The object of this Bill is to terminate the right of appeal to the Privy Council. The scheme of the Bill is simple. It proposes, first of all, to delete the provision to Article 66 of the Constitution. That proviso is as follows:—
"Provided that nothing in this Constitution shall impair the right of any person to petition His Majesty for special leave to appeal from the Supreme Court to His Majesty in Council or the right of His Majesty to grant such leave."
The Bill further proposes the insertion of a new enactment in Article 66 of the Constitution in lieu of the proviso now to be deleted. The new enactment is as follows:—
"And no appeal shall lie from a decision of the Supreme Court or of any other court in the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) to His Majesty in Council, and it shall not be lawful for any person to petition His Majesty for leave to bring any such appeal."
The House will observe that this new enactment is being made part of the Constitution itself. When this Bill becomes law not only will the proviso to Article 66, which preserves the right of appeal, have disappeared, but there will be enacted in its place a new law of the Constitution expressly providing that no such right of appeal exists and making it unlawful and unconstitutional for any person to apply for leave to bring any such appeal.
In discussing the principle of this Bill I must emphasise, first of all, the constitutional and international necessity of the step we are now taking. It is the policy of the present Government to place the judicial sovereignty of the Irish Free State beyond all question. A fully organised modern State contains within itself all the institutions of government, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. A State, from the decisions of whose courts an appeal lies to any court of tribunal or authority outside itself, cannot be said to possess judicial sovereignty in the fullest sense. Can any Senator visualise an arrangement between, say, France and Germany, whereby an appeal from the tribunals of supreme jurisdiction in one of those countries should lie to some authority in the other? I think the House will agree that the continued existence of the Privy Council appeal constitutes an invasion of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of this country, the decisions of which should, as the authors of the Constitution originally intended, be final and conclusive and not subject to review or appeal by any other authority whatsoever.
I do not propose to labour this question any further. The Bill itself has been under discussion for many years. It was the intention of our predecessors in office to introduce this Bill long since. For some reason or another it was held up. We feel the time has now come when any question of appeal to the Privy Council or to any court at all outside this country should go and that we, exercising our full functions in the judicial and in every other sense, must prevent any appeal going to any outside court.
I might mention that in the discussion on this Bill certain statements were made and these were confirmed by an article that appeared in one of the papers, the Irish Times, on last Saturday. I would like to refer briefly to this. In the last ten days it has been definitely stated by Professor Thrift and by the Irish Times that the concession of regarding the right of appeal to the Privy Council was part of a bargain which won ex-Unionists' assent for the Irish Treaty of 1921. I wish to use this opportunity to state categorically that, having examined all the records of the negotiations and discussions of that period, I can find no trace whatever of any such bargain. Perhaps I should also express astonishment that an Irish newspaper could warn the British Government to be careful about tolerating constitutional advances in Ireland lest the precedent should be used to the disadvantage of the British in India. That such anti-national views could be expressed is, in itself, an example of the unparalleled tolerance existing in this State.
Talking about the matter of tolerance, most of us will remember that in 1930, when this question was up before, two eminent ecclesiastics contributed a letter to the paper. I will read the letter for you to remind you of what happened:—
"We would remind you that memories in Ireland are long and that the removal from the Constitution of the safeguard referred to, or the consent of Great Britain to its exercise only with the consent of the Supreme Court in Ireland (as has been suggested), or any similar abrogation or limitation, while it may gratify the desire of Irishmen for independence, will inevitably weaken the security enjoyed by the members of a vulnerable minority, and as time passes lead most certainly to infringements of their liberty which they would be powerless to withstand."
I think it can be reasonably argued that the statement by Professor Thrift in the other House and the leading article to which I have referred more or less reiterate that point of view and I think it is quite unfair and would be quite wrong on my part to let such statements go by without denying them in the way I have. I have gone to considerable personal trouble to examine all the records and there is no vestige of foundation for the suggestion that any such bargain, as I think Professor Thrift called it, was even discussed, and for a leading morning paper to write in the terms the Irish Times did indicates something that is, to say the least of it, decidedly undesirable in this country.
I think that those of us who have lived in Ireland realise how little legal protection those in the minority need in order to safeguard their interests in the Twenty-Six Counties of Ireland. The Bill, as I say, definitely refuses to any citizen the right of appeal. That, I think, is only fair and just. It is only fair and just that our Supreme Court should be really supreme. That is the feeling of the Irish people. Of that there is no question. It is the feeling of the two big Parties, irrespective of anything else, and I think it is the feeling of the big majority of the minority.
The other question that may arise on this Bill is with regard to any steps that may be taken to allow appeals to the Privy Council pending the passing into law of this Bill. Every necessary step, whether by legislation or otherwise, will be taken to nullify any attempt to go to the Privy Council. The Bill is clear. It had been long under discussion by our predecessors and we feel that the time is now ripe to put it into operation. We ask your assent to the passing of this Bill which amends the right of appeal to the Privy Council.