I feel that the administration of law in this country and the general condition of the preservation of law and of respect for law and the formal and open defiance of law in the country have reached such a pass and have developed in the last couple of years under the present Administration to such an extent that it makes a discussion of an Estimate like this particularly difficult. It is because I am convinced that for that growth of disorder and for the progress we seem to be making, and which many people in the country fear we are making, rapidly towards anarchy, the Government's policy and the Government's attitude in the last couple of years and at the present moment are largely responsible that I intervene in this debate at all. The whole problem has become so serious that I should otherwise hesitate, were I not convinced that there has been negligence, and even more than negligence, on the part of the Government in this particular matter. I feel that their policy since they took office—and I see no real evidence beyond an occasional expression of goodwill, of a change of heart— and a continuing policy at the present time, has been such as to undermine the morale of the people, calculated to increase a disrespect for the law and a disrespect for the Government and calculated also—and this is particularly serious, it seems to me—to undermine the morale of the people whose primary business it is to see that the law is properly administered, and that there is respect for it in the ordinary districts throughout the country.
They have brought that situation about because from the moment they took office—almost, I think, from the very first night—up to some of their most recent performances, as those can find out who wish to read the proceedings before the Military Tribunal and the line taken up there by the Government spokesman—the Government has created and has encouraged disrespect for themselves and disrespect for the law. How can any body of men like the Guards possibly know what practical attitude they must take up towards the most serious menace to settled Government in this country? It is an easy thing for the President, occasionally, the Minister for Justice, perhaps, and, now and then, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and the representative of the Government before the Military Tribunal, to take up the line that an armed association, that has for its primary object the achieving of its aims by upsetting the present Government by force of arms, cannot be tolerated. Merely words and nothing but words. The conduct of the Government has been nothing but toleration, full toleration, I might almost say encouragement, for that particular attitude. I will admit they have shown great activity, they have used the military and police forces of the State when it was a question of recouping the Treasury, when it was a question of grinding the last farthing out of the distressed and poverty-stricken farmers; but I see nothing like the same zeal within the last couple of years or even at the present day in taking a decisive attitude against those who openly state that their purpose is to upset the established Government by force of arms when conditions allow.
It is true they put certain machinery in motion exclusively, as everybody remembers, against their political opponents. It is quite true also that having set that machinery in motion, they found that the machinery worked and that some of those to whom they had been giving the full encouragement of tolerance got their fingers caught in the machine. They certainly have—I was going to say hesitated—a great deal more than hesitated about adopting any real attitude, any definite position, towards those who have made it the primary aim of their organisation to defy the Government, those who deny its legitimacy and who are determined to make that denial of the legitimacy of the present Government a reality by force of arms.
Nobody who has watched events in this country for the last 12 months or three years can say that there is any really clear attitude on the part of the Government in the matter. The Guards, with the best will in the world to perform their duty, cannot possibly know what line they are to take up when they see evidences of illegal activities in their neighbourhood. Anybody who knows the country knows perfectly well that what I state is a fact. The Government is not merely undermining the general morale of the population, but it is also doing its best to undermine the morale of the very effective police force that it got over. Does anybody know—does the President, or do the Ministers know—what the practical attitude of the Government is towards an association like the I.R.A.? I must say I feel a certain amount of sympathy, or at least I have a certain understanding, for the unfortunate Kerry farmer who told his story. "One son of mine," he said, "fought against the Black and Tans. The other was with Mr. de Valera in 1922 in revolt against the Treaty Party. The third took seriously Mr. de Valera's statement as to wherein lay the real authority of the country in 1929 and the fourth is also in jail." How can anybody really know what the Government stands for? How can those who want to respect the law know it? The only people who can bank with a fair amount of certitude on the attitude of the Government are those who have formally taken up a position of open defiance, not merely of this or that law, but of our whole system of law and government.
In office and out of office what have the Government done except to preach anarchy or, by their actions, encourage anarchy? It is really time, after three years in office, that in this, one of the most fundamental of their duties, the Government should know where they stand and should let the country without any doubt and without any ambiguity of statement or action know where they stand in this matter. If I could have any belief that even at the eleventh hour the Government are mending their ways and are determined in a really serious fashion to deal with the situation, I should have hesitated very much indeed to intervene in this debate. But I do not think that even their own supporters believe that they are serious in the matter. It is not their attitude years ago, before they were clothed with responsibility of office, that I now object to; it is their attitude since they assumed office, it is their present-day attitude to which I object.
My principal charge against them is that they have not made their position clear; they should have made it evident to everybody that they would have no truck with this effort to upset by force of arms the Government set up by the majority of the electors. As a matter of fact they have done the opposite. They have encouraged the belief that these people can go ahead. Undoubtedly now and then it is unfortunate for them that some of those engaged in their activities may get caught in what I call the operation of the machine, but that is to a large extent an accident. The representative of the Government at the Military Tribunal could say, in reality these men's hearts were sound, their heads were wrong. Apparently the character of the men—speaking now of their political character, their character as citizens—who wanted to upset the Government by force of arms—that was quite sound; their methods were wrong! I admit the speeches at the Military Tribunal had a very strong political flavour on both sides. They might have been delivered almost here in the House, and Deputy Lynch might have been sorry he was not there that particular day. However, I might not pay much attention to the line adopted there by the State representative, were it not that he was obviously either directly or by force of infection repeating the views of the Executive Council. The voice might be the voice of the counsel, but the views expressed before that Tribunal were undoubtedly, as everyone of us knows, the views that expressed the attitude, the actual conduct, of the President.
There is a serious position now confronting us. The Government whose business it is primarily to maintain full respect for the law and to see that there is no other army masquerading in this country, no other army openly proclaiming its intention to overthrow the Government, has failed definitely in its duty. The Government falls down in its primary duty, and because it does I call attention to the increase in the number of Guards. It is not the number of the Guards that is the important thing; it is the manner in which they do their duty, or are allowed to do their duty, and are encouraged to do it. They should be encouraged in their arduous work by the feeling that they are backed up by the full authority and all the influence of the Government. Anybody who seriously considers the situation will realise that no Guard could be quite sure that he was likely to please his superiors if he took the steps that seemed to him to be the proper steps to take against an association like the I.R.A. There has been an increase in numbers. In the case of sergeants the number has remained the same since 1931, but in the case of the Guards the position is different. In 1930-31 the Guards numbered 5,443; last year the Estimate indicated 5,864, and this year the number is 6,000. That represents an increase of over 550 Guards.
If I refer to past statements, especially of the President in this matter, it is because I think they are very germane at the moment. My purpose is not to show how laughably inconsistent he is—I think that is so much taken for granted, even by members of his own Party, that it would be idle to discuss it, a waste of time. In one passage in the speech from which I am going to quote, he said that the country ought to be run for £12,000,000 a year.
In the two sentences that I am going to quote he, unfortunately for himself, gives the reason why in that particular year he thought the Guards should be cut down and why he objected to the number of Guards there were then —President de Valera—then Deputy de Valera—speaking on the Vote on Account on the 7th March, 1929, as reported in column 1039 of Volume 28, said:—
"In regard to the Civic Guards, we believe that the cost could be reduced by nearly half."
He then proceeded to give the reason, and that reason should be interesting to the members of the present Government and their supporters. He said:—
"We believe that half the force, with public opinion properly behind it, would be able to do all the work that is to be done."
The last wicked Government, of course, was responsible for the fact that it had not public opinion behind it, and, therefore, it had to have a strong police force. But a popular Government, a Government representing the real heartfelt wishes of the people, could apparently carry on with half the number. Just a week later, in that speech which might be called the quintessence of anarchy, in which the President, then Deputy de Valera, discussed the competency and moral authority of this House we get the reason why we required these great police forces. He said:—
"And if you are not getting the support from all sections of the community that is necessary for any Executive if it is going to dispense with a large police force, it is because there is a moral handicap in your case. We are all morally handicapped because of the circumstances in which the whole thing came about."
That is from the Official Reports, column 1399, 14th March, 1929, Volume 28.
Does he still feel the lack of moral authority? Does the Minister for Justice and the Government feel that lack of moral authority which they felt here in this House in 1929? Is that the reason there is no real, definite and clear-cut attitude towards a body like the I.R.A., because the Government still have a semi-conscious sneaking feeling that they have no moral authority and that the moral authority that they ought to wield is still elsewhere? Is that the reason for the ambiguity of the Government's attitude towards this, the most important of all the questions that it should face? Of course, the Minister for Finance, the then Deputy MacEntee, could easily point out how savings could be made. He had the same story or pretty much the same story to tell. I admit it was somewhat earlier and he did not possibly have time to learn. He was then pointing out the supreme necessity of reducing taxation; otherwise the country would go bankrupt and could not carry on. The reduction of taxation was one of the most important duties that the Government should take on and the most important task that the country should face.
Speaking on the 17th May, 1928, as reported in cols. 1554 and 1555, vol. 23 of the Official Debates, the then Deputy MacEntee said:—
"Obviously, taxation must be reduced if the country is to prosper, and taxation"—he rightly goes on to say—and there is great wisdom in his words—"cannot be reduced unless expenditure is reduced."
However, he has found a way to do that since. Then he goes on:—
"The ratio of non-producers to producers in this country is altogether too high. The number of drones is altogether out of proportion to the capacity of the workers to support them. The number of men in services like the Army and the Gárda Síochána should be reduced, not in order that they may starve, but in order that they may be absorbed in industry and given employment as producers of wealth. At the present time they are only consumers of wealth, maintained by the rest of the population, maintained in a state of luxury to which the general mass of our people can never aspire, and in conditions of comfort that the general mass of the people do not know."
And he then proceeds to point the moral: this country is as law-abiding as England, and whereas in England they have 12 policemen to every 10,000 inhabitants, and in Scotland they have 13 policemen to every 10,000 inhabitants, we here in this country have 23 policemen to every 10,000 inhabitants. And that same Minister for Finance is now increasing that number of 23 Gárda for every 10,000 inhabitants.
First of all, I hope he has changed his attitude on one matter at all events, namely, that the Guards are or ever have been drones. They always had a very difficult task to perform in this country, and I can say from membership of the Government for several years that they did it with extraordinary conscientiousness. They were a force of which the Government of the day could be proud. If that was the situation that they had to face in the year 1928, there certainly are no drones at the present day, if they are allowed to do their duty. They are far from living in luxury. It is by no means an enviable position in this country. I could only wish that they could be assured of the moral support of the Government in carrying out their duty.
It is quite obvious that that healthy public opinion referred to by the then Deputy de Valera cannot exist so far as his Government is concerned at the present time. Anything they have done since they came into office has not been to create such a healthy public opinion, has not been to marshal public opinion behind the Guards in the performance of their duty. If anything, it has been the very opposite. As the result of the operations and the policy of the Government I fear that, so far as a healthy public opinion behind the Guards is concerned, there is a lot of leeway still to be made up—more than in 1928. The Government up to the present year, I might have said, definitely if somewhat slowly, were undermining the confidence of the country in any kind of government. Within the last couple of months, at an alarmingly accelerated pace, they are undermining the confidence of the country in any kind of government. But that statement of Deputy de Valera which I have quoted shows the extraordinary tendency he has always had, whether outside this House, as a Deputy of this House, or as President, to shut his eyes to facts.
We were told, and it was given as one of the principal reasons why this House was asked to pass the Oath Removal Act, that it would conduce to peace in this country. He professed to believe and possibly he believed, I might say probably he believed, that because he said the Republicans and others like them would then have no grievance and no reason why they should not come into this House that they would do it. It was pointed out at the time that there was no evidence that they would do anything of the kind. Since then surely it should have become quite clear to the members of the Government that the removal of the Oath, so far as that particular section of the population is concerned, has made not one iota of difference in the sense of improvement. Again hope, but no determination to face the facts. Not merely has it made no difference, but in reality it has given encouragement. It, and the conduct of the Government since then up to these trials to which I have referred the other day, are calculated to do nothing but give encouragement to these people who want to overthrow the constituted system of government in this country by force of arms.
I wonder whether it is believed that they could sap and undermine the influence of that particular body by conduct of this kind—by leaving it to the people themselves. Some time ago I heard an excuse given on behalf of the Government—it was alleged to have come from one of the Ministers—that they intended to take no definite steps because the thing would right itself; a volume of public opinion was growing up in the particular county in question —I need not mention the county—which would soon sweep the I.R.A. out of the place. If you have a Government or a responsible Minister capable of believing things like that, no wonder the I.R.A. finds itself in the exalted position in which it is and into which it has been exalted by the Government.
This statement by a Minister is only a rumour, but, again, rumour or not, it certainly sums up the best thing that can be said for the Government in their attitude on these matters. It is the best case that can be made for them, and a very bad case it is—the only case that can be made for the shameful neglect of their duty in this and other matters. Take a small matter: but again, though small, it is rather typical. Deputy McGilligan referred to it the other day. There is a law which requires a permit for collecting on flag days. The Government cannot pretend that they did not know that a collection without permits was going to take place in the city and in the country, and they took no action. Has the law lapsed? If it has lapsed, is that the first occasion on which it was allowed to lapse? Was it allowed to lapse on that particular occasion because the Government came to what they considered the prudent decision of avoiding conflict? In other words, is it not unfortunate that the first occasion on which the public found that that law was allowed to lapse the Government seemed to yield once more to the fear and threat of violence? We need not go into any of the details of the administration; but because the Government have lamentably failed in their primary duty as a Government I ask the House to support the motion in the name of Deputy Mulcahy.