Perhaps at this stage it would meet the convenience of the Dáil in view of the fact that the Minister for Defence has come along, and that there is anxiety to hear his statement if I move the adjournment of the Dáil till 3 o'clock to-morrow.
MOTION FOR ADJOURNMENT. - THE ARMY POSITION.
I beg to second.
I understand, A Chinn Chomhairle, that the Minister for Defence is to make a statement about the matter I raised yesterday.
A Chinn Chomhairle, I understand there was raised yesterday the question as to whether the particulars given in the Press with regard to Ballyconnell were correct, and, if so, what is the explanation of it. Also, the general question as to the Defence forces of the country as relating to the function of defence. As far as Ballyconnell is concerned the Press reports are substantially correct. The official report says:—
"On morning of 5th instant, at 7 a.m. a party of about 50 Irregulars, fully armed and with three machine guns, entered Ballyconnell. On entering the town the Irregulars broke into Richardson and Owens' grocery establishment, where an assistant, Wm. Ryan, Kilbracken, Belturbet, was taken out of bed and shot dead. One of the proprietors, Wm. Owens, was badly wounded, his thigh being broken. The house of John Drum was next entered and John McGrath, an Irish teacher, was mortally wounded. Quantities of goods were also taken away out of these shops. The motor premises of Thomas Dolphin were blown up and then completely burned. Two Ford cars were taken away. The Post Office was also raided and the instruments smashed. The Irregulars fired several shots through the town and consequently broke windows in several establishments, including the bank. A train was held up outside the town and a couple of shots fired at it. The Irregulars remained in the town about 35 minutes and then left. They travelled in touring cars, and apparently went back to the Arigna Mountains, where they have hidden for several months. Our troops in Belturbet got word of the raid, and immediately set out in all their transport. They were joined en route by two Fords of troops from Cavan, and all proceeded to Ballyconnell, where they arrived shortly after 9 o'clock. They followed the Irregulars past Ballinamore, but failed to get in touch with them. This raid was evidently a reprisal for the shooting of a looter named Cull about a month ago. He and others were raiding in Ballyconnell when a couple of officers who were in the area got in touch with them. This gang of Irregulars have been in the mountains for several months past. The recent Ballinamore and Blacklion raids were their work."
That is the detail of the matter, as far as I have been able to get it up to the present. The reasons why it is possible for a body as large as 50 Irregulars to be concentrated in that area there are partially geographical, partially because of our organisation in that area, and they are partially political, although not political in the sense that I understand was suggested yesterday. Anybody who knows the hinterland of mountains lying behind Ballinamore and Ballyconnell will understand that for the work we have to do in that area we have not sufficient troops effectively to control those mountains and to get that band of Irregulars that we know have been hiding there for some time. On the organisation point of view, these mountains mark a point of convergence on a number of our areas. On the political side, it has been possible for these men to be in that position because some of our men in that area, not undertaking to believe that those men were as black as their present deeds have painted them, have, contrary to orders and contrary to the spirit of discipline in the Army, been carrying on a sort of negotiations with them, mar-eadh!—they were going to settle down and go home and do no damage to anybody again. Those types of interchanges between men who are soldiers and men who are of this particular type are bound to have a very bad effect, not alone on the soldiers themselves, but on the whole of the people in that particular area, and negotiations of that kind have had a bad effect on that area, and have prevented action being taken against those Irregulars when it might have been taken, simply because, just like other people who are not soldiers, they refused to believe these people were as black as they are. Steps have been taken to secure, as far as it is possible to do so, that an occurrence like this will not take place in that particular area again. Reference was also made in the Seanad yesterday to Nenagh, and the burning of the workhouse there and the inferred general incompetence of the Army. I have not been able to get satisfactory information up to the present with regard to Nenagh, but I got this wire from the General Officer Commanding in Limerick. He says:
"Newspaper report of Nenagh burning grossly exaggerated. Night patrol on in Nenagh each night. Patrol did not see any fire until time of leaving off duty at 3.30 a.m. The first notice of fire was by guard at barracks about 5 a.m. Troops were rushed to the scene at once, and under great difficulties and shortage of water succeeded in saving the important part of the workhouse. The workhouse is over half a mile from town, and was the last place a burning was anticipated."
Actions such as the burning of the workhouse at Nenagh, portion of which was used as an infirmary and portion for housing the poor, and actions such as took place at Ballyconnell disclose a particular type of madness in the country that the country and the Government, if they face the fact of what a dangerous type of madness it is, cannot hope to cope with by an Army of 35,000 men. I do not want to be brought into the position, just at the present moment, of defending the incompetence, or otherwise, of the Army, but we are asked to face facts, and if we do face the fact that there is this particular type of madness amongst a section of the people in the country who are armed, who are supported in their madness by feeling that they are following an ideal and by gathering to themselves all the phrases and all the words that have supported our national struggle in the past, you cannot hope, from the Army point of view, to deal with them with 35,000 men. And I believe you cannot hope to deal with them if you have the particular type of expressions of sympathy and the particular type of help that is fairly generously being bestowed upon them from the general public—or sections of it at any rate—and particularly from the sections of the general public who are only too glad to point out the inefficiencies, and what they call the incompetencies, of the Army. You can only meet that madness and that destruction that is there by realising that it is there and by realising that if we catch any of those men who came into Ballyconnell the other day and if we deal with them in the way in which this Government has decided to deal with them—that is by charging them with the offence, and if they are found guilty of it, by executing them—you cannot hope to succeed against it if you are going to have public expressions of sympathy with them, and if you are going to have the policy of the Government thoughtlessly decried, without any alternative being put forward to replace it, and if you have a feeling in the minds of the people such as makes it possible for public representatives to vote away public money for the support of these men or for the support of the people who are in any way depending on them. There has been a lag in the development of this madness and a much bigger lag on the part of the people in realising its dangers and the great extent of it, and men are at the present moment supporting this madness who never thought they ever would and men are at the present moment speaking kindly of the authors of it who never thought they ever would. And in facing the fact squarely, and it has to be done, you have to cut away from the people who are guilty of this the people who have been thoughtlessly supporting them, or the people who have been thoughtlessly aiding or sympathising with them. I am happy to say, although it is nervously happy—because people cannot think straight and cannot see straight, and cannot act straight in a very large number of cases, and among very large sections of the people at the present time—there are evidences that people who entered the struggle and people who sympathised with the struggle are facing the fact that the acts which took place, such as at Nenagh and Ballyconnell, are madness which will destroy the country, and they are, I feel, drawing back from that, and showing that they have moral courage enough and strength enough even to repudiate it. With the samples we have had for the last week or two, it is up to them, and it is up to the Government, and it is up to the Army to face the thing squarely and to say that if it is to be dealt with it is to be dealt with, and it is to be dealt with by methods that must be strong and vigorous and untrammelled by useless and unhelpful criticisms. Many of the people, I say, who have supported this, and who very largely have been responsible for the creation of the condition of affairs in which this is possible, draw back now from it, and the Government finds itself in the position that it must establish for all time in the minds of the people among whom such a state of affairs as the present is possible, the sense and the ideal of Government. There is one thing that we cannot admit at the present time. We cannot admit that any section of the people can arm themselves for any particular reason, uncontrolled by the Government, and hold arms to be turned against the representative Government in this country. If there are people who are drawing back from the present destruction, and realising what it means, realising what has been their part in bringing this particular state of affairs about, if they consider and think clearly they must realise that we make our watchword in this particular struggle that arms must be controlled by the Government and that we cannot tolerate that any section of the people shall hold arms against the Government. If they want to think straight and see straight they must see that there is no getting away for any Government, no matter how well disposed it may be, from that principle. We cannot dissociate from those people who acted in Ballyconnell and who acted in Sligo and who are acting and destroying houses around the city any group or any party that is in arms against the Government and we do not intend to do it. We do not intend to be dragged aside from our line of policy or from that particular principle by criticism of any kind or by charges of any kind. We may have those faults in our organisation and in our administration that are ascribed to us, but surely no thinking person, knowing what the last eight months have been, will let themselves go in destructive criticism because of a weakness here and a weakness there, considering the chaotic state of June and July last that we have so successfully emerged from. To-day we find ourselves faced with nothing but the bomb and the mine and the torch and the petrol can. Surely anybody must know that there are hundreds of towns in Ireland like Ballyconnell, and there are hundreds of buildings in Ireland like Nenagh Workhouse, and that you cannot have a detachment of the Army in every small town in the country, and that you cannot have in any town like Nenagh or any town like Dublin an army that will see into every nook and crevice and cellar in every house. We, from the Army point of view, are working, if I might say it, in the subsoil where true growth comes from and where we are away from the fluctuations of temperature which find themselves so very much in the Press and in conversation and very often in this Dáil. We are perfectly aware of the necessity for being on the alert, and of the necessity for preventing that it shall be possible for a group of men to act as the Irregulars from the Arigna Mountains acted at Ballyconnell. We thoroughly sympathise with Deputies here who realise what terrible things these are, and what a terrible thing it is to have a quiet country town walked into in the morning and to have its inhabitants pulled out and murdered in the streets and to have shops looted and robbed, but on the other hand realise that there is this madness about you and realise that it has to be faced squarely, and that you cannot allow anybody to have a finger in the pie and receive sympathy simply because he professes nationality of a particular type or an ideal of a particular type.
The Minister has, not to his discredit, adopted the method in this discussion of replying to a case which has not been made, and thereby trying to turn the flank of the criticism. He has taken the line of replying to an assumed criticism which I am sure Deputy Milroy did not intend to make, that there should not be this thing done or that thing done to the Irregulars' forces because of their ideals, and because of this or that or the other. He has replied to Deputy Milroy's challenge just as he would have replied to the challenge we might have made to-day, yesterday, or six months ago; but I think the Minister has misunderstood the line of question rather than criticism. The question was raised yesterday by Deputy Milroy, and following upon his statement other comments were made, not with a view to calling for leniency or asking for sympathy or trying to evoke clemency, but to get some kind of explanation from the Minister in charge of the defence of the country as to why the defence was proving ineffective. The text was Ballyconnell, but that was only the text; and while one can quite well recognise the difficulties, the impossibility, perhaps, of defending an isolated town like Ballyconnell, it is simply because Ballyconnell was the climax of a long series in all parts of the country of acts which seem to disprove the claim of the Minister that the chaotic state of June and July last has been successfully emerged from. But there is more chaos to-day than there was in June or July last. That is the criticism that the Minister has not met, and that the country would like him to have met. A few days ago we had an exceedingly happy example of what might be called Mark Tapleyism from the President when he asked us to look around and see how many buildings still remain in the country and how many people are still alive. O'Connell Street—well, look at it! There are quite a number of buildings still there, and that is a matter to rejoice over. The Minister for Defence takes the same line. He says: How much more might have been done; and because those much greater evils have not happened, let us rejoice. Now, that is a very happy frame of mind, and I do not think it is habitual with the Minister; but really the Dáil and the country would like some evidence in justification of that happy frame of mind. I do not think the Minister is reasonable in suggesting that there has been a lot of useless and unhelpful criticism. I think I said before, and I say it again, that I do not believe he could find in the history of any country or any Government so much restraint of criticism of the Government in the circumstances of the last few months. It is somewhat ungracious, I think, and it is certainly not in keeping with his general bearing, to charge the Dáil or any section of it with having indulged in unhelpful and useless criticism. Possibly if there had been abler and keener criticism it would have been better for the Ministry and better for the country. It is suggested that critics ought to provide suggestions for an alternative policy to that which is being followed. I think it would be unwise for any critic to offer, with any confidence and with a sense of responsibility, an alternative policy, unless he were in possession of many more facts, very much fuller information, about the state of the country, the Army, and the military situation generally, than the Government allows us to come into possession of. It would be tolly indeed to make suggestions of an alternative policy unless we were given an opportunity to know very much more of the facts of the situation than is allowed to come to us. We cannot but respect the suggestion that has been made by the Minister that he should not be pressed to make a general statement. I am sure he has good reasons for that request; but it has been made rather frequently and for quite a considerable time, and I hope that not long hence we shall be given a full and frank statement of the whole of the facts relating to the present position in the country, including the general Army policy, and the proposal for meeting the acknowledged inefficiencies—I think that was the word he used—in the Army. There was one remark of the Minister that calls for some comment. He referred to the debate that took place yesterday in the Seanad, and references to the support of dependents of prisoners. I want to make my own position and the position of my colleagues clear on that matter. The Minister speaks of public money being provided for the support of these men, indicating men who have been engaged in arms and actively supporting those in arms against the Government. That is not the case at all. No one that I know of has made any claim of that kind. The Minister, though, asked us to assume that these men and all other men who are in custody are guilty of being in possession of arms, or engaged in activity of one kind or another against the Government of the country, which is a very different thing indeed. The Minister wants us to assume their guilt because they are imprisoned. That is not sufficient evidence of a man's guilt in these days, and there has been no suggestion made from the Ministerial Benches that the men in question are any more guilty than any other person who is in the custody of the military authorities to-day, many of whom, I have no doubt, whatever their sympathies may have been—and political opinions are not yet banned— have certainly not given any positive assistance to the campaign against the Government. The Minister laid it down that there was a principle which must be adhered to, that arms were only to be held in the country by people who had the consent of the Government to hold those arms. I once held that view, which was perhaps modified to some extent by the advocacy of men whom Ministers generally followed, and I am inclined to think that on the whole, taking a full view of both sides, that the advocacy of those men was the right one. I will ask the Minister to consider whether this is the essential principle, the ultimate unbreakable principle, that he has in mind, or whether he should not alter it to this: that there should be no other than one Executive authority in the country trying to carry out the functions of Government. That is, I contend, an absolutely irrevocable principle to be adopted by any people who want to live in amity. It is quite impossible to have for any lengthened period two Governments in the same area, each trying to function with the sanction of force. But that is not quite the same thing as saying that every citizen of that country must be deprived of his arms except with the formal consent of the Government, and I make bold to say, if it is the intention of the Government, without any modification, to stand by that particular doctrine, it will be impossible to enforce, and I question whether it will be essentially desirable to enforce.
I was not particularly anxious to speak, and I do not think I would have spoken but for certain constructions put upon my remarks by Deputy Johnson. He spoke of Deputy Milroy's challenge to the Government. I had no intention of challenging the Government; I had no intention of trying to lift the slightest edge of the veil of necessary obscurity that shrouds the Army organisation. I was only concerned with the human factor in this case, or rather, perhaps, it might be more correct to say, the inhuman factor, that certain of my constituents had been shot down like dogs, and that those who are guilty of that atrocity had done so with impunity. I do not want to go over the whole range of things that have been elicited by this debate, but I do not think we understand the real position. In Ireland to-day we do not understand what a fragile thing society is, and how easy it is for a few determined, unscrupulous and ruthless men to shatter the whole fabric of society if they make up their minds to do it, and if the forces that stand to defend society are not in a state of matured organisation to meet such contingencies. There is no country in the world, if there arose within it a few hundred determined, ruthless and unscrupulous men that might not have suffered infinitely more disaster than Ireland has suffered. If there was such a band of men in England to-day destroying railway bridges, bombing factories and public buildings, they could, within 24 hours, before society could rally itself to cope with them, have carried out infinitely more damage and disaster than has been carried out in a country like Ireland during the episode we have gone through. We have to recognise, not merely the horror of the situation, but the inevitable limitations that have been placed upon those who, owing to circumstances, have had the terrible task of trying to avert, or diminish, these disasters in the country. I am satisfied with the speech of the Commander-in-Chief. He says they are taking steps that what happened in Ballyconnell is not likely to happen in that area again. I hope it will happen in no area in Ireland. He said also we had to recognise the fact that there was a species of madness in the country, and, if we recognise that fact, we must recognise also that you cannot meet madness as you would meet political opposition. You cannot meet a mad dog in the same way as you would meet a dog that is merely barking. You will require much more drastic measures to deal with him. Society and the Irish nation is of much more importance than the predilections or dispositions of those who are afflicted with this madness in Ireland to-day, and if we put the safety of those who are afflicted with that delirium over the safety of the nation then the nation is going to go down under this extreme delirium that has already played such havoc with the country. As I have said, I have no wish to range over the whole thing, but this I would like to say that I believe if we had in those who are opposing the Government the same rational argumentative criticism as that which was put up by Deputy Johnson there would be no necessity to have to resort to those drastic measures. But there is a difference which cannot be bridged between the logical political opposition of Deputy Johnson and his followers, and the atrocities that occurred at Ballyconnell and other parts of the country which are symptoms of the attempt to destroy this Government, and the whole basis and principle of representative Government in Ireland and to bring back the regime and the idea of the feudal barons as the dominant factor in the Government of Ireland. We have got to recognise the fact that we cannot judge the active militant forces against the Government by the standards and the principles of democratic opposition to representative Government. You have got to understand that you are faced with men who, whether they realise it or not, are acting as the enemies of the Irish State, and you will never overcome them unless you meet them in the spirit that you are confronting the enemies of the State. I do not agree either with Deputy Johnson when he says that we have more chaos and confusion now than we had last June. I certainly think he misjudges the situation, because what we are confronted with to-day is not a real organised military campaign, but a series of stunts.
Chaos and confusion.
I think that out of the chaos and confusion there is emerging the germ of organised society. I think in all these Bills that have been introduced in this Dáil and discussed within the past few days we see the workmen operating who are moulding the fabric of society which as it grows and gathers strength will eliminate those elements of disorder and give to the Irish nation the bulwarks of stability and security that will make it impossible for these disasters ever again to fall upon this country. I believe, too, that no man is doing a greater share towards that end than Deputy Johnson, for on every one of those measures that have been brought before the Dáil he has brought to bear an intelligent, sane and constructive mind. Although I differ fundamentally with many of his points of view, I recognise the value of his judgment, and I wish to heavens that it was the most formidable thing that the Free State had to face in its effort to assert itself. If it were so, I think the future of Ireland would be assured, and I think that future would be a happy and prosperous one.