MAY 28th, 1929: Robust debate ruled in early days of State


 A byelection in Leitrim-Sligo constituency in 1929 produced this debate in a Sligo village, illustrating the differences between Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fáil at grassroots level. – JOE JOYCE

FARMERS ATTENDING the monthly fair of Farnthurpy, a tiny village in North Sligo, to-day were treated to a lively electioneering duel. Passing omnibuses and private motor cars halted, and the conductors and drivers and their passengers joined the audience, which seemed greatly entertained by the exchanges of Senator Milroy and Mr Michael Clery, a Fianna Fáil deputy .

The Cumann na nGaedheal meeting began first with Senator Milroy, Mr. Michael Davis, T.D.; Mr. O. Grattan Esmonde, T.D.; and Mr. Martin Roddy, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands and Fisheries, on the platform. Mr. Esmonde described Mr. de Valera as “an old rattlesnake”, greatly to the annoyance of Mr. Clery.

Mr. Roddy then mentioned land annuities, and challenged Fianna Fáil to go into the courts to test the legality of the Minister for Finance’s action in sending them out of the country.

Mr. Clery rose on a box a few yards away, and shouted: “Go into the courts about land annuities. That is like going to law with the Devil, with the court in hell.”

Senator Milroy then mounted the Cumann na nGaedheal platform, and asked Mr. Clery: “Are you out to smash the Treaty, or are you going to stand by it?”

“There is no such damned thing as the Treaty,” replied Mr. Clery, “because the most important clauses were taken out of it.”

“Answer me ‘Yes’ or ‘No’,” thundered Senator Milroy. “Do you support Mr Donnelly’s declaration, when he said at Ballybay that he was out to smash the Treaty?”

“Is it the same Treaty that was signed in 1921, or the amended Treaty, you speak of?” Mr. Clery replied.

“You are wriggling now,” said the Senator. “You are a worthy follower of de Valera. You know what I mean all right.”

As no reply was given Senator Milroy proceeded with his speech “Is it the present Treaty or the pact?” Mr. Clery interrupted.

“Like a good little boy will you sit down,” the Senator implored, “and learn your lesson in common-sense?”

“I will never sit down for a man like you, who was rejected by your constituency and then put into the Senate for coming back and supporting the Government you left in disgust.”

Senator Milroy said that he was challenged as to why he left the government and was now on this platform. When a great tragedy occurred and one of the men to whom he had been strongly opposed, Kevin O’Higgins, was struck down by the hand of an assassin, he saw that his duty lay in giving full and relentless support to the Government . . .

“Who shot Kevin O’Higgins?” shouted Mr. Clery.

“I do not know,” replied Senator Milroy. This gentleman seems to know much more than I do. The suggestion is that he does know, and why does he not give his information to the police? Mr. Clery read our speeches in the Dáil on the subject.

We had a good case that he was shot by members of the C.I.D., who did not wish to become ex-Guards, said the Fianna Fail T.D. Why, he asked, had not certain members of the C.I.D. been subjected to third degree methods just as others had been?

Senator Milroy was proceeding to speak again when he was further interrupted. He then threatened to have Mr. Clery removed by Civic Guards. “This man,” he said, “is like a gander standing first on one leg and then on the other, and he does not know on which leg he is on.”