I beg to move:—
That this Dáil, cognisant of a return to peaceful and more stable conditions in the country, and aware of the approach of the Tailteann Games, with their historic associations of peace and goodwill amongst Irishmen of all sections, is of opinion that the time has arrived when all untried or sentenced political prisoners should be released, and "men who are on the run" for political offences be free to return to their homes.
I move this motion in the name of the Farmers' Party. It is down in the name of that Party because we feel that the acceptance of it by the Dáil will tend towards bringing greater stability to the country, and that it will be a good sound, national policy. The last report we had of the number of political prisoners imprisoned or interned was on April 2nd. The total number of prisoners imprisoned or interned at that time amounted to 941, of which 314 had been sentenced; two had been sentenced to penal servitude for life; 262 to varying terms of penal servitude; 36 to imprisonment with hard labour, and 14 to a period of two years' imprisonment. I am aware that since that was supplied to the Dáil a number of prisoners have been released. I do not know how many, nor do I know the number still detained. At this point I want to make it perfectly clear that in this motion we are not asking for the release of prisoners who are in reality criminals. We are not standing out and saying that individuals who have gone out, whether under the guise of political motives or under a political flag, should because of that be styled political prisoners and be treated as such. We are not asking for the release of such prisoners as these. I do not know how many of those detained could in reality be styled criminals, but on that point we want to make our position clear.
When more than 12 months ago the "cease fire" was given by the Republican leaders, it was looked on, I must admit, rather dubiously by the Government and by many people in the country. The history of the past 12 months, I think, has fairly demonstrated that that "cease fire" order has been lived up to and was meant. It is fairly evident also, and generally accepted to-day, that the statement that accompanied the issuing of that order, namely, that the Republican Party were going to put the issue that they stood for before the people, and that they could achieve their ends by constitutional means, was also seriously meant. It is a real live question in County Limerick to-day. It seems to us at this juncture that that statement of the authoritative Republican leaders ought to be taken at its face value. When leaders of any Party make a declaration, I think that the proper tactics and the best policy for the Government of the time is to put those statements to the test; to put the responsibility on those people of carrying through the declaration they have made. Certainly, the time has now arrived when the statements made by the Republican leaders more than 12 months ago ought to be put to the test. The President, or whoever replies, may argue that it is dangerous even now to release all the prisoners. The point of view held may be, that because, as the Minister for Home Affairs chooses to say at times, arms are sown from one end of the country to the other, therein lies danger; that because of the fact that statements have been made at times, that could not be accepted, the statement as to the intentions of the Republican leaders to achieve their end by constitutional means can hardly be accepted at its face value, and that there is risk.
As to the question of the arms and the difficulty that that raises, I think the Ministry appreciate, just as well as anyone in the Dáil or outside it can, that in every Irishman there is a certain amount of pride. There is a pride that prompts him at times, as the saying is, not to yield up his gun. I hold, and I put it to the Dáil, that it is the feeling that it is not a manly thing to give up one's gun, more than the question of what may be done with the guns if they are kept, that has weighed with these people. I commend that point of view to the Minister. There is the other point of view, that the danger is too great to face. There may be a certain element of danger. But I would remind the Minister that it is hardly two months ago since the Dáil and the country were faced with a danger in another direction. A very difficult and serious situation confronted Deputies and the country generally. I am not going to discuss the causes of that danger. But when men took action, that in the words of the Minister for Home Affairs, amounted to mutiny. plus treason, how did the Minister deal with the situation? He came to the Dáil, I believe after giving the situation careful consideration, and he asked the Dáil to agree that the best way to deal with these people was to agree with him in saying to them, "Go in peace, friends, as civilians."
It was a brave step to take. There were many in the country who felt that there was danger in the step that was taken by the Minister then. What have events proved? In the time that has passed since, we see clearly that that attitude, and that action on the part of the Minister, was the correct attitude. It was the best step he could have taken in the interests of the State, and in the interests of the present and the future Irish nation. It was a dangerous action, perhaps. It looked dangerous at the time. It was grave, but it was statesmanlike, and proved to be the most successful way that the situation could have been dealt with. I think very few in the country to-day will quarrel with that, no matter how they may have felt at the time. The situation that confronts the Ministry to-day is none more serious than that one was. The Ministry are dealing with Irishmen to-day in these prisoners just as they were dealing with Irishmen a few weeks ago, and realised it. They appreciate the fact that the Irishman's outlook, mentality and temperament are peculiar, and must be subject to peculiar treatment. Treatment that might, perhaps, be very successful with people of another State would not just be the treatment to apply to Irishmen. If the Ministry are prepared to take their courage in their hands, and are prepared to act towards these men, as they acted towards the other men a short time ago, I suggest that their efforts will meet with just as much success. Later on such efforts will meet with the same approval as their previous action has met with.
I admit that the Minister may put it to me that there is a difference, that the men I speak of agreed to hand in their guns, but that the other people have not done so. I appreciate the difficulty that that, perhaps, does create for the Ministry. That may, to a certain extent, have been the determining factor. If it has been the determining factor in the past, I submit to the Dáil that we have had sufficient evidence that these people have no intention of using these guns in future; that they meant it, when the order was given to "cease fire," and that they have since lived up to that order. It is suggested that here and there we have incidents and drilling. That has been told me. I must say, for my own part, that I have seen no evidence of these. I do not know if drilling is being carried on in very many places, or at all. I feel inclined to say, and I honestly believe, that if such actions are taking place in one, two, or three districts, it is not the considered Republican policy. It may be the policy of a certain individual here and there, in a certain district, but isolated cases should not be taken as the basis on which a considered judgment should be formed when dealing with a great number of prisoners or with the party these prisoners represent.
There is another point of view that, I think, it is very well, at this moment to stress in the Dáil. August next will see the re-institution in this country of the Tailteann Games. After the occurrences of the past few years there are times, perhaps, when we feel that we should cease talking or thinking of the glories of the past, or of anything glorious at all about our country. I do not subscribe to that point of view. I recognise that while our people have their failings, they also have very many good points. It would be well that we should see our good points as well as our bad ones. Even in the last ten years men in this country have dared to do, and have achieved, glorious things. Perhaps, in a way, they have accomplished things that few small nations would be brave enough to undertake. The glory of this country is not a thing of yesterday. The Tailteann Games were in the days of Ireland's greatness one of her greatest events. Seven hundred years before the Christian era these games were carried out upon the plains of Tara. Up to the 12th or the 13th century these games were to the Irish race the greatest event in the lives of the people. The first Dáil, under the Presidency of de Valera, decided that these games should be re-instituted. I should say that the first Dáil must be to every Irishman with Irish ideals, something sacred, because those days, at least, saw us all standing together. These games were at that time in course of being held; our present Postmaster-General was nominated by the then President de Valera as director of the games, and I believe that many of the members of the Council who are going on with the work to-day were also nominated then. In former days peace was proclaimed months previous to the holding of the games. The Gaelic race in those days had its differences, as we have to-day; but in order that the people might come together in peace and in harmony the High King declared that from the rising of the sun on a certain day peace should run through the land. That was in anticipation of and in preparation for the Tailteann Games. I think that the Tailteann Games to-day ought to be one of the biggest things before all Ireland. They are certainly one of the biggest things that have been handed down to us, not as a tradition, but as a fact—something that lived in ancient Ireland, and the fact that they are to be held in the coming August ought to be an incentive to every Irishman, no matter what his political views may be, to make them what they were in the Ireland of old.
If that is to be done, the first essential is that there must be peace; people who have differences of opinion, politically or otherwise, ought not to be kept apart; the games ought to be given a fair chance; they ought to be supported by all the different political parties. At times we think with such a dislike of one another that we sometimes fear for the future of the country. I do not think that a policy of hate, either by word or act, is the platform, or the foundation, on which any State can be successfully built up.
The Government of any country can at all times give a lead. They are in a better and a stronger position than any political party to give a lead in establishing political peace and harmony amongst the people who claim to have common ideals. I think the Government of to-day could give an earnest of their sincerity, could demonstrate to us that bitter feelings about things that have taken place in the past do not and will not count with; them, that these things will not stand in the nation's way, that if there is a possibility of bringing peace by giving every individual who is prepared to obey the common law, every individual who is prepared to take his stand in obedience to the common law, liberty to obey that law——