Before proceeding with the business on the Orders of the Day, I desire, with the leave of the House, to refer to a matter affecting the privileges of the Dáil and involving the position of the Governor-General in respect to Deputies. I refer to a speech made by the Governor-General at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce dinner on November 6th and reported in the newspapers on November 8th. For the purposes of record I propose to read some extracts from the speech. It will be recollected that the toast of Saorstát Eireann had been proposed, and the Governor-General, in responding, in the course of his speech gave expression to the following views:
"Mr. Barry also referred to the courage and competence of Ministers, and I should like, being independent in this matter, because I hold office during the pleasure of his Majesty the King—I am not standing for any constituency. I do not even desire to be a member of the Senate. I should like to say that you have in these men as determined, as patriotic, as useful men as any country is likely to obtain. I believe that in a year's time there is to be a General Election and, of course, on the eve of a General Election the Opposition makes tremendous promises. That is all right in England, where you have successive Governments coming into power, each with a programme; but there is no practical Opposition in this country, and I should like to know on what grounds the members of the Government are being told that if a number of persons, whom we never heard of before, except in connection with explosions and assassinations, were put into power, they would have a regular transformation scene, and that this country would enter upon a terrestrial paradise, without even the presence of the serpent. Some of these so-called extremists talk about what is called principle, and I should like to give my opinion—it may be a very daring opinion—that outside religious subjects and beliefs, there is no such thing as principle. There are only matters of opinion. To these gentlemen who say that they will not enter into the legislature of their country because their principle forbids them to take the oath to His Majesty, I would say, in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan: `You are curious optimists; you never would be missed.' They are quite welcome to stay out, and the further out they stay the better some of us will be pleased."
That, sir, is the speech of a political partisan. But it was uttered by one who is required by the character of his office to stand apart, from political controversy; to be unbiased as between the rival parties that constitute the Parliamentary Assembly. It was a speech made in public, referring specifically to the coming General Election, and its purpose was to glorify the party in power and to malign their opponents. It may have been unpremeditated—there is evidence of that in the speech itself—but the speaker was fully conscious that he was treading on forbidden ground. It is important that, as members of the Dáil, we should know where we stand in relation to the office of the Governor-General. If a nominated officer of State is free to enter the arena of political party conflict, to denounce deputies and parties who have been elected by the citizens, then the nature of his office is different from what has been the general belief, and the attitude of the public towards the office must accordingly change.
When the views of the Governor-General on a matter of public policy differ from those of the Executive Council, is he not bound by any rule of usage or convention which would prevent him from taking the platform in opposition to the policy of the Ministry? Action such as that would, unquestionably, make the position of the Ministers untenable. Either they or he would be obliged to vacate office. On the other hand, when the Governor-General approves of the political policy or activities of Ministers and desires that they should be re-elected and that their political opponents should be defeated at the poll, is the representative of the Crown free to proclaim aloud his hopes and desires and to follow the partisan course of ridiculing or decrying the opposition? It appears to me that, having regard to the expressed desire of Ministers for progress towards democracy by evolutionary processes, and in justice to their own position as a Government responsible to the Dáil, it is incumbent upon them to express disapproval of the action of the Governor-General on the occasion in question.
The illogical compromise between monarchical government and democratic government which characterises the British system, and is reflected in our Constitution, succeeds mainly because of the fact that the King in Great Britain, or the representative of the Crown in the Dominions, denies himself the privilege of interfering with the free judgment of the people and the people's representatives.
Under the Constitution, there has been established a legislature consisting of the King and two Houses—the Dáil and the Seanad. Executive authority is exercisable by the representative of the Crown, acting on the advice of the Executive Council who, in turn, are responsible to the Dáil for all acts of government. The position is that, in respect to all matters of State, the Governor-General is the instrument of the Executive Council, who are the servants of, and responsible to, the Dáil. But, outside the sphere of Executive State action, there are political agitations, party controversies, public discussions, discussions which, under the parliamentary system, influence and determine legislation and executive action. Upon political issues the electorate is divided, and the response made by the electorate to the appeals of rival parties decides who shall take over the responsibilities of "advising" (as it is called) the nominal Head of the State in matters of Government. It requires no abnormal insight into political affairs to see that the nature of his office requires of the Governor-General that he should refrain strictly from expressing his personal views on controversial subjects.
The practice and usage of strict abstention from the public expression of his political opinions by the King, or the representative of the Crown, is well established in Great Britain, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Any departure from the practice in those countries would certainly entail serious consequences. So well established is the rule that the Cabinet or Executive is held to be responsible for every public statement made by the King, or representative of the Crown, in reference to current political questions, and such practice and usage ought unquestionably to govern the conduct of the holder of the parallel office in Saorstát Eireann. But no formal rule appears to have been evolved, or has been required, in respect to party speeches of the kind which is devoted to advertising the virtues of one party and denouncing the vices or incompetence of their opponents. The descent by the representative of the Crown to that level is, so far as I can find, unprecedented.
It is amazing that at a time when our Ministers are in conference with the Ministers of Great Britain and the Dominions, with the object we have been assured, of clarifying the constitutional position of the Free State and establishing its claim to equality with those countries, that the representative of the Crown in the Saorstát should act in a manner so prejudicial to the position taken by the Government.
All parties in this House are, I believe, in agreement that the Governor-General must be a citizen of the Saorstát. That fact emphasises the importance of making clear the rule for future guidance that the occupant of the office must forget his political affiliations and forego for a period some of the privileges of citizenship. I venture to say that there is no one who has taken any interest in modern Irish political history but has watched with admiration the conflict between the Governor-General and Mr. Tim Healy—the internal struggle between the State official and the fighting politician. It has required the exercise of great self-restraint for Mr. T.M. Healy to deny himself the joy of wielding the tomahawk. I had thought that the Impartial Official had succeeded in subduing the Partisan—but it appears the processes of evolution are not rapid enough to enable the leopard to change his spots within one generation.
It has been said that this incident is but a trifling indiscretion and should be passed over lightly. We cannot regard it lightly. The Dáil ought not allow to pass without strenuous protest a constitutional impropriety which, if condoned, would imply a willingness to accept as nominal head of the State a political partisan, responsible to no one in this country for his actions, but free to use his privileged position to promote certain political ends.
However difficult it may be to repress one's impulses, this House is bound to require that whosoever may hold the office of Governor-General, or any equivalent office in this country, shall not use his position to prejudice the electorate against any member of the Dáil or the claim to unbiased treatment of any party or deputy who, following the verdict of the poll, may be called upon to form a Government, and I trust the general sense of the Dáil will find expression on this matter.