The next business to be considered is the Indemnity Bill, which comes to us from the Dáil. The Standing Orders indicate that the reception of the Bill in the Seanad is to be taken as leave to introduce it. Therefore, the motion now before the Seanad is:—"That the Bill be read a second time."
INDEMNITY (BRITISH MILITARY) BILL.
There is a motion standing in my name, which reads as follows:—
"That the consideration of this Bill be adjourned till every Irish prisoner under control of the British Government for a political offence connected with Ireland, in whatever country the offence may have been committed, has been released. The status, political or otherwise, of each prisoner to be decided by a certificate of the Irish Government."
I may say that I have been asked to alter the terms somewhat so as to make it a little smoother and more gracious. The alteration could only be made with the consent of the Seanad. Should that consent be given the motion would read: "That the consideration of this Bill be adjourned to give the British Government the opportunity by a similar gracious act to release every Irish prisoner under its control for a political offence connected with Ireland in whatever country the offence may have been committed. The status, political or otherwise, of each prisoner to be decided by a certificate of the Irish Government." Practically the only change made there is the addition of the words "to give the British Government the opportunity by a similar gracious act."
Alteration agreed to.
I move the motion as altered. I regret to be obliged to move it, because no one is more anxious than I to wipe out the effect of past injuries and quarrels. No one is more anxious than I that there should be amity between England and Ireland. I see no reason why there should be bickerings of any sort, and why there should not be the most friendly sentiment prevailing on both sides. I would sacrifice a great deal rather than raise irritating questions, but there are some Irish questions which Irish people cannot in honour or conscience surrender. Those who stood beside us in the war that we fought cannot be abandoned and allowed to suffer to remain in prison while we benefit by the sacrifices they have made. We are not demanding here any gracious act from one side more than the other. We are merely asking for equality of treatment. We have no English prisoners in our jails; we do not want to have them. I believe there were two or three there at the time of the Truce, and they were released at once. It happened for one reason or another that some prisoners remain in English prisons, and until these are released it will be a constant source of irritation and annoyance in this country. The irritation is very considerable at present, and it is in order to smooth this over that I introduce this motion. I do not know what the state of affairs is with regard to the English Amnesty Bill. I understand that such a Bill is to be proposed, or perhaps it has been proposed; I am nearly sure it has not been passed. I feel confident unless this matter is settled there will be continued irritation.
I have passed through a long period in Ireland in which this question has been raised again and again. The first political event in my life, the first thing that caused me to think seriously of Irish politics was the amnesty proposed for the Fenian prisoners a great many years ago, perhaps longer than most people in the Seanad remember. I was stirred very much by reading of it, and it decided for me the lines I would take. It had a more important effect in stirring Parnell into the action he took. Parnell stated afterwards that the first thought he gave to Irish political questions of any sort—he was brought up in Unionist surroundings—was the question of the amnesty for the Fenians. It was that that started him on his career, and changed the whole course of the events in Ireland. I remember the conditions of Ireland very well in those days, and previous to that time Ireland was body and soul under the control of the landlords. Before the amnesty question was settled their power was completely swept away to a great extent on account of the sufferings of the prisoners. In one year four Fenian prisoners died and four others went mad. Those things affected the people of Ireland very much. The next thing I remember was I was sitting in the House of Commons one day when Davitt was arrested. A group of Irish Members lead by Parnell came into the House in great heat and anger and raised the question of the arrest of Davitt. There again that had very important effects. Before that was finished the Irish land question was wiped out to a great extent. It is not finished yet, but perhaps that was the first real step in the settlement of the land question. I remember in 1918 I took some part in the General Election held in this country in that year. At that time practically all the members of the present Government were in prison. What attitude did we adopt at that time? We who took part in the election did not stand up and try to get places for ourselves or get elected; we stood aside, and we advised the people of Ireland to elect no one who was not in prison at the time. That was the best step we could take, and with that cry we swept the whole country.
I mention these matters in order to show the Seanad that I have a good deal of experience of Ireland—longer, perhaps, than many of the members of this Seanad. I do not want to connect this question with politics, but I have seen that this question has been a source of irritation, and will continue to be a source of irritation until it is done away with. What we want is amity between the two countries, and the sooner this question, which is causing so much irritation, is wiped away the better. After the Truce, or perhaps after the Treaty, nearly all the political prisoners in England were released, whether convicted or unconvicted. A few were kept in custody. A certain number of men of my own regiment, the Connaught Rangers, are still detained, although the Government again and again asked for their release. One excuse after another was given for not releasing them, but I know that their continued detention has been a source of constant trouble between the two countries. A few weeks before Christmas Senator Sir Bryan Mahon and a few other old officers of the Connaught Rangers, including General Arthur Lewin, Stephen Gwynne, Colonel Wood, and Capt. Bryan Cooper, joined in sending a memorandum to the War Office on the subject, the result of which was that soldiers of that regiment who had been in custody were released almost immediately after Christmas. It is not easy to get an exact account of the prisoners at present in custody, but, as far as I can find out, all the old soldiers of my own regiment who had been in custody have been released. There is, however, a man named Joseph Dowling, who was arrested in 1918, who is still in custody. He landed on the West coast of Ireland in a boat, and was arrested soon afterwards and tried for high treason.
According to a statement made in the English House of Commons, he was supposed to be concerned in a German plot. What the plot was no one had any particular means of finding out. Most people thought the plot was a bogus one, and they were backed up in that supposition because the Lord Lieutenant at the time, and the General Commanding the Forces in Ireland, now a member of the Seanad, never heard of this German plot. It is not a question now whether there was a plot or not. The important question is, that if the Irish people give an amnesty to English people, then the same principle should be applied on exactly the same terms by the English people towards the Irish. That is the most remarkable case I have to deal with, but there are a few others. They stand, however, on a rather different footing. I want to be perfectly frank about these cases. There are three male prisoners in Derry who made an attempt to escape just before the Treaty was signed. They chloroformed a warder who, I regret to say, died. It was more or less an accident; they were trying to escape, and they are still in custody. There are three other men in custody in Scotland. They were concerned in an attack on a mail car. That was, also, I believe a political offence. They claimed they had orders from the Irish Republican Army. They were members of that Army, and made an attack in England in combination with a number of their fellow countrymen. I am going into these matters so that people should know the exact position. I believe that the number of men in custody ranges from 6 to 10. There are two more men in custody—Sean McCurtain, arrested in Belfast, and Sean Flood. I do not know exactly where he was arrested. In my opinion, none of these men should have been kept in prison. The Connaught Rangers have since been released, but these men I refer to are still in custody, though it is my belief all of them ought to have been released at the time of the Treaty. Dowling was an Irish soldier, and the Connaught Rangers were Irish soldiers. The point I want to make is this: that these soldiers and myself—I served in the Army for 32 years—were soldiers of the United Kingdom of England and Ireland, and owed our allegiance to these countries, and not to either Ireland or England, but to the United Kingdom. When the two countries were separated, as they were by the Treaty, each country became co-equal, as stated in our Constitution. Hence, when the Treaty was signed, each country had the right to take back its own soldiers and prisoners, to free them or to keep them as it wished, whatever the crime. If it was mutiny or treason that these soldiers had committed, it was mutiny against the United Kingdom. I am not for a moment trying to minimise that point. There is no question as to whether they ought, or ought not, to have been convicted. Every soldier knows what happens when a mutiny takes place, but if the Treaty had not intervened there would be no question of releasing these prisoners. My case is that we must have back our soldiers. It is an old sort of superstition or tradition, that England is the country, and that Ireland is a sort of subordinate. That is not the case, and never was the case. Therefore, as co-equal parts, each one has the right to claim back what it is entitled to. Ireland is entitled to its own portion of the assets of the United Kingdom—all the arms, ships, moneys, etc. It is entitled to claim these as its share, because the two countries are equal. This is a constitutional question, and I just mention these things because it is very necessary and important to bear them in mind, and so that we may rid the people of Ireland of the idea the theirs is a subordinate country, and only entitled to get a certain thing and cliam nothing else. I admit that the cases of the men in Derry and Scotland are somewhat different to the others I have mentioned. The case in Derry occurred before the Treaty, and the one in Scotland after the Treaty. These come under a different heading to the others. At the same time, I would ask the English Government to make a clean sweep in releasing all prisoners, and not to go into technicalities as to whether the alleged offences were commited one day before or one day after. What I ask is, that they should release all prisoners, and let us have done with all the troubles and difficulties between the two countries. It is not a question of the gravity of the crime; whether Dowling committed a particular act of high treason, or whether someone else committed an act of murder. We cannot go into that. I think if we were to go into these matters, the balance might be on the other side. What about the burning of Cork and other places? or the cases of Lord Mayor McCurtain of Cork, and the Mayor of Limerick? I want to put aside all questions of the gravity of the offences alleged against the men in custody, and to have the whole thing wiped out. Whatever quarrels we may have amongst ourselves, and they are pretty bad at present, there is no need that we should add to them, and I think if the Seanad would adopt the motion I propose and adjourn the consideration of the Amnesty Bill until the English Government agree to carry out the gracious act I suggest, I think we would be in a very much better state than we are. The Governement has written a great number of times with a view to getting these prisoners released, but it has not succeeded so far. I feel certain the passing of my resolution would help the Government very much. I am now asking for equal treatment between the two countries. Each country should shake hands and have done with all this.
I beg to second Senator Colonel Moore's resolution.
Senator Moore's resolution has been proposed and seconded. Is there any Senator who wishes to speak on it?
Is this a Government Bill?
I should like to associate myself with Colonel Moore's resolution as regards the soldier prisoners—the men of the Connaught Rangers. I understand all of them have been released except one. That is Dowling. He was a Lance-Corporal, and was arrested at a different time; the others who were released were in India. Dowling was arrested in Ireland, and was a prisoner in England. As regards the other prisoners I know nothing about them, but I just desire to associate myself with the resolution as far as it concerns the soldier prisoners.
I rise to support the resolution. I do not think there will be any disagreement as to it. We are pleading for the release of men to whom we owe our position here to-day owing to the fight they made and the stand they took. But for them and others like them we would not be here to-day and Ireland would not have secured the measure of freedom which she has got. I think we would be wanting in our loyalty and duty to our comrades who very positive and firm stand and make a very emphatic and insistent demand in this matter. I think the resolution has been very properly brought forward. It may be said we have not very much to give, that we have no English prisoners to yield up, but I am sure if we had we would have yielded them with a very good grace, and that cannot be put forward as an argument against freeing these men whose names have been mentioned here. I think if an account were drawn up between Ireland and England through all the centuries, of right and wrong, it would be known exactly on what side the scales would come down, on what side the debit balance would rest. I strongly support this resolution.
The phrase has been used " pleading with the British Government." If this resolution means that we are pleading with the British Government I am not going to vote for it. If it is made clear that if does not mean that, I will.
I think the Senator has made a slight mistake. I have used the words " similar gracious acts." I did that for the sake of smoothing matters over. I think you might accept that.
I find myself in substantial agrrement with Colonel Moore. I feel personally that the action of the British Government, in what one might call haggling over the matter, is extremely ill-advised and one which we should rightly protest against. When they swallowed the camel and signed a Treaty recognising us as an independent Nation inside the Commonwealth, with co-equal status to themselves, they have very little case, as far as I can see, for quarrelling over the claims of a few Irishmen who are in British jails and whom our Government here claim the right to have the charge of and to release. Where I find a certain amount of difficulty is as to holding up a Bill in which we here, in Saorstát Eireann, are doing the right thing and are showing that we any way will keep absolutely to the spirit of the agreement. Whether holding that up until a similar action is done by the British Government, over whom we have no control and which has absolutely no control over us, is a dignified thing for an independent nation to do is where I find a certain amount of difficulty. If it was put to a division I should vote for it, but personally I should rather have preferred to see this Seanad passing a resolution to the effect that all prisoners should prompltly released, in view of the fact that this was passed, and asking the government to make diplomatic representations to the effect that that was their view and the view of this Seanad. That, I think, on the whole would be more dignified
That has already been done.
I do not think that has already been done, because the Seanad has never had this before it. I think if the Seanad took a strong action of that kind now, this Bill need not come up on the second stage for a week, if necessary. I think, if that were done now, it would have a good effect in the country, and it would probably have a good effect in England, and very likely would acheive what we want. If we simply hold this up as a kind of threat, I am afraid the English Government, which has now control over these people, whom we expect to be loyal subjects of Saorstát Eireann in future, will not be greatly impressed. I think the Seanad should whole-heartedly protest against an attempt to hold up a few men who may or may not have done actions which were justified from our point of view, but at the same time I think a petty action of this kind helps to lead to some of the troubles that we are at present dealing with.
I feel in a difficulty with regard to this Bill which, I suggest, is bound to recure. This question brought up by Colonel Moore is a question of government policy, and if the Government send up this Bill, and if they consider, as no doubt they do, this is a condition and guarantee, what Colonel Moore suggests raises the further question as to where we are going to get information on these questions of Government policy. A government Bill like this should, I submit, be introduced or explained by some member of the Government, and until we have that information we are very much in the dark as to what action we should take. Might I ask if you could tell us if that difficulty has been put before the Government, and whether there is any body which is considering how and in what manner the policy of the Government shall be brought before this Seanad, more especially when government Bills are passing through the Seanad?
We have made representations on that subject already, and this Bill is a very good illustration of the difficulty that the Seanad is faced with. Also, I am bound to say, that the Government are placed in the same difficulty, because we do not, know whether the acceptance of this amendment by Colonel Moore may possibly defeat the very object the Government have in view in promoting the Bill at all. That I cannot say; nor can I say—I have not been reading the official records of the proceedings of the Dáil—whether this very question that has now been suggested here may not have been fully debated and discussed in the Dáil. I do not know. I certainly do recall that the case of this. Connaught Ranger was raised and discussed in the Dáil, but I am not in a position, being in no way connected with the Government or responsible for its policy directly or indirectly, to say how it was the Dáil determined to proceed with this Bill. I cannot assist the Senators on that point.
I think we must simply act on the information we have, and try and come to a decision that seems to us right on the arguments before us. If we do cause inconvenience to the Dáil, the Dáil will possibly find some means of putting the facts as they see them before us. We can only act on the facts as they are before us now. I would suggest that we are not making anything in the nature of a threat. We are simply suggesting to England that this amnesty should be made in the most gracious form possible, and that it could only be made in the most gracious form by being made by both countries. I presume that both England and we have the same object to allay the bitter feeling between these countries, and we have drawn the attention of the English Parliament to an unfortunate oversight on their part. They have omitted to set free certain prisoners whom they have, perhaps, forgotten. We think that this amnesty upon our part will sound better in the ears of our won countrymen if England passes a similar amnesty. I think that is a very fair conclusion to come to. I think it is also very important to this Seanad, because of the very nature of its constitution, that we should show ourselves as interested as the Dáil is in every person in this country. We do not represent constituencies; we are drawn together to represent certain forms of special knowledge, certain special interests, but we are just as much passionately concerned in these great questions as the Dáil. I would suggest, therefore, that we pass this resolution now.
I thoroughly agree with the remarks which have fallen from our Deputy Chairman. I think he has voiced the feelings of many of us admirably, and I respectfully submit to this Seanad that it would be infra dig for us to hold up a Government measure of the kind that is presented to us this evening. If I know Englishmen right, if I have diagnosed the English character, I think this would prejudice them against these unfortunate men that are still kept in prison. I am sure we are all desirous that everyone of them should be released, and I think the right way to go about it is to adopt the suggestion that has fallen from Senator Douglas. I take it that he suggests that the Bill should be allowed to pass and that we enter a protest against their detention in prison and venture to suggest that they should see their way to release the men. I sincerely hope that Colonel Moore will see his way to withdraw the resolution in these circumstances. I am sure it would tend immensely to the good feeling already, I am glad to say, growing between the two countries.
I beg to associate myself with the motion of Col. Moore. I feel that it is neither a threat towards England nor a lack of dignity on our part, to demand as far as we can, and to try as far as we may, to secure that these men who are held in custody in England shall be released. For my part if I could threaten, but I do not think we can make a threat nor do I think we can lose dignity. These men are an essential part of the fight that was made in Ireland for the securing of freedom. Freedom to my mind has been secured and surely these men, for whatever cause they were interned, conscientiously believed, I am sure, that the acts they were performing were for the good of Ireland. We are trying to represent that, and that being so, where does the threat or where does the loss of dignity come in? I have pleasure in associating myself with Col. Moore in this matter.
May I just say that I did not mean to suggest that the whole Bill should be passed. I meant that the First Stage should be passed and that we should pass at the same time a resolution asking the Government to make representations in view of our demand.
I view this question from a business point of view. We were given to understand that the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland involved the release in due course of the political prisoners on both sides. According to the statements of the mover of the resolution there are yet in English prisons one or more political prisoners coming within the meaning of the term "political prisoners" as dealt with in the Treaty. Consequently I find it very hard to convince myself as to what the reasons can be for the detention of these prisoners. Does the Government say that these prisoners do not come within the meaning of the term? I am not aware that they have said any such thing. On the contrary the report of the proceedings in the Dáil shows that the Government admitted that, as far as the man Dowling is concerned he is a genuine political prisoner. They seem to indicate that they have made some efforts to get him released without success. Now that is a matter I think requires explanation from the other side of the water. If we are going to pass a Bill of this kind I think we should see that there is some reasonable expectation of the other side honouring their part of the agreement in its entirety. I am not concerned with the question of infra dig. We should first of all consider our duty to the country, and in that respect we would be justified in supporting the motion placed before us by Colonel Moore. If the Government have any strong reasons to advance as to why this Bill is to be passed they have an opportunity under the Constitution of sending a Minister here to give us the Government's opinion. Until we get that opinion we have no alternative but to act to the best of our judgment on the information placed before us, and for that reason I am going to vote for Colonel Moore's motion.
I beg to support the motion made by Senator Moore. If we had information that it would be detrimental to those prisoners to hold up the Bill I would be reluctant to do it, but as the matter stands it is evident that we would strengthen the hands of the Government in their demands for the release of the prisoners by doing this. My interest in the prisoners is a special one indeed, as I was fortunate enough to be nine months a prisoner in England.
My memory goes a little further back, having taken part in the movement. It goes back to the time of the Amnesty initiated by the great lawyer and man of noble mind, Isaac Butt. That amnesty may have produced that sensation upon Colonel Moore and those of a like position. Upon the people of Ireland it produced a very different effect, because, instead of being a full, complete, and generous amnesty, it left a number of men, many of the foremost, still in prison, and therefore caused a sensation of a great disappointment and indignation, and was, instead of being welcomed, denounced as a huckster's amnesty. That is the consequence of not doing a thing well when it is to be done. With regard to the question of the quality of the offence committed by the men, that depends so much upon the point of view, the angle, from which it is regarded. Blackstone, in his Commentaries, distinguishes offences—that which is malum se and that which is malum prohibitum—an evil which is an evil in itself differs from the offence which is prohibitive for the same reason by some state or other by law. But the latter is not in principle necessarily a crime. For those who so offend one year, may become legislators later on. We have seen that take place in Ireland upon more than one occasion. Into that it is scarcely necessary to enter. But some offences have been grave. Let me call to your memory the gravity of the Orsini bombs in England which were prepared in England, and which were conveyed to France and flung into the streets of Paris at opera for the purpose of slaughtering the Emperor Napoleon, and perhaps the Empress Eugenie, and perhaps many other non-political citizens. That question was raised, and the offenders were sought for by France. But those who recollect history will remember the towering indignation of the Earl of Derby at the idea of surrendering any such prisoners to a foreign power. “No,” he said, “not for the sake of all the Royal tyrants of Europe.” These men were guilty to ordinary consciousness of a terrible crime; and yet they were regarded as political prisoners by one of the greatest statesmen, the Rupert of debate, which England then produced, or has since produced. So, likewise, Mr. Gladstone, with regard to the prisoners at Naples, spoke long and wrote fervently with regard to their position, and they also had been accused of as villainous crimes as any that had been alleged in later times. I do not wish to delay the Seanad further, but to recall that men who are one year prisoners and denounced as criminals and non-politicals, may in another year or two become political leaders, perhaps lawgivers in legislatures for the country. It has happened many times in various countries, and not less in England. Then we have seen the consequence when amnesty is given, and when people's minds are made up to forgive and forget everything, how the dart leaves its poisoned barb in the wound, and the indignation which comes in place of the kindness and frindship is all the more intense and more vehement and more enduring, because of the disappointment of the mistaken partial haggling act of amnesty.
Some of us are in a difficulty, at least I am, in regard to this matter. We do not know what is the opinion of the Government. We do not know what the Government wish done, and although some of us may be very anxious that these prisoners be released we may be doing here something that may damage the prisoners. Until we do know what the Government is anxious to do, by some Minister coming here to tell us what they wish done, I think it is a very dangerous thing at all to pass any vote for or against. Is it possible to arrange that some Minister should come here and explain the views of the Government?
If that is the wish of the Seanad, and if the matter could stand over until to-morrow, I would have a communication sent to the President telling him the difficulty the Seanad was in, and suggesting to him that he should send a Minister to us.
I think we are in a great difficulty. This Bill has been sent up from the Dáil without any explanation.
I do not know whether it would meet Colonel Moore's object as well, if instead of blocking this Bill, hanging up this Bill, and thereby, perhaps, defeating its object, he were to move a resolution in the terms of his own motion.
I do not want to press my suggestion, but I think it would meet the object and meet both points of view if it were adopted, and it would make the position of the Seanad quite clear. We could accept the Second Reading to-day. It could then go through the Committee Stage later and in the meantime we would have an opportunity of having the facts before us and we would certainly have the power to hold up the Bill at the Third Reading. I think the dignified way would be to pass the Bill right now, and at a later stage we could have more facts.
I cannot agree to either of these propositions. This question has been under consideration for not only a month, but a year, and to my knowledge the Government has again and again asked for the release of those prisoners, and on one or two occasions Michael Collins was asking to have them released. Then excuses were given. Another question was raised; then the excuse was given that they were military prisoners. Only just before last Xmas the Government wrote a strong memorandum to the English Government asking for the release of those prisoners. They went further, and the Home Secretary asked me to go over to the War Office to see about them. Instead of doing that, we sent a petition from here, because it was Xmas time, and we did not see any possibility of meeting people over there. One of the things we stated in that petition to the War Office in connection with the Connaught Rangers prisoners was that the Amnesty Bill could not be passed unless those prisoners were released, and as a result of that statement all the Connaught Rangers were released, and there is left only a small minority. Now, with regard to the last paragraph of my motion, it is that a certificate of the Irish Government that these are political prisoners will be necessary in making the demand or request for their release. If the Irish Government does not want it to go through they will not make that demand and they will tell us so and passing through the first stage of this Bill will be extremely wrong. It would be only equivocation. We have strong opinions about these matters, and let us not go round the corner, and let us not have these equivocations, and let us not have these half-hearted arrangements to which I have always objected. I do not understand that sort of equivocation. The Government and the President of the Dáil stated definitely again and again that this Seanad was entirely independent of the Dáil. The President went further and said that he did not want to have any communications except strictly official ones, and did not want any Committees half and half. We ought to act independently. I feel quite sure that if the Seanad passes this resolution unanimously it will have a very good effect all over Ireland. There has been a great deal more agitation on this matter than one would think. I was called on again and again to raise the question, but I took care not to raise it until now, although I did call attention to it in Government circles repeatedly. Eventually the time comes when you really must take some steps. This will have a good effect between the two countries if we pass it unanimously.