I move the Second Reading of the Bill. The object of the Bill as set out in the long Title is:—
An Act to make provision for securing that future members of the legal profession shall possess a competent knowledge of the Irish language.
The Bill is not intended to apply to those who are at present law students or who are over 16 years of age. It is introduced really to carry out the national policy initiated in the first Dáil and carried on by succeeding Dála. It is based to some extent on the report of the Gaeltacht Commission and the White Paper issued by the Government in connection with that Commission. Article 4 of the Constitution says:—
The national language of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) is the Irish language but the English language shall be equally recognised as the official language.
The position with regard to the Courts of Justice seems to be the reverse of that—that English is the language used, whereas Irish is practically not tolerated.
The chief reason for the introduction of the Bill is that the legal profession as a whole has not shown very much inclination to give ordinary justice to the status of the Irish language in the courts. Paragraph 80 of the Gaeltacht Commission Report recommended that the Executive Council should approach the governing bodies of the legal, medical, engineering and other professions with a view to securing that after a reasonable period citizens of the Saorstát would not be admitted to membership of those professions in the Saorstát without an adequate knowledge of Irish. The medical and engineering professions are in a different category to the legal profession, as solicitors and barristers practising in the courts enjoy certain privileges by being allowed to practice in these courts, so that they are practically officers of the courts. I consider that it is the duty of this House to see that the officers of these courts will fall in with the national policy of the country and secure that in the shortest period possible the Irish language will occupy its proper position.
It is probable that many Deputies, as well as many people outside, do not realise what the position is with regard to the Irish-speaking districts; the number of people in these districts who speak Irish only, and the peculiar position they are in because they cannot obtain the services of solicitors and counsel who will be able to understand them when giving instructions. I quote from the Gaeltacht Commission Report, and shall just give one item of the numbers of people in each country who are Irish speaking. In Donegal there are 52,647; County Mayo, 54,939; Galway, 75,574; Clare, 18,824; Kerry, 43,472; Cork, 39,271; Waterford, 14,522, and some thousands in the counties of Sligo, Roscommon, Limerick, Tipperary and Dublin, and throughout the rest of the country. I do not know whether any ordinary Deputy can realise what it means for people in those areas who have not a knowledge of English when they cannot get either solicitor or counsel able to understand them. I know that District Justices with a knowledge of Irish, as far as they could be obtained, having regard to the limitations of the legal profession with regard to Irish, have been appointed in those areas and, therefore, people there have the advantage that those justices are able to understand them in the Irish language. But owing to the fact that no arrangement has been made by the legal profession to secure that the Irish language should be one of the subjects for examination, even as an optional subject, so far as solicitors are concerned, there is no chance of their being ever able to secure the services to which they are entitled. I think it should be provided, by statute if necessary, that those people should have legal assistance in cases that they bring before the law courts. That necessity will be all the better realised if we take the illustration of an English-speaking district, where the people did not know any Irish, and consider what would happen if no solicitor could be engaged except an Irish-speaking solicitor in that English-speaking district who would conduct the case on behalf of people in a language which they did not understand. It is easy to see how unsatisfactory that would be.
Considering the thousands of people on the Western seaboard who speak Irish only, I think it is the duty of this Assembly to see that those people, who pay their quota of taxation, should be given the same facilities as are provided by the State for people in other parts of the country. One would imagine that they should receive even greater consideration than the people in the English-speaking districts, from the view point of seeing that they get ordinary justice. From the point of view of national policy, it is essential that the legal profession should be brought into line with every other institution in the State.
Now, with regard to this Bill, Section 1 merely deals with definition. "The expression ‘the Chief Justice' means the Chief Justice of Saorstát Eireann, and the expression ‘the Incorporated Law Society' means the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland acting under their present or any future charters." I am not a legal man and do not understand very much about Law. I am not concerned with the technical and legal sides of this question and I am not concerned with the legal profession as such, from the technical or legal point of view. I am only concerned to see that people get the service to which they are entitled and that the legal profession as a whole shall render that service. But it is well that we who have to deal with this subject in this House should first have an idea of what the Incorporated Law Society is. They have certain powers under the Solicitors (Ireland) Act, 1898, and as Section 8 of that Act is referred to later on in the Bill. I think it well to read that section for the benefit of members who have not heard it before:—
"The Incorporated Law Society are hereby authorised and required to hold at least three times in the year"—I may mention that that phrase "three times in the year" has been amended by an Act of 1923 to "twice in the year"—"commencing with the 1st day of January, 1899, and in every succeeding year a preliminary examination, an intermediate examination and a final examination; and the Society shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, have the entire management and control of all such examinations and shall have power to make regulations with respect to all or any of the following matters (that is to say), (a) With respect to admission to apprenticeship, the attendance of apprentices at lectures, and other matters connected therewith; and (b) with respect to the subjects for, and the mode of conducting the examination of candidates; and (c) with respect to the times and places of examination, and the notices of examinations."
Therefore, it will be seen that the Incorporated Law Society has full control of the solicitors profession and, therefore, it is that a particular section of this Bill deals with that body.
Section 2 provides: "This Act shall not apply to any person who is over the age of sixteen years on the first day of January, 1928." I know that some Deputies will not be satisfied with that.
I hope that Deputies will consider that it should be made applicable to those over the age of sixteen. After all, any person living in this country for a number of years, unless he was living in the clouds, could clearly understand the tendency of the country was to a greater Irishising as a whole. That was really the national policy. That being so, for some time back any person going in for a particular line of business or profession could well understand that the Irish language was an essential subject. As a matter of fact, the educational facilities that have been provided by the State for the people justify that. At the same time it might possibly be that there would be a hardship on some people. I know that there are Deputies who consider that the terms of that section are too drastic and that the age should be made even lower. However, it is based really on the Commission's report, and I am sure that that report has received every consideration from the Government. The Government issued a White Paper, and I would like to quote a paragraph from it which says: "In view of the fact that the use of Irish in the courts is handicapped because few solicitors or barristers are capable of doing their work in Irish, the Government is of opinion that no person who is under sixteen years of age at the date of the issue of this paper should hereafter be admitted as a solicitor or barrister without a competent knowledge of Irish." Consequently, we put in the age of sixteen years as being in our opinion most suitable and the age that would really satisfy most of the people concerned.
Section 3 says:
No person shall be admitted to the degree of barrister-at-law unless before he is so admitted he satisfies the Chief Justice, by such evidence as the Chief Justice shall prescribe, that he possesses a competent knowledge of the Irish language.
I must say I do not understand quite clearly what the position of barristers is and how they are admitted to the Bar. If any Deputies require knowledge on that subject I am sure there are members of the House who will be able to enlighten them. I am not concerned with that particular item; my concern is to see that the business of the courts will fall into line with the national policy and that those engaged in the courts will get a knowledge of the Irish language. I understand the Benchers of King's Inns—I do not exactly know the term, and perhaps it is the Honourable Society at the King's Inns—consist of forty-six members, including Judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court and certain leading members of the Bar. So far as I understand, that body has made Irish an optional subject for examinations. Some members of it appear to realise that there is such a thing as the Irish language. There may be some criticism of the wording of Section 3, but that can be dealt with at a later stage. If we get this Bill through it will be a step in the right direction. I think we will succeed as regards the
Benchers of King's Inns in having a satisfactory test so far as the Irish language is concerned.
Section 4 says:
(1) The subjects prescribed by regulations made by the Incorporated Law Society under Section 8 of the Solicitors (Ireland) Act, 1898, as amended by the Solicitors (Ireland) Act, 1898 (Amendment) Act, 1923 (No. 10 of 1923), for every examination held by them under the said Section 8 as so amended shall include the Irish language as a compulsory subject, and the Incorporated Law Society may by such regulations prescribe the mode of conducting every such examination in the subject of the Irish language.
(2) Every person who becomes a candidate at any examination held by the Incorporated Law Society under Section 8 of the Solicitors (Ireland) Act. 1898, as amended as aforesaid shall be required to pass in the subject of the Irish language as prescribed by regulations made by the said society under the said Section 8 as so amended and as extended by this section and in the manner so prescribed, and no such person shall, unless he so passes in such subject, be qualified to receive the certificate appropriate to such examination given by the said society to candidates who have been successful thereat.
The reason it is necessary to introduce this Bill at all is because of the fact that no effort was made to bring in the Irish language. I understand representations have been made to the Incorporated Law Society with a view to getting them to make Irish a subject in their examinations. Nothing so far has been done, and I think it is now time that arrangements should be made in order to secure that all solicitors in future will understand Irish. If this Bill were passed five years ago we would be in a different position with regard to the courts to-day. We hope in four or five years we will be in a better position than now as a result of the operations of the Bill.