HC Deb 23 June 1920 vol 130 cc2336-42
Lieut.-Colonel Sir R. SANDERS

I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."


May I ask the Attorney-General for Ireland whether he can give the House any further information with regard to the state of affairs in the City of Derry? Members representing Irish constituencies have, in the course of to-day, received telegrams which have given a very alarming account of the state of affairs there. I should like to ask more particularly whether, up till now, there have been any further troops sent to the city, and whether there is any truth in the statement, which has been widely published in the Press, to the effect that the local Justices in the City of Derry sent to the Chief Secretary yesterday, and, I think, the day before, asking for further military reinforcements and for the application of martial law, but that, up till this afternoon, no further reinforcements have arrived, and, not only that, but that they have not received any reply from the Chief Secretary?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Can the Attorney-General answer the question which I put to him yesterday as to whether, when order is finally restored, as we all hope it will be soon, in the city of Londonderry, the whole of the arms in the city will be taken possession of and removed? It is desirable that the whole of the population should be disarmed. We have heard of and seen pictures of fighting with rifles and revolvers, and the last four or five days behind barricades, and therefore I would like to know whether any steps will be taken to search for and confiscate the whole of these arms, including German rifles?


Throughout the whole of Ireland?

The ATTORNEY - GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Denis Henry)

Half a battalion of the Norfolks, about 500 strong, have to-day arrived in Derry from Belfast. A further half battalion is ready to be despatched at any moment to the Commander-in-Chief. There are at present in Derry 1,500 soldiers and 150 members of the Constabulary.


Can the Attorney-General state what is the actual state of affairs in Londonderry since 10 o'clock this morning? He made a statement in the House at question time and quoted a telegram despatched at 3 minutes past 10 o'clock which was of a soothing and satisfactory character. That, however, does not conform or coincide with the statement that has appeared in the Press. Contrary to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Press state that the night in Londonderry was a disturbed one; that there was constant firing of a serious character. It appears in the Press to-day—and it is a very serious matter to all Members whether they come from Ireland or not—that barricades have been erected, that there is constant firing and constant fighting, and that there is no sign that the Government has intervened in any effective manner. What effective steps have the Government taken to bring this state of civil war prevailing in Londonderry to an end? The Government, through the Attorney-General, stated last night that they were relying upon the support of loyal citizens; but loyal citizens in Ireland are very liable, especially in that part of Ireland, to be on one side of politics. The other side of politics—unfortunately for Ireland the country is ridden with politics from top to bottom—are liable to be against the Government; therefore an appeal to loyal citizens means an appeal to civil war. We desire to know whether the Government has intervened in any effective manner since 10 o'clock this morning between the rival partisans in Londonderry.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any truth in the statement that the Government troops are not remaining neutral in Derry city? Statements are made in the Press to the effect that when the Sinn Fein armed party advanced they were covered by the troops, but that the troops took no part whatever in the faction fight between these two sections in Ireland. Is that true? Do the Government propose to reply to the very proper question addressed to them by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) as to what is the policy of the Government with regard to disarmament in Ireland?


May I also appeal to the Government to answer the request that has been made to them repeatedly, and is further expressed in the request of the hon. Member for Hull—when are they going to take stronger action against both parties? When that question was put to the Attorney-General he gave no answer at all. We do urge from this side of the House, as well as from the opposite side, that the Government should take the management of the Government of Ireland into their hands in a more effective manner, and should put a stop to the state of affairs now prevailing in Derry.


I should like the Attorney-General to tell us what is the exact position at the moment so far as the military strength in Londonderry is concerned, and what steps are going to be taken to restore and maintain peace. In order to restore and maintain peace, if my information be correct, there were 250 policemen who remained on duty yesterday unbrokenly for more than 24 hours, and they were so completely exhausted that they were physically incapable of continuing. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House, in view of some suggestions that came from the other side, whether it is not the fact that upon the arrival of a substantial military detachment the first thing that happened in Londonderry was that they were fired on by the Sinn Feiners, injured, and returned the fire. The position in Londonderry is really dreadful at the moment. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, though perhaps he has his own sources of information, on the clearest proof, that it has been perfectly impossible to distribute bread to the population, or milk or any kind of food supplies; the shops are being looted, right, left and centre, by the Sinn Feiners; property is being dispersed. The hon. Gentleman who interrupts had better keep himself quiet. If he does not I will deal with him. If he would address this House only on matters on which he is informed he would seldom be heard here.


That is not a joke.


This is a serious question. The loyal population, who desire to maintain order, offer themselves as a body to assist the authorities in preserving peace. As the right hon. Gentleman must perfectly well know, they have been assailed in their own fortress, and neither military nor police have been able to defend them; they have had to stand on their own defence. The right hon. Gentleman told the House yesterday that he knows the city of Derry well. He will forgive me if I say that I know it nearly as well. What we want to know definitely from the Government now is this: Four days have elapsed, and they have been repeatedly appealed to from these Benches to step in and restore order. We are entitled to press them now in view of the fact that four days have passed and practically nothing has been done, to immediately proceed to deal with this situation that has arisen there with whatever force may be necessary. Speaking for myself, I do not care what party it is directed against so long as it is necessary, and it is the duty of the Government to see that law and order are maintained there and peace restored in that unhappy city.


I rise to support the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) to have these parties disarmed. One of the parties in Ireland was disarmed in 1914 and only one party remained possessed of arms. If that party were dispossessed of their arms now there would be peace in the City of Derry.


When I find my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. T. W. Brown) supporting the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), I am in considerable difficulty in understanding what the point of view is. I may remind the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull that he is a supporter of the opposition to the Firearms Bill. I do not quite understand his idea about disarmament in connection with his opposition to that Bill.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

May I point out that the Firearms Bill is simply directed against pistols, and that the Pistols Act, if employed, would have been quite sufficient to prevent pistols being carried anywhere.


I would point out to my hon. and gallant Friend that pistols are extremely dangerous weapons. I can assure other hon. Members who have referred to this matter that 500 men were moved into Derry City yesterday. It is not for me to make suggestions to competent generals and competent police officials, but I can assure hon. Members that, if they make any requisition for further troops, that request will be attended to with the respect it deserves. At the present time, in this city of 40,000 inhabitants, there are 1,500 soldiers and 150 police, and I think that ought to be reasonably sufficient, especially when the Government are prepared at all costs to supplement any efforts they are making. I agree that the position is difficult, but all that any reasonable person can expect the Government to do is to attend to the requisitions of those who are responsible for the peace, and who are prepared to pay the cost of carrying out their duties with their own lives.


The right hon. Gentleman has not referred to the question of martial law.


I can assure my hon. Friend that for practical purposes under the Defence of the Realm Regulations martial law is only a word. We have all that, in reason, can be afforded by martial law. If the military authorities represent to us that it is impossible to carry on under the Defence of the Realm Regulations that will be very seriously considered, but the military authorities have immense powers under those Regulations. Those powers are so great that this country has been able to carry on under these Regulations during the most terrific war that was ever waged.

Adjourned at Twenty-three Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.