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.