Private Deputies' Business. - Adjournment Debate—Dismissal of Summons Server.

To-day I asked the Minister for Justice if Mr. W. Convey, of Swinford, County Mayo, had been dismissed by his order from the position of summons server, and if so, what were the grounds for the Minister's action, and whether any complaints were received by the Minister from the Gárda or other persons as to the manner in which Mr. Convey discharged the duties of his position, and if such complaints were made whether Mr. Convey was given an opportunity of answering such complaints. The answer which I received from the Minister for Justice was as follows:—

"The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. Mr. Convey, while employed as summons server for the County Mayo, identified himself very prominently with politics. He was warned that such conduct was improper, having regard to his position, and that unless he undertook to cease his political activities there would be no alternative to his removal from office. He definitely declined to give any such undertaking."

I then put a Supplementary Question to the Minister for Justice, and the Minister for Justice made a very strange statement; he said that Mr. Convey was a civil servant—a parttime civil servant.

Now, however, the Minister may attempt to excuse his conduct in this case, or whatever method he may adopt to palliate his wrongdoing, there is one thing upon which he cannot rely, and that is that Mr. Convey was or that any summons server is a civil servant. If they were civil servants they would be recruited under the Civil Service Regulations Act, 1924. That is the Act which regulates the Civil Service. They have not been recruited under that Act. On the other hand the summons servers are appointed under Section 44 of the Courts Officers Act, 1926, which says in sub-section (2): "Every such summons server shall be appointed by the county registrar with and subject to the approval of the Minister, and shall hold office at the will of and may be removed by the Minister, and shall be paid out of moneys to be provided by the Oireachtas such salaries as the Minister shall with the consent of the Minister for Finance direct." Therefore, those men are not civil servants. They are not recruited as civil servants are recruited. They are the nominees of one particular individual in each county—the county registrar of the county.

I go on to sub-section (3) which says: "Whenever there is in the opinion of the county registrar reason to believe that any such summons server has misconducted himself or displayed gross incapacity in the performance of his duties, the county registrar may suspend such summons server from the performance of his duties for any period or periods not exceeding altogether one month pending the decision of the Minister in the matter." From that sub-section (3) it is perfectly obvious what the Oireachtas contemplated as the reasons why a process officer should be dismissed—misconducting himself or displaying gross incapacity in the performance of his duties. It is not alleged that Mr. Convey in any way misconducted himself. It is not alleged by the Minister that he showed any incapacity, gross or petty, in the performance of his duties. I definitely asked the Minister if there were ever any complaints made, and the Minister is silent on the point. If there is one thing which is perfectly clear, and stands out in this monstrous case of dismissal, it is that the man who was dismissed by the Minister from this position was a man who filled the post competently and adequately and that no complaint could be made about him. He was not a civil servant. A summons server is no more a civil servant than, let me say, a national teacher is a civil servant. A summons server has got just as much right to hold his political views and to give expression to his political views as, let me say, a national teacher—who holds a much higher and more important position—has got. I here challenge the Minister for making this statement that Mr. Convey was a civil servant as an ex postfacto method of endeavouring to justify an action which was entirely unjustifiable.

I come down to the facts of this particular case, and begin with the month of October, 1933. In the month of October, 1933, Mr. Convey received a threatening letter, purporting to come from the I.R.A. He went with that letter to the Gárda barracks. I presume the Minister has got that letter; I presume the Gárda sent it to him; I presume it is in Convey's file. There in the Gárda barracks he was told that he was likely to lose his position as summons server. That is the first intimation he gets. He gets first a threat, purporting at any rate to come from the I.R.A., and finds just at the same time that there is some movement behind to have him dismissed from his office. That was in October, 1933. He is marked out by the I.R.A. We will just see what happens a little bit later on. On November 24th, 1933, Convey was summoned by the County Registrar of County Mayo to come to Castlebar in order that he might answer some questions to be put to him by the county registrar. The county registrar put certain questions to him regarding his activities in connection with the Young Ireland Association. He was asked to consider the advisability of resigning from the Young Ireland Association, but was asked to take some time to turn the matter over in his mind. He wrote to the county registrar on the 24th November, 1933, to this effect:—

"Adverting to your interview with me to-day with reference to my political activities, in view of the position I hold as civil bill officer I would like to assure you that such activities as I engage in are fully within the law, and that they in no way interfere with me in my discharging of the duties of the aforesaid office. Should you have any information to the contrary I would be grateful for a reply as to any alleged irregularities in the manner in which I carry out my duties. Without wishing to do any person any injury I can definitely state that there are other individuals in similar positions to me who are much more aggressive politicians than I am. I hope you will not misunderstand me when I state that I consider it most unfair that an attempt should be made to penalise me because of my political views in the absence of any proven charge of inefficiency as to my discharging of the duties of my office."

Possibly, one may find a little fault with the actual wording of that letter —the actual English in which it is couched may not be very perfect in some respects—but it is a fine, straightforward, manly letter. The man says: "I have got my political views and I am entitled to hold my political views. They are not the particular political views of the Minister for Justice, but I am entitled to hold them and I am going to hold them"; and he says that it would be most unjust to penalise him for holding, as he is entitled to hold, political views and for giving expression, as he is entitled to give expression, to his political views. To punish him for the holding of political views is an act of gross injustice and to take away, as have been taken away from him, the emoluments of this office—it may only be a very small office in the eyes of the Minister but it is an office of very considerable importance to this man—for no other reason under heaven but that he is a political opponent of the Minister is grossly unjust.

There is another aspect of this to which I must advert. This man lives in the town of Swinford, in North Mayo, the constituency which the Minister for Justice himself represents in the Dáil. He is a political opponent of the Minister for Justice and he makes no secret of it; but in his own constituency, because this man opposed him at the last two elections, the Minister for Justice removes him from office. It has happened nowhere else but here, this venomous action taken by the Minister for Justice against a particular man whom he personally knows to have been a political opponent of his when he stood for election at the last general election. That, to my mind, adds tremendous gravity to this charge. To dismiss a man because he holds political views different from the views which are held by the Government in office at the time is a very wrong thing indeed. It is lowering the whole spirit of public life in this country. It is bringing into this country what ought not to be in this country and ought not to be in any country. It is a discreditable and disgraceful spirit to introduce this victimisation of persons because they differ from the Executive that happens to be in power at the present moment, but when we find that the particular man who is picked out to be victimised in this fashion is a man who actively opposed the election of the Minister for Justice, we see another worse and more sinister reason for this venomous action by the Minister.

Every man in this State has got the right to hold his political views and if any Government is going to drive men out of office, to take away from men their means of livelihood, because they have the hardihood to have their own opinions which do not coincide with the opinions of the Government then in office, we are going to have the very worst possible form of graft in this country. We are going to have public life in this country dragged down to the very gutter. That is what I charge the Minister for Justice with doing in this particular case. Everybody knows that if Convey had been a supporter of the Minister for Justice, if he had been a member of the Fianna Fáil Party, he would be summons server in County Mayo at the present time. Everybody knows that if Convey had been a member of the I.R.A., that body which threatened him, that body which seemingly set the whole of this in motion, Convey would be summons server in County Mayo at the present time. But he belonged to neither. He was not Fianna Fáil and he was not I.R.A. He was opposed to them both, and because he was opposed to them both, his means of livelihood are taken from him. I have read the section under which that man was employed and there is not a single word in that section which says any single thing about political views or that a man is to hold political views in accordance with political views held by the Government in power at the moment, or else that he is to go.

That is the principle which I charge the Minister for Justice with introducing into the carrying out of the duties of his post. He has, in this instance, victimised a man who, admittedly by him, was a man who was carrying out the duties of his post without suspicion, a man who was carrying out the duties of his post perfectly fairly and adequately, a man who challenged an inquiry into the way in which he was carrying them out and who said "If there are any complaints that can be brought against me from any single source, let them be brought forward, I am ready to meet them face to face," but the Minister brings nothing against him, the Minister can say nothing against him. The Minister cannot deny that he was thoroughly and completely efficient in the discharge of his duties and the Minister can say nothing in justification of his attitude except that this man was a political opponent. Where is there any regulation by which summons servers must be members of the Fianna Fáil Party or go? That is the very attitude which the Minister is taking up in this matter. This man has been wronged; a gross injustice has been done to this man. It may be impossible to do justice to him; it is impossible now to reinstate him because I believe the position has been filled by another man, but, at least, the people of this country can know the way in which the Fianna Fáil Government are acting in office.

The people of this country can know, and they will know and appreciate the spirit behind the present administration, and how a man, holding indeed only a little, humble job, can first be attempted to be bullied into deserting his political principles, and when he refuses to be bullied into deserting his political principles, can be victimised and treated with injustice, as he has been treated, but, thank goodness, there are men in this country with the backbone and with the courage of men like Convey. There are men who are not going to desert their principles because the Minister for Justice threatens them with punishment if they do not, and because he goes further and actually does punish them because they refuse to desert their political principles. There are men in this country who are willing to suffer persecution at the hands of the Minister for Justice, and the people of this country, I am perfectly satisfied, will admire those men just as every decent man in this country will hate and execrate the action of the Minister in the course he took in dismissing this man.

I hope I will be able to deal with this matter more effectively and with less noise than the Deputy has introduced into it. I should like to assure the Deputy at the outset—I do not care whether he accepts the assurance or not—that the first I heard about the threatening letter is what the Deputy has mentioned to-night.

The Guards have it.

It has not been brought to my notice. The other aspect of the matter is that the Deputy may try in some way to differentiate between what is technically known as a civil servant and what is not, but away from that technicality we cannot get in regard to the position of public servants. Whether public servants are selected or elected in conformity with certain regulations affecting technical civil servants or otherwise members of the Civil Service makes very little difference and has, in fact, no effect. If the Deputy's contention is to be accepted, it means that a large number of court officers are quite free to partake in all sorts of politics, aggressive or otherwise, and that they would be in a position, if they were so inclined, or if they were of that type, to use those positions in a way that would not be just or fair to the people they have to deal with.

As far back as June, 1932, a circular was issued by the Department of Finance dealing with civil servants. That circular was brought to the notice of the various Departments. Following that circular from the Department of Finance, circulars were issued by the Minister for Justice at the time to the county registrar in each county pointing out with regard to these public servants that (1) they should maintain a certain reserve in political matters and not put themselves forward on any side; (2) they should refrain from acting on any committee having for its object the promotion or the prevention of the return of a particular candidate or candidates at a Dáil election; (3) they should not support or oppose any candidate or Party by public speaking or writing, and (4) should not take part in any public discussion with regard to the public conduct of Ministers or the policy of the Government.

All that was dealt with in that circular was what was dictated by the Department of Finance with regard to what the Deputy refers to as civil servants technically—I say as civil servants. I do not know whether the Deputy considers that it is very desirable that a court officer in the execution of his duty should go round to houses dressed in a blue shirt, or anything like that. I do not know whether he thinks it is necessary for a court officer to perform his duties in that way. We think, at any rate, that it is not desirable, to say the least of it. I should have mentioned that the circular I have referred to was acknowledged by the County Registrar for the County Mayo on 16th June, 1932, as follows:—"I am in receipt of above circular and have given all the officials an opportunity of noting its contents."

With regard to this man Convey, the matter was brought to the notice of my Department, but not in the way the Deputy suggests, by any threatening letter from the I.R.A. or anything else like that. I assure the Deputy that this is the first I have heard of that letter and I shall have enquiries made. The matter was brought to the notice of the Department in another way. In passing, I may assure the Deputy that I never heard of Convey before this complaint was made about him. He may be what some people may style a "big noise" in Swinford, but I assure the Deputy I never heard of the man before. Perhaps, I should have known him in connection with the courts, but I assure the Deputy that I had no particular contact with him. The complaint was brought to the notice of my Department that he had been acting in this aggressive way in politics.

By whom was the complaint made?

I am not going to state in what way it came to the Minister's notice. Information comes to the Department in various ways. The Deputy should know more about what way information comes to the Department than anybody else.

We have a very fair idea how the information came.

Your suspicions might be entirely wrong.

I do not think so.

Was that notice sent to national teachers also?

I do not know. I am not the Minister for Education. I have quite enough to do to deal with one Department. If the Minister for Education was here he might be able to deal with that. When that complaint was received, instead of the Department taking up the attitude that this man should be removed from his position, an enquiry was put through to the County Registrar to ascertain what were the activities of this man, and were those activities along the lines of the report received. That was confirmed. But, instead of asking that man to resign or dismissing him from his position, what was done was that when the County Registrar had vouched these facts for himself he was asked to send for Convey, explain the position to him and draw his attention to this circular. Convey had his choice. The suggestion has never been made that any man in the Civil Service should change his views. Every member of the Civil Service can hold his own views. Convey could hold his own views, and so can any court officer. But public servants, as I stated already, are not entitled to go out aggressively and advocate their views.

There is something in that, but does it apply to every Department?

We asked the County Registrar before any steps would be taken to ascertain from Convey whether or not he was prepared to desist from advocating, in the aggressive way he had been, a certain line of action. The Deputy has referred to the answer he gave. He stated when interviewed by the County Registrar that he was not prepared to answer at the time. He went away, and some time afterwards he wrote this letter to the County Registrar to which the Deputy has referred. I do not object to the tenor of the letter at all. All I wanted to see in the letter was whether he was going to choose between being a public servant or being simply an advocate of a Party. He made that choice. I have no fault to find with him, but, so far as my Department is concerned, that choice ends it.

Has the Minister dismissed a single person for showing over-zeal on the part of Fianna Fáil?

Nor on the other side.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until Thursday at 3 p.m.