Seanad Éireann - Volume 1 - 12 December, 1922

ELECTION OF CHAIRMAN.

Mr. THOMAS WESTROPP BENNETT: We have got no Agenda. I take it one of our first duties may be the appointment of a Chairman. I would like some direction from the Chair or from the Clerk as to what our first business will be.

Sir HUTCHESON POE: If the Seanad will allow me, I would like to give my reasons for what I admit is a somewhat unusual procedure. My reason for introducing this motion and for asking for the withdrawal of Press correspondents is that before having a public discussion, in which perhaps certain old recriminations and prejudices may be raked up against anybody going forward for election, we should have an opportunity of discussing this matter in private. I would most respectfully urge upon Senators that in considering the names of any two or more persons who may be submitted for election to the Chair, we should be guided solely by whether they are best fitted by their abilities and their position and by other circumstances, to fill the Chair with credit to themselves and with dignity to this Seanad. In my opinion, there are three essentials for any man who fills this post. The first is that he should be a man of recognised position, socially and otherwise. The second is that he should be, if possible, possessed of Parliamentary experience, versed in constitutional procedure, and able to keep this Seanad, in the early days of its birth, on right lines. The third, and perhaps the most important, requirement of all is that he should be a man having leisure time to devote to the duties of the office, which, at any rate for some time, must be of an exacting and arduous nature. The very last essential, we will all admit, greatly limits our choice of candidates. Without mentioning [9] any names, I am sure that if you look through the list of Senators you will recognise those of several men in the city of Dublin alone of outstanding ability in the commercial and business world, conversant with dealing with large bodies of men, any one of whom would make an excellent Chairman. But, unfortunately, each of these men is so engrossed in his private affairs that it would not be fair to expect him to throw those up or make such a sacrifice. That consequently limits our choice of candidates. I understand there may be two, or perhaps more, going forward. I would ask everyone to bear in mind that whatever the colour of the political coats those candidates wore nine or ten years ago, that has nothing to do with the question to-day. The sooner we forget all those prejudices and narrow-mindedness and bigotries which have kept Ireland asunder to her great discomfort and ruin the better. The sooner we forget those, bury the past, and recognise that we are here, all Irishmen, united in a determination to loyally support the Free State Government and to carry out the Constitution which has been given us, and which, I think, nine out of every ten men admit gives us everything we could possibly want—to carry out that in a loyal spirit and in a spirit of goodwill, and with a determination to do the best in the interests of the country without fear, favour or affection—the better for the country. To go into extraneous matters and refer to men's political cloth within the last few years, and how many times they have changed their coats or otherwise, has nothing to do with the question to-day. I feel it would be disastrous if, on this opening of a new, and I hope a happy, era in the history of Ireland, it were to go forth that the Seanad, which has been elected by the goodwill of the President and the ballots of the members of the Dáil, began perhaps with a bitter and more or less venomous attack on the political opinions of men who might be submitted for our consideration. That has nothing to do with it. The only consideration that should guide us is, is this person or that person best fitted to fulfil the duties of Chairman. We have every confidence that in the future we shall all do our best to ensure the peace and prosperity of this country.

Colonel MAURICE MOORE: I wish [10] to say a few words on this matter. There are many things which the last speaker said of which I approve. I have never been a party man in the sense of wishing to exclude any of my countrymen from taking a share in the Government of this country. On the contrary, I have always advocated and desired that all parties should come together and act together for the good of the country. That has always been my view and I have very often got a great deal of discredit for not being a party man, and perhaps I am in that position at the moment that I am not a party man and do not do what any party choses to order me to do. But while saying that, I cannot agree that we should wipe out en bloc everything that has occurred within the last few years. Some of the qualifications that the last speaker gave are qualifications that I entirely agree with. There is one qualification which is extremely important and that is, that no man should sit at the head of this Seanad who does not possess the qualifications of having the respect and confidence of the people of Ireland. This Seanad has not very much actual power, but whatever influence it is going to have in this country will depend entirely on its own virtues and its own abilities, and the way in which we here in the Seanad tackle every subject that arises and work it out; and also it will depend very much upon what confidence the people of Ireland place in us. If we begin by losing the confidence of the people of Ireland, and if it is considered that we are extremists in one section or another; on the other hand, if we are not progressive or if we have our eyes cast over the seas to another country—if we have any of these things we will at once lose the confidence of the people of Ireland. The strength of any body, whether of the Dáil or Seanad, or any other body depends entirely upon the confidence of the people. For that reason while I do not wish to raise any questions—I do not want to mention any names—I think it should be absolutely necessary to have some person whom we have known for a long period of years, whose record we know, and whose actions we may count on, and whom the people of Ireland outside, who may not know of particular things about this or that person, will respect and honour and have confidence in. Therefore if we now appoint any [11] person who would not have the confidence of the Irish people, that would be a loss to our position and influence as a Seanad, and to our character, and we will be useless for all time. It is not necessary, and it does not follow, that a person having the confidence of the Irish people should not be an extremely good man and should not be a man of ability. If we begin by letting it go forth that the Seanad is under the direction of some person who has not got the general confidence of the Irish people, then the Seanad will be doing the worst day's business that ever was done, and I believe we will sink into ignominy, and after another Dáil or two a proposal will be made to do without us.

Mr. THOMAS McPARTLIN: I wish to say that the arguments which the two previous speakers have used were the very arguments which forced some of us to vote against the Press being asked to withdraw. I take it that we want the ablest man. There is no reason why we should find the ablest man behind closed doors. All the arguments could have been used in the presence of the Press. We are not fixed to any political party, and we are not interested in the social position of anybody here. What we are interested in is the ability of the man whom we select and for whom we are going to vote. I do not see how the absence of the Press will help us to find the best man. We want to know, and the country wants to know, the arguments for the selection of the best man we can get. We will vote against the selection of any man of whose ability we are not convinced. We will vote for the best man, and we do not want to know whether he is a Colonel or a Lord or a road worker. He is just the same to us if he has the ability. I am sorry that the Press has been asked to withdraw. It would be interesting for the people of the country to know that we are all anxious to get the man or woman who has the most ability to conduct our proceedings.

Mr. W.B. YEATS: I think we should put aside once and for all all diplomacy in dealing with the people of the country. We have been diplomatised for a generation. Let us stop it. I am in thorough agreement with Colonel Moore [12] when he said we would be judged in this country by our abilities as a Seanad. I suggest we consider nothing whatever but whether the man we are going to choose will have the necessary legal and necessary political knowledge to steer this Seanad through the exceedingly intricate channels through which it will have to pass. We have thorny legal questions in this Seanad on every side of us, and, of course, we will have thorny political questions. The past is dead not only for us but for this country. There is no individual we can appoint who will add in any way to our popularity. What enemy of ours will lay down his gun because of any man we appoint here? I suggest we are assembled here no longer in a Nationalist or Unionist sense, but merely as members of the Seanad.

Dr. OLIVER St. J. GOGARTY: I want to say a few words in support of the sentiments so generally uttered, but before saying anything of that nature it would be probably well to dispel from the air the bogies which seem to be overriding the minds of the speakers. The first is that the elections should be unanimous. I should be very sorry to see anything unanimous even in the Seanad, because I have been on many Boards and a unanimous verdict upon any candidate almost always means that there is a compromise. The other bogey is this that public opinion reacts to precent. The public opinion of Ireland reacts to example and not to precept, and the most exemplary instance of that is the life of the late President Arthur Griffith who lived a life of obscurity with a clear vision of realising what a Nation is with the result that we owe to his work the fact that we are meeting here to-day in this Seanad. Those who seek to placate public opinion are really placating ludicrous bogies of their own making in their mind. They are placating public opinion. That has been the curse of the methods of procedure because public opinion is as false a conception as that of the stage Irishman of the old days. Let us consider personally on merit and exemplary power. There may be a reversion back to old associations and things that can be no longer forgotten. All I can say is that good may come from every part of our country. Belfast owes us a mighty grudge for not supporting in Dublin that sink of acidity—Lord [13] Carson. He used the enemies of Ireland as a springboard, and is now safely deposited on the English Woolsack. His colleague is with his country here. Lord Carson's spiritual life has been exaggerated by a chronic attack of mental gall-stones. Surely we must not allow a consideration such as that to influence us now. We should have the courage to consider the date of the Seanad as starting from the 1st January. All mentalities before it are necessarily over-ridden, and, therefore, cannot be brought as criteria of our present action. So, I would precede the election by an appeal to people to have sufficient sense of the dignity of their country to make the Seanad an entity without any antecedent. Let us march forward with unanimity, and, for goodness sake, forget anything but capacity. It may be the first time that is a clear issue.

Mr. THOS FARREN: I propose that we should now proceed to the election of a Chairman.

Sir T.H. GRATTAN ESMONDE: I beg to second that.

Mr. BENNETT: I propose that the Press be admitted at this stage of the proceedings.

Colonel MOORE: I beg to second.

CHAIRMAN: It is proposed that we should proceed to the election of a Chairman, and that takes precedence over any other motion.

Mr. FARREN: If I am in order I am prepared to accept the addendum to the effect that the Press be admitted.

Motion put and agreed to.

The Press were admitted accordingly.

Mr. M. O'DEA: I would like to know what the duration of the office of Chairman is to be—whether the Chairman is to hold office for a year or more. I think that matter ought to be settled before we proceed further.

Mr. BENNETT: I beg to move that the election of a Chairman for this Seanad be for the period of one year. The advantage of such a course must be obvious. We know one another, one might say, not at all. We do know the record of two or three of our members, who would make admirable Chairmen, but there are others who in the course [14] of twelve months or so would show that they too have admirable qualities for the Chair. That being so I think we would be well advised in limiting the occupancy of the office for one year, in the first instance, and I propose accordingly that the term of office for the Chairmanship of the Seanad be for one year.

Mr. M. O'DEA: I beg to second that. Question put and agreed to.

CHAIRMAN: I am ready now to receive the nomination of candidates for the Chair.

Colonel MOORE: I beg to propose the name of Sir Thomas Esmonde.

Sir THOS. GRATTAN ESMONDE: I am very much obliged to Senator Colonel Moore, but I would ask you please not to accept my nomination.

Mr. JOHN McLOUGHLIN: I beg to propose the name of Lord Glenavy, and I do so because I regard it as one of the most important steps that this Seanad should take, especially if we mean to follow the road that leads to a united Ireland, and I think the idea of a united Ireland will be the supreme consideration of every Senator here. Coming as I do from the extreme North, where I am in touch with the feeling of people there who are supporters of the Northern Government, I know the effect of the appointment of a man of Lord Glenavy's record. It will have a big effect on them and be a big incentive in forcing the hands of their own die-hards to come into the Free State. By electing Lord Glenavy we will give them a guarantee of fair play and let them see we are prepared to treat every man as a brother Irishman, irrespective of what his politics were in the past or his religion is in the present. I certainly join with Senator Colonel Hutcheson Poë in deprecating any introduction of past politics. We do not want to re-open the graves of dead and buried controversies or array anyone here in the shroud of Party politics. I think it was Gambetta who said, when he was taunted with surrounding himself with Royalists, “I refuse to ask the date when any man became a Republican,” and I think this Seanad would be unwise to ask anyone at what date he ceased to be a Unionist and became a loyal supporter of the Irish Free State.

[15] Mr. GUINNESS: I have great pleasure in seconding Lord Glenavy's nomination for the Chair.

Colonel MAURICE MOORE: I regret very much that I feel bound to oppose the election of Lord Glenavy as Chairman or Cathaoirleach of Seanad Eireann. I do so with great regret because I dislike very much any controversy, and it was in hopes of avoiding this controversy that I agreed and voted for a private meeting this morning. Certain people in this Assembly, to my knowledge, are strongly opposed to it. I, for one, intend to vote against it. I cannot regard the present state of the country without looking back to the past. I cannot hide from myself that the present state is due to causes that happened some years ago, beginning principally in 1912 and 1913. I have been asked not to rake up questions, but it is impossible to avoid these things when suddenly these things are pressed upon an unwilling people. The state of affairs now is because of a certain rebellion raised in Ulster. Everybody knows that. It was on account of that the Irish Volunteers were raised in the South to prevent a rebellion. The result of that was that two armed forces were raised up, one against the other. Arms were forced into the hands of people who were unwilling to fight, and who did not wish to raise bloodshed in this country. The greater part of the people of this country who wished to settle these matters constitutionally, and who had been working and acting for forty years or more on constitutional lines have been pushed on unwillingly. I do not know what the future of those people might be who are now proposed. I do not know whether they will work for the freedom of Ireland. We are not yet complete in our freedom. We have certain limitations. I have accepted this Treaty, and I am willing to accept it and to work it, but this Treaty may be limited or it may not be limited. It may be decreased, or it may not be decreased, and I cannot advocate the appointment to so important a position of anybody whose views and whose future I cannot foresee. The position here is very different from what it is in other places. Here we have no Ministers. We have no one to lead the House; we are here standing alone without Ministers, and the person who is put in as Chairman [16] or as Cathaoirleach will be more or less in the position of Leader of this Seanad. I foresee that he will not be quite in the position of the Chairman or Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, who sits there merely as an independent person, merely deciding as to whether a person is or is not out of order. I for one cannot willingly consent, and will not consent, to a person whose political future I cannot to a certain extent foresee being placed in that position. Therefore, I myself will vote definitely against the proposal that has been made.

Mrs. WYSE POWER: Ba mhaith liom cupla focal a rádh mar geall ar an gceist. I believe that there are two things in Ireland more important, perhaps, than anything else. I believe in the importance of the unity of Ireland, but I also believe in the formation and setting up of a Gaelic and democratic State. I do believe that the appointment of Lord Glenavy will not bring the North to us. There is only one thing that will bring the North, and that is the economic condition. I do not think that electing Lord Glenavy as the mouthpiece of this the most important body in Ireland, perhaps, except the Dáil, will stand for the regeneration of Ireland in the traditional way we have been brought up to believe, and that we are all working for. Believing those two things I cannot vote for Lord Glenavy, and I am sorry that I cannot.

Question: “That Lord Glenavy be elected as Chairman of the Seanad for one year,” put and declared carried.

Lord GLENAVY (on taking the Chair):—My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow-members of this Seanad, this resolution has come upon me so quickly that I confess I do not yet realise my position, nor can I find adequate words to give expression to my feelings. I have not coveted the position. No ambition of mine is served by it. I appreciate its difficulties and its responsibilities, and had there been any substantial section of this Assembly who had expressed themselves opposed to my selection, nothing would have induced me to accept the office. But I am fortified by the fact that with practically, so far as I can [17] see, but two dissentients, the Assembly of the Seanad wishes that I should accept this office. Such a significant proof of their good-will and good opinion has removed all my doubts and misgivings, and therefore I am prepared with confidence and courage to accept the trust you have offered to me. I observe—and this may be some relief to the feelings of the member of the Seanad who prophesied that the Chairman would be practically Leader of this House—by the terms of the Constitution, by which we here are bound, that the Chairman is not allowed to give a vote upon any division in this Chamber—a very clear indication, I think, that it is contemplated that he should hold himself aloof from the controversial questions of the hour, and confine himself to the duties of his office. This prohibition of taking an active part in debates of your Seanad is, however, I think, a pretty safe guarantee not merely for his impartiality, but also for his independence. The duties of your Chairman have yet to be defined in accordance with the terms of the Constitution, but it is fairly obvious that it will be his province to uphold the powers of the Seanad and the privileges of its members, to regulate the order and procedure of its business, and to secure, so far as is consistent with dignity and decorum in debate, and the reasonable despatch of business, to each and every member the fullest freedom of speech. To this task I shall apply myself wholeheartedly, to the best of my ability, without fear, favour or affection. And I believe, promised as I am the sympathy and support of practically the entire body of members of this Assembly, that with that sympathy and support you will do full credit to yourselves as a constituent Chamber of the Parliament of the Irish Free State, and you will justify the confidence of those who have sent us here. I claim but one qualification for this honourable position to which you have appointed me to-day—the qualification that I am certain I hold in common with each and all of you—that is, a love for my country and its people, a passionate desire for the restoration of peace, goodwill and unity amongst all Irishmen, and a speedy and honourable release from the horrors and devastation of the fratricidal strife that at present is being waged in our midst. It is in that hope and in that spirit that I accept [18] the responsible trust that by your practically unanimous vote to-day you have bestowed upon me.

Sir T. GRATTAN ESMONDE: My name has been mentioned in the course of this debate, and that is my only excuse for entering upon it. May I take advantage of that circumstance to offer you my warmest and most sincere congratulations on your practically unanimous selection to the Presidency of the Seanad of Ireland? I speak for myself. I believe, I am certain, I speak for every member of the Seanad in saying that in the discharge of your important and arduous duties you will have our unanimous, our loyal and our enthusiastic support. One of our members from the North of Ireland conveyed to us that your appointment would be taken more or less as an olive branch to our dissenting brethren in the North. Other speakers in the course of this discussion have thrown doubt upon that possibility. I believe and I am convinced that your Presidency here will have a most beneficent effect on the relations between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. At all events, we Southerners, in putting you practically unanimously into this high and important position, have given an earnest of our good intentions. We can do no more than endeavour to prove to our Northern brethren that we recognise no boundaries; we only recognise Ireland. Further, Sir, reference has been made to ancient days, days which possibly you and I can both remember. All these days are, and they should be, absolutely forgotten and whatever has happened in the past, however much we may have differed, there is only one thing before us now, and that is our common country. Whatever we may have felt about details in politics in days gone by we are all united in our common desire and our common determination to serve our people to the best of our ability. Therefore, I hope that nothing will ever be said, in this Seanad at all events, of ancient and bygone days; but may I put in this plea? After all, we are not witnessing the birth of a new Nation, we are witnessing the rehabilitation of a very old and a very glorious Nation, and let us never cut the connection in sympathy and in thought of the great men who are gone before us.