The representative character of the Incorporated Law Society meeting has been questioned from time to time during this debate. I think I can set all doubts at rest about the representative character of that meeting by reading for you the following extract:—"The meeting had been summoned by the Council to consider the Legal Practitioners Bill, and 118 members present included representatives of the Sessional Bar Associations throughout the Free State deputed to attend and represent their associations." It has not been questioned that there was not a full representation of those Bar Associations. Lest there may be any other point raised on the matter, I will relieve the mind of any Deputy, who is in need of knowing, that a Bar Association is not coterminous with a county. Somebody may get up here and say, "So many Bar Associations were present for twenty-six counties."
The question arises again, is there a necessity for this Bill? I say there is no necessity for it. I believe it will cause young lawyers a lot of trouble and cause them to spend a lot of their time learning a very difficult language in which they will get practically nothing to do afterwards. There is only the provision made that the lawyers should speak Irish. There is no provision in the Bill, or in any other Bill, that the judge and jury should know anything about Irish. Where a jury is empanelled to try a case I would like to know what will become of the judge and jury while the legal advocates are disputing in Irish? Are they to leave the courts and enjoy themselves any way they like? Deputy Anthony here has sometimes spoken with great courage. He has described many things as shams and hypocrisies. I really believe that we have surpassed ourselves in this Bill.
The Bill is apparently brought in as a fillip in the restoration of the Irish language. Why would we not be more general in the application of this principle of compulsion? On the Second Reading I said that if the Bill in its application were more general I would be milder when speaking on it. I could at least respect the Bill and I could almost support it. But it singles out one section of the community for penal treatment. I am ready to introduce a Bill into this House to make Irish compulsory on every wage-earner. I will have that Bill apply to the plumber, the painter, the agricultural labourer, the farmer, and everybody else. I would not have a very high standard. But my introduction of that Bill will be contingent on my receiving from Deputies an intimation of their readiness to support that Bill. Candidly, I do not expect to get many names. If Deputies were consistent and if they were really concerned about the growth of the Irish language, they would support me in that Bill. There is one very good reason why they will not give me their names in support of such a Bill. They would know the electoral consequences. They would know that if they imposed Irish on the working people of this country they would never again come back to this Dáil.
Irish is a difficult language to learn. We have that on the authority of Deputy Hugo Flinn. I cannot imagine Deputy Hugo Flinn being a success at Irish. He bartered his sweet Cork accent for a gorgeous Saxon one. It is an accent that makes his oratory very attractive, I admit. But still he is not qualified to speak Irish. Deputy Hugo Flinn told us that a man of his age finds it hard to learn Irish. Irish has been imposed on men of as advanced years as Deputy Hugo Flinn. I will refer to that later on. I do not deny the right that Ireland should have a language of its own. We are told the Babel of tongues was the curse of God for the sins of early man. I suppose if Ireland wants to have a distinctive curse of its own there is no reason to object to it.
When it comes to the study of the Irish language interfering with the legal profession in the acquisition of a proper knowledge of law it is quite another thing. The Incorporated Law Society and the King's Inns exist for teaching people the profession of law. When you enter such places your preliminary education is supposed to be completed, and you enter such places to learn the profession of law, just the same as you would enter a plumber's or a painter's establishment to become a skilled tradesman. If, as is provided in this Bill, you make those lawyers learn a very intensive course of Irish it will certainly interfere with them in their acquisition of legal knowledge. Nothing less than a very intensive course of Irish would be any good for a lawyer; that is, if we really mean that he is to plead the cases that will come his way in Irish. I fear, however, that even no matter to what extent he acquires the language, after a year or so he will require constant refreshers to bring his memory up to date so that he could plead with any advantage for his client. I fear that in the end his knowledge of Irish will become so musty that I would not like to see it put at the disposal of the greatest old roué of a tomcat that every stole milk or meat from a pantry.
The legal profession has been insinuating that this Bill is meant more to penalise them than to promulgate the study of Irish. To a great extent I am inclined to agree with them. They, however, make a mistake when they say they are specially singled out. Whilst I agree fully with the impairment it will be to their profession, I would remind them that the medical profession has been infinitely more drastically treated. If you want to form any conception of the impairment that the intensive study of Irish will do to the legal profession, you have only to recall what it has done to the medical profession. At the moment there are rules and regulations made in connection with the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act. I have no doubt they apply to lawyers, but at any rate they apply to medical men of all ages. These regulations give, in the case of some medical appointments, 100 per cent. preference. In other cases they give 25 per cent. preference. In 1,000 marks a man with a competent or incompetent knowledge of Irish—I am not concerned to say which—will start with a lead of 250 marks. That in itself shows you that the giving of so many marks to a man who knows Irish is detrimental to the interests of the people to whose districts he is appointed. Of course, the appointments that Irish is made a condition of—I mean medical appointments— are entirely concerned with officers for the poor. Will any Deputy here, when he requires a medical man for his own family, be satisfied, for the same money, to get a man who is only three-quarters as good as the man who does not know Irish? All that is what is aimed at in this Bill. I see that Deputies find it hard to believe this, but I have a letter here that will give every detail.
Now, I am not anti-Irish, though I have been treated to every variety of abuse and have been called a West-Briton and a traitor. I learned Irish voluntarily 35 years ago. It was not then necessary for people to be induced to learn it by bribes of appointment. My children are learning Irish to-day. Still, of course, I will be called a West-Briton and a traitor, perhaps. However, such abuse sits lightly upon me. I believe that all this intensive scheme of Irish for lawyers and professional men is simply humbug. It is not fair, and it should be resented by them. I will challenge this House to bring in a Bill making a knowledge of Irish mandatory on every wagecarner. When you do that I will say you are sincere. By simply singling out a profession which will only add seven or eight more members annually to those having a knowledge of Irish in the whole population, I do not think you are going to achieve very much for the language.
Again, I think language should not be made a test of patriotism. In support of that contention I will quote an extract taken from an article written by Arthur Griffith in the first number of the "United Irishman," March 10th, 1899. This is what Arthur Griffith said: "The resuscitation of our national language is a work in which everyone of us should help and at the same time we would regret any insistence on a knowledge of Gaelic as a test of patriotism." I subscribe fully to the principle enunciated by the late Arthur Griffith. I believe every Deputy here subscribes to it; but when you begin to pick and choose simply all the time with your eyes on the electorate, and when you fear to have mandatory or compulsory Irish for the multitude because you know they have the power to express their opinions very forcibly, and you also know they will do it if you impose Irish on them, there you lose your sincerity. I do not think I need say any more. I do not expect to make one convert, but I have satisfaction in showing that this House is not sincere. If it were, it would make Irish compulsory and mandatory for every working man in Ireland. You would tell every working man, just as you would tell the lawyer and the doctor, that he shall not eat the bread of physical life unless he has a competent knowledge of Irish.