It is really with great regret that I ask the House to withdraw for a few moments from the consideration of the big problem with which the President has been dealing. I would, for my part, willingly try to accept his request and to follow him, so far as I could, in any schemes which he has to put before us for the relief of unemployment. I can assure him that I have no feelings against him in that respect. Such help and co-operation as he could get from me as an independent member in dealing with the question he might count on. I wish I could feel that I could follow him equally in what he said about the Oath, because I feel from the bottom of my heart that the first step he has taken, this removal of the Oath Bill, is the very worst way in which he could have proceeded to deal with what is the important question of unemployment.
He has stated that no one in this House has yet raised a voice in favour of the Oath. I rise to take up his challenge. I am here to speak for the Oath, and I want the House to bear with me if I say things that are unpopular and unpleasing to them. I am one of those who hold, in the first place, that there is nothing in the Oath which can offend the most nice feelings of any one as regards independence. I hold, secondly, that an Oath is necessary in this State particularly, and I hold, thirdly, that for those whom I have the honour to represent, and I refer to those who used to be called the Southern Unionists, the Oath is a pledge of the bargain that was made with them.
Perhaps the House would also forgive me if I, in the first place, deal with this matter, which I do regard as the minor matter of this Bill, from a personal point of view. May I say, in order to express what I believe many others feel, what the Oath has been to me, what it meant when I took it originally and what it has meant in the endeavours that I have made to act loyally in accordance with that Oath and as a loyal subject of the Irish Free State?
Prior to the Treaty I was no politician. I voted Unionist. I held Unionist views. I took no part in political activities, but with many I was sick of strife. I was sick of things that were done on both sides, things that I abhorred and abhor still. But the Treaty came and there was a chance in it that old things might pass, that we might wipe the slate and start fresh with every section of the community bound together on one platform to work out the salvation of this unhappy land. I, sir, took that chance. I swept away every feeling that I had, that the salvation of the country rested in the Union. That has gone. Sad to say I find that that is not accepted even after ten years. I do not mind it personally, but it cuts me to the heart to feel that even after ten years that feeling remains with so many.
I suppose I shall be still regarded when speaking here to-day as—what was the phrase used?—one of the British outposts. I never took that stand and still less do I take it to-day. I speak to this Dáil and I make no appeal to England. I speak to the Dáil as the representative Assembly of this country, as the representative Assembly which I claim that those who were Unionists have done their best loyally to make a success. But that Treaty involved to my mind—it was accepted at the time universally, or almost universally, I think—the taking of this Oath. It was because of that Oath and because of what it contained that I for one was able to accept the Treaty. I was able to come here and take the Oath with all that it meant to me and it meant a lot. I was able to come and say that I would swear allegiance to the Irish Free State, and in doing so I swept away all my previous views. I understood that I was wiping the slate; that I would forget and was forgetting everything that had happened.
I came here to meet men, and I met them on the level, whom previously I had regarded as doing things which my innermost conscience condemned. I wiped the slate. I have never referred to that since, and after this day I hope I never shall. But the Oath meant to me a very great deal in that respect. It meant, in the first place, that I swore allegiance to this State. Any feelings with regard to the Union that I had before were gone. But I do not think it meant more to me than it meant to many. They were a minority I grant, but what were our hopes? That as we, a minority, were sacrificing our views, so other minorities were willing to and did sacrifice their views; that we agreed on a common basis and to work on that common basis for the salvation of this country.
Why was I able to take that as a common basis? Because the second part of the Oath was there and what do I understand by that second part? I can see no trace in it of subservience, no trace of foreign domination. All that I can see in it is that we as citizens of the Irish Free State accepted by our acceptance of the Treaty a voluntary position in an association called the British Commonwealth of Nations; that we accepted it on equal terms, and that we swore and swear in that Oath allegiance not to the king of a foreign country, not to some foreigner in any sense of power or otherwise, but to the Crown, as the symbol of unity under which these nations in that Commonwealth could stand together.
So much has been said about this Oath, so much has been misunderstood about it that I fear I am speaking very uselessly about it, and that in its present form the Oath will always be regarded by many as a bar. I agree with what the President said—I accept it—that the Oath in its present form is a bar to unity in this country. I accept that, and I accept it in a wider sense than that in which I believe he intended it. It is a bar because of the misunderstandings which have adhered to it.
It is a bar to many of the kind, though, I say, at the same time, they have stated that that bar is of very little consequence to them, and that, even if that bar is removed, it will make no difference to their attitude, until other steps have been taken. They say that they will not co-operate with others, until those other steps have been taken; that they will not cease the threat of violence, to gain, by any means in their power, the things which they regard as their ideal, but, of a sort, the President was right—the Oath in its present form remains to them as a bar. But take it away, it still, by its very absence, is, and will be, a bar to the unity of this country. It is a country we want, is it not, and not twenty-six counties? The hope of having the country united was our hope in accepting the Treaty, in accepting the Oath. Pass this Bill, and, as has been so ably urged by many, you put the final seal on partition.
The Minister for Finance showed a complete misunderstanding of the feeling in the Northern Counties about this matter. Those who took the opposite view know the North better, as I know it better. You can take no better steps to isolate, completely, the Six Counties, with their big majority, from the Twenty-six Counties than to pass this Bill. You will inevitably, and irrevocably, humanly speaking, put an end to hopes of an alliance, union and co-operation between the Twenty-six Counties and the Northern Counties. Deputy O'Hanlon, in the course of his speech, drew attention to the fact that, by your passing this Bill, you are cutting off, from yourself, the 400,000 people, who hold Nationalist views in the Six Counties. You do more. You break —I will not say, a pledge—but you smash the hopes of the Southern Unionists who gave up their views to join with you. You smash their hopes; you will turn many of them into exiles, and you are doing it, and will do it, if you pass this Bill, not from their own will, by any means, but force of circumstances will compel it. The Southern Unionists accepted the Treaty, with misgivings, I grant you; they did it, in a spirit of self-sacrifice, and in a spirit of hopefulness, prepared to do their best. They saw Arthur Griffith, through their representatives, and interviewed him many times. They met Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, and they were cheered by the reception they got. They found men of wide outlook, men who recognised them, as part and parcel of this country, as men who ought to take their share of the responsibilities of this country. Would to God that Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith were here to-day, for an hour, to speak for us! but I still have hopes that, in appealing to the Fianna Fáil Deputies, I shall not be met by deaf ears.
I do appeal to them, as the leading Party in this House, this national Assembly of the country, a national Assembly which I regard as having full authority to legislate in this country, and to deal with the problems which have arisen, to give attention and consideration to a minority that has always held that it will not force its views by appeal to arms, or violence. Are they to be lacking in consideration because of that? I say no, and I do not think that any Fianna Fáil Deputy will say yes. I appeal to Fianna Fáil, not for the sake of any minority to sacrifice us, or to sacrifice their friends in the North as I tell them they are doing. If they do not believe me, if they want to find out, let them take the steps to find out. Let them do everything in their power to find out. I have no doubt what the result will be. Give yourself time to find out. Surely it is worth knowing. Common prudence suggests that it is worth knowing, before you take a step which, as has so forcibly been pointed out by Deputy O'Sullivan, will be an irrevocable step. I will say no more about what I feel is a minor matter. We are only a minority, but I come on to what I cannot help but think is the major issue in this Bill.
I absolutely accept the President's statement made, in what, perhaps, he will permit me to call, his extremely moderate and restrained speech, at the opening of this debate. I accept the statement absolutely, that he and the Fianna Fáil members believe that they are doing, in this Bill, nothing contrary to the Treaty. I am not challenging that at all, but I ask the House to follow me with reference to the only two arguments which I could understand were put forward in support of that contention, and to establish that view. It may have been quite possibly due to my slowness of apprehension, but, although I heard the President reiterate the statement, that he would prove that that belief was true, I could find only one argument in his speech, by which he substantiated it. If that argument is sound, one argument is enough, but I hold that the argument was absolutely unsound. Perhaps the President will correct me if I venture to restate his argument, as I understood it, and, if I have misapprehended it, perhaps he will correct me. If I state it wrongly, I certainly do not do so, of intention. The argument, as I take it, was this: there are two statements (1) the Treaty is violated by the removal of the Oath from the Constitution and (2) the Irish Free State is co-equal with Canada, Australia and the other members of the British Commonwealth. The President's argument, as I take it, was that you cannot hold by those two statements, logically. If this Bill, in so far as it removes the Oath, is a violation of the Treaty, it must follow, that we are bound by a restriction which does not bind Canada, and, that therefore, we are not on co-equal terms with Canada. Is that a fair statement of the President's argument? If it is not, I should like to hear it corrected, but that was what the President's argument seemed to me to be. I willingly give way to the President.