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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 7 Mar 1961

Vol. 187 No. 1

Committee on Finance. - Vote 23—Office of the Minister for Justice.

I move:—

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £1,350 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1961, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Justice, and of certain other Services administered by that Office, including a Grant-in-Aid.

The necessity for this Supplementary Estimate arises from modest additions to the staff of my Department, and to increased expenditure on Legal and Technical Assistance. In both instances the increased expenditure is due to a small expansion of the staff engaged on the preparation of proposals for law reform. As Deputies are aware a Parliamentary Secretary was appointed since the original Estimate was prepared, and his remuneration, together with that of his private Secretary, is borne on subhead A.1 of this Vote.

The gross sum required is £1,600, that is, an increase of £1,000 in the provision for Headquarters Staff plus an increase of £600 in the provision for Legal and Technical Assistance. This sum of £1,600 is reduced by savings of £250 which it is expected will materialise on other subheads, so that the net sum asked for is £1,350.

I did not catch what the Minister said in relation to the subject of law reform. I gather this sum of money is related to the work being done on law reform. Is that correct?

What is being done in regard to law reform? We have on the Order Paper of this House for nearly eighteen months a Civil Liability Bill which has not yet been circulated. I introduced that Bill as a Private Member's Bill in a previous House and in this House. The Minister's colleagues in the Government voted against the First Reading of that Bill, giving an undertaking to me that a measure designed to deal with the problem I and others had in mind would be introduced.

All that has happened is that a First Reading was introduced here and no progress has been made so far. I would like to avail of this opportunity to enter a protest with regard to it. It is wrong that an urgent measure of law reform of this kind should not be proceeded with, particularly as the House was given a very definite undertaking on behalf of the Government that this measure would be introduced and would become law.

There is an aspect of this Vote which requires comment. The Minister informs us that this sum is required to cover an increase in the provision for Headquarters Staff including emoluments for the additional Parliamentary Secretary. I think there is an obligation on the Minister to tell why, for the first time since the State was founded, it has proved necessary to appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice. We have carried on now for close on 40 years through a good many stormy and tempestuous periods and the Minister for Justice has been able to handle that Department without the cost of a Parliamentary Secretary. In the old-fashioned days the fact that he was the Taoiseach's son-in-law would call for comment but in modern times when Prime Ministers appoint their nephews and even Presidents their brethren to exalted office I suppose we are in the fashion here in preserving the family character of the Executive. Tempora mutantur and I suppose every generation has its own standards. However, I remember a day when it was considered a disqualification for public preferment that one's father should occupy a responsible position in the Executive unless at an election by the people.

We have a Parliamentary Secretary now and under our arrangements he receives the appropriate salary and enjoys the amenity which all Ministers do of a car and two drivers to carry him around the country. I do not think in the appointment of our Executive we should be pinchbeck or unreasonable but I do think that when for the first time in 40 years it is proposed to appoint an additional Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice, the Minister has an obligation to come before the House and justify that course.

I can remember when we decided to appoint a Minister for the Gaeltacht. I approved of that decision. I was anxious to see special measures taken to build up the Gaeltacht economically, so that instead of treating the people who are the last repository of the national language as a kind of museum exhibit, we would deploy our resources to draw them into an economic tie with the country without displacing them from the Gaeltacht which they adorned and which was the citadel of the spoken language, a citadel without which there was very little prospect of the language surviving as a living tongue.

When we brought that proposal before Dáil Éireann, all these aspects of it were swept to one side—and from these benches by the Fianna Fáil Party—who delivered a diatribe attacking the creation of a post for the accommodation of one individual Deputy of this Party. If Deputy Lindsay had been the son-in-law of the Prime Minister of the day, according to my old-fashioned standards, I should have felt some measure of malaise at having to justify his appointment as Minister for the Gaeltacht. In fact we were appointing a native of Erris to look after the people of the Gaeltacht because he knew the people and was well versed in their problems and well equipped in any Government deliberation energetically to defend their rights. I think the decision to appoint him and to create the Ministry was a far-seeing, even visionary, step on which I look back with pride. It made me laugh to see the economically-minded Fianna Fáil Party when they took office faithfully fetching from their ranks a tried and trusted soldier and installing him as Minister for the Gaeltacht.

Surely that does not arise.

Except by way of comparison. Is there not a comparison?

The Deputy may not compare one appointment with every other.

Surely I am entitled to say that and compare the volume of work that was there to be done with no one to do it, because it was the responsibility of everybody and what is everybody's work never gets done?

Here we have a decision to appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to a Department which never had one. Is there any increase in the volume of work which the Minister could not have handled? I do not think there is. The Minister is an old and practised hand. He has been in this House for 33 years and there are few of its proceedings which are not familiar to him. He has been a Minister for 20 of those 33 years and cannot claim to be inexperienced or terrified by the responsibilities of office. I think it is a job for the purpose of grooming the beneficiary for another job and I do not think that transaction should pass without comment. We have travelled a long road since we were told with derision from the benches opposite that no man in the country was worth more that £1,000 a year and all the Ministers' salaries were correspondingly reduced, to the day we start appointing a Parliamentary Secretary at £2,000 a year, plus a motor car, to do the work which the Ministers have done unaided for 40 years to date.

I could go into elaborate description of the burden of work and responsibility that was carried by the Ministers for Justice in the past as compared with the relatively easy burden they now carry but I do not want to emulate the example of the Tánaiste who thought it expedient in the recent past in his public speeches to travel over the panorama of history. Let us not forget that panorama but let us bestow on it the charity of our silence and thank God that whatever transpired in those long-past, unhappy days, the State is still standing and we are the lawful Opposition and the Government the recognised Government of a State, the validity of whose foundations they once held in the darkest doubt.

I do not think anyone in the House will argue that the responsibilities of the Minister for Justice today are not very much lighter than they were in the days long ago. There is no obligation on the Minister now to preside over the setting up of all the institutions which constitute our stability as a State. All that has been done; it is now a matter of administration and not so very much of that. I look to the Minister to give a comprehensive explanation of why this help is needed and why this charge is on the Vote.

I want to refer to the matter mentioned by Deputy O'Higgins. He mentioned only one matter of law reform in respect of which a great deal of preliminary work had already been done and it is a relatively small point and yet, with our Parliamentary Secretary, we have not managed to reach on it so far.

There are a number of other matters relating to law reform which could, with advantage, be attended to. I should have thought it no excessive burden on the Ministry of Justice to consider establishing in this country a law reform committee similar to that which I believe has functioned in Great Britain for several years now, which would be charged with the responsibility of suggesting to the Minister for Justice draft Bills designed to bring our statue laws up to date. Perhaps the Minister has something of that kind in mind. If he has, we would be glad to hear it, because if it has not been done to date, it ought to be done now.

There are one or two matters in relation to these Supplementary Estimates——

Have we not moved only one?

Yes, Vote No. 23.

I want to add my voice to the voices of the Leader of the Opposition and Deputy O'Higgins, in a plea for a continuation of the very excellent activities which once went on in the Department of Justice by way of law reform. I need only point to a few of them to illustrate the excellence of the work done then: the Statute of Limitations, the Married Women's Status Act and measures of that kind. There is a considerable amount, not only of law reform, but of clarification, which would assist both the litigant and the legal practitioner.

I entirely support the view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the unnecessary creation of a new post. I should hate to think of the amount of decision, contempt and propoganda that would be used up and down the country, by the Fianna Fáil Party if, at any time, a Fine Gael Prime Minister chose to appoint one close to himself to what is, to all intents and purposes, a sinecure, and one which is wholly unnecessary in the promotion of the work of that Department.

Ní hionadh liom gur éirigh treóraí Fine Gael ar na cosa deiridh chun fogha nimhneach neamhdhíreach a thabhairt fé'n dTaoiseach is fé gach aoinne a bhaineann leis. Cothaíodh an fuath sin 'na chroí ón uair a bhí sé 'na naíonán is tá sé ag dul i méid le himtheacht na mblian. Is ionadh liom, ámh, an tagairt a rinne sé don Ghaeilge is d'Aire na Gaeltachta. Cé gur dhóigh liom go bhfuil ábhar beag Gaeilge aige, níor airigh muid oiread is trí abairtí Gaeilge uaidh ón lá a tháinig mé isteach sa Tig seo. Cad chuige, mar sin, go mbeadh baothchaint i dtaobh na teangan ar siúl aige in úrlabhra Gall?

What in the name of Providence has my fluency in Irish to do with this Estimate.

Táim ag tabhairt freagra ar na poinntí a rinne an Teachta Ó Diolúin i dtaobh na Gaeilge ach má tá riar nó riail á bhriseadh agam, géillfeadh dod' rialú, a Cheann Comhairle, ach ní ghéillfead don Teachta.

A Deputy was sent to Aran by Fianna Fáil for three weeks before he was appointed Minister.

Trua nár cuireadh tusa ann ar feadh scaithimh chun rud éicint a mhúineadh dhuit. Ach lig dom freagra a thabhairt ar do threóraí mar is chuige sin a d'éirigh mé.

Cá bhfuil an freagra? Ní chloisim é.

Nuair a bhí an Teachta ina Aire Talmhaíochta, do toghadh Rúnaí Parlaiminte don Aireacht san don chéad uair riamh. Do toghadh an Teachta Oilbhear Ó Flanagáin don Rúnaíocht sin. 'Sé an feall é nach bhfuil sé mar chúltaca aige anois chun tuille clábair a chaitheamh fé scáth an Mheastacháin Breise seo.


In reply to Deputy O'Higgins, all I can say is that the Bill about which he has spoken will, I hope, be circulated some time around the period of Easter. It is a complex Bill, as he well knows, and it has been examined, corrected and discussed over a considerable period of time. When I say I hope it will be circulated this session, I am merely expressing the hope that we will not find still more complexities which may cause it to be still further corrected.

In reply to Deputy Dillon, and to his remarks with reference to the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice, all I can say is that he must not have the remotest idea of the work which has to be undertaken in that Department. I may say that when my predecessor was in office, he had the aid of the Attorney General at his disposal in this House as well as in the Department. He also had the aid of the Taoiseach. Am I not entitled to get the aid of a young man who, I can say without being too modest, is a legal expert in his own right and can deal with measures which are brought into the House and discussed with legal authorities on the other side?

I want to make it clear that the volume of legislation prepared in the past four years by the Department of Justice is a record for any period of office of a Minister for Justice since the establishment of the State. I am not making an over-statement when I say that. Many of these Bills are of a most complex character. There are two Courts of Justice Bills which will be circulated to Deputies very shortly, and which I feel sure will be discussed over a considerable period of time when they are circulated.

I want to pay this tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary: he has been responsible, as Deputy Dillon must be fully aware, for bringing into this House and taking through the House and the Seanad, the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill which is now an Act, the Rent Restrictions Bill, which is also now an Act, the Charities Bill which is at Report Stage. There are the two Courts of Justice Bills, the Civil Liability Bill and, at the present time, he is working on a White Paper on the general subject of law reform. I can say definitely to the House, and to Deputy Dillon, that the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice can be fully justified. I can say, however, that some of the questions Deputy Dillon asked in respect to the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretary were answered by the Taoiseach in reply to a Parliamentary Question asked, I think, by Deputy Dillon. I thought the reply full and ample. I have no apologies to make on behalf of the Government or on behalf of Deputy Haughey for his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary.

Vote put and agreed to.