I was endeavouring to explain to the House my meaning of the motion as distinct from the petition if this motion is carried. The motion reads:
"That leave be given to present a petition prepared in accordance with the provisions of Article 48 of the Constitution."
I am very sorry that the demand in the motion has been associated with the reception of the petition for a particular purpose, and unfortunately that places members of this House, especially in view of the President's speech, in the position of voting for the motion and for the reception of the petition as against the President's idea of abolishing the Article altogether. That is my own personal view, and it is unfortunate that members of the House should be placed in that peculiar position. On the other hand, we had the President on various occasions through his political career boosting the democratic nature of this particular Constitution. I hope I am not bordering on any contentious matter when I say that it is well known that the civil war was fought on the issue of the Treaty and the Constitution under which this House functions to-day. The President made that clear in every speech he made, not only during the general election of 1923, but during the two general elections of 1927. If the general election which followed the framing of this Constitution was fought on the issue of preserving the Constitution or otherwise, and if the cost of the civil war is to be counted on that basis, then the words in this clause of the Constitution have cost the taxpayers a very large sum of money. I wonder if the President would tell us what every word in the Constitution cost the taxpayers, and will he say what was the cost of this particular clause that he now wishes to have deleted. As we are talking about the intentions of those who passed the Constitution, or who framed it, I think it is not wrong to go back on the speeches of those who were responsible for fathering it in this House, or in what was known as the Constituent Assembly. According to the Official Debates of October 5th, 1922, page 1213, the late Minister for Justice in moving this particular Article said:
I may say it will still further associate the people with the forging of the laws of the country and it puts the power in the hands of the people of even initiating legislation. If a large section of the people feel that a certain law is desirable and the Parliament fails to introduce the desired legislation the power is given here to the people to initiate legislation themselves. It is the direct complement of the Referendum and pretty much what can be claimed for the Referendum can be claimed for the Initiative—that it keeps contact between the people and their laws and keeps responsibility and consciousness in the minds of the people that they are the real and ultimate rulers of the country. The text of the Article as it stands is permissive. It is not mandatory. It is permissive of Parliament to institute the Initiative but it is mandatory if Parliament having failed to introduce it is so requested by a petition within two years. I think it is better not to speak of the amendments that are on the paper until they are moved.
The late Minister for Justice is responsible for this particular clause in the Constitution. I will take the liberty of quoting—I do not want to detain the House very long—the Minister for Finance. According to the Official Debates, page 1215, speaking on the same day he stated:—
I do not think in any of these matters which are left to the people that we should make it too easy for a very small body to involve the country in the expense which anything of this nature will bring about.
He was talking about the number of people who would be entitled to sign a petition in order to implement this particular clause of the Constitution. He goes on:—
Every Initiative would mean an enormous expense. It may be that within two years when the country has had experience of Referendums there may not be any very great desire for an Initiative. On the other hand if there is sufficient desire it would be very easy to get it.
I quote in support of the Clause of the Constitution as it now stands, two Ministers, the late Minister for Justice and the Minister for Finance, who took the responsibility of introducing that Clause into the Constitution for the purpose of enabling them to say, as they have already said on many occasions, that the people are masters in this country. Personally, I think Deputy de Valera has adopted the wrong procedure. Whether we like it or not, the law-making authority in this country consists of the Dáil, the Seanad and the Governor-General. That is a fact whether you want to recognise it or not. Therefore, in my opinion if the proper procedure were adopted, it should have been by some other means than the moving of a motion in one part of the Oireachtas, if I might put it in that way.
The Labour Party has given very careful consideration to this question. Personally, speaking for myself, I am anxious to retain the Clause as it is in the Constitution to enable whatever body of citizens have the right, to exercise that right, if they wish to do so at any time, in any matter. I say it is a serious state of affairs for the President of the Executive Council to refuse the petition and to refuse to agree to this motion on the grounds that the clause in the Constitution is in his opinion unworkable. The clause stands in the Constitution and those who are constitutionalists, and I am one, will stand by the Constitution until it is amended in a proper constitutional way. The Labour Party have given careful consideration to this matter and are of the opinion— although we will, if forced, have to vote for this motion because we are committed to it, as we want to retain the clause in the Constitution to give the people the rights that have so often been spoken of—that a different procedure should be adopted. We framed an amendment to the motion, but the amendment was ruled out of order. The amendment was on these lines:—
That the House notes that it is proposed to present a Petition in accordance with Article 48 of the Constitution, and resolves that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to consider and report to the Oireachtas upon the procedure required to give due effect to the provisions of that Article, including the procedure for the reception of a Petition, the checking of the signatures thereto, the period within which the Oireachtas should give consideration to the Petition, and the arrangements to be made for a Referendum if the Oireachtas should decline to make the provision contemplated in Article 48, and that a message be sent to the Seanad accordingly.
That, in the considered opinion of the Labour Party, is the procedure that should have been adopted by Deputy de Valera if he intended the motion to have any real effect. I do not believe in detaining the House in considering a motion of this kind. I am personally very sorry that the motion which stands in Deputy de Valera's name has been associated with the reception of a petition for a particular purpose. Deputy Little admitted that quite frankly in his speech to-day. I am very careful, and I will be careful, to see that the Article of the Constitution which gives certain rights to the people of the country will be respected and implemented if, and when, necessary. I hope that the President, who has involved this country in a civil war for the preservation of the Constitution, which was framed and passed in this House, will not try in the way he is doing here on this motion, to ignore a very important clause in the Constitution.