Location: Unknown. Private meeting.
J.J. WALSH (Cork City) moved, in accordance with notice of motion:—
"Whereas Mr. de Valera has repeatedly publicly announced in America that the Constitution of the Irish Republic was based on the democratic foundations under lying the Constitution of the United States; and whereas the latter body provides for the consideration of all phases of legislative activity through the medium of Committees whose findings are subject only to the veto of the whole Parliament— a method already in vogue in County and Borough Councils in Ireland—and as no such machinery has yet been set up within the Irish Republican Government, with the consequent practically entire exclusion of three-fourths of the people's representatives from effective work on the nation's behalf, we now resolve to bring this Constitution into harmony with the American idea of Committees elected by the whole House, and clothed with similar powers."
He stated that this resolution had already been brought forward twelve months ago and debated at length. The result was a compromise whereby it was decided that there should be a number of advisory Committees. These Committees meant little or nothing, their powers were restricted, and they consequently fell through. Committees similar to those mentioned in the resolution operated in all other Parliaments, and their findings were only subject to the veto of the parent body. Those Committees would put new life into the Dáil, with much more satisfactory results to the country. He gave instances in which the assistance of the Committees would have been of service, and said that one man could not possibly do as satisfactory work as if he was supported by a Committee of six or seven men. The members of the present Committees had no standing, as it rested with the responsible Minister to accept or reject their findings. In order to get satisfactory work the members of the Dáil should be harnessed to the work of the nation.
J. MACENTEE (Monaghan South), in seconding the motion, said that under the present circumstances there could be no real opposition to the Ministry. Meetings of the Dáil were got through hurriedly, and there could be very little discussion on many important subjects. All decisions should be carefully gone into. The Dáil should delegate certain functions to the Committees, who should be empowered to take decisions. These decisions could afterwards be ratified by the Dáil.
F. FAHY (Galway South) said that there would be at least four members required for each Committee of ten Committees, which would mean having forty members almost continuously in Dublin. How could this be arranged?
The SECRETARY FOR FINANCE said the system proposed was not new. Committees had already been formed under the various Departments. Every member of the Dáil had been asked what Committees he wished to serve on. Some attended once or twice. Only a few attended regularly. The real difficulty was to get practical assistance from the members. It was news to him to hear that the members had no redress if they disapproved of the actions of the Ministers. The Dáil had absolute power to remove any Minister. If any Committee found that its wishes were being disregarded by the Minister the members had the ordinary means of redress, that of raising the matter at the Dáil. If it could be shown that the will of the Dáil was opposed to that of the Minister for the time being, then he could not continue in office.
R. SWEETMAN (Wexford North) said that the advisory Committees fell into abeyance owing to the increased offensive of the enemy. It would be a very drastic method of procedure to have the findings of the Committees subject only to the veto of the whole Parliament. It was also very undemocratic to have to dispose of important questions in the few minutes that could be devoted to them under present circumstances.
The ACTING-PRESIDENT pointed out that the motion meant a complete revolution of the Constitution of Dail Eireann. It meant taking away the responsibility of the Ministers and placing it in the hands of Committees. The suggestion that President de Valera was in favour of this departure was unfounded. Mr. de Valera was the inspirer of the present Constitution. The Acting-President had a perfectly open mind regarding the Committee system; it might be adopted in normal times, but under present circumstances it would be hopeless to try to function through Committees.
After further discussion EOIN MAC NEILL (Derry City and National University) moved an amendment that the motion be postponed for twelve months. It was a very revolutionary proposal and he did not believe that the country would approve of it.
M. STAINES (St. Michan's, Dublin) seconded the amendment.
The amendment was put and carried on a division by 33 votes to 1.
It was the general opinion of the meeting that there was no reason why the Advisory Committees already in existence should not continue to meet as before.