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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Feb 1934

Vol. 18 No. 6

Privileges of the House.


With regard to the question of privilege raised by Senator Miss Browne earlier in our proceedings to-day, the Minister for Defence was informed that his presence here was desirable. He has not attended, however, though I have this moment received a communication from him; and so the matter must be dealt with in his absence. According to what Senator Miss Browne stated, she brought two friends to the gate at Kildare Street this afternoon, having previously obtained tickets of admission for them for the Visitors' Gallery of this House; but they were refused admission by the Military, who stated that they were acting under orders. I can only assume that such orders, if given, were given by the Minister for Defence. If Senator Miss Browne's facts are correct, a breach of the privileges of this House has undoubtedly been committed, and, if my assumption is correct, the person who has committed such breach is the Minister for Defence. Before reading what the Minister has to say in the matter, I propose to state both the constitutional position and the facts so far as they are known to me, and I shall do so at some length in view of what I conceive to be a challenge to my authority.

As regards the constitutional position, Article 20 of the Constitution provides that each House of the Oireachtas shall make its own Rules and Standing Orders, with power to attach penalties for their infringement. Article 25 of the Constitution provides that sittings of each House of the Oireachtas shall be public. Standing Order No. 70 of the Standing Orders of the Seanad, which was made pursuant to these Articles, provides that visitors may be introduced by Senators to such places as may be reserved for them by me and upon such conditions as I may prescribe. It follows, therefore, that no Minister of State and no other person whatever, has power to debar from access to the Visitors' Gallery of this Chamber, which is the place reserved for them by me, visitors duly introduced by Senators who comply with such conditions as I may prescribe. Anyone who so debars them, or attempts so to debar them, commits a breach of privilege.

Coming to the facts in the present case, I received some days ago a letter from Senator Miss Browne, in which she stated that she proposed to bring two visitors wearing blue shirts to the Visitors' Gallery, and, quite properly, she requested my permission beforehand. Before giving her permission, I made inquiry as to the practice in the other House so as to acquire a full knowledge of the facts before intimating my decision. So far as I understand, a verbal order was given some months ago by the Minister for Defence to the Superintendent of the Oireachtas that persons wearing blue shirts were not to be admitted to Leinster House, on the ground that such persons are dangerous. Subsequently, an order was given by the Ceann Comhairle in the same sense to the same official, again verbally.

I say nothing as to the propriety of such an order from the Minister for Defence. As regards the order of the Ceann Comhairle, it will hardly be controverted that such an order, made by him solely, is valid only so far as concerns the House to which he is responsible, and cannot possibly operate to debar duly authorised visitors from access to the Visitors' Gallery of this Chamber. I may say, in passing, that though this order is said to have been made some months ago no intimation of it whatever was conveyed to me, and I had, in fact, no knowledge of it until I made inquiries consequent on the letter of Senator Miss Browne.

It devolved upon me to decide whether the wearing of a blue shirt was a sufficient reason for depriving a person of his undoubted right, under Article 25 of the Constitution, to be present at a meeting of this House of the Oireachtas; and all I had to go upon was the verbal ruling made by the Ceann Comhairle that such persons were debarred from the Public Galleries of the other House on the ground that persons wearing blue shirts are dangerous. I thought the matter over deeply, and, as is well known, I am quite impartial in politics. I found that I could not in conscience agree with the view that the mere wearing of a blue shirt is evidence that a person is dangerous; and, as I could find no other valid reason for discriminating against such persons, I gave Senator Miss Browne the permission she requested and directed two tickets of admission to be given to her for the two visitors in question.

In order that there should be no element of discourtesy on my side in the matter, I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle apprising him of my decision and of the reason for it. Further, I assumed that the duty of supervising the arrangements for the admission of visitors outside the entrance gates of the Oireachtas premises lay with the Gárda Síochána and not with the military; and so yesterday afternoon I telephoned to the Minister for Justice and told him personally that I had given instructions that Senator Miss Browne's visitors were to be admitted. He replied that he would telephone this information to the Minister for Defence. I profoundly hope that the occurrence at the gate to-day was not the direct result of an order given by the Minister for Defence subsequent to, and with knowledge of, my action. The Minister has not seen fit to be present, but he has sent me the following letter:—

"To the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad.

A Chara,—I understand that the question of the admission of persons dressed in blue uniform shirts has been raised in the Seanad to-day. In reference to this matter I enclose herewith a copy of a letter I sent to the Ceann Comhairle on the 20th July, 1933.

Is mise,


Aire Cosannta."

This is the enclosure—addressed to the Ceann Comhairle, mark!

"An Ceann Comhairle,—As Minister responsible for the protection of Government Buildings and Leinster House I have reason to believe that it is necessary in order to carry out such protection adequately that all persons, other than members of the Dáil and Seanad, wearing the blue uniform shirt of the organisation known as the A.C.A. be prohibited entry to those buildings. I am accordingly about to issue instructions to the military guard that all persons so attired be not permitted to enter Leinster House or Government Buildings and I request your co-operation in the effective carrying out of the order.

Is mise le meas,


Aire Cosanta."

This makes it quite clear that a breach of privilege has been committed by the Minister. Fortunately, there are ways and means, and very definite ways and means, of upholding and enforcing the privileges of this House. I suggest that a notice of motion be tabled for next Wednesday that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges do forthwith consider the matter and report back to the House for appropriate action to be taken. This motion, if tabled, will appear first on the Order Paper. I ask the House to agree to that course. There is not a shadow of doubt that the privileges of this House have been outraged. Egress and ingress to our House—an essential part of the Oireachtas—have been prevented and so I feel very strongly that strong and active measures must be taken to protect the privileges and rights of this House.

As I believe the Minister's action to be an impudent and uncalled for interference with the privileges of this House, I shall have great pleasure in giving notice accordingly.

I have the greatest sympathy with the Cathaoirleach——


I hope the Senator will not discuss the matter now. We will discuss it next Wednesday.

I am in thorough agree ment with you, Sir, as to your feelings on the matter, and I feel that it is your duty and the duty of every member of this House to stand behind you in upholding the privileges of Senators. In upholding the privileges of Senators, I must say we uphold, naturally, the respect due to this House. I am not going to agree at the moment with Senator Blythe when he says that it was an impudent action on the part of the Minister.

May I rise to a point of order and ask if the Senator is in order in debating this question?


The Senator is not debating the matter. I am sure the Senator will have the good sense not to debate it now.

I wish to submit to you, Sir, that any observations by Senators now, seeing that the matter is to be debated next Wednesday, are out of order and ought not to be made in common decency at the present time. I quite agree with what the Chairman has said on behalf of the House— he is entitled to express his opinion as Chairman of this House—but I think that any observations by Senators at the present time are prejudicing the debate which will take place this day week.


I think it would be better not to discuss it now, but I cannot agree that it is out of order.

If you say, Sir, that I am not out of order, I wish to make my position perfectly clear. I do not agree with the statement made by Senator Blythe. I will leave it at that, but I am thoroughly in agreement with you, Sir, in the motion you have suggested, and I quite agree with Senator Comyn that it would be indecent to prejudge the motion, and that anything I have to say should be reserved till this day week.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.30 till Wednesday, 28th February, at 3 p.m.