Be it so. To be absolutely positive, I would have to look up the notes to try to get something definite. I am almost as certain as I can be, without written confirmation, that that aspect of the matter was discussed, that under Proportional Representation there was a certain principle which would have given representation to the present minority in the North, and that they were deprived of that. I am almost certain of that, but I would not be quite certain without having some written confirmation.
Coming back to the question of defence, in the conditions in which we find ourselves the question of national defence is of primary importance. Until this question of the forts had been settled it was not easy to get any satisfactory line upon which one could go. I pointed out the dilemma in which the Government necessarily found itself as long as the forts on these ports were in British occupation. I do not know if it is necessary to remind the House what the dilemma was. Perhaps, as there may be some new Deputies here, it would be no harm to repeat it. The position was this: First of all, it was not merely the occupation of the ports that was the important thing. These Articles of the Treaty of 1921 definitely gave Britain the right to make a claim for other facilities—not merely to occupy these ports but for any facilities she might require for the defence of Britain and Ireland by sea. If war broke out and the British Government made demands in accordance with the terms of that Treaty, my belief is that any Government that would accede to these demands would immediately forfeit the confidence of the majority of its own people. The Government would find itself in this position, that by acceding to the demands it would alienate the sympathy of the people which a Government needs to have in a crisis such as war. If, on the other hand, it refused to accede to the demands that might be made under the terms of that Treaty, then you had a danger of immediate hostilities between this State and Britain. There you had in one case a danger at home, an internal danger, if the Government took cognisance of the Articles of the Treaty and acceded to the claims in accordance with it or you had a danger of war or conflict with Britain if you did not accede. Now, these Articles of the Treaty have gone.
There was another aspect of it too that perhaps I should refer to. It is this that whatever chance there was of an outside State recognising the neutrality of this country if we had the ports, there would be no likelihood of their recognising it if our ports and harbours were being used on one side. The enemies of Britain in such circumstances would have a further reason for refusing to recognise our neutrality. Suppose our people desired to be neutral, there was a grave chance of that desire being frustrated so long as the ports were in occupation of the British or so long as she had these rights under the Treaty. That brings me to the question of neutrality. I think that our people do not differ from the people of any other part of the world in their desire not to get into a war if they can keep out of it. I think it is a very natural desire to avoid all such wars. Modern wars are not luxuries. They are not things that people desire to have. People will only get into a war if they are forced to do so, if every possible means of avoiding it fails. I think we can take it as a general proposition, true of our people as of every other people, that we do not wish to get into a war if we can keep out of it, and that it should be a part of our general aim to keep out of war if we can and not to get into war if we can keep out of it. Assuming other things were equal, if there were any chance of our neutrality in general being possible, we would probably say that we want to remain neutral. I do not know that you can follow that up by saying in any war but, in general, our desire would be for neutrality as far as possible.
When I said some time ago that neutrality did not seem in modern circumstances to be possible for a State, what I meant to say is this, that neutrality requires not merely the desire on the part of the State that wishes to be neutral, but recognition by the opposite party of that desire and of that fact. The trouble is that States are not willing to recognise neutrality if a refusal to recognise it gives them any advantage whatever. We had States that did not desire to take any active steps in the last war, which took no initiative and no active steps, and yet they were not treated as neutral by Powers which were strong enough to ignore the fact that the States in question wanted to be neutral. If I wanted to be more accurate in the expression of what I said, I should have said that the trouble in modern times in that neutrality is not recognised, that you want to have a recognition of neutrality, and not merely the fact that the State in question desires to be neutral and does not desire to take any active participation.
I think that, when considering this question of defence, we ought to distinguish carefully between the constitutional position and the position that facts may bring us into. Constitutionally, I want every Deputy to realise that we have no commitments, we can keep out of war, we can be neutral if we want. There is no constitutional obligation on us, so far as I can see, not to remain neutral. I think our position in that regard differs in no wise from the position of Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. The heads of Governments in these States have very definitely stated that they cannot be committed to war and cannot be committed in advance to take any action, except whatever action may at the time be considered right and advisable by the Parliament in all the circumstances of the time. We are exactly in that situation. There are no advance commitments on us to take any side in a conflict that may ensure or any action whatever, except such as, at the time, may commend itself to Parliament. In other words, the Parliament of that date, in these circumstances, will be completely free.
It is very important for us to realise that that is the situation which we hold exists. There may be, as there can be on other grounds, States that may wish to ignore that position and will do so, not because there is a really good case that they can make, but because they will want to ignore it; just the same as any State that wants to ignore the neutrality of another State, wants to benefit by the ignoring of it, will naturally try to get some excuse for the ignoring of it. Constitutionally then, we are perfectly free, and it is actually written into the Constitution what our position is to be. I will give the reference in a moment when I get it. At any rate, the position is this, that war cannot be declared except by the Government and the Parliament; that war cannot be entered into except with the consent and sanction of the Parliament.
If we are clear about the constitutional position we can come down now and consider what are the facts in which we may find ourselves. What are they? It seems to me, in the first place, that we have to consider the general policy of defence from attacks from any quarter and I think we may divide these into two—an attack in which Britain would be attacking us and an attack upon us to which Britain would not in any way be a party. If Britain should attack us for one reason or another we shall have to defend ourselves against Britain as best we can. Just as we had to try to secure our freedom and our rights in the past by engaging in conflict with Britain, if such a thing should happen in future, we shall have to do the same and we have got to be, as best we can with our resources, in a position to make it unprofitable for Britain to do so.
I believe that such a thing is not going to happen. I think that with the progress of events and the direction in which we are travelling, and in which the world is travelling, that is not likely to happen. But I have nothing to say to anybody who says "It may happen and, therefore, you have to think of it in your general defence." To meet that possible contingency which may be in some people's minds we shall have to keep that at the back of our minds in planning our defence generally. If people think: "Well, you are too small a Power, and if Great Britain should attack you again you will not be able to succeed," all I know is that there are 750 years of history to show, at any rate, that we have not simply sat idly by and allowed our rights to be taken absolutely with impunity. We have done our best to try to secure our rights, and I can only say that I hope that that particular thing is finished, and that in future, in so far as our defence plans are concerned, if such an occasion arose we were not going to find ourselves in a position in which Britain was going to be one of the Powers or States that were making an attack upon our rights or liberties.
That position, of course, is complicated by the existence of Partition, and if Partition were solved and we were a united Irish State here, I would say that that possibility would merit far less consideration than it does at the present time. The same thing will be true for Partition and the effect of Partition in regard to the other alternative which I am going to talk about. The other alternative would be one in which Britain was not the attacker, but one in which our rights, or liberties, or interests generally were being attacked by some State other than Britain. We have to ask ourselves: will Britain be neutral in such a case? Would Britain just stand aside and allow us to be attacked by an outside State? If the attack were to go certainly to the point in which a foreign Power was likely to get possession of our territory from which they would be in a position to menace British interests or rights, either immediately or at a later time, there is no doubt that Britain would have an interest and an immediate interest because of her geographic position and not because of any association of a political character which we might have with her. The fact that there is a certain association at the present time means that, possibly, that consideration is likely to be reinforced. Therefore, it is more likely that, if we should be attacked by an outside State, Britain would, if she felt that she was going to be affected by the result, be interested in giving to us any aid that we might ask.
Would we ask it? Again, it would depend on the circumstances. It would depend upon whether we thought it advisable to act alone or not. If we considered that we had an advantage in acting alone we would act alone in all probability. But, we might be perfectly certain that if we wanted it in such a case British aid would be forthcoming—not in our interests. I am not pretending for a moment that States act in these cases from altruistic reasons. Sometimes they do, but such cases are rare. Generally, they do so for some immediate selfish interest. That is true of us as it is of other States. I am not saying of other States what I would not say in the main, and using general terms, of ourselves. Consequently, if we are going to be attacked by an outside State we may be able to—I think it is not unreasonable that we should—if we wanted it, count on assistance. And, if we are going to plan our defences, we can plan from the point of view of meeting that situation—the second alternative that I am proposing—not alone, but with assistance. Naturally, if we had a great Continental power attacking use we would recognise that we would need such assistance, because of ourselves we probably would not be able, in fact I think it is almost certain to meet frontal and a straightforward attack from any foreign State. All that we could do with that foreign State is what we could do with Britain if she attacked us— do the best we could, making up our minds that if it was going to take generations of further struggle to get that foreign State out, that then our people would have to consider doing it. But that we would be successful in the first instance, unaided, I do not think is likely.
In dealing with defence, it is facts, in so far as we can get them, that are going to count, and we would be very unwise, when dealing with a serious matter of this sort, to try to deal with it on any other basis. I think it was Deputy Mulcahy who pointed out the danger of trying to deal with a matter of this sort by appealing to feelings that were natural in other circumstances. That would be quite wrong, very unfair and unjust to our people. It is because I do not want to have any misunderstandings that I have been stressing, as much as I have, the fact of our constitutional and other freedom, because it is true that we are considering this from the point of view of Irish interests. I believe it would be true, no matter what differences there may be in our own views with regard to what is wise and reasonable, that the matter would be approached from that point of view by every member of the House.
Well, then, if we are going, in the circumstances that I have been talking about, to get assistance from Britain, or to have circumstances to meet in which we can only win and secure our freedom by getting that insistence, commonsense dictates that we should try to provide in advance so that that assistance would be of the greatest possible benefit to us. If, in order to do that, the consultation which Deputy Davin mentioned was necessary and advisable, then such consultation would be held by us. I think that not to do it would be to lose advantages which we could have in meeting a possible danger, and I do not think that we could, in a matter of this serious importance, afford to throw away any advantages. If, for instance, by consultation we should know what steps the British were going to take in such a case; if we were going to be attacked and the British, whose interests in such circumstances were going to be affected by it, were going to assist, a knowledge of their plans in such a case would be of very great importance, naturally, because we should, in anticipating what might happen, prepare our plans accordingly. If it is necessary to have an organisation here which would be able to take the utmost possible advantage of that, then we should strengthen our organisation so that we could do it. I am talking now in general terms.
The Minister for Defence is here, but the fact is that it is only recently that we have got a new situation, and that we have been able to get down to these matters in the way that we were anxious to get down to them. So far as the Government is concerned, we have not had before us a considered policy with regard to some of these items, because of the fact that it will, of necessity, depend very largely on the advice which we may get from the technical side. But this Government, anyhow, is going to get all the assistance that it can from any direction in the case of the circumstances which I have outlined as possible. All you can do is to try and provide for possible contingencies, and, of course, it is those that seem to be immediate and dangerous that will occupy our attention at first. As I have said, I am speaking in general terms. I am not giving the House at the moment—the time will come for that— the greater detail which I think the House would be entitled to expect if a longer time had intervened between the coming in of the new conditions and the present moment. However, I think we can usefully go along the lines that I have been going on, and see what they would suggest that we should do. I have already said—the matter has not arisen—that, in my opinion, if a consultation would put us in a better position to meet the danger that we might have to meet, then I think there should be consultation.
The next thing is, what part do these ports, which we have just taken over, play in the general scheme of defence? Again I have to answer by telling you that I do not know, because a general defence scheme, from the military point of view, has not yet been worked out. But I can say now—I have said it before—what, as a layman looking at this, I would be very tenacious about. If the experts put something of a contrary character before me, I would be very tenacious of my own view. These ports are obviously points controlling trade routes which could either be attacked or interfered with. Consequently, any power that was anxious to get possession of them, if there was a big world conflict, or if there was any power that was anxious to get possession of our territory at all and was prepared to face the consequences, it would have to think of these as points that would be especially useful to it.
I suppose they would be useful and, therefore, a point of temptation to a power that was going to ignore our rights and we should consider it important to have them so equipped that we would be in the position to deny that power. Of course, if a power lands anywhere in your country it can get around from the land side to your ports as well as from the sea but these are objectives which would, naturally, occur to an outside power engaged in a conflict in which control over trade routes might be of importance. We regard them as such and the most effective preparation to enable us to deny them to a foreign power should be made. Whether that is best done from the sea side or from the land side, I am not in a position to say at the moment but that they are important points and that, therefore, it would be a mistake for us to leave them undefended, is a thing to which I hold. I also hold to keeping them equipped and useful from that point of view—that we might be attacked either because a foreign power wished to get possession of our territory or wished to use our territory as a base for attack on Great Britain. It would not matter why they came once they got possession of our territory. It might not be easy to get them to withdraw and our purpose should be to keep them out. From the point of view of getting assistance and making that assistance of the greatest possible value, I think we ought to keep these ports and arrange for their defence, so that, in that particular second alternative they would be of the greatest possible value. As to how they should be equipped, that is a matter rather for the experts than for me or the members of this House. I am talking only in general terms but I think Deputies will agree that these ports are important because of their geographical position and, therefore, are prizes which a State attacking us would like to secure. We should, therefore, put ourselves in the best position we can to see that they do not secure them and that they are of the greatest possible value so long as we are able to hold them. The defence of our country, as a whole, has to be considered and how far these forts will fit into our general defensive scheme I am not in a position at the moment to say. Whether there must be modernisation of the equipment there, I cannot say. I had never been in the interior of these forts until within the last few days. I was in one of them the day before yesterday and in three of them yesterday morning. Our officers have not, I think, been in them, either, until quite recently. Therefore, what is to be done in regard to them will have to be worked out. They must fit into the general, national defensive scheme. If somebody says that these forts or harbours are not going to offer defence for the Shannon or for Galway I say that so far as direct defence is concerned that is quite true but how, indirectly, they may be able to affect the defence of the Shannon and Galway is another matter. It may be necessary for us to see that these points are not open and to consider now they should be defended. In all these defence plans, there is the fundamental consideration that the nation numbers only 4¼ million persons and that we, in this part, account for only 3 millions. Our resources are limited and, no matter how well we try, we cannot make certain that our defences will be adequate. It is almost certain that our best defences would be inadequate from the point of view of complete protection. Taking that fact into consideration, we have to go as far as we think our resources will permit. If our plans are wise and good, the farther we go the more certain we are that we shall not be attacked because the more expensive we make it for any possible enemy to attack us the less likely we are to be attacked.
We, here, shall differ as to the amounts that are available and the amounts it is reasonable to vote for this purpose. Again, that matter will be determined very largely by the technical, defensive plans put up to us. If we had a plan prepared and were able to obtain reasonable security by the expenditure of an additional £250,000, I do not think that the House would deny the country that measure of protection for the sake of an extra expenditure of £250,000. What the sum will be, I cannot at the moment say. All I can say is that we have provided the amount that is likely to be expended in the present year. We have provided in the Budget for an extra £600,000. The use of that money will be dealt with when the Minister brings forward his detailed Estimates. What the ultimate cost of our defences is going to be, I cannot say. It will probably differ from year to year according to the circumstances and according to the needs of the moment.
I do not know whether or not I have gone sufficiently into this matter for the present purpose. I have been able to deal only with general principles. I think that that is all I could be expected to do on this Estimate. What I have said will give a general indication of what my mind is on the matter and what, I am satisfied, the general attitude of the Government is in regard to these questions. The details will have to be dealt with on the Estimate itself. I should like, before I end, to stress what I have said—that any steps we are taking will be taken not because there are commitments of any kind—because there is none—but solely because they are, in our opinion, in the interests of our own country.