The long discussion in the Dáil has probably obscured the real issues involved by this Bill. It would seem to me that I might best help the Seanad to give fair consideration to the measure if I were briefly to recount the circumstances which have compelled the Government to introduce it at this stage. The Bill will enable the Government of the Irish Free State to honour obligations contracted in the name of the Irish people over 13 years ago when Dáil Eireann—the first Dáil of the Irish Republic—adopted this Resolution, moved by the then Minister for Finance, the late General Michael Collins:
"It is decreed that an additional sum of 23,750,000 dollars may be issued for subscription to the Loan of the Government of the Irish Republic in the United States of America, thus increasing the total amount for issue in that country to 25,000,000 dollars."
Armed with the authority conferred by him by that Resolution, the present President of the Executive Council, Mr. de Valera, then President of the Irish Republic, raised in the United States of America two loans. The first, which was issued on January 21, 1920, attracted over 275,000 subscribers and yielded a sum of 5,123,640 dollars, which, at the rate of exchange prevailing at that time, was roughly equivalent to £1,600,000 sterling. The second issue, which was launched on 15th November, 1921 and which only remained open for approximately a fortnight, attracted in that period subscribers to the number of 32,842 and yielded a sum of 622,730 dollars, or approximately £190,000 sterling. In the process of raising these loans, Mr. de Valera issued the following personal receipt to subscribers:
"I, Eamon de Valera, President of the elected Government of the Republic of Ireland, acting in the name of, and by the authority of, the elected representatives of the Irish nation, issue this certificate in acknowledgment of your subscription of 100 dollars to the First National Loan of the Republic of Ireland. This certificate is not negotiable, but it is exchangeable if presented at the Treasury of the Republic of Ireland one month after the international recognition of the said Republic for a 100 dollars gold bond of the Republic of Ireland, said bond to bear interest at 5 per cent. per annum from the first day of the seventh month after the freeing of the territory of the Republic of Ireland from Britain's military control and said bond to be redeemable at par within one year thereafter."
The date of that was January 21, 1920. The first point to which I should like to call the attention of the Seanad is that this bond was issued and this receipt was issued in the name of and by the authority of the elected repre sentatives of the Irish nation. It seems to me that we who, while we are not members of the Government or Legislature of the Irish Republic, nevertheless claim to be—and rightfully claim to be representatives of the Irish nation in so far as we represent by far the greater part of the Irish nation here in Ireland, are bound to accept and to honour the obligation which was contracted in our name with the people of the United States of America in the years 1920 and 1921. Statements which I shall now place before you will indicate that that is not a new attitude, that that is not an attitude freshly taken up by the Government of the Irish Free State or by its predecessor.
During the tenure of the Provisional Parliament, on the 9th October, 1922, this Parliamentary question was asked by Deputy De Roiste:
"To ask the Minister for Finance if, and when, it is proposed to redeem the Dáil loan of 1919, so that persons holding bonds of that loan may be enabled to convert them into cash."
This was the reply given to that question by Mr. Cosgrave, then President and Minister for Finance in the Provisional Government and subsequently Minister for Finance and President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State:
"This matter has been under consideration, and it is intended to carry out the terms of the undertaking as mentioned in the prospectus of the loan. In this connection I would draw attention to the reply given by the late General Collins to a similar question asked by the late Mr. Boland. Mr. Boland asked, in the event of that body being set up, would they assume the obligations contracted in the name of the Republic and the pledges given in the Republic's name when they started to raise money. Mr. Collins replied: I will do my best to see—and if it is not done I will regard the Treaty as being broken—that every person who subscribed one pound to the loan is repaid. Mr. Boland replied that he was happy to hear that."
I do not know whether it is necessary for me to emphasise the significance of that statement. This question put by the late Harry Boland and answered by the late Michael Collins was put at a time when the Second Dáil was still regarded and recognised by both of them as being the legitimate Government of the Republic. It was before the Provisional Parliament or the Oireachtas, Dáil Eireann, had come into being and the significance of it is this: that at the earliest possible moment, those who were responsible for the foundation of this State, assumed the obligation which had been contracted in the name of the Irish Republic by Eamon de Valera and the representatives of the Irish Republic in raising the loans of January, 1920, and November, 1921. In August of 1922 proceedings were started in the New York Courts by the Irish Free State and by the Provisional Government and others against the Guarantee Safe Deposit Company and others who held the fund raised on the authority which I have stated.
Possibly, before I go further, and leave this period, it might not be inadvisable to advert to the position held by Mr. de Valera in 1920. Statements that he was then President of the Irish Republic have been challenged in the other House. The purpose, I think, of the challenge is to show that possibly in issuing these bonds and undertaking these obligations, in the name of the elected representatives of the Irish Nation, he was actingultra vires and was exceeding the powers that had been entrusted to him. Here, at any rate, is a document, which is a copy of the Trust Deed under which Mr. de Valera was appointed President. This document was signed by the late Arthur Griffith, who was then Acting-President, in these terms:
Signed, sealed, and delivered by Arthur Griffith, Acting-President, for and on behalf of Eamon de Valera, President of the Irish Republic, this twenty-fifth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and nineteen.
That signature was witnessed by Diarmuid O'Hegarty. The document appointing Mr. de Valera Trustee is signed, sealed and delivered also by "Michael Collins, Minister for Finance, this twenty-fifth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and ninteen." The witness in this case also is Diarmuid O'Hegarty.
It will be remembered that during the period when he was in America, a certain difference of opinion arose there as to whether he was properly entitled to represent the Irish people, to act for them and to assume responsibility for the prosecution of their cause. In order to show that in everything he did in regard to this Loan, Mr. de Valera had the full and unanimous support of the other members of the Government remaining in Ireland, and of the Dáil Eireann, which elected him President of the Republic, I propose to put on record a letter written by the late Arthur Griffith to certain people in America on the 23rd of June, 1920. The letter is as follows:—
"The British propaganda is circulating through the Press in this country and abroad, stories of attacks being made at present by prominent citizens of America of Irish blood on the authority and credit of the President of the Irish Republic.
"The object of the enemy is to strengthen its hands for the reconquest of Ireland by the overthrow of the Republic of Ireland now, in law and in fact, established.
"President de Valera is in the United States vested with the full authority of the Cabinet and Congress of Ireland to secure explicit recognition by the Government of the United States for the Irish Republic. In such circumstances, any word or action which might tend to discredit his office or his mission constitutes an affront and an injury to the Irish Republic. Bitter indignation exists in Ireland at the moment over the reports of these attacks on the Irish President. Public expression of that indignation I am seeking to avoid. I therefore, write personally to appeal to you, gentlemen, to give your loyal support to our President in his great work. Men and women are struggling, sacrificing and suffering day by day in Ireland, with the profound heroism of the early Christian martyrs. I am sure I will not in vain ask men such as you to make a lesser sacrifice, and whatever causes of friction may exist, not to permit them further to interfere with loyal support of our President in his work of securing explicit recognition of the Government of Ireland from the Government of the United States.
Signed: Arthur Griffith,
I think I have clearly established the authority of the then President of the Republic to raise this Loan in the name of the Irish people and on the authority of the then elected representatives of the Irish nation. I was saying that the obligations which he contracted had been immediately taken over by those members of Dáil Eireann who supported the Treaty, and by those members of the Provisional Government which was established in consequence of the Treaty, and by the Oireachtas of Saorstát Eireann which came into being on the basis of the Treaty. In August of 1922, proceedings, I have said, were started in the New York Courts against Mr. de Valera and other people. During the course of these proceedings, the Dáil Eireann (Loans and Funds) Bill of 1924 was introduced and, in the course of the debate on this Bill, Mr. Blythe said on 13th December, 1923:—
"There were two loans issued in America, one on the 1st January, 1921, which realised 5,236,955 dollars. The second American Loan was issued in November, 1921 and it, of course, had hardly got started when the Treaty came. That loan realised 622, 720 dollars. The total raised in America, therefore, was 5,859,675 dollars. There is at present held up in America, and the subject of litigation, 2,300,000 odd dollars. There are provisions in connection with the redemption of the American Loans, which correspond roughly to the requirements of the American prospectus. That is, stock certificates will be issued to those who have subscribed to the loans. Interest will accrue on these stock certificates, and they can be redeemed either at par, or they can be purchased in the market."
Mr. Dolan, who was subsequently Parliamentary Secretary, I think, to the Minister for Industry and Commerce in the Government of 1927, intervened and said:—
"I wish to draw the Minister's attention to sub-section (2) of Section 6, and I hope that he will consider an amendment in reference to it on the next stage. The sub-section states: ‘Provided that the Minister may postpone the issue of stock certificates under this section until he is satisfied that all moneys subscribed to the External Loans, or either of them, and not duly accounted for have (so far as the same are recoverable) been paid into the Exchequer.' My reason in drawing attention to this sub-section is that there might be a difficulty, owing to the way the Loan was handled in America, and owing to the confusion that existed since the loans were subscribed. I think the national credit comes in here, and I am convinced that it is due to the Irish nation to recognise our liability to the people who subscribed this money regardless of how it was handled afterwards. The money was subscribed, and I claim that any receipt held in America or abroad from any official acting under Dáil Eireann should be recognised, and that a fresh stock certificate according to the terms of this section should be issued against that receipt."
Those statements were made by Mr. Blythe, who was Minister for Finance, and Mr. Dolan, who was a member of the Dáil, and, as I have indicated, subsequently a Parliamentary Secre-in the Cumann na nGaedheal Government on 13th December, 1923. The litigation in America dragged on and, ultimately, on May 7th, 1927, the decision of Judge Peters of the Supreme Court of New York was given that the Irish Free State was not entitled to the balance of the loans and, on 17th June, the appointment of Receivers to distribute the balance of the loans available in America was made by the Supreme Court of New York. On June 30th, 1927, more than six weeks after Judge Peters had given his decision, Senator Johnson, who was then a member of Dáil Eireann, asked this question of the then Minister for Finance, Mr. Blythe:
"Perhaps while the Minister is dealing with the question of accounting, he might tell the House what the position is regarding the American judgment in the matter of the American Loans. I think there was a statement made that the position was under consideration. It is well to know whether that consideration has come to fruition, and whether it is opportune to make any statement to the House."
Mr. Blythe replied:—
"With regard to the American Loans, we have decided not to bring any appeal. Such money as was held in America and was in question in the litigation is being returned to the subscribers. To that extent our responsibility is lessened except for the question of expense that may be involved. It is, so far as we are concerned, the same as if we were getting the money, financially, at any rate. I have always taken the line, no matter what courts outside may say, that we are the successors of the First Dáil. We are bound to repay that money and we are certainly bound to repay the portion that came over here and was used. The full text of the American judgment has recently been received in my Department, but I have not had an opportunity of going into it. It was sufficiently examined, however, to convince us that there was no case for litigating further in the matter."
That was the position on 30th June, 1927. The question of the American Loans and what the attitude of the Executive Council of Saorstát Eireann was going to be to the American Loans was then taken up officially by the American Minister in this country and, according to copies of correspondence which took place between the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America in Dublin and the then Minister for External Affairs, Mr. McGilligan, which was forwarded to me from America towards the end of 1932, with a request that the undertakings given by Mr. McGilligan should now be honoured, a pledge was given by Mr. McGilligan to the same effect as that contained in Mr. Blythe's announcement. I think it would be advisable that this correspondence should be on record here in the report of the proceedings of the Seanad and, accordingly, I propose to read it. The United States Minister wrote this letter from Dublin on the 28th July, 1928:
The Honourable The Secretary of State, Washington.
Sir,—I have the honour to refer to the Department's instruction No. 26, dated April 16, 1928, directing the Legation to address a formal communication to the Government of the Irish Free State on the subject of the so-called Irish Republic Loans floated in the United States in an endeavour to ascertain the official attitude of the Government towards the American subscribers to these loans.
Upon receipt of this instruction the Legation duly forwarded a note to the Minister for External Affairs and I now beg to transmit herewith a copy in triplicate of the Minister's reply.
I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
This is the reply which was transmitted in triplicate to the Honourable the Secretary of State, Washington. It issued from the Department of External Affairs, the Irish Free State, and is dated 26th July, 1928. It is as follows:—
"I have the honour to refer to your Excellency's note, No. 63 of the 1st May, 1928, inquiring as to the attitude of my Government towards the American subscribers to the Dáil Eireann External Loans, 1920-21. The Government of the Irish Free State has repeatedly acknowledged its obligation to repay the bondholders of the External Loans and this view has not been modified as a result of the decision given by the New York Supreme Court. The question at issue is accordingly only one of the proper time and machinery to be adopted for the repayment of the loans. My Government is satisfied that no action can be taken until the Receivers in New York have distributed the assets they hold. As you are aware, after examining the claims lodged with them, the Receivers must report to the Court, giving a list of the claims they allow and the amount of the assets available to meet them, when an Order for the distribution will be made. It will then be known what proportion of the bondholders are seeking repayment and to what extent their claims are being met by the Receivers. As regards the machinery, a difficulty arises from the method prescribed in the Dáil Loans and Funds Act for the calculation of interest, as the incomplete data in existence will not, in the opinion of the Minister for Finance, allow him to ascertain the individual dates of subscriptions in many cases. The Minister for Finance contemplates that a short Bill will be necessary to amend the Dáil Loans and Funds Act——"
This is the Bill
"to enable the procedure adopted in the case of the Internal Loans to be followed in redeeming the External Loans. Consideration will also have to be given to the question of altering the procedure prescribed by the Act in regard to the intermediate issue of stock to be given to bondholders in exchange for their bonds.
"Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurance of my highest consideration.
"(Sgd) P. McGILLIGAN."
That was the definite and explicit pledge given by the Minister for External Affairs of a Cumann na nGaedheal administration from 1927 to 1931 to the representative of the Government of the United States of America, in this country, and communicated by him to the Secretary of State in Washington. I think that if there was nothing else on record than that, the Oireachtas would be bound to pass this Bill, certainly, if not without discussion, at least without the unseemly discussion that disgraced the proceedings in the other House.
But we have something more than the official statements. On July 2nd, 1929, more than eight months afterwards, an interview, of which I have a cutting, appeared in the issue of theNew York Sun. It is as follows:—
"‘American holders of Irish Republican Bonds issued in the United States before the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 will be paid in full.' Ernest Blythe, Irish Free State Minister of Finance, told the United Press"
—that is a Press agency in America with a considerable number of newspaper affiliations—
"in an exclusive interview. Much interest was aroused in the Free State by recent despatches from New York regarding the final refunds on the bonds. A number of persons now in Ireland, chiefly returned Irish-Americans, own the bonds, but most of them have made no claim for a refund and they have been holding them merely as souvenirs under the impression that the script cannot now be converted into cash.
"Blythe said they were mistaken in such a belief and added that he wished to make it clear that if any persons in the United States also hold the bonds as souvenirs they will be able to convert them into cash eventually.
"‘It is the settled policy,' Blythe said, ‘of the Free State Government, that the American subscribers to the Dáil Eireann shall be paid not merely 60 cents on the dollar, but to the full extent of the dollar.'
"The Free State Government is now awaiting the completion of the Receiver's task in the American Courts. When the American Courts certify that all the funds held by the court have been refunded, on whatever percentage basis may be arrived at, the Free State Ministry of Finance proposes to establish machinery in New York to make good to all the subscribers the balance of the sum subscribed.
"It will be necessary, of course, Mr. Blythe pointed out, for officials of the Free State to make a thorough examination of all accounts and records held by the American Courts, and be supplied with a list of the names of all subscribers, together with the amount of their subscriptions and the amount of refunds already made.
"‘That will take some time,' Blythe said, ‘but once it has been checked, the Free State Government will proceed immediately to establish connection with one of the big New York banking houses which, with the co-operation of the Dublin Government, will be asked to settle all the claims in full.'"
That interview, it will be noted, purports to have been given on 2nd July, 1929. Later in the same year, on 14th October, 1929, the then Minister for Defence, Deputy Desmond Fitzgerald, was in the United States and he wrote from New York in these terms:
"The other matter which one comes across constantly here is the repayment of the bonds. I have informed everybody I met that it is definitely the intention of the Government to accept full responsibility for the repayment of the bonds, and I explained that, to the best of my knowledge, the reason for the delay in doing so was the law actions and the necessity to have full information of distribution of the funds here to bondholders. I have said that when that distribution has taken place and we know exactly what percentage each individual subscriber has received back from the Bondholders' Trust, through the Bondholders' Trustees, the Government would proceed to pay whatever the difference might be between the sum received by those bondholders and the amounts subscribed by them plus interest over a certain period from a certain date."
That brings us down to the end of 1929. Let it be noted that the undertaking which up to this stage had been given without qualification and without reserve, officially and unofficially, through diplomatic channels, in newspaper interviews, by word of mouth, by responsible Ministers, was that the moment that the receivers had discharged their task and received their discharge from the American courts every subscriber would be repaid in full. Then a sudden silence, as to their future course of action in regard to this repayment seemed to have overshadowed our predecessors; because in July, 1929, in a communication which I shall read to the Seanad in a few minutes, not even the United States Minister in Dublin could get a repetition of those undertakings previously given so freely, and, as I have said, without qualification by our predecessors. And why? Because on the 30th January, 1930, an appeal was issued for the assignment of bonds to finance a daily newspaper in Ireland. In the appeal, which was just issued, the greatest care was taken to indicate to those who might be the recipients of it that the bonds which were asked to be assigned, were articles of value. In the course of one of these letters the following phrase was used by Mr. Frank P. Walsh, who was Chairman of the American Committee which had charge of this matter:—
"Many who like yourself are entitled to share in the distribution of the moneys now held by the Receivers for the Republic of Ireland Loans, pursuant to the judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, entered on June 7, 1927,"
and so on and so on. In fact, so fully were precautions taken to ensure that nobody would part with his title to any of these bonds, except with the full knowledge that he was parting with an article of value, that when the matter was officially examined by the then President of the Executive Council, he was advised that the repayment by the American receivers of 58 per cent. of the face value of these bonds shall receive so much publicity that the holders cannot be regarded as being unaware of the value of the script. Consequently if they transferred their bonds to Mr. de Valera they are doing so with their eyes open so far as the question of parting with that valuable consideration is concerned.