Wednesday, 13 February 1924
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. COLOHAN: I gave private notice this evening that I would raise on the adjournment the question of military guards at Maddenstown and Westerna Lodges, Kildare, being employed by private trainers to feed and look after the horses while there is a strike of stablemen on in the establishments mentioned. A representative of the men who are on strike has informed me on the 'phone that military guards stationed at these places were looking after the horses, while the jockeys and stablemen are on strike. Several soldiers were seen by the pickets this morning working as stablemen, with their coats off and their sleeves turned up to their elbows. It may be urged that these men are doing this from humanitarian motives. If that plea is put forward in respect of the horses, it would apply much more strongly to the wives and children of the men who are on strike for a living wage. The men on strike have not broken the law, as the local Superintendent of the Civic Guard can prove, and it is not just that the armed soldiers of the State should be used as strike breakers. The British Government tried this in the strike of 1919, and when representation was made to the officer in command he promptly withdrew the men.
I do not see why we should start using the Army in an industrial dispute. I do not see why the Forces of the State should be used to help employers against the workers. It is not good Government. I would like an assurance from the Minister for Defence that he will withdraw the men, keep the ring and act impartially between trainers and stablemen. That is all we want, because the men are conscious that their demands are just, and they are determined not to go back until they gain those terms. I am sure, if the trainers apply to the Strike-Committee, they will be met in a sporting fashion so far as the welfare of the horses is concerned. Again, I would urge that soldiers should not be used against workers in the interest of employers in industrial disputes of this kind, and that the Government should act with strict impartiality.
MINISTER for FINANCE (Mr. Blythe): The Minister for Defence is not able to be present. I do not know  whether he could have been present at 8.30 or not. However, I was speaking to him outside when he received this notice, and I understand from him that the military are in attendance for protection on the requisition of the civil authorities, with instructions to confine themselves strictly to the duty of military protection. However, the Minister for Defence did say that possibly in the case of an animal being about to die, that a soldier might prevent its death; but that apart from that consideration their instructions were to confine themselves strictly to the duty of protection. If the Deputy wants to get the matter dealt with in detail, I am afraid he will have to raise it again when the Minister for Defence, who has first-hand knowledge of it, would be present.
Mr. JOHNSON: It is well to have the assurance from the Minister, who is speaking on behalf of the Minister for Defence, that the instructions to the military in question were merely to safeguard property. But the information to hand is that they were doing much more than that—that they were actually doing the work of the men who were on strike. I take it, from the Minister's statement, that that is going beyond the intentions of the Minister, and that he will—I would assume this, but I would like to have the  Minister's assent on behalf of the Government—instruct that no going beyond protection will be allowed, so that it cannot be made a complaint that the service of protection is being availed of as a cover for doing the work of the men who are on strike. If we can get that assurance, I am quite certain that Deputy Colohan will be satisfied, and the people concerned will be satisfied. It is the least, of course, the Ministry can do, and I am quite sure it will be done. But it is well that the matter should be made public, so that even the men concerned will know that they are going beyond their instructions, and that the officers concerned will know that they have no right to allow the men to do the work of those who are on strike, under cover of protection of property.
Mr. BLYTHE: The Deputy can take it that it is not the policy of the Government that the military shall be used for the employers against the men in this matter, or that they shall be allowed to do the work of the men on strike.
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