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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 16 Nov 1923

Vol. 5 No. 13


I regret I was not in when the Questions were finished. I wish to raise a question of privilege. I think it was in Wednesday's issue of the "Freeman's Journal" a statement was made that reflects on the members of this Dáil and Seanad. The statement did not actually charge the Oireachtas with a practice that ought not to obtain, but it certainly said so by implication. I want to draw the attention of the Dáil to this. It appeared in the last portion of their article:—

"Economies of this kind would not make a large total, but they would prove to the country that its representatives are in earnest in their pledges of retrenchment, and if all this is true where there is no abuse, it is ten-fold more obvious when there has been abuse. It has been asserted the privilege of free railway passes is being abused. These passes should be used only when the members are on public business. They ought not to be used when members are engaged particularly in their private concerns, going to fairs and markets or even to racecourses, for example. Inquiry ought to be made into the uses of these passes and the Railway Companies asked for information on the matter. The Oireachtas itself has to show an example of public spirit beyond the ordinary in times that are not ordinary."

Now, very grave abuses are implied there, as being practised by members of this Dáil and the Seanad, or I should use the word Oireachtas. To begin there have been no passes issued by the Minister for Finance that I am aware of. There is issued when a Deputy or Senator wants to go down to his constituency a voucher that will entitle him to a railway ticket to travel on the day of the issue of the ticket. It is not a pass. There are no passes issued. The words used in the article "going to fairs and markets" would seem to be levelled at a certain section of this assembly.

Yes, going to the racecourses also. Speaking on behalf of the party I belong to, we have never used or abused the ticket that was issued for any purpose other than to go back to our homes or constituencies directly from here when the session of the Dáil was over. If we had to come up to the city between the meetings of the Dáil we came up at our own expense, and, needless to tell you, we did not travel first-class. I think a statement like this in a public newspaper should be either proved or withdrawn. If it is neither proved nor withdrawn, I will ask the Dáil here to summon to the Bar of this assembly whoever is responsible for the statement—the owner or editor of the paper. He has either to prove his statement or withdraw it. This effort to sling mud is not, I think, at all worthy of any journal. They must be either in possession of certain facts or they must confess themselves that they have been malicious, without information or authority. It is not alone a reflection on me and the party I belong to, but it is a reflection on every member of the Oireachtas. I do not know whether the Minister for Finance would make a statement on the matter, but I want free discussion on this matter and the whole thing thrashed out, and if a proper treatment of this article and the questions it raises is not forthcoming, and if the Editor is not prepared to prove what he says, then he must withdraw it.

I was Minister for Finance when this question of railway passes was raised. It will be within the recollection of the Deputies that it was frequently put to us that it would be a much more satisfactory arrangement for Deputies if season tickets were issued. We went very closely and carefully into this matter. We found that it would require a slightly additional number of journeys to and from the Oireachtas to warrant the issue of season tickets.

I do not know that during that time many members complained of the inconvenience to themselves of the arrangements which were made by the Ministry of Finance to ensure that there should be no abuses, and even if members were disposed to abuse this privilege the arrangements that were made did not leave any room whatever for abuse in the matter of travelling vouchers, so that there was no possible chance of any member getting a railway voucher to or from a fair or market, or anything of that sort. It is certainly unfair to members of the Oireachtas, and unfair to the Ministry of Finance, that there should be any question whatever regarding the railway vouchers. I have not even heard of any case in which any member of the Oireachtas applied for a voucher other than the one he was entitled to, and I have heard of many cases in which members did not apply though entitled to do so. The very arrangements that we have made here of sitting from 12 to 4 on Fridays was come to so that members could get away early in the evening, and there were many occasions upon which members, in a hurry to get away to the country, could not get the vouchers in time, and many of them were at a loss in consequence. It is laid down in The Oireachtas (Payment of Members) Act, 1923, Section 3, Sub-Section (1):—

"The travelling facilities to be received by each member of the Oireachtas under this Act shall be—

"(a)in the case of a member of Dáil Eireann, travelling facilities as defined by this Act between Dublin and any place in the constituency for which he is a member, and (b) in the case of a member of Seanad Eireann, travelling facilities as defined by this Act between Dublin and his usual place of residence for the time being: Provided that such place of residence be in Saorstát Eireann unless in any case in which the Minister for Finance shall be satisfied that special circumstances existing in Saorstát Eireann reasonably deter such member from residence for the time being in Saorstát Eireann and justify the allowance in whole or part of travelling facilities to or from such member's actual place of residence."

It says, in Sub-Section 2:—"The travelling facilities aforesaid shall be provided and paid in such manner as shall from time to time be prescribed by regulations to be made by the Minister for Finance after consultation with the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Eireann and the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Eireann."

Even at the risk of repeating myself I would say that if there was a desire to abuse there was no room for it, and I have not heard of any case where an attempt was made to abuse the facility which members are perfectly entitled to under the Constitution.

I happen to be one of the members that raised the question of passes, instead of vouchers, upon one or two occasions in the Dáil. I did not do so in order that I, as an individual member, should get any advantage, because so far as I am concerned personally, it would not affect me, living as I do in the Metropolitan area. Since I became a member of the Dáil, I have not used more than five of the vouchers to which I am entitled. I would say that the article, to which Deputy Gorey has very properly drawn attention, displays a certain amount of ignorance with regard to the use of these vouchers. The article says that "Inquiry ought to be made into the use of these passes and the railway companies asked for information on the matter." I do not think that the railway companies can give any information on that matter to show abuses, even if there were any, but the counterfoils of the vouchers in the Clerk's Office would show, if an inquiry is necessary, whether or not the privilege to which members are entitled is being abused. According to this article, it might mean that if Deputy Gorey wanted to go to a fair in Longford he could get a voucher if he asked for it, but as far as I understand, and I think all Deputies understand the exact position, a member is only entitled to a voucher between Dublin and any railway station in his constituency. It can be quite clearly proved beyond all doubt, if investigation is made, or is necessary, whether that privilege has been abused by any member of the Dáil.

When I made representations to the Minister for Finance suggesting that there should be railway passes instead of vouchers, I was under the impression that the passes would mean a saving to the Exchequer, but I realise now that, unless a certain number of journeys are covered per week, there would not be a saving. I think Deputy Gorey has done a public service by drawing attention to this article, which is absolutely unwarranted, and the statements in which, in my opinion, could not be proved. It is extraordinary how information of this kind could be obtained by the person responsible for writing that article. I do not know whether Deputy Gorey, in suggesting that the writer of the article should be brought to the Bar of the Dáil, meant this Chamber here, or the chamber in another place, but if he meant that the writer should be brought here to explain this article I agree that his suggestion is a proper one. However, the person responsible for writing the article displays such ignorance of the whole procedure that I think we can leave the matter now where it is after hearing the explanation given by the President.

I just want to say that I think it would be very unwise for us to pursue this matter after the condemnation that has been expressed. I think it would be attaching altogether too much importance to the newspaper or to the leader writer, or the proprietor of the paper, to ask them to come to this Dáil to explain.

I quite agree, though I feel a little bit of temper in approaching this matter. When I referred to the Bar of the House, I meant the Bar of the House, and not the bar of the restaurant, but if the Dáil is satisfied with the statement that has been made, explaining the whole position, I am satisfied. At the same time, I think an apology is due from the paper that published such a statement, or else the paper should prove it. I really think the matter ought not be left there. I do not want the proprietor of the paper brought to the Bar of the House, but I think an apology should be forthcoming from him. As one member of the Dáil, I insist that the person who wrote the article should either prove it or apologise for it.

There is nothing for me to add to what the President has said, except a little about the machinery of the matter in the Dáil office. As the President has said, no railway passes are issued. A Deputy under the Oireachtas (Payment of Members) Act, 1923, is entitled to a voucher between Dublin and any place in the constituency for which he is a member. For a particular journey, he gets a particular voucher signed by the Clerk of the Dáil. He must make application in the office for that voucher before he gets it. Obviously a great many Deputies never get a voucher. Deputies who represent Dublin City and Dublin County never get a voucher at all. Other Deputies only get a railway voucher between Dublin and their constituencies. It would be utterly impossible, for example, for Deputy Wilson, who represents the County Wicklow, to get a voucher to, say, the County Wexford, the County Kilkenny, or the County Donegal, utterly and completely impossible under the arrangements made.

When the Dáil is sitting, Deputies who come from a distance to Dublin, get, on an average, one return voucher per weekly sitting. That is to say, practically all the country Deputies will this evening get a return voucher to their own constituency and will come back on it next Wednesday. Some of them will stay over. That is the average number of vouchers issued. During a recess, when the Dáil is not meeting, vouchers are not issued in the office except for attendance at a Committee of the Dáil, or other business of the Dáil, and Committees of the Dáil, as a matter of fact, very rarely meet during a recess. There have been very few examples of that, so that when the Dáil is not sitting, members practically never get a voucher. The arrangements made under the Act are made by the Minister for Finance in consultation with myself and with the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Eireann, and they ensure the utmost economy, consistent with affording Deputies railway facilities as between the place where the Dáil meets and their own constituencies.

The article in question has, therefore, no possible basis in fact. I, personally, think it is not worth while to say any more about it than that, and I think the matter has now been satisfactorily dealt with and can be left at that.

I am quite satisfied, A Chinn Comhairle, as you suggest, but as I said before, I felt in a bit of temper about the whole matter. On two or three occasions during the sittings of the last Dáil I came to Dublin to attend the meetings here at my own expense. There were also occasions when the railway line between Kilkenny and Dublin was cut, and I had to go round by the Dublin and South Eastern Railway system to get to Dublin, and I did that at my own expense. I need hardly say that I travelled third class, but the expense I was put to amounted to something like £8. I did not make any claim for a refund of that money, and I do not intend to do so, but personally I think that this article is an insult to every member of the Oireachtas.

I know the circumstances of which Deputy Gorey speaks. I know a Deputy who has a season ticket on the Great Northern Railway who goes home nearly every night from the Dáil and comes up to Dublin on the following day to attend the meetings of the Dáil. He does that at his own expense, though I think he would be entitled to a voucher which would cost considerably more than the ticket he possesses. Therefore, he travels at his own expense in the interests of the State.