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.