INDEMNITY (BRITISH MILITARY) BILL.

(FROM THE SEANAD.)

I have circulated a Resolution dealing with the following Resolution passed by the Seanad, 24th January, 1923:—"That the consideration of this Bill be adjourned till every Irish prisoner under control of the British Government for a political offence connected with Ireland, in whatever country the offence may have been committed, has been released. The status, political or otherwise, of each prisoner to be decided by a certificate of the Irish Government." My Resolution reads:—

"That the Bill be recommended to Seanad Eireann, with the following message:—

"‘Dáil Eireann again desires the agreement of Seanad Eireann to the Indemnity (British Military) Bill, 1923, and while appreciating the reasons stated by Seanad Eireann for adjourning consideration of the Bill, urges upon the Seanad that the object which both Houses have in view would be best attained by the speedy passage of the Bill into law."

I have already dealt, I think, with most of the matters of importance that were raised as far as I could learn from the debate in the Seanad, and having put the case to the Dáil when the Bill was passed and sent to the Seanad, we know the circumstances of practically all those in whom the Senators have interested themselves in connection with this Bill. As I explained to the Dáil when putting the Bill before it on the last occasion, we believe the best interests of the parson ties will be served by the passing of the Bill. As I was unable to attend the Seanad meeting the day the Bill was introduced, I propose that it be again sent to the Seanad, and I will attend there and recommend its passage into law.

On a point of order, I should like to ask you if we have any authority whatever for considering a Resolution such as this, and the ground on which I base my point of order is this, that this Bill has been sent up from us to the Seanad. It is now in the possession of the Seanad; it has not been sent back again to us and, being in the possession of the Seanad, I suggest to you that it is not in order for us, under any procedure that has been adopted, to give any attention to business that is not now before us but before the Seanad.

I desire to support this point of order. It seems to me that this Dáil is disseized of this Bill altogether under the Constitution. I should like to ask the Chairman to let the Dáil know exactly what communication, if any, has been received from the Seanad. If a communication has been received asking this Dáil to deal with the matter that might alter the position, but if the Resolution passed by the Seanad has merely been communicated as a matter of courtesy to this Dáil, then I think we must go by the Constitution, which clearly provides that when this Dáil has done with the Bill it hands it on to the Seanad itself to consider it. The Seanad can hold the Bill up, if it thinks proper, for 270 days. In the present case the Seanad has not yet rejected the Bill; it has declined to proceed with the consideration of the Bill until a certain event happened, and, dealing only for the moment with the Bill, on the point of order I submit that it would be a monstrous infringement of the privileges of the Seanad if this Dáil broke in upon them at this juncture.

The communication from the Seanad will be read.

CLERK of the DAIL

"A Chara, —Reference the attached Indemnity (British Military) Bill, I have to inform you that Seanad Eireann has adjourned consideration of it, in accordance with a motion made by Senator Colonel M. Moore, seconded by Senator Butler Yeats, and passed by the Seanad on the 24th January, 1923.

"I attach a copy of the motion which was passed by Seanad Eireann.

"Is mise, le meas,

"EMMET DALTON,

"Cleireach an tSeanaid."

I assume that the copy of the motion which is alleged to have been passed is correctly printed in the Order Paper, but it contradicts—at least, it is different from—the report of the Resolution which was passed as printed in the Official Report of the debate. I do not know how the mistake has arisen, but it is rather a distinct change. The report as printed in the Order Paper—presumably the report that was sent down to you from the Clerk of the Seanad—was the proposal that was first moved and then withdrawn. The motion which was passed was a different one. I think that we are being asked to consider a certain proposal moved by the President on the basis of information which has been wrongly sent to us. On the question of order, it seems to me that we have every right to pass any resolution that we wish, desiring the Seanad to do anything that we wish the Seanad to do, and that there is nothing out of order in our considering the motion that is down in the name of the President desiring that the Seanad will do certain things that they have not yet thought well to do.

The Resolution as on the Order Paper is wrong. It is not the Resolution passed by the Seanad finally; it is not the Resolution sent down by the Clerk of the Seanad.

Before the question made by Deputy Figgis and Deputy Gavan Duffy is pressed, I would suggest for their consideration the object that, I am sure, both those had who objected to the passage of the Bill in the Seanad and those who passed the Bill here. The object they have in mind is forgiveness to any person on the British side——

Is not this a point of order?

Yes, but if I can prevail upon them to withdraw, I take it that your course would be easier, sir.

There are people who are vitally concerned. One name was mentioned both here and in the Seanad—the name of Mr. Dowling. There are others who, properly speaking, are not within the purview of pre-Truce prisoners, but for whom we hope to be able to get liberty. Now, we believe that the liberty of those people is best effected by the passage of this Bill, and as ours is the responsibility, I would ask, having regard to the circumstances of the case, that those objections should not be urged, and that the Resolution should be passed.

In answer to the appeal made by the President, I only desire to say this, that the point of order having been brought to your attention, it would sooner or later have to be resolved. When the Bill was before this Dáil I voted for it, and if the Bill were before the Dáil again I would vote for it; only I do remember an earlier incident which had arisen, in which certain matters happened between this House and the other House that led to a passage that was at least regrettable, and it would be still more regrettable if that passage were to recur. I do think it might fairly be argued by the Chairman of the Seanad, seeing that the matter has been adjourned by them and not rejected, that it is still in their possession, and that it would be a grave questioning at least of their privileges if we were to trample upon them while they are still on the consideration of this Bill.

As far as I am concerned, I am prepared to say that what the President has said raises two quite distinct issues—one, the constitutional question, which is the main question which interested me in this matter— and I would urge the President not to persist with his Resolution on that ground. But from a non-constitutional aspect he raises a question in which some of us have taken a very deep interest, and he asks us to believe that the release of Dowling and others will follow the course of action he proposes.

Certainly not, I have said no such thing.

He asked us to hope for the release of Dowling and others from the passing of the Amnesty Bill.

I ask you not to lock them up.

But he has given us no facts whatever which would justify us, in my view, in assuming that any such result would happen. Had I been here when this Bill was before the consideration of the Dáil I should have strongly opposed it, and I am extremely glad the Seanad has taken the action it has.

We know where you are now.

On the point of order, the Resolution of the President as worded recommends this Bill to the Seanad and urges its speedy passage. It is certainly a different thing from an indefinite adjournment. I think the Dáil, if it chooses could send such a message to the Seanad. The motion can, therefore, be seconded.

I second the motion.

The correct terms of the motion passed by the Seanad are:—"That the consideration of this Bill be adjourned to give the British Government the opportunity by a similar gracious act to release or transfer every Irish prisoner under its control for a political offence connected with Ireland in whatever country the offence may have been committed. The status, political or otherwise, of each prisoner to be decided by a certificate of the Irish Government."

The message that was sent to Seanad Eireann with the Bill was "Dáil Eireann has passed the Indemnity (British Military) Bill to which the agreement of Seanad Eireann is desired." I regret the error on the Order Paper.

On this question I am speaking entirely for myself. As I understand the position, the Dáil on the initiative of the Ministry said that "we are prepared to make a clean slate." We are not doing anything in the nature of bargaining, and it is no use trying to bargain for the release of these prisoners, on the one hand and wiping out the offences on the other, but we think it is good for the State sometimes to adopt a Christian attitude.

Hear, hear.

That such an action on the part of the State may often evoke reciprocal Christian action on the part of another State. That doctrine might be applied in other Departments as well as in International relations. There has been no bargaining, and it is undesirable that there should be any bargaining.

Hear, hear.

That is the view of the Ministry, and the Ministry knows the position much better than we do. As the President has said, they have with all their knowledge given this advice that the Bill should be passed, and the Dáil has agreed to pass it. The action of the Seanad is an indication of the mind of the Seanad. Bearing in mind the Constitution of the Seanad, and whom it was established to represent, and especially the fact that this holding up was by unanimous vote, it has probably accomplished all that any other act could accomplish. It has indicated to the British authorities that that body that might be considered to be a conservative loyalist body has definite views upon the release of prisoners. Now, I think that all that could be done in the matter has been done by the Seanad, and if the attempt is made to hold this matter in abeyance, and refuse to pass this Bill until 270 days, or whatever the number may be, has expired, and if then it is forced through, any grace would have been lost, and even then you will not accomplish your object. In all these circumstances I think the wise thing would be for the Dáil to agree with the resolution of the President.

One point I wish to mention in connection with this to show that there are more things that we want to influence outside of what can be influenced in a purely formal way by doing a straight act and a generous act and saying we propose to pass the Indemnity Bill, and we will pass it like men. Then, if the people on the other side of the question are not going to act like men, well, the disability is on their side, and this disability affects themselves, and does not affect us. I had this morning a letter from a mother of a prisoner, who was apparently an English soldier two years ago. He was an Irishman in the English army, and he is doing something like ten years penal servitude because of some offence committed during that time. Now, we here may have some idea of what the general circumstances of Irish soldiers serving in the English army during the last three, four or five years were; we can easily imagine that there were circumstances in connection with the situation, the thought from the man's own mind, the mind of a man who is an Irishman in the British army, that might very easily be a strong influence in getting him into trouble from a purely disciplinary point of view, and that on the face of it could not be said before his immediate superior officers to be anything but a definite breach of discipline without any extenuating circumstances, such as the man's mentality, and because of the man's own thoughts on certain things that were happening at that time. Some of us had hoped at any rate in passing this Indemnity Bill freely, frankly and fully that the people on the other side would be induced to do the same, and that we may come to a point at which they will, perhaps, look back over the list of the Irish prisoners that they have in their military prisons, or the military prisoners they may have in their jails who are Irish, and consider whether there are not among them men who, if the ordinary rules of procedure have to be adopted with regard to them, might have to spend 8 or 10 or 15 years in prison because of the trouble they got into on account of the fact that they had in the backs of their mind that they were Irish.

With regard to this Resolution I feel myself in somewhat of a difficulty. With regard to the original Bill and the substance of the original Bill, what Deputy Johnson has said I think very fairly and very adequately expresses the attitude that should be taken by this country towards England with regard to that matter. What is right or wrong for us to do cannot be decreed by what the other man purposes to do. If it is his intention to act in a churlish way, whether designed or not I do not know, that is his concern. We cannot, because he desires to be churlish, let him enforce his churlishness upon us. And for that reason I think the Bill should have passed, and might possibly have been passed by the Seanad too. But far more important than any relations that exist between this and any other country are the relations that should exist between the two Houses of the Oireachtas. For that reason I feel some diffidence in the matter of this Resolution, and I feel that the Seanad, having by a unanimous vote, representing whom they do, decided to defer this matter, I think it is correct, from rumours that one hears, that certain members of that body are representing to the British Government the liberation of the prisoners concerned pending their postponement. Seeing that that is the case, I do feel it is a little over hasty to bring this Resolution forward quite so quickly as has been done. You have ruled, and your ruling binds us all, that if we desire to bring a matter like this, and desire to propose such a Resolution, although the Seanad actually has at the moment the matter under consideration, it is within our right to do so. That at once brings it within our rights, and although it may not be right for us to bring it in—it may not be quite tactful for us to have brought it in just at the moment—I do wish that this Resolution should be withdrawn, though I do think that the Seanad would have done more wisely had they passed this Bill as it was passed by this Dáil. For the reason that I have stated, if the thing be right and generous for us to do, then it remains right and generous, and we cannot permit ourselves to be deflected from anything that we conceive to be our duty because the other man thinks that he may be able to get more advantage out of a churlish action of his own.

Is not the purpose of the President being served by this discussion? There is ample evidence that the Seanad reads the Official report of the debates in the Dáil. Consequently it will have been brought under their notice that it is the desire of the President and the Government and their supporters to have those cases of prisoners dealt with as they ought to be dealt with. If the motion is pressed, I shall feel myself in this predicament—we are creating an evil constitutional precedent. Repeatedly I have in my own small measure protested against the creation of precedents which our successors would not find it well to follow. No doubt the creation of this Parliament has in it an element of originality. And we are not bound to follow the procedure that is followed in other similar Assemblies. Still, let us remember this, that the Amnesty Bill is like any other Bill. It is an Act of Parliament in process of becoming. When it has passed this Dáil it is sent to the Seanad for consideration. Now, let us bear in mind the peculiar relations of the Seanad to this Dáil. By the Constitution the Seanad is authorised; in fact, the very essence of its existence is to be as I described it originally—a cooling chamber; a House in which legislation may be hindered and delayed for a period, a House in which, if I may change my metaphor, legislation is to be incubated for a longer time than it has undergone here. If we now, when the Seanad in the exercise of its constitutional powers proceeds to delay, to hold up, this measure—if we now pass a Resolution calling upon it to speed up its operations because of reasons that appeal to us, no doubt, as you have ruled, we are within our powers in doing that. But is it a good thing to do? The question of policy is important. Now, there is a second consideration which weighs with me. The Senator who was the protagonist in this performance in the Seanad put forward an argument which I find for myself irresistible. These prisoners were not English prisoners; they were British prisoners, and at the time in which they became prisoners Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. It should follow in reason that they should be transferred to our custody after the Treaty. We should be permitted to deal with them. They should not be in English prisons. I need not stop to say what an Irish Government would do with these men if the custody of them was so transferred. I would suggest to the President that his purpose has been served by this discussion, and I would suggest, with all deference to his better wisdom, that we need not press this Resolution to the decision of a vote.

I would very much regret if it was supposed to be the duty of the Members of the Dáil to read everything that occurs in the official reports of the Seanad in order to find out what the views of the Senators are. I think it would be equally unfair to expect that the Seanad should toil through the reports of the debates here in order to find out what the views of this Dáil were about Bills that were being sent up to them. There are, as I think everybody here knows, Standing Orders or Regulations of some kind in preparation for regulating the intercourse between the two Houses. These have not yet been adopted. I believe that they are under consideration in conjunction with some Committee from the Seanad—so that we may take it that they will be submitted to them at any rate—so that we may by mutual agreement devise some means of getting official information from one House to the other of circumstances which it is deemed advisable the second House, whichever it may be, should be fully informed about. Those Regulations have not been completed yet, and now what has happened is this: We have sent up a Bill to the Seanad which is regarded by the Government, I suppose with justice, as a Bill that is rather urgent. The Seanad, not knowing what the views of this Dáil are, what the views of the Ministry are upon the subject, have adjourned it for a period, which may be 270 days. As far as their Resolution goes, they have adjourned it sine die, until a certain event happens which may never happen. At any rate, they have adjourned it. In the absence of any Standing Orders of either House surely it is not unreasonable that we should give them information in the only way in which information can officially be conveyed, that is by a Resolution of this Dáil, conveyed by the Officer of this Dáil to the Officer of the Seanad, of what our views are upon this subject. I have no doubt that means will be devised, and that before very long, by which these things will be done without such a cumbrous method as we are adopting now. At any rate until they are, the only way in which they can be informed of anything that happens here is by a Resolution passed here and properly conveyed to them. It seems to me that the only ground upon which this Resolution could fairly be challenged would be that it amounted in form to a dictation to the Seanad of what they were to do. Looking at this Resolution I cannot see that it can be tortured by anybody into an attempt to dictate to them upon a matter that everybody must admit is entirely within their own power. They can pass this Bill at once; they can reject it at once; they can postpone consideration for 270 days or whatever period it may be. We are not asking them to do anything. We are merely conveying to them the view of this Dáil that the object that both Houses have in view would be best attained by the speedy passage of this Bill. That is only an expression of our opinion. The only other question remaining is this— whether that is our honest opinion or not. Upon that we have the assurance of the President. We did not want that to-day, because we had the same assurance before we passed the Bill, when the same objection that has been raised in the Seanad was raised in this Dáil by some body. I do not know who it was, but I have a distinct recollection that somebody suggested that we should postpone the passage of this Bill until the English Government had released, or had given a definite promise to release, these prisoners. That objection was overruled because we accepted the assurance which the President gave us then, that the object of this Dáil would be best attained by passing this Bill, and showing to the English Government the attitude that we were prepared to adopt towards those people who were charged with offences against this country. We have had that assurance repeated by the President here, and that being so, can we have any doubt that it is our opinion that this object would best be attained by the speedy passage of this Bill? That being so, why should we not inform the Seanad courteously and officially that that is the opinion of this Dáil? If they do not choose to act upon that opinion the responsibility, as far as the prisoners are concerned, rests with them. But is it not our duty, if we believe that to be the fact, to let them know that that is our opinion? They can reject our opinion if they please but I cannot myself see— you having ruled the question of order— any objection on the ground of form or policy to the passage of this Resolution.

I think if all the members of the Dáil read in the Official Reports of the Seanad all the discussions that have taken place up to the present, they will find that we can blame ourselves for a discussion that took place here some time ago over the action of the Seanad in sending back this Bill. I refer to the criticisms that were made in the Dáil when a discussion took place regarding two appointments made by the Seanad, their power to appoint certain officers, and the salaries they thought fit to offer. In the discussion that took place in the Dáil on that particular occasion, some of us on these benches took the view that the Seanad had not been doing very much work, and, perhaps, they in their wisdom on this occasion, have sent back this Bill to the Dáil in order that we in turn might send it back to them, and give them another opportunity to do work that, up to the present. they have not got. That is my view. Perhaps for that reason alone it might be a very wise thing if we sent back the Bill to the Seanad, so that they might have a long drawn out discussion and prove to the people of this country that they are, if we give them the opportunity, willing to earn the salaries that we are prepared to give them. When generally looking over the Official Report of the Seanad this morning I noticed that the Chairman paid particular attention to remarks made by Deputy Professor Magennis and Deputy Johnson in regard to that particular thing. How ever, I think none of us need be afraid of the precedent that is likely to be created by doing a certain thing in a certain way now. Personally, I believe and hope that many of the things said in the Dáil and done outside of it in the country, will never be taken as a precedent by future generations as to what is right and what is wrong. I hope, however, in passing this Resolution and sending it back to the Seanad to give them another day's work, that when it is passed the Seanad and the Dáil, as a result of its passage, will take into consideration the cases of the men who are prisoners in the hands of the Northern Government at the present time.

I also support the Resolution put forward by the President. I have listened to Deputy Magennis describing the Seanad as a cooling chamber. I think he used that description when we were going through the Constitution; he repeated it to-day, and it is a description that I am in thorough agreement with. It is an exact description of the other House. I take it the holding up of this measure is more or less an assertion by the Seanad that it was something else than a cooling chamber. I think it is an attempt by the members of the other House to clothe themselves with an authority that they do not possess, and should not attempt to possess. I think we are taking the other House too seriously, and the Dáil should now proceed to take a vote on the Resolution without further discussion.

Motion put and agreed to.