HC Deb 22 February 1921 vol 138 cc738-42
Captain REDMOND (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to a grave report circulated in this morning's Press, namely, that 30 cadets were recently caught red-handed in organised looting; that the case was investigated by the Commandant of the Division who remanded live for trial by court-martial and dismissed the remainder from the Division; that these latter, on their return to England, had an interview with a police adviser to the Viceroy; that their theft was condoned, their dismissal cancelled, and they were sent back to Ireland to their original company; that their Commanding Officer's decision was arbitrarily overruled, and that, as a consequence, the Commanding Officer and Adjutant have resigned; and whether he will state the name and authority of the arbitrary adviser, and what steps the Government intend taking in the matter?

The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Colonel Sir Hamar Greenwood)

I will answer this question, and, at the same time, answer a similar question of the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck). I wired to-day to the Chief of Police for his observations on this matter, and I will read to the House his reply in full, which is as follows: On receipt of a complaint that a party of the Auxiliary Division had been guilty of looting, the Chief of Police directed the Commandant of the Auxiliary Division to make immediate inquiry. The Commandant thereupon arrested five platoon commanders and section leaders and one cadet, with a view to their being brought to trial, as he considered there was clear evidence against them. The services of the remainder of the party were dispensed with. Dismissal can only be carried out by the direction of the Chief of Police. The Chief of Police sent instructions to suspend action against the 26 cadets until he returned to Dublin. This letter took 24 hours to reach the Commandant of the Auxiliary Division., with the result that the men were sent to England. On arrival in England they protested to the Chief of Police at the Irish Office that they had been dismissed without trial. On his return to Dublin, he directed that the dismissed cadets should be recalled without prejudice to any future disciplinary action if found guilty. He at once instituted a Court of Inquiry into the whole of the circumstances which is now proceeding. The cadets have not been allowed to return to their own unit, and there is no question under any circumstances of allowing them to do so. They are now awaiting the finding of the Court. The Commanding Officer and the Adjutant have resigned. [HON. MEMBERS: 'Why!'] There is no condonation of looting of any sort. In all cases of this nature the accused are, if the evidence-warrants it, sent for trial. The County Inspector of Police could not support the summary dismissal of these cadets without full investigation. May I, in answer to an interruption, in the nature of a supplementary question, say that the commanding officer and adjutant of the Auxiliary Division have resigned, and their resignations have been accepted by the Chief of Police? I am bound to be advised by the Chief of Police in this matter. I can assure the House he has my instructions, and I am confident he will carry them out, to inflict the severest possible penalty on these or any other persons guilty of breaches of discipline.


Am I to understand that the Government are so bent upon carrying out a policy of utter indiscipline in the armed forces of the Crown in Ireland that they will not even treat with regard the decisions of their own officers, but must have them arbitrarily overruled by a higher power here in London?


No, no; I must correct that. Personally, I have nothing to do with this matter of the discipline of the police.


I am not referring to you individually, but to the Government.


Do I understand—


General Tudor, the Chief of Police, is taking the severest steps possible; but I must say—and I think the House will agree with me—that I do not think anyone should be condemned before trial.


May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, first, the police are superior to these military officers who are in charge of the Black and Tans; and, secondly, what is the reason the Inspector of Police has accepted the resignation of Brigadier-General Crozier, otherwise known as Colonel-Commandant Crozier, and the Adjutant.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

May I ask whether, in view of the fact that there was this delay of 24 hours in a letter from the police officer, and that it was owing to that delay that this mistake occurred, the right hon. Gentleman will himself go into the matter, and reconsider the question of the resignation of this commandant; it was entirely owing to this delay in the letter that the whole situation has arisen, and that this officer's resignation was handed in?


Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House why these officers resigned?


May I ask why the Commandant dispensed with the services of these men?


I have read to the House the whole reply I got from the Chief of Police this morning in answer to a telegram I sent to him. I do not think I can add anything to what I have stated.


Are we to understand that these military officers, the superior officers of these men, investigated the charges of looting made against them, and that, having investigated these charges, they, acting as investigators, dismissed them, and that these men, although they are not now allowed back into their units, were subsequently retained as officers in Ireland; that the investigating tribunal resigned, and that the resignations have been accepted; and that the only people now in charge of these matters are the criminals who are guilty of these acts for which they were dismissed, and for which officers left the army?


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, and in view of the fact that fictitious charges are almost daily made against officers of the Crown, will the Government take steps to discover who is responsible for these charges, because a great deal of capital is being made out of them?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

May I ask if it is not a fact that General Crozier received a telegram from these 30 men that they were returning on orders, and that he thereupon resigned; if this is not the case, why did he resign?


May I ask the Prime Minister whether now, having heard this discussion in the House, he will be prepared, in view of the conflict that exists between officers and men, and the serious- ness of this matter to these officers, to appoint a committee of inquiry to investigate this matter?


Were these military, officers dismissed because the decision they gave in carrying out what they considered to be their duty was distasteful to the policy of the Government?

Lieut.-Colonel CROFT

May I ask the right hon Gentleman if he will inform the officers of the Army of the sympathy of the hon. Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin) and his colleagues?

At the end of Questions,


I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, "the refusal of His Majesty's Ministers to give satisfaction to all sections of this House in regard to the serious condition of affairs that has arisen in the British Army in Ireland."


I am afraid that is too vague a matter.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

May I move—

Mr. J. JONES rose.

[HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order!"] It is all right; I am standing up, too. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether other criminals, where a conflict of evidence arises, can be given the benefit of the doubt in the same way as these gentlemen? [HON. MEMBERS: "They always do!"]

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

On a point of Order—


Captain Loseby.

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