There are a few matters to which I wish to refer. First I am very glad that Deputy Murphy has mentioned a matter which I know, will be sympathetically received by all Parties in this House. As Deputy Murphy so aptly said, when Mrs. William O'Brien had very considerable wealth at her disposal all of it was unreservedly placed at the disposal of the poor in this country: not only in the yeoman work that she did in supporting her distinguished husband in his work for the tenant farmers of this country, but also amongst the poor of Ireland when she was amongst them, and I know that if it were necessary to turn to the poorest of the poor in Ireland many would be found, from their slender resources, to relieve her distress at the present time. Happily, I do not think any such appeal is requisite in the situation in which we find ourselves, because I have no doubt that provision will be made, under the plan that was adumbrated by the Taoiseach here to-night, to relieve that distinguished lady of her present embarrassment. I think Deputy Murphy will confirm me when I say that as a result of the invasion of France she was obliged to fly from a convent where she had been living in retirement for some years, and did pass through what would be considerable hardship for a much younger woman than she is. I understand that she is now safely harboured with the good Sisters of another convent situated in the unoccupied territory of France, but it will be readily understood that the resources of that convent are straitened to the last degree and it would be an embarrassment to her to bring any charge upon them. I think she can depend on us to see that those who have made her welcome during this difficult time will be at no loss or inconvenience as a result of doing, on our behalf, that which we would have been most glad to do ourselves had we been there to do it. I do not think it is necessary to dwell further on the matter because I feel sure that the Taoiseach will be as sympathetic in his approach to this matter as either Deputy Murphy, Deputy Tom Kelly, or myself.
There are a few routine matters that I want to touch on before going on to other matters. I do not know whether the Taoiseach's attention has been directed to the surprisingly large number of Irish persons and persons of Irish extraction that have been left stranded in the Channel Islands. I must say that whenever I had occasion, either on behalf of a friend or the friend of some person living in the Channel Islands, to approach the Taoiseach's Department in regard to their welfare, nothing could exceed the courtesy and helpfulness of his Department in seeking to obtain all possible information about them. But, through no fault of their own, the delay seems to be immense.
However, I suppose that cannot be helped. I suppose that to get in contact with our own Minister in Vichy takes time, and to get information from Paris is an arduous job as well. I would be glad to hear from the Minister for External Affairs what he has to tell us about the delays that attend such inquiries, because it makes our task much easier, when explaining these delays to persons who are naturally anxious, if we can give satisfactory reasons why they must not be too impatient in waiting for information.
The matter of our consuls' activities in the United States of America has been touched upon too. From what I have seen of the activities of our Consul-General in New York in assisting persons who have estates which they want to realise, I think that the new departure is praiseworthy in a very high degree. I have had a good deal of experience of people in rural Ireland who suffered acutely from the difficulty of recovering moneys due to them under wills and intestacies in the United States of America in the past and, not infrequently, persons who were fraudulently put upon by fake lawyers in America. It is now an immense boon to be able to say to any such persons that, if they choose to put their affairs in the hands of the Consul-General, he will attend to them and see that the estates are properly safeguarded.
I think it would be advantageous if there were some clarification of the question as to whether fees are payable to the Consul-General or not. So far as I can find out, and I do not seem to be able to find out with any great certainty, there seems to be some kind of arrangement associated with the business; sometimes a fee is demanded and sometimes it is not. If the estate is very small, there is discretion not to claim a fee; if the estate is somewhat substantial, a fee can be claimed. I am not sure that arrangements of that kind are very satisfactory. I think it is better to be able to say with certainly what the scale of charges is to be. I do not know that we might not properly argue that the services of the Consul-General in cases of that kind should be gratuitous. After all, he is a public official, and the people who recover estates through his intervention are taxpayers in this country and are helping to pay the expenses of his office.
I do not suppose the amount collected in fees would ever be a very large contribution from the point of view of the Exchequer, but it might be a fairly substantial charge on the person inheriting a modest sum from some deceased relative in America. However, if the Government takes the view that it would not be consistent with prudence to excuse beneficiaries from all the charges, I think it would be a useful thing to say that where the Consul-General remits not more than 1,000 dollars he would not charge any fee, but that he would charge 5 per cent on anything over 1,000 dollars, or some such ascertainable arrangement, so that those of us who act as intermediaries in inviting country people to place their affairs in the hands of the Consul-General would be in a position to say to them: "If you get 1,000 dollars there will be no charge, but on anything over and above that you will have to pay 1/- in the £ to the Consul-General."
I want to follow Deputy McGilligan in what he said here to-day. I think it is surprising that when we sent a special Envoy to America to carry out a diplomatic and commercial mission, the Taoiseach should have deemed it expedient to make no reference to that in introducing his Vote. The Taoiseach can satisfy me fully by saying that it saves time not to be trying to cover all the details of his Vote in his opening observations, that it is better to wait until he hears what people want to know and answer specific queries as they come along. But if a Minister goes on a special mission to the best friend we have in the world, Dáil Eireann I am sure would hear with gratification and enthusiasm a satisfactory report of his mission, an assurance that he was warmly received and reached a complete understanding with the Administration in Washington, left them in full possession of all relevant facts, and came home with an assurance to the Taoiseach that there would not be any misunderstanding between us; that even if there were a difference of opinion, at least they knew our point of view and we would know theirs. But far from that being the case, what is the position after leaving the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures for three months in America? We might differ on a great many things in this country— we do differ on a great many things in this country—but there was one thing that even I, who have never believed in a policy of neutrality, had agreed upon with the Government, and that was, that the neutrality or the belligerency of this country is a matter for the Irish people to settle, and for nobody else to settle, and that if anybody came waltzing in here on any excuse for the purpose of perpetrating aggression against the independence of this country, that, whoever he was, whencesoever he came, he would find the Irish people resolved to defend the principle that it was the business of the Irish people and nobody else to determine what the foreign policy of Ireland should be.
We are all familiar with one another's failings in experiencing difficulty in agreeing about details, but here was one thing upon which I think we were unanimous. From one end of the country to the other I do not believe that you will find, and I say this deliberately, a single man, woman or child who would not subscribe to the doctrine that, if somebody came in here by force to challenge the sovereignty of the Irish people in the territory of Éire, he should be met with such force as we were in a position to put in the field, whencesoever he came or whoever he was. That is not an abstruse or difficult or obscure concept to put to anybody. It seems to me to be as simple as A.B.C., a most elementary fact of foreign policy.
The Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defensive Measures has been three months in America, of which I understand two-thirds was spent in Washington, constantly meeting the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the Assistant Secretary of State, the heads of the great departments, Senators, Congressmen, and everybody else. At the conclusion of those discussions he comes home and, within a fortnight of his arrival in Ireland, the President of the United States makes a public statement, clearly showing that, whatever else he was told or whatever else was brought home to his mind, that simple concept was not brought home to his mind. He seemed to think that he could get no undertaking from our Government that if the Germans invaded us we would resist. Now I want to emphasise this. It is no use the Prime Minister of Éire squaring off to the President of the United States and saying: "You are a naughty boy; Frank made that as clear as crystal and you have not understood." You cannot talk that way to the President of the United States.