I wish to make a protest against this Bill because of the exceedingly sweeping character of its provisions. In the first place I fail to see why it has been extended to the 28th June, 1922. I think it should have terminated in the period coinciding with the Truce, seeing that another Indemnity Bill would have to be introduced covering the whole of the period up to the present time. This Bill proceeds to indemnify or actually to make valid every act, matter, or thing done by any person who could claim to have been acting under the authority of the First or Second Dáil, unless it can be proved that he did such act, matter, or thing in bad faith.
We had Public Safety Acts passed under which a man had to prove that he was innocent before he was released. Nobody had to prove him guilty, but there was an assumption that he was guilty of something, and he had to prove that he was innocent before he was let free. Under this it would have to be proved that any deed, no matter how atrocious it was, was done in bad faith in order that the guilty person would be punished. We know that the moral conscience of the world was aroused because of the atrocities of the Black and Tans. In connection with the British Labour Party campaign many of us tramped Great Britain to try to arouse the conscience of the British people because of these atrocities, and I think that that movement was a great success. It was these atrocities that aroused the indignation of the world. An Indemnity Act was passed in the Oireachtas to indemnify people on the other side, and there was no other alternative. That dated up to the 11th July, 1921. From that period there was no such excuse—there cannot be an excuse for atrocities—as might have obtained when passions were high, and blood was hot, as before the Truce. This seeks to indemnify people for acts committed since then.
We know that there were many acts of rapine and slaughter committed during that time that were absolutely unjustifiable, and that people imagined simply because they were employed in a more or less irregular way by the State that was a justification for things which would not be tolerated in any civilised country. This Bill proposes not only to say that these people were wrong in doing that but to forgive them. It really says that these are legal deeds, carried out in the ordinary way. I do not think that any legislature should be responsible for an Act so sweeping as that. In its present form it would be impracticable to amend it to bring it into conformity with civilised practices, but I certainly would not like it to pass without some protest. During that period there were people who were partly in the Army, such as it was, and partly out of the Army, but in other respects they claimed to be acting in an official capacity, and they committed atrocities, deeds of the vilest kind, on the ground of politics, of previous sympathies and of religious persuasion, things that no Government or no State could justify. This Bill seeks to prevent these people from being brought to justice unless it can be proved that they did these things in bad faith, and I believe that that is impossible in this country at present.
I do not think they should be put outside the pale of justice. It may not be possible to bring them to justice just now, but one of the great powers of the law is that it has a very long arm, and no matter how long a crime goes a person can eventually be caught and brought to justice. We should not, by passing this Bill in its present form, render that wholly impossible. Many people entered the Army for ulterior purposes, for purposes of acting against the State, and while they were in the Army they committed acts of violence against the State, although nominally they were in the service of the State. This Bill will prevent those people from being brought to justice, whether now or in the future. I think that it is not in the interests of the State and in the interests of law and order that some of these notorious crimes should go unpunished for all time, as they will do if this Bill passes in its present form.