When the Dáil adjourned yesterday we were discussing Deputy Johnson's amendment: "To delete all words after the word ‘law' in line 52 to the end of the first Schedule."
DÁIL IN COMMITTEE. - DUBLIN POLICE BILL, 1924. THIRD STAGE RESUMED.
I moved the adjournment last evening and was then speaking in reply to Deputy Johnson's amendment. I had said pretty nearly all I wished to say on the matter, and I have had no particular inspiration over night. I was not accepting the amendment, the effect of which would be to leave absolutely to the discretion of members of the forces whether or not they should join political or secret societies. We think that political activities on the part of members of a State organisation, whose special duty it is to enforce and uphold the law equally and impartially amongst all citizens, is objectionable. With regard to secret societies, the gist and substance of my objection is that State employees should enter into societies or combinations having commitments unknown to the people at large and commitments which, for all the people at large may know to the contrary, cut definitely across their line of duty and their line of allegiance.
The declaration embodied in the Bill may be open to objection. I think it is one that should convey clearly to the mind of any recruit what he is expected to avoid and what he is expected, in honour to his employers, namely the people, collectively, to keep away from. Entering a force of that kind, to an extent he is expected to give up some fraction of that complete liberty of action which attaches to the ordinary rank and file citizen of the country. In view of the special nature of his duties, and the necessity for absolute impartiality between citizen and citizen in the discharge of those duties, he is expected to avoid active participation in politics, and to completely avoid membership of any secret organisation.
I find myself in general agreement with the Minister when he states that he is not prepared to agree to leave it to the discretion of the individual who happens to be in the police force, whether or not he should join a political society or a secret organisation. I am not prepared, however to go so far as the Minister when he states that he would not agree to this proposal in the case of any State servants. I do draw a distinction between the civil servant and the person who may be employed by the State in the capacity of a policeman, or who may be in the Army. We have heard it proclaimed from the house-tops in the recent past, that the Army and the police are the servants of the people. I believe they cannot be that so long as they are allowed to join a secret organisation or a political society that has, undoubtedly, the object of dictating to the representatives of the people, who are responsible to the people, what their ideas should be and what their attitude should be on matters of public policy.
We have had many experiences during the British regime and in our own time that should compel us now to insist upon this is regard to the police and the military forces. It was the case during the British regime, although it may not be admitted, that the officers of the R.I.C. and of the British Army were associated with political societies and perhaps with secret societies. I agree it is very hard to define what a secret society is. Some people say that societies which might be regarded by myself, for instance, as secret, are merely benevolent and charitable institutions. I say that if Army officers who serve, or are supposed to serve, a Government, are allowed to join a political society or secret organisation, it is bad for the Government and the people of the country.
We remember the case of the Curragh mutiny. In my opinion, the mutiny was the outcome of the existence of political and secret societies that were open to officers of the British Army at the time. We remember the case of D.I. Nixon in Belfast, where he came into conflict with the Northern Government, because he was allowed to go into a political or secret society and make speeches.
The Deputy is out of order in referring to proceedings in another Parliament.
I am citing the case in order to show why it is so essential that these things should not be tolerated. Let us come to our own position. We all know of the things that happened here recently. It is unnecessary for me to go into them. They are things which, in my opinion, were due to the fact that policemen, and military officers particularly, were allowed to join political societies. These are lessons why we should endeavour to prevent such happenings in the future. If there is one thing more than another that I can see eye to eye upon with the Minister, it is his genuine desire to maintain discipline in the forces over which he has control. I believe he is quite justified in insisting upon this as a condition of service, and I hope that, not alone will he have it in the Bill, but that he will take every precaution to put it into operation, even if it means the dismissal of people who may ignore it.
The Minister and Deputy Davin have sadly misconceived the intention of this amendment. This is not to encourage, or assent to the members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police being members of a political or secret society. It is that that object will not be achieved by inserting this phrase in the declaration. Put it in your Bill. You have not got it in your Bill. You make it a declaration applicable to policemen and soldiers. We have had in the newspapers during the last two or three days copies of an oath, of a new declaration, to be taken by persons who have been appointed to office in the State and who above all should be prevented from being members of secret societies of any kind, and who are much more liable to be members of secret societies than others. They have not been asked to include phrases like this in their oath or declaration. You have not asked your new judges to state that they do not or will not belong to a secret or political society. Surely they, of all people, ought be prevented, if they can be prevented from joining any such secret society. But you refrain from asking them to make a declaration of this kind, probably because you know it is useless. Do you know what the practice has been? If one could think that one-twentieth part of the rumours or stories that are going about had any foundation whatever, and I do not believe they have, one would think that it was more than ever necessary to impose such an obligation upon such persons. I say that the putting into this Bill a general declaration is unnecessary and will not achieve the object sought for. It is simply a reflection in what might be a general, formal, solemn declaration of a present political fear. It is a reflex of something evanescent and political, affecting the moment, and to put that in a declaration of this kind seems to me to be lowering the value, whatever, value there may be in it, of the declaration.
It is bringing a political atmosphere into the question. It is assuming that you cannot achieve the end of faithful service and of true service and obedience without asking a formal declaration against a particular kind of undesirable practice. Now, there are many other undesirable practices that are expected to be refrained from by members of the police force. There are such things as drinking in a public house on duty, and many other things that one need not elaborate, or enumerate. You do not ask that to be put into a declaration. You make general regulations for the conduct of your Force and you expect the members to abide by them and to have a general sense of discipline andesprit de corps. I say that is the way to prevent the kind of conduct that you want in this amendment to avoid. You are singling out this kind of public servant because of the fear that things might happen which are undesirable. You are trying to compel recruits, or pressing your officers, to tack on to a general declaration, this kind of statement that they do not and will not belong to a political or secret society. I said yesterday that membership of a secret society is in fact an offence, a legal offence. I suppose it is a long time since that law was enforced, but I suggest that there is more in my objection than the Minister would give credit for when I state the fact that organisations, though not obviously and clearly political, may become gradually, perhaps by deliberation or perhaps by growth, political or secret. What you will do to, shall I say, the more acutely conscientious people is to create in their minds doubts and hesitations as to whether the particular organisation they belong to is one thing or the other. That will not be good for the general bearing and conduct of the policeman. I think that a declaration in these general terms ought to suffice and would be far more effective than the taking of what is an obvious momentary and temporary political fear into account to the extent that you do, and that by this means you are lowering the value of the declaration.
It seems to me that the declaration is good, that secret societies are bad, and as the late Minister for Defence said, they served their purpose and were useful for a time. At the moment I think secret organisations are very bad, but I do not know why the D.M.P. have been singled out and why a declaration is required from a candidate for the D.M.P. that he will not belong to a secret society. Does the Minister intend to extend that to any other branch of the public service? I would like to have a list of societies which are considered by the Government to be secret societies, and I would like to know how many of them are included in this declaration that the D.M.P. have to sign. There are secret societies and other secret societies. There are societies of which everybody knows and which are not intended to be included in that declaration, I think, and I should like to know how many secret societies, or so-called secret societies, this declaration will apply to. Is it the intention also to extend that declaration to other branches, whether in the case of people joining them or those who are already there?
I am not quite sure as to what the Deputy means. This declaration is similar to the declaration taken by the Gárda Síochána under the Act which at present regulates them; a somewhat similar declaration is taken by the District Justices and I now propose to extend it to members of the Metropolitan Police. The declaration is drafted to include all political societies and all or any secret societies. The last two and a half lines read: "I will not while I hold the said office join, belong or subscribe to any political society whatsoever or to any secret society whatsoever." With regard to what Deputy Johnson has said, there is, I think, a difference of view that is not likely to be met or bridged by further discussion. He thinks it is of no value to get this declaration, or promise, from a recruit; that there is no value in it at all; that it is not right; that it is unwise. We, on the other hand, attach such importance to the condition that we think it is something that we are entitled to ask from any and every person joining the force, and every person at present a member of the force; that he will not take an active partisan part in politics, and that he will not enter into commitments unknown to the people at large which might possibly affect the impartial discharge of his duties as a member of the force; which might cut across his duties and cut across his allegiance. It is not a new condition; it is not something devisedad hoc or in any panic. It is a condition which has attached to police forces in the past, and—to put it simply at its lowest—which we see no sufficient reason for departing from, and—putting it on the positive side— which we see plenty of reason for adhering to.
Was it ever made in a declaration before?
It was part of a declaration before.
Might I ask the Minister if this declaration would apply to the staff which has been inherited from the previous Government?
The Minister has not answered one point, I think a very important point, to which Deputy Johnson referred. That was the advisability or otherwise of applying a similar declaration to the judges, who are part of the arm of the administration of the law, and a very important part too. I believe that it should be applied to all persons, such as judges, police and military, who are charged with the administration of the law. They should be free from all these political and other influences which would prejudice them in coming to a fair decision or in carrying out their duties in executing the law. I object to secret societies as such; I object to secret diplomacy; I believe that wars, civil or international—
The Deputy is going outside of the Bill; the Dublin Metropolitan Police are not concerned in war.
At any rate there are many reasons one might give as to why one would not allow the D.M.P. to be associated with such societies, and I was leading to that point, but I bow to your ruling. Perhaps the Minister for Justice, seeing that he is in control of the judiciary, would say why it is that this is not applied to the new judges?
First of all, I had better disclaim, very emphatically, the suggestion of the Deputy that I am in control of the judiciary. I am not in that fortunate position. If there are future appointments to be made we will consider the Deputy's suggestion that a declaration of this kind should be exacted from judges.
I think that the Executive Council as a whole did not consider it necessary to exact any such declaration, and I am not inclined to think that they would consider it necessary in the future, but the judges are now appointed and they are in a position of aloofness from and independence of the Executive. Deputy McGarry talked about the inherited staff. We are dealing now with the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and if this Bill becomes law every member of that organisation will take this declaration, and every member of the Gárda Síochána will take the declaration embodied in the Gárda Síochána Bill. Further than that I am not prepared to go. We are dealing with what are known as the disciplined forces of the State, and one is entitled to expect from them compliance with conditions which are not applied to, and which might be called over-exacting, and tending to tyranny if expected from the ordinary Civil Servants, but every member of the two police organisations will take the declaration from the highest officer to the most junior constable.
I am quite satisfied. I got the answer I expected.
On the expectation that the previous amendment would be lost, I have put down this amendment, with the object of making it as clear as it is possible to make it, what is meant by the term "secret society." I have argued that it may be held by every individual to have a different meaning, and in such a case it is well to have a definition, and this proposed addition to the schedule is a definition extracted from the present law. It is a law which goes back to 1823 but under which, as late as 1891, certain prosecutions have taken place. Any person becoming a member of any such society as is defined here is deemed to be a member of an unlawful combination and confederacy, and liable to be fined £20 or imprisonment for three months, one half of the penalty to go to the informer. I do not know when or whether there is likely to be any further prosecutions under this Act, but the definition seems to be fairly comprehensive, and would indicate what is meant by the declarant when he says that he will not be a member of a secret society. If the Minister can suggest any better and more comprehensive definition that would meet his purpose better I am quite sure that the Dáil would be glad to consider it. In the absence of any other definition, I submit this definition as one which meets the case. Presumably the Dáil thinks that there ought to be an imposition on a member of the D.M.P. that he should not be a member of a secret society, and presumably also the Dáil has some idea of what is meant by that term. But you may have one idea, and I may have another, and that variation may apply to the members of the force who may have a difference of view as to what is meant by the declaration they are taking. This amendment is an attempt to make clear what is meant. I therefore move it. Perhaps the Minister would rather I read it?
I have read it several times. When I read it first my feelings were that if it were passed and added to the declaration as it stands, it might be a useful test of the wind of the new recruit if he were made to recite it without drawing breath. I think that it is unnecessary and unwise to attempt to set out in the declaration a definition of what is a secret society. First of all, I think and hope that the average member of the D.M.P. would have intelligence enough to know whether and when he was a member of a secret society. If he had not I would consider him unsuitable for the force.
Would the Minister think that the Executive Council would come under the definition?
No. If we, for a moment, and only for a moment, take the Deputy's amendment seriously, he seems to consider that the essential thing is that one member of a society shall know who the other members are, but that it is not at all necessary that the people at large who are, after all, the employers of the members of this force, should know who any of them are. There are some societies, I believe, or assume, of which every member knows every other member, but they are none the less secret societies, in the sense that their existence, their membership, their objects and proceedings are not known to the general public, and there are solemn undertakings of secrecy and confidence with regard to their proceedings. Therefore, I am not inclined to agree with this amendment, although the Deputy points out it is taken from an Act of 1823. I am not inclined to agree that this definition, if we were to take it seriously, and consider it is an addition to the declaration of the Bill, is exhaustive or meets the case. We have travelled a long way since 1823. We may be supposed to be wiser than the legislators of that time, but I think the important factor is not so much that one member of the society should know the other members, but that the public should know them all and should know what their objects are. Any society which has a condition of absolute confidence and secrecy with regard to its doings and programme would fulfil my conception, at any rate, of a secret society. I consider it unwise to add this attempt at a definition to the declaration. As I say, the ordinary recruit, or ordinary member of the force, taking this declaration will know perfectly well what he is in honour and duty precluded from by reason of that fact. I would have a very poor opinion of the intelligence of a member who would need the assistance of this or any other attempt at definition to inform him when he strayed into a secret society. I am satisfied with the declaration as it stands, both as to the necessity for it and as to the sufficiency of it. I think it will meet the case. I think that seven or eight or nine men out of ten taking that declaration will keep it, or if a man has a conscientious objection to taking it, he will not take it. It is, at least, some kind of check and some kind of guarantee—the only one you can devise—that members of the disciplined organisations of the State will not go behind the backs of the people and intrigue and conspire, in one way or other, in a manner foreign to, if not in conflict with, their duty.
I suggest that the Minister's attempt at explanation of what is meant and what will be understood by nine men out of ten is sufficient justification for an attempt at a definition. I ask if the Minister's definition is going to be the definition, let it be understood. The point is that this is an attempt to guard against something. The public does not know—not even the officials in the Department of Justice—the members of a dozen innocent, ordinary law-abiding societies that one might name at the moment. Take the Foresters' organisation or any of the co-operative societies. Except they are registered— and even notwithstanding registration —the public has no right to get hold of the names of the members. That particular test that the Minister applies is not covered. Then, as to this question of confidence, any group of men may enter into confidential relations about some very innocent matter—not necessarily a combination against the State or against discipline or anything else like that. Is that to be barred? The Minister's own explanation of his position justifies the necessity for either a definition or an abandonment of this whole idea. Let us face the issue without any hesitation. What is intended, no doubt, is to prevent members being inveigled, after joining the society, into an organisation which is disruptive. If there is any propaganda with the object of inducing such persons to join a society, do you think that that propaganda is going to be diminished or subdued or guarded against by that sort of declaration? If a declaration is to be of any use at all, it will have to be a declaration with a definition. I suggest that, though this proposed definition does not use the word "secrecy" or "oath" or anything of the kind, it meets the case better than any other definition that has yet been submitted to the Dáil.