I guarantee that this Bill asks for no more than that. Herod, I think, dealt with the innocents. I do not know that it will be claimed for these people that they are innocent— innocent of serious crime against their fellow citizens and against the country as a whole. Now, I quite appreciate that there is a mentality which considers that any stone is good enough to throw at a Government dog, and if he happens to be a dog whose duty it is to do a good deal of barking, and a certain amount of biting, so much the better. There has been talk here of lámh láidir and die-hardism, but no country ever won out to greatness by pettifogging or mealymouthedness; and we have a grave duty to discharge to the people—to those now living in this country and to the people who have yet to live in this country; and from the day when we first met round the Cabinet Table we have endeavoured to discharge it. This Bill is brought forward in strict conformity with what we regard to be our duty to the people of the country.
What is the alternative? To release upon the country, which is barely finding its feet, barely passing out from a stage of national hysteria to conditions of peace and order, and to some kind of appreciation of civic responsibility, thirteen thousand men—or the great majority of them at any rate—who throughout the last year have been engaged in the most heinous and disgraceful campaign of crime that ever disfigured the pages of this country's history—turn them out to man the hidden guns again, if the people's vote in the coming election fails to coincide with their particular fancy or political preference. It would not be a conscientious discharge of our duty. We ask for power to hold such of these men as we consider advisable, in the public interest, to hold, and we ask for power to intern people who are abusing their liberty in a manner detrimental to the public safety.
Section 1 of the Bill provides that the Minister shall have power, on the report of a responsible officer, to intern three classes of people, people in respect of whom there has been received a report from a responsible officer that there is reasonable ground for suspecting (a) such a person of being or having been engaged or concerned in the commission of any of the offences mentioned in Part I. of the Schedule to this Act, or (b) in respect of whom such a Minister shall have received a report from the Military Authorities that the detention of such person is a matter of military necessity in the present emergency, or (c) in respect of whom such Minister shall have received a report from the responsible officer or from the military authorities that the public safety is endangered by such person being allowed to remain at liberty.” The “Responsible Officer” is defined in the Act as “An officer of the Military Forces of Saorstát Eireann not below the rank of Captain, or an officer of a police force established by or under the control of the Minister for Home Affairs not below the rank of Superintendent.”
There is further in this Bill, a provision dealing with two particular offences for which the Court shall impose the sentence of whipping. The offences are the crimes of robbery under arms, and arson. These are the crimes which strike at the root of society, at the root of peace and security within the country, and, if the country is to go forward in peace, it is absolutely necessary that crimes of this kind, cowardly, heinous crimes, should be stamped out. The punishment that ought to be attached to particular crimes has always depended and must always depend upon the prevalence of that particular crime. In one set of circumstances this penalty, for instance, might be excessive and might be properly described as retrograde; in another set of circumstances it is eminently justifiable, for the penalty to be attached to these crimes must be a penalty that will be effective as a deterrent. There are other crimes to which, if they became general, it would be a fitting thing to affix this penalty, crimes that fortunately for ourselves seldom occur in this country, and when they do occur are admittedly a disgrace. Within the last year arson has become the stock-in-trade of the idealist. Robbery under arms became routine, almost normal, and the partition between robbery under arms and murder is a very slight partition indeed, depending purely on such accidental circumstances as the courage, or lack of courage, of the individual whom it is sought to rob. We had seriously under consideration the question of attaching to that particular crime the capital penalty. If the people's homes are to be made secure, if a man can go into his house of an evening with any kind of confidence that he will be undisturbed throughout the night, we must stamp out that offence, the offence by which a man with a gun, and by virtue of his gun, seeks to rob from his neighbour the fruits of his thrift or of his enterprise.
Now this is a world of facts, and we have to face them, and we face the fact that throughout this country within the last year, the moral standard has been lowered and there has been such a wave of degradation that many people have lost all rudder and compass to guide them in matters of right and wrong; they have thrown the moral law to the winds, the law of God as well as the law of man, and there are throughout this country at the present moment more arms and explosives hidden away to be accessible to people than there ever were before. Now you have that combination of facts—a plentiful supply of weapons and a very general demoralisation—and in face of these facts one can draw unfortunately only one deduction, and that is, that this particular crime of robbery under arms will be common here unless the Parliament of the country, facing the facts, affixes a penalty that will be an ample deterrent. Men will try to live by their guns; men have lived by their guns for the last year, and men have got out of the way of work and have lost the spirit of work, and will attempt henceforth to secure the fruits of labour, without labour, unless they are checked.
I come in a responsible spirit to this Dáil to point out these facts, to give an intelligent anticipation of the state of affairs that will prevail here in this country, and as the Minister primarily responsible for law and the observance of law, for order and for decency of life here between man and man, I ask for these special penalties to attach to these particularly heinous and cowardly offences, and I record my opinion that lesser penalties will not suffice. Imprisonment as a punishment, and still more as a deterrent, has become blunt. There are further provisions in the Bill. In Section 6, power is asked where there is wholesale and flagant defiance of the law in the matter of the seizure of land, the wrongful and illegal seizure of lands by placing stock upon them, to enable the Executive to have such animals seized and sold, devoting the proceeds in compensation to the person whose rights are infringed and providing that the surplus shall revert to the Exchequer. There is no intention of using these powers where there is a dispute as to title, or in any case of purely casual trespass, but in many counties throughout last year you have had numerous cases of flagrant defiance of the law, a direct challenge to the State, by people with no pretext whatsoever of legal or moral title, but as simply going in on property, and saying that law or no law, State or no State, they wanted that property, and meant to hold it. That constitutes a problem that is of concern to more than the individual owner whose rights are infringed.
It is a challenge to basic things. It is a direct challenge to the State, and the State, whilst such a situation exists and while challenges of that kind are the commonplace rather than the exception, must take and must ask from its Parliament very full powers to deal with people who go out in that spirit to seize with a strong hand what is not theirs. As I have said on a previous occasion, if the property laws are wrong let them be amended here or repealed here; let there be new legislation. But the people must rule themselves. They must rule themselves through their representatives. Without order there can be no progress, there can be no security. It is little use talking of huge unemployment figures and endeavouring to rectify that truly deplorable state of affairs if we fail to take steps that will conduce to a feeling of reasonable security in which men may invest their capital in undertakings with a reasonable prospect of securing a return. We cannot condone or connive at challenges of that kind to the whole property code of law, or fail to stamp out once and for all illegalities which bring about a situation where every man who has £5 or £10 or £20 is holding on to it, is afraid to let it out, to put it into any enterprise because challenges of this kind are so common, because he knows not what day he will be told, "You do not own that at all except by virtue of some antiquated British Act of Parliament; I own it, and the man round the corner owns it; anyone but you owns it."
There are Sections in the Bill—I cannot say to what extent they will be effective, though I agree that they are proper —which enable steps to be taken to secure the restitution of stolen property. Section 9 provides punishments for persons found in possession of stolen property, and Section 10 lays down provisions which might enable stolen property to be traced:
If and whenever an Executive Minister shall apply to a District Justice and allege that any land, investments or other property (including money) in the possession or under the control of any person was bought by such person with or otherwise represents or is directly or indirectly derived from—
(a) any stolen property or funds; or
(b) any public funds, or funds which ought to be in the custody of a Minister or a Government Department,
the District Justice shall, unless the person having possession or control of such land, investments or property, satisfies him that such allegation is untrue, order the transfer of such property, in so far as it consists of land, to the Irish Land Commission, and in so far as it consists of investments or other property, to the Minister for Finance.
There are, as we know, through the country people who have blossomed out into affluence that is at least suspicious, people who 12 months ago were men of straw and who have bought farms on the proceeds of their plunder. Deputies are aware of it, and Deputies have spoken to me personally about it. It would be a public scandal if steps were not taken to deal with a situation of that kind and to make people who have blossomed out into that kind of affluence account for their sudden good fortune and show cause why they should not be considerably poorer than they seem to be. Banks have been robbed throughout the country, Post Offices have been robbed, private individuals have been robbed, and so far as is reasonably or humanly possible the Executive proposes to get after the robbers and to secure that the stolen property will be returned. Section 11 is simply an extension of that principle to enable bank accounts to be held up and payments suspended at the request of the Minister for Finance until such time as investigations have been held showing the source of the money and showing the ownership.
Section 12 of the Bill provides for a change of venue in criminal cases on the certificate of the Attorney-General that he believes that a fairer and more impartial trial can be had at a Court and in a county to be named in such certificate. It enables the venue of a particular trial to be changed in the case of criminal offences. That, unfortunately, is likely to be necessary. There are still counties where such a state of terrorism and intimidation prevails that a jury cannot be found to convict, and juries have acquitted in the teeth of absolutely overwhelming evidence of guilt. The hidden arms will, no doubt, be a factor in the situation in intimidating weak jurymen whose public spirit is not sufficient to overcome their private fears. In fact, the hidden arms may be taken to be a factor in the whole situation which one cannot afford to ignore, and if it becomes necessary to bring it finally home to certain people, who rather take delight in quibbling, that they cannot have it both ways, that is one of the objects of this Bill.
We are at the moment responsible to the people of the country for their peace and order and prosperity, so far as it lies in the power of Parliament to bring about prosperity, and we ask for power to continue in internment people who have been bludgeoning their fellow-citizens for a year, who have been burning their homes, who have been wrecking the railways, who have been trying by any and every means to garrotte the country. We cannot see fit to turn loose in a single day on the country, after the Courts may have decided that a state of war is at an end, 13,000 people of that kind. There will be releases. Steps are being taken to sift the prisoners, to say who amongst them could be safely returned to his home and to his occupation, but anything like a wholesale release of these 12,000 or 13,000 people is not in the interests of public safety, and we would not be discharging our duty to the people if we did not come here to the Dáil and ask for powers to continue such of these in internment as we may think it advisable to continue in internment.
We could not agree that it would be in accordance with our task and our responsibilities simply to release these men the day after the Courts would have decided there was actually no state of war or no state of armed revolt. We have at the moment no statutory power for their detention. Their detention has been based throughout the last year on a military situation; they have been detained as a matter of military necessity, and that military necessity would end when the Courts would decide there was no state of war in the country. Now, Deputy Gavan Duffy dealt with this matter on the First Reading, and, rather as if he were making a brilliant discovery, he positively chortled over it. This wicked Executive, he says, wants to forestall Habeas Corpus, which ends when the Courts will some day say they have no legal power to hold these prisoners. Precisely, the Court will some day say we have no legal power to hold these prisoners unless the Dáil meanwhile enacts that those of them whose liberation is considered dangerous shall be held. The Courts have held that they are precluded by the military situation from inquiring into the legality of the acts of the army, but presumably the day will come, whether near or far, when the Courts will not hold themselves so precluded, and if the Dáil in the meantime has not given to the Executive legal and statutory power to detain these people, the Executive will have no alternative but to order their release. That is the position, and there is no dark secret about it.