I have carefully gone through this Bill, and I do not find that, any more than its predecessors, it deals with the position created in years gone by in any equitable manner or that it metes out justice to those civil servants who took the side of Ireland at a critical time in our history. When the Treaty came, the British Government took care to protect in the Treaty those civil servants who held on to their positions and were loyal to the old régime. Protection was given to them if they remained on, and they were accorded rights that even the Free State Government could not take from them. If they retired, they were to have the advantage of a certain number of added years. If it could be shown that their position was being worsened, they could apply for still better conditions on retirement. The least our Government could have done was to have seen that Irish civil servants who took the side of Ireland in that period would be given similar treatment. Even now, perhaps, it is not too late to remedy the injustice that was then permitted. These victimised civil servants should get from our Government at least as good terms as were given by the British Government to those who were considered loyal to the British régime. That was not done at that time, it has not been done since, and it is not proposed to be done by this Bill.
I can speak with authority on behalf of those civil servants to whom I refer. When the Treaty came, these victimised civil servants came together and formed an association. They asked for an interview with the then head of the Provisional Government, the late General Collins. He gave that interview. A deputation of three from the victimised civil servants' association waited on General Collins in the City Hall. That deputation consisted of Mr. Dowling, who had been dismissed from the Registrar-General's office in 1918; Mr. P.S. O'Hegarty, the present Secretary of the G.P.O., and myself. On behalf of the victimised civil servants, we put up certain proposals. Briefly, they were that, from the time of our dismissal up to that date, we should get our back pay; that we should get compulsory retirement terms as good as those given in the Treaty to those civil servants who were not disturbed, or that we should have the option of reinstatement with the rank and emoluments we would have attained if we had not been disturbed. General Collins promised us those terms, with the proviso that, in the case of any victimised civil servant who had got financial help from public funds, the amount, when ascertained, should be deducted from the back money when ascertained. That proviso was at once accepted. That agreement with General Collins has never been honoured.
As I read this Bill it is not proposed to honour that undertaking now. It is not proposed to give even-handed justice to Irish civil servants who then took the part of Ireland; it is not proposed to give them equal treatment with those who remained loyal to the British and worked the British régime here while we had to walk the streets of Dublin, perhaps without a bob in our pockets. We are grateful now after having gone through these privations. We are grateful we do not owe any gratitude to the Government, past or present, for any position we are in. But we are still grateful that we are not now paupers knocking at the workhouse doors. At the same time I say this—and I am speaking with the full authority of all those victimised civil servants—that we demand of this Government at least as good treatment as those civil servants, who were not disturbed, got from the British Government. I think the Irish people would endorse that and say that that treatment should be granted. I remember after the rising in 1916 when the National Aid Fund and the Prisoners' Dependents' Fund were set up here to help the victims and the dependents of those who were killed or executed as a result of the insurrection that the Irish people in a few months, at home and over the water, subscribed £150,000 to help the victims. That showed how the heart of the Irish people at home and abroad was beating. I am sure those who so generously contributed to help the people who suffered in the national effort in 1916 will be surprised to hear that up to this justice has not been done to those who took the side of Ireland from 1916 onwards.
I hope before this Bill leaves the House the Minister will see that justice will be done both to civil servants who got reinstatement and to ex-civil servants who did not get reinstatement, and that their claims will be met. I hope they will have this justice, not as charity, not as a concession but as a right at least equal to the rights other civil servants have under the Treaty. These latter successfully defended their rights in the courts against our own Government.
I am putting this forward as a national question and I hope it will be treated by the Minister for Finance as a national question. It is not a political question in any sense of the word. I am quite hopeful that the Minister and his colleagues, however their outlook in politics may differ from ours, will give full justice to those who suffered in the national struggle. Those sufferers are claiming those rights not as a privilege. They are claiming equal rights with their colleagues in the Civil Service who did not give assistance in the national effort but who got these rights under the Treaty. As I read the Bill, full justice has not been done to those victimised civil servants. I have studied every section of the Bill to see how those victimised civil servants can be put into as good a position as if they had not been victimised. I can see no such provision in the Bill. I will be glad if the Minister or anybody else with authority to speak on it will show me that such provision is there. Nobody would be more pleased than I to see that such provision is in it for these men. At this stage I warn the Government that that is the view I and others have—that is the view of those who have authority and right to speak for victimised civil servants.
In conclusion I can say that those who have suffered privation and want, as I know many of them have, are prepared to let that go. But at this stage when an attempt is being made to give equitable treatment and to place those people back in their rights I hope they will get their full rights and not nominal rights. I hope that the right will be there as an absolute right, a right that can be claimed in law and that will not be at the discretion of any individual to give or withhold from them. In other words, that they will be placed in a position at least as well secured as the civil servants of the British régime who were transferred over subsequent to the Treaty of 1921. I hope there will not be any condition precedent to the getting of the full benefit of these rights. I remember in 1922 that a half-dozen of these ex-civil servants reluctantly decided that they would have to take reinstatement because owing to the then disturbed state of the country they were not able to make a living out of their business. I remember on one occasion our pooling our resources in order to help those people to make a struggle to get over their difficulties. It is a sad comment on the freedom we have won that these people have been left there with their claims unattended to and that justice has not been meted out to them for 14 years. I hope now the Minister will face up to the task as an Irish Minister for Finance and not in any Party spirit. I know this Bill is an attempt to face up to what should be put right long ago.