Thursday, 28 February 1929
Dáil Éireann Debate
Article 34 of the Constitution shall be and is hereby amended by the deletion of the words “by a vote of Seanad Eireann” now contained therein and the insertion in lieu of the words so deleted of the words “by an election at which the candidates shall be nominated in such manner in all respects as shall be prescribed by law and at which the electors shall be the members of Dáil Eireann and the members of Seanad Eireann voting together. The voting at such elections shall be by secret ballot and no elector may exercise more than one vote thereat. The place and conduct of such elections shall be regulated by law.”
The purpose of the Bill is to alter the Constitution by providing that casual vacancies in the Seanad shall be filled in future by elections at which the candidates shall be nominated in such manner in all respects as shall be prescribed by law, and at which the electors shall be the members of Dáil Eireann and  Seanad Eireann voting together. The amendment proposes to delete the words “and the members of Seanad Eireann voting together.” It is designed to effect the purpose of assuring that in the case of future elections to fill casual vacancies in the Seanad, members of the Dáil, alone, will have the right to record their votes. This Bill, of course, is one of a series on which we had some discussion during the previous session. I have no doubt it will be contended by speakers on the opposite side that the alteration which it suggests in the Constitution is consequential upon the passing of the Seanad Electoral Act before Christmas. In the various discussions upon these previous Constitution Amendment Bills we expressed our views upon the question of, not merely the existence of the Seanad itself, but, also, upon its method of election with clarity, I hope, but, certainly, at some length.
Mr. Lemass: I appreciate the President's witticism. We, therefore, despite what the President thinks to the contrary, are of opinion that any proposal to alter the machinery of government in this State, whether the proposal be to improve or to wreck it, is of sufficient importance to merit the very serious consideration of members of the Dáil.
Mr. Lemass: I am glad that the President approves of that. As the Constitution wrecker, par excellence, his approval is worth having. The President will remember when this Bill came before the House on Second Reading he endeavoured to score a point by indicating to us that by opposing it we were running the risk of allowing the filling of casual vacancies to remain exclusively in the hands of the Seanad instead of, as he proposed, in the hands of the Dáil and Seanad together. We did not admit, at that  time, that our attitude was in any way illogical. We opposed the Bill, as we opposed all the Bills that the President introduced, because we disapproved, and still disapprove, of the entire scheme of constitutional reconstruction, which the Select Committee set up by the Dáil and Seanad proposed. On the occasion, therefore, of the Committee Stage of the Bill, when it is possible to put in amendments, we can indicate the particular view we hold upon particular matters and in favour of ensuring a straight vote in the House for or against these views.
Of course I think it is not unlikely the President will take the opportunity of telling us again that if the amendment is defeated that in opposing this section of the Bill we will be again risking the restoration to the Seanad of the sole right of filling casual vacancies. However, we are prepared to take the risk of appearing to be inconsistent on a matter of that kind because if we ensure the rejection of the Bill by the Dáil it will necessitate the revision of the entire scheme which is embodied in all those multitudinous Constitution Amendment Bills. Of course in order to prevent any wrong notion concerning our attitude towards the whole question of the Seanad's existence it is well, I think, that I should reiterate that in the present constitutional position of the State there does not appear to us any reason whatever why a Second Chamber should be in existence, exercising the powers which the present Seanad exercises or the powers it exercised before this zeal for constitutional reform overwhelmed the Government. That we do try to effect casual amendments in that scheme is not to be taken as representing any alteration in our attitude.
We had the opportunity here, in connection with the Bill introduced by Deputy Thrift, of pointing out that as we are not sufficiently strong to carry our main objective by abolishing the Seanad altogether, we intend, whenever we get an opportunity to decrease its powers, to  lessen its effectiveness and to reduce its cost to the people. The purpose of the amendment I am now moving is to ensure that in respect to the filling of casual vacancies, at any rate, the fullest possible control shall be exercised by the Dáil in relation to the Seanad. The Dáil, of course, rejected previous propositions which came from this side of the House designed to provide that the ordinary normal elections for members of the Seanad which take place every three years should be left, exclusively, to the Dáil. Now in fighting the same battle, more or less, in respect of casual vacancies, we are, as it were, defending the last line of defence. We are hoping that even at this last stage it might be possible to induce the Executive to throw some little sop to democracy. It might be possible, I say, although we have very little hope that they will do so. The Executive are, no doubt, committed in many ways, to maintain the Seanad and to increase its powers to impede the course of legislation, and it is not likely that they will abandon their commitment in consequence of any arguments that I can put forward. They are not open to argument and they are not open to conviction.
I would like, however, to suggest to such Deputies as are here present, and who have read this Bill, and who have any interest in the matter, that there are considerations to be taken into account in connection with the election for casual vacancies that do not apply to the ordinary triennial election. We pointed out on the occasion of the introduction of previous Constitution Bills and the Seanad Electoral Bill, that as the period for which a Senator is elected is nine years, it is inevitable that at least one general election for the Dáil must take place between the beginning of such a Senator's term of office and its conclusion. A general election for the Dáil at any time may result in a change of the Executive and an alteration in the policy of the majority of the House. It may do that at any time; but it is almost inevitable it will next time.
Mr. Lemass: That is not prophecy. That is a mere statement of fact. The point I want to make, however, is that changes in the Seanad cannot possibly be effected as rapidly as changes can be effected in the Dáil, and that although there is at present in the Seanad a majority of members empowered to do everything which the Executive Council wishes them to do, that will not be the case after the next general election. That majority, when there is an Executive in office which is anxious to work in the interests of the Irish people, may find amongst themselves strength to resist in a way they have not yet demonstrated. In that case a rather serious constitutional crisis might arise. It is to lessen the risk of such constitutional crisis arising that this amendment is proposed. It is quite possible that shortly after that general election, in anticipation of that constitutional crisis, a number of Senators might resign, and there would be then a number of casual vacancies to be filled, in which case we think it very advisable that the majority which will be in the Dáil should have an opportunity of ensuring the smooth working of the machinery of government by substituting for the resigned Senators a number who will hold the same opinions as that majority holds. In that way we would lessen the serious risk of conflict of views and would enable the majority in the Dáil to proceed with its work without any serious danger of it being successfully impeded in the Second Chamber.
The President will, no doubt, take the opportunity of remarking that I seem to suppose that the Second Chamber will continue its existence for some time, be it long or short after that new Executive Council comes into office. I do not suppose anything of the kind, but I think there is a possibility that the new Executive Council will have much more important work to deal with in the beginning than such questions as the abolition or retention of the  Seanad, and it might not be able to deal with such questions for some months after it took office, and it is during those months that the constitutional crisis which I fear might happen. It is true that members elected to fill casual vacancies only hold office until the next normal election takes place, and it may be argued that the majority in the Dáil, no matter how strongly they feel on a matter of this kind, would see the advisability of allowing things to develop in the normal way until that triennial election was due to be held, and then utilise the power they posses with their votes in order to ensure the election to the Seanad of a number of more suitable Senators than are now in that Chamber. Against that, however, I think it is right to point out that anyone who takes any interest in the proceedings of the Seanad, and anyone who goes to the labour of reading their Official Reports, might become impatient, and it is a bad thing for the Dáil to risk the possibility of making the Executive Council impatient in dealing with a serious constitutional matter of this kind, because an impatient Executive Council, as was demonstrated to us in the past, can be induced to take rash action. It is much better for members here — we are all cool now — to consider in coolness and in calmness this matter and to take a course which would avoid the possibility of a crisis arising after the next election. I do not suggest that if we accept this amendment members will ensure that no such crisis will arise, but it will serve, at least as a small and, no doubt, effective safety valve. It would have been much better if members here adopted our other amendments on all the other Constitutional Bills, but, even at this late hour, and having had an opportunity of considering the matter after a fairly long adjournment, we may now induce them to see the light. That, no doubt, may be a rather difficult task. I do not think that I would be incorrect in saying that at present not two members sitting on the Cumann na nGaedheal Benches  have the least idea what this Bill is about, but they, of course, vote for it. Possibly, with the exception of the President, who has been studying the matter for the last half hour not one Cumann na nGaedheal Deputy could tell us what this Bill proposes to do.
Mr. Lemass: A threat. For the benefit of Deputy Cooper I will explain this matter again. The Constitution provides, or did provide— as a matter of fact I am not quite sure how this particular section of the Constitution now stands, as I think we have already amended it, but enough of it remains at any rate to support this particular Bill — that casual vacancies in the Seanad would be filled by election, the voters being members of the Seanad alone. In March, 1928, a Special Committee consisting of a number of members of the Dáil and a number of members of the Seanad was set up and the majority of that Committee reported in favour of altering that system of filling casual vacancies and substituting for it election by members of the Seanad and members of the Dáil voting together. They also proposed to alter the method of nomination. We have not yet been informed of the intentions of the Executive Council with respect to the method of nomination in the filling of casual vacancies. Possibly we will have another opportunity of educating them in constitutional matters when the Bill dealing with that particular item is introduced. The Bill at present before the House, although it leaves the matter of nomination to be determined by law, provides that the election will be  carried out by the members of the Dáil and the members of the Seanad voting together. We propose to amend that Bill by cutting out the Seanad and thus leaving it to the members of the Dáil to participate in the election to fill casual vacancies. Now that Deputies know what they are voting on I will state briefly the arguments in favour of the amendment. In the first place, when a member is elected to fill a casual vacancy, he only holds office until the next ordinary normal election. He does not hold office for nine years. He is only dressed in a little brief authority. It may be argued from that that it makes no difference how they are elected, and possibly there is some force in that argument in view of the fact that the Seanad can be of little good in any case, although there are six just and good men there now.
Mr. Lemass: One man there was office boy on the President's newspaper. It really makes very little difference who is elected. The Seanad is useless in any case, and, in view of the fact that these members are elected for a short period, any system of election will do provided it is cheap and quick. As against that, I would inform members here that we have decided to increase considerably the powers which the Seanad exercises.
When we have disposed of this Bill we will take presumably Constitution Bill No. 12, the Bill which proposed to increase in a particular respect the powers exercised by members of the Seanad. It is not unlikely in the event, as I pointed out, of a general election resulting in a change in the personnel of the Executive Council that members of the Seanad might embark upon an obstructionist policy. They could easily do so. Very carefully planned out amendments to the  Constitution have been carried through the House for the purpose of enabling them to carry out obstruction. Of course, we contend, and always did contend, that the Seanad was created originally for obstructionist purposes. It was intended to be there as a brake on members of the Dáil if members of the Dáil should attempt to legislate or to alter the Constitution in such a manner as to enable this nation to progress in the direction of greater freedom than that which it now enjoys. A delay of even six or twelve months might be a serious matter in the life of the nation, particularly if Bills rejected by the Seanad were matters dealing with urgent public affairs. And we know the Seanad can hold up Bills, even those passed unanimously by the Dáil, for a period of about twenty months if they so desire. In anticipation of a large number of resignations from the Seanad after the next general election — members on the opposite side of the Dáil will not get an opportunity of resigning — and quite a number of casual vacancies arising to be filled, we think it very desirable that the remaining members of the Seanad should have no opportunity of participating in these elections and that only members of the Dáil should participate. In fact, I think a strong case could be made out that only members of the majority Party in the Dáil should have a say as to who will be voted in as substitutes for the resigned members. In that way almost simultaneously with the change in the Dáil you will have a change in the Seanad and a constitutional crisis will be avoided.
We do not like constitutional crises. Because of that we are anxious, as I said, to take counsel with each other. I do think that in a moment of peace and calm such as now exists, the best course to take is to avoid having an unpleasant happening in a time of strain or great excitement such as might possibly arise after a general election. We urge, therefore, upon members of the Government Party, now that  they understand what the Dáil is about, to realise that it is in the best interests of themselves, their constituents and their colleagues in the Seanad, that they should support the amendment. That amendment, if carried, will effect a very small but important item in the scheme which the Joint Committee proposed and which the Government accepted. If it is rejected then that scheme in all its horribleness will be carried through, and those who support it will be sowing the dragon's teeth which some day may grow up as a constitutional crisis. For that reason I ask the Dáil to pass the amendment.
The President: The unfortunate feature about the discussion of this particular amendment at the moment is the absence of its author. I had occasion on another amendment to another Bill to draw attention to the fact that the leader of the Party opposite had abandoned his own child. This is the second child he has abandoned.
The President: That is certainly a very trite observation. It is no wonder. Looking over the report of the proceedings referred to by Deputy Lemass I find that on this matter of casual vacancies the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad moved: “That the Joint Committee recommends that no change be made in the provisions of the Constitution relating to the method of filling a casual vacancy in the Seanad.” An amendment to that was proposed by Deputy de Valera: “To delete all words after the word ‘recommends’ and to substitute therefor the words ‘That a casual vacancy in the Seanad be filled by election by the original electing body,” the original electing body having been already decided by the Committee to be the Dáil and Seanad voting together.
The President: I am doing so, but it so happens that the tail is bigger than the dog. The Deputy proposed that vacancies should be filled by the original electing body, which was the Dáil and the Seanad voting together. This is the second child which has been abandoned by this great leader. For a long time I could not understand what it was that occupied Deputy Lemass's mind in his long speech, but it is now clear that he was trying to cover up the tracks, the unfortunate tracks, of this leader possessed of two minds — one at the Committee and another here when there is an opportunity of posing. I would say to Deputies opposite: “Do not pose.” If they would only recollect that there is a very intelligent public outside who know very well the intelligence, capacity and ability of Deputies opposite and who will not give them the opportunity which they sigh and weep for until they get a little more experience of public matters, they would show a little more commonsense in dealing with any matter that comes before the Oireachtas and stop posing. That is the most important of all.
Mr. Flinn: The President wants to lose £100, so I will take him for that amount that he is wrong and that Deputy Lemass is right in saying that after the next election he will be thrown out and that there will be a distinct and definite change in the personnel of the Executive Council.
Mr. Flinn: As we know, members of the Executive Council never interrupt.  They certainly never interrupt to stand over, with their own money, things which they assert. I think this is about the fourth time I have had an opportunity of offering members of the Executive Council, the temporary occupants of that position, the opportunity to make money, and in every single way, however definite may have been their assertions, when asked to stand over them with some of their own money they have always evaporated when it came to that test.
My belief is that they will evaporate also in exactly the same way when they come to the test of a general election. If I had risen for the thoroughly disorderly purpose of discussing the future prospects of the Government, if I was supposed to be here for the purpose of destroying Cumann na nGaedheal at the next general election, I should not waste my time: Cumann na nGaedheal is quite capable of destroying itself before the next general election without any help whatever. And the work that we have here to do, and the work that we have to do in the country in relation to that, is not to ensure that Cumann na nGaedheal, after it has had that test, will never again be the Government of this country. That is not our task. Our task is to see that there will be in this country an educated and a live public opinion which will see that their successors do what the present Government has never done — put the interests of this country before the interests of a party.
Mr. Flinn: Yes, I thought so myself, but I was led into the primrose path of dalliance by the chance of presenting to the Party funds of Cumann na nGaedheal the sum of £100, and I have been deprived of that opportunity, as I have been deprived of similar opportunities in  the past, and as I think I will be deprived of similar opportunities in the future, in every case in which they are asked to translate their debating assertions into some form in which they can be tested as facts. Now, this is a lovely Bill; it is almost as lovely as the description officially given by the President's officially issued document in relation to himself. The President will, I think, recall——
Mr. Flinn: The question, I think the Chair will agree with me, which I am discussing is the question as to whether the Seanad should be allowed to have any further say in the responsible function of filling its casual vacancies for the next couple of years. Why should it? I think that a member of the Labour Party has already told us that members of the Seanad are paid £7 10s. an hour for any work they do. Is that any reason why they should continue to have a voice in electing themselves? We know that an effort has been made in the last few weeks to get the Seanad to do some work.
Mr. Flinn: If we cannot discuss the qualities, the conduct and the qualifications of the members of the Seanad it is very difficult to argue whether or not they are a competent body to elect themselves. That is my difficulty, and what I suggest to you is that everything in relation to the Seanad—its personnel, its conduct, what it has done, and what is has failed to do—is relevant to the question of their qualifications to be regarded as electors.
Mr. Flinn: Well, if the Chair would permit me to say it, I would not like to be taken as saying that their performances are irrelevant. We are to have the Seanad and the Dáil electing by some secret ballot. It seems to me that it is very relevant to consider exactly the nature, the record and the performance of every man who, under a secret ballot, is allowed to elect even to casual vacancies in the Seanad, because while a man whose record may be questionable, whose performances may generally be irrelevant, whose general record may be undesirable, may openly and without very great damage exercise certain functions, it is perfectly obvious that the same man should not be allowed secretly to influence and secretly to do the same thing. For instance, if you have found a man going straight in the daylight you may be inclined to follow him in the dark; but if you have not found him going straight in the daylight that is a very sound reason for saying that he is a man who must not be allowed to be your guide in the dark. I would like to illustrate that, if I may, by a little story which I think will prove to be ad rem——
Mr. Flinn: In fact I do not think there have been many occasions on which the Chair and I have been so nearly in agreement. The actual words of the amendment are “to eliminate the members of Seanad Eireann from voting together.”
Mr. Flinn: Oh, I see. The amendment is to delete in lines 33 and 34 the words “and the members of Seanad Eireann voting together”. We object to members of Seanad Eireann voting at all in a matter of this kind, because we do not think that such a body is properly constituted, either in personnel or in any other way. We think that body was set up for a purely obstructive purpose; we think it has very admirably fulfilled that function in relation to everything that was good for Ireland. We know that it was professed to be set up for the purpose also of obstruction in matters that were evil for Ireland, and we know that in very serious matters which were definitely evil for Ireland it did not hold them up for one single moment; that there was a conspiracy to prevent actions of that kind being held up, even for the two or three days which would have enabled them to be reviewed by a full Dáil, as distinct from a Dáil which was made up of a single party. A body that so repudiated its primal function, that so refused to hold up bad and evil legislation, which now happily has passed into memory — the Public Safety Act — can anybody contend that such a body is entitled in perpetual succession to have the power of influencing the personnel of legislatures in this country? That seems to me a very sound reason why the Seanad should not elect.
The second reason why the Seanad should not elect is that it is made up of people who have been elected, or  brought together, or joined, or thrown in, or any other words you like to use, on all sorts of different franchises. Some of them have been elected by 23 per cent. of the people; some of them have been elected by the President; some of them have been elected by themselves; some of them have been elected by a mixture of themselves and this Dáil. There is not what you might call a common denominator amongst them; there is no common qualification by which you can say: “These men as a body are good.” Some of them might be very good; some of them are deplorably bad. At any rate, what is perfectly obvious is that when you add their votes together you are not adding things with a common denominator. You are adding two months and two elephants and making four. That may strike you as a rather strange statement, but it is true. You are adding nominated men to semi-elected men, and you are taking their votes as if they were of equal value. You are pretending to regard them as a body which has some common principle, which enables votes in it of individual men to be of equal value. Can any man suggest they are? We know perfectly well that that thing, from the day it began until now, has been going through a state — I do not know whether you would call it development or not——
Mr. Flinn: Oh, no; evolution is a respectable word. I will not attempt to use a word. I may find some word some time about 10.30 which would be more satisfactory. But it has been going through a state of change, until you have elected, semi-elected, nominated and by-elected men, and you solemnly add them together and take their votes as if they meant the same thing. That is what I meant when I said that you are adding two months and two elephants together and making four. The conditions under which two and two make four, though they are held to be universal — there is probably no proposition, which is certainly more orderly in a debate——
The President: I have only one thing to say, and that is, that I cannot understand how the leader of that Party committed himself in any way to making this recommendation  to the Committee which has been so roundly condemned by the last two speakers.
|Alton, Ernest Henry.
Beckett, James Walter.
Bennett, George Cecil.
Bourke, Séamus A.
Cole, John James.
Collins-O'Driscoll, Mrs. Margt.
Connolly, Michael P.
Cooper, Byran Ricco.
Cosgrave, William T.
Craig, Sir James.
Dolan, James N.
Doyle, Peadar Seán.
Duggan, Edmund John.
Egan, Barry M.
Esmonde, Osmond Thos. Grattan.
Gorey, Denis J.
Hassett, John J.
Heffernan, Michael R.
Hennessy, Michael Joseph.
|Hogan, Patrick (Galway).
Kelly, Patrick Michael.
Law, Hugh Alexander.
Mathews, Arthur Patrick.
McFadden, Michael Og.
Mongan, Joseph W.
Murphy, James E.
Myles, James Sproule.
Nolan, John Thomas.
O'Donovan, Timothy Joseph.
O'Mahony, Dermot Gun.
O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
Sheehy, Timothy (West Cork).
Thrift, William Edward.
White, Vincent Joseph.
Cassidy, Archie J.
Corry, Martin John.
Doyle, Edward. MacEntee, Seán.
Murphy, Timothy Joseph.
O'Dowd, Patrick Joseph.
O'Kelly, Seán T.
Ruttledge, Patrick J.
Gorry, Patrick J.
Hogan, Patrick (Clare).
Kennedy, Michael Joseph.
Killane, James Joseph.
Lemass, Seán F.
Little, Patrick John.
Maguire, Ben. Ryan, James.
Sheehy, Timothy (Tipperary).
Ward, Francis C.
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