HC Deb 23 November 1920 vol 135 cc199-202
Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

(by Private Notice) asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether he has any further information about the killing and wounding of about 80 civilians, including women and children, at the Croke Park Football Ground last Sunday; how many volleys were fired into the crowd; how long the firing continued; and whether any inquiry will be held, and by whom?

The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Lieut.-Colonel Sir Hamar Greenwood)

Following account has been compiled from report made by police and military, after very careful investigation.

The round-up and search of spectators attending a football match at Croke Park, Dublin, on Sunday afternoon, was carried out by the authorities according to a preconcerted plan with the object of securing Sinn Fein gunmen, who had taken part in the assassinations of that morning of 14 British officers and who, in some cases, were believed to have come into Dublin under cover of attending this match in the afternoon. Events at the football ground go to show that this belief was well-founded; that a considerable number of men among the football crowd were carrying arms is proved beyond doubt. Their presence and their efforts to escape had effects of fatal consequence to a number of innocent people, and police were detailed to surround the ground, and to search. It had been arranged that after the military had surrounded the field, an officer should announce to the crowd through a megaphone that a search was to be made by the police, and that no anxiety need be felt by innocent persons.

The police force approached the neighbourhood of the field while the military were encircling it, but before the military cordon was complete the police were observed by civilians, who had evidently been specially posted to watch the approaches to the field. The police were fired upon from two corners of the field. Simultaneously, men rose from their places on the grand stand, and fired three quick shots with revolvers into the air. Of this there is indisputable evidence. It seems quite clear that these shots were a pre-arranged signal of warning to certain sections of the crowd. A stampede was caused not by the firing alone, which caused considerable alarm, but also by a rush of men seeking to make their escape from the field. They hurried mostly to one side of the field, where a corrugated iron railing was the only barrier to be surmounted. Through its fall a number of people were crushed Meanwhile, the armed pickets outside joined, no doubt, by gunmen escaping from inside the ground, were maintaining a fire in the direction of the police, who returned the fire. The firing lasted not more than three minutes. About 30 revolvers, thrown away by men who had formed part of the spectators, were picked up on the ground. Twelve per- sons lost their lives, 11 were injured seriously enough to warrant their detention in hospital, and about 50 persons sustained slight hurt. These casualties include perfectly innocent persons, whose death I deeply regret. The responsibility for them, however, rests entirely upon those assassins whose existence is a constant menace to all law-abiding persons in Ireland.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman is aware that many eye-witnesses are pre pared to swear that no shots were fired at the police? Is he also aware that the so-called pickets were men selling tickets outside the field? Does he justify firing into a struggling mass of people, including women and children—


What about the "so-called" revolvers?

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

—in an attempt to pick out a very small minority of armed men?


Can the hon. Gentleman explain at what stage of the proceedings it became necessary to turn a machine gun on the people, and how it happened that a little boy ten years of age was bayoneted to death? Was that done by gunmen?


I am not aware that any machine guns were used, nor do I believe that a boy of ten was bayoneted. [An HON. MEMBER: "YOU never do!"] I have stated, in answer to the question, the facts which have been put before me. I believe they are accurate. It is impossible for the Government to lay down rules governing the action which the police and military are compelled to undertake in the necessary duty of searching for arms.


Will the right hon. Gentleman make inquiry into the statement just made, and ascertain if it is true, and will he report the result in the House?


When the right hon. Gentleman says that these proceedings were carried out as a result of a preconcerted plan, may I ask whether that plan was formed after the murders in the morning, and in the period which elapsed between the murders and the carrying out of the plan?


Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the condition of the officers who were wounded? Are they going on all right?


I will answer that question at once. My latest information, I am glad to say, is that none of the gallant men who were wounded are other than improving.


May I have an answer to the question I asked?


Obviously the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer that.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman why, as the official statement issued declared that revolvers were taken from persons at Croke Park, no persons in possession of them were arrested?


Can the right hon. Gentleman explain his statement to the House that the Government were aware that attacks were to be made on these officers, from information received, by men under the cloak of a meeting at Croke Park? If that be so, can he explain why the officers were allowed to remain in private houses and hotels? May I also ask whether any shots were fired from the aeroplane which was hovering over Croke Park?


I will ask my hon. and learned Friend to put down those questions.

Viscountess ASTOR

It is impossible. (Cries of "Order!") May I ask then if the right hon. Gentleman will look into the terrible allegation that a British soldier bayoneted a boy ten years of age? No one can believe it. It is a terrible thing for anyone to say it has happened.


What about the shooting of pregnant women?