PUBLIC SAFETY (EMERGENCY POWERS) BILL, 1923. FIRST STAGE.

I move for leave to have printed and circulated a Bill entitled "Public Safety (Emergency Powers) Bill, 1923." I expect that it is unnecessary to waste time in stating how much we regret the necessity for such a Bill; how much we regret that the Executive should have to come to this Dáil to ask for powers very much greater than the powers that would or should attach to an Executive in normal times. But the Bill is based on a recognition of facts, however unpleasant, and a recognition of the conditions which are likely to exist, if not to prevail, in this country for 5 or 6 months, and the proposed lifetime of the Act is 6 months. Its main provisions are as follows:—Power will be asked to continue in internment people whose internment is considered necessary in the public safety, and power will be asked from the Minister for Home Affairs to intern persons who are considered to be abusing their liberty to the detriment of the public safety. I want it to be strictly understood that this Bill is not, at the moment at any rate, in any way a supercession of the existing powers of the military, powers inherent in the military by the situation which exists in the country; that it is ancillary to the powers vested in the military authorities at the moment.

This morning I believe a habeas corpus action was before the Courts, and the Courts refused to consider the application of the prisoner. There are facts within the knowledge of the Executive Council, within the knowledge of the military authorities, which go to show that things are far from being what they seem, or what they seem to people taking a casual, superficial view of the situation. Consequently I want to stress the point that in bringing forward this Bill for the consideration of the Dáil and of the Oireachtas, we are not to be taken as in any way suggesting that the powers which have attached for some time to the military authorities ought now to cease, or even ought now to be vested in a civil department. That is not the position. This Bill is introduced in the hope that within a period a situation may arise in which the powers vested at the moment in the military authorities might pass gradually and easily to be exercised by a civil department, and some to cease entirely. The power of deterrent internment, as distinct from punitive imprisonment, is sought in this Bill both in regard to certain people who are at present interned, and with regard to certain people who are not at present interned, but whose internment might be considered necessary for the public safety. The internment orders by the Minister for Home Affairs which the Bill provides for, are to be made only on the recommendation of a proper authority, and a proper authority is defined as being an officer of not less than a certain rank in the Army, and not less than a certain rank in the Civic Guard.

Another provision of the Bill is to attach to certain offences, two offences in particular—a signal penalty. It is felt with regret that the offences of robbery under arms and arson, both of which have been so common in this country within the last 10 months, are not likely to cease at once, and it is considered eminently desirable that they should cease as quickly as possible. I see little hope of achieving that end unless this Dáil and the Oireachtas face the fact that very signal deterrent penalties must be attached. In considering robbery under arms I was for some time inclined to the view that there is very little to distinguish that crime from murder, that the barricade which divides it from murder is of the thinnest, depending upon purely accidental circumstances, such purely accidental circumstances for instance as the courage or lack of courage of the person whom it is sought to rob. For some time the question of attaching to that offence the capital penalty was under consideration. It is not proposed in the Bill to attach the capital penalty to that offence, but it is proposed to attach to that offence, and to the offence of arson the penalty of whipping, and the Dáil is asked to say that where these offences are clearly proved against a prisoner the Court shall impose a sentence of whipping varying in degree according to the age of the prisoner, depending upon whether the prisoner is over or under 16 years of age. That will be called by many retrograde, and I direct attention to the fact that the offence is retrograde, and I leave it at that until the Second Reading.

The Bill further provides that in the case of open and flagrant defiance of the law in the matter of occupation of land where there is no question of title, and no question whatever of accidental trespass, that the Executive should have power to take the action in dealing with that particular problem which has been taken as a matter of military necessity within the past few months, that it should have power to seize and sell stock placed upon land in defiance of the law, and in defiance of the State, devoting the proceeds to the compensation of the owner of these lands and the surplus to the public exchequer.

These provisions form the main outline of the Bill which I now ask leave to have printed and circulated to Deputies, and if it be not out of place or improper, I would ask Deputies to face it simply in the light of our experience of the past 10 months—face it as a Bill we are bringing forward as a necessity arising from the fact that the Government, the Executive of this country has to deal with the aftermath of two revolutions, our own revolt against British administration here, and the revolt of a minority against our administration within the last year. Men's minds are high strung and hysterical, and we must, simply as human beings, and in a rational way, realise that there is going to be a pretty ugly aftermath to this whole business, and that it will take this country some time to settle down with a general acquiescence in the reign of law. In the meantime there will be illegalities, there will be wantonness, there will be crime, and it is the duty of the Executive to attempt to reduce these to a minimum, and to seek for itself powers to deal adequately with the situation with which it is certain to be confronted.

I beg to second.

I am astonished that the Minister should come at this stage and introduce a Bill of this character, and ask the Dáil to give permission to have it printed, without offering one scintilla of justification. Simply because he thinks as a consequence of two revolutions that there may be acts which the ordinary law would not touch he comes to the Dáil and asks for emergency legislation of this drastic character. Somebody said the other day that a certain statement was out-Heroding Herod. This is out-Heroding all the Herods. It out-Higgins O'Higgins. When coercion Bills have been introduced, and when emergency legislation has been called for elsewhere some explanation is always given as to their need. The Minister stated that it is within the knowledge of the Ministry and within the knowledge of the military authorities that certain things are as they are.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

Would the Deputy allow me to intervene and explain, that when I spoke matters within the knowledge of the Executive, and of the military authorities, I was referring rather to the military situation. I am not basing the necessity for this Bill on any matters which I will not disclose fully to the Dáil on the Second Reading. When I spoke of things not being as they seemed, I was stressing the fact that this Bill must not be taken in any way as a supercession of the powers which the military authorities have vested in them in consequence of the military situation. I am basing this Bill simply on a recognition of the facts of recent months, and on what I claim to be a rational intelligent anticipation of conditions within the next six months.

I submit that that is not a justification for coming to the Dáil to ask for such abnormal powers to be placed in the hands of the Minister. It may be the desire of the Minister to transfer powers from the military to the civil arm, but he says that that is not the intention. We are asked to give power now—to duplicate to the Minister for Home Affairs, the power which the military have had by resolutions of the Dáil. One is taken by surprise at such a proposal. The law, I suggest, is quite strong enough to deal with robbery under arms. I do not remember that there has been any modifications in the law since the Constitution of the Free State, or in the powers of punishment of offenders for robbery under arms, and I am quite confident that that which the Minister honestly professes to desire—that people shall come to have respect for law—that that end will be further from us—very much further from us—by attempting to pass this kind of legislation. I am not going to say any more, but I am going to oppose the First Reading of this Bill.

One naturally expects a certain amount of, shall I call it futile altruism from Deputy Johnson, but I suggest that in his last speech he has out-Johnsoned Johnson.

Too much Johnson.

He says there is not a scintilla of justification for this measure. I wonder have we been living in the moon for the last month, or, indeed, for the last twelve months? Is it not common property, and common knowledge, that robbery under arms has been occurring practically every day, and occurring with impunity? It has been occurring because certain people, as a result of the general turmoil and the change in the point of view, are ready to take the consequences of the present sentence which the law can give for a crime like that. Is there any Deputy here who has any doubt whatever that robbery under arms has been occurring practically as a common thing for the last month?

By servants of the Government and of this House.

The Deputy is used to making general statements of that sort. It is very easy, under the privileges of Parliament, to do that, but it would be a much more manly thing to prove that sort of thing rather than to state it and to leave it unproved, and that is what, I suggest, the Deputy should do. However, we are not on that point now. I ask you again, is there a Deputy in this Dáil that denies that robbery under arms is occurring every day for the last month all over the country?

Is the Minister confining the Bill to robbery under arms?

I will come to that later on. Let us take one thing at a time. Is the Minister for Home Affairs right when he says that robbery under arms is only one degree removed from murder, and right when he states that it is only removed from murder by one degree by reason of circumstances over which the robber has no control—chance circumstances and the courage of the particular person who happens to be robbed or the lack of courage. Is that right, I ask? Remember, we are dealing not with suspicion in this matter, but with proof. Where it is proved that a man commits robbery under arms, where a man takes advantage of times like these when the national honour is at stake to feather his own nest, ought there to be such terrible pity and commiseration for him from any right-minded man?

Is this fair, that the Minister should absolutely twist and distort anything that I have said. I ask the Dáil is that a fair representation of what I did say?

Perhaps Deputy Johnson would repeat shortly what he did say, so that the matter can be set right.

I spoke for five minutes, and I cannot remember now the words of my speech.

I think it would be better if, in a debate on a Motion for leave to introduce a Bill, the arguments were directed for and against the motion, without going very much into an examination of the details of the Bill, or as to the punishments proposed to be inflicted under it. The exact question is whether or not there is a case for introducing a Bill asking for special powers?

That is exactly the point I am trying to address myself to, the necessity for a Bill like this. I say that a man who commits robbery under arms is not entitled to any commiseration from anybody.

Why limit the Bill then to six months for dealing with them?

I am not suggesting for a moment that the Deputy's heart bleeds for a man who commits robbery under arms, but what I do suggest is that any man who loves law and loves liberty, and I am sure the Deputy numbers himself amongst the number, must be anxious to see that we in this Dáil will give the Executive sufficient power and authority to make it definitely not worth that man's while to commit these crimes, crimes not only against the property of the Nation, but against the honour of the Nation. As to why we should limit the operation of the Act to six months, my answer to that is that we hope better times will have come about within that period. We hope the results of this measure will be such that, in six months, there will be no necessity for the extraordinary powers which the Deputy suggests there is not a necessity for at the moment.

Now, the other crime for which power is taken under this Bill to inflict the penalty of flogging is the crime of arson, and I want to suggest to the Dáil that, if there is one crime that we should endeavour to repress, it is the crime of arson. It was one of the foulest crimes committed during the last year. It is an attempt to injure a man through his wife and children, through his associations and his sentiments and through everything he holds dear; and if there is one thing more than another that has done dishonour to this country during the last year it is this cowardly crime of arson, the burning of a man's home and his household goods. I ask the Dáil to show, by the legislation they are going to pass, that that thing must stop, and that the coward who takes advantage of the present situation to commit that crime is going to suffer for it. I should have hoped that any man who had any sense of humanity, or a sense of the honour of his country, would be glad and would be anxious to see that whatever terrors are necessary to deflect people who commit these crimes from such courses, should be exposed to these people.

I rather welcome the introduction of this Bill, and I do so on principle because it seems to me to be a step back towards the normal processes of law in the trying and conviction of criminals from the time we adopted regulations setting up military tribunals. I have no fault to find with the Army as a whole or with military tribunals in their proper place when they deal with attested members of the Army; that is their proper function, but it is an indication of a grave state of things in the country when the law is superseded and criminals have to be tried, as they are being tried, by military tribunals. Now that is going on still. This Bill does not supersede that procedure, and I think it is highly probable that military courts cannot yet be completely superseded in certain places and in certain cases. But at any rate it does pro tanto in this Bill set up the ordinary methods of trial by a judge and jury or by a judge in some cases without a jury once again, and to that extent it seems to me to be a step back to normal procedure and to be a step along the right lines. Now, I refrain from criticising the details of the Bill, which I have not seen and know nothing about. I reserve the right to criticise any detail in the Bill when I see it in print, but the principle seems to me to be right, and it is a step back to normal law again. With regard to its being only a temporary measure, it is proposed, from what I heard the Minister say, to give power to inflict some extraordinary punishments. People with long memories who have attained my time of life can recollect a period in the last century when robbery with violence, not robbery under arms, was so prevalent in the streets of London that extraordinary punishment, of the nature indicated by the Minister here, was brought in, and in the space of, I think, eighteen months that crime was completely crushed out of London.

It seems to me that if extraordinary punishment of this description had that effect upon the criminal classes in the British nation, it might go a long way towards putting down the far more dangerous crime of robbery by people armed with firearms, because, as the Minister said, there is only the pressure of a man's finger between robbery and murder in such cases; and probably, and under the circumstances, the least thing may, and often will, result in death, even although the robber himself never had the intention of inflicting death to attain his end. It seems to me that it is a far greater crime, this robbery with arms, than robbery with violence, for which these punishments were first introduced. For this reason, which is the only matter of detail that occurs to me, it is most important, right, and proper that this punishment should be introduced. At best it is a substitute for capital punishments that the military tribunals which we set up have inflicted in one or two cases in recent months for this crime of robbery under arms. It is a relaxation in favour of the criminal, and it must be a relief for everyone here to know that we are sanctioning a lesser punishment than that of taking human life at vengeance for, or deterrent to, crime. To that extent again I think this Bill is a step along the right road. As I say we can raise the details when we see them, but I respectfully repeat the claim that this Bill should be given the First Reading, and we should have an opportunity of seeing what its proposals are before we condemn it.

I have listened with nothing short of amazement to the speech of the very learned and able Deputy who has just now given his views on this Bill. He welcomes the Bill as a return to the normal. I wish it was. There is nothing we want more, but he seems to have overlooked the fact that the principal item in the Bill is the giving of carte blanche to the Executive, or the officers of the Executive, to put in prison, and to keep in prison, persons whom they may regard as suspicious, and this is commended as a return to the normal. I am not going to say much about the Bill now, I agree with what Deputy Johnson said about it. I think probably that it is, and will prove to be, the swan-song of Die-Hardism. I am glad to see some of the Ministers seem to like that. My main purpose in rising was to draw attention to a very curious statement made by the Minister in introducing the Bill. He told us in effect that the Bill was unnecessary because what he said was this: “Do not let anyone suppose that this Bill is being introduced to supersede the military powers of the military tribunals”—if I do him an injustice he will correct me, but I think he went on—“the military in present circumstances ipso facto have all the necessary powers that they have been exercising, and four or five months hence perhaps the civil power will take over this work.” It seems to me to follow that on the Minister's own view of the case there will be no need whatever for this Bill until four or five months hence, because the military have all the power inherent in them——

Mr. O'HIGGINS

On a point of explanation, I think that I ought not to sit silent and allow the Deputy to misrepresent me. I mentioned no period of four or five months. I said that at the moment it would be incorrect for anyone to interpret the introduction of this Bill, which will take some time in passing, as in any way an indication that the Executive consider that it was no longer necessary that the military should have these powers which they had exercised within recent months. The Bill is merely ancillary to the powers that the military have from the military situation which now exists, and when the military situation ceases to exist this Bill will be the normal procedure for dealing with the situation.

I can assure the Minister I had no intention of misrepresenting him, but he has again said now that when the military——

Mr. O'HIGGINS

I did not attempt to state any period. I did not say in four or five months' time, and in so far as you put these words into my month——

Mr. O'HIGGINS

In so far as the Deputy put these words into my month he is misrepresenting me.

The Minister did not mention any period. That is quite clear.

I may have misunderstood the Minister, and, if so, I withdraw it, but what he did actually state is on the record of the shorthand writers' notes, and will appear in due course. It does not affect the main issue. I assure the Minister that I had no intention of misrepresenting him. He has taken up the position that military have inherent in them all these powers at present. That, I trust, is not a misrepresentation. I should like the position that the Minister takes up on that to be made clear. Either it is or it is not necessary for some body other than the military to have these strange abnormal powers of internment on suspicion. If the military have these powers now, it cannot be necessary for another body to have them. One cannot get away from the suspicion that the real purpose of this Bill is to evade the successful habeas corpus application which the Minister sees coming along in the law courts. When they saw an application, which some Minister may have thought would be successful, coming along in another court, they took a simpler method and suppressed the court. That would not do now, so we are to have a perpetuation of this Die-hardism introduced for the express and specific purpose of taking jurisdiction under habeas corpus out of the hands of the Judges, Castle Judges as they are, who would very likely, as the Minister knows, order the release of the prisoners who have been interned only on suspicion.

I submit that no case has been made on principle for the introduction of this Bill at all. This is the first occasion, I think, since this Dáil met that there has been any opposition to the First Reading of any Bill, because everybody, no matter what their views and no matter how they differ, was prepared to let a case be stated for asking the Dáil to permit the introduction of this Bill. One Minister has said that the Executive wants to give itself, or wants to get the permission of the Dáil for sufficient power to do certain things. Unless my recollection is very much at fault, more than ordinary powers have already been given to the Executive, and to one arm of the Executive— namely, the Army—in previous regulations that were carried by a majority of the Dáil, and which are since then, I suppose, the law of the land. The Minister now wants the Executive to have certain exceptional powers, but he has made no case for the reinforcement of the extraordinary measures which are already in force. I submit that he has made no case at all. Nobody inside or outside the Dáil, except people who refuse to look facts in the face, would deny that arson and robbery with violence have been pretty prevalent in the Saorstát, and in Ireland generally, indeed, within the last year, and I am not going so far as to say that, while we have come to a period of a kind of tranquillity, we will be free of that kind of thing for the next four or five months, or twelve months, or maybe for the next two years. You cannot get rid of the example of the last year, or the last two or three years, without something of the worst effects of that example sticking in the hearts and minds even of some people who otherwise are, but for that, of the very best class of citizenship, and those of us who have heard about certain people engaging in these activities have been much surprised and amazed, as we were when we find the Ministry asking for this particular Bill. I am not going to deal with any cases that are sub-judice at all, but that is the fact.

The Minister for Agriculture says we want to give the Executive sufficient power to do these things. Has not the Executive sufficient power as it stands to punish these particular crimes, if they are proven? There is no question, with all due deference to Deputy FitzGibbon, of proving all these crimes. You have already thousands of people interned, and if you inquire from the Minister for Defence why some of them are interned, he will tell you they are interned because they were suspected of taking part in arson. He has already stated so in the Dáil. If he can do that under existing laws and regulations, what is the necessity for this new Bill? Let the Ministry answer. The same with other crimes mentioned. It is not so much the punishment, though I think it would be really a degrading thing if one of the methods of punishment which the Minister suggests is going to be carried out; not only for the person suffering the punishment, but the person inflicting the punishment, and the authority authorising it. I am not going to deal with that now. I ask the Dáil to judge fairly and squarely whether there is any necessity at all for this Bill. I submit the Ministry has made no case for giving this new power into the hands of the Executive. They have sufficient power, and if one examines the previous regulations which we adopted here at some length, and examine the repressive regulations of other places, one will find that the Free State regulations are as comprehensive and repressive as can be found in any State. They are so broad and comprehensive that they cover practically everything, but we are getting back into a period of a kind of tranquillity, and, as I say, there may be decisions reached in the Courts that we are not only back into a period of tranquillity but that we are out of a state of war. If that happens, there is then a remedy in the hands of certain relatives of prisoners and others to take certain steps in the Court. I submit to the Dáil, with Deputy Gavan Duffy, that what the Executive wants to do is to anticipate the ordinary course of law and to get this Bill through at this stage, so that when the Executive wants to take measures against certain people, it can turn around to an enactment of this Dáil and say, there is the law, and the judges must administer that law. Your law as it stands is not sufficient. Is that the position?

Mr. O'HIGGINS

Yes.

In spite of the fact that, I suppose, that they have a dozen or twenty British Coercion Acts at their back, still that is not sufficient. You have the most comprehensive code of Military repressive regulations that we have had in this country for a good many years, but they are not sufficient. Nobody on these benches, and nobody who supports us outside, would say to the Executive that you should neglect to use any legal or lawful measures you have for the suppression of robbery by violence or arson. But we do submit, in all seriousness, that you have quite sufficient powers to do these things without bringing forward something that is going to characterise the Dáil and the State after this period of comparative tranquility as compared to the state of affairs for the last 4 or 5 years, as a very retrograde and reactionary State and body indeed. There is no argument, I submit again, with all due deference to Deputy FitzGibbon, that in the last century or the century before certain exceptional measures had to be taken elsewhere, and perhaps in Dublin, for the suppression of certain crimes, because Deputy FitzGibbon, I am sure, as well as any Deputy, knows that measures of exceptional severity were taken in these periods here in Dublin, and in other places, and in London, for the most trivial offences. I do not know whether they are still available, but if the Deputy will consult the old registers of Old Kilmainham, and certain of the registers, at all events, that are still in Mountjoy, he will find side by side with the entries of Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone records of transportation beyond the seas, flogging, and, in some cases, executions of men, women, and children for, perhaps, the theft of a goat, or of half a dozen handkerchiefs, or of a few pounds. These are notoriously the facts, but because these things were done in what might be called more barbarous times, the Deputy would seem to suggest that, therefore, now in 1923, after two revolutions or a revolution and a half, we should go back to the spirit of the penal legislation and penal administration of 80 or 90 or 100 years ago. If the Ministry were prepared to withdraw the Military Regulations for which they got the sanction of the majority of this Dáil some months ago, there might be some case for allowing this Bill to be introduced, but are the military advisers of the Executive, or is the Executive itself, about to withdraw these regulations?

Not yet.

Not yet. Then I submit, if the Dáil is to do justice and honour to itself, it ought to refuse the Ministry permission to introduce this Bill.

It is the right, the duty, and the prerogative of the Executive Council, placed in a state of revolt, faced with the use of force against the law in the country, to oppose that force and revolt by military force, and the military forces of the Government, called upon to do so, have a right and duty to oppose that force by adequate military force. When we asked for approval for certain resolutions in the Dáil for the taking of certain actions as a punishment or as a preventive of certain actions by force on the part of revolting persons in the country, we did not increase the prerogative or right of the military forces in the country in any way. We simply got an expression of Parliamentary approval of acts that were the right and prerogative of military forces as such. At the time when we got approval for those resolutions here it will be remembered that we anticipated that a time would come when certain areas of the country would become more ordered, while certain areas might be in a disordered state. So far as the application of military force is concerned, we are only applying military force at present in cases and in places where it is necessary to do so. The Executive cannot divest itself of this right and duty to employ military force in any particular case of necessity. On the other hand, as Deputies have admitted, the nature of the crimes that are likely to be committed in the country and the nature of certain disorders likely to exist, because of the history of the present and past years, are abnormal. It is not advisable, and the Executive consider that it is not advisable, to retain the use of military forces in any particular area or district where it can be reasonably avoided. On the other hand, the civil arm of the Executive cannot function, and cannot take action except in accordance with them. You cannot simply transfer to the civil arm of the Government powers that are intrinsic in military forces, and if you want to increase the powers of the civil arm of the Government to deal with any particular state of affairs in the country or any particular classes of offences, you have to define their powers by law. We may argue that there is not a state of armed resistance in any part of the country, but so long as you have arms in any particular part of the country not under Government control you have practically to recognise that that portion of the country is in a state of revolt. It is certainly in a state of potential revolt, and in the present atmosphere you have to regard it as in a state of revolt. We have seen orders to shoot certain Deputies of this Dáil. We have seen orders to shoot at sight Civil Servants and persons who are in any way responsible for carrying out and assisting in the present administration. These orders were definitely intended to be carried out. They have not been carried out. In the same way arms exist in part of the country for purposes of revolt, and we are aware that very strenuous attempts are being made to add to the number of arms so held. The holding of these arms may be just as ineffective as the issuing of certain instructions for the purpose of creating an actual state of revolt. The Government is not prepared to saddle the country for a longer period of time than is necessary either with the maintenance of large military forces or the exercise of military force in the country. It is endeavouring to hasten the return to normal times and the normal exercise of the law through the normal machinery of the law in seeking for its civil arm additional powers to deal with the special situation which will enable it to function through its civil arm, and it is a healthy and natural thing that we would seek additional powers for that civil arm, gradually withdrawing from actual operations in the country military forces. We do anticipate that by taking those powers and using them judiciously, in the same way as we have used our military forces judiciously, that we will overcome the present period of revolt, or potential revolt, the subterranean revolt which exists at the present moment because of the possession of arms by, and the activities of, a number of people we know. We will get over that period of revolt without the revolt itself fructifying to any greater extent than some of the instructions issued from time to time. There is eminently a great necessity for the civil arm of the Government getting, in the process of law, additional powers that it can use in a legal way, while the Executive Council can withdraw as much as possible the use of military forces to overcome the forces used against them.

As a neutral onlooker, as a juryman-Deputy called upon to decide the pros and cons of this particular case, the point that strikes me is what a Deputy should say to himself on this matter. Here is an Executive on whom responsibility for the government of this country rests, placed there by authority, and coming here to the Dáil asking for definite powers. I as a humble Deputy, sitting on those benches, ask myself is it right to give the men in authority, with the responsibility which they hold, what they ask for? I say yes. The responsibility rests on them, and those of us here who are unattached to either side, and who wish to do our duty towards our country, should back them up if we consider what they ask is just.

Not exactly ditto. Here is a Bill to relax the death penalty for two heinous crimes. At the present moment a man arrested for robbery under arms is entitled to be shot.

Better that than to be flogged.

If the death penalty does not deter him, and if flogging does, then flog him. It is time to stop a recurrence of these crimes. The Ministry with the responsibility of this country on their shoulders during a period of revolt come now to ask for powers at a time when the stand they made is bringing some fruit. I say it is my duty to give them whatever powers they wish, and not to interfere with the men at the wheel.

I think the statement of the last speaker calls for some explanation. He says he is prepared to give them whatever powers they ask for to do what they like. That is the only inference one can draw from his speech. He said he was listening as a neutral onlooker, and that, taking all the factors into consideration, he would prefer to hand his responsibility over to a smaller number of men rather than sit as a juryman and carry out the law. I, at any rate, feel that certain things that happened in this country recently give ground for a feeling of confidence and tranquillity. There is something in the air that would make one feel optimistic as regards the future. Anyone who goes through the country with his ear to the ground, visiting his constituents and listening to them, recognises that that is the actual position in the country, but the Minister for Home Affairs, asking leave for a Bill of this kind, is going to create an impression amongst the overwhelming masses that such is not the case. I think it is a happy coincidence, though some Deputies regret it, that the Press is absent from our proceedings to-day, because I should prefer their absence rather than that they should report the speeches of those standing over the Bill.

I quite agree with Deputy O'Shannon, and, speaking for myself in this matter, I am not going to prevent a Government, which is the authorised Government of this country, now or in the future dealing out what may be considered reasonable punishment to people who commit robbery under arms. Let that be clearly understood as far as I am concerned. I think the punishment should be in all cases in accordance with the crime. I have read in the North-Eastern boundary documents which have been issued by the Government, or for which the Government is responsible, a certain lot of piffle referring to the flogging imposed by the Northern Government. These documents cast a reflection upon punishment of this kind which has been dealt out by Sir James Craig and his Belfast Parliament to the people who support you within that area. You are now coming forward to ask for leave to do the same thing yourselves. When some of your people are responsible for documents, they should look a little to the future. If they did so at the time they were writing that kind of stuff they would be sorry to think that the time would come when the same thing would happen in their own area as that which they condemned in other places. I can quite see, and I am sure the Minister for Home Affairs can quite see, that any powers he asks us for on behalf of the Executive will be given, because men will march into the Dáil when the division bell rings, when we or anybody else challenges a division, and they will register their votes in accordance with your wishes. That has been the procedure in the Dáil for the last six or nine months. I oppose the Bill because I think a case has not been made out for it, and because I think it will create a wrong impression in the country at a time when a General Election is approaching.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

Trying electioneering.

The Press is not here, and I am speaking quite frankly. I want to assure you in the absence of the Press that I am not a professional politician.

Perhaps the Deputy will assure me.

If the people who returned me on the last occasion wish to return me again, they can. If they do not, they can turn me out. I will accept their verdict. This is not an electioneering speech——

Mr. O'HIGGINS

And this is not an electioneering Bill.

I am making the point that a wrong impression will be created in the country by the introduction of this Bill at a time when the General Election is approaching. There have been complaints that people interned have been deprived of their votes. It would be quite possible to take 12,000 more, and, by interning them on suspicion, deprive them of their votes in the coming election. I can foresee that if Deputies, such as Deputy Gavan Duffy and others, go outside and repeat statements they have made in the Dáil, they will be landed in Mountjoy, and that, probably, before the next election.

I have been very much struck by the arguments that came from the Deputies on the Labour Benches and Deputy Gavan Duffy. They have told us that no case has been made out for the Bill. Deputy Davin, who voted against the Act that gave certain powers to the Army, tells us that he has been going through the country and speaking to people who have had their ears to the ground. As one who voted for the powers that were given to the Army, I say I know perfectly well that the people who have had their ears to the ground are speaking the truth. What enabled Deputy Davin to get such answers from those people were the special powers that were given to the Army. I would like to say "Thanks be to Heaven, I have no relative in jail or mixed up in this conspiracy against the majority of the people." If I had I would consider his chances of getting out would be damned by the advocacy we have heard from Deputy Gavan Duffy and the Deputies on the Labour benches. This emergency legislation Bill that is brought in now provides for interning certain people in regard to whom there is reasonable ground for suspicion. Under the present powers we all know there are thousands of prisoners in jails who are liable to the death penalty. Instead of their being brought forward for trial, as apparently the Labour Deputies and Deputy Duffy desire, they are simply to be interned if there is reasonable grounds for suspecting them. I think that is a very admirable idea, and it is very much better than to have them brought before Military tribunals, now that things are getting back to normal. I think the Minister for Home Affairs has made a much better case for the introduction of the Bill than has been made against it.

We have almost had, on the First Reading of this Bill, what would be most appropriate on the Second Reading; we have had a discussion on the merits or demerits of its provisions.

As stated.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

It may be necessary to emphasise that what the Dáil was asked for was permission to have this Bill printed and circulated for consideration. Now, at least, there is a case for its consideration. You have in Military detention at the moment twelve or thirteen thousand people. It has to be faced that many of those people have committed most serious crimes for which, in the ordinary times, they would be triable, and for which there would be very severe penalties. It is not too much to assume that very many of them have committed murder, that a great many of them, indeed, have perpetrated arson and general sabotage, and the right to detain them as the law stands at present depends purely upon military necessity.

When they have sought the assistance of the law to secure their release the attitude of the Judges has been "We are debarred from inquiring into the legality of their detention because in time of war or armed rebellion Courts are precluded from inquiring into the legality of the acts of the military." Therefore, up to the present, until this morning, Courts have refused to consider the application of these men's release from custody. Presumably a stage will come when the Courts will say "There is no longer, in our view, a state of war or armed revolt which is sufficient to preclude us from inquiring into the legality of the detention of these people." Quite frankly, that is the position which this Bill is intended to meet. Because we are not prepared to consider the wholesale indiscriminate release on this country, which is barely beginning to settle down to normal conditions, of these twelve thousand men, whose worst instincts have been stirred up, and who have been hacking the face of their own country for the last ten months or a year. I say that not animated by any particular desire to censure these men individually, but simply stating the fact that they got a lead, and they got a call, from people to whom they gave habitual obedience, and they followed it, and followed it along very dark and very criminal ways. We would not be executing fairly or decently or honourably our stewardship to the people of this country and to the interests that look to us for protection if we were to contemplate the wholesale, indiscriminate release of these men on a day or date that the Courts would decide that there was no longer a state of war or a state of armed rebellion. It is called, and very aptly indeed called, a Public Safety (Emergency Powers) Bill.

Crime against the person, crime against property, has been rampant in the country, and it cannot be expected to cease immediately when some Judge on the Bench decides that there is not a state of war or armed revolt. The civil Ministry that is primarily responsible for peace and order and decency of life within the country must come, in a rational way, to lay its case before this Dáil for powers that will enable it to deal with the situation with which it is confronted and with which it will be confronted for some considerable time. No case has been made, I am told, even for the introduction of this Bill, for asking the Dáil for leave to consider it. Well, it was not for want of material to make the case. I could produce the monthly report from the Civic Guard Headquarters, received conscientiously month by month, on the state of the country, and I could have brought them here and held the Dáil while I read them out. I thought that there would be a pretty general admission that there was at least a prima facie case for the introduction of the Bill to give the Civil Ministry extra power to deal with the situation which admittedly exists in the country, and which may reasonably be calculated to continue to exist for some time.

Without taking it away from the military?

Mr. O'HIGGINS

I think the Deputy does not quite follow me on that point. A military situation exists. It has been decided this morning by the Courts that it does exist, and that the Courts are precluded from inquiring into the legality of the detention of persons in military custody. But at some time in the future the Courts will certainly decide that that situation no longer exists. And when, and if, that decision comes it is necessary to have a specific Act of this Dáil sanctioning their further internment. Heretofore they have been interned as a military necessity arising out of the situation of war or armed revolt. I now come to this Dáil and say it is necessary in the public safety that some at any rate of these men should continue to be interned, and that power should be given to the Civil Ministry to intern certain other persons on specific representations from responsible officers after the state of war. I could, as I say, have brought ample material here to prove the case and to show the necessity for this Bill. But I thought that there would be a general admission amongst the Deputies that there was that kind of prima facie case which is all that is required for the First Reading. After all, you are simply asked for permission to have this Bill printed and circulated. We can discuss its principles, we can discuss its provisions, on the Second Reading. We can go on to the Committee Stage if it passes its Second Reading, and move amendments or deletions as we think fit. But what you are asked now is simply that the Home Affairs Minister, on whom the primary responsibility lies for order and decency of life in the country, be enabled to bring in a Bill here to you asking for certain additional powers over and above those which are normally attached to the Executive. I think that the very delicate situation in the country justifies me in coming to the Dáil to ask for powers of that kind. The fact is that up and down the country you have an organisation, and up and down the country you have arms and explosives lying about, and you have breaches of the peace and robbery under arms, and arson and so on very generally through the country; we must not get in the way of regarding that as a normal state of affairs. We must realise that if there is to be commercial security, if there is to be financial credit or credit in the other senses, national honour or national prestige, that the country must pull itself out of that situation. It is to give power to the Executive to help to end that situation that I ask for leave to introduce this Bill.

Motion put: "That leave be given to introduce the Bill."

The Dáil divided: Tá, 43; Níl, 14.

  • Liam T. Mac Cosgair.
  • Donchadh Ó Guaire.
  • Uáitéar Mac Cumhaill.
  • Séan Ó Maolruaidh.
  • Seán Ó Duinnín.
  • Micheál Ó hAonghusa.
  • Domhnall Ó Mocháin.
  • Séamus Breathnach.
  • Pádraig Mag Ualghairg.
  • Darghal Figes.
  • Deasmhumhain Mac Gearailt.
  • Seán Ó Ruanaidh.
  • Mícheál de Duram.
  • Ailfrid Ó Broin.
  • Seán Mac Garaidh.
  • Risteárd Ó Maolchatha.
  • Domhnall Mac Cárthaigh.
  • Sir Séamus Craig. M.D.
  • Gearóid Mac Giobúin, K.C.
  • Liam Thrift.
  • Eoin Mac Néill.
  • Pádraig Ó hÓgáin.
  • Pádraic Ó Máille.
  • Seosamh Ó .
  • Seoirse Mac Niocaill.
  • Fionán Ó Loingsigh.
  • Séamus Ó Cruadhlaoich.
  • Criostóir Ó Broin.
  • Risteárd Mac Liam.
  • Caoimhghin Ó hUigín.
  • Próinsias Bulfin.
  • Séamus Ó Dóláin.
  • Aindriú Ó Láimhín.
  • Próinsias Mag Aonghusa.
  • Eamon Ó Dúgáin.
  • Peadar Ó hAodha.
  • Liam Mac Sioghaird.
  • Tomás Ó Domhnaill.
  • Earnán de Blaghd.
  • Uinseann de Faoite.
  • Donhnall Ó Broin.
  • Séamus de Burca.
  • Micheál Ó Dubhghaill.

Níl

  • Tomás de Nógla.
  • Riobárd Ó Deaghaidh.
  • Liam de Róiste.
  • Tomás Mac Eoin.
  • Seoirse Ghabháin Uí Dhubhthaigh.
  • Tomás Ó Conaill.
  • Aodh Ó Cúlacháin.
  • Séamus Éabhróid.
  • Liam Ó Daimhin.
  • Seán Ó Laidhir.
  • Cathal Ó Seanáin.
  • Domhnall Ó Muirgheasa.
  • Risteárd Mac Fheorais.
  • Domhnall Ó Ceallacháin.
Motion declared lost.
Bill read a first time.
Second Stage ordered for Friday, 22nd instant.