PUBLIC SAFETY (EMERGENCY POWERS) BILL, 1923. - FIFTH STAGE.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

I want to move that the Bill do now pass, and, in moving that, to draw attention briefly to some misconceptions that exist with regard to the Bill. There has been in connection with this Bill just the same kind of loose, ill-informed criticism that there was, say, about the Rent Restrictions Bill. It has been represented to me that it is the intention under this Bill to turn around now, and apply the lash to people who burned property or robbed with arms within the last ten or twelve months, and who are now in our custody. Deputies here, I trust, understand that that is not the position, and the provision of the penalties under this Bill are not to be applied to any offences save offences committeed after the passing of the Act—after the Bill becomes law. There is fair warning for every prospective robber and every prospective arsoneur in the country with regard to the penalty he may expect to meet if tried and found guilty before a jury of his fellow-countrymen. There is also at least a misunderstanding with regard to the question of holding prisoners. I pointed out again and again in this Dáil that to hold any prisoners for a single day after the Court decides that there is not in this country a state of war or armed revolt you must get legal power to hold the prisoners, and proceed then to use with judgment that discretion which the Executive Council which retains the confidence of the representatives of the people may be presumed to have. The Bill was not conceived in any spirit of vindictiveness, or in any desire to do anything but to secure the safety and wellbeing of the people to whom we are responsible. I move that it do now pass.

I desire to ask that a verbal amendment be inserted in Section 4, Sub-section (4) (b), to add the words "so long as this Act continues in force" after the word "custody" in line 4. In other words, to make it plain that that sub-section, like Sections 1 and 2, is not intended to authorise internment beyond the period of this Bill.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

It might astound and even alarm the Deputy, but I am not accepting the amendment. Neither I nor any of my officials, nor any of the legal advisers of the Government, take the view that the power of detention which this Bill proposes to confer could be exercised for a single day after the expiry of the Act. Neither I nor any one of my advisers take the view that in nine months' time an Executive could plead, in defence of holding in its custody a person uncharged and untried, an Act which had expired three months before. I do not propose to cater for the mentality which puts up that amendment. It is ridiculous, and to accept it would bring the Executive, which is standing over this Bill, into ridicule. The power of detaining persons without trial arises from the Bill and dies with the Bill, and no executive in the world, not even an Executive numbering the Deputy amongst its numbers, would stand over the holding of a person without trial in nine months time, and say they derive that power from a Bill which had expired three months before.

The Minister says he has consulted his legal advisers on the general question as to whether internment could continue beyond the Act. I ask him to consult them with respect to this particular section, in which he has power to detain persons in custody during such period as an Executive Minister considers necessary.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

During such period within the lifetime of the Bill.

That is what I asked to have made clear, and the Minister will not agree. I have very distinguished legal opinion to the effect that such a clause is necessary. I regret that any amendment coming from this quarter is always met in the same impossible spirit by the Minister for Home Affairs.

Amendment put and negatived.

Motion: "That the Bill do now pass." put and agreed to.

The Bill will be accordingly sent to the Seanad.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.40 p.m. until 3 o'clock on Tuesday, 24th July.