HC Deb 22 May 1916 vol 82 cc1799-803
43 and 60. Mr. W. O'BRIEN

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War (1) whether he is aware that Captain Dickie, General Officer Commanding, invited the leaders of the Irish Volunteers in Cork on 28th April to meet him at the house of the Bishop of Cork, and that they refused; that on the following morning he visited the Volunteer Hall himself, and held a conference with the Volunteer leaders which also proved abortive; and that a further conference was held on 30th April at the Lord Mayor's house, at which the Bishop, the Lord Mayor, the General Officer Commanding, and the two leaders of the Volunteers were present, at which it was agreed that the Volunteers should hand over their rifles either to the Bishop or to the Lord Mayor, and that the military were not even to know the number of rifles handed in, the rifles to be returned to the Volunteers as soon as the Dublin disturbances were over; whether he is aware that, in conformity with that agreement, the rifles were on 1st May handed over to the Lord Mayor's custody, and passports were delivered to the Volunteer leaders to go through the county of Cork to advise the County Corps to abide by the agreement, with the result that no disturbance took place throughout the county; but that, notwithstanding that agreement, the military authorities on the following day arrested all the leaders, men and women, of the Cork City Volunteers, and lodged them in Cork gaol and, under threat of arresting the Lord Mayor, compelled him to surrender the rifles entrusted to him; whether he is aware that, in consequence of the remonstrances of the Bishop and the Lord Mayor against this breach of faith, the prisoners were for a time released, but the two Volunteer leaders, who had conferred with Captain Dickie were subsequently rearrested, and hundreds of prisoners arrested throughout the county and prohibited, in the words of the official communiqué, from communicating with any person whatever: whether, in order to allay the general feeling of indignation caused by these transactions among persons who have least sympathy with the Volunteers, a public inquiry will be granted with respect to the violation of the agreement entered into with the Bishop and the Lord Mayor; and (2) whether he is aware that the Assistant Bishop of Cork has confirmed in all essential points the particulars as to the agreement come to between the General Commanding Officer, the Bishop, the Lord Mayor, and the leaders of the Irish Volunteers in Cork, on the strength of which the latter surrendered their arms to the Lord Mayor, the agreement come to by the military representative expressly stating that the military had no idea of confiscation and that, so far as the military were concerned, the arms would be returned when the crisis was over, and that if these terms were accepted there should be a general amnesty except in the case of persons found in treasonable correspondence with the enemy; whether he is aware that the Bishop complains that, notwithstanding the guarantee of amnesty and of leaving the arms in the possession of the Lord Mayor, both these undertakings were broken, not, as he believes, through any fault of the commanding officer with whom the negotiations were conducted; whether the Government will now adopt the policy laid down by the commanding officer, himself an Ulster Protestant, that while insisting upon securing that there shall be no military danger in the city he wanted no irritating or humiliating conditions; and whether the Government is aware of the Bishop's further statement that he had no doubt that in these matters, too, if North and South of Ireland representatives met together they would settle their differences in a reasonable and satisfactory manner?


I have been asked to answer these two questions, and, as the matter is somewhat complicated, I would ask hon. Members to excuse the length of the reply.

It is not the case that Captain Dickie invited the leaders of the Irish Volunteers in Cork to meet him at the house of the Bishop of Cork, and he did not hold a conference with the Volunteers. There were, however, negotiations between Captain Dickie and the Assistant Bishop of Cork and the Lord Mayor, as a result of which a settlement was proposed as follows:—

If the Irish Volunteers handed in their arms to the Bishop and the Lord Mayor before midnight on April 30th and assisted the authorities to maintain order, the General Officer Commanding was prepared to ensure no prosecution for offences other than acts of overt rebellion or traitorous correspondence with the enemy. Those who for a valid reason could not return their arms by the 30th April, might be permitted to do so on May 1st, provided the bulk of the arms had been returned on the 30th April. The Lord Mayor and the Bishop were to ensure that all arms were collected and placed in safety and to give their personal assurance that this had been done. On 1st May the Lord Mayor informed the military authorities in writing that the Volunteers had refused to hand over their arms to the Bishop and himself. He was immediately informed that any guarantee given to the Bishop and the Lord Mayor by the General Officer Commanding Queenstown Garrison on the condition that arms were handed in by midnight of 30th April was cancelled in view of this statement. Some arms were handed in to the Lord Mayor about midnight ½nd May, but, as I have stated, no agreement was in operation. The Lord Mayor on the 2nd May informed Captain Dickie that he could not guarantee the safety of the arms handed in, and they were accordingly moved for safe custody on the 3rd May. I may add that no complaint has been received from the Lord Mayor as to any threat to try him by court-martial.

At their own request, leaders of the Cork City Volunteers were permitted, on the 29th April, to visit country districts to endeavour to prevent disturbances by country branches of their organisation, and Captain Dickie visited the Volunteer Hall on that date to arrange the details of this matter after the general negotiations in regard to it had been concluded. As regards the arrests, it is the case that some arrests took place on the 2nd May, in accordance with instructions received from the headquarters of the Irish Command. Similar arrests were made in other counties, but as no agreement was in existence, no violation of agreement took place in respect of those arrests. I am informed that those arrested were released the same day in consequence of an appeal made by the Bishop of Cork. Two leading members of the Cork City Volunteers have since been arrested by the constabulary, and their cases are being investigated. As regards the general question raised in the last part of Question 60, I can, of course, say nothing. My hon. Friend will, I think, see that there was no breach of agreement on the part of any of those concerned, but that, on the contrary, the various parties involved acted for the best under very difficult circumstances.


Is not that in direct conflict with the published statement of the Bishop in several important particulars, and may I ask, seeing that the result of this agreement between Captain Dickie, the Bishop, and the Lord Mayor was to save very serious bloodshed throughout the South of Ireland, is it not really the case that those gentlemen ought to have been publicly thanked instead of the treaty being broken, as it was?


As I have already indicated in my reply, the agreement could not be carried out by the time it was contemplated to be, and therefore it lapsed. Therefore, there was no real breach of agreement. I quite agree as to the very desirable nature of the conference which took place. I think probably it was instrumental in a much better feeling being spread about.


Why was Captain Dickie repudiated by his military superiors?


Is it because Captain Dickie acted as a sensible man and kept the peace in Cork that he has been thrown over in this manner?


I do not think my hon. Friend is really doing justice to the situation. I do not think there was any repudiation of Captain Dickie for which I have indicated.


Was Captain Dickie acting for the General Officer Commanding Brigade or for himself?


I think for the General Officer Commanding.

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