SEANAD IN COMMITTEE. - INDEMNITY BILL, 1924.—SECOND STAGE.

Question proposed—"That the Bill be read a Second Time."

I wish to make a protest against this Bill because of the exceedingly sweeping character of its provisions. In the first place I fail to see why it has been extended to the 28th June, 1922. I think it should have terminated in the period coinciding with the Truce, seeing that another Indemnity Bill would have to be introduced covering the whole of the period up to the present time. This Bill proceeds to indemnify or actually to make valid every act, matter, or thing done by any person who could claim to have been acting under the authority of the First or Second Dáil, unless it can be proved that he did such act, matter, or thing in bad faith.

We had Public Safety Acts passed under which a man had to prove that he was innocent before he was released. Nobody had to prove him guilty, but there was an assumption that he was guilty of something, and he had to prove that he was innocent before he was let free. Under this it would have to be proved that any deed, no matter how atrocious it was, was done in bad faith in order that the guilty person would be punished. We know that the moral conscience of the world was aroused because of the atrocities of the Black and Tans. In connection with the British Labour Party campaign many of us tramped Great Britain to try to arouse the conscience of the British people because of these atrocities, and I think that that movement was a great success. It was these atrocities that aroused the indignation of the world. An Indemnity Act was passed in the Oireachtas to indemnify people on the other side, and there was no other alternative. That dated up to the 11th July, 1921. From that period there was no such excuse—there cannot be an excuse for atrocities—as might have obtained when passions were high, and blood was hot, as before the Truce. This seeks to indemnify people for acts committed since then.

We know that there were many acts of rapine and slaughter committed during that time that were absolutely unjustifiable, and that people imagined simply because they were employed in a more or less irregular way by the State that was a justification for things which would not be tolerated in any civilised country. This Bill proposes not only to say that these people were wrong in doing that but to forgive them. It really says that these are legal deeds, carried out in the ordinary way. I do not think that any legislature should be responsible for an Act so sweeping as that. In its present form it would be impracticable to amend it to bring it into conformity with civilised practices, but I certainly would not like it to pass without some protest. During that period there were people who were partly in the Army, such as it was, and partly out of the Army, but in other respects they claimed to be acting in an official capacity, and they committed atrocities, deeds of the vilest kind, on the ground of politics, of previous sympathies and of religious persuasion, things that no Government or no State could justify. This Bill seeks to prevent these people from being brought to justice unless it can be proved that they did these things in bad faith, and I believe that that is impossible in this country at present.

I do not think they should be put outside the pale of justice. It may not be possible to bring them to justice just now, but one of the great powers of the law is that it has a very long arm, and no matter how long a crime goes a person can eventually be caught and brought to justice. We should not, by passing this Bill in its present form, render that wholly impossible. Many people entered the Army for ulterior purposes, for purposes of acting against the State, and while they were in the Army they committed acts of violence against the State, although nominally they were in the service of the State. This Bill will prevent those people from being brought to justice, whether now or in the future. I think that it is not in the interests of the State and in the interests of law and order that some of these notorious crimes should go unpunished for all time, as they will do if this Bill passes in its present form.

I agree with what Senator O'Farrell has said, and I shall vote against the Bill. He has stated just what we all feel upon the matter.

I apologised in the Dáil for the delay in introducing this measure. Measures like this are in the order of things usually introduced after a period of disturbance, and usually Governments ask for fairly large absolutions for the acts of their servants during periods of disturbance when peace has been restored. I should have preferred very much to introduce a measure which would wipe out from the point of view of the Government, the point of view of the law, the point of view of every person in the State, these acts which have been referred to by Senator O'Farrell. But during the course of the time that this measure has been under discussion no particular case, no list of crimes such as has been suggested by the Senator, or in the other House by persons who oppose this measure, has been produced to me in which a case might be made for reserving absolution for the offences so committed. It is all very fine to get up here with a fine gesture of virtue and say: "We are not going to stand over that." I say, a Chathaoirligh, that it is impossible for any Government in the situation in which we are placed to put into two sections a list of those offences that we are going to pardon, and a list of those offences which we are not going to pardon; that in the case of the disturbances such as we have gone through Senators, or members of the Dáil, or outsiders cannot of themselves really and justly say: "This was an atrocious crime, and that was something that should be forgiven."

I know just as well as anybody that these things are not confined to the disturbances that have taken place here; in the continental fighting in the recent war I heard many atrocious stories of events that happened. These are inseparable from war, and those who bring about war ought to consider that before they enter into that particular sphere of activity. But in this case, here are quite a number of men acting under orders during a period of disturbance when decrees did not get that careful and exhaustive consideration that they get here now, acting under orders, doing certain things, from the commandeering of a box of matches to houses or motor cars. We have found that persons acting under these orders have been prosecuted in the courts for the return of property into the possession of which they entered, but the actual possession of which they never enjoyed. Men who have not taken part on one side or the other, certain people who affected a neutrality that does them a good deal of credit from one angle, and relieves them of any great responsibility from another, have been prosecuted in the last two years for the return of a bicycle or a motor car, or something else in certain cases. They have come to us and said: "Is this the treatment we are to receive, and is the arm of the Government not strong enough to preserve us from these things?" Poor men have been dragged into court, and decrees have been given against them.

I am informed that latterly the Library, what you might call the impedimenta of the law, was full of writs, and actions are pending in connection with these cases. We cannot cover every particular case. We have not heard of them all, we are not expecting to hear of them all, and we are not likely to hear of them all within the next five or ten years. In cases that we are hearing of, and that we are settling, one of the complaints that was made in the other House regarding claims against the Government, was that we did not settle them quickly enough, and we did not give enough money. I could produce a stack of anonymous communications that have come to me saying that we have spent money in places where we should not have spent it. Only this week I have heard of the case of a man who had a claim against us for £40 or £50, and was advised to put in about ten times that amount on the ground that he would get a little over the mark, and as he had an elastic conscience he took the advice. There are cases in which, even with this Bill, we can prosecute, and when we are talking about prosecutions we ought to consider the amount of assistance the Government gets in preparing prosecutions. We have men at present that we know, that we are convinced, could take our oaths on the Bible or on our prayer-books that they are guilty, but it cannot be proved, and it is not fair or just in the circumstances through which we have passed, for people to get up and say: "You allow A to go scot-free, and you prosecute B with all the rigour, all the authority, and all the resources of the Government."

The facts are that a great many of our own soldiers have been brought into court, prosecuted and found guilty and are serving terms of imprisonment, while there are other ruffians much more guilty than they are, who are walking around and against whom we cannot get sufficient evidence. In every case I know of where evidence is forthcoming, we have prosecuted our own soldiers who, although they faced the danger in the hour when they were wanted, may have had lapses; there are others walking around with many lapses to their credit, but it is almost impossible to get sufficient evidence to support a prosecution. This is a generous measure, but you cannot be too generous in some of these cases, because if you lacked generosity the innocent may suffer, and I would prefer to see a number of persons going free who should be prosecuted rather than to see a small number of innocent persons convicted, when the real guilt did not lie to their door at all.

Question—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time"—put and agreed to.