The section that we propose in this Bill to repeal is Section 71 of the Local Government Act, 1925, which is as follows:—
(1). Where after the passing of this Act a local authority passes a resolution either appointing a person to be an officer of that local authority or increasing the salary or emoluments of an officer of that local authority, such resolution:—
(a) shall have no effect until such person or officer shall within one month after the date of such resolution have made and subscribed a declaration in accordance with this section, and
(b) shall be wholly void if such person or officer fails to make and subscribe such declaration within such period of one month.
(2). The declaration to be made as aforesaid by such person or officer as aforesaid shall be made and subscribed by him before a Peace Commissioner, and shall be in the following form:—
The.............. (set out the name of the local authority) having on the day of.............., 19, passed a resolution appointing me, A.B., to the office of............. (or increasing my salary or emoluments as ......... as the case may require), I, the said A.B., do hereby solemnly and sincerely declare that I will bear allegiance to the Irish Free State and its constitution as by law established and that, in the event of such appointment being (or whether such increase is or is not as the case may require) confirmed by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, I will, to the best of my judgment and ability, duly and faithfully perform the duties of the (or my as the case may require) said office and will observe and obey such orders and directions in relation to such duties as shall lawfully be given to me.
(3). Nothing in this section shall prejudice or affect the operation of any enactment requiring the sanction or confirmation of any such resolution as aforesaid by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health.
That section appears in a Local Government Act, and if you look through the Act you will find that it has to deal with public health, roads, bridges, rating of buildings, and so on. It is very strange to find in the centre of this Local Government Act the section I have read. It seems as altogether apart from the Act. It clearly was not a part of the original conception of the Act, and it is particularly strange coming from a Party that made a part of its platform the abolition of political questions in local bodies. It is a political test. It is a penalsing, political section intended to penalise political opponents of the Party that passed it. Its history is that it was introduced, not in the Dáil, but in the Seanad, and that it was sponsored by the Minister for Local Government of the time. I have read the debates concerning that Bill, read the case that was made for and against it, and I must say that I have very little to add to the case made against it here when it was being debated. My hope is that it will not be necessary for me to go into detail about it, because perhaps there may be a change of mind on the Benches opposite, and we may have a reconsideration of the whole question. If I thought that were so, we could end the discussion here and now—if it could be agreed that this section should be taken out of the Act. If not, I will have simply to deal with it largely on the lines on which it was dealt with here by those who opposed it before.
My first point is that it is altogether out of place in this Act. It deals with the conditions of employment of local officers. It is going over the heads of local bodies and imposing a test on these employees. I think that a local body ought to be given the liberty of selecting the officers that will serve it best, irrespective of any political opinions they may hold. It will, of course, I know be argued from the opposite side that there is no hardship on any employee making this declaration of allegiance to the Free State and Constitution. That, of course, accords with the policy and with the principles of the Party which has been the majority Party up to the present. But I submit there is another side to the question. I think it will be generally admitted that this Free State has not been established by the free will of our people. I think there are Deputies on the other side who will be prepared to acknowledge that so far as this State has a de facto existence it is because of external pressure, and that without that pressure this is not the State that would be in this country. These two States are not the governmental machinery that would have been set up by the free will of the Irish people. Padraig Pearse at one time said that Ireland unfree will never be at rest. That is a statement of fact.
I think it will be admitted by most people that it is a fact that those who took the Treaty policy and who have accepted the Treaty policy have taken with it that disadvantage which is going to be a continuing thing for them and it is in vain for them to hope that it will be otherwise; that is, they have accepted something that in its nature is bound to be unstable. It does not satisfy the aspirations of our people and it can only be used as something on the road to a greater freedom. Now, as long as that continues you are bound to have a section of people, as in the past—and a section particularly of the younger people who will be close in touch with the national tradition—who will say that they have the right to strive for that greater freedom which is denied them at present and all that can be expected of them—all that anybody who adopts the policy of the Treaty can expect from them—is that there should be some rule by which national policy for the time being would be determined and that those who do not agree with that policy could, in accordance with that rule, strive for the greater freedom.
Now, the conditions under which this test has been imposed were conditions which indicated that there was no natural loyalty from a large section of the people coming to this State. Had there been such natural loyalty there would be no need of a test clause of this kind. The introduction of it was a confession that there was something wrong and that that something wrong was not mere perversity; it was something which was natural, which was here in this country as long as the history of our struggle against British interference is known, as long as that history has lasted. Accordingly we must take it into account. Now, the imposition of it may seem nothing to the majority party that imposed it, but it means a great deal to those who feel that giving allegiance in the way demanded here would mean a forswearing of their own opinions and their political principles and I think nobody has a right to impose that as a test of employment. All that can be expected is that those who would be employed by the local authorities would give faithful service to the local authority, would perform their duties faithfully and would carry out the orders given to them. I think you have no right to go any further than that; you have no right to put in penal clauses which are purely test clauses.
I appeal to the fairmindedness of everybody here to accept that view and take out this section which is a disfiguring section of the Act. I know the circumstances under which it was introduced. I am making full allowance for that. As a coercive measure it was deliberately introduced by the Party on the opposite Benches, but I say that if there is going to be any progress here at all we must as quickly as possible get rid of every, as Deputy Johnson called it, irritating test such as we have in this Act. My attitude will be one rather of appeal to the fairmindedness of everybody. We have passed through very difficult times during the last four or five years, and it will be for the good of the country generally to get rid of evidences of that past from our institutions and from our Acts, if we can, and the sooner we do it the better.
We are going to look for a National Loan very soon. Have you not a far more secure basis of stability in the acceptance of some such rule as I have indicated, some such rule by which, whilst nobody is going to forswear his individual opinion or aspiration, for the time being some national policy can be accepted as being the suitable policy for the moment? I believe if you approach it in that way we will make much more progress than we possibly can make by insisting on the retention of clauses of this kind. The Executive have shown a certain amount of good sense in reconsidering the question of the teachers. They have also shown good sense in a reply which I got the other day to a question respecting certain dismissed R.I.C. men. In accordance with the reply given by the Minister for Finance, a change of attitude has been shown. These dismissed and resigned R.I.C. men were denied pensions because of their political affiliations. I regard that as evidence of returning sanity, as I look upon it, and I would welcome further evidence of that if the Executive will say: "Very well; we are prepared to wipe out that clause now without any question of discussing whether at any time it was right or defensible."
Even while I wish to approach it in that way, I can state my point of view that I regard it as mean and contemptible, this idea of trying to force a man to forswear his views and adopt an outward conformity by threatening his wife and children with starvation, by telling him that the emigrant ship is the place for him. I call that the meanest type of coercion. It does not get you anywhere. You will never compel or purchase loyalty that way, aid the loyalty of people whose loyalty you can buy in that particular way, is not worth anything. You will not gain your ends by that means. Reason and appeal to the difficulties of the situation are going to get you much further in that way than coercion.
I have indicated fairly clearly my mind. I regard it as very bad from the point of view of the spirit of our people and from the point of view of the moral character of our people to be forcing declarations of this kind. It is bound to injure a man when he has, so to speak, to debase himself, when he has to give a formal denial of the principles he holds at heart. It is not a good lesson for our people. The general national interest and the character of our people as a whole are bound to be affected by measures of this kind, and I appeal to all Deputies to combine in this case, and not make a Party question of it, if possible. Let it be by agreement, and let this thing be taken out. Let it be dealt with just as we had a reconsideration of the position of teachers and of the position of the dismissed and resigned R.I.C.
I cannot help regarding this matter, irrespective of how clearly I see the point of view of those who try to impose it, otherwise than I have stated. I understand clearly what their motives were, and what the impulse in their minds was. I must regard this as mean, and any people who descended to do it were giving way to the meanest instincts in them. It is not worthy of any government in any country to do a thing of that kind. It simply means that you are going to divide your people into two classes— those who are outlaws and those who are otherwise, and you will find, as the elections proved, that this is not a case of dealing with a handful, but with, no matter what the circumstances were, at least one-third of our people who have shown in the most difficult circumstances that they were opposed to this policy, and that they do not like it. You are continuing the old bad British traditions of trying to get loyalty by coercion. I do not think it will succeed. It is most unwise, and I ask the House without further talk to give this Bill a Second Reading, and delete that section from the Act.