Go n-aontuíonn an Dáil le hainmniúchan Phroinséis Uí Aodhagáin, Aire Cosanta, mar Aire Tailte.
Vol. 62 No. 11
Go n-aontuíonn an Dáil le hainmniúchan Phroinséis Uí Aodhagáin, Aire Cosanta, mar Aire Tailte.
Is it intended to have any separate Minister for Defence?
The intention at the moment is that the Minister for Defence should also occupy the position of Minister for Lands, but we propose, if this nomination is accepted by the Dáil, to put a Parliamentary Secretary in Defence.
I personally object to this motion. I think it shows on the part of the Government a tendency to minimise the importance of national defence. Apparently it is the opinion of the Executive Council that the important problem of national defence is not one which would require the whole-time study of a member of the Executive Council. In this matter I assume that the majority of the House is in agreement with the Government, and possibly I am only a one-man minority, but I certainly think that when the rest of the world is paying so much attention to defence we in this country should pay more attention to this matter, and we should at least give one Minister a free hand in studying the problems which affect the defences of our coasts. The matter concerned is not only one of defence with regard to the possibility of a European war; there is also the question of the defence of our rights in our territorial waters. Some of the members of this House may have noticed in the papers during the last few days a letter, which was not, I think, political; it was from a very distinguished member of the judiciary, and dealt with the violation of our rights in territorial waters. I think that that is a matter which should have been considered by the Executive Council, but apparently it is thrown aside as of no importance.
We are now acquainted with the fact, that whereas all other countries in Europe are studying their national obligations and their national defences, we here in Ireland—faced with the problem of a new régime, of a new Constitution; faced with the problem of what we should do about our oblígations with regard to the treaty ports in this country, and the very important obligations imposed upon us with regard to our relations with Great Britain — are renouncing our rights and are looking on our obligations of national defence as a matter of minor importance, as a matter which does not merit having a whole-time Minister for Defence, and we are now definitely assuming the position of a protected colonial State. That is the implication which I read into this motion combining the Ministry of Defence with the Ministry of Lands. We are definitely accepting the position of a Protectorate. We are definitely renouncing our right to protect our own shores, and to assume the full responsibility of a sovereign State. That is the implication which is quite clearly expressed in the combination of the offices of Minister for Defence and Minister for Lands. Other people may think differently.
I know that Deputy MacDermot is probably pleased that we are clearly establishing ourselves as a Protectorate of the British Empire, and that we are accepting the position that national defence is only a minor matter to be associated with some internal administrative office such as that of Minister for Lands. But there are other people in the country, who are not represented in this House, and who have very clear views as to the responsibilities of national defence, people who are cheated out of their right to take part in the establishment of the new Constitution by the forestalling of their election as representatives of the people, and they will have something to say to this violation of the sovereign rights of this people. The Government is ill-advised in minimising the importance of national defence at this moment, and I think that, when the next general election comes on, the new Party, which will be interested in our national defences, will have something to say as to this violation of our sovereign rights by the Government in reducing the whole problem of our national defences to a minor internal problem. The Government will be well advised to keep the Department of Defence separate. They would be well advised to keep, according to the Constitution, the dignity of the Commander-in-Chief of the forces of this State—because that, in case the Government should not know it, is the title of the Minister for Defence—they would be well advised to keep that title distinct from some Ministerial office which has nothing to do with the military forces of this country.
Sir, contrary to the expectation of Deputy Esmonde, I am not gratified at the amalgamation of these two Ministries, but my point of view differs considerably from that of Deputy Esmonde. My fear would be that the preoccupation of the now Minister for Defence with the problems of defence and the matters in which he has been showing so much interest for the last few years would prevent him from giving adequate attention to the Ministry of Lands and the problems of the Gaeltacht. That, I think, is the real danger. If Deputy Esmonde's argument were pushed to its logical conclusion, it is quite plain that we ought to set about at once creating a navy. Certainly, as regards this invasion of our fishery rights, a navy, presumably, would be of more value than an expansion of the Army, but I would suggest to Deputy Esmonde that, if we want to show our teeth at all in that matter, we could do so more effectively, as regards the French Republic, by economic sanctions than by military ones.
I doubt whether Deputy Esmonde is correct in assuming that his attitude corresponds with that of the I.R.A. on this subject. My own information as to their attitude, so far as I can gather it from their writings and speeches, is that they are far from wishing any expansion or improvement of our regular Army or of the Volunteer force, and I hardly think they will thank Deputy Esmonde for his effort to represent their views here to-day. I would, however, suggest to the President and to the Executive Council that the Ministry of Lands and the Gaeltacht and Forestry has got very ample duties to perform, and that the Minister responsible for these things ought not to be distracted from them by looking after Defence as well.
One of the most striking things that has disclosed itself with regard to the Department of Lands is the fact that was recently disclosed that, in spite of the fact that there was a separate Minister for Lands and a Parliamentary Secretary, the Land Commission told the House that they were unable to give any information as to what it cost to place a new holder on untenanted land. Now figures have been given, and there has been fairly wide propaganda on the part of the Government that it was the Government's policy to place new holders on untenanted land, and, in fact, more than 2,000 persons have been so placed. A promise was given to the House that the work of the Land Commission would be so conducted in future that this House would be able to be informed what it cost to put a new holder on a farm of untenanted land. I should like to ask whether the saddling of one person with the responsibility of the Department of Defence and the Department of Lands is going to create the situation that this House will be able to be informed within a reasonable time what the cost of dividing untenanted land into new holdings is. The matter is an important one. It is, in my opinion, involving a very considerable expenditure of public money at the present time, and the sooner we get definite information as to what the cost of this division is, the better we will be able to make satisfactory provision for the proper distribution of untenanted land to occupiers, and the better we will be able to say how much money is going to be used on this and in what way it can be most satisfactorily used.
I can only say, Sir, that, from the point of view of the ordinary person, I think that, if there were a complaint about combining the two Ministries, Deputy MacDermot would be nearer the mark than Deputy Esmonde. It is precisely because we do not think—or because I do not think, if you like—that at the present time it would be wise for the present Minister for Defence to sever his connection entirely with that Department that we have made the arrangement that he should continue on in that Department, and that he should be assisted in the Department of Defence by one Parliamentary Secretary and in the Department of Lands by another Parliamentary Secretary who has had already considerable experience in that Department. I do not think there is any likelihood that the interests of either Department are going to suffer by the dual appointment. I do not suggest that it is an ideal arrangement, but I think it is the best I can do under the present circumstances, and it is for that reason that I make the nomination.
With regard to some information for which Deputy Mulcahy asked, I do not think I was here at the time the matter was being dealt with, but I imagine the difficulty would be that there is a variety of cases and that all you would get at the end would be some sort of average figure which would not indicate in any precise form what the amount was. I am sure that it varies from holding to holding and from allottee to allottee. I do not think it is necessary to keep the House any longer.
In connection with the President's remarks, Sir, I may say that it was agreed that we would not ask for research into the past although we did consider that we could have been given some information. It was definitely asserted, however, that future divisions would be handled in such a way that we would be able to be told what was the cost of placing a new holder on a new holding of land, taken from untenanted land. In the making of these appointments, I should like to have a reiteration of that assurance that nothing now proposed to be done is going to prevent the House from being informed what is the cost of placing a new holder on untenanted land.
I think the new Minister will examine the point made by Deputy Mulcahy to see if any good purpose would be served by getting the information which the Deputy wants.
Surely it will be admitted that a good purpose would be served by knowing the cost of putting a new holder on untenanted land.
I would have to examine individual cases to see whether they were very far apart, and to see if there was some sort of general average before I could say whether it would serve a good purpose or not.