I move that Deputy Seán MacEoin be elected Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I think it would be superfluous on my part to detain the House by introducing Deputy General Seán MacEoin, and I formally move his election.
Treason Bill, 1939—From the Seanad. - Election of Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
I formally second the motion.
Tá orm, a Chinn Comhairle a rá nach féidir linn glacadh leis an rún seo. I regret to have to state that the Government do not see their way to accept this proposal. I need hardly assure the House that, in coming to this decision, there is no question of my personal hostility—quite the contrary—towards Deputy MacEoin. We all have the highest respect for him, not only because of his work in this House, but because of his national services outside. I am rather surprised, in fact, that, after their experience on the last occasion, the Opposition should again put us in the position of having to take our stand on what we regard as an important principle in the filling of this office: and that is the question of the ability of the person proposed for it to undertake any duties that may arise in connection with the work through the Irish language.
The Taoiseach explained on the last occasion that, so long as we have in the House experienced members who have a good knowledge of Irish and a certain experience of the work of the House, we feel that we would not be justified in voting for a candidate about whom there may be any doubt; and the position is the same now. It is not merely a question that has arisen to-day or yesterday. In 1928, the present Taoiseach explained—on the occasion of the election of a Leas-Cheann Comhairle—that the Party of which he was the leader felt bound to insist upon the election to that office of a person who had a knowledge of Irish. That was our attitude at that time, and lest it might be thought that—because some of us happen to be specially associated, as I am, with the question of Irish in this country—it is merely a personal matter in which we have a special interest, that we do not represent the general feeling in this matter, and that our attitude is not in accordance with the attitude that we ourselves have already taken up, but is in accordance with the attitude of other members in the House, I think I cannot do better than read an extract from a speech of Deputy T.J. O'Connell on the occasion of the election of Leas-Cheann Comhairle in 1927. It is taken from the Official Debates of the 1st July, 1927, cols. 329-330. He said:—
"On the main question, I desire to enter a protest against the election of the Deputy named in the main motion as Leas-Cheann Comhairle because in my opinion, to the best of my belief, he does not possess one of the essential qualifications that I think a person elected to that position should possess, namely, a thorough knowledge of the Irish language. The Constitution of this State says that Irish is the official language and in the Standing Orders it is laid down that it is open to Deputies to address the Dáil in either Irish or English. I hold that a person occupying the position of Leas-Cheann Comhairle who does not understand Irish will not be in a position to carry out the duties of that office to the fullest extent to which they should be carried out. It is further mentioned in Standing Orders that all orders and official documents shall be issued in the Irish and English language, and in the absence of you, sir, it will be the duty of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to superintend the issue of all such documents, and although he may be assisted by a very competent staff, the responsibility will be his and he will be forced to take the responsibility of authorising the issue of all such documents, the contents of which he does not exactly understand. It is the policy of the Party opposite, the policy of the Executive Council, to encourage in every way the Irish language in this State. They have made it a compulsory subject for all examinations for persons entering the public service.
"They have insisted upon its introduction into the schools, and have urged in some cases very strongly— amounting almost to coercion— public servants to take up the study of the Irish language. Men and women, I believe, have lost their positions through their failure to give the language the place it should hold in the life of the State. I take the President at his own word. He stated that this position was the second most important position in the most important institution in the State. The Dáil is now asked to support for the second most important position in the most important institution in the State a person who has no knowledge of the official language of the State.
"Mr. Belton: One who helped to make the State.
"Mr. Derrig: Irish is the official language of the State. That is stated in the Constitution. English may also be regarded as the official language, but it is stated definitely in the Constitution that Irish is the official language. The proposal is a bad encouragement to those who have taken up the burden placed on them throughout the country of official public service, and who made efforts to study the Irish language, to do their duty and everything possible in order to comply with the spirit of the Constitution to bring the national language back to its rightful place. The proposal will be pointed to by many of these public servants, on whom pressure was brought during the last three years, and on whom pressure is still being brought, as a bad example on the part of those who are proposing it."
These were the views expressed by Deputy O'Connell on that occasion, and, far from those views having undergone any weakening, I think they should be fortified so far as those members of the House—and, most important, the great majority who are interested in the question of the Irish language—are concerned.
I entirely fail to understand, a Chinn Comhairle, how it is that Deputies opposite tell us they are interested in the revival of the Irish language and in securing for it all the strength possible in the way of increased official status, and at the same time tell us— while Deputies are available for this post who have a knowledge of the Irish language—that we should elect a Deputy who, so far as we know, is not able to undertake the duties in which a knowledge of Irish is necessary. I claim that to elect such a person would have a very bad effect on the language movement throughout the country. We have sufficient discouragement and sufficient obstacles to contend with in endeavouring to extend the use of the Irish language for official purposes; but if, at this hour of the day, we are going to elect a person with no knowledge of Irish to this important post, how can we defend that to our people outside who are interested in Irish, to those in the Civil Service whom we are compelling to face examinations and threatening with the loss of their positions if they fail to pass difficult tests in Irish, to the teachers who are threatened with other penalties if they fail to reach a requisite standard in the Irish language? I think the thing is most inconsistent.
In trying to buttress his case on the last occasion, Deputy Mulcahy referred to the Local Government Department. He started off by telling us that it was nearly time that we faced realities in the matter of Irish, and particularly in the matter of the use of the Irish language in administrative posts, and the whole of his argument seemed to be that because, according to his allegation, the Minister for Local Government did not carry on the policy of enforcing Irish upon the Local authorities to the extent that Deputy Mulcahy would have wished, that was a reason for supporting an English-speaking candidate for this position. If what the Deputy alleges were true —that the Government, either in that Ministry or in any other Ministry, had not at least been as good as their predecessors—surely that is no reason for letting down Irish further in the present circumstances. It ought to be, one would imagine, a reason for holding the position at any rate in regard to the Dáil, which is the most important body, I suppose, in the country, from the State point of view. But I question if the Deputy's statements are correct.
Will the Minister tell us something about it? He has had a week to think over it and to find out.
As a matter of fact, I have not had a week to think over it.
That is all the Minister cared about Irish.
The depth of my interest in Irish will not be judged. I think, by what the Deputy may think of it, or by the amount of preparation that I have given to this particular debate. The question of the Gaeltacht Orders, which the Deputy introduced when he was Minister, has been under consideration frequently by the Government, and the position, in brief, simply is that the Deputy, by reason of these Orders, when he was Minister allowed a large number of persons to come into the service of public authorities on the condition that they would learn Irish when they came in. A great many of them have not learned Irish; there is no question about that. The Deputy knew that when he was Minister. The only question that arose was, when they should be turned out of the positions they held. We have not turned them out, for various reasons, up to the present. There is nothing to stop us from turning them out to-morrow or the day after if we wish. The position has been constantly under consideration.
I suggest, however, that if the Deputy had been as wise in regard to the Irish language as he was enthusiastic, he would have first endeavoured to ensure that the persons had a competent knowledge of Irish before they took up the positions, and then the legacy which he left to his successor of determining at what exact moment these people should be thrown out of the positions they have occupied for some years would not have arisen. Our policy has been to try to ensure that, so far as the public service is concerned, the advertisements and the other procedure shall set out that the persons to take up these posts shall have a competent knowledge of Irish before they enter the service.
But they are not appointed.
After they entered the service, then, of course, the matter is settled. But what the Deputy was responsible for was allowing in a large number of persons, some of them occupying very minor posts under the local authorities, on the condition that they would learn Irish. They were persons who were sometimes middle-aged or approaching middle-age. They had not a proper knowledge of Irish in the beginning and they will never have a proper knowledge of Irish, no matter how much they may study it. That position has constantly been under consideration, and so has the position with regard to the correspondence with the Local authorities. The Local Government Department has constantly been in touch with the local authorities to which the Deputy referred, and when the question of technical terms is settled there is nothing whatever to stop the local authorities from determining, if they wish, that all their correspondence with the Local Government Department shall be through Irish.
Personally, I could respect the sentiments expressed by the Minister if I could imagine that they were expressed with any degree of sincerity behind them. Nobody listening to the Minister for the last fifteen minutes, and believing him to be speaking sincerely with regard to the necessity for high officers having a competent knowledge of Irish, would believe that in the Government to which the Minister belongs the majority of his colleagues are non-Irish speakers.
That is not so.
Few would believe that when an Attorney-General was to be appointed, not in 1928, but within the last couple of years, we had to appoint a man who had not a competent knowledge of Irish. Few would believe that when we were searching for a Chairman of the Seanad of the right political brand a man was elected by the Government and their Party who had not a competent knowledge of Irish.
The sincerity of that statement can be decided in this way: there will always be two heads on the coin with which the Taoiseach tosses. "An Fear Mor" was turned down for the Chairmanship of the Seanad because he had Irish and did not belong to Fianna Fáil. Seán MacEoin is to be turned down for the Vice-Chairmanship of the Dáil, moryah, on the ground that he has not Irish and does not belong to Fianna Fáil. The outstanding living symbol of the Irish language in this country is "An Fear Mor." He did not belong to a political Party; he did not belong to the political Opposition. But the greatest living disciple and teacher of Irish was voted down by the followers of the Taoiseach for the Chairmanship of the Seanad because he had Irish but he had not the Fianna Fáil label on his coat. Do you seriously expect anyone beyond the gagged and tied followers to believe that there is any ring of sincerity in the reasons put up for down-voting Dan Morrissey and down-voting Seán MacEoin? The thing is simply sheer political humbug and nothing else. If it deludes the followers sitting behind, it will not delude the great masses of the public.
I want to know, once and for all, who is the judge in Ireland as to who does and who does not know Irish. Is the Taoiseach, in addition to the other offices he holds, to be a kind of super-judge as to who has Irish and who has not? What steps were taken to ascertain whether Dan Morrissey had Irish, whether Seán MacEoin had Irish, and whether Seán Gibbons had? We know that in this country people with a certain amount of Irish, when a census form comes round, fill in "Yes" after the question, are they Irish speakers, and without question, without test, all these are accepted as Irish speakers and get the State seal of Irish speakers. It is the general tot of these that goes to make up the Gaeltacht and goes to make up the official returns as to the number of Irish speakers in the country. What right has any individual political leader to decide who has and who has not Irish in the absence of a test? I heard it suggested to-day that a test might be by a vocal examination carried on by the Chairman of the Seanad and that that would be a quite satisfactory Parliamentary procedure to ascertain who had and who had not Irish. It is late in the day for the man who was leader of Sinn Féin to be down-voting a man like Seán MacEoin for any office in an Irish Parliament. When he was elected President of the Government of the Irish Republic, he was very proud to have Seán MacEoin as one of his proposers. But at that time Deputy Seán MacEoin did not differ from him politically.
Now he is to be a pariah in the Parliament which he did more than any other living Irishman to create. He is now to be a pariah because he does not belong to the proper political Party. Deputy Seán MacEoin's Irish was expressed frequently and loudly from the barrel of a rifle at a time when that was the Irish voice most wanted in Ireland. At that time he had sufficient Irish to have everybody looking to him and honouring him as the outstanding Irishman of his age. He had sufficient Irish to stand in the gap of danger in Ballinalee.
It is rank hypocrisy, humbug and ingratitude for an Irish Assembly to be putting up false and dishonest reasons now to turn down Deputy Seán MacEoin on the ground, not that he has not Irish but on the grounds that the Taoiseach has decided without knowledge and without a test that Deputy Seán MacEoin has not sufficient Irish to occupy the Vice-Chair of this Dáil.
I want to support the motion which has been proposed this evening. I do so because I think the candidate who has been proposed for the position of Leas-Cheann Comhairle is not only fully qualified to occupy that office but is an Irishman who holds and is entitled to feel proud of a distinguished national record. In this House amongst all Parties, no matter how bitter the times may have been, Deputy Seán MacEoin has been held in the very highest esteem. Those who know him personally say that if he has one fundamental philosophy it is a very high conception of fair play. I know of no better qualifications or characteristics for the occupancy of the Vice-Chair during your absence than this high conception of fair play. I listened to the Minister for Education here this evening at considerable length on the necessity of a candidate for the Vice-Chair having a competent knowledge of Irish in order to discharge the duties of the office of Leas-Cheann Comhairle. But I want to say that in my opinion the Irish plea that is put forward in this matter is the hollowest pretext.
I do not believe that the Government themselves believe at all in the plea which is put forward here except-perhaps that in this connection it suits their political point of view. We are told that it is necessary that the candidate should have a knowledge of Irish. But we were not told that the Parliamentary Secretaries or Ministers have a knowledge of Irish. Yet, these Ministers and Secretaries are allowed to come in here and listen to discussions in which members of the House want to make their contributions in Irish. We elect Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries to discharge the duties of their offices when we know perfectly well that these Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries may not have a competent knowledge of the Irish language to reply to the matters raised in the course of the debate here.
We do more than that, we appoint Judges. We can have Acts of Parliament printed in Irish and English and we appoint Judges to interpret these Acts of Parliament. We are appointing Judges and the Government know perfectly well they have no knowledge whatever of the Irish language. Certain Judges sitting on the Benches to-day interpreting Acts of Parliament printed in Irish and English do not know a single word of Irish. We all know that perfectly well. We send Ministers to other countries to represent this Nation and I am quite sure that we do not take the precaution beforehand to ensure that they have a competent knowledge of Irish or an ability to speak it in the countries to which they are sent. How, then, in the face of these facts, when persons may become Judges without a knowledge of Irish, when persons may become Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries without a knowledge of Irish, can we possibly believe that there is any sincerity in the plea that it is necessary to have a competent knowledge of Irish in order to discharge the duties of Leas-Cheann Comhairle in this House. I want it to go on record that I do not believe that plea put forward by the Government. If I were to listen to it being urged and argued until 10.30 o'clock to-night, I would not believe in that plea.
I think the election of Deputy Sean MacEoin would be a popular election as far as this country is concerned. His election would be a credit to this House and to the Parliament itself. I am not at all concerned with Deputy MacEoin's political associations or with his political viewpoint. They are different from mine in many respects but I recognise at the same time that the House would honour itself by electing a distinguished Irishman like Deputy MacEoin to the position of Leas-Cheann Comhairle of this House.
As a member of the Independent Benches here I deplore and deprecate the very unfair attitude which the Government has adopted on this question. I can only regard it as a gross and serious interference with the rights of minorities in this House. It is generally recognised that the Irish in the schools is a complete flop.
It is not.
We have arrived at a queer phase in our Parliamentary existence if compulsory Irish is to be introduced here as a feature of our business. I sincerely hope that commonsense and sincerity will play a better part in this business, and that the Government will withdraw their opposition to the election of Deputy Seán MacEoin.
I thought that there was one subject at least in which the two big Parties in this House saw eye to eye, and that was to use every possible opportunity to try to help to put the Irish language in the position which it should occupy in this country, to try to get people outside to have respect for their own language, and to see it honoured whenever there was an opportunity of doing so—to see it put in the position of honour and that honour would be done to it. Now, apparently, we are going to see something quite different. I have heard in my time of many arguments against the Irish language from all sorts of people, and I do not think I ever heard in such a short time so many of the old arguments which, if they were followed and were attended to, would certainly mean that Irish could never hope to become the spoken language of the country. We have heard every one of the old arguments. We are told we cannot make any progress unless we do everything at once. I say you cannot do everything at once. You have to make progress where you can and when an opportunity of forwarding the Irish language presents itself, then you should take advantage of it.
As in the case of the Chairman of the Seanad.
You should take advantage of it, and I can say that whenever we have an opportunity we do take advantage of it. I thought that the people on the opposite side were prepared to do the same. There are members of the opposite side and I would be ashamed, from what I have learned of their activities, to suggest that they were not serious about Irish. But I do say that I fail to see that the arguments used by some of them here were sincere.
I did not think I would hear these arguments used to prevent an effort being made to forward the Irish language. Now, in this debate it has been suggested that our opposition to the present proposal is insincere. But every occasion on which we had anything to do with the election for the Chair or the Vice-Chair we made it clear that Irish was one of the essential qualifications for the position. We regard it from the point of view of honouring the language when the honour can be done to it. There are members from all Parties here who are quite capable of doing the work of the Chair and doing it through the Irish language. Deputy MacEoin has been brought forward to-day, although it is known that a definite principle is being acted upon, and that the Government were bound to act on that principle. And remember, he was not the first choice. If Deputy MacEoin is so outstanding as that, and if it was desired to honour him, why was he not the first choice?
Come in and run the Party as well.
I repeat that he was not the first choice.
An Fear Mór was.
I know nothing about the position in the Seanad in that regard.
I believe this, that I have spoken quite recently, since he became a member of the Dáil, and before that, to the Chairman of the Seanad, and he spoke in Irish. He was one of the members of the old Gaelic League, and probably was one of its members before numbers of these people, who say now that he does not know Irish, had anything to do with public life. Is it claimed that any of those put forward have a competent knowledge of Irish? Is it claimed by the proposers that they have?
As one of the proposers, I want to know who defines "competent"?
If it is suggested that he has a knowledge of Irish, we can have it tested; but he has not—that is a matter of common knowledge.
I have been asked a question, and I am prepared to answer it. He has as competent a knowledge of Irish as certain officers appointed by the Taoiseach to his Government, and as the Chairman of the Seanad.
I deny the second part, from my experience, because I have been spoken to repeatedly in Irish by the Chairman of the Seanad. I have not been so spoken to by Deputy MacEoin. I do not think anybody suggests, except for the purpose of debate here, that he has as competent a knowledge of Irish as the Chairman of the Seanad. If he has learned it recently, I would be very glad to know about it. We can only know about this matter from our common knowledge. It is only on our common knowledge that we are acting. It is not claimed by the proposer or seconder, so far as I know, that either of the nominees has such a competent knowledge of the Irish language as would enable him reasonably to discharge his duties in the Chair here.
The word "competent" came in this time. That was not used on the last occasion.
A competent knowledge of Irish——
In both Houses of Parliament?
In both Houses.
That will be a shock to some of them.
If it applies to anybody, let him take it.
Does it apply retrospectively?
If it should apply to anybody, let him take it. My belief is that the Chairman of the Seanad has such a knowledge as enables him to do his work competently. Any work he has to do, he has such a competent knowledge of the language as enables him to do it. I do not think it is necessary that you should have an Irish scholar, but you want a person who is able to read the language, if some document in Irish comes before him. You do want a person, in an ordinary debate, to know whether a speaker is in order or is not in order. If a question of procedure is asked— not as a trick question, and you can have these things put up in English just as well as in Irish, and you can have people talking in English whom it is as difficult to understand as people talking in Irish——
Hear, hear! People who can never be understood.
If he does not understand it, is it a trick question?
The proposal in regard to Deputy MacEoin is clearly answered by the fact that he was not their first choice. I think that answers one point. Why, if this is being met on a Party basis, did we not object to the previous Leas-Cheann Comhairle? We did not object to him because he had the qualification. He was a member of that Party and we did not object to him as such. So far as I remember, a tribute was paid to him when he was leaving the Chair.
It took a week to get that much out of your Party at the time—the assurance that you would not object to the last Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
The point is that the last Leas-Cheann Comhairle was not objected to, and the Deputy who is talking now knows that nobody would be objected to by us if he had a knowledge of Irish. We are not doing what was done by the opposite Party when there was a nominee of ours being put up.
Who judges the matter?
It was not always the rule that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle-should be taken from the Opposition.
Who is the judge?
The last Leas-Cheann Comhairle was elected because we accepted it. The previous Administration used their majority to put into the Chair and the Vice-Chair anybody they wanted, and they did not hesitate to use it. We let the Opposition know that, so far as we were concerned, it was not individuals we objected to.
A statement has been made to the effect that they "did not hesitate to use him." Is that in order?
The statement was that on a certain occasion the Government did not hesitate to oppose, I understand, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle nominated by Fianna Fáil. That statement is not, in my opinion, out of order.
That they "did not hesitate to use him."
That they did not hesitate to use the majority. I spoke loud enough to be understood.
Loud enough, all right.
The second point, that we are only using this for Party purposes, is disproved by the fact that the previous Leas-Cheann Comhairle was accepted by us and, in fact, he did make an admirable Chairman. He would also have been opposed at that time if he had not a knowledge of Irish. Eleven years ago, one of the recent nominees was put forward, and he was opposed on that ground too, so that it is not a question of to-day or yesterday. What is more, it is one of the principles which were employed at the very beginning, when the Dáil was first established. Irish was put into a prominent position by putting a person into the Chair who had a knowledge of the language. It would be a retrograde step, in my opinion, to go back from that position and appoint, as a Vice-Chairman here, anybody who did not know Irish, when there are available in the House—I think there are some in every one of the Parties—men who have experience of the House, who are not new members, who know something about the rules of order and the rules of debate, and how business is conducted here, and who have Irish as well.
There are difficulties, of course; there are difficulties in regard to Irish. It is one of the most difficult tasks that we could possibly tackle, this task of trying to make Irish the spoken language. You cannot do it without making sacrifices. It is not alone here that I have spoken of the sacrifices we have had to make in order to get Irish put into a position of prominence. You have frequently to take the second best. We have, in regard to certain appointments that have been made, appointments of a technical character, said that where a person has a competent knowledge of Irish, if he is otherwise qualified, he has to take precedence over those who may have even a better technical knowledge. If you do not do that, you make no progress.
It is suggested that this is commercialising the language. The same sort of thing could be said about protective tariffs. We had a movement here for a long time by which it was hoped to get voluntary support for Irish goods. That voluntary support was not forthcoming to such an extent as to enable manufacturers to carry on. There was a certain amount of prejudice against the home-manufactured article, and in order to make national policy effective in that regard it was necessary to introduce compulsion of the type that was given by putting on certain tariffs, so that a certain amount of preference was given to Irish goods. Is it suggested that we would have that if we left it to the people, and that those who see how essential Irish is for the ultimate maintenance of our national life and the preservation of the nation, as such would agree that it should be left altogether as a matter to be taken up or not by anybody who wanted to do so? I have seen previous debates where arguments more or less of a fundamental nature, such as were raised against this election, were brought up in respect to other matters, because you can apply this to practically every appointment that is being made and to every question. You will have men about whom you will be asked: "Is this man to be turned down with such-and-such national service?" I say, honour the man in other ways if you want to do so, but do not do something which will be a set-back to the language.
Deputy Norton, on one occasion, in supporting a certain Leas-Cheann. Comhairle, indicated that, in his opinion, a knowledge of Irish was a valid consideration, and that a fluent knowledge of Irish for the person he was supporting was an advantage. I do not care whether I am believed or not, but I want to say that the opposition in regard to these names has not been on a Party basis. We said to the Opposition: "Put up anyone you please. You can select anyone; but that is an essential qualification." If we accepted this we would also be guilty of the same retrograde step. It has been suggested to me: "You stand aside. We, as a Party, take responsibility. We do take the responsibility by nomination. Why do you interfere?" I say that is against national policy. We could not simply allow some Party convention to stand in the way. We cannot do so, and we cannot shirk our responsibility in the matter. There are in this House, in all Parties, people who know the language and who are sufficiently experienced to be able to conduct the work of the Chair in Irish. We are going to oppose any nomination except that of a person who is well known to be able to speak the language, or, at least, to speak it in such a way as would enable him to carry on the work of the Chair.
The Taoiseach suggests that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle who has vacated the Chair was willingly and openly accepted by his Party. I want to say that at two minutes to 3 o'clock on the day the proposal to elect the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was before the House, the Opposition Party could not be told by anybody representing the Fianna Fáil Party whether their nomination was going to be opposed.
That is not the case. It was said openly.
There was not open-hearted acceptance?
That was not the case.
Beidh cead cainnte ag an dTeachta. Bhí ceisteanna ar súil againn cheana agus tá súil agaim go dtabharfadh an Teachtai aire dhóibh.
That was the position the last time there was an election, and that suggests that the Taoiseach attempted to draw that contention across the discussion to-day. As to the election of Seán MacEoin, he had enough Irish to propose the Taoiseach to be Uachtarán after the election of 1921, The Taoiseach did not want common knowledge of the language on that occasion when Seán MacEoin in addressing the Dáil said:
"A Chinn Comhairle is a lucht na Dála, is áthas liomsa agus is onóir dom a chuir roimh an Dáil go mbeidh Eamonn de Valéra mar Uachtarán againn.
"Tá fhios againn a bhfuil déanta aige ar son na hEireann. Tá iontaoibh againn as is cuirfe sé crioch leis an geoga."
Deputy MacEoin had enough Irish to do that. He has not enough Irish to-day. Anybody that the Taoiseach or his Party will put into any Dáil position, or into any Seanad position, is not going to be anything but an excuse for running away from their obligations with regard to the Irish language, if the present position is going to continue. The Taoiseach tells us that when the opportunity arose of showing honour and respect to Irish as the national language it should be accepted. There has not been a word of explanation here to-day as to why, when there was a monumental figure in the Irish language movement, and in the educational movement, to be elected to the Seanad, supported by those who were supporters of the Fianna Fáil Party, even to the extent, perhaps, of being members of the Dáil, and invited by some of these to accept the position of Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, supported by every Party you might say, there is no explanation why official Fianna Fáil turned that man down, much less is there any explanation why in that singular matter, it was done without the Taoiseach knowing anything about it. There is no explanation why that same person afterwards when another Seanad election took place was defeated and put out of the Seanad. There is no explanation of that when we are talking about the position of Irish in the Oireachtas life.
Were there not enough on the other side to elect him?
At any rate he was defeated. He was defeated as a sequel to his attempt to stand as a candidate for the Seanad when Fianna Fáil wanted another man in his place.
That does not wash.
I am expressing my opinion, and expressing it as one sincerely interested in the language, and what is happening with regard to the language in the country, when the Taoiseach introduced the talk about respect and honour for the language in the life of the Oireachtas, so that we might have some explanation on that. The Minister for Education had to go back to-day to 1928 to speeches made in this House by Deputies, who are no longer here, to find the principle. He was almost going to quote Shakespeare on the subject. Could anything mark the poverty of the grounds upon which the Minister for Education offered to take his stand on this discussion to-day, more than this, that he had to go back and to stand, for the greater part of the time, on speeches and statements quoted by the Leader of the Labour Party in 1928? The Minister thinks I am unreasonable in introducing into this debate a challenge to the Party opposite, and to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, who has responsibility for dealing with local bodies, for having completely and utterly neglected what I call both his responsibilities and opportunities for the last seven years, in seeing that Irish was used as the medium of communication, at least between County Galway and County Donegal. It might have been done between Mayo, that the Minister knows something of, and also Kerry. What I am complaining of is that the Minister for Local Government and Public Health was not travelling as fast as I would like him to travel. The Galway County Council at that time did not think I was travelling as fast as they wished to travel, and they made a definite offer, which I believe they were quite capable of carrying out, but nothing has been done in one of the areas where the Irish language has to be saved, not only in public life but in the homes of the people, to make use of the opportunities that arose there.
The Minister considers that I am unreasonable. I should like to hear the comment on that situation of Deputy Bartley, who was one of the people who, at that time, thought that I was going too slow. In the County of Galway, Irish is a neglected language in the County Council administration and, so far as the Department of Local Government and Public Health is concerned, it is equally a neglected language. We are addressed here on the subject of the danger that our words may do in the mouths of people who do not completely understand us or who want to use our words for their own purposes, and the effect which words spoken in a discussion like this may have on the advancement or otherwise of the language. Every day the person who enters the County Council offices in Galway, the very letter typed by an official of the county council or the board of health to the Local Government Department, and the very letter that goes back is doing more to undermine the position of the Irish language in the minds of the important people, so far as the language is concerned, that is the people who have it, who can save it, and who want to be induced to use it in their administrative work. The same applies with regard to Donegal. I only discuss Galway because the train was definitely laid there.
The Minister treats the House to an utter misrepresentation of the position with regard to the Gaeltacht Order. The Minister's line is that, under the Gaeltacht Order, I left the unfortunate Fianna Fáil Government an appalling legacy of non-Irish speakers appointed in Irish-speaking districts, and that there were reasons for their being unable to bring themselves to sack them. The Gaeltacht Order was introduced as an outlet, so that when a person suitably qualified, and with Irish, was not available, and a person without Irish had to be appointed, that person undertook to qualify in Irish inside three years. There was nobody left in any such position in an Irish-speaking district to be a worry or a problem to a Fianna Fáil Government where there was a person available with Irish at the time. There was a systematic plan laid down by which periodical examinations were held.
People were induced to go for these examinations before the three years period was up, to test how they were getting on, and there was a systematic way of seeing that officials appointed in Irish-speaking districts would be competent in Irish. We can infer from the Minister what the position is now. He is loaded down with officials in the Irish-speaking districts appointed under the Gaeltacht Order who will not learn Irish. We have listened to the Minister for Industry and Commerce telling us during the afternoon how business should be done, if it is to be done properly, and how easy it is when a person is not doing his work to push him and take another.
I should like to ask the Deputy not to infer from my speech that the Government have not been dealing with this matter. It has been dealt with, as he probably knows, by a process of extending the period during which these people can continue to hold office.
The Minister's portrayal of the position here was that I was speaking, as it were, with my tongue in my cheek on the subject of Irish here, while I had, in fact, left a legacy under the Gaeltacht Order which the Department of Local Government was utterly unable to deal with. If the Minister had attempted to go into the position and to see what was the position under the Gaeltacht Order it would be some information for the House, but the Minister for Education, who took it upon himself to shoulder the original statement of the Government's case here to-day, underlines and emphasises the charge that we make in this matter, that their attitude is one of utter insincerity and utter incompetence. If, as the Taoiseach says, his Party is interested in the dignity and honour of the Irish language in this Assembly, some of their recent actions in connection with the Oireachtas, to put it mildly, give a blank denial to any protestations they might make here. If the Taoiseach thinks that a few appointments here, even if they do facilitate the use of documents and the use of speech in this House, are going to make up in any way for work which is being left undone in other directions, he is utterly and completely mistaken, and he knows it.
Nobody has suggested that.
But the fact is that the work is being left undone, and nobody could come in here, knowing that work was being left undone, and make the protestations which the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education have made, and be sincere.
I should like to give a flat denial to that, and to say that everything the Government could possibly do has been done. A committee has been set up in regard to Irish in the Civil Service. The Deputy is talking about immediate questions which the Minister for Local Government, if he were here, would answer so far as the information which the Minister for Education has given is accurate.
So that the situation with regard to the knowledge of the Taoiseach and of the Minister for Education as to the position of Irish in its administrative use throughout the country is that they are unable to tell us anything about it in respect of these local bodies, because the Minister for Local Government is not here. I can tell the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education that nothing good, bad or indifferent is being done.
And I do not accept that, because I know it is absurd.
I do not expect the Taoiseach to accept these statements, because the Taoiseach is as determined not to accept statements made by anybody else in the House, or in this country, as he is determined to brand with insincerity anybody who does not speak with his voice, or look at things with his outlook.
It was not I who started the insincerity in this debate.
Who elected the Chairman of the Seanad? Who turned down An Fear Mór?
He does not know.
The Taoiseach, in my opinion, stands utterly condemned as insincere in this matter. If the Taoiseach would examine the position with regard to the use of Irish even in the two local bodies I mention, and the position with regard to the use of Irish under the Gaeltacht Order, he will realise why it is so easy for me to characterise him as utterly insincere in this matter.
And I believe that if the Minister for Local Government were here the Deputy would not dare to do it, because it would be shown up very definitely as being wrong.
The Taoiseach says that if the Minister for Local Government were here, I would not dare to speak of these matters in the terms in which I do speak. Thanks very much.
Because the Minister would give the Deputy an answer back very quickly.
Thanks very much.
My name has been mentioned in the references which Deputy Mulcahy made in connection with the suggestion which he put forward when he was Minister for Local Government with regard to Gaelicising the activities of the Galway County Council. He says that the Galway County Council would have liked to have gone a little faster than he proposed to go. I think, as a matter of fact, I was the member of the county council who suggested that the scheme which he proposed should be operated by the Galway County Council and should come into operation, I think, about two years earlier than he suggested.
Three years earlier.
There was a definite reason for making such a suggestion, namely, that the local elections were to take place in 1932. It was a pointer to the candidates likely to stand that this scheme had been put forward, and that regard should be had to it in the selections of candidates by Parties. That was the reason for the suggestion to which Deputy Mulcahy has referred on three separate occasions— here to-day, last week, and, I think, on an occasion about two years ago. I explained to him the first time he mentioned it that the Galway County Council was willing to go even faster than he suggested. He seems to think that that was further evidence of insincerity on the part of the Fianna Fáil Party on the county council. I may say that the council elected subsequently, on which there is as much English as Irish spoken, took a definite step forward as far as the Gaeltacht areas are concerned, and that all rate notices and things of that sort are now issued in the Irish language. I think practically all public notices issued by the Galway County Council are in the Irish language.
I should like to remind Deputy Mulcahy of one matter, and it was for that purpose I really got on my feet. I would ask him if he remembers an occasion when the question arose of an appointment of a rates inspector for Connemara area, and if he remembers that he refused to sanction a native Irish speaker for that post. I do not say that he wished to do anything against that particular candidate, but by a series of eliminations, he brought about the appointment of another man whom his Party desired to have appointed. That man had not a competent knowledge of the Irish language, either written or spoken. He succeeded in getting that man appointed and in getting a native Irish speaker turned down.
It is not usual to have names mentioned here, but I can give the names if I am challenged.
Would Deputy Bartley discuss what is being done here now? We are not talking of jobs. I am sorry that Deputy Bartley has to come down to a job.
I feel that I am a little freer to speak this evening than I was on the last occasion on which this matter was before the House. There is a little change in the House to-day. One or two matters come immediately to the notice of anybody sitting in the House. If one looks across to the other side, one need only look at the Government Front Bench and one need not make any comment on it. One need look only a little more to the right, to the Parliamentary Secretaries' Benches and there is no comment needed there either. I do not mean the bench occupied by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach. I mean the bench usually occupied by other Parliamentary Secretaries in this House. The other contrast to-day brings us to the seats a little more to the right. I might also contrast the speech made to-day by the Leader of the Labour Party with the contemptible one which he made on this day week.
On a point of order, the Deputy is now discussing a speech which was made this day week. When he has dealt with it, will we be permitted to reply to him?
The Deputy, of course, would claim that he should be entitled to make two speeches for the one made by every other Deputy.
I am not talking about myself.
I am talking only about Deputy Norton because I am aware that not many members of the Party we are discussing would make the statement he made this day week. It was in complete contrast to the speech which he made to-day. The Deputy, if I may say so, was rather fulsome in his recommendations of the candidate proposed to-day. I do not know whether the particular candidate, whose name is before the House, would be so extremely grateful to get these recommendations from the source from which they came.
There was nothing fulsome about you. You know no loyalty except to office and jobs.
On the last occasion the Deputy said he did not propose to give any reason, that it was neither desirable nor necessary. Subsequently I challenged the Deputy outside and the only reason I could get from him was that I had been at one time a member of the Labour Party and that since then I had been misrepresenting and criticising the Labour Party. I think it is only fair to tell the House now that these were the reasons which the Deputy was afraid to give the House.
Deputy Morrissey asked me what were the reasons that I had opposed his candidature. I told Deputy Morrissey, as I have no hesitation in telling the House now, that I have no faith whatever in his occupancy of the Chair and I would not give him one vote if I had a million votes.
Things said in conversation outside the House should not be repeated in debate.
That is what is being done here. That is the type of character who wanted the Chair.
There was no private conversation.
What was said outside should not be repeated in the Dáil.
Surely I am entitled to make this personal explanation. There was no private conversation. I challenged him outside.
That is not true. You are now stating what is not true.
Let that pass. What he has said now is quite sufficient for me. I am quite prepared to let it stand. We have two speeches from the opposite side, one from the Minister for Education. He quoted a speech made by the leader of the Labour Party in 1928. If he had gone a little further in his researches for that year he might have quoted a further speech made by another gentleman who was then leader of the Labour Party. Of course the Minister did not desire to do that. We have heard here about the necessity of the occupant of the Chair knowing Irish. The Taoiseach is aware—none more so—that I occupied the position of Leas-Cheann Comhairle for four years, and that during that four years, notwithstanding the fact that for part of the time there was organised obstruction by the then Opposition, not once did I ever find myself in the slightest difficulty in performing the duties of that office. The Taoiseach smiles.
I remember myself things happening and Deputies saying things in Irish that you did not under stand.
I hope the Taoiseach will take this opportunity of telling us what they were. I presume they were said by members of the Taoiseach's Party.
And recorded by the reporters.
Unfortunately that is another thing that wants correction.
More reforms coming.
What it all boils down to is this, that unless a candidate is acceptable to the Taoiseach he is not going to be appointed to any position in this House. The Taoiseach need not shake his head. Everybody in the House knows that.
It is manifestly absurd.
It is manifestly true. Because we are not prepared to admire and to fall down before the divinely inspired Leader.
Ni mar sin a bhi an scéal i geás an Teachta Finian Ó Loinsigh.
Deputy Donnchadh O Briain has a knowledge of Irish. It is about the only qualification he has, and, if he had not that, he would die with the hunger. Those are the facts. Might I put this to the Taoiseach: When he talks about honouring Irish, how many appointments have been made by the present Government of executive heads of Departments of State who had not a competent knowledge of Irish? Is it not a fact that executive heads of Departments, and of very important Departments, of State— Departments that come into close touch or contact with the daily lives of the people throughout the whole country—have been appointed even though they had not a competent knowledge of Irish? The whole thing, of course, is nonsense. The whole thing is hypocrisy. The Taoiseach wants, if he can, to get into that Chair a person who is acceptable to himself and to nobody else. No other person will have the good will of the Taoiseach in going into that Chair. The Taoiseach talks about honouring the Irish language. May I point out to him that An Fear Mór was rejected in the Seanad, and the Taoiseach immediately proceeded to wash his hands of that matter? He did not know anything about it! Does anybody believe that? I do not think there is anybody in this House or outside it who believes that. I could quote innumerable instances where appointments have been made and where people with a knowledge of Irish were available and were not appointed. I think it was Deputy Norton who mentioned the courts. Would the Taoiseach say that, if there were a vacancy to-morrow for a judge in the High Court, and if a barrister were to be called to the Bar to-morrow who was either a native Irish speaker or a fluent Irish speaker or a competent Irish speaker, he must be appointed before a man with 20 years' experience at the Bar?
I did not say that, and that is not the question here at all.
Of course, the Taoiseach will always wriggle. We all know that. Honestly, however, I do not believe the Taoiseach will do any good or that he will further the cause of the Irish language by what he is doing and saying now. Before I sit down, however, in fairness to myself, I want to say that I spent eight months in the Gaeltacht doing my best to learn Irish, and I suggest that there are not very many members of the Taoiseach's own Party or even on the Front Bench of his Party who have done that much. Every year, since that, every child in my house has spent a month in the Gaeltacht, and despite any action that the Taoiseach may take, they will continue to do so.
I want to direct the attention of the House to this interesting fact: that the Taoiseach when he finds somebody who is not to be coerced into agreeing with him comes to the conclusion, not that that person is wrong, but that he is insincere. We have now reached the stage when, to differ with the Taoiseach on any matter, is not only to be wrong, but is also to be consciously wrong.
I suggest that I have not been speaking of insincerity in this debate. It is the opposite side, from the first moment they spoke.
I suggest that the Taoiseach, having listened to a number of persons here who believe that they have the interest of the Irish language at heart, comes to the conclusion that they are insincere in their professions.
I should like to have that quoted.
Of course, the Taoiseach always wants to have his statements quoted.
The Taoiseach, of course, is the most misquoted man in the country! According to himself, there is no man on this earth, or in Mars, or on the Moon who is more misquoted than he.
That is old stuff.
However, if the Taoiseach will burn some midnight oil in reading to-day's debate, he will see that that is true, and if, as a result of doing so, I succeed in correcting a fault that is growing upon him, I shall have done a public service. I cannot promise, of course, to go on talking until the Taoiseach has got the draft of his speech from the reporters. We all know that he likes to have the last word, and that he likes to see the draft of the speeches. This, however, will afford him an opportunity. The Taoiseach is extremely indignant that a proposal has been made from these benches that Deputy Seán MacEoin should be appointed Leas-Cheann Comhairle, because he does not believe that Deputy MacEoin is a sufficiently good speaker of Irish; and he takes the view that, if there are two persons fit for a public position in this country, and one is a fluent Irish speaker and the other not a fluent Irish speaker, for the sake of the language, and in order to do honour to the language, you should choose the Irish speaker. Now, Senator Seán Gibbons, who is Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, knows as much Irish as the leg of that chair.
That is not true.
He can just murmur a few phrases from O'Growney.
On a point of order, Sir, is the Deputy in order——
Is this a point of order?
I wish to raise a point of order.
Is it a point of order?
That is a question for the Chair to decide.
Surely, Sir, the Taoiseach must ask whether or not I am in order?
I have asked. On a point of order, Sir, is it in order for a Deputy to criticise the Chairman of the Seanad here in this Assembly?
I did not criticise the man at all.
On a recent similar occasion, I deprecated the introduction of remarks on members of the other House in debate. It will not lead to harmonious relations between the two Houses, and should not be repeated.
I have not the slightest desire, Sir, to criticise the Chairman of the Seanad at all. I am merely stating a fact.
It is not a fact, and it is known to be a falsehood.
As I say, I am merely stating a fact, and that fact was well known, not alone to the members of other Parties but to the Taoiseach and the members of the Fianna Fáil Party.
Will the Deputy take my personal denial, for instance?
I say that my belief was, and that my belief to-day is, that the Chairman of the Seanad has a knowledge of Irish which would enable him to do his work as Chairman of the Seanad. He is not an Irish scholar. I did not suggest that he was an Irish scholar.
I am not impugning the Taoiseach's belief at all. I know, of course, that the Taoiseach can make himself believe anything. That happens to be one of his greatest qualities. He can make himself believe anything. He can wish to believe something at 9 o'clock in the morning, and he can make himself believe it with his whole heart and soul at 1 o'clock on the afternoon of the same day.
Would that Deputies would direct their remarks strictly to the matter before the House.
I am trying to do so, Sir, against the barrage of interruptions to which I have been subjected. However, even if the Taoiseach can succeed in persuading himself on certain matters, and even if he can persuade the members of the Fianna Fáil Party to follow those beliefs, he must remember that the day has not yet dawned when he can persuade everybody to follow his beliefs. Ten minutes ago I was led to believe that, apparently, the Taoiseach knew nothing about the election of the Chairman of the Seanad. We all know the canvassing that went on for the election of Senator Gibbons, and we all know how the Fianna Fáil Party members were clamouring for the election of Senator Gibbons as Chairman, and we know the moving appeals that were made on his behalf; but the Taoiseach does not deny that, when it was a question of honouring Ireland, and when it was a question as between An Fear Mór, who is a member of no political Party, who has studiously avoided being associated with any political Party, and who desired to stand for election in the Seanad merely to be able to exercise his supreme interest in the Irish language movement, as opposed to any question of controversial polities in this country—when, on the one side, you had An Fear Mór and, on the other side, ex-Deputy Gibbons— who was defeated in an election recently in order to make way for the Minister for Education and then transplanted to the Seanad—and when you had the Fianna Fáil Party clamouring for the election of Senator Gibbons to office—was the tender conscience of the Fianna Fáil Party strained, or did the Taoiseach toss on a sleepless bed as a result of the decision that had to be made? Not a bit of it! It was just: “Tell the boys to go in and vote for Gibbons and toss the other fellow out, and if the Gaels do not like it, well they can lump it.” Is not that the plain fact? Do not imagine that all that is going on to-day is the result of disinterested love for the language. The ablest politician in this country is staging a beautiful scene. What Gael in this country can ever say again that the Taoiseach did not fight for the Irish language? When the word “Gibbons” falls from the lips of a Gael, the Taoiseach will stand up and say: “Morrissey and MacEoin. I fought every line against misrepresentations, against every kind of hardship in Dáil Éireann because I loved the language”. And the poor old Gael will lower his head and creep away and the Taoiseach will be left in full possession of the field.
This is helping greatly.
Helping what? I have no desire to help in the task of degrading the Irish language into a weapon for collecting jobs for followers of a political Party in this country. We have seen many sacred things in this country degraded for political ends, for base, cheap political ends, and the last thing I should wish to see degraded and debased for the purpose is the language. It is now being used for the basest and cheapest political job-hunting that ever disgraced a Party.
If that is being done, it is being done by the opposite side and not by us.
We have never pretended to give cheap political lip-service to the language. We served it without expecting benefits. Having served it in that particular fashion, we have never used it, and I hope we never shall, either as an instrument in job-hunting or as an instrument in a cheap political racket. We are told that the Fianna Fáil Party always give Irish the preference. Is Deputy Kissane incapable of occupying the position of Parliamentary Secretary in this House? He is a fluent Irish speaker. I see Parliamentary Secretaries sitting over there and I pay Deputy Kissane no compliment when I say he is as able a man as any of them. But he is kept up in a back bench and I do not see the Taoiseach tossing in a restless bed because some of his Parliamentary Secretaries cannot speak Irish. Is Deputy Cormac Breathnach incapable of filling the office of Parliamentary Secretary? I pay him no compliment when I say that I believe him to be as able a man as some of those who decorate the Parliamentary Secretaries' bench. Does the Taoiseach toss upon an uneasy bed because Deputy Cormac Breathnach is sitting on the back benches while some of the Gaill are sitting on the Parliamentary Secretaries' bench? Am I to go on travelling through the list of Irish speakers we have in this House and comparing them with the treasures we have as Parliamentary Secretaries?
Appointments of the Parliamentary Secretaries were approved by this House.
They were approved of by a machined vote.
A decision come to by a majority of even one is a decision of the Dáil.
I am not impugning that. I am saying that the Taoiseach, in joining in that decision, reveals the hypocrisy of the position he now takes up in the House. Surely, the Taoiseach will not wash his hands of responsibility for the decision which you, very properly, point out he had a part in taking. If he was so glad to make these proposals to the House, and ask them to share in the decision taken, why is his heart rent to-day when this Party quite simply offers a person whom he himself has not denied would be a highly desirable Leas-Cheann Comhairle for this House to elect? These are reflections upon which, I think, the Taoiseach might profitably dwell. If he does, he will, I think, come to realise that the anger which swept his usually placid exterior is unjustified. The trouble is that, like many other men who draw themselves into their shell, he seldom meets now anybody who is not a "yes-man". That is not good for him. He seldom participates in debate here, and he seldom meets anybody who does not try to find out what he wants to hear in order that they may tell him that. Our criticisms are honest, and sincere criticisms, and, because they are criticisms of him is no reason for the Taoiseach to imagine that they are insincere. They are perfectly sincere and, some day, he will come to realise that this kind of business is a grave disservice to the language, and is creating enemies for the language which it, otherwise, would never have. I am sorry that the Government Party have taken up this position to-day—sorry because I think Deputy MacEoin would have filled the position with dignity and efficiency, but even more sorry because I believe it will create, in the minds of the people, as it must, the feeling that here is something which used to be regarded as sacred and precious, something with an inherent dignity—the language— being used for very, very base purposes. We have very few things left which have not been tarnished by something which those who professed to serve them did. The language was almost unique in that. I am sorry the day has come when it will join the great majority of movements which have been betrayed by those who professed to love and serve them.
I support the nomination of Deputy MacEoin for the position of Leas-Cheann Comhairle. No case has been made against Deputy MacEoin of not being fit to fill the position except the allegation that he has not a competent knowledge of Irish. Are we to understand that Deputies elected to this house by the people can be discriminated against? If so, why is it not a condition precedent to their nomination that they must have certain qualifications? No Deputy here with any spirit wants to feel himself inferior to any colleague on this or any other bench. I do not believe that the opposition of the Party on the other side is dictated by the desire to help the Irish language. Even accepting what the Taoiseach says—that the Government have taken a certain attitude in regard to the Irish language, and that, to be consistent, they must continue to adhere to that attitude—I challenge the right of the Taoiseach or any Government to throw on the scrap-heap outstanding men who made government possible in this country. It was not the Irish language which created this State, but it was men like Deputy MacEoin. His competence for this office is not questioned. A man can come from anywhere, get naturalised here, and learn the Irish language, and he is fit to occupy the Chair here. But MacEoin, of Ballinalee, is not fit to do so, according to the ruling of the Taoiseach. That will not be sanctioned outside this House. Were they all Irish speakers who carried on the fight for freedom for 700 years? Were Sarsfield, Wolfe Tone, Parnell, John Mitchel and John Martin Irish speakers? I should like to ask the Taoiseach whether Frank Gallagher was an Irish speaker when he was made deputy broadcaster? I refer to the ex-editor of the Irish Press.
Civil servants might be left out of this discussion, particularly named civil servants. It has always been the convention that identifiable civil servants should not be criticised or commented on. They have no defence against such attack.
I agree: You will accept my explanation, A China Chomhairle, I am sure, when I confess that I did not know that in that position he was a civil servant. As an old civil servant myself, I would be the last to attack people who are not in a position to defend themselves. In that connection, I do dissociate myself with the criticism of the Chairman of the Seanad. I do not know whether he has a competent knowledge of Irish or not. I am not going to say anything more about it. He is not in this House, and cannot answer criticism from me or anybody else. He will, I suppose, choose his own time. We were old friends at one time. I do not think we are as good friends now, but I am not going to criticise his competency in the position to which he was elected by other people.
My object in getting up here was to support the candidature of a man who was born and reared in the little isolated village of Ballinalee. He made his living at a modest if an honourable calling—ringing the anvil under the shades of Kilshruley Woods. Just on the eve of the call to arms in the fight for freedom in this country I knew, from a census that was taken on the authority of the late Scán MacDermot, that there was only one man in the County Longford in the Republican Brotherhood. The next man I heard of as being in the Republican Brotherhood was the young blacksmith of Kilshruley Woods. I heard it from Michael Collins. That man has written his name broadly and indelibly across the pages of Irish history. He has advanced himself wonderfully in every direction. He has filled very important military positions in this country. I am quite satisfied that he would fill with honour and dignity civil positions if he were elected to them.
The Taoiseach knows that Deputy Seán MacEoin carries British metal in his lung from a wound he received when some who shouted "Up the Republic" in Mullingar, after the split in 1922 did not go out to rescue him when the word was sent down to stop the train outside Mullingar and take him off. The Taoiseach knows all that inner history. These people who shouted "Up The Republic" and, perhaps, shouted it in the Irish language, if they were members of Fianna Fáil, might be Deputies here to-day, and if they were competent to speak the Irish language could fill the position we are here now trying to fill. But Deputy MacEoin is to be excluded from it. The thing is rank hypocrisy. It would make the Irish patriots who did not know the Irish language, who kept the torch of freedom burning in this country generation after generation for centuries, turn in their graves if they could now witness the hypocrisy and cant that is going on here to-day.
The name of MacEoin is known, not only in Ireland, but it is known with pride where the Irish foregather the world over. I am sorry that a Government, elected by the people, now sees it fit to turn down Deputy MacEoin from this position. Why is he not able to preside here? If he is not able to do so why is there any chairman of a county council in Ireland allowed to preside at a meeting if he has not a competent knowledge of the Irish language? Why has not the Lord Mayor of Dublin a competent knowledge of the Irish language?
He might have to.
We will wait a while for that. They will not get it this time anyhow. However, when the people decide on that, good luck to them, but it will not be a condition precedent. I see my friend, Deputy Cormac Breathnach, smiling. He may have a chance some time of being Lord Mayor.
Is cuma liom.
But, as a previous speaker said, he was not considered by his Party good enough to be even a Parliamentary Secretary. That is the Party's business. That is a local business. But, this other matter we are discussing, I think, is above Party. I agree with Deputy Norton when he said that Deputy MacEoin has a high sense of fair play. I do not think anybody will question that. That is an essential qualification for the Chair and it is a far better and more important qualification for the Chair than whether he knows Irish or not. How many Irish speeches are made here—and then they are only a bit of a stunt to show the House and the country that the speaker knows a bit of Irish. Does the Taoiseach conduct all his business here in Irish? Of course not. Even the Minister for Education does not do so. Neither does any Minister. It is only make-belief. I do not think it is helping the Irish language. I have the greatest respect for An Uachtaran, placed at the head of the State. If we are to measure service in achieving freedom in this country, give me the little finger of the blacksmith of Ballinalee to all the Uachtarans and Governor-Generals we have had in this country or ever will have.
To put it mildly, that remark is in very bad taste.
I would like to know where the bad taste comes in.
The Deputy might think it over. The Uachtaran should be outside and above debate in this House. That is the submission on which the Deputy might reflect.
I will think it over. I do submit that a man who fought for freedom, who is qualified in every respect for the Chair, except that it is alleged that he does not know Irish, who carries a British bullet in his lung which, I understand, causes an almost perpetual hæmorrhage, should be elected. His services will not be recognised. He was born and reared in humble circumstances, in a place where no Irish was spoken. He got no opportunity in his young days to learn Irish. Still he had an Irish heart, and he heard the appeal and responded to it. He saved his life—one chance in a million. I am sorry if, I have said anything that I should not have said about An Uachtaran, but the man who works and who performs the deed is the man for whom I have respect. I am making no comparisons. I would appeal, at the eleventh hour, to the Taoiseach and to the Government to consider this motion. If they consider that Deputy MacEoin is not competent to conduct the business of the Chair, that is another matter. If they have only the flimsy excuse that he has not a competent knowledge of Irish, then I think that is only face-saving and hypocrisy.
I did not know, until the intervention of the last speaker, that this was a free fight which anybody could join. My joining in it will be of short duration. It was my fortune in life to listen to three great orations. The first of these was delivered by Bishop Donnelly, a panegyric to the late Cardinal Moran. The second was Kuno Meyer's address thanking the Dublin Corporation on the day the freedom of this city was conferred on him. The third was Patrick Pearse's oration over the open grave of O'Donovan Rossa. His words ring out still: "Ireland not only free but Gaelic." If the Taoiseach does not bear bullets in his body it is not his fault. The Taoiseach's name is written broad on this country's history forever, and when he says to us—at any rate, to his followers—"Ireland not only free, but Gaelic as well," we follow him in submission, and we are proud to vote with him to-night.
I am surprised at the action of the Taoiseach in opposing the nomination of Deputy Sean MacEoin. I was born and reared almost beside the place that Deputy Sean MacEoin comes from. I have known him since I was ten or twelve years of age. I well remember the years 1918, 1919, 1920 and 1921, when his name was on everybody's lips in the county. Everyone looked up to him as a hero, and they look up to him still. I remember those years well when we were all afraid to go anywhere, but Deputy Seán MacEoin was here, there and everywhere. Everyone was trying to save him. We never thought the day would come when he would be turned down for a position in an Irish Parliament after all his work for the country in those days.
Speaking from a disinterested and, I might almost say a judicial standpoint as an independent member of this House, I can only say that I deplore the action of the Government Party in opposing this motion. I think that there never was, at least not in recent years, any time in which the prestige of this House was lower than it is at the present time. I do not think that there ever was in this country as little faith in Parliamentary action and in Parliamentary institutions generally as at the present day. I do not think that the discussion which has taken place here this evening, and the action which has been taken by the Government Party on this motion, is going to help in any way to allay that feeling or to give the plain people of this country confidence that those elected here are sincere in their desire to do what is best for the country.
The fact that we have here to-day such a vehement conflict in regard to a position of this kind—a salaried position—will tend to lower still further the prestige of this House in the eyes of the people. Nothing, I think, will convince the plain people that there is real sincerity behind the plea that Deputy Seán MacEoin's nomination is being opposed simply because he has not a sufficient knowledge of Irish. It is possible, perhaps, that if the Taoiseach had time to go down through the country and make vehement speeches at every chapelgate and cross-roads, and in every village, he might, by reason of his impressive personality, be able to persuade a considerable number of the people that that was so; but what I am convinced of is this, that the people of this country will feel that this House is being degraded by the conflict which has arisen over this position.
I think everybody appreciates the attitude of the Government in so far as they agreed to the principle that the main Opposition Party should have the privilege and right of nominating the Deputy Chairman of this House. In view of the fact that the Government had agreed to that principle, I do not see any reason why they should have departed from it. The Government Party may claim that they are acting in the best interests of the Irish language, but surely nobody will dispute the fact that, whatever faults the Opposition Party may have, they are at least as keen on the promotion of the Irish language as the Government Party are. If the main Opposition Party have agreed that Deputy Seán MacEoin had a sufficient knowledge of Irish, and that his appointment to this position would not in any way injure the position of the Irish language, then I think that their opinion on this question should have been respected by the Government Party simply as a matter of courtesy. In my opinion it is time that there should be a little courtesy between the main political Parties in this House. For that reason I would appeal to the Government Party, if they cannot see their way to withdraw their opposition to this motion, at least to leave the decision to a free vote so far as their own members are concerned.
I am surprised at the action of the Taoiseach here to-day in opposing the nomination of Deputy Seán MacEoin. The Deputy, I suppose, is a man of 42 or 43 years of age. It must be realised that he has given at least 20 years of his life fighting for the freedom of his country. The Taoiseach may say: "Well, he could have learned Irish before that." We all know that in remote districts, such as that from which Deputy MacEoin comes, there was very little opportunity of learning the Irish language in those days. The Taoiseach and his Minister were in an entirely different position. In their early days most of them were students, and it was their job to learn Irish. Deputy Seán MacEoin was in a different position. As I have said, he has given at least 20 years of his life fighting for the freedom of this country. If it were not for the fight made by men like him the sacrifice that he and others made, you would have very few worrying about the position of Irish to-day. Therefore I think credit should be given to Deputy Seán MacEoin and men like him for the fight they put up and for the freedom we enjoy to-day.
If the Taoiseach is quite serious in all that he said to-day about the Irish language, let us consider the position of judges. I am sorry that Deputy Bartley is not here. He told us that the only thing that the members of the Galway County Council are capable of doing in the Irish language is to send out demand notes to the people of the Gaeltacht for their rates —to the people who speak Irish but are not able to read Irish. According to him, that is all the Galway County Council has done. To come back to the question of the appointment of judges: you may have, some time or other, people from the Gaeltacht charged with some offence and put on trial here in Dublin. They are tried before a judge appointed by the Taoiseach and his Government. We find that in all those cases interpreters have to be employed to translate into English the evidence given in Irish, so that the judge and the jury may understand it. I think that if the Taoiseach is serious about the Irish language he ought, when his Government is appointing judges, to see to it that only men who have a knowledge of the Irish language—as well as being in other respects able men—are appointed to the Bench. Deputy Bartley also mentioned the appointment of rate collectors. I say that in County Galway at the present time, and in parts of the Gaeltacht, rate collectors who have not a word of Irish are being employed, and sanctioned by the Minister for Local Government. Demand notes in Irish are being sent out from the county council to people who cannot read Irish although they can speak it. In regard to appointments of county surveyors which are about to be made throughout the Gaeltacht at the present time, I should like to know if those people have a knowledge of Irish? Have they a word of Irish? Those are men whose salaries will be about £1,000 a year. Have they a word of Irish with which to carry out their duties in the Gaeltacht? Can they meet one ganger in the Gaeltacht and speak to him in Irish? I say they cannot, and those appointments are about to be made at the present time.
I think, if the Government are really serious in the matter of the Irish language, they should start at the top and deal with it in the manner in which it ought to be dealt with. How many speeches in Irish do we hear in this House? The Taoiseach said in answer to Deputy Morrissey that things were spoken here in Irish which Deputy Morrissey knew nothing about. It is very easy for the Taoiseach to say that, but, as far as I can see, during Deputy Morrissey's time the business was carried out here in a very creditable manner, and I believe that under Deputy Seán MacEoin the business of this House will be carried out in the same manner. I would appeal to the Taoiseach, seeing the nominee who is being put up, to give the members of this House the right to vote as they think fit.
To my mind this whole debate has lowered the prestige of this House. If the opposition to Deputy Seán MacEoin's election is sincere, it lacks all the elements of commonsense. It is illogical, and to my mind a slight on the electors who elected the various Deputies to this House. A great many, if not the majority, of the Deputies of this House unfortunately lack a competent knowledge of the Irish language. That is perhaps not their fault but their misfortune. Those of us who have a limited knowledge of Irish have a great regard for those who have a more fluent and real knowledge of the language, but all of us were elected by the people of this country, believing that we, in our various ways, would discharge all the duties for the performance of which they elected us. The electors of the different constituencies elected the various Deputies, believing that they might possibly be called upon to fill any position that this House offers; believing that they might eventually become Parliamentary Secretaries, Ministers, or even the Taoiseach.
It did not enter into the minds of any of the electors—or at least of very few—to think that, because of their lack of Irish, Deputies would be debarred from filling any position that this House can offer. I think that, on the lines indicated by Deputy Seán Brodrick, we ought to be logical. We ought to make it a necessity for every Deputy, before his election, to have a competent knowledge of Irish; we ought to make it impossible for anybody to be a member of this House unless he possesses a knowledge of Irish. Then we can, with some degree of common sense, make it a condition that a candidate for any office to be filled in this House must have a knowledge of the Irish language. Until we arrive at that stage, to my mind it is illogical that any Deputy proposed in this House should be opposed solely for his lack of knowledge of the Irish language. In this particular case we have a nomination against which we have not had one protest from any side of the House. On all sides there has been agreement that here we have proposed for the office of Vice-Chair a Deputy who would fill the office with honour to this House, to himself, and to the country, a Deputy who would fill it with particular impartiality. It has been emphasised over and over again that if there is one Deputy who could fill this position with impartiality, with fairness to everybody in this House, it is the Deputy who has been nominated. I say that opposition to that nomination, on the part of any Deputy in this House, is opposition to the ordinary elements of common sense.
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