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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 7 Jul 1925

Vol. 5 No. 15


I beg to move:—

"That, having regard to the Message received from the Dáil, dated the 25th June, 1925, the Seanad do rescind the Resolution which it passed on the 11th June, 1925, in the following terms:—

‘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.’”

I am not going to delay the House very long in moving this motion, nor am I going to stoke any fires. My reasons for moving it are that I am not at all satisfied that things should remain in the state they have been since our Resolution was sent to the Dáil. In that Resolution an attempt was made to assert a principle which I am not prepared to support, and, therefore, I move the adoption of the resolution standing in my name.

I beg to second the resolution.

I think the Seanad would be well advised to accept this resolution without any debate. If the House debated it in detail, as is obvious from Senator O'Neill's remarks, we would only get back to a long debate that would not at this stage lead to any useful purpose. It may have to be debated further when we meet again or not, according to circumstances. The resolution it is proposed to rescind was put forward in order to provide what some of us thought would be a better way of dealing with the subject. The resolution is void, whether you rescind it or not, because its purpose could only be achieved by its acceptance by both Houses. Therefore, while I do not think it necessary to rescind it, I do not object to its being rescinded if that is the wish of the majority of the House. I would like to say this one thing. I think it is important that the public, and particularly the Press, should understand that it is recognised by practically everybody in this House that there is not going to be passing of any divorce Bills. Therefore, in dealing here with the matter in future it is entirely a question of what is the best method of dealing with the various situations that arise.

Before we pass that resolution may I make a suggestion. I have no objection to passing the resolution at all, but I do not like the form in which it is put. It is practically telling us that somebody other than ourselves is to dictate to us what we should or should not do. I suggest that the Senator should agree to delete the first line: "That, having regard to the Message received from the Dáil, dated 25th June, 1925," and that he should commence the resolution with the words: "That the Seanad do rescind the resolution," etc.

I have no objection whatever so long as the resolution is passed.

The amendment suggested by Senator Barrington seems to me objectionable, and certainly not unimportant. It raises the whole question, and I do not think we could pass that without a debate again, on its merits. It was put forward to the other House as a proposal, and the other House has not accepted it, and that is the reason why we rescind it.

That is the reason why we should not do so.

I suggest that it is better to leave the motion as it is. I agree with Senator Douglas it is not desirable to go into the merits of this question. I support the motion because I believe the majority of this House agrees with the principle of the Dáil resolution. There is no difference of opinion in the minds of the majority on the main principle. There was, and is, a certain amount of anxiety in the minds of a few of that majority that in giving effect to the wishes of the majority we might be doing violence to the spirit or letter of the Constitution. It was hoped that the resolution might induce the Government to introduce a Bill and do by legislation what was sought to be done by resolution. I am not aware there is anything like that to be done. The President, evidently speaking with the advice of the Government's legal adviser, assured us that there was no constitutional question involved, and the Dáil, almost unanimously, supported that view. That, to a certain extent, relieves the situation.


I think you are in error, Senator, in that. I do not think the President suggested that his legal adviser ever yet approved of the resolution.

I say that I presume he made that statement on the strength of the authority of his legal advisers.


I think you will find that the exact opposite to your presumption is the fact.

At any rate, the protest is made, not against the end, but against the means by which it is sought to achieve that end. We are now assured again by the Executive Council, and it is supported by the Dáil, that there is no anxiety on the constitutional question. Consequently, I think it is vital that this should be disposed of, and the sooner the minds of the public generally are diverted from the discussion of matters of this kind and directed to matters concerning the welfare and the well-being of the community, the better it will be for the community as a whole. I know that in disposing of this question we shall disappoint a whole horde of Scribes and Pharisees who revel in morbidness, and we shall disappoint sensationalists who see big constitutional crises pending immediately there is the slightest divergence of opinion between the two Houses even on matters of detail and procedure. For that reason I support the resolution, and hope that a via media will be found by which the resolution largely will be given effect to in a way that will commend itself to both Houses, at least from the constitutional point of view.

I am afraid that I cannot vote for this motion. I do not want to raise a debate, but the Senator gave reasons for supporting this proposal, and I am going to give my reasons for voting against it. I do think that the issue involved in this matter goes beyond the scope of this motion and beyond the question of divorce. I have been a member of this House from the beginning, and I feel that if there is one thing to be proud of it is that in a country where political feeling runs very high, and where differences of opinion were very acute, we here in this assembly, representing all sorts of different opinions, have shown extraordinary moderation and great toleration. The proposal to deprive a certain section of the community of liberties they enjoyed hitherto is nothing more or less, in my opinion, than religious intolerance, and I cannot lend my support to that. I believe I understand the Government point of view. I have, at all events, endeavoured to do so, and I know it is very keenly felt, but what I say is: why shove this down the throats of others who feel they are being deprived of something they are entitled to? Why not allow them to go to the devil in their own way? I should not like to think that anyone should go to the devil, but what good is going to be done by shoving this down the throats of people who do not believe in it, and who look upon this as depriving them of something they had before?

If I thought it was going to do any good to the Free State, I would not take this line, but I do not think it is. Is it going to make the country stand any higher in the estimation of other people? I do not think so. We have gone through terrible times. We had a great deal of crime in this country of which we cannot be particularly proud, and I think a motion of this kind is really laying ourselves open to that kind of criticism which I once heard and which I have not forgotten:

"To compound for sins they are inclined to

By damning those they have no mind to."

I think the country is being put in an undignified position in this, and I cannot vote for this motion, but must vote against, even if I am in a minority of one. I do not want to start a debate. I want simply to give my reasons. I feel strongly upon the subject, and so I think I am entitled to present my reasons.

Motion put and declared carried.


Perhaps the Seanad would like me to say one word on this matter. If in the interval between now and the time we meet again any Senator can bring forward any proposal or suggestion that will provide an honourable way out of the impasse no one will be better pleased than I will. When I was first confronted with the question in March last I ransacked the Constitution and the Standing Orders and I came to a conclusion from which I have never wavered and which has never been challenged that, having regard to my oath as a Senator and having regard to the Constitution, it was impossible that this matter could be disposed of except in one or other of two ways: Either to let it alone, in which case I think we all agree it would have died a natural death long before now and Divorce Bills a vinculo would have disappeared for ever from the Free State, or to bring in a short Act of Parliament, which has not been done. Why is not that done? That is what is causing all the mystery, suspicion and uneasiness in the public mind.

People come to me every day and say: "Why is not this dealt with in the way everything else is dealt with? Why is it not dealt with by legislation?" I cannot give them any answer, because I do not know. There it is. Senator O'Farrell said he was assuming that the President had the advice of his lawyers behind him. I think it would be well worth the Senator's while to inquire into that because my belief, as I said, is that he will find the exact contrary is the case. That is his affair and not mine. I only mention that because I am afraid that the effort is still being kept up of trying to make out that I want to block doing away with divorce. I do not complain of that statement being made about me but I hardly think it fair. I am not in a position to answer these things as they are not said in my presence, but nothing could be further from the truth. As I have said already, if any Senator could succeed where I failed, and find an alternative course, no one would be more pleased than I would be.

We dispute, sir, what you have said, but we do not think it at all advisable to have further discussion of the matter.


I think I said nothing that you could dispute.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.55 p.m.