Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £849,329, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the Expenses of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
§ Captain W. BENN
It would be quite impossible, in the present state of affairs in Ireland, to pass without comment this large Vote to the Royal Irish Constabulary. I shall not make the least apology for addressing the Committee at some length on the work of the Constabulary in carrying out the present policy of the Irish administration. I would like to ask the Attorney-General for Ireland whether we are to be favoured with the presence of the Chief Secretary. We have had a, series of able representatives of different Departments to-day. I do not want to move to report Progress on account of the absence of the Chief Secretary.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Denis Henry)
I regret to say that my right hon. Friend cannot be present. He was here in the House until quite lately attending a meeting of the Cabinet. He cannot he present now.
§ Captain BENN
He was until, quite recently, and then when he found a discussion was about to take place on his own administration in Ireland he found it impossible to be present. Surely it is a matter as to which the House is entitled to some explanation. I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General is able to defend the Irish administration which causes this expenditure, but it does seem the very greatest slight put upon this Committee that the Minister responsible for this Department, although he was present until lately within the precincts of the House, should have absented himself now. I think it is a most improper course, and if I do not move to report 1233 Progress it is because I do not wish to trouble the Committee. I feel very strongly about the state of Ireland, and I could wish to have had the honour of addressing the Minister who is responsible, or largely responsible, for that state of things. I will ask for the patience of the Committee in dealing with this subject, because it is a very important and a very painful subject. Let me say at once that no one could speak without respect of the difficult and painful work which is carried on by the men of the Royal Irish Constabulary. I have not the least intention of criticising them as officers carrying out their duty. The people I do intend to criticise are the people who are responsible for their acts, the people represented by the right hon. Gentleman. By leave of the Committee, I am going to read out some of the things that have been done by the Irish Constabulary by the orders of Dublin Castle, and if it so happens that some of the details are inaccurate and that the learned Attorney-General intends to rise and say, "You are wrong in this, or in that," I can only reply that I have asked the Chief Secretary whether he would let me have, in answer to questions, details of these arrests and charges, and that he replied with indignation that his police were much too busy to give information of that kind to the House. So I have had to rely on what information I could get from the newspapers. It has been collected bonâ fide, and I submit it as being accurate; but if it is not accurate the charge does not lie at my door, but at the door of the Irish Office, which refuses to disclose to this House the sort of thing that is going on in the unhappy island across the Channel.
Let me tell the Committee in the first place something about the general state of crime as it exists. Everybody knows that Ireland is a singularly crimeless country in the ordinary sense. It has repeatedly happened that the learned judges in their charges to the grand juries have referred to this, and, if it were not that. I do not desire to wander too far from the work of the constabulary, I could quote instance after instance where their lordships have referred to this fact. Mr. Justice Gibson, at County Wicklow Assizes, said that as far as the general state of the country was concerned he was informed that it was the usual pleasing experience of judges of assize to find it in its ordinary peaceful and satisfactory condition. Mr. Justice Ross made similar remarks in 1918, 1234 and Mr. Justice Madden also. Throughout recent years I have found numerous comments of the Lord Chief Justice on the crimelessness of Ireland, as we understand crime. I will speak about political crime in a moment. Now I come to what the police have been doing under the protection of the Castle. Here are some of the eases I have collected: A youth sent to gaol for a month for whistling derisively at the police; four men and a boy, aged thirteen, arrested for taking part in a concert at which national songs were. sung; two girls arrested at Clonmel for giving their names in Irish; a man arrested in Dublin for selling flags and giving his name in Irish; a man sentenced to two months for singing seditious choruses; a man given two months' hard labour for taking part in a concert at which seditious songs were sung; a man tried by court-martial and given two years' hard labour for reading out a manifesto issued by the Republican party declaring the right of the people of Ireland to free speech. Here is a case of a number of men who got a month each for singing the Soldier's Song. Here is a case of a boy called McGinn, aged sixteen, who got a month for carrying a Sinn Fein flag. It was in Tipperary where I saw rows of cottages, every one having nailed to the chimney stack a little stick for the purpose of carrying a Sinn Fein flag. Here is the case of a boy called Pat MacGabe who got a month on 17th of October for whistling derisively at the police. It is absolutely time that some of the facts as to Ireland were made known. The condition of affairs in Ireland is so infamous, and I make no apology for using this word, that it is absolutely essential to have some daylight let in upon it. Here is a case of three Members of Parliament, Members of this House, who were on the premises in Harcourt Street when the Sinn Fein office was raided, and they got three months criminal imprisonment each for unlawful assembly since, as the Committee knows, an assembly of more than three persons is an unlawful assembly.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)
We are dealing with the Supplementary Estimate, and I must point out to the hon. and gallant Member that we must keep inside what the Vote deals with. We could not, therefore, on this Vote discuss the general policy of the Irish Government. It is necessary to re-mind him of the fact because other hon. 1235 Members might wish to reply to him, and I must protect the Committee from a general discussion.
§ Captain BENN
I shall not refer to any case in which the action has not been taken by the Royal Irish Constabulary, and that in itself will so limit the discussion as I think to prevent the danger which you, Sir, very properly wish to guard against. Here is an order made and enforced by the constabulary which provides that in any area in Ireland people may be required to remain within indoors within such hours as may be specified. That is curfew. That does not apply to Sinn Feiners or Nationalists only but applies to everyone in Ireland, and to loyalists, so-called, as well as everybody else. There is the case of the police taking possession of a sports field and suppressing a hurling match, which is a very common event in Ireland. I have been told of a case where the police and military arrived on a field and held it all day in order to suppress a hurling match which was taking place down the lane all the time. Here is a case of eleven girls who were selling flags in aid of the Gaelic League and were arrested by armed police. Here is a case of five girls arrested by the police and sentenced to four days' imprisonment in Mountjoy Criminal Gaol for collecting for the Irish Language Movement. Here is the last case with which I will trouble the House, although the mass of material is so great that it is almost impossible to deal with it in the limits of time. It is a case of three girls arrested in Dublin and charged with collecting for the Irish Language Movement, and each sentenced to one week's imprisonment in Mountjoy Criminal Gaol. Those girls, as well as the other five refused to recognise the authority of the Court. Their crime was that they had been selling flags on behalf of the Irish Language Movement. That is some of the work of the constables of the Royal Irish Constabulary for whom we are asked to vote this sum of over eight hundred thousand pounds.
Some of the people the police arrest are charged with having seditious literature. When that charge is made of course everybody feels, "Oh, well, if a person has got seditious literature it is right he should be arrested and it is only in the interests of public law and order that the constabulary should do their work." What is meant by the 1236 right hon. and learned Gentleman when he talks about seditious literature? Two postcards have been reproduced in a London paper which have been suppressed by the police in Ireland as being seditious and they are perfectly harmless cartoons showing up a little the state of affairs in Ireland. I have got here some seditious literature which has been suppressed by the police. What is this seditious literature? It is a book called, "The Grammar of Anarchy," and it contains nothing from cover to cover but quotations from associates of hon. and right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench delivered during the time of the threatened Ulster rebellion. Do not let this House be taken in by camouflage about seditious literature. Of course there are other cases with which I am going to deal, but a large part of the work in which these constables are employed is this sort of conduct, instances of which I have given to the House. Now I come to another case. There was a man arrested only the other day for participation in the so-called German plot. I fancy Mr. Pierce McCann, one of the Members for Tipperary, was brought over to this country and lodged in gaol, where he died, in connection with the German plot, and not a tittle of evidence has ever been produced that there ever was a German plot, and the Lord-Lieutenant of the day, Lord Wimborne, had no knowledge of it, and I rather fancy he said he never heard of such a thing and did not believe it existed.
I come to another point which is perhaps the most important of ail in the work of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and that is the use of them in the suppression of fairs and markets throughout the whole of Ireland. I will give the Committee some instances of this part of the constabulary's work, 29th September, 1919, markets suppressed in many parts of county Tipperary. 4th October, the Lords Justices refused a permit for the holding of a fair at Clonmel, and military and police were posted at the entrances to the town to prevent any attempt to hold the fair. Wednesday, 8th October, armed military and police occupied the approaches to Thurles to prevent cattle coming into the monthly fair. 15th December, a deputation consisting of Tipperary magistrates waited on General Williamson, in connection with the restrictions upon fairs and markets in Tipperary. General Williamson replied that the fairs and 1237 markets in Tipperary did not interest him in the slightest. All he had to do was, on request, to send soldiers to help the police. He had written to Dublin asking the policy of the Government and the answer he would give to the magistrates. He got a telegram from the Commanding Officer stating that no useful purpose would be served by receiving a deputation. So I could multiply many instances. Here is a case, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, of action of the police. On 22nd October the pig market of Tipperary was suppressed by armed policemen, who opened the market pens and drove the pigs into the street. The old-established November Fair at Nenagh was suppressed by military and police, and there are many other similar eases. What is the purpose of employing the Royal Irish Constabulary in suppressing these fairs and markets? People come into the town even if the market is suppressed, and all that happens is that the wretched people are prevented by the police from carrying any foodstuffs into the town. An hon. Member opposite does not believe that, but it is so, and I am a personal witness of it. I have stood in a street in Tipperary, and I have seen a little girl driving into the town with a little donkey and a barrow, and I have seen one of the right hon. Gentleman's Royal Irish Constabulary—I do not suppose he liked the job—accompanied by three soldiers with steel helmets and one sentry with a steel helmet and a bayonet, stop the little girl in order to see whether she was carrying foodstuffs in her little barrow. Another case came to my notice where a poor old woman had gone out of Tipperary to pick blackberries, and on returning she was stopped by the police, who made her tip the blackberries out in the road because no foodstuffs were allowed to enter into the town.
What is the purpose of that sort of thing? Are you maintaining law and order by fatuous measures of that kind? Are you producing in Ireland the state of mind that will support law and order? Of course, I know what the right hon. Gentleman will say. It is the usual thing trotted out on every occasion when Ireland is mentioned—namely, "Look at the crime in Ireland!" We even had it in the Father O'Donnell case. The Secretary of State for War was amazed that we should raise that case when there was all this crime going on in Ireland. Let me say plainly that I would never criticise the 1238 voting of any money to suppress crime. Crime is an abominable thing, an atrocious thing, and the people who commit crime are the worst enemies of the country on whose behalf they think they are acting. But crime is not confined to one side, nor is violence, and it is precisely the use of these powers, and the purpose for which they are used, that provoke the outbreaks to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. What has been the history of the last two or three years in Ireland? It has been one long succession of increased severity, new repressions: first of all, the proclamation of one district under the Crimes Act, then the Proclamation of another district, then the general Proclamation of the whole of Ireland, then arming the police with hand grenades, then preventing anyone from using a motorcar without a permit, and then this perfectly senseless and wicked policy of preventing, in an agricultural country, the people who grow the stuff from bringing it into the towns. Is it a matter for surprise that, step by step, with every piece of repression there has been a new outburst of disorder? Of course, there is. I have no figures from the Irish Office, because they will not give them to me, but the figures of arrests that I have collected from the newspapers are roughly as follows: 1917, 719 arrests. The right hon. Gentleman and his associates say, "More armed force to keep them under"; result, 1918, 2,600. More force, more tanks, more aeroplanes, more troops; result, 1919, 7,600. Is it not perfectly obvious, if indeed we did not already know it a priori, that the policy pursued and the use of these men for that policy merely provokes the very disorder it professes to do away with?
Let me say this in conclusion. Public order in any country does not rely on the ultimate sanction of force. The Bolshevists have got the police, but we do not believe that the Bolshevists will remain in power, because we are convinced that the public opinion of Russia is opposed to that government; and it is not the possession of the Royal Irish Constabulary by the right hon. Gentleman which gives him the real power to maintain law and order in Ireland. What would give him the power to do what this Vote seeks to do would be public opinion in Ireland, and, instead of relying on that or using that to support the police, as it does do in this country, the right hon. Gentleman step by step is alienating it. It is not only Nationalists or Sinn Feiners, it is 1239 Unionists, it is returned soldiers. The other day in Cork the Comrades of the Great War passed a resolution condemning the action of the police. I take it that the men who went from Cork to fight for the Empire are entitled to our gratitude as much as we give our gratitude, and most readily, to the men who went from Ulster. I only wish the men who went from Ulster to fight in the Great War had included the Galloper, who did not gallop so far, however, as that.
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN
Order, order! The hon. and gallant Member is getting rather wide of the mark.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
On a point of Order, Sir. How do you come to take Parliamentary cognisance of who the Galloper is?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It was not in reference to that observation that I called the hon. and gallant Gentleman's attention to the latitude he was taking I have interrupted him because of the considerable latitude he has been taking for the last few moments.
§ Captain BENN
I am grateful, Sir, and I shall conclude what I want to say. It is not by taking swollen Estimates for the constabulary that the right hon. Gentleman will maintain law and order in Ireland. The only way to do it in Ireland, or in any other country where a white people live, is by treating them with justice and giving them liberty and freedom.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down has done a public service by raising this Debate to-night, and I join with him in the protest he made at the absence of the Chief Secretary. We have conducted several Votes through Committee to-night, and in every case it has been an Under-Secretary who has been in charge. I say this with every respect to the right hon. Gentlemen sitting on that bench, but here is a case where the most vital issues are concerned, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland, having been within the precincts of the House, runs away as soon as the time for this Debate approaches. I do not propose to detain the Committee for more than a few moments, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman has very rightly in his speech drawn attention to a long series of so-called crimes in 1240 Ireland for which the Royal Irish Constabulary, acting under the direction of the Irish Executive, have imprisoned many people in that country. I remember a case which was not cited by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, which was almost more ridiculous than any of these to which he drew attention to-night, and that was the case of a gentleman who owned a motor cycle and who was arrested and his motor cycle taken away because it was suggested that he was going to use that motor cycle for an illegal purpose. All I can say in regard to these cases is that the whole situation would be comic if it were not absolutely tragic. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman has shown, the snowball grows, the molehill becomes a mountain. He drew attention to the fact that in 1917, 1918, and 1919 the more the Government put into force their system of so-called law and order the more crimes there are and the more likely is it that that state of affairs will continue. There is no question that the Ministers will never be able to settle this problem until they grasp this fact. It is not discontent in Ireland which has produced coercion, but it is coercion which has produced discontent and crime. I repeat that the hon. and gallant. Gentleman has done a public service in drawing attention to this terrible state of affairs in Ireland. The Government uses force, and it is daily compelled to use more and more force. Why? Because it has not the sympathy and support of public opinion in Ireland behind it. Until this travesty in Ireland is put an end to, that state of affairs will continue, and crime will go from worse to worse.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I desire to associate myself with the observation that has just been made by my hon. and gallant Friend in appreciation of the public service which has been rendered by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain Bean) in opening this discussion. There is nothing that produces a worse effect on public opinion in Ireland to-day than the feeling that, although the country is being held by an Army of Occupation, and the people are being dragooned in a most merciless way, practically no voice is raised in England in protest against it, and for that reason I welcome the intervention of my hon. and gallant Friend, because it will tend to remind our people at home that there are still in this country friends of Ireland, and friends of liberty, who will raise their voice in protest against the outrages which day by day are being com- 1241 mitted in Ireland by the authorities. It is customary with the Government and with its spokesmen on every possible occasion, even when the subject has nothing whatever to do with the peroration, to conclude their speeches by talking about the state of crime in Ireland, the number of murders which have taken place and the numbers of policemen who have been shot. I think every Nationalist in Ireland, everybody who has been associated with the party to which I have had the honour to belong for many years, and which is here at the present time, although in reduced numbers, will understand me when I say outrage, and, above all, outrage in the form of murder, fills us with loathing and horror. We do not believe any good cause can be served by acts of that kind. But we do not reserve our denunciations entirely for the murderers of the policemen. It is a most unfortunate fact that during the past five years more civilians have been murdered by military and police in Ireland than there have been police and military murdered by civilians.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
The hon. Member is quite right. I should have said the last three years. I am more concerned about the administration of the present Government. We cannot now move to reduce Votes for money spent in bygone years, but we are entitled to show how the money in Votes now will be used, and I do not think my hon. Friend will contradict me when I say that more innocent civilians have been killed in the last three years in Ireland by the police and military than there have been police and military killed by civilians.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
Questions have been put in this House by Member after Member, and I have made very careful calculation, and the total of civilians killed—absolutely unoffending civilians who were not breaking the law—exceeds the number of policemen killed. That does not justify the killing. I am not suggesting that for a moment, but I do say when we 1242 are heaping, as everyone is inclined to-heap, denunciation upon murder in every shape and form, that denunciation should not stop at the murdered policemen, but the official murder of civilians should also be condemned. I raised in this House myself the case of a young man in one of the parishes in Tipperary who was going to a police barracks, and a young country bumpkin of a policeman shot him there, although he was only going to tell them at the barracks that there was some sort of disturbance going on in the village. That boy was shot at, and the Government would not allow the policeman who fired the shot to be placed under arrest, or even to be suspended from duty, and it was only after questions had been raised in this House that the Government gave an order that this man was to be placed under arrest. Then what happened? Instead of putting him upon his trial, the Government decided that there was no primâ facie case against the man, and refused to proceed with the prosecution. That cannot be denied. Similarly, in the case of a man who was shot dead in County Clare by the military. He was a deaf man; he was attending to his own cows in his own field, and he did not hear the warning that was given by a soldier, and was shot dead. No soldier was put on his trial for that. We know who the soldier was.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I quite agree. I have no right to discuss the acts of the military. But what I complain of is that when policemen are known to break the law they ought to be put upon their trial the same as civilians. I think my hon. Friend will not quarrel with that doctrine. The position in which we find ourselves placed in Ireland to-day is armed occupation by the Government. One of the most horrible things I ever read is the supply to the police of bombs—hand grenades—and the training of them to use them. Has any Member of this House-ever heard of such a thing in any civilised country? I venture to say it is absolutely without precedent. It is not as if you had armed bodies of men engaging in conflict with the police and military. It is a case of using these hand grenades upon unarmed mobs, upon unarmed crowds, when the slightest disturbance occurs. Not only that. I read the other day a speech delivered by the Prime Minister in Manchester, in which he defended the present administration in Ireland, and claimed 1243 that in taking steps in ensure order and good government in Ireland the Government has not gone beyond the necessities of the case. Within half an hour of reading the report of that speech in the "Times," I picked up a local paper called the "Neagh and Tipperary Vindicator." Let me tell the Committee two of the things I read in one issue of this provincial weekly paper. The first is the Goold's Cross incident. What happened was this. Two farmers were to arrive. The police were standing on the platform as the train came in, as they do in these days, and they did not know these two young men. The police decided to go forward as they stepped from the train, interrogate them, and ask them what brought them there. Naturally these young men got frightened. They did not know what the police were coming to them for, and they did what many people might do under the circumstances, they, with another man, ran away. What happened? The police actually fired upon them. These young men had committed no crime. They were young men against whom no warrant had been issued. They were not even under the suspicion of committing a crime. Then the paragraph goes on in this paper which is very friendly to the authorities—
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I did not say it was friendly to you. The paragraph concludes as follows—but here let me interject that the point is not whether or not I agree with the hon. Gentleman as to the friendliness of the paper—the question is, is this incident true?The police are now satisfied that the men on whom they fired were on legitimate business, and they ran away for mere fright, and not because they had any motive for eluding the police.I ask the House does not this disclose an absolute public scandal? It is not an isolated case, not at all. If this were the only incident it might be explained away. But my hon. and gallant Friend put a question the other day about a similar case. A motor car was proceeding along a road in one of our counties. The police 1244 called upon the occupants of the motor to stop. I dare say the police have powers to call upon a motor driver to stop. They have taken very drastic powers with regard to anybody in charge of a motor, or motor cycle, or anything of the sort. They called upon the driver to stop. The driver did not obey the order. What would happen in England if a thing of that kind took place? The police would trace the owner of the car and prosecute him. In Ireland the police fired on the car and wounded two passengers, while the motor car itself was riddled with bullets. The only defence offered by the Attorney-General and the Chief Secretary, in answer to a question, was that the police fired upon the car in order to pierce the tyres and prevent the people from getting away.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Order, order! I am allowing the hon. Gentleman more latitude than usual, but he cannot go into the question of military law or of general policy.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I assure you I have not deviated one hair's-breadth from the subject during my speech, except on one occasion, when I admitted it. At present I am in order. I am dealing now with the police firing on motor cars. I was interrupted by the hon. Member opposite, who said that Ireland was under military law. I give him the very natural reply, which is that military law does not justify the shooting of innocent civilians. I fail to see, therefore, that I am out of order in dealing with that. That is one case. The other case in the same newspaper refers to the Crimes Court at Tipperary. A number of people gathered to welcome home some hunger-striking prisoners released from gaol. The Crown Solicitor prosecuted—it is rather a long report—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman can deal with the Irish Constabulary, but not go into extraneous matters.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman will please bear in mind that he cannot, in this Committee, discuss matters beyond the question before the 1245 Committee. Other Members will want to reply to him if he goes into other questions. The hon. Member, therefore, must keep his observations within the limits I have stated.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I think I am entitled to protest against your ruling. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order!"] With ail respect, I am going to submit, on a point- of Order, that I have not deviated one hair's-breadth from the Rules of Order. I have been fifteen years in this House, and I know what I can discuss. I am dealing with a police prosecution in a case where men were coining home, and were to be received by a crowd on their release from prison. The Crown Solicitor, speaking on behalf of the police in prosecuting four men for taking part in an unlawful assembly, said:It was only fair to state that there was no evidence of any of the defendants having made use of the expressions referred to, but as members of the crowd they had committed a breach of the law.There were shouts from the large crowd collected of "Up knocklong!" The Crown Solicitor went on:It was also right to mention that when the crowd was asked to disperse they did so, and there was no attempt to molest the police.Police witnesses were called. They stated that both the defendants co-operated with them in securing the dispersal of the crowd. There was no trouble whatever with these men. What was the decision? The Chairman, in giving the decision of the Court, said they were prepared to treat all defendants on the same terms, but as two of them had said in the Court that they believed people had a perfect right to meet as they did, they would be sent to prison for a month in default of giving bail for their good behaviour. These two men had assisted the police to disperse the crowd. That is the sort of thing that is going on in Ireland. The police are being used for other things, too.
They have raided private houses in Ireland during the last two years to the number of at least 15,000. The Government will not give us the numbers. I assert here to-night, and challenge contradiction, that the number of private houses raided is between 12,000 and 15,000. Why is it we cannot be told the exact number? Because the authorities do not want English people to know the extent of the terrorism that is being practised in Ireland. It is a fine commentary on the present Administration that they have sent 1246 then police out to raid 12,000 private houses. Edmund Burke said once that it was impossible to indict a nation. This Government has got as near as they possibly could to that operation. They have endeavoured to suppress a nation. The thing cannot be done. With much of the political ferment in Ireland I naturally have no sympathy. I owe no allegiance to the leaders of the present political movement; in Ireland, but I object to my countrymen being shot down by outsiders, and being persecuted by any police force, whether English or Irish. I desire to see my own countrymen enjoying freedom, that freedom that this country went to war to secure for small nations. I thank my hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Benn) for bringing forward this Motion, although I have no hope that any satisfaction will follow from it as far as this House or the Government is concerned. I am satisfied, however, that a good effect will follow, because it will show that there are still friends of freedom left in this House. I do not share the regret which has been expressed at the absence of the Chief Secretary. I am quite satisfied with the Attorney-General, because at any rate we shall get a courteous reply, if we get nothing else.
§ Mr. MOLES
With regard to what has been said by the last speaker and the hon. and gallant Gentleman on the Front Bench I must say that I value freedom for my countrymen just as dearly as any other hon. Members, and I think I understand precisely what freedom means quite as well as they do. I have noticed the frequency with which the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Benn) has recently been taking the protection of Irish affairs under his wing. He has apparently reached the conclusion that my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. MacVeagh) and those associated with him are no longer competent for the task of defending Nationalism in Ireland. There is always a type ready to rush in where angels fear to tread. I only wish that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's knowledge of Ireland was in any way commensurate with his self-assurance. He strikes me as being profoundly ignorant of the whole condition of affairs in Ireland. I know that the hon. and gallant Member recently paid a somewhat surreptitious visit to Ireland for the purpose of informing himself, but he has come back hardly as wise as he went, because with respect to Ireland a little knowledge is a profoundly dangerous thing. The hon. and gallant 1247 Member has plunged into this discussion with characteristic recklessness. It appears to me that the hon. and gallant Member thinks that if the uses sufficient bad language the House may imagine he is advocating good principles. The two hon. Members who have spoken on the subject have been permitted to roam at large not over these Estimates, but the whole of the Irish question, and in these circumstances it is difficult for me to confine myself within the limits of order which you. Sir Edwin, have laid down and which I desire to observe. I hope I may be permitted some small measure of freedom in saying a word or two in defence of a force which has been grossly abused and abominably treated in Ireland.
What are these Estimates? They represent no more than the desire on the part of the Government to pay to these men who carry their lives in their hands a living wage, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, in the name of freedom and order, solemnly moves to reduce the wages of these men, and that is supposed to be an exposition of freedom. I think they had better begin and get a lexicon and see what freedom really means. We have heard denunciations about the actions of the police and condemnation of the armed occupation of Ireland. We have heard something about the training of the police force in the use of hand grenades. What is it that has made all these things necessary in Ireland? [An HON. MEMBER: "Bad Government."] Will some hon. Member opposite answer my question?
§ Mr. MOLES
In other words, that means that it is justifiable to proceed to open murder, and you say inferentially that the whole of these things are justified because the Government does not repose upon the goodwill of the people. Let us look at the condition of affairs immediately preceding these outrages. Let me go back a little and remind the House of these things. I have not come here with a prepared brief, but I will tell the House one or two of the things that come to my recollection. A Godfearing man well known to a good many people, Mr. Milling, went into his dining-room to wind up his clock, and, while he was standing with the key in his hand, an assassin levelled his rifle at him through the window, and he was in the presence of his Maker in a second. What 1248 was his crime? He had simply carried out the law as laid down by this House. The district inspector of police stood at the corner of the street and there were fifty men within ten yards of him, and fifty of them saw the assassin level his rifle and the next second he lay struggling in his death agony, and the fifty men who should have stepped forward to soothe the lingering moments of this agonising death, upon the testimony of the coroner's inquest, simply laughed and jeered at the death struggles of this man. In another case three policemen were offering protection to a defenceless widow and three children and they were returning at midnight from their lonely patrol, and just as they reached the gate four cowardly assassins pulled their triggers and two of these men died, and the third remains a mutilated man. That sort of thing has gone on up and down the country and because the Government feel it is imperative to vindicate law and order to release the public from this terror that pursues them up and down the whole country, they are denounced here as enemies of freedom. What freedom have these wretched people who are subject to this kind of terrorism?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I must remind the hon. Member that if we go on with the discussion of terrorism in Ireland and the fifty people he has alluded to not defending this man, it will be impossible to keen the Debate in order. I must ask the hon. Member to confine his remarks to the Irish Constabulary and the money provided for that service.
§ Mr. MOLES
I had hoped the argument that the police were protecting the people from this kind of thing might have been in order, but I will adhere to the spirit and letter of your ruling. The police are obliged to obey the direction of the authorities, and the Government are bound to afford through the police protection to the public from the kind of thing which I have indicated. The first business of a Government is to protect the people from lawlessness and violence. Hundreds of police barracks have had to be closed down and the police concentrated in the larger barracks in sufficient numbers to be able to resist a siege, because scores of barracks have been under siege and policemen have been shot down in the barracks themselves. That is the condition of affairs which has obliged the police to be concentrated in this kind of 1249 way, and the Government are augmenting the police to afford the public protection from this violence. They are also doing what they ought to have done years ago, and are endeavouring to give these men a decent living wage, irrespective of whether they are being subjected to the risk of violent death or not. If there be arty good and sound reason why these men should not be paid a fair wage, let us have that reason. It would be sufficient justification for inviting us to go into the Lobby in support of this Amendment, but, if there be no such reason, then there is no justification for the Amendment or for the conduct of any Member who dares to support it.
The stories to which we have just listened might probably convince a less judicial-minded Committee of the necessity of an enlarged police force in Ireland, but I hope that this Committee will not pass this Vote without snore careful scrutiny of the circumstances. Probably the stories to which we have just listened are true, and I do not wish in any way to condone these crimes, but I do not believe that we know half the facts concerning these things in Ireland.
Whenever a class war starts in any country we hear propaganda on these lines. I should not be at all surprised—indeed, it is common talk throughout the whole of Ireland—that if these atrocities are committed by any party or by the officials of any party it is the Ulster Party as much as the Sinn Fein party that is responsible. It stands to reason that no party would originate these crimes on purpose without realising the harm and the injustice that would accrue from them. No party which had any sense at all would do it.
if any party had any motive in bringing about these atrocities, it would certainly be the Ulster party rather than the Sinn Fein party. Who started the rebellion in Ireland? The Ulster party.
I do not care when this Sinn Fein organisation originated. The Ulster party were the originators of the rebellion.
I was replying to the pathetic stories which the hon. Member has related to the Committee, and I was trying to describe how those stories originated.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That is not in order. The only question is the increased amount asked for the Royal Irish Constabulary. If there be any objection to that increase, hon. Members are entitled to raise it, but it must be in connection with the sum of money that the Committee are asked to Vote for the additional wages required.
I will get to that point. I was pointing out that the best way of dealing with the Irish situation was not to raise terrorism in Ireland and to increase the police force. That is not the way that Members on this side of the House wish to see the Irish question dealt with. I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend has raised this matter to-night, and I associate myself with him and his friends who have supported the Amendment. We all know what goes on in Ireland. The Chief Secretary himself must know. Only a few weeks ago his own car was shot in the back when he was going into Isis own castle, and he narrowly escaped death. That is the condition of things that exists in Ireland to-day. I know of the raids that my hon. Friend (Mr. MacVeagh) mentioned. The house of a friend of mine was raided by the police, who carried away firearms three and four hundred years old. Is it for that we pay the police? I hope that the Chief Secretary will tell us. I associate myself with this Amendment because I realise that the peace of Ireland means the peace of the world. I would like the Committee to remember that the whole peace of Turkey depends upon peace in Ireland, 1251 It is quite well known that the Peace Treaty with Turkey cannot be signed until the Irish question is settled.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman is discussing the general policy of the Government in regard to Ireland, and that is not in Order on this Vote.
This matter cannot be treated too seriously. The police question is the basis of the Irish question, and it is because it jeopardises the whole peace of the world that I rise to associate myself with the hon. and gallant Member, and I hope that he will take the matter to a Division.
§ Mr. LYNN
The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down evidently knows everything about Trotsky's Red Guard but nothing about the Royal Irish Constabulary. It is quite evident that he knows no more about it than he knows what weather there is in Peru to-day. We are here for the purpose of voting certain supplies. This House a few days ago passed a Bill increasing the salaries of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Committee is now asked to reverse that decision and not to provide the money that we have already agreed to provide. I am not going into the general question. It would be very easy to answer the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member. They are so futile, or rather puerile, that they do not need to be answered. We have a force in Ireland, and we have to pay it a decent salary. Therefore, the Vote put down by the Government ought to be supported by every Member of the House who wants to see law and order maintained, or, rather, restored, in Ireland. These people who are making inflammatory speeches are really partially guilty of the murders that are being committed in that country.
§ Mr. HENRY
I regret that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland is not here to reply on behalf of the Irish Government. But I wish to say a few words in reference to the Debate which has taken place, on his behalf, as well as for myself. I regret it should have been thought necessary by my hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Captain Benn) to deal with this question in the way he has done, and the reason I regret it is because during a long and trying career in the service of this House and of His Majesty I doubt whether there has ever been a time when the members of the Royal Irish 1252 Constabulary more wanted the support of all men who have any regard for peace in the Sister Island. They are serving in large parts of Ireland at the risk of their lives, and out of the 9,000 odd men who constitute that great force, I have yet to learn of any man who has failed to discharge his duty. The record of the force show that during the War they joined the British forces in large numbers and fought under the British flag. But it is one thing to meet death side by side with your comrades in the heat of battle. It is another thing to have death following you in the street and attacking you on the lonely road in the darkness, and yet the latter is the ordeal which the constabulary have to pass through at the present time. There is not the glory of the battlefield for the man who is shot in a dark lane, and I am sorry to say that after he is dead his body is received too often, not with honour or with gratitude, but with hatred and contempt.
The history of the last three months in Ireland has been a sad history. I am an Irishman born and bred, and I feel deeply for the dreadful condition of affairs that exists at the present time. There is one consolation, and that is that the murders that are committed, although they have the sympathy of a good many, are the work of a comparatively small body, and in the end, let us hope and pray, public opinion will assert itself in Ireland and put down this organisation of assassination. One who heard the speech of the hon. and gallant Member would imagine that this state of affairs has only arisen in Ireland within a comparatively short space of time. But let me remind hon. Members opposite that from the year 1905 down to 1916 no one could suggest that a Government exercising coercion was in power in Ireland or in this country. They had the advantage of a Government of which I believe my hon. and gallant Friend was a Member, and no one who has spoken in favour of this Amendment will allege that that Government was a coercion Government. And vet what was the result? In 1916 we had the most terrible upheaval that we have had in Ireland for over 100 years, and that condition of affairs has gone on since 1916, and in recent times has got still worse. Why, then, attack the Royal Irish Constabulary for a state of affairs that every Government has been powerless to stop?
Let me take up the charges suggested against the Royal Irish Constabulary. It 1253 is quite easy for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to gather from the newspapers instances of persons who are sent to gaol for this, that, or the other. Let the House understand the position of affairs in the Courts of Ireland. A person is tried for an offence which may be more or less trivial from one point of view. But a great deal depends on the locality where the offence is committed. Their first step, usually, is to decline to recognise the jurisdiction of the Court, in other words, to flout the authority of the Courts of Law in the land, with the result that they go to prison deliberately. If they recognised the jurisdiction of the Court and gave security for good behaviour, they could walk out scot free.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
We are not discussing whether that is a crime or not. It is so easy to get away from the order of Debate.
§ Mr. HENRY
I was merely dealing with the suggestion as to the number of persons who were sent to prison. But I pass from that subject with the statement that if persons absolutely decline to recognise the King or the King's Court, I call it something very like a crime. Another point raised was with regard to the prohibition of fairs. But has any fair been prohibited unless in the immediate district, or in the very town where the fair was to be held, a horrible murder had been perpetrated beforehand? These fairs are sometimes merely excuses for disorder. Sometimes they lead to the gravest disorder and even worse. The hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate referred to the views of judges as to the condition of Ireland. I did not gather from him the dates of those extracts, but may I refer the House on this very question of the action of the police and the condition of affairs with which they are face to face, to the remarks of the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, whom no one will accuse of being at all unfriendly to his country? So late as the 3rd of this month, in opening the winter Assizes for the Province of Munster the learned judge said:In Clare county the laws of God and man were defied. Why was Clare so crime-ridden? People were apt to blame different causes. Sometimes it was the Government which was blamed, by others it was the clergy, by others -the police, and by others the people. Was the 1254 Government responsible for the state of crime in Clare? The Government of the country did not stop short at the River Shannon, and why was it that Limerick was so peaceful and Clare so crime-ridden? They could dismiss the Government as the cause of the crime. The clergy whose duty it was to preach Christianity and charity did so in Clare as they did in olden times. The clergy of Clare were to-day as zealous in their teaching as they always had been.…The people had allowed themselves to be terrorised and downtrodden by a comparatively small group of restless and excited men. The people did not assist, the police in the prevention of crime, but encouraged it when it was committed.These are the words not of a partisan, but of a. distinguished judge, spoken in the course of his investigation of cases for the whole Province of Munster. I put it to the House, are we to take that testimony or the testimony of newspapers picked up haphazard and read out in this House?
§ Mr. HENRY
Let me give the House a specimen of the position the constabulary occupy in their own country. Here is a copy of a printed proclamation posted up in the county of Wicklow in October, 1919:The people in this area are warned that for their own safety and in the interests of their country they should avoid absolutely all communications of a friendly nature with the members of the R.I.C.This force of men is specially organised for the maintenance in our downtrodden country of a tyrannical foreign Government by a system of spying and corruption unrivalled in the history of any land.The police (who come from among the people themselves) are traitors to their own flesh and blood, sworn to spare neither parent, brother, sister, or wife, in the discharge of their degrading duty, the overthrow of the God-given rights of their fellow countrymen.They should therefore be avoided as more dangerous than plague, and more ruinous than any other group of ruffians to the morals of society.Let no Irish man or woman with any sense of principle or honour be seen speaking to, saluting, or in any way tolerating the existence of a peeler either in public or private.