MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA
(Minutes of Evidence)
Dé Máirt, 24adh Meán Fhómhair, 1935.
Tuesday, 24th September, 1935.
The Committee sat at 3 p.m.
2191. Chairman.—The first matter we have to determine is what sittings the Committee will have this week, so that instructions may be given to the staff. Have members of the Committee any particular views on that matter?
Deputy Moore.—Could we not adjourn at 5.30 to-day and do a couple of hours later on in the evening? It would be a very short sitting if we were to finish at five to-day.
Deputy Good.—I fear I could not come back. We could sit at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning and continue, with a break for dinner, until 5 o’clock.
Deputy Moore.—In view of the objection, my proposal falls.
Chairman.— We may take it that we are to meet at 11 o’clock to-morrow morning. On what other days during the week shall we meet?
Deputy Good.—I see no objection to the Committee meeting from day to day if necessary.
Deputy Traynor.—It is necessary, I think, that we should sit continuously in order to conclude this business. We have been a long time on the matter already.
Deputy Good.— Will we have witnesses ready for this week?
Deputy Traynor.—What would be the length of the sitting each day?
Chairman.—From 11 o’clock to 5 o’clock, adjourning from 1.30 until 3 o’clock.
Deputy Moore.—Have we agreed to the witnesses we will take?
Chairman.—We have arranged for two more witnesses after the Minister—Deputy Briscoe and Senator Comyn.
Deputy Moore.— Is there a blank after that?
Chairman.— We can decide later if there are to be other witnesses and who they are to be. When we complete the Minister’s evidence we can then decide whether other witnesses are neceseary in addition to Deputy Briscoe and Senator Comyn.
Deputy Moore.—Could we even go on till 6 o’clock this evening?
Chairman.— Apparently Deputy Good has made certain arrangements on the assumption that the Committee will finish this evening at 5 o’clock.
Deputy Traynor.—I suggest if there is a quorum present at that time we should continue.
Chairman.—We will take a decision on the matter at 5 o’clock.
Mr. Seán Lemass (Minister for Industry and Commerce) sworn and examined.
2192. Chairman.—Do you desire to make any preliminary statement, Mr. Lemass?—I do not propose to delay the work of the Committee by making any long statement at this stage. The Committee has been constituted to inquire into certain allegations made in the Dáil by Deputy McGilligan concerning the issue of a prospecting lease to Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe. These allegations were of a serious nature and may have caused certain apprehension in the public mind. I therefore moved in the Dáil the resolution to set up this Committee of Inquiry so that the fullest possible public investigation of the allegations might be made and thus have it demonstrated, not merely that the allegations were entirely without foundation, but also that Deputy McGilligan knew, when making the allegations, that they were baseless. The Committee have heard Deputy McGilligan giving evidence and they have discovered, firstly, that he had in fact nothing to offer in evidence to justify the charges in any way or even to justify the making of the charges; and, secondly, that he is the type of person who is prepared to make reckless allegations, allegations without justification, as was illustrated by the charge he made against members of this Committee and also by the monstrous allegation which he made here against another commercial enterprise in the Saorstát, an allegation which is equally untrue and which is, I think, known to him to be untrue. You have heard also the evidence of the officers of the Department who are concerned in the issuing of the lease and you have had the opportunity of examining the official records relating to them. Perhaps I might briefly summarise the information that was made available to the Committee in relation to the allegations that were mentioned in the Committee’s terms of reference. The first of these allegations is that this lease was issued to Mr. Briscoe and Mr. Comyn because they were political associates of mine. In support of that allegation Deputy McGilligan stated here that he knew that in some manner otherwise than by writing to them or speaking to them I nevertheless conveyed to the officers of my Department a wish that they should act irregularly in order to give preferential treatment to Mr. Briscoe and Mr. Comyn and that these officers, in response to that wish, did in fact act irregularly. That allegation is so ridiculous that I think it is not worth while taking up the time of the Committee in answering it. You have heard it denied categorically by every officer of the Department. In any event, no preferential treatment of any kind was given to Mr. Briscoe and Mr. Comyn. Their application for a lease was dealt with in precisely the same way as every similar application and the lease that was issued to them was subject to the same terms and conditions as every similar lease issued. Although Deputy McGilligan alleged that I secured preferential treatment for the lessees, he did not attempt to show what form that preferential treatment took, except you are to take seriously his statement that because the applicants got a written reply to their application two months after they had made it, they had been treated with unusual celerity. That is not my idea of celerity.
The second allegation is that this lease was issued under conditions of secrecy. The lease, as the members of the Committee know, was issued in strict accordance with the law. Deputy McGilligan stated here and in the Dáil that if the lease had been issued for two years and one day instead of for two years only, the terms of it would have to be published. Any person who has read the Mines and Minerals Act knows that that lease could not have been issued for any longer period than two years, and I must presume that Deputy McGilligan was aware of that fact as he was the author of the Act and that therefore he made that statement knowing it to be untrue.
The third allegation was that there were other applicants for the lease and that a lease of the property could have been made on terms more advantageous to the State. You have heard the sworn testimony of the officers of the Department that there was in fact no other applicant for the lease and that the terms and conditions inserted in the lease were as favourable to the State as the conditions that had been imposed in any lease made here.
Deputy McGilligan made a further allegation that I neglected my duty in some way in not telling the lessees that I would object to the making by them of a sub-lease. I do not know that that allegation is of any substance. There is, of course, no objection in principle to a lessee under the Mines and Minerals Act making a sub-lease. In fact, it is not at all improbable that in the majority of cases where leases made under that Act lead to the commercial development of the minerals that a sub-lease will be inevitable. In any event, in this case there was no formal application for my consent to such lease and consequently there was no reason why I should have reached a decision in the matter.
I have nothing further to say except this: Deputy McGilligan has used his position in the Dáil to attack in the most unfair manner private businesses and frequently private businesses with which Deputy Briscoe or Senator Comyn is associated. He has done the same here in his references to the meat factory at Roscrea. I know of no reason why he should resort to such tactics, except, perhaps, the reason that Deputy Briscoe and Senator Comyn were persistent and successful critics of his administration as Minister for Industry and Commerce. I do not believe that in this case he made the charges recklessly. He made them deliberately. He made them deliberately although he could not produce any foundation for them. He made them, firstly, because of the personal spleen which he has shown to the persons involved in the lease, and secondly, because of the fact that two important by-elections were about to be held within a few days after he made the charges.
2193. Chairman.— This seems to be travelling wide and beyond the purview of this Committee.
Deputy Costello.— A political sppech.
2194. Chairman.—Statements like those which the Minister has just been making will not help the Committee to arrive at a decision.
Witness.— You asked me to make a statement and you did not qualify your request. However, I am finished.
2195. Chairman.—The Minister was asked to make a statement in connection with the matter before the Select Committee. I did not think it was necessary to underline to the Minister that the statement should include only the facts of the case?—I did not know that my statement should only deal with the mining rights. I was dealing with the allegations that have been made and was giving my opinion as to what was the motive behind the making of these allegations.
2196. Would you tell us briefly what is the general policy of the Executive Council in respect to the exploitation of the mineral resources in this country?— The general policy is to encourage applications by reputable persons for prospecting leases to explore our mineral resources and to give mining leases to exploit these resources. We are using for the fulfilment of that policy the machinery of the Mines and Minerals Act, which is the only machinery at our disposal.
2197. I take it, therefore, that it is the policy of the Executive Council to encourage mining exploitation in this country?—Certainly.
2198. The object of the Department is to ensure that those persons who were granted leases had the necessary financial and technical resources to carry out the objects for which they get the leases?— Undoubtedly.
2199. In this particular case, is the Department satisfied that the resources of these applicants were such as would result in a reasonable amount of prospecting for minerals in the area in question?— Yes.
2200. Do you believe that the £200, which the applicant stated was available, was adequate to ascertain whether the area could be profitably exploited?—I am afraid my opinion on that is not of much value. That is a technical question on which you have heard the officers of the Department.
2201. But on the information available to you in connection with this application, are you satisfied with the advice which you received that the sum of money available was adequate for exploring and prospecting for these minerals? —I do not know that it was stated that that amount was adequate for a full exploration of these mineral resources. It was stated that that amount was available and the applicants undertook the obligation to carry out the terms of the lease without question as to the amount of money involved.
2202. Do you believe that if this sum of money was expended in prospecting work and it was subsequently ascertained that the minerals were there and could be procured and the exploitation made profitable that further resources would be forthcoming?—The question whether the prospecting lease which was issued would be extended into a mining lease was conditional upon my being satisfied that the lessees had the technical and financial resources necessary to carry out the undertaking.
2203. Before the lease for some longer period was issued would you have to satisfy yourself that such financial resources were available as would be adequate to carry out the work?— Yes, that is set out in the body of the document.
2204. In the correspondence which was furnished to us by the Department for Industry and Commerce there appears a letter dated 25th April, 1935, addressed by Deputy Briscoe and Senator Comyn to the Secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce, and the last paragraph in that letter reads: “The reason we said in our agreement ‘a licence for their Company to be obtained from the Minister’ is because we felt that this speculative class of venture should rather be subscribed to from abroad than by our own people.” What meaning do you attach to those words?— It is obvious that the writers of the letter were setting forth a reason why they considered a licence should be issued to the Company. The Company could not operate unless such licence was issued. I think the applicants were concerned at the possibility of my refusing to give such licence and they were putting forward the reason why I should issue the licence. In fact, they are saying that this Company will require a licence under the Control of Manufactures Act and we know that it is the policy of the Government not to issue such licences except under very exceptional circumstances. The Government insist upon the majority of the capital in such cases being subscribed by Irish nationals. The writers of the letter were urging that we should not so insist in this case on the grounds that the enterprise was a speculative one and that there was an external Company prepared to put up the capital required.
2205. It has been suggested in evidence that the last paragraph of that letter bore the interpretation that this proposal was so highly speculative that in fact it was a speculation in the nature of a dud undertaking and that that was the reason for not desiring that the money should be raised in Ireland but abroad, where it was again suggested that the people can be exploited with much greater ease. Have you any views on that?—The paragraph does not bear that interpretation. I have known Deputy Briscoe and Senator Comyn for years. I have known them both to be honourable men and I know they would not have anything to do with a proposition which they considered a dud proposition and I am quite satisfied they did not consider this a dud proposition.
2206. If this were a proposition likely to yield returns to Irish nationals I take it there is good reason for agreeing for letting Irish nationals into it?— Yes.
2207. If they are not to be allowed in, what inference would you draw from the suggestion in the last paragraph in the lease?—I do not follow that. The decision as to whether a licence should issue or not would be taken by me.
2208. I am not so much concerned with the issuing of the licence as with the statement in the letter that because it was a highly speculative class of undertaking, the issue of capital would be taken up abroad rather by our own people?—The whole sentence relates to the issue of the licence.
2209. The sentence makes it clear that the parties to the agreement were obtaining a licence for their Company from the Minister and the reason for acquiring that was that the signatories to this letter, Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe, felt that the nature of the enterprise was so speculative that it should be subscribed for abroad rather than by our own people? —They were advancing as an argument in favour of the issue of the licence that this was a speculative enterprise and that the Government should not insist upon the majority of the capital being subscribed by Irish nationals. I think that was a fair argument to put forward. I am not making any comment as to the weight to be attached to it.
2210. You suggest that the signatories to this letter believed that the proposition was so speculative, that our own people should be kept out of it and that it should be left to people abroad. Would you put that interpretation upon it now?— The interpretation I put on that paragraph is this, that the signatories had entered into this agreement which involved the formation of a company with substantial capital to carry on mining operations. They knew that that company could not carry on these operations unless a licence under the Control of Manufactures Act was issued to them. They had reason to know that I would probably be reluctant to issue such a licence—I always am—and in the majority of cases where application for such a licence is made, I insist that the majority of the capital should be subscribed here, but they were urging that there were special considerations in this case, namely, the speculative nature of the enterprise, which I think is not denied, and urging on that account that the company which was proposed to be formed should be allowed to proceed without being required to get the majority of its capital here and, consequently, that a licence should be issued to them.
2211. Deputy McGilligan, in the course of his evidence, suggested that this paragraph had a very sinister meaning and that it was your obvious duty on receipt of this letter to send for the lessees and to indicate to them that there was something shady in a proposition of this kind, and that you should have intimated to them that you were not prepared to sanction anything which would, in his view, have amounted to selling shares to non-Saorstát nationals in an undertaking which he did not consider to be a satisfactory one from the point of view of yielding returns on the money invested. Do you take that as being so following the receipt of this letter?—Certainly not. I would not be at all surprised if Deputy McGilligan found a sinister meaning in the Ten Commandments.
2212. Do you regard that paragraph as a natural kind of paragraph to appear in a letter of this kind?—It might have been more fully amplified, but Mr. Leydon has already told you the circumstances under which the letter was written—following an interview between the applicants and an officer of the Department when this question of a licence under the Control of Manufactures Act was raised. They were invited to set forth in this letter the circumstances of their agreement and the considerations which in their view would justify the issuing of such a licence.
2213. You mentioned in your evidence that you were not asked to agree to a transfer or assignment of the rights of the lessees under this lease?—That is so.
2214. A statement, I think, appeared in the Press during the period of this controversy in which, I think, it was intimated that such an application was before your Department and was being considered?—That statement was not correct. The Committee, I think, are aware of the circumstances. They have had the Departmental records before them and the circumstances are explained there. Following the making of these allegations, I desired to issue a contradictory statement. The statement was issued on the evening the allegations were made, and, in getting from the officer of the Department information upon which to frame it, certain confusion arose concerning an application which had been made in connection with the installation of a mining unit—an application for consent concerning which I was advised that such consent was not required.
2215. In the course of Deputy McGilligan’s evidence, he mentioned that during the period he was Minister for Industry and Commerce a question had been considered by the Executive Council of the period to the effect that where a statute imposed on the Minister an obligation to do something in a personal sense, it was improper for the Minister to delegate that function to any officer of his Department, and he made that statement in connection with the signing of this mining lease by the Secretary of your Department. Has it always been the practice, so far as you know, for the Secretary of the Department to sign mining leases?—Always.
2216. Do you think, having regard to the terms of the statute, that that procedure is in order?—Oh, yes, definitely.
2217. Have you decided that yourself or have the legal advisers of your Department so decided?—I acted on the advice of the legal advisers of the Department.
2218. And can you say whether the Attorney-General’s view agrees with that? —I had better not speak for the Attorney-General. You referred, Sir, to a statute requiring an act to be done by the Minister personally. If it is clear from the wording of the statute that it is intended that the act should be done by the Minister personally, under his own hand, it is of course done by the Minister personally.
2219. I am referring to the statute in which the Minister for Industry and Commerce as under this Act is the person who is to issue the licence. There is no reference to the fact that the lease must be granted under his own hand. Under this Act, the obligation to issue the licence is imposed on the Minister, and what I am inquiring from you is whether you consider that it is in accordance with the provisions of that Act that the lease should be signed by the Secretary of the Department?—So I am advised, and it has always been the practice.
2220. It has always been the practice in connection with leases granted under this Act?—Certainly under this Act, and. I believe, also under the State Lands Act.
2221. It was mentioned by Mr. Leydon that the application from the lessees in this case was dealt with, in the first instance, by civil servants; that all the negotiations were carried through by civil servants; that the ultimate terms of the lease were drawn up by civil servants; and that the lease proper was signed by civil servants, without your knowledge or without any interference from you?—Perhaps I might deal with that matter. I, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, am responsible for policy. It is my function to see that the officers of the Department carry out their various activities in accordance with the policy of the Government. In dealing with applications for leases under the Mines and Minerals Act, the civil servants who are concerned have to have regard to the policy of the Government and it is my duty to see that they act in accordance with that policy. So long as I see that they are acting in accordance with that policy I leave the administrative arrangements and legal details to them. It would not be possible for me to deal with all these details personally. In this particular case, the business proceeded in the routine manner. The application was similar to other applications and the consideration of the application proceeded in precisely the same manner as consideration of other applications which had been made and the issuing of the lease was done in the same manner as other leases had been issued. I keep a general supervision over the activities of the Department in connection with this, as in other matters, and so long as I am satisfied that my policy, the policy of the Government, is being carried out I do not interfere in these details.
2222. Having decided that the mineral resources should be exploited as a matter of major policy, did you take it that the granting of the lease in this case was just a routine matter of giving effect to that policy?—It is the policy of the Government to encourage reputable people to apply for leases under the Mines and Minerals Act, and thus ensure that the mineral resources of the country, which are, to a large extent, unexplored and certainly undeveloped, should now be explored and developed. That work, in our opinion, has been neglected for too long.
2223. Having decided that, did you regard the granting of the lease as just a routine matter implementing that policy?—Definitely so.
2224. And not such as would require your personal attention?—The granting of leases in the majority of cases is purely routine, so long as the general lines of procedure of which I have approved are followed. In certain cases, abnormal circumstances might arise which would, in the opinion of the officers dealing with them, justify their referring to me for a direction, but that did not arise in this case. There was nothing out of the normal in this case.
2225. Are you satisfied that in issuing those leases under the Act the officers of your Department comply with the letter and spirit of the Act?—So far as I am aware.
2226. So far as you are aware, was any preference of any kind given to any applicant?—There was no preference of any kind.
2227. Was any preference given to these applicants, so far as you know, because they were members of the Oireachtas?—No.
2228. Were you approached, or was any pressure brought to bear on you by either of the applicants, to grant a lease in this case?—No, I have no recollection of having any discussion with them on the matter whatever.
2229. It was mentioned by Deputy McGilligan that while you may not have asked any official of your Department to expedite the granting of this particular lease, you, consciously or unconsciously, radiated an atmosphere which swayed the officials of your Department into granting this particular lease because they thought they were implementing your unannounced desires in the matter. What do you think of that?—I think it is very foolish. In any event, the officers of the Department have given their testimony that they were not aware of any such atmosphere and I was not aware that I had the power to radiate an atmosphere. I am not quite clear what it means.
2230. Did you at any time ask any officer of your Department, or did anybody on your behalf in your Department ask any other official of your Department to treat this application in any exceptional way?—I do not think I was aware that such an application had been made.
2231. Until when?—Until after the lease was issued. The matter came to me for a direction—I forget the circumstances but you will know it from the file—sometime after the lease had been made.
2232. So the lease had actually been issued before you were aware of the fact? —I think that was so. I may say that, in a personal way, I was aware that Deputy Briscoe, Senator Comyn, Deputy Breen and some others were prospecting for gold in County Wicklow, but I did not know the circumstances nor that they had in fact made application for a lease of certain areas.
2233. So far as you know, then, these two applicants were treated in the same way as if they were two ordinary citizens, prepared to put up the necessary money and the necessary technical resources to prospect?—That is so.
2234. Deputy Costello.—In your opening statement you not merely repudiated the allegations which Deputy McGilligan made, but you went further to make an allegation on your own, that he knew, when he made those allegations, that they were baseless. Do I understand you correctly?—Quite.
2235. You know, of course, that Deputy McGilligan gave evidence on oath at the last sittings of this Commission and formulated his allegations on oath? Your suggestion now is that while he was on his oath he made allegations which he knew to be baseless? That is your allegation?—I am urging here that Deputy McGilligan, on oath, giving evidence here, produced no fact of any kind to justify the allegations which the Committee was inquiring into.
2236. That is not the allegation you made here to-day. You made the definite allegation that Deputy McGilligan knew, when making the allegations, that they were baseless?—Yes.
2237. Do you persist in stating here that Deputy McGilligan, on his oath, made allegations which he knew to be baseless?—If Deputy McGilligan repeated the allegations here, yes.
2238. Did you read his evidence?—Not very carefully.
2239. But you knew that he did formulate his allegations on oath?—Not in the Dáil.
2240. Here before this Committee?— No. I think he ran away from most of the allegations before the Committee.
2241. You know he made allegations here on oath. Are you now running away from the allegation that you made here this afternoon, that Deputy McGilligan knew, when making his allegations, that they were baseless?—I said that Deputy McGilligan, when making his allegations in the Dáil, knew that they were baseless, and if he repeated them here he knew they were baseless.
2242. On what grounds do you make that somewhat startling allegation against Deputy McGilligan?—The general tenor of his evidence. He, in fact, produced nothing which indicated that he had any knowledge concerning the matter at all when speaking in the Dáil, and three-fourths of the evidence that he gave was based on information which came to him from the records of the Department which the Committee allowed him to inspect.
2243. Do you feel yourself justified——
Chairman.—May I be allowed to say that Deputy McGilligan did not inspect the records from the Department with the permission of this Committee. He asked for permission to read one letter, the letter of the 25th April, 1935, and the Committee, in public session here, granted him permission to read that letter. He did not read any other letter.
Witness.—I say that three-fourths of the evidence he gave related to that letter, the existence of which he did not know of when speaking in the Dáil.
2244. Deputy Costello.—How do you know that since you have said that you had not read his evidence?—I did not say that I had not read his evidence.
2245. Did you or did you not read his evidence?—Not very carefully.
2246. And, not having read his evidence very carefully, you here make an allegation against a Deputy of the Dáil which, in effect, means that he perjured himself when he was before the Committee. Does not your statement amount to that?—I have already answered the question.
2247. Will you answer the question “yes” or “no” ?—If Deputy McGilligan repeated the allegations which he made in the Dáil he made them knowing that they were baseless.
2248. You have read his evidence, and you know that he did repeat the allegations, specifically formulating them?-I do not know.
2249. Although you have read his evidence?—I do not think he did so. Perhaps you could refer me to his evidence where he did repeat the allegations.
2250. I suggest to you that if you came here to make allegations of a serious kind, that you ought to have made them with some consideration of the effect of making such allegations?— I made them after full consideration.
2251. What was the consideration if you had read the evidence?—Failure to produce any grounds for the allegations.
2252. That he knew that he had no grounds for his allegations and he still persisted on oath in making them ?—If he did.
2253. You qualify it by saying “if he did”?—Perhaps the Deputy would refer me to the portion of the evidence where he repeated the allegations.
2254. It is all over the evidence. Have you read his evidence at all?—Deputy McGilligan made no definite allegation of any kind. He made a number of insinuations—his usual tactics.
2255. Call them insinuations or allegations, do you say that he made them knowing that he had no grounds for them?—Certainly, he did.
2256. On oath?—Yes.
2257. Did you say “yes”?—Yes, and he will run away from that interpretation of his words when the contrary is proved.
2258. Do I understand your answer to be that you here make the allegation that Deputy McGilligan made insinuations on oath which he knew to be untrue?—I will give an illustration.
2259. Will you answer the question?— I will give an illustration.
2260. I want an answer to the question?—Perhaps I can give it by way of illustration. Deputy McGilligan stated here that this lease could have been issued for two years and a day, and that if so it would have to be published. Deputy McGilligan I am certain knows, in so far as he is the author of the Mines and Minerals Act, that the Act definitely provides that such a lease could not have been issued for more than two years.
2261. Have you read the Act at all? —Yes.
2262. Do you not know that it provides nothing of the sort?
Deputy Geoghegan.— Do not say that. Deputy McGilligan said that a take-note must be for two years.
Deputy Costello.—Can be for two years.
Deputy Geoghegan.—Read the sub-section. It cannot be for more than two years.
2263. Deputy Costello.—At any rate, you will not give me a definite answer to the question except by way of illustration?—It is the most effective answer that I can give.
2264. Do you still stick to the statement you have made that Deputy McGilligan made insinuations on oath which he knew to be untrue?
2265. Deputy Traynor.—Is this cross-examination relevant to the inquiry? I submit that it is not.
Deputy Costello.—I agree with Deputy Traynor that it would not have been relevant if the Minister had not made a political speech in his opening before the Committee, but having made the allegations that he did make I submit that it is relevant for me to refer to them.
Chairman.—I think Deputy Costello is entitled to ask the Minister what was the significance of his opening statement in respect of the statements he made in regard to Deputy McGilligan.
2266. Deputy Costello.—When did you first hear that a lease had been granted to Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe under the Mines and Minerals Act?—About the 21st February, 1935.
2267. What was the occasion of the matter being brought to your attention ?— The occasion was in connection with the payment of the first instalment of the rent and the costs in connection with the issuing of the lease. It was reported to me that these had not been paid, and I gave instructions that if the amount due was not paid within a week that legal proceedings should be threatened against the lessees.
2268. I understood one of the officers of your Department to say that those letters were written without advertence to you?— That is not correct.
Chairman.—I do not think that was stated.
2269. Deputy Costello.—It was stated that some letter was written in reference to a payment that had been made. At all events, it was in reference to the non-payment of the rent and the costs of the lease that you were first consulted?—Yes. There is a standing instruction in the Department that no legal proceedings can be threatened or taken without first getting my personal concurrence.
2270. Did that occur to you as something very extraordinary in view of the small sum involved?—The payment was made almost immediately.
2271. Did it occur to you that it was extraordinary that people whom you regard as reputable people, responsible people to whom it was thought proper to give a mining concession, were not able to pay £5 rent and a sum of money for the costs of the lease?—I was not aware that they were not able to pay.
2272. Again, you do not answer the question?—I think that is an answer to the question I was asked.
2273. Did you think it was extraordinary that people to whom a lease under the Mines and Minerals Act had been granted did not pay the dead rent?—Yes.
2274. You think that it was extraordinary?—Yes.
2275. Did you make any investigation whatever into the circumstances in which this lease was granted originally?—Yes.
2276. At that time?—At that time.
2277. What inquiries did you make?— The normal.
2278. Did you think that there was anything, shall we say, out of the normal in two members of your own Party, one a Deputy of the Dáil and the other a Senator, in getting a lease under the Mines and Minerals Act?—No.
2279. That did not occur to you as anything out of the normal?—There is nothing out of the normal in connection with the granting of a lease.
2280. Did you think that there was anything out of the normal in two members of your Party, one a Deputy of the Dáil and the other a Senator, getting a lease under the Mines and Minerals Act? —Not because they were members of my Party.
2281. You will not answer the question? —There is nothing abnormal.
2282. Did you ask at that time, when you first got knowledge of the transaction, why the matter had not been mentioned to you originally?—No.
2283. You did not regard it as being anything abnormal that a lease under the Mines and Minerals Act should have been granted without your knowledge?—No. It is the usual practice.
2284. You were, therefore, perfectly content to let the matter rest in the position in which it was, the lease having been granted without your knowledge, consent or advertence in any way?—No. I gave instructions that legal proceedings were to be taken if the amount was not paid.
2285. Did you give instructions that steps were to be taken to void the lease?— No.
2286. I take it that you did not know anything whatever about the entire of this transaction. That is the effect of your evidence?—Until that date.
2286a. You never knew anything directly or indirectly that Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe had got a lease under the Mines and Minerals Act?—Not until that date.
2287. Had you read the newspapers?—I think so.
2288. Did you see a reference to this concession and of the proposed formation of a company months before February, 1935, in the newspapers?—Persons get concessions to work for minerals on property other than State property.
2289. I find this in the Irish Press, your own newspaper, “That a Government concession had been granted to prospect for gold in the gold mining valley in the Wicklow hills and this has been going on for some time past with the permission of the Government, which has granted a lease to Senator Michael Comyn and Deputy Robert Briscoe”?—That statement was obviously incorrect.
2290. Chairman.—What is the date of that?
2291. Deputy Costello.—The date on the newspaper before me is not very clear, but as far as I can make out it is 2/12/33.
Chairman.—That is 11 months before the lease was granted.
2292. Deputy Costello.—Whether that statement is correct or incorrect, did you see it?—I have no recollection of it.
2293. I understood you to say, in answer to a question put by the Chairman, that you are perfectly satisfied with the procedure in reference to the granting of leases under the Mines and Minerals Act since that Act came into operation?—Yes.
2294. Before this point was raised at the proceedings of this Committee, had you ever adverted to the fact that a difficulty existed in reference to that matter: as to whether the Minister should do this thing personally, or whether it could be done by his subordinates in the Department?—I had.
2295. In what circumstances?—I forget the circumstances, but I took the advice of the legal advisers to the Department in the matter in December, 1933.
2296. On the granting of leases under the Mines and Minerals Act by officials without reference to the Minister?—It was not in connection with the Mines and Minerals Act that the matter arose. Is was in connection with the general delegation of the Minister’s powers to officers.
2297. And it had no reference to the Mines and Minerals Act?—No.
2298. And had you approved of the practice?—Yes. I acted on the advice given.
2299. Did you know that there was a contradictory advice given some time previously?—I did.
2300. So that you are in the position at the moment that you had no information whether or not it was in the public interest to grant the lease to Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe at the time the lease was granted?—I think it was in the public interest.
2301. But you had no information at the time because you did not know anything about it. Is not that so? You had no opinion about the matter because you did not know anything about it?—I say that I had. I was fully aware of the manner in which the officers of the Department under my control were dealing with these applications. This was only one application among many, and I was satisfied that they were proceeding in accordance with my policy and wishes.
2302. Did you know that under at least two statutes you had to have a joint opinion, in conjunction with the Minister for Finance, in Section 11 (3)?—Yes.
2303. Notwithstanding that you had no opinion, knowing nothing about it, do you still persist that this was the normal and proper procedure?—I think so.
2304. Are you familiar with the first line of Section 11, under which the lease was granted?—I am familiar with a very large number of statutes dealing with applications to be made to the Minister for Industry and Commerce.
2305. Take the particular statute we are dealing with. Section 11 (1) starts with these words: “If in the opinion of the Minister it is in the public interest that any State mines and minerals or any exclusive State mining right should be granted by way of lease to any person, the Minister may, under and in accordance with this part of this Act, demise such State mines and minerals.” I suggest, before a lawful or proper lease can be made in the public interest by you, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, in charge of the administration of this Act, you have to have your own personal and definite opinion on it?—No. I delegate the responsibility of investigating applications to the officers of my Department.
2306. So that you delegated the making up of your mind as to whether or not it was in the public interest a lease should be granted under this Act to officials of your Department?—May I refer to the fact that under the Finance Acts there are probably 200 statutes providing for the issue of licences for the importation of commodities if, in the opinion of the Minister, it is considered desirable to do so, and it would be physically impossible for a Minister, or any one person, to deal with applications made under these statutes in any day.
2307. Deputy Geoghegan.—May I again point out that this lease was not made, and could not be made, under sub-section (1)? Deputy McGilligan in the witness chair said that it was not illegal; that it was legal, and that he did not object to the granting of the lease; that his objection was to the transaction in connection with the granting of the licence without consent. Deputy Costello must be aware that the taking out of a prospecting lease is granted under sub-section (2), not sub-section (1). The words he has put to the Minister are the introductory words to sub-section (1).
Deputy Costello.—I hesitate to pass a comment on the capacity of my lawyer friend. If sub-section (1) and sub-section (2) do not stand together I cannot construe the statute.
Deputy Geoghegan.—Do you allege that they are interlocked?
Deputy Costello.—Undoubtedly. Sub-section (2) says: “A demise of any State mines and minerals or exclusive State mining right made under this section may be made by way of take-note or prospecting lease for such term not exceeding two years.” Otherwise I am not able to construe a statute. As Minister for Industry and Commerce, do you suggest that Deputy Geoghegan’s interpretation is correct, that you should grant what is called a take-note or prospecting lease for two years without directly, or through your officials, being of the opinion that it is in the public interest that it should be granted?—You may be quite sure we would not issue a lease except in the public interest.
Deputy Costello.—So you think you have an obligation under the section, notwithstanding what Deputy Geoghegan said?
Deputy Geoghegan.—If you persist in that line of cross-examination you will not get a long way. You know that this lease is granted under sub-section (2).
2308. Deputy Costello.—I only know that it is a prospecting lease under sub-section (2) and that you cannot have it without bringing in sub-section (1). It is obvious to a law student that sub-section (1) introduces it. I take it that you formed no opinion whatever?—The officers in my Department acted for me.
2309. You still persist in thinking that this was the proper procedure?— Undoubtedly, and always was the practice. so far as I know.
2310. In reference to what has it been always the practice?—To others in similar circumstance.
2311. I think you said it was the practice in demises under the State Lands Act?—That Act is administered by another Department, and I cannot speak with personal knowledge.
2312. You know that the Minister has to do it personally, and that in a particular Department, on one occasion, an application for a lease was not proceeded with, because it was granted by some of the officials, and the Minister had never seen it. That was during the last regime. Did you ever hear that?—No.
2313. Notwithstanding the fact that you knew that there were at least two contradictory opinions on the subject, you choose the one that suited your convenience? —I acted on my Department’s advice.
2314. Because, I suggest, it was the more convenient?—No, because it was reasonable.
2315. Did you refer the matter to the Attorney-General in your own administration?—No.
2316. When did you become aware that the lessees under this lease were not carrying out the obligations under it?—I am not aware that they were not carrying out the obligations under it.
2317. You have not read the evidence given ?—I have to some extent.
2318. Do you know that they failed to carry out the obligation in reference to the making of returns?—That is a matter on which it is possible a difference of opinion as to interpretation alone might arise. The lease asked for returns of minerals won or secured, and in fact no minerals were secured.
2319. You know that the officials in evidence took the view that the lessees had not been carrying out the obligations? That is so.
2320. I take it you agree?—The Department insisted that returns should be made, even while nil returns had to be made. The fact that such returns were not made was obviously a very minor breach of the lease, having regard to the fact that the body of the document was open to another interpretation, as to the way it was read.
2321. Was the covenant of the lease, obliging the lessees to employ four able-bodied miners complied with?—You have heard the evidence of the officers of the Department on that.
2322. Will you answer the question? Do you say that the covenant has been complied with?—I am afraid I am not in a position to give an opinion.
2323. You purported to give an opinion on it. You know that they were bound to employ four able-bodied miners. Were you aware that they did not carry out that?—No, I do not think it is quite correct to say that. May I explain that the insertion of that covenant was for a definite purpose, and was so stated in evidence by the officers responsible for framing it. Although the lessees may have had some difficulty in getting going, so far as I am aware there is no evidence that they did not intend fully to carry out their obligations under the lease.
2324. The fact is that they did not. Are you aware that one of the officers of the Department, as you have mentioned it, said the purpose of the covenant was to provide employment. Do you agree with that?—I should agree with that.
2325. You are not answering the question straight?—I want to explain that on a number of points of this kind the only information at my disposal was at the disposal of the Committee. I can only draw information by reading the records or consulting the officers. The Committee has done both. I think it is unnecessary to question me for the purpose of getting from me information which the Committee has already from other sources.
2326. I am not looking for information. I am suggesting that you have been guilty of dereliction of duty?—In what respect?
2327. In that respect. You told us that the covenant was not fully performed and you took no steps in reference to the matter?—I think that statement is incorrect.
2328. In what way? The lessees on your own statement were communicated with as to their obligations under that covenant.
2329. Will you show where any step was directed by you to be taken against the lessees because they had not employed four able bodied miners according to a covenant lease?—I have already stated that that was dealt with by the officers of my Department.
2330. Did you hear Deputy McGilligan’s evidence about employing a young man named Norman, and I think Pat Keogh?—I read the statement.
2331. Do you consider these were proper conditions in which to employ anyone?—I know nothing whatever about that. If Deputy McGilligan made the statement I would be doubtful as to its accuracy.
2332. Would you be doubtful if Pat Keogh or Norman made it?—No, if they are to be produced.
2333. You prefer the word of Mr. Norman, whom you know?—I never heard of him.
2334. You prefer the word of a man whom you never heard of, and the word of Mr. Pat Keogh to the word of Deputy McGilligan?—I had not better answer that.
2335. I think you had better do so?— I think if the statement made by Deputy McGilligan was corroborated by others it would have added weight.
2336. Would you consider, if these people were employed at the wages and under the conditions indicated by Deputy McGilligan, that that was a proper thing for you to have allowed to go on?—I had no function.
2337. You have no function! Is it not the function of your Department to see that the covenants of a lease made in the public interest are carried out?— Show me the covenant.
2338. What about the covenant dealing with the employment of four able bodied men?—What has that to do with the wages paid to Mr. Norman?
2339. Is that your answer?—I am asking a question.
2340. It is my privilege to ask you questions?—I hope you will make them clear so that I will understand them.
2341. If you answer the questions directly we will get on much better. You took no steps to see that the purposes of the covenants, namely the getting of employment for four able bodied miners were carried out. Do I understand you to say that you had no function whatever in seeing whether the four able bodied miners to be employed under that covenant were to work under proper conditions?—There is no obligation in the covenants to do that.
2342. And you were not concerned whether these men were working in water or at ridiculous wages?—That is an entirely different matter. I am concerned, and I have obligations under another Statute in that respect.
2343. And you carried them out in this matter?—So far as I am aware.
2344. How far are you aware?—On the information which was available on the files.
2345. That is nil. You have already told the Committee that you know nothing of Norman, or of the wages of Keogh, or of the conditions under which they were working. I want to know how you carried out the obligations?—I entrusted them to be carried out by the officers of the Department.
2346. When did you entrust them in reference to this piece of work?—This is not the only lease the Department dealt with.
2347. The Chairman asked you for an interpretation of the final paragraph of the letter of April, 1935, and I think you answered that it could not bear the interpretation that he had put on it?— The interpretation which he said definitely Deputy McGilligan placed on it.
2348. No ; he did not say it was Deputy McGilligan’s?—So I understood.
2349. The Chairman did not state that? —I do not know whose interpretation it was. It is certainly a very extraordinary interpretation.
2350. Chairman.—In the course of my questions to the Minister I mentioned that in evidence a certain interpretation had been put upon that section by Deputy McGilligan, and I asked the Minister what was his interpretation of the statement. The questions were designed to obtain from the Minister what his view was.
2351. Deputy Costello.—I appreciate that. Your answer to the Chairman was that the obvious interpretation of the paragraph in question is that the writers were setting forth their views as to why a licence under the Control of Manufactures Act should be given?—That is the obvious interpretation, subject, of course, to what the writers themselves may have to say about it.
2352. Was that the interpretation put by you on this paragraph?—Yes.
2353. At the time you read it?—Yes, at the time I read it.
2354. You did not think that that phrase was in any way extraordinary?— I did not consider the phrase. I considered the meaning of it.
2355. You considered the meaning of it. Having considered the meaning of the words, you did not think that this phrase, “because we felt this speculative class of venture should rather be subscribed for abroad than by our own people,” was in any way extraordinary? Did you think there was anything special about that phrase?—It was a reason why we might withdraw the usual objection to a foreign company engaging in these operations.
2356. And there was nothing sinister borne in on your mind by that phrase?— No.
2357. You did not regard it as a warning?—No.
2358. Well, some people regarded it as a warning?—That is so.
2359. How so?—It was conveyed by Deputy McGilligan’s suggestion. I think Deputy McGilligan sees evil even where it does not exist.
2360. Would you be surprised if one of the members of this Committee put that interpretation on the phrase?—No.
2361. You would not be surprised?— No.
2362. I see here that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance puts this to Deputy McGilligan : “It seems to me that the whole purport of this is a warning to the Minister.” That, apparently, is the interpretation put upon it by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance. Evidently, he regards it as a warning to you that there was something wrong about this proposed company?—I do not think the paragraph bears that interpretation.
2363. You do not think so?—It is certainly not the meaning I attached to it.
2364. Then, in answer to that, Deputy McGilligan said : “Certainly, to warn him that this is, in the minds of the concessionaires, a bad proposition.” That is what Deputy McGilligan said?—I am quite certain that the concessionaires did not consider it a bad proposition.
2365. Then the Parliamentary Secretary says : “No, I will not quite say that.” He very nearly agrees with it but not quite. “You are entitled to put that view if you like, but it is to warn the Minister that there are surrounding the flotation of this company, out of which and only out of which they are likely to get any reward, certain considerations which call for his very careful examination, and, if you like—I will go quite as far as you—for some action on his part that would warn a national of his danger in subscribing to it.”
Deputy Traynor.—Would the Deputy kindly tell us what he is quoting from?
2366. Deputy Costello.—I am quoting from the official report of the last day’s proceedings, paragraphs 1517 and 1518. At the time you read that letter, Mr. Lemass, you did not think that you were under any duty to warn any national of the Irish Free State against subscribing to the proposed company?—I do not know what you mean by the proposed company. The company could not possibly come into existence until quite a number of things happened.
2367. You knew that they were proposing to form a company?—Subject to my consent.
2368. Certainly, but you knew that they proposed to do it?—Yes.
2369. Well, then, was it not a proposed company?—They proposed to form a company if I gave my consent in respect of a number of matters.
2370. And they had stated that, in their view, Irish Free State nationals should not be allowed in?—No, that is not the interpretation.
2371. There is the interpretation put by somebody else on it : that you should take some action that would warn a Free State national of his danger in subscribing, is there not?—Will you refer me to that in the letter?
2372. It is not in the letter. It is in the evidence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance. He put that question to Deputy McGilligan in the box on the last day. I am quoting it from the official transcript. You know that one of Deputy McGilligan’s allegations against you is that, when you read that letter, you ought to have warned the lessees of the danger that they were running, and that you ought to have put your foot down and said : “I will not let this thing go on now if you propose it.” Deputy McGilligan said that that is what you ought to have done, and he emphasised your dereliction from duty?— I am not aware of what the dereliction from duty is.
2373. You knew from that letter that it was proposed to form a company?—Yes.
2374. And that, as part of that proposal, the lessees were to get a certain number of shares out of the £80,000— £12,000 in 5/- shares or whatever it was. They were to get a number of shares for doing nothing?—I do not agree.
2375. What did they do?—They had aroused interest. They had carried out prospecting.
2376. What prospecting?—They had obviously been prospecting when they came to the conclusion that there was gold there.
2377. But you do not know that they had been prospecting. You do not know it yourself? You have made no inquiries as to whether or not they carried out prospecting?—I did not consider the matter at all on the basis of this letter.
2378. You did not consider, then, that there was anything wrong in Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe getting in on the ground floor of this proposed company and getting themselves a chance of making some money on the flotation of the company?—I stated my opinion that, in every case where a prospecting lease is issued and the search reveals the existence of minerals in sufficient quantity to justify their commercial exploitation, there will be almost inevitably the flotation of a company and a sub-lease in favour of that company.
2379. Irrespective of whether the concessionaires have, by their expenditure of money or their technical skill, contributed in any way either to the finding or the winning of the gold? Is not that it?—No.
2380. Do not you know that they have done no prospecting whatever worth talking about?—No.
2381. You did not hear it in evidence?— It may have been given in evidence, but it is not true.
2382. How do you know that it is not true?—By the evidence in contradiction of it.
2383. What evidence?—The evidence that it was done.
2384. Is it not a fact that after repeated pressure they gave a nil return? —I am afraid that nil returns are not at all unusual.
2385. And they had not employed the four able-bodied miners that they were bound to employ under the covenant, and did not pay their dead-rents or the costs of the lease until they were threatened with legal proceedings? Did you know they were threatened with legal proceedings by a company that had carried on certain operations on the site?—I did not know.
2386. Did you know they had been threatened by a solicitor to recover for certain operations—boring operations or whatever they were—that had been made by a company?—No.
2387. Do you know it was given in evidence here?—No.
2388. Or that the share of young Norman, who was originally put in as the only one of the trio who were applying for this concession who had technical resources, had been bought off for £25 ?— I have no information about that except what appears on the file.
2389. I suggest that you ought to have that information and that this letter at least ought to have suggested to you things that you may have had no reason to suspect before?—This is an attempt to suggest that this paragraph has an interpretation which it does not contain.
2390. It is not merely my interpretation of it. It is the interpretation also of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance. Is not that so?—The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance did not know the circumstances under which the letter was written. I do. The letter was written after an interview between the lessees and an officer of the Department.
2391. What officer?—I think it was Mr. Clarke.
2392. And he considered, in conjunction with the lessees, the financial possibilities of this new company?—The nature of the discussion is contained in the minute on the file.
2393. So that, at all events, whether the interpretation of this somewhat lurid phrase is obvious or otherwise, it did not put you on notice or warning that there was something wrong?—No. The lessees were asked by Mr. Clarke to state in the letter the reason why they did not consider it desirable that Saorstát capital should be insisted upon ; and that paragraph is obviously an attempt to comply with that request.
2394. Because of the speculative nature?—That was the reason given why we should not insist on a majority of Saorstát capital.
2395. And that conveyed no sinister meaning to your mind?—No.
2396. Did you consider it was proper for the company to endeavour to put over gold mining shares of a speculative nature on foreigners? Did you think that would redound to the credit of this country?— I think all gold mining enterprises are speculative. As Deputy MacDermot said in the Dáil, the man who puts his money into a gold mine takes long odds.
2397. And people are prepared to take those long odds?—I suppose so.
2398. And, in the circumstances that have existed in the world for the last year or two, people are more prepared to take that chance now than before? Is not that the history of gold mining companies that have been floated in the last few years?—I have no wish to express an opinion on that matter.
2399. I put it to you that gold mining companies were in the nature of a gamble and that these shares, particularly if they had the semblance of official sanction, would have been snapped up by foreigners. I also put it to you that you, as Minister, ought to have said : “I will not stand for this”?—The Deputy is running a long way in front of events. No such issue of shares could have taken place until, first of all, I had consented to a sub-lease of the prospecting lease ; until, secondly, I had consented to the extension of the prospecting lease into a mining lease— thirdly, until I had consented to a sub-lease of the mining lease ; and also until I had agreed to issue a licence under the Control of Manufactures Act. Not one of these had happened, much less all of them.
2400. I suggest to you that when you had got this letter you ought to have warned the lessees that you would not give anything in the nature of official sanction whatever to this proposal and to have told them to watch their steps. You did not think it your duty to do so? —I did not consider the matter.
2401. Not because you saw nothing sinister in it?—I see nothing sinister in it.
2402. You saw nothing sinister in two members of the Oireachtas getting 48,000 5s. shares, or proposing to get them, for doing nothing?—I did not see that.
2403. It did not occur to your mind that these men had done nothing which would justify the public or you in allowing the public in this country or any other country to enable them to net £12,000?—These people had got a lease of this property, and the circumstances under which I would agree to a sub-lease were not considered because no application for my consent to a sub-lease was made.
2404. And I take it that the effect of your evidence is that you see nothing wrong, nothing even undesirable—we will put it no further than that—in two members of the Oireachtas, to whatever Party they belong, getting a concession from the Government?—They were treated in that respect in the same way as any other member of the public.
2405. I did not put that question to you—I put the general question to you : Did you, as a matter of general principle, see anything requiring special caution when members of the Oireachtas, I will put it to you now, irrespective of the Party, they belonged to, sought to get concessions of Government property or from the Government?—I think they should be treated in exactly the same way as anybody else.
2406. Exactly—the same as anybody else. And you do not consider that greater publicity should be given to transactions between the Government and members of the Oireachtas that should be given to transactions between the Government and ordinary private persons?—The Mines and Minerals Act provides for the degree of publicity which is considered desirable.
2407. Again you will not answer the question I have asked?—I am in this difficult position, that when the Mines and Minerals Act was going through the Dáil in 1931 I proposed an amendment, the effect of which would be to require the fullest possible publicity in respect to prospecting leases. That was opposed by the Government then in office, the members of Deputy Costello’s Party, and was defeated.
2408. So as a member of the Party when you were in opposition you considered that all leases of every kind, including prospecting leases or take-notes should be made public.—That was my opinion.
2409. You did not put forward any amendments regarding leases granted to members of the Oireachtas?—No.
2410. Or to members of the Oireachtas who are members of the Government Party?—I considered that the particulars of all prospecting leases should be made public.
2411. When you were in opposition and again when you became a member of the Government, you did not consider that there should be any differentiation between ordinary members of the public and members of the Oireachtas?—No.
2412. Particularly when members of the Oireachtas were members of your own Party?—No.
2413. You did not consider any special precautions were advisable in these circumstances?—I considered that the Department should take the same precautions in respect to all applications.
2414. You did not consider that it would be proper for you or your Department to have taken the steps which are permissible under the Act of 1931 to make the matter public?— Can you refer me to the section?
2415. Instead of giving a take-note or prospecting lease could you not have given a lease for two years and a day? —A prospecting lease?
2416. Any lease?—There is a difference.
2417. The only difference is that the public would know in the second case?—I have no desire to place my opinion against that of a lawyer of the standing of Deputy Costello but may I point out——
2418. Could you not have done it under sub-section (1) instead of sub-section (2) and make it for two years and a day? —That would have been a mining lease which could not embody the option for a renewal.
2419. Why not? What is to prevent it?—It cannot exceed 99 years or contain an option for renewal. Sub-section (4) provides that every such lease shall be made subject to and shall contain such covenants, conditions and agreements, as the Minister shall consider proper or desirable.
2420. That is to comply with the provisions of the Constitution. Provided you kept within 99 years you could give it? —That is your interpretation of the section.
2421. At all events, I take it the position is, that you as Minister for Industry and Commerce do not see anything undesirable in members of your own Party—I am not saying there is anything improper in it—getting concessions of any kind from their own Government?—I do not see anything improper in members of the Party availing of rights that are available to all citizens.
2422. You did not think that special precautions should be taken in cases where members of the Oireachtas are concerned in contracts?— I generally act on the advice of the officials of the Department where members of the Oireachtas are concerned in private business matters because I feel I might be influenced in my judgment by political considerations.
2423. Were you of the view that if this lease had been made for two years and a day and laid on the Table of the House, it would have been received with open arms by the House?—I see no reason why it should not. Deputy McGilligan made a suggestion that if this application had been made by Mr. Cronin it would have been received differently than in fact it was. I presume he selected Mr. Cronin as an example, because he is Vice-President of his Party. In fact, a gold mining lease has been issued in which a Vice-President of that Party is interested, and it is a lease for a much larger area. That is the lease issued to Captain Pakenham in which Deputy MacDermot is interested. I would be surprised to learn that anybody associated with that lease would allege that they were treated in any way differently from the parties associated with this lease.
2424. Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney.— I should like to ask you a few questions. According to you it would be unfair to put any sinister interpretation upon this letter of the 25th April? Is not that so? —Quite.
2425. Will you admit that if a gold mining lease or a licence were granted by you to form a company for gold mining, and that that turned out to be a bogus company, it would have very bad political reactions?—I do not quite follow the question. So far as the Department is concerned when it issues leases of this kind, it authorises the people to whom it is issued to carry out a search in the area leased. There can be no question of the formation of a company until the Minister has formally consented to a sub-lease.
2426. This was an application to you to give a sub-lease and to give a licence for the formation of a company—was it not?—What document are you referring to? 2427. I am talking of the letter of April? —I do not think it is an application for consent to a sub-lease.
2428. Was there not enclosed in it a document, the terms of an agreement between Senator Comyn, Deputy Briscoe and Mr. Heiser?—Yes.
2429. And you saw these terms of agreement?—Yes.
2430. You saw that there was to be a company formed?—I saw that the agreement proposed that.
2431. They proposed to form a company? —Subject to the consent of the Minister.
2432. And was it not with a view to carrying that a step further that that letter was sent to you?—No. The letter was sent to me in response to a request by an officer of the Department that particulars of the agreement should be supplied.
2433. And were not the particulars of the agreement sent to you a step in furtherance of getting your consent?—No application was made.
2434. It was for the purpose of furthering their application?—It was for the purpose of giving us information.
2435. And you got this letter?—Yes.
2436. Did that letter put you on your guard in any way that this was a company that should be very carefully inquired into and that no Irish person should be allowed to subscribe to it?—The letter, I presume, put me on my guard because of the terms of it where the lessees pointed to the danger of applications for leases for adjoining areas, with the intention of floating bogus companies, but that had no relation to this lease.
2437. Keep to this last paragraph, because I am only concerned with the last paragraph. Did that put you on your guard or did it encourage you to give a licence for the formation of an English company, because it would be very bad to have Irish capital invested in it?—I did not consider the question of whether such a licence should be issued at that stage.
2438. Did you take the meaning out of that letter that it was highly inadvisable that Irish money should be invested in that enterprise?—No. I considered that the applicants were putting forward a reason why I should not insist upon a majority of Saorstát capital in the proposed company.
2439. And what was the reason?—The reason was that it was a speculative enterprise.
2440. An enterprise so speculative that it was inadvisable that Irish money should be invested in it?—No. It was inadvisable that I should insist only on Irish money.
2441. Only on Irish money?—Well, a majority of Irish money.
2442. I again come back to the question I put to you at the beginning. If you gave a licence or if a company were formed with Irish capital which turned out to be a “dud” company, that would have very bad political reactions on your Party?—It would depend on the circumstances. I have no doubt that there are companies formed periodically to which that description might apply.
2443. If there was a gold mining company formed by members of your Party, that it had received a lease from you and that that company turned out to be a “dud” company, would it not have a very bad effect on the Irish electorate?— What precisely do you mean by “dud company”?
2444. A company which says that there seemed to be gold on a site where there was no real supply of gold at all?—No I do not think so.
2445. You do not think it would have that effect?—I must say I did not consider the political reactions at all.
2446. Have you changed your view at all of the interpretation of the letter in the light of anything that has happened since?—No.
2447. I suppose you have read the files in this case?—Yes.
2448. You have read the letter on the files from Mr. Harrison of the firm of Messrs. Harrison and Sugden?—Yes.
2449. You know the contents of that letter?—yes.
2450. Has the reading of that letter in any way influenced your interpretation of this paragraph of the letter of the 25th April with which we have been dealing? —No.
2451. Would you turn to the second page of that letter. You will see that it contains Mr. Harrison’s statement of an interview he had with Messrs. Comyn and Briscoe—does it not?—Yes.
2452. He states: “Both these gentlemen were particularly anxious that under no circumstances would they be a party to the formation of any company which would lay them open to criticism amongst the Irish electorate.” You saw that paragraph in that letter?—I did.
2453. Does that paragraph, to your mind, throw any light upon the true interpretation of the earlier paragraph we have been dealing with?—I interpret that paragraph to mean that Messrs. Briscoe and Comyn were acting in this matter as I expected them to act. They were particularly anxious that under no circumstances would they be a party to the formation of a company which would make them open to criticism.
2454. Which would make them open to criticism amongst the Irish electorate. Does that word “electorate” convey any meaning to your mind?—The Irish electorate is every adult man and woman.
2455. Every Irish man and woman regarded from the point of view of being the possessor of a vote at an election. Is not that what the electorate means?— I am afraid I cannot interpret Mr. Harrison’s letter. The plain meaning of the sentence is that Mr. Harrison was vouching for the fact that Mr. Briscoe and Mr. Comyn were particularly anxious that under no circumstances would they be a party to the formation of any company which would leave them open to criticism amongst the Irish electorate.
2456. What sort of company would leave them open to criticism amongst the Irish electorate except a bogus company?—I think that is so. It is stated here that both gentlemen were particularly anxious not to be associated with any such company.
2457. A bogus company financed by Irish money—is not that what would come home to the Irish electorate?—I think anybody who is associated with a bogus company, no matter who finances it, would be open to criticism.
2458. You say you first heard of this lease when you found it necessary to direct that legal proceedings should be taken?— The file was referred to me on that occasion.
2459. Did that put you on your guard to see that the other covenants were being carried out?—I assumed that the officer of the Department were doing their duty in that respect.
2460. Did you tell them to?— It was not necessary for me to tell the officers in my Department to do their duty.
2461. It did strike you as rather strange?—It did.
2462. And you did not then ask. “Are they employing workmen”?— The duty of supervising the administration of leases under the Act devolves upon a special officer of the Department.
2463. But I am asking you a simple question. Did you in fact ask your officials: “Are they employing workmen”?—I did not. It was not necessary.
2464. You did not want information?— I had no information from any source that they were not employing workmen.
2465. Wait a moment. You find that they are not paying the rent of the lease. For your own information, why did you not inquire: “Are these two gentlemen carrying out any of the other covenants”?—If the responsible officer of the Department found that the covenants of the lease had been violated in a manner sufficiently grave to justify voidance of the lease the matter would have been referred to me.
2466. The responsibility is yours?— The responsibility devolves upon the officials whom I appoint to look after it.
2467. But the public responsibility is yours. You are responsible for the work of the Department?—I am responsible to the Dáil for every act of every official of my Department and I exercise that responsibility, by taking whatever action seems to me necessary when they act in a manner I am not prepared to stand over.
2468. I want to know why you did not ask then: “Are the other covenants being carried out”?—Because it was not necessary.
2469. You did not want to know?— That is a very misleading type of question. I had no information that the other covenants were not being carried out. The occasion for asking the question did not arise.
2470. You could not get information except by asking?—If the officers of the Department considered it necessary to report any information on that subject to me they would have done so.
2471. But you were entirely without reports; you never asked a question, you never seek further explanation when files are put before you?—Unless some occasion arises.
2472. Was not this an occasion on which a normal person would say: “They are not paying their rent; are they spending any money there at all”?—If the rent had not been paid and legal proceedings became necessary the circumstances might be different. In fact, the rent was paid before the instruction I had given could be acted upon.
2473. Deputy Costello.—May I put one or two questions to the witness on a topic which I had overlooked?
Witness.—Before Deputy Costello speaks, I stated here that I was not aware of the procedure in respect of the State Lands Act. Deputy Costello, I think, said that leases under that Act were signed by the Minister for Finance. I find Mr. McElligott gave evidence on that subject and stated: “I have signed hundreds of those leases, and in no single case have I brought a lease to the notice of the Minister for Finance, either the present Minister for Finance or his predecessor in office.”
2474. Deputy Costello.—I think you will find that what I did say was in reference to one lease at the time when I was Attorney-General. An agreement had been made by officials with a certain proposed lessee, and not proceeded with, because the Minister had never seen it, and the lessee took no steps to have it carried out.
Witness.—I want to point out that the practice in respect of leases under the State Lands Act, which are similar to leases under the Mines and Minerals Act, was to have them signed by the Secretary to the Department and not brought to the notice of the Minister—either the present Minister or his predecessor.
2475. Deputy Costello.—When did you first hear that Mr. Heiser was interested in this proposition? What was the approximate date?—When that letter arrived.
2476. The letter we have been speaking about?—Yes.
2477. You knew Mr. Heiser was one of the people who were going to finance the transaction?—I gathered so.
2478. Did it strike you to make any inquiries into Heiser’s financial status at that time?—Yes. The results of those inquiries are on the file.
2479. Inquiries at that time?—At or about that time. There were earlier files in the Department dealing with Mr. Heiser and containing certain information about him. I do not know if that information is complete, but it is there, such as it is.
2480. You stated in the Dáil, as reported in Col. 619, Vol. 56, No. 2, of the 19th June, 1935: “This particular group then appears to have lost interest in the matter. Some of its members were in America, and others, on their own statement, were involved in financial difficulties, and generally indicated that they were unable to proceed.” That statement has reference to Mr. Heiser?—The term “financial difficulties has a meaning in common parlance which does not fully apply in those circumstances. I gathered from the information in the files that Mr. Heiser had gone to America for the purpose of raising capital for a mining enterprise in Ireland, but had failed to raise that capital. That was a financial difficulty, but in common parlance the term “financial difficulties” has another significance.
2481. But the significance attached to it in common parlance was the significance that would be attached to it by any person reading your statement in the Dáil?—I agree that the circumstances might have been more accurately described.
2482. Is it true or untrue to say that they were, on their own statement, temporarily involved in financial difficulties? —On their own statement, they had not succeeded in raising the capital.
2483. Did they ever state, or did anybody state on their behalf, that they were in financial difficulties?—No. It was stated that they were unable to raise the capital.
2484. That is an entirely different matter from being in financial difficulties?—Well, it is a financial difficulty.
2485. Does not the term, in common parlance, mean “hard up”?—it does. The phrase used in the letter of the 6th May, 1932, from Messrs. Leader, Plunkett and Leader, Solicitors, was: “We can only assume that owing to the position in the States at the present time they have not been able to collect the necessary requirements to enable them to carry through their schemes.”
2486. That is an entirely different proposition from being themselves in financial difficulties?—If they had failed to raise the capital they required they had in countered a financial difficulty.
2487. And when you heard that they were in financial difficulties you took no steps to say: “Those people have been in financial difficulties; I want to see what their present financial status is”? —We did.
2488. What steps were taken?—We communicated with them on the 2nd June, 1932.
2489. I am asking you about a period long subsequent to that?—Oh, no. The statement showing their difficulty in raising capital was made in the letter of the 6th May, 1932.
2490. But I am speaking about the period when you received this letter from Messrs. Briscoe and Comyn?—At that stage we had assumed that Mr. Heiser and the Irish group associated with him —that is, the group which is now called the Irish Prospectors, Limited, and consists of F. M. Summerfield, E. J. Smyth and another gentleman, Mr. Norman— had lost interest in this matter.
2491. That was in 1932?—In 1933.
2492. I am asking you now, in 1935, when you received this letter from Messrs. Briscoe and Comyn, you knew that Heiser was interested in the proposed company? —Certainly.
2493. And according to your statement in the Dáil you knew that some time previous to that they had been in financial difficulty?—Yes. I knew they did not succeed in raising in America the capital they had hoped to secure.
2494. I want to know what steps, if any, you took in 1935 to see that those people interested in this proposed company were no longer in financial difficulties? You assumed that they were not? —I assumed nothing of the kind. If the question of making a sub-lease had arisen and particularly if the question of extending the sub-lease into a mining lease had arisen, I was required by the very terms of the lease to satisfy myself that they had financial resources to carry it through.
2495. Was not this letter from Messrs. Briscoe and Comyn raising the matter of the proposed lease and a sub-company?—It was giving us the nature of the agreement they had made with Risberget.
2496. I want to know why you did not write back and say “This man was in financial difficulties: watch your step”? —That would have been, as you yourself have pointed out, an incorrect description of the circumstances in 1932.
2497. So your statement in the Dáil is, in fact, an incorrect description?— I have already stated that the circumstances at the time could have been more accurately, or more fully, described.
2498. Chairman.—Before questioning by another member of the Committee proceeds, we require to decide how long we are going to sit.
Witness.—If I may state my personal position I want to say that I do not know how long the Committee may require me, but I have an engagement of long standing for Thursday next, down in County Waterford, in connection with which arrangements for a public function have been made. I should not like to interfere with that. The arrangements were made some months ago.
Deputy Moore.—I suggest that we continue until six o’clock.
Chairman.—Is that agreed?
Deputy Geoghegan.—I suggest that we continue until the witness concludes, even though that may be earlier than six o’clock
Chairman.—What does the Committee think of that proposal?
Deputy Costello.—Personally. I do not mind, but I think Deputy Good ought to get some consideration.
Deputy Good.—I made arrangements and entered into obligations before I came here assuming that we would adjourn at five, as usual.
Deputy Dowdall.— We did propose that Deputy Good might go.
Chairman.—We can release Deputy Good, but the Committee will have to decide how long it will sit. Are we to sit until 6 o’clock, or until the Committee finishes with the Minister.
Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney.—I have nothing further to ask.
Chairman.—Does Deputy Coburn require to ask any questions?
Chairman. —Perhaps we will get through by 6 o’clock. We might decide to sit until 6 and then review our position.
Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney.—We can sit until half past five and then we can see how far we will go.
Deputy Traynor.—I suggest we sit until half past five; then adjourn and resume at seven, and go on until ten o’clock.
Deputy Geoghegan.—Perhaps Deputy Coburn will not be very long in his examination of the Minister.
Deputy Coburn.—I would prefer that Deputy Geoghegan took precedence of me.
Deputy Geoghegan.—I have no questions to ask the witness.
2499. Deputy Coburn.—Then I will go on. I presume you read the evidence of the officials in which they stated that at no time during the apportioning of a lease, whether mining, or any other class of lease, did you interfere or had any knowledge of the fact that such leases were granted?—There have been circumstances in which leases have been referred to me for direction on particular points.
2500. Is the evidence of the officials, in your opinion, true in substance and in fact, when they stated that at no time did you, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, make any inquiries upon what was being done?—In connection with the administration of my Department I do not think they stated that.
2501. The inference I gathered from the evidence of these officials was that, in the main, they carried out their duties, as they were bound to do, without the knowledge of the Minister?—I should like to explain the position. In dealing with normal applications, in respect of which no unusual features appeared, the matter would not be referred to me, but I get from the officials a report periodically showing the leases applied for, and comments on any unusual circumstances that might arise. Furthermore, in respect of a number of matters I might be asked for directions in regard to Government policy where special circumstances arise.
2502. What would you consider “special,” so far as circumstances are concerned?—I can give you one example that did, in fact, arise where a lease for working a particular mineral area was issued to a party. That party applied later for another area of considerable size, to mine the same mineral, but he had not, up to then, started any mining operation as distinct from prospecting operations in the area for which a lease had been granted. I decided that such lease would not be issued until there was evidence of his activities in the area for which he had got a lease. There are other circumstances that would make a lease abnormal or unusual, as, for instance, where the area applied for was very large; but these did not apply in this case.
2503. Would you agree with a statement I made in asking a question of Mr. Leydon that the ordinary public would be surprised to know that you were not made acquainted with matters of this kind?—The ordinary public would not be aware of that.
2504. You say in your evidence you did not know anything about this lease except in so far as the non-payment of the “dead rent” went, so that, in fact, the conditions governing the granting of the lease were of no account whatever, and the only thing that mattered was the collection of a few paltry pounds?—The answer to that is that the conditions of the covenant in the lease in general were fully discussed by me with the officers of my Department, and were the covenants ordinarily issued in a lease. I did approve of these covenants.
2505. So you were aware of the conditions governing the grant of this lease? —Yes.
2506. Were you also aware that these conditions were not carried out?—I am not aware that the conditions were not being carried out.
2507. It was not your duty to know?— I am not aware that the conditions were not being carried out.
2508. Will you explain why the question of the non-payment of the few pounds was raised, and the question of the non-fulfilment of the other conditions governing the lease was not?—I have explained that it is a standing instruction from me to the officials of my Department that no action involving legal proceedings is taken without my concurrence. So far as the other conditions are concerned there was no information that the other covenants were not being carried out.
2509. Would you explain Mr. McGilligan’s phrase of something “radiating from the Minister to his officials”?—I would not attempt to explain any of Mr. McGilligan’s phrases.
2510. To my mind, that mere fact alone explains the meaning of the words “radiating from the Minister”?—Perhaps the Deputy would explain it.
2511. Let me put it in my own way. In your evidence you stated that the only occasion on which the officials brought the question of the lease that they issued to your notice was when the State Solicitor indicated to the Department that Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe had not made the usual payment? —They were not then acting as the result of a radiated atmosphere; they were acting on definite instructions.
2512. But the fact remains that that was the only thing they brought to your notice in connection with this lease?—It was the only thing that arose.
2513. But the conditions governing the lease and the other conditions in it?— The conditions to be inserted in a lease of that kind were considered by me and approved.
2514. Deputy Moore.—They were standardised conditions?—Yes, they were standardised conditions.
2515. Deputy Coburn.—I take it that the officials thought fit to bring this matter of the non-payment of the “dead rent” to your notice?—It would not be a matter of thinking fit. They were acting on my instructions.
2516. In your evidence you say you knew nothing about this lease?—I gave instructions that anything involving legal proceedings must be brought to my notice.
2517. On this question of officials signing leases, was it brought to your notice that, on one occasion, the former Executive Council had a meeting where they discussed the question as to whether it was lawful for them to delegate powers which should be in the hands of Ministers to officials?—I have already stated that I had that considered in 1933.
2518. And of course, you took your own course?—No, I took the views of the legal advisers of the Department.
2519. Would you agree, as a responsible Minister, that in dealing with these matters it would be well, possibly, to follow the lead given by members of the former Executive Council to the effect that Ministers and not others should sign these leases?—In respect to what kind of Acts are you saying they acted in that manner?
2520. It was said here in evidence by Mr. McGilligan himself that the question of the Executive being empowered to delegate certain duties to officials was discussed at a meeting of the Executive Council and, that on the advice of the then Attorney-General, they considered they had not power to delegate those duties and that they should carry them out themselves?—In respect to that I would refer to the evidence of Mr. McElligott in regard to leases, where he stated they were signed and not brought to the notice of the Minister. If the Executive Council so decided, then the Minister and his officials were acting contrary to that decision.
2521. That may be so, but Mr. McGilligan in his evidence, I think, stated that he deferred to the opinion given by the then Attorney-General, and issued instructions in a memorandum to his officials containing the substance of the opinion as given by the then Attorney-General dealing with matters of public importance, and that these matters should be brought under his personal notice?—The only thing I say is that the practice in the Department of Industry and Commerce at the present time is the same as it always has been. I, at no time, gave instructions to alter that practice.
2522. But you said you never interfered with the officials?——No, I did not say that.
2523. In other words, that when officials received an application from members of the Oireachtas or the general public they dealt with them in their own way?—No; that they dealt with them in the way I instructed them.
2524. The matter was left in their own hands?—No.
2525. So I understood?—They were allowed to deal with details in conformity with the general instruction arising out of Government policy.
2526. Does not that explain again the meaning of the word “radiating”?— So far as the officials in my Department are concerned I tell them what to do. Mr. McGilligan gave an illustration which, I think, was interpreted in this way: He said it was the policy of his Government to give employment to members of the ex-National Army and they were allowed afterwards to interpret that. I would give instructions, not by radiating a particular atmosphere.
2527. Deputy Moore.—That was a matter of general Government policy, not a case of “radiating” to officials?— No; the proper course would be for the Minister to instruct his officials accordingly, and not merely by “radiating” an atmosphere.
2528. Deputy Coburn.—Mr. McGilligan stated that because these two gentlemen were members of your Party they got something that other persons would not get?—Mr. McGilligan said that, and Mr. McGilligan was wrong. The officials of my Department gave sworn evidence and I confirmed their evidence.
2529. The officials swore they were never interfered with by you in regard to the granting of leases?—Perhaps we could discuss this better if I knew what precisely the Deputy is referring to.
2530. What I say is this: The evidence of the officials, including Mr. Leydon, led me to understand that on no occasion would you interfere with them in the discharge of their duties in regard to the granting of such concessions as the one now under discussion?—That is agreed in so far as I understood they were acting in accordance with my policy.
2531. Did you ever interfere?-Yes, very often.
2532. In what respect?—When I thought the officials of my Department were doing something that I would not approve of.
2533. By way of analogy, let me explain my point. Under the Control of Manufactures Act any person wanting to start an industry must make application to the Department. What is the procedure in that case?— All such applications must be referred to me.
2534. Why take such precautions in that matter?—Because the circumstances are entirely different. In dealing with ordinary proceedings under the Mines and Minerals Act the procedure is standardised, but in the case of the Control of Manufactures Act each case involves particular investigation and inquiries.
2535. But the Control of Manufactures Act would come into this, on your own evidence?—It would, undoubtedly, if this proposed company were still proceeded with.
2536. And in that case you would interfere?—Undoubtedly. I would decide whether such a licence would be issued or not, and I might even consult the Executive Council on the matter.
2537. In your opinion, it is absolutely essential that nothing should be done by way of giving people liberty to start industry unless it is first brought specially to your notice and, in the matter of granting a prospecting lease, it is of such minor importance that you are not to know anything about it?—If I may be permitted to put it this way, we seek to discourage people under the Control of Manufactures Act and we seek to encourage people under the Mines and Minerals Act.
2538. Why do you seek to discourage them under the Control of Manufactures Act?—It is our object to encourage the establishment of industries with Saorstát capital.
2539. In this particular case, you wanted no Saorstát capital?—In this particular case, I did not decide that at all.
2540. You stated in your evidence today that inevitably all these things would follow?— I did not say they would inevitably follow.
2541. You used the word inevitably?— I said that inevitably we would have to consider these matters.
2542. You stated that these things would inevitably follow?—I said nothing of the kind.
2543. I feel positive in that respect because I was particularly interested in that part of your evidence. I was very particular in putting that view forward, and I was borne out by the evidence you tendered?—The Deputy may put that view forward, but he cannot attribute it to me. I repeat I gave no such evidence.
2544. In connection with the famous letter of the 25th, you never took any steps to see that those conditions were carried out?—I do not know that the conditions were not carried out.
2545. You knew the £7 was not being paid?—I knew it had been paid.
2546. In so far as these conditions are concerned, you stated you had no knowledge that they were not being carried out?—I did not know that the conditions were not being observed. The first suggestion of that kind was made at the Committee.
2547. Would you not think it would be the duty of the officials to acquaint you of the fact that those conditions were not being carried out?—The officials did not know that the conditions were not being carried out. They had no such information.
2548. Were there any conditions in regard to the prospecting lease that were not carried out?—The first suggestion that they were not being carried out was made at the meeting of the Committee. So far as myself and my officials were concerned, we had no such information.
2549. I understood Deputy McGilligan produced evidence here, that certain conditions were not being given effect to. One was the employment of four able-bodied men. Those conditions have not been carried out?—Mr. McGilligan’s evidence consisted very largely of repeating of what he said he was told, but he did not indicate who told him. For instance, I could easily state that I was told he was the Emperor of China.
2550. So that the whole of Mr. McGilligan’s evidence on oath was mere hearsay? —Very largely.
2551. It was mere hearsay that the prospecting lease was given to Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe?—There is no hearsay about that.
2552. Mr. McGilligan was the man who brought that first to the public notice. Was he substantially correct when he made that allegation?—That we had issued a lease?
2553. A prospecting lease?—Yes, a prospecting lease. We did issue a prospecting lease; that is what the inquiry is about.
2554. That is not hearsay?—No.
2555. What about all the other conditions governing that lease, the formation of the company and the £80,000 capital? —No company has been formed.
2556. Taking your own evidence, you said these things would inevitably follow as a result of these letters and these preliminaries?—I did not say that.
2557. All this is mere hearsay, according to your evidence to-day. To put the matter bluntly, in your opinion, Mr. McGilligan has perjured himself?—Most of the statements he made there relating to this lease, were preceded by the words that somebody told him these things, but he did not reveal who told him. The Committee would get a lot of information concerning this whole matter if they had pressed Mr. McGilligan to reveal the sources of his information.
2558. So far as we have gone, a very large amount of the evidence given has been substantially proved to be true?— I am not aware of any statement by Mr. McGilligan that has been proved to be true. I think they have all been proved to be untrue.
2559. So the statement that Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe did get a prospecting lease was not true?—It was never denied; of course they got a lease.
2560. And it was only when Mr. McGilligan mentioned it in the Dáil that the public knew about it?—I did not know about it. According to Deputy Costello the fact was announced in the paper nine months before.
2561. Deputy Costello.—You did not know anything about it, but the papers did?—Apparently the public had more information than I had.
2562. Deputy Cohurn.—Do you think, as a responsible Minister, you were carrying out your duty when there were not exhaustive enquiries made as to the financial position of these people consequential upon that letter of the 25th April?—No action was called for by that letter.
2563. You took refuge behind the fact that no lease was issued?—No sub-lease had been made.
2564. And until the sub-lease was given there was no danger of the public being led astray in regard to what might be regarded as a “dud” company?—More than that, there would be no flotation of a company until several other things happened as well.
2565. In your evidence to-day you said all these things would naturally follow, and Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe, being reputable men in your opinion and in the opinion of many, including myself —I have nothing to say against either of them—everything would be all right and all these things would inevitably follow? —I did not say that.
2566. So long as there was no sub-lease given and there was no issue of shares?— Mr. Leydon said that a dispute had arisen between the lessees and the proposed sub-lessees and it was possible this agreement would never have been implemented. I think that dispute has resulted in this inquiry.
2567. That hypothetical way of putting things is not the correct way for a responsible Department of the State when dealing with matters of such public importance. You do not usually lock the stable door when the horse has been stolen?—No horse has been stolen.
2568. You had ample warning all would not be well with this company?— I had no reason to assume anything of the kind. I think due advertence has not been given to the fact that in the agreement the lessees would not get one half-penny out of the enterprise unless the company were successfully formed and carried out mining operations at a profit. They could, no doubt, as others before them did, have sought other terms, but the terms they got were that they would get no return unless mining operations were proceeded with profitably. I think it is to their credit that in proposing to make an agreement of that kind they did not seek any immediate return, but pro-posed to take their chance on the enterprise being as successful as they hoped it would.
2569. It would naturally follow that the £80,000 would be subscribed by the public of Saoratát Eireann?—It does not naturally follow. There have been a number of public issues which have not been subscribed in full by the public.
2570. It would not be the public of Saorstát Eireann according to that letter, but the public of Great Britain and America ?—There was nothing in the letter which would preclude the public of Saorstát Eireann. Apparently the Deputy misunderstands the discussion that took place here within the last two hours. There was a paragraph in that letter which contained an argument why we should not insist on the public of Saorstát Eireann subscribing the majority of the capital. Even if we did issue a licence it would not follow that the public of Saorstát Eireann were precluded from subscribing.
2571. I might not be possessed of greater knowledge than you have or the brains you have, but I can assure you that I read that letter and I know what plain English is?—I think the Deputy is influenced by an interpretation put on it by another person. If he judges it impartially he will see there is only one possible interpretation of the paragraph. It was the reply to a question asked by an officer of the Department why I should agree to issue a Control of Manufactures Act licence. That was the only reason they advanced in the letter.
2572. So according to you, the ordinary man in the street would only be a fool if he put any interpretation on that except the interpretation you yourself put on? —Any person who knew the circumstances under which the letter was written and who put any other interpretation on the paragraph, if not a fool, would be trying to misinterpret the letter.
2573. But the ordinary person has not the same opportunity of getting information as you have. The ordinary public, naturally, would be suspicious of any company if they had the knowledge beforehand that certain people gave it as their opinion that the work was of a highly speculative nature?—I do not think there is any member of the ordinary public who regards a gold-mining proposition as anything else but a speculation.
2574. Deputy Moore.—It has been implied that because you did not take immediate action with regard to that letter that you were going to approve of the sub-lease. Is there any foundation for that?—There is no foundation for that implication at all. The matter of my consent to a sub-lease was not considered by me. It was discussed by certain officers of the Department with the lessees but, as no formal application was made, the matter did not come to me at all.
2575. Assuming you took the interpretation of the letter that Deputy Costello puts on it, would you think there would be any occasion for such immediate action?—I think such action would be very precipitate. It would be obviously our duty to await the formal application for a sub-lease in the first instance and then at that stage get all the information which we considered necessary. Any proposal to proceed with the company could not be given effect to until not merely had the sub-lease or the prospecting lease been agreed to, but until the main lease had been issued and the Control of Manufactures Act licence had been issued, and that would not arise for some two years to come.
2576. Deputy McGilligan repeated again and again that that was the gravamen of his charge, that you did not take immediate action on that—you did not consider that there was any great need for immediate action seeing that you put a different interpretation on that letter?—That is so.
2577. There would have been a lot of examination and a lot of inquiry before the sub-lease would be agreed to?—Undoubtedly, we would have to be satisfied as to all the matters that have been mentioned here and that were mentioned on the previous sittings, because our consent to the sub-lease would imply our consent to the main lease; consequently the question that would arise at that stage would also be the question that arose earlier namely the financial and technical resources of the person concerned.
2578. The probity of the persons concerned in the venture?—Yes, I would take that into consideration in the granting of the lease.
2579. Deputy Dowdall.—In the course of your evidence to-day, in reply to Deputy Costello, you said that you read Deputy McGilligan’s evidence cursorily, you glanced at it. In the course of your evidence Deputy Costello asked you did you see the report in the Irish Press in December, 1933. I presume you read the papers more cursorily than you read that particular evidence?—That is so.
2580. So that you would not remember if you had seen it and it is doubtful if you saw it at all?—I have no recollection. I stated in evidence that I knew in a general way that Deputy Briscoe, Senator Comyn and Deputy Breen with some others were prospecting for gold in Wicklow but that of the circumstances under which they were doing it I was not aware.
2581. What I am stating now is not evidence but I might say that I never heard of this gold mining prospecting until Deputy McGilligan raised, it in the Dáil. There has been a general endeavour from time to time to call attention to the fact that the Minister himself should sign certain documents and I have endeavoured to show that it was humanly impossible for the Minister to do so. I asked that question of Deputy McGilligan and he told me that he had 120 officials and Mr. Leydon said he had 1,800 officials and both of them said it was humanly impossible for the Minister to deal even with the major matters that arose. I presume you confirmed that?— I regard the functions of the Minister as being these—to direct the policy of the Department, to supervise its activities and to see that in every respect the officials are proceeding in accordance with his policy. So long as he is satisfied that they are proceeding in accordance with his policy it is better to leave the matters of details to his officials who are more competent than he is to deal with them.
2582. Deputy McGilligan stated that this granting of the lease did not become a question of major importance until the question of the flotation of the company arose?—I would like to say that this particular lease was not the first lease issued under the Mines and Minerals Act nor the most important lease issued. It was not the first gold mining lease nor the most important. It was regarded of, shall I say, of leaser importance than the other leases issued until publicity arose following Deputy McGilligan’s allegations.
2583. He admitted that this did not become a matter of great public importance until the question of the flotation of the company arose?—Yes.
2584. I think in the course of Mr. Leydon’s evidence he stated that other sub-leases were issued—that is mining leases?—There have been about eight or nine prospecting leases and a number of mining leases issued.
2585. The procedure in all these cases is the same?—Yes, in all these cases it was the same.
2586. Therefore I take it that in the circumstances there could not be any justification for the suggestion that there was a certain influence radiating from you in order that Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe would get this lease?—There was, in fact, no other application for a lease of this property.
2587. So there could be no question at all of any special privileges being granted to Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe?— Quite definitely Senator Comyn and Deputy Briscoe got no preferential treatment whatever. They were treated in every respect as every other applicant for a mining lease who came before the Department.
2588. Deputy Moore.—May I suggest to the witness that possibly he is not entirely correct in saying that there was no pressure brought on the Department— may I suggest that very strong representations were made to the Government at that time with regard to unemployment in that area, and the officers of the Department would be more enthusiastic about giving this lease than normally would be the case?—That would be; but I am afraid we were not thinking of gold mining at all. We were thinking of encouraging mining in Wicklow—we were thinking of encouraging general mining activities there. Though we had some applications for gold mining leases, we did not attach the same importance to them from the point of view of employment as we attached to other possibilities which we were exploring. In fact at that time we had considered the carrying out of a special survey in that area with a view to influencing people to engage in mining activities.
2589. It is possible that the officers of the Department, knowing that there were strong views that time with regard to unemployment, knowing that there were 50 or 60 miners unemployed in that area since 1927, would not possibly be so critical as they normally would be in the granting of this lease?—I do not think that is so. In accordance with the policy of the Government the officers of the Department would welcome a proposal for a prospecting or mining lease in any area where the prospect of mining was a likely development. In certain special cases we have ourselves carried out exploration work, but the cost would not allow us to extend these activities to all areas where we would like to see exploring done.
Chairman.—Thank you, Mr. Lemass. That concludes the Minister’s evidence. We will take the evidence of Senator Comyn to-morrow.
The Committee adjourned at 5.40 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Wednesday, the 25th of September.