Thursday, 18 October 1945
Dáil Éireann Debate
The motion refers to a particular Emergency Order signed last August dealing with a certain section of deserters from the National Army. The Order is not one over the name of the Minister for Defence; it is an Order signed by the Taoiseach himself. I want to make it very clear at the start that in moving for the annulment of this particular Order I am in no way defending deserters or approving of desertion. The points on which I desire to move the annulment of the Order are many. First of all, I think on the face of the Order it will be clear to anyone who reads it that this Order is not aimed at deserters merely because they are deserters, or because they deserted the Army at a time of emergency. This Order is framed specifically to deal with a certain section of deserters, deserters who joined the armies of the United Nations. If that is so, the Order is imposing penalties not for desertion but penalties continuing over seven years for those who served in the armies of the United Nations.
The Order in question refers to deserters who have been absent as deserters for a period of 180 days. This is a very tiny country. We have very efficient services in the country—an intelligence service, secret service agents, a rather big police force in proportion to the area and population, a highly efficient police force. We have machinery, a system, in the country whereby nobody can purchase as much as a fraction of an ounce of tea without a ration card. It is beyond belief that with all that machinery at the disposal of the State any deserter could be absent for 180 days without being taken into custody and dealt with. It is because of all those circumstances that I say that this Order is not an Order to punish deserters, but an Order to punish a special class of deserters. We have, in the Defence Forces Act, renewed, year after year, since the 1st October, 1924, ample machinery for dealing with desertion or any other offence within the Defence Forces, and I would not challenge any action  taken to deal with deserters or with desertion in the ordinary way. We have gone through five years of the greatest war the world ever knew or ever will know. All through that time we had deserters or were dealing with deserters, and yet we wait until the war is over, and then bring out an Order which sentences this unfortunate small section of deserters to seven years' destitution, seven years' starvation. We lay it down in the Order that these men, if they return, can get no work whatsoever under the State, under a local authority, under any board or authority established by this Parliament—that their discharge or dismissal from the Defence Forces is not a discharge for the purposes of the Unemployment Assistance Acts. In other words, through the machinery of the State, we do everything possible to ensure that for seven years these men and their families are sentenced to absolute destitution and absolute starvation.
We are doing that in a Christian country and under a Constitution that is festooned with phrases about Christianity, God, et cetera. I am objecting to this, and I am moving the annulment of the Order, because it is a most brutal, unchristian and inhuman Order. I do not care whether the number of men concerned be few or many; nobody with any humanity or Christianity in his make-up would stand for a seven years' punishment of that sort, no matter what the crime was. As I said, we have been dealing with deserters. We have been dealing with them over a period of five or six long years—a period of emergency. We have been dealing with deserters for a period of 22 years in all. Even during the emergency, people deserted from the forces, because they did not like soldiering and wanted to side-step the hard, arduous life of a soldier, and when they were caught within the country, the sentences were comparatively light. Many of them, when they were taken into custody, were kept for only a few days in the guard-room and then discharged from the Army, and the Minister knows that as well as I do. The sentences were very light, considering the state of emergency  that existed. But we wait until the war is over, and until there is some possibility of these other men returning, and then bring in an Order of this kind.
Let us think back. The Minister found himself, in a time of emergency, without an Army, or without an adequate Army, and every Party and every Deputy in this House put behind them any old divisions or dislikes, forgot past dissensions, and got out, one and all, shoulder to shoulder, to give this country an adequate Defence Force and to recruit an Army up to the requirements of the country. It was the Army of Parliament. It was the Army of all Parties in Parliament, and the response was reasonably good. The response was not up to the mark that the Army officers required, and yet the Government of this country was all the time, day after day, through the machinery of the State, allowing men who—many of them—were too selfish to join their own Army in a time of danger, to go abroad and work for comparatively fabulously high wages in the munition factories of belligerent States, and there was no disability or no penalty put in the way of these people. Instead of that, you had the State facilitating their exit from the country. Others came along and joined the forces of this country—young men, brave men, men anxious for soldiering, seeking adventure, and believing that there was a real danger to this State. They did their task and carried out their duties for one or for two years or for longer. Then, in their judgment, they came to the conclusion that the danger of actual invasion had passed and if the menace that threatened the country was to be met, the place to meet it was at a distance—to meet it at a distant point, pin it down there, and crush it there, and, as a result, some of them left and joined the forces of other armies.
Now, any one of us who reads in the papers or knows anything of the horrors of war can have some little picture of what those men went through, of their experiences and their agonies. Yet, when the war is  over, and when they come back, hoping to come back to a mother, to a young wife and to the little children, they find the Government of this State stepping in to sentence them to seven years' starvation, seven years' destitution, and to find themselves branded, as far as the State can do so, as pariah dogs, as outcasts, untouchables, who cannot be employed or maintained here. They find the Government of this State sentencing them to starvation or exile not for the crime of cowardice, not for the crime of deserting this nation in a time of danger, but for the crime of going to assist other nations in what they believed was a fight for the survival of Christianity in Europe.
We read in our papers as recently as last week a long and touching letter from a young Irish priest who had been in captivity, and some of whose colleagues had been murdered and others tortured, and we read of his feelings on the day the relief forces reached that camp, and of the relief and joy of those who had been in captivity, but particularly of their relief to find that every second soldier that they met with in that relieving column was a Kelly, Burke or Shea. We read of the way that young Irish priest thanked God that Irish mothers had produced sons who, within the periphery of the world, had faced death in order to come to the relief of such young Irish priests and save them from murder and torture—men who went from battlefield to battlefield to bring assistance to these Irish priests—and yet these men are now to be branded as pariah dogs and outcasts.
We read in the same papers of the horrors that were perpetrated in certain prison camps, and what it meant to those afflicted human beings that were interned in these camps, when the armies of their deliverers came along. When the humanitarian forces behind these armies came along to try to revive the half-dead bodies of the people who went through all that in order to bring this relief, we in this Christian country, cannot do anything better for the Irishmen who took part in the  bringing of that relief, than to say, in effect: “You have gone all through the horrors of Belsen merely to suffer a sentence of seven years' starvation.”
It is only three months since we discussed in the Dáil the continuation or otherwise of the Emergency Act, and the Taoiseach, speaking in an apologetic tone, told us that it was only necessary to continue these appalling powers for a period—for a junta in secret to make laws for certain dangers. We were told that, as far as it was humanly possible, and as rapidly as possible, one power after another contained in the emergency enactments would be dropped. With these words still echoing around the building, the Emergency Act is used to bring in this particular Order. An Emergency Act, which has a life of only 12 months, is used or abused to impose penalties upon people for seven long years. I believe, in the first place, that it is illegal; in the second place that it is unconstitutional and, in the third place, unchristian. When I ask why it is done, the Minister for Defence throws up his hand. Is there not ample machinery for dealing with deserters? We know what public feeling in this country is with regard to these men, that they are being looked upon as fools, and merely sentenced to one or two months' imprisonment. In view of the hardship, the dangers and the sufferings of these men elsewhere, the general good sense of the public was that, whatever their offence, they had sponged the slate clean and there was sympathy with the mothers, wives and children.
In the early part of this year, questions were put to the Minister from various parts of the House, and his reply was that probably he would “chuck” the whole thing, that these men might be struck off the register or something like that. Then, like a bolt from the blue, we find Ministers skedaddling, washing their hands of responsibility, suggesting that the ordinary disciplinary code laid down year after year since 1922 was not drastic enough, and not terrible enough to deal with these men, that this starvation Order must be passed —seven years' starvation, seven years destitution or seven years' exile. What is the good of talking about emigration, talking about national hæmorrhage, saying that the youth of the country, through economic stress is driven abroad, when we frame Orders under the Emergency Act to exile people or to drive them out for seven years, merely because of their action? These penalties are not for desertion. Let the Minister tell us the sentences imposed and the number of cases in which no sentence was imposed for deserting the forces of this country. This is an Order designed and aimed at one particular section of deserters, and it is not to punish them for desertion. It is to punish them for service elsewhere, for service abroad. If the proposal of the Minister or the Army was that the ordinary course would be followed, that the ordinary machinery laid down from the beginning for dealing with desertion would operate, my voice would not be raised. If an army is to be maintained at at all, it is necessary to maintain discipline and to punish infringements of the military code. It is necessary to deal with absentees. It is essential to deal with deserters coming under the emergency regulations. When the war is over, it is better to forget rather than to revive old feuds or point the finger of scorn at men who may be accused of desertion, but definitely cannot be accused of cowardice, as against the fellow who left, not to fight, either at home or abroad, but merely because he could not stand soldiering.
I do not believe this could be done at a more unfortunate time. The world is distracted with war, is crippled and bleeding as a result of war. Statesmen all over the world are trying to heal the wounds and to repair the damage of war, to replace enmity with friendship and, perhaps; in no small country is it more imperative that we should try to cultivate friendly relations with our neighbours and with others, than in this country. Our whole attitude during the war has been misunderstood and distorted to the detriment of this country. Now that the war is over, we should not supply fresh  fuel to the flames that are already there. No thinking man could read that Order as anything but an Order to punish those who served in the armies of the United Nations. It discriminates between one type of deserter and another. This country is nearly exhausted, without supplies. A Minister went across to England recently to establish contact, or to try to reopen essential contacts between the two Governments, to try to remove misunderstanding, to try to create a spirit of friendship and here we have an Order of this kind, an Order stimulated by malice, seething with hatred, oozing with venom. No one who reads that Order would say that that description is exaggerated or uncharitable.
The Minister may grin. The Minister knows that we grew rich on the sacrifices, the sufferings and the hardships of others. We got untold wealth because the war passed us by and the least we can do is to be charitable, to be understanding with regard to the men who went through the flames of that war, to the men irrespective of nationality, who met danger at far distant points and pinned it down and crushed it there. If we had any of the spirit of soldiers in our make-up, we would forget the past. We would hold out the hand of friendship and allow those men who soldiered through the toughest times anybody ever soldiered through, come home without penalty, and without scorn to rejoin their homes and resume a life of peace. There is no one going to tolerate or to believe that it is either Christian or fair to sentence these unfortunate men to seven years' starvation, seven years' destitution. Let us realise that we are not only sentencing the men themselves but sentencing the families—the mothers, the wives and little children. I urge the Government to annul that particular Order, to annul it even if it is only as a gesture of burying the hatchet and of giving some little evidence of a desire for better understanding on both sides of the water. If we will not do it as an act of statesmanship or as a gesture of friendship, let us do it as the outcome of a Christian impulse rather than; as  a Parliament, be branded with a brutal and inhuman outlook for sentencing even one man or one family to seven years' starvation.
Mr. R. Walsh: I have been 16 or 17 years in this House. I have heard many speeches, anti-national and otherwise, but I have never listened to a speech that seemed to be so deliberately intended to do the maximum harm to this country and to this State by deliberately misconstruing the Order referred to as that which has just been delivered. I wonder if the Deputy who is so anxious to secure justice for those men would extend that justice to any one of those men who happened to join the German Army.
Mr. Walsh: It is rather amusing. I shall give the Deputy credit for one thing—he never concealed his attitude during the war. We would not have been neutral if he could have helped it. I ask the Minister, in his statement, to refute the imputation that this Order was inspired by malice against a certain group of Irishmen because they held certain political opinions. Let us regard this matter realistically. Desertion from an army is desertion. It cannot be camouflaged. It is either desertion or it is not and it is doubly damaging and doubly dangerous to the army from which desertion takes places if the deserter joins another army which might conceivably be fighting the army from which he deserted. Let us have some sense of reality. The Army authorities here are asked to condone the act of a man who deserts from the Irish Army and joins another army which the Irish Army may conceivably be fighting. Such a deserter is in a position to use whatever capacity he has as a fighter against the Irish Army and he is also in a position to act as a very dangerous spy.
Mr. Walsh: I ask the Minister to disavow, in no uncertain way, and to deny the Deputy's statement, that this Order was inspired by malice against anybody or against any country. The Irish Army authorities are in control of the National Defence Forces. It is their business to look after the welfare and security of those forces. The Defence Forces are entrusted with the security of the State and they would be traitors if they did not do their duty in that direction and, especially, take every step in their power to put down desertion.
Mr. Moran: Listening to Deputy O'Higgins, I was rather surprised that he did not advocate pensions for deserters from our Army to the British army. He has advocated practically everything else. He suggests or implies that we should be out meeting our Army deserters with bands and banners, welcoming them back. He refers to the service they have given to other countries as if that service had been given to our own State. What would anybody think of an army which condoned desertion? What would anybody think of an army, charged with the responsibility which the Irish Army had during the serious crisis through which we have passed during the past four years, which would turn a blind eye to soldiers going off to another army which might possibly be engaged in an armed conflict with the forces of this State? It was interesting to hear the story told by Deputy O'Higgins about the service of Irish soldiers in those outside countries. It is very strange that we should hear Deputy O'Higgins sing their praises, while we do not hear their praises sung by the people whom they served. What is the attitude of those people towards some Irish soldiers who were in an alien land, were conscripted by the British into their army and who, subsequently, returned to their own country? They are being dealt with by the British army authorities and it is not a question of seven years in that case. They are being sentenced, possibly, to life service in the Middle East and in other white men's graves  which the British have under their control. That is the way they are treating our citizens who happened to be in Britain at the time the war broke out and who were conscripted. We do not hear any voice raised in protest against that treatment by Deputy O'Higgins' Party.
Mr. Moran: We do not hear any protest in this House about the way those unfortunate citizens of ours are being treated for returning to their own country. What is the attitude of those people to some of our citizens who, although not in their army, happened to return here on a one-way ticket during the emergency—possibly, in order to avoid conscription? No matter how long those citizens were there or whether they were married or not, they find every difficulty put in their way when they try to take up the livelihood which was broken in the way which I have described. They find that the British authorities are not prepared to allow them to go back to the work they had been at for years. We hear no protest about that attitude from Deputy O'Higgins but we hear this song and dance about Belsen camps and so forth and about the glorious place the Irishmen who were in the British Army won for themselves. There is not one word about the treatment of our citizens, who owed no allegiance to the British, but who, for one reason or another, found themselves under the control of the British at the time conscription was introduced, and who tried to get back to their own country. The Deputy's suggestion that an Irish citizen, having joined the Army of this State during the period of emergency and having deserted to a possible enemy, should get either the thanks of this House or should be freed from punishment, is simply putting a premium on desertion and a premium on treason. I cannot conceive anything nearer to treason than the desertion of a soldier of our Army to another army during a state of national crisis.
I think it is about time that the Army authorities and the Government recognised the seriousness of the  situation. It was the first time in our history that we had to face such a crisis. It was the first time in our history that our Army was called upon to face the responsibility of defending this State in case it was attacked by any outside State. During that national crisis, even if the Army had no previous experience or no preconceived ideas upon which they might act in such a crisis, they discharged the job effectively. I think now is the time that the State and the Army authorities in particular should recognise the dangers of desertion from the Army during such a period. They should recognise in particular the danger of the desertion of our trained soldiers to some army that might conceivably belong to any enemy State. I think now is the time to lay down a stern rule for future guidance so that it will be known to every citizen in the State that the punishment for the offence of desertion will be very severe. In other countries the punishment for such a crime is that the guilty soldier is simply put up against the wall and shot. I think that we here are possibly looking at this matter from a very mild angle. Deputy O'Higgins, the mover of this motion, does not appear to appreciate the responsibilities that the Army faced in this country during the crisis. He does not appear to have any fair appreciation of the desirability of making the punishment fit the crime, so long as the individual concerned deserted to the people with whom the Deputy has been in sympathy in this war. Irrespective of the army to which our soldiers deserted — let it be the British, German or any other army— desertion is desertion and I think the measures laid down in this Order for dealing with such offences are not, in fact, severe enough. I think if anything the State should go further and make it clear to all citizens of the State that crimes of this character during a period of national emergency will be severely punished.
Mr. Coogan: A deliberate attempt has been made by the last two speakers from the Government Benches to cloud the issue. Nothing was clearer from the statement by Deputy Dr.  O'Higgins than that his quarrel with the procedure laid down by Emergency Powers No. 362 Order of 1945, was that the Army was not dealing with this matter of desertion. It is quite clear that neither of the two Deputies who spoke last read the Order because the effect of this Order is to take from the Army authorities the disposal of these people who did desert during the time of the emergency. I would suggest to them seriously, particularly to the last speaker who happens to be a legal man, to read the Order. The Order means that the Army authorities will not deal with deserters but that, instead, these men will be black-listed, not only for State employment but for employment by local authorities, by the Electricity Supply Board, by Córas Iompair Éireann, by the sugar company and every other statutory board or body set up under Acts of this House. That is the effect of the Order. Not only do we by this Order effectively prevent them from obtaining such employment but we go even further and say their dismissals from the Army shall not be a discharge for the purposes of unemployment benefit. We say therefore that neither can they get employment nor unemployment benefit. That is the reward which we give to men who, whatever their motives may have been, left this country to fight on far foreign fields—and they were not the first soldiers of an Irish Army to desert to fight on far foreign fields.
I am not going to attempt to defend men who desert in a time of national emergency, but I put this picture before Deputy Moran. Many of these young men joined up in the hope that they would see service in this country. They joined up believing that this country was then in danger, and after two or three years, seeing no hope of active service and getting “fed up” with the boredom of the barrack square, they left for a place where they might engage in active fighting. That was possibly the reason that many of them left. Whatever the motive may have been, I believe the majority of them left for that reason— because they were active adventurous soldiers. Picture the situation that will arise when this Order comes into  effect and when these men return. A man is living in a small village down the country, and he looks for road work under the local authorities. He is told by the ganger or the surveyor: “You are black-listed: you are disqualified from getting work because you fought with the United Nations during the war”. He goes to the sugar company, the Electricity Supply Board or some other body and he is likewise black-listed. Is that a situation calculated to promote friendly relations between this country and our nearest neighbour? Is not that very policy—whatever the motive behind the Order—designed to promote bad feeling and bad blood between ourselves and our neighbours?
I am not suggesting that there was malice in the Minister's mind or in the mind of the Government when the Order was drafted but I can see cases arising, and Press publicity as a result of these cases, where men will be refused employment under local authorities for which they would be otherwise eligible. I can see flare headings and these men being described as ex-soldiers who fought for freedom and who are not now allowed to get a living in their own country merely because of the fact that they did fight. That will be the effect of the Order. I think from that angle, from the angle of our relations with our neighbours, the Order is calculated to have a very bad effect and I deprecate it from that point of view.
Let it be clearly understood that the Army authorities are not dealing with desertion at all under this Order. The disposal of deserters is being taken, lock, stock and barrel, from the Army authorities. These men are being branded as men who are to be disqualified from any class of employment in the State under a local authority or a statutory board because they were soldiers of the United Nations. Anybody who has even a remote experience of army matters knows full well that in normal times deserters may be classed under various heads, but particularly under two heads. There is first the young soldier who perhaps deserts to seek a fight elsewhere, as I suggest  many of these men did. When that man is brought back, if he is sentenced by his own authorities, his sentence is a nominal one. You have then the malingerer, the fellow who wants to shirk his duty, who does not want to see any fighting anywhere. When he is caught and brought back he is kicked out of the Army and that is the end of him. By what you are doing under this Order, you are not thinking of the military discipline of the men.
You are not bringing these men before a court-martial; you are merely depriving them of their civil rights for a period of seven years. That is the great objection I see to this Order. You deprive them of the right to work-under the State, under the local authorities or under any statutory body set up under an Act of this House. You are depriving them of unemployment benefit. That, to my mind, is a serious encroachment on the rights of these men as citizens. I have not gone into the matter but I would venture the opinion that that is entirely unconstitutional and that this Order is ultra vires for that very reason. Whilst the intention behind this Order was probably a good one, while the motive was probably to dispense with the court-martialling of these men when they come home, I think we have jumped from the frying-pan into the fire and have made matters worse because the penalty that we are imposing here, the deprivation of civil rights, to my mind, is a far more serious penalty than any court-martial or any civil court would impose. These cases could have been disposed of by the district justices or the military authorities and I venture to suggest that, if they had been so disposed of, in 99 per cent. of the cases the men would have got no more than a month's imprisonment and that would have been an end of the matter. Under this Order we are depriving them of their civil rights for a period of seven years. I consider that that is unjustifiable and unconstitutional.
Mr. M. O'Reilly: I listened to portion of Deputy O'Higgins' speech and, as usual, we listened to venom, in fact I should say, nonsense. His  speech indicated to me quite clearly that Deputy O'Higgins and his Party have no hope of ever becoming a Government and, that being the case, he, together with the seconder of the motion, is completely irresponsible. What has occurred recently may occur again. A great number of people are of the opinion that another war will follow the last war. If men are not disciplined in an army then there is no use in having an army. If the Government had not stepped in and taken control of the punishment to be meted out to these men and if that punishment were left to the Army, I think the punishment would not be anything like as mild as that which the Minister proposes to administer. There was an actual state of war in existence at the time these men deserted. We were a neutral country and we were bound to defend ourselves and to take whatever steps were necessary to preserve discipline in the Army. We were also bound to take whatever steps were necessary to ensure that the succeeding Government would be in a position to maintain discipline in the Army.
Mr. M. O'Reilly: That is my grouse, if I have a grouse with the Minister. Why does not he let the Army administer the punishment and I am quite satisfied that the Army punishment would not be anything like as mild as the punishment the Minister proposes to administer?
Mr. M. O'Reilly: His case was the usual venomous case. He did his utmost to queer the pitch here in this country, to make it difficult for this  Government to carry on, not knowing that, perhaps, by some extraordinary means, something that nobody here can visualise, he and his Party might form a Government in the near future.
Mr. M. O'Reilly: Deputy O'Higgins must have no hope in that direction. He took no precautions whatsoever, when he made that speech, to maintain discipline in the Army. I do not know to what army these men deserted. Some of them may have deserted to the British Army and others may have deserted to other armies, but Deputy Dr. O'Higgins has persuaded himself that it is because men deserted to the British Army, and only because of that, that they are being punished. The seconder of the motion knows a good deal about discipline. He knows the importance of discipline. The Minister is doing his utmost to maintain discipline in the Army and to pass the Army on to whatever Government may follow as a disciplined force.
Mr. M. O'Reilly: It is my personal opinion, and I think it is not incorrect, that if the military authorities were left to deal with these men their methods would be much more severe and much more harsh than the methods adopted by the Minister and, therefore, it is an act of mercy, as far as I can see it, on the Minister's part. He has the right to step in and to administer some form of punishment to these men. It would be a strange country in which, where such a case occurred, the Government were unable to step in and prevent undue hardship, perhaps sentence of death, being imposed on these men. This is a definite warning to them and to future generations that such a thing must not occur again. As far as Deputy O'Higgins' reference, that we are continuously trying to pick little quarrels with other countries and then going to beg favours of them, is concerned, after the calamity that has  occurred in the world, very few countries have any favours to grant. I am sorry for it. It is an awful misfortune, but that is the fact and the sooner we stop talking nonsense to the effect that Tom, Dick or Harry has something to give us, the sooner we will realise tha the only thing we have in this country at the moment is what we can produce ourselves and that if we want to prosper we must maintain discipline. As a Government, possibly continuing in office for a long time, one of the things we must keep in mind is that there must be discipline in this State. Deputy Dr. O'Higgins and the last speaker are perfectly well aware of that fact but, on Deputy O'Higgins' part, the venom oozed forth and the seconder of the motion merely followed him.
Mr. O'Leary: I have been very much interested in this debate. On the 17th May last I tabled a question to the Minister for Defence asking him if he was prepared to allow all soldiers who left the Army without leave and joined other armies during the war to return here without fear of legal proceedings being instituted against them. I was constantly in touch with the Minister for Defence on behalf of these men. After the publication of that matter in the Press I received letters from Africa, India and every place where British soldiers were stationed. Some of these men did not join for the love of England. As the soldiers say, they got “browned off” in Eire. Some crossed the Border and joined the air force. The married men went because they got better separation allowances. The cost of living being so high in this country, they had to get better wages. I was very thankful to the Minister and it was a great relief to the mothers, fathers, wives and families of these men when the Minister lifted the ban and allowed them to return.
I was surprised to hear Deputy Dr. O'Higgins and the other Deputies, who did not raise a voice until now, when the men are coming back. These men are not asking for jobs. They will get jobs. The majority of them probably will not come back at all. They will get better jobs, probably, in the countries  that they have served. I should like to put this matter to the Minister. Among 16 candidates for a position as rate collector in Wexford County Council there were two ex-lieutenants and two privates of our own Army. None of the soldiers who served our State got a vote other than my own and that of another colleague. I do not see what hope there is for the men who are to come back from the British Army when our own men are being let down by local bodies. On behalf of the wives and families of those who deserted from the Army, I wish to thank the Minister for lifting the ban and allowing these young Irishmen to come home. Since the announcement appeared in the papers, many of them have come to my county to see their wives and families or fathers and mothers. They are not asking for doles. They are not worrying about what Deputy O'Higgins said, that they are going to be starved out. All that a soldier can get from the labour exchange is three days' work a week on relief schemes. These men do not want these jobs. If there is nothing better for them in this country, I hope they will stay where they will get a full week's work every week. We have enough to do here to find positions for the men in our own Army when they are demobilised. I do not see any work being provided here although the war is at an end. We have thousands of unemployed here. I know that the men in our own Army who are looking for their discharge are not looking for it to get work here. They are thinking of getting out of the country and going abroad.
When I hear people talking about this matter I wonder why they did not think of it long ago. I had the courage to put down a question to the Minister asking if he would allow these men to come back to this country, because I knew of some of them who came as far as Dublin but could not go home to their own counties for the funerals of their fathers or their mothers. I was asked to do something for these men. As I say, I put down a question and, through the goodness of the Government and the Minister, these men were allowed to come back to this country. I do not see why we should have all  this talk about seven years in a Belsen camp. I do not believe that the position of these men will be as bad as has been represented, because there are employers in this country who will probably give work to men who served in the British Army rather than to those who served in our own Army. They will probably give them jobs before they will give jobs to those who joined the Irish Army.
In regard to this question of giving these men work and providing them with the dole, I have a letter here which appeared in the Dublin Evening Mail on the day I put the question in the Dáil referring to these deserters. The letter is as follows:—
“Sir,—Will some of your readers tell me what is going to become of the large number of our boys who deserted the Irish Army to join the British? Some of them left because they wanted to get into real fighting; others because the money was too small with which to support their families, the cost of living being so high in our country. Are these boys going to be allowed to visit their homes after going through the horrors of war or are they to go into exile? Many mothers are longing to see their beloved sons. Is there no one to give them a break?—My Wild Irish Boy.”
An awful fuss is being kicked up about these men now that the war is over. These men will be all right. There is no need to worry about them. They only want to come back to this country to see their people. They are not asking for jobs. I do not believe that the Minister is going to be so harsh with them that they will not get anything in this country for seven years. I do not think that is right. We are sending food to other countries. Surely when these fellows come back here, if any of them come back, we ought to be able to give them enough to eat anyhow. I think too much of our time in this House is spent on debating matters that should not be debated at all. It would be better if we debated questions affecting the future of this country rather than  things which happened in the past, and not have any bickering going on from any side of the House. We are all sent here to do the best we can for our people. It is our duty to voice their grievances in a friendly way when we come here and not have any bickering or going back over old sores and asking what such a fellow did and what the other fellow did. We should look to the future. The Government should get going in order to provide employment for every man who is able and fit to work.
Mr. Lydon: I could not let this debate pass without at least putting on the records of this House my view on this motion. Under this regulation, which there is so much talk about, and so much humanitarianism preached from the opposite benches, we are told that a man is deprived of his civic rights and of work for seven years because, being an attested soldier of this country, he deserted to a foreign Power. I should like to ask who were the first people who introduced into this country this idea of preventing a man from earning his living here? Men like Deputy O'Higgins and the Party to which he belongs drove Irishmen into exile and made them starve in this country, their only crime being that they fought for their own country and believed in its right to be free.
Mr. Colley: We have heard some extraordinary theories put forward from time to time from the opposite benches, but that put forward to-day, that an attested soldier of a country who deserts to an army that might possibly be in conflict with his own country should be received back with open arms, is certainly something new in the annals of any Party. From our youngest days, surely it has been bred into everybody that their duty is first to their own country? I did not think it would be necessary to say such a thing in the Dáil.
Dr. O'Higgins: On a point of personal correction, might I remind the Deputies opposite that I advocated that the Army here would deal with Army deserters and that, if the Army imposed any punishment on those deserters, I had no complaint to make?
Mr. Colley: We are dealing in this Order with the cases of men who joined first, of their own free will, to give their services to this country in a time of emergency and who, for some reasons of their own, deserted from that Army in such a way that they could not be dealt with in the ordinary manner. We have been told that they could be dealt with under the ordinary law governing deserters for the last 20 years. The ordinary law was not sufficient, in any respect, to deal with the last few years in general, much less with the Army. These men got away  out of the country, so that they could not be apprehended and dealt with, even under that law. Now we are told we should forget all that; we are told that, in the interests of friendly relations with other countries, we should forget that. Was the conscription of our people, in other countries, an act to promote friendly relations? Are we to think first of other countries rather than of our own?
In the case of people who think it wise to desert from our Army, who think that the policy of neutrality adopted by the huge majority of our people was not sufficient for them, who take it upon themselves to desert from the Army which they voluntarily joined, and who leave the Army authorities in the position that they cannot deal with them in the ordinary way, it is necessary that steps be taken to show them that their duty was first to their own country. The Order is not, in itself, of the unduly harsh nature it has been represented to be.
Mr. Traynor: Oh, lots. They will be given in due course, but I am pining to hear the case. I have heard one case from the Deputy and one from another side of the House. I am pining to hear the rest of the case.
General Mulcahy: I suggest to the Minister that, in fairness to the House and in fairness to the country, we ought to hear that case. It would help the discussion considerably if we could hear it now.
Dr. O'Higgins: May I say that we would not have to listen to the excessively stupid speeches we have heard from the Minister's Party, if the Minister would explain to the House why the Army washed its hands of deserters and passed them over to the local authority to deal with?
Mr. Traynor: I presume this is a matter of political tactics and nothing else. I am anxious to deal with this matter in a serious way and, therefore, I want to hear the case against the Order. Deputy O'Higgins has not made a case against it, but has poured forth abuse against it. I am anxious to hear some reasoned case against the Order, if there is a reasoned case, and I propose to reply then as fully as I possibly can.
Mr. Larkin (Junior): The question involved now is such that we in these benches are entitled to say at the moment that we are of the opinion that the Order should stand. There are certain points that merit discussion and on which the Minister might be able to enlighten us. It is unfortunate that, when Deputy O'Higgins started off, whatever his views may be, he started on a wrong basis, and if the discussion has taken a turn that is not helpful to his point of view, he has largely himself to blame. It is correct— and even Deputy O'Higgins has made the declaration himself—that in principle and in practice we cannot condone desertion. There is no question of that. Therefore, the only question is the means and machinery to deal with it. Possibly it is correct that many members of the National Defence Forces who deserted and went elsewhere did so because they were inspired with certain views as to where political and military activity should be carried on and they were interested in it; but that does not apply to all of them. We are quite well aware that many of them went elsewhere, not because of any political views, but because the financial attraction was much stronger than that which we were able to hold out to them. For a long time past, I have expressed the view in this House that the conditions we offered to serving members of the Defence Forces could not be justified. I still hold to that view, both in regard to direct pay given to the men and in regard to the allowances given to the dependents. While recognising that position and while knowing personally that many men did desert and go elsewhere because of the undoubted hardships their dependents were undergoing during the war, countless other men bore equally great hardships on themselves and their families and did not desert.
Whatever may be said for the views held by individuals as regards the issues involved in the war—and I suppose we all have our own views—it is  correct that our own country claims our first duty and responsibility. From that point of view, we must take the attitude that we support in principle the continuance of the Order and will vote against the motion. However, there are certain features that I, personally, do not like and I think the Minister should give us information as to why the established and recognised machinery of the Army was found unfit to deal with this particular problem. Was it a question of the numbers to be dealt with being so large that it was physically impossible to deal with it? Was it a question that, because of the different types of case to be dealt with, certain difficulties would present themselves in deciding on an equitable basis the punishment that would be meted out to the different individuals?
There are various reasons why men have left the Army. There is the man who deserted merely because he did not like the particular kind of life; you have the man who deserted because he got into difficulties in his personal relationships; then there are men who deserted for financial or political reasons. In this respect a whole host of reasons could be considered and probably the best way of dealing with them would be through the established machinery where each case could be considered on its merits and adequate punishment meted out. What I do not like is this seven years' provision—what is called civil disability. I quite see the point of view that a man who deserts this country in its hour of need has relinquished any claim he may have on it; but possibly if his case was dealt with under the ordinary Army regulations and if he were sentenced, the effect would be almost the same as under this particular provision.
It is the omnibus nature of the provision to which I object. There is the point that this man could come back into the civilian life of this country as a citizen and make his contribution to rates and taxes through the ordinary course of employment, but under this provision he will be debarred from doing so. We must take into consideration that, apart from the man himself suffering  punishment, there is another aspect, that his dependents will also be penalised. From that point of view I think there is room for argument as to why that form of punishment has been decided upon.
We can all appreciate the position that, where a man has deserted from the Defence Forces, he may desert for reasons peculiar to himself—personal reasons. He may have no political reasons whatsoever. He may not be interested in making financial provision for his family. In addition to all that, his wife and children may have had no opportunity of expressing their views as to the course he takes. He leaves them here, but possibly at some later date he may send them financial assistance. Whatever the position may be, it was purely his decision, yet now we propose to punish his wife and children who had no part whatever in his desertion and who had no opportunity of commenting on the situation. I think that is very unfair and some very strong argument would need to be put forward to justify it.
I would not prefer to deal with each case in the manner proposed by the Government. I would sooner see individuals brought before the proper authorities, and, when the case is dealt with, proper punishment could be meted out to the individual responsible. We should not, as we are doing now, take all cases regardless of the fine points of difference that exist. In addition to imposing a penalty of seven years' civic disability on the individuals who have deserted, we also ensure that a share of punishment will be borne by the wives and families of these men. I suggest that it is a fairly severe penalty, because the percentage of employment that can be afforded by the central authority and the local authorities in this country is substantial. Apart from that, there is also a disability suffered by these persons in respect of unemployment insurance. It could be logically argued that it would be ridiculous to regard a man as a deserted and at the same time give him all the privileges that are granted to members of the forces in the ordinary way.
 It is the spirit that is behind this whole Order that is objectionable. On the principle of not condoning desertion and taking the attitude that it would be unfair and out of place to the men who did continue with their soldierly duties, regardless of what may have been their political views, their personal inconveniences or their financial disabilities, it could be argued that it would be unfair that the slate should be wiped clean, and that these men could make a fresh start; but I suggest there is a case to be answered by the Minister with regard to the machinery and with regard to the extent of the punishment for the individual and the possibility that it may be levied on his wife and family.
Seán MacCárthaigh: Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá i dtaobh na ceiste seo. Go deimhin, ní thuigim cad tá fé bhun an rúin seo i dtaobh na saighdiúirí seo a dhein a dtír féin do thréigeadh agus a throid, in airm tíre eile, béidir, i gcoinnibh a dtíre féin agus a muintir.
I have few words to say with regard to what I characterise as a rather vindictive motion. It should be clear to everybody that those who desert the Army of their own land, who disregard their pledged word and oath to fight for its freedom and its principles, and who join another army and pledge allegiance to another nation, may in the course of world events be pitted against their own native land. The principle at stake is this, as I see it, that the Army here could deal with its deserters so long as they remain in their own country, or even left it and returned to it without joining the army of any other nation. We had here a declared policy of neutrality, with the unanimous voice of this nation behind it, and if we cannot insist on the members of our own Army being under discipline and obeying that regulation, how then can we expect the ordinary citizens of our land to follow the lead that the Government, with the united voice of the nation behind them, can command?
Is it not a fact that not only did these men break Army discipline, but they also broke our internationally  understood policy, which brings them under the jurisdiction of the Army as well as under the jurisdiction of the Department of External Affairs for fighting in another army while we at home had declared our neutrality, our resolve, not to take part in the wars of the world? That is the reason for this Order. Not only did they desert their own Army, but they broke the declared policy of this country by fighting with another army while they were bound, as citizens of this State, to a neutral policy. That is the reason for the Government's Order.
Minister for Defence (Mr. Traynor): It is obvious what the tactics are in respect of this particular motion. I want to say at the beginning that if I wanted to secure a counsel on my behalf who would destroy the best case I ever had, I would hand my brief to Deputy O'Higgins and could rest assured that he would do the needful for me.
Mr. Traynor: He made a speech this evening which consisted of the grossest form of exaggeration. The rules of Parliamentary debate insist that that is the only description I can apply to it. He started by getting inside the minds of the Government, the Minister for Defence and everyone for whom he spoke. He was able to tell us almost everything that all these different and varying sections were thinking, and in his own grossly exaggerated way, he went on to explain only his own views which were incorrect but which he gave to the House as being the positive facts of the case.
He talked about the manner in which the Army dealt with cases of  desertion in the past, during the emergency. I want to tell Deputy O'Higgins that any cases which were dealt with by court-martial during the emergency were dealt with in the severest possible manner—in a manner so severe in many cases that Deputies made representations to me to get the sentences reduced. I should like to remind the Deputy that if these cases were now to be dealt with by the Army by way of court-martial each of the persons found guilty would be liable to penal servitude. I am not suggesting that any of these men would be sent to penal servitude—I am not suggesting that for a moment; I should abhor the idea of any of these men being sent to penal servitude arising out of the act they committed.
Mr. Traynor: I think they would lose a little more, if the Deputy got down to examining it. Take Deputy Larkin's case. Deputy Larkin referred to the fact that a man could be sent to penal servitude for seven years for this crime, and he had previously referred to the fact that this Order which the Government were enforcing was inflicting certain forms of punishment on the man's family as well as upon the man. Would penal servitude not inflict those forms of punishment? Would penal servitude not also deprive the man of his civic rights for a long number of years which this Order does not pretend to do at all?
Mr. Traynor: I cannot get down to giving the sentences, but I can tell the Deputy that the sentences were usually the same period as that for which the man was absent. If a man was absent for 18 months, he was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment, and that was pretty severe.
Mr. Traynor: And you proved it by your opening speech. Much play has been made with the question as to why the Army did not deal with these cases and why we should deal with them through the medium of this Order. I will endeavour to explain that. There are something like 4,020 men involved in this whole business. We could, if we wished, have maintained the position which obtained before Deputy O'Leary asked his question in the Dáil. We could have insisted that every man, as he came back to this country, should be apprehended or should surrender immediately on landing and then would arise the question of his court-martial.
From my experience of these courts-martial, they run over a considerable period of time. The preliminary matters of arrangement run sometimes over a couple of weeks and the court-martial itself may very easily run over two, three or four days. In the meantime, if the 4,000 people were suddenly to make up their minds to return, it would place a burden on the Army with which the Army would find it impossible to deal, and, as I mentioned, the only alternative was to keep these people out altogether, or to arrest them and to have them remanded until such time as they could be dealt with, which might be a considerable period, and, as I said in answer to Deputy O'Leary, it was not worth the trouble. I concluded my reply to that question by saying:—
“I propose, therefore, if the Government agree, to introduce legislation which will have the effect the Deputy desires, but which will also deprive a deserter of any rights he may have had as a member of the Defence Forces, as well as of any right for a long time to employment remunerated out of public funds.”
An effort was made to make our  spines curl up during Deputy O'Higgins' speech. We could see people scattered all round the place, starving to death, with terrible forms of destitution prevailing. His vivid imagination pictured a state of affairs something like what we are told exists in Central Europe at present. We are only depriving these men, first, of any of the emoluments which the men who were loyal to the Army were entitled to; and, secondly, of the right to secure employment in any concern in which the government may have an interest. Why are we doing that? We are doing it because over 40,000 men gave loyal service to this nation and we are going to see that, so far as these appointments, however many or however few they may be, are concerned, they will go to the men who gave loyal service to this nation in time of peril. That is what we are doing. No question, good, bad or indifferent, of vindictiveness enters into this matter, but the bad mind of the Deputy had to insist that we were doing it for some vindictive, vengeful purpose.
Mr. Traynor: We are not concerned with why men deserted. Deputy Larkin gave us a list of the reasons for which they might have deserted. The Government did not consider one of those reasons for one second.
Mr. Traynor: What they did consider was that these men—and the Deputy did not refer to it—broke the solemn oath they gave to this nation and to the Army to serve it faithfully. The Deputy, in his speech, in his harangue, in his vitriolic abuse, did not once refer to the fact that these men, voluntarily, without any compulsion, took an oath of allegiance to this nation which they did not respect, and which the Deputy now suggests there was no necessity for them to respect. The Deputy wants us to bring out bands and banners to meet these fellows and give them a welcome home for all the gallant deeds they did in China, Japan or the other places he referred to.
Mr. Traynor: We are not interested in what those men did. We are interested in the fact that they joined this Army in a time of grave national danger. They made a solemn bond between themselves and the nation, undertaking to serve the nation and the Army faithfully. They broke that oath. As I said, there are over 40,000 men who will be entitled to whatever is going. All that this Order does is to ensure that they will get priority in respect to any appointments which may become available. I do not know how many appointments, or how few appointments, will be available, but whether the number be large or small, it is the men who gave loyal service to this nation who will get the opportunity of securing whatever employment is there.
Mr. Traynor: I should say that there will be no deprivation as regards unemployment assistance in the case of these men. I think Deputy Larkin feared that would be so. I want to say to him that these men will not be deprived of unemployment assistance, nor will they be deprived of the right to secure work anywhere in the city, or throughout the nation for that matter, if they can secure it on their own merits. I think that Deputy O'Leary gave the best answer that  could be given in this House to Deputy O'Higgins. I would refer Deputy O'Higgins to what Deputy O'Leary said in the course of his speech. If he refers to it, it may help to enlighten him. It is true, as Deputy O'Leary remarked, that most of those men who gave that type of service will get work from certain types of people in this country and that they will get it sooner perhaps than a lot of the men who gave loyal service to this nation. Therefore, Deputy O'Higgins need not worry himself too much. Despite the gross exaggeration which Deputy O'Higgins indulged in in the course of his speech, and it was mere exaggeration and not fact, I want to assure the House, so far as it requires an assurance from me—I am pretty certain it does not require very much assurance—that, as far as these men who broke their solemn bond with this nation are concerned, they are in no worse position now than they were in before they joined the Army. They will not get the benefits, in the form of gratuities, deferred pay, and so on, that the men who gave loyal service to the nation will get. The only thing which they will be deprived of, and rightly so, is the privilege of securing work in any of those concerns in which the Government have rights.
I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything more, beyond emphasising the fact that the only thing the Government were concerned with was that these men deserted. The Government were not concerned with their motives. They may have acted from different motives such as those referred to by many Deputies, the motive of adventure, the motive to get into a fight, or the desire to get more money than they were getting here; but whatever their motives were, not a single one of those motives gives a man the right to desert an army which he joins voluntarily, an army in which he takes a solemn oath to serve. So far as I am concerned anyway, there is no motive that would justify a man in breaking that solemn oath.
General Mulcahy: When the Minister tells us that the number of deserters who did not surrender and were not caught is 4,000, out of the 40,000 who, he says, served in the emergency, we are in the position that we are dealing with 10 per cent. of the total number of men who over, say, five years, were in the Army or entered the Army. We are, therefore, dealing with very many different types of characters and with men operating in very different kinds of circumstances. I do not think that the problem that is suggested by what is implied in those figures can be dismissed by any kind of rule of thumb. The Minister indicated that he told the House earlier that he was going to deal, in some way, with this matter by legislation. It may be fortunate that the Minister has made this emergency Order and that we have had a discussion on it—that is, if the Minister will think over the problem before he introduces his permanent legislation to deal with the general question of deserters.
Deputy M. O'Reilly told us that what is in this Emergency Order is a warning to future generations, while Deputy Moran told us that now is the time to lay down a stern rule for the future. Therefore, we are in the position that we are having a warning for future generations and a stern rule for the future to deal with desertion. We are having it promulgated by Emergency Order without publicity of any kind, or a statement of any kind, that, as far back as the 8th August of this year, every aspect of the emergency, from the military point of view, was completely over, and that the future of armies, the future of wars and the future of defence services of every kind was absolutely in  the melting pot and that no General Staff in the world would sit down and say what kind of army, or what kind of disciplined organisation, they wanted to meet the next world war. What we principally object to is that this problem should be dealt with on the 8th August of this year by an Emergency Order.
I submit to the Minister that, as soon as the emergency is over—and I take it that he is not going to put the date of the ending of the emergency, from a military point of view, later than 1st January next—from a legal point of view the provisions of that Order will completely go; it will have no continuing effect. That is a matter which he might have intended to deal with by legislation. As this Order stands there is tremendous discrimination. In the first place, there is discrimination between officers and men; the Order is intended to apply only to men. Then there is discrimination between men who were not caught or did not surrender before the date of the Order, and men who did. Various speakers on the other side have indicated that this is mild treatment to give to people who deserted the Irish Army and joined an army which, as Deputy Colley said, might possibly be in conflict with those men's own country. Do not let us talk awful nonsense when we are dealing with these matters. What did happen before the issue of this Order in relation to deserters? The Minister suggests that it was possible under the legislation which existed to impose very severe penalties. It was possible, and rightly possible, but the cases that were tried by court-martial before the issue of this Order were dealt with on their merits, both on the circumstances of the time and on the merits of the men. I have seen many people smiling at the tolerance of the British Army authorities, and saying that, when a deserter from the Irish Army joined the British Army, and then came back here on leave and was caught, got six or eight weeks' imprisonment, and then was ignominiously discharged out of the  Army, he went back to the British Army and got his back pay and his separation allowance for the period of his unavoidable absence. That was as well known to the members of the Army and to the officers of the Army as it was to anybody outside who was discussing the matter. The Minister must know that while a very severe frame of mind was adopted by the Army authorities with regard to desertion from the Army during the emergency, and we all would adopt the same attitude——
General Mulcahy: I am quite aware of that, but there were in the actual facts of the position all kinds of ways of shutting people's eyes to things. I must say the Minister came before the House very badly equipped to speak on this Order when he did not go to the trouble of seeing how desertion cases were dealt with by courts-martial before this emergency Order was made.
General Mulcahy: In the early part of this war, when the Ministers were, in my opinion, for purely political purposes, suggesting that this country was likely to be invaded by Great Britain, if the attitude of the Government were really serious they would have been very severe on desertions. But the sentences passed on such deserters were very light. In the latter part of the war it was quite clear to everybody on the street that there was a complete understanding, co-ordination and exchange of views between the Government here and the British Government on military matters, and it was at that particular time that this Order was made. I suggest that all kinds of interpretations can be placed on this Order. The outstanding interpretation that can be placed upon it is that the small amount of employment which is available will be distributed in a way  that will be dictated by the Government or by the Minister. I quite agree that in the giving of employment under the local authorities, under the statutory authorities, under the Government, preference should be given to National Army men. That was the system which we adopted from the time of the formation of the National Army, when an army of 50,000 men had to be recruited and then were demobilised. It is that type of administration that Deputies on the far side have been criticising here this afternoon, but it is the natural thing to do, and it would be natural that the Minister and the Government would do it. But I submit that that could very well be done without creating a class of 4,000 people in this country who will have to be blacklisted. A list will have to be kept by every employment exchange, by every county council, by every Government Department, and by every body that has any statutory position in the country.
Again, I think there is a grave injustice under clause 4 (b), which says that: “No pension, gratuity or allowance in respect of his service in the Defence Forces shall be payable under the Army Pensions Acts 1923/43 to or in respect of any such member.” The Order as it stands allows no alternative to depriving a man of a pension which he might have earned by a service of from 15 to 16 years. He must lose that. There is no provision for giving a man the option of taking a court-martial on his particular circumstances or taking what is set out here. I remember, when the Spanish Civil War was on, having great difficulty when it came to my notice that a number of men in the National Army of that time, with perhaps something like 14 or 15 years' pensionable service, were intending to desert from the Army and to go to fight in Spain on the Franco side. Some of them did go. When we look back on the circumstances of the last 5 or 6 years it is very unjust and very unwise to think that anyone could estimate the motives of men who, having joined our Army here for the defence of the country, many of them very young men,  then made up their minds—with the impact of very many circumstances in this country and very many circumstances outside—that they were serving even national interests better by deserting from the Army and going outside, whether into another Army or to work elsewhere. It is all very well for Deputies on the far side to say that we must have discipline in this country. I remember being in an internment camp when the officers of the camp were paraded by the Colonel in charge of the camp and told that he was going to have discipline or dead bodies. Well, from his point of view he never got discipline—not the discipline that he wanted—but there was in that camp the strong discipline of intelligent men working and acting together.
I think the Army authorities, if left to themselves, would have dealt with this matter in a very different way. At any rate we have gone through an extraordinary period, during which a large number of young men in this country who could not, in the world circumstances, get work of any kind, found themselves tempted and distracted in very many ways. The fact that 10 per cent. of the whole of the Army that the Minister had are involved in the number of unfound deserters should show the Minister that he is dealing with a very difficult but a very human problem. He should realise that he is at the end of a very extraordinary period and at the beginning of another. If we are to have an army code of discipline that is going to be respected and if we are to ensure that every soldier going into the Army, taking the oath, will not take it merely as a formality, then we had better leave the framing of the code until such time as we face the discussion of what our new Army will be, its organisation, its equipment and the kind of defence policy for which we will want it.
I submit to the Minister that he is doing the Army damage by introducing a new disciplinary code for deserters in this way, by an emergency Order, applying it as an absolute rule of thumb, with no alternative and no  option, applying it in that particular way to an extraordinary variety of cases. We, therefore, object to this Order in that it is an emergency Order issued at the tail-end of an emergency; in that it is in its attitude in conflict with the attitude of the Army authorities to desertion when they were dealing with the question of desertion in the most serious part of the emergency, in that it discriminates in the punishment that will have to be suffered by people who are not caught, who did not surrender and people who were caught; in that it discriminates between Army officers and men and that it does not leave to the ordinary military code of law—the law of this House—the decision as to whether or not the circumstances are so grave that a man, because of his desertion, should lose a pension earned by service over a large number of years.
I submit that these are matters that the Minister should very well consider and that, whatever the House may decide, in respect of this Order, the Minister should think over these things and a number of other matters that I am sure the Army authorities will be able to bring very clearly to his mind before he endeavours to enshrine a new disciplinary code for deserters in our laws.
Arising out of some of the remarks that have been passed here, there is no way of objecting to one item in this emergency Order without objecting to the whole of it. The only type of criticism and the only type of opposition that can be given to the making of this Order in the House is to vote for its annulment. There is no way of amending it. There are sections of the Order that everybody in the House would allow to stand but there are other sections, to which we have pointed, that are of such a kind that nobody ought to be prepared to support them as an emergency Order, particularly an emergency Order issued after the emergency if the date of the military emergency were properly fixed. There would be many others that we would not be prepared to support as part of our legislation.
Captain Giles: I also think the Minister  would be well advised to withdraw this Order and to leave well enough alone, because what we want in this country is a spirit of peace and harmony. Those who deserted and joined other armies did not desert to the enemy. They deserted to an army which they thought was fighting our battle. The experience of these men in that army was sentence enough for them. They have come home with their lives and they have been lucky. I think we should close the books and leave it at that. We have not much tradition in the Army, because for 700 years we were struggling for freedom. We have had the Army for only 25 years and there is not much tradition behind it yet and our people do not know where they stand in respect of it. We are a partitioned country. We are not a free country. The men in the Army have different ideas and different views. Some joined the army from patriotic motives. Others had different ideas. Some joined to disrupt the Army from the inside when they could not do it from the outside. I know men—some of them have high positions in the Army—who joined for the purpose of disrupting the Army. We had not such loyal service from all our people after all. Some of the Government speakers to-day were very high-falutin and spoke about tradition and honour. When they were upsetting the Irish Army was it not known that one of their chief objects was to get every man they could to desert, not only to desert, but to bring all the equipment he possibly could with him and to sell it? They even took the lives of young men who would not leave the Army. Now they come along and talk about what we should do to-day. We have our memory that takes us back that far. We know the men who are talking to-day in this House are hypocrites and impostors and nothing more. They ought to drown themselves and keep quiet for evermore.
Captain Giles: The Taoiseach. The Government set no headline. There is too much codology, even about the emergency. Every second word out of the Taoiseach's mouth is, “the emergency and the dangers to this country.” Who saved us during the emergency? It was not our little army and our Government. It was the might of the British navy that saved us and if that had not been there, Hitler or Stalin would not have been long about taking us over.
Captain Giles: Not very much. What kept us neutral? What equipped our Army, from the very smallest rifle to the biggest gun, to our motor torpedo boats? Where did we get them? Where did we get the machinery for our Tattoo? From our nearest country across the water, that is supposed to be our traditional enemy. I want to tell the Minister that the country is not one bit deluded. The people know definitely that there was a pact between the British and the Taoiseach during the war. There is not the slightest doubt about it. I want to say also, and I do not care who is listening: Is not it a fact that a member of the Imperial Staff inspected our Army and that a member of our Army inspected the army across the Border?
Captain Giles: I want facts and history will show the facts. This country was bamboozled for the last five years. We were neutral for one purpose and that is that we were Britain's home defence, and you cannot deny it.
Captain Giles: Of the thousands of men who went away, some of them believed they were fighting for their lives; others went to earn money for their people; others went for adventure. These men were doing in faroff lands what we were not doing at home. I am one of those who served in the Old I.R.A. I am an I.R.A. man and I want to face facts. I say that 99 per cent. of Fianna Fáil men wanted Britain and America to win but they were too cowardly to admit it. When they read about the Belsen camp they remained silent. They were pro-German when they thought Hitler was going to win. Now they hang their heads in shame. It is time that all this nonsense was stopped and that the farmers got a chance.
Dr. O'Higgins: If this debate has served no other useful purpose, at least in putting down the motion, I worked a miracle and made the dumb speak. The first miracle that was worked was to produce a speech from a Deputy who has been 15 years silent in this House. A number of minor miracles were subsequently worked. Unfortunately, though I was capable of making them speak, I was not capable of making them or the Minister think. I never listened in my Parliamentary experience to so many exhibitions of muddled thinking, not only from the back benches opposite but from the Front Bench. The Minister's speech was an outstanding example of muddled thinking. Let us hark back and examine his speech. What was the great offence we were punishing? According to the Minister, the offence was the breaking of a solemn oath, and a contract between the soldier and the State. I did attempt to correct the Minister. The breaking of a solemn oath concerns any soldier who deserts, and yet the  Minister seemed to forget that we had thousands who deserted, who broke that solemn oath and no penalties whatever were inflicted.
Dr. O'Higgins: They were brought into barracks, discharged from the Army and turned out—hundreds of them. Others got a week or two weeks' detention. They all broke a solemn oath. There is a certain section of soldiers that broke a solemn oath and fought in this war, and the Order is designed to punish these men and no others.
Dr. O'Higgins: The Minister confesses now that there is such inefficient government and such an inefficient service, that soldiers can desert in this little sod of turf—this tiny island—and can remain at liberty undetected for 180 days. That is a terrible indictment of State services. I have more respect for the police, Army and other services of the State than to think that it is possible for men to desert, and to remain at home undetected for 180 days, with no ration cards or anything else, and no way of getting a pinch of tea.
In the main, the Order applies to men who went abroad and not to those who remained at home. The Deputies' speeches, and the Minister's line of action, were an example of the product of Fianna Fáil political tactics—when you cannot meet a case, abuse your opponent; if he can make a case, distort it. The Minister has always the final word, and he got the opportunity to suggest that everybody on these benches was condoning desertion; that we were standing for desertion. I made it quite clear in my opening remarks that the main reason why I objected to this Order was that it was a case of the Army washing its hands of its own responsibilities; that if the Army Act, which is there over a long period, was availed of in the ordinary way to mete out punishment according  to the offence, no voice would be raised here.
After 20 years operating the Army Act we have the Army and the Minister for Defence washing their hands of their own responsibilities, and asking public boards to punish Army deserters. That is a complete departure from every traditional military precedent and we get no explanation from the Minister. He threw up his hands and said that there were 4,000 men out of 40,000 still undealt with, who were absent for 180 days. I wonder how many were dealt with? If we assume even that only one out of four deserted, what kind of an Army have we had for the last five years, what kind of control and what kind of Minister? If it was a case of fly-by-night, it is time we knew it. We are told that 4,000 men were absent more than 180 days. How many more thousands left and were captured out of a tiny Army of 40,000? I think that is something to investigate other than the Order, if there was such lack of control that apparently tens of thousands out of 40,000 could hook it, and 4,000 remain uncaptured. At the end we have the Army authorities saying: “We are unable to control the situation; we must leave it to the public boards, the town commissioners, the Turf Development Board,” boards that should not be concerned with cases of Army indiscipline.
Mr. Traynor: It must be assumed that they have not returned and are described as having deserted. That is the position. All told, the total number of desertions is round the 7,000 mark, and of these the balance would have been dealt with in the ordinary way in the course of the emergency. There are 4,000 men affected by the Order.
Dr. O'Higgins: The Deputy was left guessing. I may be a doctor, but I am not a dentist and I cannot draw teeth. The process of getting information from the benches opposite is something equivalent to a dentist's job. The Minister makes statements regarding desertions, but withholds from the Dáil the number of desertions, until a Deputy has finished his statement, and then by interruption he tells us that there were 7,000 desertions. I shall not, therefore, say tens of thousands. There are 7,000 deserters. They all broke the solemn oath which the Minister spoke about so extensively. They all committed the crime of breaking this solemn oath, but 4,000 of those 7,000 are to be penalised for the next seven years and the other 3,000 are not. Presumably, in the 4,000 we have all those who gave service in other armies and the Minister has proven up to the hilt the case I made, that the punishments are not provided because a solemn oath was broken, because those men deserted, but because they served elsewhere.
Dr. O'Higgins: If we operate in the ordinary way, soldiers should be dealt with by soldiers. Military courts should deal with offences by soldiers. Those are the courts which understand best the necessity for discipline, for severe and speedy penalties and for making an example of an individual before his comrades so as to deter them from committing the same offence. I think that this is the only case in history where an army has so reneged its duties, where a Minister has so run away from his responsibilities, where a Minister for War or a Minister for Defence asked various town commissioners and urban councils to do his job for him. Instances were cited of how unjust this Order was. The Minister promised Deputy O'Leary that he would deal with this question by legislation. If he had done that, we should not have the same complaint. Legislation can be discussed, altered, amended, reduced or extended but an emergency Order cannot be altered and cannot be amended. One may like  some of it and dislike the rest of it. All one can do is swallow the whole lot or annul the whole lot. That is the position into which the Dáil was forced. There was no option but to move the annulment of the Order. People over here in this Assembly have shown in the past, are showing in the present, and I hope will show in the future as great a sense of responsibility towards the State as any of the self-reputed heroes opposite. They have shown more regard for the sanctity of the Army than a great number of those sitting opposite. Many of us over here served for many years in that Army. We know the necessity for discipline better than the Minister does. We never preached indiscipline and we never opposed the Army. Discipline is absolutely essential but military discipline must be maintained and ensured by military men. Never in our time in the Army, and never in the time of any reasonable men in the Army, were military delinquencies passed over to be dealt with by various urban councils and town commissioners. When an offence was committed by military men, it was dealt with by military men and punishment was meted out to fit the crime. Here we have a general, slap-dash Order that applies equally to all, without examining the merits of particular cases, without examining the excellent record which a soldier may have had over a number of years, without having regard to whether or not a man may have given years of pre-Truce service in the Anglo-Irish War and have helped to establish this State and without making any allowance as to whether a man had four days or four years' Army service. The service of the soldier cannot be taken into account. The emergency Order, passed after the emergency was clearly over, deals with all those common victims by a common method. There is no sense and there is no justice in that. As Deputies saw when the Minister stood up, there is no defence for it. If what the Minister said was the best case that could be put forward, then any person who listened will admit that no defence was made for the Order.
|Last Updated: 18/05/2011 19:43:50||Page of 30|