I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. In deciding to bring in this Bill, we were influenced by the fact that we believed such a measure ought not to be on the Statute Book at all, because every moment it is on it is a source of public danger. We believe also that it is unnecessary, because all the powers that ought to be required for maintaining peace and dealing with criminals are already provided for. We think it is unjust because it takes away the liberty of the individual, the private citizen, and we think it is unconstitutional, because we hold that the whole way in which the question of its being at variance with the Constitution is dealt with is improper and would probably be held in courts of law to be illegal.
It is difficult to decide in what particular order one should deal with the various subjects that occur to one when discussing this particular Bill. Most of the Deputies have discussed in detail the Act which we wish to repeal, and it is hardly necessary to read the various parts of the Act itself in order to remind them of its provisions. Perhaps the best way to bring them back to realise in general what the nature of the Act is, is to recall some of the statements that were made when it was introduced and after it was passed. Let us take first of all how it was received by the public Press. The "Irish Independent" newspaper certainly cannot be regarded as an organ which was likely to favour the views of Republicans of any section, and here is what the "Independent" said about this Act:
"The Public Safety Act is a far-reaching measure which entrusts the Executive Council with immense powers, far in excess of any previously passed in or for this country. It abrogates important Articles of the Constitution, suspends the operation of the civil courts in certain cases, and imposes a whole series of penalties of exceptional severity."
If, on the other hand, we go across the water, and take such organs as the "Manchester Guardian," we find that the political correspondent of that paper, referring to the Bill on July 25th, said:
"All men with an interest in public affairs are already alarmed by the dangerous, provocative and unnecessary nature of those Safety Bill provisions. It is evident that a single execution for possession of arms would take Ireland at one plunge back into the abyss, and the mere threat is an unpardonable indiscretion."
The London "Times" legal correspondent, referring to the Bill, said:
Mr. Cosgrave has plumped for a good thumping Coercion Act, which would have brought a blush to the cheek of "Buckshot" Forster or "Bloody" Balfour.
These are opinions which were not expressed from these benches. The opinions of Labour are on record in the reports. The opinions of leaders of the other Parties who spoke are there on record, and it is not necessary for me to refer to them. I think that what I have said is sufficient to bring us back to a clear understanding of what is in this Public Safety Act.
Let us take how it deals with the Constitution, to start with. Our attitude to that Constitution is pretty well known. In so far as there is any part of it which can be regarded as having been freely accepted by the Irish people, or their representatives, we accept it. But that part of the Constitution which has been imposed upon this country has always been opposed by us. It is our hope to change all those Articles of it. But there are certain Articles in it which are admirable. They were Articles which were drawn up by Irishmen with their minds turned back to the history of coercion in this country —to deprivation of the rights of the individual in this country, to persecution of the individual in this country in the past, by legal artifices and by the abrogation practically of all common law, as it was understood. It was for that reason that you find in that Constitution Articles such as Article 6, which guarantees the inviolability of the person of the citizen. By the way, as I am looking for this particular Article. I might remark that we get this book which is supposed to contain the Constitution. In future if you want your Constitution you will have to put the Public Safety Act into it, unless we repeal it, because your Constitution is now the Public Safety Act. I shall not refer in detail to a number of Articles that are in this Constitution which are admirable, such as Article 2, which declares that all judicial power shall be exercised in accordance with the Constitution; Article 6, which declares the liberty of the person; Article 7, which declares the dwelling of each citizen inviolable; Article 9, guaranteeing freedom of expression and the right to form Associations; Article 43, depriving the Oireachtas of the power to make acts an infringement of the law which were not so at the date of commission; Article 64, declaring that the judicial power of the Free State shall be exercised in public courts by ordinary judges; Article 65, giving the High Court the right to question the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of the Constitution; and a number of other Articles of that kind which were obviously put into the Constitution by men who had clearly the background of Irish history in their minds, and wanted to safeguard the individual against unjust attacks by the Executive.
We have in this particular Act Section 3, which says:—
"Every provision of this Act which is in contravention of any provision of the Constitution shall to the extent of such contravention operate and have effect as an amendment for so long only as this Act continues in force of such provision of the Constitution."
What does that mean and where is the Constitution, if that is to be accepted as amending it? Is there anybody here going to tell us what the Constitution is now? If that is an amendment, will they tell us where the amendments are? Will they give us the Constitution as amended? Suppose some question, other than a question under this Public Safety Act comes up and we want to determine whether that matter is or is not in accordance with the Constitution, how are we to determine it? There is nobody who knows at the present time what the Constitution is according to this Act. Are you going to pass over your power of making amendments to the Courts of Law, and is it legal to do so? I think nobody knows where we stand with the Constitution as long as that Act is on the Statute Book. It does not give any information whatever as to what Articles are amended and what the amendments are, and nobody is in a position, I hold, to state what at present is the Constitution. This Act in fact supersedes the Constitution, if it is an Act at all, and is the fundamental law.
Then there is another question. It is supposed to amend it for a period of time. It is an extraordinary thing to amend the Constitution in that particular way—amendment for a certain period. The question is, can it be done at all? I say that this Act does away with the Constitution, does away with all the safeguards to liberty that are contained in it and is a public menace. I say that the powers that are given by that Act should not be given to any body of men. Men are not angels as we all know, and I do not think we ought to give to any group of men the powers contained in that Act. But when we think of the personnel of the Executive Council, to which such powers are given, when we remember the past history of members of that particular Executive Council, then those of us who know that history well, and know how they have abused the powers when they got them, and took powers that they did not get, know perfectly well how dangerous to the public safety it is to have an Act of this kind and powers of this kind at their disposal. Let us go back for a moment to May, 1922.