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.