I ask Deputy Dunne not to press the amendment for this reason: I do not think it is a good principle for Oireachtas Eireann to tell the people habitually what is good for them. The very essence of freedom is that each one of us may dree his weird according to his own preference, provided he does not trespass on his neighbour's rights. Sometimes it may be desirable to limit a man's or a woman's freedom to dispose of private property so as to ensure that a capricious use of that private property will not seriously injure a neighbour's rights. Subject to that, it seems to me outside the province of Oireachtas Éireann to tell a man that he must go away on his holidays even if he does not want to. I quite agree with Deputy Dunne that you must take effective precautions to ensure that when that choice falls to be made by the working man it will be truly a free choice and not only nominally a free choice.
The evil that Deputy Dunne envisages is that in practice the freedom of choice will be destroyed and the working man will be told tacitly that he had better not go away on his holidays and, that having been established, the next step will be that the working man will be told tacitly that he had better not look for holiday pay in addition to the week's wages he has already got.
Deputy Dunne and I and most other Christian men in this country were brought up to believe that one of the sins crying to heaven for vengeance was to deprive a labourer of his hire. I am not prepared to accept as a tenable hypothesis that ordinary men who are employing their neighbours are coldly and deliberately going to damn their souls for the purpose of defrauding a workman of one week's holiday pay, with the knowledge that unless and until they make restitution of that week's pay that they have stolen, there is no absolution available to them. If you steal your neighbour's property, not only must you repent your act, but you must restore what you have stolen. But if, in addition to stealing a workman's wages, you withhold from him what is his due, the sin is far greater.
Are we in this House to legislate on the assumption that the higher law has ceased to be effective amongst our people and that we are blandly to substitute for it the vigilance of the Agricultural Wages Board, in the belief that their activities are much more likely to secure compliance? I do not accept the suggestion that the express law of God has ceased to be effective.
I do say that it is quite possible that an ignorant man might fall into the design that has occurred to Deputy Dunne's mind as a possibility. I admit that there might be individual cases of that type, that an ignorant man might lose sight of the fact that he owed his workman a week's holiday pay and that in withholding it he was sinning against justice. If that should arise, the Agricultural Wages Board is there to remind him of his duty and if they should falter there is the trade union movement. I do not want to see the trade union movement supplanted by the Legislature. In every decent free democracy in the world, there is not only room for, but need for, an honestly operated autonomous trade union movement which will say to the Legislature: "There are certain spheres of economic activity into which we do not ask the Legislature to enter at all. Ourraison d'être is to be there as a bargaining organisation for employed men.”
By and large, if a working man is unable to get fair treatment from his employer, it works best that, instead of rushing off to the Gardaí and bringing into operation the statute law, he should go to his trade union branch secretary and ask him to direct the attention of the employer to the terms of the contract of employment, and in a friendly, neighbourly way, the worker can bargain with him. I do not believe that we are dealing with a state of class war. I know there are short-tempered farmers, short-tempered agricultural workers and short-tempered trade union officials; but, if there are, there are commonsensical men in each of these categories too. If you bring an individual citizen into headlong collision with the panoply of the State, the proceedings may terminate in the police court. Common sense suggests that, instead of resorting to that extreme procedure, the trade union official can go and have a roaring row with a farmer, and if the farmer kicks him off the premises his colleague, another trade union official, can go to the farmer and say: "Do not mind that fellow; he is daft, and it was good time you kicked him off the premises," and he can settle it up in two ticks by acting reasonably. If it is the farmer who is the unreasonable party, the man can return and say: "Look, no one wants fight; but if you try to throw me off, you can do so, but you will not throw off the Agricultural Wages Board. I want to get this matter settled up without any threats or fighting, but the Act is there, and if you want to act unreasonably and refuse to discuss the matter with anybody, the resources of civilisation are not exhausted."
I would prefer that the powers of this Act never had to be used. I do not want to believe that there are a dozen farmers in Ireland who, if their attention is drawn to the fact that to withhold an agricultural worker's wages in this context infringes, the obligation to pay the labourer his hire, would hesitate for one moment to pay over what is due. I will not subscribe to the doctrine that that is true, and for that reason I will ask Deputy Dunne on this occasion not to take so disillusioned a view of his own neighbours but to assume with me, until the contrary is proved, that our people have still sufficient respect for a higher law as to make it certain that it is unecessary to butterss that higher law up with the Agriculture Wages Board or the pious resolutions of Oireachtas Éireann.