The Irish Free State rind its Senate: A Study in Contemporary Politics. By Donal O'Sullivan. (Faber and Faber, 25s.).
Reviewed by SENATOR DESMOND FITZGERALD
THE first purposg of this work is,
apparently, to give an authoritative history of the Irish Free State Senate from its inception to its abolition, and to examine the grounds given
to justify that abolition. Fortunately the Senate, whose function was to ievise all legislation, could not be abstracted. from the political history of Ireland during
the period and treated in isolation. The result is that the author has found it necessary to write such a history, and to this he brings a most conscientious and exact scholarship, power of analysis and clarity of style. His book is a permanently authoritative history of the Free State as well as of its Senate.' It is both an enthralling narrative and a learned work.
Half of tIse members of the first Senate were elected by the Dail and the other half were nominated by the President of the Executive Council. Two considerations governed the choice of those nominated: that the minority, usually described as Protestant Unionists should receive adequate representatioe, and that those whose distinction in various spheres brought honour to the country should also have a place. The result was a singularly distinguished body.
The Protestant Unionists had a little less than half the seats. Their presence was in hat mony with the teaching of Arthur Griffith, the creator of the new Ireland, He had always insisted that they must have a share in the guiding of Ireland, and that their conviction that the continuance of the Union was for Ireland's good did not denote any lack of love of Ireland. The Senate justified his faith. In all their acts the ex-Unionist senators were guided by concern for Ireland's well-being. In accepting membership they put their lives in danger, and in many
cases their houses were burned because they agreed to serve their country.
THOUGH the powers of the Senate were necessarily strictly limited, the distinction of its members, who represented all classes of the community, gave it a significance extending beyond its legislative functions. Mr. O'Sullivan remarks a deterioration with each triennial change (when onefourth of the members ceased to be senators and an election in one form or another had to be held to fill their places). Even at the time of its abolition in 1936 it remained a better Second House than we are likely to see for some time.
In 1934 the Government decided to abolish the Senate. The reason for this was that the President of the Executive Council wanted a period of uni-cameral legislation. But at the time he was not prepared to admit that this was the reason for his action. and therefore a completely artificial case had to he put forward to justify this drastic action.
The author's examination of this caw is masterly and unanswerable. But, being an industrious scholar whose method is to make an exhaustive study of all data, he expects a like thoroughness in others. He assumes that the misrepresentation of authorities quoted to support the abolition means disingenuousness on the part of the President of the Executive Council. The truth is that department officials had been asked at short notice to gather together any and every passage that might seem to support the uni-cameral system.
MR. O'Sullivan is equally thorough in his 1'1 examination of the specific charges made against the Senate itself in order to support a decision that had already been come to. It is right that a body of men who had given selfless service to their country should be cleared of false charges. For the purpose of rebuttal the most direct and effective method is to prove that what is alleged is untrue in fact. But one of the charges was that the Senate supported measures intro duced by the previous Government and rejected those or the new Government. That is proved to be untrue, but a true judgment as to whether the Senate acted worthily would depend upon a decision as to whether the measures accepted were for the common good and those rejected contrary to the common good. The Government has since admitted that one Act for the passing of which they condemned the Senate most severely was, in fact, nationally necessary.
On the other hand, in the list of measures by the new Government that the Senate accepted, given by Mr. O'Sullivan, was one to give pensions for activities against the State. There may be different opinions as to whether or not that Bill was justifiable. But there can be little doubt that a majority of the Senate thought it a bad Bill, and some of them must have voted for it in spite of their own judgment.
THE author's method is to marshal his data, analyse with great skill and clarita
and draw the inescapable conclusion. He relates one event with another showing how that which follows was contained in cause in that which preceded. He is most scrupuious to state the grounds upon which his conclusions are based.
Naturally, there are occasions as, for instance when he gives his estimate of individuals. when one may disagree with his
personal opinion. But when he says, for instance, that the parliamentary Labour leader in losing his seat in the second election of 1927 paid the penalty of his modera tion, one must disagree violently. In previous elections he had owed his succgs, not to Labour votes but to the votes of moderates who regarded him as more thoroughly pro-Treaty than the Cosgrave party. But just before the election in question as a result of arrangement made behind closed' doors, he endeavoured to overthrow the Government and place the anti-Treaty party in power. The country interpreted his action as a sudden abandonment of his apparent moderateness. In tAe case of the divorce controversy Mr. O'Sullivan, as a Catholic,
entirely approves of the Government taking action to exclude the introduction for Bills of divorce a vincula matrimonii. At the same time assumes that Lord Glanavy was quite right on legal grounds in refusing the Government's motion in the Senate as taking away an existing legal right of the citizen, under Common Law, to appeal to Parliament by way of a private Bill. The Government's case was, in fact, that its authority, coming from God, had defined limits; that it had no power to legislate against Divine
law. The question might well have been posed as to whether Common Law commands the Government to claim a sovereignty that can only belong to God.
IN the interest of historical accuracy one I other point might be mentioned. The " pact " of 1922 does not belong to the period of this book, but the author clearly assumes that in agreeing to the " pact " Michael Collins was committed to an attempt to force upon the Irish people a single party State. The truth is that in the discussions leading up to the " pact " the antiTreaty representatives had insisted on what would be the single party Parliament, Though Collins knew that failure to come to an agreement with them would mean that the election would be prevented by armed Men, he insisted at all costs that the agreement would not be accepted without the clause stating that any and every interest should have equal rights with the Sinn Fein panel to seek election. A break in the negotiations had taken place on this point when Mr. Childers advised the anti-Treaty representatives to agree on the grounds that even with the disputed clause (though the pro-Treaty party were not adverting to it), the " pact " would be a breach of the Treaty and so would nullify the previous action of the Dail in accepting the Treaty.
But the points of history that one can challenge in this book are so few. that they only call attention to the conscientious search for historical truth that marks this work. It is necessary to all who desire to understand modem Ireland. Even those who were most closely associated with the events recorded are indebted to the author.