Tuesday, 20 March 1934
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: I should like the House to understand that on an occasion such as this when the House rises earlier than usual, the time allowed for the question on the adjournment is half an hour. That is the established practice of this House.
“If he will state when the report of the Commissioner of the Gárda Síochána on Communism in Ireland that he promised on March 1st to lay on the Table of the Dáil, will be made available for, or circulated to members of the Dáil.”
The question arises out of the fact that on March 1st in the first half of the three-hour speech made by the President there came a stage when he indicated that he was going to quote from official documents. He reached that stage where he said: “I have that report here”—it was, I think he said himself, a report of 50 pages. It was a lengthy report, anyhow—“and I got it summarised.” At that stage it was fairly apparent that the President proposed to read from an official document. In order that he might be well on his guard and that he might advert to the fact that he was running the risk of putting himself in the position of being called upon to make that document available to the members when it might not be desirable that that should be done, I immediately interjected to ask if that report would be made available to members of the House. The President, having so far not quoted from the report, said:
This morning, in the supplementary questions and replies that followed on my question, the President seemed to object strongly to the fact that there is a tradition in this House that if an official document is quoted by a Minister, that document not being available to other members, the complete document should be made available. He seemed to think there was something unnecessary in that. If, when the President was speaking on the 1st March, he had said “I have examined carefully all the information which comes through official channels with regard to Communism in this country and I am satisfied that Communism is non-existent, or approximately non-existent, here and nobody need in any way concern himself about it,” he would presumably have been working on the contents of reports; he would actually have been stating what was his judgment and if, for instance, it afterwards transpired that his judgment had been wrong the public would say “The President is a person incapable of judging in these matters and he is wrong.” But if he selects from an official document pieces that may be completely misleading, he is not taking the responsibility; he is throwing back the responsibility for the impression he is creating, not upon himself or upon his Government, but upon officials who are unable to intervene and who are prevented from saying that the extracts the President quoted were such as to give a completely wrong idea of what the official reports contained.
Consequently, it is desirable and necessary, when a Minister wishes to convey the judgment he has formed from the perusal of official documents, that he should make it clear it is his own judgment and that he is not  making quotations. We know, and it has been done quite often, that little bits can be selected which are completely misleading. You can say “This is from the report itself,” and make the person who wrote the report responsible for the wrong impression. Personally, with all respect to the President and to the high office he occupies, I may say I do not trust his judgment in these matters. I do not need to go further than the first page he read from the report and his succeeding comment. When the President read the report he said:
“There does not appear to be any definite effort to bring Communistic influence to bear on the unemployed as at present organised, for there is no distinct organisation of unemployed under Communistic auspices.”
That states that in the opinion of the police, as there is no definite unemployed organisation in Cork under Communistic auspices, they consider that there is no definite effort to bring Communistic influence to bear on the unemployed in Cork. That is all there is contained in that. That is all that flows directly or derivatively from that. How does the President interpret that? He says there is no Communism in Cork——
An Ceann Comhairle: On the adjournment a question is raised for the elucidation of further facts relative to the main question, to get further information from the Minister responsible, but certainly not to debate and reply to statements made on another occasion in the House and not relevant to the question when some report will be published and made available.
Mr. Fitzgerald: I may have somewhat misunderstood the situation. I was not satisfied with the President's reply this morning, not because I thought the House had been placed in the position of having to demand that  report and get it, but merely for the reason that since the present Government came into power a certain practice seems to have been observed. Time and again various Ministers, the President in the Mulcahy charge, for instance, and the Minister for Finance on a number of occasions have made quotations. The Minister for Defence at one time quoted extracts from evidence in an Army inquiry, and refused to produce the full evidence. The late Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan, having quoted from a document, refused to publish the document. The habit has grown up here amongst Ministers of taking advantage of the fact that they are in possession of official documents and they come along and quote pieces from these documents. In the case where evidence was quoted, and there was then a refusal to give the whole evidence, that was clearly a grotesque distortion of justice and right.
The real reason that I am raising this matter is so that we may have a clear understanding. When Ministers are going to speak on their own authority, and give their judgments, they may do so freely, but when they are going to throw the responsibility on some official document or some official, then they must make the full document available, so that we will be able to judge whether the Ministers are doing justice or misrepresenting what the official said and then blaming the official for the misrepresentation. I desire to call attention to the reply I got to-day:
“In course of debate on the 1st March when reading a brief summary of the report referred to, I stated, in reply to an interruption by the Deputy, that the report, if necessary, could be placed on the Table of the House.”
Certainly that is true and nobody can say it is otherwise than true; but, at the same time, it is typically disingenuous. The President did say that, but he was careful not to mention—I think I dragged it out of him— the fact that he said to Deputy Dillon:
“I have since given this matter the most careful consideration, and I think, and am advised, that it is not in the public interest that a confidential police document of this nature should be published.”
It might have been that the President inadvertently slipped before he thought of what he was doing, and then he began to read the document. But he read it after I had warned him of the claim that would be made if he did read it. Having done that, he now says that when he had been allowed to read that document, and when he told us that the full document would be made available, he afterwards went back to consider whether or not it was in the public interest, and then he decided that it was not in the public interest.
Suppose it did happen that when that document was made available to leaders of Parties in the House they looked at it and saw that not the President but the Bishops in this country were right with regard to Communism, what could the leaders of the Opposition do? They would be in possession of a document—this is purely a hypothetical case, I admit—which made it abundantly clear that the people should be warned of a danger that menaced them. But if they attempted to do that the President would say: “You are betraying a confidence. That document was only given in confidence.” To propose under these circumstances to make that document available to leaders of Parties in confidence was a scandalous proposal.
 Just note what that means. The President, who is President solely for the protection of public interest in this country, says that because he gave his word that he would do a certain thing and then afterwards looked into it and saw that if he did that, it would be endangering the public interest in this country, then says—trying to put the responsibility for it on us—that he is prepared to prostitute the very functions he is supposed to serve in order to safeguard his own personal honour and to make public a document which it is against the public interest to make known; and he proposes only to do that when he is pressed by us to make it public. It is the President's responsibility, I agree, but I, certainly, am not going to press the President to do a thing which he himself admits is wrong and which, although he admits it is wrong, he is prepared to do.
He says: “If, despite the consideration of public interest,” we insist. We have not the power to insist, but ordinary decency should commend it to the President that if, time and again, this sort of thing occurs just as a few weeks ago the Minister for Finance began reading out a document and went as far as reading out the date of it, and then, when he was asked to read out the full document, discovered that it might reveal something that might not have borne out what he had suggested, then did a little trick and said that he was not quoting the document but only saying what was in it—ordinary decency should commend the stopping of that sort of thing. This sort of thing has been a scandal in the House and I want it to be agreed to here now that Ministers will take their jobs seriously and that if it is undesirable that a document be made available to the public, they themselves will not, arbitrarily, and, if I may say so without offence, in a cowardly fashion, quote parts of a document and then say that it would not be in the public interest to publish the documents, because they find the thing would be rather against them. This has happened quite frequently since the Government came into power. The President,  about three weeks ago, gave a promise that he would make this document available and now he proceeds not to do it. Why did he insist, after the warning from me, on going ahead and reading what purported to be extracts? There was no need for it. He could have said that he and the Minister for Justice had read every document that came from official sources and that their judgment was, after reading these reports, that there was no fear of Communism in the country. I admit that such a statement would not have affected me in the least. The President's arguments on that occasion were too puerile. He quoted election figures. We could have pointed out that in 1922 the number of people in Russia who were organised Communists was only 2 per cent. of the population, whereas in the same year in Germany the number of organised Communists was 15 per cent.
Mr. Fitzgerald: Well, Sir, I think that the reason the President insisted on doing this, was that he wanted to disprove what the Bishops had stated with regard to the facts in this country. He comes along and gives us what purports to be the gist or the general tendency of the police reports with regard to this matter. Personally, I believe that even if the police reports said that there was not an atom of Communism in this country, it would not have affected me much, but I think it is an abuse of the privileges of this House and an abuse of the President's position and that of the Ministers that, when they feel they are not able to face up to the arguments of the Opposition, they should seek to shelter themselves in this sort of way by saying: “We have official documents that tell us such and such a thing,” and, when they are asked to produce the documents, do not do so.
Time and again there have been these bits taken from their context in order to misrepresent us. One thing that has been done regularly by Ministers opposite is that they always twist about a phrase of mine to the  effect that “We need not blink the fact that if there were a general attack on these islands we would be on the side of England.” That phrase of mine has always been twisted to mean something it did not. Time and again, too, a statement by Deputy McGilligan, with regard to the Government's responsibility for providing employment, was distorted and thrown about to misrepresent what he said. I do think that the President who, time and again, has got up and demanded that people should use exactly his words and no other words, and who, time and again, gets up and gives what purports to be the substance of statements and which, when set out, clearly are not the substance, apart from the dignity of his position, should be most exact and most careful not to abuse the privileges of his position.
I do not propose demanding that this document be made available, and I think that if I did demand it, he should refuse to do so, if what he states is true, that it is against the public interest to publish the document, although he is prepared to commit that crime. That seems to me to be a most extraordinary statement to make. I may have given the wrong reason, but he was very anxious to make people believe what he was saying, although he thought people might be justified in not believing what he said, but he could have said that that was the reason he insisted on quoting from the document and that that procedure would not be continued in the future. As you have stipulated, Sir, that the whole object of this question is to ventilate dissatisfaction as to the reply given to me, my sole reason in getting up is to insist on getting further information, but if, in insisting on getting further information, I would be compounding a felony with the President in trying to injure the public interest in this country, I can go no further in the matter.
The President: The first matter that arises in this connection is, what is the tradition of the House? It would appear, from certain remarks of the Deputy who has just spoken, that whatever tradition was there we had  set aside, and we are accused of doing certain things which would seem to be peculiar to us. I have asked to have the reports looked up for cases where this very subject of the extent to which documents could be used by Ministers and the question of having the documents put in their entirety before the House, have been raised already, and I find that they go back to Vol. 5. That is a long way behind the present Government. The matter was also raised in Vol. 18. We have references to it almost identical with the present one, as far as the principle is concerned.
The President: We will come to that in time. I have listened very patiently to the Deputy. As I say, it is referred to in Vol. 18. It is referred to in Vol. 28. It is referred to in Vol. 32. It is referred to in Vols. 36, 39, 44 and 48. Now, it seems that this is a standing question, and, of course, it is a difficult question. There is no use in our pretending that there is not a very important matter in it. There is; and the question is really this—whether Ministers, in order to assure the House, can give the House extracts— relevant extracts—from official reports or not. Take, for instance, the case we had in point; that is, the case of Communism. There is not the slightest doubt that there has been, on the part of the Opposition, both when they were a Government and since they have become an Opposition, an attempt to create a scare about this thing. The Deputy referred to the Bishops. I was not replying to the Bishops. I was replying to the Deputies and those who are working with them who, although they knew the contrary to be true, tried to get this scare so developed and to give it such an effect upon the country that they could excuse the bringing into existence of a private army. The best way of disproving that was to give extracts.
Mr. Fitzgerald: On a point of order, Sir. The President states that, although we knew a thing to be untrue, we asserted otherwise. I say that that is an absolutely untrue  statement. I do not know whether the President was in order in making it or not.
The President: That was my belief, at any rate. Whether it was justifiable or not, I cannot say. Knowing that that report was submitted to me by the then Chief of Police I felt that giving a summary of it was necessary in order to convince Deputies that it was a scare. There will be and must be occasions on which Ministers will have to do just that; they will have to give at least a summary of the reports which they get. It is not a question of trying to put the blame on somebody else or not taking responsibility for the statement. I am quite prepared to give my judgment of the report. My judgment of the report is that it did not justify any feeling of insecurity, that there was nothing that would justify the setting up of a private army, if anything could justify the setting up of a private army. The first thing is that there is a very delicate and difficult thing to deal with here—to what extent Ministers are to be permitted to give extracts from reports. Are they to be entirely precluded? That is obviously always the wish of the Opposition. These references here have all been raised by the Opposition against the existing Executive. Undoubtedly, it is possible for the Executive to take little bits and scraps and selected passages and give a false impression. I do not think there is any defence possible against an Executive that is prepared to do that. But is the Executive to be precluded, because it can be abused, from just giving extracts which prove to Deputies that they have been misinformed? If so it means either that the Ministers are to be precluded and the necessary information withheld, or that confidential reports, in their entirety, are to be published.
 That brings us to what is the tradition of the House. I have looked up the Official Reports before we came into office and I find that the simplest form of the rule, as stated by the Ceann Comhairle, was this:—
“The rule about documents is that when a Minister quotes from an official document and is asked to lay the document on the Table of the House he does so unless he contends that, for reasons of public interest, he should not do so.” (Official Reports, Volume 32, Col. 1305).
It is clearly indicated there that a Minister, in giving extracts from a document, may say: “I cannot put the document in its entirety before the House because it is not in the public interest to do so.” Deputy Fitzgerald, in an interruption, said:—
That is if it were demanded and if the rules of the House required it. That is clear. In reply to a later interruption by Deputy Dillon, I said that the full report would be laid on the Table of the House for Deputies to read. As I explained to-day, I find that putting it on the Table of the House means more than that—that it means the possibility of general publication. Having taken all those points into consideration I suggested to the Opposition that they should be content with having a copy given confidentially to their leader so that he could satisfy himself whether the summary I gave was a fair summary or not. That was refused.
The Deputy tries to pretend that it necessarily follows that I was prepared to sacrifice the public interest in order to keep personally to a promise that I made. But the Deputy had already this morning, before he thought of that particular aspect of it, stated—and I remind him of it:
One of the aspects is this: whether the Opposition, by a manoeuvre of this sort, should be put into a position in which they would be able to say to the country that there is in reality this Communistic danger, this menace; whether it is not of greater public importance that the country should realise exactly the extent of the danger; or that the people whose names are mentioned in this document should have to write, as the Parish Priest of Finglas had to write, and as other people had to write, that this accusation of Communism against them was completely unfounded. I believe that Deputies are simply manoeuvring about this; that they know it is inconvenient for individuals, and a source of annoyance to them, to have a document containing their names published. Not merely from the point of view of inconvenience to individuals, but also from a police point of view it is inadvisable that it should be done. They know that that consideration must of necessity bear weightily upon me. Of course it does, but a bigger consideration is that the gentlemen on the opposite benches should not be able to create a scare, and under cover of it get away with their private army, which is a much bigger danger to this State.
The President: A Deputy on the opposite benches spoke about Bishops a moment ago. How do the Bishops come into it? The Bishops come into it because they got from this gentleman and others like him reports which led them to believe that this danger existed.
The President: Nobody can be superior to the information which he gets if he thinks it is given to him in good faith. Well then, a Chinn Comhairle, as regards the tradition of the House I contend, at any rate, that it was established as a good reason for not giving the whole of a confidential report that the Minister in his judgment should think it is not in the public interest to give it.
The President: When the present Minister for Industry and Commerce was in opposition and when Deputy McGilligan was sitting here in this place—just a change of seats—Deputy Lemass at that time asked why not publish the text of a certain agreement.
The President: Here it is: “The Minister has referred to a considerable number of letters and has paraphrased them”; in other words, the Deputy referred to a number of letters and paraphrased them. I referred to a report and summarised it.
The President: I am standing to my promise because of the reasons I have already indicated. If Deputies on the opposite benches hold me to the promise I will fulfil it, and mind you for this reason, because I think it is less harmful to the public interest that inconvenience should be caused to individuals than that gentlemen on the opposite benches should have an opportunity of going out and continuing the scare, and under cover of it getting an excuse for their private army.
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