Tuesday, 31 March 1925
Seanad Éireann Debate
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: It is a little difficult to know how this application should be dealt with. The Dáil have ruled out the introduction of petitions in their House. We have made no rules on the subject so far. We have not ruled the introduction of petitions out, nor have we provided any procedure under our Standing Orders dealing with the matter. I do not like to take upon myself the responsibility of ruling this petition out. Perhaps it would be better if Senator the Earl of Mayo explained, shortly, the nature of the petition.
The EARL of MAYO: I ask you to forward to the Minister for Justice a petition which I have here from the residents of the Dukerry and Fintown districts, County Donegal. The petition includes 300 householders, and it concerns a road from Fintown, Co. Donegal, to Dukerry, Co. Donegal, The petitioners in duty bound will for ever pray...”
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Of course, I could not take upon myself the responsibility of acting on behalf of the Seanad in transferring that petition to the Minister. I think the simplest course for me to adopt, in the absence of any Standing Order regulating our procedure, would be to put the matter to the Seanad to ascertain whether it is their wish that I should hand this petition to the Minister concerned.
Sir THOS. ESMONDE: Might I say a word in support of the proposal that this petition be accepted? If it were in order I would ask leave to move that the petition be accepted. My main reason is that the right of a petition is a very ancient one. It is, perhaps, the most ancient of all constitutional rights of the ordinary citizen. I do not know that in later days these petitions have succeeded to any great extent; I do not know that they have advanced very far towards obtaining the wishes of the petitioners. As a rule, those petitions were, so to speak, put into a sack or a wastepaper basket, and they remained there. On principle there is no reason why petitions should not be allowed. I think the right of petitioning is one that should be safeguarded. We are informed that the Dáil will not receive petitions. We may offer an alternative to the procedure recognised in the Dáil, and we may consent to receive petitions and have them forwarded to the proper authority. Whether the result will be satisfactory for the petitioners is a matter that we cannot prophesy. I think it is a good thing that the ancient custom should be observed. I would be in favour of accepting this petition and having it forwarded to the proper authority. If necessary, I would move that the petition should be accepted.
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I cannot tell you precisely, but I understand they have already ruled that they will not allow a petition to be received. Petitions must be sent to the Minister. Persons are permitted to send petitions  to the Minister. The Dáil will not allow a petition to be sent directly to it.
Mr. O'FARRELL: Surely this is not a petition to Parliament. It is a petition to a Minister. Did anyone ever hear of such a procedure as to ask the Seanad to hand the petition over to the Minister? We should not waste five minutes discussing this subject. Let petitioners go direct to the Ministers, or otherwise let Senator the Earl of Mayo send it directly to the Minister, rather than adopt the procedure of formally introducing it in the House and having us then graciously handing it to the Minister.
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: There is a little more in the matter than that. The Senator may, in the ordinary way, present a petition and ask the House to receive it and have it forwarded to the proper Minister. That is the usual way in which petitions are dealt with. I think that is substantially what Senator the Earl of Mayo is asking— that we should receive the petition, give it the imprimatur, so to speak, of our approval, and that with that imprimatur it should be passed on to the Minister concerned. I think there is a little more in the matter, Senator, and I do not think there is anything irregular in the procedure. Of course, we are in a difficulty, as we framed no Standing Orders in the matter. The safest course is to leave this thing to a vote of the Seanad in order to ascertain whether it is their wish that I would send it forward to the Minister concerned.
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I am not very well informed of its subject matter myself. I understood from Senator the Earl of Mayo that it is a petition from a number of inhabitants who complain in regard to a road in their district that it has been left derelict. They are petitioning the Minister, and the proper Department, to have it put in repair.
Dr. GOGARTY: If we accept this petition, what is to prevent the Seanad receiving petitions from all over the country? If this is now accepted, it is quite possible that from different parts of Ireland we may be receiving complaints in regard to roads that are out of order, or some little troubles in agricultural matters.
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Of course, the Seanad could guard itself against any abuses by framing appropriate Standing Orders. At present we have no Standing Orders dealing with this type of matter. We have to deal specially with this particular case, and to me it does not seem that it will affect our position or the Free State Constitution very seriously whether we pass or reject it.
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I do not think so, Senator. We certainly are not adopting it. All you are asked to decide is whether there is sufficient in it to let it go forward. I am not suggesting any course for the Seanad as to whether they should adopt the petition or otherwise. I think that in the circumstances it is safer for me to take the opinion of the Seanad on the matter.
Mr. FARREN: Are not the County Councils in their respective areas the authorities over roads? I imagine that if roads require to be repaired the people should petition the County Council to do the work.
Sir NUGENT EVERARD: I think that before I could vote on this subject I should have some information as to whether it is the right of the Seanad to present petitions in this way. If only this particular case is concerned, I think we ought to hear what the petition is about so that we can decide whether it is a proper petition to have sent to the Minister. I would like to leave that to the ruling of An Cathaoirleach.
Mr. DOUGLAS: Would it not be better to have this matter adjourned and in the meantime to ask the Standing Orders Committee to report? Then the Senator could bring the matter forward at the next meeting. That would be better than to come now to a decision one way or the other.
Mr. MacLYSAGHT: I merely moved that the whole matter of petitions, and how they should be dealt with, should be referred to the Standing Orders Committee so that in future we should know exactly how to deal with these matters.
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I will take that motion, if you like, now that we have disposed of Senator the Earl of Mayo's application. If you wish you can move that the subject matter of petitions be referred to the Standing Orders Committee for report.
Sir NUGENT EVERARD: My question has not been answered. Are we  now to decide whether in the abstract we should receive petitions put forward, or are we, in the concrete case of a road that is in bad repair, to take it that is a matter on which we should vote in order that we may forward the petition, if successful, to the Minister?
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: The position, as I understand it, is that according to old constitutional practice it is possible and proper for a member of this House to present a petition. That is undoubtedly possible. We have not ruled that privilege or power out but we have made no Standing Orders regulating the procedure to be adopted on it. We have not ruled it out and I am not ruling it out now. I think it is the legitimate right of every Senator to present such a petition. It is another matter whether the House will say that they will accept the petition and authorise me to forward it to the Minister concerned. On that question I will take a show of hands.
Mrs. WYSE-POWER: Before a show of hands is taken, I would like to point out to you, a Chathaoirligh, that we do not know what we are going to have a show of hands on. What Senator the Earl of Mayo has read out is very vague. If there is an old constitutional right for presenting these petitions and forwarding them, it should also provide some time for the consideration of them. I think the moment the petition is put in is scarcely the time to take a show of hands on it.
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: The practice of another place, with which Senator Sir Thomas Esmonde is familiar, is the practice I am following to-day, because the first and the only way you heard of a petition in the House of Commons was when a member got up from his place and that member said: “I beg to present the following petition.” It was then handed over to an official of the House, to be put into a bag, and it never emerged again from that bag.
Mr. CUMMINS: If the House agrees to receive this petition and pronounces in favour of receiving petitions, I think there will be no limit to the number of  petitions that will be presented. I may have several, dealing with matters in my district. There are many roads in other parts of the country that require repair as well as Donegal, and the proper authority to deal with them is the local authority. I can foresee that you will have dozens of petitions here if you accept this one.
AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I will now put the motion which has been proposed by Senator MacLysaght and seconded by Senator Barrington — that the subject matter of petitions be referred to the Standing Committee for consideration and report.
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