INDEMNITY (BRITISH MILITARY) BILL. - SEANAD IN COMMITTEE.

The Seanad then went into Committee on the Bill.
Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 were agreed to, and added to the Bill.
Clause 5.

I have got an amendment to Clause 5 as follows:—

"To add after the word ‘law' in Section (a) ‘except as regards any prisoner or prisoners of English nationality convicted of a political offence by Irish Courts who may be confined in Irish gaols at the date of the passing of this Act.'"

It will be seen from this Bill that anybody who has been actually convicted, and has no appeal against a conviction, is not amnestied at all by this Bill. I know we here have not got any person in our possession, but we are passing a Bill now which will, perhaps, be copied on the other side, which we hope will be copied on the other side, and I think it is necessary, therefore, to put this in. For instance, if we had here in Ireland a certain man called Smith, who was in the same position as Dowling is over there, who had been convicted by an Irish Court, this Amnesty Bill would not release him at all; he would remain here. I propose this addition in order that any prisoner, whether he has been convicted or not, may be released. The object is to extend very much the principle of the Bill, to extend it to men who are in the position of Dowling or of the Connaught Rangers, or other men, if they were English prisoners in Irish gaols, so that they would thereby be released, and that when the English Government propose a similar Act that they would put in a clause which would in the same way cover Dowling and such men.

I take it that Senator Moore moves this not because there is any such prisoner in the Free State, but to give it as a sort of example to the British Parliament in the event of that body passing a similar Act. But I understood the President yesterday to state that instead of passing an Amnesty Bill of this kind a Royal Proclamation was issued in England, and that that covers the position. Therefore I take it that this amendment would not be necessary. I am in favour of the principle of the amendment if I can see that it serves any useful purpose, but if the Proclamation takes the place of this Bill on the other side of the Channel I do not think it is necessary.

Perhaps I may be allowed to say that I am not very clear about that, as I am not a lawyer, but the Proclamation was issued on both sides, both in Ireland and in England. It does not seem to have been followed in England, and this Bill does not quite cover the same position as the Proclamation. This is, to a certain extent, a private Bill, covering private attacks on people, and it is not altogether a Government measure. I am not sufficiently clear about it to go very much into the matter, and I raise it just for consideration more than anything else.

I think that Senator Moore's proposal is a good one. The difficulty in this matter is that we have not the text of this amendment before us. By the courtesy of one of our officers I have got the text of the amendment. As I understand the position Senator Moore proposes to add his amendment after the word "law" in Sub-Section(a). I think we might very well agree to that. If it is found that this amendment is unnecessary no doubt it will be explained to us in another place. I think on general principles we might accept it, and I certainly will support Senator Moore if he likes to press the matter.

I object to the amendment altogether. I cannot gather that the amendment will have the least effect in releasing the prisoners, Dowling and the other men, and its sole effect will be to hold up the Bill again. The Government have had very delicate negotiations about prisoners, and they understand the situation thoroughly, and I think it is a very dangerous thing for the Seanad to interfere by an amendment of this kind.

I cannot see any reason why the Seanad should not pass this amendment. We are surely not to be threatened with the Government in everything we try to do that we think is for the good of the country. If that is going to be the way, there is not much use in our meeting here. In matters of this kind, if a Senator uses his common sense he is apt to be told that he is embarrassing the Government. That is the position, and I hope it will not continue. If we think a thing will do any good we are prepared to go on with it, whether it pleases the Government or not. We believe there is something in the amendment, and that Senator Moore, who examined the Bill, would not have prepared this amendment unless he thought it was going to serve some useful purpose. We think it will serve a useful purpose, and we hope that members will not be getting up if a member is doing anything to say that he is doing it to embarrass the Government, as in this case.

On a point of order, the Senator is ascribing to me a thing I did not say at all.

I take it that we were threatened, both yesterday and to-day, with the same opposition, that if we are to say anything that we believe is honest and straight, that we are thereby trying to embarrass somebody connected with the Government. Everybody knows that the object of this amendment is not to get anything in against the Government.

AN LEAS-CHATHAOIRLEACH

We are really concerned with the amendment on its merits, and I do not think we ought to discuss supposed threats. We are here to deal with this amendment, and I think it is only in order to discuss the actual amendment.

Very good; I am satisfied.

I am only going to deal with the matter from the commonsense point of view on Colonel Moore's own statement. He tells us that he does not know of a single prisoner of any description who is going to be benefitted by this amendment or by any part of the Bill; at any rate, he does not know of anybody to whom the amendment will apply. "Prisoners of English nationality convicted of political offences by Irish Courts who may be confined in Irish jails." He tells us that he does not know that there is a single such individual in custody, and he tells us quite candidly that he thinks that the point of his amendment is that if the British Government are going to prepare a Bill on the same lines as this, that after his amendment is adopted and made part of the Bill, the British Government will follow that example and put a similar Clause with regard to Irish prisoners into their Bill. I think that is really the main point of the whole thing. I think the Seanad ought rather seriously to consider that if we do take the position of holding up the Bill, or making an amendment to the Bill, it will, of course, send it back again to the Lower House, that we should not do that or anything that we could be laughed at for. Really and truly it is not serious law-making to put forward such a proposition as that amendment to the Bill for some set of prisoners that we ourselves do not believe exist, and with some pious hope that the British Government would do similarly. We believe that they have no intention of drawing up a Bill, the matter having already been dealt with by way of a Proclamation, and that the Seanad is to be asked to hold up the Bill again by amending, in these circumstances, does seem a question of anything but common sense. I think, having regard to our own reputation for common sense, we ought not to accept it and stop legislation which we have spent a day or two in considering already. There is really no other way as regards the vital part of the matter, and I think we should take it that this is not a vital part of the matter, and act accordingly.

I do not think the Senators are aware of the early history of this Bill. The Dáil and the Ministry exhausted every channel and avenue in appealing to get these prisoners free who were then in English jails, including the Connaught Rangers. The original intention was to get all Irish prisoners in English jails free. As the negotiations went on and we pressed the English Government discriminated. We do not know why or for what reason, but they segregated the Connaught Ranger prisoners, and in response to the appeal for the freedom of all Irish prisoners in English jails they simply freed the Connaught Rangers and held the others. That is the position and the attitude of the English Government, and we are asked by the President, on his own assurance, which was only his private opinion, that the English Government, having already displayed this attitude in the matter, that they will, as an act of grace, do that which under the greatest pressure from the other House they refused to do. Now, I do not think they will do it at all, and unless we take a very strong attitude on this matter and hold the English Government up to odium if we can, and certainly focus the attention of the nations on their stilted action in this matter, we have no chance of getting our men out. This amendment by Colonel Moore is a proper one. The most we can do, always remembering the attitude of the English Government as displayed in this matter, the most we can hope for, is that they will pass a similar Amnesty Bill. A similar Amnesty Bill may not get out our men, because these men may have been convicted by a Court from which under English law there is no appeal, and they would still remain in English jails. If we insert this clause here we can reasonably expect and press that the English Parliament and the English Government, if they do pass an Amnesty Bill at all, will pass an Amnesty Bill equally generous in its clauses as the Bill we are passing here, and it is only on that ground that this clause is being inserted. It is only by the introduction of that clause that we can hope for any success at all in the attitude we have taken up in this matter.

AN LEAS-CHATHAOIRLEACH

I am not perfectly clear as to whether there is legally such a thing as English nationality. I am not a lawyer, and we have no legal adviser on the matter, but I am allowing the amendment to be put.

Will this amendment hold up the passing of the Bill?

AN LEAS-CHATHAOIRLEACH

Any amendment of this Bill by the Seanad involves the return of the Bill to the Dáil, where, if they accept the amendment, the Bill will pass; if they do not accept it it will come back here again to us to reconsider the position.

The Second divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 17.

Tá.Ml. Duffy.Sir Thos. Grattan Esmonde.Thomas Farren.Pk. William Kenny.Thomas McPartlin.Col. Maurice Moore.John Thos. O'Farrell.William Butler Yeats.

Níl.Wm. Barrington.Mrs. Eileen Costello.Ellen Odette, Dowager, Countess of Desart.Sir Nugent Talbot Everard, Bart.Mrs. Alice Stopford Green.Sir John Purser Griffith, M.A.I.Benjamin Haughton.Rt. Hon. Andrew Jameson, D.L.Sir John Keane, Bart.Thomas Linehan.Joseph Clayton Love.Edward MacEvoy.James MacKean.John MacLoughlin.William O'Sullivan, M.D.Mrs. Jane Wyse Power.Earl of Wicklow, D.L.

Amendment lost.
Question put:—"That Clause 5 stand part of the Bill."
Agreed.
Question put: "That Clause 6 stand part of the Bill."
Agreed.