Debate Becomes Party Conflict
From Our Dublin Correspontknt The draft Constitution was debated in the Dail, and passed its second reading by a solid majority. President de Valera spoke for three hours, in Irish and English, without use of notes.
It is saddening that the Opposition chose to treat the matter as a party issue, and to vote en bloc against the Constitution. Everyone knows that a new Constitution is needed, and hardly any Nationalist objects to any principle in the draft; so it might be hoped that party divisions would be dropped and the Dail resolve itself into a round-table conference to perfect the details. By making the Constitution a party question, however, the Opposition has ensured the triumph of Mr. de VaIera's party, which becomes identified, through the Opposition, with the most popular document that ever has been laid before the people.
Arguments against the Constitution followed three lines: (i) that the President will have powers like a dictator's, (ii) that the clause about power coming from the people is " heretical " (as Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney alleged, and (iii) that women's rights are curtailed.
As to No. (ii), the President pointed out that the draft has been before the hierarchy and theologians of the, Church, and none has found the fault in it that Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney seems to detect; the clause about power coming from the people is governed by the express affirmation that the people receives it from Almighty God.
As to the President's supposed dictatorial powers, everything that a Constitution can do to subject powers to law is done; for the President is bound strictly. No document can prevent a dictatorship if a country throws itself at the feet of a man who sweeps law aside and governs by his arbitrary will, but a democratic constitution reduces that likelihood.
As to No. (iii), the President denied that he had " reactionary " views about women's place in affairs, and showed that the Opposition, which now came out as his critics in this matter, themselves passed a law to restrict women's entrance to certain posts.
The Standard supports the President in respect of the contested clause, recognising woman's special service within the home. This Catholic weekly lashes the opponents of the clause for their use of the phrase, " back to the Middle Ages," as if that were an equivalent to retrogression. " Back to the ages of Faith, back to the ages when Mary was honoured among men and womanhood was reverenced and protected, not degraded and marketed and cheapened,"—says the Standard, in effect.
De Valera Forced to Rest
At one stage in the debate, the President was obliged to retire to his home, and fears were expressed for his health—which was small wonder when the immensity of his recent labours is considered.
However, he was in his place next day. Meanwhile, a powerful defence of the Constitution was made by Mr. Frank Aiken, Minister for Defence, who seldom speaks, but always speaks with vigour and finality, and is regarded as the strong man of Ireland's future.
He dealt with the Canard of Dictator ship. If a Dictator was contemplated, now was the time for him, Mr. Aiken said, and not in future years when the presidency will be hedged about with constitutional safeguards. During the last four years, Mr. de Valera has been hampered by armed agitation on both sides—by the I.R.A., which wanted him to move faster than prudence advised, and by the Blue Shirts on the other side, who organised armed bands. If he had not been devoted to democracy he might well have taken the short and easy way to enforce his will. If he did not set up dictatorship then, he never will.
Time has vindicated the President's trust in the people's response to democracy; for, despite "P.R.," he has won a majority over all other parties, a majority about to be increased so emphatically that he can rest assured of a more secure support than any dictator.—Such were the lines of Mr. Aiken's argument.
I am sorry that these notes on the most crucial week in recent Irish constitutional history may seem antagonistic to the Opposition; for I am trying to be just to all parties. I find it difficult to understand the motive of political leaders in making a party question of what even their supporters, private persons and newspapers, regard as above party.
Report says that the General Election, which will be concurrent with the plebiscite on the New Constitution, will take place at the end of June.