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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 7 Mar 1935

Vol. 55 No. 4

Private Deputies' Business. - Adjournment Debate—I.R.A. and Longford Estate Dispute.

Yesterday I asked the Minister for Justice certain questions in connection with recent events at Edgeworthstown and the President of the Executive Council thought them of sufficient importance to answer them in person. I asked (1) whether on the 5th November last the Edgeworthstown Town Tenants' Association passed a resolution inviting the intervention of the I.R.A. in the Sanderson Estate dispute; (2) whether, on the 20th November last, the same association, having announced that the I.R.A. had accepted the above-mentioned invitation, passed a further resolution inviting the I.R.A. to hold a public meeting in Edgeworthstown; (3) whether a public meeting under the auspices of the I.R.A. was held at Edgeworthstown on the 2nd December last, and whether incitements to violence were uttered at that meeting in the presence of members of the Gárda Síochána.

The President answered all these questions in the affirmative and he admitted that these matters had been published in the Press and had otherwise been brought to the attention of the authorities. He further admitted that no action had been taken by the Department of Justice or the Gárda Síochána other than to make arrangements for preventing a breach of the peace on the occasion of the meeting on the 2nd December and to institute patrols in the neighbourhood of Mr. More O'Ferrall's place. It was not stated on what date the patrols were instituted or whether they continued up to and including the date of the murder. I think I am not going too far in describing these answers by the President of the Executive Council as sensational. I hope, quite honestly, for the sake of the reputation of the country and for the sake of the future of the country, that he will be able to disclose further matters to-night that will put his answers in a more favourable light than that in which they at present appear.

Prior to the invitation extended by the Town Tenants' Association to the I.R.A., the association had already exhausted every conceivable constitutional means of pressure and propaganda in order to get their way. Their task was rendered easier by the fact that leading members of the Town Tenants' Association were also leading members of the local Fianna Fáil club. What, then, ought the Civic Guard and the Department of Justice to have inferred from the decision of that association to bring the I.R.A. on the scene? What would they have inferred supposing it was a group of farmers who were objecting to the payment of the land annuities and had successfully invited the I.R.A. to come upon the scene? Surely what they ought to have inferred—and what they would have inferred had it been the case of farmers objecting to the payment of land annuities—is that having failed with constitutional methods, it was proposed to see what violence could achieve. The invitation to a body which boasts of possessing arms and claims to judge of when and where to use those arms was in itself a threat to peace and order and the reign of law which ought to have evoked the immediate attention of the authorities. Why did it not do so? Partly, perhaps, because of the traditional Fianna Fáil policy of patience and brotherly love towards terrorist organisations; but I think, perhaps, more especially it was due to the fact that those who were bringing in the I.R.A. were many of them prominent supporters of Fianna Fáil and were in close touch with the Fianna Fáil Deputies representing the constituency.

I suggest then that the first dereliction of duty on the part of the Department of Justice was when it failed to put an immediate stop to the whole business of bringing in the I.R.A.

Secondly, there is the matter of the public meeting under the auspices of the I.R.A. Mr. More O'Ferrall asked in vain that that meeting should be prevented from taking place. The President says that the Gárda Síochána "took whatever steps they considered necessary to prevent a breach of the peace." What were these steps? Civic Guards were sent to the meeting. Presumably if those who attended it had proceeded to march forthwith cn masse to Mr. More O'Ferrall's house the Guards would have intervened to prevent them doing so. However, the Guards did nothing to stop language of a very inflammatory character uttered at that meeting, language calculated and intended to produce a breach of the peace. Reports of the meeting were published in the Longford Leader and in An Phoblacht. These reports make it clear that there was incitement not to pay rents and that threats were uttered against anyone who should dare to do so. I shall not detain the House by reading extracts from the Press reports, but in case my statements are challenged I have them here and I am prepared to substantiate what I have said. Apart from what was published in the newspapers, I am informed on good authority that much more violent things were said than were published in the Press, including direct threats against the person and even the life of Mr. More O'Ferrall. These were presumably reported to their superiors by the Civic Guards who were present. Even so the Department took no action except that it was then perhaps that the patrols of which the President speaks were started. The effectiveness of these patrols can be judged by the fact that it was found possible for four men to arrive in a motor car drive up to the house and to shoot up the household without interference. I understand it was several hours after the occurrence before the family were able to get any sort of protection or assistance.

These facts speak for themselves and seem to constitute an overwhelming Indictment of the Department of Justice. The very circumstance that for reasons of their own the Government have refrained from declaring the I.R.A. an unlawful association puts all the greater onus on them to give full protection to the citizens of this country when mischief at the hands of that body in manifestly in the wind. It would appear, prima facie, that the obvious duty of the Department of Justice was neglected on that occasion. It was neglected, I am afraid, for the sake of party advantage and out of subservience to the local Fianna Fáil clubs.

The present case appears to have been a particularly flagrant one. I am informed that the rents in Edgeworthstown are low as compared with other similar towns and it appears that some of those taking part in the agitation are getting more by subletting a room or two rooms in the house than they are paying for the entire house. Further the beneficiary of the estate is in a mental home and so far from there being a bloated plutocrat, I am informed that her income is barely sufficient to maintain her in that mental home. Further, the estate is administered under the direct orders of the court and it is by direction of the court that Mr. More O'Ferrall has been bound to act in every matter affecting the collection and the reduction of rents.

A cruel and cowardly murder has been committed, not without warning, not out of a clear sky, not in a sudden and unexpected affray, but as the logical outcome of circumstances well known to the authorities and of activities flowing naturally from the propaganda and principles of the Irish Republican Army. Whether the persons who did the deed were actually members of that organisation, of course I do not know, but it is certain that for a considerable period of time drilling, recruiting and incitement to violence were in full swing at Edgeworthstown from the date of the I.R.A. accepting the invitation to come in and help. The I.R.A., therefore, cannot escape a heavy responsibility, whoever were the persons who actually did the deed; neither it would seem, can the Department of Justice escape a heavy responsibility for gross negligence, or rather for even worse than negligence—for an absolutely reckless inactivity inspired by Party considerations. The Department of Justice is at present prosecuting farmers from County Cork for utterances in connection with the payment of land annuities which, according to the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Geoghegan, K.C., were regarded as largely humbug because of the peaceable and law-abiding behaviour of the accused. I ask the House to meditate on the comparative seriousness of the events in Cork and in Edgeworthstown and to meditate also upon the contrast between the view of its duty which the Department of Justice took in the one case and in the other.

I doubt if the Deputy who has just spoken has ever appeared in this House under conditions that made his remarks appear more irresponsible than on this occasion. He surely is aware that the police authorities have been engaged for several weeks in the pursuit of investigations and inquiries dealing with this murder. He is aware also that certain persons have been arrested and are detained at this moment awaiting a charge, possibly, in connection with this murder, yet he chooses this particular moment to make charges, the dealing with which, if I were to go into them in detail, would necessarily involve me in statements which would be bound on the one side or the other to prejudice this whole position. Now he is posing as a gentleman who is very wise: certain conclusions should inevitably have been drawn. But I suggest he is like many another person who poses to be wise; he is wise after the event. If all this negligence was apparent, I think the Deputy could have taken an occasion before this to call public attention to it.

The whole of his case is this, that there has been negligence mainly because some people who were involved in this agitation, the Edgeworthstown Town Tenants' Association, are composed of prominent members of the Fianna Fáil organisation. He surely is not unaware of the fact that their committee is practically half and half supporters of his Party as well as supporters of Fianna Fáil and that on an occasion when they sent a deputation to the then agent, Captain Montague, they chose as their spokesman Deputy Seán MacEoin, who is, I suppose, "a prominent member and supporter of Fianna Fáil." The fact is that there was no negligence of any kind on the part of the authorities; that they followed the policy in regard to wild statements that they have followed consistently, not merely with reference to the I.R.A. but in regard to another organisation which is associated with the U.I.P.

The suggestion, of course, is that because inflammatory or wild statements were made they should have been regarded at their full value as leading to immediate and serious consequences. If that be so, I wonder what action should have been taken by the authorities on, let us say, the 16th July, when Commandant Cronin welcoming a prisoner from Arbour Hill, is reported as having made a certain statement. I will read his statement in order to show that as regards statements the policy adopted, wise or unwise, has not been a partial policy; that it has been impartially observed as being on the whole the best way of maintaining peace. We have consistently and persistently pursued anybody who has been guilty of any attack or overt action tending towards a breach of the peace. These are the police instructions and they have been consistently followed. On the other hand, in regard to statements we have not followed them up in that particular way for certain reasons, first, because it is extremely difficult to get evidence which would convict in these cases, and secondly, because we believe that intemperate statements are being made and will be made, and that it is next to impossible to prevent them completely.

Now with regard to the statement that I have here—and let me say again that I am simply using it to show that the authorities have acted impartially in this matter—I would like to read the following extract:—

"James Dwyer was convicted on the information of some spy in Tipperary. We have members of the police force earmarked and when we get into power we will know how to deal with them and to relegate them to their proper place. I warn the police now that any of them that are doing the dirty work for a tyrannical Government will find themselves where they are now trying to put others. I hear we are to have more persecution and any of you may find yourselves where James Dwyer is after leaving. The Blue-shirt movement will go on in spite of any opposition or persecution. If we are persecuted and driven to it we may have to resort to arms, and what we did in three months in 1922 we can do again and teach them a lesson they will never forget. De Valera had spoken about dictatorship, but I say here to-night if a dictatorship is necessary for the Irish people we are going to have one. It will be better than the so-called democratic Government we have, run by foreigners and Jews."

What is the evidence of that statement?

It is a police report —the same evidence that the Department would have about incitements down in Edgeworthstown—precisely the same.

Will the President read the Edgeworthstown report?

I say we have here precisely the same reports and the same authority as far as the Department is concerned—the police reports. The Deputy is very quick to ask for our evidence. In other words, he would like to know whether we could secure a conviction. Exactly the same question would be asked about the Edgeworthstown incitements. Now the police did their duty with regard to Edgeworthstown. They went to Mr. More O'Ferrall on the day before he was to appear in Longford to collect the rents and asked him when he intended to take further action in connection with those rents in order that they would be there to give the assistance which might be necessary. He did not want them about his house, but the police did patrol although he did not want them.

It is suggested that the patrols were not effective. That is so. But the only way in which they could have been absolutely effective, I take it, would be if they garrisoned his house—if they actually stayed in his house—and clearly his whole attitude was that he did not want that. Now the police in my opinion, and I have examined into the matter, did their duty. They were ready to see that any decrees or warrants issued by the court would be enforced. The natural time to expect anything like violence or resistance, or anything that would savour of force, was when these warrants were about to be executed. If the police thought that there was to be violence of any kind they would have expected it then— and mind you, there was nothing except these inflammatory statements, if they were inflammatory in the sense that they did in fact inflame their hearers. The police did not take the view at that time that these speeches did in fact inflame their hearers or did in fact tend to endanger anybody's life—and if they did make a mistake, it was that they anticipated that if there was any need for action, it would be when the warrants were being executed.

May I put one question? As the Attorney-General is there I can put it the more readily. Would there not have been ample evidence to sustain a charge of conspiracy at the time when the armed body were originally called in to help?

When there are people detained I do not think that the Attorney-General should answer that question. The Attorney-General and the Law Department will, perhaps, have to do their duty in connection with these prisoners. I think it is most unfair to ask these questions. In fact, some of the statements which I am compelled to make here in order to explain the situation are in their very nature prejudicing the matter in one way or the other.

Nobody has been charged with these offences.

There have been arrests. As the Deputy well knows, people have been arrested and detained in connection with this matter.

There may be 100 more from now until Christmas.

There is no reason why——

Until the scandal has died out.

The Deputy was heard uninterruptedly for a quarter of an hour and the President must be accorded the same courtesy.

I say that the police had no reason to anticipate that before these warrants were executed there was going to be any resort to violence. There were pickets on two occasions and these pickets acted in a peaceful way and did not interfere with anybody. They were warned and those taking part in the picketing indicated to the police at that particular time that they did not intend to interfere with any of the people who were about to pay their rents. It was a form of what is called peaceful picketing. Despite the charges made by the Deputy I hold there was nothing up to the time of the actual attack on Mr. O'Ferrall, that would indicate to the police that violent action was about to be taken. I hold that the police in this matter acted in accordance with their general attitude in regard to statements that might be regarded as inflammatory.

I have shown that the Deputy is completely wrong when he suggests that this local association is composed of supporters of the Fianna Fáil Party. My information is that they are pretty evenly divided. I have given some proof of that by pointing out that on the occasion in which there was a deputation to the agent with regard to the reduction of the rents the spokesman chosen was Deputy MacEoin.

That was at a much earlier date, before the I.R.A. was called in.

Was there any dissociation after that date by the members who are supporters of the U.I.P.?

The Association split.

We have no evidence of that. What evidence has the Deputy that it split? Simply the mere statement that he thinks is suitable for the moment. There is no other evidence. The Deputy knows well that he has no evidence of that which, according to my information, is not true.

Surely the President is aware that the Association split when the I.R.A. were brought in.

The President is entitled to a hearing.

I think it was disgraceful on the part of the Deputy to use an occasion like this to make the charges he has made. They are not becoming either to him or to his Party. As far as I am concerned, I have chosen to answer this because I think it is a most serious matter— this whole question is a serious one and is seriously engaging the Government's attention. I see no reason why our policy, however, should be changed. I think it has been proved to be on the whole a successful policy. The people of the country are gradually getting to understand that it is the right policy —that wherever there is any indication of the use of force by people that those who use it, or overtly break the peace, whether belonging to the U.I.P. or any other Party, will be dealt with; and that when we do get these wild statements, as to which it is difficult to secure a conviction, we have to let them go for the moment. It may happen that we shall have to take another view of it. Anyhow, that has been the policy and it is the policy which we propose to continue.

Except in the case of the Cork farmers.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until Wednesday, 13th March, at 3 p.m.