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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 11 Jun 1925

Vol. 5 No. 7



The House might like to spend the rest of the day over this divorce business and if that is the universal wish of the House, the debate might be resumed. I call upon Senator Yeats.

I speak on this question after long hesitation and with a good deal of anxiety, but it is sometimes one's duty to come down to absolute fundamentals for the sake of the education of the people. I have no doubt whatever that there will be no divorce in this country for some time. I do not expect to influence a vote in this House. I am not speaking to this House. It is the custom of those who do address the House to speak sometimes to the reporters.


Perhaps the Senator would please address me. I do not think that Senator Yeats intended to be uncomplimentary to the House, but his observation looked like it.

I did not intend to be uncomplimentary. I should have said I do not intend to speak merely to the House. I have no doubt whatever, if circumstances were a little different, a very easy solution would be found for this whole difficulty. I judge from conversations that I have had with various persons that many would welcome a very simple solution, namely, that the Catholic members should remain absent when a Bill of Divorce was brought before the House that concerned Protestants and non-Catholics only, and that it would be left to the Protestant members, or some Committee appointed by those Protestant members, to be dealt with. I think it would be the first instinct of the members of both Houses to adopt some such solution and it is obvious, I think, that from every point of view of national policy and national reputation that would be a wise policy.

It is perhaps the deepest political passion with this nation that North and South be united into one nation. If it ever comes that North and South unite the North will not give up any liberty which she already possesses under her constitution. You will then have to grant to another people what you refuse to grant to those within your borders. If you show that this country, Southern Ireland, is going to be governed by Catholic ideas and by Catholic ideas alone, you will never get the North. You will create an impassable barrier between South and North, and you will pass more and more Catholic laws, while the North will, gradually, assimilate its divorce and other laws to those of England. You will put a wedge into the midst of this nation. I do not think this House has ever made a more serious decision than the decision which, I believe, it is about to make on this question. You will not get the North if you impose on the minority what the minority consider to be oppressive legislation. I have no doubt whatever that in the next few years the minority will make it perfectly plain that it does consider it exceedingly oppressive legislation to deprive it of rights which it has held since the 17th century. These rights were won by the labours of John Milton and other great men, and won after strife, which is a famous part of the history of the Protestant people.

There is a reason why this country did not act upon what was its first impulse, and why this House and the Dáil did not act on their first impulse. Some of you may probably know that when the Committee was set up to draw up the Constitution of the Free State, it was urged to incorporate in the Constitution the indissolubility of marriage and refused to do so. That was the expression of the political mind of Ireland. You are now urged to act on the advice of men who do not express the political mind, but who express the religious mind. I admit it must be exceedingly difficult for members of this House to resist the pressure that has been brought upon them. In the long warfare of this country with England the Catholic clergy took the side of the people, and owing to that they possess here an influence that they do not possess anywhere else in Europe. It is difficult for you, and I am sure it is difficult for Senator Mrs. Wyse-Power, stalwart fighter as she is——

I do not see why my name should be mentioned.


It is not in order to refer in this way to members of this House.

I am sure it is difficult for members of this House to resist the advice of Archbishop O'Donnell.

I think this is becoming very heated.

We shall be all much bitterer before we are finished with this question.


Order, order; address the Chair.

Is it in order for a Senator to be bringing in names?


I am not a judge of taste. I cannot rule on matters of taste and I cannot say it is out of order.

Addressing the Catholic Truth Society in October last he used these words:

"No power on earth can break the marriage bond until death ... that is true of all baptised persons no matter what the denomination may be. To be sure we hear that a section of our fellow-countrymen favour divorces. Well, with nothing but respect and sympathy for all our neighbours, we have to say that we place the marriages of such people higher than they do themselves. Their marriages are unbreakable before God and we cannot disobey God by helping to break them."

That is to say you are to legislate on purely theological grounds and you are to force your theology upon persons who are not of your religion. It is not a question of finding it legally difficult or impossible to grant to a minority what the majority does not wish for itself. You are to insist upon members of the Church of Ireland or members of no church taking a certain view of Biblical criticism, or of the authority of the text upon which that criticism is exercised, a view that they notoriously do not take. If you legislate upon such grounds there is no reason why you should stop there. There is no reason why you should not forbid civil marriages altogether seeing that civil marriage is not marriage in the eyes of the Church——

Is it in order for a Senator to read his speech?


It is not in order precisely, but very great latitude has been allowed always in regard to that. In fact, when dealing with a complicated question of this kind personally I think sometimes an advantage is derived from Senators sticking to their text. They are more likely to do that if they are reading from documents. I am bound to say in defence of the particular Senator that he is only reading, now and then, when quoting.

I think you, sir, might appeal to Senators to restrain their feelings even though they may not agree with what is said. We do not agree with it, but that is no reason why we should lose our heads.


Particularly so in the case of a distinguished Irishman like Senator Yeats.

These are topics on which it is desirable that the use of words should be carefully weighed beforehand. That must be my excuse. It is just as much adultery according to that view as the remarriage of divorced persons is. Nor do I see why you should stop at that, for we teach in our schools and universities and print in our books many things which the Catholic Church does not approve of. Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds you open the way for every kind of intolerance and for every kind of religious persecution. I am not certain that there are not people in this country who would not urge you on to that course. I have nothing but respect for Most Rev. Dr. O'Donnell. I am told that he is a vigorous and able man, and I can say this for the speech from which I quoted, that if unwise in substance it was courteous in form. But what have I to say of the following extract from an article by Father Peter Finlay:—

"The refusal to legalise divorce is no denial of justice to any section of our people; it is no infringement of the fullest civil and religious liberty which our Constitution guarantees to all. As well say that prohibition of suttee is a denial of justice to the Hindu widow. The Hindu widow had a far clearer right to do herself to death on her husband's funeral pyre—her religion imposed it upon her as a duty—than any member of a Christian community can have to put away his wife and enter into a state of public legalised adultery. England acted justly, and in fulfilment of a plain and grave moral obligation, when she forbade suttee in India. The Irish Free State will act justly, and in fulfilment of a plain and grave moral obligation, in refusing to legalise absolute divorce and re-marriage among ourselves."

In a previous part of the essay he compares divorce with polygamy, robbery and murder. I know little or nothing about Father Finlay's career. It may have been eminent and distinguished, but I am sure that very few members of this House will think with pleasure of following the guidance of a man who speaks with such monstrous discourtesy of a practice which has been adopted by the most civilised nations of the modern world—by Germany, England, America, France and Scandinavian countries. He must know that by every kind of statistics, by every standard except the narrowest, that those nations, because they so greatly exceed us in works, exceed us in virtue. Father Peter Finlay has been supported by an ecclesiastic of the Church of Ireland, the Bishop of Meath, who has even excelled him in invective. Perceiving, no doubt, that indissoluble marriage, which for the guilty party at least, he passionately desires, has in other countries made men and women exceedingly tolerant of certain forms of sexual immorality, he declares that every erring husband or erring wife should be treated as a robber, a forger, or a murderer. Now, there is one great difference between Father Finlay in his relation to this House and the Bishop of Meath. I think that Father Finlay may influence votes in this House, but I am sure that the Bishop of Meath has not influenced one. What is more, if the entire Protestant episcopacy in Ireland came out with a declaration on this subject, it would not influence a vote in this House. It is one of the glories of the Church in which I was born that we have put our Bishops in their places in discussions requiring legislation. Even in those discussions involving legislation on matters of religion they count only according to their individual intelligence and knowledge. The rights of divorce, and many other rights, were won by the Protestant communities in the teeth of the most bitter opposition from their clergy. The living, changing, advancing human mind, sooner or later refuses to accept this legislation from men who base their ideas on the interpretation of doubtful texts in the Gospels. It is necessary to say, and I say it without fear of contradiction, that there is not a scholar of eminence in Europe to-day who considers that the Gospels are, in the strict sense of the words, historical documents. Their importance is devotional, not historical. For any ecclesiastic to advice statesmen to base legislation on a passage that may lack historical validity, is to appeal to the ignorance of the people. I am sure that the majority of those who favour the indissolubility of marriage, are under the impression that it preserves sexual morality in the country that adopts it. I think that before they are entirely certain on that point, they should study the morality of countries where marriage is indissoluble,—Spain, Italy, and the South American nations. We are not proposing to take from those nations our economics, our agricultural or technical instruction, but we are proposing to take from them our marriage laws. Before doing so, I think it would be well to make some study of the effect of the marriage laws on those nations. I have gone to the authorities available, and I find that, on the whole, they have successfully suppressed much evidence of immorality. There are no reports in the newspapers of divorce proceedings. The usual number of children are born in wedlock, but I do find that there is a great uncertainty as to the parentage of these children, but then, public opinion discourages curiosity on that subject, and it is a habit to discourage any inquiry into the emotional relations of men and women among modern communities. This is a demand for happiness, which increases with education, and men and women who are held together against their will and reason soon cease to recognise any duty to one another.

You are going to have indissoluble marriage, but you are going to permit separation. You cannot help yourself there. You are going to permit young people who cannot live together, because of some intolerable wrong, to separate. You are going to invite men and women in the prime of life to accept for the rest of their existence the law of the cloisters. Do you think you are going to succeed in what the entire of Europe has failed to do for the last 2,000 years? Are you going to impose the law of the cloister on those young people? If not, you are not going to raise the morality of this country by indissoluble marriage. A great English judge, speaking out of the immensity of his experience, said that there is no cause of irregular sexual relations so potent as separation without the possibility of remarriage.

This is a question which I know to be exciting a good deal of interest. I know something of the opinions of those who will make the next generation in this country. I know it, perhaps, better than most members of this House, and I am going to give those young people, speaking from here, a piece of advice, though they are, perhaps, of a far less excitable temperament than I am. I urge them not to be unduly excited. There is no use quarrelling with icebergs in warm water. These questions will solve themselves. Father Peter Finlay and the Bishop of Meath will have their brief victory, but we can leave them to it.

I have said that this is a tolerant country, yet, remembering that we have in our principal streets certain monuments, I feel it necessary to say that it would be wiser if I had said this country is hesitating.

I have no doubt whatever that, when he iceberg melts it will become an exceedingly tolerant country. The monuments are on the whole encouraging. I am thinking of O'Connell, Parnell, and Nelson. We never had any trouble about O'Connell. It was said about O'Connell, in his own day, that you could not throw a stick over a workhouse wall without hitting one of his children, but he believed in the indissolubility of marriage, and when he died his heart was very properly preserved in Rome. I am not quite sure whether it was in a bronze or marble urn, but it is there, and I have no doubt the art of that urn was as bad as the other art of the period. We had a good deal of trouble about Parnell when he married a woman who became thereby Mrs. Parnell.


Do you not think we might leave the dead alone?

I am passing on. I would hate to leave the dead alone. When that happened, I can remember the Irish Catholic Bishops coming out with a declaration that he had thereby doubled his offence. That is, fundamentally, the difference between us. In the opinion of every Irish Protestant gentleman in this country he did what was essential as a man of honour. Now you are going to make that essential act impossible, and thereby affront an important minority of your countrymen. I am anxious to draw the attention of the Bishop of Meath to Nelson. There is a proposal to remove Nelson because he interferes with the traffic. Now, I would suggest to the Protestant Bishop of Meath that he should advocate the removal of Nelson on strictly moral grounds. We will then have the whole thing out, and discover whether the English people who teach the history of Nelson to their children, and hold it before the country as a patriotic ideal, or the Bishop of Meath represent, on the whole, public opinion. The Bishop of Meath would not, like his predecessors in Ireland eighty years ago, have given Nelson a Pillar. He would have preferred to give him a gallows, because Nelson should have been either hanged or transported. I think I have not greatly wronged the dead in suggesting that we have in our midst three very salutary objects of meditation which may, perhaps, make us a little more tolerant.

I wish to close more seriously; this is a matter of very great seriousness. I think it is tragic that within three years of this country gaining its independence we should be discussing a measure which a minority of this nation considers to be grossly oppressive. I am proud to consider myself a typical man of that minority. We against whom you have done this thing, are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence. Yet I do not altogether regret what has happened. I shall be able to find out, if not I, my children will be able to find out whether we have lost our stamina or not. You have defined our position and have given us a popular following. If we have not lost our stamina then your victory will be brief, and your defeat final, and when it comes this nation may be transformed.


I have been looking through this report. Senator Douglas will correct me if I am wrong. So far as I can see it is purely a historical document. It does not make any recommendation and does not come to any conclusion. Therefore no matter what view one takes of this question—I throw this out in the interests of the Seanad itself—inasmuch as this report, as I say, contains no definite recommendation whatsoever on the subject of divorce a vinculo and expresses no opinion either way on this subject I do not see that the House commits itself in any way either for or against the doctrine by adopting this report.

That is my report in effect if not specifically. It is a time since I signed it and it asks both Houses for guidance and instruction.


Yes, that is so. It is plain that what is suggested is that if there is nothing to be done legislation will be required, but it does not advise legislation or recommend anything. Therefore, I only throw this out in order, if possible, to prevent this debate degenerating into an acrimonious discussion upon the question itself when the report we are considering is a rather colourless document.

Is it not rather late to discover that?


The discovery has been made and I am stating the facts.

One side of the case has been put. I cannot sit here any longer when you allow one person to put one side of the case. I insist on the other side being put.


It is quite disorderly and unfair for you to say that. Please sit down. I do not think the observation about insisting is quite correct.

I must protest against——


Sit down; you are not in order. I was going on to say, had you not interrupted me, that had I thought it was going to develop into an acrimonous debate of this kind I would have been reluctant to have yielded to the suggestion that we should have a discussion of the whole question. I thought it would have been debated on wholly different lines. I am not going to stop the debate. I have no power to do that, now that it has been opened in the way Senator Yeats opened it. At the same time, I am advising the House, consulting its own interests and dignity, that they should refer to the contents of the report, because examining it, they can see that it does not commit the House to anything.

The day is very hot and the Senator who spoke got very hot in mind and body. We saw the sweat falling down as he issued those splendid phrases for which he is famous. I wish he had not taken an absolute sectarian view of this matter. It seems to me it has nothing to do with sectarianism either in connection with Protestants or Catholics. Just as we pass any other law, we pass laws for various things and we take into consideration the advantage or disadvantage to the community at large, and that is all we, who are passing this motion, think about. The Senator has indulged in a diatribe about bishops of all sorts and politicians of all kinds. He has invented a lot of crimes which he said they committed. I do not know whether O'Connell or Nelson committed all those things, and therefore I pass from this without any further discussion. The Senator, as I said, went into a sectarian discussion and appealed to history and made a series of statements which are not in any way true. He says that Protestantism stands—I am not going to say anything here harsh; I am merely disproving the statement he made—I will not say for liberty, but for this question of divorce. Let us see whether that is true or not. Before the Reformation there was no such thing as divorce. After the Reformation it continued for fifty or sixty years. In the last days of Elizabeth an Act was passed by the English Parliament (the 44th of Elizabeth) all of whom were Protestants, much more sincere Protestants than people are nowadays, absolutely prohibiting divorce under any circumstances. Those were not Protestants at all, according to the last speaker. He is a better Protestant than the various bishops and Protestant leaders. These are all thrown aside. He stated in the sixteenth century——

The seventeenth century.

The Senator says now the seventeenth century. In the next one hundred years, from 1600 to 1700, there were only five cases of divorce, and those under special circumstances. I do not know the exact circumstances, but it is stated that they were under special and peculiar circumstances. It was a distinctively aggressive Protestant Parliament. He quotes the poet, Milton, as an authority. I do not know whether the poet Milton ever wrote on divorce.

One of the most famous of all the prose works of Milton is on divorce, which the Senator should have been taught at school.

Anyway, the poet did not divorce his wife. His wife died.


We cannot turn this into a question as to what happened to the wife of John Milton.

Appoint a Commission.

Very well, we have heard a great deal about that and now——


Have we not heard enough? You have killed the lady.

Well now, all these questions arose out of a certain message sent by the Dáil. That is not now definitely before us, so I will not read it or discuss it. All this has arisen out of the question whether the Dáil and Seanad would have brought before them matrimonial cases. Now, is there any one person in the Seanad, or in the whole of Ireland, would think that the Dáil or Seanad are proper Courts for discussing matrimonial affairs? Is there any one person who thinks that the Dáil and Seanad is the proper place to discuss matrimonial affairs? Senator Yeats himself, I am sure, would say that he would not be prepared to sit here constantly hearing divorce cases. It might amuse some of us to hear some of the details, but I do not think it would be a proper and useful way to spend our time. We were not elected for that and it is quite clear that it is not a duty that should be placed on us. In England itself, when this matter arose, they divested themselves of it. In 1857 they appointed another Court. Whether that would be done in this country or not I do not know, but all this arises out of whether the Dáil or Seanad should spend their time discussing matrimonial affairs. I think that everybody will admit that ought not be so, and if there is to be divorce at all it should be handed over to some entirely different Court. I suppose I must let pass a great deal that the last Senator said although, indeed, it deserves much attention both from the position of the Senator himself and the eloquent speech he made. I have listened to the Senator's speeches in various places. He is an eloquent speaker, and the speech just spoken is equal to any I have ever heard. I think it is rather hard that we should not be allowed to give any sort of answer to him.


I have not stopped you at all.

Well I do not want to go into it now.


Then do not complain of the hardship because I am not imposing it on you.

Very well. Now the reason that we are objecting here is this—I believe myself, and I believe I speak for many other people—we do not believe that it is good for the State to bring in divorce laws. I can quite understand 70 or 80 years ago the English Parliament setting up a Court for Divorce. I can understand very well their doing so, because everybody here and everyone all over the world must recognise the terrible hardship it is for a man or woman to be tied, perhaps, to a prisoner or murderer, or lunatic or idiot. Everybody recognises that. But there are horrors on the other side, and after 70 years' trial and experiment in this matter through a great part of the world, what do we find? I happened to be in America some time ago, and I saw a judge there who said: "Well, if any two people come before me, and say they want a divorce, I do not want any other proof; that is sufficient for me." That is a very logical thing. You must either have no divorce or take up the position of the American judge. It is quite a logical conclusion. The English Parliament set up divorce courts as a sort of experiment. They acted reasonably and properly at the time; from their point of view they were justified in trying it. What is the result? It has resulted in an enormous flood of divorces. Young people now get married knowing quite well the marriage will only last a year.

An ancient Irish form of marriage.

What is the result? It leads to all sorts of lies and disrepute. If two people want a divorce, what do they do? The husband goes away and lives in apartments. The wife writes to him, being herself most anxious for the divorce; she writes a pretended letter asking him to return, begging her dear husband to return and all will be forgiven. Now these people do not write those letters themselves. These letters are written by lawyers, merely as a matter of form. The husband writes back saying that he cannot come back, and the wife, knowing beforehand that he would write that letter, proceeds to ask for a divorce in the courts. What is the good of that procedure? Why not adopt the American method and say: "I will give a divorce to any two people who come before me. Let anybody who wants divorce have it."

There is no real medium in these things. Therefore, I say that we have to consider carefully what is the genuine interest of the people of this country for whom we are legislating— whether it is their interest that we should have divorce at will, which means that matrimony is to be done away with. It has been done away with in practice in other countries. We have to consider whether we want all those terrible things that have happened where divorce is allowed. We are between two evils. The world is full of evils. We can only steer our course between evils on one side and on the other. We here on this side object to divorce, and we object to it, not so much on religious principles as because we believe it is bad for the country and bad for any country, and that it has been proved bad in every country where it has been tried. Knowing as we do the result, we oppose it.

We have been challenged in this matter with being the slaves of the bishops and priests. I have been denounced because I disagreed with the bishops and priests. I once proposed that Irish should be made compulsory in the University. I was denounced by the bishops. The bishops and the Archbishop withdrew. I did not care. Therefore that shows that I was not the slave of the bishops or priests. I think many of the people who sit beside me had the same experience. One lady in particular did the same thing, and we were successful. I know it; I was there. Now, what is all this talk about? This is an old subject which we have heard again and again introduced by people who came into the country telling us we did not know how to do anything in this country, that we are slaves to ecclesiastics. That is all balderdash. It is only propaganda of a certain narrow clique that dominated this country for so many years. We, on our side, do not want to hear any more about it. We want none of this discussion about Protestants and Catholics. We do not want the question of Protestant and Catholic raised. We want Catholics and Protestants on equal terms, and we do not want to dominate the Protestants. We are looking for the general interest of the people. Most of my friends are Protestants. I have lived amongst them all my life. The Senator says that these people brought poetry and literature and everything else. That is not so. The first thing they did was to burn and ravage and rob monasteries and libraries. They drove out everybody who could write. What is the good of talking of all these things? Senator Yeats, in talking on this matter, does not look at the other side of it at all. I know many of the Protestants who talk about this matter, and who do not look upon it in this way at all. They take a liberal view of these matters. They do not go into diatribes about these things. That frame of mind belongs to the sixteenth century. What I want to point out is, that we are here to vote when the question does come up, quite apart from sectarianism, for the good of the country.

I am not sure on what item of the agenda I am entitled to speak, but I have no doubt you will call me to order if I transgress. I presume it is on the actual motion.


The motion has not been moved so far. The position is that the Committee that was appointed to go into this matter was a Joint Committee on Standing Orders in regard to Private Bills relating to matrimonial affairs. That committee has made a report which has been circulated, and which is now in the hands of Senators.

I will confine my observations to that. It deals with the general question and previous speakers have dealt with the advisability or otherwise of divorce being continued. To my mind, the important issue seems to be that the citizens of this State consist of a great majority of Roman Catholics and a considerable minority of Protestants, and it is exceedingly desirable that they should all pull together for the welfare of the country to which they belong. On this question of divorce, however, their views are opposed. I know what the Roman Catholic view is, and I know that I am right in saying that every good Roman Catholic churchman, if he were to take divorce, would consider that he was alienating himself from his Church. Protestants take a different view, not because of what happened in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. There have been facilities for divorce and they have existed in this country in a very limited form, and only Protestant citizens have availed themselves of them. If you take away all divorce facilities it seems to me to be equivalent to making a Church law into a State law, and that, I think, is a very great mistake. It will be looked on as tyrannical and as depriving a large number of citizens of facilities which they have hitherto enjoyed. In that way I think it is a great mistake. I am sure that many in this House will agree with me when I say that it is not a question of right and wrong, but, largely a matter of conscience. As far as the Roman Catholic point of view about divorce, amounting in practice to a self-denying ordinance, is concerned, I have the greatest respect for that point of view, because I am quite sure that there are hard cases in that community as well as in the Protestant community.

The argument, however, that the consciences of people who think that way and who disapprove of divorce prevent them from allowing the minority to exercise their freedom of conscience is an attitude of mind with which I have no sympathy, and which, I think, is not in the interests of the country. It has the appearance of tyranny. Those who disapprove of divorce should abstain from divorce, but I do not think that they ought to try and coerce others, and I think it very unwise, in the interests of the whole community, that they should attempt the coercion of others who are not of their way of thinking. It is a principle of life to live and let live, and it ought to be followed. So much for conscience. Now as to the practical issue, I desire to say that what I am now going to say is said perfectly sincerely, as I do not hold myself to be a weighty judge of moral issues. But what good, material or moral, is it going to do this country to do away with facilities for divorce? It will not injure Catholics. It is going to do no good to Protestants who do not want divorce, and what good is it going to do to Protestants whose circumstances drive them to seek divorce? It is going to deprive them of the relief which they could have obtained when these facilities existed.

I believe that the great majority of people in this country who sought divorce, even under the very limited and restricted facilites that existed, sought it only after great mental torture and for very strong reasons. To refuse relief to people in that frame of mind is, I hold, very tyrannical and undesirable. It will be resented and will result in people helping themselves in some irregular sort of way which is very undesirable. People will always find a way round and I think that that is very bad and demoralising. I suggest that this is essentially a matter of toleration, and if the great majority of citizens disapprove of divorce, which they have a perfect right to do, it is desirable that they should recognise that there is a minority with other views on the subject, and, without detriment to the State, they should be allowed the limited facilities which existed. I know, in present circumstances, if divorce is sought by Private Bill, such Bill will scarcely pass. You do not commit an overt act which is likely to be viewed as an act of tyranny. Leave the thing alone and everybody takes a chance. I think that would be much better than that the State should take the overt act of giving no facilities to divorce.

I shall endeavour not to lead any thoughts of mine into the acrimonious channels in which this debate was originated by Senator Yeats. So far as I could gather, he dealt with the question wholly on a sectarian basis. For my part, any action which I shall take, when the debate on divorce comes up, shall not be taken on any sectarian issue, but that the sanctity of the home shall be preserved and the good of every family advanced. Senator Yeats says that pressure was brought to bear on us in this House to do certain things and that that was a pressure to which we had to yield. At no time, nor by anyone, was any pressure brought to bear on me to vote one way or the other when the question of divorce is raised. Senator Bagwell says that we should let the thing remain as it is. It cannot be left as it is. It is a burning question and the Dáil and Seanad must deal with it, not in a narrow sectarian way; but in the broader aspect of the good of the majority of the people. Senator Yeats is a man of great erudition, great experience, and great study, and he says let us do what Sweden, France, England and America have done, that they were unanimously in favour of divorce and that the legislation of those countries provided for divorce. He overlooked, I think, one State, a Protestant State of the Union, which has no divorce. In his research he overlooked the State of South Carolina, one of the most important States in the Union of America, and one of the most Protestant and cultured States. It has no divorce and the morality of the people of South Carolina is fully as high as the morality of people in any other part of America. Forsooth, he called up before us visions of dead men, whisperings of whom he had heard, such whisperings as he made known to us and as he suggested to us and to the people of Ireland, whisperings of gross immorality of men whom Ireland holds dear and whose memories are still cherished.

I repudiate and must repudiate on behalf of the people whom I represent here, such an attack. As our Chairman said, very properly, the dead should be let rest, but they were not let rest. I say here that Senator Yeats' attack on the memory of O'Connell is not a just attack nor is it a truthful attack. Further than that, he says that the way of divorce leads the North to the South. The North and the South are to be united on the basis of the upheaval of the home. Apparently on no other basis will the North and South ever be united. Is there another Senator here but Senator Yeats who feels this? Is there another Senator here who feels that there are not people in the North of Ireland, families in the North, and homes in the North, who desire that we in this Seanad should bring to bear on this question our united wisdom, our united experience and our united thought? If we do that I feel confident that we here, as jurors, will weigh carefully what has been the result of divorce in the nearest land to us. I think unless some extraordinarily weighty evidence which I have never had up to now is produced, we must feel that all the weight of evidence, all the weight of experience, all the weight that any intelligent mind can bring to it, must be on the side of non-divorce.

Why do I say this? Many families have a skeleton. Keep the skeleton under lock and key and you will have peace. Open the door and let the skeleton out and what have you? You have the whole family disrupted and you have the household, which was practically united before, torn apart. You have the mother against the son and the son against the mother. You have division; you have disunion. You have a condition of things which I feel no God-fearing man would desire.

St. Matthew is not historical! That is for the erudite, not for me, nor do I think it is for the people of this land to enter into hasty discussions and large discussions as to whether St. Matthew's Gospel is to be trusted historically or is not to be trusted. I believe the people of Ireland believe in St. Matthew's Gospel. I feel the people desire to follow St. Matthew's Gospel. I, for my part, will try to secure that St. Matthew's Gospel, as interpreted by those entitled to preach it, be they Protestant or Catholic, shall be respected and that it shall be the law to be followed in this country. There were divorces hitherto, we have been told. Divorces for whom? Senator Yeats said: "Give us divorce." Divorce for whom? For the pampered few who can afford to go to the Courts in England laden with money to spend, to spend it unwisely in sexual frivolities, to go to England and get their sexual frivolities condoned. Do we want to do that here? I say we do not. I say that to suggest that this Seanad, and I can only speak for the Seanad, will legislate on these grounds is an abominable assertion. I do not think any Senator, when he comes to vote here, will vote on religious grounds, but he will vote on what he conceives is for the good of the country, the sanctity of the home and the advancement of family life in the country.

Icebergs melt! I am not an iceberg and I have melted, even as the Senator did. I am melting and will melt with shame that a man of the erudition of Senator Yeats should come forward in an assembly like this and say that we were led merely by the one idea, that one religion should prevail over another religion in this country. All religions are striving for the good of those they represent, and provide for them codes of morality which have succeeded in making them a moral people. To suggest that we, because forsooth we do not worship at the same shrine, wish to impose penalties on those who differ from us is, I think, an assertion that not one other Senator in this House would attempt to make. I resent it. I feel strongly that such an accusation should be made against the living and I feel strongly that the assertions and the accusations which the Senator thought fit in his wisdom to make against the dead should be made without much protest. The Chairman, thanks to him, protested. I believe that in our individual capacities after we leave this Assembly, with the erudite words of the Senator in his long and most interesting speech ringing in our ears, possibly in the dead of night, we must feel rankling in our minds that there is at least one bigot in Ireland, that that bigotry and the gospel of bigotry which he tried to propagate must be put down at all costs and that this question when it comes to be decided will be decided on the grounds of morality, on the grounds of the sanctity of the home and on the grounds of the wishes and the desires of the people whom we represent.

I move:

"That in the opinion of the Seanad the object desired by the Dáil in its message of the 12th February would be best achieved by the adoption by both Houses of the Oireachtas of the following resolution:—

‘That the Joint Committee on Standing Orders relative to Private Business be requested to submit additional Standing Orders regulating the procedure to be adopted in connection with Private Bills relating to matrimonial matters, including a Standing Order or Orders which will prevent Bills of Divorce a vinculo matrimonii from being deemed to have been introduced under Standing Order 55 and which will provide that such Bills must be read a first time in each House before they are further proceeded with in the Seanad.’

That a Message be sent to the Dáil requesting its concurrence in this resolution in place of that proposed in its Message of the 12th February."

I think the time has come when the debate will possibly be helped by moving this motion. I do not wish or propose to follow Senator Yeats or Senator Bennett in their suggestions as to bigotry on one side or the other. I would just like to say this; that I think the members of this House, one and all, should be extremely careful in suggesting the motives which led to the votes or the actions of other members of the House. Personally, that is the principal objection, but I differ in many other respects from Senator Yeats' views. That is the principal objection which I take to the speech he made here. Before I deal in the main with the proposals I make in the resolutions, I would like to make one or two personal references to the main subject. Personally, as you know, I belong to a very small religious denomination. It is often described as neither being Protestant nor Catholic. Personally I share as an individual the views on the question of the sanctity of the marriage tie which were represented by Senator Yeats' quotation from Archbishop Byrne. As far as I could follow him—I did not hear it before—I agree with what was quoted. Though not belonging to the Church of the majority, in the main, I find myself sharing their view on the question of the sanctity of marriage.

What about the Bishop of Meath?

Where I do disagree with the majority of my fellow-countrymen is not that for my own part I do not share their views with regard to divorce, but that I do not as an individual feel it laid upon me to take action which would prevent that small number of persons who do not share my views or who do not share the views of the majority, from obtaining in some form or other that which they were able to obtain before the establishment of the Free State. At the same time, though that is my personal view, I recognise that it is not the view of the vast majority of the people of this country. If Senators here had been present at the meetings of the Committee they would have found that the committee in good temper and with a general recognition of the sincerity of each others views, endeavoured to reach some solution of the problem with which they were faced. They failed, but they agreed in a unanimous statement as to what was the position with which they were faced. I should like very briefly to remind the Seanad what is the position. It is not sufficient simply to say that there are now no provisions for dealing with applications for divorce. It is not sufficient simply to say, leave things as they are, because you cannot, whatever you do, leave things exactly as they are. With the establishment of the Irish Free State the Oireachtas became a sovereign assembly with sovereign powers, and in my humble and honest opinion, it is not possible for us to divest ourselves of those powers, even if we desire to do so. Those powers include the powers, if we see fit, to make provision for divorce in this country, whether by the method suggested by Senator Colonel Moore, of setting up a court and giving it powers, or by means of private bill legislation, as was previously done in Westminster. There is no obligation on us to do so in either way. I do not think that we can get away from the fact that we have the power and responsibility either to do so or not.

I should like to point out in the first place that this committee was not set up to deal with divorce. It was an ordinary standing committee dealing with private bill standing orders, and it found itself in this position. The examiner of private bills had applications for three bills. Only one standing order, namely, the first one, defined what was a private bill, and no one disputes that a divorce bill is the most private of all private bills, but there was only one standing order which applied. The examiner of private bills asked the committee to come to his assistance as to what action he should take in the matter, pointing out to us that it seemed to him that he would simply have to report to the House that this one standing order had been complied with, and that the bills, under private bill standing orders, were thereby deemed to have been introduced. Instead of doing that he asked the advice of the committee, as members of the committee are in a position to advise him on many matters. As regards the setting up of the committee, I do not believe that any of the members would have accepted a position on it, if it was expected that it would have to deal with divorce. I certainly, as Chairman, would not have accepted the position under such circumstances.

The Committee found itself obliged to consider this problem and did so at considerable length. It set out in a report a fair statement of what was generally accepted as the position at the time. Suggestions have been made elsewhere that it would have been possible for this House to prevent the introduction of such bills here or in the Dáil. It seems to me, and I am speaking now entirely as an individual, that the House itself can prevent the introduction of such bills, and, furthermore, that both Houses intend to prevent the introduction of such bills whether we all agree or whether we do not agree on that. The object of my resolution is to try and find a method by which, if either House says that it is not prepared to consider or deal with such bills, that such bills will not go any further, but at the same time we desire to leave it open so that, should, at any time in the future, a complete change come over the country, and that both Houses by a majority were prepared to deal with them, that then their powers to deal with them would not have been prevented.

At the present moment all private bills are deemed to have been introduced if they have been passed by the examiner, or after an appeal against the examiner's decision has been dealt with. There are some other minor circumstances which I need not go into. As it stands at the moment, you include a divorce bill under the resolution which you have before you. I propose that while retaining a divorce bill as a private bill, it shall be dealt with differently to other private bills, and shall not come under the section which deems it to have been introduced, but should it comply with such standing orders as I propose should be set up, then it shall be reported to this House either as having been accorded a first stage or as having been refused a first stage. If the House refuses to accord it a first stage, as presumably would be the case, the bill could reach no further proceedings in either House. Should, on the other hand, this House accord it a first stage, then under my proposal it cannot go any further in this House until the Dáil has also accorded it a first stage. The object that I have in so providing is that we cannot tell in the future what will be the complexion of the representatives in this House or in the Dáil. But should there by any reason or possibility be a majority found in this House which was willing to pass such a divorce Bill, I do not want that Bill to be discussed with unnecessary detail.

I put this motion down entirely on my own responsibility. I did consult with one other Senator, but I am not acting on behalf of any group. I am putting this forward as a suggestion, and as a possible way of dealing with the situation by which the will of the majority would be entirely carried out, and which at the same time would not even suggest in any way that we intend to or that we could limit our powers, that is to say, the powers of the Oireachtas. I do not like the form of the other suggestion which has been made, because it looks to me like a suggestion that you can take away or limit your own powers. I do not think even if we adopted the other suggestion, that you could actually do that, but it looks like it. For that reason I prefer the method I have suggested. In conclusion, what I would like to make clear is this, that this resolution of mine is not put forward to express my views on the particular question as to how divorce is to be dealt with. It is put forward because it is the duty of members of this House as public representatives to voice a fact that many of them may not like, namely, that the vast majority of the people are not prepared to accord divorce facilities to a small minority. There is no use making speeches against that which I am perfectly satisfied is not the whim of the Government or of the Dáil, but is the position which the country has taken up. I propose this as the only way, to my mind, and it seems to me the best way of meeting the situation, and I put it forward for consideration of the Seanad.

Perhaps, as An Cathaoirleach has allowed Senator Douglas to move his resolution, he would now allow me to move my resolution.


You have asked me a question, and I will give you my reasons if you wish. Your resolution is plainly out of order. It is a repetition of the message that we received from the other House, which requested that we should destroy an existing right by a Standing Order. In other words, that the Committee should frame a Standing Order for the purpose of preventing the introduction and making it impossible that Private Bills for Divorce could be introduced. I gave reasons at the time I ruled that out of order. I have never seen or heard any challenge to that ruling from any quarter. I gave it after most exhaustive study and research. I found it was the elementary law of every country that had Parliamentary institutions that you cannot legislate by resolution or by Standing Order.

We never had any opportunity.


Accordingly I ruled it out of order. Now the Senator wishes to get behind that ruling, and apparently relies upon the fact that there is a provision made to-day, by the adoption of the Report of the Committee, which enables any questions in future of that kind to be referred to a Committee on procedure. That cannot possibly reflect back upon what has already occurred, nor can it afford an opportunity to Senators to go behind my ruling. In the future if any similar resolution dealing with any other matters, and asking for legislation by Standing Orders, comes before the House, and I give a ruling on it, it may be referred to the new Committee. But that cannot possibly have any retrospective effect for the purpose of destroying the effect of a ruling which I previously gave.

I bow to your ruling, sir, as I always have done since you took the Chair. But I am entitled to speak.


Yes, certainly.

I regret greatly that in ruling my resolution out of order there was no consultation with me, as I think there is usually, because if I had that consultation with you, sir, I could have shown you that I had in my possession authority from, I think I may say almost the majority of this House, for the wish that this resolution should at all events be discussed here.


Will you pardon me for a moment, Senator. I do not think that any Senator could ever complain that I had ever refrained from offering help and giving information in every way when they approached me. You never approached me on this subject. You only gave notice of your motion three days ago, and the moment it was shown to me I asked the Assistant Clerk to the House to write you and tell you that I was certain it was out of order. If you wanted to discuss the matter with me I was quite open to any such discussion, but you never came near me.

It did not reach me, as I was out of town.


Then do not blame me.

I am not blaming you, but I think a little help might have been given.


I should have given it with pleasure if there was an opportunity.

Yes, but you had already ruled it out of order.


I told you I would be compelled to rule it out of order. Instead of doing so there and then, I said I would allow it to appear upon the Order Paper of the House.

But before ruling it out of order I think I might have been asked to come to see you on the subject.


I would have been delighted if you had come.

I did not get the opportunity. Your ruling on this point as to this resolution to-day is a very strong one. That resolution that you do not allow us to discuss caused the formation of a new Committee to take up similar work in spite of your ruling that out of order. That is the most important point that could come before the Seanad. You ruled it out of order and prevented us discussing it, and after that ruling it created such an upheaval that a Committee had to be appointed to deal with a similar situation. You rule to-day that your ruling on that resolution in the face of the appointment of a Committee, cannot be touched by the new Committee, and I respectfully suggest that if this Committee is set up because of your ruling it is an extraordinary thing that you did not allow the original resolution to be referred to that Committee.


I have allowed you to say so much but I cannot allow my ruling to be discussed any further.

I think it was very arbitrary.


So far from being arbitrary I have allowed you to state your views upon my ruling—a very unusual thing. I have never done it before in the case of any other Senator.

I hope the House will take into consideration the fact that you will not allow the resolution which caused the setting up of the new Committee to be the subject of discussion. I pass from that now, and come to the general discussion——


May I just say, in addition to what I have said already, that in taking the course I have taken I am supported by the unanimous resolution of this House on a precisely similar question. I referred to that already a fortnight ago and I would be stultifying the House as well as myself if I was to go back on my ruling.

As to the subject we are discussing here to-day, I regret exceedingly that the sectarian element has been introduced, but as it has been introduced, I think everyone here who has gone through the form of marriage will realise that the marriage service says: "For better or for worse, until death do us part." I do not know how Senator Yeats intends to get out of that by his argument, because that is the form of the marriage ceremony in both Protestant and Catholic Churches. Senator Bagwell asked us: "Is there to be no toleration?" There is no toleration for wrong done. If we believe this thing is wrong how can we tolerate it? But his plea fails. As to the Private Bill legislation urged by Senator Douglas, I think this question of divorce is not a question for Private Bill legislation, and if there is to be divorce of any kind it is not by Private Bill legislation it can be settled; it must be settled by other means.

Speaking as a woman I stand for the protection of women. A woman cannot get a divorce in the same way as a man. I understand that a woman wanting a divorce will have to leave this country and take up residence abroad. A man need not do that. It is difficult for a woman to do that. Granted that a few will do so, I think the majority of the women will be protected, their homes made permanent, and the children kept there, and that if a few women suffer—and they will be very few—they will suffer in a very good cause.

In the name of woman I protest against the idea that it is divorce that destroys the sanctity of the home. Surely, the law laid down 3,000 years ago by the greatest legislator, took the more sensible view of the matter. The Mosaic law, as can be read in the Bible, not only permitted divorce but enjoined it. The law recognised that it was the seducer in the home or out of it, not the judge in court or Parliament, who breaks up the home.

It realised that it is the sanctity of the home far more than that of the contract that really matters; that to anchor the guilty man irremovably to the hearth he violates, or to cast the guilty woman on to the streets, cannot make for morality or for a high standard of virtue. It would be a hideous injustice to the women of this country, because, as Senator Mrs. Wyse-Power has stated, the man can go across the water and shake the dust of this country off his feet to a country where he can reacquire the freedom of which we would deprive him. The woman cannot go. You condemn her to a life of misery or isolation, for a woman in so false a position must be ten times more circumspect than any other, if she would safeguard her good name. If guilty, she must spend the rest of her days as an example of the wicked, flourishing like a bay tree or as an eyesore in a land hitherto famed for its high ideals of purity. We protest against the taking away from the minority of a right which it has enjoyed for nearly two hundred years. Senator Moore stated that there were only five applications for divorce in 100 years, and that shows that the right the minority claims has never been abused. We protest against taking away a liberty given in the Constitution to the minority.

I rise to second the resolution proposed by Senator Douglas. I do not intend to say anything at all on the question whether divorce a vinculo should be obtainable in the Free State. That is a question which has been discussed at some length and perhaps with some heat in the Seanad to-day. It seems to me that discussion of a question of that kind, depending so much as it does on our religious beliefs, is one that tends rather to hinder than to help. Therefore, I will not say a word on the general question. The only question I am concerned with is, what is the best course for the Seanad to take in the circumstances that have arisen, and which have been described to us by Senator Douglas? The Joint Committee on Standing Orders for Private Bills has sent us a report and has requested both Houses to give them directions as to what Standing Orders they should frame, dealing with private bills, that deal with matrimonial matters.

Beyond all doubt, however little some members of the Seanad may like it, a Divorce Bill is a Private Bill. There is no doubt at all that it comes within the definition of a Private Bill as known in every legislative House, and that it deals with a purely private matter, and therefore comes within Standing Order No. 1 of our Standing Orders for Private Bills. The Bill comes before the examiner and stays there because he does not know what to do with it. Standing Orders must be made if it is to be dealt with. We are therefore faced with this position. We must give directions—the two Houses—to the Joint Committee as to what kind of Standing Orders they are to frame. The Dáil has dealt with this matter in a resolution which is embodied in the message sent to this House. I do not intend to discuss the action of the Dáil in that matter further than this, that as a lawyer I am bound to say the resolution is unconstitutional, in my opinion. It is a resolution which binds the House which has sovereign powers of legislation, not to legislate on a certain subject. To my mind, as a lawyer, that is an impossible constitutional position, and therefore I am bound to get away from the solution which the Dáil has suggested and asked the Seanad to join in.

What is the alternative? The alternative is legislation which the Government in its wisdom—and probably they are right—have declined to undertake. The other alternative is to frame Standing Orders on the lines which have been suggested by Senator Douglas. May I impress on the House that there is nothing in it, if they pass this resolution, and there is nothing which will follow from it, which would in any way offend against the religious principles of any member of either House. It merely means that a Private Bill for Divorce lodged with the examiner will no longer be subject to the Standing Orders which apply to all Private Bills. At present, the first stage is passed automatically. If this resolution proposed by Senator Douglas is passed, that would no longer apply to Private Bills for Divorce. A Private Bill for Divorce would have to be moved in one or other of the two Houses, and, knowing the state of feeling in both Houses, we all know that when a Bill of that kind comes to be moved for first reading in either of the Houses it will not be listened to for a moment. That is to say, the first reading of it will be refused by a very large majority in whatever House it is introduced.

By adopting this course you are not in any way recognising divorce. On the contrary, you are allowing a Bill to come into the House and giving every citizen the right he has to petition this House on a matter of private interest of this kind. You are not depriving him of any rights. You are not accepting any responsibility for divorce. You are merely allowing a Bill for divorce to be moved, and I have no doubt it will be rejected until opinions have greatly changed. Therefore, in adopting this course you are not going to make divorce easy or possible, but you are going to comply with the requirements of our Constitution. You are not going to say, "We will not legislate." You are only going to say, "We will not pass this Bill." I strongly urge members of the Seanad that, instead of complying with the message, we should adopt the easier method of getting rid of this difficulty. The result will be just the same as any resolution we are asked to pass by the Dáil.

I shall vote against this resolution. I see that a crisis has arisen in the Seanad which will have to be solved somehow. I speak now, I think, for the majority of the Senators when I say that we have a crisis. I must ask you, sir, to say how this question can be settled. I think the majority of the Senators feel strongly on this matter. I shall vote against anything on the subject of divorce until this question is settled.


Would it not be better if you spoke for yourself? What exactly do you wish me to define?

The question of why Senator Mrs. Wyse-Power's resolution should be ruled out of order.


Have I not already dealt with that?

We are at loggerheads.


I will not assume that in view of the oath each Senator has taken, and in view, as I said, of the unanimous resolution they passed on a precisely similar matter—

May I ask what it was?


It was a question as to whether the salaries of the District Judges were to be charged on the Central Fund, and the Government said: "No, because we passed a resolution deciding otherwise." It was sought to say that the resolution bound the Oireachtas. That was referred to a Committee, and I ruled that it did not bind them, but the Committee unanimously decided that a resolution was not legislation. That report came up before the Seanad, and it was unanimously adopted. There is, with great respect, confusion in the minds of some Senators as to this. I am very anxious, for I never had a quarrel with any Senator and I hope I never will, that Senators should not misunderstand what I have said over and over again, that I do not care one fig about this divorce question. If this had been an attempt to legislate by standing order on any other matter I would have given precisely the same ruling. But I am not shutting out the Seanad from discussing the question of divorce, for this obvious reason: any Senator could bring in a Bill to-morrow to abolish the right of Private Bill divorce a vinculo and he would be entitled to have it introduced and, if the Seanad agreed, to have it passed through all stages. The only thing is that you cannot do that by a standing order.

I hope it will not be taken as a ruling that you can amend the Constitution by limiting the powers of the Seanad in legislation by standing orders.


I never decided that. The question Senator Douglas has raised is another ground on which, I might if I had considered it, ruled the motion out of order. I ruled it out of order, not on the ground that it was limiting the legislative power of this House, but that it was proposing to take away an existing right by standing order. I said that was unconstitutional and without precedent, and a century ago, in a most important case known to every lawyer, it was decided by a court in England as being unconstitutional and an impossible procedure. I want to make this clear because I fear there is a feeling in the minds of some of the Senators that I am doing this in the interests of those who want divorce in the Free State. I assure the House I am absolutely indifferent on the question. So far from ruling them out, as I said, any Senator can have the question raised in a constitutional way by introducing to-morrow a Bill of two or four lines saying that from this day on there is to be no divorce in the Free State. That would be constitutional, and the fullest discussion could take place on it.

While not anxious to aggravate matters, I think some solution should be found. This Committee to-day was formed for a special reason. Senator Bennett brought forward a resolution in the Seanad which would have been accepted by the majority of the Seanad——


I have given you the opportunity of expressing your views about my ruling, and I cannot allow you further to challenge or discuss it.

Is there any other means by which I can raise the question?


None, except by a motion to remove me from my position. If it is the Senator's wish I will not stand in the way.

The only point that arises is whether this motion by Mrs. Wyse-Power is to be looked on as a new motion, or an old motion put down for the second time. On the first occasion it appeared as a message from the other House, and on the present occasion it appears in the form of a motion. That would suggest the possibility of your ruling that it is a new motion, and consequently ruling it out of order, giving the mover of the motion the right to avail of the machinery that has been created as a result of to-day's motion under item 6. I would suggest to those who feel aggrieved that they can solve the problem for themselves by voting against Senator Douglas's motion, turning it down if they so desire, and bringing in another motion on somewhat the same lines as this. I take it that it would be possible to do that. It could be created a new motion, ruled out of order afresh, and then referred to the new machinery.


I cannot allow any motion that was manifestly in effect to evade the procedure of the Constitution, and to get behind my ruling. At the same time, let me point out again, there would be nothing unconstitutional in a motion being moved in this House recommending the Government to introduce legislation depriving people of the right to bring in a Bill for divorce.

Although this other motion was carried?


Certainly. You could do that to-morrow. All I want is to guard the House. My sole and only interest is regard for its future, and to protect its rights and position as well. The point I am making now, and that was always insisted on is, that under the Constitution you cannot take away an existing right by anything short of legislation. That is the sole and only reason I have for deciding as I have done on this matter.

You have said just now that under no circumstances will you allow what you consider an unconstitutional question to be raised.


I have said nothing of the kind. What I have said is that I will not allow any motion dealing with this particular matter, which is a repetition in substance and effect of the motion I have already ruled out of order.

Is it because it was ruled out of order?



And not because it was unconstitutional?


I could give you a dozen reasons but one good one is enough.

I am not satisfied.


I cannot do any more in that direction, and I do not propose to do it.

I support this motion, because in my opinion it is the best solution that has presented itself of what is a very difficult and controversial question. I am sorry that I cannot develop the heat that was manifested in the earlier speeches, although I have no intention of giving a frivolous or lighthearted vote. Senator Yeats with true poetic licence indulged in historical and other reminiscences of an exceedingly interesting and humorous character. I only regret his speech for one reason. Everyone in this House, of course, understands Senator Yeats, and is proud of him as a distinguished Irishman, but they realise that this speech may be used by the traducers of this country in other matters as the opinion which a very eminent Irishman holds of his fellow countrymen who worship at a different shrine to him. That is the only pity of the speech, which was, as I said, otherwise one to which a very big poetic licence was attached. I would not, for a moment attempt to dispute with him, because I feel I would be quite incapable of entering into the depths which he has gone. His speech, at all events, is a clear indication of the truth of the old maxim that poets and litterateurs as a rule are not good moralists or good statesmen.

I want to make it clear that from my own personal point of view this is a purely social and not a religious question. It is as a social question and not as a religious one that every State has approached it. It is an exceedingly good argument to get out for the purpose of arousing indigation to state that it is legislation based on religious and not on social grounds. Not a single argument has been adduced to show that it is inspired by religion, except the assumption that votes have been influenced in this House as a result of the operations of people outside. As far as I am personally concerned, I repudiate a suggestion of that kind, and I think the House realises that it would not be influenced by the members of any Church on matters of social policy.

What we are to consider is whether it is in the interests of social order and social development in Ireland to grant large facilities for divorce. In arriving at a conclusion, we are considerably enlightened by looking at what has happened in the countries all round us with a somewhat similar form of government. We know the extension of divorce in Great Britain has caused divorce to increase to an alarming extent. Where there were dozens previously there are now thousands, and the list is growing year by year. It is quite usual for a judge to dispose of a couple of hundred undefended cases at a single sitting. This is bound to loosen and break all those domestic ties on which the State is built. It is bound to loosen that sense of individual responsibility without which no State could carry on successfully. It is bound to weaken the morals of rising generations and give them a sense of licentiousness which, if carried to excess, is bound to weaken any State, as it inevitably weakens the ties between parents and children. After all, law begins at the fireside. If you cannot enforce law there you cannot enforce it in the wider arena of the State. At the present time there must be thousands of people in Great Britain who find it exceedingly difficult to establish their own identity, being children of parents both of whom may have been divorced several times. In fact, next to Association football, it has become the most popular pastime in Great Britain and America.

Senator Yeats seems to suggest that you can create good morals by legalising immorality, and he referred to that by quoting France, Italy, Spain, and places where he alleged no divorce facilities exist and where the morals of the people, on the whole, are very loose. That has been his allegation. He omitted to refer to Denmark, where there are greater divorce facilities than in any other country. There, two people have only to say so if they desire to get a divorce, and divorce is granted. Yet in Copenhagen one out of every four children is illegitimate, and for the whole of Denmark one in every nine is illegitimate. That, I think, would go to establishing the fact that granting divorce facilities does not make for morality. He dealt with the position of the North. I do not know that the morals of the people of the North are those of the Orient, and that we are going to hurry them into one united Ireland by simply holding out to them prospects of easy and cheap divorce. One has only to look at the fact that the divorce facilities, which have existed up to the present, have not been utilised to a great extent at all. If, as a result of not facilitating divorce you are inflicting hardship, it must be on an exceedingly small number of people. No law made for the good of many can escape inflicting some hardship on a few. After all, there are some followers of the Mormon religion in Great Britain. I do not know if there are many in Ireland. It is popularly said that they believe in polygamy. Yet Senator Yeats would hardly defend the legalising of polygamy in Great Britain lest the Legislature might be accused of suppressing the religious beliefs and inclinations of a minority of the population.

I believe the motion, if carried, will, in effect, until such time as those who believe in divorce facilities are a majority in both Houses, make divorce a vinculo impossible, but at the same time it will prevent the legislature from trying to restrict its own rights, something which, Senator Douglas points out, it has no right to do. Some people are so fanatical on this question that they would destroy the powers of the legislature and make inroads on the Constitution to effect their purpose. I am going to be no party to that. It reminds one of Charles Lamb's Chinaman, who burned his house in order to cook his dinner. We do not want to restrict the rights of the legislature for the mere purpose of preventing divorce facilities. Consequently I believe the motion is the best solution which has presented itself so far and no matter whether the other matter were ruled out of order or not I feel I would be compelled to support the motion before the House. I do so because I am opposed to divorce on purely social grounds. I believe if you create greater facilities than now exist you will create a demand in time that will make for those hasty and ill-considered marriages which have been such a marked feature of British and Continental social life since the war, and you will destroy the domestic bonds which bind up the different orders of society and which eventually go to make the State. While preventing divorce of every sort, at all events, for some considerable time, and probably for all time, you will preserve the full rights of the legislature and not leave it open either to our successors or the people as a whole to say we have taken the first opportunity we got in order to violate the Constitution upon which the freedom of the State is founded.

I must say that I cannot agree to support this motion because of the fact that the passing of it leaves us almost in our original position. I believe this ought to be settled definitely one way or the other, and that the Oireachtas ought to decide whether or not facilities ought to be granted for divorce in this country. I am opposed to the motion now before the House, because if this motion is carried it will leave facilities for divorce in this country under the present Constitution greater than those which were given under the British Constitution, because in the British Constitution a person who wanted divorce had first to go through the courts and then had to promote a Private Bill in the British House of Lords. If this motion is carried you are going to grant greater facilities to the people than they previously had.

On a point of order, that is not suggested. No one thinks that the Oireachtas would allow anyone to get to that stage unless they had gone through the courts. I think we may take it that the committee, if appointed, would not provide such facilities.

As I understand the motion it is that those who wish for divorce will have to come before both Houses of the Oireachtas. I do not pretend to be a Constitutional lawyer, or to understand Constitutional law, but as an ordinary individual, in my opinion if this motion is passed and people can come forward and lodge a Private Bill, then it may come down to both Houses. Even then you are conferring far greater facilities for divorce than under the British Constitution. That is my opinion. I am offering it as an ordinary individual. I do not profess to know Constitutional law as the lawyers do. With regard to the general question, I must say that I am opposed to granting facilities for divorce in this country but not on religious grounds. I am opposed to it on the ground of morality and on the grounds of the social well-being of the people of this country, and the sanctity of the homes of the people. It is on these grounds that I am opposed to it. I do not believe in being intolerant to my neighbour. I am not intolerant and I am not a bigot. I do not believe in using the majority to coerce the minority into doing a thing they have not a right to do. I am opposing this in the interest of the well-being of the people and of the State.

This debate was opened to-day by Senator Yeats, and I must say that I regret the language that he used, and I regret the tone of his remarks and I regret his indulgence in personalities during the discussion. He read us a great lecture. He commenced by saying that he believed from the conversations that he had with members of both Houses of the Oireachtas that they would be satisfied to have an easy solution of this question if they would be allowed to stay away and allow the Protestants to settle it. I repudiate that suggestion. I do not believe that a single member of this House would be guilty of such a betrayal as to approve of such a suggestion. Approving of such a suggestion meant that we were going to have an abstention policy. This is the latest phase of it that I have heard. Another argument he used was that we will never get unity between the North and the South if we do not agree to divorce. Judging from the tone of Senator Yeats' remarks, we will never get unity unless we all agree to accept the Orange creed.

You would not get it then, either.

Senator Yeats told us that some members of this House were going to vote on this question under pressure of bishops and priests. I repudiate that statement as far as I personally am concerned. There has never been the slightest attempt by any priest or bishop to bring pressure to bear on me in connection with any question that ever came before the Seanad or any other assembly of which I was a member. This is another of the "Morning Post" arguments about the priest-ridden people of Ireland. I have an idea that that speech was made for the purpose of propaganda and for the purpose of blackening the character of the people of this country. Senator Yeats was not satisfied with all these things. He had to go along and to rake up the dead, and he has made a base insinuation against the character of a great Irishman who was respected by his countrymen in his time and by his countrymen since. I have no desire to follow him in maligning the dead. But I can imagine the shout that would come from the people who think as Senator Yeats thinks, if I were to mention some of the stories I have heard about that model of virtue, Queen Bess. If I were publicly to state here some of the stories I have heard about that esteemed lady I can imagine the shouts there would be about intolerance.

As far as religious persecution is concerned, I want to say personally that those of our faith who have suffered so much from religious persecution in Ireland at the hands of the people who professed the religion of Senator Yeats and those who think with him, are determined not to make any persons suffer because of their difference of religious belief. That is all I want to say about the question. I only want to say I do hope that somebody will have the courage to come along and promote a Bill that will definitely settle this question, and that we will have no more hugger-mugger about it. I have been on the Private Bill Committee, on the Committee that deals with Private Bill legislation, and since this time twelve months or earlier we have been considering this question, and all the facts were put coolly and calmly before the Committee, and each point of view was put, and nobody prevented members of the Committee on either side from expressing their opinion. There were no personalities indulged in. We came to the conclusion to come to the Oireachtas and ask them for definite instructions as to what to do in the matter. That has been on the agenda paper for months and months, and we got no further with it. The objection I have to Senator Douglas's motion is that it will leave us in the same position. Because it is going to be a farce. People will be put to the expense and trouble of employing legal gentlemen to prepare a Private Bill. Then that Private Bill will come down to both Houses. We want to avoid that. I want it to be definitely decided whether or not the Oireachtas is in favour of granting facilities for divorce. Personally I am opposed to granting these facilities to any people in this country.

I rise to oppose the resolution. I would remind Senator Yeats that there are other minorities in Ireland than the ones to which he refers. There is the minority of mothers and fathers who keep homes and upon whose homes the State is founded and upon which the future of the State will depend. Senator Yeats would not, perhaps, propose here that the minority of robbers should be protected. The robber who steals furniture or damages a home is a clean man in comparison with the wrecker who steals either a mother or father who cannot be replaced in the home. Furniture or a home can be replaced. Anything we do here that gives facilities to these wreckers—and there are plenty of them in Ireland, and plenty who preach such doctrine—will be wrong. Senator Yeats will, no doubt, remember that a short time ago from a certain circle to which he belongs, a publication was issued, but that publication was so vile the printers in Dublin refused to print it, and it had to be sent in here from another country. I state that quite calmly and without any fear. That document was not in the interests of the home or of morality.

Have you ever seen it?

I say that it was not in the interests of morality nor in the interests of this State. I am one of the majority, the alleged bigoted majority. I defy anyone to say that anything I do, or intend to do, in the future is in any way influenced by my clergy. We have a higher duty to do here, and that is, to do for each section of the community what we think is best, and in preventing divorce in any shape or form I claim that we are doing our duty to the general community, but not to the few who aim at wrecking homes.

I join with Senator Farren in the view that I would much prefer to have a straight issue on this question than have it debated by side winds. I appreciate the difficulties to the fullest of Senators Douglas and Brown in their efforts to find a way out of the very serious difficulty in which we have been placed. It was, no doubt, because of the seriousness of that difficulty that the Government and the Dáil took the course they adopted, which course, when all is said and done might, perhaps, if it had been allowed to run its full course, have been the best solution of a difficult situation. That, however, is another matter now. It is not possible for us to ascertain at this stage what are the reasons why a Bill was not brought in by the Dáil and, having regard to the way we are placed at the moment, I think it might be better if this debate were adjourned and if the motion were placed first on the agenda for the next sitting. Some of us are in a difficulty in regard to this motion. As I said at the outset, I would prefer to have a straighter issue; but if on consideration other counsels prevail, it might be found that this motion is the best solution of the difficulty.


The difficulty about having a definite issue raised on this motion is, as I have already called attention to, that the report does not recommend anything or arrive at any conclusion.

It recommends a certain course at all events.


The motion does, but not the report.

The motion recommends a certain course, and the outcome of it will be that a Bill can be introduced which will reach the Private Bill Office, and, having reached there, any member of the Seanad or Dáil can bring before either House a Bill for divorce. My great objection to that is on principle, not from religious bigotry, but from conscientious motives, and from an intimate knowledge of the great heart of the people. Not withstanding any arguments, if they may be called such, as were put forward by Senator Yeats, the great heart of the people through all the ages and up to the present is absolutely and totally against divorce. I am not confining the majority of the people in this case to any one section of the community, but I am taking the community as a whole, apart from any religious views, and I say that if the great mind and heart of the people are correctly defined they will be found absolutely against divorce in any shape or form.

I find, with regret, that I have, apparently, used the word "pressure," and am understood to mean that pressure was brought to bear on individual members. "Pressure" was not the word I wished to use, and it was not the word I had in my manuscript. It was hastily spoken. What I had in my mind was the effect of the Press, the effect of sermons, and the effect of all the letters that have been written on the feeling in this country, perfectly legitimate pressure. I had to give my speech what members thought was a religious turn, because it seemed to me that the only argument that I had to meet was a purely religious argument. I have seen no discussion in the Press and heard no discussion in this country which was not a purely religious argument, and it would be pure hypocrisy to deal with it on other grounds.

I had hoped the Senator would have dropped the religious argument. He changed it, but he has raised it again now.

I do not mean that pressure was brought to bear on individual members, but that arguments were used in the Press of the country——

On a point of order, has Senator Yeats moved any motion, or is he entitled to speak a second time?

I am particularly unfortunate——


He has spoken previously on the motion for the adoption of the report. He is speaking now on Senator Douglas's motion, which is a different matter. I have allowed him to speak so far by way of explanation, but I must immediately ask him to direct his attention to Senator Douglas's motion. The Senator is quite at liberty to make any explanation, if he thinks he has been misunderstood, but when he has done that I must ask him to pass on to Senator Douglas's motion.

I can only speak on Senator Douglas's motion by addressing myself to the general question and I have no right to speak on the general question a second time. By way of explanation, however, I may say that I did not intend my speech to be an attack on the three great men whose statues are in our principal thoroughfares. It is probably the innate immorality of my mind that was at fault. I do not think that the memories of these great men of genius were swept away by their sexual immoralities. I still regard them as men of genius who conferred great gifts on their country. They do not cease to be men of genius because of these irregularities. To explain the extreme immorality of my mind a little further, I do not think there is any statesman in Europe who would not have gladly accepted the immorality of the renaissance if he could be assured of his country possessing the genius of the renaissance. Genius has its virtue, and it is only a small blot on its escutcheon if it is sexually irregular.

I should just like very briefly, in reply to the discussion, to reiterate the fact that what I brought forward is what I believed, and still believe, in spite of the discussion, is a solution that might best receive support in the Dáil. I think Senator Brown and Senator Farren are the only speakers who seemed to show an appreciation of the fact that if you do not do something, you leave what might be called unlimited facilities for divorce, as far as bringing a Bill into this House is concerned, though everybody knows it would not go any further. If this House does not pass this motion and fails to provide some alternative method, the position appears to be then that it would be my duty as vice-chairman of the Seanad to move one of the Private Bills unless the party to that Bill withdrew it. I do not mention this as a threat. However, the fact is, I have been told by several persons that I have failed in my duty, and that I should have insisted on taking that action long before these matters came on. In conclusion, I should like to say the lines of my motion follow that first proposed by the Dáil. That is an answer to one point made by Senator Farren, in which he suggested that if this motion were passed a Bill could then be brought in without having, first of all, gone before the court and satisfied the examiner that the Standing Orders had been properly complied with. Senator Farren is a member of the Joint Committee, and although we are in complete agreement, he might not sign any recommendation which would give increased facilities, even my motion, if it were passed. I hope the House will accept this motion. If it does, I will not go any further unless it receives complete approval in the Dáil.

Motion put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 15. Níl, 13.

  • James Green Douglas.
  • William Barrington.
  • Samuel L. Brown.
  • Countess of Desart.
  • Michael Duffy.
  • Sir Nugent T. Everard.
  • Thomas Foran.
  • Mrs. Stopford Green.
  • Sir John Purser Griffith.
  • Benjamin Haughton.
  • Douglas Hyde.
  • Sir John Keane.
  • The Earl of Kerry.
  • J.T. O'Farrell.
  • W.B. Yeats.


  • T.W. Bennett.
  • Mrs. Costello.
  • William Cummins.
  • Thomas Farren.
  • C.J. Irwin.
  • Thomas Linehan.
  • J.C. Love.
  • James MacKean.
  • Colonel Moore.
  • George Nesbitt.
  • Michael O'Dea.
  • John O'Neill.
  • Mrs. Wyse Power.
Motion declared carried.
The Seanad adjourned to Wednesday, 17th June, 1925, at 3 p.m.