THE ADJOURNMENT. - SHOOTING FATALITY.

I gave notice at question time that on the adjournment I would raise the question of the shooting of Mr. Albert O'Brien, and the payment to his mother of an ex gratia grant of £20. I did so because I understand there are analogous cases of public importance.

The tragedy is in a sense unique, and the manner of dealing with it extraordinary. Mr. O'Brien, I understand, was motoring home from Kilfenora to Lemanagh Castle. His car was overtaken by one or two, or several Crossley tenders containing forces of the National Army. At the inquest it was ascertained that a military party called on him to halt, but the order was somewhat misinterpreted, and the party in the Ford car understood that the order was "keep in," and as the road was narrow they accelerated speed for a little distance when suddenly a volley rang out from the military lorry, and Mr. O'Brien was shot dead. At the inquest the jury found after mature deliberation that the officer in charge had not taken reasonable precautions to ascertain the identity of the persons in the car, and as such it implied a censure. I cannot say what disciplinary action was taken against the officer in charge, but on the face of it, and in view of the jury's finding, we cannot regard the thing as justifiable homicide. In any case, as far as I am aware, he has not been put on trial before a military court, or before the civil courts. That would have been a tragedy in itself, but unfortunately the evidence that came out at the inquest was that this officer, not satisfied with the deed he had done, but with the lust of blood uppermost in him, took another man out of the car, forced him along the road for a considerable distance, searching for mines, put him on his knees, and fired shots over his head. That was clearly sworn at the inquest, and now the State comes along and makes an ex gratia grant of £20 to the mother of Mr. O'Brien, who was an ex-officer of the British Army, and had secured several medals and distinctions for bravery in the battlefield. If his mother was entitled to any compensation at all, surely £20 was a ridiculous sum to offer her, and if she was not entitled to compensation why offer her £20? As a matter of fact, we are on the horns of a dilemma on the question. How could they ascertain that £20 is sufficient for a woman who had been bereaved under the circumstances by the death of her son? That is the question I want to put to the President. Do they consider that the son might make his mother an offering of £1 a year for the course of his life, and that this sum, if invested, is sufficient to produce £1 a year? As a matter of fact this £20 alone would not pay the funeral expenses. It would fall very far short of it. I do not suppose it would meet one-third of the funeral expenses. Though this is a particular question, the principle is general—the principle of paying persons injured by the State only the minimum compensation and the most trivial they can put them off at. It is a thing the Dáil should not allow, that when citizens of the State during the troubled period happened to be wounded or killed by the National forces their relatives or dependants should receive only the minimum compensation.

This is a very sad case, but I do not think that Deputy Hogan is aware of all the circumstances of the case. These military lorries were sent out on special duty, and in the course of that duty, having arrived at their destinations, they found Mr. O'Brien, a brother of the deceased gentleman, at the spot where they arrived. This Mr. O'Brien's name was on their list for arrest, and he was placed under arrest. They then went on their journey, and some cars got out of order, and subsequently, after performing some other duties upon which they were sent out, they came up on a narrow road with this Ford car, in which the deceased gentleman was one of the occupants. They called on them to halt. Apparently there was some misunderstanding about the order, and according to what Deputy Hogan says, the Ford car moved off rather quickly. They opened fire, and the deceased was struck and expired in a few minutes. The Ford car stopped after the fire was opened, and it was found that in front of the military car, or at least a very short distance from where the military car stopped, there were huge stones, and that much further down the road, beyond where the Ford car was, there was a trench. Now, the report that was furnished by the officer in question states that they were received at the first place where they stopped in an unfriendly manner; and this is one of those cases in which, where there are military operations, accidents of this sort were almost inevitable. I have stated so on many occasions. This is very regrettable, but under the circumstances, having read the case carefully within the last month before this order for £20 was issued, I was definitely of opinion that it was one of those cases in which evidence should be submitted that the parties in question were friendly to the State; and I could not discover from the information submitted in the files—and it is very full and very complete—that there was any friendliness towards the State. In the circumstances only the expenses of burial were allowed; and I am not satisfied that any claim would lie against the State in this case. From the military point of view I think it would be admitted that if the officer in question had not fired he would have failed in his duty. He would probably have accelerated speed after the other car, and would probably have been upset or discommoded by the heap of stones, and would have probably gone into the trench. In the circumstances I could not find evidence of friendliness towards the State. I could not find that the officer failed in his duty, and I could not find that that there was liability on the part of the State. Now, in these cases it is a matter of human judgment; and acting in my capacity as Minister for Defence in a case of this kind, I am a sort of juryman and at the same time a Judge. If there are circumstances in the case that are not before me, or circumstances other than those I have described. I shall be pleased to hear them. But in the facts as I have discovered them, it is not a compensation case, it is only a question of paying burial expenses. I believe that Mr. O'Brien's brother was interned.

Does the Deputy want to ask a question?

Mr. HOGAN

With your permission I did want to say that it is an extraordinary proposition that the President has made—that evidence of friendliness to the State should be brought forward. Would it not be sufficient to show that the man himself was not engaged in any offensive act against the State, that he was a peaceful, inoffensive citizen? As long as he acted as a good citizen committing no wrong, violating none of the civic precepts, surely that is in itself sufficient to show that his people should be compensated.

I think the onus is still on the Deputy to prove what I stated. I heard no evidence of friendliness on the part of himself or his friends towards the State. We had one brother under arrest who received our troops in an unfriendly manner. We have the other brother, the deceased gentleman, whose death I regret very much, on a car within easy distance of our troops. They had lights and he had no light; the order came to halt; they did not halt, but accelerated their speed. If our troops had not opened fire, but had gone on, there would have been almost inevitably one accident, and possibly two.

The Dáil adjourned at 3.40 p.m.