§ GENERAL H. MCCALMONT (Antrim, N.)
I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in view of the probability of serious riots occurring in Belfast, why steps were not taken to stop the procession on last Monday to Hannahstown, where inflammatory speeches were delivered which were calculated to cause breaches of the peace?
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
Before the right honourable Gentleman answers the Question, may I ask him whether the Lord Mayor of Belfast wrote to the authorities at Dublin Castle strongly advising the proclamation of the intended procession, on the ground that a procession organised to commemorate the incidents of one cruel and disastrous rebellion, and to promote the early outbreak of another, was certain to prove provocative in a city in which the vast majority of the inhabitants have no sympathy with rebellion past or prospective; whether it is not in the power of the executive to proclaim any meeting or procession which they have adequate reason to believe will lead to a breach of the peace; and, if so, why the request, of the Lord Mayor of Belfast was not complied with?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The Lord Mayor of Belfast and the justices of that city had all the circumstances connected with the procession to Hannahstown which took place on Monday, the 6th inst., before them for some weeks past. They were informed on the 20th May that they could take, and were under obligations to take, all such steps as they deemed necessary for the preservation of the public peace of the city, and that if prohibiting proclamations of any kind were deemed necessary they should be based on sworn information. They were further informed on the 23rd ultimo that in carrying out measures for the preservation of the public peace they would receive, as in fact they did receive, the fullest support and assistance from the Irish Government. They did not prohibit the procession, but prescribed the route which it should take. For the Government to have superseded the magistrates in Belfast, as apparently suggested in the Question, would have been contrary to all precedent. In reply to the 1181 honourable Member for West Belfast, I have to say it is, of course, in the power of the Executive to proclaim any meeting or procession which they may have reason to believe will lead to a breach of the peace; but, as I have already stated, if they had done so in this instance they would have departed from precedent and superseded the local magistrates. I think the honourable Member is confusing two things. A meeting may be prohibited because its object is illegal, or it may be prohibited on the ground that if it takes place it may lead to a breach of the peace. The Government are not of opinion that this was a procession which could be prohibited because its object was illegal, and to have prohibited it on the ground that it was calculated to lead to a breach of the peace would, without any question whatever, have been to supersede the magistrates of Belfast in the exercise of their powers.
§ MR. DILLON
I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland how many men of the Royal Irish Constabulary were injured in the rioting in Belfast on Monday night; whether any extra police had been drafted into the city for Monday last; whether any application was made by the city magistrates, or by the city inspector, for extra police; whether any inquiries were made by the authorities in Dublin as to the sufficiency of the police arrangements to cope with any disturbances which might arise; whether he will lay before the House any communications which passed between the authorities in Dublin and those responsible for the preservation of the peace in Belfast on this subject; whether there were 300 police outside the city boundary within three miles of the rioting; whether they were moved to support the police on the Shankhill Road; and, if not, why not; and whether, at the height of the rioting, the police were withdrawn from the Shank-hill Road; and, if so, at whoso request this was done?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
One hundred and three men of the Royal Irish Constabulary were injured in the riots at Belfast on Monday night last. Of these, two are still in a critical condition, and nine are suffering from 1182 serious injuries; the remainder were slightly injured. Of the total number rendered non-effective after the riots 53 have resumed duty. No extra police were drafted into the city on Monday last. No application was made by the city magistrates or Commissioner of Police for extra police. Communications passed between the authorities in Dublin and the authorities in Belfast on the subject of the arrangements for the preservation of the peace. Inquiries were made as to the sufficiency of the police arrangements, and all assistance that might be desired was offered to the local magistrates. The general effect of these communications has been stated by me in answer to the Question of my honourable and gallant Friend the Member for North Antrim. Actual communications are confidential documents, and, as at present advised, I see no sufficient reason for laying them on the Table of the House. There were 300 police detailed to preserve the peace during the progress of the procession from the borough boundary to Hannahstown, and its return from Hannahstown to the borough boundary. When the duty upon which these men had been engaged was discharged, they returned to their stations, with the exception of a small detachment. They had left the neighbourhood of Hannahstown and Belfast before the rioting had commenced on the Shankhill Road. They were not available to move to the Shankhill Road even if such a course had been considered desirable. The Commissioner of Police reports that he declined to withdraw the police from the Shankhill Road, although requested to do so by the Rev. Mr. Garston, rector in the locality. It would, however, appear that the men on duty on the road were compelled to retire temporarily by an overwhelming mob of rioters, but, subsequently, on being reinforced, and on the arrival of the military, they resumed duty on the road.
§ MR. DILLON
Does the right honourable Gentleman know where the police were when the rioting commenced? I refer to paragraph 6 of my Question.