Wednesday, 13 November 1946
Dáil Éireann Debate
Go ndeonfar suim bhreise nach mó ná £1,000 chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfas chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú Márta, 1947, i leith Costas Ilghnéitheach áirithe, lena n-áirítear Deontais-i-gCabhair áirithe agus íocaíochta áirithe Cúitimh mar gheall ar Bhás nó Díobhála Pearsanta.
That a supplementary sum not exceeding £1,000 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1947, for certain Miscellaneous Expenses, including certain Grants-in-Aid and payments of Compensation for Death or Personal Injuries.
The object of this Supplementary Estimate—as indicated in Part III—is to enable the cost of certain temporary professorships in the Irish Academy to be defrayed out of public funds. The academy is already in receipt of an annual grant of £3,200 for general purposes and a special and terminable grant—amounting this year to £750— in connection with their publication of a dictionary of early Irish.
The new professorships in the academy are intended for certain distinguished foreign scholars who, for reasons arising out of the altered conditions on the Continent of Europe, are unable for the time being to resume their careers in their home countries. The professorships will, of course, be temporary and limited in number and the persons appointed will, where possible, be expected to give lectures which members of the public may attend. I am satisfied that the arrangements will benefit the country both culturally and from the point  of view of international prestige and that the money which I am asking the Dáil to vote will be well spent.
So far only one professorship—a professorship of mathematical logic—has been created, but other appointments may be made before the end of the financial year. It is not possible to give a firm estimate of the total expenditure to be incurred by the end of March next, but the provision of £1,000 should be enough to cover any commitments falling to be met. It would not be possible for the academy to meet the cost out of its existing resources.
Mr. Aiken: One gentleman, who has been already appointed, was a former Minister for Education in Poland, and a former Rector of Warsaw University. He was a professor of mathematics in the university for 20 years.
Mr. Aiken: There is only one other case under consideration at the present time. He is at present acting part-time on Celtic Studies in the National University. He may be appointed. I am not sure. We are asking for £1,000 in case any of these professors find their way to this country, and cannot get home, so that they may be employed for a while in the academy at very modest salaries indeed, but something to keep them alive.
Mr. Dillon: As a general principle I should imagine that there will not be many objections in this House to the passing of money for the purpose of securing the services of distinguished continental scholars, whatever the reasons may be that brought them here. But the trouble in voting a Supplementary Estimate of this character is that we are not told that this money is designed to meet the expenses of the academy in providing for the scholarly work of Professor So-and-so. We are told, generally, that distinguished scholars may turn up, that one is already here, the Rector of the University in Warsaw, and that another is under consideration. I am not influenced,  I must say, in giving a blank cheque to the Government to provide public money for the employment of whomever they may, in their discretion, determine is a desirable person to employ, either through the medium of the academy or other learned institutions in this country, because their record in this matter has not been satisfactory.
I remember when the legislation in connection with the establishment of the Institute of Higher Studies was before the House, we were assured (1) that it was not anticipated that the activities of that body would interfere with the activities of the university, (2) that the quality of work that the Institute of Higher Studies was expected to do was of such a character as to make it almost unreasonable to expect the university to undertake it as part of its normal work, and (3) that the personnel of the staff of that institute was going to consist exclusively of scholars of such rarefied distinction that there could be no doubt or question in the minds of any reasonable person as to the propriety of employing them.
We began with a small group of very distinguished men as professors of that body. We were not, however, very long under way until two of the most distinguished withdrew leaving after them two or three men of the highest distinction in their particular lines of study. Then we were calmly informed, by an announcement which appeared in the Iris Oifigiúil or some such publication, that a whole miscellaneous collection of “duds” had been unloaded on the institute—I forget in what exact capacity.
Mr. Dillon: The Chair will note that the Minister asked for this money on the understanding that miscellaneous scholars may hereafter come here for whom it is desired to provide an income. I am reluctant to give that blank cheque——
Mr. Dillon: ——because the Government's record in choosing scholars has not corresponded in any way to my notion of how such a selection should be made. Am I not within my rights in expressing that uneasiness——
An Ceann Comhairle: It is hardly fair on an Estimate for £1,000 to criticise another institution, for which no money is being granted, under the guise of citing what the Deputy may call a horrible example.
Mr. Dillon: I am in this embarrassing position that if the Minister asks us for an absolute discretion to spend this money, I must have regard to what happened on previous occasions. If this was a new departure, I would be inclined to say: “All right. We must depend on your prudence in choosing these scholars to choose the right men.” But my experience is that, in giving this discretion in the past to the Government, they have chosen recklessly and, I am sorry to say, have planted in this institute a number of men who have no more claim to scholarship than I have—in fact, far less, and I count myself as a very pedestrain country publican. Beside some of the tulips who are now quartered on the institute, I am a scintillating star in the firmament of scholarship. I think some of the recent products, some of the recent publications, of the institute bear lamentable evidence of the decline of scholarship.
Is this to be the standard by which foreign scholars are to be judged? The Minister says of course that he knows of one person and that he is aware of only one other who is under consideration. I remember at one time there was a “wangle” to restore to public employment in this country a gentleman who was at one time leader of the Hitler Youth in this country and a colleague of the head of the Gestapo in this city. I am happy to think that some references which I made here helped to scotch that plan and to ensure that the gentleman in question having gone back to Hamburg has been left in Hamburg.
Mr. Dillon: I wonder is there no money for him in this Vote? That is just the very thing I am working round to. Is Dr. Mahr going to represent to us that he is a great authority on Celtic remains in and around Hamburg and to sit down again in the Royal Irish Academy? If he got wind of the word, he would be coming like a tornado. He has been trying it for the last 12 months. I have no grudge against him but he took his hook out of this country on the eve of the war and thought that he would come back with a Brown Shirt and a Swastika——
Mr. Dillon: Will the Minister give us a guarantee that Dr. Mahr who is at present holding office, on leave of absence without pay, as Director of our Museum, is not coming back under this scheme? Is he or any of his ilk going to come here under this scheme? I should like a guarantee from the Minister on that point. I suggest that, if he does get the money, he should at least give us the assurance that before any appointment is made to the academy or to any other like body, which is to be financed out of moneys of this character, the approval of this House will be sought for the foreign professor whom it is proposed to appoint. Let me add this. Ordinarily I think nothing is more undesirable than that Dáil Éireann should interfere in the internal administration of a university, an academy or an institute in this country.
I believe that such learned bodies should be absolutely autonomous but when we are asked to furnish money to employ a miscellaneous collection of foreigners, we should be guaranteed against the possibility of giving, in advance, approval to the employment of individuals of whom we do not approve at all and an assurance that these moneys will be used only for the employment of such persons as the Polish scholar to whom the Minister has referred and to others who may  present themselves and who will be accepted on merit alone. Given that assurance I have no objection to the Estimate though I view it with considerable misgivings for the very reason which the observations of the Ceann Comhairle have induced me to refer to it specifically.
Mr. Aiken: I have not asked the Dáil for a blank cheque. I have proposed that the Dáil should vote a Supplementary Estimate of £1,000, a strictly limited sum, to add to the sum of about £3,200 which the academy, this learned institution, is already getting as a State grant for this purpose. I have no right to interfere with the academy in the spending of this fund. If I proposed to interfere with the academy in the spending of this fund, the person who would be the most loud-mouthed in denouncing me here would be Deputy Dillon. I take it that if the gentleman who was in charge of the National Museum were to come back to Ireland to work, it would be in the Museum, and not in the academy, that he would work. I have no brief for him. I do not know whether he will ever come back to this country or not. Deputy Dillon wants to take advantage of this Dáil to abuse everybody, right left and centre, to kick people who are down, but I say this for that gentleman, that he went towards the fighting, unlike Deputy Dillon.
Mr. Aiken: The Deputy thinks he has the sole licence to be offensive in this House. On every occasion on which he can throw dirt on the Government and on his country, which he hopes will be used to get him patted on the back by the enemies of this country abroad, he comes in here and throws the dirt.
Mr. Aiken: I have asked the Dáil  for this sum of £1,000 and I have given the House the only information I have on the matter, that is, that if the academy gets this sum, they propose to use portion of it for paying a gentleman who came here from Poland, a gentleman who was Minister for Education in that country, who was Rector of the Warsaw University and Professor of Mathematical, Logic in that university for 20 years. They may employ one other—I do not know—and they have the right, if they get this sum from the Dáil, to employ distinguished professors who drift in here from Europe and the circumstances in whose countries are such that they cannot reside there at present. That is the sole purpose for which we are asking this money and I hope the Dáil will give it.
Mr. Dillon: The Minister has said that this is merely a supplement to the £3,200. I submit that that is in direct contradiction of the explanatory note on his Estimate. I understand that the £3,200 given to the academy is not surrendered at the end of the year. I observe from the note placed on the Estimate by the Minister that “any part of the £1,000 remaining unissued at the close of the year will be surrendered”.
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