Well, of course I must bow to your ruling, but I beg profoundly to offer my individual disagreement. In proposing this motion I would like the House to understand, if they will believe me, that it is put forward from no political point of view nor with the idea of making a political score. This is purely a non-party question. British ex-servicemen, numerous as they are in this country, are to be found in the ranks of, and supporters of, every political party in the country. I hope that during the course of this debate the attitude that I bring to bear upon it will be understood and followed by others. It is nothing either in the nature of a vote of censure upon the Irish Government or the British Government. My sole object is to have as soon as possible a fully representative, independent and impartial investigation into the whole circumstances of British ex-servicemen in this country. When I say British ex-servicemen, I mean Irishmen who have served in the British forces. There is no other means very well of expressing that position. When it is remembered that there are, as has been stated many times, from 150,000 to 200,000 British ex-servicemen in Ireland, and when one realises that their dependents, taking the dependents on a very low plane as three, would make the total sum of citizens of this country involved in this motion in or about half a million, I think that the House will recognise its gravity.
I make no apology to the House for bringing forward the motion; but at the same time I make no special claims on behalf of British ex-servicemen from the Irish Government. I want them to be regarded and recognised by the Irish Government of the day as Irishmen with equal rights of citizenship in this State. I ask no more and I claim no less. It is somewhat different in regard to the British Government. These men were induced by the predecessor of the British Government and by others who agreed with them to take a certain course during the Great War. I hope that the merits or the demerits of that course will not be entered into at all here this afternoon, because that is not the question before us. They were induced to take this course by several means.
Among other things promises were held out to them, very far-reaching promises in some cases. They were told that if they survived the war they would get special, preferential treatment from the Government which was, then, of course, the British Government. When the time came for these men to be demobilised that state of affairs had come to cease. The British Government was no more in this country, and these men were left in the position of not being able to have some of those promises performed. I am not blaming the Free State Government. They did not make those promises. But what I am asking the Government to do by the setting-up of this Commission to investigate and report with regard to the promises made by the British Government and the obligations which, I say, the British Government are under to these men, is that if this Commission reports favourably in regard to the claims made against the British Government that then it should be their duty as an Irish Government to make immediate official representations to the British Government on behalf of a large body of the citizens of this State. I make the distinction, therefore between the two classes of claims—the first against the Irish Government, and the second against the British Government. The first, as I say, is a claim for equal rights of citizenship, no more and no less. The second is a claim for the fulfilment of solemn obligations and undertakings entered into by a previous British Government and binding on the present British Government.
In regard to those undertakings I do not, this afternoon, propose to go into the details or to examine closely the numerous claims or grievances that are made by ex-servicemen. That is just what I want this Commission for. But I will mention a few of the principal heads of those grievances. In 1919 a Land Trust was set up by the British Government. That Trust was allotted a large sum of money. I think that for the Free State it amounted to about three-quarters of a million pounds. That money was to be expended upon the erection of houses for British ex-servicemen. Any Deputy here can bear me out in this case because I know every Deputy must have correspondence from the men as I have, and it is notorious that there has been the most extraordinary delay in the erection of these houses. A certain number of houses have been erected, and a certain amount of money has been expended, but seven years have elapsed since the institution of the Land Trust, and, to say the least of it, they have made exceedingly slow progress. I will give you one instance in my own constituency. In the city of Waterford there is not a house erected yet by this Trust for the ex-servicemen.
Apart also from the delay, there has been a question of the rentals. Deputies will hardly believe me when I say that the rents charged for British ex-servicemen's houses in the Free State are considerably higher than those charged for ex-service men's houses across the Border in the Six Counties. That is a matter which unquestionably ought to be inquired into. Similarly, when representations were made to the Land Trust, after a long series of negotiations and controversies, some of which are not yet concluded, some of the rentals were reduced. But the reductions were made not from the time that the demand was made but from the time the Land Trust decided that they would make the reductions. There have been representations made by the British Legion and other organisations of the ex-servicemen throughout the country on this question and it is still in abeyance. There is the whole subject of the erection of houses for ex-servicemen which demands instant investigation at the hands of our Irish Government in order that our Irish Government will be strengthened when they go, as they should go, to the British Government and demand that this Trust should be properly carried out.
There is another point of not perhaps so great importance, but it is a matter of extreme hardship on Irishmen who served in the British forces and who paid their insurance stamps while serving there. When demobilised if a man came from Dundalk, say, and his people lived there, and if he chose to go back there and live there and if he required the assistance which was due to him from these payments of stamps, he would not receive a single penny. If he stayed in Newry, a few miles across the Border, he would be entitled to every penny of it. Now I say that that is not right, and that is a matter also for investigation and for some form of reciprocity between two Governments. While on that subject I may say that the same thing obtains with regard to Irishmen engaged in the Mercantile Marine. That is a question, however, for another day. There was also a proposal held out to the men who joined the British Army, and that was that if they survived they would, if they so required, have passages facilitated for them and settlements made easy for them in the British Dominions. That was known as the Empire Settlement Scheme. I want to make my position clear in that regard. I am not proposing that our Government should insist upon a subsidised form of emigration to other Dominions. No such thing. What I am proposing is that in view of the different circumstances of to-day and in view of the fact that we are now a Dominion, that we have our own Government and that we are not in the position in which ex-servicemen would be if resident in England or Northern Ireland, that these men should get something, at least, by way of a substitute for the loss of that benefit or advantage, whichever it may be. Why should they not have some form of subsidy for the advantage which was held out to them at the commencement of the war and which, through no fault of theirs now, has been taken away from them? I say that there is a very strong case now for the Irish Government to put up to the British Government, that they owe these men something by way of a substitute for that proposal.
Then there is the larger question of the administration of pensions generally. I know the Free State Government has nothing to say to the administration of British pensions. But these are Irish citizens, and if they think they are not being treated fairly by those who are under obligations to them, is it not the duty of the Free State Government formally, through the proper channels, to make representations that they should be treated fairly? I am not making a general complaint about the administration of British pensions in this country, but there are grievances and hardships and hard cases, and this Commission would give an opportunity to those who feel that they have grievances to ventilate them and have them brought to the notice of the Executive Council, so that the Executive Council might make representations on their behalf to the British Government.
These are the main heads, as I see them, under which there may be said to be grievances against the British Government. Those grievances may not exist—I am not saying that they are all valid—but what I want is to have an impartial investigation into whether or not they do exist, because so many people believe that they do, and the feeling is so widespread in regard to the matter. In order to allay those feelings, set them at rest, and, if possible, to remedy the grievances, I ask for a Commission to be set up with a view to the Executive Council taking further action.
With regard to the Irish Government there are also grievances. I have had deputations and communications— possibly other Deputies also have had them—from those who were employed by the British Government in the capacity of temporary clerks when the Free State Government took over. Those temporary clerks were there under certain conditions which were held out to them as inducements by the British Government. If there had not been a change of Government they certainly would have been in a much more advantageous position to-day. I am not claiming that our Government should carry out all the obligations under which the British Government employed these men. What I am claiming is that they should not be put in a worse position to-day than they would have been in the ordinary sense under a British Government. I have asked questions in the Dáil about a number of these men, and about the examinations that were held to enable them to be placed upon a permanent basis. It appears that there were 658 British ex-servicemen serving as temporary clerks transferred to the Irish Free State; that there were 212 left in the service, and that out of this number 158 sat for the qualifying examination in June and July, 1925. They have a grievance inasmuch as while they were not allowed to sit again for reexamination those who had served in the National Army were. There was an agreement in England known as the Guinness agreement which they are demanding to be applied to them here. I am not going into that matter in detail, but I say that there is a special class of case which needs investigation and examination by a tribunal such as I propose, with a view to fair and proper action on the part of the Government.
Again we have the question of employment on public works. I am not going to bore the Dáil once more by raising the question, that I have raised so often, in regard to the method of employment under the grants made for road expenditure. I raised the matter particularly in regard to my own constituency. At first it was turned down, and subsequently, when the President re-investigated it, he admitted that there was something harsh in the matter of employment and made a concession. What British ex-servicemen have objected to has been that though they may be married, with large families, and in poor circumstances, they have been specifically put in a different category—what I might call a subsequent category—to ex-National Army men, who need not either be married or be particularly destitute. In other words, the first people to be employed on these works have been ex-National Army men, whether married or unmarried. Then come the civilians, included among whom are the British ex-servicemen. The President did make some concession to me in that respect in regard to the money voted for Waterford City. But I think there is a distinct grievance throughout the rest of the country on the same score. That is another matter which should be investigated by a Commission.
I do not make any charge against the Labour Exchanges, but there is not a day passes when I ask a man, who comes to me and says he is a British ex-serviceman, why he does not go to the Labour Exchange, that the inevitable reply is not: "What is the use of my going there? I am a British ex-serviceman and I will be told to stand down." I say that in fairness to the Labour Exchanges themselves, and to the carrying out of such administration, such a matter should be open to investigation by a commission such as I have proposed. My reason for proposing the commission is that a commission should be an impartial body of disinterested citizens who will not go into this question with any biased view, but who will make a fair report to the Executive Council, which the Executive Council may act upon as they think right. I think that that is far the best way from the point of view both of the people concerned and of the Executive Council.
The amendment seems to me to be a most extraordinary one. It proposes that any representations—I take the word "any" there to mean "all"— regarding alleged disabilities should be formulated and brought to the notice of the Executive Council by associations or representatives authorised to speak on behalf of the ex-servicemen. I only wish we had associations or representatives authorised to speak on behalf of the great body of ex-servicemen. The unfortunate thing about it is that the great bulk of British ex-servicemen are not connected with the principal organisations. I am not saying that in any way which would be derogatory to these organisations, because I myself hold a very high office in, perhaps, the leading organisation— the British Legion. At the same time, that does not get away from the fact that they do not represent anything like a sufficiently large proportion of the ex-servicemen to say that they are authorised to speak for them. Even if they were authorised to speak for them, even if every ex-serviceman in the Free State was in the British Legion, or any other ex-soldiers' organisation, I say that this amendment is nothing short of an insult to the Dáil and to the whole Parliamentary structure. It is suggested that nothing should be done for anybody except through their own organisations. As far as I can read the amendment, it seems to me to go so far as to suggest that I had no right to move this motion, and that the only method of getting ex-servicemen's grievances remedied was a back-door method, by way of representations to the Executive Council or individual Ministers through various organisations
I desire to say I am speaking on behalf of no organisation. I am speaking on my own sole responsibility. I brought this matter forward as an ex-serviceman myself and as one who, I hope, has taken a little interest in ex-servicemen since the demobilisation. I cannot conceive the lengths that such a suggestion as is contained in the amendment would bring us to if it were adopted. One may as well say that no labour question was to be raised except through trade unions. One might as well say that there should be no committee to inquire into unemployment, that the trade unions should go to a back door or a front door to the Executive Council and make representations in regard to unemployment. Therefore I sincerely trust that if the House has sympathy with the object I have in view, and which, I think, it must have, it will not entertain the suggestion contained in the amendment.
My suggestion is a plain, straightforward one, and one that has been carried out and acted upon by Governments in the past in regard to other large bodies of citizens. Even when I myself proposed a Town Tenants Bill, on the second occasion of my doing so the whole question was referred to a commission. It was not suggested then by anybody that the Town Tenants' League or the All-for-Ireland Town Tenants' Organisation, whoever they may be, were to be the only means through which representations were to be made to the Government for the remedying of the town tenants' grievances. No; the Government set up a commission, and I am merely asking that a similar body should be set up to investigate a problem which concerns a very large body of citizens in this country, many of whom are in a state of fearful want and destitution. That also might be the means of bringing about a better feeling between different classes in the community, and it would show that this Government had some desire to do justice to these men as Irishmen and as Irish citizens.
I ask no more from this Government than equal rights for these men as citizens of the State. But I do ask that this commission be set up to investigate both these problems, and that if it reports favourably, which it may not do, in regard to their grievances against the British Government, that it should be the bounden duty of whatever Government is in power here, on receipt of that report, to make official representations and demands to whatever British Government is across the water. I, therefore, hope that I have not overstated the case on behalf of the British ex-servicemen nor understated it. They are entitled, as Irish citizens, to no more and no less than any other citizens, and as long as I can do anything I certainly will not be diverted from doing what I consider my duty by having it said that no representation should be made except through certain organisations.
I, therefore, sincerely trust that if this goes to a vote the Government will not make it a party question. I do not see how they can make it a party question; I think it would be folly of them to do so, in the first place, and I think it would be distinctly unfair in the second place. Let them not put on the Party Whips in regard to this proposal. I claim for it that it is above party, and that it is a genuine proposal in the interest of a large section of the Irish population of this State.