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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 11 Mar 1924

Vol. 6 No. 25



I move that this Bill be received for final consideration.

May I ask the Minister if he has been pleased to give consideration to the amendment which he promised to give consideration to, or the suggestions for the amendment, and what has been the result of his consideration?


It was, I think, concerned with certain offences mentioned in Part 2 of the Schedule:—

"Having possession without lawful authority, of any article of clothing, equipment or accoutrement or any arms or ammunition belonging or issued to any member of the military or police forces of Saorstát Eireann, and putting on or assuming without authority the uniform or any part of the uniform of any branch of the military or police forces of Saorstát Eireann."

Looking up the Police Acts I find in the Constabulary Act of 1919, Section 8:—

"If any person not being a member of the Police Forces wears, without permission of the Chief Commissioner, the uniform of the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force or any dress having the appearance of or bearing any of the distinctive marks of such uniform he shall, on summary conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding ten pounds: Provided that this Section shall not prevent persons from wearing any uniform or dress in the course of a play, music hall or circus performance.

Section 17 of the Civic Guard Act, 1923, says:—

"If any person, not being a member of the Gárda Síochána, shall have in his possession any article of clothing or equipment belonging to a member of the Gárda Síochána and shall not be able satisfactorily to account for his possession thereof, or shall, without the permission of the Commissioner, put on or wear the uniform of any rank or member or any colourable imitation of such uniform, or shall, for the purpose of doing or procuring to be done any act which such person would not by law be entitled to do or procure to be done by his own authority assume the name, designation, or description of any rank or of any member of the Gárda Síochána, such person shall on summary conviction be liable in addition to any other punishment to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds for every such offence or to imprisonment with or without hard labour for any period not exceeding six months."

So much for the police forces. I consider that the fine of £10, which is the statutory penalty at present in connection with the Metropolitan Police, is inadequate in the circumstances. The Section of the Civic Guard Act would seem to be sufficient. In the Defence Forces Act, which is at present law, I could find nothing covering this point. Yet, in the existing circumstances of the State, the offence of masquerading as an officer of the police or military forces is a serious offence that the Government ought to take sufficient powers to deal with and to punish adequately. I put it to Deputies that, having regard to the omission from the Defence Forces Act, and the rather small penalty for assuming the uniform of the D.M.P., that these two paragraphs of the Schedule should be allowed to stand in this temporary Bill.

On the general question, I intend to oppose the Bill on the grounds on which I have opposed it right through, that it is not necessary to introduce a new temporary Bill empowering the authorities and the courts to inflict certain punishments for offences which are offences at any time, and, more particularly, in regard to the kind of punishment that is authorised by the Bill. I asked the Minister if he had not been able to give consideration, or, having given consideration, if he had not been able to meet the points of criticism in reference to one or two matters which were made during the Committee Stage. For instance, I think I am right in saying that he promised consideration of the apportionment or the evaluation of the imprisonment in terms of cash as contained in Section 1. It was treated with a little lightness, but really embodies a very considerable principle, inasmuch as the effect of it may be to give the man who has money an opportunity to buy off imprisonment at a cheaper rate than a man who had no money, and the differentiation in the evaluation of imprisonment that is contained in Sub-Section (2) as compared with Sub-Section (3) (a) and (b).

As I pointed out before, the additional sentence which may be imposed upon a person convicted by a Court of Summary Jurisdiction may be a fine of fifty pounds. If the person cannot pay or will not pay that fine within one month he may be imprisoned for a further period, without hard labour, of six months. If he happens to be a man able to find fifty pounds easily, or whose friends are able to provide him with fifty pounds, then he will buy off the six months' imprisonment. If he is a poor man and cannot find fifty pounds, then he suffers six months' imprisonment. I take it from that, that the Minister values six months' imprisonment, without hard labour, as being worth fifty pounds to the man who can find fifty pounds. But, then, in the next paragraph we have the additional punishment of a fine of one hundred pounds which, if it is not paid, would involve a further sentence of twelve months' penal servitude. So that in this case again the man that has the hundred pounds or can find the hundred pounds can buy off the twelve months' penal servitude. If he cannot find one hundred pounds and has no rich friends he is liable to suffer a further imprisonment of twelve months' penal servitude. Again, I take it that the Minister's mind is that one hundred pounds in this case is equal to twelve months' penal servitude. But the following paragraph says £100 is equal to six months without hard labour, except on the principle, as was suggested on the last occasion, that you get off more easily by taking a quantity. I cannot understand the method of evaluation.

I am sorry Deputy Davin is not here to follow up the argument that was raised by him regarding the offence of having possession, without lawful authority, of arms, or ammunition, or clothing belonging to or issued to any member of the military forces or police forces. The Minister has pointed out that there are certain penalties involved in the ordinary law respecting the police, but that there are no penalties involved in the ordinary law respecting military. Take the case that Deputy Davin instanced, of soldiers to whom arms and accoutrements were issued which had not to be given up on demobilisation. Are these people to be considered in unlawful possession of arms or accountrements, or is it suggested that it is their business to sell them so as to get rid of them? If it is a fact, as we have been informed, and I think the information is likely to be correct, that soldiers are not required to account, on demobilisation, for all the arms that have been distributed to them, then we are to take it that they are expected to retain them, or if not to sell or dispose of them somehow?

It leaves the position of the demobilised soldiers a very difficult, and, perhaps, a very dangerous one. If he is, so far as army laws and orders are concerned, entitled to retain possession of arms which have been handed to him, or clothing which has been left with him, and if we are asked to pass special laws making it a penalty that he should retain these arms or accoutrements, I say that we are not doing fairly by the ex-soldier, and certainly not legislating in accordance with the requirements. It is either that, or the administration of the army is not satisfactory; we are not retaining proper control of the arms which we have voted money for. As we are not discussing the conduct of the army, we have a right to assume that the army is carrying out its obligations satisfactorily, and that in doing so, it has been justified and authorised by the Executive Council to allow soldiers to retain arms on demobilisation. I ask, are we entitled to pass special laws making it a penalty that they should retain possession of these arms? Until we are satisfied that the retaining of arms is made an offence under the army, surely we ought not to be asked to pass special laws which would affect them as civilians, while allowing a law to operate which does not affect them as soldiers.

The further consideration which makes me object to the passing of this Bill is, of course, the special punishments which are provided in Section 1, which I have already argued against. I have said everything that I think it is necessary to say on that. I cannot add anything, except that I object to it, not out of consideration in the slightest degree for the prisoner, but because I think it is retrogressive legislation, and will not achieve the end sought for.


With regard to the point raised by Deputy Johnson, the fines, and the amount in relation to terms of imprisonment, and so on, I think my comment on the last occasion on which the Deputy raised that was, that I was prepared to consider any suggestion. I have received no suggestion, but I am still prepared to consider any that reaches me before the Bill becomes law. As to these offences in the Schedule, I said that I could not find in the Defence Forces Act anything dealing with the wearing of military uniform. The question of arms is a different matter. When the Firearms Bill becomes law, the position of any civilian carrying arms without a police permit will be covered by that Bill. The Minister for Defence is not here, but as far as I am aware, soldiers or officers being demobilised are required to give up all weapons which come their way as members of the military forces. I think it would be idle on my part, and I think the Deputy scarcely expects, that I should resume any argument in connection with the special penalties for special offences that this Bill provides, or go again into the question of whether a changing, a new, and a special situation does not require special legislation standing out from the ordinary code current in the country. I think that has been discussed threadbare on the Second Reading and on the Committee Stage. I ask the Dáil to receive this Bill for final consideration.

Question put: "That the Public Safety (Punishment of Offences) Temporary Bill, 1924, be received for final consideration."
The Dail divided:—Tá, 45; Níl, 10.

Earnán Altún.Richard H. Beamish.Earnán de Blaghd.Seoirse de Bhulbh.Próinsias Bulfin.Bryan R. Cooper.Máighréad Ní Choileáin Bean Uí Dhrisceóil.Osmond Grattan Esmonde.Henry J. Finlay.Desmond Fitzgerald.Connor Hogan.Seosamh Mac Bhrighde.Domhnall Mac Cárthaigh.Liam T. Mac Cosgair.Pádraig Mac Giollagáin.Seán Mac Giolla 'n Ríogh.Eoin Mac Néill.Seoirse Mac Niocaill.Liam Mac Sioghaird.Liam Mac Aonghusa.Patrick McKenna.Martin M. Nally.

John T. Nolan.Peadar O hAodha.Mícheál O hAonghusa.Criostóir O Broin.Seán O Bruaidair.Próinsias O Cathail.Aodh O Cinnéide. Séamus N. O Dóláin.Tadhg S. O Donnabháin.Peadar S. O Dubhghaill.Pádraig O Dubhthaigh.Eamon S. O Dúgáin.Mícheál R. O hIfearnáin.Séamus O Leadáin.Fionán O Loingsigh.Séamus O Murchadha.Pádraig O hOgáin (Gaillimh).Pádraig K. O hOgáin (Luimneach).Séan M. O Súilleabháin.Caoimhghin O hUigín.Séan Príomhdhail.Patrick W. Shaw.Liam Thrift.


Pádraig F. Baxter.Seán Buitléir.Tomás Mac Eoin.Tomás de Nógla.Ailfrid O Broin.

Tomás O Conaill.Aodh O Cúlacháin.Liam O Daimhín.Domhnall O Muirgheasa.Pádraig O hOgáin (An Clár).

Motion declared carried. Fifth stage ordered for Friday, March 14th.