Tuesday, 11 March 1947
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: I move that leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision in relation to certain moneys lodged in the High  Court and in the Provincial Bank of Ireland, Limited, by the late treasurers of the Sinn Féin organisation.
General Mulcahy: I would like to oppose this First Reading for the purpose of getting a statement from the Taoiseach. These are funds that were in dispute a long time ago and quite a number of people ought to be consulted, I think, before any proposals would be drafted for their disposal. I rise to oppose the First Reading in order to get the Taoiseach to make a statement as to why proposals are introduced to the House to dispose of these funds without consultation, as far as I know, with any person in the House. I submit that there are people outside with whom the matter might have to be discussed. I also submit that, at a matter of ordinary courtesy and helpfulness in getting through the business, there might be consultation between the Government and the various Parties in the House—at any rate Parties who had some concern for the collection and custody of these sums in the past.
The Taoiseach: As far as consultation is concerned, we can all consult here in public, and there are certain circumstances in which consultation in public is very much more desirable than consultation in private. The main purpose of this measure is to put a stay on proceedings which have been initiated in the courts for the possession of these funds in which the Attorney-General is one of the defendants and to stop legal actions, the result of which would be a complete frittering away of these funds.
These funds belonged to the old Sinn Féin organisation. As everybody here knows, there was a division of opinion in that organisation following the Treaty and, at a certain period, the then treasurers of the old organisation, Mr. Eamonn Duggan and Mrs. Wyse Power, lodged the moneys belonging to the organisation in court. That was in 1924. The amount of the funds at that time was between £8,000 and £9,000—it was nearer £9,000. The funds have since accumulated, due to the interest that has accrued, and they  would now reach about £24,000. Mr. Eamonn Duggan, one of the treasurers, died in June, 1936, and Mrs. Wyse Power died in January, 1941. Shortly after her death the person who represented her in regard to these moneys called on me and spoke to me about the disposition of the funds. The suggestion was made that a certain scheme might get general approval and the funds could be applied to that scheme by legislation.
I suggested that Judge Power should get in touch with and see what would be the views of the existing members of the old standing committee of Sinn Féin, such of them as were still alive. He did that and got agreement, with one dissentient, that there should be a meeting arranged at which the disposition of these funds would be discussed. Shortly afterwards, it having got out by these discussions that there was some idea of using these funds in accordance with the wishes of the then members of the governing body of the old organisation, the present Sinn Féin organisation proceeded to take action in the courts. They issued a plenary summons in which both the Attorney-General and Judge Power were cited as defendants.
The Taoiseach: About the end of 1941. In December and January at that time there were some communications and I would say it was in January, 1942, that the plenary summons was issued. Considerable expense was incurred by the defendants in preparing the material necessary in order to deal with the case. Further than the summons no action was taken until after the lapse of a couple of years, when a motion was brought in by the defendants to end the case for want of prosecution. Then further legal action was taken and the solicitor acting for the applicants, apparently not getting any fees, was not going to go any further, and there was a question of getting papers of which he had possession. There was another legal action in respect of that and I think it is going to the Supreme Court.
So far as I can see, unless there is  action taken by the Legislature, these funds will be frittered away in legal costs. It is the main purpose of the Bill to avoid that. A considerable sum already has been spent in that way. Those who would make an application of the sort I have referred to felt their costs were bound to come out of the funds, so there was no deterrent to continuing legal action. The principal purpose of the Bill is to put a stay on such action.
As regards the manner in which it is proposed to dispose of the funds, I am not wedded to any particular form. The main thing is to see that these moneys, subscribed for public purposes, will not be wasted in legal costs. We would not have taken any action were it not for the death of the second trustee and the request that something should be done about the funds. It was intended to have a meeting of the existing members of the governing body of the old organisation and, if possible, to try to get agreement, so as to be able to bring the matter in here and have the agreement embodied in legislation. But, when court action was taken, I felt we should not do that and we have allowed four or five years to elapse until we have reached the position that we do not want to see these funds dissipated in legal actions.
The Legislature will have to take some measures in regard to this matter. I am not particularly wedded to any particular method. The method proposed in the Bill is that the moneys will be made available for persons in needy circumstances, who took part in the national struggle from 1916 to 11th July, 1921. I am quite ready to listen to any suggestions that may be made. The Government are quite prepared to listen to suggestions from Deputies on any of the benches here with regard to the manner in which these moneys should be disposed of.
I do not think, in view of the circumstances attaching to them, that any court would give the moneys to the group at present called the Sinn Féin organisation, so it is not from that point of view that the matter is being approached. I do not think that they are entitled in equity, morally or any  other way to the funds. The main point is to see that the moneys are not spent in legal costs. The proposal is to make them available, under a trustee board which will administer them, for people who, in their opinion, are in needy circumstances and who took part in the national struggle.
I may say, as indicating the way in which I originally approached this matter, that for many years I tried to get agreement, between various parties who might be regarded as interested in these funds, that they should be applied for a purpose which I believed was a purpose common to all the parts of which the old organisation was formed—that is, for the language. During the years we failed to get any agreement on that score and the funds were allowed to lie in the courts. The fact that these legal actions are taking place makes it necessary that we should take some action now.
General Mulcahy: The Taoiseach has stated that a certain amount of consultation did take place with some people interested in the funds from the point of view of the standing committee of Sinn Féin. I raise a technical objection to the introduction of this Bill for the purpose of protesting against the way in which the Bill is introduced, without Parliamentary consultation of any kind, and what the Taoiseach has stated simply emphasises the reasons for the objection which I am taking. The Taoiseach indicates that he is not wedded to any kind of solution and that the only reason that the matter is one for Parliamentary action is that there are some other Parties in the House that are at least interested. Apparently a certain amount of money has been wasted from 1942 to 1947. I think that is regrettable, if some consultation might have avoided that. I think anybody with any connection with that matter in the past or having any connection with the law, must agree that the courts could not arrive at a settlement of any satisfactory kind in a case of this particular nature and that any court action simply meant frittering away money. It is regrettable that money  has been frittered away in legal costs since 1922 when the matter could have been decided in a sensible way and some decision come to without giving the courts an expensive job which they could not be expected to do. It is for these reasons that I raise a technical objection to the Bill but we shall be glad to see the terms of it and to give it any consideration that may be necessary.
General Mulcahy: Normally I would ask for a longer period so that we might have more time to consider the Bill but if the position is that every week that passes additional funds are being wasted in legal expenses of one kind or another, then I think that the sooner the question is settled the better. I therefore take no objection to the Second Reading being fixed for this day week.
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