I shall deal with that presently. I should like to draw attention to what we are being asked to do this evening. A case has been presented, featured in the newspapers and, I would say, featured here this evening in a negative kind of way, as if the Dáil was sitting down merely to postpone an election in a voluntary kind of way. I regard the proposition that is put before the House as a much more serious thing, one which places a very grave personal responsibility not only on Parties, but on every individual Deputy. What we are being asked to do this evening is to deprive the people of their legal right to re-elect others in our places if they are dissatisfied with our work. The people of this country have a legal right, and it is proposed this evening to deprive them of that right. On the balance of the pros and cons, if we are convinced that there is a particularly serious situation and that we may bring that danger nearer to us by a general election, and if a very strong, sound and convincing case were made, we are entitled to deprive the people of that legal right, but not otherwise.
We are, for the time being, the guardians and custodians of perhaps the youngest free nation of the world. We have reached our twenty-first year. Every one of us, Independent Deputies, Government Deputies, Labour Deputies, and Deputies sitting on these benches are conscious of the responsibility that is on us as representatives in the Parliament of a young State. Every one of us are democrats, every one of us are wedded to the democratic theory of government. Democracy is a machine that is barely 21 years old in this country. If we are believers in the democratic machine, if we believe that it is the proper system for a country, just as the strength of a chain is the strength of its weakest link, the strength and the test of democracy is its capacity to function in difficult times, in times of emergency, in times of danger, not just its capacity to function in calm and easy days when there is no strain placed upon it. As a strong believer in democratic principles and in the real strength of the democratic machine, I do not think any case has been made, or that anybody attempted to make a case, why we should lose faith in democracy, override that machine, and say that the democratic machine is good enough for easy days, for the calm days of peace, but is not the thing for days of emergency. It is very easy to establish precedents, but when they are established it is not so easy to break away from them. If we in this Parliament lightly or frivolously snatch from the people their legal right to have an election in the legal period, there will be other Parliaments after us which, even for lighter motives, will postpone elections, perhaps not only for a period, but for lengthy periods. I would not like to establish any precedent that is not a sound precedent.
The other side of the question is this, that the Independent Deputies who moved and spoke to this motion have given long and excellent service in this country. They are cautious of its welfare, but they are not going to claim a monopoly in that respect. There are men over there, there are men behind me, and men alongside me, who do not require at this stage to give any assurance to the people of their thought, their consideration, and their anxiety for the welfare of the country, either in peace or war. Those Deputies in the different Parties have just as great a sense of what is proper, what is safe, and what is right for this country, and if such Deputies in their hearts felt that it was a wrong thing to allow the people to exercise their rights, there would be many more names to a motion such as this, and it would be moved, perhaps, by Leaders of the various Parties that make up this Parliament. When the motion first appeared on the Order Paper, and in association with the atmosphere and the conversations that took place in conjunction with it, I understood from the Press, and from other conversations, that the motion to postpone the election would be based on military danger to this country; that the case made would be that a general election would invite or bring military danger nearer.
After consultation, I think every Deputy in every Party will agree that, as a neutral country in the midst of warring countries, if we were to have a debate on the possibility of invasion by any one of the belligerent countries, it would be definitely dangerous to have such a debate in public, with the Press and public taking down the views, the fears, and the prophecies of each and every one of us, and that if the motion was moved in the spirit that there was danger in an election, the only safe and responsible way in which such a matter could be considered between the Parties wasin camera, away from publicity, where considered views could be frankly and freely exchanged, without danger of giving offence to any other country, or making a dangerous position more difficult and dangerous. It was in that particular atmosphere, and to meet the possibility of such a case being made, that the amendment was put down. In view of the case made here to-day, a case very far removed from the atmosphere of military danger, I do not propose to move the amendment now before the House. I listened with very great attention, and with great interest, to the statements made by the proposer and seconder of the motion. I am not standing up to challenge any of the statements made by them. They pointed out at length the difficulties of a coming election, the lack of transport and the lack of paper. There must be difficulties about doing any job of work in the present situation. But it is the task of responsible people to carry on as nearly as possible to normal, in spite of difficulties, and I would rather have these two Deputies in particular preaching the gospel of how to surmount difficulties, and how to face them, rather than advising the Parliament of the people to shirk a responsibility because it is difficult. Everything that could be done is being done to surmount these difficulties.
The Minister for Local Government has already made provision for a very much increased number of polling stations, so that nobody will have to travel more than a couple of miles to polling places. Yet we have it said that great numbers of people will not be able to record their votes. Let us be realistic. The people of this country, of all creeds, are careful to attend to their religious duties. They practise their religion, they attend their churches, their children go to schools, even the very youngest, in the worst weather. Business at fairs and markets is being attended to. There is scarcely a living soul over seven years of age that does not travel considerably further every day of their normal lives than they would be asked to travel on polling days in order to record their votes. A case could be made that this was going to be a very abnormal type of election. Let that case stand on sound legs. Do not let us have exaggerations. Deputy Byrne gave us a picture of things that might happen as a result of an election. I am a member of a Party with a certain amount of machinery behind it, and with a certain amount of information from the different constituencies. I may have views that very much differ from those of Deputy Byrne.
I do not think it is wise at any time to argue with a prophet. If anybody presumes to tell me what is going to happen in six or 12 months' time, I just do not argue. I may say, "I hope so", or "I hope not", but it would be idle for me to put my ideas as to what will happen before the Dáil, and expect the Dáil to accept them. I believe that, no matter what Parliament comes here as a result of the election, whether many or few of us lose our seats, it will be a Parliament representative in the broadest way of the decent Irish people. I have enough faith in an Irish Parliament, no matter how it is constituted, whether by a multiplicity of Parties, by a pair of Parties, by a Party with a dominating majority or by a number of Parties without any one of them having a majority; I have enough faith in the plain, decent, honest Irish people and in the representatives of those people, the chosen elected representatives, to know that this Parliament, under no circumstances, will let the people down, or the State down. As Deputy Byrne has pointed out, one of the worst things that might happen is, that you will have a Parliament where no Party will have an over-all majority. I say that in no acrimonious or controversial way in dangerous and difficult times, but I would be as happy to place my faith in that Parliament, to place my future and the future of everyone that is dear to me in it as I would in a Parliament in which there was an over-all majority, even, say, of my own Party. We all know that responsibility brings out the best, and not the worst, that is in people; that if there was more responsibility on individual Deputies the best would be brought out of each one of us, and that if there was more responsibility thrown on the Parliament as a whole it would be a better Parliament, likely to achieve better results for the people who are dear to all of us. When the only real horror that could be held up to us, as the possible outcome of an election, was that of a Parliament which had not a Party in it with a dominant over-all majority, then I think I am entitled to say, in the friendliest way in the world, that whether or not there is a sound case to be made for this motion we did not hear it made by either the proposer or seconder.
There was one suggestion made, and made with the best intentions in the world, that a general election might interfere with the cohesion and the team spirit of the auxiliary defence services in this State. In no insincere way I want to say this that if I believed there was anything in a suggestion of that kind—and each of us can only be guided by our own beliefs— if I thought there was any danger of that or the remotest likelihood of that happening, then, speaking for myself, I would be decidedly in favour of postponing the election. But I have as much faith in the men and women who, in one form or another, came forward to help their native land, either by their services or by the offer of their lives, as the Minister for Justice has. I was glad to read the tribute which he paid to those excellent men and women in a recent speech. I subscribe to the statement made by him. Men and women with the patriotism, with the civic sense that was shown by those who came forward to man the various auxiliary defence services, to man the aid services, are not of the type that are in any way lacking in a sense of service to the State. They are as disciplined, as loyal and as patriotic as the excellent officers, N.C.O.'s and men that make up our National Army, and it would be an insult for anyone to suggest that the discipline, the cohesion or the loyalty of Ireland's Army would be, to the slightest extent, interfered with because the people were asked to vote for one of us as against the other. That applies to the Army with truth, and applies at least equally to all those grand men and women, boys and girls, who came forward, purely as volunteers in an unpaid capacity, to assist the country in a time of emergency and stress.
I see no danger of any interference with those forces. It is a thing to be considered; it is a thing that was very fully and very seriously considered by the Party on whose behalf I am speaking at the moment. We did not take the line that an election should be held or should not be held without making up our minds what exactly we were proposing to do, and if we called for a postponement of the elections, to what extent we were interfering with the obvious rights of the simplest people. We were conscious of the fact—I make no denial of it one way or the other because I am trying to put the case as fairly as I can—that there is a very considerable number of people who would welcome no election at the present moment. It is true that at any time, if there was no war, no emergency or anything else, you will always have a considerable number of people who would rather not have an election. To a great extent you will find the majority of business people, people who are finding life more easy and more pleasant than a great number of others, people of ease and of wealth, people engrossed in their own business averse to a general election at any time. I am not suggesting at the moment that those are the only people. I am aware of that fact— Deputy McGovern called attention to it in our discussions—that a great number of bodies in the County Cavan, representative of all sections, were against a general election, but there are masses and masses of plain, decent, simple poor people who are not vocal in the ordinary sense, who do not command columns or paragraphs in the Press, who are not members of any of the organised bodies that can get publicity, who are not, in the main, attached to any one of the Parties here, and yet they like to feel that once in five years they are masters of the situation. It is that feeling—it may be a small thing—that once in five years at the outside they are the masters that keep the masses of the nation united behind a Government and a Parliament in hard times.
It would be injurious to let the suggestion trickle out that a group of Deputies, whatever the number may be, entered into an intrigue or conspiracy—that is the way the saboteur propagandist would put it—to extend their own political lives. Every one of us knows the power of propaganda. Every one of us in our time was the victim of propaganda. True propaganda is, as a rule, harmless. The value or the damage of propaganda can be measured by the length or breadth or depth—whatever the word is—of its untruth. The whisper would go around that, in order that certain people would remain in office and others remain in salary, by our own votes we deprived the people of their rights. No matter how clamorous some people may be now for postponing the election, I am firmly convinced that the result of this Parliament prolonging its own life would be bad. There were certain objections, certain difficulties, mentioned here and in discussions elsewhere, with regard to an election, but I think it would be healthier for every one of us, as representatives of free men and free women, as fellow democrats, as firm believers in the democratic machine and in its capacity to work in dangerous times as well as in easy times, to combine in order to try to surmount whatever difficulties may be there, and in order to try to remove whatever dangers may be there.
I know that some people are uneasy about a general election, because they say that, if anything happened between the date of dissolution and the polling day, so that the polling did not take place, we would have a country without a Parliament—with a Government but without a Parliament. Some people are anxious on that particular point. It is not that they feel that that is likely to happen, but they feel that there is a possibility, no matter how remote, that it may happen. Such a contingency could and should be met by an Emergency Order, somewhat to the effect that Parliament would remain in being until the next Parliament is appointed. I think the efforts of each one of us should be directed towards surmounting the difficulties, towards easing any legitimate public anxiety, towards injecting into the people a pride in democracy, towards inspiring them with the feeling that it is a grand thing that even in bad times the Parliament of the country is going down to the people for a fresh mandate, that the length of our existence and the measure of our power is the length of existence and the measure of power that the people give us.
Irrespective of what the outcome may be, irrespective of numbers, I believe that, if the mandate of each and every one of us were renewed, receiving fresh life and fresh vigour from the people, we would come back here with new strength and new enthusiasm, facing up to the fact that we have a new vital life of five years, and that within those five years the probability if not the certainty is that great, far-reaching world changes will take place, and that every one of us will have to play his part in that new world, in the more difficult days, and even the more dangerous days that follow the difficult and dangerous days of the war. Even countries at war experience this: that although the time of war is a trying time, a difficult time, a tragic time, the consolation behind all that, and the fact that gives them strength is that war brings out the very best that is in the people. Whatever group of men are charged with the responsibility of leading the country through war have something like the solid support of the nation behind them. But the aftermath of war is worse. It is more difficult. It is the time when the slump comes, when the really big problems loom up, when the munition works and all that kind of thing close down. That is the time when there is less force behind a Government and more difficulties in front of them. It is then that more vigour; more strength, more life, are required in Parliament and in Government.
No matter what the popular view of the man on the street may be, I really think that, when the pros and cons are weighed up, no group with a sense of responsibility, with an opportunity of exchanging views, with an opportunity to look at both sides of the question, would take responsibility for saying that the present situation justifies us in depriving the masses of the people of a right which they have at the present time. I do not think there is one group that would say that. I do not think there is anyone who will not agree with me that, when we look into the immediate years ahead, years perhaps of danger, years certainly of difficulty, that a Government, some Government, even the present Government, would be better and stronger and more capable if they had a fresh mandate from the people, if they got a renewed backing from the people, if responsibility were placed on them anew to face the coming five years, to face those difficult five years as a group, a team. The propagandist could not then say: "They prolonged their own lives. If they had gone to the people, they would have got short shrift." That is what would be said about the Government; that is what would be said about Opposition Deputies, and it would be said by many people who are at the moment urging the postponement of the election. All of us have had experience of propaganda.
The suggestion was made here to-day —it was previously made elsewhere— that we should postpone the election by having a national Government, and the Taoiseach was invited to give his views on that. I do not want to take responsibility for answering anybody else's question.
The view held over here with regard to the capacity of a national Government in difficult times is that there is a lot to be said for it. I believe that in times of danger and difficulty the maximum amount of confidence and support should be mobilised behind any and every Government and that confidence and support in political matters is to a very great extent a mathematical affair. The amount of confidence and support behind any group or Party is the strength of that Party. Whereas political opponents may give support, and usually do, full confidence naturally cannot go with that support. In other words if you had a Government of four Parties, you would have mobilised behind that Government all the support and confidence behind each of the four Parties. These remarks apply to a national Government brought about in an ordinary, normal way because of difficulties or because of an emergency, but what would happen if a national Government were brought about in order to postpone or avert a general election?
I put this in all sincerity to both Deputy Cole and Deputy Byrne. If the various Parties here—I am merely putting the picture—came together to-night in order to form a national Government and postpone an election, every malicious slanderer in the country would get busy to-night and that new national Government would be deluged in the mire of slanderous propaganda. If and when there is a national Government in this country, I want to see that that Government gets a fair chance and, above all, a fair start. A national Government brought about by groups and individuals whose legal political life was running out, in order, as it would be said, to prolong that life by a sharing of offices and extending their life as Parliamentary Deputies, would have no chance. It would have a very brief life, a very painful life, so much so that, in time to come, when many discords and divisions that may exist at the present moment are forgotten and merely history, the painful experience of such a national Government, one brought into being under such circumstances and experiencing such a fate, would discourage and dissuade people in the future from coming together in the common interest.
People who suggest a national Government, amalgamations, mergers, team-work, working together in the same council chamber, make those suggestions in the best faith in the world but they overlook the fact that you have malicious propagandists and, whatever you do, do not pass ammunition to the pen and the tongue of the malicious propagandist. If a national Government is needed for the country, then let that national Government come about in a new Parliament with a new mandate, with five years of legal life in front of it and do not put it into anybody's mouth to strangle that combination at birth by implying to it the very worst, the most corrupt, mercenary methods.
We over here, having weighed up and seriously considered all that can be said for and against, are finally brought up against the point: Are we justified in depriving the people of a legal right which is theirs at the moment? Is there sufficient danger, is there sufficient difficulty to justify us in denying the ordinary plain people the legal exercise of their right? We came to the conclusion that we would not be so justified. If and when the Government decides to have this election, we have enough confidence and faith in the men and women of this country to feel that in serious times they will look on an election as one of the most serious rights and serious responsibilities, that they will go through with the election with dignity, and come out of the election with respect. I have so much faith in the people of this country that I believe their behaviour in a war election will be such that I only hope that Deputies and candidates will model their behaviour on the behaviour of the grand men and women by whom it will be decided.