Tuesday, 28 November 1922

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1 No. 31

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The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  I move the Army Estimate, £7,245,000.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY: Information on George Gavan Duffy  Zoom on George Gavan Duffy  I desire to take the opportunity of this Vote to ask the Minister for Defence to give to the Dáil his explanation of the execution of Erskine Childers. Erskine Childers was a man whom I deeply revered, and therefore I have considerable difficulty in speaking calmly and dispassionately upon this matter. He was one of the noblest men I have ever known, and for that reason, because I feel the matter as I do, I realise that it is incumbent upon me to be scrupulously fair in stating the facts which I wish to state in impugning the action that has been taken in executing Erskine Childers. I have a deep sense of responsibility in raising this matter, and I consider I am raising it in the highest interests of the State. Every Party in this Dáil has shown very considerable forbearance and tolerance towards the present Government, has refrained from criticising the present Government except upon vital matters, and has passed over in silence many things that might have been criticised at other times, because this Dail, and every Party in it, recognise and feel deeply that the task of Ministers is a difficult and terrible one, and that, therefore, it is only when they go wrong upon vital matters [2357] that they ought to be attacked. Silence is not possible when an Irish Government executes Erskine Childers for possessing a pistol in a dwelling-house without the authority of the Provisional Government, which is his political opponent. Erskine Childers——

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  I feel, Sir, that I must intervene to object to the description that has been given by the Deputy of the man being a political opponent of the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government is either the head of this State or it is not, and as the head of the State only it acts in this and in every other case, and I must ask, Sir, that in this case the Deputy withdraws that statement. It is not a correct statement of the fact, and the Deputy knows it.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY: Information on George Gavan Duffy  Zoom on George Gavan Duffy  The point of my observation was, where you speak of possessing a pistol without authority, and apply that to a man who is fighting the Government.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  That is a very different description.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY: Information on George Gavan Duffy  Zoom on George Gavan Duffy  That is what I said.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  No, Sir.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY: Information on George Gavan Duffy  Zoom on George Gavan Duffy  Where you apply that to a man who is fighting the Government, and that Government is in fact the political opponent of that man, surely that makes a difference.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  The twist does not do you much credit.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY: Information on George Gavan Duffy  Zoom on George Gavan Duffy  Erskine Childers was a great Irishman, and I emphasise that because he was an Irishman, not merely in law, but also in fact, and because it has been so unscrupulously denied up and down the country, unscrupulously, or ignorantly, if you like. He was an Irishman in fact, because he was born of an Irish mother, and brought up in this country, and consecrated his life in later years to the independence of Ireland. He was an Irishman in law under the very Constitution which this Dáil has passed, because one of his parents was Irish and born in Ireland, and because he was domiciled in this country. So let us have no more of this cant about Erskine Childers being an Englishman, as if that were an excuse. If he were an Englishman, the case would be even worse. Erskine Childers was a distinguished soldier and a distinguished [2358] citizen, a man who knew no fear; a man of perfect sincerity; a man of brilliant intellect; and, withal, a man of extraordinary modesty. The public knows how, at a greater sacrifice than most of those whom he joined, he threw himself into the movement during the struggle with England, and placed his services at the disposal of the National Government to be used in the field or the council as that Government might think best. The story of his work for that Government has been told, but I do not think it is generally known that his services were so well appreciated, that at the most difficult period of our struggle in America he was actually selected by the Cabinet to be Ambassador in Washington. I do not think the public knows the magnificent work, the monumental work that that man did during the Peace Conference in London. That can never be appreciated until all the documents are published, and then Ireland will be astounded at the volume of the work, at the zeal of the worker, and at the extraordinary thoroughness with which he placed himself at the service of the Plenipotentiaries. But I have no desire here to eulogise him. That much was due to him to say. I have no desire to make a eulogy of him here, because the charge which I ask the Minister for Defence to meet would be the same in substance were Erskine Childers a far lesser man.

First of all, I say this and I emphasise this—that of all the cases that could have come before the military courts, there was no case in which it was more vitally necessary that the most scrupulous precaution should be taken against doing an injustice, because there is no man in Ireland against whom a more unscrupulous and a viler propaganda, or a more persistent propaganda, has been done during these past months. Many of our people, aye, and many of our soldiers, sincerely believed, as a result of the propaganda, that Erskine Childers was a monster of wickedness, that he was an agent provocateur of the English Government and no fate was too bad for him. That was sincerely believed up and down the country. Surely, surely in those circumstances the men in authority, even if they did not fully appreciate him, knew well how he had been the victim of such slanders; surely it was their paramount duty to [2359] take quite exceptional precautions to see that in no way should they be influenced against him, that they should not be influenced against him in the smallest degree, except by what was definitely proved in evidence against him before the Court.

Now, what happened? The military authorities apparently ascertained that Erskine Childers was living at the home of his childhood in Wicklow; they surrounded the house in the early morning; they found him there and arrested him, as I understand, getting out of bed with a revolver. They charged him for that he had a revolver without their authority; they sentenced him for that; and they executed him for that; for having a pistol in that private dwelling-house without the authority of the Provisional Government. That and that alone is his capital offence. I suppose there was something else against him. I do not suppose that the Minister for Defence will tell us that Erskine Childers was executed merely because he had that revolver without the permission of the Provisional Government. I suppose there was something else. Let me pause at that something else.

Remember that this trial was attended with accompanying circumstances which make it much more difficult than it would have been in any case to justify what has been done. Remember that you had, first of all, the trial in camera, so secret that all the public were allowed to know on the first day of the trial was contained in this brief announcement from the Press Association: “The trial of Mr. Erskine Childers was opened before a Military Court at Portobello; the nature of the charge is not disclosed. Mr. Childers is defended by Counsel. The proceedings were private.” Even the name of his Counsel must not be given and the crime with which he is charged must not be made known to the public. That is the kind of thing which is the acme of folly for any Government—this extraordinary secrecy, this unnecessary secrecy, which seems to pervade the dealings of the authorities with these strange tribunals. Not only that, remember that Erskine Childers was a prisoner in the hands of the Government, and remember that it is International Law that you do not take the life of a prisoner in your hands unless [2360] you prove him guilty, prove him guilty before a war tribunal, of a war crime, of such a crime as is understood in every country to be punishable by death. There are many such war crimes. Not only that, Erskine Childers, who cared nothing about his own life but wanted to save the lives of others, applied for a Habeas Corpus. He has been derided because he applied to the Master of the Rolls. He applied to the only Court which this Government had left him since they had illegally suppressed our own Courts, and then, when the matter came before the Master of the Rolls, ah! it was a humiliating thing for the Government to be compelled to rely upon the fact that there is a war; not that they put that up in terms themselves but that the Master of the Rolls decided that he could not go into the merits of the application specifically on the grounds that there is a war. It was a humiliating thing for the Government to be brought to that, when the case all along is that this is not a war, because if it is a war it is clear that you must treat your prisoners as prisoners of war. Is not that ordinary logic? These are various minor circumstances. They would be major circumstances in any other case; they are minor circumstances in a case like this where the fundamental thing that is wrong is that this man is executed on that charge when he had that pistol in what was virtually his own home.

I have put down notice for to-morrow based on the execution of the first four men, and I do not wish now to traverse the ground dealt with by that motion. I wish only to refer to it in so far as it is revelant to the present matter. You had a debate here the other day on these first executions. I was not present, but I have been reading, and reading with amazement, the official report of that debate. Those men were tried simply and solely for unlawful possession of revolvers. The Minister for Defence realised that something more than that was necessary to justify the executions before this Dáil, and this is what he said: “The men who were executed this morning in Dublin were found on the streets of Dublin at night carrying loaded revolvers and waiting to take the lives of other men, and that is the simple case we have to put before the country for taking action in accordance [2361] with the recommendations that were made here. It was because these men were found under such circumstances with such intent that it was necessary to execute them here this morning.” I wonder if the Dáil realised at the time the grave admission that was. They were charged with the mere possession of a revolver. They were executed because of the intent to kill other men. Yes, but they were never charged with intent. This is not a mere lawyer's point. Any man of ordinary experience knows that the difference is enormous between the evidence upon which you can convict a man for mere possession and the evidence necessary to convict him of intent. The difference is enormous. If a man, in fact, has a revolver and has no permit, the Court is obliged to find him guilty, no matter what the extenuating circumstance is, if the charge is one of unlawful possession. Yes; but if the charge includes intent, the circumstances which would ensure conviction for possession are very far from ensuring conviction for intent. You are not dealing with a jury which could be swayed by fear or sentiment; you are dealing with your own military officers; and if there are circumstances in a case of this kind which will warrant these officers, in circumstances proved before the Court, in finding the intent alleged, is it not the plain duty of the military authorities to charge the men with intent to murder, to charge men with possession with intent, and not with mere possession. And if there are no circumstances upon which your own officers will find intent, then you have no business to charge a man with possession and execute him for that.

I mention this in connection with the case of Erskine Childers. It is even worse. He is not found at night in a city, armed. He is found in a private dwellinghouse, and because he has that revolver—that pistol—in his home, in what, for the time being, really is his home, the house of relatives, he is put to death for that. I refuse to believe that this Dáil pliant as it is to the wishes of the Government in many respects would ever have consented to the passing of the resolution as it was passed, had it realised that such a thing as this would be done by virtue of its action. I do not believe that a single member of this Dáil realised what he was committing himself [2362] to, and I reflect bitterly that things like this could not have happened if the amendments I urged upon the Minister of Defence had been accepted. Then you would try and punish, and if necessary execute, people who committed crimes against the Law of Nations, but you would not have done a thing like this. The Minister for Defence is the Minister upon whom this Dáil and the country felt, in view of his great record, that they could count to see that these drastic powers would not be abused, and that is why I specifically appeal for his explanation. He has to face a strange dilemma if he seeks the verdict of history and the verdict of this country. Remember that at the very moment that Erskine Childers was being sentenced by a military committee to death, the Recorder of Dublin in this city was sentencing men on a like charge to terms of imprisonment. Strange justice! This is the dilemma which I put to the Minister for Defence:—Either Erskine Childers was executed upon a charge which does not sustain in the public conscience the capital punishment, or else he was tried on that charge but other matters were allowed to influence those who confirmed his execution. I cannot for a moment suppose that the Minister for Defence will tell us that the first alternative is the case, and that Erskine Childers was executed merely because he had a revolver. But if he tells us that that was not so, then he will be telling us that the authorities have done something contrary to natural justice as understood in every part of the world, because if you had other things against Erskine Childers, Erskine Childers was entitled to be faced with those things, and given an opportunity of answering them.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  I understood, after discussing the Estimates in Committee, that an opportunity would not be afforded to a man, who was afraid of his shadow, of making a speech such as that to which we have just listened. I certainly feel very much ashamed that any representative in this Dáil should give expression to such a speech as has been made by the Deputy who has just sat down. We are charged with very serious duties on these occasions, and very serious responsibilities, and we do not care much about empty posturing as to what history is going to say. What we are concerned about is saving this country from weak-kneed people like [2363] the Deputy who has just sat down— saving them from that lack of moral courage which has almost submerged the country and in regard to which we are going to do our duty in our time and in our day. No one Deputy here in this Dáil fears the result of the stern action that we have got to take. No one man here fears the dagger or the bullet of these irregular gunmen. We know what we have got to meet; we know the work of these people from the first day they menaced the liberties of this country. We are dealing with a situation in which only men can take part. We knew from the very commencement of this struggle that a scheme of assassination was in the minds of the people opposed to us, and that day after day their Press reeked with incentives to their unfortunate dupes to commit that assassination. They have not succeeded so far. Our Nationals not duped by them stand proof against them, and this gentleman stands up here to tell those people in terms “I am not guilty as others are. I take no responsibility for these things.” I have never heard in my life the name of Mr. Erskine Childers mentioned during any meeting I was at as a representative of Dáil Eireann at Washington. I may be wrong, but I never heard that.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY: Information on George Gavan Duffy  Zoom on George Gavan Duffy  It is on record.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  I never heard it. We have been told about the law of Nations. There is a higher law than the law of Nations, and that is the Law of God, and that is the law we are endeavouring to enforce and to carry out in this country. There is also a higher law, in the opinion of people, than the law of Nations and that is that these regulations made by Nations shall not prevent a Nation which is in the birth pangs at the present moment, from coming to life. The speech delivered by Deputy Gavan Duffy is, in my view, simply an effort to tear away and to expose to the public everything that transpires at these Military Courts. It is not for the purpose of giving pain to those people that those Courts are secret. It is for the purpose of preventing pain. It is to relieve the public mind of the shock which results from having these things published. It is with a view to letting people see that there is a determination behind the [2364] attitude of every man with a spark of nationality in him to realise his responsibility at the present moment. The Government have no defence to make in this case, because there is no necessity for defence. We could publish every scintilla of evidence given at these Courts to satisfy the morbid curiosity of Deputies like the Deputy who has just spoken, but it is not desirable to do it it is not in the public interest to do it. We are as good judges of the public interest as the Deputy. We were in public life before him, and if God spares us we will be in public life after him. And if there is any constituency in this country in which he would like to challenge me on that I will take him up. Deputy Gavan Duffy was not here when the execution of the four poor citizens of this city was discussed. It was not worth his while. He had to wait for an intellectual to be executed. This is a democratic country and the people responsible for bringing these unfortunate dupes to their doom must take the responsibility for their action.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY: Information on George Gavan Duffy  Zoom on George Gavan Duffy  I expressly brought in a motion which is on the paper for to-morrow to raise the question of the execution of these four boys. That is a most unfair statement of the President.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  It was published that four executions had taken place. The Deputy did not know the people executed. I did not know where they were from, but I find now that they were from my own parish. A few days ago I got a letter from a lady, and she had five sons. One was killed in the Black and Tan war, three were in the National Army and one is in the Irregulars, “and I ask you to see,” said she, “before this boy is brought to trial that those responsible for putting him in that position are brought to trial and convicted.” Is that a fair statement? Are we to let off the intellectual—those people who have money at their back and who have the opportunity of defending themselves—are they to get everything, and is there to be another law for the unfortunate dupes of these very people? Every one on these benches regrets, as much as the Deputy who has just spoken, these executions, but they are for the purpose of saving life. We brought in these resolutions knowing perfectly well what the result would be, [2365] and what the reversionary result would be, which is that no one here would be likely to be safe for a considerable time until the country came to its senses. I am as satisfied as I am standing here that some temporary madness has taken possession of every one of those Irregulars who have taken the lives of our soldiers, and that what is at the back of their position is the lack of courage of men like Deputy Gavan Duffy. They know they can terrorise and persuade people that there is a case for not treating them as they should be treated. It was a serious responsibility when the Four Courts were attacked after the pact of peace was made, but we attacked it for the preservation of order and to ensure that what a man possessed he could not be dispossessed of and that our officers, when they walked the streets without company, should not be kidnapped. At this moment a gang is at work to intimidate members of this Dáil, and hold up the Treaty that two of the greatest Irishmen that ever lived gave their lives to secure to the country. And are we to lose all that in order that some intellectual friend of Deputy Gavan Duffy may not get the same law and treatment as some poor man's son who had not the same opportunity of judging what he was doing? What is the effect of the executions that have taken place already? I regret them; nobody more so. I regret them as much as Deputy Gavan Duffy. Already valuable stolen property is being restored; people are tumbling in to pay their debts and Land Commission annuities, and so on, and a regular steadying effect has taken place throughout the country. What do we want? We want simply order restored to this country. We want all arms under the control of the people who elected us, and who can throw us out to-morrow if they so desire. We want that the people of this country only shall have the right to say who are to be armed and who are not; and we are going to get the arms, if we have to search every house in the country. And they are coming in, and the bed of the Liffey has accommodated quite a number of them, and it would not accommodate them if we did not show this strong hand. The Deputy has mentioned the case of some people who have come before the Recorder. These people should not have been brought before the Recorder, unless they were brought before him by mistake. [2366] People who rob with arms are going to be brought before the Military Courts and found guilty. Persons robbing at the point of the gun will be executed without discrimination. This is going to be a fair law, fairly administered, and administered in the best interests of the country for the preservation of the fabric of the society. We have been through all this business. No one of us ever trod the carpets in a Continental hotel while there was a very serious war on here at home. Our homes were visited, and we did not get much peace. We realise the benefits that will accrue to the country from this Treaty. We know what it means to the country. We realise its importance. It is not complete, but its incompleteness is not our fault. Men who are lurking at the present moment and sending out their messages of death for us and other citizens in this country who do not agree with them gave expression to certain terms of agreement with our Northern fellow-countrymen, and we are going to honour them, whether they like it or not, even if that is one of the complaints that they make about this Treaty. Others of them take up other lines of action and point to imperfections. We are satisfied. Greater men than we brought it about, and we are going to carry it out. In the last few days documents have been captured in which this new organisation called the Cabinet of the Republic was set up, but there are more people in that Cabinet not elected representatives of the people than there are elected representatives of the people. What is to prevent one thousand decent working men at the North Wall, if they do not get employment, coming together and saying that we will set up a Republic of our own? Not Deputy Gavan Duffy's, not mine, but their own. Would they not have as good a right as Deputy Gavan Duffy has? They were never rejected by the country, whereas those posturing as Republicans have brought in non-elected representatives to govern this country, this democracy. We are going to see that the rule of democracy will be maintained no matter what the cost, and no matter who the intellectuals that may fall by reason of the assertion of that right.

Mr. GAFFNEY: Information on Patrick Gaffney  Zoom on Patrick Gaffney  Since there does not seem to be any disposition on the part of other members to speak, I wish to [2367] associate myself to the full with the remarks that have been made by Deputy Gavan Duffy, and I do so from a sense of duty and not from a sense of moral cowardice, a plea that has been too often advanced here when an argument wants to be made other than by directly repudiating it. As one who had an intimate acquaintance with the late Mr. Childers, I, at any rate, though I hold Republican views, and I differed in some respects from the views he held, still I hold there was no man in Ireland, nor a man in this Dáil, who held opinions as conscientious as he did, and there was no man in the late Dáil so much imbued with love of country and the intention to free her from any foreign influence as he was. It has been too often said here in this country that people stoop to certain remarks when they want to try to bring down a person. It has often been said here, and said elsewhere that Erskine Childers was an Englishman. There were times when Irishmen looked to the lead of England, and there were Englishmen who, when their brother Englishmen were doing wrong in this country, thought it was their duty to stand by a country that was oppressed. That was proved in the late war with the Black and Tans. Erskine Childers was by no means an Englishman. He was born of Irish parents—or, at least, one of his parents was Irish. He was reared up in his cousin's home in Co. Wicklow, and he was domiciled in Ireland. And under the terms of your Treaty Constitution, which I voted against, and of which, I believe, no note was taken, you allowed Mr. Childers to be domiciled as an Irishman—or domiciled as three-quarters Irish. I believe in the future the work of Erskine Childers—no matter how much he may be cried down at present—will be a valuable asset. It has often happened that the best of men have been cried down, and that their work was only recognised afterwards. I am sorely afraid that in the trial of Erskine Childers too many matters weighed with those who tried him other than the fact of his possessing an automatic pistol. I was here on Friday week last, and, owing to my being interrupted in the course of my speech, it was not possible for me to deal with this matter, but I believed at the time, and I do believe now, that the execution of those four other men was meant to pave the way for the execution of [2368] Erskine Childers. The very fact that in England you had Winston Churchill, and men of his calibre crying down this renegade Englishman, as they sought to call him, should have set us thinking that there was a screw loose somewhere, because when the English people—and the English Government especially—begin to praise us, it is high time to examine our consciences. I believe that there was an appeal lodged in the case of Mr. Childers, and that he was executed in the meantime, and that his wife was refused admission to see him. She was not informed of his sentence; and, furthermore, when he made application to see two revered and well-known Catholic ecclesiastics in Dublin—Rev. Dr. Browne and Father Albert, it was refused. I do not know whether it was the intention of the late Mr. Childers to become a convert to the Catholic Church or not; but I know one thing, at any rate, which has been used a good deal through the country—the fact that when the man was on his deathbed practically, a priest was refused admission to him. It may be argued that these revered ecclesiastics were merely to be brought in for certain purposes of propaganda. but, at any rate, when a man was nearing his last hour his request should have been acceded to. So much has been said against Erskine Childers at the present time that one would like to ask how much was said against him at the time of the Howth gun-running, and how much was said when he was at the beck and call of the trusted leaders of the country for the last few years, during the regime of the fight with the Black and Tans, when he was consulted on many and most important matters. A particular matter discussed here to-day was agriculture. One of the greatest losses sustained by this country has been sustained by the execution of Erskine Childers, as I believe that a certain programme he had mapped out would have led to a satisfactory solution of that problem. The power to execute was given to the military by a majority of the Members, the Labour Party and some other Members voting against it. I understood that the sentences would at least be laid on the table of the Dáil for a few days prior to any attempt being made to carry them out, as at that time and now, no matter what would be said, civil war prevails in the country. A pact was entered into, [2369] and that pact was broken, and I believe myself that the ill-advised attack on the Four Courts was responsible for all the trouble. I do not believe that those who advocated it at the time sufficiently realised what would follow. There is no doubt at all about that. If you wanted to have that attack, there was nothing to prevent you waiting until Parliament assembled for two days. That attack was taken against the wishes of the Members of this Dáil, who were not even consulted. As a matter of fact, we were treated with contempt, and perhaps we may be treated with more contempt if we do not have the moral courage to speak out, that we agree or that we do not agree. I believe, if there was an attempt, as was alleged, by the Republican Party to obstruct the Dáil, and I do not see how they could very well do it, as they entered into a Pact with the Treaty Party, and were in duty bound to come into the Parliament and each and every one of us went in—the Farmers' Group, the Independent Group and the Labour Group. I say, if Parliament had assembled that that attack on the Four Courts would have been got over. I believe that many things would have been got over by negotiation, and at any rate it would have been decided whether the Four Courts would have been attacked to put them out or not, as they had been in it some months. I believe, and I have heard it on pretty reliable authority, that it was the intention of the Republican Party to come into this Dáil.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  The Deputy is wandering from the Army Estimate.

Mr. GAFFNEY: Information on Patrick Gaffney  Zoom on Patrick Gaffney  I am coming back again.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  I did not wish to interrupt the Deputy.

Mr. GAFFNEY: Information on Patrick Gaffney  Zoom on Patrick Gaffney  In a matter of this kind I do not believe I am going outside the point. I believe all this can be brought in. However, at a future time I may be able to deal with it more fully. The estimate includes the payment of the Army and for Munitions.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  Yes, but it does not include the intentions of the Republican Party.

[2370]Mr. GAFFNEY: Information on Patrick Gaffney  Zoom on Patrick Gaffney  I merely mention that in order to show to those who state that it was the policy of the Republican Party to prevent the Dáil from meeting, that that is denied. There is proof for it at any rate. This Dáil should have been consulted and have met, so that the views of every member would be taken, and if anything was initiated as a result the blame would be put on the proper shoulders, and men afterwards cannot say that they shirked their responsibility or otherwise. Some time ago when a motion was brought in to relieve unemployment it was stated, I think by the Minister for Local Government, that there was no law until the Treaty was ratified and the King's signature affixed to it, and until then that it would not be possible to enact any law for the country. I wonder how the law should be enacted for the execution of people? If a Civil War prevails, and we must not close our eyes to the fact that it is one, many of the prisoners to-day that are being looked upon as criminals should be treated as prisoners of war, and there is no use of talking of Army Estimates or anything else if things are to be pursued as they are at present. There is one fact anyhow staring us in the face. It has been alleged that there are many men now who were not fighting against the British Empire. It must be recognised that you have them on both sides, and, of course, more or less you may find that at the present time, judging by some of the things that are going on through the country. Quite recently, we saw in the town of Carlow, two defenceless girls fired at through a window because they refused to put out the lights at 12 o'clock. Then you have the cases of a few old people in which an attempt was made to throw a bomb, and where a door and windows were riddled with bullets. The Whelans of Staplestown, I allude to. I will have questions put down in connection with that. Along with that you have a man, because he was supposed to express a certain opinion, brought out, bludgeoned and sought to be thrown into the river. Quite recently there was a certain house in Carlow in which four people reside— a husband, a mother, two daughters, and I think one or two little boys—and because they were known to have certain views, and because it was put out [2371] that the barrack was attacked, although that is without confirmation, that house was fired into. Some of the parties who took part in all this are known. Reports in some cases have been submitted, and in one particular case a report about Donnelly has been submitted, but nothing further has come of it. There is no use making complaints. The whole cry at the present time, I can see, is to carry on a policy of vindictiveness, and if that policy is pursued, it will not carry you here nor there. There is one thing, anyhow, let us hope there will be no more executions, and if drastic action has to be taken let it be placed on the people of this Dáil. Deputy Gavan Duffy has a motion down to-morrow, when we can deal more fully with this matter. I would like to say in conclusion that if you think by executing people and executing them on some of the mild charges brought forward in comparison with the charges which we brought forward when dealing with the British Government; if you think by executing people you will deter them, you will never kill the Republican spirit in Ireland by executions, and nobody knows that better than yourselves. I am glad to say in conclusion that Miss MacSwiney has been released. I intended to deal with that matter, but I am spared the pain, but I believe she is in an exhausted state of health. Certainly if the deaths of the two sisters of one of the noblest men that ever lived in Ireland had to be placed upon your shoulders, there is one thing future generations, at any rate, would curse the day that ever the people in this country sought to govern Ireland for England.

CATHAL O'SHANNON: Information on Cathal O'Shannon  Zoom on Cathal O'Shannon  Is mian liom cupla focal a rádh ar an diospóireacht seo. Ní mar gheall ar bhás Erskine Childers is mian liom caint do dhéanamh. Ní hí sin an cheist atá os bhur gcomhair anois. Ní gádh dhom a rádh gur ab í an cheist atá os bhur gcomhair ná daoineacht.

In speaking on these Estimates I do not wish to continue the discussion that has taken place particularly on the case of Erskine Childers. To me, and I think to most people, it is not the person high or low, distinguished or undistinguished, able or simply ordinary that is in question at all. It is a far greater and a far bigger principle that is in question. I am not [2372] at all afraid or ashamed to pay my tribute to Erskine Childers. I disagreed utterly and completely and absolutely with him, and his whole policy and his whole tactics and everything else concerned with him since December last. But that is no reason to me at all why a tribute should not be paid to his services in the past. As Deputy Gavan Duffy has said, his services, his very valuable services, did not begin merely with the truce or merely with 1918 but went away back to 1911 or 1912 to the erection of the Irish Free State through the Treaty of December. But those things apart, the execution of Erskine Childers in the circumstances is to me just the same as the execution and the circumstances of the four younger, less experienced men, those youths who were executed earlier; and the cases of the men who may be executed for all any of us know to-morrow morning or the morning after that or next week or next month. When the resolution was originally brought before the Dáil I was opposed to it. I am not now going to allow the President or anybody else to say that merely because I opposed that thing, that I want to wash my hands out of it. I am prepared to carry any responsibility that lawfully lies on me in the State. I am quite prepared. I opposed it on other grounds, and amongst other grounds was this, that whilst not a lawyer I did not believe that the powers that were given to the Military were lawful or were legal, or that they would be exercised in many cases by the Military with that nice sense of judgment which the great powers conferred demanded. I hold to that still. It was admitted then that there was no such thing as law for these proceedings at all. It is universally true that the only justification for them was the necessity of the case, the necessity of the preservation of the State. That was the only justification for any of these executions. I want the Minister for Defence and I want the President to tell me is it necessity that in their view justifies the keeping back from the masters in this country, the general body of the people, the relatives and everybody else concerned— keeping back from them that certain prisoners under these regulations have been tried, condemned to be executed and are about to be executed? I have already spoken in an earlier discussion on what to me was the inhumanity of refusing a certain visitor admission to a [2373] certain prisoner in a certain state. Now the whole manner and circumstances of these executions, so far as my observation up and down the country has gone, have aroused much more indignation and are looked upon with greater detestation than the action of the Government in imprisoning and allowing Miss Mary McSwiney to hunger strike. Not merely was it because of the natural shock to the people, and I refer to not only the people who are either opponents or citizens of the Free State, but many who are opponents of the Free State and who are not citizens of the Free State and who may not be citizens of the Free State for a considerable length of time, but it was because these things should be done in circumstances of such damnable secrecy. If the Minister for Defence can convince me that there is absolute necessity for all these things I am willing to reconsider my position. But I can see no necessity for it at all, and it is a monstrous, inhuman thing that when a man is about to be executed that neither his relatives nor the general body of the people are to know that he is to be executed. But after an hour or two or six or eight hours after the execution the Military authorities will turn round and send a letter or something like that to the nearest relation of the executed person saying that duly at 6 or 7 o'clock or whatever the time was that that person was executed. There is only one parallel for inhumanity of that kind and that was the inhumanity of the British Command in the European War when a printed postcard was sent notifying the execution of certain soldiers in France and on other fronts. Nothing in my experience has been more inhumane than this. Now, as I said before, I am not going to justify the actions of those who are in arms against the Provisional Government. I do not think on any ordinary grounds of reason that they can be justified. I do not justify them and I condemn, as much as I deplore, ambushing, assassination or anything like that. But that is no reason why the Provisional Government or its Ministry of Defence should go out of their way to outrage the whole moral feeling not only of the people but to outrage morality itself, because it is nothing else but outraging morality. The circumstances here, if a bit extraordinary, are not so much worse than the circumstances in other countries at other times. I doubt if in the civilised, or for that [2374] matter, in the uncivilised parts of the world you will find anything like a general practice made of executing in the circumstances and particularly in the manner in which these executions are carried out. Deputy Gavan Duffy has raised a point of the utmost importance. Were these men executed for the possession of these revolvers or not? I want the Minister for Defence in his reply to say whether they were or not. Were they executed for the possession of revolvers in accordance with the regulations to that effect? If they were will he explain to us or tell us whether there have been other trials under these courts on this particular charge and whether in those cases the same sentence has been passed and has been carried out or is going to be carried out. If that is not so will he explain the principle of discrimination? I also want him to answer—to give a straight and truthful answer—whether it was really the record of these men in arms against the Provisional Government that was the cause of the confirmation or the passing of the sentences on them. On the whole question of executions the point seems to me to be: were these men executed in order to deter other people from having possession of revolvers or was it in order to deter people from attacking the National Forces, or was it in punishment for having revolvers? If you single out these particular regulations and these particular people, whether they are high people or low people, whether they were dupes or whether they were the dupers, those things are immaterial. The main thing is, were they or were they not executed on this regulation, and could a prima facie case have been made out against them on much more serious charges—on charges which, in the ordinary common opinion, apart altogether from the legal opinion, would have justified the passing of sentence on them. I regret because we are in Committee that I am not able to develop the argument that I would like to develop.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  The Army estimates will be under discussion again to-morrow, and we have in fact two resolutions coming on to-morrow on the same question.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: Information on Darrell Figgis  Zoom on Darrell Figgis  It would be hardly possible for the Minister for Defence to make any statement now adequate to the matter he has to deal with, seeing the brief time at his disposal. Would it [2375] not be better to move the adjournment of the Dáil and discuss the matter further to-morrow after questions, and when the Army estimates would be under discussion? There are many matters respecting the estimates themselves that have not yet been touched upon. It would not be possible or just to discuss the estimates to-day. We have been discussing a general question merely that arises out of the estimates.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  My idea was that the Minister might wish to make a statement on this matter before the Dáil rises. We could continue the discussion on the estimates to-morrow.

General MULCAHY: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  I only desire to make a statement before the estimates [2376] are actually passed. If the estimates are not put to the Dáil to-night I do not wish to intervene in the debates at the moment.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: Information on Darrell Figgis  Zoom on Darrell Figgis  Would I be in order in moving the adjournment of the Dáil?

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  We adjourn automatically in a few minutes. This evening I allowed Deputy Gavan Duffy to speak for twenty-four minutes in view of the circumstances and the ten minutes rule has been broken by everybody since. The Dáil will now adjourn until 3 o'clock to-morrow.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m.

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