After the very concise and conciliatory speech of the ex-Minister of the Crown who has just sat down—ex- only since last December —of the ex-Minister of the King who has just sat down, ex- only since last December, I feel chary about discussing the Constitution at all. In view of the gentle spirit with which the Opposition has been dealt with and of the fact that we have been asked to consider this Constitution in a non-Party atmosphere, it is very difficult, I confess, to live up to the high standards that have been set us by the Minister—his conciseness, clarity of exposition and clarity of expression. I hope, Sir, that he did not raise a new constitutional issue. I cannot recall all that happened last December, but I hope sufficient provision was made to carry him over from being a Minister of the Crown to being a Minister of State. I hope that that was properly looked after and that he is now a Minister of something. That is a matter that does not quite arise at the moment, but I was a little uneasy about his position. I did get the suspicion— I do not know if it was well-founded— I hope not—that there was an effort being made, judging by the length of the speech we have listened to, to create an artificial interest in this Constitution that it otherwise lacks. It is very hard to understand the speech of the Minister under any other supposition. For, the fact is, that this Constitution that proclaims all sorts of things has not evoked the slightest interest in the country for which it has been promulgated.
We have been asked by the President to consider this in a non-Party fashion, not to make it an election issue. That is the last thing the Government would think of doing! They really want the people of this country to concentrate on the real facts that the people ought to concentrate on, the economic issues and the development of the country, but the last thing the Government would desire would be to make this Constitution a Party issue at the elections, and so divert their attention from these matters! For that reason, fully carrying out that spirit as the Minister who has just sat down has carried it out, we have the President going down to Clare to a Fianna Fáil Convention and orating there on the Constitution. At two other conventions we had two Ministers who also dealt with the Constitution. I admit, according to the views of the Government, that nothing could be more above Party, nothing more national, than a Fianna Fáil Convention. The best proof of the non-Party attitude was the line taken up by the President. He asks us to do these things. I might have been a little surprised if I had not very long experience of the President, if I did not know that the President's words very often mean the very opposite of what they seem to mean on a first examination. The non-Party atmosphere! Full criticism and full co-operation!
We see an extraordinary display of pettishness—I cannot use any higher term—when there is an attempt to point out some very patent omissions, some very patent faults, in this Constitution. People are railed at and told that they are deceiving the people; that they are prostituting their high position in a great profession to Party interests merely because an attempt is made to bring before the people and the Dáil certain grave faults in this Constitution. We have had repeated in the House here by the President himself and by his Minister—the ex-Minister of the Crown and the ex-President of the Crown—that any important criticisms that were put before the country and before the House could only be explained by a desire on the part of those putting them forward to deceive the people. Yet an attitude of high reasonableness is adopted by the very people who resent the slightest criticism of anything that they do or of anything in this Constitution. That is all called the spirit of democracy!
I do not think the country thinks this is an important measure. I know it does not. My experience for the last six months, when there was talk about this Constitution coming forward, when everybody expected to see it week after week, is that there was not the slightest interest in the Constitution. Since the text has been published, down the country and here in the city I find no display of interest in this Constitution by the great bulk of the people. We know perfectly well that when there is anything of any importance on in the Dáil, the approaches to Leinster House are crowded and there is difficulty in finding places in the strangers' gallery and in the ordinary gallery. The absence of any such demonstration of that kind, any such physical attendance of the people at the entrance to the Dáil is symptomatic of the profound interest of the people of this city and of the people of the country in this Constitution! There is no interest in this Constitution in the country. When dealing with an ex-Minister of the Crown like the President I do not like to use the word rigmarole. But if he had not been in such an exalted position—and we heard to-day from the Minister for Finance how exalted the position of a Minister of the Crown is—I would almost call it a rigmarole to which we had to listen.
It is impossible to believe that the President expects the people to take this thing seriously. The people, as I say, do not take it seriously. The President asked us to do certain things. He asks for a detailed, careful, non-Party, judicious examination of this Constitution and he adopts measures to secure that any deliberate or full consideration of it by us or by the people is impossible. If he wanted any such consideration, why does he bring it in now on the eve of a general election? Why did he not bring it in two years ago? Why not postpone it for another 12 months until the election is over, so that people can be interested in the details of the Constitution, if they feel so inclined?
How can they be interested in the details of the Constitution at the present time? Everybody who knows this country knows that they are much more interested in the general election and the result of it than they are in this pettifogging amendment of the Constitution brought forward here. They are not interested in this amendment of the Constitution. It is wrong that it should be brought forward now. The pretence is that we are going to have the verdict of the people on this Constitution. We are going to have nothing of the kind. In present conditions, it is impossible that you can get the real verdict of the people on this Constitution. The bulk of them are not going to bother their heads about it one way or the other. They may vote for or against it, but whether they vote for or against it, it will not be as a result of having examined the Constitution or of the interest displayed in it.
The President, by fixing this debate now, by putting the decision to the people on the same day as the general election, as I understand he is going to do—whether it is on the same day or not does not matter so long as the election looms ahead or looms there with the Constitution— has seen to it that the people will not give this Constitution the consideration that he professes it deserves. Many will simply ignore it. Then the claim will be put forward that this Constitution has got thefiat of the people; that the people consented to the shackles this Constitution puts upon them. Nothing could be further from the truth than such a contention.
Any referendum under present conditions with a general election on vital issues, in which the people are much more interested than they are in this Constitution coming on, is a mere sham and adds nothing to the authority that an instrument like it has. He has taken every step—and it is very difficult to believe that in doing so he was not acting deliberately— that would militate against his professed desires in this particular matter. We had him yesterday deliberately adopting an attitude of sweet reasonableness in proposing a measure that is not reasonable and a course of conduct as regards that measure that is the opposite of reasonable, namely, asking the people to consider it at the present time.
Yesterday we had a striking example of the difference between the professions of the President, on the one hand, and his practices and actions on the other hand. He made an appeal to the lawyers to help him with this Constitution. It was quite obvious that he was quite genuine! The only condition he would require—but he did not state it—was, that they would agree with him. If they stated that it was splendid, that all the criticism levelled at it in the Press was wrong, then they were men learned in the law and good sound patriots. That is what he meant by asking their help. Their help to amend the Constitution meant praise for everything in it, not a word of criticism. I admit that the President always did love that sort of liberty. I will admit further that he will not impose anything on any body so long as that body does what he wants. The lawyers will have his full approval and nobody could be more hearty of approval in circumstances of that kind. A learned man in his profession is the person who is blind to the faults of this Constitution. A good Irishman and a sound patriot is a man who follows the President to the destruction of the interests of the country.
He told us that when drawing up this Constitution he was not thinking of the lawyers. I will say for him that he never had much use for lawyers or courts, Supreme or otherwise. He confessed yesterday that he did not think they were up to much, even the Supreme Court, so far as protecting the fundamental rights of the people is concerned. He would like something better. He is always striving for the ideal he can never get. He tells us that he did not think of the lawyers. He had only the plain people of Ireland before his mind. Did he consult them about this Constitution? Was there a tittle of an indication of what is in this Constitution before it was published? He will say he is going to consult the people; they are going to have a choice; they can reject this Constitution if they like. Is that consultation—to fling a document of this kind at the people and say, "Take it or leave it"? That is what he calls consultation; that is looking to the wishes of the people by flinging it at them in circumstances that prevent them considering them. They cannot, as I have said, possibly consider this Constitution. They are much more interested in other matters; their minds are full of other things. Therefore, there is no consultation with the people, though he professes such a profound desire to consult their wishes and fall in with their desire. As far as we can judge, every word of the President's yesterday backs this opinion up. What has been the attitude really adopted? Consulting the Irish people? Completely unnecessary. The obvious way for the President to consult the Irish people is to look into his own heart, and when he knows what is there he knows what the Irish people want. Then he retires to his study. I do not know that he even consults the Cabinet—he may have. Listening to the President one would think he did not consult them, but listening to the Minister for Finance one could see that there was a kind of effort made there to say, "We have some responsibility for it, too."
The President retires to his study, looks into his own heart and produces this. Then the Irish people are to say whether they will have it or not, "take it or leave it." They have to take it or leave it, but if they do take it, the shackles that are in this Constitution will be bound on them for a long time. That is democracy! That is looking after the interests of the people! That is letting the Irish people express their views! A plain, simple man coming forward in plain, simple language that everybody interprets differently puts forth his views on fundamental matters before the ordinary people of Ireland. And of course, suffering from his ordinary complaint, the poor man is misunderstood and his words are misinterpreted ! Nobody can understand him! Of course it is always their fault that they cannot understand him! It is not always through want of intelligence that they are at fault; they wilfully misunderstand him. It is a hard, wicked world, Sir. I wonder why he does not retire to the garden and eat worms, everybody is so bent on misinterpreting his plain, obvious words and wishes. But the plain words seem to mean something different from what he says he intends. Yet to call these words in question is almost high treason, though luckily not so provided for in the Constitution. But there are Articles in the Constitution which if passed would prevent the Press calling these things in question. Understand that the people must be educated to have a proper respect for the Government, so we may be accustomed in the future to find that the Press had better get into a proper frame of mind and get to understand the real wishes of the President behind his words. But unfortunately it is not with the wishes of the President that we are concerned just now. It is with the words that are being put before us in this Draft Constitution. We had the familiar bleat from the President in Clare recently and here yesterday that he is being misinterpreted and misunderstood. Is it not time that the President was able to make some one statement that was clear to somebody except himself? The President has had pretty fair practice in the making of statements, and he ought to be able to express his views now so that the ordinary person might understand him.
We on this side have a certain amount of difficulty in discussing this instrument. I feel, and I think the people feel, that the whole thing is a deception. It is undoubtedly a matter of importance for the official Opposition Party how far they should lend any countenance to what is a deception of the people. The people at the present moment are faced with a deception. This is intended to be a red herring across the path of the ordinary people to divert their minds from the ordinary things which they are to face. Let any member of the Government Party speak for 2½ hours, 3½ hours, or even 4½ hours, and indicate to us what problem, national or economic, that faces this country at the present moment is brought a single inch nearer solution by the enactment of this amendment of the Constitution? I do not ask that the Constitution should solve these things. The answer will be easy enough, and we will be told that that is not the business of the Constitution. But I want to know how this Constitution helps and what contribution it gives towards solving these problems. These are weighty problems. And when these weighty problems are waiting to be considered we are asked to divert the attention of this House and the attention of the country from really important matters affecting the people to trifles of this kind so far as the good is concerned, but not trifles, unfortunately, where everything is concerned, because there are matters in this Constitution that give ground for a certain amount of grave uneasiness.
We have been told about the urgency of this matter. What is the urgency? We are told by the President that this is most urgent. Why? Why is it necessary that this discredited Party and its dying Parliament should bring forward as its last act this particular matter? Could it not wait until the country has pronounced on the policy of the Government as a whole? Could it not wait until the country has pronounced judgment on this Dáil and on the Government Party? What is the urgency? There is none, Sir, except the imminence of the general election and to divert the attention of the people, so far as the Government can do it, from the really serious problems that the people have to face. That is the only urgency, and that is why we are getting this instrument now at the eleventh hour or the half-past-eleventh hour. You will not get a genuine verdict of the people on this. In the circumstances it is impossible. You cannot. Is it a fair thing to put a matter of this kind, not a simple matter that can be dealt with definitely, but to put a conglomeration of principles and powers before the people and say: "Take it or leave it?"
I believe in the Two-Chamber Legislature. That is not there at present. I admit, as far as the Second Chamber is concerned, this is much the same kind of Constitution, and there is much the same method of electing it the Second Chamber as that which the President condemned and damned a short time ago. It is not an ideal Constitution, of course. Some time ago the President wanted an ideal Constitution and would have nothing else. Yesterday he almost suggested that it is we who are demanding the ideal Constitution. We protested against any such desire, knowing it could not be got. Supposing I am an ordinary elector in the country, and I am in favour of two Houses of Parliament. Very good. If I am in favour of that and want it, I must also submit to the new super-Governor - General. That is not a proper thing to put as a referendum before the people, for it is a constitutional law and so will bind you for a long time and will be extremely difficult to change. It will be most difficult to get people to take part in these referenda in the future. We shall have a spate of them. It will be really a difficult thing in the future to alter the Constitution by one iota. The referenda will become more frequent, real nuisances, and people will ignore them. The necessary majority probably will be there, but can you get it? We can get only a machined verdict. I can understand a straight, simple issue being put before the people in one or two sentences in which you are to say whether you are in favour of what is proposed or against it.
But to put forward a whole Constitution of this kind and say that if you want a Second House you will have to swallow the super-Governor-General— that is most unreasonable. And remember the permanency. This is not an ordinary law. So far as it is in the power of the President, he has tried to make it permanent. He has copper-fastened it down upon the Irish people so that it will be extremely difficult for them in future to shake themselves free from the shackles he is now placing upon them.
I shall not discuss the trivialities and the puerilities that there are in this Constitution, but there are a couple of things with which I should like to deal. I cannot help dealing, first of all, with one particular matter in the speech of the ex-Minister for the Crown. Here is the statement: "It is easy to put these florid phrases down on paper, but much more difficult to devise machinery to give them practical effect." I wonder was he referring to certain Articles in this Amendment of the Constitution? It would look as if he were, because the Constitution itself almost provides in one particular case that "we are putting these things down on paper but we cannot give them practical effect." The Minister is quite right. It is very easy to put general principles down on paper, but it is extremely difficult to devise machinery to give them practical effect.
In Article 45 we have this extraordinary statement:—
"The principles of social policy set forth in this Article are intended for the general guidance of the Oireachtas. The application of those principles in the making of laws shall be the exclusive care of the Oireachtas, and shall not be cognisable by any court under any of the provisions of this Constitution."
It is extremely difficult to devise machinery to give practical effect to certain things, but it is extremely easy, as the ex-Minister of the Crown would say, to put them down on paper. I admit, if you take a number of these principles individually they are excellent. They are certainly harmless, and some of them are splendid. I could say that some of them might be taken out of a Papal Encyclical. They are very sound.
But my difficulty is this, that even Papal Encyclicals are rather difficult to interpret. People have an extraordinary habit of taking what they like out of documents of that sort. I have seen an Encyclical directed against Communism so interpreted as to be almost a demand for Communism. Similarly this Constitution may be variously interpreted. You have a set of principles here, no doubt excellent and splendid, but I find myself face to face with this difficulty, that they can be interpreted and accepted in practice by the most extreme individualist, on the one hand, and a rather advanced Communist on the other hand—as a matter of practice. I have no doubt the courts will find it easy to interpret these things, and I have no doubt the Oireachtas will find great guidance in these particular matters.
As regards Article 45, I understand its social principles are not very seriously meant by the President, because I think he told us yesterday that they are more or less like the headline of a Party programme. Anything more futile than the headline of the Fianna Fáil Party programme I cannot imagine, and it is an insult to these principles to put them on that level. When you come to the principles dealing with the rights of private property, not one of them could I quarrel with; they are absolutely sound, but, taking them as a whole, I cannot make up my mind whether they are an incitement or otherwise. I am not saying that of them in the context from which they may have come originally. As the Minister for Finance will put it, it is easy to put down these things in black and white, but it is so hard to carry them out.
There is another objection, and it is a more serious objection, I will frankly confess. There is this danger: there are serious menaces threatening society. With these I have often dealt, and I have a very uneasy feeling that there are a certain number of people in high positions in the State of this country who think they have done all that is necessary against this menace when they have put down a few principles on paper. They think that the menace is scotched; that the bulwark is set up, and that the mere setting down of these things relieves them of the responsibility of facing the real problem of how to deal with those things. That is the real danger and you have it illustrated in another portion of this Constitution.
I can quite understand some of the motives that are responsible for Article 4, which is very unlike the Minister for Finance in one respect —it is very brief. "The name of the State is Eire." I can understand the emotion that led to that change. If I were a cynic, I might say I can understand that the man who puts forward proposals for the new powers of the Governor-General that we find in this amendment of the Constitution is desirous to knock out the word "free," but, I take it, his desire was to express Irish unity. But is there not a danger? Supposing we are internationally recognised, as we are as a State, the unit that is recognised is this State. The unit that will be recognised is this State where this State has jurisdiction, and that is the Twenty-Six Counties. Internationally, therefore, Ireland and the Twenty-Six Counties become identified and instead of bringing the Six Counties into Ireland, you put them out of Ireland internationally. Ireland and the Twenty-Six Counties under this proposal become identified. The Six Counties are expelled from Ireland. They were in it before; you had that common name, but now all that will be changed. That is the danger of thinking you have solved problems by writing a few sentences on paper. That is one of the objections I have to things of that kind. They blind you to the real issues.
There are certain matters that cause grave uneasiness. With one of them we are very seriously concerned and we will have to propose an amendment. One of the matters to which the President directed his attention yesterday was the rights of women. I am prepared to make that a test case so far as his sincerity is concerned—I mean his sincerity in his explanation yesterday—or his capacity to interpret this document that he evolved out of his heart and brain and now puts before us and says everybody can understand. I cannot grasp why it is that the President cannot see that he has destroyed the constitutional bulwark of women's rights. He said yesterday that this Constitution does not deprive them of any rights they have.
They had the vote yesterday. They have it to-day. The professions were open to them yesterday and the professions are open to them to-day. Quite so. The Constitution does not do away with these things, but it makes possible laws that will do away with these things and that will still be in conformity with the Constitution. That is the real issue, and the President knows it, and he is throwing dust in the eyes of the people by saying that we are taking nothing away from them. He is taking away their constitutional guarantees and he knows, as the head of a Government, that that actual provision, which he deletes owing to the sensitiveness on his part with regard to the rights and privileges of women, actually has been the guardian of their rights and privileges. It has prevented governments from discriminating against them, and the President knows that very well. When efforts were made to discriminate against them, these very words, which the President now proposes to delete, were their salvation so far as their rights were concerned.
Reading the report of his speech yesterday and also his speech in Clare, the President conveyed to me the impression of a man suffering from a bad conscience because he was caught out. He was slipping this thing nicely and quietly through, and because it was pointed out to him by the ex-Attorney-General and by the women's organisations that the effect of this would be to discriminate against women, we had an immediate display of temper by the President and an evasion of the issue. The issue is not whether the Constitution deprives them of certain rights which they have now, but the issue is that it makes it possible for ordinary law to do so, and that is the issue the President cannot evade. That is the issue which should be kept before him so far as this matter is concerned. Take even the question of the vote. It is provided that the Dáil shall be elected by every citizen of the State, so far as they are not disqualified by law; but what is to prevent the Oireachtas passing a law disqualifying women on account of their sex? There is nothing to prevent it. It would be quite in conformity with the Constitution to do so. There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution to prevent their doing that. Then there are other Articles dealing with this matter.
Not merely is there nothing to safeguard or preserve their rights, but there are pointers in the Constitution to show that the President does intend to interfere with their rights. His speech yesterday shows that. It shows not merely that there is nothing to safeguard and guarantee their rights, but that they may actually look forward to legislation that will interfere with the rights they enjoy at the present moment. If there were any doubt as to the purpose behind the omission of these words: "No distinction of sex" from the Constitution, that doubt must have been removed by the President's speech yesterday and by his speech in Clare. Then why did he do it? Because it was a reminiscence, we are told, of the time when women had not rights. Yesterday he donned the robe of chivalry. He was filching their rights from them, but he did it in a most sanctimonious way. Well, he always does wrong things in a sanctimonious way. Whenever he does wrong, he always does it under the mantle of righteousness.
With many of the principles he enunciates, many of the people naturally will be in agreement, but that does not justify him in doing what he is doing here and in trying to slip it through quietly and then losing his temper when these things are pointed out to him, and say that it is an attempt to deceive the people just because we are pointing out the only possible explanation of what is in the Bill. I say, not merely is there a possibility of laws discriminating against women being passed—that is there as a result of the omission of certain phrases—but it is asked for by other provisions of the Bill and is foreshadowed by the President's speech. I wonder whether the women are satisfied with the expressions of the President yesterday and with the noble sentiments which he expressed and about which he almost broke down in giving them? Will that be any guarantee for them? What they want are not his promises. What they want are the legal guarantees that should be in a Constitution of this kind, and they have not got them. We know all about promises. Every class in this State has fallen down on the promises of the President, and they have found out what these promises have meant—the civil servants, the Republicans, the women—practically every class—their name will be legion. We cannot legislate on what is at the back of the President's mind for two reasons: first, because the law is what is written down, and secondly, because we never know what is at the back of the President's mind. He gets up and tells us that he intends by this provision so-and-so, but that is no use. It is what is in the provision that counts, and that is what we have before us. If he did not draft it properly—and I am afraid he did draft what was in his mind and that it was quite deliberate on his part to leave out this phrase— he should have been glad when the mistake was pointed out to him, instead of pettishly turning on his critics and accusing everybody of bad faith because they had the temerity to point out the wrong features in this document that has been drafted, as far as one can see, without even consultation with the Executive Council. They may have been shown it and their formal approval obtained.
We are told—I wonder how much we gain by it—but it is the fact that we are told—that there is now a sovereign, independent, democratic State. Well, if it remains so, the credit will not be the President's and it will not be as a result of this amendment to the Constitution which we are now discussing. It is a democratic, sovereign State at the present moment—I hope it will keep sovereign—but I fear that we are taking a distinct step—constitutionally a step—or one of the steps towards ceasing to be a democratic State. Now we have the liberty of the individual guaranted. The President struck it out. It was there in the old Constitution. Why did he not leave it there and let the courts interpret what it means? What harm was it doing? The President knew perfectly well—it was not by accident, as he confesses himself, that he struck it out, and let us not be under the impression that it was because it did not express the truth. This document has many other things that are palpably untrue, and yet we are told that it is the President's squeamishness for exactitude and truth that induced him to take away the protection of the rights of the individual and the protection for the individual as well. It is the same way with other Articles. There are changes that, at first sight, might seem to be minor changes. The courts are deprived of a great deal of the power they have at present to protect the individual. There is the question of the right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions. The Press is free at the moment. The courts are able to protect them, but how in the world will the courts protect them when we see this Article in the Constitution which deals with the Press? It says that the State guarantees the right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions, but then it goes on to say that, the education of public opinion being, however, a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the Press, and the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. Those are splendid sentiments, and I am not quarrelling with the sound doctrine of these sentiments. Far be it from me, but I would feel much easier in my mind if I did not know that two of the most undemocratic States in Europe, two of the most autocratic States in Europe at the present moment, are autocratically ruled because they took in hand the "proper" political education of their people, because they got control of the Press, the radio and the cinema. Why, that is the great instrument that Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany have in their hands at the present moment! It is on that education of the people that they base a great deal of their authority and a great deal of their power. These things could have been left as they are and let the courts protect the people and see that there was no undue licence so far as these agencies are concerned.
There are many things in the Constitution that need not surprise us. By now the House must be familiar with the President's real contempt of Parliament and Parliamentary institutions. If I might use a word that he used yesterday, this document "enshrines" his contempt for Parliamentary institutions. He does not understand Parliaments. He does not understand the spirit of Parliaments. He does not understand the spirit of real discussion, or real agreement come to as the result of discussion. He does not understand the conditions that make Parliamentary government possible. It is nothing strange if this document reeks with real hostility to Parliamentary institutions, as it undoubtedly does. Much has been said about the powers of the new Governor-General, the super Governor-General. One thing is clear —that any powers he has got do not come to him at the expense of any outside authority. They only come to him at the expense of the liberty of the people and at the expense of the powers of Parliament. But, Sir, we can expect nothing else from a man who has always shown supreme contempt, not merely for Parliamentary institutions, but for the Dáil itself. The other matter that was discussed—and I am sorry the ex-Minister of the Crown did not clarify the position——