Deputy MacDermot was in possession, I think.
Bunreacht na hEireann (Dréacht)—Coiste—(d'ath-thogaint).
My recollection is that the President had just agreed to accept my amendment No. 122 and had inquired whether amendments Nos. 120 and 121 would be withdrawn on that basis, and that the Opposition had indicated that they would not be withdrawn. Therefore, I do not think I was in possession.
I suppose Deputy MacDermot is clear that I said I would try to incorporate the sense of the amendment?
May I start off by saying that I recognise the difficulty of any satisfactory formulation of a law of this kind dealing with the expression of public opinion and with the Press? I am but too familiar with the difficulty, especially of discussing it from the point of view of abstract principles. I can lay down a number of abstract principles — liberty, on the one hand, and the necessity of curbing liberty, so as to prevent it getting into licence, on the other hand. But, I suggest that we get nowhere if we keep to a mere enunciation of abstract principles of that kind. Bearing in mind what the concrete consequences are likely to be of the passing of an Article of this kind, the question is of supreme importance. It is quite clear, or should be quite clear, to anybody who even pretends to have a reverence for democratic institutions, especially Parliamentary institutions, that it becomes nothing more than a farce if there is undue interference or, perhaps, any interference with full political criticism. As this Article is drafted, it leaves the road wide open—even if the Article is amended on the lines indicated by the President, it still leaves the door open —to grave abuses and interference with the liberty of the Press. I am speaking now of the legitimate and just liberty of the Press, without the free exercise of which—so that the Press can exercise it without being in constant fear of being suppressed or held up — there is danger to democracy itself. It may be said that there is also a danger on the other side of too great licence. That is so. But, looking at the thing from a purely practical point of view, as I am now doing, it is a balance of evils. It seems to me that, taking modern developments into account we have the gravest grounds for fear as to what may follow, not merely for democracy, but for public morality.
The giving of great power into the hands of the Executive of the State in this manner has led in too many countries to very grave consequences. In some countries in Europe and in some places that I know fairly well the Press has been muzzled; and on the plea of properly educating the public and promoting a proper sense of duty to the State, a proper reverence for State institutions and a proper regard for morality, the freedom of the Press has been taken away. One of the most thorough instances that came within my notice is based precisely on the pleas that I see mentioned here in this Article 40. I know a country in Europe where there are any number of newspapers. I suppose the number would run into thousands. Yet a traveller in that country can buy one newspaper after another; the name will be different but the news and the point of view is always the same—it is really one newspaper. Under these conditions democracy cannot exist. But there is something even more serious than the destruction of democracy. Such control is being used to drive into the citizens a new system of morality. Therefore if we look at it not merely from the point of view of politics and public order and property but from the point of view of ordinary morality, from the values we consider dear we find that in modern times there is a tendency on the part of Governments so to limit the expression of opinions as to force not merely their political but their moral views on the people. And all that is being done on the plea of the furtherance of public morality.
I might refer to an authority to which I think the President ought pay some respect in connection with the difficulty of using a phrase in a legal document like "public morality." This is the opinion to which I wish to refer —"The question of public morality is so wide and you can get so many interpretations of its meaning that it could be abused." The President must know that. That is the opinion of one who was then a fairly obscure Deputy of this House, Eamon de Valera, speaking not from the exalted position from which he now views the truth but from the humbler benches here. In giving that opinion he expressed his objection to that particular phrase being used in legislation on the grounds of its vagueness and on the grounds that it could be interpreted in so many different ways and would be so interpreted by the Government to suit themselves. On that particular occasion, on the Censorship Bill, he was very scathing about passing such legislation. The words "public morality" he pointed out, were too vague. They would leave the door open to too many abuses even in that context, though the context of the Bill would have helped to limit it to sex. Still he was anxious about the possibility of its being abused even though the context would have limited it to sex. Now in these surroundings in Article 40 it can mean anything; it can mean giving into the hands of the Government power to suppress liberty of speech and the expression of opinion in this country.
It is quite true the President has expressed his willingness to accept the amendment on the Order Paper. If any one will examine the Article as it will be in its proposed amended form he will see that we are not brought much further because though criticism of the Government may be allowed to pass, very easily proceedings may be taken against newspapers not for criticising the Government but for undermining the authority of the State. It requires no great effort of the imagination to see this happening. That is especially so where you have a man in power who regards his word as being sacrosanct, and himself as being alone in the possession of truth. Certainly in some cases you have egomaniacs and you have megalomaniacs in power who think they are the sole repositories of truth and that the power they arrogate to themselves is used and will always be used for the advantage of the people. A similar thing may happen here; it is not beyond the bounds of possibility and even though we do not get that development in all its fullness we did get an example last night of the attitude that would be taken up by the present Government, a Government that thinks it is perfectly entitled to take the powers that it has in view, powers which it would not have allowed to any other Government. That is a situation, which if it is adopted towards freedom of opinion, can easily kill freedom of opinion. And whereas people may profess a full desire not to prevent legitimate criticism of the Government, there are many Governments and heads of Governments now so constituted that they regard any criticism of their own views as criticism of fundamental truth, criticism of something that cannot be questioned. That is undoubtedly a serious danger. I can well foresee a situation in which newspapers giving their own views and their own criticisms or reporting the views of speakers might come under the force of that law, because forsooth they were misrepresenting the established authorities in the State and because they were misrepresenting men in high positions. That kind of thing can so easily be translated into undermining the authority of the State.
That is what we are dealing with now. It could be represented that they were undermining the authority of the State not by force of arms but undermining it by the written word. If that view be taken, there is hardly a newspaper in Ireland that could not be open to that charge of misrepresenting the high authorities in this State and so helping to undermine State institutions. There is hardly a newspaper in Ireland that could interpret what some of our Statesmen mean. The provision in this Section 6 is a terrific power to give into the hands of any Government or into the hands of any Dáil under the control of a Government. I say that because in certain circumstances I am rather inclined to put it that the Dáil is under the control of a Government rather than that the Government is under the control of the Dáil. I do not know why we do not leave things as they were as far as that is concerned or why if we did touch on the matter we did not feel it necessary to go further so as to define exactly what we want.
I see the Government undertaking the task of educating the public or being told to do so. Again that is the claim made by certain States on the Continent — that it is their business to educate public opinion. They have done it and done it thoroughly. But they have done it at the expense of freedom, at the expense of democracy and, as I hold very strongly, at the expense of morality. There may be certain danger in the licence enjoyed by the Press, but I argue earnestly that what we are doing now is a bigger danger. It is a bigger danger to give wide control and general powers into the hands of a Government that can introduce any law it likes into the Dáil and get it passed. We thus take away constitutional safeguards — and are wrong in doing so. Before attempting to take away these constitutional safeguards, there should, as far as possible, be exactness of definition and there should be a limitation of the powers claimed under an Article of this kind. There should be no sparing of trouble in striving to do that. Let the Government bring in all it wants to bring in, but do not give them general, vague and immense powers of this kind that in the circumstances, are bound inevitably to lead to abuse. I am sorry that exactly the same type of instruments are referred to here as are used by Continental States in that process of public education to which I have referred, namely, the radio, the Press and the cinema.
One of the things that appals me when I look at certain countries in Europe is the power that certain States have got, not only over the bodies of men, but over the souls and the minds of men as a result of what modern inventions, in the shape of increased transport, greater Press facilities, the wireless and the cinema have placed in the hands of Governments. I should say that 30 years ago, to say nothing of a couple of hundred years ago, these things would be unthought of, unthinkable. To-day we have a complete despotism, a complete autocracy over the minds as well as the bodies of men. That is a tremendous evil, and it is so appalling that, though I recognise some at least of the motives that may furnish the excuse for putting in this particular paragraph, I think the dangers are so great at the present moment that it ought to be withdrawn and something much more carefully drafted and much more definitely limited be put in its place—if it is thought necessary to put in something.
I must take this as a legal enactment, meant to have force. It is sometimes difficult to take a lot in this Constitution seriously, but I take it for granted that the provisions are meant to have a definite, binding, limited force on the one hand, and to act as pointers on the other hand. When I consider the conditions to which interference with expression of opinion has brought certain countries in Europe, I cannot but regard with considerable dismay the force that this particular Article may have.
It is not a matter of abstract principles. I know, possibly as well as most people in this House, the extreme difficulty of dealing with this particular problem, and especially if a person tries to discuss it from the point of view of sound, abstract principles. I know the extreme difficulty of doing it and, therefore, I want to attack the question from the point of view of the concrete evils that may follow from this particular Article. There is a great deal to be said for the view expressed by Deputy de Valera in 1928, when he objected to a phrase, a particular term, on the ground that its vagueness might lead to abuse. You are asking in this particular case for such abuse. I ask the House at least to pause before we pass an Article of this nature.
I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan that it is very difficult to discuss this Article in the abstract; that we ought, in considering its merits or demerits, to relate it to the concrete facts of our everyday existence, as we know them. The attitude which the Opposition have taken up in criticism of this Article assumes that the proposals which it contains and the measures which it proposes to take in order to safeguard public order, morality and the authority of the State, are entirely new and novel. One would think that this was the first time the Dáil had considered the advisability of endeavouring to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the Press and the cinema, should not be used to undermine public order or morality.
It has been put to us from the Opposition Benches that it is an objectionable thing, from the aspect of the liberty of the citizen, that the Legislature should take steps to that end. So objectionable, in fact, have the Opposition found it, that they have put down an amendment, to the terms of which I shall more specifically refer in a moment or two, to delete the whole Article without any qualification whatever. Is the cinema an instrument by which citizens express freely their convictions and opinions? The first question that arises to my mind is that one. Is the cinema an organ of public opinion in the sense in which that phrase is popularly understood? I think that, as a matter of fact, very few citizens express their convictions and opinions through the cinematograph.
The Minister had a skelp at it himself when he started the March of Time, but it did not come off.
Even if they do, what has been the attitude of our predecessors in regard to this so-called organ of public opinion? Before we came into the Dáil at all, when they were unchallenged masters of the situation here, what was the attitude of those people who object to muzzling even the cinema, the film producers, the Hollywood magnates, in their expression of convictions and opinions? When we propose in this Constitution to ensure that, so far as we can, a measure to limit the sometimes detrimental effect of these film productions upon public morality will not be declared to be unconstitutional; when we, in order to ensure that no constitutional questions will arise, definitely give the State power in the Constitution to take what steps to that desirable end it may see fit, with the support and acquiescence and assent of the majority of the representatives of public opinion in this country, the Opposition come along and hold up their hands in horror and declare it is an unwarrantable interference with the liberty of the subject. The Opposition which did that is the Opposition which passed the Censorship Act, under which no film may be exhibited in this State until it has first been viewed by an officer of the Government of the day and has been certified by him as being fit for public exhibition.
Again, in regard to the radio, how many citizens can use the radio as an instrument for expressing freely their convictions and opinions? I should say that the citizens in general, irrespective of political Party, have had freer access to the radio since this Government came into power than they had in the time of our predecessors, because it is only since we came in that representatives of the different Parties were able to avail of the radio to express their particular point of view.
They were not allowed to avail of it for long.
They were not allowed to speak on the Budget this year.
They were not allowed to speak on the Budget this year, for this reason and for no other, that the Budget had to be prepared this year under such great stress, in view of the limitations of Parliamentary time, that I was not able to go there.
Because it would not stand critical examination.
The exposition was sufficiently full in this House, and sufficient interest was taken by the people in it to understand its implications, and there was nothing that either Deputy Dillon or I could say for or against the Budget that would be of very much merit in the 10 or 15 minutes that would possibly be allotted to us, and which is just about as much as the public would stand of either of us over the radio.
Now we know. A Budget produced under strain, but the public are getting more of the strain.
At all events, it was not because we wished to throttle the Opposition. They have had the Press, the platform and the forum of this House during the past six or eight weeks and they have forgotten all about the Budget, because they find that the more they talk about the Budget the better the people like the Budget. Now to get back.
To the Constitution.
The Opposition now criticise us because we think an instrument such as the radio, which is an instrument of very great potency and which is capable of being abused, should be controlled in such a way as to safeguard public order, morality and the authority of the State. The Opposition are horrified because we take only this precaution: That we so draft the Constitution that, if, at any time, the majority of the people's representatives, that is, the majority of the people, feel that steps should be taken — let me emphasise again — to safeguard public order, morality and the authority of the State, no constitutional crisis can arise if a measure to secure that admittedly desirable end should be brought in.
Again, we come to the question of the Press and, once again, the Article is drafted, as I said, to ensure that no constitutional crisis would be created if, once more, it were to become necessary in the interests of public order, morality and the authority of the State to prevent — and Deputy O'Sullivan admitted that there was a danger — the danger of liberty degenerating into licence. I am glad Deputy Mulcahy is in the House because we cannot, admittedly, discuss this very difficult matter in the abstract. We have to relate it to certain concrete instances and cases. I have here a quotation from a newspaper which appeared on Saturday, December 20th, 1919. It is headed: "A Deplorable Outrage" and it goes on to say:
"Not since May, 1882, has any occurrence so sensational as the attempted assassination yesterday of the Lord Lieutenant in broad daylight taken place in Dublin. That that dreadful plan of assassination was carefully and methodically contrived is evident from the procedure adopted by the would-be assassins. The fire of the attacking party was returned by the military escort and one of the assailants was shot dead. Deliberate murder of any person is wrong, criminal and absolutely reprehensible and reflects discredit on the country."
That should be left to the Irish Press.
"If with malice aforethought an attempt is made to take the life of one occupying the high position of Viceroy, the crime may have regrettable consequences here in Ireland and effects outside prejudicial to our reputation. As one of the attacking party was killed and as the authorities are probably in possession of clues, which may lead to further developments, we shall not enlarge further upon the topic beyond saying that it is fortunate that the awful transaction was not attended with more tragic results."
The quotation is from the Irish Independent editorial published on Saturday, December 20th, 1919. There is a statement published in the Press of this country which raises this issue in concrete form. Some of us may say that, notwithstanding the dastardly terms, in my view, of that editorial, notwithstanding the fact that those who were engaged in that operation were dubbed would-be assassins and, by implication, described as murderers, there may be a substantial section in this Dáil who would say that the freedom of the Press is above every other consideration and that a newspaper like the Irish Independent, claiming to be an organ of public opinion, should be at liberty to publish a statement like that, if it so desired. That, I say, might quite reasonably and quite understandably be the view of a substantial section of the population, but, Sir, was it the view of, say, Deputy Mulcahy? Was it the view of those who are associated with him now on the Opposition Benches, and who were associated then with us and other members of the Republican Government in 1919? Deputy Mulcahy was Chief of Staff. Did he consider that the Irish Independent should be at liberty to publish an article like that which, in his view, undermined the authority of the State?
Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan has told us that we cannot discuss these matters in the abstract, and I agree with him. I am bringing Deputy Mulcahy and those associated with him —Deputy Desmond Fitzgerald, who was in charge of the propaganda department; Deputy Cosgrave, who was then Minister for Local Government and Public Health; Deputy Fionan Lynch; Deputy Gearoid O'Sullivan, who was then on the Army Council — down now to a concrete instance. Did they, on December 20th, 1919, think that, notwithstanding that the Irish Independent published an editorial which in their view would undermine the authority of the State, that organ of public opinion, that newspaper, should be permitted to publish articles in such terms as those which I have retailed to the House? I am asking Deputy Mulcahy to answer that question for me. Possibly it is not necessary for the Deputy to express himself vocally on the matter, because we all know——
I have done so already.
The Deputy has done so already, precisely. He expressed himself very actively indeed, for on the very day that article appeared, men armed with the mandate and authority of the Irish Republic went into the printing offices of the Irish Independent and, since they could not enforce a ban in any other way, with sledgehammers smashed up the printing presses. That shows there is no use in talking about this thing in abstract terms.
Again, may I refer the House to another article which was once published in this country. I ask Deputies who want to come to a decision on this issue to think over it, not in terms of abstract principles but in terms of concrete facts. Listen to this article which appeared on May 10th, 1916, and is headed "A Clemency Plea"——
On a point of order, this opens up an infinite field for most undesirable discussion and I suggest that if the Minister is to be allowed to give his views on all these transactions which took place at a time of civil discord, if not civil war, it will be open to all of us to go back and to give our views on incidents which occurred in these disturbed times. The Minister's statements throw no light on what should be the philosophy of government when a State is peaceable.
Is that a point of order?
I should like to support Deputy MacDermot on this point. It is scandalous for the Minister to go on like this.
Whatever relevancy there may have been in the first quotation, which referred, I think, to the year 1919 or 1920——
——there can be no relevancy in a quotation dating back to the year 1916.
On a point of order, surely in discussing such an important matter as the liberty of the Press, anything that will throw light on the mentality of Ministers is most useful?
I shall establish the relevancy of this quotation in a moment. The Press has been described as "an organ of public opinion". I want to show by certain quotations that that is, in fact, a misdescription of the Press.
What does the President say to that?
I can only show that by giving to the House examples of certain articles which were published in the Press and by showing that the views expressed in these articles were not the views of the general mass of the people.
The Chair is not prepared to hear quotations or extracts from any paper dated 1916.
Notwithstanding this fact——
Obey the ruling of the Chair.
The Chair will not hear any quotations dated 1916.
Then I wish to say this——
The Government seem to be determined to make one major blunder every day.
That is why they have the Minister for Finance here.
It is all very well for Deputy MacDermot to interrupt. We all know what the views of Deputy MacDermot and Deputy Minch were and where their sympathies lay. I am quite prepared to admit that they may have been amongst those who would heartily have approved of the publication of this article headed "A Deplorable Outrage", of which Deputy Mulcahy so disapproved that he went and broke up the printing press which printed it.
You smashed the Freeman, the Independent and the Examiner. You smashed every decent paper in the country.
We are discussing now the right of citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions.
It comes very well from you.
And now we have this extraordinary manifestation of the mentality of the Opposition, as expressed by Deputy Anthony and Deputy Minch, that they are now trying to muzzle me.
It was with the petrol tin you expressed your views.
These Deputies have appealed to you, A Chinn Comhairle, to act as censor in this debate. You have given your ruling. I am not prepared to question it.
I have given a ruling but hardly as censor.
I suggest that it cannot be in any other way because Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan, in his opening speech here to-day, called your attention to the fact that it was extremely difficult to discuss this Article in the abstract. I agree. I have endeavoured to put before you concrete instances. If Deputy Mulcahy does not wish to be reminded of the unsavoury past of the newspaper which now supports his Party, well and good. Let him come in and muzzle me. Let Deputy Dillon appeal to the Chair. Possibly, Deputy Dillon did not want to hear what the same newspaper said about his late father.
Is this to be allowed?
Let him talk.
It is a disgrace that a Minister should speak like that in 1937.
Is not all this within living memory?
There is a lot within living memory.
And very germane to this discussion, because, as Deputy O'Sullivan said——
Who blew up the Examiner?
The Deputy must cease from interrupting.
Deputy O'Sullivan said that it would be quite impossible to envisage the purpose which this Article is intended to serve if we talked about things in the abstract. We want to arrive at some agreement amongst ourselves as to what is the rightful liberty which organs of public opinion are entitled to enjoy and as to when that liberty degenerates into licence. I have put one instance before the House where, if the borderline was not crossed, the Independent was guilty of grave editorial licence. I proposed to quote another article from the same newspaper which professed to voice public opinion. As all of us know and as our history since 1916 quite clearly indicates, public opinion was not as it was then represented to be by the Irish Independent. You, Sir, have ruled that I am not entitled to do that. I must accept your ruling. But these things are not forgotten. Those who talk about the liberty of the Press know that these things are on record and that a newspaper controlled by one wealthy syndicate, by one wealthy family, had the audacity at that time to demand the execution of the men who signed the Proclamation——
References to the events of 1916 are not relevant. Such references contribute nothing to this debate and are calculated to lead the debate into undesirable channels.
On a point of order, may I again point out that we are discussing the liberty of the Press and that we have a Minister dealing with an Article in the Constitution referring to that matter. Even though it be painful, anything that reflects the minds of Ministers to-day is of great value to this Parliament.
That is not a point of order.
What is possibly much more useful and advantageous than the reflection of the minds of Ministers of to-day is the reflection of the minds of Ministers of yesterday. There was a manifestation of that Ministerial point of view on the 20th December, 1919, and there has been a much more recent one in Article 2A of the Constitution. The then Government took power under that Article to prohibit the publication of any letterpress whatsoever, if they saw fit to do so. That is the point to which I was leading up. I had endeavoured to show that, so far as the concrete facts are concerned, our predecessors established a censorship of the cinema. They established a monopoly of the radio, and they also established a censorship of literature. One would think, listening to Deputy O'Sullivan that the permission which is given in this Article to deal with certain abuses of the rights of the citizen is something that is strange and novel, while, in fact, as I have said, we have a censorship of the cinema, a monopoly of the radio and a censorship of literature, all established by the people who come along here and say that their gorge rises at this Article and that they are so outraged by it that they put down an amendment to delete it almost lock, stock and barrel from the Constitution.
Now, there ought to be some principle even in the Opposition. They themselves have not been slow to apply a censorship here because they found that such a censorship was necessary in order to prevent public order and public morality from being undermined. But now, simply in order to endeavour by a few catch-cries to mislead unthinking, impractical people who have never been entrusted with the responsibility of government; who never sought the responsibility of government and are not likely to seek it, who have never been in the position of having to answer to the people for the preservation of public order and morality — they come along here and take up a doctrinaire attitude in regard to these three institutions, the Press, the cinema and the radio.
Now, I do not wish to go into this in too great detail, but all of us know that the whole character of the Press has changed within the last generation or two. I heard, I think, Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan quoting from a pamphlet written about the year 1640 or so. He did not tell us, and it would have been very interesting to hear so strong a Catholic as Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan tell us, the history of that pamphlet: tell us how it came to be written, and say whether he approved of the circumstances and opinions which it was designed to uphold and propagate. It would be much more to the point if the Opposition spoke what was in their hearts and did not try to use this present position to create unwarranted and unjustifiable prejudice against the terms of this Article.
Let us go a little further. We heard a great deal to-day from Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan about the way in which he was appalled by the use which was being made in other countries of certain governmental powers. We all know what he had in mind: the powers which were being exercised in certain dictatorial totalitarian States, but the Deputy, who is so appalled at what is being done inside these States, is one of a Party which has been clamouring that we should associate ourselves with those States in certain activities. These States are devils inside their own House, apparently, and they are soldiers of the Almighty outside, according to Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan.
I think it is necessary that the public should consider the terms of this Article. Part of Section 6 of Article 40 reads as follows:—
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, 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.
The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.
One would think, having listened to the pietistic speech of Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan, that at least the House would be in agreement in regard to the last paragraph of this sub-section, which provides that "the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law." One would think that there would not be any room for a difference of opinion between the Opposition and the Government in regard to that, but there is, Sir. Deputy Dillon, who a few weeks ago was talking about the anti-God campaign in Russia and other places, and some of the other latter-day saints of the Opposition, have sat down and have considered this Article in the Constitution, and they have instructed two of their most eminent front benchers, Deputy John A. Costello and Deputy Patrick McGilligan, to put down an amendment which proposes not merely to delete this reservation in regard to the radio, the Press and the cinema, but to go much further and propose to delete from the Constitution altogether the provision that "the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law" That, Sir, is one of the provisions of the amendment which we are debating. They have apparently strong convictions in regard to this matter, because, while they propose to delete the provision which makes the publication or utterance of blasphemous or indecent matter an offence, at the same time they propose to retain in the Consituation this provision, that:
The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality:
(i) The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions.
Yes, Sir, that is precisely what the Opposition in theory want: they want everybody to be at liberty to talk, at least they do that to-day on the 3rd June, 1937. Every citizen must have the right to express freely his convictions and opinions, and they want to delete from the Constitution the provision that if he publishes or utters blasphemous or indecent matter it will be an offence punishable in accordance with law. In their endeavour to create unwarranted and unfounded prejudice against this Article in the Constitution, that is the length to which the Opposition is prepared to go.
Of course, as we all know, just a few weeks ago we had the Opposition organ and a number of the Opposition speakers here telling us that, if persons expressed certain economic theories—theories which, as everybody knows, I, personally, think are ill-founded, impracticable and, above everything else, inconsistent with liberty of conscience and liberty of the soul—the Opposition, which to-day is prepared to allow a person liberty to publish or utter blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter, wanted to have these people silenced and wanted to have them driven from our platforms and our streets and, in fact, from our shores. According to the Opposition, a few weeks ago, these people were to be exiled and outlawed if, by any chance, they talked Communism. But apparently the Opposition does not think now, if we are to judge by the terms of the amendment they have put down to-day, that the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence that should be punishable in accordance with law.
Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan said, in effect, that it was all very well, but that he agreed that there was grave danger in formulating the right of citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions. He admitted quite frankly that it was a balance of evils as to whether you should inscribe that right in the Constitution or whether you should refuse to write it into the Constitution; or whether, if you inscribed it in the Constitution, you ought not to hedge it around with all possible safeguards and reservations. He said that, from his point of view, it was a balance of evils; and he particularly said, with regard to the attitude he was taking up, that he had been coerced into taking it from the point of view as to what might happen to public morality. He said, in effect, that if you are bringing in reservations, you should bring in all you want to bring in. One might think that he was expressing the official Opposition attitude with regard to this Article in suggesting the bringing in of all the safeguards which would prevent these liberties from being abused, and which would prevent these liberties from degenerating into mere licence.
But that is not the attitude of the Opposition. Instead of trying to bring in these safeguards, which Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan admitted were necessary, they propose to remove them —to remove them all, and to remove even the one which, as I have said, ought to be accepted by all sides of the House, and that is the safeguard that would make the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law. I think, Sir, that the attitude the Opposition have taken up against this and other Articles in the Draft Constitution is not based upon principle, but is simply an attempt to use this discussion to make what propaganda they can, to distort and to misrepresent the true content of the Articles of this Constitution, and to deceive the general public as to their true intent.
I dislike intensely this section of this Article, as it is phrased, Sir; but I dislike it more so after listening to the irrelevant and, in many respects, irresponsible speech which has been made in support of it by the Minister for Finance. The President yesterday told us that it was necessary, having set down a laudable principle, to ensure that it was conditioned by such reservations as would ensure that the desirable principle would be exercised in a rightful and proper manner. In my opinion, however, while the President is purporting to confer rights on citizens under this Article, the President, in fact, is limiting rights which citizens actually have to-day in matters which are dealt with by this particular Article. I do not think there would be any great public objection, or any great legislative objection, to a declaration of the principle that the State guarantees liberty for the exercise of rights, subject to public order and public morality, so long as we are clear as to the scope of what public order and public morality really mean; but the President is not satisfied with these two widespread reservations. He goes on in the Article to declare 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, 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."
Now, my amendment to this section is not as sweeping as the amendment which has been submitted by Deputies Costello and McGilligan. My reason for submitting an amendment less in scope than that submitted by those Deputies is that I am not so very much concerned with the exercise of a certain censorship over radio, and am not very much concerned with the exercise of a certain censorship over Anglicised or "Los-Anglicised" films that come in here; but I am very genuinely concerned with proposals contained in this Constitution to give a Government power to exercise the most rigid kind of censorship over the organs of public opinion. The terms of this particular Article make it clear, to me at all events, that the inclusion of the phrase "the authority of the State," is for the purpose of enabling a Government to exercise the most ruthless type of censorship over any organ of public opinion that holds views with which the Government may disagree. We may have our own particular views of the policies pursued by particular organs of the Press. We may dislike the tone of their leading articles and the general trend of the political policy as manifested in those leading articles. We may dislike, and disagree intensely with, the viewpoints of their special correspondents and the viewpoints of their political correspondents. We may dislike, generally, the line taken by particular newspapers. But when we have said all that, it seems to me to be highly dangerous for the Legislature to give to a Government power to exercise a ruthless and unrestricted censorship over the views expressed by these newspapers.
Newspapers fulfil a very important and a very useful function in the life of the modern nation. It is true that many of them wield an enormous power. It is true that the gigantic newspaper syndicate manufactures public opinion, and often manufactures public opinion in a way desired by the financial interests that control the newspaper syndicate; but I do not think it is a remedy for whatever evil may be contained in that fact to give an Executive Council power to exercise a ruthless censorship over these newspapers because, in practice, we may find that that censorship will be exercised in such a way as to give liberty and licence and freedom for the wildest and most violent forms of expression to newspapers which support the Government point of view, while throttling and muzzling every expression of opinion by a newspaper opposed to the Government's point of view.
My objection to this particular Article, in the main, is because of the phrase "the authority of the State". It seems to me that the structure of the Article, with that phrase in it, has a ring which is familiar to people in many of the totalitarian States in Europe —"the authority of the State,""an attempt to undermine the authority of the State". An attempt to undermine the authority of the State may be, in many respects, an effort which ought to be checked by an Executive Council, but the grave danger always has been that, armed with the power of the kind inserted in this Article, an Executive Council may use that power to suppress newspapers which are not favourable to the Government point of view.
We have seen, in relatively recent years, the suppression of Parliamentary institutions, the suppression of Parliamentary Oppositions, the suppression of movements which stood for freedom of thought, for freedom of conscience, for freedom of religious expression in many countries in Europe and in all these countries where Parliamentary Government has been suppressed, where democracy has been stifled, where democratic institutions have been ruthlessly exterminated, there is provision to-day for utilising the power of the Government to prevent the undermining of the authority of the State. Undermining the authority of the State in many cases in Europe means undermining the support of the Party in power. My fear about this Article is that, armed with a provision such as is contained within it, the Executive Council may utilise that provision in such a way as to ensure that it can wield it against such organs of public opinion as dislike the Government's policy and are a menace to the Government's continuance in office. There is, in my opinion, a real Nazi ring about this particular section of the Article. It is the kind of ring we are familiar with in Germany and Italy. It is the kind of power and authority that European dictators have been clamouring for in recent years, and it is the kind of power that has been used ruthlessly to suppress the democracies of Europe. I am opposed to it, because I do not want to see it used in this country in the same unscrupulous manner as it has been used in other countries.
Nothing that the President or the Minister for Finance has said has in any way lessened my misgivings in connection with the Article. The President said last night that he was prepared to accept an amendment from Deputy MacDermot. I think the acceptance of that amendment does not remove the evil which is contained within this Article, because even if the phrase suggested by Deputy MacDermot is inserted we are still up against the phrase "authority of the State". Even if the Article were amended in the manner desired by Deputy MacDermot, it would still be possible for the Legislature to pass by a single vote a law giving to the Executive of the day power to control every organ of public opinion. The law which would be passed might give the Executive power to proscribe the continuance in existence of any newspaper which, in the opinion of the Government of the day, was propagating a policy calculated to undermine the authority of the State. Deputy MacDermot may feel that if the Article were amended on the lines suggested by him, there would be some safeguard in this particularly anaemic phrase of his, but once the Government were in a position to declare that such criticism of the State was undermining the authority of the State, the Press would have very little safeguard in the harmless phrase Deputy MacDermot suggested.
This is the year 1937. We have managed to carry on so far from 1922 without arming the Executive with a constitutional provision of this kind. We have managed so far to carry on our national and communal life without finding it necessary to incite the Executive Council to seek powers which they are automatically invited to seek in this particular section. It does not seem to me that any case whatever has been made by the President or the Minister for Finance for giving any Government the power to utilise a right of censorship over organs of the Press merely because, in the opinion of the Government, they are undermining the authority of the State. I dislike the phrasing of this Article intensely. I think that while purporting to confer liberty on citizens and upon organs of public opinion it is, in fact, contracting the liberty and the freedom of expression which they have to-day. No case whatever has been made for putting this provision into this Constitution. No case whatever has been made by the President or by the Minister for Finance for the conferring of authority on the Executive Council to exercise powers such as are contained in this Article. If the Article is passed in this form the President will have powers, in respect to newspapers, comparable to those possessed by any dictator in Europe. He will have got powers that all the dictators of Europe have been able to get over newspapers in their countries. We may reach a time when we may see a Government, a supposedly democratic Government, with the aid of a single vote in this House, use these powers to ensure that no organ of public opinion will be allowed to express its views unless it is prepared to open its columns day by day to pour admiration on the President of whatever Government may be functioning and on the deeds and misdeeds of the Party in power. I said that I disliked this Article intensely. I think the President would be well advised, if he still desires the maintenance here of a truly democratic Government, to amend the Article so as not to make it possible for any Government in the future, while paying lip service to the authority of the State, to use the powers conferred by this Constitution for the purpose of throttling organs of public opinion within the State.
There is one difference of outlook between Deputy Norton and myself. That is, that he attaches much more value to a written Constitution than I do. After all, Great Britain enjoys, at any rate, as large a measure of liberty of the Press as any country in the world and yet there is no body of constitutional precepts, such as we are providing here, to secure that position. Freedom of the Press is secured in Great Britain and in other countries like Great Britain by the fact that the spirit of the people is against passing a law to muzzle the Press, and if the spirit of the people in Ireland should some day degenerate to such an extent that we wanted to muzzle the Press, that we did not wish to have free speech in this country or free expression of opinion, we would do that in spite of this Constitution or a dozen Constitutions.
Three-quarters of the argument which has proceeded, not only on this particular section, but on many sections of the Constitution, has been on the basis that we have got somehow or other to make it impossible for crimes to be committed against the people by a future Legislature. We simply cannot do it. I am content so long as the Constitution does not contain principles which are false and mischievous. A month, six weeks, or two months ago, the Deputy might possibly have noticed that I was heavily involved in a controversy about freedom of speech and freedom of the Press. I was abused like a pickpocket by a large number of excited citizens in the columns of the Irish Independent, the Irish Catholic and, I think, elsewhere, because of what was alleged to be my pagan and heretical outlook, in saying that people should be allowed to express their opinions, no matter how much we differ from them, so long as they were not being guilty of sedition or of blasphemy. Now, I hold strongly to that point of view. As a matter of fact, the reason that I made those speeches which excited a certain number of citizens so much was because I knew this Constitution was coming, and I was terrified lest pressure from some of the people connected with the Christian Front — who were passing resolutions demanding the suppression of Communism not only in public but in private, passing resolutions calling on the Government to make it a crime for a man to express Communistic opinions in his own home—might lead to the incorporation in the new Constitution of provisions fatal to liberty. I must say that when the Constitution appeared and I read it, that was the very first thing I looked to see, and I breathed a sigh of relief, because I came to the conclusion that the President or whoever had drafted the Constitution had shown himself a good Liberal.
I said last night that I did not like that particular sentence beginning "the education of public opinion" and ending "the authority of the State." I do not think anything would be lost if it were dropped It appears to me that the words that come before it and the words that come after it provide sufficiently for the defence of public order and morality, because we have all those things specifically mentioned. We have sedition specifically mentioned, and I do not see that this sentence which we are discussing adds anything to the security of the position. On the other hand, provided that words are put in making it plain that the right of the Press to criticise the Government of the day is acknowledged, I think the sentence is harmless. I do not happen to care for it; I would not have drafted it myself; but it does seem to me to be harmless, and I think we are wasting far too much time in discussing something which is really innocuous. Of course, the champion waster of time on this particular subject to-day has been the Minister for Finance, who came in here and made what was quite obviously a speech intended for no other purpose than electioneering.
I doubt that.
If the Opposition had offered a reward of £1,000 to somebody who would get up and make the speech that would help them most, they could not have got anybody better than the Minister for Finance was to-day. I never heard a more injudicious and stupid speech than he made in trying to revive all these controversies about 1916 and 1919. It is quite obvious that things were done and views were held in those days of disturbed conditions of society that are in no sense a guide as to what the law or procedure should be in a settled State, such as we now fortunately have. If he did wish to make an electioneering point, I think he could have picked on something better. I seem to recollect that there was a prosecution of the Irish Press under the late Government.
And a conviction.
A prosecution and a conviction? I am totally unacquainted with what the offence was.
The Deputy did not stay long enough in the Party or they would have told him.
At any rate it seems to me to suggest that some of the remarks of Deputy O'Sullivan about the liberty of the Press went perhaps a little further than the actual practice of himself and his colleagues when they were in office.
I thought the Deputy did not know anything about it?
Why did you not keep him long enough to explain it to him?
There was at any rate a prosecution of a newspaper.
And the Deputy does not know anything about it.
Listening to Deputy John Marcus O'Sullivan I did come to the conclusion that prosecution of a newspaper for anything would be practically an act of blasphemy. Now the truth of the matter is that there are some limits even to the freedom of the Press, and nobody in this House feels more intensely than I do on this subject of the freedom of the Press. But look at what has happened in France. In France there was practically no law of libel — no effective law of libel — and the Press could print anything they chose to print. That was carried to such a point that a Minister of the French Government was recently hounded to death by the virulent attacks of political opponents in unscrupulous newspapers. Aside from that incident, the most appallingly violent feelings were being stirred up day after day in newspapers on both sides, on the Communist side and on the extreme Right, by unscrupulous and shameless attacks on individuals. As a consequence of one such incitement, you had an attempt on the person of Monsieur Blum. Deputy Norton may remember that he was attacked, beaten and wounded as a result of newspaper incitement.
While authoritarianism may be, and is, a danger to the liberty of the Press, there is another danger to the liberty of the Press and that is licence. In some countries where the liberty of the Press has been destroyed, it has been destroyed because it degenerated into licence. That is the danger that democratic countries and democratic Parliaments have to bear in mind, and that we ought to bear in mind. For that reason I am quite in agreement with the President that, when you make the general statement that the Press is free, then it is legitimate to add certain qualifications. So far, I am with him, and I think that not to be with him in that is to be blind to the facts of human experience and political experience. He has removed the greater part of my objection to this particular sentence by agreeing to put in words to secure that the Press shall be free to criticise the Government of the day.
If the Deputy's amendment is inserted, can the Press criticise the King or the President?
That will not be an attack on the State?
Although the King is part of the authority of the State?
Certainly not; there is nothing here to suggest——
So we can still have the King as a cock-shot?
Does the Deputy want to have the King as a cock-shot? There is nothing in this to prevent a newspaper publishing an article to say that the King is an unworthy person, or that the President is an unworthy person, or that the Government is an unworthy Government. The real security — and this is the point that I want to insist on — for liberty and democracy is that the people of the country should have a love of liberty and democracy. It is not a paper Constitution that is going to save us from tyranny or from anarchy. It is our own instincts, our own experience, our own political education, that will save us from those things. If a time ever came when a law was introduced here that would give the Government undue powers to interfere with the liberty of the newspapers, I think Deputy Norton knows that he would find me at his side fighting it with all my might.
I rise merely to clarify the intendment and scope of the amendment in the name of Deputy McGilligan and myself. It is perfectly obvious to me, listening to the last part of the speech of the Minister for Finance — and it was only the last part of his speech I heard—that he was speaking it in entire ignorance of the meaning of the right of free speech, and the limitations that have been placed for over 100 years on that constitutional right of free speech. Deputy MacDermot says that he does not like the sentence tacked on to the declaration of the right of free speech, but that he regards it as harmless. If it is harmless it should not be there. It is an elementary principle of construction of statutes that the Legislature does not unnecessarily put a clause or a phrase into its Acts, and the courts accordingly endeavour to give effect to the meaning of every line and every word in the Act of Parliament. Deputy MacDermot is apparently not familiar with that elementary principle of construction, and when these words appear in the Constitution, when enacted as our fundamental law, if they do so appear and come to be construed in court, the courts will endeavour to see what the Legislature meant and to give some meaning to the clause as put in. Therefore, I think it right to warn Deputies who may read Deputy MacDermot's speech, and who may possibly be impressed by his statement that the sentence is harmless, that his statement is entirely incorrect and that they ought not to give any credence to it.
The Minister for Finance worked himself into a frenzy against the Opposition, and stated that two leading members of the Opposition, as he called them, were instructed by our Party to put down this amendment deleting from the Article the provision that the publication or utterance of blasphemous, of seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law. He made great play upon that. He demonstrated his own ignorance by making such play and by talking such nonsense. The case I rest my amendment upon is this, that the words "subject to public order and morality" embody and enshrine clearly, specifically and comprehensibly all the limitations which up to this have been placed by law and practice on the right of free speech. Anything else added to these expressions must be or may be a danger. At least, there is a danger of their being construed as further limitations on the right of free speech. I think Deputy Norton gave a very clear exposition of the position, with which I am in entire agreement, with one exception, that his amendment, if accepted, would make the thing rather worse.
The right of free speech was very succinctly stated in three or four lines by a very eminent Scottish lawyer in the year 1913. Lord Duneden said: "The right of free speech is to promulgate your opinions by speech as long as you do not utter words treasonable or libellous or make yourself obnoxious to the statutes dealing with blasphemy and obscenity." The phrase at the end of this clause is entirely unnecessary. The right of free speech necessarily involves that it is subject to the limitation that it may not be used for treasonable purposes, for seditious purposes, for libellous purposes, for blasphemous purposes or purposes of obscenity. That is the limitation that has been attached and that is recognised as being attached to the right of free speech for centuries.
When you speak of free speech and the right of free speech you speak of a right subject to these limitations. When you speak of the liberty of the Press you speak of the liberty of the Press to express their opinions subject to these qualifications, that there are not to be utterances in the Press which are treasonable, seditious, libellous, blasphemous or obscene. Those limitations, or rather these so-called limitations, if they are limitations of the right of free speech, are rather a protection for the continued existence of the proper right of free speech. These limitations on the right of free speech are embodied in the comprehensive phrase, "subject to public order and morality". The last phrase about obscenity and blasphemy is also embodied in the words "public order and morality", and the purpose of my amendment is merely to demonstrate or to make clear that we ought not to put in anything else except the expression that appeared in the original Constitution. In the Draft before us the clause begins: "The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality." The first right guaranteed is the right of citizens to express freely their opinions. If the expression of the right remained at that point then, in my opinion, everything would be covered and the limitations which exist and which continue to exist will be preserved. If anything is added, either the words subsequently put in are unnecessary — in which case they may be harmful, because one may give them an interpretation that is not intended—or else they may amount to an indication that further limitations are intended on the right of free speech and on the liberty of the Press — which is the same thing as the right of free speech.
There is a legal maxim, Expressio unius est exclusio alterius. If you express one thing you exclude everything else. Some things are expressed in this qualification added to the declaration of right that may exclude everything else. It is a remarkable thing that in these exclusions or further qualifications attached there is no provision expressly providing against the publication of libellous matter. It is the law at the moment that the publication of libellous matter is a recognised qualification on the right — if qualification be the proper phrase to use. Libellous matter is one of the things not allowed in connection with the right of free speech. In this Draft we find that when the right is being declared in express terms it “subject to public order and morality.”...
Will the Deputy look at Article 40, sub-section 3 (2)?
The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack, and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen.
That means nothing in connection with what I am speaking about. On the contrary, it might very easily be held to cut down the right of prosecution for libellous matter. If the State binds itself to secure the protection of the right of the citizens' good name, what better place could be found in which to insert a provision for that protection than in this clause in the Constitution giving the right of free expression of opinion?
It is done.
I am pointing out to the President — he may make small points on it if he likes — that the word "libellous" has been used as one of the qualifications of free speech and really as a protection of free speech, and that the omission of it, therefore, is significant. I leave it at that. The Minister for Finance spoke about Communism and the attitude of this Party towards Communistic utterances. I gather that Deputy MacDermot is satisfied with this Article, because it permits the utterance and publication of Communistic doctrine. I would have thought it did not, provided always, and provided only, that the qualifications on the right expressed in the second paragraph are omitted. I think the dissemination of Communistic doctrines would be against public order and morality. But, if you go on to state subsequently, as you do in this proviso, that the right "shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State," it may well be that this Article would be construed as permitting Communists liberty of utterance, provided they do not undermine the authority of the State. Communists will, of course, disseminate their doctrines in such a fashion as not merely to aver that they intend not to undermine the authority of the State, but to make a perfect State. Consequently, they will easily get out of this Article.
The objection to Deputy Norton's amendment is that it omits the Press and may bring into operation the maxim I have referred to — that if you refer to certain things and exclude other things, if you only refer to the radio and the cinema, you may carry on to your heart's content with a phonograph. I want it to be perfectly clear that the purpose of the amendment is not to provide that blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter shall not be punishable. I insist, and underline the fact that, in my view— and I think there is no question about it — the phrase "subject to public order and morality" covers that particular matter; and some time or another somebody will say, "Why was it put in a second time?" and a deduction may be drawn of a most astonishing character. That was the purpose of the amendment — that in the phrase, "subject to public order and morality," everything that is desirable to be done and ought to be done is permitted. Anything that is put in expressly on top of that phrase weakens the phrase. It is unnecessary, and if unnecessary, it ought not to be there. If it is in any way capable of being construed in such a way as to cut down the phrase, "subject to public order and morality," then equally it ought not to be there.
The last point to which I wish to direct attention is the fact that, when speaking about the education of public opinion and that the radio and Press shall not be used to undermine public order, the phrase is used that these rights "shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State." We have in the qualifying opening phrase that the State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality, and tagged on to public order or morality you have "or the authority of the State." Is there a distinction between expressing opinions which are contrary to public order or morality and those which are liable to undermine the authority of the State? In my view, there is not, unless it is set down here in black and white, in which event it may be construed as necessarily meaning something that it did not mean in connection with what everybody knows to be the accepted definition and the limitations of the right of free and public speech. That right of public speech is recognised as being subject to the limitations to which I have referred — treason, sedition—which is a very wide term— libel, obscenity, blasphemy. All these limitations are completely and comprehensively covered in the phrase "subject to public order or morality." If an attempt is made to put down, or define, or in any way interfere with the phrase, then I want, at all events, to have my view put on record, that it is a danger to the free exercise of the rights which this Constitution alleges it is guaranteeing.
I just intervened to ask the President if he will tell us what reference to the matter under discussion here to-day that part of the Minister for Finance's speech had which dealt with certain so-called censorships of the Press. Normally the attitude that we can adopt to the Minister for Finance and that part of his speech would be the attitude expressed in the saying: "Is leitheid an buaileach satailt ann," and we would have no desire further to discuss the matter. But the systematic way in which the matter was introduced, and the importance of the matter under discussion, renders it imperative that we should have from the President some explanation as to what the relation to the discussion was. Unfortunately, while the matter was being dealt with by the Minister for Finance at length, the raising of a question of order brought the House into a difficulty. We got a long statement of facts from the Minister for Finance which, it was suggested, bore on the discussion here, but we were not able to get from the Minister what the relationship was. The Minister for Finance simply emphasised that on one particular occasion there was a violent censorship of a Dublin newspaper because of a particular editorial utterance. He indicated that there was another occasion upon which, if we are to place any superficial interpretation on his remarks, violent censorship ought to have been applied.
The Minister was prevented from pursuing the second example.
The Minister indicated that it was important that everybody in the House, and particularly Deputies on this side of the House, should say what their attitude was to the censorship of the Press in the past, and particularly that ex-Ministers ought to indicate what their attitude was. I feel that there is no such necessity. I would suggest, however, that we should hear from the President why the Minister for Finance introduced the subject. The Minister for Finance said how necessary it was to face realities in this matter. The Minister for Finance within the last couple of years sat in a Dublin cinema house when he saw the cinema wrecked because pictures of the wedding of a royal princess were shown on the screen. The President and his Ministers are aware that the police made no intervention at that particular time; they were prevented from following up the circumstances of the case at that time, and no State action was taken in the way of subsequent intervention on that matter.
Might I ask if this is relevant?
The relevancy is not apparent.
We are talking about the radio and the Press; I am speaking about the references of the Minister for Finance to the Press. I am speaking on a matter that is real——
Is not the Deputy now discussing the action or inaction of the Minister for Justice?
The Minister for Justice has a seat on the Government side and he is as much responsible for the matters that are raised here as is the Minister for Finance. But from that time there has arisen an unofficial censorship of films, and it has been so effectively operated that pictures of the recent Coronation proceedings in London were not allowed on the Dublin screen——
That matter is quite irrelevant.
We object to the possibility that is enshrined in this section that will give the Government power, as a Government, to do what the Government are allowing an unlawful association in this city to do to-day. This association is allowed to do it without any scrap of intervention by those responsible for the administration of justice.
This debate may not be taken advantage of to arraign the Department of Justice for alleged inaction. That has no bearing on the measure before the Committee.
I am not criticising anybody. I am stating what are the facts in this country to-day. The facts are that we have a censorship of the screen and the films in operation, a censorship which is unauthorised.
These alleged incidents are not relevant.
This Article of the Constitution will give the Government power to prevent by Government Order the portrayal on the radio screens of pictures like those that were destroyed in the Savoy a couple of years ago and that are forbidden to-day by a body of obviously unknown and unauthorised people in this city.
The alleged interference or censorship of the cinema has nothing to do with this Article, and in the guise of stating what the Government might possibly do in the future the Deputy cannot review the past.
What I am submitting——
I do not want the President to dictate as to how the Chair is to act. I want to find out from the President what the Minister for Finance means, not alone by clause (n), but by clauses (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i), (j), (k), (l) and (m). I want to know what the Minister means by clause (n): "proprietors, directors, editors, sub-editors and leader writers of the hostile Press in Ireland in cases where these are known to be hostile"? These are the people who come under the heading of: "The following will be shot at sight." The Minister for Finance went back to 1916; he went back to 1919 and he told us of facts at that particular time without indicating their bearings on this section and the matter has been left as it is. Use has been made of the discussion here to make an attack, for purely political purposes, on a Dublin organ. Surely the President is not going to allow himself to lie under that particular charge. The intervention of the Minister for Finance in this debate to-day was to the effect that censorship of the Press is warranted by such acts as caused violent interference with the Press at that particular time. The Minister for Finance tells us that the attitude of ex-Ministers on this matter is important to us in this debate. I would put a question to the President, the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, who alleged at that time in October, 1922, that they were Ministers and that they authorised the Chief-of-Staff of that time to deal with defence matters. I would ask them what relation there can be on the discussion we are having here on the censorship of the Press, to what happened in 1916? I am recalling that in November, 1922, an order was issued that the people that I mentioned would be shot at sight. Either the President is concerned or not concerned with dealing systematically and properly with the safeguarding of the rights and liberties of the people of this country. The Press in this country has a very important part to play in safeguarding the rights and liberties of the people and in safeguarding the authority of the State in the interests of the people. The only interpretation that can be put on the intervention by the Minister for Finance to-day is that there is going to be a very vicious outlook on his own part, on the part of his colleagues and on the part of the President to any Press organs that may stand in their particular way. We do know that Government advertisements have been withheld from Irish newspapers because they criticised the wheat policy of the Government.
Where is this to stop?
Does the President deny it?
I am not going to deny or assert anything in connection with this matter. The whole thing is irrelevant.
Ní olfadh sé an bainne nuair a bhí an luc ann agus ní olfadh sé an bainne nuair a bhí an luc as. The President is going to have it both ways to-day. He is not satisfied with Deputy Professor O'Sullivan discussing this matter in the excellent vein that he did discuss it. He is not satisfied with that. He is bringing the discussion down to realities. We would like to keep this discussion on the plane on which Deputy O'Sullivan kept it, but we cannot ignore the intervention of the Minister for Finance in so gratuitous a way and the President cannot ask us here, on a discussion on the rights and liberties of the Press to-day, to ignore completely the way in which the Press is actually being treated in this matter. It is an actual fact that Irish newspapers have been refused by the Minister for Agriculture advertisements in connection with the wheat policy of the Government because they criticised that policy in a leading article.
I am not going to deal with any of these points in this debate.
Are we to understand that he is not going to give us any assistance as to the intervention of the Minister for Finance in this matter?
There is a time and place for that.
Is the President going to assist us in putting any interpretation on the intervention of the Minister for Finance?
I am not.
Then I have nothing more to say. "Is leitheid an buaileach satailt ann." Ní raibh ann ach buaileach.
There are just one or two things that were raised by Deputy Costello and I would like to refer to them. I think the result of the discussion has been this, at any rate—that this talk about dictatorship and dictatorial powers being taken here is again blown to the wind. The only thing we have to fear now is lest some words we are adding here to the existing position might weaken it. That is a very different position from the position that was taken up by Deputy Rowlette last night, and it is very different from the position apparently taken up by Deputy Norton.
Every one of us knows that liberty can be abused and that it is essential for every State to take measures against the abuse of the liberties which we understand when we speak of liberty of speech and liberty of the Press. All that is done in this particular Article is to lay down on the State what it will be ultimately for the Legislature to see to—the education of public opinion being a matter of grave import to the common good, 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. My challenge to everybody, whether in this House or outside it, is this: Is it right that the State should see, in so far as it can, that the liberty which is indicated and acknowledged in the first part of this section shall not be used in such a manner as to undermine public order, morality or the authority of the State? Do they want it done? If not, surely we ought to indicate in the Constitution that there are limitations to that.
Deputy Costello, from the depths of his legal knowledge, experience and practice, is able to tell us what Lord Dunedin has given as the present position, in a simple sentence. How many people in this country know that? The lawyers probably do, but the average citizen is entitled to know what rights are being given to him and what limitations there are to these rights, and he should not have to go through volumes of legal reports to get it. What we are trying to do in this Constitution is to put in language which everybody can understand, to put down clearly these principles and indicate, so far as we can, for the education of the public, what the limitations are. I do not think Deputy Costello would seriously contend that this phrase here was going to limit, in any sense, the position. Is it not clearly an additional statement? We say that the State guarantees liberty for the exercise of certain rights, subject to public order and morality, and then we enumerate those rights. The first right is that every citizen will be able to express freely his convictions and opinions.
Clearly, where there is a question of the expression of opinions, one naturally considers the very important matter of the education of public opinion. If we are going to have democracy at all we must follow certain lines. I agree with the Deputy— I think that it was Deputy Costello— who said that it is for the protection of democracy that you have these limitations, and if you are going to permit a single organ to use its power to undermine public order or public morality or the authority of the State, then all this work we are doing here is in vain. We are trying to embody in this a charter of real democracy, and all we are arranging for is to see that democracy will be in a position to protect itself.
Deputy Norton talks about restrictions on profit-making enterprises. There are profit making enterprises called the Press. We have in large centres, in large countries particularly, people with immense wealth who can make still more wealth through the Press and can use the wealth and their power of making wealth, if they want to, in a manner that is detrimental to the public good. Must the State be in a position in which it will be helpless in such a case? I think nobody will say that it should be, and consequently we do certain things here; we indicate, for instance, the limitations.
Deputy O'Sullivan reminded me of some views that I held in 1929 about the vagueness of the term "public order and morality." I do not think we had Deputy Costello then to enlighten us and to tell us that we had a very neat definition of public order and morality. It is because I understand that it has already received a fairly definite definition that I am satisfied with it now. I may say that there is still a little bit of lingering doubt as to what is completely covered by it. But if I am assured that it is definite in a legal sense, I suppose I shall have to be satisfied, but if I could define it more definitely, I would. However, with regard to this Article, like many of the other Articles that have been attacked, there is nothing in this but a safeguard for the community to see that the institutions which the people will be establishing by this Constitution will be able to function in their interests.
I want again to emphasise the fact that I am in favour of and want left here, the expression "subject to public order and morality," but I do not want it repeated in the second paragraph. When you find it repeated in this proviso relating to "public order or morality or the authority of the State," then it appears to me to be open to the suggestion that if you use your right of free speech to undermine the authority of the State, then you are not doing anything which is contrary to public order. Will the President think about that?
The Deputy is not serious.
Perfectly serious, and if the President will consider it he may find there is no reason for this proviso and he is doing himself damage.
I do not think the Deputy is serious in reading the second paragraph as if it were a proviso.
What else is it?
It is a very definite injunction over and above anything else that is here. It is a definite injunction on the State to endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, etc., shall not be used for this purpose. It is a definite additional injunction on the State. It stands on its own feet there.
Why did you leave the phonographs or the loud speakers out?
That is the same sort of argument that I have heard on other occasions. I have heard it sufficiently to be able to recognise the legal tag of interpretation. It does apply in certain cases, but in other cases it would be most absurd to bring it in. I am only using common sense against the lawyer's technique.
The lawyer's technique is founded on common sense.
I have generally found, curiously enough, that my common sense has led me to a lot of conclusions that the lawyers arrived at.
That is grand.
That is right. I am one of those who stands up from that point of view for rules of evidence and other things of that sort as being safeguards and as the result of long experience, and let nobody get it into his head that I despise those things. I do not, but I say that when there is an attempt to use a general rule or a canon of interpretation wildly, instead of being a help it may be a hindrance. I think that would be the case if I were inclined to interpret this in the way the Deputy suggests. I think I would be misusing it, putting common sense aside and using some sort of rule as my guide instead.
There is this in regard to this whole matter, and I think we will all agree on it: we have undoubtedly a danger, because there is hardly a single right that one has that cannot be misused. We could pass here the most oppressive laws; we could pass here the most unjust laws; and Legislatures that come after us will be able to do that, no matter what Constitution you enact, so there is no use in thinking that where you have rights you have not dangers. Am I to be prevented, for example, from going down to the Pillar in a motor car because people could go down there and kill half a dozen people on the way? I think it would be absurd to think that. So here, when we are making provision for something that has to be met, there is not the slightest doubt that anybody can stand up and imagine cases in which that provision could be abused. Undoubtedely you can, and there could be an abuse of the power to see that the expression of public opinion was right. If we were able to get some objective method of determining what was true and what was false, then we could all agree that what was false should not be permitted to be promulgated or propagated. The trouble comes in when the question of what is true and what is false has to be determined, and, being human beings and not infallible, we will disagree as to what is true and what is false.
Who is to decide as to what is true and what is false?
We have courts; we have a sense of justice in ourselves; and we have the fact that, as I think it was Deputy MacDermot very rightly pointed out, the ultimate safeguard of liberty is the right sense of the people. There is not a doubt whatever about it and do not think that, when any Constitution is passed, the people can for one moment give up the vigilance they ought to exercise, both in the selection of their representatives and in the watchfulness with which they look after their subsequent actions. That is essential. Wherever there is power, there is power to abuse and to go wrong. We cannot prevent that here. We have no objective method in regard to what is right and what is wrong, and we may disagree, but we shall have to set up for ourselves some method. The Legislature, for instance, if it is desired at some stage to implement this particular instruction, will have to decide what are the methods by which it will best ensure that these organs of public opinion will not be used for these wrong purposes. When that time comes, we may have a great deal of difficulty in deciding whether, in fact, the methods by which we try to ensure that might not bring about greater evils than the very evils they try to stop. That will be a practical question to be considered when the time comes.
All we are doing here is saying that the formation of public opinion, particularly in a democratic country, is most important for the common good, when the people on the information at their disposal decide questions of tremendous importance to the life of the community. Consequently, we point out that that is a fact and lay an obligation on the State to see that, as far as possible, public opinion will not be—I cannot say "misled," because that would be getting us into the old difficulty—in very definite directions, misled, namely, in the direction of inciting to upset public order, morality, or the authority generally of the State as representing the community.
The President will pardon me for butting in again, but he has not answered the point I made. It is, perhaps, a technical point. Would the President agree—I do not wish to catechise or cross-examine him —that an article in a newspaper, intending or tending to undermine the authority of the State, would be contrary to public order?
Tending to do so?
Therefore, the Article as it stands reads:—
"....shall not be used to undermine public order, morality or public order."
The Deputy thinks that the phrase "the authority of the State" is superfluous.
I suggest it is, and, being superfluous, may be used to found an argument that it means something other than what it is intended to mean.
That would, of course, follow from the Deputy's clear definition in his own mind of what "public morality" means.
I say that "public order and morality" includes even more than is included in the proviso, if I may call it a proviso, and that if you go on to specify certain things in that proviso, you cut down the generality of matters in "public order and morality".
There would not be any wisdom in having in anything that is superfluous, but I am anxious particularly to see that the phrase "authority of the State" is not hidden away as one of a category of things under "public morality".
Would the President put in the first part: "The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order, morality and the authority of the State" and leave everything else out? There is a fair offer now.
I will take a note of it, but I am not quite happy about it.
Am I to take it that the President intends to come a good part of the way to meet the suggestion made by Deputy Costello?
Do not try to tie me down. What is it?
He is nervous about my suggestion.
I am sometimes very nervous about them, and with some reason.
I do not want to spoil my excellent record of not having intervened in the Bunreacht debate at all, and if the President is prepared to meet Deputy Costello I propose to preserve that record. Otherwise I shall take this opportunity of making some observations on the speech of the Minister for Finance here to-day. I am induced to depart from my determination to ignore the debate on this wholly irrelevant matter, as I see it, because I felt from the very beginning that what really matters is that we should get good government in this country and, if we do not get that, paper Constitutions are not going to do much to help us. To-day, I was struck by the misfortune that befell the President of the Executive Council. He has been very lucky in his public life but recently disaster seems to be piling upon him. The traditional de Valera weather has forsaken him and we are getting ordinary Irish weather in this country; the electoral tide in the country is turning against him; and the last, but by no means the least disaster, he allowed the Minister for Finance to open for the Government on the subject of the freedom of the Press to-day. That was the crowning disaster of the series of misfortunes that has smitten him recently. When you see the child of good fortune for the first time in a long time encountering adversity, much as you may disapprove of his activities, you cannot help feeling sorry for him. I felt sorry for the President as he writhed in his seat while the Minister for Finance was talking—the wary old war-horse listening to the silly man letting him in for it, letting the cats leap out of the bag in all directions and trying to follow every cat with his eye without pretending that he saw it. I sympathised with the President because, of course, the statements made by the Minister for Finance, which the President was scrupulous to avoid adopting, were reckless and extremely dangerous. The Minister for Finance argued that provision should be made in this Constitution for censorship of the Press, and he said that he condemned the doctrinaire attitude adopted by the Opposition in regard to freedom of the Press. I do not believe that the President adopts that. I believe that was mere folly on the part of the Minister for Finance. But it is well for this House to remember that, if Constitutions have any worth at all, their purpose is not to restrain reasonable men, because they do not require restraint. Their purpose is to act as a check on reckless men who might precipitate great evils if there was not a fundamental law there to present an obstacle when they were tempted to imprudence. Anybody listening to the Minister for Finance to-day would realise that, under the exterior of a simple, inoffensive little man there are immense potentialities of danger because, when he loses his head, he is liable to say anything.
Is he inoffensive?
I think I said an "in-offensive-looking little man."
See him on a racecourse.
When his type run amok, they run amok altogether.
If he were here, you would not be saying these things.
You can never anticipate in what direction his momentary folly will take him. This much must be said of the President of the Executive Council: when he makes up his mind to do something wrong, he does it, always having taken the precaution of persuading himself that he is doing what is right. Having convinced himself of that necessary preliminary, he sets his plans deliberately and advances towards his objective. You know where he is going. The other little man does not know where he is going or where he wants to get.
Where is the Deputy going?
I am warning this House that, when it realises there are in the Executive Council persons so recklessly irresponsible as the Minister for Finance, it should be rarely anxious lest it allows any words to remain in this Article which would give the appearance of a warrant of authority to people who would seek to do things none of us imagines any responsible man in this country would wish to do. There are men who might want to do irresponsible things and it is to them we have got to look when drafting this document.
Let me first deal with the minor matters that are raised. The Minister spoke of the cinema and said surely nobody would argue that that is an organ of public opinion. It is not 12 months since the President of the Executive Council and his colleagues deliberately sought to use the cinema as an instrument of public controversy. I saw a cinematograph film in this city in which the President was portrayed presiding over the Executive Council and he made a speech to us off the screen. By implication, he gave us the impression that he had founded Guinness' brewery.
He did not say so explicitly and the film is quite capable of the interpretation that he never intended to convey it but the nasty, irresponsible cinema operator did produce a film which, to the resident of Kansas, would suggest that, if President de Valera did not found Guinness' brewery, at least he helped it on.
Having created that desirable impression on the minds of men, we were presented with a picture of the National University and Trinity College. Having accepted responsibility for founding a brewery, he was then prepared to oust Queen Elizabeth and don her robe as the foundress of Trinity College. That production was grotesque and laughable, as we look back upon it. We killed it with ridicule and not with censorship. Nobody urged that that grotesque production should not be shown in every hamlet in Ireland. We said: "For goodness sake, bring that film down the country and the people will see through its grotesque misrepresentation." If its exhibition had been prohibited, we would have had shebeen cinemas in every parish in Ireland, and people would conceive it to be a patriotic duty to show that film and to go to jail for six months for the crime of showing it. The President was perfectly ready to put a quick one over on the people. Those who wished to expose the misrepresentation did not say one word against it. They realised that the people would see the misrepresentation for themselves. The film was not shown outside the city. The President, like the wary, old warhorse that he is, called off his dogs and put them back into the kennel. He saw that that dog would not fight.
Have you not Machiavelli?
The President has that in his pocket. I merely borrow it from the library when I require it. That is a good case in point as regards the cinema. Remember, we are in the early stage of development in respect of the cinema and anybody who is familiar with the particular type of film known as "The March of Time" realises that, in the future, the cinema may become a very powerful instrument of public expression. What we have got to ask ourselves is whether we should not regard that in the same way as we regard the Press. We should not, of course, close our eyes to the perils. There are perils in freedom of speech, in freedom of the Press and in freedom of the cinema. What we have got to ask ourselves, however, is if, in trying to mitigate these perils, we shall not create far worse ones. I have not heard anyone here suggest that we can serve the interests of this country or the interest of democracy by placing a limit on the organs of public expression beyond the ordinary limits recognised in this and every other democratic State.
The Minister went on to refer to the radio, and he said the radio could scarcely be regarded as an organ of public opinion. No more powerful organ of public opinion exists, if you mean by an organ of public opinion a means of addressing the people. I have no hesitation in saying that the President of the United States at the present time largely owes his electoral victory to his ability to use the radio for the purpose of reaching the people. In the future, that instrument may be still further used. We do not know. The Press and all it means we know fairly well. Let us not close our eyes to this fact: the Press has in it many potential evils. The freedom of the Press can be greatly abused, just as freedom of speech can be greatly abused; but in order to correct the comparatively occasional abuses that arise, our duty is to be circumspect and to avoid creating far greater evils by limiting that freedom.
There can be very little doubt, in the mind of any rational person, that freedom of the Press and freedom of speech are closely interwoven. Destroy freedom of speech and you destroy all the essentials of liberty in any community. That may not be apparent at first glance, but it is perfectly certain that if you proceed to limit the freedom of the Press beyond preventing it, as has already been accepted generally on all sides of the House, from advocating the overthrow of the State by force, or publishing material which is blasphemous or generally indecent, you have got to face the fact that the next step is to limit freedom of speech. Limit that, and you immediately arrive at the stage obtaining in certain European countries at the present time, in which no three people can sit down by their own fireside and discuss anything lest one of the three will hurry off and inform the authorities, and bring the arm of the law into your very fireside to restrict your right to speak your mind even in your own home.
As I understand the suggestion of Deputy Costello, if this Section 6 of Article 40 is amended to provide some explicit words in addition to "public order and morality" designed to prohibit advocacy of the overthrow of the State by force, we have in the three terms an adequate interpretation of the people's will, and the extent to which freedom of public expression should be limited. There is this all-important point—I do not think some members of the House fully understand it, and the trouble is that lawyers understand it so well, particularly lawyers of long experience, that they forget how little a layman understands it—that if you make in a statute a positive statement and thereafter put in an excepting clause, very often when the interpretation of the whole instrument comes to be made far greater attention is riveted on the excepted clause than is given to the explicit statement contained in the Article. The extent to which the uninitiated layman can fall into that trap was admirably illustrated by the extremely foolish observations of the Minister for Finance, who dwelt at great length on the fact that Deputy Costello's amendment proposes to remove the words "the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law". He seemed to think that because the amendment was designed to remove these words that the Opposition position was that there should be no prohibition of such an offence. He entirely neglected the fact that the proper interpretation of the word "morality" would adequately cover all that, and that if you sought to qualify the word "morality" by this passage to which I have referred it might easily come thereafter to be understood that the only offences against public morality were those which could be brought within the four walls of this concluding paragraph.
I think another illusion has crept in here to-day because everybody is agreed very emphatically on the difficulty of accepting broad general principles in regard to limiting the freedom of the Press or of any other organ of public opinion. I agree that to arrive at broad general principles does present a difficulty, but I am not at all sure that broad terms are not the best instrument for conveying the Legislature's, or the people's meaning, leaving it to the courts of law, which will know the general trend of law both constitutional and legislative in this country, to apply the general terms to the particular case. No matter how carefully an Article of the Constitution is drafted it cannot be designed so as to particularise every conceivable contingency that may arise. If you do employ such general words as "subject to public order and morality" or the words suggested by Deputy Costello, the judges of this State in applying them will very properly and generally presume that the legislation is constitutional, and only where the legislation patently infringes the liberty of the individual, or the liberty of the Press, will the courts intervene to declare unconstitutional the particular statute under which the proceedings were taken. Did I hear the President say something?
I say there is an awful lot to be done.
I miss the President's extreme courtesy.
No; but I am anxious that we should try and get through with this if we can.
Nevertheless, I think it is the right of any Deputy to speak his mind on a matter of this kind.
I have no objection.
I do not wish to give the President a short reply, but whether there is objection or not, I intend to speak my mind on this matter. In the matter of the freedom of the Press, the personal liberty of all of us is very intimately concerned, and I think it is desirable that any Deputy, whether he professes to be a constitutional expert, and is so or not, or whether he is only a simple layman with some solicitude for the essential liberty of himself and his own neighbours, has the right to protest very emphatically against a proposal which may be founded in incompetence or in folly, and which is calculated, in my opinion, gravely to jeopardise our essential rights.
I listened with alarm to the Minister for Finance to-day, and I saw more clearly than I have seen heretofore the immense dangers of allowing a document of this character to indulge in pious phrases when one realises that what appears to be no more than a pious phrase in a draft document, may be used hereafter for an oppressive purpose. It seems to me perfectly clear that, if the mind of the Minister for Finance were the mind of this Government, a very extensive censorship of the Press would be the order of the day, and that if any newspaper in this State ventured to voice the views of the minority of the people, then, in the judgment of the Minister for Finance, it should be ruthlessly suppressed and crushed. That is not my conception of freedom of the Press or of individual liberty. As I understand those things, I have a right, in this democratic State, or any newspaper has a right, in this democratic State, to criticise or protest against anything the Government does. I have a right to make that protest even if I am in a minority of one, and so long as I abstain from suggesting that my grievances should be remedied by the overthrow of the State by force, there should be no limit to my freedom to argue with my fellow citizens that my philosophy is a better one than that to which they at present subscribe.
Public decency, naturally, has to be considered, and provision can be made for that; but the wider we leave open freedom of speech and freedom of expression to everybody in this State, the greater safety we have for the people as a whole. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that the most effective way to destroy falsehood is to drag it into the open and place it before the people. Attempts to crush falsehood by suppression fail in 99 cases out of 100, and in the long run, when you finally dispose of it by patient argument, the period of suppression gives the falsehood an altogether false strength which it never would have had if it had been boldly encountered in the first stage of its existence and challenged.
I therefore ask the President to reconsider this Article, and to reconsider it with a view to allaying the fears of people, even of those who do not profess to be constitutional experts, in regard to their own individual liberty or the liberty of the Press. I feel profoundly that the liberty of each one of us is inextricably interwoven with the liberty of the Press as a whole. Individual members of the Press may abuse their privileges, just as individuals amongst us may do the same; but if freedom and independence are to mean anything in this country, we ought to cherish the freedom both of the Press and of our individual selves above everything else that national freedom has brought us after the long period of oppression which we experienced in this country.
If the President is going to conclude, Sir, I should like to be permitted to say a few words. I only want a minute or two. I have listened this afternoon to the discussion on this amendment with regard to cinemas, the Press, and radio, and I think it will be agreed by those of us on this side of the House that the President exhibited a very kindly courtesy indeed to the representations made by the different Deputies that I heard speaking from this side of the House. If a Constitution is to represent the dignity of a nation, which it should, I could wish that the Minister for Finance, when speaking, had been able to realise that his contribution to-day made a very poor comparison indeed with other contributions on this amendment, and particularly in comparison to the contribution of the President himself. I do not wish to take the advantage in this House of comparing the President with one of his Ministers, but I say that there is not the slightest chance whatever of the Constitution ever being discussed in the way in which I believe it ought to be discussed and in the way in which the President himself suggested that it ought to be discussed, so long as we have the Minister for Finance trying to rake up the passions of the past in the way he did to-day. That brings about a lowering of the standard of debate which will never contribute to a proper Constitution being established here. In a matter of this kind, an important matter such as the Constitution, even though the process of debate is slow and weary and the thing has to be taken Article by Article and amendment by amendment, we should reflect on and remember the fact that this is for the Irish nation: that this is to represent, as it were, the living people outside the shores of this country. Therefore, whether as layman or lawyer, or as a humble back-bencher, we ought to try to give it our best consideration, and at the same time we ought to try to recreate a tradition of debate in this House. I hold that that can never be done so long as a Minister for Finance can make the reflections that he has made this afternoon and so long as he digs up the passions of the past and tries to rekindle the fires that we all want to clamp down for ever.
I should like to know, Sir, is the President going to indicate that there will be any reconsideration of this section of the Article?
No. I think the Article is all right. I have indicated already—although I do not think it is necessary—that I would try whether or not Deputy MacDermot's amendment could be incorporated with a view to making clear the matter of a distinction between undermining the authority of the State and the right to criticise its administration.
Will there be an opportunity to discuss it on the Report Stage?
Oh, yes. The fact that I have an amendment down will make certain, in any case, that it will be discussed.
There is one point, Sir, that I wanted to be clear upon, and that I wanted to impress upon the President. In connection with this matter of ensuring 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, I want to know who is to decide on the matter? Is it to be the President or the Executive Council, or is it to be—in my view the proper people to decide a question of that character—the judges of the High Court, or some such authority established by law? I do not want to pretend for a moment that the Executive Council, or the President's Office itself, is not established by law, but one can easily conceive what might happen in the case of a Government which might feel that a certain organ of the Press contained, from time to time, articles which, in their view— whether leading articles or specially contributed articles—were being used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. One can easily conceive a Government attempting to suppress liberty in that case. I do not suggest that the present Executive Council would attempt it, or that the present President of the Executive Council would attempt it—I have that much confidence in the President and in his Executive Council—but what is to prevent some future President or some future Executive Council attempting to do that? I regard Article 40 as one of the most important Articles in the Constitution, preserving, as it does, not alone the liberty of the Press, but the liberty of the citizen, which has been referred to so frequently. I do not want to emphasise it further than that, but, having regard to the past history of this country, I do not want to go back. The Minister for Finance to-day did go back a good deal, and he spoke about the liberty of the Press, but I reminded him that he and the members of the present Executive Council, who were then outside this House, took jolly good care that there was no liberty of the Press when they smashed up organs of opinion in the country. Now, I do not wish to go back on that, but I say that that might easily occur again, and what I want the President to do is to make certain that it is secured in this Article 40 that the liberty of the Press and the liberty of the citizen will not be violated. I have indicated some of the ways in which the liberty of the Press can be violated and has been violated. For that reason, I want that Article made so water-tight and so fool-proof that the liberty of the Press and the liberty of the individual will be safeguarded for all time.
I believe that the President is making a serious attempt in this Constitution—although I feel that very few people in the country are taking any interest at all in it—to secure a proper Constitution for the nation, and he has registered a number of pious opinions which are expressed in the various Articles in this proposed Draft Constitution. Undoubtedly, they are but headlines in many cases, if you like; but in my view they want to be tightened up in some cases and I think the President should make it clear to the House, and to the people outside the House, who are to be the judges as to whether Press articles—whether leading articles or specially contributed articles—are such as shall not tend to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. I want to have that more clearly defined.
I move to report progress, Sir.