An Example For The North
By Our Dublin Correspondent
" The Oireachtas shall consist of the King and one House, the Chamber of Deputies (otherwise called and herein generally referred to as Dail Eireann '). The sole and exclusive power of making laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Irish Free State (Saorstat Eireann) is vested in the Oireachtas."
Thus stands Article 12 of the Free State Constitution as a result of the motion moved last week in the Dail by Mr. deValera and passed by 74 votes to 52 to end the Senate.
Everybody took for granted that the motion would be passed. Nevertheless the debate was one of great importance. Not only did Mr. de Valera declare his mind more openly on the much-discussed question of uni-cameral versus bi-cameral government, but he made an important announcement on the actual Constitution.
Several times during the past year he has hinted his intention of revising the Constitution thoroughly. Now he has declared that the new Constitution will be promulgated in the autumn. Before it is finally adopted it will be submitted to the people, presumably through a general election.
The Reason for Abolition
The President's reason in abolishing the Senate, he declared to the Dail, is not becausehe prefers uni-cameral government, but because he believed that the Senate as it existed was a danger to the country. Up to the present he has not found any alternative that solves his difficulty. A suggestion for a nominated Senate does not seem to him practicable. Another suggestion for a Senate on vocational lines does not appeal to him either. He thinks the country is not sufficiently organised vocationally, and he has the additional objection to this suggestion that it would involve a Senate containing a larger number of members than he is prepared to accept. His maximum would be about forty-five.
A suggestion made by one of the Opposition members in the course of the debate that a Special Committee should be set up to devise a Second Chamber in accordance with the President's limitations was welcomed by Mr. de Valera.
In his reply, . he said he had been thinking of this, and was glad the idea should have come independently from the Opposition. He promised to have such a body established, and have its recommendations considered by the Executive Council. He appealed to all parties to join in the working out of the new Constitution in a national and non-party spirit This new Constitution is to revert to a feature of the original Constitution of 1922, subsequently removed by the Cosgrave Government, which places the, fundamental law on a higher plane than ordinary enactments of the Oireachta7.
The President's idea of a Constitution is that it should not be entirely unchangeable,but that at the same time it should not be changeable by 'ordinary legislation. The original Constitution provided that after a probationary period it should not be possible to change its articles without direct reference to the people by plebiscite, referendum, or general election. It is possible that the referendum may be reintroduced.
Fourteen Years' Changes
The Irish Free State was the first of the Dominions to formulate a written Constitution after the continental fashion. In the course of fourteen years, thirty-six of its eighty-four articles have been deleted or altered. In addition, by virtue of the Public Safety Act, the Constitution, in so far as it contains safeguards of the liberty of the citizens, is virtually suspended. As matters stand, the Constitution is a mere patchwork, and has no greater force than any act of the legislature. All parties will welcome Mr. de Valera's suggestion to revise the entire fundamental law and give it a status above that of ordinary laws.
In the Six Counties
Much feeling has been aroused both north and south by the publication of the indictment by the National Council of Civil Liberties of the whole system of rule in the Six Counties, and especially of the treatment of the Catholic minority there. It will be remembered that several appeals were made to the Imperial Government by the Bishop of Down and Connor, the Most Rev. Dr. Mageean, and by representative Catholic bodies in the Six Counties last year to hold a sworn enquiry into the origin of the anti-Catholic pogroms and into the action and inaction of the Government during their continuance. Such an enquiry was consistently refused.
The Commissioners appointed by the National Council for Civil Liberties were all with one exception trained lawyers; and their findings, being the result of an independent investigation by presumably impartial Englishmen, cannot be ignored.
The Catholic minority, constituting one-third of the whole population, they find excluded from official positions. The Special Powers of the Government are never invoked against Orangemen. The
Prime Minister and Ministers boast publicly of .their motto, " A Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people."
Another and most important fact is contained in the Commissioners' report. The system of Government of the Six Counties is not only a denial of the rights of every British subject, it is a violation of the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, from which the Northern Parliament derives its existence and its powers.
The Northern Parliament is entirely subordinate to that of Great Britain. If it violates its terms of reference, the British Parliament is bound to intervene and must take full share of the responsibility for permitting such a state of affairs to continue. This was exactly what his Lordship of Down and Connor stated last year. It is to be hoped that his words will now be remembered by the British Government and acted upon.
A Lesson from the Saorstat
It is gratifying that the Free State with all its defects should supply a striking example to the North in this matter. Speaking in Belfast Cathedral last week the Protestant Dean of Killaloe paid a glowing tribute to the toleration of the Catholics of the Free State.
" If any words I can say from this pulpit," he declared, " would help to a better understanding and a wider and truer spirit of tolerance among Irishmen, I gladly and unhesitatingly declare that as an Ulsterman, who has lived continuously in the South of Ireland for sixteen years, 1 have never experienced during that period anything but the utmost kindness and consideration from those among whom I have dwelt.
" The successive governments of the Free State," the speaker added, " have been scrupulously fair in the administration of law and justice, and we members of the Church of Ireland in the South cannot do less than recognise the consideration which we have received."
It is regrettable that the minority in the North are so far removed from the happy position enjoyed by the minority in the South. At least it is to be hoped that the publication of the report of the Commission of Civil Liberties will influence public opinion to prevent an outbreak in future similar to that of last year.
The Northern Government, it is true, has issued a reply repudiating the report and challenging the good faith and. authority of its authors. But no refutation of the facts is forthcoming, and the bringing of facts into the light cannot be devoid of good effect.