PRISONERS ON HUNGER STRIKE.

Tuesday, 17 April 1923

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 3 No. 3

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Dr. McCARTAN: Information on Patrick McCartan  Zoom on Patrick McCartan  I would just like to make an ad misericordiam appeal on behalf of a few hunger strikers. Some of them are in a precarious condition at the present time. I do not wish to make any excuse for them. I wish to state clearly that I think they are in the wrong. But the fact is they are in danger of death. The public generally assume, and many of us assume, that this unfortunate struggle is nearing a close, and it would be most unfortunate if anybody should be allowed at this time to die hunger striking. I would like the Government to consider [191] very seriously the advisability of the immediate release of three women and one man. Now, the Government may make a good case against one or all of them. I do not know anything of the pros or cons, but I have the case of one that is in danger of death—it seems a very trivial case. I just want to ask the Government, as a big, generous act, to release these four people at the present time. I know it will be claimed that thousands of prisoners might go on hunger strike and do the same. I wrote to the President yesterday that I was willing to introduce a resolution here advocating that the Dáil would support the Government in allowing anyone who chooses to hunger strike in the future to take the consequences of his or her act, and I am still willing to do that. We all know that it is not very easy to say let them break the hunger strike. It is not easy without sacrifice of honour on their part once they have taken up their position of hunger striking to break a hunger strike. Personally, if I were on hunger strike I would prefer to die rather than back out. They are in the same way. The Government are now in a position of strength. They are in a secure position. I appeal to them strongly to be generous. I do not wish to defend any man or woman who is on hunger strike. I just wish to make a sort of piteous appeal on their part. I do not wish to labour the question, I still have hope that the Cabinet will do the big, generous thing, and I would rather they would do it without any appeal from me or from anyone else. I feel confident that they will.

Mr. T.J. O'CONNELL: Information on Tomas O'Connell  Zoom on Tomas O'Connell  I would like to add my voice to what Dr. McCartan has said, and make an appeal to the Government to treat the matter in a generous way. In the circumstances of the moment they can afford to be generous, and it will add more to the status and position of the Government if they hearken to Dr. McCartan's appeal. So far as I can learn, the charges in some cases are not of a very serious character. In one case I have learned the only charge is that the girl had ten or twelve copies of Poblacht na hEireann in her possession. Well, if that is so, I am afraid that many of us could perhaps be hauled up on the same charge. I do not wish to go into the merits of it in any way, but to repeat what I said and to [192] urge that the appeal which had been made to the Government would be acted on in a generous way by this State, and to urge on the Government to listen to the reasons that have been given by Dr. McCartan.

Professor MAGENNIS: Information on Professor William Magennis  Zoom on Professor William Magennis  I desire to associate myself with Dr. McCartan, particularly with regard to one of the prisoners in question—Dr. Con Murphy, who was a very distinguished graduate of the Royal University. There are special, and, indeed, peculiar reasons why I, in particular, should advocate a show of mercy to him. I have known him and admired his character for many, many years, and I know what conditions have operated on him to turn his mind from the support of the Free State which, in his saner earlier moments he had advocated.

He has been unfortunate in his family. His sons and one of his daughters have taken a very active, and I might almost say criminal, part, so far as I am aware of any evidence, in opposing the State. He himself, along with Mr. Patrick Little, the Deputies may be aware, went some time ago as a deputation to the Vatican to expound in Rome the case for the Republic, particularly the case as regards the conception that ought to be entertained of the exact force and significance of the late election. It has been represented through handbills pasted indiscriminately over the city that this man was arrested because he had gone to Rome; but I, who am particularly interested in his welfare, know thoroughly that a long interval elapsed and that there is no connection whatsoever between his arrest and his advocacy in Rome of the Republican cause. I know, and I would personally vouch for it, that this man is a man of the highest character, though, in my conception, a zealot who takes very narrow views; but his zeal in the case is proportionate to the narrowness of his vision. I think he has suffered a great deal. If I may be allowed to express the opinion to the Minister, he has expiated, more than justice requires, the folly he has been guilty of in associating himself with circulars that spoke of the murder-gang of the Government. He has lost a high position in the Civil Service. That in itself is a considerable punishment. Now, to have his life endangered and his health permanently [193] injured, as it will by this wanton freak of his, will be undoubtedly an additional grievous punishment. I do think that the Minister can afford to exercise clemency in his case. Then the case of one of the women prisoners is especially deserving of clemency. She is a girl, a student of high character, who, in a moment of ill-considered haste, piqued by an event that occurred recently, allowed herself to be persuaded to undergo arrest and to follow in the wake of the bad example set by other prisoners of a greater age. I speak particularly for Dr. Con Murphy. I feel that I would despise myself all my life if, on an opportunity like this presenting itself, I did not say what I have said on his behalf.

Mr. O'BRIEN: Information on William O'Brien  Zoom on William O'Brien  I would like to join with the other Deputies in the appeal to the Government to release, not as a matter of right, but as an act of clemency, those people who are on hunger strike. Recent events have convinced most of us that this fight is rapidly coming to an end, and a generous gesture on the part of the Government now would, I am sure, be interpreted in the right way. There are many old comrades of the Ministers engaged in the fight, and they probably would be very glad to forget the nightmare of the last twelve months. The Government can accede to this appeal without any sign of weakness, and I strongly urge them to do it.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  This matter has been under consideration for some time. It must be admitted that until steps were taken to arrest certain active women, considerable damage and considerable loss of life were occasioned in the city and in other parts of the country. Since they have been arrested these activities have to a very large extent ceased. We know, on the information at our disposal, that if it were not for the active co-operation of women, this particular onslaught on people's rights, liberties, and property would not have continued to anything like the same length of time. That onslaught would not have continued were it not for their co-operation and criminal assistance. That is a very serious consideration for the Dáil and for the Government. We know full well that they have acted on the assumption all through that they would be immune from any disadvantages [194] which men run when they are apprehended in carrying out hostile acts against citizens of the State. It is well that the Dáil would bear that in mind. We have no desire to see any section of the community suffer. We have no desire to humiliate any of those who have been engaged in active hostility against us; but we owe a duty to the State to see that at a moment like this there are not loosed upon the State persons who have not the interests of the State or the security of life and property at heart. Only in that connection have we acted. I think it will be admitted in connection with the sentences of imprisonment that have been inflicted and the treatment of prisoners whom we have taken and received, that they will compare very favourably with what has happened in other countries. The internment of those particular prisoners and the treatment they are receiving does not leave much to be desired. It is a question of detention, and they have certainly erred very grievously against the State.

We are not satisfied that it is safe at this moment to release those prisoners. All the prisoners are asked to do in order to secure release is to sign a form of undertaking that they will not engage in hostilities against individuals or against property. Is that too much to ask of any citizen of the State? It is quite possible that mistakes have been made, and that persons have been arrested who should not have been arrested. But would even the most strong-minded person in this Dáil who might be apprehended by mistake, supposing things were reversed— would any person with any degree of moral courage refuse to give an undertaking of that sort to the elected Government of the State? I do not see if one has any conception of the rights of citizenship that there is a case for giving more generous consideration at this moment to any proposition of that sort. Quite recently a member of the Dáil took up with me the case of a woman prisoner, and I sent on the letter to the military, and the result was—I suppose I may have passed some remark in the letter—that the lady was released. I subsequently learned that that was a case in which the prisoner should not have been released at all. If we take the risk in this case of releasing those people, and if the result is disastrous to the State, the liability is ours. On the facts of the case [195] as presented to us here this evening I do not know that a case has been made out in which we should reconsider decisions as to ordering the release. We are particularly anxious that there should not be any bitterness, but, in this case, and in almost every case in which propositions are put up to us, we are asked to give everything, and we get nothing in return. We do not even get good faith in return. In a number of cases prisoners have been released, having signed the form, who subsequently broke the undertaking they gave, and it was not an undertaking that any honest man, no matter what his opinions are, should refuse to give.

Mr. JOHNSON: Information on Thomas Johnson  Zoom on Thomas Johnson  Will the President tell us just exactly the position in regard to the undertaking? We rather gather from the statement just made that provided prisoners sign this form of undertaking they will secure their release.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  No. But there are certain people who will not sign it, who say that their principles would prevent them from signing it.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: Information on Darrell Figgis  Zoom on Darrell Figgis  I would like to ask the President—not in any critical spirit, because I appreciate the difficulty in which he finds himself in this matter— I am not quite sure of my facts, but I believe it to be true that Dr. Con Murphy [196] did sign that paper at an earlier stage, and was nevertheless dismissed from his position as a Civil Servant. If that is the case I think that, perhaps, his case is one that special attention might be given to.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  Does the Deputy ask did Dr. Con Murphy sign a form of allegiance to the British Government? I understand that he did. I understand he also signed a form that every Civil Servant has been asked to sign since we came into office. There was some hesitancy in the beginning about signing.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: Information on Darrell Figgis  Zoom on Darrell Figgis  Am I not correct in saying that Dr. Murphy did sign such a pledge of fidelity to the Provisional Government, as it then was, and that at a date subsequent to that he was dismissed from his position as a Civil Servant?

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  Yes.

Professor MAGENNIS: Information on Professor William Magennis  Zoom on Professor William Magennis  Might I ask the President does he realise that he is sentencing this man to death?

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  Certainly not. I realise that he is sentencing himself to death.

Professor MAGENNIS: Information on Professor William Magennis  Zoom on Professor William Magennis  It comes to the same thing.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  It is very different

The Dáil adjourned at 6.50 p.m.


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