Private Deputies' Business. - Legal Practitioners (Qualification) Bill, 1928—Fifth Stage.

I move: "That the Legal Practitioners (Qualification) Bill, 1928" do now pass. In doing so, I wish to make one or two remarks. When this Bill was introduced it was stated that I was guilty of discourtesy in not consulting with the legal profession. I referred to that matter on the Second Reading of the Bill, but I would like to refer to it again. I stated then that I submitted I had no right to go to the legal profession in connection with this matter until the question had been decided by the House. If I went as an ordinary Deputy I would have had no locus standi, and consequently I was awaiting the Second Reading of the Bill. During the course of the Second Reading I had a discussion with the then President of the Incorporated Law Society and with the Secretary. Then, after the Bill had gone through the Committee Stage, I wrote a letter to the new President of the Incorporated Law Society, sending a copy of the Bill and explaining what changes had been made in it in Committee Stage. In that letter I also stated:

Whilst I believe that the promoters have gone as far as could have been reasonably expected to meet the wishes of all concerned, yet, if you desire to make any representations on the subject matter of the Bill I would be glad to make arrangements for a discussion between representatives of your body and some of the promoters of the measure with a view to securing full co-operation in putting the terms of the Bill into effect when it becomes law.

Subsequently I had an interview with the President of the Incorporated Law Society, and I understand that he brought the matter before the Council of the Society. Evidently the Council of the Society decided that the subject was of great importance, and they called a general meeting of that body. The decision arrived at was read on the last occasion by Deputy Hennessy, when he read the resolution which was passed at that meeting. Since then I understand that every member of the House has been provided with a copy of a statement by the Society.

I should like to refer to the subject matter of that circular. It states that the Incorporated Law Society considered the question of supreme importance. I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Bill was introduced originally on 12th October, and that nothing definite was done by the Incorporated Law Society in connection with it until 8th February, four months afterwards, when a meeting was called by the Society. The circular states that meeting of the Society was representative of the profession in all parts of the Free State. I should like to say that we are not in a position to check that statement. So far as I am aware the names of those present at the meeting were not published. Therefore, one is not able to say whether the attendance was as representative as it is stated to have been. Notwithstanding that, we get a good deal of useful information from the meeting and from the circular. We are told that the total number of practising solicitors in the Saorstát is 977, and that of that number those who are members of the Incorporated Law Society total 646. The circular does not state the number that attended this special meeting. Evidently that information was left out so as to convey the idea that it was a very representative meeting. We are fortunate in the fact, however, that Deputy Dr. Hennessy let the cat out of the bag when he told us the last day that the total number present at the meeting was 118. That means that of the members of the Incorporated Law Society 528 did not attend, as well, of course, as the 331 solicitors who are not members of the Society. Therefore, the number of those who had nothing to do with the meeting and who, we may assume, approve the terms of this Bill, or in any case were not sufficiently opposed to it to take any definite action, amounts to 859.

To spare the Deputy belabouring this matter, might I state for his information that the meeting he refers to was a delegate meeting, and that there was no question of full representation? When he realises that it was a delegate meeting he will understand how it was that there were only 118 present.

It is stated here, on the face of the circular sent to every member of the Dáil, that the Council of the Incorporated Law Society summoned a special general meeting of the Society. I take that at its face value to mean that every member of the society was invited to attend. In any case, so far as we know, the total number of members representing the legal profession who are definitely opposed to this Bill is 110, because Deputy Dr. Hennessy again told us that eight of those present at the meeting were in favour, or almost in favour, of the Bill. Therefore, the statement that this Bill is not wanted by the profession is not proved by anything that happened at that meeting. It is further stated in the circular that this Bill is not wanted by the public. I submit that every political organisation that has existed in this country during the past 30 years, and as long as I can remember, had the cultivation and preservation of the Irish language as a plank in its platform. Every political organisation of any importance put its candidates forward for public representation on the understanding that they were to do what they could to preserve the Irish language, and this Bill is intended to do that. I do not propose to go into the details of this circular, because the fact is, as I have already said, that I do not think it deserves the importance which the Incorporated Law Society, or the Council of the Society, would wish us to attach to it.

I do not wish to detain the House very long, except to say that it was stated on one occasion here that members of this House were allowed to go scot free, while we are endeavouring to compel future members of the legal profession to become competent in their knowledge of Irish. It was said, when that statement was made, that there was no analogy. Yet, that statement has been repeated in the Press as if there was an analogy. I submit that there is no analogy. The analogy would be there if the proposal was made that no person, 15 years of age or under on the 1st October next, would be eligible to become a member of this House without possessing a competent knowledge of Irish. If such a Bill as that were introduced, I do not think that it would be considered very drastic, because even Deputy Cooper believes that in 15 or 20 years' time the Irish language will be universally spoken in this country. I hope it will, and that this Bill will help towards that end. This Bill, which I now submit to the House, could be much more drastic than it is. It could be easily carried through this House in a more drastic form, but the promoters of it did not desire to be drastic in any way. Their desire was to be as moderate as possible. I still hope that the Incorporated Law Society, and the members of the legal profession, will eventually take up this Bill when it becomes an Act and work it, as it is intended to be worked, with a view to securing that the national language of the country will receive the status to which it is entitled under the Constitution in the courts of the country.

I am afraid that I must disabuse Deputy Conlon's mind of one happy hope that seems to have entered into it. I never said that, in 20 or 30 years' time, Irish would be universally spoken in this country. I am quite sure that it will not, because Deputy Dr. Hennessy is still a young man. But I did say that a barrister who, in 20 years' time, went into our courts to argue a case without a knowledge of Irish would be at a disadvantage. That is mainly due to the fact that any probable Government that we will have in this country is going to fill vacancies on the Bench, whether in the High Courts, the Circuit Courts or the District Courts, by Irish-speaking judges and justices. Therefore, if a barrister was completely ignorant of Irish he would be at a disadvantage, because his opponent might argue a case in that language. But I certainly never went as far as Deputy Conlon has suggested. Deputy Conlon, as we know him, is a very kind and simple man, but he is occasionally apt to draw a false premise from an innocent remark. He has certainly drawn a false premise from the meeting of the Incorporated Law Society when he argued that there were 859 solicitors in this country who are in favour of this Bill. The premise that I should draw from the fact of that meeting of the Incorporated Law Society—I do not know whether it was a full meeting or a delegate meeting—is, that only eight solicitors in the whole of the Saorstát who are members of the Incorporated Law Society thought it worth while to come up and vote in favour of the Bill. That is an established fact.

They knew they were not needed.

I will take no more notice of interruptions in my arguments against this Bill. I know the Bill is certain to obtain a majority in the Dáil, but I am comforted that though it will do so it would not be possible to obtain that majority if the country as a whole were appealed to, and it would certainly not obtain that majority from the profession directly concerned. It will obtain a majority in the Dáil. What sort of a majority? A majority two-thirds of whom have not got and do not intend to acquire a competent knowledge of the Irish tongue as defined in this Bill. I respect the man or woman who has made a sacrifice in order to acquire a knowledge of the Irish language, but the whole Dáil knows that of those who will vote for the Bill two-thirds will not be rendering lip service, for their lips cannot pronounce the Irish language. They will be rendering service to an ideal in which all of them do not believe. The one-third who believe in it and have, with difficulty, learned Irish, I respect. I do not wish to say anything to hurt their feelings, but I do feel a certain lack of respect for those who know no Irish and who do not intend to learn any Irish but who are nevertheless trying to force it down the throats of a great and important profession. Deputy Conlon has made a few points about lack of opposition to this Bill. Where is the enthusiasm for it? When one votes in this House for a Bill or speaks on a contentious matter one frequently receives letters from constituents and others reproaching one for one's actions. I have not received any reproach, and I do not believe any of the Deputies who voted against the Second Reading of this Bill have received any letter of reproach.

A week or so ago Deputy Conlon spoke at a meeting of the Gaelic League. Was he received with enthusiasm as a Columbus who had discovered a new Gaeltacht in the unlikely regions of the King's Inns? There was no enthusiasm. There is no enthusiasm for this Bill, but there is opposition. There is indifference where the public is concerned, and there is no real enthusiasm for it even in the circles most keenly advocating the use of the Irish language. Deputy Conlon referred to the memo. of the Incorporated Law Society. I do not propose to read that document for two reasons. One is probably a good one, and that is, that you, sir, would rule the reading of the memo. as out of order, and the other reason is that Deputy Dr. Hennessy will certainly read it, but I want to mention one point in it, because I want to emphasise that I do not agree with that one particular statement, that is statement D., that the Bill sets an impossibly high standard of Irish. I am all for having done with humbug. If there is to be an examination in Irish, let it be a real and genuine examination and not an examination that can be crammed up for in three months and forgotten in three weeks. I seem to remember the echoes of the controversies of years ago about the Irish matriculation standard in the University. I have known a good many graduates of that University— some of them sit in places of power and of authority—and though they may have possessed a knowledge of Irish that enabled them to matriculate or to obtain their degrees they are not in the habit of using such a degree of oral and written Irish as to enable them to conduct their ordinary business. If there is to be compulsory Irish let that mean a real and thorough knowledge of the Irish language and not eyewash. I do not agree with the Incorporated Law Society in complaining that the standard of Irish set is too high. If there is to be a standard let it be a high one, and not a cram undergone for the occasion and forgotten as soon as the examination is over.

I would ask the Dáil for a few moments to consider the consequences of this Bill. What is to be gained by it? Deputy Conlon spoke of the hardship imposed on litigants in the Gaeltacht who spoke Irish only —I am referring to his arguments on the Second Reading—who cannot find solicitors or barristers who understand it. Frankly, I do not believe it. There are solicitors and barristers fully qualified in Irish, and any litigant who wants to find them has only to look for them, and there are District Justices before whom cases can be brought in Irish, and before whom cases are at present heard in Irish. I do not believe that this exceedingly bitter cry comes from the Gaeltacht. It comes from Roscommon, which is, I think, one of the partly Irish-speaking districts defined by the Gaeltacht Commission. What is another possible consequence? It may be quite possible that as a result of this Bill there will be, in the near future, a shortage of barristers and solicitors.

A Deputy

That is a good thing.

Whether that is a good thing or not, I will leave to those more competent to speak on the point than myself. I look forward to the time when a certain firm of solicitors will go whole-hog for Irish instead of inserting merely one word in their memos describing themselves as "Beag, O hUadhaigh agus Flaitheamhail." I do not want to treat this as a frivolous matter, because there is a serious aspect to it. One of the consequences is that it may result in a lower standard of legal education. If you add Irish on to the subjects a barrister or a solicitor has to acquire a knowledge of in a comparatively brief training course it may mean you will get barristers and solicitors who will know a great deal more Irish but very much less law. Whether that is a desirable thing from the professional point of view is not only for the Dáil but for public opinion to say. I have, on previous stages of this Bill, indicated that it is undesirable to interfere by legislation with the courses for professional training. That argument will be put up by others, I have no doubt, and I do not want to emphasise it now. In this Bill it is laid down that the one criterion of the knowledge of Irish for admission as a solicitor to the solicitor profession is the Chief Justice. An applicant for admission must satisfy the Chief Justice that he has a competent knowledge of Irish. That will work very well as long as the Chief Justice has a good knowledge of Irish. How would it work if the Chief Justice had no knowledge of Irish? He would have to take the word of some person or persons not included in the Bill and act on their opinion, not on his own responsibility. That, however, is not the fear paramount in my mind. The fear in my mind is that the consequences of the Bill will be that when the Chief Justice comes to be appointed, we shall not look for a man who will be the most upright judge or with the best knowledge of law but shall look for a man qualified to conduct an examination in Irish, and we shall allow these other qualifications of greater importance to the proper holding of his great office to go by the Board, and merely put in a man who can carry out the provisions of this Bill and see that barristers and solicitors have a competent knowledge of the Irish language.

This legislation is legislation in a hurry. What is the urgency? Already there has been progress on the part of both Bench and Bar and the solicitor profession in acquiring a knowledge of Irish. Nobody has been at a loss, I believe, for lack of knowledge of Irish in an advocate. I saw a letter in the paper this morning from an anonymous District Justice. I think, perhaps, it would be well if people holding judicial office did not rush into the Press to air their opinions on current legislation. In that letter he indicated that half an hour's delay had occasionally been incurred, or even an hour's delay, because of the fact that one of the parties in the case, not in the Gaeltacht, but in a normal English-speaking district, insisted on conducting the case in Irish. An hour's delay or half an hour's delay is not a great justification for upsetting recruitment to a great profession.

The State is perfectly justified in encouraging the Irish language and seeing that every person appointed to a judicial position in the Gaeltacht should have a good knowledge of Irish and, if the demand arises elsewhere, judges should be appointed to meet the need. I have no doubt that with the development of the Irish language in the schools that need will grow, and in twenty years' time a man who comes into court with a barrister or a solicitor who knows no Irish will come in, so to speak, with one hand tied behind his back. Surely that is enough. Is it necessary to prescribe to every young man who intends to take up the solicitor's business that, without Irish, he cannot get probate of a will or try to settle a bankruptcy case— and, of course, no knowledge of Irish will be needed there—and he cannot take on his father's business, let us say, and do these things which do not involve appearance in court at all? We are told that a member of the legal profession will do injustice to his client unless he has a competent knowledge of Irish such as will be prescribed by the Chief Justice. I do not believe it is necessary. I believe the development of time alone will achieve Deputy Conlon's desire, if he were not in such a hurry to see it fulfilled.

There is a further point on which I wish to lay stress. One of the worst evils that has happened to this country was not Parliamentary partition but voluntary partition—the voluntary partition of the legal profession in the Six Counties from the legal profession here. By passing this Bill you are perpetuating that partition, whereas, without legislation, the Bar of Ireland and the solicitor profession in the two States would have come together. By passing this Bill you are putting up a barrier which will inevitably be difficult to surmount and which will perpetuate the partition of these two professions. The Bill is, to my mind, useless because its object could be achieved otherwise. It is unnecessary because the march of time would be in favour of its fulfilment. It is calculated to produce serious and dangerous consequences by its effect on public opinion, not only in this State but outside it.

It is now twenty-four minutes after ten, and I rise to suggest that possibly we might, with one speech from the proposer of this motion and a very able and comprehensive speech from the opposer of the motion, terminate the discussion rather than talk it out indefinitely. If that could be agreed to, and if we could divide at 10.30, I would be very glad to give way now.

That course would not be satisfactory.

You desire to obstruct the measure, then?

The necessary arguments could not be put forward in the short space of time the Deputy suggests.

Very well, then, Deputy Cooper wants to abolish humbug. Deputy Cooper has full power to abolish humbug in this matter. It will be announced in the daily papers to-morrow "The Suicide of Deputy Cooper." That will get rid of it at once. The last time we were here it was complained that grave discourtesy had been shown to this great profession. They had not even been consulted about this thing. That was the gravamen of the complaint. Some of the great profession met the other day, and it was suggested as an amendment the offering of absolutely uncompromising and unhesitating opposition to this action, that they start a protest, that they had not been consulted, but by 110 to 8 votes they showed that they did not want to be consulted about it, and that they were not having anything to do with it, with or without consultation. That is the spirit of the profession, which we have to meet in this matter. That is the profession which, in that spirit, this House will meet.

The division of 110 to 15 which took place in this House was, in my opinion, the most significant division and the most valuable division which has ever taken place here. It is a division which I hope will be repeated. I hope again and again and again that men of every Party in this House who do not want humbug, who do want the truth brought out and who do want the bunny rabbits shown in their proper colours, will break down the divisions of Party and go together into the Division Lobby to tell the 15 and all that they stand for that, when they oppose this Bill, clearly and openly they stand against a united Irish national people and that they will be smashed in their effort as they have been already smashed in the division lobby on the Second Reading and as they will be smashed again on this occasion. I am glad I was in this House when 110 men of all Parties came together to make perfectly clear the division—Irish upon the one side and anti-Irish upon the other. This glorious profession ! This profession of logomachists, scientists of words! This is what they tell us: "The whole system of law is built up on the judicial interpretation of words and phrases occurring in statutes and legal documents and, as a result, common every-day words when used in legal documents acquire a strictly technical meaning." I went to the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce in Cork who is teaching economics in Irish. I thought that was a difficult enough test. I asked him what was his experience of teaching economics in Irish. He said "Very much better and very much easier."

I asked him why, and he said: "Because every word we use in economics has become divorced entirely from both its original root and its common meaning." He added: "The very first thing we have to teach a student in economics is that the terms we use do not mean what he thinks they mean." If the people who are to learn law were to be taught the meaning of the words they use, a great deal of this complicated legal business might come to an end and we might see what sort of fooling there was behind this game of a great profession which is going to be broken down. Of course, there are to be no recruits to the law in the future if they are asked to learn the language of their own country. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.