I think, perhaps, that Deputy Walsh is not one of those members of Fianna Fáil who pay any very great attention to the utterances of their leader. He is certainly not a Deputy—apparently, at any rate —who pays any attention to the records of the utterances of his leader. Deputy Walsh wants to know why there was this confusion and what this Bill does that was not done before. I have listened to the debate for a number of hours now. Claims have been made here from the Fianna Fáil Benches that this Bill is doing nothing. I had no intention of speaking until I heard that statement made and reiterated time and again until it became quite obvious to me and to others sitting on these benches that that was the Party line to be adopted down the country. I get up here in the interests of ordinary honesty again to place on record some of the reasons why it was necessary that this Bill should be introduced and why it should be introduced in the interests of honesty in public life and honest dealing with our own people and with those across the water.
The Constitution of 1937 was discussed in this House before it was put to the people at a plebiscite. Every section of every Article in that Constitution was discussed at length. Mr. Frank MacDermot, then Deputy MacDermot, in dealing with Article 5 of the Constitution, which declares the State to be a free, sovereign and independent State, asked to have any doubts that might be created in the future cleared up there and then and he put down an amendment asking that that Article of the Constitution be altered to read: "That Éire is a free, sovereign and independent republic." He was quite frank with the then Taoiseach, Deputy de Valera, as to the reason why he put down the amendment, and he stated, according to the Official Debates, that he was putting down the amendment for the purpose of eliciting the reason why the President, as he then was, refused to take this opportunity of declaring a republic.
That amendment and that blunt question from Deputy MacDermot drew one of the very infrequent clear statements from Deputy de Valera. His reply was quoted here in this debate already and I intend quoting it again. In reply to that question, which was asked by Deputy MacDermot as to why he was not using the opportunity of the Constitution for declaring a republic, Deputy de Valera stated:
"I told the Deputy, when he put an amendment down here in quite an opposite direction, that the thing to be aimed at in this Constitution, in my opinion, as there is an acute difference of opinion of such a character that it would mean that we would not get acceptance of this Constitution by a large section of the people, was to leave this matter to be decided as a separate and independent question."
He went on to say further:
"Whether you take one view or the other view, you will have against this Constitution a number of people who, otherwise, would not be against it. In the same spirit as we try to meet Deputies on the opposite side, where it is at all possible, I think we ought to leave this matter also outside it."
This matter of the republic also outside it, "it" being the Constitution.
"It can be decided outside the Constitution and put as a separate and independent question."
I do not think I am misrepresenting Deputy de Valera when I say that either yesterday or to-day he claimed that this was the occasion on which it was being put as a separate and independent question. I will stand correction on that, because I have not got the quotation with me. I had only just come into the House at the time and I heard a phrase of that sort coming from Deputy de Valera's lips. I was very glad because I thought that now at last we are going to get a clear, honest admission from Deputies opposite that this Bill is doing something and that it is doing something which they did not do. That was when the Constitution was being discussed in this House. It was later voted on by the people and passed.
Deputy MacEntee and some other Deputies on the opposite benches have thought fit to jeer at the attitude adopted by members of the Fine Gael Party when that Constitution was being discussed. I say quite frankly that, whether we opposed the Constitution or not, there is not one Deputy opposite who will say that any member of this Party did not accept fully and loyally the Constitution when it was enacted by the people. That is as it should be and that is as it was.
I quoted Deputy de Valera's words in this House in 1937. In 1938, he made the matter even more clear, if it were necessary to make it any clearer. Peculiarly enough, he did this at that time at the behest of a cumann in County Donegal. That cumann asked the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis in 1938 to assert: "That this Ard-Fheis believes that the time is now opportune to declare Éire a free and independent republic", that in 1938, the year after the Constitution was adopted, the time was opportune to declare Éire a free and independent republic. Apparently, the members of the Fianna Fáil Organisation who sent up that resolution for discussion did not believe that they had a free and independent republic at that time. Deputy de Valera did not believe it either, because he spoke on that resolution. Perhaps some of those opposite who attended that Ard-Fheis will correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is correct to say that the opposition of Deputy de Valera to that resolution secured its withdrawal and that it was not necessary to vote upon it.
Deputy de Valera, in his opposition to that resolution, set out the fact that there was no constitutional obstacle to declaring a republic; that you could have a republic provided you repealed the External Relations Act. As the Minister for External Affairs stated, later in the same year, he made another declaration, again a clear declaration, and again in language which could not be misunderstood that, in his opinion, we were not an independent republic; that perhaps it would be better if we were. Time went on, and in 1945 he declared we were a republic.
I say that it is that type of attitude, that type of mental jitterbugging that caused any confusion which was created. It is because Deputies opposite took up one attitude in 1937, the same attitude in 1938, and a completely different attitude in 1945 that confusion was created. Any confusion that exists is there because of that and, more particularly, because of the apparent inability of the present Leader of the Opposition in his public pronouncements to be consistent and to hold the same opinion at different times.
Apart from the merits of this Bill as outlined by the Taoiseach when introducing it, I believe that it is absolutely essential in the interests of public honesty that something of this sort should be done. When speaking on the adjournment in this House last August, I stated that we were being left in a most undignified position; that if any foreigner coming over to our country and talking to any of us as public representatives asked us what were we, what was our constitutional status none of us could give him a straight answer, an answer that we ourselves would fully believe. I believe that that applies with equal strength to every Deputy on the far side. I said last August that it would be more in accord with our dignity as a nation that the doubt should be cleared up.
I think that this Bill, at any rate, is clearing up doubts. It is a very great pity that the Deputies opposite, in their speeches both inside and outside of this House, should adopt the tone that they have. I resent, particularly, some of the speeches made by Deputy MacEntee. I think that any Deputy on these benches owes a duty to his constituents to repudiate publicly the foul suggestion made by that Deputy that this Bill was being introduced here——