I move the following motion, standing in my name and in that of Senator Douglas:—
That the Seanad views with concern the action of the Government in preventing the publication in the Press of a report of certain proceedings of the Seanad of Wednesday, 6th December, 1944, and requests information as to the grounds under which the Government claims the right to interfere with the Constitutional provision that sittings of each House of the Oireachtas shall be public.
The motion on the Order Paper arises out of certain proceedings in this House on the 6th December last. I was not present for these proceedings and had no knowledge of them; and, indeed, it would be fair to say that I had no interest in them. I have no knowledge of any kind as to the merits of the question that was raised on the 6th December last, but what I do want to raise in this connection is that although certain proceedings took place in this House, the newspapers were prevented from making or publishing any reference to those proceedings. Not only was censorship exercised against part of the proceedings, but the whole proceeding itself was censored. That particular matter was raised by Senator Sir John Keane, very circumspectly and courteously. The Minister's reply was very brief, and is contained in column 713 of No. 5 of Volume 29 of the debates of this House, on 6th December, 1944. The Minister, in reply to Senator Sir John Keane, said:
"I have already informed Senator Sir John Keane that this is a security matter. He has cited 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."
I think we may say that that reply, although it is by no means informative, also is not discourteous, and I am quite prepared to admit that the Minister was quite within his rights in refusing to go into the matter further. I would also say that the Minister, under the powers he has received, is entitled to delete from newspaper reports, without any consultation with anybody, such parts of these reports as he thinks might in some way be harmful to our national security. We may, of course, differ with him about the desirability of deleting certain portions of such reports, but about his right to delete them, or his responsibility for answering as to the deletion of such portions, I do not think there can be any doubt. His right to do so would be quite admitted by every reasonable person, in our special circumstances at the moment, but what happened in this case was different. What happened in this case was that publication in the daily Press of proceedings in the Seanad was prevented, and I am at a loss to understand on what grounds such censoring took place.
I have, I suppose, a fair knowledge of public affairs in this country. A certain matter was raised by Senator Sir John Keane on the 6th December last, and I cannot see what was the reason for preventing publication of the fact that such a matter had been raised. We all know that there is a censorship and that letters coming from England, or going to England, as the case may be, are censored, and therefore anybody can deduce that some of these letters are completely stopped, and that that is the source of the revelations, if you can call them so, that we met with in the course of the debate on the last occasion. What I want to know is whether there were other factors, hidden from me or from other ordinary observers, governing the taking of what seems to me to be an extraordinary step in regard to the publication of the proceedings of this House. It is an extraordinary thing that a matter should be raised here to-night in this House or, let us say, in the other House, and that no reference to it should be found in the daily Press of the following day. When you arrive at that position, Sir, I think you are arriving at a position where a gross abuse of the privileges conferred on the censorship by emergency legislation is taking place.
In this connection, I may say that I speak entirely as a member of this House, and I think that Senators, generally, will agree that in anything that concerns this House or its privileges I have always endeavoured to observe and to try to keep intact the privileges of this House. Anybody who is interested in the development of the Seanad, as a House of the Oireachtas, will be in agreement with that. I only once found myself in disagreement with the Chair, and that was on an occasion when I thought a Minister had a right to make a statement which, in fact, he was not allowed to make. From that point of view, and also from the point of view of making for ourselves some place in the affairs of the country, I want to make this case. Article 15, sub-section 8 (1) of the Constitution provides that sittings of each House of the Oireachtas shall be public, but that, in cases of special emergency, either House may hold a private sitting with the assent of two-thirds of the members present. They may do so in cases of special emergency, but in normal times, according to the Constitution, the proceedings of either House of the Oireachtas must be public. The meaning of the word "public", there, is that some part of the proceedings, and all of them, if thought fit, may be published in the public press. So far as the proceedings on the 6th December last are concerned, the Minister has usurped that power, by which the assent of two-thirds of the members present should be given to the holding of a private sitting, and on that matter I want to take issue with him. The Constitution says that our sittings should be public, and that implies that the proceedings should be published in some form or another, or that, otherwise, the assent of two-thirds of the House must be given to a private sitting. Now, apparently, the Minister, by a stroke of the pen, so to speak, puts us into secret session without consulting anybody.
It seems to me that members of this House have responsibilities and duties and that it is actually the duty of a member of this House, when certain matters are brought to his notice, to raise them in the House. He has the right to do so, and I think it is also his duty to do so. When a matter is raised, and if the Minister concerned has a satisfactory reply to the charges that were made or in connection with the matters debated, the public has a right to know that the matter has been raised.
There can be no doubt about that, apart from the gravity of the matter that may have been raised, and I feel that the public should not be deprived of the knowledge that a certain thing had been raised in the Seanad, no matter what the reply might have been, and I am very much afraid that if such a thing were allowed to happen, as has happened in this case, it might be extended very much further and members of this House or the other House, as a result, might not be given the opportunity of showing that they were performing their public duties in raising such matters in the House.
That, in essence, is my case. We have adopted a Parliamentary system here, and the essence of that Parliamentary system is publicity in regard to our proceedings. Of that, I am sure, there can be no doubt whatever. You cannot have a democracy in secret. You can have an autocracy in secret or a dictatorship in secret, but the essence of any Parliamentary system is that there should be publicity for its proceedings. While it is admitted that during a war there may be certain parts of the proceedings which might not be suitable for publication, I cannot understand how it can be argued that the whole of the proceedings must be deleted. I would like to say that the Minister exercised his powers under the Emergency Powers Act and that Act was given to him with very great good will by all sections of the Dáil and Seanad when the war broke out in September, 1939.
I can remember that the Government produced this Bill and, after giving notice of it, tabled what is called a guillotine motion—that is, a motion which would prescribe, by a majority, of course, that certain things would have to be finished at certain times. Now, the Opposition of the time in the Dáil and here, at once said: "We recognise the necessity for emergency legislation and there is no need whatever to use a majority to get us to pass this Bill," and in one sitting the Dáil passed this emergency measure and the Seanad sat into the small hours of the morning to complete it.
Certain safeguards were suggested and certain assurances were given. One of the promises given as to censorship was that it would be a censorship of news and not of views. That point does not really arise now, but it may be well to raise it—because the practice has been that if something said in either House is not to appear in the Debates of the House, the Chairman of the House is to be consulted. It seems to me that what the Minister is doing now was never contemplated by any member of either House when the Bill was being passed——