Committee on Finance. - Vote 65—External Affairs.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £54,187 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1942, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig an Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha, agus Seirbhísí áirithe atá fé riaradh na hOifige sin (Uimh. 16 de 1924).

That a sum, not exceeding £54,187, be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1942, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for External Affairs and of certain Services administered by that Office (No. 16 of 1924).

There is a Supplementary Estimate which I should like to move also. Would it be in order to move it now?

Both may be discussed together.

The main Estimate for External Affairs for the year 1941-42 provides for a total expenditure of £85,787, a decrease of a few hundred pounds on last year. I do not think there are any points in connection with the main Estimate to which I need draw particular attention. Generally, provision is made on the same lines as last year, and such variations as there are under the various sub-heads, whether by way of increase or decrease, are of an automatic and routine character. If there are any points on which special information is required I shall try to give it when replying.

After the main Estimate had been prepared and printed, however, it became necessary to make further provision under sub-head B5—Repatriation and Maintenance of Destitute Irish Persons Abroad. This provision is dealt with in a Supplementary Estimate which has been circulated to Deputies. With the permission of the Dáil I am taking this Supplementary Estimate in conjunction with the main Estimate. I should like to explain the circumstances under which this supplementary provision of £7,000 is required.

There are in France a number of Irish nationals who are without any means. Most of them are people who had employment and lost it, and have been unable to obtain alternative employment since. Many of those who found themselves in that position could either fall back on savings or turn to relatives in this country who were prepared to help them, but others were not so fortunate, and a few are now entirely destitute. The Estimate allows for about 100 such cases. I cannot say definitely how many there are exactly, but there are grounds for the hope that the number will prove perhaps considerably less than 100. It is the practice, if indeed it is not regarded as a moral obligation, of States to look after their nationals abroad in such circumstances. Normally that would be done by means of repatriating them, but as passenger traffic between this country and the Continent is now almost entirely suspended, that course is not practicable in the present case. As the only feasible alternative we propose to put the appropriate diplomatic representative in a position to afford to Irish citizens who are stranded through no fault of their own and are without means of subsistence the financial aid necessary to save them from total destitution.

The provision will be administered subject to appropriate safeguards. For example, it is not intended for persons who have relatives in this country who are in a position to support them. There will be a maximum limit to the financial aid which will be afforded in any one case, and the applicant's existing means will in each case be taken fully into account in determining the amount of the assistance to be granted. The administration of the provision must be left largely to the discretion of the local diplomatic representative, but I am satisfied that, with the steps which he will be able to take, it will be possible to limit assistance to cases of real need.

I do not think there is anything else of value that I should say at this stage. There may be questions raised in the subsequent debate, and I think I will leave over anything further I have to say until I hear what points may be raised.

Mr. Byrne

Would the Taoiseach say whether, under this Estimate, it is possible for the Government to pay the expenses of bringing home from foreign lands a number of Irish seamen who are stranded there? Because of the high cost of travelling, they are not able to get home. I have in mind two or three cases of people belonging to Dublin. At the moment I cannot recall the names, but I did hear of such cases in Dublin, and several others in various parts of Ireland. The wives and families of those men would prefer to see them coming home than being maintained in foreign countries.

Part of this Vote is to provide payment for an Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States of America, located at Washington. We have in the country at the moment a Minister of this State who was sent across to America and who spent a couple of months there. He was sent over to get for this country arms and certain other supplies. Apparently, there was some reason for sending him there. Apparently, it was considered that he could do, by going in person to America, something which the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary could not do. Now, the Minister who was sent out there, and who remained there for a considerable period, has been back in this country for some time, and we have not yet heard what he did to supplement the efforts of the Minister Plenipotentiary whose salary is now being asked for in this Vote. Perhaps the Taoiseach, when he is replying, will tell us what was the purpose of sending out that Minister from this country, how far it was necessary to send out a Minister from this country in addition to the Minister that we keep there, and will the Taoiseach also tell us whether, when the President of the United States so seriously misunderstood our position—as we were told in the House here, the other day, that he did—any use was made of the office that we have in Washington to put the President of the United States right with regard to our attitude on certain matters?

When the Taoiseach is replying, perhaps he might add this further point. When the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures was sent out to the United States, part of his mission was to get ships, and we have not heard whether his mission was considered to be successful, either entirely or partially, in that respect, but the Press this morning carries a statement that the Minister Plenipotentiary in Washington is now trying to get more ships. Could any explanation at all be given that would make the House understand the necessity for incurring the double expenditure of having a resident Minister in the United States of America aided by the Minister whom we sent out? Could we be told what he did on going out there, whom he saw that our Minister already there could not have seen equally as well, what audiences he had, and with what people, that were not open to the Minister already there, and what, generally, was gained by the efforts of the Minister we sent out supplementing the efforts of the Minister already there?

I want to draw the attention of the Taoiseach to two matters. One was already brought to the notice of his colleague, the Minister for Supplies, and that is, what exactly is the function filled by our consuls in America? I saw correspondence recently with business people here in this city who were negotiating independently with a view to obtaining certain supplies from America. In the course of their negotiations they approached one of the Irish consuls in America, who told them that he could do nothing until he got permission from Dublin. I do not know the exact position of our representatives there, but I think that in a situation like the present it would be well that they should be armed with full powers to render assistance and deal with a situation of that kind and co-operate in every way with people in this country, or their representatives abroad, who may be able to do something in that respect. The particulars of that particular transaction are on the records of this House already; the matter was brought to the notice of the Minister for Supplies, and I hope that something effective will be done in that respect to arm our representatives abroad with full powers to assist in these matters.

There is one other matter to which I want to draw the Taoiseach's attention, and that is the case of a very distinguished woman, with a long and very honourable connection with this country, who is now living in France. I refer to the case of the widow of the late William O'Brien. I think it would be an impertinence for me to offer any tribute to the memory of that lady's very distinguished husband or to offer any compliments to the services she herself rendered to this country in every possible way since she first came here. Members of the House are aware of the fact that when she was possessed of very considerable means she gave very generously of her means to every deserving cause in this country. Now, I am aware of the fact, and have recently seen correspondence in the possession of a member of this House which went to show that her circumstances, not very affluent before the outbreak of the war, have been rendered very much worse in the last couple of years and that, in fact, she has been leading a very precarious existence for some time in France. I suggest, Sir, that this nation owes that woman a good deal, if for no other reason than the services that her husband rendered to this country, and while I am not in possession of all the facts, I am authorised, in view of the contents of a letter that I saw recently, to make her case public in this country, and to let the House and the country know that her circumstances were very bad up to some time ago, when some small means of her own were realised in instalments, or certain small dividends were realised, which helped her to exist. I think that is a very bad state of affairs. I am not blaming anybody in particular, but I am asking the head of the Government to give this matter sympathetic consideration, and I feel that, in asking that, I am appealing on a matter that will have widespread sympathy and support in this country. I am asking the Taoiseach whether it would be possible to do anything to ease a position that, existing as it does in her case, is a humiliation to this nation as a whole.

As one of the oldest members here, who remembers the Land League times and so on, and who can speak in a personal sense of these matters, I should like to join in what has been said by Deputy Murphy. I remember distinctly the great enthusiasm aroused by the reception of the late William O'Brien and his wife, after their marriage, here in Dublin. That is a long time ago, and I should like to be associated with the words of Deputy Murphy, and hope they will have an appeal with the Taoiseach, who, I know, will be sympathetic.

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.

You can talk at them.

You can talk at them that way, but you cannot talk to them that way. God forbid that this country would ever be misled into talking at the President of the United States. We cannot afford to do that even if we had the will to do it, and I am sure nobody in this country has the will to do it. What we have to realise is that, whatever our position is, our job is patiently to make it clear, no matter how difficult that task may seem to be. I find the gravest possible fault with the Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defensive Measures for that he failed, not only to clarify that position while he was in Washington, but to secure from his hosts on that occasion an admission of its clarification.

I move to report progress.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again to-morrow.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday.