I thought it necessary in the interests of the Seanad and as the custodian to some extent, being its Chairman, of its privileges and powers, to call attention to the proceedings of the Dáil upon Friday last, when a motion was introduced by the President, as the Minister for Finance, asking the approval of the Dáil of the report of the Committee of the Seanad upon the staff and its remuneration, which was adopted subsequently by the Seanad itself. It is necessary for me, in order to get rid of a great deal of misapprehension that seems to be in the minds of Deputies of the Dáil with regard to this matter, to give a full and detailed statement of the whole thing from the beginning, because unless I do that neither the public nor the members of Dáil will really understand what the true position was. Almost at the outset of our proceedings a small committee was appointed, and asked to make recommendations as to the number of the staff we would require. That Committee assembled, and I think on the second occasion when it met, the President attended and strongly urged upon them the appointment of two persons, two named persons, to the position of Clerk and Assistant Clerk, at salaries which he suggested should be fixed in the case of the Clerk at £1,100, and, in the case of the Assistant Clerk, at £950. By a narrow majority that suggestion was adopted, and a recommendation passed upon it was made by the Committee in which they virtually nominated two individuals to those positions.
When it came before the Seanad it was at once pointed out that the Committee had exceeded their powers, because they were not asked to nominate individuals. They were merely asked to report as to the nature and number of the staff, and accordingly it was decided by the Seanad that the matter should be referred back to the Committee with wider powers, and that the Committee should be increased by adding to it the names of your Chairman and Vice-Chairman. The Committee so constituted consisted of ten, and they accordingly met, and the first thing they did was to determine to issue advertisements so that everybody who thought himself qualified to fill either of those positions might have the opportunity of having his application submitted and tested. After these advertisements appeared I received an intimation from the President that he would like to see me, and accordingly I interviewed him. He then told me that the view of himself and his colleagues in the Government was that they, and they alone, had the exclusive patronage of the entire staff of this Seanad from the highest to the lowest, and that, acting under that belief he had already appointed one gentleman to the office of Clerk, and had induced him on the faith of that appointment to resign a very high position he occupied in the Free State Army. I told the President quite frankly that I did not believe the Seanad for a moment would accede to such a position.
I pointed out to him that so far as the powers and duties conferred upon the members of the Seanad by the Constitution were concerned they were absolutely independent—independent of the Government, independent of the Dáil—and that I was quite certain they would resent a suggestion that they were not to have the ordinary right that is possessed by every public board and body in the country, unless it is taken from them by legislation, of appointing their own staff. However, I told him I would bring the matter before my colleagues on the Committee. I brought it before the Committee, and they were unanimous in contesting such a claim on behalf of the Government, taking the view I had foreshadowed that if there was anything at all within their powers that they were competent and entitled to fulfil it was the nomination and control of their own staff. It was obvious if the Government had the right—the exclusive right—to appoint a staff, the Government would also have the right—the exclusive right— to control and dismiss the staff, and consequently our staff would not have been responsible to us, but to those who had the power of removal and control. Every member of that Committee of ten—it was a representative Committee drawn from all interests represented in the Seanad—was unanimous in asserting their right, and their right alone, to make these appointments.
I should say that at that interview with the President I ascertained for the first time that he had, in virtue of his belief that as head of the Government the patronage belonged to him, appointed already a gentleman to the position of our Clerk, and when we were discussing the matter at our Committee I pointed out to the Committee that the President would, of course, find himself naturally in a position of great difficulty if we were to rule out his nomination, having regard to the fact that on the strength of his nomination the gentleman in question had resigned his position in the Army. I suggested to the Committee that they should send a small deputation to discuss the matter with the President and see if we could not arrive at somemodus vivendi. The Committee agreed to that suggestion, and they nominated myself, Mr. Andrew Jameson, Colonel Moore, and Sir John Griffiths as a deputation to wait upon the President for this purpose. We were received very courteously indeed by the President, and he had with him as his adviser the Law Adviser of the Government. We discussed the matter very fully with him. I pointed out there was no restriction in the Constitution of any sort or kind upon our powers over our own House, and that it was the elementary law of the land that any public body or board, unless prevented by statute, had the inherent right to appoint its own staff, or, in other words, be masters in their own House. After considerable discussion he ultimately agreed that we should have that absolute right conceded, not merely as regards the appointments, but also as regards the control and dismissal of our staff. Having explained to us the difficult position in which he was placed as regards the particular gentleman I have named, whom he had already nominated to the post, I was authorised by the Committee, and the deputation accordingly with that authority informed the President that, in view of the situation that had been created we would, if upon interviewing the gentleman in question we were satisfied with his credentials, favourably consider his name for the post. Upon that arrangement we left, having obtained a distinct admission from the President of the inherent right of the Seanad to appoint, control and dismiss its own staff. That being the position I was greatly surprised when I read in the public Press that the President had thought it necessary to submit our report, the report made by the Committee to the Seanad, to the Dáil, and to ask the Dáil for their adoption and approval of that report.
That seemed to me not only to be a complete abandonment of the position he took up that the patronage lay with the Government, but also a departure from the agreement at which we had arrived, and by which the right of this Seanad to make appointments, etc., had been conceded. In the course of the very full debate that arose in the Dáil upon that motion, the matter was discussed from different views, but there were two Deputies who put the position to the Seanad so well in their speeches that I venture to quote the material portions of those speeches for the information of the Seanad. I refer, first of all, to the speech of Deputy Johnson who said:—"I question the wisdom of asking the Dáil to concur in the appointments proposed. If we are to concur in the appointments proposed then we ought to have an opportunity given to us to see whether the persons proposed are fit and proper persons to fill those appointments. We are being asked now to undertake responsibility for those appointments without any knowledge of the qualifications of the persons who have been appointed. We ought not to concur unless some evidence is given to us of the suitability of the persons that have been appointed. They may be the most perfect men for the office, but we do not know, and we are asked now simply to say ‘ditto' to something that the Seanad has done, and to relieve the Seanad from its own responsibility for fitting those persons into their particular posts." I concur with every word of that, but the matter was put even more clearly from the constitutional point of view by Deputy Professor Magennis. I shall quote his words:—"It seems to me that it would be a very ungracious thing on the part of the Dáil to attempt to limit or restrict the discretion of the Seanad in the appointment of its own officials. I mean by "appointment," the decision, the determination, of what officers they need for the transaction of their business. One comes further on to the question of filling these offices. No matter what I may think about the candidates put forward, or the selection exercised in its wisdom by the Seanad, as a member of the Dáil, by virtue of what is in the Constitution, is it competent for me to attempt to exercise a veto over what has been done? That is how the matter appears to me. I am not expressing an opinion, because I am not a member of the Seanad, on the relative merits of any of the candidates. Am I to express an opinion as a member of the Dáil on the wisdom or unwisdom, the policy or impolicy, of what the Seanad has done? I am fairly conversant with the terms of the Constitution. I know of nothing in the Constitution that empowers this Dáil to exercise any control except in regard to expenditure. It is for us to say whether we think the public purse has been plundered or not in the salaries that are set out opposite these offices, but it seems to me, with all respect to our colleagues, that we are not at liberty to go beyond that." And then he says: "We have to consider merely are we willing to have the public purse drawn upon to that extent for the payment of these officials. What the personnel may be I hold, rightly or wrongly, is a matter for the determination of the Seanad itself." I venture to say that is an exact, a proper and correct explanation of the constitutional position. I do not think the Dáil realise that if they are entitled to have a deciding voice in a matter like this— in appointments made by us—then we equally, because there is nothing in the Constitution to the contrary, must have a controlling voice over the appointments made by them; and I venture to think there would be a considerable uproar if the Seanad attempted to exercise any such power as that. The constitutional position is plainly—I do not think any lawyer will dispute it—that every public body or board such as this is, unless deprived of it by legislation, which in this case would be the Constitution, which contains nothing to deprive us of it, has an inherent right to appoint its own staff, and that is a position I am quite certain the Seanad is not prepared to surrender.
There is one other matter I would like to refer to. It was said that we had been hasty and extravagant in our arrangements as regards these appointments. I will deal with the question of haste first. The Committee of ten appointed to deal with this matter took three weeks over it. We interviewed over twelve candidates, and, not being satisfied with the applications we received for the post of Assistant Clerk, we consulted the head of the Civil Service, and asked him to recommend to us the names of some specially qualified men in the Civil Service, because members of the Civil Service did not apply, being precluded by the regulations from applying without the consent of the head of their departments. Mr. O'Hegarty very kindly sent us the names of five men, each of whom he could confidently recommend. We invited these five to be interviewed, and all attended but one. We finally selected as our Assistant Clerk one of these gentlemen, who had a most distinguished record in the Civil Service. So much for the question of haste. As I say, we spent three weeks over it, and during that time we had at least six meetings. May I by way of comparison, though comparisons are said to be odious, refer to the action of the Dáil in regard to the appointment of a much higher and more important official, the Comptroller and Auditor-General. That gentleman was appointed after one meeting of the Selection Committee, whereas our appointment was made at the end of three weeks, and after a series of meetings had been held. Now I pass on to the question of extravagance. When the President attended the first meeting of the Committee and put forward a suggestion as to the two gentlemen that he wished to see occupying the posts of Clerk and Assistant Clerk, he fixed, or asked the Committee to fix, the salary for the Clerk at £1,100, and £950 for the Assistant Clerk. We cut down the suggested amounts to £1,000 and £700 respectively. I may mention that under the Dáil the Clerk has £1,200 and the Assistant Clerk £850. I do not think, therefore, we erred very much on the side of extravagance.
There is another matter. We are attacked because we had appointed a third, or a second assistant, clerk. The necessity for that arose in this way. Under the Constitution all our proceedings and official documents have to appear not only in English, but also in Irish, and, accordingly, it was essential that one of our staff, at least, should be a competent and fluent Irish writer and speaker. Major-General Dalton, unfortunately, could not comply with that condition, but the Assistant Clerk we had appointed, Mr. O'Sullivan, had the highest qualifications in that regard. Then we found ourselves confronted with this difficulty: should Mr. O'Sullivan be unavoidably absent through illness, vacation, or otherwise, we would have no official in the Seanad competent to transcribe the proceedings, and to comply with the terms of the Constitution. Accordingly, it became inevitable that we must appoint an assistant to him, and in that assistant we have secured another capable and competent Irish scholar who can always act in that capacity for Mr. O'Sullivan should the latter be absent at any time for unavoidable reasons. This gentleman that we have so appointed will not only take Mr. O'Sullivan's place in his absence, but, while the Seanad is sitting, will be in the office for the purpose of answering inquiries and so forth, and, in addition, has undertaken the duties of private secretary to the Chairman. His remuneration we fixed at £500, so that you will see the three officials we have only exceed by £150 the amount that the President thought was the proper figure for two officials. May I also mention that these three gentlemen have only been appointed for a year on probation. I need scarcely say, speaking for myself, that should experience show that I can dispense with the private secretary, I shall be prepared quite willingly to do so, and should experience show that we can work with two officials, I am quite sure the Seanad will do it. In addition to these three officials the Committee only recommended the appointment of one other, that is the legal adviser, at £1,000 a year, and some minor officials: two door-keepers, who will act as messengers, and a typist. The total expenditure in respect of that entire staff, which we reported to be adequate, would be £3,600 a year. I do not think that is a very extravagant figure for such a House as this. At any rate, it compares very favourably, taking a modest assembly like this with an august assembly like the House of Lords, because I find that in the salaries of officials alone, excluding door-keepers, attendants, messengers, tip-staffs, etc., the amount paid in the House of Lords is over £20,000 a year, and a considerably higher figure is paid in the House of Commons. That is all I have got to say on that. I must refer to one other matter that was made the subject of adverse criticism in the Dáil on Friday last. It was said that we had been wanting in dignity and wanting in our duty in allowing certain Government measures to go through the Seanad without discussion or debate. It was not quite accurate to say that, because there had been some small debate; but what is the truth of the matter? When the first of these Bills was put through, being a purely formal matter, which in the Dáil had been neither debated nor discussed, I stated publicly, as the members of the Seanad will recollect, that this was not to be taken as a precedent, but the Bill being a pressing one and of a purely formal character, I said I was sure the Seanad would facilitate the Government in allowing it to go through. Precisely the same thing happened as regards the other Bill, the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and another in connection with the postponing of the Local Government elections, and a third one in reference to the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, all of which had practically gone through the Dáil without discussion or debate. Yet we are attacked because in our desire to facilitate the Government we took the same course here. I do not think the Seanad has anything to regret in the course it took, and I think its proceedings were regular and proper. I wish from my heart, and I am sure so do all the members of the Seanad, that we should work in perfect amity and goodwill with the Dáil, and that, while we respect their privileges and powers, we should receive at their hands the same consideration. I am quite certain that what was said by way of adverse criticism on Friday last in the Dáil was said under a misapprehension of the true facts of the case, but, inasmuch as the matter has gone before the public, I thought it my duty as your Chairman to make this statement to-day before you.