1. On the request of the Ceann Comhairle the Committee on Procedure and Privileges has considered the complaint of privilege, made by Deputy John A. Costello in the Dáil on 31st January, 1952, in respect of an alleged assault committed by Deputy John Flynn on Deputy Oliver Flanagan in the Leinster House Restaurant on the same date.
2. The Committee, having interviewed both Deputy J. Flynn and Deputy O. Flanagan, finds that there is no essential disagreement in regard to the facts concerning the assault, namely, that Deputy J. Flynn accosted Deputy O. Flanagan in the Restaurant, where the latter was in conversation with another Deputy, and forthwith struck him twice.
3. Deputy J. Flynn stated to the Committee that he committed the assault above described because he had learnt that, in the course of a debate in the Dáil earlier on the same day while he was absent from the Chamber, Deputy O. Flanagan had passed a remark relating to him which would be generally understood as a gross reflection on his personal character (Official Report, Vol. 129, Col. 273). He felt that there was no adequate remedy, under existing Standing Orders, available to him in respect of such a remark when made under the immunity of parliamentary privilege.
4. The remark to which Deputy J. Flynn took exception was made by Deputy O. Flanagan by way of interjection and, as explained by Deputy J. Flynn, conveyed offence to him of a gross personal nature by innuendo. Deputy O. Flanagan was not called to order at the time because—the Committee understands—the Leas-Cheann Comhairle did not grasp all the implications of the remark owing to its ambiguity and, further, he would in any case hesitate to censure it since to do so would be to draw public attention to its possible scandalous connotation. Deputy O. Flanagan denied to the Committee that any such hidden meaning was intended by him and asserted that the reference related solely to Deputy J. Flynn’s political activities.
5. The Committee has adverted to an earlier report (T. 119) of the Committee in respect of a fracas between members in the precincts of the House following a verbal exchange in the House. On that occasion it was laid down that resort to violence by members in retaliation of words spoken in the House, was conduct in contempt of the House and, therefore, reprehensible in the extreme. Applying that accepted standard to the present case, the Committee finds that Deputy J. Flynn was guilty of contempt in taking, as it were, the law into his own hands in redress of a grievance properly a matter for the House itself. While taking a very grave view of such a challenge to the authority of the House, the Committee recommends that, having regard to the foregoing, Deputy J. Flynn’s contempt might be regarded as purged on this occasion on his receiving a public reprimand from the Chair.
6. The Committee is not prepared to exculpate Deputy O. Flanagan from all responsibility in this unseemly incident. It is clear that the privilege of freedom of speech carries with it a duty as well as a right and that it is unbecoming for a member to utter a remark under that privilege without thought as to its possible ill-meaning. The Committee regards the remark made by Deputy O. Flanagan as being in breach of the order and decorum of the House.
(Signed) PADRAIG Ó hÓGÁIN,
28th February, 1952.