GOVERNOR-GENERAL AND DEPUTIES' PRIVILEGES.

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.

I much regret that an occasion has arisen which necessitates reference in the Dáil to a speech of the Governor-General. The speech of the Governor-General at the dinner of the Chamber of Commerce was not made on the advice of the Executive Council and, therefore, the Executive Council cannot accept any responsibility for that pronouncement.

May I be permitted to quote from Mr. O'Higgins' speech, delivered here in the Dáil on 7th July, 1925, dealing with the official actions of the Governor-General:

"... The official actions of the Governor-General of the Irish Free State are, of course, as the Deputy (Deputy Johnson) has pointed out, governed by Article 51 of the Constitution. The Executive acts performed by him are done on the advice of the Executive Council, and not otherwise. There has been no departure from the spirit or the letter of that Article of the Constitution, and I can safely guarantee, on behalf of the Executive Council, that there will be no such departure..."

And later:

"... the word `advice' used in Article 51 of the Constitution has a different meaning when it is used in the sense of the Executive Council `advising' His Excellency. In that case the word `advice' is a signification of the decision of the Council in matters of policy...."

The office of Governor-General is, in essence, an office of a non-partisan character. The duties of that office are clearly defined. The persons to advise the Governor-General are set out in the Constitution as the Executive Council. The Executive Council is elected by the Dáil and it is conceivable, and will sooner or later arise, that on a given day certain persons may comprise the Executive Council. To put it shortly, the Government in office to-day may be the Opposition to-morrow. To-day, the Governor-General receives and acts on the advice from the Government in office; to-morrow the Opposition may comprise the Executive Council and the Governor-General, in turn, will receive and act on their advice. It is, therefore, plain that the office of Governor-General must be of a non-partisan character, ready to receive advice, as provided in the Constitution, from any deputy of this House, duly nominated by the House as President. It is a matter for regret that such a speech as that referred to by Deputy Johnson should have been published.

A DEPUTY

Should have been made.

May I be permitted to speak without interruption. Deputy Johnson was given that courtesy. I said "published" and I am adhering to that word. I understand from His Excellency that it is, not a correct report of the speech that he made on the occasion of the dinner at the Chamber of Commerce, that a full and complete report would not have occasioned any objection. I may say that the Executive Council could not approve of such a speech as was reported.

This is a very serious matter, and it is, I think, in essence a non-controversial matter. It has been dealt with in a serious, noncontroversial way. There has been no allusion to the personality of the Governor-General by Deputy Johnson or the President. If other deputies desire to speak on the question, I think, in justice to the dignity of this House and the high constitutional issues involved, they should speak in exactly the same tone.

Unlike the President and the Deputy who has spoken, I did not know this speech was made until to-day, and I have not an elaborate, typed copy of what I desire to say. It has been stated by Deputy Johnson and adopted by the President that the Governor-General has been guilty of a very improper pronouncement, or, rather, an indiscretion. Reading down the speech, I do not think we ought to attach too much importance to it. He talked about other Parties and the Opposition whom they did not know anything about. He referred to one particular Party. I daresay he includes in his meaning the alleged Opposition, as he is pleased to regard it. Further down in his speech he refers to the Dublin Corporation and the good work done there by three men who were unknown and ignorant. After describing those people as "unknown" and "ignorant" he proceeds to speak of the good work they have done. I think that is a pretty fair indication of what other "unknown men"—unknown to His Excellency— might do, if they got the same opportunity as the Government have. I shall not indulge in any personal references. I say the Governor-General has been guilty of a grave indiscretion, and I hope, for the dignity of the Saorstát and his high office, that such will not be repeated.

I am sure the President's disclaimer, in the name of His Excellency the Governor-General, will give profound relief to deputies, and to the public also. Without your interposition, sir, I, at any rate, would have spoken precisely in the spirit recommended by you. We have no concern in this matter with the personality, the private individuality, of the Governor-General, but we have very much, indeed, to do with the office and the discharge of the office. One of the great claims made here in this House in defence of the selection of the present Governor-General was that we alone, of all the components of the Commonwealth of Nations, had been permitted the privilege of having a citizen of the State appointed Governor-General. The claim had been made repeatedly by Canada and by Australia that they should be accorded that privilege. Saorstát Eireann was the first, on being afforded Dominion status, to be allowed that selection. Deputy Johnson rightly emphasised the significance of that fact. If it be, as on all hands it is admitted that it must be, the duty of a Governor-General to behave as a constitutional sovereign is pledged to behave, it is all the more necessary, where that office is filled by a citizen of the State, that he should become absolutely one divorced from all political connections, impartial and indifferent to all the movements of political policy, and knowing no difference between the adherents of one policy and that of another.

Deputy Gorey thinks that this is of little consequence. We do not know who may succeed to the office in the course of time. It may be someone with flagrant propensity to constitutional impropriety, and it is well that the doctrine should be laid down here, and assented to generally, before an evil appointment of that kind comes above the horizon. Later than this would be too late. We should be grateful for the happy chance that has afforded us the opportunity of declaring our minds upon the intervention of the Governor-General.

I accept the disclaimer given by the President in the name of the Governor-General, and I say that even the very rumour of a performance, such as was credited to him, is an advantage as affording us the opportunity here of declaring our position in these matters. The Governor-General is not only the representative of the Crown; he is more. Under Article 2 of the Treaty our position in regard to the Imperial Crown and the Imperial Government is declared to be that of Canada and other nations of Dominion status. Now, one of the grievances particularly dwelt upon by General Smuts, and repeatedly referred to by the greatest of our living constitutionalists — Sir Robert Borden, so long Prime Minister of Canada—was that their Governor-General was not a Viceroy, and one of the reasons actuating us here during the days of the Provisional Parliament in objecting to the selection of the title "Governor-General" for this State— a State which never grew from the position of a colony into a nation, but had ever been ranked in Europe among the oldest of the nations, an ancient kingdom—was that we objected to the title of Governor-General because it was a step back from Viceroy position to representative of the Crown, to mere Governor-Generalship. I remember well—I am sure it is in the recollection of many Deputies—that grave censure was passed upon the present Governor-General because one of the very first official acts of his was to go to London and visit the Duke of Devonshire, who was at that time Colonial Secretary. As a matter of fact, it was his duty to do so, because Governor-Generals hold under the Colonial Secretary and are obliged to make official communication through the Colonial Secretary. That fact and that relation stamps the Governor-General with the character of being not only a representative of the Crown but, what is mentioned in Article 2 of the Treaty, he is also a representative of the Imperial Government. It is one of the respects in which we require to have the position of the Saorstát more clearly defined with a view to what the Minister for External Affairs called "the implementation of co-equality in the Commonwealth." Until we have an Agent-General, representing the Imperial Government—I am using this as an illustration—in this State, the Governor-General has that function as well as representative of the Crown, and pending, therefore, the implementation of co-equality, it is incumbent upon whoever fills the office that he should not refer to English politics that he should not go out of his way to refer to a grave crisis in the affairs of a neighbouring State, any more than he should meddle with the question of partisan politics in the State over which he himself is Governor-General. The question is an important constitutional question. It involves, as a collateral issue, the whole position of the Saorstát in the Commonwealth of Nations.

The question we are discussing does not, I consider, involve the question of the position of the Saorstát in the Commonwealth of Nations. I say that lest the debate should proceed on that line.

However regrettable this matter may be—it is regrettable as we all recognise—I think it is a matter for congratulation that it is brought forward as a Constitutional question of grave importance, and in the manner in which it was brought forward by Deputy Johnson. Further, it was treated by the President as a grave and important matter, and is being treated generally as such. I rejoice indeed at the disclaimer which the President was able to give. I only rise really to make one remark, and I make it as one who did, at one time, hold different political opinions from those held by the majority here and, therefore, as one whose attitude with regard to the Governor-General might be regarded as perhaps different. It is not so. I wish to record my feeling also, that just as it would be unthinkable almost for the King of England to take part in any way in party politics, and not to be entirely above party politics, so I think it is a matter of Constitutional importance here, and will, I trust, be equally unthinkable in the future, that the Governor-General should not be entirely above the plane of party politics.