Matter Raised on Motion for Adjournment: Letter Detained by Censor.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

On the motion for the adjournment Senator Sir John Keane is to raise the matter of which he gave notice to-day.

I assure you that I have not asked to raise this matter without full and mature consideration. I am sorry to have interrupted the Parliamentary Secretary's statement on the Arterial Drainage Bill. I am sorry to have brought the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures here at this late hour, but I do hope that, when you have heard my statement, you will agree that I am justified by the important principle involved in the case I wish to make. The facts, happily, are very simple and I do not think they are in dispute. A certain lady—I do not think I ought to mention any names—a citizen of Eire, in the month of May sent a letter containing a postal order as a subscription to a certain body in Great Britain. I do not think—the Minister may not accept it—that there was any objection to the body in question. That letter was registered. After delay and inquiry, in the month of July the lady received a communication from the postal authorities in Eire retunring the postal order on the ground that it had not been presented—the money was, so to speak, intact. She then proceeded to send a cheque to the same address, again in a registered letter and, in the month of November, after persistent inquiry, she received a notification from the Department of Postsal and Telegrahs that the communication had been stopped by the Postal Censor. I do not know whether the cheque was returned or not, but that is immaterial.

The point I wish to make, and which I wish the Minister to deal with is this: What are the principles upon which letters are stopped without informing the sender? I feel that there is a definite and fundamental principle of liberty involved in the whole matter. I do not say that letters should never be stopped without informing the writer, but I do say that it should only be done in the last resort. If you ask me to state the grounds on which the authorities are justified in stopping letters without informing the writer, I say it should be only where it is in the hands of the Minister for Justice and where criminal proceedings or a breach of the law are involved. I hope the Minister will deal with this matter closely, because I think that the Censor has no right, unless treasonable or criminal activities are suspected on the part of the writer, to stop communications without informing the writer that the communications have been stopped and, at least, warning the writer that future communications of the same character will not be forwarded.

With the very wide powers which the Government have got, I feel that it is very necessary, even at the risk of being rather importunate and making myself rather a nuisance, as I am afraid I sometimes have been, that these matters should be brought to light. There are very sacred principles involved, principles of individual liberty, and if we feel that, without adequate reason, communications in the post are not sacred, or at least are liable not to be forwarded, or disappear, you might say, in the post, we have every reason to be deeply anxious. I have every reason to believe that this practice is not confined to the cases I have brought up. It is very hard to know what happens; there may be all kinds of accidents in the course of postal communications. But my friends tell me that not in-frequently—I do not say frequently— letters addressed to certain parties that might be viewed with objection, although they are perfectly legal bodies, on account of the address, are opened and not forwarded. I think the Minister might give the House an indication as to what extent this practice of not forwarding letters exists and whether it is diminishing or increasing, because it is distinctly disquieting. I think we all feel that it must be disquieting to think that there is a hidden hand working in the dark in relation to our correspondence. I do not think there is anything more I can usefully say, and I am satisfied to await the Minister's reply.

I have already informed Senator Sir John Keane that this is a security matter. He has recited certain facts in relation to two letters, which are correct. But, as it is a security matter, I regret very much that I cannot deal with it fully here.

Have I the right to reply?

An Leas-Chathoirleach


The Seanad adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 7th December, 1944.