I gave notice this morning that I would draw the attention of the House, in order that the President might have an opportunity of making a statement on the matter, to certain statements reported to have been made in the City of Dublin last night at a public meeting. One speaker is reported in the "Irish Press" of to-day as having said: "That no matter what anyone said to the contrary, while they had fists, hands and boots to use, and guns if necessary, they would not allow free speech to traitors." In the report of the "Irish Independent" another speaker is reported to have said that: "the policeman who put his head between Mr. Cosgrave's and the head and hands of any Irishman might as well keep his head at home." The matter I submit to the House is of the greatest possible importance, and it is most desirable that we should have a statement from the President as to what his line is to be in the matter, and what powers he has for dealing with offences such as the making of these statements in public.
The President at the meeting of the Ard Fheis of Fianna Fáil on 8th of the present month is reported to have said: "It is our duty as a Government to stand for free speech." That may be a sufficiently satisfactory statement coming from the head of a political organisation, but we are entitled to ask the President as head of the Executive Council what effectiveness is going to be given to the intention expressed in that statement, as part of the responsibility he has on his shoulders as President of the Executive Council. It is all the more important that we should be clear in the matter, and that the steps he may take would be effective because of the very special circumstances in which we find ourselves at the present moment. In the first place, very critical problems affecting the country require to be discussed and decided.
In the second place there is contained in this statement, as there has been contained in statements made week after week in some of the weekly Press and repeated at meetings held throughout the country, a threat to murder persons in politics in the country, and a threat to murder persons who attend political meetings. There is as a background to this threat the fact that there is in the country an armed illegal organisation which is accumulating arms, and which is perfecting its organisation.
If anything would add to the very great responsibility that lies on the head of the Executive Council to secure free speech and free public meetings, there are facts which add particularly and peculiarly to the responsibility that rests on the President. His Ministers have preached against free speech on various occasions, and have in their public expressions labelled as traitors persons who have engaged in Irish politics from before 1916 down to to-day. His Ministers and, to some extent, himself, and his organ, have preached against assistance being given to the civil authorities in dealing with disorder in the country, and have gone to the extent of threatening persons who may give assistance to the police in certain circumstances that they may be liable to suppression. In May last Mr. Cosgrave addressed a meeting in Cork. The Press on the following day reported that the meeting ended in uproar and pandemonium. On the following day the organisers of the meeting addressed a letter to the President, explaining what had happened, asking him to put a stop to the interference with public meetings, and asking him, in respect on his own particular following, to make a public statement in the matter. The Minister for Justice the other day replied to a question in such a way as to intimate that neither as Minister for Justice, seeing what was going on, nor as a result of the communication addressed to the President, had he made any enquiries of the police in Cork as to what exactly had happened. The President, although asked in May last to address a statement to his followers on the question of free speech, made it only on the 8th November at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, and, I submit, made it as a change of policy on his part, and made it only after additional cases of serious interference with public speech had taken place, and he had seen that there was a spirit in the country that would protect free speech if the institutions that we are paying for would not operate to secure the free speech the people are entitled to under the Constitution. In addition the President and members of his Party have preached that there is a limitation to the extent to which the Opposition may go in dealing with public matters, and, in the light of the extent to which he himself went, as an Opposition, in dealing with public matters, his statement is important.
After the speech made in the Gresham some weeks ago by Mr. Cosgrave he was threatened with jail both by the speakers of the President's Party and, if my recollection is clear, by the President's organ, and the Government were painted as being in this position that if they did not put Mr. Cosgrave in jail themselves the people would drive them to put him in jail. Now, as I say, all this increases—if increase is possible—the responsibility that lies on the head of the Executive Council to secure that there would not be disorder in the country, stopping public meetings and stopping the free expression of public opinion. There is a threat to murder persons who have the courage of their convictions, who have a courageous sense of their duty, and who will go on public platforms and get up in public places to express their opinion on matters of vital importance to the people. I have said that there are very important questions to be discussed. They must be discussed and decided. A heavy duty lies on the electorate to consider these matters. They can only be considered and a decision can only be come to after public discussion. We cannot have the necessary consideration, the necessary discussion, and the truest possible decision on them, without free public discussion.
First and foremost I ask the President what powers he has, and whether they are adequate to enable him to secure free public meetings and free public discussions at meetings. What is he going to do to deal with those speeches and those incitements by persons—many of whom never had any courage—or their dupes to the assassination of persons going on public platforms and speaking in other places, and the murder and assassination of persons who go around public platforms to hear public views expressed?