Like Deputy Cowan, having spent a long time with this Bill, I have a personal sense of regret that, after all our efforts, we have not produced something more worthwhile, something more equitable to all concerned. I will be described as a crank, I am quite sure, if I say that there is a mentality underlying the Bill that seems to put the Army in a different category from others. For some reason or other, the official mind does not conceive Army personnel in its proper perspective. There are distinctions with regard to remuneration. This Bill provides pernicious and iniquitous powers in furtherance of that idea.
As one who has served in the Army as a private and as an officer, I feel that this Bill is not doing justice to the status of the Army or is not paying the respect to the Army that it merits from this State. From the initiation of the discussion on this Bill it has been evident that, apart from a limited circle of interested people, this Bill was a cumbersome, heavy and large Bill to Dáil Éireann, in which practically no interest was evinced even though the Bill relates to an integral part of the nation's make-up.
There are positively obnoxious sections in the Bill with which I will deal but it is the general conception behind the Bill that has been a causa irritans to me since the start. Let me go on record as saying that there has been an impenetrable wall of opposition that has killed initiative in regard to this Bill. The Bill is a re-incorporation of archaic references. I regret that we were not bold or strong enough in this Parliament to hew a permanent Defence Forces Bill worthy of the nation's tradition. As I said in Special Committee, I believe that if we had got our collective mind working in a generous way we could have produced something infinitely better than this Bill. We were in the unique position that the personnel of the committee had a deep interest in the problem and were drawn from two generations, one that had known conflict for nationhood and the other that had stood to the colours during the Emergency. There was a blend of practical experience that could have been listened to with much better effect by the official mind than was the case.
It is our duty as a Parliament, in a non-contentious Bill of this nature, to try to evolve a measure worthy of the House and worthy of the Army. I do not think this Bill is. This is a permanent Bill. It is a long, involved measure. There are features in it which I regret that I must advert to at this stage. We had a bitter battle in Special Committee, and subsequently, in relation to Section 4. Whatever safeguard is enshrined in the provision that an Order declaring an emergency must be laid before the House within 21 days of its being made, that is the only safeguard we could get after tremendous pressure. I agree with other members that Section 4 is a wrong conception. No matter how estimable or worthy specific Ministers for Defence may be, we have to argue in the abstract and there is no constitutional lawyer, no person reasonably versed in the provisions of the Constitution, who could conceive the necessity for Section 4. What type of emergency or what type of national problem does Section 4 envisage outside the provisions of the Constitution? It is easy to say that we are arguing the ridiculous when we suggest that the section is capable of immense abuse. It is not an argument—it is a positive fact—that, in the hands of the wrong people, the provisions of this Act could be used to back up their unscrupulousness with the force of law. It is no argument to say that the Minister could not conceive circumstances arising. It is no argument to say that if such people seized power the Constitution would be in abeyance. The fact remains that even the greatest malefactor might find himself answerable for his unconstitutional activity. Under Section 4, that protection would be gone.
It is a pernicious and an iniquitous section. I have said that in the Special Committee; I have said it on the Report Stage of this Bill and I cannot let the Bill go from this House without repeating it. I do not know who conceived this particular section. It is bad in principle and I am not at all sure that, in the ultimate analysis, on a contest on its constitutional validity, it might not be found bad there, too: it is a matter of opinion.
There is no doubt at all but that the real outstanding shortcomings of this Bill are where we should have been most jealous in our protection of the man who elects to serve his State in the Army. Before I deal with that particular section I must, in passing, again repeat that I have a terrible objection to incorporating in the Bill this conception of an Inspector-General. Take the tradition of this country itself. Take the type of warfare that brought us our freedom. Take the whole basis on which our Army was developed. Where, in all that tradition, can we find the concept of an Inspector-General except in a section culled from the acts of war or some manual of war of another nation? In the constitutional position as it exists in this country, we have the President of the country the commander-in-chief. We have a Ministry for Defence ruled over by a Minister who is a member of this House and, after that, we have the complete conception of the General Headquarters Staff, divisional control, brigade control, battalion control, company control, platoon control.
I think it is not germane to the tradition of our people to interpose into a Defence Forces Bill a title that is even foreign to us. It is, indeed, a poor tribute. Some queer kind of lack of uniformity exists with regard to this Bill. At one stage we have the Minister very rightly defending the preservation within the Army of the concept of the rank of commandant because it has such a sentimental and such a significant connotation so far as the part played by people in winning freedom for this State is concerned. Here, however, for no apparent reason, with no sentimentality to back it and with everything in our traditions to oppose it, we have a section that I say should never have been in the 1923 Act—a section providing for the appointment of an Inspector-General. I do not think it is ever likely to happen that he will be appointed but, once you insert a positive provision in the Defence Forces Bill, you are inviting somebody to take it upon himself to use this provision to appoint a person, in certain circumstances, to that office. The provision should not be there.
I am very sensitive to the defects of the Bill in relation to penal deductions and forfeitures. I am prepared to accept that reasonable occupants of the Office of Minister for Defence may be reasonable people who will deal in a rational and humane way with orders or regulations that may be placed before them for confirmation. Here again, however, we argue on a statutory measure—not on humanitarian grounds. We have to relate our argument in the most abstract way possible to the provisions. There is no doubt at all but that we are not leaving the officer, the N.C.O. and the men of the Army pari passu with other State employees. We are putting them in a category of their own where they can be subjected, under this permanent Bill, to the vagaries, whims, or concepts of possibly inadequate or unsuitable occupants of the post of Minister for Defence in the future. Nothing in the whole Army make-up led to more trouble and more discontent and more ill-feeling than fines, deductions and forfeitures. They had some protection in the old Act. They have not any real protection—none at all—in this Act. One must ask himself this question: From whence has this concept sprung and what is the necessity for it?
We are arguing in a completely non-controversial way, politically, on this measure. That has been the significant feature of the discussion on this Bill from the start and we have only to try to see what are the first principles of the Bill. The argument of people antagonistic to sections of this Bill has been directed, all along, to a wrong concept of principle or to the attempted establishment of what we conceive to be a wrong principle. I think that a change of heart must come some time. I hope it may come in the Seanad when this Bill takes its tortuous course through it. I hope that a proper slant or some reasonable light will suffuse the official mind and thus enable drastic amendment of this Bill to be made in relation to that particular facet of its activities.
We have experience of the jealous way in which the soldier guards his prerogatives and rights in relation to pay. We know perfectly well from our experience in the Army that this is the tender spot, the height of sensitivity in feeling, where the personnel of the Army are concerned. I could argue rightly that whatever the overall grievance may be as to the pay rating of Army personnel compared to the rating of other persons in State employment being completely wrong, there is no doubt at all about this fact, that where the question of Army pay, such as it is, is concerned, interference with that is touching the personnel on the raw spot that they have.
I would like the Minister to tell us why it has been necessary to single out the Army, whether officers, N.C.O.s or men, to become the guinea pig for regulations conceived with regard to forfeitures. Why has it not been possible to give us some background as to what basis is conceived for these regulations? Why has it not been possible to enshrine within this measure all the principles that are going to govern what those regulations might be? Is it that the changing whim of the Finance Department of the Department of Defence is to be the guiding principle on which the regulations will be based? If it is, the experience of people who have had the privilege and honour to serve in our Defence Forces is that it will always fall right on the financial side and that the Army inevitably foots the bill.
Take, again, some of the principles that have been attacked by Deputy MacEoin and by Deputy Cowan—the principle of there being no right of appeal from sentences of courts-martial, particularly the sentence of death. Our experience has been, from the point of view of the jurist, that nothing goes as slowly as British law does, but, as properly referred to here, even England after years of persistent parliamentary activity has conceded the right that there should be an appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal in certain types of cases in relation to courts-martial. What conception can there be of a court-martial dealing with the right of life or death of a person other than as a court of first instance to the trial? What weight and conception of that court-martial can there be any greater than the weight and conception of the judge of the High Court and a jury in the Central Criminal Court? I do not think it should be higher than that. I do not think it should be treated other than as a competent court of first instance, and if conviction follows there, I do not think it should be immune from review by higher courts such as the Court of Criminal Appeal and in the ultimate analysis, as in the Court of Criminal Appeal, on the fiat of the Attorney-General, the Supreme Court itself. I think it would be better from the point of view of our appreciation of the sacredness of human life that in normal circumstances at least a right of appeal should exist to the Court of Criminal Appeal from capital punishment by court-martial. I think that possibly the argument in relation to the Reserve may seem far-fetched when it is presented here in the House in the cool, calm atmosphere of a limited debate. But there is no doubt that, no matter how extreme you make the case, there are provisions here which make a member of the Reserve amenable to military law in a manner that I think is wrong and the position may be even more invidious for the officer of the regular Army who may interpret these provisions. People may argue, and the Minister will possibly say: "The Deputy knows perfectly well that this provision will not be enforced." If that is the concept, then will somebody tell us why these provisions are there? The Bill is very lengthy and very bulky. Why then put in these unnecessary provisions?
Let us come to the opposite extreme from that envisaged by Deputy Cowan and take it that some spleen exists between a regular officer and a member of the Reserve. Is it not possible when that reservist, for any purpose, whether social or training, is amenable to military law, for that spleen to be very easily satisfied under these provisions? I tell the Minister in a straightforward way that the concept is wrong. I have insisted from the start that the whole approach to this Bill has been too narrow, that there has been an inflexibility of purpose behind the concept of this Bill, that is well and truly dressed in the archaic, garbled language that runs right through it from start to finish.
I started off, the first day we went to the Special Committee, with the earnest hope that the spontaneity and good will of the people who knew and understood the Army from the Army's point of view would have some weight in the ultimate shaping of this Bill. But, as meeting succeeded meeting in the Special Committee, as section succeeded section on the Report Stage, all that hope was killed because of that inflexible determination of somebody who had conceived this Bill to hold on to as much of it as was humanly possible. It is a terrible tragedy, after the time and effort that was put into this Bill, that we have not been able to produce something a lot better.
I look upon the Army as one of the highest and most honourable professions to which anybody in this State can be called. I look upon it as a force, in its training and in its type, comparable and, in many cases, superior to many of its prototypes in the world. We look, as we must in this generation, to the tradition that it is carrying on, and then we look on this voluminous measure, which is to be a permanent one, and we find a mumbo-jumbo and a garbled version of the concept of many other Defence Acts, culled in many cases in full and in some cases in part, to make an integral whole for our permanent Defence Forces Act. Are the Articles of War, and the Canadian regulations with regard to their armed forces the best basis on which we can conceive a measure for ourselves? I do not think so. But there is no doubt that that is the basis on which this Bill is conceived. Even though I may be told that this Bill is very little changed from that introduced by the previous Minister of Defence, that still does not alter the fact that I would have fought that Bill just as vigorously as I have protested against what I consider the obnoxious sections in this Bill.
It would not be fair to the House, and certainly not fair to the Minister, that at this stage we should go through this Bill again virtually section by section, but I want the Minister and the House to know the sense of futility and frustration that we feel at the end of years of parliamentary work when we find the Bill as inadequate as it is.
I feel personally that this whole Dáil can be indicted for its lack of interest in what is one of the most important measures we can pass. I doubt if 40 Deputies in this House either know, have read or investigated the implications of Section 4 of this Bill. We have seen repeated observations in the Press with regard to the gallant handful who persevered throughout the long tortuous passage of this measure through the House. It is a very poor tribute to the Army and to the Dáil's concept of the Army that that has been the case. We are trying to produce a permanent Defence Force Bill, and in 147 Deputies in this House, with the exception of eight or nine, there has been either casual interest or no interest at all. I thoroughly agree that much more weight would have been added to the arguments and to the pressure on the Minister to amend this Bill if the House had been either co-operative or vigilant in regard to it. I want to see going through the Dáil as a permanent measure for the Army of this State the best Bill we can possibly give them. I certainly do not believe that this Bill is such or anything like it. We had the experience over the years of the multitudinous and ever-increasing number of amendments we had to the temporary Act. We saw the difficulties it led to. We experienced the effort of trying to co-ordinate these amendments and trying to get our Defence Force regulations up to date. We wanted to obviate that difficulty, and we approached our work on this measure from the point of view of trying to offset practical difficulties we had known ourselves and trying to conceive a Bill in simpliciter that would make for easier administration.
It is true that the vast bulk of this Bill is non-controversial because it is more or less of technical administrative importance, but when a Bill goes through this House as a permanent measure incorporating the obnoxious principles that I have set down it cannot be described as the best contribution this House could have made. Say, as may be said, that we have bees in our bonnet with regard to fines, forefeitures and deductions from pay. Say, as may be said, that we have bees in our bonnet with regard to the treatment of Reserve personnel. The fact remains cold, crystal clear that specific revision is in the Act to enable the problems that we have envisaged to arise and it is no argument to say that it will never be invoked. Where a Statute provides a positive provision, then nobody can say whether in the future it will not be invoked. Some persons examining the Bill in the future may pose themselves the question: "If this was not intended for use why is it there at all?" That is the question I am postulating to the Minister now. Why are some of these provisions necessary at all? No justification to the satisfaction of any reasonable person has yet been provided for the Inspector-General, but let that conception even be conceded. Our anxiety and our worry is as to what is behind the variation and departure from the old method with regard to penal deductions. That is the most vexed question that presents itself when dealing with personnel of the Army. That is where we should have clear and succinct declaration of principle. It may be far-fetched to say that regulations could after the complete contractual basis on which the soldier enters into contract of service with the State, but at least regulations could vary them to such an extent that they would not be recognisable in relation to the original contract of service. We know perfectly well with any experience in this House that where a contract of service involves any other officials in the State such regulation provision to alter it does not exist.
I have said before, and I am saying it again at this stage of the Bill, that for some reason or another the Civil Service in this country, the permanent State officials, take it upon themselves to look upon the Army as something not in the same standing as themselves. They may not do it in a conscious way, but we can conceive in the scheme that they devised on the basis of comparable pay rates between grades of the Civil Service and the Army that they do not rate the Army as highly as I think they should be rated and deserve to be rated. That is the kind of background to this measure that really gets my back up. I feel myself that if that type of approach had been removed, we would be standing here to-night, such of us as were interested in the Bill, to give the Minister infinite good wishes with a measure that had given infinitely more satisfaction in general to the House and which to my mind would have given an infinitely better Bill. I move the adjournment of the debate.