Deputy Hickey is not in the House to-day to move amendments Nos. 1 and 2 standing in his name. I do not propose to move these amendments on his behalf because I am not familiar with what he has in his mind in connection with these amendments and because I consider that his amendments will be met by similar amendments lower down on the paper.
Committee on Finance. - Agricultural Workers (Holidays) Bill, 1949—Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 3, standing in my name and the names of Deputies M. O'Sullivan, Desmond and Kyne:—
In sub-section (2), line 39, to delete the words "if he so elects".
Our purpose in moving this amendment is to secure greater protection for the agricultural worker, who will benefit under this Bill. The general purpose of the Bill is to provide agricultural workers with an annual holiday. It is felt that if this sub-section is left to read as it reads at the moment in the Bill—
"where a worker is entitled to three or more holidays under this section, the holidays shall, if he so elects, be allowed on consecutive days"—
there may be room for evasion.
I fear that the phrase "if he so elects" leaves a degree of room for evasion of the purposes of the Bill. We are anxious to see that agricultural workers, in this matter of holidays, will be accorded the same rights or as near an approximation of the same rights as other workers in industry throughout the country. If inquiries are made into the matter it will be found that workers in industry enjoy their holidays annually on consecutive days. If the sub-section remains as it is at present framed, a situation might arise whereby an agricultural worker employed by a farmer might conceivably turn in to work on a day on which the weather might be inclement and be told: "You may go home to-day. This is one of your holidays."
The question of the agricultural worker having the right to elect for or against annual holidays consecutively is largely theoretical. The master on the holding is the employer. The situation generally found is that the agricultural worker, working for his employer for wages, will be loath to dispute or stake his claim with his employer for consecutive days. This amendment seeks to afford greater protection to the agricultural worker. Where annual holidays are accorded to agricultural workers in County Dublin, in parts of County Wicklow, North Wicklow, in East Meath, and in a number of areas such as that, it has been found that workers prefer to have their holidays on consecutive days. Difficulty arises only when the employer endeavours to stagger the holidays. The main purpose of any Bill of this kind must be to secure for the worker an annual rest period. Staggered holidays do not achieve that end. A day now and a day again, while it may be good in its own way as a holiday or holidays, is not achieving the ends which this Bill sets out to achieve.
Our purpose in putting down the amendment is to get the maximum amount of protection for the worker who wants to take his holidays on consecutive days. I think it will be found that almost 100 per cent. of the agricultural workers have that desire. The amendment is very simple and I ask the Minister to accept it as a further step along the road towards improving the position of agricultural workers generally.
The position is that so far as I am concerned I do not think, as regards this amendment, that it would be a matter of any particular circumstance. I said on the Second Reading that the purpose of the Government is to give the agricultural workers a week's holiday. That is the purpose of the Government. I felt then that my constitutional reluctance to tell anybody to do anything under compulsion argued in favour of leaving a discretion to the working man to take his holidays on six consecutive days or otherwise as he might choose.
Deputy Dunne and other members of the Labour Party, speaking from experience, feel that in the vast majority of cases the issue will not arise at all, but that there do occur a sufficient number of cases in which, if a labouring man says: "I want my holidays, to go away for four or five days with my family", he would be pressed by his employer to say that he did not want them, and he would be told more by implication than expressly that everyone would be very much happier if he changed his mind about that plan until eventually the labouring man would be persuaded that if he did not say, against his own true inclination, that he wanted to take his holidays a day now and a day again, he would be out of a job.
If that danger exists, I think there would be ground for withdrawing what was put in for the purpose of preserving the workingman's discretion in this matter and I am prepared to accept this amendment. If it transpires later to be an inconvenience for anybody, the discretion can be easily restored by other legislation. If there is substance in what certain members of the Labour Party apprehend, then perhaps the wisest thing is to pursue the safe course at this stage and, if any difficulty arises hereafter, we can come to the House and seek the appropriate remedy. I, therefore, accept the amendment.
Once we concede the principle of the week's holidays, it is not a matter of very great importance whether these holidays are either in the one or in a broken period. In so far as this matter affects the worker who is benefiting by the holidays, there would not be any serious ground for dispute on this question with the representatives of the workers here. I do not see any grave danger that the workers would be imposed upon or compelled to take their holidays in the form their employers might desire.
At the present time alternative work is fairly freely available to agricultural workers and the danger of disemployment is not a very serious one. I do not agree with the view that agricultural workers live in terror of their employers. I think there is in agriculture, more than in any other industry, a very wide basis of understanding as between the worker and the employer.
There is nothing in the amendment, so far as we can see, to which exception can be taken, but, from my own point of view, I think it is not a wise amendment. I would prefer the sub-section as it is, but if the Minister is prepared to accept the amendment, it is all right with us.
The amendment sets out that the worker is entitled to the holiday if he so elects. What is the actual position in regard to this thing? Sometimes the labourer is a number of miles away from his own part of the country. There is a race meeting there and he wishes to go to it. The boss might have a different view. The labourer, let us say, takes a day or two days—he is probably a day coming home. If he elects to take a day, the farmer may tell him: "You can take your week now and get it over." That is the type of thing that could happen.
The less interference there is between the worker and the master, the better all round. If the worker looks for the day to go to the races, the farmer may say: "Are you going to take your week now or will you wait until later on?" He might say: "I would like to get a day now and another day later when some other event is coming off," or he might say: "I would like to go to Dublin for the All-Ireland and come back on Monday."
These things do happen and these are the holidays that the worker appreciates. He does not appreciate taking a week's holidays and being compelled on his £3, or whatever is left of it, to collect his wife and family and take them somewhere. If he came to Dublin on his £3, by the time he would arrive in the city the only place that would have room for him would be the Bridewell. Unfortunately, that represents the condition of our principal industry and the wages paid in it.
In these matters we must do what we consider fair. I object to this thing of pressure on the worker. If you take that out of the Bill, you put the farmer in the position of having to refuse the worker, or else give him a week's holidays plus a number of other days that might crop up from time to time.
There is nothing wrong with that.
You create immediately a feeling of irritation as between master and man. That is my objection to it. If the Minister accepts this, the worker will be told quietly that he cannot go to the races. I know a man who has been going to Forrest each year for the past 21 years. He takes three days—one going, one there, and one coming back. That is a matter between himself and myself and we have no difficulty about it, but others may not look at it in the same light, if it is a question of giving him six consecutive days besides that.
The Deputy will agree that every farmer is not as enlightened as the Deputy.
He is entitled to six days, which the law gives him. The other is a matter of good feeling as between farmer and man.
I do not often agree with Deputy Cogan, but would prefer to agree with him that the relation on farms as between the worker and the farmer is rather one of co-equal partners than what Deputy Corry described as master and man. "Master" is not a very pleasant word, particularly when you use it in relation to Irish workers. They do not like it, for obvious reasons. There is no need for Deputy Corry or anyone else to worry. There are farmers who give occasional days for races or something else. This is an added improvement. Deputy Corry has been wont on occasion to talk about the wages of agricultural workers, when it suits him. Here is one way of improving their lot, by granting them six consecutive days' annual holidays—something everyone else got years ago we are giving them in 1950. If other farmers are doing what Deputy Corry suggests—I would not like to think that any farmer was less considerate of his men than Deputy Corry—I do not think the majority of farmers will take any wrong advantage of this legislation. Progressive legislation of any kind, while it benefits the mass of the people, may cause hardship to some one or two, but in the long run it becomes part and parcel of the accepted social set-up. That is what we are striving to achieve here. I think Deputy Corry's fears are completely unfounded and I thank the Minister for accepting the amendment.
I believe that the section as it stands is better than with the amendment. The section gives the employee the option of taking the holidays at any particular time he likes. The amendment would take that option from the employee. In so far as it does that, it is less useful than the original section, but if the representatives of the workers are satisfied that this is an improvement I will not oppose it. I do not believe it is an improvement.
For Deputy Hickey, I move amendment No. 4:—
Before sub-section (4) to insert a new sub-section as follows:—
Where the whole or part of the year or period in respect of which holidays are to be allowed falls between the 1st May and 30th September, the holidays shall be given between these dates.
This is to ensure that the annual holidays will be given at a time when they will be of some use. I might anticipate now some of the objections. Where annual holidays have not been in operation, some of the representatives of the farmers may argue that this amendment might cause disorganisation of the work on the farm. In practice, that has been found to be incorrect. It has been operated in County Dublin, East Meath and North Wicklow pretty widely, and in that area there is a fair average of the type of farming that goes on in the country. In some parts of it you find even a more intensive type of agriculture than is practised elsewhere. It has been found that, during this period from the 1st of May to the 30th September, six consecutive days can be allowed without any interruption of the farm work.
The agricultural worker is just as entitled as any other worker to have his holidays in the fine weather. If some clause of this kind were not written into the Bill, the tendency on the part of employers would be towards requiring the worker to take his holidays during that part of the year when work on the farm is less intensive, that is, during the winter months. That would not be fair treatment for men who give such loyal service and are of such importance to this agricultural nation.
I believe we are proceeding towards a day when farm workers will be in the same position as other classes of skilled operatives, where their remuneration will allow them to take their holidays away from home and go over the hill to see what is on the far side, which many now have not the opportunity to do because of the grossly inadequate wage they are paid. This is paving the way to ensure that when that day comes they can take their holidays during the good period of the year and go to the seaside or wherever they wish, or stay at home. The holiday, wherever it is spent, is always more pleasant when the sun is shining. We have no guarantee that the sun will shine continuously between these two dates, but it is reasonable to expect that it would be a far better period of the year than any other. Accordingly, I recommend this amendment to the Minister and the House, in the belief that most Deputies will see that it is a very reasonable submission.
I would be grateful if Deputy Dunne would see his way to withdraw the amendment. The principle which it is sought to enshrine here derives from an illusion, to which I referred in another place on another occasion. It is very easy to fall into the error of identifying the conditions of agricultural workers with those of industrial workers. To do that is to fall into a fundamental illusion, failing to recognise that for an industrial worker the place where he works is the place whence he goes home, while for most agricultural workers the place where he works is whither he goes home. Most agricultural workers have small farms of their own and when they engage on their normal avocation of agricultural worker it is by no means certain that the most acceptable time for an agricultural worker to take his annual holiday is the time which would manifestly be most acceptable to an industrial worker, the time of long days and protracted sunshine. Deputy Dunne, as he said himself, is a bit optimistic in assuming that he can depend on sunshine between any two particular dates in our particular climate. It is natural that a man working in a factory all the year round would desire to have his annual holiday at a time when he could be out for the longest period and enjoy the fresh air and the amenities of a holiday resort from which his ordinary work debars him during the other 51 weeks in the year. Of course, the agricultural worker has no shortage of fresh air, whatever else he may lack. I do not think it is at all outside the bounds of possibility that a lot of fellows, if they and their wives were going to leave home for a holiday, might not prefer to go at the time of the January sales or the Christmas shopping, so that they could bring the children in to see Father Christmas, or on a variety of other occasions when people living perennially in the country would wish to visit Sligo, Limerick, Dublin, Cork, or whatever city they happen to be living near, and have a few days there with a relative or a friend. I think they would enjoy that variety. If it appeared to me that there was any material danger of the underlying purpose of this Bill being aborted by any kind of widespread practice of prescribing for an agricultural worker a period of the year for his annual holiday which, in fact, made the holiday an insult instead of a pleasant interlude, I would have no hesitation then in accepting Deputy Dunne's amendment.
I go further than that. If there appears any abuse in practice in which agricultural workers have it to tell that a general practice is growing up whereunder they are asked to take their holidays at times and under circumstances when they can derive no satisfaction and no benefit from them, I shall at once return to the Oireachtas to amend this Bill in the sense suggested by the amendment on the paper now in Deputy Dunne's name. But I do not like taking precautions against contingencies that all my experience teaches me are highly unlikely to arise. It surely is a sound principle to say that the less legislation we have the better. We ought not to be wanting to coerce our neighbours into doing this or doing that. Our powers, as a sovereign Assembly, of coercing anybody to do anything should be invoked only when not to coerce individuals would prejudice the legitimate rights of their neighbour. I cannot think that there is any serious danger of the agricultural workers of this country having their holidays spoiled for them every year by malicious farmers forcing them to take them at wholly unsuitable times; but I can think that very real inconvenience might be caused in many farms, both to the farmer and to the worker, if there was a statutory obligation requiring the worker to take and the farmer to give the six consecutive days' holiday between two statutory dates.
Let us not make statutory offences where the necessity does not arise. Let us not pass legislation which turns law-abiding respectable men, be they workers or employers, into law breakers because the obligations we have put upon them are in practice impossible to perform. But if any substantial body of citizens avail of the forbearance of the Legislature to establish an abuse, then it becomes the duty of the Oireachtas to check that abuse with consequential inconvenience to many law-abiding citizens. The law-abiding citizens must not, however, blame the Oireachtas; they must blame the people who practise the abuse which forces the Oireachtas into enacting a restrictive provision that would never have been enacted had not the abuse arisen.
I assure Deputy Dunne that I believe the abuse he is solicitous to make provision against is highly unlikely to arise. That is not an assurance with which I can expect him to be content unless I add that, if at any time hereafter satisfactory evidence is forthcoming that my anticipations have not been fulfilled and that abuse has, in fact, materialised, I assure the Deputy none shall be more ready than I to ask Oireachtas Éireann to take remedial measures to prevent the continuance of any such abuse.
I agree with Deputy Dunne's amendment. I appreciate the position as explained by the Minister. While the Bill may operate in the way the Minister has suggested and while the Minister may believe in all sincerity that in the majority of cases things will work out quite well, yet it is because we believe that there is a possibility of a clash of opinion as to how it will operate that we would like now to have the position clarified. We do not know that the farmer and his wife would be particularly anxious to visit the city at Christmas time. It is only commonsense to face the fact that, in the South of Ireland, at any rate, the vast majority of farm workers are not men with holdings of their own. In a large percentage of cases, they are men living in labourers' cottages with perhaps an acre of land; in some cases they have not even an acre.
There is one particular man who must be considered. In a number of areas the question of cutting and saving turf is all-important. We all know that that cannot be done except during the summer months. If a farm worker wants to cut and save turf and if his employer thinks it is not convenient to give him his holidays at the particular period when he could do that work, then that farm worker, under obligation to his wife and family, must avail of the services of another man to cut and save his turf for him. I do not think it should be impossible to give the holidays between April and September. Even between the time of cutting the hay and harvesting the crops there are gaps which could be used for the purpose of giving holidays. I think, in the case of the farmer with two, three or four men, that could easily be arranged. I know already of cases where such holidays are being given and the arrangement in those cases is working satisfactorily.
On the other hand, I know of cases where holidays are given around the January period, but I can assure the House and the Minister that they are not accepted with great joy by the farm workers. Even if the worker's wife wants to do shopping at that time, well, surely she will be only away from home for a day. It is not a suitable time for holidays either for herself or for her relatives. There is not such a lot available on the tables in the homes of farm workers that they can have relations spending a week with them at that time of the year. There is not sufficient accommodation in their homes, either, to have relations staying with them at that period, and neither would it be a suitable time for themselves to spend a holiday with their relations. If the holidays are given to farm workers in the summer time, they will have a little more freedom of action as regards visiting relations or neighbours. That, as I say, cannot be done so well in the winter time. I think I am expressing the views of farm workers when I say that they would get more value out of a week's holidays in the summer time or between spring and harvest than they would in the winter. Amusements are not very plentiful in the country, and if the farm worker is given a week's holidays in the winter he will have very little opportunity indeed of enjoying himself. Taking everything into consideration, I think this amendment is necessary. I believe that the majority of commonsense employers throughout the country realise that the proposal in the amendment can be easily operated to their advantage and to the advantage of their farm workers.
I would like to join with the Minister in asking that the amendment be reconsidered or withdrawn. I have very considerable sympathy with the point of view that the worker should be given a holiday at the period which suits him best. It is equally true that the worker will have to consider the needs of his employer. I am sure nobody speaking on behalf of the workers would suggest that they would be entitled to take their holidays during the busy seasons of the year. There can always be mutual give-andtake in this matter, and I think the wider the scope there is for that, the better it will be all round.
We all know that, on the farm, the winter period is always a long and a hard one. In the period from the 1st November to the 1st April the worker starts for his work almost before daylight, particularly if he has to travel any distance. It is long after dark before he reaches home at night. His work is strenuous and hard. During that period, he is engaged at his work in cold and wet weather, and, if you like, is exposed to a considerable amount of hardship. The winter, as I say, is a long, hard period, and I have the feeling that there are many workers who would like to have it shortened by the break of a week's holidays. On the other hand, I know that quite a large number of workers would prefer to take the holidays in the middle of summer. There is a period in midsummer, which is more or less a slack period, when I think it would be possible to accommodate workers who desired to take a holiday at that time.
There is one disadvantage in the amendment, not so much from the farmer's point of view as from the worker's point of view. That was brought home to me by what Deputy Desmond said, that there are workers who, instead of utilising this week's period for rest, would prefer to utilise it in doing work for themselves. The period set down in the amendment for the holidays is from the 1st May to, I think, the 30th September. We all realise that there are a number of workers who would be most anxious to get a week off in the early spring to cultivate their plots so that they would have ample provision in the way of vegetables for their family during the year. This amendment would prohibit workers from taking the holiday in the early spring and in that way it would be more of a disadvantage to the worker than to the farmer.
I think that in Leinster and Munster most agricultural workers have their own cottages and plots, some acre and others half-acre plots. Many farm workers would like to have their plots properly planted down so as to make them as productive as possible to meet the needs of their families. This amendment would prevent them from availing of the holiday during the period when they could be sowing down their plots. For that, if for no other, reason it might be desirable to reconsider the amendment.
I think that the amendment is a disimprovement on the Bill as presented by the Minister because it compels the worker to take his holidays possibly at a time of the year at which he might not want them. As Deputy Cogan has pointed out, work on the land can be very disagreeable during certain of the winter months. Already we have the example of a number of postmen who refuse to take their holidays in the summer time. They prefer to take them in the winter period when travelling can be very severe in wet and cold weather with, perhaps, snowfalls. Even though they have the option of taking their holidays at any time of the year they like, a number of them elect to take them in what may be described as the worst part of the year. I know a number of agricultural workers who would have exactly the same outlook. I think the Bill is better than if it were amended on the lines suggested.
I had no intention of intervening in the discussion, but I should like to make this observation that if we are approaching this amendment from the point of view of ameliorating the lot of the agricultural worker—I am leaving the employer out of the picture for the moment—then I think the House should have no doubt as to what is the best method of protecting his interests. I think that the House should accept the view of two Deputies who have a peculiar knowledge of the conditions of agricultural workers. If I may say so, both are in this House as the accredited representatives of those workers.
I do not think there can be a great deal of sincerity in the approach to the amendment made by Deputy Cogan or the Minister, namely, that there are a large number of workers who would resent this as an interference with their freedom. There may be something to be said for that from the employers' point of view, but inasmuch as the condition of the agricultural workers is such that it is difficult to retain them on the land, anything that will make their lot pleasanter or will tend to keep them on the land, should meet with the approval of the House. From that point of view I recommend to the amendment to the House.
This is a matter on which, it seems to me, there need be no violent controversy between Deputies. There are people here who are in a position to assess the merits or demerits of this proposal, and we can get a decision on it, I think, without causing any upheaval in the House. Might I suggest to the Minister that as there are people here who are interested both from the farmers' point of view and from the agricultural workers' point of view this amendment should be left to a free vote of the House?
I am quite content to take the feeling of the House on the matter. There is no question of compulsion. I am all in favour of rational parliamentary procedure, and where no question of fundamental principle is concerned, the House can do as it pleases. My only interest in this business is that I have a constitutional reluctance to ask the Oireachtas to compel anyone to do anything that the public weal does not demand. I do not think it likely that the farmers of this country are maliciously going to deprive their workers of holidays at the time the workers feel that they can most enjoy holidays. On the contrary, I think the average farmer would be mortified, if the worker had to take his six-day holiday at a time when the worker felt that he could keep his blooming holiday for all the good it was to him. That general atmosphere is so unthinkable to me that I recoil from the idea that it is necessary to impose a statutory obligation on farmers to act fairly with their own neighbours in a trivial matter of this kind. I do not think it is going to upset anyone's apple-cart in any way, and if the House feels that this amendment should be left to a free vote, I have not the slightest objection. I like free votes; it is good for Parliament to have free votes. But, any time the House votes against me on a question of principle, I shall go, hot foot. There is no question of principle involved here. If the House wants to express its views in the Lobbies on this modest question, Deputies are quite free to vote any way they wish. I shall vote against Deputy Dunne's amendment and he will vote for it, and so far as he and I are concerned, there will be no hard feelings whatsoever after the matter is decided.
I think the Minister, in introducing the Bill, made a case against the amendment inasmuch as he stated that the farmers have always been anxious to give holidays to their workers. I believe, on the contrary, that the farmers were never anxious to give holidays to the workers. Some families for generations have been farm workers and they never got a holiday and some of them never will get a holiday unless this Bill is passed. I believe, too, unless the period during which the holidays are to be given is clearly defined, the farm labourer will hesitate about asking for his holidays during the summer period and that the farmer will never think of giving them to him during that period.
In connection with other types of workers, it would be interesting to know whether there is a statutory period during which the holidays must be given. If there is not, why should farmers be singled out as the only people who, it must be assumed, are inclined to be unfair with the workers? All other sections of the community have their workers and there is no compulsion of this kind in regard to the period during which the holidays must be given. I think there should be equally fair treatment for the farmers.
Is this an effort to talk it out?
I am not going to talk it out but I have the same right as any other Deputy. If there is any hurry about it, I shall sit down.
I think it would be a pity if the House would not allow Deputy Allen to express his views.
I called on Deputy Allen.
If there is an objection from the gentlemen opposite——
We are not so thin-skinned as that.
The period set out in the amendment is one during which, normally, farmers would be anxious to give their workers holidays if they have to give them, but I can see no reason why they should be regimented. I think it is wrong to regiment either group. It may not suit some workers to take their holidays within that period or it may not suit the farmers to give them within that period. It must be remembered that the very busy season of the harvest occurs within this period. If it did not suit a worker to take his holidays in May, it might be very awkward for the farmer to have to give them in August or September. I would suggest to the Labour Party and to the various groups interested in this amendment that they should leave the matter open and allow the parties immediately concerned to arrange the holidays fairly in their own interests.
In answer to the query of Deputy Cogan, as to whether there is any statutory period during which other workers must get holidays, there are quite a number of workers who get holidays during the summer and harvest period in various industrial establishments throughout the country.
Does the statute compel them to take them during that period?
There is no compulsion at all. It is a matter of arrangement between the employees and the firms. We have the practice even in semi-State institutions or under a local authority where the staffs are not too big. Of course, where the staffs are big, the holidays have to be spread over the whole year round. The Minister, of course, assumes that we are all Christian gentlemen and that every employer is a Christian gentleman in this country. If that were the case, we would not want these laws at all, as everybody would be a saint and could be trusted to do the right thing.
The Deputy assumes that the farmers are not Christian gentlemen.
I am not putting it that way.
It sounds like it.
In other employments there is some give and take.
As I should like to have a decision of the House on this matter, I shall not take up further time in replying to the views which have been expressed in opposition to the amendment. I prefer to leave it to a Vote of the House.
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- Kyne, Thomas A.
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