Tuesday, 12 May 1959
|Dáil Éireann Debate |
Vol. 174 No. 13
Page of 26
An Ceann Comhairle: It may help discussion on this matter if I indicate at the outset that, for reasons obvious to those who understand the position in the area, nothing falls for discussion here except the raid on the house of the parish priest.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: That is all that is referred to in the questions. Earlier to-day I asked the Minister for Justice if he would state why the parochial house at Lusmagh, Banagher, Offaly, was raided by a large force of the Garda on 5th inst.; what evidence was adduced to justify the raid and, further, if he was aware of public uneasiness as a result of the raid.
The second question addressed to the Minister asked if it was a decision of the Government to instruct the Garda to raid the parochial house, what prompted this action and if what was sought was found. I addressed these two simple questions to the Minister because of the seriousness of the position, the great public uneasiness caused and the most unusual character of the raid. The Minister replied that Father Fahy's house was visited by the Garda Síochána because they had information confirming—mark you, confirming—reports widely circulating in the locality that the men whose escape from lawful custody had been effected with force were being harboured there. The Minister went on to say: “I take full responsibility for what was done.”
Not alone is this a most unusual action on the part of the Government, not alone is it unusual in character, but it is of the greatest possible consequence to every citizen. The sanctity and privacy of the home are something to be cherished and defended. Within 30 yards of the Catholic  Church in Lusmagh Father Fahy resides. He is a beloved and respected parish priest who discharges his saintly duties with piety, zeal and vigour. The only other occupant of the house was his 84 year old housekeeper, Miss Fitzgerald.
In the silence of the night, just as dawn was about to break, there arrived from Dublin a large force of the Garda, made up of 50 police and numerous plain clothes men, most of them armed with revolvers, in six black limousines. They were guided by two squad cars. At 4 a.m., just as dawn was breaking, they stopped at the Catholic Church at Lusmagh. Some of the plain clothes men, armed with revolvers, dropped off at the Catholic Church and proceeded on foot to the residence of Father Fahy. Up the avenue of the parochial house there walked between 50 and 65 police. In the silence of the small hours of the morning the aged parish priest was knocked up. He looked out to find, with horror and dismay, nothing less than an army of uniformed and plain clothes police armed with revolvers. His house was surrounded. He inquired what was wrong. He was told the men were police. With kindness and courtesy, he said he would not detain the gentlemen; if they wanted admission to his house they were free to come in. He admitted them to his house. No less than 40 armed police piled in. They searched every room and apartment, disturbing from her slumbers the aged housekeeper.
This may be a cause for laughter on the Fianna Fáil benches. An 84 year old housekeeper being disturbed and the parish priest having to conduct a force of Gardaí through every room in his house may be a cause for laughter to some people. We have the photographs here and in those photographs we see 22 police approaching the avenue.
An Ceann Comhairle: I do not think the photographs should be referred to in this discussion.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: I shall not refer  to them then, Sir. The evidence is here. Now, the police found nothing. When interviewed after the raid Father Fahy said: “I showed the police over the house. They examined the place and the out-offices, the garage, the back of the house, and every part of it. I told them that none of the boys had stood in this house or on these grounds since any trouble commenced in the area.”
My reason for protesting in this matter is because of its character. Would it not have been possible for the Minister for Justice to have sent the Garda to Father Fahy in the day-time? Would it not have been possible for the Garda to have told Father Fahy then: “We are going to search your house. We have a warrant to do so”? Could they not have searched the house in broad daylight and not waited until the middle of the night or until dawn was breaking? There was nothing to stop them searching the house in the day-time.
We have been told that the Minister for Justice had reliable information that Father Fahy was practically a proven felon, that he was harbouring “wanted” people. Is it any wonder that every parish priest and every curate blushed with shame, with horror and indignation on discovering that the Government refused to trust a parish priest—a parish priest who would have given them any information they wanted and would have told them that his house was not a place for harbouring those required under the law? He would have shown them the same courtesy and willingness to inspect his house in the day-time as he did in the middle of the night. He had nothing to hide.
I think the Government made a bad slip. This was a foolish action. It was a disgraceful act on the part of the Government. It would have been bad enough had it been just a parishioner of Father Fahy's that was concerned. It is almost incomprehensible that the parish priest should have been disturbed by armed police at 4.50 a.m. That is something against which protest must be made in this House. It is something against which  every citizen should protest. It is something against which every citizen should rise up. The criminal law makes a distinction between day and night. If a man enters a house in the day-time he can be charged with breaking and entering. If he enters a house at night, he is charged with burglary.
The Minister accepts full responsibility. He accepts full responsibility for this kind of conduct. He accepts full responsibility, first of all, for wantonly disturbing the rest of a parish priest, and, secondly, for the manner in which this raid was planned and carried out.
I am reliably informed that a conference took place in the Department of Justice and that the Chief Superintendent happened, by accident, to be in Garda headquarters on the same day. He was not familiar with conditions in the district but was invited to take part in this conference. I am also advised that members of the Garda Force, with 36 years' police experience, shrewd and sensible men, were not even consulted or even called to the conference with the Department of Justice on this matter.
I am reliably informed that another senior officer of the Garda Síochána advised against raiding Father Fahy's house as being unwise and not sensible, but the decision was taken and I am told that this is the first time, and contrary to all proper police procedure, that this extraordinary act on the part of the Government and the Minister for Justice has occurred. It has brought forth great anger and disgust from the people, and a certain amount of grave unrest. If this has happened to Father Fahy, it could happen to any other citizen as well, and the result has been that it has brought forth very serious criticism.
I may say that the method and planning of this raid is something that has proved great discourtesy to the Church in this country. It has proved that even the decent members of the Garda Force have been driven to do work which was distasteful to them and which they knew was wrong. This is the first time we have had an incident of this character since the  house of the late Bishop of Killaloe was raided by the Black and Tans.
Mr. K. Boland: There were a couple since that. The Deputy had better check up.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: A raid on a parish priest's house——
Mr. Galvin: What happened in 1929?
An Ceann Comhairle: Order! The Deputy should be allowed to speak without interruption.
Mr. Coogan: Remember Hungary.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should keep to the incident itself and not draw parallels.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: If this incident took place in China, in Russia or in Hungary, protest would be made. A protest was made in this very House by the Fianna Fáil Party against the treatment and arrest of Cardinal Mindszenty and Cardinal Stepinac. Members of the Fianna Fáil Party, including the Taoiseach, voiced protests, as did every Catholic and Christian throughout the civilised world, but here we have, in a Catholic and Christian country, a supposedly Catholic and Christian Government sending down squads of police in the dead of night to carry out a raid on the home of a parish priest. I rise to protest in this House as a Catholic Deputy and on behalf of every Catholic in this State.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: Deputies may laugh——
Mr. Moloney: And the Knights of Columbanus thrown in.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: This is not the first time the Knights of Columbanus have been criticised in this House.
Mr. Moloney: It will not be the last.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: I want to protest against this incident. I want to protest in the name of every decent  person in this country who dislikes police raids in the dead of night. What has happened in the case of Father Fahy is something which should not happen, and I trust it will not happen in the future. It has left uneasiness in every home in the country and it has left insecurity as to the privacy of the home. We have no guarantee that similar police raids will not be carried out on the homes of other citizens who, Fianna Fáil may think, deserve the same treatment as Father Fahy. Does it not look stupid and silly when nothing was found? There were no grounds for the report, no grounds for the rumour, no justification for the raid, and the raid was entirely unworthy and unnecessary. The Government blundered and they should apologise to Father Fahy and should inform their secret service that they were at fault and that there was no truth whatever in the report which the police received.
I shall wind up by asking for a fuller explanation of this conduct from the Minister for Justice and by asking the Government to give a fuller explanation. I may say that it has left great uneasiness because it is believed that what has happened to Father Fahy may happen to the Bishop of Cork or anybody else.
Mr. Galvin: Did your Government apologise in 1929 when they imprisoned him for three months?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister for Justice.
Mr. Galvin: They did not apologise in 1929.
Mr. Coogan: Go to China.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Traynor): It is not unusual for Deputy Flanagan to exaggerate and on this occasion he has grossly exaggerated or has tried to exaggerate the facts. I could answer the Deputy with a great deal more freedom if it were not for the fact that to deal fully with this matter might prejudice the fair trial of charges which are or will be before the Courts. The men whom Garda were seeking  had been in lawful custody under a Peace Commissioner's warrant.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: I do not wish to interrupt the Minister——
Mr. Traynor: It is better that I should say nothing——
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: The Minister has explained——
Donnchadh Ó Briain: Keep quiet.
An Ceann Comhairle: Order!
Mr. Traynor: It is better that I should say nothing about how they ceased to be in such custody. The Garda received information confirming reports which were circulating widely in the locality, that the men were being harboured in the residence of Very Rev. John Fahy, P.P., Lusmagh. There was no adequate reason to doubt the correctness of this information, because Father Fahy was openly associated with those men and, indeed, had made no secret of it. He had, in fact, been seen and heard by the Garda congratulating them on the actions for which they had been arrested and on which charges were being brought against them. It was imperative, therefore, that the Garda should visit Fr. Fahy's house with a view to effecting their arrest if the men were there. They would have failed in their duty if they had not endeavoured to have these men restored to lawful custody.
There has been criticism of the hour at which the visit was made, but if it had been made when Fr. Fahy was attending to his priestly duties, or when people were about, I have no doubt that it would be said that this was done on purpose so as to embarrass the parish priest as much as possible, and of course, in view of what had happened some days previously, the Garda had to reckon with the possibility of a breach of the peace, the likelihood of which was lessened by an early visit. I repeat I take full responsibility for the action taken.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: Shame, shame.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.50 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 13th May, 1959.