as it stands. Supposing I have a judgment against Deputy A., who is penniless, but I think that Deputy B. has some of Deputy A.'s goods, I cannot break into Deputy A.'s house, because, if if you please, his house is his castle, but I can break into Deputy B.'s house, because Deputy B.'s house is only his castle for his own goods, and not for anybody else's goods. As the thing stands at present the sheriff cannot break into the debtor's house, but he can break into the neighbour's house if the neighbour has the debtor's goods. If this is confined to enabling the sheriff to go into the house of a man who can but will not pay, even if he has to break in, I do not oppose it at all, but it goes a great deal further. At present, as I understand, in my case as against Deputy A who has no goods, I indicate to the sheriff that if he goes to Deputy B he will find some of Deputy A.'s goods there. If the Sheriff goes to Deputy B's house, he may break in, and get stuff belonging to Deputy A. The Sheriff is all right but if he goes in and finds nothing there belonging to Deputy A then he is liable to an action, and very properly. If he goes into the wrong house, not the debtor's house, and gets nothing, he is liable to an action, and he ought to continue to be liable to an action, because the Dáil will see how exceedingly dangerous it is to put into the Sheriff's hands the power of going into any house in the land, because the creditor suspects there may be debtor's goods there. That is what this does. We must start on the principle which has always been in operation that it is not the Sheriff's business to find goods; it is the creditor's business to find them. It is the creditor's business to find out where the goods are of the man who will not pay, and to satisfy the Sheriff that if the goods are not in the debtor's house, there is reason to believe that they are in such and such another house, and the creditor ought to continue to do that. But here you say, "No action is to lie against the Sheriff for breaking into any man's house or other premises for the purpose of taking into execution any goods, animals, or other chattels which were or might be in such land, house or premises, or for any injury to such house, lands or premises he may do." That is a very tall order. In a small country place, where people are divided into factions, and the judgment creditor has a grudge against B, C, and D, and has a judgment against penniless A, what is to prevent him from telling the Sheriff: "It will be all right; you seize in B's house or C's house or D's house. I know there is stuff there belonging to A"; and the Sheriff will no longer have that wholesome restraint that he has to-day—that he cannot go into those houses without exposing himself to an action for damages unless the debtor's goods are there. You are rather inviting him now to take the risk; and in every town and village people will say: "It is all right; I will pay out so and so, and will say that the goods of my debtors are there." I do not think I am mis-stating the position created by this Bill. I think it will be seen that it is giving too much power to the Under-Sheriff and to those new people who are to take the place of the bailiffs. I suppose everybody here knows what occasionally, or rather often, happened under the bailiff system. After all, the type generally selected as bailiff was not always the best type of citizen, and one has known of cases where this gentleman, knowing that a debtor was penniless, would go into a neighbour's house, thinking that perhaps there might be goods of the debtor's there. He would go in there, and refuse to budge until the neighbour would, in order to get rid of him, give him a pound or whatever the bailiff was pleased to call his fees—in other words, a bribe to clear the bailiff out rather than have more trouble. That was the gentleman who was certified to be capable of doing this kind of work. How very much more dangerous it will be when you put these powers into the hands of people who have not any of the kind of knowledge which these bailiffs had to acquire as part of their profession. If these particular matters are not tightened up, I think you are putting most dangerous powers into the hands of people who should not be trusted to that extent. As I say, if the Bill is confined only to the persons whom the Minister says he wants to hit, and where innocent people are not going to be vic timised, I am going to support it, but as drafted it wants tightening up in these respects, as well as in the respects mentioned by Deputy Johnson, with whom I agree. I draw attention, by the way, to a mistake, where Sub-Sheriff is put in for "Under-Sheriff."

The matter embodied in this Bill has been fairly exhaustively handled by the two previous speakers, and, like Deputy Gavan Duffy, it is not any intention of mine to touch upon matters that have been dealt with by them. There is, however, one aspect of the case which neither of them has touched upon, and to that mainly I desire to confine my attention. They both dealt with great acumen and critical skill with the relations between citizens and citizens in respect of outstanding accounts but I, rightly or wrongly, suppose that the real cause of this Bill having been brought before this Dáil is not that A should owe B certain moneys, but that the pinch has been felt, and rightly felt, and rightly sought to be remedied by the State in respect of those who owe the State money. In a speech here bringing in the First Reading of this Bill the Minister who is in charge of it referred to the outstanding charges on rates and taxes, and in respect of that only, the general provisions and purpose of the Bill, without descending to particulars, are to be welcomed, because, I think, we all appreciate that the State has come to a point when there are a large number of citizens who believe that they can with hardihood and freedom evade their responsibilities as citizens, and as I construe the words of the Minister, when he introduced this Bill, it is intended that such persons, wherever they are who can be made amenable to the law and made amenable to their responsibilities, shall be pursued. If that be the intention, as I presume it is, the Bill is an excellent Bill, because that is undoubtedly necessary at the present moment. But there are collateral responsibilities, not only the responsibilities of the citizen to the State, but there are also responsibilities from the State to the citizens. Reference has been made to a certain part of a question that I put down for the Minister of Defence to-day, which he very tactfully avoided answering. The question was whether "having regard to the fact that First Reading has been given to a Bill proposed by the Executive Council to enforce the prompt payment of outstanding accounts, it is proposed to make the Army as amenable to the provisions of this Bill as other debtors." I did not press that part of the question, because I thought merely having put it, it achieved its purpose. I have received and am daily receiving, and every Deputy must also be receiving, letters from people in the country who have sold goods to the Army, or from whom the Army has commandeered goods, who say that when they present their accounts, these accounts are not being paid. It is well known this is going on very widely, and, whatever the cause of it, the effect is that a number of people are incurring debts, and have incurred liabilities with their fellow-citizens which they are unable to meet, because they, as creditors, are unable to have their debts paid.

I have here particulars of one case that I have only received notice of this morning, where a bank manager has threatened to foreclose upon a certain person in the country. Actions have also been brought against this very person in respect of outstanding accounts. How were these debts incurred by this citizen of the Free State to whom I refer? Because his main source of livelihood was a motor which was commandeered. It has been commandeered, and it was used by the State. I believe I am right in saying that it was not used solely in the service of the State. In any case the motor has gone for the last six months, and for the last six months the owner has not seen it, and the business of this man, that of hiring motors, has suffered as a consequence, and he might be pursued under the provisions of this Bill, and might have the bailiffs squatted in upon him, and might have the rest of his goods taken, because the Bank manager and two or three of the citizens in his town have accounts against him, which he is unable to meet because he cannot get his account with the State settled. There is another aspect of it, too, which the Minister for Home Affairs has touched upon. I imagine that he conceived that it might be referred to in this Dáil, and by referring to it first might possibly evade the shaft. It is true that a large number of citizens to-day have felt their responsibilities as citizens minimised, because they do not appreciate—whatever the causes may be— I am not making any criticisms at the moment, but I simply say that they do not appreciate what the State is doing for them. They do not see that state of affairs in the country which makes them feel that they are getting what must ultimately be regarded, in a transaction, as good value for their money, and I believe it is very largely owing to this cause that we are seeing to-day in Ireland what the Minister referred to rightly as a general breakdown of law. There is a general breakdown of law, and the sooner that breakdown is put an end to the better, and in so far as this Bill will, however drastic its provisions may be, put an end to that breakdown, so far it will do well; but there are other parts of that breakdown that this Bill cannot and will not touch, and they also require to be dealt with as part of the responsibilities of Government in this country. I had hoped that before to-day, for example, we might have had what we must have, and what should have been put before us before this—I venture to say that with every respect to the Ministry—an Army Act by which the National Army would be constituted upon a legal basis.

Now, we are coming to a point in this Bill, where such an Act, it seems to me, becomes a first requisite, because the Army is now to be used for the collection of debts, and as part of the legal machinery for dealing with the breakdown of law, although the Army itself is not a legal body but an extra legal body, as Deputy Johnson stated. A suggestion has been made outside this Dáil—it has not yet been made in the Dáil, but it has been referred to outside—that the persons whom the Minister may choose to act as Under-Sheriffs in the absence of the Under-Sheriffs or to act on behalf of the Under-Sheriffs or directly on their own behalf, that such persons might be chosen from officers from the Army. I will say no more upon that matter, which touches upon a delicate subject, than to hope that that will be promptly denied here, because I believe if that were to be done that it would be a very unwise course of action indeed. I know that it is being stated, and I think it very desirable that the opportunity should be taken here to contradict any rumour of that kind. When we come to the Committee Stage of this Bill there will be time to correct, or at least attempt to correct certain of the matters that have been dealt with already, and I do not propose to touch upon any details, but I do feel, as I stated in this Dáil on one occasion before, that we here in the Legislative Assembly of the land who are the creators of the law must necessarily be the most scrupulous observers of it. And in this Bill, where machinery of a very drastic kind is being put into operation, which however it be amended and improved in Committee, will nevertheless remain very drastic, we are incurring a responsibility that we here as a whole, and that the Executive Council that this Legislature has created, should be very careful to see is in all parts conformable with that reign and rule of law that it is desired in this Bill to uphold and enforce. As I said at the beginning, I am not opposed to the principle of this Bill, except in such details as it would not be proper to refer to now on the Second Reading, but which may be referred to in the Committee Stage. The principle is one that will receive and should receive the support and adherence of all Deputies and all citizens, but I do desire to refer here to the collateral responsibility from the State to citizens, in order that when citizens are called upon to pay their debts and to undertake their due responsibilities, they may not be able to reply with a deadly "tu quoque” and ask that the State should equally accept its responsibilities and equally pay the debts it has incurred.

I think, Sir, it is quite possible that some misunderstandings, some misconceptions, or some misinterpretations of the general situation might arise if one were to draw a picture of the country from the statements that have been made by some of the previous speakers. One would think that a majority of people who owed money in this country were bankrupt, and that the State's machinery was imperfect for paying its own debts, and that in no circumstances was the State to undertake any liability or responsibility for ensuring to citizens of another State the right to collect debts in this country from people who had received goods in good faith, and who owed money for them. Now, there have been cases of hardship and there have been cases of people who have been reduced very much by reason of the war or other conditions—bad business, failure, to some extent, of the prices of goods. But there is not, as far as I am aware, or as far as can be judged from the reports that one reads of public Companies—banking institutions, and even within the last one or two days at least one railway company —anything to indicate that there is any such condition at all in this country. Yesterday one railway company paid one per cent. more than it paid last year and carried forward nearly twice the amount of money to credit that was carried forward last year. A banking company paid an increased dividend, and so on. And now we are told that there are certain cases where the banks have had to initiate or to allow a sort of moratorium. I submit that that is not a correct perspective from which to move in this assembly. I have questioned bankers regarding the necessity for a moratorium and they have informed me that it is not necessary. I have been informed in the last few days that in one town in the south something like £9,000 were paid in Land Commission annuities shortly after a certain corrective step was taken by the Government. I am positively certain that this £9,000 was not paid by twenty, thirty, fifty or ninety bankrupts, and that there is unquestionably a certain loosening of the machinery which has resulted, not from the incidents of the last two, or six months, or twelve months, but from the incidents of the last two or three years. And it is to strengthen that machinery and to give people a sense of security, and to restore to citizens the rights to collect their money, and not to absolve debtors from all liability in connection with those things, that we have brought in this Bill.

On a point of explanation, I want to avoid creating a false impression. When I spoke of a bankers' moratorium I had in mind not only Irish banks to Irish traders, but English banks to Irish banks—a universal moratorium amongst bankers.

There is no necessity, as far as I am aware, or as far as has come to my notice, in this country for a moratorium of that sort. If the banking system of this country be investigated, I think it will be found to be, perhaps, the soundest and most conservative of any country in the world. I am aware that the nature of the case suggests that and the facts of the situation compels it When people speak about banks not investing their money in this country one would be inclined to ask, what is there in this country at the present moment, or what was there in the last twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years, that a company having the responsibility of a bank would invest money in? A banker's first duty, I take it, would be to get securities that are liquid and securities that are sound. As far as I know there was no sufficiency of such securities that the banks of this country would have been entitled to invest in. No case has been brought under my notice of a decree having been secured against the Army. There have been no such cases. I have to learn if there are. Perhaps, if the people had to get those decrees against the Army, we would not hear so much about the difficulties of payment. Everybody knows that in connection with corporations and institutions like the State the most meticulous care must be taken to show that every payment that is made is properly vouched. One could take certain risks in his own business. One could bargain for a certain amount off—"splitting the difference," as is said in some places— but that is not the case where money is due to a corporation or the State. That is one of the main difficulties and one of the troubles in dealing with the vast amount of debts that have been brought in against the Army. Take it that an expedition goes to Cork and the Officer who has been in charge in Cork has been moved up the country: this man, perhaps, has not vouched for something, and to get his signature he has to be pursued by the Army authorities, and in some cases, if replaced by another officer, the second officer has to be pursued. A little care in dealing by the persons who had in the first instance given these credits or goods would have relieved not alone the Army but themselves of a great deal of trouble.

Even if all these cases were true and the Army machinery for paying debts had broken down that is no case against the principle of this Bill—none whatever. The people can take the same action against the Army, and the Executive could not afford to ignore decrees got, or fail to enforce decrees got. But you have not got them, and you know that, and the people who have those accounts know that. The facts of the case are that in some counties no attempt has been made, and no attempt can be made to ensure collection of debts. Are we at all in favour of carrying out decrees of the courts functioning under our authority? If we are, it is the business of the Dáil to provide that machinery. We have asked for that machinery in this Bill. It suffers, as I expect practically everything we will do for many years to come will suffer—from having been brought forth in a hurry, and it is lacking in some of the elegancies that will presumably adorn many of our legislative acts in the future. But we can do without these things in our early years. One does not in the very early years affect evening dress for parties, but as you grow older you think it is the natural thing to do. These things will come when we can afford them. At present it is the best we can do and we put it up to the Dáil with that end in view. We believe it will correct that tendency towards lawlessness and irregularism in every walk of life. It may not be necessary to use it. The fact that you have got that machinery to fall back upon will be self-sufficient. When such an amount of work has got to be done in various parts of the country the same meticulous care cannot be taken in all cases. For example, we have heard that in some counties huge sums of money are owing to the local authorities for rates. Are we entitled to collect these and show the people they will have to shoulder their responsibilities in connection with the maintenance of public institutions. Perhaps some of their friends have employment under these Councils. Here in the City of Dublin the rates are paid promptly. There is a fine civic spirit in the city. Income Tax is paid in the city, and debts are paid, and very few decrees are outstanding or unexecuted. Has Dublin not suffered during the past two or three years as well as any other place? So far as I know it has suffered. It has been just as hard hit by payment of those decrees as any other part of the country. If people get to learn that decrees of the courts and debts need not be paid extravagance will commence and you will never get back to normal business conditions. It is well that one should have a clear conception of one's duties as well as of one's rights in connection with these matters. It is rumoured in certain places outside this country that there is no use in giving credit to business people in this country, and everybody knows what a danger that is, and everybody knows to what extent things of that sort will affect bonds that will have to be issued when we produce a Bill for Land Purchase and for other purposes of the State. It must be shown to these people that any person who secures a decree in our courts practically secures payment of his debt so long as the person against whom the decree is got is solvent and able to pay it. There has been some misgiving regarding decrees being executed against people who have nothing to lose or whose business affairs might be bankrupted by reason of the execution of these decrees. That has not been lost sight of. Instructions will be issued to Sheriffs that discretion will have to be exercised in these cases. So far as I know they have exercised that discretion in the past. Nobody likes to see any person put out of business except a person who is not fit to be in business or who is a danger to business and the sooner he gets out of business the better.

What the President has said makes the necessity for a long statement absolutely out of the question. Deputy Figgis described this Bill as drastic. I would prefer to describe it as ferocious in some of its details. The principle beneath it is undoubtedly sound. With all that the Minister said in defence, introducing the Bill, I think we must all be absolutely at one. When the Minister introduced the Bill we were all in hearty accord with his intention, but it seems to me that powers are taken and powers are given in this Bill which go far in excess of what is required for the purpose of restoring the right relations of things as regards debtor, creditor and the country. To me, reading some of the Clauses, more particularly three, four, and eight, practically they propose to outlaw—I do not think I exaggerate when I use that word—they propose to outlaw any man who has had the misfortune to have had a decree of the Court issued against him. I take an imaginary case, and to try to follow up the case as it occurs to me I shall use the first person. I am assessed for Income Tax far above what, according to the law, I ought to be called upon to pay. I resist the claim. We all know how tortuous are the ways of the Income Tax Commissioners and how difficult it is for the private citizen to resist their claim—as difficult as it is for Laocöon to get rid of the writhing folds of the snake. I make good my case, however, as regards portion of the charges levied upon me. The documents establishing it are burned, and after an interval a demand for the original unaltered amount is made against me. I handle my case badly in the court. A decree of the Civil Bill Court is issued, and under Clause 4 of this Act here is what happens. Although the decree may be issued in error, that does not matter. I shall find all my valuables taken across, let us say, to London. Let us imagine that I possess articles that would sell better in London than perhaps on Slieve Gullion. I get no notice whatsoever that these goods are going to be sold. The seizer of them may hold them up for any length of time he pleases. He may remove them out of his bailiwick, whether inside or outside the territorial boundaries of Saorstát Eireann. He may dispose of them without any notice to me, so that I cannot follow them, and not only that, but the buyer in good faith acquires good title against me and all the world in these circumstances. And the sale is introduced in Clause 4.—"Notwithstanding any Statute rule of law, or order to the contrary," all the protection of the law is taken from me in one fell swoop. "Notwithstanding any Statute any Under-Sheriff who shall have taken goods, animals or other chattels, in execution under any writ offieri facias, or under any decree of a Civil Bill Court.” Surely that is casting the net very wide. Now, there was an old-fashioned safeguard for debtors who were unfortunately unable to pay up, that when their goods were seized it was necessary only to seize so much as might be reasonably expected on sale to pay the creditors' demands. But under Section 8 the Under-Sheriff, or his understudy, whoever he may be, anyone you please, could take more goods, animals, or other chattels than would or might more than sufficiently meet the full amount of the debt, so that if by any mischance or mistake in technicality committed in the County Court, or through any other misadventure a decree is issued against me, and the execution falls into the hands of those who have a score to pay off against me, they can ruin me, absolutely and irretrievably, and there is no court and no tribunal before which I can come to make my complaint during the six months in which this Act runs. I think the short title of this Bill ought to be “An Act for the outlawry of certain debtors and for the ferocious destruction of the same.”

The criticisms to which this Bill has been subjected were so destructive and the analysis of the Bill by the critics was so accurate, that I do not intend to say anything except to raise a couple of points. In the September regulations there is a clause which empowers the military courts and committees not only to inflict the death penalty, but to imprison for any period and to impose a fine of any amount either with or without imprisonment. Is it intended, I should like to ask the Ministry, that the machinery set up by this Bill is to enforce payment of such fines, imposed by any secret military court? I should like the Ministry to answer that question. There is another question arising out of the statement which, if I heard correctly, was made by the President, and that is that some kind of instructions—I may have misunderstood him— will be given to the Sheriff as to discrimination. It seems to me to be a bit extraordinary that the Sheriff should get instructions.

The Sheriff has no option.

The Sheriff is a judicial officer and it is extraordinary that he should get instructions from the Ministry or anybody else in this sense. I do not know much about Sheriffs and I care less, except from what I have seen about bailiffs, but I think they have no option in this sense at all and if there is going to be interference we ought to know exactly where we stand. I hope the President rather committed a slip when he made that statement, and I should like the Minister to answer the question about the military courts, because it seems to me that the Bill is so wide that it is altogether outside the scope of even emergency legislation. I think it has been pretty accurately described by Deputy Liam Magennis. The only satisfactory thing in the whole Bill, from beginning to end, apart from the good principles enunciated by the Minister in support of the Bill—principles which are not made effective in the Bill at all and will not be enforced— is the Clause which succeeds the Short Title, and limits it to a certain period. At the end of that period if the Bill goes through in anything like its present form there will be utter chaos, different from the chaos at present existing, because those who are well disposed towards the law will find that those evilly disposed towards the law have taken advantage of this Act in order to upset everything, and the goodwill of many people whose goodwill is desirable in the country will be forfeited by the Ministry.

I do not remember the exact words I used in regard to that statement, but what I meant to convey was that I took it instructions would be given through the Sheriff to exercise some discretion with regard to taking away the entire resources of any individual.

Who will give the instructions?

I take it they will get the instructions from some Ministry, presumably the Ministry for Local Government. As I understand the law with regard to the Sheriff, he exercises discretion himself at the present moment. He returns sometimes a bill called "nulla bona." Is not that so? It was not that they were to exercise discretion with regard to what decrees they were going to execute, or that they should take one list as against another, but rather that it was not the intention of the Government, in introducing this Bill, to put people out of business and to destroy them. It was simply to collect debts.

Is the President going to embody in the Bill a provision by which discretion would be given, not to the Sheriff, but to the Court?

Certainly not. Who ever heard of anything like that being put into a Bill?

You must remember the Sheriff is the officer of the Court, and I do not see who is going to come in between him and the Court.

The point I make is, if the decree is for £100, and when the Sheriff goes he finds £75 worth of goods there, I say he must exercise his discretion in that case. He is not to leave the man penniless.

It should be left to the Court.

This is a matter that can be discussed in Committee.

It is the very essence of the Bill.

Everybody agrees with the principle of this Bill.

At least everybody I heard does. Deputy Johnson demurs, but most people, at all events, believe in the principle of the Bill, and most people say that it goes too far—that we have a good case but that we overstated it. I cannot help thinking that that applies to some of the criticisms to which we have listened. Deputy Magennis drew a picture of an unfortunate man who, owing Income Tax, had a decree for that money taken out against him, and he enlarged upon the mistakes that a man might make, the documents he may lose, and the bad solicitors he might engage—though he did not mention the latter. But he did not mention that all the reasons commonly given for losing a case would exist if this Bill were never passed. A man might lose his case although he thought he had an excellent case, and that for losing it he was being ruined. For all these reasons, or for one or any of them, a man might lose his case, and if he did he would be in exactly the same position under the old law as under this law. So we need not waste words about the various mischances that might occur in the course of the case. If he had been decreed under the old law or the new law rightly or wrongly, the Sheriff was entitled to go in and seize his goods, and either get the amount of the decree or sell the goods, and there is no reason why it should be assumed that the Sheriffs would approach this question from the point of view of getting as much goods as they can handle with the roads in the present condition and transport in the present condition, and ship them to London. That is entirely a prejudiced and jaundiced view of the case. Every man here who has been up and down the country, and who knows the conditions in the country, knows that in a case like this, and in times like these, we should not stand upon technicalities. We want to get the law functioning, and I make the confession that we are prepared to take rough and ready methods to get the law functioning and to stand over them.

The wild West.

And you call it law.

Deputy Magennis says, "wild West," and Deputy Johnson makes some remark about "mob law."

I did not, I said "You call it law."

Well, we are prepared to meet that point and to make it perfectly clear that we are prepared to give the Sheriff and the Sheriff's officers wide powers in administering the law, and we all know the real danger at the present moment, and we should look at the situation as a whole. It is not the Sheriff, who God knows, has a good many reasons for exercising discretion and moderation, it is not he who will go too far. The real danger is that we will not give the Sheriff sufficient protection and sufficiently drastic powers to meet the campaign of lawlessness that is being waged in one respect or another in the country. We can show our knowledge of the law and the forms here, but the business of the country must go on, and all this work must be done in the country, and men must sell their goods and get the debts that are owing to them, and that is what the country is looking at, and all these beautiful points of Deputy Figgis, and all the platitudes of Deputy Johnson cut no ice. The country wants to see the Sheriff's hands strengthened; they know that the law administered is Irish law, and that the law of contract that we have in this country, and the law of tort are all quite good, and there is no political objection to them. Every honest man in the country knows that these laws are his protection, and they want to see the Sheriff's hands, and the Sub-Sheriff's hands, strengthened in the exercise of these laws, and they are not in the slightest concerned with the sophistries or the platitudes or the other legal niceties we hear now expressed at great length, and they are not going to be taken in by any extreme case. Under the old law, the Sheriff and the Sheriff's officers can commit a very large number of wrongs. It can be done, no matter how tightly the law is drafted. No law can prevent it. In this case there is absolutely no reason to think, and there is no argument put forward here to show, that the Sheriff is likely to exceed his powers. We know all the interests in the country that at present are making for anarchy, and using every method and dodge to prevent the execution of the law. We know the dangers to the officers trying to enforce the law is very great, and everything is against the Sheriff doing his work. For that reason we are prepared to give absolutely drastic and radical powers to the Sheriff, and to the Sub-Sheriff, and we are prepared to trust him and the officers he shall appoint to see they do not exercise these powers, except in the interests of law and order, and if we find that at the end of two or three months' time they have overdone these things we will be here to criticise; we will have this Dáil here to remedy and to repeal the law if necessary. But I venture to prophesy this, that as a result of the passing of this decree it will not be necessary to execute two decrees in any county. When people see that we mean business they will be impressed. Debtors keeping money which belongs to other people, and people who want to get out of their contracts, and in any way to aggrandise themselves, and who are taking advantage for that purpose of the present state of the country, when they see that we are in earnest, and that the sheriff has sufficient power to enforce any law that has been broken, I prophesy it will not be necessary for them to execute two decrees in any county. I see no reason whatever—and I have some experience of the working of this matter in the country—and certainly none inherent in the present situation, that makes me fear in the smallest degree that the Sheriff will abuse his powers. As far as I am concerned as a member of the Dáil, I am ready, in the circumstances, to see that he gets these drastic powers, and I hope he will execute them if necessary.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

Some of the criticism of the Bill and some of the critics drew a picture of the great bulk of the debtors of the country pining to pay; lying awake at night worrying because of their inability to pay. I think that the exact position is almost the reverse of that. I have statistics of the unexecuted decrees of every county. I have had an analysis made of those decrees and a classification and I say here, as my opinion and as the opinion of one who has made a pretty careful examination of the whole matter, that the position is the reverse of the picture that was painted. Some there are in every county, no doubt, who are in genuine financial embarrassment, but the great bulk of the cases are simply people who have given way to the human tendency to avoid payment as long as it is possible to avoid it, and who believe that they have a kind of vested interest in the continuance of the present disorder. People are short-sighted. They see the thing that is immediately under their nose, and they say that "so long as the Executive arm of the Government is paralysed and is weak, I will not have to pay my couple of pounds land annuity or the couple of pounds I owe to so-and-so for seed I got last spring." They cannot see that, in fact, this disorder is costing them more in a single day, in a single week, than a great many seed bills and land annuities that they and their children after them will have to pay. Deputy Johnson says, "If you wish to resuscitate the idea of law you need more than police or military at the back of it"; and he asks, "Will you have the public opinion of the country at the back of the Executive arm?" Now, if I may venture a vague guess, I would say this, that in these proposals you will not have debtor public opinion behind you, but you will have creditor public opinion behind you, and the public opinion that is neither debtor nor creditor will be utterly indifferent. I am not, and I do not wish to be, waggish, but that is the position. The question is, which is better worth catering for—the man who has the law for his claim—who has given value but has not received the price—or the man who has received value, undertaking to pay on the strength of his undertaking, and who received but has not paid. Get down to bedrock. Is there any reason why he should remain in the possession and enjoyment of property which, if sold, would pay his just debts? When you remember that it is just this insecurity—just this weakness or paralysis of the Executive arm—which is responsible for a great deal of the trade depression and a great deal of unemployment in the country, people will realise that, if we are doing a drastic thing, it is in the sense of a desperate ill requiring a pretty stringent remedy, the medicine being, perhaps, sour at the moment of taking, but eminently healthy for the body politic. There were some suggestions made by Deputy Gavan Duffy which we will be very glad to consider —and some of them favourably—if put in definite form in the Committee Stage of the Bill. One obviously sound suggestion was the one enjoining an inventory and a receipt when a seizure is made. That is eminently a proper provision. Deputy Figgis spoke as if we were mainly concerned about rates and taxes, and that such minor matters as shop debts we were little troubling about. That is not so. This Bill was not introduced mainly because of rates and taxes. It was introduced because it is necessary to make it abundantly clear to the citizens of this country and other countries that the writs of our courts will run and that it is not proposed that judges shall continue to stultify themselves by sitting hours to hear cases and then give an award which will not be executed. There is more than the restoration of commercial credit in this matter, although that is a very important and vital consideration, reacting as it does on the problem of unemployment, but there is more than that. There is the question of the supremacy of the Government and the supremacy of its courts. The people must make their choice. They must be governed by the lightest trigger finger, the quickest draw, and the surest eye, or they must be governed according to law, according to the rules made by their representatives for the better ordering of life in the country. In other words, they must either be ruled by casual forces or they must be ruled by themselves through their representatives. They must discipline themselves. There is no third or middle course; and in times like these studying the situation closely you realise that the partition between our boasted civilisation and progress and all the rest of it and the condition of our earliest forefathers is really quite thin and depends on such trifling matters as the efficacy of the executive arm and the proper functioning of such a modest individual in the community as the bailiff. Army accounts are not primarily my concern. They are the concern collectively of the Executive Council, and I can only say that they have been receiving for a long time past very weighty consideration indeed, and in the more recent past, redoubled attention. The Army has accounts to settle with a great many people, and it is expected these accounts will be settled in the near future. In any case we must not be taken as holding the view that any one in the country is exempt from paying his just debts. We have never put forward such a proposition. I did not take all the criticism of this Bill quite seriously. I realise that it gave certain people an opportunity for jeu d' esprit and that they were rather inclined to while away the afternoon by titillating our ears with strange, extreme cases, and there was a suggestion from one Deputy that we must almost have as a basis for this Bill the consideration that decrees were given by the courts wrongly. We cannot legislate on the basis that decrees are not right, and are not just. Deputy Magennis drew an interesting hypothetical case of an award against himself for Income Tax, wrongly given, and proceeded to dilate on the tremendous hardship this Bill would inflict on him. We cannot assume that awards of the courts are wrongly given, and I am sure that is as obvious to Deputy Magennis as it is to me. Certain questions were raised of discrimination as between the decrees. Under this Bill there is no discrimination. Under the existing law there is no discrimination, but I will say this, apart from the judiciary, apart from the courts, discrimination will be exercised by me as to the cases in which the military unit in each county will be called upon to co-operate. I merely state that, but it does not affect this Bill. This Bill, of course, is uniform just as the existing law applies equally to all cases. There will be discrimination exercised as to the cases in which the fullest and most impressive protection and co-operation will be given. Deputies are free to advert to that, or not to advert to it as they like. It is not in the text of this Bill, which they are asked to consider. It is merely a statement made by me. The Sub-Sheriff will be bound equally to execute all decrees, just as he is bound at the moment.

Question put: "That the Enforcement of Law (Occasional Powers) Bill, 1923, be read a Second Time."
Agreed.