§ Mr. DILLON
I beg to move, "That, in the interest of peace and good government in Ireland, it is vitally important that the Government should make immediately a full statement of their intentions as to the continuance of executions in that country carried out as a result of secret military trials, and as to the continuance of martial law, military rule, and the searches and wholesale arrests now going on in various districts of the country."
I drafted this Resolution with the object, if possible, of confining the discussion to the narrow though important issue of the military executions in Ireland, and the continuance and administration of martial law in that country. I will endeavour to confine my remarks to these two points. I must, of course, say that it will be necessary to make some reference to the conduct of the insurgents and the troops in order to make out my case. First of all, I desire to refer to the questions I put to the Prime Minister as a justification for the request I made for permission to move the Adjournment of the House. I asked the Prime Minister, first of all, whether he would give a pledge that the executions should stop. That he declined to give. Secondly, I asked him whether he could tell whether any executions had taken place in Ireland since Monday morning; the last we had official notification of before I left there. The reply of the Prime Minister was: "No, Sir, so far as I know, not." On Monday twelve executions had been made public. Since then, in spite of the statement of the Prime Minister, I have received word that a man named Kent had been executed in Fermoy, which is the first execution that has taken place outside Dublin. The fact is one which will create a very grave shock in Ireland, because it looks like a roving commission to carry these horrible executions all over the country. This, I say, was the first execution outside the city of Dublin, in a district where there have been no serious disturbances". Now, to-day the Under-Secretary of State for War has announced to the House that fourteen men have been executed. What are we to believe? Is it any worfder that some of us have the gravest anxiety lest there should be other executions held back from the knowledge of the Prime Minister which will be brought to light from day 936 to day in the future. That is the comment I have to make upon the reply of the Prime Minister. Then I put, as I have been reminded, a series of questions. Although I admit, Mr. Speaker, that I committed a grave error in not submitting these questions to you before I put them, under the circumstances, perhaps, that may be pardoned. The circumstances existing in Dublin and in Ireland generally, as I hope to show, are urgent and the House may very well indulge me in having put these six questions. The next point that I raised was this:Whether any prisoners in Dublin have been shot without trial or have been shot after trial, but without public announcement of their names, and, if so, how manyTo that the Prime Minister replied that, so far as he knew, the answer was in the negative. So far as he knew, and within two minutes afterwards he stood up at that Table and admitted that three prisoners had been shot.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, no. I pointedly said, so far as I knew they were not prisoners. I disclosed the whole of the information.
§ Mr. DILLON
That makes it infinitely worse, because they were prisoners, as I shall prove in the course of the observations I shall have to make. They were prisoners, and were shot in cold blood in Portobello Barracks without any trial whatsoever. My point with regard to that particular answer is that the Prime Minister is being kept in the dark; he is not being informed by the military authorities in Dublin of what is going on. Later on I must deal with this case of the unfortunate shooting of Mr. Sheehy-Skeffington, for which I attach no responsibility whatever to Sir John Maxwell or the higher military authorities beyond this: how did we hear in this House and the public become aware of the shooting at the Portobello Barracks? The Prime Minister was asked about it yesterday and I have his own words. He said:The first intimation I had of anything of the kind I caused a telegram to be sent at once to the General Officer Commanding, and I have received this answer this morning.Now this is what the answer was:Mr. Skeffington was shot on the morning of 26th April, without the knowledge of the military authorities. The matter is now under investigation. The officer concerned has been under arrest since 6th May.Mr. Skeffiington was shot on the 26th April, and the Prime Minister never heard anything about it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
You have not quoted my answer completely. I am speaking from memory, but I think the telegram sent to me was that the officer concerned was arrested on the 6th May, as soon as the military authorities were aware of what had occurred.
§ Mr. DILLON
That was exactly what I was coming to, but I did not think that was really an important part of the answer. All Dublin was ringing with this affair for days. It came to our knowledge within two or three days after the shooting. And are we to be told that this is the excuse for what has occurred? A more lurid light on military law in Ireland could not possibly be imagined than that a man is to be shot in Porto-bello Barracks—it must have been known to at least 300 or 400 military men, the whole city of Dublin knew it, his poor wife was denied all knowledge of it until her husband was lying buried in the barrack yard for three or four days—and the military authorities in Dublin turn round and say they knew nothing whatever about it until the 6th of May. How on the face of these facts, which I shall explain more fully in a few moments, can we blame the population of Dublin if they believe, as they do believe, that dozens of other men have been summarily shot in the barracks? We are told in this House the military authorities know nothing about it. This would never have been known if Skeffington had not been one of the leading citizens in Dublin and his shooting became known to the populace. The military authorities did not know, and would not have known apparently, unless the whole people of Dublin knew it and it was raised in this House. Therefore, I say, the horrible rumours which are current in Dublin, and which are doing untold and indescribable mischief, maddening the population of Dublin, who were your friends and loyal allies against this insurrection last week and who are rapidly becoming embittered by the stories afloat and these executions —I say the facts of this case disclose a most serious state of things.
Let me take the next answer given by the right hon. Gentleman. I asked him on what grounds searches are being made throughout the country and wholesale arrests in districts of Ireland that remain peaceful and loyal and which supported the Executive Government. The reply he gave was that he knew of no such things, and that if I would give 938 him particulars he would direct inquiries. Is that the way the country is to be governed? If I will give him particulars! That is not my business. I will give him particulars, but is it my business to give particulars of the administration of the military law in Ireland, and are we to be told by the head of the Government in this country—there being no Government in Ireland—absolutely none, except Sir John Maxwell—that he knows nothing of what Sir John Maxwell was doing, although he told us before that Sir John Maxwell was in constant comunmication with the Cabinet, and that all proceedings were submitted? At this moment, I say, you are doing everything conceivable to madden the Irish people and to spread insurrection —perhaps not insurrection, because if you disarm the country there cannot be insurrection—but to spread disaffection and bitterness from one end of the country to the other. Let me give you a few instances. The county of Limerick remained absolutely loyal. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else in this House to deny that the city and county of Limerick remained so loyal that my hon. Friend the Member for East Limerick (Mr. Lundon) and other leading Nationalists received telegrams of thanks from the military governor, who was sent out from Dublin, expressing his gratitude to members of our party there who held the country districts. The only stronghold of Sinn Fein there was captured by the hon. Member for East Limerick when the insurrection broke out; he took all the rifles from them, and took charge of them, and reported the matter to the military governor of the county, and the constabulary were withdrawn. [A laugh.] I do not see anything laughable in that. I think it was a fair and proper proceeding, and would have been much more widely the case if we had got any kind of fair play during the last year in dealing with these matters. In some of the parishes where the military governor was afraid of disaffection, so rapid and so effective was the action of the Nationalist party, that he telegraphed to send back the constabulary, as all was at peace, and the county and city remained absolutely quiet. On what conceivable ground of common-sense and statesmanship is Limerick to be harassed by searches from house to house and arrests of so-called suspects? If 939 there be a few men there who sympathised with the supporters of the Sinn Fein movement, would not any sensible statesman think he had enough to do in Dublin and the other centres where disturbance broke out without doing everything possible to raise disturbance and spread disaffection over the whole country? The same is true of Clare. Here is a county which many people might have expected would break out into revolt, and if it had it would have had serious effect. At the weekly Court at Ennis, Mr. M'Elroy, the resident magistrate, said:He could not use words good enough to describe the admirable conduct of the people of Clare during the crisis. As far as he knew there had been no disturbances of any kind or sort, and he thought they should thank the National Volunteers who in Ennis, Kildysart and other places came forward and were ready to assist the police in maintaining order.The only reward the National Volunteers got for doing that is that military rule in Dublin is now doing everything in its power to turn people against you and us, and to turn what was a loyal district into a disloyal and a disturbed district. That has been done throughout the whole country. In Mayo, which I have the honour to represent as senior Member, it is absolutely quiet. Not a soul stirred in Mayo, and I can tell you from personal experience, now that you are moving troops in Mayo, there is not a more troublesome county in Ireland if disturbed. We kept it quiet. There was not a man moved in Mayo. The Sinn Feiners dared not move. And now the reward we get is to send down troops and proceed to make arrests all over the county, and turn our own friends into enemies of the Government. If Ireland were governed by men out of Bedlam you could not pursue a more insane policy. In Mitchelstown, in county Cork, there was no disturbance. According to my information, at an early hour of the morning a number of men were arrested and shortly afterwards discharged. I could go on, but what is the use of going on? The thing is going on all over the country, and one of the high military authorities in Dublin told me— I have no complaint to make myself of the military authorities in Dublin, so far as their countesy goes, but I complain grievously of their policy, and I think it is insanity to leave Ireland in its present condition in their hands—he told me they proposed, when they had finished with Dublin, to deal with the country; in 940 other words, to disturb the whole of Ireland as if we had not had enough trouble in Dublin. These are the chief criticisms I have to make upon the answers of the Prime Minister.
I go on to say a word as to the condition of Dublin itself, and of Ireland, from the point of view of military law. But before I do so I just want to say that the primary object of my Motion is to put an absolute and a final stop to these executions. You are letting loose a river of blood, and, make no mistake about it, between two races who, after three hundred years of hatred and of strife, we had nearly succeeded in bringing together. What was said in the House of Lords last night by one of the bitterest Unionists in Ireland, and one of our most implacable enemies, Lord Midleton? [An HON. MEMBER: "He is not!"] What do I hear? Do you consider it a reproach to call a man a bitter Unionist?
§ Mr. DILLON
I mean a political enemy. I do not say a personal enemy. What did he say in the House of Lords last night? I quote him because I say you could not have a greater authority. He said, after making a bitter speech against the Government and against us, that in this rebellion, for the first time in the history of Ireland, at least nine out of every ten of the population were on the side of the Government. Is that nothing? It is the first rebellion that ever took place in Ireland where you had a majority on your side. It is the fruit of our life work. We have risked our lives a hundred times to bring about this result. We are held up to odium as traitors by those men who made this rebellion, and our lives have been in danger a hundred times during the last thirty years because we have endeavoured to reconcile the two things, and now you are washing out our whole life work in a sea of blood. In my opinion, at present the government of Ireland is largely in the hands of the Dublin clubs. The Prime Minister, when I asked him a question yesterday about the government of Ireland, told me that it was in the hands of the military officers, subject to the authority of the British Cabinet. In my opinion, and I think I really am speaking on a matter that I know, the British Cabinet has much less power in Ireland to-day than the Kildare Street Club and 941 certain other institutions. It is they who are influencing the policy of the military authorities. What is the use of telling me, as the Prime Minister told me yesterday, that the military authorities acted in close consultation with the civil executive officers of the Irish Government? That was the answer I got to my question. Who are the civil executive officers of the Irish Government? There are none; they have all disappeared. There is no Government in Ireland except Sir John Maxwell and the Dublin clubs, and I defy the Prime Minister to tell us who are the civil officers of the Irish Government with whom the military authorities are acting in consultation. Are we to be informed that Sir Robert Chalmers is the civil officer with whom the military generals are taking careful counsel, and is he so versed in Irish affairs that he can untie the tangle that has defied every British statesman for a hundred years I Everybody in Dublin knows that before the civil officers took to flight out of Dublin the military authorities treated them with undisguised contempt, and from the day martial law was proclaimed civil government came to an absolute end.
It is no use indulging in smooth words to cloak over the truth of the situation. We have a great deal of well-founded criticism in this House, and still more in the Press, as to the practice of the Government throwing a heavy cloak over the truth, and trying to get along with -optimistic statements blinding the public to the realities of the situation. That is what is being done in Ireland to-day, and in that respect I sympathise very deeply with the anxiety of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Wm. O'Brien) in his desire to have a general discussion on the state of Ireland as soon as we can have it, in order that we can get to grips with the realities of the situation. There is no disguising the fact that—and remember that the insurrection was confined to an infinitesimal part of Ireland—out of the whole of Ireland there were only four or five spots where there was any insurrection at all, and yet you have placed the whole of Ireland under absolute martial law, and you have swept away every trace of civil administration in the country. When we complain, what is the answer? We must rely upon the well-known high character of Sir John Maxwell, and that is the sole protection that any man in Ireland has for liberty or for any of the ordinary rights men are supposed to 942 enjoy in a civilised country. Talk about the well-known high character of Sir John Maxwell—I confess that I never heard of him before in my life. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Well, I am not a military man, but I knew that he was ruling Egypt, and probably that recommends him to the right hon. Gentleman. Ireland is a very much harder country to rule than Egypt, and I refuse, and the Irish people will refuse, to accept the well-known high character of Sir John Maxwell as the sole guarantee of their liberty.
The worst of the situation is that there are many men in Dublin, I know of my own knowledge, who are going about the streets to-day openly glorying in the revolt—I mean of the old ascendancy party. What is the talk in the clubs and certain districts in Dublin? It is that this is the best thing that has ever happened in Ireland, because they say it has brought us martial law, and real government into the country, and it will put an end for ever to this rotten Nationalist party. That is the language you hear continuously in the streets of Dublin, and that is what makes the situation so terrible. Let me read to you a very significant and a very terrible extract from the chief Unionist organ in Ireland, the "Irish Times," of yesterday morning, in confirmation of what I have now said. This is an extract from a leader. The "Irish Times" is a very great journal, and it is undoubtedly the leading journal of the Unionist party in Ireland. This is what he said:The demand for the curtailment of military measures comes chiefly from men and newspapers who refused to recognise the gathering of the storm. …. It would be a national calamity if the politicians, now beginning to be publicly irked by their enforced holiday, were to return prematurely to the control of Irish affairs. The country must be strengthened and re-established beyond their powers of injury. Much nonsense is likely to be written in newspapers and talked in Parliament about the restrictions of martial law in Ireland. The fact is that martial law has come as a blessing to us all. For the first time in many months Dublin and large areas in the provinces are enjoying real security of life and property.[Cheers.] That is rather a feeble cheer on these benches. They go on to say:The men or newspapers who try to shatter that prospect will be guilty of a national crime. Strength, wisdom and tolerance will be needed for the settlement of the problems which are crowding on the heels of the recent outbreak. We have no confidence at all that these qualities exist in Dublin Castle or in the House of Commons. We know that we shall find them in a military Government in Ireland acting on its own initiative.943 That is the programme we are up against in Ireland. I tell you if that programme is to be enforced in Ireland, you had better get ready 100,000 men to garrison the country. I want to know what kind of an appearance you will make in the peace conference as the champion of small nationalities with Ireland under a military despotism. I want to give a person experience, trifling indeed, and I dare say many will think it ridiculous, as to the amenities and the delights of martial law, and the effect it has on our life in Dublin. Yesterday we were supposed to be settling down enjoying the privilege and the freedom of martial law. Yesterday a son of my own, a boy of seventeen and a half years of age, went to the military officer in Dublin to get a pass to enable him to go to Kingstown. He happens to be a lad who asked my own permission to allow him to join the British Army on his seventeenth birthday, and I gave him permission to join when he was eighteen. He will never join it now, and there are tens of thousands like him in Ireland. No one who has studied in the college which he studied is wanted in the Army. He was asked his name, and the college he had studied at, and the British officer in command grossly insulted him and refused the permit. He bore a name that was suspect, and please God he will never trouble to join the British Army. He had to retire insulted from the place. I do not put that forward for a moment as a personal grievance, because it is nothing of the kind. [Laughter.] I see some hon. Members laughing, but my God, if your sons were subjected to such treatment in your own country, because, after all, it is our country, although you seem to look upon it as a kind of back garden of this country that you can trample into the dust without any consideration at all.
Dublin is at this moment full of rumours, and is it any wonder? The horrors of that week in Dublin will never be understood by those who have not been there, as I have. Let me tell you this: If it had not been for the action of Mr. John McNeill you would be fighting still, and the rebellion would have been twice as formidable, and he is one of the men now in gaol. He broke the back of the rebellion on the very eve of it, and he kept back a very large body of men from joining. But for that, the battle would have been raging in full swing at present, 944 and if they had only got the telephone exchange and the Castle it might have gone on much longer. Dublin is now seething with rumours. Responsible men have come up to my house in large numbers during the last week, and said the military authorities were shooting men wholesale in the prisons after secret trials, or without trials at all. Of course, I discountenanced these rumours, and refused to believe them, but priests and all kinds of responsible people come to us and say, "You may talk as you like, bur it is going on." I did not believe it. I thought one or two cases might have occurred, but what I do say is that the population of Dublin believes it, and the circumstances of these secret military executions are horrible and shocking. Imagine in this city thirty or forty men being executed here without any knowledge whatever of the evidence upon which they are executed. It is no wonder that Dublin should be seething with rumours.
Here are some of the facts that I know to be true, and I want to put it to the House of Commons, do you approve of this action? One of the practices going on in the barracks is that these unhappy persons, and they have taken numbers of them, are threatened with instant death in order to force them to become informers. They are given half-an-hour of life, and then put up against a wall, and several of them have given evidence against their comrades. Is that approved of by the House of Commons without any trial? Do they approve of that form of torture, because it really is torture? I believe a number have given evidence, but not many considering the great number of prisoners. For my part I think it is a scandal, and it is exasperating the people of Dublin. Was that reported to the Prime Minister, and does he approve of it? Let me give the right hon. Gentleman another case. A boy of fifteen years of age was ordered to give evidence against his commanding officer, and the boy said "I won't." "Then," said the officer, "you will be shot in half-an-hour," and the boy said," Shoot away." They blindfolded that boy and put him with his back to the wall, and made him hear the click of the rifle, and finally he was asked before he died would he answer the question, and he said "No." Then they told him to go home to his mother. Is that British justice? I call it damnable, and the British House of Commons ought to be ashamed of it. 945 Is it not intolerable that such things should go on, and the Prime Minister know nothing about them, and yet he says that he has the most absolute confidence in the administration of military law. Another boy of fourteen—this is a different case, and I make no complaint of it at all—was called up. The officer looked at him, and, being a kind-hearted man, he said, "What on earth am I to do with you?" The boy said to him, "Shoot me, for I have killed three of your soldiers." That may horrify you, but I declare most solemnly, and I am not ashamed to say it in the House of Commons, that I am proud of these men. They were foolish; they were misled. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"]
§ Mr. DILLON
Did I ever fail to show my hand in the House of Commons, or to conceal anything? I say I am proud of their courage, and, if you were not so dense and so stupid, as some of you English people are, you could have had these men fighting for you, and they are men worth having. [HON. MEMBERS: "You stopped them."] That is an infamous falsehood. I and the men who sit around me have been doing our best to bring these men into the ranks of the Army. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ask the hon. Member for Cork."] I say that we have been doing our best to bring these men into the ranks of the Army, and it is the blundering manner in which our country has been ruled which has deprived you of their services. These men require no Compulsory Service Bill to make them fight. Ours is a fighting race, and as I told you' when I was speaking before on the Military Service Bill, "It is not a Military Service Bill that you want in Ireland." If you had passed a Military Service Bill for Ireland, it would have taken 150,000 men and three months' hard fighting to have dealt with it. It is not a Military Service Bill that you want in Ireland; it is to find a way to the hearts of the Irish people, and when you do that you will find that you have got a supply of the best troops in the whole world. How can we, in the face of these facts, accept the statement of the Prime Minister, that according to the best of his knowledge no men are being secretly shot in Ireland? The fact of the matter is that what is poisoning the mind of Ire- 946 land, and rapidly poisoning it, is the secrecy of these trials and the continuance of these executions.
Compare the conduct of the Government in dealing with this rebellion with; the conduct of General Botha. I say deliberately that in the whole of modern history, taking all the circumstances into account, there has been no rebellion or insurrection put down with so much blood and so much savagery as the recent insurrection in Ireland. Go back to the history of any insurrection in any modern civilised country. Take the great rebellion in America, which lasted for three years, and which had not one tithe of the excuse which these Sinn Feiners could advance. A million men lost their lives and a vast amount of property was destroyed. When the insurrection was over I do not think Abraham Lincoln executed one single man, and by that one act of clemency he did an enormous work of good for the whole of the country. Take the case of Botha in South-Africa, where he was face to face with, an unreasoning rebellion against a Nationalist Government set up by this country in a moment of great generosity and statemanship without a shadow or shred of justification—a rebellion in. which it was proved that men wearing the King's uniform had betrayed their honour and oath and had taken the money; of Germany. After the rebellion was over—it was a much more dangerous rebellion, far more, than the Irish one—if my memory serves me right, he executed one man, because, wearing the King's uniform and having taken the oath, he had taken the money of Germany. He was rightly killed, but he executed no-one else, and De Wet, who was chief of that rebellion, is now out again on his farm. Why cannot you treat Ireland as Botha treated South Africa? Where is the difference? Instead of that you have already executed, I thought it was twelve, but we are informed to-day that it is fourteen, and the imprisonments announced in all amount to something like 100. Here I. must utter a vehement protest against the language used last night by the Home Secretary (Mr. Herbert Samuel). What did he say?The revolt was marked by several cold-blooded deliberate murders of policemen and soldiers, and the Government would have been guilty of unpardonable weakness if they had not meted out stern penalties to those who had been blood-guilty.947 I say that is very scandalous language. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Will you kindly listen why I say that? Anybody reading that language would suppose that a charge was made against insurgents, and that the men who were executed were the men who committed the murders.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
I am sorry to interrupt, but the hon. Member is reading from an imperfect report which appeared in last night s evening newspapers. If he will refer to the report of my speech in this morning's newspapers he will see that those sentences which he has quoted were preceded by another sentence in which I said:The rebellion had resulted in the death of a considerable number of gallant young British officers and soldiers.And I went on to say:There had also been some cold-blooded murders, and the Government would have been guilty of unpardonable weakness if they had not meted out stern penalties to those who had been blood-guilty.
§ Mr. DILLON
I do not think that improves the quotation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] According to the language the Home Secretary is now using, he thinks it is the duty of the Government to revenge the death of British soldiers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Mete out justice."] Some of those officers and soldiers were. Dublin men fighting their own brothers. One of the most horrible tragedies of this fighting was that brother met brother in the streets of Dublin. I asked Sir John Maxwell himself, "Have you any cause of complaint of the Dublins who had to go down and fight their own people in the streets of Dublin? Did a single man turn back and betray the uniform he wears?" He told me, "Not a man." Were any soldiers ever put to a more terrific test? I saw an account, I think it was in the "Mail," of two brothers who met in the streets of Dublin, one on each side, and there are a number of these insurgents in Dublin whose brothers are out fighting for you in the trenches and who, I say, are simply the victims of misdirected enthusiasm and leadership. I was in the middle of this; for two days I was in the power of the insurgents. The whole of that part of the city in which I lived was in the hands of the insurgents, and there were no troops. Although I could not see anything, because you had to keep to your 948 own house unless you wanted a bullet in your head, and I had no fancy for that, I have had a good deal of opportunity of collecting information as to what actually took place, and, according to the information that has reached me, there were isolated and very few acts of savagery and murder on the side of the insurgents, as there were also on the side of the soldiers very few. I make no complaint of the general action of the soldiers. As I say, there were some very bad actions, but as regards the main body of the insurgents, their conduct was beyond reproach as fighting men. I admit they were wrong; I know they were wrong; but they fought a clean fight, and they fought with superb bravery and skill, and no act of savagery or act against the' usual customs of war that I know of has been brought home to any leader or any organised body of insurgents. I have not heard of a single act. I may be wrong, but that is my impression.
Just consider what was the nature of the fighting. To give you an idea how very serious it might have been I may tell you this: I am informed and I believe, that there were at no time under arms in Dublin more than 3,000 insurgents, and the extraordinary thing is that in that great city the population was on the side of the soldiers. I was, as I say, in the possession of the insurgents for two days, and as the soldiers came to me, closing in on the insurgents, they were received by the people with enthusiasm, and the people gave them food, because at one time the soldiers were nearly starving in the streets. They were on very short rations, the whole food supply of the city having broken down, and people came out and gave them food, and were rejoiced to see them. As a matter of fact, the great bulk of the population were not favourable to the insurrection, and the insurgents themselves, who had confidently calculated on a rising of the people in their support, were absolutely disappointed. They got no popular support whatever. What is happening is that thousands of people in Dublin, who ten days ago were bitterly-opposed to the whole of the Sinn Fein movement and to the rebellion, are now becoming infuriated against the Government on account of these executions, and, as I am informed by letters received this morning, that feeling is spreading throughout the, country in a most dangerous degree.
949 I want to deal very briefly with the case which has been so frequently referred to, the case of Mr. Sheehy-Skeffington. It is not only a very bad case, but it bears very much upon that which I have laid stress—the prevalence of these horrible rumours in Dublin. I have here— the best thing I can do is to read it out —a very brief narrative which has been given to me by Mr. Skeffington's widow, and which I believe to be absolutely accurate. Here it is:Statement on Mr. Sheehy-Skeffington's death.— On Monday afternoon and Tuesday, April 24 and 25, my husband actively interested himself in helping to repress looting in the city,I may say that looting was entirely by the mob, because the rebels or insurgents were absolutely innocent of looting, and they fired on the looters more than once.with some success, enlisting some voluntary helpers for the task. The names and addresses of some of these I can furnish it' necessary. On Tuesday he circulated the enclosed poster, the original of which I have, calling a meeting of citizens at 34, Westmoreland Street, at 5 p.m., on Tuesday, 25th April, for this purpose. I saw him last about 5.15 or 5.30 on that evening, and he stated that he would probably return home shortly. He was seen by two friends subsequently in the neighbourhood of Portobello Bridge, between 6.30 and 7 p.m. Mr. C. Redmond states that he spoke to him at McCarthy's (newsagent), in Richmond Street, and that he went on towards the bridge, that shortly after (about ten minutes) he saw a crowd on the bridge who saw that Sheehy-Skeffing-ion was arrested, he was unarmed and unresisting and had never used arms. He was seen removed in custody to Portobello Barracks, where he was shot that night or early next morning (Wednesday, 26th April), and buried shortly after. No priest was sent for, a chaplain being summoned only to read the funeral service. Rumours reached me that my husband was arrested and shot, but I did not receive, and I have not yet received, any definite notification of his death. On Thursday, 27th April, Mrs. Kettle (my sister, wife of an officer) and Mrs. Culhane (another sister, wife of the late J. F. Culhane) called, on advice of the Rathmines police, at Portobello Barracks to inquire about my husband. All information was refused, and they themselves were put under temporary arrest, a formal inquiry being held and they were released subsequently on producing papers of identification, etc. On Friday night, 28th April, shortly after seven, my house in 11, Grosvenor Place, Rathmines, one of -a, terrace, was surrounded by military (about sixty to 100 in number). They first shot at the window in the front without any warning and burst through same without waiting for a door to be opened. My maid, my little boy, aged nearly seven, and myself alone occupied the house. I was putting my boy to bed when the soldiers with fixed bayonets dashed down the stairs towards the kitchen. They asked my boy and me to 'hands up,' and an officer (English, the men from their accent seemed to be Belfast) had us escorted by the soldiers to the front room. We were ordered not to move. Soldiers remained in the room on guard while others were arranged outside, some on their knees in the garden and at the gate ready to fire. The soldiers remained for over three hours, leaving shortly after ten. They found no ammunition, but took away with them only documents, including German grammars and other 950 school text-boks of mine and papers of my husband's. … They commandeered a motor car in which were women and made them drive away with the booty while they remained a little distance away 'in case of firing,' They opened one room with my husband's key, which they must have taken from his dead body. …This lady was not told, however, that her husband was dead.Other locks were burst. They left a guard on the house that night. On Monday, 1st May, some soldiers again raided the house during my absence, this time, apparently, looking for Sinn Feiners, for they took nothing. They took in charge a temporary maid I had (my own maid having been too terrified to stay with me), took her in custody to the police station and kept her there until the following Saturday, 6th May, without any charge being made against her. At length through the police she was released. … I have laid these facts already before Sir John Maxwell, who has also been approached by my husband's father.Mrs. Skeffington begs me, in conclusion, to ask the Government and the House of Commons for a public investigation. I may read the circular which was found on Mr. Skeffington when he was arrested:When there are no regular police on the streets it becomes the duty of civilians to police the streets themselves to prevent the spasmodic looting that has taken place. Civilians—men and women—who are willing to partake in this are asked to attend at W'estmoreland Chambers at five o'clock this afternoon. (Signed) F. Sheehy-Skeffington.That was the only incriminating document which appears to have been found upon him. I make this appeal to the Government. I do not want to embitter this matter by any charges against officers. I do not wish to mention any names, but I think the Prime Minister will readily admit that nothing but a public inquiry is demanded as a matter of elementary justice to this unhappy lady for this cruel injury which has been inflicted upon her. To tell us that there will be a court-martial, which, of course, will be secret, and that we may be sure justice will be done, is really an outrage upon every principle of fair play. We, I think, have a right, we who speak for the vast majority of the Irish people, and we do; we who have risked a great deal to win the people to your side in this great crisis of your Empire's history; we who have endeavoured, and successfully endeavoured, to secure that the Irish in America shall not go into alliance with the Germans in that country—we, I think, were entitled to be consulted before this bloody course of executions was entered upon in Ireland. God knows the result of flouting our advice, as it has been flouted in the conduct of Irish affairs ever since the Coalition Government was 951 formed, has not been a brilliant one. I think that in this matter we were entitled to be consulted.
It is no doubt the programme of one section of the people to maintain that country under military government. I do most earnestly appeal to the Prime Minister to stop these executions now, absolutely and filially. I do not propose to go into the larger subject. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to stop the executions. With every fresh man killed it becomes no longer a question of malice or individual sentence; it has gone beyond that. This series of executions is doing more harm than any Englishman in this House can possibly fathom. It is idle for the Prime Minister to tell me that this man or that man has still to be dealt with, and when the Home Secretary talks about murderers, I would tell the House that I was talking to one of the chief military officers in Dublin and he raised that very point. I do not come here to raise one word in defence of murder. If there be a case of cold-blooded murder, by all means try the man openly, before a court-martial if you like, but let the public know what the evidence is and prove that he is a murderer, and then do what you like with him. But it is not murderers who are being executed; it is insurgents who have fought a clean fight, a brave fight, however misguided, and it would be a damned good thing for you if your soldiers were able to put up as good a fight as did these men in Dublin—three thousand men against twenty thousand with machine-guns and artillery. [An HON. MEMBER: "Evidently you wish they had succeeded."] That is an infamous falsehood. Who is it said that? It is an abominable falsehood. I say that these men, misguided as they were, have been our bitterest enemies. They have held us up to public odium as traitors to our country because we have supported you at this moment and stood by you in this great War, and the least we are entitled to is this, that in this great effort which we have made at considerable risk—an effort such as the hon. Member who interrupted me could never have attempted—to bring the masses of the Irish people into harmony with you, in this great effort at reconciliation—I say, we were entitled to every assistance from the Members of this House and from the Government.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not surprisel— and I do not in the least complain—that my hon. Friend has taken the earliest opportunity to bring this matter before the attention of the House. Though I regret very much that in some parts of his speech—not in the whole, I admit—he seems to me to have a little forgotten some of the elementary rules of justice that ought to guide us when dealing with a situation so serious, and which all of us have a supreme desire not to embitter, but to allay, the feeling. I shall certainly, in the observations I am going to make to the House, pursue-that object with a single mind, and I hope I may appeal to the House in all its-quarters in the conduct of the Debate to-remember the seriousness of the situation with which we are faced, and the infinite mischief which, at a moment like this—which I still home, in spite of these disastrous events, will lead to something like-greater approximation of feeling and sentiment among all classes of Irishmen— to remember that infinite mischief would be done by any words spoken, or any appeal made which might obstruct or impair the chances of that most desirable consummation. My hon. Friend said, and said truly—and this is one of the satisfactory features in these deplorable-events—that in this rebellion, if it is to-be dignified by the name of rebellion, nine out of ten of the Irish people were on the side of the law. This is the first time-such a statement could be made of any serious rising in Irish history.
He has spoken with legitimate pride and satisfaction of the part taken, for instance, in Limerick by the hon. Mem-for East Limerick (Mr. Lundon) in taking away the rifles from Sinn Feiners, by the efforts of the National Volunteers and national sympathisers. When he went on to complain that, notwithstanding that, there were in Limerick domiciliary visits still being paid and searches still going on for rifles—I know nothing, of course, of the local circumstances—it does not seem to me to be unreasonable, when the hon. Member for East Limerick has taken that patriotic course with such results, that there should be still ground —ample ground—for the police and military authorities to pursue that course and to see that Limerick is clear of this dangerous class of people. But when the hon. Gentleman spoke of this rebellion having been drowned in a sea of blood, let us see what are the actual facts. 953 I do not think it would be fair or eight, in a transaction of this kind, to measure life for life or to enter into any calculation of numbers on one side or the other, but I am obliged to point out that in the course of these three or four days the casualties suffered—the figures have already been given to the House—by the military were 521, of whom 124 were killed, and the casualties suffered by the civilian population of Dublin, which are not yet fully ascertained, were 794, of whom 180 were killed; the total being 1,315, of whom 304 were killed. Those are very serious figures. Let me add, by way of illustration, the figures which were given at Question time by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War. Take the two battalions of the Sherwood Foresters—gallant English soldiers of a Territorial regiment, all of them young men in training, suddenly called out, before their time most of them, to a most unwelcome task, but at the call of duty. Of these two gallant battalions six officers were killed and fifteen wounded, and, in the other ranks, twenty-four were killed and 142 wounded. As I say, it is not a question of numbers, and it is certainly not a question of revenge or reprisals, but when you think of the households—the English households—to which these gallant young men belonged, who are bereaved of those to whom they looked forward, young men of promise to whom the future belonged—when you think of these men in the prime of their youth cut off in the discharge, as I have said, of a thankless but of an urgent duty to their country, do not let our sympathies be entirely monopolised by the unfortunate and misguided victims of this unhappy and criminal rebellion. Let us observe some sense of proportion. I speak with infinite regret, because I think it is the most deplorable and disastrous chapter in the history of Ireland, both of the losses upon the one side and of the necessary punishments that have had to be inflicted upon the other, but I cannot, when I am told by my hon. Friend that this rebellion has been drenched in a sea of blood, blind myself, nor can any fair-judging man of right principle blind himself, to the extent and gravity of the terrible, wanton, inexcusable, and unprovoked injury which has been inflicted upon both the military and the civil population. My hon. Friend referred, very naturally and properly, to the figures of the men 954 who had suffered the extreme penalty of the law, and he pointed out a discrepancy, which struck me at Question time to-day, between the figures which I gave yesterday and those which were given by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War of to-day. I think that I said yesterday that the total number of executions had been twelve.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Well, in addition to those twelve—I will give the details in a moment—there is another, the thirteenth, of a man called Thomas Kent, who has been executed—most properly executed as everybody will admit—for murder at Fermoy.
§ Mr. DILLON
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly allow me to ask this question: Why, in the cases of allegel murder, does he not order the trials to be public, so that the public may know what is the offence?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
So far as I know, this is the only case yet of an execution for murder. The discrepancy between the thirteen and the fourteen, which was the number given by my right hon. Friend at Question time, is due to the fact that this case has been counted twice. I suppose because the murder happened at Fermoy and the trial took place in Cork. Thirteen is the actual number, not fourteen. I entirely agree with the suggestion that, when charges of murder are made, it would be better that the proceedings should take place with open doors, even proceedings by court-martial. There is no reason why they should not in cases of murder. If there are any cases—I am afraid there are one or two more, but not many, I am glad to say— in which a charge of murder is preferred, instructions will be given that the court-martial shall be held in public with open doors.
Now, let me see—I am sure my hon. Friends below the Gangway opposite are anxious to judge this matter fairly—to what categories these thirteen persons; who unhappily had to suffer the extreme penalty of the law, belonged. They belonged to three categories. In the first place, there were those who signed the proclamation on behalf of the Provisional Government, and were also leaders in the actual rebellion in Dublin. Of these, five out of seven have suffered that penalty. 955 The second class consists of those who were in command of the rebels actually shooting down troops, police and others. Of these there were seven. The third class, those who were guilty of murder, I am happy to say up to the present moment only includes this single case of the man Kent. There are still two other persons who are under sentence of death —a sentence which has been confirmed by the General—both of whom signed the Proclamation and took an active part, one of them the most active part of all, in the actual rebellion in Dublin. I do not see my way, and the Government do not see their way, to interfere with the decision of Sir John Maxwell that in these two cases the extreme penalty must be paid. If it was justifiable, as we think it was, in the case of the five other persons who signed the Proclamation, it would be extremely difficult, on any ground of justice or of fairness, to discriminate between them and these two others simply for the reason that they happen to have been tried a little later in point of date.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We must agree that this is a horrible business. My hon Friend cannot think it is any satisfaction to me or my colleagues not to spare a man's life. It is one of the most painful duties that can possibly be cast on any human being to be responsible for the death of another. I cannot—I tell the House fairly and frankly—reconcile it with my conscience or my judgment, believing as I do that the five other sentences were properly given and properly carried out, simply because we have reached this stage in point of time and numbers, that a differential or preferential treatment should be accoided to men equally or even more guilty. That, I am glad to think and believe, completes the tale. So far as I know, so far as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief knows, there will be no reason to resort to this extreme penalty in any other case, unless it be a case which everybody admits deserves the penalty—the case of proved murder, actual murder, which in untroubled times would involve the penalty of death, and as to which I am quite prepared to agree it is desirable that the trials should take place in open court with all the conditions of publicity. 956 Those are the actual facts with regard to the death penalties. I agree, so far as my knowledge goes, with what my hon. Friend said just now, that these insurgents, mad as was their adventure, terrible as is the responsibility of those who led them on—mind you, it is only those who have led them on to whom these severe penalties have been applied—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have given you the cases. I have shown you all the categories to which they belonged. It is only those who led them on and who were responsiblc for all this terrible havoc, suffering and bloodshed, upon whom the-extreme penalty of the law has been, or will be, inflicted. I agree as regards the-great body of the insurgents that they did not resort to outrage. They fought very bravely. They conducted themselves, as far as our knowledge goes, with humanity; indeed, their conduct contrasts — and contrasts very much to^ their advantage—with that of some of the so-called civilised enemies with whom we are fighting in the field. That tribute I gladly make, and I am sure the House will gladly make it. As regards the rank and file—the dupes, many of them very young men, even lads, who were misled—almost unconsciously,. I believe, because a good many of them did not know what they were doing—into-this terrible business—our desire is not only that they should be treated with clemency, but that every possible opportunity should be given to them—it is a very difficult task, and a task that requires a great deal of thinking out—in the future to redeem what, in their case-and not in that of those who led them, is-a merely venial and pardonable error on their part.
My hon. Friend dwelt at some length— although I hardly think, if he will forgive me for saying so, that it was very relevant to the general question he-raised—upon the case of Mr. Sheehy-Skeffington, who was shot, not by the military authorities, not by anybody, as my hon. Friend admits, for whom Sir John Maxwell is in any way responsible except constructively—who was shot in circumstances which everybody must deplore. He was shot without trial, and, so far as I know, there was no case against him; in fact, I am quite prepared to take it that he was shot without trial together with, I believe, two other men. 957 My hon. Friend read out a long statement of a very moving kind from the widow of this man describing the circumstances of the case. May I suggest to him that that is not altogether a fair method of procedure. A statement of that kind, which reflected very severely on the subsequent conduct at her own house of British officers and soldiers, I confess I cannot believe and I do not believe. Is it fair, is it just, to read out an ex partestatement of that kind, which there has been no possibility of testing by any kind of cross-examination or rebutting evidence, and to ask the House to accept it as true? It may be true. [An HON. MEMBER: "Absolutely!"] It may be. I hope it is not, but, at any rate, it is a thing that requires examination and investigation. That examination and investigation I can assure my hon. Friend it shall have.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, certainly, a public examination. Does anyone suppose that—I am sure my hon. Friend does not—that we here have any object, or that Sir John Maxwell has any object, in shielding officers and soldiers, if there be such, who have been guilty of ungentlemanly or inhuman conduct? Of course not. It is the last thing the British Army would dream of.
I never dreamt of such a thing. But what I pressed for was that this lady should have full public examination of the whole circumstances, with a right to have counsel to represent her, and I must add I really did not intend the House to accept that ex partestatement except for what it was worth, and I read it because I wanted to establish" my claim for a full public investigation, and I mentioned no names. I did not mention the name of the officer.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is quite right, and I am very glad my hon. Friend has made that explanation. I rather gathered from what he said that he wished the House to take it as a statement of the actual facts. It is a thing that ought to be inquired into in the most thorough way possible, and I am perfectly certain the officers and soldiers of the Army have no reason to fear that any investigation shall be made into their conduct, with the exception, of course—I make that very large exception—of the shooting incident. As to that, the facts so far as they are known to us show that it is quite an inexcusable act, but as the officer who is supposed to 958 have been concerned in it and to have been responsible for it is now sub judiceand under trial it would be a most improper thing to express any opinion as to whether or not he was actually guilty.
What remains of the case which was made by my hon. Friend—I will not say the case, but the statement he has put before the House—except the allegation that there have been a number of excessive exercises of inquisitorial powers in certain counties in Ireland in the way of visitation and arrest, as to which, of course, if he will only supply particulars the most careful inquiry shall be mader and his statement that the Government of Ireland at present is a Government without any civil restraint, subject only to military law? May I say here, because much misconception seems to prevail upon the subject, that when you proclaim, as-we have proclaimed, martial law, first in: the city and county of Dublin, then over the rest of Ireland, martial law as it is called in popular phraseology is not a term of art. Martial law means no law. It means that a state of things has beerk brought into existence, a state of rebellion, a state of war in which the maxim salus populi suprema, lexapplies, and the Executive authority for the time being believes itself to be justified in suspending the ordinary course of the tribunals of the land. They have not that power except to the extent to which the emergency lasts. They cannot confer it upon themselves by Proclamation or by any other machinery known to the law. Either there does or there does not—that is a matter for the Courts to decide—exist a state of things which justifies the suspension of the ordinary law. If there does, the Courts hold that the Executive is justified. If there does not, the Courts would not hesitate to hold the contrary. Let me at the same time point out, because here again I think there is a good deal of misconception, that these sentences which have been passed by these courts-martial are not passed under martial law at all. Martial law has really nothing to do with it. They are passed under the authority of the Defence of the Realm Act by tribunals which have statutory jurisdiction, and the Executive, in carrying out these sentences, has been acting in accordance with a law passed by Parliament itself. It is important that that distinction should be clearly understood.
959 But while I say that, let me add that I regard, and the Government regards, the existing situation in Ireland as anomalous and in many ways highly unsatisfactory. We have the greatest confidence—I speak as the head of the Government on behalf of all my colleagues—in Sir John Maxwell. We believe that under very trying conditions, in the exercise of a very delicate and difficult jurisdiction, he has shown, as far as we can judge, discretion, depth of mind and humanity, and so far as I am concerned I am perfectly satisfied with the manner in which he has discharged and is discharging the exceptionally difficult duty which was confided to him. Nor is there the least intention on the part of the Government, so long as the necessity exists, to interfere with or in any way to control, 'except by such general control as the Executive Government is ultimately responsible for, Sir John Maxwell's particular -discretion. But the Civil Executive in Ireland, as my hon. Friend has not unfairly stated, through the resignation of all its principal members, has now for the time being almost ceased to exist. It is very desirable that provision should be made, and made as soon as possible, for the future. Ireland cannot continue indefinitely under the kind of administration which prevails there at this moment. Many difficult and urgent problems suggest themselves, and I have come to the conclusion that it is my duty, without delay, to go to Ireland, which I propose to do in the course of a few hours, not with any intention of superseding the Executive authority there, I need hardly say, but for the purpose of consulting at first hand with the civil and military authorities and of arriving, as I hope I may arrive after consultation with them, at some arrangement for the future which may commend itself to the general consent of Irishmen of all parties and of the House of Commons. I think it of the utmost importance, and I appeal once more to the House in that sense, at this moment after these most disturbing, disquieting events, that we should, all of us, so far as we can, forsaking past prepossessions or predilections, recognising, as we do, that notwithstanding these events the great mass of the Irish people of all parties has shown itself loyal to the Crown, determined to maintain the law, resolute to prosecute the War—we should seize the opportunity, if we can, of developing those potential sentiments of unity, good feeling 960 and co-operation to see if we cannot put upon one side many, if not all, the controversies of the past, and invite Ireland herself—and Ireland is a constituent member of the United Kingdom and of the Empire — to the common task which absorbs the energies and the hopes of us all.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
The right hon. Gentleman has made what I may describe as a calm speech, which I believe will have the best effects in Ireland, and I heartily congratulate him upon it and I believe it will be heartily welcomed in Ireland. I must also say that, though there was a great deal in the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) with which I entirely agreed, there were other portions of it which I think would have been more deftly handled by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond), and I think, on the whole, if he had allowed the very important Motion which he has moved to remain in the hands of his leader, the effect on the House and on the temper of the country would have been considerably improved. In a. business like this, after all, it is our business to keep our heads. We are not here to express merely individual opinion. We are here, I might almost say, as ambassadors of a country which has no other organ for giving expression to its feelings or its wishes, and deeply as I regret the executions which have taken place, I cannot forget the fact of the rebellion, the fact that that rebellion broke out at a moment when it was evidently done in concert with Germany, and the fact also that there came a descent upon the shores of this country by way of invasion at the same time as this uprising in Ireland. I think we must balance matters. But once you have the rebellion put down and the whole thing at an end—I say it seriously—the conduct of the Government and the action of the military authorities is from our point of view mistaken, foolish, and in some respects I might almost say insane. I have sympathy in some respects with those who have had the task of dealing with Irish administration. They have been grossly misled. Some of that misleading, I am sorry to say, I attribute to some of my own countrymen, and I think if justice was meted out, ample and accurate justice, there are others besides the Sinn Feiners who might well come in for some measure of punishment. However, owing to the way in which this Motion has been drafted I cannot go into that. I cannot forget that 961 when I yesterday suggested that this day should be given to this Debate an attempt was at once made in other quarters to limit the discussion in such a way as to keep the House in blinkers, without knowing what the actual facts of the past six months have been. When we get an opportunity of confronting, as we shall confront, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford (Mr. Redmond) and the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and others, with regard to the policy they have pursued for the last five or six years, in which they have enjoyed unexampled power in Ireland, including the weekly meetings between Sir Matthew Nathan and the hon. Member for East Mayo; when we come to indict, as we shall indict, the system whereby a series of administrative acts were carried out, prejudicially, as we conceive, to our national interests, and which have greatly helped to bring about the present explosion, we who have remained at times silent will stand better in the opinion of our countrymen than those who now by explosive rhetoric try to make up for the blunders they have committed in the past.
I come to the cases to which I would ask the attention of the Prime Minister. He has said with truth that there is no such thing as martial law. He has not added that he intends to bring in an Act of Indemnity. We are entitled to know this. An Act of Indemnity was brought in an connection with other rebellions. I do not press him for an answer upon that point mow. At all events we are entitled to know this—if he says that these proceedings are being carried on under the Defence of the Realm Act, what are the powers in the Defence of the Realm Act which enable him to carry on what are called field or camp courts-martial? Can a military man exclude counsel and solicitors for the defence by saying, "I am holding a camp court-martial," or, "I am holding a field out-martial"? If so, let the right hon. "Gentleman point out to me in the Defence of the Realm Act anything that gives that power. I believe the Prime Minister has Taeen misinformed upon that point. I now come to the case of Mr. Sheehy-Skeffing-ton. It is not the only case, but we have not brought forward cases which would horrify our population. We have not brought forward the worst facts. There are more terrible facts behind, but I am not going to mention them now, as the 962 right hon. Gentleman has stated that he is proceeding to Ireland, where, I have no doubt, they will be brought to his notice. I will deal with the death of Mr. Skeffing-ton, and with the deaths of two other men. One of them, Mr. Dixon, was a Scotsman. He was the editor of a little sheet, which I have never read; it was of recent publication, and I will not describe it further than saying that it was not a disloyal sheet. The other was Mr. Mclntyre, who had a paper which was an anti-Larkin paper. Mr. Skeffington was a strong Nationalist, but he had never taken up arms. He was what is called a pacifist, and did not believe in using arms. He had imperilled his life the day before his death in trying to rescue an officer. We do not bring these cases forward for the purpose merely of having the cases vindicated or exposed. I want to show what was the bearing of these three deaths on the conduct of the rebels. Two of these men were Catholics, and they were shot without seeing a priest. In the other case, the Presbyterian had not his chaplain. Word went through to the rebels that if they surrendered they would be shot without a priest. Word also went through that they would be shot without trial. Therefore, these deaths having taken place on the Tuesday, the rebellion was continued until the following Monday, largely, I believe, under the influence of the horrible injustice committed against these three men. I say that in explanation, in vindication, in palliation, if I may use the word, of some of the acts which were committed.
The Prime Minister is also misled when he says that this act so far as Mr. Sheehy-Skeffington was concerned, was an isolated act done without the knowledge of the authorities. That is disproved by two circumstances. Having killed the man in the wrong, they then proceeded to try to justify his execution. The military came to Mrs. Skeffington's house, and to terrorise her, first fired a volley through her windows, but the man was then dead. What was the object? What was the object of seizing all books, copies and documents? And then, saddest of all, when they found nothing to excuse their blunder, they dig up out of the barrack yard, or wherever they had deposited them, the unfortunate man's remains, and without even letting his widow know they carted them off, and gave them burial in Glasnevin cemetery. So long as grass grows and water runs these things will not 963 be forgotten in Ireland. Let the House understand that I am not making any charge against an English officer. It will relieve Englishmen to know that he is not an Englishman. I am sorry to say he is a countryman of my own. I make that confession openly and with regret, so that the House will understand that I am not trying to raise any anti-English feeling in this business. If the case be made, as it is being made, in regard to this man that he had lost his head, that he had some excess of paroxysm, what do you say to the subsequent acts, the two visits to the widow's house, the taking up of the body without her knowledge, and the depositing of it in a Catholic cemetery? What more did he do? The partial knowledge that this man had points to political malice. There was another strong Nationalist in Dublin, Alderrfian Kelly, whose windows were broken in the rebellion. This man took a live bomb, and Alderman Kelly having wrongly put in the window a statement that his windows were broken by the military authorities, this man fired the bomb through the windows into a room where two women were sitting.
I can well understand Englishmen saying, "This was an abominable rebellion. The Empire was in danger. Bad news came from Ireland to dishearten our soldiers at a time when Canada, Australia and the Colonies were rushing to our aid, and this news had a depressing and terrible effect." We know all that, but, on the other hand, are we not entitled to have some form of government in our country? Did not we condemn the system? Did not the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) time and again protest against allowing men to go through the streets bearing arms who were not in the King's pay or in the King's uniform. What was the reward? The one newspaper office which your great, wise, omniscient military loot and search is the office of the newspaper of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork. This was preceded by a paragraph in "Reynolds's Newspaper" on the previous Sun-day, to the effect that the Government were going to take a step which would create a great sensation connected with a well-known politician. We know that there are some people who complain of the revelation of Cabinet secrets, or the discussion of the subject of Cabinet secrets. I wonder where that Cabinet 964 secret came from? Having searched the office of the "Cork Free Press" from top to bottom, from floor to ceiling, all they could find was one copy of the previous week's newspaper, which had been left unsold. I ask the Government, do they think that the Irish people, who are extremely well informed, do not know what is going on? I went into Dublin at the risk of my life in the middle of the rebellion to get to this house. Instantly the War Officers telegraphed to London, "Healy has been seen motoring through Dublin"—an item of war news which I have no doubt was eagerly and splendidly received by Lord Kitchener. That is the sort of absurdity that is going on, committed by men who have no perception and who have no local knowledge. I tell the House that this Irish rising has been grossly exaggerated. The hon. Member for East Mayo said there were not 3,000 men in arms. The first day there were not 1,500 men under arms. The total of the Sinn Fein volunteers throughout Ireland did not, and does not, amount to 10,000 men. The Government have their books, and I challenge them to deny that. And for the sake of a revolt of 1,500 men, which I, old as I am, would have put down with the police, what did you do? For forty-eight hours you rained shells upon the poor old city, sometimes at the rate of fifteen to twenty shells a minute, sounding like the thuds of the clods on a father's coffin to those who love that city. Your great leaders took the loopholed road insteal of taking the open road. Many of these deaths and casualties were wholly needless. And if Sir John Maxwell is the great man: that he is represented to be, all I can say is that, if I were an Englishman, I would like to have some of the rebel leaders in Flanders instead of Sir John Maxwell, because I watched this business with the closest attention, and I say that the rising was put down without military skill, without military judgment, and with a gross and wholesale and colossal loss, both of life and property.
It is all over and done with, and I would like again to look to the future. The right hon. Gentleman is going to Ireland. Does he think that we want a fresh succession of Augustin Birrells? Does he think we want a fresh succession of some of the Viceroys we have had? I do not hesitate to say this: The right hon. Gentleman was informed, I am told, by the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. 965 T. P. O'Connor) that if he made a change in his Lord Chancellor the Irish in America would rise. I will tell him that if he had made the change there would have been no rebellion, because somebody with common sense would have been assisting the Government in Dublin, and somebody who would tell them the truth. If I am challenged on that point, I can give the House the prescient view of the hon. Member for Waterford in last July as to the elements with which the Irish Government had to cope. He said in the "Freeman" of the 31st July:It would be true to say that there was no such thing whatever in existence as the Sinn Fein movementjust as you were told that the Ulster men were drilling with wooden guns—as an expression of pro-German sentiment here. What is called the Sinn Fein movement is simply the temporary cohesion of isolated cranks in various parts of the country, and it would be impossible to say exactly what their object is, or what their principles are. In fact, they have no policy and no leader and do not amount to a row of pins so far as the future of Ireland is concerned.That was the kind of stuff, the kind of information that the Government was getting from the responsible leader of the Irish race at home and abroad seven months before the rising.
One word in conclusion. If you set up again this system of Castle government which we have had to put up with for the last seven years, you are only provoking fresh causes of outbreak. The Irish people are sick of the jobbery that has been carried on in Ireland for the last seven years, which, to my mind, coupled with the denunciation of the payment of Members, and then the rush into the Lobby to support the Government, largely undermined in the popular heart the belief in the effectiveness of Parliamentary action. We are sick of Dublin Castle jobbery in any case, but we are sicker of it when that jobbery is penetrated and carried on through the Member for "Waterford and his friends. Let the Government, if the Member for Waterford is to have power, which I do not grudge him, give him responsibility and office along with it. Let us have no more secret government from North Great George's Street. Secret trials are bad, but a secret system of government, in my opinion is worse, and that is what has been carried on in Ireland for the last seven years, and that is what has produced a ruined city, ruined homes, and killed and wounded men. I beg the Government to give ear to the voice of those who are as 966 well entitled to be heard in this House as any of my hon. Friends behind me. We represent a powerful and potent strain of Irish feeling. We are here to give expression to it. During this War we have remained silent as to the action of the Government for the past eighteen months. I can only say that if the Irish people will reflect upon what they had a right to expect in the ten years that this Government has been in office, and compare its promises with some of the performances, is it really wonderful that there should be in Dublin wild and foolish spirits who would give ear to the counsels that have brought about the calamities which every man in this House without exception, deplores?
§ Mr. GINNELL
What I have to say on this occasion must necessarily differ from that to which you have listened, addressing, as I am, an assembly stained with the blood of some of my dearest friends for no crime but that of attempting to do for Ireland what you urge the Belgians to do for Belgium. I have to begin with a correction of phraseology. In all the preceding speeches this House has been bombarded with the expression Sinn Feiners. There are no such people in Ireland, and never have been, as Sinn Fein Volunteers. The Sinn Fein movement is purely a political, economic, and non-military movement. There have not been in the Irish volunteer body one per cent. of the members of the Sinn Fein body. The Sinn Fein body was and remains an economic and non-military body. The name was adopted and applied solely for the purpose of opprobrium, solely for a purpose corresponding to that which impels the people and the Press of this country to call the Germans Huns. The expression Sinn Fein Volunteers is no more correct than it would be for me to call you, Mr. Speaker, and all the English Members of this House English Huns; and if you allow that expression to be used, I shall reclaim my right to use and apply in this House the-corresponding epithet. The name was transferred as a term of opprobrium by political parties and leaders and their Press, and they alone had access to this country, and hence extended the name here into this House. The name was applied on the same principle as that on which the so-called Irish Government has been guided for some years past. It was applied be and under the authority of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), the hon. Member for East 967 Mayo (Mr. Dillon), the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin), and the hon. Member for the Scotland Division for Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor); all Pressmen and controllers of the Press, and what has taken place in Ireland is unquestionably the result of the advice and guidance of those four men who have left their seats rather than wait to hear the truth spoken to their faces in this House.
In pursuance of that I desire to call the attention of the House, or so much of it as remains, to the fact that the shooting of those men in cold blood in Dublin was suggested publicly so long ago as last October by the hon. Member for Water-ford. On him and on his colleagues is the guilt of those innocent lives, in conjunction with the occupants of that Treasury Bench who fled when I rose. The murder of my friends is not a becoming subject for the Speaker of the House of Commons to smile at. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!" and "Withdraw!"] In the New York "World" of last October appears an interview given to a representative of that journal in this City by the hon. Member for Waterford, who expressly, in this paper which I hold in my hand, suggests that the leaders of the Irish Volunteers ought to be shot. Here I have it in black and white, and where is the Member for Waterford to support it or deny it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it!"] This is what he said:Three or four men have been imprisoned for short terms for open pro-German declaration—Which is a lie, Mr. Speaker—for which in similar cases they would have been shot in Germany.The narrowness of this Motion, or this Resolution, now before the House was specially conceived and designed to prevent any useful or thorough examination of what has occurred in Ireland. This Debate, in effect, is a whitewashing Debate—a whitewashing of the four Members of this House I have named; but I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, and those four Members, that they are too late for their whitewashing. The immediate cause of the outbreak in Dublin was not that which the House has been told, but was a deliberate plot of Dublin Castle, supported by those four Members, and by the Member for Bristol, to provoke an outbreak by exasperating 968 the people in issuing a secret document to the military and police in Dublin and its surroundings.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is himself aware that the topic he is now raising is not relevant to this Motion. He has just referred to the limitations of the Motion, and I must ask him to observe them.
§ Mr. GINNELL
What I was about to read to the House is a secret document, an instruction, issued to the military officers, and now that the military officers are administering martial law in my unfortunate country, I should imagine that such an instruction, although issued before the outbreak and intended to provoke the outbreak, would be in order. If not, I shall not attempt to read it, but I hold it in my hand, and I maintain that it is one of the main causes in precipitating the outbreak. There are other immediate causes as to which I should think it ought to be in order to mention some of the facts. The ruined walls of Ireland were plastered with appeals to the young men of Ireland, not to remember the Irish ruins caused by English rule, but to remember the ruins of Louvain and of Ypres.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member will bear in mind that we are not now dealing with the cause of the outbreak. The terms of the Motion are as to the continuance of executions and of martial law, searches, arrests, and so forth. The Resolution is specially drawn in a very limited form, and I must ask the hon. Member to observe that.
§ Mr. GINNELL
The present military rule in Ireland is not so exceptional as some Members in this House appear to think. It is quite characteristic of English rule in Ireland, even in times of peace to see the Irish recruiters now getting what they have been looking for so long. A revolution or rebellion, or whatever you choose to call it, has been spoken of with horror. All revolutions and rebellions are so spoken of. Success is the one thing that commands universal approval of revolutions. Had this one been successful, those heroes whom you shot down in cold blood would have been real heroes, living and ruling the country at the present time, instead of being in their graves. Besides, the Irish people have been told within the last two years that 969 illegalities such as have been just indulged in at Dublin are not crimes. They have been told that by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College. But the Irish Volunteers who put that opinion to the test have been shot in cold blood in order to show the world that Ireland is the one bright spot in the British Empire. At Question time the Prime Minister did not deny that last Saturday morning a number of men, estimated at about fifty, were at the Royal Barracks in Dublin, put standing with their backs to the wall, and shot dead in cold blood. [An HON. MEMBER: "Fifty?"] Fifty; the Prime Minister has not questioned it, and he has practically admitted it. They were shot in cold blood. An English officer went prancing about Dublin that afternoon boasting, "We have potted fifty of them, and nothing more will be heard of them." The remains of those fifty men, or whatever the number may have been, were carted to Glasnevin and buried in a huge pit, unidentified.
The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) did not call for the identification of these men. His purpose here was to try to whitewash himself and his colleagues, and their chum, the Member for Bristol, and to gloze over the atrocities that have been committed in our capital city. You wanted our young men to remember the German atrocities—they prefer to remember yours in our country. You wanted our young men to remember Belgium—they prefer to remember Ireland. They remember how time and again in the past you decimated them by fire and sword, pitch-cap, and gibbet, and coffin ships. They remember those things, and it is because they remember those things that they took the action they did, prematurely I regret to say, and deeply regret; but it was because they remembered those things, because they remembered their own country instead of Belgium, that they are dead men. Hon. Members laugh, they laugh the coward laugh at men who had the courage to lay down their lives in a brave and desperate effort for the freedom of their country. That is what Englishmen gentlemen have come to. And with that state of things the Prime Minister of England professes himself perfectly satisfied. Of course he is perfectly satisfied. If there were not a man of military age in Ireland he would be still more satisfied, and so would you, Mr. Speaker, and so would the majority of Members in this House. Hence, I have no hesitation whatsoever in 970 declaring myself the friend, the dear friend of those dead men—the enemy, the inplacable enemy, of every Empire that swallows up and crushes to death those small nationalities, for whose independence and integrity you profess to go to war, a war which you are unable to carry through. You want to sacrifice all the manhood, not of England, but of the outlying countries —of Scotland, of Wales, of Ireland, and of your unfortunate Dependencies and Colonies. You want to wipe out the Celtic race, as the "Times" boasted sixty years ago: "The Celt has gone, gone with a vengeance." No, by God, we are here still, and before you are done with the Celt you will have something more creditable to do than laughing and making a mockery of brave men who sacrificed their lives in the noblest 'cause for which men can die or fight.
§ Question put, and negatived.