Committee on Finance. - Defence Bill, 1951—Report (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 60:—
In page 53, to delete Section 103 (3), lines 28 to 38.

Last night I moved the deletion of sub-section (3) of Section 103, lines 28 to 38, and I did so for reasons which I then briefly explained. It is important that in discussing this matter we should realise that the Minister himself has put down for consideration an amendment to that particular sub-section as follows:—

In page 53, Section 103 (3) (a), line 32, to insert "or during a period during which reservists are called out on permanent service under Section 88," after "force."

In other words, while sub-section (3) authorises the Minister by regulation to prohibit officers of the Reserve Defence Forces and reservists when called out on permanent service from participating in specified political activities, he also wants the sub-secton to be extended to enable him to prohibit those officers and soldiers from participating in specified political activities in the period during which reservists are called out on permanent service under Section 88 of the Bill, which is the section which has been discussed and in which there has been an amendment made during the progress of the Bill through the House at this stage, so that in addition to what is in this sub-section the Minister proposes to extend it.

I can understand what the Minister had in mind when he considered putting in this particular provision. I think the Minister had in mind something in the nature of what one ordinarily calls politics in this country. For some reason or other, politics has received a very debased connotation over a period of a century or so. Politics has many meanings, its primary and proper meaning being the science of government, and its debased meaning that it is engaging in activities of an undesirable nature. I fear that the drafter of that particular amendment had in mind, from his isolation, the second meaning of the word, because if he had in mind the higher description of politics as being the science of government, I do not think he would have considered the restriction or prohibition laid down here. It is time that we should get away from the debased conception of politics, and it is particularly desirable that we in this House should endeavour to give to politics in our own interest, if not in the national interest, the higher sense and the higher meaning.

In the national interest.

I always take the line that in anything we do we all take the line that anything each of us did was in the national interest. That is why I find some difficulty, on reflection, as to what is involved in this particular amendment. It is a pity that we could not have from the Minister in the section some idea as to what he himself considered might be involved in "specified political activities". Let us get down to a realistic consideration of what is involved. A person who is an officer of the Reserve Defence Forces may belong to a political Party, as he is perfectly entitled to. He may belong to one of the political Parties that are recognised in the House as being part of the set-up of the Dáil, or he may be a member of any organisation which is political but, nevertheless, is not represented here in the Dáil or in the Seanad.

He may be an Independent.

He may be an Independent and he may have very wise views on everything. What can the Minister do under this section? I stated last night that to participate in political activities is, I believe, a sign of very high citizenship. It has been laid down by very high authorities that it is the duty of citizens in democracies to take an active part in politics and thereby help to preserve democracy. That has been laid down by the very highest authority and would be acceptable to the people, particularly of this country. If participation in politics implies a very high standard of citizenship, what right would the Minister have to say that a particular person should not par ticipate in specific political activities?

When he is on permanent service.

The difficulty is what is involved here. I accept that if the present Minister were making regulations in regard to that, he would take into account all relevant considerations and he would endeavour to come to a very reasonable decision in regard to it. I am perfectly certain his predecessor would take the same line but where we are enacting permanent legislation, a Bill, not for to-day or to-morrow, a Bill for a long time in the future, a Bill that may be administered by very many different types of Ministers, what guarantee have we that if we allow this very wide prohibition to the Minister, it will not be abused? I think it is a reasonable thing for a Parliament in a democratic country to secure all the safeguards it can against abuses of power by some person in the future. I do not think it is wise to consider legislation on the basis of the particular Minister who happens to be in power at the moment. I think the Minister would agree that it is reasonable to consider what Ministers may do in the future, although the Minister has always held out, particularly in regard to decisions on this Bill, the idea that we must consider legislation as reasonable persons on the basis that the Acts will be always administered by reasonable people.

I think myself that to adopt that line is to fly in the face of all history and of all experience. If we were to take that line in regard to every Act we pass, I think the Acts would be very short and there would be no restrictive provisions of any kind in them. We would leave it all to the good nature and the good sense of Ministers administering the Acts to do the wise thing on all occasions. I think that one would have to go to Utopia or into some of the countries visualised by Swift to find a society in which people would have that exceptionally high standard of conduct in their rulers and in their Ministers of State. That is why I say that I feel that this particular clause is an unwise provision, that it is rather unnecessarily slovenly, if I might put it that way, in its drafting.

The Minister will say: "Well what happens if persons are called out for a period of permanent service?" I want the House to realise the position because I can see from the observation that Deputy Allen made a few moments ago that there is a conception that permanent service is service for a long period. "Permanent service" has a particular specific meaning within this Act and it is interpreted. Permanent service for the purpose of the Act might mean service for no longer than one week. That is the difficulty that might arise in the conception of that provision, particularly amongst persons who would not be aware of the specific meaning of permanent service as laid down in this Act. One may say: "If the Minister cannot stop members of the Reserve Defence Force from being members of political organisations, then it is right that he should prohibit them engaging in political activities when they are on permanent service." Permanent service might be only for a week or two.

They might hold a political meeting on their own. Assuming elections were on, they might decide to hold a meeting on behalf of some candidate.

I do not want to conceive such a thing happening at all, but it is a very particular thing and something that might be understood, that in the event of a general election a battalion of regular soldiers are perfectly entitled to attend a political meeting and there is nothing that I know of to prevent them cheering.

Nor is there anything to prevent a candidate writing and asking them to vote for him.

Or holding a meeting on the barrack square on behalf of some candidate?

There is a limit somewhere.

It is strange that in regard to permanent Defence Forces all that is laid down in the Act is that a soldier "shall not join, or be a member of, or subscribe to any political organisation or society, or any secret society whatsoever." That is all that is laid down in the Act in regard to the Regular Army. But as Deputy Allen knows and as the House knows there are such things as barrack standing orders which are covered in this Act and unit standing orders which are laid down under the very authority of this Act. There are certain things that they do not permit within the walls of barracks and one of the things is a political meeting. That is very clearly laid down. Obviously you can have anything that you are not prevented from having. For instance there is a standing order that you cannot play poker in a barrack-room——

Well, they do it.

——or indulge in gambling or anything like that. One must approach the problem on the basis, first and foremost, that a soldier is a citizen whether Regular Army or reservist: that he is entitled to have any political views he likes and to express them: that he is entitled to attend political meetings: that he is entitled to have letters addressed to him by candidates in a general election and in fact they are delivered free to him by the Army authorities: and he is entitled to vote and gets all the assistance in the world in having his vote recorded enclosed and sent under the seal of secrecy to the returning officer. One can very readily by the misuse or misunderstanding of the word "political" get a very wrong conception of what is aimed at here in this section. We have got to remember this—that the regular soldier has a right to hold any political views he likes, to express them, to attend any political meeting he likes and there is the danger that under this section a regulation might be made which would go much further in regard to the reservist who may be only up for a couple of days than the Minister could lawfully prescribe in regard to members of the Regular Forces.

The phrase "specified political activities" suggests that the Minister has made up his mind already that there are certain political activities on the part of reservists that he thinks it desirable to prohibit by regulation. If that is so, I think the House should be told by the Minister what those "specified political activities" are. For instance, would the Minister prohibit by regulation a reservist from voting in a general election? Would the Minister by regulation prohibit reservists from receiving, during the course of a general election, Party literature?

If the Minister feels that he could not prohibit a reservist from attending a political meeting, from voting in elections, from receiving Party literature, from expressing political views, what are the special activities that the Minister feels that he should prohibit by regulation? If he has made up his mind on this question after he has had experience of having the Reserve up on permanent service for a long period—if he has made up his mind as to the political activities that he thinks should be prohibited—why does he not specify them in the section rather than leave them at large as he has done?

I think that the House should have it on record from the Minister what the Minister has in mind in regard to these specified political activities. I know that the present Minister, if the matter were to be decided by him during the period that he is Minister for Defence, would hardly issue a regulation that did not apply to all political Parties irrespective of what Party was concerned. But is it sufficient safeguard in this section that "specified political activities" could not relate particularly to one political organisation rather than another? I take it that the wording here does not have in mind — I certainly could not read it into the section — the prohibition of reservist or a Reserve officer from belonging to a political Party. If a member, no matter how active he may be in any political Party, joins the Reserve or becomes a Reserve officer, and is called out on permanent service or in circumstances in which the State is in danger, would the Minister in those circumstances oblige, or did he have in mind the issue of a regulation that would oblige, that particular Reserve officer or reservist to resign his membership of a political organisation? If he were a prominent member of a political organisation would he be entitled to retain his membership of the political organisation or would the regulations he has in mind oblige him to discontinue his membership during the period? Those are the questions I want to put to the Minister on that section.

It is regrettable that the Minister in this section did not make it absolutely specific what he wanted to do. For instance, when he deals with the Regular Forces he says very clearly: you cannot be a member of, or subscribe to, a political organisation or society. That is clear. You cannot join, be a member of or subscribe to any political organisation or society or any secret society whatsoever. Would he apply the very same restrictions to a reservist or a Reserve officer on permanent service? Would his regulations prohibit him from joining, becoming a member of, or subscribing to a political organisation during the period that he is a member? I think the House would be anxious for the Minister to clarify that particular matter in his reply.

This matter was discussed in the Special Committee and, as a result, I think the amendment which the Minister brings in now goes a little further than the original section went. If the Minister is able to indicate in a broad, general way what he has in mind, then it will be helpful to the House and we will have some idea of what may be involved in the prohibition that is laid down here, although I know, and the House knows, that anything the Minister may say here in support of the section cannot be held to bind his successor.

I am particularly anxious to hear what the Minister has in mind in regard to the section, what he means by specified political activities. I am particularly anxious to know whether by political he means active Party politics rather than politics in the higher sense that I mentioned as the science of Government. I think I have said sufficient to indicate the doubts I have in regard to this and I am very anxious that the Minister should clarify these doubts when he replies to this amendment.

This section has a long history. I do not suppose that we should go into it now but I think that, on examination, this whole section could practically be done without at the present time. I did not like it when I had certain responsibility for it but, as it had a certain tradition for the permanent members of the Force, I felt that the Dáil, and not I, should move it, because it was the Dáil put it in at the time it was inserted in the first Army Act. The Government of the day accepted that amendment for very specific reasons.

Later on it was possible for a Reserve officer to be a Deputy of this House, to even serve and be a Deputy for the month's training when he was called up during the year. We find that the prohibition against being a Deputy of the House arose during the last emergency. It was only during the last emergency — between the years 1939 and 1946 — that a regulation was made prohibiting Deputies from being members of the Defence Forces, that is, the Reserve, Second and Third Line of Defence, but he could be a member of the auxiliary police force established under the emergency regulations.

In the long run, I do not think it served any useful purpose. If there is an emergency of such a nature that the defence of the country is being undertaken on a broad basis by both Government and people, I think it is no harm at all that the Parliament would be graced with the uniforms of the State. When an army is in the field and whenever it is able to keep a remnant of the Army in the field or a well-organised company, the sovereignty of the State remains in that company until it is quashed by an enemy or an invader. It would not be at all unreasonable to have a member of the House, even in uniform, out defending the country.

This section has a long history. I would suggest to the Minister that he should reconsider the whole question of having it at all. It dealt with a specific situation. It was case legislation instead of a principle. The exclusion of Deputies from being members of the F.C.A. or the L.D.F. was, I think, a mistake. However, the country was defended without us at the time and the necessity did not arise. When it comes to making regulations to deal with the Reserve Forces who are called out on permanent service, permanent service can be, as Deputy Cowan rightly says, for 24 hours. As a matter of fact, it is rather a peculiar situation that if a reservist is in a district or a village and if the Civic Guards want help they can call him out without the Minister doing it at all in case of extreme urgency.

It would be a nice how-do-you-do if the reservist had to say "I am a member of a Fianna Fáil or a Fine Gael club and I have to resign first before I can go out." That would be very disturbing.

I should like the Minister to say whether he feels he should retain the section. If he feels he should not I think the argument can stop and he should consider dropping it altogether. There is no necessity to-day for subsections (1) or (2) because the good sense of the people in the Army should see to it that they would not be members of any political Party while they were serving in the Forces. Then, when they are on reserve, I think their rights as citizens entitle them to be members of any political organisation if they so desire.

It can be argued that the restrictions which a Minister or a commanding officer wish to place on them would be put upon their conduct within the barracks. The camp standing orders would prohibit any unseemly conduct that might arise and anything that might disturb the good order of the barracks. Under other sections they will have ample power to meet such incidents. However, I would like to hear what the Minister has to say. As I said, I did not like the section while I had responsibility and I do not like it even now.

This section will not prevent any member of the Forces or any member of the Reserve, who wishes to do so, from participating in a study of the science of government. In fact, as far as I am concerned, I would like to see every officer in the Army giving study to that very important subject.

That is where I learned it.

In my opinion he would be performing a civic duty if he were to do that. But Deputy Cowan, in the course of his remarks, surprised me somewhat because all the questions he put were those which he asked during the passage of the Bill through the Special Committee. When he began his speech he said he put these queries for the purpose of having the matter clarified. I made a long reply in which I thought I had clarified the situation fairly fully and in the course of my remarks the Deputy interjected: "I merely wanted the Minister to clarify the position." Naturally I assumed from that that the Deputy was reasonably satisfied with the situation as he found it then. There can be little doubt that the difference between Deputy Cowan and myself — he referred to this himself — is that the Deputy is not anxious to trust anyone and I am anxious to trust everyone.

That is a fundamental difference between us.

Yes. The Deputy has no trust in his fellowman and I am prepared to say that before a person could assume an important ministerial post he must be a man of honour and trust and a man who has at least proved to the general public and to his Leader, whoever he may be, that he is honest and trustworthy and will do honour to the position he holds.

I do not forget Nuremberg.

Where Nuremberg arises the regulation will not be required. That will not stop them.

It was a bad regulation that allowed a particular man in instead of keeping him out.

The only thing that this section does — and Deputy Cowan and Deputy General MacEoin know this as well as I do — is to ask that when a man is called out on permanent service he leaves politics behind him. Deputy Cowan is anxious to know what politics means in this connection. The only answer I can give to him is on the lines of his own impression. Politics, as it is generally known to the man in the street, is not the study of the science of government. It is something more than that. It is a terribly keen, fanatical, active interest in one political policy as against another and it is the desire of ensuring that, as far as it lies within the power of the individual who believes in that policy, that policy is successful. I do not think that any Deputy wants to see that type of argument taking place in the Army. We do not want to see a captain in the Army expressing one viewpoint, some of his lieutenants expressing another viewpoint and some more of them expressing still another viewpoint. That would only lead to complete and utter disruption and I am certain no Deputy wants to see that sort of thing taking place.

As I said, the individual can be the most active member of his political organisation and he does not have to resign from it when he is called up. If he is a member of the Reserve he merely tells his political organisation: "I have been called up. You will have to have me replaced by somebody else. I will not be able to help you now until I am demobbed." That is all there is to it. There is no question whatever of asking him to resign from his position. If he happens to be the secretary, the chief mobiliser or organiser — whatever he is called — of the political organisation, it does not make the slightest difference; he just sheds that title for the time being and if he is an officer in the Army he assumes another title. If he is an officer on permanent service all we ask him to do is his duty in accordance with military tradition.

On the question of whether we should allow politics, wrangling and all that would be likely to follow the free discussion of politics as we know it— apart from the study of the science of government which is what they tell us politics is — the experience which we had during the emergency should be the best guide. We had then in the Army men of different political viewpoints, some of them as far apart as the poles; yet they stood there side by side ready to carry out any duty they were asked to perform. I am certain that if the necessity had arisen they would have been prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder and fall together. That was because they shed their political viewpoints when they took the rifle.

I think that, from the very valuable experience which we gained in that particular period, we should leave matters as they are. Again, with regard to this particular section, I feel that no matter who occupies this position, he will adopt the common-sense attitude and that he will not delve into questions of how best he can inflict some particular penalty on these people to prevent them from doing this thing, that thing or the other thing. As somebody said here this evening, if they want to do these things, regulations will not stop them. The best thing to do is to provide, as far as is humanly possible, that these things will not happen. That is all we are doing in the Act. When a man is called up on permanent service — which, somebody suggested, might only be for 24 hours: and, if it is, it will not make a whole lot of difference: in fact it will not, either, if it it is to be for a couple of years — the political organisation of which he is a member will not collapse as a result of his being there. So, the common sense of the whole matter is merely that, when the reservist is called out on permanent service, he becomes a soldier and sheds his political rank, still holding his political viewpoint as strongly as before. As Deputy Cowan himself said, every possible help and aid that the Army themselves can give in guiding a man in respect to making his political decisions are available to him — which is a still further proof that this will not do any injustice to any individual.

We have had an interesting discussion on this matter. However, there is one point which I should just like to clarify, in the beginning. The Minister, in speaking, gave the impression that, within the Army, there are no political discussions or debates. I should not like that impression to go abroad. I can say with practical experience that I have never known anywhere in which there have been such violent political arguments as in the officers' mess and in the barrack rooms. I interjected that it was in the Army that I learned, in so far as I know it, the science of government because, in all the years that I was there, we discussed politics in a very objective way. People had their violent likes and dislikes in respect of individual leaders and individual Parties and they expressed those likes and dislikes with the force that only soldiers could. I think that that is a wonderful thing to know. I think it is only right and that it is only the practice of a civilised country. Only the amadáns who are not disciplined, and who do not know the higher approaches, beat up one another about political views. I think the same freedom should exist in the Army as exists in this House. We discuss politics here rather violently from time to time, but if the country were in a state of emergency, everybody knows that no matter how violent one's political likes or dislikes might be we would all stand shoulder to shoulder in the national interest. I think it is wrong to think that the very same high standards of conduct do not apply in the Army as apply in this House and throughout the country generally.

The Reserve can be, might be, 100,000 of our very best citizens. I think we will always desire to see the situation in which 100,000 of our young men, say, between 20 and 30 years would be members of the Reserve. It would be very wrong if anyone had the view or the conception that those people should be compelled to leave their political organisations or to disengage from what, from the national interest, would be harmless political activity. Even to-day, in every barrack-room of the Army, even at this minute in the canteens and messes of the Army, they are probably discussing the Defence Forces Bill — perhaps on a higher level than we are discussing it here, and with much more power and force. They have their political views and they express them strongly. They have the honour of their country, of their unit, of their brigade or of their command at heart. Nobody bothers, when they are on duty, on the march or preparing for action, what the political views of his comrade may be. It is a remarkable thing that it is in the retired soldiers that one finds such a very objective approach to problems of politics. I think Deputy General MacEoin did express his high conception of this particular merit of the Army. We know the football team. The members of the football team can have the most violent political differences but when they go out to play a match they go out to win. It is not just a question of passing the ball to the Fine Gael member or the Fianna Fáil member or the Labour member or any other particular member of the team: they play as a team and in the team's interests — and the Army plays as a team in the country's interests, just as we in this Dáil, with our very widespread differences, do our best in the national interest. We have heard talk about the Captain holding one view, the Lieutenant another view and the Second Lieutenant another view again. That is commonplace every day in the Army and particularly at election times.

It would be a terrible state of affairs if it were not.

What I referred to was the expression of opinion.

I want to clear up the misconception. I only want to place it on record that there are in the Army very strong political views and prejudices, very forcibly expressed, and that it interferes in no way with their duty — and that is in ordinary peace time where the regular Army is concerned.

The ballot papers.

Yes, the ballot papers are interesting to examine when they are received. The Minister has agreed with the views which Deputy General MacEoin and I have expressed in regard to the different conceptions we have about politics. It is because I am afraid that we would bring into legislation the old and the bad meaning of politics that I do not agree with the clause that is here in the Minister's section. Nobody knows better than the Minister that, in the old days, to be national was to be political and that when you wanted a hall for a meeting for a national purpose from certain people who controlled the hall you were told that politics would not be permitted — and it is that line of reasoning right through. It was political to be national and against the invading authority. Politics were taboo and debarred. I am afraid that it is that particular complaint of politics that is behind this particular phrase. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.