ASSASSINATION OF THE VICE-PRESIDENT.

Tuesday, 12 July 1927

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 20 No. 9

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The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  In the days since the House last sat a blow has fallen, not merely upon a particular political party, not merely upon a particular Governmental group, but I take leave to say, Sir, upon this Assembly and through it upon the nation—a blow too recent to be fully realised in all its grievousness.

It has been the fate of this country, perhaps more than others, to see torn from her ruthlessly devoted sons of great achievement and greater promise while the flowers of their service were yet hardly unfolded.

Kevin O'Higgins had in the dawn and morning of his manhood brought to his motherland such great and generous offerings of labour, of ability, above all of character, that his life in full maturity must have been among the greatest devoted to her service. The hands that struck him down struck at our common country.

We in this House are so familiar, many of us so intimately bound up with the course of that brief but crowded life, that I am spared the task which my personal associations would make too poignant, of recounting its story as if it were already in part faded from public memory, for Mr. O'Higgins's public career began hardly ten years ago. From its beginning to its tragic end it was consistent in devotion to liberty, consistent in sacrifice of self, consistent in tireless industry, consistent in sincerity of purpose, consistent in abhorrence of shams and hypocrisy, consistent in seeking and clinging to realities, consistent in the great intelligence that illuminated and the faith that supported every endeavour, consistent, above all, in [756] devotion to the Irish people, whose humble servant it was Ills proudest ambition to be.

The same unflinching vision carried him through the dismal hours when he made a weary pilgrimage through the country hunted, turned from many a door where he sought refuge, to return triumphant from his lonely and dangerous mission with an amazing contribution towards the sinews of war at the height of the Anglo-lrish struggle: bore him again through the time of invaluable co-operation in capturing the then foreign stronghold of local government: guided him through the disheartening days of the Treaty debates and after enabled him to see through and beyond the agony of the civil war, and led him at last to the opportunity of constructive statesmanship when he laid foundations which will endure while the State endures. As he stood out in fearlessness and inflexible determination in every step and measure which appeared necessary for the establishment of peace and ordered liberty, his clear purpose found expression in every branch of the administrative work which was his special charge as Minister for Justice. If it be true, as has been said, that the prestige and credit of a country depend more upon its administration of justice than upon any other single test, then what does not this country owe to the Minister for Justice, with its courts enjoying the confidence of all the citizens, its unarmed Gardai respected throughout the land, the whole administration of law functioning without reproach?

With all that he had accomplished, and for all the cold determination and iron will which seemed to the public to be his principal characteristics, Kevin O'Higgins was essentially modest because essentially sincere. He had in a high degree that self-command which he showed so wonderfully in those last-terrible moments. But to those of us who were privileged to be admitted to a more intimate acquaintance with the man there was revealed a softness, a charm, and a kindness which made him the more dear to us, as we knew what he must have suffered in mastering himself to give what was required of him by his lofty ideal of public duty.

[757] The crime which has been committed is grievous beyond words. We are bereft of a colleague loyal, steadfast, of rare ability; the nation is robbed of a statesman invaluable in council, of unswerving purpose, who knew not fear or weakness, a very exemplar of public virtue.

This crime has not been committed by private individuals against Kevin O'Higgins. It is the political assassination of a pillar of the State. It is the fruit of the steady, persistent attack against the State and its fundamental institutions. On the heads of those who have devoted their energies to the direction of that attack lies the blood-guilt.

This crime will fail in its object. We will meet this form of terrorism as we met other forms of terrorism, and we shall not falter until every vestige of it is wiped out from the land.

What shall I say of the crime against the home, the wife, the infant children, the mother and brothers and sisters of our murdered colleague? There are some things too sacred for debate in a public assembly, and I dare not intrude upon that sorrow and drag it into the public view. Indeed, it is not within the compass of ordinary speech. I can only, Sir, pray that you will convey from this Dáil a humble and reverent message of our heartfelt, deep sympathy in an overwhelming grief.

Mr. JOHNSON: Information on Thomas Johnson  Zoom on Thomas Johnson  It is impossible for me adequately to add anything to the moving and eloquent speech of the President. I can but say on behalf of myself and my colleagues how greatly we are affected by the death of Kevin O'Higgins. It is impossible in any language at my command to give fitting expression to the emotion which overwhelm us, our sympathy with the bereaved widow and mother and other relatives, our sense of public and personal loss, our abhorrence of the crime, our anxiety regarding the effect on our economic life that such an exhibition of decadence may involve.

For four or five years past we who faced Kevin O'Higgins across this Chamber in political controversy had many and varied opportunities of proving [758] his qualities. Admiration of his intellectual competence, our respect for him as an honest and fair opponent, grew with the months of experience into something approaching personal affection. He was a man gentle, plain, just and resolute. Into the crowded years of his apprenticeship in statecraft he had packed a journey-man's work both in quantity and quality towards making secure the foundations of this young State of which the most experienced of the world's statesmen might be proud.

Detestation of the crime is universal. There is no palliation offered, no excuse suggested. Hearing the voice of the people in the streets during the last two days, one receives an impression that the men who did that foul deed murdered not Kevin O'Higgins alone; they murdered also Faith, they murdered Hope; their sister, Charity, too, lies bleeding. Returning confidence in the country's moral soundness and fundamental economic security has given place to a degree of despondency and despair.

By the deed of those miscreants a few thousand more of the sons and daughters of Ireland have been condemned to emigration; hopes of employment for some of the workless have been shattered; more mothers will see their children die because they have not health-giving food; rickets, distorted limbs, tuberculosis will be the lot of an increased number of the growing generation. These are some of the consequences which will follow Sunday's deed because of loss of faith in a people among whom such a crime against the State can be concocted, for none can doubt that it was intended as a blow at the new State.

One is timorous of opening a door at this moment, but it appears to me, Sir, that the immediate problem to be solved, and to which all men and women of good-will ought to direct their thoughts, is how best and most speedily to counteract the economic consequences which accompany a loss of faith in the moral health of any community; how most surely to inspire the people with a healthy, buoyant civic spirit, with confidence in the country's powers of recuperation.

[759] I venture the opinion that there is need, even more to-day than at any time in the recent past, for a dedication, by all faithful citizens of their best service to the public good; that a nationwide spirit of comradeship and co-operation must be engendered; that hatreds, ill-will and suspicion should be dispelled and, in the daily work of all our people of every rank and occupation, that some thought should he given to the country's needs; that we should deliberately put forth some small additional energy with the conscious purpose that that small addition, at the least, is for the nation.

Can this be done? Is it possible that this hour of sorrow may be the occasion for a new national endeavour? That it should prove to be so would have been the most fervent prayer of our murdered colleague.

Mr. BAXTER: Information on Patrick Francis Baxter  Zoom on Patrick Francis Baxter  Not one of us who saw Mr. O'Higgins in his seat on Friday, back from Geneva, dreamed for a moment that we looked upon him in life for the last time. Our country, saddened by many trials even in our generation, has never been dealt a more cruel blow than this. To express our horror and condemnation of tihe terrible crime is beyond words. Few in this House have differed more profoundly on some things with our late Minister for Justice than I have, but never for a moment did I conceive any idea other than Kevin O'Higgins always did what he considered best for Ireland. He loved his country well and the splendid gifts that God endowed him with he used unsparingly in his country's service.

If the terrible act is revenge for the past on the part of a few I feel quite certain that could the assassins come into communion with those for whose deaths they sought revenge they would never have been guilty of such a crime. If, on the other hand, it is thought that by this doing a cause will be served, then that cause is damned. To the sorrowing wife of the dead Minister, and to his relatives, I, on behalf of my Party, tender our deepest sympathy. With his colleagues on the Executive we also sympathise in their great loss. [760] Ireland has sorrowed and bled, but Ireland will arise from her sorrow. The work Kevin O'Higgins played a great part in will be completed. The people of Ireland standing for civilisation will stand against assassins. This nation will live and must live. With the President I say that the people of this country will not be cowed. The sorrow of Ireland to-day is great, but Ireland will march on, perhaps, through this sorrow to brighter days and in marching on, will declare to the world that the efforts of the assassins have suffered defeat.

Captain REDMOND: Information on William Archer Redmond  Zoom on William Archer Redmond  I desire on behalf of my friends and myself to share in the universal expression of horror and grief at the shocking tragedy which has robbed Ireland of one of her most valued sons, which has deprived this House of one of its most gifted members, and which has inflicted on Mr. Kevin O'Higgins' bereaved widow the bitterest and most unmerited suffering that can befall any human being.

Mr. Kevin O'Higgins met his death as a Minister of the Irish Free State, and there can be little doubt that he met it because of some phase or aspect of his work as Minister of the Irish Free State. Thus he died in the service of his country and as a result of rendering service to his country in the manner which his own sense of duty dictated.

No differences of opinion on current politics have ever prevented our realising his earnestness and constancy of purpose, the richness of his intellectual equipment, his courage and the unremitting labour which he gave to his work; these and the breadth of his conceptions and his grasp of principles and details held a rich promise of a fully developed career, for they marked him with the stamp of greatness.

As I passed through the Mansion House and looked upon the tranquillity of his countenance, I could not but recall the words of the poet—

“After Life's fitful fever—he sleeps well.

Treason has done his worst!

Nor steel nor poison,

[761] Malice Domestic, Foreign Levy— nothing

Can touch him further.”

These words are, I think, poignantly applicable to poor Kevin O'Higgins.

To his unhappy widow we can only add our tribute of heartfelt sympathy to swell the volume that is spontaneously tendered to her from the whole civilised world.

I have but one word to add. Not only do we feel sorrow now—we feel shame for Ireland that such things can be as Mr. Kevin O'Higgins' death. Is it not possible that in the grief and in that humiliation may be found a lesson to restrain the impulses of those that preach a gospel of hatred and revenge as things desirable in themselves?

Is it not possible that from this national calamity and its realisation may arise a new spirit of appeasement and reconciliation which will wipe out the feud and vendettas of the past?

Major COOPER: Information on Major Bryan Ricco Cooper  Zoom on Major Bryan Ricco Cooper  On behalf of those Deputies who were returned to this Dáil as Independents, and also on my own behalf, I desire to give expression to my deep sorrow as the senior Deputy of the County of Dublin, a constituency that has been bereft of its most brilliant representative. We abhor and detest the crime—the cowardly crime—that has been committed. We all tender our humble sympathy To those who have been bereaved, as we are bereaved—for everyone of us in this Dáil has lost a familiar friend. We all recognise now, as we recognise in the past, Kevin O'Higgins' great qualities. I would fain touch upon one which has not been touched upon. I would touch upon his astonishing precocity. When I first knew Kevin O'Higgins he was only thirty years of age. Yet he had the ripe wisdom, the balanced judgment and the sure deternunation of a man twenty or thirty years older and fully experienced in the world's affairs. I was once impertinent enough to ask him, in private, how he accounted for this. He answered: “Well, I think that 1922 and 1923 counted for 10 years [762] each in the lives of most of us.” In that saying there was, I think, the epitome of his life—a life of sacrifice. He gave his youth for Ireland and for the fulfilment of the Treaty, in which he believed that Ireland's future was bound up. He gave his talents—his great talents—to Ireland, and he never rested in the giving thereof. He gave his courage—and no man had higher or nobler courage at a time when there was great need of courage in Ireland. Now, he has given his life for Ireland. I have spoken to many people—some Deputies and some people outside the Dáil—who say that his loss is irreparable. To those who mourn him, to those whose hearts are cold because he walks in the light of the sun no more he is. But in public life no man's loss is irreparable, because the greater the man the greater the inspiration that he leaves behind to those who succeed him. Kevin O'Higgins will not have lived and died in vain if we all strive, each of us, to fill a little part of the gap that his death has caused, each in our own way, moving perhaps by different roads but moving in the direction he desired—the direction of the peace, order, security and the prosperity of Ireland. If we each strive a little more strongly to inherit part of his spirit, strive to complete his work— if we do that, we shall not be unworthy to have been his colleagues and his friends.

Mr. A. BYRNE: Information on Alfred Byrne  Zoom on Alfred Byrne  Deputy Cooper spoke on behalf of the Independent Deputies. I would be failing in my duty to my constituents if I allowed the occasion to pass without condemning the brutal attack on the late Minister for Justice. The murder of Mr. O'Higgins is an attack on civilization. His attackers have struck a terrible blow at this country and at its people. I join with the previous speakers in expressing my most sincere sympathy with his family, with the Government, and with the citizens of the State on the loss they have sustained through the death of Mr. Kevin O'Higgins.

Dr. KEOGH: Information on Myles Keogh  Zoom on Myles Keogh  I feel too sick at heart to speak at length, but I think it my duty to master my feelings that I may [763] publicly join in an expression of heartfelt sympathy to the wife and children of our beloved fellow-Deputy, to you, a Chinn Comhairle, and to the Ministers associated with the deceased. I met the late Mr. O'Higgins when he could not with safety sign his own name and when he was pot at liberty to walk the streets of the city. I met him last Friday. I found him then, as always, the same noble-hearted, big-minded and determined man that he was known to be. It was my sorrowful privilege to kneel for four hours on last Sunday by the side of our beloved Vice-President and to watch the blood flow from the gaping wounds inflicted on him in this terrible attack. He spoke to those around him with his eyes—eyes of forgiveness. That was an anguishing experience which I should not like to have to suffer again—his wife and children by his bedside watching him die, and his faithful friend, the Minister for Lands and Agriculture, kneeling by his side. I can say no more at present than to express publicly the profound sorrow I feel on account of this terrible affliction—an affliction not alone to his family, but to this House and to the country.

Mr. VAUGHAN: Information on Daniel Vaughan  Zoom on Daniel Vaughan  I wish to tender to the widow and family of our late Vice-President, to the President and to the members of the Executive Council, the sincere sympathy of the people of North Cork in the loss they and the nation have sustained by the tragic death of Vice-President O'Higgins. With them I deeply deplore the loss and condemn the inhuman deed that deprived two babes of their father, a wife of her husband, and the country of a brave, courageous and unselfish statesman. The Irish people can take consolation in the fact that the deceased [764] statesman had achieved much of what his predecessors, Collins and Griffith, were debarred from doing by their untimely deaths. Those of us who worked with them and worked with him, to-day assure the Irish people that the work shall be carried on, and that the assassin's dagger and bullets shall not deter us from following the course of progress which the deceased statesman so ably charted.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  It will be my duty in the name of Dáil Eireann to convey to the widow of Kevin O'Higgins and to his family an expression of the sympathy and the sorrow which we all feel in his death. I shall undertake that sad duty this evening.

Deputies then rose in their places, as a mark of respect to the deceased Minister.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  I move: That Dáil Eireann will attend the funeral ceremonies of the late Vice-President, Minister for Justice and Minister for Extertnal Affairs. Deputy Kevin O'Higgins, on to-morrow (Wednesday) 13th July, 1927.

Mr. JOHNSON: Information on Thomas Johnson  Zoom on Thomas Johnson  I second.

Resolved accordingly.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Information on Michael Hayes  Zoom on Michael Hayes  In accordance with that order, Deputies will assemble here to-morrow morning at 10.30 for the purpose of proceeding to the Church for High Mass and subsequently to the funeral.

The PRESIDENT: Information on William T. Cosgrave  Zoom on William T. Cosgrave  I move the adjournment of the ordinary business of the Dáil to Thursday 14th July.

Agreed.

The Dáil adjourned at 3.40 p.m. to Thursday, 14th July, at 3 p.m.


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