Friday, 25 May 1934
Dáil Éireann Debate
The President: At the time of the adjournment last night I was concluding the examination of the argument which was put forward from the Opposition Benches that history had shown that a Second Chamber was an effective safeguard of the liberties of the people. That argument was put forward in answer to my challenge to show why this complication of a Second Chamber was necessary. I said that it did not arise out of the idea of representative Government at all; that in my view the existence of a Second House as part of the legislature of several countries was very much an accident, and that the fact that it existed was no proof at all that it had a right to exist, or that its existence was really a benefit. My conclusion, at any rate, is that a fair reading of history proves not that a Second Chamber is an effective safeguard either of constitutions or of the people's liberties which are supposed to be enshrined in those constitutions, but that, at a time of revolution when a military leader, backed by force, snapped his fingers at all constitutions, he did not care very much whether it was a Single Chamber or a Double Chamber Legislature he was putting aside.
In opposition to the argument which was put forward by Professor O'Sullivan  about the experience of the French in their first constitution, I instanced that Napoleon was not prevented from changing the régime by the fact that there was a triple kind of legislature in existence at his time; and that later, his nephew, Louis Napoleon, was not prevented by a Senate from bringing off a coup d'état and changing the republic into an empire. Cromwell's name was mentioned from the opposite benches to prove, I suppose, the dangers of a unicameral system, and the possibility of going from a unicameral system to a dictatorship. What was the position with regard to Cromwell? I think most of us, from our history at any rate, understood that Cromwell was a great military leader, leading the people and the Commons in an attack against the loyalists, against the King and the supporters of the King; so that Cromwell came into existence as a dictator not via the unicameral system, but in opposition to the existing system, and that in so far as Parliament was attempted to be used by him that was a later thing altogether, and was not the cause of his power. I do not think then that anybody, fairly reading history, could conclude from it that there is in a Second Chamber any really effective safeguard in times of crises.
We are apt to think of a Second Chamber and base our conclusions upon it on two very false assumptions. One is that it is a check or a brake which will operate at the time that we think brakes and checks ought to act; and secondly, that we can compose a Seanad of persons who will take a detached view, and will not be affected by political passions at a moment of crisis. Those are two absolutely false assumptions. That they are false appears at once the moment you examine them closely. The very idea of a brake is that there is somebody who will put it into operation just when it is wanted. When the motor is speeding downhill the person at the wheel has got this particular device at his command, by which he is able to check the mad career of the car which may take him over a precipice. There  is there the controlling power, but what is a Second Chamber when we think of it as a brake? Does it act in that way? Will it act just as we want it to act, supposing at a time when democracy is heading for ruin? We cannot provide that it will act. It is much more likely to act like a badly adjusted brake, which will act when it is a cause of friction; when it is preventing the car from getting up the speed which is necessary in order to travel properly. It operates in times of ordinary activity. It operates to prevent the speed which is necessary, and which otherwise could be attained. It is a cause of friction. It operates then because it is easy for it to operate then. It certainly does not operate at the time when we want it most—at the time of crisis—because, as I have said before, in times of revolution it is swept aside, with all the other contrivances that exist for giving the people ultimate power, if I may put it that way. It is a false assumption, then, to think of a Seanad as a brake that will apply itself or be applied just as we want it. I say it is applied when we do not want it. It is never capable of being applied when a brake is really necessary because it is brushed aside and of no use at times of crises. That is one false assumption which I think it is easy to discard.
The other false assumption is that we can get a type of Senate that would be effective and valuable. I referred last night and previously to this idea of a Seanad where the best citizens of the country are somehow selected, people who have done honour to the country or have rendered signal services to the nation, but nobody has yet shown how they are to be got. Deputy Kelly I think last night, when he projected his astral body, as he said, to the other side, gave us some suggestions. I do not think his suggestions were designed to get the greybeards exactly, or those wise people we have in mind when we think of this ideal Seanad. If you examine any suggestions that have been made you see how impossible it is on the basis of those suggestions to get that type of Seanad. I think Deputy MacDermot on a former occasion suggested that we should get it by lot. I do not think that people  are satisfied to get things in that way, but I do believe with Deputy MacDermot that a system of lot is much more likely to secure the type of Seanad we have in mind, when we are thinking of this ideal Seanad, than any of the ordinary systems of election or selection.
I challenge Deputies opposite to go in detail and examine one by one the various methods which from time to time have been proposed for the constitution of a Second Chamber. Remember, we are not dealing with something that is before the minds of men for the first time. We are dealing with a subject which, whenever a question of constitutional government has been under consideration, has received, as I think John Stuart Mill said, far more attention than it deserves. If we spent a little time in examining the various propositions that from time to time have been put forward for the election of a Seanad we would see how vain it is to hope for, and how impossible it is to attain anything like an approximation to this ideal Seanad.
We have in existence Second Chambers in various countries. The fact that they are in existence is used as an argument that they should be in existence. Before I take some of these methods of selection, it might be worth while again to ask ourselves how did these come into existence. We have the hereditary system. We have, for instance, the one that occurs to most people when talking about a Second Chamber—the British House of Lords. I indicated in a previous statement, I think, that that arose from certain historical reasons peculiar to Britain. At any rate, they exist as the remnant more or less of a feudal power—the power of a certain class. They enshrine ancient privilege. A Hungarian political thinker, in examining this question, said that one of the reasons for the existence of a Second Chamber in a country might very well be the protection of ancient historical rights. Certain feudal and other rights exist which a class of nobles had. The Second House, where there are hereditary Houses of that sort, have been a continuation to our day of a recognition  of those ancient rights and privileges. But the mass of the people, as time goes on, are not satisfied that such privileges should continue in this day.
There is the position that you had in Britain, where the people definitely stated that they were not going to tolerate any longer that assertion of power which the British House of Lords was capable of before the Parliament Act was passed which deprived them of the equal power which they had up to that time. That hereditary House had operated almost uniformly to prevent the House that represented the plain people of the country from giving expression in law to the desires and the needs of the people. They felt that it was intolerable that that should continue. Mr. Asquith at the time, speaking of the position, said that it was a system of false balances and loaded dice. The dice were always loaded against the Liberal Party when they got into power. The House of Lords went to sleep when the Conservative Party were in power. It was an ally, therefore, of the Conservative Party, and it played its part as an ally. It obstructed the opponents of its ally, and did everything in its power to advance the interests of its ally.
Very few people of any party in Great Britain, or political thinkers of any complexion, would hold that the old authority of the British House of Lords should be maintained. They have tried to reform it. The moment they try to reform it, and that they come up against the practical problem, they find the difficulties are so great that they leave it as it is. Sheer inertia keeps it there. Nobody thinks it ought to be there. It is a sort of historic monument, at any rate, and so long as it does not make itself really obnoxious it may be permitted to exist. The right to sit in the House of Lords is an appendage, one of the privilleges of the peerage. It is retained and, possibly, will be retained. The reason it is retained at the moment is because it is not possible get a satisfactory Second House that will be representative of the people.
I have asked how we could get a  Second Chamber. What are the various proposals put forward for the constitution or composition of a Second Chamber? You have the hereditary principle. I have just spoken about that in the case of Britain, and you can see that, in these days, at any rate, it would not be tolerated if it really came in conflict with advancing democracy. As far as we are concerned, anyhow, anything like a hereditary system is out of the question. It does not come in in our case; at any rate, we can put it aside. What other methods are there? There is the method of nomination. I spoke of that last night. Again I say that a nominated Second House, any more than a hereditary Second House, would not be tolerated if it came seriously in conflict with the views of an elected Chamber directly representative of the people. If you are to have a nominated Second House you will have to see how it is to be nominated. If it is to be nominated by the leaders of political Parties the nominations will be of the complexion of those Parties. If you are to try to get, by nomination, this venerable Seanad, this wise Seanad, that we have in our dreams, then I think we will wait a long time before we see our dreams realised.
The system of lot then comes along. I have given, perhaps, as much thought to this matter as any member of the House. Thinking over all the various alternatives I have seen put up, or that would suggest themselves to me, I honestly believe that if you did want a Second House, the system of lot would be the best you could get. If you could, for instance, have some sort of modern equivalent of the ancient censor, where you would have certain people who had achieved certain offices, certain positions, entered on a panel and agreement as to the type of office that would qualify for admission to the panel, and if periodically you put the names on the panel into a hat and picked them out, you would probably get a better Seanad than you would get by any system of nomination. If we do believe that a Second Chamber is necessary, or that it is advisable to have these  wise people to apply a check when a democracy is running riot, some such system as that would be the most likely to achieve the results we have in mind. But, again, is it worth all the fuss? When it is there, what will happen? Is it not obvious that these, being in the community, and of the community, they will share for the most part the political views of one Party or another? When you have chosen them by lot, you will find there is a majority one way or another. Do you think that these people are going to be less affected by political prejudice than the ordinary person who is elected as a representative of the people in elections such as ours? I do not think that you do.
Then you come to the question: is it wise to have this sort of power or control resting altogether in the hands of people who are spent? They are spent people, people whose energies are gone. We ought to ask ourselves this question: what is the best type of Legislature? What is the best type of Government? Is it government by spent powers or is it government by active minds and active people who want to achieve something, who want to make this world somewhat better, to leave the world behind them, at any rate, a somewhat better world than the world into which they came?
Looking through history, again we find that it is not nations who have rested on their oars or people who have rested on their oars who have achieved much. I have as much desire for mental ease as was suggested last night by Deputy MacDermot, but when we look around in history, what are the nations that have made progress? How is progress brought about? Is it by those who, in philosophic ease, sit down content with things as they are, or has progress been achieved rather by people who have been up and doing, striving? This world is a world of conflicts. So it seems to me at any rate, and those who are successful are the energetic and the active-minded and not those people who are, in fact, spent forces. Therefore, if we are looking to the general good of the nation as a whole, we ask ourselves this  question: assuming that we could get such a Seanad as we have in our minds, would it, in fact, be good for the country as a whole? I say I doubt it. I very much doubt it. I doubt very much whether, if government is in such hands, in the stress of modern times our country would be likely to fare as well as when we have government by people who are active, and when the controlling forces are in the hands other than those of the old. It comes strange——
Mr. MacDermot: Might I interrupt the President for one moment? He has several times in the course of his speech referred to a Seanad of greybeards, and has implied that that is the Opposition idea. I do not think it is the Opposition idea. I doubt if it is the idea of any member of the Opposition. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, I would not be satisfied if the Seanad were so composed. I see no reason why, under the system of lot, to which the President refers, the Seanad should necessarily be composed of elderly persons. It might include a number of elderly persons, but young people would be included too.
The President: I am talking of what is the conception of people who think this Second Chamber is so valuable. They have an idea of experienced people who are not swayed by the passions that are supposed to sway us.
The President: Exactly. There is more agreement between the two sides of the House than appears at first sight. I was going to make that remark a few moments ago but I just passed away from it in the sequence of thought. I believe they are not less affected. They are far worse. That is not my own belief alone.  There is something generous about the antagonism of the young but when you get old antagonisms, that have been burned into the bone, they are far more vicious and far more dangerous. There is nothing of the generosity about them that there is about the antagonisms of the young. We say then that this Seanad, which we have in mind as so valuable, is not going to be a Seanad of old “fogies” as the young people would naturally call them but it is going somehow to be something, which we cannot get right here, but which we are going to keep in mind. No doubt Deputy MacDermot would agree that we have to get them from some selective class —people who have done something, done honour to the nation or somehow distinguished themselves. You try to form this class and immediately you try to form it you are going to form it of people who have their past behind them and their memories behind them. You cannot by that process get a type of Seanad that would be any better than the present Second House.
I was dealing generally with the question of nomination. Let us go on to the other methods. Let us go to one of the methods suggested by Deputy Kelly's astral body last night or to election by local bodies, say. If we were sitting here in conference trying to devise a Second Chamber, would Deputy MacDermot think that we would be helped if we were going to have a Second Chamber composed of representatives of local bodies? I do not think he would. I think he would have to admit that the local bodies would be constituted of popularly elected people, that they would have in national politics their divisions just the same as we have, that they would align themselves roughly in accordance with the Parties in this House, and that one of the things that would be borne in mind in the local elections would be the very fact that these local bodies would have the right of electing certain representatives to the Second Chamber. You would have the same political feelings or the same political considerations at work, in the selection,  that you have here. Although Deputy Kelly suggested that that might be put forward as being better than the contribution that came from these benches already, I do not think that he or anyone on the opposite benches would suggest that it would be worth while having a Seanad of that particular type.
They have a Senate of that type in France. They have a special system of local government in France. As I pointed out last night we know that Gambetta, when originally considering the question, accepted the Second Chamber as a compromise. What has been its history? Deputy MacDermot referred to the history of the House of Lords, and pointed out that they held up Home Rule and a number of other measures which clearly had the support of the majority of the people. What is the history of the French Senate? It is equally bad. I think the average age of French Senators is about 60 years. What is their history? Their history is that they have been uniformly a force acting against ordinary modern social development. They opposed old age pensions, they opposed the abolition of child labour, they opposed holidays for workers, they opposed the income tax law and, to this day, they have prevented the enfranchisement of women. In other words, they have been uniformly opposed to the modern conception of democratic freedom and democratic right. We have, therefore, a living example of the working out, in conditions which are peculiarly favourable to it in France, of this system of local election. It has acted, as the British House of Lords acted, by being uniformly opposed to democratic advancement and to measures for the social betterment of the ordinary people. In my opinion we have nothing to gain from a Second Chamber elected by local bodies, that is, indirect election by local bodies.
Let us take the indirect election we have here. The same sort of election obtains in other places. What is the result? The inevitable result is that the Second Chamber is composed of the same political complexion as the  First Chamber is composed of. The majority may, by chance, at one particular time, have the same political complexion as the Executive in office. If it is, that is no check. Any matter that the Party in office, and that the Executive once passes the Seanad will not stand in the way, because of political affiliation. If the majority in the Seanad is not of the same political complexion as the Executive of the time, what happens then? It opposes and does as Opposition Parties will do, I am afraid, to the end of time, not in a non-factious manner—I have to use the word as I cannot get any better expression for what I mean—but because it is fundamental in the other Party's policy. They oppose them and block and hamper when it is most important that work should be done. The most valuable years of any Administration are its first years. It has come from the people and it has their authority and support for a certain programme. The people are ready for it. That is the time to put it into operation. But, at that vital time, if the majority in the Second Chamber happens to be of a different complexion to that of the Executive that has just come into office, it is going to oppose it—factiously to oppose it—during that most vital period. For example, supposing we were to continue in office for a considerable period, and the present mode of election to the Seanad was continued, after a certain time there would be a political majority in the Seanad in our favour. Then, as all Governments go after a time, if we were replaced here by an Opposition, that Opposition would have to face in the early years a hostile Seanad, politically opposed to them, and unless they were better than the majority of Parties they would oppose them in regard to the things that the new Party coming into office considered to be most vital and most important.
This method of indirect election leads you nowhere. It leads to unnecessary duplication of the legislative machine, and is of no value. The only suggestion from the opposite benches in which there was any value came from Deputy McGilligan, that of keeping a check on the new group of people. Surely that  is not a sufficient excuse, that we should get time to cool off from the heat generated by a speech. That is not a sufficient reason for a Second Chamber; that we must have a few months to cool off, and to put in a set of people who are exactly the same as the people we have been talking of. I have not been very often in the Seanad, but my experience is that there is the same bitterness, and the same political animosity shown there as is shown here, and that you get questions examined in precisely the same way as they would be examined here. Therefore, this system of indirect election does not get you anywhere. In my opinion, I have shown that it does not get you very far. The system of lot is the best so far. There you have difficulties of class, and eventually you have a preponderance of greybeards and all that means. We come now to the method of direct election. Let us examine that. You have direct election by the people. It is possible, perhaps, in our country to cut up areas somewhat different to the present areas, and by means of proportional representation to give a better chance of representation to minorities. You are going to get a Second Chamber elected by people, which, in the nature of these people, is likely to be more conservative than the First Chamber. What is going to happen? There is going to be a conflict of authority. You are going to have some means for resolving their differences. These various means have been tried. They are makeshifts, because, in the long run, you will have to provide for the Lower House. When it has made up its mind in a very definite fashion, you must provide for the Lower House having an opportunity of making its will effective. The danger then of a directly elected House is that it is a rival authority. In my opinion, it is better than any method of indirect election, provided you can devise some system by which differences will be resolved. We have such systems in existence, but they do not tell us very much. We have a direct system of election. There are two systems of election in the United States, but the whole system there is so different from systems  where you have direct Parliamentary responsibility of the Executive that we must be very careful in drawing conclusions from it. What has happened in the United States with the Senate is that it has become, on account of being given specialised functions, the really dominant House. When you think of Congress in the United States you instinctively think of the Senate, you immediately think of the Senate as being the dominating House. It is directly representative of the people.
It is possible, of course, to divide the legislature into various sections and give certain functions to each, just as the Executive here has certain functions and the legislative body as a whole has its own particular functions. It is possible to get that, but is not this system that we have here capable of working, and does it not work, more in accordance with what we would like than, for example, the American system? At one time I was inclined to think that the American system was very much better than the system of direct immediate parliamentary responsibility of the Executive, but on closer examination I am not at all satisfied that it is. I think for our needs—I suppose it is because of our acquaintance with the British system in the past and the way our people naturally think—the system we have at present of direct parliamentary responsibility is much more in accord with our natural political thought, and until we find that it does not work properly we are not going to change it for a system such as the American system where the Executive has certain functions and, to a large extent, is independent of the legislature.
Our methods of direct election have only this danger, that you have a rival authority, that you have to provide for the composition or settlement of a dispute by some method and that that method must necessarily mean the domination of the Lower House. All that can be got, therefore, by any of these systems is a certain amount of delay. With regard to this delay, it would be all right if the delay occurred at the right time; but if the delay occurs at the wrong time, and it is more likely to occur at the wrong time  than at the right time, is it not a nuisance and a hindrance instead of being an advantage? It is like a brake that is working when you are starting to run a car and trying to get going. We do not get from the Second Chamber very much, except at best we get delay. I have shown you from the various methods of composition how impossible it is to get a Chamber which is not going to be affected by ordinary political prejudices or political passions, a Chamber that is not going to act as political Parties will act. I think in that connection you are looking for something which, in the nature of things, it is impossible to find. Those who have sat down to find it have discovered the difficulty of a satisfactory solution.
Where Second Chambers exist, they exist either because of some historical reason or else they are continuing from sheer inertia. People do not want to have debates such as we have—pretending that the whole world is going to come to an end if our Second Chamber disappears. No political Party wants to make it possible for its opponents to create a situation of uncertainty and panic. We had experience of that here last night. We have had experience of it already. The members on the Opposition Benches, because of this change, want to get the people to believe that everything is going to go to the mischief simply because this protector of the people's liberty, the Second Chamber, is going to disappear.
We have been discussing this question of the methods of formation of the Seanad. Let us come to the question of its power. Here again you are up against almost insuperable difficulties. If you give it too much power the people will not stand for that. The popularly elected Assembly will not stand for it. They will claim that they represent the people and their will, in the long run, must be made effective. Nobody will suggest that they should get power substantially to block the people's will. Therefore, the power must be of a minor type. What did we hear from the opposite benches when we were considering here a Bill for the  purpose of shortening the period of delay in the Seanad? We heard such things as this: “Oh, you want to degrade the Second House. You want to deprive it of its power. Who will go into this degraded House? Who will care to be a member of it? No man with any self-respect is going to be a member of a House that has no real power.” If you give it such power the Assembly representative of the people will not stand it. If you give it diminished power the people you want to participate in it will not be inclined to do so.
Nobody to-day in any part of the world, no political thinker, whether he be the arm-chair thinker or one who has experience in politics, will suggest a Seanad that will be able to do more or have power to do more than occasion a certain amount of delay. Again, I ask, can that safeguard of delay be any better secured within the elected Chamber than by having a Second Chamber of any other type? I believe it can. Mind you, I have come to that belief as one who had a certain ideal. I read the same histories as most people read. I have had the same sort of training as most people have had, and I have the same conservative instincts as most people here have got. I approached this subject as one desirous of seeing some kind of check. I was trained to think that democracy was more or less a dangerous beast that had to be guarded and muzzled.
Modern representative government is more or less a new thing. It is probably not more than 100 years old—representative government as we understand it to-day— and, except when there was violent revolution, it has had to deal with the conservative type of mind where those in important positions were associated with privileged classes, classes that had enjoyed privileges for a long time and that had, as one author called it, that autocratic dread of the multitude. Most of us were trained in that sort of school, and I started with all that instinctive prejudice against the politician, the demagogue, whom we have heard referred to by Deputies on the other benches, the powers of the multitude and their capacity for being  fooled. I then sat down to consider how we could get a Second Chamber and what its powers should be. Having given it careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that it is all nonsense, all prejudice, and that the whole thing is due to views current at the time when there was little experience of modern representative government and when the whole desire of the people who had influence and power was to corrupt the representatives of the plain people, to prevent them getting for the plain people the rights that were theirs, and to obtain for them the chance of getting a decent livelihood as a result of their labours.
With all this examination and prejudice—and I believe the same could well happen to anybody, on whatever side of the House he sits—we must ask ourselves when getting down to the problem what are the functions of a Second Chamber? What is to be its position, and what are the limits of its functions? After all your difficulty you will find that the object you have secured is not worth the trouble, and you will agree with what John Stuart Mill said, that all this pother about a Second Chamber is nonsense, and that if we are to have security in government we have to look for that security in the education of our people, and to the fact that the people will get for themselves the best class of representatives they can get, in a primary Assembly like this. That is my conclusion, at any rate, arrived at as a result of the pressure of argument and facts, and against prejudices which were in the other direction.
We have brought in this Bill to abolish the Seanad. The people knew that the Seanad, as at present composed, was to be abolished. Did they object? I have not been following very closely the speeches made in the country by Deputies on the benches opposite. But I doubt very much if they have been talking much about the Seanad; because they know full well that the people would not listen to them; that the people take it as a certainty that that Chamber would go. The people knew that consideration would be given to the question of a Second Chamber, and that consideration  has been honestly given to it. I have asked several people to put up suggestions for the composition of a Second Chamber. I have given a fair amount of thought to the matter myself. I have done an amount of reading on the subject, and consulted authorities. I say that we have given that consideration to the question that the people were entitled to expect we would give it, and, as a result of that mature consideration, we come along and say the existing Second Chamber should go, and safeguards for the liberties of the people will have to be devised otherwise.
The President: The entire cosmos is not in the Bill, of course. The Bill did not pretend to by anything more than what it is. The abolition of the Seanad, as at present constituted—the abolition of the Second Chamber—that is all the Bill purported to do. Amendments have been introduced, and, to my mind at any rate, they destroy the symmetry of the Bill. They were never intended originally to be part of the Bill; they were introduced in deference to the case put up by our opponents, not indeed because the case in itself had any special merits, but because the Opposition could do mischief by misrepresentation if such provisions were not there. The Opposition wanted to pretend that the moment the Second Chamber went, everything was to go. They got up the old fallacy and pretence that the Seanad is the protector of the people's liberties and rights.
We hear talk of a dictatorship—one man rule and so on—as if everybody in this Assembly of 153 individuals had not a voice and as if everybody here was inanimate and took no part, and played no part, in upholding the views he believed in, and the views of the people he represented. This Bill, in fact, changed nothing but one thing. The Seanad was to disappear; that was the intention. There was no  change in the other Articles of the Constitution. That was a secondary matter to be dealt with in a different way. The Bill is unsightly, to my mind, because of its want of symmetry. It takes out two things, as the Opposition suggested, that are less important than a number of things affected by the Bill. We did not make that suggestion. My view is, and I expressed it before, that in the Constitution there are fundamentally different parts. There are parts that refer to the foundations of representative government, to the democratic rights of the people. These Articles stand apart. I believe they are common ground between our opponents and ourselves. We are very anxious that as much common ground should be arrived at as possible. As I said already, I have the same dislike to the instability of a fluid position as Deputy MacDermot has. But, unlike Deputy MacDermot, I have sufficient experience to know that what he hopes to get cannot be got in this world. It is impossible to get it. If the Deputy will examine the cause of his irritation he will find that the same irritation was manifested by scores of British Ministers, in the past, who were attempting to rule this country, and by scores of individuals in this country with the viewpoint of those Ministers.
The British were always irritated because the Irish would not submit to being content with the grand system of government that they were giving us. We would not be content in the last seven centuries when we were united to the British Empire, and we would not give up these foolish notions about our nationality. They thought that we should have come in with the British. That is the idea of hundreds of people in Great Britain. I have had to argue with hundreds of them. They say “why do not you, Irish people, be satisfied! We have the best type of government in the world,” they tell us. They say, “the stranger and the foreigner look up to us. Why are you so foolish as to bother about your ancient nationality?” and so on. I shall tell you  what I had to say, sometimes, to those people, to bring them to a little sense of reality. I have said to them—and perhaps it is as well I should say it here—“Suppose, in the last war, Germany had won, and the thing you feared or pretended to fear, at the beginning of the war, had happened— Germany had come over, after effecting the conquest of Britain, and, annexing Britain to the German Empire, said they were a great world State—and, if after a period of time, Germany could point to as good a position in Britain as Britain pointed to, in the past, here, when she wanted to get the Irish people to be satisfied with her rule and if, in a couple of generations, they were in the position to force recognition of the Kaiser on the British and asked for an oath of allegiance to the Kaiser, how would you like it?” When you make this comparison with Britain, they say, “Oh, it is inconceivable, it could not happen. Just imagine us under the Kaiser, the thing is absurd.” They will not face that position. They try to get out of it by telling you that it is inconceivable, that it could not happen, but I say, “suppose it did happen.”
The same thing happened to this country. I say to them: Take it on that assumption that Germany had won, that you were conquered and forcibly annexed to the German Empire: that your country became a subject State in the German Empire with your Parliament at Westminster simply a local Parliament, and that your representatives had to take an oath of allegiance to the Kaiser. Do you think that under such conditions you would have achieved stable conditions in Britain? Do you think that there would be no people in Britain who would not have thought of the days when their nation was an independent nation and desired to get back to that independence? Do you think that they would listen to the German who would say: “Oh, be satisfied with us; you are part of a great world State; give up those foolish aspirations after independence; you are in a far better position as a part of the German Empire.”
The President: If we have independence is it with the will of the people and of Deputies on the opposite benches that Cobh is held: that we have parties of British troops on our shores? If we have independence in this nation is it with the will of the people that we have the Six Counties cut off? Is it not obvious that we are not free in this country? Is there anybody on the opposite benches who would say for a moment that if we were there would not be a vote in favour of the retention of the Republic in 1921? What is the use of talking nonsense of that sort? It is quite true that we are free to a very large extent, but there are certain things which we would not have if we were truly free, and they are there because they are imposed on us.
The President: Is Britain free? Why give us the defeated countries? Is it not because we were defeated at that time that we are not free, and what we are doing at the present time is to undo the consequences of that defeat and win our freedom.
The President: If South Africa is satisfied that is their affair. We were an ancient nation before South Africa was thought of. We are a nation as old as the British. If you want comparisons why not take the comparison that I gave with Britain? If Britain were conquered and became a subject State of the German Empire, would the people in Britain be satisfied? You would get some who would just as you have some here, but that would not bring about stable conditions in Britain. Of that I am certain, because you would find people in Britain, as you find them here, who as long as there was foreign conquest would strive to get rid of that conquest.
 Members on the opposite benches said last night, why do you not declare a Republic? Because when we declare it we want our declaration to be effective. We do not want to have a debacle such as we had in 1921. We were asked what is our policy? Our policy is that we are heirs to a certain position. Certain possibilities have been indicated within that position and we are going to explore those possibilities to the utmost: to get out of that position the utmost freedom that we can get. When we have come to the end of our limit then we will ask ourselves the question: How long more must the limit be borne? That is our policy. We are quite frank about it: frank with our own people and with the people across the water. We regard this whole position as a forced position. We are animated by the same desire in our work that the British people would be animated by if they had been conquered by Germany—of people for generations afterwards trying to undo the conquest. We have the right in this country to be free, absolutely free. We have the right to determine our own governmental institutions without any attempt from outside to tell us what we must have. If we want a Republic we are entitled to have it. The majority of our people do want a Republic. Why have we not got it? The real reason is because there are threats, threats not effective to-day but threats which have not been withdrawn. Let those threats be withdrawn and we will see how long we will be here without a Republic.
The President: Who wants to take away their rights? What rights have they got? They have no rights in this country, none whatever. They have here the same right that Germany would have claimed if she conquered Britain, and no more.
The President: I say that our attitude in the country is this—it was the attitude of the Irish people in the past no matter how certain people may try to represent it—that we are entitled to our full freedom here. We say to Britain: “Go out and have nothing to do with us; we do not want to have anything to do with you; you are the aggressors, you are the people who are interfering. You have no right in this country. Admit that.” The moment that there is a position of real equality, if both sides agree that they have common interests, then those common interests can be determined. If there is any form of association of any kind that seems to both peoples— not to the 40,000,000 who try to impose their will on the three or four millions —and if to both peoples it appears that there are common interests which can be best served by mutual arrangement, let that be so. But we must be the judges on our side, as we admit that they must be the judges on their side, as to whether these relationships are, in fact, to our mutual advantage. The suggestion that we are trying to deprive Great Britain of its rights is all nonsense. There has never been any suggestion of it. We had a financial dispute with Britain and we said: “All right, let it be subject to arbitration.” What has been their answer? “Oh, yes, on principle you must have it.” Just imagine that. One can imagine the German Kaiser  or his ministers, if what I have suggested as happening had happened to England, saying: “Oh, yes, we have a dispute with you, we have a certain financial dispute”: and when Britain asked for arbitration, and said: “Oh, yes, we are willing to arbitrate with Germany,” Germany was to answer back and say: “You can arbitrate provided that the arbitrators are got within the German Empire, which also includes Britain,” what would have been thought of it by Britain?
Mr. MacDermot: I was interrupted last night when dealing with these topics by the President himself and my argument was cut short on the grounds that it was not sufficiently relevant to the Bill. It is very interesting to have the President's own views on these topics now, and I do not regret that he should have embarked upon the line of discussion he has taken, a line that was closed to me. I hope he will allow my intervention and permit me to say that one result of my being cut short last night was to enable him to misrepresent the attitude of the members of these benches in general and of myself in regard to these matters. I am quite sure that others besides the President stand for the right of the Irish people to decide for themselves whether they are to have a Republic or not. Our point of view and the point of view that we should keep in mind is based on consideration rather of the interests of the nation than of theoretic rights; and, above all, of the fact that there are 1,000,000 people in this country, with racial and other ties with Great Britain, whom we cannot reconcile to be good, whole-hearted loyal citizens of this State unless we arrive at a solution of the difficulty in the same way that the people of South Africa arrived at a solution and for the same reasons.
The President: I think Deputy MacDermot wanted to get in another little speech. I do not think that anything is to be gained by misrepresentation, and I have not tried to misrepresent. What I was trying to do was to analyse and expose the fallacy in the type of talk to which Deputy MacDermot has given expression. The Deputy is satisfied. He would not be dissatisfied with being part of the British Empire. He speaks of 1,000,000 of our people who would not be dissatisfied with being part of the British Empire. But for the 1,000,000 who would not be dissatisfied with being part of the British Empire there are 3,500,000 who are not satisfied.
The President: My answer to that is the answer I have given since 1917. Let the British threat be removed and then we will see. Let Mr. Thomas answer honestly the question I put to him and then we will see. I was prepared in all these years, and am prepared now, to accept a vote if the threat is removed. Why should the Irish people be less desirous of their freedom than the British people would be if the German Empire claimed rights over them? We are told that South Africa did so and so. South Africa did not do that either. The Boer Republics did not come in when they would have——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Fitzgerald put a point of order! I understand that Deputy MacDermot put a certain point of view and developed it, not into a point of order but into an argument.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The line of argument that the President is now pursuing is probably strained, but I take it that the measure before the House is very important. The line the President takes is that the Seanad represents a certain opposition to the march and advance of the nation, and it is on that ground he is pursuing his argument.
The President: I got into it simply because I was looking at Deputy MacDermot, and I remembered some statement he made last night. I am afraid the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is too generous in suggesting that I was making an argument on the lines on which he says I was. I frankly admit that I was not aiming precisely at that particular point, but it certainly would be a very good reason for the argument. It suggests Norway at once to one's mind, and those who studied the position in Norway and examined the method by which Norway secured its ultimate freedom realised how important it was that Norway at that particular time did not have the check of the particular type which we have here in the Seanad. I did mention that particular argument on a former occasion. It is germane to this—that the safeguards of democratic liberty which are in certain Articles of the Constitution can in my opinion be provided for in a way which will not hamper this nation in the advance which it is entitled to make, and it will make that advance as rapidly as its strength will allow. It is an advance  towards securing the independence to which it has a right—an independence which is of interest to the people of this country. It has been suggested from the opposite benches that in pursuing rights we have no regard to the interests of our people. Our people will appreciate in an essential way whether that matter is to their advantage or not. At the moment that contention is denied. I pointed out that these two amendments to the Bill are, to my mind, disfigurements of the Bill as interfering with its work. The securities that are there are less important than the principle of fundamental rights which the Constitution is supposed to guarantee. I only wish that I could believe that the members of the opposite benches were as genuinely devoted to freedom and a system of government safeguarding the fundamental rights of the people that are represented by these Articles, as I and my colleagues are.
The President: Oh, yes; free speech. Somebody mentioned from the Front Opposition Benches last night some thing about an anthology. When I was listening recently to Deputy Fitzgerald, I said to myself, what a beautiful and wonderful anthology could be got if you got the speeches which Deputy Fitzgerald, Deputy Cosgrave and others delivered from these benches and put them side by side with the speeches they have delivered from the Opposition Benches. It is wonderful how nicely they have been able to adapt themselves. What great advocates they have become of freedom of speech, democratic rights and all the rest of it since they went into Opposition ! When they were here on these benches it was a mortal sin to do a certain thing. Now these mortal sins are glorified into rights that should be defended at all costs and defended even at the expense of anarchy. Freedom of speech and those fundamental rights which are necessary for representative government are things for which I stand. I am all for them.
I have never at any time tried to deny anybody freedom to express his  opinion. In public and in private, I have been an advocate of the extension of the right to others that I claim for myself. If people want to see representative government in this country —it does not matter who may hear this —they will have to put up, no matter how much they may dislike it with the abuses that very often follow freedom of speech. One of the Deputies on the opposite benches, with whom I do not very often agree, said some time ago— this is more valuable from the point of view of this country than many of the things said on the other side—that the law should be obeyed even when we think that the law is wrong. That is very valuable. Like other things, it can be carried to extremes but, taking the long view, it makes for ordered advance and ordered advance in this country is going to achieve much more than sporadic or momentary attempts to make spurts. We want ordered advance and the one basis on which we can have ordered advance is that everybody accepts representative government and all that that connotes. One of the things which it connotes is the right of every citizen to give free expression to his opinion. Anybody who interferes with that right is cutting at the very foundations of democratic and representative government. Such a person has never at any time secured support so far as I am concerned and, I hope, never will. We want the articles which guarantee democratic rights accepted by both sides, if possible. They are being examined at the moment, as I already told the Dáil, from this point of view: They were originally more or less theoretic expressions of certain principles. They have been tested for a number of years in practical application. Those who have had to apply them under successive Administrations permanent officials have had experience of their application—are having them examined at present with a view to seeing whether, in their precise, present form, they can be permanently adopted and secured, in so far as we can secure them, as the basis of our Constitution. When that examination is completed, I propose to bring in a Bill to deal with them.
 That brings me to another point which was raised in the debate. It was suggested that these amendments, which, as I have already indicated, are, in my opinion, a disfigurement of the Bill, mean nothing, in fact; that what we bind, a succeeding Dáil can loose; that these safeguards, like the safeguard referring to a majority of four sevenths, really effect nothing. I have considered that matter and I have had my advisers consider it. Our opinion is that that view is unsound and cannot, in fact, be maintained. If we agree in this House that a selected number of Articles guaranteeing fundamental rights are to be preserved, if we decide, for their preservation, that they cannot, for example, be changed by the Dáil except by a specified majority or on approval by the people by way of Referendum, I believe that an alteration of the Constitution embodying that will be effective.
At one time I referred to the position of a Constituent Assembly, and I suggested that its legal position was rather vague and doubtful. I am now speaking strictly of its legal position. The position of the Provisional Parliament as a Constituent Assembly was not altogether so very clear. But the position at the moment legally is that, for a certain period of years, Articles of the Constitution can be amended by ordinary legislation. We can bring in a Bill here to amend these Articles if amendment should seem, in the light of experience, to be wise. We can guarantee these Articles against constant change either by way of requiring a vote of this House so large as to ensure that, if it is obtained, there must be a strong popular demand for the change or else provide that a change, to be effective, must be approved of by the people through the means of a Referendum. I am advised that that is legally possible.
The President: I am advised that that is legally possible and sound. There is a fallacy in the suggestion made here on the last occasion—that a subsequent Dáil could repeal these amendments by a simple majority.  There is confusion in the minds of those who advance that argument between the position of the Constitution and that of an ordinary legislative act. The Constitution as it exists at any particular moment governs the legislation introduced and the method by which it is to be passed at that particular time. If the Constitution is legally amended, as it can be, and it provides that, with regard to certain Articles, legislation cannot be carried except under certain conditions, these conditions then become operative and govern the Act. To meet the views of those who fear that either this Dáil or a subsequent Dáil might ignore these fundamental rights in the Constitution, I propose at a later stage, when this examination shall have been completed, to indicate certain Articles and bring them in in a special measure with safeguards by which they cannot be changed by a simple majority. It will be for the Dáil to decide whether or not that course is wise and necessary. Personally, I should like to see that done, and the Government will have no objection whatever to having it done.
Probably, in the general interests of the country it would be a wise course. I would resist strongly the other Articles of the Constitution being made difficult to change, and I would resist it for the same reason that I would resist any attempt to make the present position, which we regard as a forced position, permanent. The Irish people must be as free as it is possible to leave them, and their representatives must be as free as it is possible to leave them, to make the changes which the people want in the national interests, and which their representatives want in the national interests. In the case of certain Articles, therefore, we would resist any difficulties or barriers being put in the way of change. With regard to others, which refer to our fundamental rights, such as might appear in any democratic institution—that of the Republic, for instance, and so on —these, of course, as they represent democratic rights, we are not willing to have made easily changeable.
I think that I have covered the field pretty well and that I have met the  arguments put forward on the opposite side. I believe that the removal of the Seanad will have the support of the people as a whole. I believe that no considerable section of the people want it and that it is not justified in its present form; and I do not believe, as I have argued before, that  a Second Chamber is justifiable at all, particularly when we have a system of proportional representation such as we have here. I hope the Dáil will pass the Bill. I do not expect that the Seanad will pass it, but the operation of time will cure that.
Browne, William Frazer.
De Valera, Eamon.
Dowdall, Thomas P.
Hogan, Patrick (Clare).
Keely, Séamus P.
|Kennedy, Michael Joseph.
Lemass, Seán F.
Little, Patrick John.
Maguire, Conor Alexander.
Murphy, Timothy Joseph.
O Ceallaigh, Seán T.
Pattison, James P.
Pearse, Margaret Mary.
Ward, Francis C.
|Alton, Ernest Henry.
Bennett, George Cecil.
Cosgrave, William T.
Costello, John Aloysius.
Dockrell, Henry Morgan.
Doyle, Peadar S.
Esmonde, Osmond Grattan.
McFadden, Michael Og.
McGuire, James Ivan.
Minch, Sydney B.
O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
Redmond, Bridget Mary.
Rogers, Patrick James.
Rowlette, Robert James.
Thrift, William Edward.
The Dáil adjourned at 2 p.m. until Tuesday, 29th May, 1934, at 3 p.m.
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