In connection with this amendment I should like just to go into some detail as to the position as it is at the moment in relation to the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and, at any rate, as to what it may become hereafter if the Seanad disappears. The Comptroller and Auditor-General in this State is in a very privileged position, but that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should occupy a privileged position is not exceptional to this State. In most countries, in which there is representative government through Parliamentary institutions, men, on the whole, have come to regard it as an important thing that there should be an officer put in such a position that he can be independent in the exercise of his functions, and he is given independence in the exercise of his functions because the functions he has to exercise are regarded as very important.
As far as we are concerned—and in this we are not exceptional to many other countries—the Comptroller and Auditor-General has to control all disbursements and to audit all accounts of moneys administered by or under the authority of the Oireachtas, and to report to Dáil Eireann at stated periods to be determined by law. In most countries you have an individual discharging functions of this type, and because he has been given functions of this type to discharge he is put into a specially privileged position. In most countries the marks of the privilege are almost always the same—that he cannot be removed easily, that he can only be removed for stated reasons and on a charge openly made against him and on a resolution brought forward backing up the charge; that he is not subject to pressure by having his salary easily out, because financial pressure, in other circumstances, could be used easily to make a Comptroller and Auditor-General, discharging his functions in what he thought a proper way but not in the way the Government of the day wanted, come to heel. So, you generally have the position that in regard to a financial supervisor of this type his salary is not open to reduction annually.
In this country we have put the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor-General on the Central Fund. That means, in addition to other things, that ordinarily the question of his conduct cannot be raised on a Vote, because the Vote for his salary does not come before the House annually. That was all done deliberately, because it was thought a wise precaution, and a salutary thing to have an individual given independence and given charge of the public accounts in the limited way in which he is given charge here. As far as we are concerned, the special terms relating to him are that he shall not be removed except for stated misbehaviour or incapacity, on resolutions passed by Dáil Eireann and Seanad Eireann. There are other matters that follow, but let us deal with this. To remove him, there must be a resolution brought in. It must allege misbehaviour or incapacity. If it alleges misbehaviour, it must state a case of misbehaviour. If it alleges incapacity, it must give some indication of what the incapacity is. That resolution has then got to be passed both by this House and by the Seanad. In other words, Parliamentary government, as it is known here, means that people are subject to criticism, and when certain people are put into a privileged position we find that the privilege of criticism is somewhat limited and restricted, and that when it comes to criticism aimed at getting a man out of that office, it must be directed along either of two channels— to show misbehaviour or to show incapacity, and the arguments backing the resolutions alleging incapacity or misbehaviour must commend themselves to the majority in this House and in the Seanad. That is the situation here at present. That is the situation, with certain minor items changed, here and there, which holds in a great many countries. In addition, we have here that, subject to the provision about removal for stated reasons, the terms and conditions of the tenure of office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General shall be fixed by law; he shall not be a member of the Oireachtas, and he shall not hold any other office or position of emolument.
In these two rather brief Articles everything that was possible was done to secure independence for the Comptroller and Auditor-General, to preclude him from taking any other office or position of emolument, and the corollary of that was that he should be given such a salary as would satisfy a man of the attainments required. Given that salary, allowed to take no other office, he would then devote himself exclusively to the exercise of the functions detailed here. Only in the way I have described could there be any removal of him from office and, his salary being borne as I said, he was not subject to the financial pressure that can be put upon other people whose salaries are yearly, and at other times if the Ministry like it, at the mercy of this House. That is the position at present. It has commended itself to mankind generally that there should be such a position, and that the man holding it should be put above criticism, certainly put above financial pressure, and decidedly put above removal at the whim of a Ministry.
What is the new situation? Once this Bill goes through, it only requires a simple majority of this House to delete the words in Article LXIII that the Comptroller and Auditor-General shall not be removed except for stated misbehaviour or incapacity, and on a resolution passed, as it will be hereafter, by the Dáil. It would be possible to amend it further by a simple majority. It would be possible to have his salary borne upon some Vote, discussed annually, and subject to cuts. Let us think again of the circumstances in which this new procedure will operate. A Government commanding a majority can, for a reason which commends itself to them, remove the Comptroller and Auditor-General at once.
I have previously used the analogy of the Commissioner of the Gárda Síochána. No charge was made against General O'Duffy, the President said, when questioned on the matter. He was removed from office because, in the opinion of the Executive Council, a change of Commissioner was desirable in the public interest. If the Ministry think that is a sufficiently good reason they can, even, with Article LXIII remaining as it is, force a resolution through this House hereafter removing the Comptroller and Auditor-General. But, if they want to appear purists in their approach to this, they can introduce two measures—one to remove these words which might be some impediment to a conscientious man, and put in the simple phrase that, if it is desirable in the public interest, the Comptroller and Auditor-General may be removed from office by resolution passed by Dáil Eireann. Why was it desirable in the public interest to have General O'Duffy removed? The President gave testimony to that. He said: "Deputy Cosgrave asked me was there any characteristic in the quality of the new occupant of the office that the old occupant did not have," and the answer was, "I say yes, the one that he was not chief of police for ten years under the late Administration."
That test, which is alleged to have ruined General O'Duffy, can be used with equal force against the present Comptroller and Auditor-General. If that was an all-sufficing reason in the one case, how do we know it will not be regarded hereafter as a proper reason in the case of the Comptroller and Auditor-General? Do we want to get to the state in which a Government, because it commands a majority in this House, ought to be able to remove from office a man who may be disposed to criticise its actions? Is it not thought desirable that there should be somebody, not subject to the whims of the Government, not easily removable, to safeguard the finances of the State even in the limited way in which safeguarding is accomplished here—to control the disbursements, to audit the accounts, and to report to the Dáil at stated periods? Of course, a simple amendment carried by a majority to Article LXIII would take away the right and the obligation of the Comptroller and Auditor-General to report to the Dáil at stated intervals.
Away from the heat of Party conflict, views about the Seanad as at present constituted and the present Senators and their national outlook, is it desirable that there should be in the modern State somebody independent of the Government of the day to report to the House at stated periods as to the disbursement of public money and the appropriation of public money, and to see whether the moneys have gone to the people for whom they were voted, have got there by the regular process of law and in due course of administration? Is it desirable that there should be somebody to examine into that matter and report upon it, and to enable that man to pass a clear judgment, unafraid of financial pressure, and not subject to sudden removal if he does not obey the reigning Government? Is it a good thing to have a man who will report and comment upon what the Government is doing in relation to public money? If it is thought desirable, where is the safeguard we are going to have here? Was that one of the valuable things the President found in the Constitution? If so, should it be safeguarded? Where is the safeguard? I shall deal with the judges later on, although the judges, as an institution, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General as an institution, have very much the same arguments at the back of them.
I suppose that the money exacted by a Government from the citizens of any country and spent under their supervision, is about double what it used to be fifteen years ago. With this advance in the spending capacity of a Government, if these old safeguards were required previously, are they not required all the more now? Would not a Government really be well advised if there was no such safeguard as we have here now to put it in? Is it not something of a safeguard to a Government itself, viewing it from the entirely selfish viewpoint, to be able to point to somebody and say: "That man is independent; he can criticise us and hold us up to public scorn and odium for anything he finds out about us, and he can report, and must report, at stated intervals, to the Dáil, and if there is any lurking idea or suspicion in anybody's mind about what we are doing with the nation's finances, there is the guardian—and he is not removable by the majority which makes us a Government"? I think that if a Government came into being and found themselves without that safeguard, they would be well advised to get it at once, but, it being there, the present Government seek to remove it, and they certainly have not offered us anything in substitution.