In Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate—Possession of a Gun.

Deputy McGilligan has given notice to raise on the adjournment a matter arising out of question 14 on to-day's Order Paper.

To-day I asked the Minister for Justice this question: If he will state (a) if he is aware that in giving evidence as a witness before the Military Tribunal on September 29th, 1933, Gárda John Martin (described as of the Special branch of the Gárda) swore that he had brought back a gun from America; that he had retained that gun in the Saorstát for at least the six months previous to August, 1933, and that he had that gun in his possession on September 29th, 1933; (b) if for any part of or for all this period, starting six months prior to August and continuing up to 29th September last, John Martin had not a permit under the Firearms Act; (c) if John Martin is still a member of the Special or any other branch of the Gárda or is otherwise employed in Government service, and (d) if any disciplinary action was taken against John Martin for having a firearm without a permit (if such was the case).

The answer I got was: "The replies to parts (a) and (c) are in the affirmative, and to part (d) in the negative. Martin had no permit. The gun was defective and was held as a souvenir." Putting all that together it comes to this: that the Minister does agree that in giving evidence before the Military Tribunal this member of the Special branch, John Martin, swore that he brought back this gun from America and had retained it; that he had no permit; that he is still a member of the Special branch of the Guards or some part of it, and that no disciplinary action has been taken against him. I asked, by way of supplementary question, if the Minister would think of parading that man before the Military Tribunal and putting that forward as his excuse: the excuse that the gun was defective and held as a souvenir, and see what would happen. The Minister made some retort about other people who had guns. Then I asked the Minister, by way of a further supplementary, what I regard as the most important part of the whole question: Was it possible that Gárda John Martin, who had admitted having a gun without a permit, and who may have other guns without permits, would be sent to raid people's houses one of these days and might attempt to do what several of his colleagues have in proccedings been implicated in doing, namely, in planting arms on innocent people. To that I got no reply. I want to quote this evidence in extenso. This is a case in which Deputy Belton figured and in which the Attorney-General figured.

And in which John Brown figured.

The Attorney-General one day having nothing better to do in the law courts decided to have a kind of game of contract or rather a game of auction at, I suppose, 12/- a hundred. He got his friend Killeen up from Claremorris to bid for cattle.

There is no reference to that in this question.

It is the preamble to the question.

The Deputy has stated that it is the preamble to the question. There is no such preamble to the question on the Order Paper.

I should have said the preamble to my statement. It was my mistake and I apologise.

That is quite a different matter.

Guard Martin was produced as a witness in this great case. He said he had joined the Force in August. Previously he had been unemployed for six months and before that he was for four years in the United States. He gave evidence as to an occurrence on the 20th September and was then cross-examined. He said he took little interest in politics; he would say that he was in favour of Fianna Fáil; he was a member of no organisation; he had the gun in his pocket on the 20th September; he had a gun in the United States; he had no training in the use of guns. The question was put to him "you know what it was for?" He answered: "I do." He was then asked "you never fired a shot out of it?"—"No." The witness stated, in reply to a further question, that he had recently received training in the mechanism of guns. He had brought back the gun with him from the United States and he still had it. To a later question he said he was supplied with the gun in the Guards. He was then asked: "So you have two guns?" and his answer was "Yes." According to Martin he had two guns and he never fired a shot. He then went on to say that he had some idea of the evidence that other people had given. That gentleman is still in the Force. It is admitted that he never had a permit; that he has no permit, and that he is a member of the squad that is kept occupied in raiding people's houses, a member of the squad in connection with whom a charge of sedition, if you please, was brought against another person for having said that if there was a particular gun found on him it had been planted by this particular squad. The man who said that was not found guilty of sedition for having made that statement. There were other cases in the Country Cavan where men were charged with being in possession of revolvers. The defence put up for them was that the guns had been planted on them by members of the Force and the jury believed that story.

In these circumstances we are expected to take as a satisfactory answer the reply of the Minister; that a member of that Force was found to be in possession of a revolver without a permit, but that his statement is that the gun was defective and was kept merely as a souvenir. There is not even disciplinary action taken against the man, and he is retained in the Force. I asked by way of supplementary question about parading him before the Military Tribunal. I take now a Press report of the 21st December of last year. A certain man was prosecuted for having a pistol and a quantity of revolver and miscellaneous ammunition on a particular date. He said he had it. He was asked: "Why did you keep it without having a permit?" His answer was he did not think it was necessary, that he had it as a souvenir. I think the Minister must have been reading that case. Counsel for the Crown in the case said that it was much more serious for a man to whom a sense of responsibility could be imputed to keep unlicensed arms than for an ignorant man to do so. I presume that Martin would, in the case that counsel referred to, be looked on as a man with a sense of responsibility and not an ignorant man. Therefore, according to the evidence given against one man in a case before the Military Tribunal, counsel would have said if this man Martin had been paraded before it: "You are, supposedly, a man with a sense of responsibility and it is much more serious for you to carry arms without a licence than for an ignorant man to do so." In one case, at any rate, the plea about the souvenirs did not work.

A second man was also charged that day with having a .22 revolver, brown and rusty with age, and described by prosecuting counsel as archaic. It was produced in support of the charge. A plea of guilty was entered as to possession, but there was denial as to ownership. The gun was handed to the court. The President examined it and said that it certainly would never kill anyone. "It is absolutely harmless," he said. With that indication of the mind of the court before him, prosecuting counsel had to say: "I never saw it before, but it is somewhat antiquated-looking." This counsel, I should remark, is a very strong Republican and ought to know something about arms. Finally, the gun was pronounced harmless by the President, and counsel said that he must admit it was obsolete. He added this remark, presumably on the instructions of the Attorney-General: "It must not be left to persons like the prisoner to decide whether a gun was harmless or not. In some cases old guns might be made serviceable."

There was a third case that day. In this case, we get the junction of defective arm and souvenir, as pleaded in the case of Guard Martin, and evidence given that he was a man of high character. He had fought, apparently, in all the wars that this country had in recent years. The firearms and ammunition found had been in his possession since 1922. The revolver, a .32, had been bought for five shillings. The ammunition was not really revolver ammunition, but pistol ammunition. The accused never had any intention of using the gun. Giving evidence for himself, he said he had had the revolver when in the army. When he was demobilised, he remained in the country for five or six months and then went to America. He returned to Ireland 14 or 15 months prior to the trial. He left the ammunition at home and was careless about the matter. He had no intention of using the revolver, which was defective. He finally said that the gun had been kept as a souvenir. That was exactly Guard Martin's case. Yet that man was paraded before the Military Tribunal. A gun expert was called in about this weapon. We do not know whether such an expert was called in with regard to Guard Martin's gun. The expert said that the trigger of the revolver was defective but the revolver was capable of firing a bullet by working the trigger with the thumb from the top. The further statement was made—it is not clear by whom—that the weapon was a .32 revolver, that it was completely useless and that, if fired at all, it would be dangerous to the user. These are three cases which it was thought fit to bring before the Military Tribunal. In one case, there was a gun, rusty and obsolete. Another man described his gun as a souvenir and was criticised by opposing counsel, who said it was not his business to say whether a gun was a souvenir or was obsolete. In the third case, we get a junction of the two things in Guard Martin's case—a gun which was usless and kept as a souvenir. These people were brought before the Military Tribunal and were ordered to enter into recognisances or else serve a term of imprisonment. Guard Martin is better off. He joins the "harriers" and is not even disciplined. There is not a black mark against him in respect of this matter. He is not the type of character one wants to see in a police force, sent round raiding people's houses and searching for arms and ammunition, and certainly not with the reputation of some of his colleagues in that particular group, who have been held up to public comment in two recent cases where the charge was definitely made against them that they had planted arms. In one case, the jury found clearly that they had and, in the other, the implication was that the story was true.

That is not true.

I do not know what the Deputy says is not true, but what I say is true.

The statement about the finding of the jury in County Cavan is not true.

Every word of it is true. Let me go into the details of the case since it has been questioned.

The case is not open for discussion now.

It is an appropriate example—so appropriate that it has drawn Deputy Smith out of his long-continued silence. What I have said is absolutely true. Two men were paraded for having ammunition and guns——

The Deputy must according to precedent confine himself to the question raised on the adjournment.

This was a case in which——

It was not a case of that sort. That is the case I present to the House with regard to Guard Martin. Two ex-members of the National Army are hailed before the Tribunal for being in possession of obsolete and rusty guns, declared by the President of the Court to be absolutely useless. They are put under detention and arrest. They are kept in barracks or in prison for some time. Then they are hailed before the Tribunal and they must bind themselves to keep the peace. There is, certainly, a finding of guilty against them and an imputation of wrong. It is wrung out of Guard Martin in cross-examination in an ugly case that he had a gun. When the matter is further pressed in the House it is said: "It is true he had a gun and that he had no permit for it any part of the time." Yet, the Minister thinks that he is a fit and proper person to send round to raid houses, that he is a fit and proper person for any police purpose. He will not even take disciplinary action against him. I think that that is a scandal. I think that if this man's colleagues in that particular branch had any thought for themselves they would make it clear that they repudiate that man and his activities as they ought to repudiate another man and his activities in that particular branch.

This House ought to have been given more information as to who found this revolver to be defective, what examination was made of the story that it was a souvenir, what attempt was made to ascertain where the gun was first obtained, where it was held, whether there are any other arms in this man's possession, and how the gun was brought back into the country against the watchfulness which is supposed to exist as regards the bringing in of arms.

Finally, we should remember that, in the case of which I have spoken, where the glorious charge of sedition was made, the man concerned stated that ammunition found in a place belonging to him had not been put there by him, that it must have been put there by some member of the force that raided the premises, that in that case the ammunition was American, and were it not that the particular individual had discovered, and disclosed to the other people raiding, that a second gun was in possession of one of the raiders, it is quite likely that there would have been found not merely American ammunition, but an American gun to suit it. Then there would have been a cast-iron case against the man who was found not guilty by the Tribunal on the sedition charge. This is a case of grave suspicion and I shall ventilate that case and as many more as I get particulars of on every occasion until I get proper answers from the Minister and until he takes up a proper attitude with regard to them.

I should like to add one question to the questions put by Deputy McGilligan. It is a question that seems to me to be important and relevant—that is, whether, in enlisting these new members of the Special Gárda Force, inquiries were made from any of them or from all of them as to whether they had been illegally in possession of arms.

I want to say——

I think that that is most unfair.

There must be no comment on the action of the Chair. The usual procedure, when a Deputy raises a question on the adjournment, is that the Minister is given ten minutes in which to reply.

It has been customary to allow other Deputies to intervene for a short period.

It is now 10.50 p.m.

My constituency has been mentioned and I think I ought to be allowed to intervene——

The Deputy who raised the question on the adjournment was pulled up for having referred to the Cavan case.

I think, A Chinn Comhairle——

Order! I call on the Minister to conclude.

There is no precedent for this——

The Minister to conclude.

I think that we were rather unfortunate in the ruling you, a Chinn Comhairle, gave to-day in regard to another question. If it had been otherwise, we should not have had so much time wasted at this hour of the night. Deputy McGilligan, in the number of questions that appeared on the Order Paper to-day, seemed determined to show an industry which the answers to these questions show is very misplaced. He started in to-day by asking me a question about some man in Boyle. That was very widely reported in the newspapers and I informed him that there was no remission of the sentence. That was the first question. Then he went on with another question and asked me about certain incidents that happened in Ennistymon. It was the first time I heard about them or that the police heard about them. Where Deputy McGilligan heard about them we should be glad to know. The next question he asked me about concerned an attack on a hall in Ballygar. Well, in that case a stone was fired at the house. That was the attack. Then there was a question about Tralee. That was reported in all the newspapers at the time. All this goes to show the rather light way in which some people think of putting down questions to the House.

We come now to this particular question. I shall deal first with Deputy MacDermot's point. When men are being taken into the Guards the same procedure is adopted now as has always been adopted. Inquiries are made as to the characters of the applicants, from their parish priests and so on. They have to submit to an examination and to a medical test. That is the usual procedure and it is the same procedure that was adopted previously.

What about qualifications as to height and age?

You did not adopt that.

What about training?

When Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney says that they adhered to a particular rule as to height, I say there is no limit to what people will say.

I say that a test as to height was always used.

I will challenge the Deputy now and give him the regulation height to which men who were taken into the Guards should conform when he was Minister, and those regulations were not adhered to.

I can inform the Minister that every person taken into the Guards was over the regulation height, which, I think, was 5' 8"— except persons who came under other rules, such as ex-members of the National Army.

Why did you not say that before? With reference to this particular question, let us deal with one aspect of it first—that is, in regard to the question of souvenirs, or rather from the point of view of people surrendering arms. The attitude adopted by the previous Government, and, I understand, on instructions in 1923, was that where any person surrendered a firearm no prosecution took place. I have reports here from the B. and D. districts, and during all that time from 1923 to the present day where persons, when questioned as to whether or not they had arms, admitted that they had those arms and surrendered them, not a single prosecution was brought. I start with that position. This man had this gun. He had it openly. There was no secret about it. When he was questioned in court he admitted it, and there was no question raised about it, and when asked for the gun, he surrendered it. That was the position in the past. If the Guards became aware that a certain man had a gun, whether defective or otherwise, he was asked about it, and if he surrendered it there was no prosecution. That is correct and cannot be denied by anybody on the other side. In this case, the gun was surrendered on the 30th, a day after he was asked by the authorities had he a gun. He said he had a gun, that it was defective, had not been used and could not be used by anybody. I have the report here which bears that out. The gun had a burst barrel and the hammer could not be used. I do not want to go into the cases of everybody in the country—some of them Deputies of this House and some of them Senators of the other House—who have been asked to give up their guns and have not given them up when the firearms certificates were withdrawn. In this case, however, the police satisfied themselves that this old gun was defective and not capable of firing a shot or discharging a missile. In conclusion, I want to ask Deputy McGilligan to look up the Firearms Act and he will see there that no prosecution lies unless the weapon is a lethal weapon capable of discharging a shot.

That was not so in the cases before the Tribunal.

Again, I ask the Deputy to read that Act.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until Friday, 16th February, at 10.30 a.m.