Committee on Finance. - Sinn Féin Funds Bill, 1947—Second Stage.

Wednesday, 19 March 1947

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 104 No. 17

First Page Previous Page Page of 29 Next Page Last Page

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  There is not much to add to what I said on the First Reading of this Bill as to why the Bill is being brought in. I simply repeat that the main purpose of bringing it in is to prevent these funds being frittered away in legal costs. As most members of the Dáil will know, these funds belonged originally to the Sinn Féin organisation when that organisation represented, in a way in which perhaps no organisation since has represented, the views of the Irish people Following the division of opinion which arose after the signing of the Treaty in 1921, the then treasurers, on legal advice, lodged these moneys in court in 1924. There had been meetings of the governing body of the organisation in 1922. There was an Ard-Fheis in February and another in May, but no disposition of the funds was made at these meetings, because at neither of the meetings was the organisation, in fact, dissolved. The funds have been in court since 1924 and the original sum of £8,000 or £9,000 has now increased to about £24,000.

During the period following 1924, efforts were made to get some sort of agreement between the groups into which the old organisation had divided as to how the funds might be used. Strong efforts were being made to try to get the funds applied for the purpose of restoring the Irish language, of helping the language movement, as being one of the objects which the [2369] original organisation had, and which the various groups into which the old organisation ultimately broke up continued to have, but these efforts were not successful. No effort was made to get the funds from the courts during the period in which the treasurers of the former organisation, Eamonn Duggan and Mrs. Wyse Power, were alive. Eamonn Duggan died in 1936 and Mrs. Wyse Power, co-treasurer, died in January, 1941. On her death, her executor and personal representative, Judge Wyse Power, was anxious, if possible, to have the funds disposed of. He had an interview with me and a plan was suggested which is not very far different from the plan that is suggested in the Bill for the disposition of the funds.

Mr. McGilligan: Information on Patrick McGilligan  Zoom on Patrick McGilligan  Suggested by whom?

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  Judge Wyse Power. Personally, I always felt that there was a danger of moneys being distributed in a manner of this sort not always being able to be used to the best advantage. I was aware, however, that there were a number of cases of persons who had directly suffered as a result of the national effort who could not get directly any help from the State. As a rule, the State has to make laws of a general character and there are many cases that cannot be dealt with in a general way because if you attempted to deal with them in a general way, by a general description, you would bring in a whole host of persons to whom it is not necessary to give the help that is intended. Therefore, no matter what the State does, you have organisations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other organisations which have practical work to do.

I was satisfied that if you put up a board of trustees to administer these funds for the benefit of needy persons who are suffering as a result of their activities in the national movement, individual cases could be examined as such, provided that you have the right board and the right attitude of mind in dealing with these things, so that only those that were really needy would be dealt with. Finally, the whole [2370] question was: can you get a board that will give the necessary time and attention to the matter and have the wisdom and understanding to deal properly with it? I suggested that Judge Power should see, not merely me but the other members of the old Sinn Féin organisation who were still alive, the standing committee and the office board, and find out from them what their views were, as they would know the circumstances in which the funds had been collected and could be regarded as people who would have a complete knowledge of the nature of the moneys in the trust, and would be, I thought, fairly representative of the groups into which the old organisation had been broken up. He did that and, with one exception, he found that of those who were then alive—that would be the autumn of 1941—various members were prepared at least to come to a meeting and they were not unsympathetic with the scheme he had outlined. There was one exception. There was a question of trying to get that exception to agree also, and I think there was a fair chance of success. When, however, the fact that legislation was contemplated got mooted abroad, the existing Sinn Féin organisation took action in the courts.

They served a plenary summons on Judge Wyse Power and on the Attorney-General. The moment that was done there was no question of going on with the legislation. I thought, very well, let the courts deal with that. That was in the early part of 1942. But no action had been taken further than serving the plenary summons— no steps were taken to bring the matter to trial—until 1945. The plenary summons was issued in January, 1942, and on the 21st November, 1945, an order was secured by the defendants in the High Court giving the plaintiffs a month in which to serve notice of trial. So that from 1942 to 1945 nothing had been done until the notice of trial was served on December 19th, 1945, by the plaintiffs. In October, 1946, Judge Overend fixed November 26th for the hearing. So, you had all these years passing by and very little being done, and being done [2371] only when the defendants pressed for action. Meantime, money was being spent in preparing for the trial. On November 11th, 1946, an application was made by the plaintiffs for an order directing papers to be transferred to another solicitor other than the one that had been employed up to that time. Apparently the solicitor who had been acting for the plaintiffs up to that time refused to transfer the papers which he had and on which he held, I think, a lien for his costs. The order was refused and on November 29th an adjournment was applied for by the plaintiffs to enable them to appeal to the Supreme Court against the refusal of the order. At that stage it seemed to me and to the Government that there was going to be interminable legal action of various kinds, motions of all sorts, and that the end would be that whatever funds were there, or the greater part of them, would be frittered away. Already, as I have said, we understand a considerable sum has been spent in preparing the case for trial and in costs, and there is no deterrent, when you have trust funds of that sort and when it is possible for those who have apparently an interest in these funds to make applications and to go to all lengths to defend them —there is no restraint on the steps that they would take, because they hope ultimately to get their expenses out of the funds.

These are the circumstances under which this Bill was prepared finally and introduced. As far as the Bill is concerned, its main purpose, as you can see by looking at it, is to stay the pending action, to dismiss the case and to hand over the moneys to a board of trustees.

Mr. McGilligan: Information on Patrick McGilligan  Zoom on Patrick McGilligan  And to pay the costs.

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  Oh, yes, to pay the costs that have been incurred so far, and to hand the remainder of the moneys over to the trustees. Now the question is how we should get a body of trustees. If, of course, we could get agreement on the board we would have most of the difficulties solved. The question is how we are to get [2372] that agreement. Personally, I would be prepared to submit to the Government names of a board that we might get agreement upon if that were possible. I would be very glad to get, for example, from members of the Opposition who were associated with this movement, some names that they might give, if the scheme is approved, of people who would be useful as members of that board. The chief difficulty, I think, would be in getting a satisfactory board. It is proposed here that the appointments would be made by the Government and that the chairman would be the Chief Justice or a judge whom he might select. I think the purpose of the rest of the Bill is apparent to anybody who reads it carefully. The board will consist of the chairman and six ordinary members. The chairman, as I have indicated, is to be the Chief Justice or somebody whom he may nominate. The appointment or removal of the six ordinary members would be by the Government. The procedure of the board would be the usual procedure—the chairman having a casting vote. The trustees would be a body corporate with a seal. They would have the power to appoint such officers as they might require for the carrying out of their work. All the moneys would be in one fund and from that fund payments would be made to the qualified persons.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  How long would these funds last?

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  I do not know. People have been writing to me from the moment this Bill was brought in, saying that they have suffered very severely and have not got any assistance so far. I do not know how long the funds would last: I am afraid they would not last very long, but there are certain cases that I know myself personally that would deserve to be dealt with, and it would be very difficult to deal with them by legislation. The board has full power to give assistance to such cases or not at its discretion.

Mr. Donnellan: Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  What is the intention?

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  It is in the Bill. I will tell you in a moment. It is really [2373] a benevolent fund for the benefit of those who have suffered and who are in needy circumstances as a result of the national struggle. In the payment of costs, it is provided that the costs that have been legitimately incurred so far should be met.

Mr. Corish:  Is there any estimate of the costs already incurred?

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  There have been some estimates, but I would not like to mention any figure until I have got something more definite than I have got. What is provided for here, as you see, is, in the case of Judge Power, the costs between solicitor and client and, in the case of the others, party-and-party costs. I am afraid the lawyers will have to determine the exact difference between solicitor-and-client and party-and-party costs. I believe that, in the case of party-and-party costs, there are costs which would not be allowed; for example, costs incurred through excessive caution—looking up and preparing documents and so on, which might turn out useful but which would not be regarded as necessary. All the costs will be taxed. The costs to be paid are those incurred up to 11th March. Fair notice was given on that day by the introduction of the Bill.

With regard to those to whom the moneys might be paid, "qualified persons" would be those who are in needy circumstances and who had belonged to any one of the forces, namely, Oglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Fianna Éireann, the Hibernian Rifles and Cumann na mBan. Payments could be made to any person in needy circumstances who, as a member of the forces, that is, one of those which I have enumerated, gave service in the national cause at any time during the critical period, that is, from the 1st April, 1916, until the 11th July, 1921. A needy person who himself or herself gave service and also a person in needy circumstances arising directly or indirectly out of his efforts in support of the activities of the forces would be eligible. Any people not members of the forces but who are in needy circumstances arising directly or indirectly [2374] out of the efforts to support them would also be eligible. There have been such cases, and it has not been possible to deal with them by any legislation enacted so far. Other eligible classes would include persons in needy circumstances who are or were dependents of persons in the categories I have referred to. In all cases, any person to be eligible for a grant from this fund must be in needy circumstances and must have been associated in some way, either directly or indirectly, with the effort to secure our independence.

The board has power to accept real or personal property. If anybody wishes to make gifts, the Board of Trustees can accept such gifts, and, if a gift takes the form of land, then the board will be required to convert it into money, and the net proceeds will be paid to the credit of the fund.

Finally, when the purpose for which the board has been set up is achieved, the board naturally will be dissolved. I do not think that there is anything further I can add at this stage by way of explanation. I am not in a position to state what the exact amount of the costs incurred will be, but I have been told that they will be fairly substantial. The figure mentioned to me —I cannot stand over it because I have not seen the details of it myself —is somewhere in the region of £4,000 to £5,000—probably £5,000.

Mr. McGilligan: Information on Patrick McGilligan  Zoom on Patrick McGilligan  Although I have no immediate interest in this matter, on what the Taoiseach has said so far I would be inclined to oppose it. This is not, of course, a Bill to amend the Constitution; neither is it a piece of legislation brought in under emergency powers. Therefore, so far as any person thinks he has a right under the Constitution, further actions can develop in contesting this matter. While the Bill in all its sections does provide that after the passing of this Act all further proceedings in the pending action before the court shall be stayed, it is all very well to say that. But that may be challenged and there may be costs, and considerable costs, involved in such a challenge. I am sure the Government has been advised on that [2375] point. I do not suppose they have been advised that this can be broken on any Constitutional issue, as otherwise it would not be proceeded with. One may have expectations of not having an action brought on a Constitutional issue but it is not always possible to prevent such an action being brought and there may be costs incurred in that direction and those costs will have to be balanced against possible expenditure under this.

This is an entirely new procedure. I do not think we have ever before in the history of the Dáil done anything like this. There have been occasions when legislation was passed through this House and subsequent proceedings founded on it where the Dáil occasionally stepped in and legislated retrospectively to prevent people having a right of action. But that occurred altogether in circumstances in which the Dáil itself had given the right of action and then decided that there would be abuses. The Dáil, therefore, intervened to stop such abuses and to start afresh at a particular time. The Dáil, of course, always has power to amend by legislation anything that was legislated on previously, where court proceedings have indicated that the courts have not read into the legislation what was supposed to be the intention of the people who passed it here. This matter is now before the courts and is awaiting judgment. It would be impudent to say that the people who made a defence in this action did not do so properly. We are dealing here now with a matter in which the funds are actually in court and we are doing it—and here I am taking the Taoiseach's explanation— simply for the purpose of avoiding costs. But there are many estates that come into court for administration where the costs run up to alarming proportions and where moneys that ought to go to the beneficiaries are distributed amongst those who benefit out of the court proceedings.

This will be quoted as a precedent no matter what may be said about the exceptional circumstances. It is an unusual step. It is, as I said, unique in the history of the Dáil. Let it be understood [2376] that we are interfering in a situation not brought about in connection with any legislation in this House. Nevertheless, we are doing something completely and entirely apart from anything we have ever done before. We are told that the justification for it is to avoid costs. I would like the House to understand—and here I am open to correction because I am only speaking from such information as is current in legal circles—that this action has been several times before the courts and certain matters have been talked about and the information one gets is not always precise or accurate. The Taoiseach, no doubt, is precisely informed in this matter and will correct me if I misstate anything. I understand that round about 1942 an action was brought in the courts. Nothing was done until 1945. There is a procedure open to the courts known as "getting an action dismissed for want of prosecution." That action was instituted and I understand that it now stands adjourned, because there has cut across it this trouble in connection with solicitors. One solicitor was in charge of the proceedings up to a certain point. Another was then introduced and a motion was brought to get from the first solicitor in the case the documents which he had or else permission to investigate the documents so that copies might be available. A decision was given in the particular matter of the solicitor that he should not hand over the documents. That is now the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court. The application to have the action dismissed for want of prosecution is still pending. The Master may dismiss the action. I do not suppose it will stop there, but a judge may certainly dismiss and there the whole thing ends.

Now, certain costs have been incurred up to that point by the Attorney-General on behalf of the State. These will be paid in any event and we know out of what funds they will come. We do not help the matter by this Bill except we put the costs of the Attorney-General on to this fund instead of discharging them as heretofore out of the taxpayers' money. There is a third party in this case and costs are being incurred in [2377] that respect also. These should be recouped and these will be recouped and will come out of the fund in the end. As far as the plaintiffs are concerned there is a possible action on the point of being dismissed for want of prosecution in which event they will get no costs. We propose now to give them their costs out of this fund. In other words if there is a charge properly brought that funds have been frittered away in legal expenses we are actually paying people who, if their action is wrong would not in the normal course get anything and we are paying them for having frittered away the funds up to this. If this Bill does not go through the matter is still sub judice but it can be said on behalf of the people involved that they either have a claim or they have not. If they have not a claim they lose their action and they will pay their own costs as well as being saddled with the costs of the other parties, if those can be recouped from them. If they have a case then they win and they will get these funds or some compromise decision will be come to, but they will certainly be recouped their costs in which case the State will have to bear the costs of the Attorney-General. That is quite a proper procedure.

What do we know about the action? What have we been told about the action? Will any argument be brought forward here to-night as an attractive argument to entitle us to think that these people are entirely without cause of action? So far as anything that has been said by the Taoiseach is concerned, when he speaks of frittered away funds, I think his use of the word "fritter" means that there has been imposed on these funds quite unnecessary expense. If that is so, it is a partial judgment on his side that the plaintiffs have no cause of action. We have established courts and independent judges to deal with that sort of matter, and why should we come in at this point to say that there is no cause of action, and that this matter should be dealt with in the way suggested in this measure?

Even on the question of costs, I would like to get other calculations [2378] than those the Taoiseach has given us as to the amount of costs incurred so far, and not merely that, but I would like to have some idea of how these alleged costs are distributed between the parties. The only costs we ought to be concerned with are the costs of the plaintiffs. If they have no cause of action the position is clear, but if they have a cause of action we are depriving them by doing what we are asked to do here. Do not let it be thought that the funds will be saved costs.

The information I have may not be accurate, but my information is that there are two pleas on which the defendants—that is, the State in this case—rely. The first is that the organisation was defunct prior to the date upon which the funds were lodged in court, and that was early in 1924. That is the main plea, that the organisation was defunct, but it is well known, and nobody knows it better than the Taoiseach, that there were people parading themselves as heads of this organisation up to 1926 and the Taoiseach was one of them. How can he stand over a plea, in a defence to the action, that the organisation was defunct in 1924, when it is on record that he was associated with it later? I think he claimed to be president of it up to some date in March or possibly late in July of 1926.

The second plea on which I understand the State relies is that the present plaintiffs, who claim to be the successors of the Sinn Féin organisation, include amongst the means for obtaining their objective, means which may be unlawful. That plea could be entered against a most innocent association: it is put no further than "may" or "might be". First of all, it is pleaded that the organisation was defunct and, secondly, whether defunct or not, it may have to use unlawful means to achieve its objective. I would not like to try to forecast the decision of a court on a plea couched in such terms, but these are the two chief pleas made against these people.

When I look at the measure, if we do get it passed, I wonder will many people be pleased to read Section 13 in 1947? Section 13 deals with the use of [2379] these particular funds if and when they get into the hands of the board. It is rather a scandalous matter that in 1947 we should be calmly considering that there may be, 30 years after the event, people who are in needy circumstances and who can trace those needy circumstances to services they rendered between Easter Week in 1916 and the date of the Truce. Apparently it is thought that there are some such people. It is a very saddening reflection that there may be a group of people needy in their circumstances because of their general affiliation, so to speak, to what are called the Forces here.

The Taoiseach, on an interruption, indicated his view that the odd £24,000 will not last long. He believes that there are quite a number of people who, in 1947, are in needy circumstances arising out of help they gave from 1916 to 1921. It is sad to think that there are. I thought we had made provision in various pieces of legislation for people affected in that way. If it is found there are numbers of needy people, this is scarcely the way to deal with them. We should approach the matter in a much more generous way, a way entirely divorced from these funds. I would have thought that we might see that any need arising out of those events would be dealt with in a better way by Acts of Parliament and not in this manner.

I should imagine that the whole background, the whole atmosphere of the Sinn Féin movement, would be better fulfilled if something in the nature of cultural use were made of this money. If there are needy people, coincident with what we do with those funds something should be done on a bigger scale than what is proposed with the £24,000.

Finally, I do not know what reality there may be in this matter, but it is asserted in legal circles that there will be quite a number of important witnesses, including the Taoiseach himself, who would have to appear in court if this matter were threshed out, that the events round about 1916 and, indeed, from 1906 onwards, would have to be [2380] considered, and the matter of the life or death of this organisation would have to be considered by an independent judicial body. I do not see why people would refuse to go near the courts or would not be anxious to make an appearance there to shed light on that particular historical matter.

I cannot conceive the Taoiseach coming here and asking us to destroy an action when, as I am informed, the chief points in defence are the two I mentioned, including the peculiar one of unlawful means being used in achieving the objectives of this group who call themselves the Sinn Féin organisation. It is odd that the Taoiseach would stand on the plea as regards the organisation being defunct on a particular date. Why should we enter upon this particular course of breaking in between litigants and the justice we have promised these people in open court?

Mr. Donnellan: Information on Michael Donnellan  Zoom on Michael Donnellan  I have not the slightest doubt that there is something behind this Bill moved by the Taoiseach that he wants to cloak and cover up. He tells us that in February, 1924, Sinn Féin was defunct, that that organisation went out of existence, and we find that a year afterwards he was an important individual in that organisation—as far back as 19th of March, 1925, he associated himself with it.

One wonders why the Taoiseach comes along now with this Bill. The Taoiseach knows quite well that the Sinn Féin organisation is still in existence. Probably the reason why he says it is defunct is that he would like it to be so, as it does not happen to be so suitable to him to-day as it was in those days. In this part of the House anyhow, we think that this Bill is nothing short of highway robbery. These funds were collected by the Sinn Féin organisation for the use of that organisation and the passage of this Bill represents an invasion of the private rights of individuals and the private rights of an organisation. We are doing something that some day may lead us very far in another direction. There may be nothing to stop the Government later on bringing in a Bill to deprive any organisation [2381] or association of its finances, just by saying that it is defunct. Everybody knows that is not the case with the Sinn Féin organisation. It is defunct in the Taoiseach's mind, because it is not the use to him he thinks it should be, or that he expected it would be. I join with him in one statement he made, namely, in that in which he said that the Sinn Féin organisation was the greatest organisation that ever represented our people. Perhaps the time may come when those of our people who still stand by Sinn Féin—although some of us may differ from them in one way or another— maybe the greatest and truest representatives of our people as was Sinn Féin of old.

When again we come to consider the section of the Bill which makes reference to a period of 30 years ago and to the fact that some of our people who made sacrifices then and who are still alive, are needy, it is laughable to think that they were not in any way compensated up to now for the work which they did from 1916 up to 1921. It is laughable, particularly, in view of the fact that Fianna Fáil always boasted of what they did for people who made sacrifices in that period. It is laughable to think, that after such a long period, there are such needy people who require to be compensated in some way. Surely if there are such people, this House and this country is big-hearted enough to help them if need be? Of course it is only another cute move on the part of the Taoiseach, to present that side of the picture for the popularity it may bring him. It will be said that these people got nothing in the past, but now they are going to have some provision made for them by the Taoiseach. It will be a very popular move and probably will catch a lot of votes.

We hear many statements to the effect that there should be no interference with the courts. What is this but interfering with the courts? This is a Bill that is actually interfering with the courts, belittling the judges, almost saying that lawyers and the people who administer the law are a crowd of robbers and that the danger is that if the matter is allowed to go [2382] into the courts, they will take all these funds. I am sure that the people who represent Sinn Féin at present are able to make their case and they would not be so foolish as to institute proceedings but for the fact that they have a case.

I am sure the Taoiseach is terribly worried when he realises that he himself will probably have to go before these courts. If he does, I hope that he will not state that the Sinn Féin organisation became defunct in 1924, because we find him taking a very important part in it in March, 1925. So far as we are concerned, we shall oppose this confiscation or attempted confiscation, because we believe it is nothing else. We believe that it is belittling the courts and that, in short, it is nothing but highway robbery.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  I am not very much concerned with the issues which are involved in the cases which are at present before the courts but this House is now being asked to pass a Bill which is unique in character. Not merely does it possess that distinction, but it is a most unusual approach to a problem which seems to be one not for this House at all but for the courts which were established to deal with issues of this kind. Frankly, I am of opinion that it is a most unfair Bill. I think it is more the product of haste and bad temper than the product of statesmanship. Here we have a situation, according to the Taoiseach, in which an action was instituted against the Attorney-General in 1942. There was then a good deal of soft-pedalling until 1945. In 1945 it looked as if the court machinery was beginning to move. The Taoiseach complained that between 1942 and 1945 nothing was done in the matter of moving the legal machinery. That annoyed him in respect of that period, and when we come to 1945, he got annoyed because the machinery was then going to move and because he said there would be interminable actions and motions before the courts.

Having got a close association with this whole business—probably the kind of association that is too close to escape being one of the important witnesses [2383] in the case—the Taoiseach felt that the best way to get over all these difficulties—both the slow-motion legal process and the quick-motion legal process—was to say that he was afraid of too much litigation which would fritter away these moneys. The plea that this is a desire to avoid frittering away money leaves me cold, and I am sure it leaves most members of the House cold. If the plaintiffs have any case—I do not know whether they have or not, and I do not care—they should be entitled to go to court and make their case. If, well and good, they win the case, then they should get all that follows from that win. If they lose their case, they should be made to pay the costs involved in bringing a case that had no substance whatever, but here is a case actually before the courts in respect of these funds and the Taoiseach's Government is involved inasmuch as the writ is served against the Attorney-General. Not liking to see this money frittered away the Taoiseach steps in and says that the plaintiffs should be stopped in the courts and that judgment should be given for the Attorney-General instead of giving the courts an opportunity to try the issue, which was just the purpose for which we set up the courts and gave them a unique independence.

The Taoiseach is worried that these moneys are being frittered away. Recently, we have had a racket between a Parliamentary Secretary and a political supporter of his, and nobody can complain that this House did not fritter away money in the way in which it paid the costs of these two people. Because these people decided to have their case dealt with by means of a special tribunal, the country gets the privilege of frittering away some thousands of pounds in paying the legal expenses of these two gentlemen. Within a month of our voting these people their legal costs, the Taoiseach comes here and expects people to get worried about the frittering away of money through legal processes.

Every citizen in this country has a right to go to the courts if he feels he has a grievance. He has a right to expect the court to hear the case and [2384] determine the merits. As I say, I am not concerned with the issues involved in this case, but I am concerned with preserving the right of an individual or an organisation to go into open court and say: “Here is my case and here are my arguments in support of it. Let an independent body of people try the issues involved and pass judgment on the merits." I am opposed to this Bill because it is nothing short of tyranny in a Cabinet or a Government, whatever its political complexion, being given the right to decide by a Parliamentary majority when a case is a good case and when a case is a bad case. That is not the function of a Government or a Cabinet. When a Government gets to the stage that it usurps the powers which properly belong to the courts, that Government is degenerating into a tyranny.

The Taoiseach has made a very bad blunder in attempting to impose upon Parliament the obligation to decide this issue. This issue is clearly one which ought not to be decided by Parliament. This Parliament consists of politicians, of members of various political Parties. A political Party has taken its case to the court—a political Party different from the other political Parties here. Why should we, as members of political Parties, try the merits of this dispute? If there is any body in the world which is not equipped to try the issues in this matter, it is this House because, as members of various Parties, we naturally tend to have different and varied interests. But instead of allowing courts, skilled in weighing evidence and renowned for their impartiality, to decide an issue of this kind, the Taoiseach says: “No; impartial courts are no use. They are not satisfactory in cases of this kind. They fritter away money. Instead, we will bring it into the highly contentious chamber of a politically-elected Parliament and ask that Parliament to decide whether in fact these disputed moneys belong to any political organisation or not."

I have never accused the Taoiseach of any want of astuteness—my main complaint against him is that he has a superabundance of it—but, on an occasion like this, the Taoiseach has [2385] made a political move on which I do not think he can congratulate himself. I have no interest in the Sinn Féin organisation at all and I have no interest in some of their actions or their approach to problems; but I think they are entitled to a fair deal. That organisation and everybody else who keeps the law is entitled to expect that the law courts of the country will pronounce judgment independently on the merits of any claim which they bring to the courts.

The Taoiseach says that the money may be frittered away. Next week, the Taoiseach may tell the teachers' organisation that financing a strike is frittering money away, too, and therefore want to protect the funds of the organisation from being frittered away by passing a Bill, with the assistance of a Parliamentary majority, preventing the organisation from doing what it has as much legal right to do as the Sinn Féin organisation has, namely, to act in accordance with the law and to expect that the law as it exists will be administered and will not be amended to suit the manipulations of anybody who wants, for the time being, to alter the law. The employees of the Electricity Supply Board, or railwaymen, engaged in an industrial dispute, may be told that the Government does not like the industrial dispute, that it does not like the strike, that it considers it undesirable to have a strike, and that, if the strike is undesirable they are frittering money away in financing it and therefore will ask the Legislature here to pass a Bill preventing the trade union from doing what it has a legal right to do, namely, to finance a lawful strike, by telling the organisation which goes to the courts: "You can go there all right, but we will prevent the court from hearing your case." That is what we are doing under this Bill.

The worst feature of the Bill is the way in which it is proposed to spend this money. The approach could probably not be worse in a country such as this. As Deputy McGilligan pointed out, in 1947, 26 years after the last date on which persons could have sustained the losses referred to by the Taoiseach as entitling him to make an application [2386] for assistance under the Bill, we may still have people in need, people who claim that, notwithstanding the losses they suffered and the hardships they endured then, the 26 following years have not sufficed to redeem them economically from the plight which was then visited upon them. If we owe a debt to these people, if anybody, because of serving the national interest, because of his participation in the fight for freedom, suffered any loss, is not the honest and obvious thing to do to ascertain the number of people affected and to assess their claims for compensation in whatever realm we propose to compensate them and, having ascertained the extent of their need and the extent of their losses, come to the House and say that these people lost in the national struggle and ask the Legislature to pass a Bill designed to compensate them in any way in which we think compensation necessary or desirable?

Is there any difficulty in doing that? Is not that the obvious and manly way of doing it? Is it not the honest way? Instead, what is offered to these people? They are being told now: "The State will give you nothing; the State can give you nothing. The Legislature is too lazy to pass a Bill to set up a separate fund from which you can be compensated. Instead, the Legislature will get its hands on the funds of the Sinn Féin organisation and set up a trust fund and you can then appeal, with your national background and national record, for financial assistance from these moneys which will be taken from the control of the courts and from any right by the Sinn Féin organisation to their possession." I do not know any better way of insulting the possible applicants for financial assistance than to say to them: "Notwithstanding all our foreign investments, notwithstanding the fact that the national income has gone up in the past seven years from £150,000,000 to £250,000,000, we still have nothing for you. You will get nothing, no matter how needy you are. We will pass no Bill for you and create no fund for you, but we will confiscate these funds at present in the possession of the courts and create a fund and let you get what you can out of it." At most, [2387] it is capable of giving 240 people £100 each and that is the end of it.

It is, of course, the end of something more. It is the end of any fair conception of the right of a citizen to have his case tried by the courts, and that is what I am concerned with. It seems to me to be an especially undesirable course for the Government to embark upon. If, after conferences with affected bodies, you cannot get them to do what you want, and if, in the long run, they go to the courts and that displeases you, you short-circuit them by coming to the Legislature and getting a Bill passed to deprive people of what is a constitutional right. It would not surprise me if these folk could get the Supreme Court to declare the unconstitutionality of this Bill, and I hope the Supreme Court will do so if it is tested in that way, because the sooner the Government realises that they ought not to be able to ride rough-shod over the constitutional rights of citizens merely because they do not like the citizens or the actions on which they embark, the better for constitutional government in this country.

I am completely unimpressed by the Taoiseach's case in favour of this Bill. I see no reason in the world why the Government should intervene in a matter of this kind. Let the courts decide who owns the £24,000. When the first 240 have got £100 each, that is the end of it. I cannot understand why the Government insists on obtruding itself into the issue before the courts. I am not impressed by the proposal to establish a trust fund endowed with this relatively insignificant sum of money to try to satisfy the demands that would be made on it by the many people who might qualify as eligible applicants for relief from the trust fund. The Government might have let the courts decide the whole issue. If the Taoiseach had come in with a Bill to say to the courts: "You will have to decide the issue in the next 12 months or we will find some machinery to decide it,” I could understand that approach, to make the courts decide and to make those concerned have the issue decided, but to say to the courts specially created for determining such [2388] issues: "We will not let you decide it," seems to be a complete reversal of our normal legal process.

I have no interest in the Sinn Féin organisation whatever, no interest in its policy, no interest in its methods. I do not think they make sense in 1947, but I am interested in seeing that every citizen and every organisation gets a fair hunt before the courts and that the machinery of the courts and the machinery of the Constitution will not be doctored for the purpose of preventing a litigant, whether it be an individual or an organisation, getting what he thinks are his rights under the law and under the Constitution. This Bill leaves me cold. I do not think it is the product of anything but haste and bad temper and it is because I believe it is the product of haste and bad temper and not of statesmanship that I do not propose to vote for it.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  In this matter I am entirely in agreement with the Deputies who have spoken. I was frankly amazed when the Taoiseach put forward, as the one argument for this Bill, that the funds would be frittered away. That is what the Taoiseach's speech could be reduced to. I know that the ordinary citizen feels very little sympathy with the frittering away of money in litigation. Personally, I know nothing whatsoever about Sinn Féin, have no interest in the organisation and, like the previous speaker, I have no sympathy or agreement with its aims.

Mr. Hilliard: Information on Michael Hilliard  Zoom on Michael Hilliard  And never had.

Mr. Coburn: Information on James Coburn  Zoom on James Coburn  Had the Deputy?

Mr. Hilliard: Information on Michael Hilliard  Zoom on Michael Hilliard  I served.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Frank Fahy  Zoom on Frank Fahy  Order.

Mr. Coburn: Information on James Coburn  Zoom on James Coburn  Insulting a decent man like Deputy Dockrell.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  If we are going to have interruptions I think it is due to say that there is many a 1916 man who can declare that he was able to return to employment in Dockrell's when he could not return to employment with people who call themselves nationalists.

[2389]Mr. Commons: Information on Bernard Commons  Zoom on Bernard Commons  He was in a dream and he awoke.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  This matter must be judged distinct from the organisation or the money concerned. There is a trustee fund to which certain people claim they have a right. In the normal course the court decides whether the appellants have the right which they claim. It is a very dangerous precedent and a very wrong action on the part of any legislative assembly to cut across the ordinary processes of the law. We have set up courts in this country for the purpose of deciding these matters.

As I see it, the one purpose of this Bill is to take the matter out of the hands of the courts and to decide it here; in other words, to usurp the functions of the courts which we have established, and which we, in this Assembly, profess to respect. We back them up with all the force of law and eventually of the Garda, the Army, and so on. The Taoiseach has put forward no clear reason why the ordinary course of the law should be interfered with. I feel very strongly on this matter. Our civic and national existence rests ultimately on the sanctity of the courts and the authority of the law and we are here, in this legislative Assembly, deliberately cutting across it. That is the essence of what we are doing. It is tantamount to saying to the courts: "Your processes are too long, too expensive and, in order to save this money, we will debate the matter in our Assembly and will come to a decision, the decision which is embodied in this Bill." We are doing very wrong. If we were concerning ourselves to-day with trying to alter the law so that frittering of trustee funds would be made impossible or very difficult, we would be doing something of a constructive nature that, eventually would be to the benefit of this country, but in this Bill we are tearing down the very institutions which we of all people should wish upheld and strengthened.

Therefore, in considering this matter we should leave out of account the money concerned and the association involved and what the decision of the [2390] courts may be. We do not know whether the organisation would win or lose in the courts, but we are making certain that a matter pending before the courts will be decided in a certain way. That, I think, as the Leader of the Labour Party said, is not statesmanship. It is not statesmanship, and it is not proper legislation either.

Mr. Coburn: Information on James Coburn  Zoom on James Coburn  Sir, I would like to enter into this discussion, and I would hardly ask anybody's leave to do so. It seems that it is the custom here lately that unless one was a member of Sinn Féin in some way or other one is not an Irishman and one is not entitled to raise his voice in this House. I think, as an ordinary representative of the people of this country, that it is our duty to interfere here in debate and not to allow ourselves to be threatened by certain remarks that have been made here in regard to Deputy Dockrell. I was never in the Sinn Féin movement, but I am just as good an Irishman as Deputy Hilliard, and I believe it is as good for a man to live in his country as to die for it. That is my idea of an Irishman. I was one of those who always had a great respect for the law and I object to this Bill on the ground that it is taking away the liberty of the individual, the God-given right which we enjoy under the Constitution under which he lives, and if people are foolish enough, to use the Taoiseach's words, to fritter away money in useless legislation or legal actions, that is their own work and that is their own business, and I do not think it ought to be the duty of any Government to interfere one way or the other.

I remember a dispute which arose when this Parliament in this part of the country had been set up. It was between the Irish Rifle Club and a club that was started in the Twenty-six Counties. The case went to law and because of the fact that it still retained its original title, the court decided in favour of that particular club —the Irish Rifle Club, I think it was— because its members were domiciled at that particular time in the Twenty-six Counties. There was no such a thing as introducing a Bill to prevent those people from claiming rights which [2391] they thought they possessed under the aricles of association which governed the rules of that club at that time, in such a manner as these Sinn Féin funds, which I thought had been disposed of years and years ago. It happens now that the people who carried on that movement lay claim to these funds as being the men who are entitled to them, as being the men who kept to the original organisation. Now I am not going to twit the Taoiseach or my friend, Deputy Hilliard, as to why they deserted from that organisation but what I am considering is if they held on to the organisation and observed its rules, even if they were only two—after all one or two good men are worth 1,000 men running here and there according as occasion demands and as it suits their interests. But give me the man who, through weal or woe, sticks to one opinion whether he be in a minority or not, who faces the rifle and the revolver as I did in defence of the opinions I held then and still own. I maintain that if those men were loyal to that organisation—I have disagreed with them but I have the greatest respect for any man who stands loyal to anyone he believes in though it may not be fashionable now—they are entitled to lay claim to anything to which they believe they have a right.

I believe that these funds should go to that organisation, no matter how they may use them. It is only a matter of £8,000, as far as I know. With the interest accruing on that £8,000 it stands at the moment in the region of £24,000 and the Taoiseach proposes in this Bill to divide that measly sum between Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Republican Army, the Hibernian Rifles and others. I am surprised that the word "Hibernian" comes into it because, according to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, there are a lot of men here, and I am one of them, who were no good to anyone. I think we were only a lot of traitors in those years! It is wonderful how history repeats itself. But what can this £24,000 do amongst all those sections? Another more pertinent question I would like to put to the Taoiseach who is [2392] going to set up a board, consisting of the Chief Justice and several other members is this: Who is going to pay the costs that will be entailed in the work of that board? I am of the opinion that when this board is set up there will be thousands of applications coming in from people all over the country. These applications will have to be filed. It is not the Chief Justice who will do that, nor is it any member of the board. There will be a staff of clerks there. Who is going to pay the cost? Will it come out of the £24,000 and, if so, what will be left for those people who are supposed to benefit? Again, the Taoiseach might state, in his reply, what is the total amount incurred by way of costs as between the members, the trustees of this branch and the Sinn Féin organisation? As far as I understand, Mr. Wyse Power and Mr. Duggan incurred certain costs, costs as between client and solicitor.

The other party to the action have already incurred those costs. We do not do things in the cheapest way here judging by the way national taxation has gone up, but I say honestly, looking at this question from a non-Party point of view and from the point of view of a man who respects the law, that every man should be entitled to go into the courts of this country and have his case settled. That is the issue, the only issue, that is at stake here, so far as I am personally concerned. Like other speakers, I have no interest in the parties to this action. I held certain views during all those years and stood by them through thick and thin, as I do here to-day, but at the same time I am broadminded enough to recognise the fact that these men, after they have been loyal to this organisation, are entitled to these funds and on that score I am opposing this Bill. But I oppose it above all for the reason that I do not believe in legislation of this kind. Legislation of a restrictive nature has been introduced into this Dáil for the last few years and it has always been strongly opposed by the Parties occupying the benches on this side of the House and by public opinion. But this is going a step further. This is even worse than [2393] restrictive legislation. This is a Bill to prevent a man from going to the courts at all, if those in power think that it would not be right for him to do so. It is not their opinion which should count but the opinion of the people affected and I am honestly of that opinion. I cannot understand how the Taoiseach and the members of his Executive came to agree to the introduction of this Bill at all, especially in view of the controversy that it is going to create all over the country.

It is certainly not going to make for good fellowship or good feeling as between members of an organisation that stood solidly together in the olden days. It is certainly not going to make for good fellowship or good feeling as between members of an organisation who stood solidly together in those far off days. The Taoiseach himself, as I am well aware, used that organisation from '22 to '32 and it was very useful to him then. It supported him through thick and thin and was the means of getting the Fianna Fáil Party into power in 1932 and again in 1933. Seemingly it is now of no further use and the time has come when it must be prevented from making any further trouble. This would seem to be a master stroke on the part of the Taoiseach. An organisation is all very fine while it supports him. When it ceases to support him then it must go. It seems now that the Sinn Féin organisation must go through the medium of this Bill and any power of resistance which they might offer will be taken away from them. I think this Bill is a bad Bill. It is going to set up a very dangerous precedent inasmuch as it is a fundamental interference with the rights which every man has under the Constitution.

Mr. Corish:  I am reaching a time when I feel rather glad that I had not reached the age of reason in the early twenties.

Mr. Coburn: Information on James Coburn  Zoom on James Coburn  Lucky man.

Mr. Corish:  This controversial period has become quite a nuisance in this House. Quips fly across the floor when we are trying to legislate. The [2394] business of this House is to legislate. The business of the court is to interpret that legislation. It seems to me that this Bill is being introduced to usurp the functions of the court.

I have no interest in or no knowledge of Sinn Féin or the Sinn Féin movement. The policy of my Party is good enough for me without interesting myself in another one. I think the arguments put forward here to-day by the Opposition should be sufficient to induce the Taoiseach—it may perhaps sound fantastic—to withdraw this Bill. It would certainly be a precedent if he did withdraw it and I am sure he has no other intention than to have his steam-rolling majority crush it through both Houses.

The court has not decided apparently that the Sinn Féin movement is defunct. The Taoiseach and his Cabinet have decided that the movement is defunct and they propose under this Bill to appropriate the funds. I think more time was spent by the Taoiseach in telling us how these funds were to be distributed than in offering us any real reason for the introduction of this particular measure. I admired the speech of Deputy Coburn when he pointed out how ridiculous it would be to go to such trouble for the distribution of a sum of £20,000. I think that was a very sensible approach. Seemingly this is going to entail a lot of clerical work in its distribution and we have been led to believe the final sum will be in the region of £20,000.

This is a reflection on the Government's policy in their treatment of the men who suffered hardships back before 1921. The list we have before us of the people who would be deserving of some assistance is also a reflection on the Government's policy on the treatment of the men who took part in the fight for our freedom. I am of the opinion too that the introduction of this Bill is a reflection on our courts and on the legal profession. The Opposition has not criticised the legal profession or the courts but I think the Taoiseach was not very wise in his phraseology when he alleged that part of the £24,000 was being frittered away. We are bound to ask ourselves [2395] what is the meaning of the expression “frittered away.” Is it possible that these delays have been engincered so that more and bigger fees will be paid out of this £24,000? I think if we adopted Deputy Norton's suggestion and made an order to the court that unless this case were decided within a certain time the House would take action that would meet the matter. I do not think it is right to come in here and ask the representatives of the people here to proclaim by their acceptance of this Bill that Sinn Féin is now defunct and that the funds of that organisation should be appropriated by the State and distributed to certain people. I think that is an audacious proposal and it is certainly one not worthy either of the Taoiseach or of his Cabinet.

We shall naturally oppose this Bill. I wonder what views the members of the Taoiseach's own Party have on this matter. I certainly am not satisfied with his explanation. I came in here specially to hear him because I was not conversant with Sinn Féin or with its activities. His statement was not at all satisfactory from my point of view. Having listened to the speeches of the Opposition I believe now that the functions of the court are being usurped. The court has not yet decided that the Sinn Féin organisation is defunct. Naturally I draw my own conclusions and I shall oppose the Bill. It is a precedent. The same line of action can and may be taken towards other organisations. If the Taoiseach or the Government think that any particular trade union is engaged in what they consider to be a futile strike and frittering away the funds of its members they can then by the introduction of a Bill of this kind appropriate the funds of that trade union on the mere assertion that they were not being used properly or that they were being frittered away.

I believe that the Taoiseach himself had, to put it mildly, a particular interest in Sinn Féin prior to 1926. It has also been alleged—and I am sure that the Taoiseach will deal with this in his reply—that he was a member of that organisation in [2396] the year 1926. He has said himself— he will correct me if I am wrong—that this organisation became defunct in 1924.

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  I did not use the word “defunct” at all. That is Deputy McGilligan's word and it was made the basis of all the subsequent speeches in this House. I am responsible only for my own words.

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  What word did the Taoiseach use?

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  I did not use any word in that respect.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  He did not use the word “defunct” here.

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  I did not use the word “defunct”.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  Oh, I was not there.

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  Then the Deputy is again only quoting Deputy McGilligan.

Mr. Corish:  In any case I am opposing this measure because I believe it is a usurpation of the functions of the court. I think the Taoiseach should wait until the court has given its decision before he takes any action as to the funds of the organisation.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  In moving that the debate be adjourned, may I make a suggestion? The Taoiseach has had it indicated to him, from every part of the House, that every Party in the House is opposed to this Bill and opposed to interfering with the court. I opposed this Bill technically when it was introduced on First Reading, and I oppose it now. I ask the Taoiseach to consider, between now and the time when we will resume the discussion to-morrow, whether he will not withdraw the Bill and allow the action in the court to finish itself. If the action in the court finishes itself, we might then be able to come to a conclusion that no court decision can ever decide what should be or [2397] what could be done with these funds, and then it might become a matter for discussion among the leaders of the different Parties what we would suggest by way of legislation for the disposal of these funds.

I make that proposal to the Taoiseach so that he may consider it between now and to-morrow. I ask him to realise that every Party in the House is against this measure and we might consider it our responsibility in relation to the institutions of the State to move, under Article 26 or Article 27 of the Constitution, in order to ensure that, even if this Bill is passed by a Party majority through the Oireachtas, to ask the President to consider his functions and responsibilities in relation to whether he should or should not sign this Bill.

The Taoiseach: Information on Eamon de Valera  Zoom on Eamon de Valera  My advice is that there would not be any repugnancy to the Constitution in the provisions of the Bill.

General Mulcahy: Information on Richard James Mulcahy  Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy  The Taoiseach may have his advice, but we have our responsibilities.

Debate adjourned.


Last Updated: 18/05/2011 14:12:25 First Page Previous Page Page of 29 Next Page Last Page