§ MR. W. O'BRIEN (Cork, N.E.)
I beg leave to move that the House do now adjourn, in order to consider a definite matter of public interest—namely, the conduct of the Irish Constabulary in thing upon defenceless persons at Charleville without necessity.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must decline to put that Motion to the House. The hon. Gentleman was good enough a few minutes ago to give it to me, and intimated it was distinctly a new point, different from that which had 1698 been raised on a previous occasion. The House will remember that on the 1st of July the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Mayor of Dublin (Mr. Sexton) raised the question affecting not only the proclamation of the Cork meeting but the arrest and prosecution of Mr. William O'Brien. But the point now proposed to be raised by the hon. Gentleman was specifically gone into in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and was repeatedly alluded to by hon. Gentlemen who followed; and though it may be alleged the information before the House was insufficient at that time, and that it was desirable to discuss the matter at a subsequent period, it by means follows it is a matter of urgent public importance which should be discussed on the Motion for the adjournment of the House, nor did I even contemplate it could be done in that manner. I believe it would be contrary not only to the form but to the spirit of the Standing Order, and I shall take upon myself the responsibility of not putting it. Of course, on the proper occasion the hon. Gentleman can raise the point he proposes to raise. If any new information has come to his knowledge of course it will be competent to him to raise the whole question on the proper occasion—namely, in Supply.
§ MR. SEXTON
Do I understand you, Sir, to rule that because the proceedings at Charleville were incidentally referred to in the debate last Monday, therefore my hon. Friend is now shut out from referring to incidents which were not included in the Motion?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I say the proceedings at Charleville were specifically over and over again alluded to. The questions as to who fired the shots, where the shots came from, the responsibility of the Constabulary, and the responsibility of the crowd then assembled, were specifically gone into. It was admitted that full debate could not take place, because full information was not before the House. I say that that having been discussed, it would be contrary to the meaning and spirit of the Standing Order that because more information [has come before the House, or to the knowledge of hon. Gentlemen, hon. Gentlemen should raise the matter in this particular form. I am not at all saying that the matter may not be properly raised. Of course, 1699 it can be raised on the proper occasion—namely, on a Vote in Supply.
§ MR. W. O'BRIEN
Of course, Mr. Speaker, I bow to your ruling; but as there appears no opportunity for me to discuss the question in Supply, I shall ask the leave of the House to make now a personal statement. Inasmuch as I was an eye-witness of the occurrences at Charleville, and inasmuch as my own veracity and honour are very deeply concerned, I shall try to do it as briefly as I can, and I shall confine myself entirely to what occurred at Charleville. Seven armed policemen were in the first-class compartment in which I travelled from Cork, and there were eight more in a neighbouring compartment. When we came to the Charleville platform there was no cheering and no commotion. There was a band at the far end of the train, where some persons belonging to Charleville, who had been in Cork during the day, were getting out. It was to meet these men, and not to meet me, that the band came. If I could go into it I have most overwhelming testimony that it was impossible for the crowd at Charleville that night to have known either that I was arrested, or that I was in the train. I was arrested only at a quarter to ten o'clock at night, and the telegraph office at Charleville had been closed from ten o'clock in the day. The best proof that the people could not have known I was there was that even the Charleville police there did not know it, and there were no Charleville police on the platform. The notion that the bandsmen there that evening knew I was there, or made any organized attempt at a rescue, is demonstratively false, and absurd and impossible, and really it makes one almost despair of proving the plainest truths when such a story can be put forward by the police and seriously defended in this House. The first the bandsmen learned of my being in the train was what they learned from their friends who travelled down by the same train. They had played two tunes on the platform without any cheering at all before they learned I was in the train. Then, when they did learn it they did hurry along the platform to give me a cheer, and to shake hands with me. I cannot imagine how any man in his senses could think for a minute they meant anything more 1700 desperate. Arrests of this kind are of every day occurrence in Ireland. Men so arrested are considered as objects of congratulation, and certainly not objects of desperate attempts at rescue. The crowd knew thoroughly well I would be released on bail in a couple of hours afterwards—as, in point of fact, I was. It is really hard to treat with common patience the theory that these few band boys—a hundred at the outside, according to the police estimate—would make a desperate attempt to rescue me from a body of policemen armed to the teeth, with a perfect knowledge that the police would be bound to shoot me rather than give me up. The story the House is now asked to believe, contrary to any distinct public statement, is that these bandsmen played two tunes, and then commenced this desperate rescue by firing shots into a narrow railway compartment in which I myself must have been the first to receive the bullets, if any had been fired. It is a woeful sign of the demoralization of the Irish police that they should attempt to put forward a story of this kind, and obtain credence for it in this House, not only against my statement, but the statement of every civilian present, and against common sense. Let me explain what actually happened. The people tried to get a look at me. The blinds had been fastened down, and they could only identify the compartment by a window having been broken—it was broken at Mallow, where we were within an ace of wanton bloodshed, owing to the excitement of the police officer, Mr.Concannon. When they could not see me, the blinds being down, they opened the door of the carriage in the ordinary way to have a look at me. That was their one whole and sole offence during the night, and that was the offence for which a police officer, in an extraordinary state of excitement, pulled out his revolver and said, "load." One of the policemen said, "We are loaded already." I should like to know whether the police will deny it; and if they do not, what a picture of the state of discipline amongst the Irish Constabulary it exhibits. Two of the policemen fired their revolvers, one without orders, one without the Inspector's knowledge. The very instant the people opened the door the policemen thrust the muzzles of their rifles 1701 in the people's faces. The people fell back, the door was slammed to by Mr. Concannon. The people cheered and groaned, but did nothing under Heaven in t he way of violence. A minute or two elapsed, and a ticket collector came and asked for tickets. Mr. Concannon instantly seized him, and said, "We have no tickets." The ticket collector was trying to understand what Mr. Concannon, in his excitement, was saying, when Mr. Concannon throttled him and flung him out with all his force, and the door was slammed to again. It was at that moment, and only then, that the slightest bit of disorder on the part of the people of Charleville occurred. At that moment a pane of glass in the door was broken. It was broken, as I believe, either with a stick or with one of the musical instruments, because no missile of any sort or kind came into the carriage that night. On the instant, without one word of warning, Mr. Con-cannon discharged his revolver through the window right in the face of the people. I had barely time to say, "My God, are you going to murder the people?" when two other revolver shots were fired just beside me—at my ear—by two sergeants of police, whom I can identify. No other shot was fired, and no shot could possibly have been fired from the outside. The train was actually moving when the second and third shots were fired; so that if there had been any danger of rescue, or any danger to human life, there was no excuse for the second and third shots. But, as I hope for mercy from the Almighty, there was not for one instant that night a bit of danger to the life of anyone. It is a shameful and wicked fabrication, and it is a most——
§ * MR SPEAKER
Order, order! I have given the hon. Gentleman great latitude in making his statement, That statement might fairly be made on the Motion for adjournment; but I think the hon. Gentleman ought to content himself with a plain narrative of his own impressions, and not to make charges which cannot be answered now. It is unfair that he should make anything more than a formal statement at this time.
§ MR. W. O'BRIEN
I at once accept that suggestion. Perhaps I have travelled outside a mere narrative of the facts. I should like, however, to com- 1702 plete that narrative. As soon as the shots were fired—and I shall only tell the House what took place between the policemen and myself—I said, "If human life has been lost, if those shots have taken effect, the most cold-blooded murders ever committed have been committed." District Inspector Concannon then said, "They are after firing at us. I thought at first they were stones. We must search the carriage for the bullet marks." I said, "In God's name, are you really serious? You know well that only three shots have been fired, and that these were fired by your own policemen." "No," he said, "the police only fired two shots." "Ask your men this moment," I said; and he did ask them all round the carriage. The four policemen said they had not fired; and the two sergeants admitted, then and there, that they had discharged their two revolvers as well as the District Inspector. I then said to him, "What becomes of your statement that others had fired?" and then and there I appealed to the policemen in that carriage and said, "If you are honest men I call on you to witness that it is now admitted that only three shots were fired, and that one of them was fired without orders." Not one of them said a word against it. The District Inspector said, "The police do not lie," although he at that moment had been contradicted by one of his own sergeants. I again and again challenged them to point to injury of any sort that any of them had received in the carriage, and the only answer that could be made was that the District Inspector pointed out to me a dent in his helmet. I said, "Do you consider that a sufficient justification for taking away three human lives?" Whereupon one of the sergeants said, "There is no harm done." I said, "If there is no harm done it is no fault of yours." Mr. Concannon said, "We had to defend our lives." I asked what risk they had run, which I had not run also, and he said, "Well, we had to defend your life also." It was almost more than human nature could bear; but I think I did say to him, "You know thoroughly well my life was never in danger, nor yours either; and that I had rather that a bullet had been put through me than that you should fire on these people."
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is now certainly preju- 1703 dicing the case by the statement he is making, and I do not think be ought to continue that line of argument.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! That was a shameful expression to use. I allowed the hon. Gentleman to have sufficient latitude to make a personal explanation.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is snaking charges which cannot now be investigated, and cannot now be answered. And I say there is something unfair in putting forward charges to which there can be no answer now, because of the opportunity he has taken. When the proper time comes these charges may be repeated and may be answered—of course I cannot tell with what result. But it is not fair at the present moment, when the hon. Gentleman is debarred by the Rules of the House from making a statement on a Motion for Adjournment, that he should make the same statement as a personal explanation.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make any further personal explanation strictly of that nature I shall not prevent him.
§ MR. W. O'BRIEN
Certainly, Sir. I am confining myself to a narrative of what actually occurred between myself and the policemen on that night in reply to a statement in the most fearful manner impugning the accuracy of my public statement. I have stated precisely what I mentioned to the police officers that night; and I submit that I have a right, with the permission of the House, to complete the narrative of what occurred between the policemen and myself. If I have not that right I will sit down.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman has had full latitude—much fuller latitude, perhaps, than I ought, in the first instance, to have allowed him, inasmuch as he would have been contravening the Standing Order by making the Motion. I have allowed him full opportunity, for a personal explanation; and I think the matter ought to rest there.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether, in view of the statement which has been made by Mr. Speaker, an opportunity will be afforded of discusssing the question on the Vote for the Constabulary; whether the right hon. Gentleman will take the Constabulary Vote at an early date, so as to give my hon. Friend an opportunity of going fully into this matter and laying it before the House?
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
I will consider the request which has been made to me by the hon. Member, and give him an answer to-morrow. But, as it appears to me, I should be departing from the arrangement of business which has been laid down if Supply were allowed to interrupt the progress of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. The Constabulary Vote will, however, be taken as the first of the Irish Estimates; and I hope that will be in time.