HC Deb 04 April 1895 vol 32 cc909-10
MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, whether he is aware that on St. Patrick's Day the Irish artillery men in St. James Cavalier and Tign hutments, Malta, were ordered and com pelled to remove the shamrock from their helmets on the batteries being paraded for church, the order being given in one case by the orderly sergeant and in the other by Lieutenant Quain of Dublin; was a circular issued by the War Office, dated 16th February 1893. in consequence of the punishment of Private O'Grady in the Welsh Fusiliers in 1892, allowing Irish, English, Scotch, and Welsh soldiers to wear national emblems on the occasion of national or regimental anniversaries, at the discretion of Commanding Officers; was the Commanding Officer at Malta a party to the order for removing the shamrock from the artillerymen's helmets; and whether, in view of the fact that the shamrock is publicly worn on St. Patrick's Day by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as representative of Her Majesty, the Government will take steps to prevent Irish soldiers being subjected in future to orders to remove the shamrock from their helmets on St. Patrick's Day on the initiative of non-commissioned and subaltern officers?


I promised a few days ago to enquire into the particular incident referred to in the question; nothing is known of it at present. With regard to the general question I may frankly state my view of it. I cannot see any harm, as a general rule, in permitting such gratification as the wearing of a national emblem on a national anniversary may afford. But discretion is allowed to the Commanding Officers of Battalions, and this, I presume, for two reasons: firstly that, after all, it is desirable that there should be some uniformity in what we call by the name of uniforms; and, secondly, that there may be circumstances in which the wearing of an emblem by one soldier may be a cause of offence to another.


The point of my question is that it was not a commanding officer who gave this order, but a noncommissioned officer in one case and a subaltern in the other. Surely this is a matter of sufficient gravity, in view of the fact that there are 20,000 Irish soldiers wearing the Queen's colours, to justify the right hon. Gentleman in telegraphing to Malta for information.


Inquiry is being made into the circumstances. If they turn out to be what is alleged I will take the necessary steps.

Mr. J. REDMOND (Waterford)

asked whether, in view of the fact that very often soldiers of the rank and file were not aware of the necessity of applying to the commanding officer for leave to wear their national emblem, the War Office would issue a general order to the effect that there was no objection to Irish soldiers wearing the shamrock on St. Patrick's Day?


I occupy a neutral position in this matter, as I belong to a country, the emblem of which does not lend itself to the convenience of a button-hole. But really I think a commanding officer who is responsible and who has to exercise his discretion should, unless he sees any particular reason, such as that to which I have alluded, allow every latitude and facility for the display of a laudable national sentiment.


gave notice he should revert to this subject.


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would make inquiry by telegraph?


With the Easter holidays so near I hope to have information when the House reassembles.