Defence Forces Bill, 1937—Second Stage.

Tá an Bille seo a thabhairt isteach chun soláthar oiriúnach do dhéanamh i dtaobh neithe bhainfidh leis na Fórsaí Cosanta, ar Bhunreacht na hEireann, d'achtuigh pobal na hEireann le déannaighe, do theacht i ngníomh.

Fémar is eol do Theachtaí, cuirtear na Fórsaí Cosanta fé árd-cheannas Uachtarán na hEireann le hAirteagal a 13 (4) den Bhunreacht agus leagtar amach le hAirteagal a 13 (5) go ndéanfar feidhmiúan árd-cheannais sin do rialú do réir dlí. Cuirtear síos in Alt a 3 den Bhille an modh ina ndéanfar an ceannas míleata maraon le gach comhacht feidhmiucháin agus riaracháin a bhainfidh leis na Fórsaí Cosanta do chur i bhfeidhm, fé stiúradh an Uachtaráin ag gníomhú dhó ar chomhairle an Rialtais. Fairis sin, tugtar comhacht don Aire Cosanta chun rialacháin do dhéanamh maidir le daoine cheapadh ina n-oifigigh agus ceannas na bhFórsaí Cosanta do bhronnadh ortha. Is leor san mar mhíniú ar an slabhra cheannais.

Foráltar le hAirteagal a 13 (5) gur ón Uachtarán a bheidh a choimisiún ag gach oifigeach coimisiúnta de sna Fórsaí Cosanta, agus fágann san go gcaithfear na fuirmeacha nua coimisisúin atá sa Chéad Sceideal d'ordú. De thoradh na forála san, luigheann sé le reasún gur ceart an tUachtarán, ag gníomhú dhó ar chomhairle an Rialtais, do bheith ina Udarás chun oifigigh do cheapadh, do scaoileadh agus do scur, agus chun tabhairt suas oifigeach do ghlacadh. Deintear forálacha amhlaidh le hAlt a 5 agus le hAlt a 7-10. Ina theannta san, iséan tUachtarán, ar chomhairle an Rialtais, a cheapfaidh oifigigh chun na n-Ard-chéimeanna riaracháin.

Tabharfaidh Teachtaí fé ndeara go gceaptar slí le hAlt a 12 trén-a bheéadfaidh an Rialtas, ag gníomhú dhó tríd an Aire, aon tsaighdiúir de sna Fórsaí no den Chúltaca do scur. An tAlt a 11, do bhísa phríomh-Acht cheana agus le n-a dtugtar comhacht don Ard-Chomhairle, ag gníomhú dhó tríd an Aire, saighdiúirí do scur, athghairmtear é mar gheall ar an soláthar do bhí ann chun oifigigh do scaoileadh agus chun deireadh do chur le n-a seirbhís. De bhrigh, áfach, ná tiocfaidh d'atharú ar an socrú atá ann anois i dtaobh liostáil shaighdiúra do bheith ina chonnradh idir an Ard-Chomhairle agus an saighdiúir, ach amháin sa méid gur leis an Rialtas a bheidh an connradh, caithfear slí do cheapadh arís tré n-a bhféadfaidh an Rialtas saighdiúirí de sna Fórsaí agus den Chúltaca do scur.

Tá slí á ceapadh le hAlt a 13 chun athchóiriú dhéanamh ar an reachtaíocht atá ann fé láthair i dtaobh ArmChúirteanna do chó-ghairm, agus a mbreitheanna do dhaingniú; agus, fén Alt céadna, tugtar don Aire, comhachta áirithe có-gharma agus daingnithe do bhíodh ag an Aidiútant Geinearálta go dtí so. Isé dhéanfaidh an tAire, áfach, do réir an riaradh atá ar na dualgaisí sa Roinn fén Scéim do ceapadh le hAlt a 8 den Acht um Airí agus Rúnaithe, 1924, ná an comhacht is gádh i dtaobh smacht sna Fórsaí do thabhairt don Aidiútant Geinearálta.

Fairis sin, is le hAlt a 13 a ceaptar an Rialtas chun bheith ina Udarás Daingnithe in ionad an Aire i gcás Arm-Chúirt do mholadh breithe báis.

Chun go ndéanfar socrú do sna cúrsaí bheidh ann feasta, tá fuirm nuadh den dearbhú bheidh le déanamh ag oifigigh agus saighdiúirí de sna Fórsaí, á cur isteach sa Bhille.

Tairgim go léighfear an Bille an dara uair.

The Minister's statement was a very precise summary of what is in the Bill. It contained everything that we could read for ourselves—something like the brief outline of a Bill as given in the daily papers. What one would expect from a Minister in introducing a Bill is some reason or some argument for the proposals contained in it and some explanation of the rather drastic changes outlined in it. We have not heard a word from the Minister as to any reasons for these proposals or any reasons for these changes. We have been told simply what is in the Bill. Apparently the new fashion is that information will be gleaned by the process of question and answer, rather than by a clear outline, an explanation, by a Minister on the Second Reading. So far as I can interpret this measure, what it amounts to is that we are to delete the word "Minister" wherever it appears in the Defence Forces Act and to substitute the word "President". Officers will, in future, hold their commissions, not from the Executive Council and not, in fact, from the Parliament of the people, but from another elected representative of the people, over and above and outside Parliament. It may be argued that any action or activity of that individual, in dismissing an officer, accepting a resignation or granting a commission to an officer, is on the advice of the Executive Council which is elected by the Parliament. That is perfectly true, but my mind runs in the direction of what effect this new picture will have on the minds of officers and men. They are not as close up to or as conversant with the niceties of Parliamentary phraseology and legal sections in a Bill as the Minister may be, and all that the simple soldier will know is that he holds his position, not from the Parliament, but from the President, and that his position is terminable by that individual. I think it is desirable, in a country with a history such as ours, to keep the minds of officers and soldiers as intimately associated with Parliament as possible and any departure from the firm road of keeping the mind of the army centred around the Parliament of the people is a very dangerous experiment, and unjustified if it is done merely for the sake of adding another inch or two to the halo around the head of an individual. It is too early to start this kind of dangerous experimenting and yet, all through this Bill, we have an attempt made to drive into the mind of the officer and soldier that he is dependent, not on Parliament, but on the President.

I resent it, too, on behalf of the Minister for Defence. If this Bill is any indication of things to come, in the eyes of the ordinary officer or the ordinary soldier, the Minister will be of no more importance than a boy clerk running around Headquarters. What functions are left for him? Even if it is a case of accepting the resignation of an officer, it is the President who accepts, but not even on the advice of the Minister. The President goes completely out of the picture and it is a matter between the officer, the Executive Council and the President. I hold very strongly that the more firmly the Ministerial and Parliamentary idea is implanted in the minds of officers and men alike, the better for the Army and the better for the country. The whole gist of this Bill is unhealthy, unsafe and, possibly, dangerous. In so far as that point of view may be met, it may be met by saying that the changes proposed are trivial and that the Bill itself, in consequence, is only a frivolous Bill, but I have enough respect for the Government to grant this much, that these things are not put into this Bill in a frivolous spirit, that there is some intention behind them and some reason for them, and the House is entitled to know, from the Minister the reasons for this set of proposals.

There is another thing in this Bill which I regard, to say the least, as rather sinister, and explanation is again required. Heretofore, there was an oath taken by officers and soldiers, and, in that oath, they swore to abide by the Constitution, etc., and they further swore that they would not belong to political organisations or secret societies. The language was very clear and it conveyed its meaning directly to the mind of the simplest soldier. He swore that he could not, and would not, belong to a secret society or to a political organisation. That is gone in this Bill, and with what have we replaced these words? He swears that he cannot belong or subscribe to any organisation—a total abstinence society, a golf club or any other organisation—without the consent of the Minister; but—and here is where I see the danger—he may belong to any organisation, subject to the consent of the Minister. With the Minister's consent, he may belong to any type of secret organisation or any political organisation. Is that defensible when dealing with the Army? If you do not mean to have officers and soldiers running, hour after hour, for permits for this, that and the other, why not say clearly in the oath what is meant? "Any organisation" could mean the most harmless thing—the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a billiard club or a football association. One of the essentials of military orders and regulations all over the world is their simplicity and clarity. Military regulations have to be clear, precise and simple because, so far as I understand it, no excuse is ever accepted or acceptable for a breach of military regulations. There is no such thing as an excuse and an excuse will not and cannot be considered. The excuse may be considered in order to mitigate the sentence, but the excuse can never be put forward as a defence for preach of a regulation. Here we have as clumsy and meaningless a form of words as ever was devised by man, that without the Minister's permission they cannot belong to or subscribe to any organisation whatsoever. That is one meaning. The other meaning is that, subject to the Minister's permission, they may belong to any organisation. Time and again it has been pointed out here, that we are legislating for the future as well as for the present, and there is no good in saying: "Oh, the Minister would not sanction that," or "The Minister would not approve of this, that or the other thing." We may have a good Minister, a middling good Minister, or a very bad Minister. We might have a Minister in the future who would sanction members of the Army, and important officers in it, belonging to the most dangerous types of secret societies—anti-State secret societies.

Previously, Ministerial sanction or not, officers and soldiers in the Army could not belong to political organisations or secret societies. Now, if they want to show what good fellows they are in the eyes of a Minister, there will be thousands of applications to be allowed to belong to Fianna Fáil clubs. The Minister might say "yes" or he might say "no." I do not know what the excuse will be but, at least, this Bill throws it open to officers and soldiers of the Army to belong to political societies, subject to certain conditions. That is unsafe, unwise and unhealthy. As far as my remarks apply, secret societies are definitely dangerous. What was the reason for departing from the form of words in the old oath? It was not done, I am sure, in a spirit of frivolity; it was not done out of sheer recklessness, and it was not done in ignorance. What is the reason why the form outlined in the old oath was departed from? This was not drafted and lightly passed through without examination. Words are never dropped out of an Act without close study and examination. Words may sometime be put into an Act without sufficient consideration, but they are never dropped lightly. There is always a reason, and a big reason, for dropping words that are already there, yet the Minister gets up, in the most light-hearted spirit, and gives us a simple litany of what is in the Bill. He did not think it worth his while to advance any reasons for any of the drastic changes made in this Bill.

Again, in the military regulations and laws so far, courtsmartial were entirely matters for the military personnel, the Adjutant-General, or an officer of equivalent rank. I think it was the Adjutant-General was the authority for convening courtsmartial. We have departed from that in this, and the authority for convening courtsmartial will be the Minister or some one named by the Minister. We have a mixing up of civilian and military personnel in matters peculiarly military. It may be necessary, now that it is considered advisable to cut the Minister out of the picture to such a great extent as is proposed in the Bill, to pull him in, no matter in what a laboured fashion, so as to leave him some function, and some justification for the continuance of a Minister, who is about to be replaced in 98 per cent. of his functions by a President. I think there is unquestionably sufficient in this Bill to justify a few more observations from the Minister, and some explanation as to why it is considered judicious and wise to make the whole personnel of the Army, officers, N.C.O.'s and men to look to an individual in the future, rather than to the Parliament of the people; why it is considered advisable to throw membership of political organisations and of secret societies open to officers and men of the Army in future, subject to certain conditions, namely, his permission; and why, in addition, it is considered desirable to depart from the established precedent of having military personnel authorised or by law empowered to convene courtsmartial.

What is the explanation of Section 4? Is it not sufficient that every officer in the Army would hold his commission from the President rather than from the Executive Council? In addition to that, we go further. Not satisfied that Parliament should be passed over when it comes to commissions, officers in the forces, from the higher appointments in the Army, Chief, of Staff, Adjutant-General, Quartermaster-General, Inspector-General, Judge-Advocate-General, in future are to hold not only their commissions, but their appointments from the President, rather than from the Parliament.

I do not think Deputy O'Higgins has proved the charge of drastic changes. Really, there is nothing that I can see in this Bill that departs in any way from the spirit of the Army Acts. It was necessary, with the coming of the Constitution, to change some of the forms, but the constitutional position is the same. Heretofore, there were certain things done in the name of one person or another on the advice of the Government and on the advice of the Minister. As the President was appointed Commander-in-Chief, and as it was necessary, according to Article 13 (5) of the Constitution, to regulate the exercise of that command according to law, this Bill was brought in. I thought I gave a very detailed explanation of the Bill. I pointed out that in regard to every function that the President would carry out under this Bill, he would act on the advice of the Executive Council. That is in every section generally in the Constitution. It is also in another section covering all his functions. I have no worries at all about its effect on the officers and men of the Army. Soldiers will continue for the future to make their contract directly with the Government. The officers will get their appointments from the President, signed by the President. It will be put up by the Executive Council to the President to approve of them.

The Deputy mentioned Section 4 of this Bill, where the principal appointments in the Army are made by the President acting on the advice of the Government. Heretofore, these appointments were made by the Government. They will be signed by the President on the advice of the Government. The only change is that in the name at the bottom of the paper.

The name at the bottom of the paper makes a difference if it is a cheque.

It does, but unfortunately the President will not be able to sign a cheque for us. It is the Minister for Finance. I wish the President could give us a cheque. The next point the Deputy raised was the question of the oath. He wanted to know why certain words that were in the old oath were dropped in the new oath. One of the principal reasons, I think, for dropping them is to make it a simple oath and in keeping with the oaths that are taken to the other armies in the world. It is preposterous to say that if we do not in the oath prohibit a secret society by name——

Oh, no, not by name.

By clause.

By reference.

To come back to the point the Deputy was making that the officers do not swear not to join a secret organisation, therefore by permission they can join them. The Deputy can read the oaths of all the armies in the world. I have them here and will let him have them. He can see on looking through these that the officers in Germany do not swear that they will not join secret organisations. Is it his point, therefore, that they can join secreat associations without permission?

It would not be very healthy for them there.

In France there is no oath whatsoever, either for officers or men and one can argue on the same lines that because officers and men do not take oaths that they will not join secret organisations, therefore, they can do so with the consent of the Minister. In Switzerland the officers take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution similar to the oath here. They take an oath to obey orders. In Belgium the men take no oath. The officers swear fidelity to the king and obedience to the Constitution. In the United States the men take no oath. The officers take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution but there is no mention made either of political or secret societies. It is the same in a number of other countries.

I do not want to interrupt, but the point I put to the Minister was this :—Heretofore in the oath taken by the officers of the Army they swore that they would not belong to political organisations. Also I believe they swore that they would not belong to secret societies. That is deleted from the present oath. The present oath makes it permissible for officers and soldier to belong to any organisation provided they get permission from the Minister. Therefore, the present oath makes it permissible for officers and soldier of the future to belong to political organisations provided they get a permit. Now, we are all of us good and bad. It is all very well to say that the Minister would not give such a permit. Why depart from the old form of the oath?

On the line of reasoning taken by the Deputy, one could argue with the same force that because these things are not in the oaths of other countries, the officers and men in those countries could join political organisations if they got permission. I grant the Deputy this much—if he likes he can put in an amendment to this effect—that where the Minister grants permission to join an organisation he must publish that permission, so that the matter can be debated in public.

As far as I understand the wording of the present oath it refers to any organisation whatsoever. As I said, it might be the Total Abstinence Association or the Vincent de Paul Society. Surely the Minister would not propose that. If we are to read these words as the Act should be read it applies to an officer or soldier joining any organisation whatsoever—they cannot do it without permission. Surely the Minister would not suggest that permits to join organisations of that kind should be published with a view to having the matter debated afterwards. If that refers to societies referred to in the oath, namely, political organisations and secret societies, the Minister might say so. If that reply were made I would be satisfied.

The situation at the moment is that an officer or soldier does not join an association. If it was thought unwise for them to join they could be told to get out, and on the same line of reasoning you could prohibit at the moment their joining any of these organisations that the Deputy mentioned. But you have to take it for granted that if any Minister oversteps his authority and behaves in a tyrannical way there will be a row over it. I am prepared to consider between this and next week, when the Bill will come up for Committee Stage, whether it is necessary or advisable to bring forward an amendment saying that where permission is given or refused in regard to certain organisations——

We are not worried about the refusals at all. What worries us is the granting of permission. I mentioned the absurdity of applying for permission to join such organisations as these. What I object to is the seriousness of making it possible, subject to sanction, for officers of the Army to belong to secret societies or political organisations.

Surely if you cannot trust the Minister——

Oh, no—that is not the argument.

It is the argument.

No. Why was that reference dropped out of this oath?

I told the Deputy that it was dropped out in other countries.

We have to mind our own business here. I cannot follow the Minister through Germany, Belgium, France and other countries.

The secret society business does not worry us a bit at the moment.

We seem to be moving in a circle. Let us get back to the point whether the officers may belong to a political organisation.

It is not bunk when you deliberately drop the word "prohibiting." In any event, we can discuss this on Committee.

The words there are that they can belong to any organisation with due permission. If the Deputy wants to put forward an amendment with regard to the oath, or anything else, we can consider that on Committee.

I agree that they cannot belong, if this oath goes through, to any organisation without permission, but they can belong to a political organisation with permission, and that should not be possible in the Army.

That is a thing—when permission is given—that we can consider. At the moment, as the Deputy is aware, the officers in the Reserve are permitted to join political organisations during the period when they are not up for training.

That is clear enough. An officer in the Reserve is subject to military law only when he is with the colours. He is an ordinary civilian at other times.

Under the old oath, I think it could have been held that it was illegal to allow officers in the Reserve to belong to a political organisation.

I do not agree with that, but I admit it is possible.

I do not agree that it would be a right thing to do, because I think an officer in the Reserve, when living as an ordinary civilian, should enjoy all the rights and powers of a civilian; but, while I say that, I think it could have been held that it was illegal to allow officers to belong to political organisations when they had taken the oath in the present Act. There was just one other matter that the Deputy raised, and that was about courtsmartial.

There was a section slipped into the Ministers and Secretaries Act which gave to the Adjutant-General the power of convening courtsmartial. It is thought better that the chain of authority should be absolute; that, whatever authority the Minister gets, he gets it from the Executive Council or the law, and that all officers in the Army should have whatever powers they have delegated to them by the Minister. The power of convening courtsmartial is one that properly should reach to a military officer through the Minister who is responsible for the Army. The natural thing will be to delegate the power of convening courtsmartial to the Adjutant-General. There will be no change in that respect. There is a legal changes on paper, but in practice it will continue to be the same as heretofore.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 15th December.