When I moved the adjournment last night I was endeavouring to convey to the House the attitude which the Minister, on behalf of the Executive Council, expressed towards the decision of the Privy Council. I think I had quoted the words of an interview with the Minister which was published in the "Irish Times" on 15th November of last year. The words were as follows:—
It (the reference being to the decision of the Privy Council) has nothing to do with us. When the original decision was given we made our position perfectly clear. We said that it was an entirely inequitable decision, a decision such as we could not accept and which we have no intention of accepting. Really, we are not interested.
Now, if the Executive Council and if the Minister for Finance were not interested in the decision of the Privy Council, if his Government did not accept that decision, why has he introduced into this Dáil a Bill the long title of which begins AN ACT TO CONFIRM A CERTAIN AGREEMENT INTERPRETING AND SUPPLEMENTING ARTICLE 10 OF THE TREATY OF 1921. The agreement which, in so far as it relates to those officers who are to retire within what was the original permissive period of seven years, is founded entirely upon the decision of the Privy Council. If entering into that agreement with the representatives of the officers who are concerned in this litigation conformed in every iota to the principles enunciated and laid down in the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is not in fact an acceptance of that decision and an honouring of the obligations imposed by the acceptance of that decision, then what is it?
The Minister said on 15th November that it was the intention of his Government to ignore proceedings before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I must confess that I do not for myself see how they could have ignored that decision in view of the fact that the Government was officially represented before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council when this matter came before it for the second time, in view of the fact that it assisted in placing this case for trial before that Judicial Committee. I do not for myself see how, having once appeared before that Court, the Government could have ignored its decision. And I challenge the Minister in this House to which he is responsible, to state here that he does not accept and the Executive Council, of which he is a member, is not accepting the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Of course, it will be said that mine is a partisan voice in this matter, that I am concerned simply to bring the charge, that the Minister and the Executive Council have abandoned their earlier position, home to the Minister. But there are other people than I who can speak in this matter, people who are supporters of the Minister, and a journal which has advocated the cause of the Minister and his party, during the various elections and by-elections which have taken place in this country since the Treaty was accepted. I have here a quotation from a leader in the issue of the "Irish Times" for February 21st, 1929. In passing may I say that this leader is headed rather significantly with the word "fleece." Possibly it may refer to the manner in which the Ministers were shorn of their courage and strength, as Samson was shorn by Delilah, but whatever the purpose of that word there is no mistaking the meaning or the significance of the article itself. Could anything, for instance, be clearer than this?
"This settlement ought to satisfy everybody. The civil servants will get their money; the Free State taxpayer will not be required to pay an additional halfpenny, and the authority of the Privy Council in Dominion affairs has been upheld."
And it has been upheld by the Minister in accepting the decision and in entering into an agreement which was based upon the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I would not like, however, that the House would think that the "Irish Times" is injudicious and intemperate in its praise of the Ministers, because though it may love the Ministers it does not on occasions hesitate to chastise them, remembering what happens often when the rod is spared; and so in all the true kindness and fullness of its paternal dispensation it criticises Mr. Blythe even while it praises his works, for it goes on to say: "Mr. Blythe's attempt to defy the Privy Council was ridiculous." We agree it was ridiculous, ridiculous because he abandoned the position which he took up, and if it is ridiculous it is because he and the Executive Council in retreating from that position have covered themselves with ridicule and dishonour.
Then it goes on to say:
"Now the British Government, in almost quixotic magnanimity, has come to Mr. Blythe's rescue with its offer to pay the cost of the civil servants' additional retiring allowances. Once more it has given evidence of its good-will towards the Free State, and he would be a churlish Minister who did not recognise such generosity. We may hope that henceforward, for its own sake, the Dublin Government will be more tactful in its dealings."
I would say we may hope, for its own sake, that the Dublin Government will be more consistent in its public declarations that the things it says outside it will stand over in this Dáil, that when the Minister declared that he was not interested in a decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council he ought to have proved it by ignoring that decision altogether, by continuing to pay the compensation upon the conditions and principles which he thought were fair, and by leaving those who thought they were aggrieved by that decision of his to seek their recompense and to procure it, if they were able, elsewhere.
Now that we know where the Minister used to stand, and that we have been able to satisfy ourselves by how much since then he has given ground upon this matter, let us return to the Bill. The Bill is, as I have said, in effect an acceptance of the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and a surrender to the blackmail of those transferred officers who carried their claim against the Executive to a foreign tribunal. That tribunal is one whose claim to exercise jurisdiction in this country or over its citizens should be repudiated by every true Irishman. We, on these benches, at any rate, are not prepared to surrender to such blackmail. We are not prepared to accept the decision or the judgment of such a tribunal. We are not prepared to accept an agreement based upon such a decision and we will not, either directly or indirectly, allow that decision to stand or be honoured. With a Government which has been like putty in their hands, the transferred officers under Section 14 of this Bill have procured terms and conditions of service which were not written into the Treaty and were never contemplated by the Treaty. Remember that Mr. Amery, the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, himself said in the House of Commons that it was not the intention of those who drafted Article X. of the Articles of Agreement of 1921 that the civil servants in question should be put in any more favourable position in respect to these matters than if they had remained in the service of the Crown under the British Government. The terms of Article X. of the Treaty were onerous enough, too onerous by far for this country, but the terms which it is proposed to impose by this Bill are almost unendurable. Under the very first section, taken in conjunction with sub-section (6) of Section 14, the term "transferred officers" is given a very much wider content than it could possibly have had in the Treaty, for it is made to include not only established officers but unestablished officers, and even temporary clerks. It covers, therefore, a greater number of persons and, therefore, the cost of compensation must be proportionately increased. Furthermore, the transferred officers constitute the great majority of the civil servants. I think the total personnel of the Government staffs, excluding the Army, Civic Guard, cleaners, postmen, messengers and the temporary staffs in the Post Office is something like 14,000 persons. According to the figures which were furnished to me by the Minister yesterday the number of transferred officers affected by this Bill is 13,529.
Now Section 14 of the Bill is a rather extraordinary one. I do not know whether any of the members have read it, but it stabilises the present conditions in the Civil Service. By Section 14 the Civil Service will be entrenched in an impregnable position of influence and authority vis-a-vis the present Minister for Finance, the present Government or any other Government, so long as this Act stands and so long as the transferred officers constitute an important element in the Civil Service. It will give these transferred officers a controlling power in the State. They will have a right of veto upon all Government policy, because should they disagree with the Minister, should they disagree with the Government, or should they disagree with a measure introduced by the Government, they will be able to say that such a Minister, such a Government, or such legislation prejudices their position as set forth in Section 14, and immediately the Minister must be dropped or the legislation abandoned, or else the transferred officers must be permitted to retire upon terms which would mean bankruptcy to the Government. That is the purpose and the purport of Section 14. If by any change whatsoever these officers are able to go to a tribunal and say that their conditions of service have been lessened, then they are to be permitted to retire upon the terms of Article X. of the Treaty as the Minister originally visualised it should work. That is to say, supposing they should disagree with the Minister in the year 1935, they would be entitled to retire upon terms which may have been equitable in the year 1922. With this power in their hands, it is quite obvious that by a mere threat of retirement they can paralyse any policy of the Government. If Section 14 is allowed to pass we will be governed by a bureaucracy of which this House and the Executive Council responsible to this House will only be a mask.
Another thing. It has already been admitted that a thoroughgoing reform of all the Government Departments is overdue—that is if we are anxious to lighten the burden of taxation on the people. But such a reform must necessarily entail such alterations in the conditions of the Civil Service as would enable every transferred officer to appeal to Section 14 of the Bill, and therefore Section 14 must inevitably prevent any reorganisation of the Civil Service in the interests of the people. It condemns us to maintain for the lifetime, at any rate, of half a generation the huge, unwieldy, inefficient, extravagant machine which has come down to us from the British régime. Section 14 will involve this country, I believe, in continuous over-taxation for a further ten or perhaps fifteen years, and will submerge our people still further in poverty and in depression.
Again, one of the crying evils with which we have been afflicted since the Treaty was passed has been the amount of money paid away every year to absentee pensioners. If this Bill goes through. I believe it will mean an accentuation of that evil, for, quite obviously, the people who brought this litigation to the House of Lords have their spiritual home in Great Britain; quite obviously, they are not loyal citizens of this country; quite obviously, they are not patriotic public servants, or they would have accepted the decision of the Supreme Court of this land. Therefore, having shown, as I said, that their spiritual home is in England, there is not a doubt about it but that, when they do come to retire upon the terms secured to them by this Bill, they will do as a considerable number of their ex-comrades have already done—they will make their domiciles and homes in England. If he were to produce this Bill at all, the Minister might, at least, have made such terms with those who were going to draw pensions under it as would ensure that they would, at least, live in this country and spend amongst its people the pensions which they are to pay them. The negotiations afforded him an excellent opportunity for doing that. It was a safeguard which was omitted from the Treaty and which the Minister should have had inserted in this agreement. He cannot say that his attention had not been drawn to this evil. He himself is aware of it. He knows the amount of money that goes out of the country every year in respect of the pensions to ex-R.I.C. men, and in respect of the pensions paid to ex-members of the British judiciary of this country. He saw that under this Bill further sums were going to be paid away in pensions, and I say he should have had the foresight and prudence to ensure that, at least, if these men were to draw pensions from the Irish Free State, they would continue to reside in the Irish Free State.
Again there is the question of the effect of Section 16 (1) which says:
Whenever a transferred officer to whom compensation under Article X. of the Treaty has been granted (whether before or after the passing of this Act) is employed in any situation in a public department whether such employment commenced before or after the passing of this Act...
(b) so much of such compensation shall be payable in respect of any period whether prior or subsequent to the passing of this Act during which the remuneration of such transferred officer in such employment is less than his remuneration in his former office as with his remuneration in such employment will amount to his remuneration in his former office.
The expression "situation in a public department" is subsequently defined in sub-section (3) as including a situation under the Government of Great Britain or of Northern Ireland. Section 16, though apparently at first sight it might be designed to secure a proportionate reduction in the pensions of those who retire from the service of this Government to take service in another, will, in practice, really have this effect: by enabling the Government of Northern Ireland or of Great Britain to avail themselves of the services of experienced officers upon less than normal terms, it will really have the effect of subsidising the Civil Service of the Government of Northern Ireland at the expense of this State, because many men may not like to continue in the service here as they are politically antagonistic to this Government, or because their homes or their families are in the North of Ireland, and they will be prepared, if they can ensure it, to accept a lesser remuneration in the Six Counties than they would have been prepared to continue working for here in the service of the Free State, if the Free State makes good to them the difference. Mark the words:
so much of such compensation shall be payable in respect of any period whether prior or subsequent to the passing of this Act during which the remuneration of such transferred officer in such employment is less than his remuneration in his former office as with his remuneration in such employment will amount to his remuneration in his former office.
So that a public servant who is in receipt, say, of a salary and allowance of £600 in the Twenty-Six Counties can go to Northern Ireland and discharge the same duties there for a payment of £500, and, so far as I can see, under the Bill the difference between his salary in the new employment and the salary in his employment under the Free State will be made good to him by way of pension or allowance. I believe that that will, in practice, be the effect of the Bill.
In criticising the Bill we are rather at a disadvantage, because the Minister in introducing it had not the courtesy to explain the terms of the measure to us. We can only go upon surmise. I will ask the Minister, if he is going to reply, to explain the exact purport of Section 17.