Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 7 Apr 1927

Vol. 8 No. 17



I move: "That leave be given to the promoters of the Merrion Square (Dublin) Bill, 1927 to withdraw the said Bill."


Has notice been served?


Yes, by the promoters.

Having explained the principles of the Bill, and the reasons why the promoters brought it before the House, I think it is well that I should now explain why they wish to withdraw it. Of course, the real reason for the necessity of requesting permission to withdraw the Bill arose from a speech which was delivered by the Vice-President in the Dáil, when he was dealing with this matter. In opposing the Bill on behalf of the Executive Council he referred to proofs of differences amongst the supporters of the scheme, the subscribers and others connected with it. In the forefront of his proof that there was grave dissension amongst the subscribers and others, he referred to a letter written by you, sir, on 11th May, 1926, in which you stated that you could not recall the sequence of events in connection with the fund for the last four years. Before the rest of that letter was written I am sorry the writer's memory was not refreshed. As a result, there were statements made in that letter which, I believe, had the writer gone to the Committee and asked for information, would never have been made. However, they were made, and they suited the convenience of the Vice-President to bring forward as evidence that the subscribers to the War Memorial were at variance. The Vice-President did not make use of the answer that was given to that letter two or three days afterwards by Captain Henry Harrison. The Committee of the War Memorial had the matter before them. It was not considered that it was consistent with the dignity of the writer of the letter or the Committee that they should enter into a newspaper controversy as to whether the rights lay on this side or that. It was decided that the matter should end there and then. I believe the decision that the Committee took then was perfectly right. The greatest mistake was made when the matter was raised again.

The other matter to which the Vice-President referred was the attitude of the ex-service men. He relied on statements made in this House by Senators Sir Bryan Mahon, and Sir William Hickie. The question is a troublesome one and I do not think it is one which the ex-servicemen or any of the subscribers would thank the Vice-President for drawing attention to. No good can be done by doing so. The real fact that the Minister had to disclose to the House was that the Executive Council had made a ruling. The facts connected with the matter were given in the resolution that I read to the House when I spoke here on a previous occasion. I will read that resolution again:—

"That the National Executive Council of the Legion of Irish Ex-servicemen, having heard from their President details of the situation with regard to the National War Memorial Fund, wish to place on record the universal wish of the Council that the memorial should take the form of a statue, obelisk, or cenotaph of exceptional beauty and grandeur, sited in some central part of the city of Dublin; that such monument should include adequate recognition of the deeds of the 10th, 16th, and 36th Divisions, and of all Irishmen who served in the Royal Navy, the Royal Artillery, Engineers, Air Force, Tanks, Machine Gun Corps, and all Corps and Departments of Armies in the field. They are unanimously in favour of the payment of a portion of the cost of the erection of the battlefield memorials in France, Flanders, and Serbia."

That was communicated to the High Court when application was made to the Court for permission to proceed. The Committee then got advice which compelled them to go to the Seanad and Dáil for leave to go on with the Bill. Why, after that, the ex-servicemen changed their opinion and how much real change there was no man knows. I know that my friend Senator Sir Bryan Mahon always held the opinion that there should be some payment either to the soldiers or some special charities connected with their organisation. I think I am interpreting him correctly.

On a point of order, I never stated or thought of that.

I understood that was always the Senator's opinion, and that he was consistent in the attitude he adopted when he told the House that he objected to the scheme.

My opinion has never changed. My opinion was always that the Merrion Square scheme was a mistake. I was opposed to it. I never stated that the money should be given to ex-servicemen or spent in any other way except as a memorial.

That is a small matter. What I am trying to express is that as far as the Senator was concerned he was perfectly consistent in his opposition to the scheme. His opposition did not appear when the application was made to the High Court. We had no evidence at that time that he was opposed to the scheme. As regards Senator Sir William Hickie, we had every evidence that he was entirely in favour of the scheme. He was one of the promoters and one of the signatories to the scheme. He backed it up in every possible way. In the scheme as it was before the High Court there was a clause which sanctioned a payment of £1,500 to a project for the erection of crosses on the battlefields of France and Gallipoli. That amount was afterwards paid by the War Memorial Committee to a committee of which the Senator was a member. Anyone would have thought that he was in honour bound when he accepted part of the verdict of the court, to accept the whole verdict. Apparently Senator Sir William Hickie changed his mind. Once that part of the matter was settled the Senator chose to come here and to oppose a scheme of which he was so long one of the principal promoters. If a leader of the ex-servicemen changes his mind like that, I think there is not much to be surprised at if other people connected with the ex-servicemen do so. I hold that the mass of the ex-servicemen still believe in and agree with the resolution which I have read to the House. I hardly think it was fair of the Vice-President to quote a bit of the letter of the Cathaoirleach as proof that there was a serious difference of opinion amongst the promoters of the Merrion Square scheme. Even if there had been, the promoters of the scheme were perfectly willing to go before a Committee of this House, or of the two Houses, and to let those who opposed the scheme come forward on the other side. We have no hesitation whatever in saying that, if that was all that was against this scheme, the Committee would have dealt with the matter as promptly as the High Court had done and give the same decision. We were not in the least afraid of that.

It was another question when we came to the real opposition: the announcement of the Vice-President that he opposed the scheme on behalf of the Executive Council. He spoke of discontent and disagreement and the absence of something in the nature of substantial unanimity. I tried to show the House how wrong the statement was that there was a sharp diversity of opinion amongst the subscribers. There is not a particle of evidence that such a state of affairs really existed. We know that it is impossible that any scheme could be put forward in Ireland without having people differing with it. A great deal of unanimity was obtained. Apparently it was the purpose of the Vice-President to decry that unanimity and to prove to the best of his ability that it did not exist. I do not think that that was fair. I think he had quite enough shots in his locker to end the scheme without bringing these matters forward.

I do not propose to follow the Vice-President in his various arguments as to what strangers would think if the monument were erected in Merrion Square, but the opposition of the Executive Council was not a thing which the Standing Committee of Trustees of the War Memorial had the least reason to expect. Both from letters and from conversation with some of the members of the Executive they were at least entitled to think that though there might be no very great approval there was certainly no very great disapproval of the scheme. I suppose there were few greater thunderbolts launched on any Committee than there were when that speech was made by the Vice-President to the Dáil. We may leave out the question of strangers, of history and all the rest of it, but I hold that the whole view-point of the Executive Council was voiced in the Vice-President's speech when he said: "I do not want to see a little park in the front of this State's seat of Government dedicated to the memory of those who fell in the war." That is the decision of the Executive Council and it is the decision which is now inflicted upon the Free State.

We have been offered sites in Fitzwilliam Square or Parnell Square. I think if the Vice-President had given any consideration to the matter at all he could have seen and known that these sites are utterly unfitted for such a memorial, and he might have spared us an offer which he knew we could not accept under any circumstances. The fact is that our Government has decreed that such a memorial is not to be erected in their neighbourhood, and that our scheme as regards the erection of a war memorial in Dublin is wrecked. The Committee accepts the inevitable and counsel is now being asked as to the steps which must be taken to satisfy the legal liabilities of our contributors, and to return the subscriptions, now that the effort to spend the money for the purposes for which it was subscribed has failed. I ask the leave of the Seanad to withdraw the Bill.

I want to ask a question of the promoters of the Bill. The wisdom of the decision of the Dáil has been very much discussed, and I think it would help the community to give an enlightened decision if my question were answered. If this Bill passed, the people of Dublin would have come into possession of Merrion Square as a park for ever. I understand that the trustees of the Pembroke Estate will in twelve years be at liberty to sell Merrion Square as a building site. It is inconceivable that the Dublin Commissioners should desire or, if they could prevent it, should permit that great open space to be built over. I have heard, however, a very high sum mentioned as the price the Commissioners will have to pay for Merrion Square if they have to buy it. There is no doubt that they would have to pay for its building value. I would be obliged if you, sir, would permit Senator Jameson, who is perhaps best informed as to the facts, to reply to my question.

I have only information of a very casual kind, and I do not know that the valuation could be relied on very accurately. I think I am certainly understanding the figures when I say that twelve years hence, with a building scheme attached to it, the site should be worth anything from £50,000 to £100,000.

Leave given to withdraw Bill.