§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
We have listened to speeches of moving eloquence and of great knowledge with regard to difficulties in the Near East, and fears have been expressed as to the possibility of massacres taking place. I make no apology for asking the House to consider a state of affairs which is indeed serious where there is killing and the possibility of massacre right at our very gates, namely, in Ireland; and asking the Government for information as to its intentions. When the revolutionary change of policy with regard to Ireland took place, it will be remembered the Prime Minister told us that the reason he had decided to undertake that policy was because in his opinion Mr. Michael Collins and Mr. Arthur Griffith were in a position to deliver the goods. The idea was that the people of Ireland were behind the campaign of terrorism which had taken place, and that it was better to surrender to that fact and to grant, by a great act of generosity, a policy to Ireland which would heal the sore for ever and bestow the joys of peace upon the sister isle. Many of us at that time were violently opposed to that policy and we remain opposed to it to-day: firstly, because we are surrendering to crime what none of us ever suggested before we should concede to reason; secondly, because we believe there is one unpardonable sin and that is for a governing nation to withdraw from any country where it believes chaos is going to follow on that withdrawal; and thirdly, because we believed it was wrong to adopt a policy which admitted that might was right.
We warned Parliament at the time, with all the strength of our convictions, that by taking this path the Government were taking the risk of very grave dangers arising in Ireland, and we said quite frankly, that we did not believe that the re-birth of Ireland was likely to 510 be a success if the new Ireland was to be born in such a cradle. The Government, however, treated it as a fait accompli, and that gentlemen in Ireland were called into the councils of the Government. They came to the Conference, but they came on the invitation of the Government, owing to the fact that they held an apparently responsible position in Ireland, and what I think we are sometimes inclined to forget is, that Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins climbed to that position and gained that authority as avowed republicans. I could never understand how it could be possible that these gentlemen, who have won their position in Ireland as republicans, should carry out with any success the Free State policy, but the Government were so anxious to hasten the peace in Ireland that they withdrew all the forces of law and order and protection in Ireland before any new authority was set up to maintain the law. That was a great mistake, from which we are suffering now. In fact, I think I am right in saying that the Government actually confessed having quitted Ireland, and removed the forces of law whilst they were still the only Government vested with any authority in that country. The result has been, as we told them it would be, that chaos exists in Ireland, and let us face the facts. There is no real Government in Ireland at the present time.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
The Irish Republican Army has largely reaffirmed its republican oath, and is engaged in an irresponsible kind of brigandage throughout the length and breadth of the South and West of Ireland, and the result is that we see in Ireland at the present moment a position of affairs in which that country is daily drifting nearer to civil war in the South and West, and religious war in the North. I know that I might be accused of using strong language on this subject, because I feel very strongly, but these are not my words. These are the words, and this is the summing up, of the whole of the Press, which urged the Government once to take this policy in Ireland. The "Times" is foremost in warning the country to-day that Ireland is on the brink of civil war, and even Mr. Garvin is wringing his hands the last 511 three Sundays and pointing out that, unless Mr. Michael Collins takes steps to use force, you are going to have civil war in Ireland. Unhappily, this is also true, and Mr. Michael Collins himself—I am sure the Colonial Secretary has read his speech a few days ago—says that civil war can only be saved by a miracle.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Churchill)
Complete the quotation. He said it can only be saved by a miracle, unless Mr. de Valera changes his tactics.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
I am very grateful to hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but does he attach any importance to those words? Does he believe that Mr. de Valera is going to change his tactics? Has he read Mr. de Valera's statement in the last few days? It is a mockery. Mr. Collins has stated that unless Mr. de Valera changes his tactics there will be civil war, and I will leave it at that. I think that is quite sufficient. To this policy we have abandoned 250,000 loyalists in the South and West of Ireland. These people at the present time are being fined by irresponsible persons—not by the agents of the Free State Government—they are having their motor cars, their horses, and their carts taken from them, they are being evicted from their farms, they are being persecuted in every possible way, and the only consolation they have is that when we come to this House and ask the Colonial Secretary what he is going to do to try and prevent these crimes, he says, "I am making representations on the subject to Mr. Collins or the Free State Government," when we know that the Free State Government, unfortunately, is futile and hopeless at the present time. Meanwhile, with the ordinary civil population crime is not so frightful. We do not notice it because they are never recorded in the Press, but this is going on all the time.
At the same time, we have the appalling spectacle of the Royal Irish Constabulary. I think everybody in this House, no matter what his views are on the Irish question, must feel deeply moved by the present state of affairs with regard to these trusted servants of the British Empire. After all, we have heard some criticism sometimes—I think, 512 rather hastily made—against the servants of the Crown in Ireland, but of the Royal Irish Constabulary generally there have been very few criticisms. For many, many years they have upheld the honour of this country, and upheld the law in Ireland, and everyone knows that for the last few years they have been through a perfect hell, worse than in war, never knowing when they were going to meet the assassin's knife, and all the time isolated and scattered throughout the country. These gallant souls are being done to death day by day. I believe I am right in saying that, since the Truce, 19 have been murdered and something like 50 wounded or assaulted, and in the last few days there has been an increasing policy of burning their houses down when they return home, and throwing their wives and children into the streets. This is an appalling state of affairs, and it is one we cannot afford to neglect in this House. We want a rapid decision. I would like to read a letter which has just been put into my hands from someone who knows:Twelve hundred men, with their families, who have been disbanded and are coming over here to England, have been threatened by the Irish Republican Army and told to leave the country at once, before Easter. Some have even left before they have received their pay, and are sleeping in churches over here, and pawning their belongings. The authorities at Ilford have offered the Town Hall, which will accommodate 50 women and children. It appears that the most urgent question of the moment is to get the Government to lend vacant barracks or aerodromes, and to instruct these wretched people where to go.No one will forget the way in which this country welcomed the refugees from Belgium in the Great War, but the case of these men is not understood. We are told they were treated very generously. It is true they will receive a few shillings a week more than persons receiving the unemployment donation, but what is that when they have no roof to cover them? They are coming over here not knowing where to turn. Everyone knows the state of the Labour market. I do urge the Government immediately to make arrangements to place at the disposal of any men of the Royal Irish Constabulary or their families vacant hutments, of which there are many in this country, and to see that these people are housed free of cost until they have time to turn round.
513 I have only one more word to say with regard to the Royal Irish Constabulary. I myself have met many of these people. They are in a very difficult position. I am not asking for the pity of the House. I submit it is a question of honour, and it is our bounden duty, cost what it may, to see that these people are housed, and allowed to exist, and are not driven to take refuge in churches or elsewhere. All this has happened because we ran away from Ireland before an alternative Government was set up. Whether we agree with the policy or not, that seems to me to be the real mistake that was made. We were in such a hurry to get out, and there was no machinery to carry on the Government. We are adjourning now for a fortnight, and anything may happen in that fortnight. It looks as if trouble is boiling up on every hand in Ireland, and for some reason or other, Easter-time is a fatal one in that unhappy country. Meantime the Prime Minister is away trying to restore decimated Russia, and calling for the peace of Europe, while this ghastly affair is right at our gates at home. What is the Government going to do? Are they going to sit still while the Republicans seize the reins of Government in Ireland? I hope that is an extreme possibility, but we are entitled to ask what is the Government going to do supposing—and I understand even De Valera's day is passing— the more extreme elements of his movement endeavour to bring about a coup d'etat and seize the reins of Government, supposing they take any steps to form a Republic in Ireland? Some of us have been very unpopular with our own friends because we felt deeply on this question, and because we feared that this state of affairs was going to happen. We said that it was a slippery path along which we were going. I think we are entitled to ask now, seeing the situation is such as it is, that this House should be informed before it rises precisely where the Government stand, and what it is going to do in the event of the situation becoming worse.
Field - Marshal Sir HENRY WILSON
The few words I desire to address to the House will not take long. May I, first of all, urge the Government to act on the lines indicated by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Lieut.-Colonel Croft) in so far as the Royal Irish Constabulary is concerned. I myself think 514 that the least the Government can do is either to pitch camps for these men, or to use old hutments where these men and their families can go for a month or two until they find new employment. It is all very well to say that they have 30s. or£2 a week, but a strange man coming over to England finds it exceedingly difficult to get a house, or lodging, for himself, his wife, and children whilst he is looking about for work. I have two proposals to make to the Government. The first is this: So far as I can see, the danger that Mr. Collins is in at the present moment is that Mr. de Valera may declare a republic hostile to Mr. Collins' Government. As I understand the position, Mr. Collins is a friend of our present Cabinet. It seems to me that it would only be a friendly act on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary now to announce publicly what he will do if a republic is declared, so that Mr. Collins and the people of Ireland will know what are the Government's intentions. That is only fair to Mr. Collins, I think.
My second proposal is that in this fortnight's holiday which is coming the custom which prevails with members of the Government should be applied to Ireland. It is the custom for Cabinet Ministers to visit those parts of the British Empire and the Dominions with which their office is concerned. I suggest that during this coming fortnight those Cabinet Ministers who are concerned with the administration of the Irish Acts should visit Ireland. My country is supposed to be a savage and barbaric country, but really we have railways and roads, and telegraphs, and telephones, and even hotels. It is also true that Belfast is not so far as Gairloch, nor is Cork so far as Genoa. I, therefore, suggest that in the coming fortnight some members of the Cabinet should go over to Ireland, to North, South, East, and West and see for themselves the condition of the country.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I do not propose to dwell upon the last suggestion which has been made by my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down. Although my friendship for the Government is only of a modified kind, I do not suggest that that very extreme measure shall be taken. I do, however, welcome this discussion. I quite recognise that there are disadvantages in discussing administra- 515 tive matters in Ireland at the present moment, but I feel myself that the situation there is a very serious one, and that a democratic form of government open to free discussion is really the essence of the whole thing. If we were to separate for a fortnight without discussing this matter I do not think the House of Commons would be discharging its duty to the country. We have had a very gloomy picture drawn of Ireland by my two hon. and gallant Friends. I am not in a position to say whether it is accurate or not, but I cannot help hoping that it is overcharged in some particulars. It is certainly a very melancholy state of things.
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Lieut.-Colonel Croft) says there is no Government in the South and West of Ireland, and apparently in that view he is supported by observations made by responsible persons to the effect that there is imminent danger of civil war in Ireland. He says, and I am bound, from such information as reaches me, rather to confirm this statement, that the loyalist population in the South and West of Ireland is in parts of it undergoing great hardships at the present moment and is in considerable danger for the future. Attention has been drawn to the terrible conditions which afflict the disbanded members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and on that point the hon. and gallant Member will have the sympathy of all the Members of this House, wherever they may sit. That is the present position. We have been told by the Government that in introducing this very great change in the government of Ireland, a change which I have supported, they have shown the utmost prescience and care in choosing exactly the right moment when it could be most successfully launched. The House will remember how strong the Prime Minister was on this point in December last, when he said:Statesmanship consists not merely in the wisdom of your proposals, but in the choosing of the right moment.Later on the Prime Minister says:There were moments when we all feared that we proposed a Conference too soon, and if any of those who think that we might have done it a year ago could have just peeped through and seen the last hours which ended in agreement, they would have wondered whether, on the whole, we might not have 516 waited a little longer. You have done it, but only just. I believe that it could not have been done had you not faced Ireland with the accomplished fact of the rights of Ulster …The fact of the matter is that public opinion on neither side was quite right. It was only when it came to be realised by everybody that prolonging the agony would only mean more loss, devastation, irritation, and trouble, that the moment came when men of reason on both sides said, 'Let us put an end to it.' "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1921; col. 47, Vol. 149.]I have been ready, for reasons which seem to me sufficient, and I am still ready to support this policy of the Government, but, when I am asked not only to do that but also to pay a tribute to the Government for having so well selected the time for this change, then, with the greatest respect, I am unable to give that tribute. I do not know whether it is realised, but I imagine it must be realised by the Government, that the change they were instituting was one which it was exceedingly difficult to carry out. They were going to hand over the Government of Ireland to men who, whatever their ability, were absolutely untrained in administration. They were going to break with the traditions of many many years. They were going to dislocate, necessarily dislocate, the whole machinery of Government. My hon. and gallant Friend says that they ought to have waited till they had another Government ready to take the place of that which they were displacing. They had to do what they did in a great hurry, or otherwise nothing would have been done at all. That is their case. The real truth is that to give a chance of success for this great experiment, an experiment which I, at any rate, desire most earnestly should succeed, they ought to have done it in conditions of peace and not in conditions of war. The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary told us recently that the condition of affairs which prevailed a year ago in Ireland was what he called retrospective war. I do not quite know what the phrase means.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That was not the phrase I used. I said that what occurred in Ireland was a revolution which was viewed retrospectively as civil war.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I admit that the phrase is much clearer as the right hon. Gentleman puts it. That is to say, it was civil war, but it was not so treated. That is an astounding statement to make. There 517 were a great many things done by the Government that could not possibly be defended by the Government, and, as a matter of fact, it was not civil war, or, at any rate, it was not wholly civil war. I have never seen any advantage in mixing up facts and in trying to conceal, by using different words, the real truth of the matter. You may have great sympathy with the desires of Sinn Feiners, and you may hold that they were right to struggle to free their country from English domination, but no one, unless he absolutely chooses to confuse moral values, can doubt that the methods by which they attempted to achieve their object were the methods of murder and nothing else. That was the first thing. The concession was made after a long campaign of murder, a campaign which sapped, as such campaigns must necessarily sap, the very foundations on which civilised society is based. It was much worse than that, because, in addition to the murders, you had the policy of reprisals. My hon. and gallant Friend talks of the present policy of the Government as a surrender to crime. The real surrender to crime was made when the Government began to imitate the crimes of others. I see that the Home Secretary evidently regards it as a joke.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt)
I was not laughing at anything the Noble Lord was saying.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I do not know whether the House remembers what these reprisals were. I am not going to attempt to enter into the whole history of them. But they amounted to organised arson and organised murder by the agents of the Crown. That has been proved. It is not disputed. Creameries were burnt down wholesale. Part of the city of Cork was burned down and looted. Murders were organised in the most brutal way. It is not disputed, it is admitted, it has been stated by some of the judicial officers of the Crown. It has never been denied.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The whole of this matter has been repeatedly made per- 518 fectly clear. When officers of the Crown, military and police, were ambushed and murdered under circumstances of the grossest treachery, it was quite impossible to prevent the police and military making reprisals on their own account. It would exceed the limits of human nature, however lamentable or however regrettable.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Will the right hon. Gentleman even now grant an impartial inquiry into these matters? We have repeatedly asked for one, and have always been refused. The Government will not even publish the results of such inquiries as were made. This pretence that these reprisals were carried out without the knowledge of or instigation by the Government really will not do. I say deliberately that in the summer of 1920 the Government, or some members of it, including, I believe, the right hon. Gentleman himself, indicated to the armed forces of the Crown in Ireland that they might take the law into their own hands. That has been constantly stated in this House. It has been said outside, and it has never been denied.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I certainly deny that the Government at any time authorised the armed forces of the Crown in Ireland to take the law into their own hands.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Does the right hon. Gentleman deny there was a meeting of a Committee of the Cabinet in June, 1920, at which the question was considered, and some indication of that kind was given to the armed forces of the Crown—I do not say in those words, but in some form or another—that they might take action outside the law, and that they would not be reproved.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not know on what ground the Noble Lord bases these insulting charges against the Government of his own country. I do not know on what authority he states that a meeting of 519 a Committee of the Cabinet was held. I have never heard of such a meeting, and if he has any information on that subject he is perfectly at liberty to publish it.
§ Lord R. CECIL
It has been published. The right hon. Gentleman forgets the history of this matter. It was published directly afterwards, I think in August or September of 1920, and in October I drew attention in this House to the statement. I recited it, and begged the Government to deny it. I did not believe it; I thought it incredible, and I begged them to deny it. They would not deny it. They made speech after speech, but they never denied it. Lord Grey and I wrote a letter to the papers, in which we called attention to the matter, and there was no denial. I again drew attention to it in October, 1920, and the matter was put over and over again in this House. My Noble Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) and the hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley) asked direct questions upon it. I will read the last question, which was asked by my Noble Friend the Member for South Nottingham on the 10th March of last year. My Noble Friend asked the Prime Minister:Whether his attention has been drawn to a letter of the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of England deploring the fact that our rulers have latterly decided to meet crime with crime in Ireland; that they have first condoned and then actually authorised on many occasions a policy of reprisals, not carried out with the remorseless but ordered rigour of martial law, but by means of indiscriminate and unregulated shooting and looting; and that, as a result, British rule is a byword and a scoff in every country in Europe and across the Atlantic; and whether he will forthwith put an end to a policy so destructive of the good name of Britain?And the Prime Minister replied:I have not yet seen the letter referred to, but if the Noble Lord's summary of it is accurate, I cannot accept its description of British rule in Ireland. The contribution would have been more helpful had he demonstrated in what other way crime in Ireland could be stopped without a complete surrender to murder."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1921; col. 633, Vol. 139.]I say that after this accusation had been made publicly in this House over and over again, and after the direct charge that was made in my Noble Friend's question on that occasion, this House had a right to have the matter answered fully 520 and frankly if there was not a word of truth in it. If the Government have merely given an answer by the card, or a mere evasion altogether, I say they have no right to object if people draw the conclusion that this accusation must be, in substance, true. I could enlarge still more on the truth of this accusation, but I have said enough to establish what I desired to establish. Whatever the degree of the Government's responsibility—and I cannot admit that, quite apart from all this, the Government can evade responsibility for what was done in Ireland by their agents—what is the result of this miserable, melancholy policy? It has converted what the Government told us was a body of 200 or 300 gunmen, who were responsible for the first outrages, into a body of, I think we have been told, some 30,000 men enrolled in the Irish Republican Army—I am taking what I believe to be the Government figure. That was a very serious effect of their policy, but, much worse than that, it utterly destroyed—and that is one of the things from which we are suffering at the present time—it utterly destroyed the moral influence of the British Government in Ireland; and finally, it taught a fatal lesson to those lawless elements in Ireland who are now responsible for the whole of the trouble there. I say that the carrying out of this policy has been the most fatal and the most indefensible thing that the British Government has done in Ireland for 120 years; and if we have, unhappily, the position which exists to-day, it is largely due to the unhappy course of conduct which lasted between the summer of 1920 and the summer of 1921. I hope earnestly, in spite of everything, that peace will be re-established, that this experiment will succeed, and that, however great the difficulties may be, some means will be found by those who are directing Irish affairs to give peace at length to that unhappy island. But I do say, when we are asked to express our admiration for the way in which this policy has been carried out, that that is an admiration which I do not feel and which I do not believe posterity will share.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not complain that attention has been called to this subject on the eve of the Easter Adjournment. I quite understand the object 521 which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Lieut.-Colonel Croft) had in view when he raised it, and I understand and sympathise keenly with his anxiety on behalf of the unionists in the South of Ireland and especially on behalf of the Royal Irish Constabulary. I also understand the point of view of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Down (Sir H. Wilson), but I do ask myself what object of public utility can be served by the remarks of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) and the very long stream of vindictive allegations with which he has affronted the House? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The Noble Lord was one of those whose fine sensibilities were outraged by many terrible, brutal, ferocious aspects of the warfare that was proceeding in Ireland. Many other people shared that abhorrence, but when the truce was made and the Treaty was signed almost every single one of those persons swung round and did everything in his power, and is to-day doing everything in his power, to bring the new policy to success. Not one of them has thought it worth while to go back into the past and try to rake up something to bring about a feeling of ill-will at the present time. They have been consistent in seeking peace whether we agreed with them or did not. The Noble Lord has only been consistent in finding fault. He finds fault with the rough brutalities of the struggle. Equally he finds fault with many of the inconveniences and embarrassments that resulted.
Whatever is the series of events presented to his judgment they lead only to one conclusion, that is that they are a new means, a new opportunity, of condemning the Government. He told us that he was not going to pay any tribute to the Government, that he could not pay any tribute to us, over our Irish policy. If we had depended during the last few years, for any foundation on which we could conduct the affairs of this country and this Empire, upon tributes which were paid to us by the Noble Lord we should indeed have collapsed. We have certainly got on without them. The country as a whole, the British nation as a whole, will succeed in getting on without tributes of the kind which he paid to them this afternoon in making a series of the most serious and offensive allega- 522 tions upon evidence which he has not made the slightest attempt to submit. Nobody ever concealed the ugly aspects of this Irish struggle. Nobody conceals in Belfast to-day the hideous aspects which a campaign of murder and reprisals is bound to present. Everyone knows that armed men will not stand by and see one after another of their number shot down by treachery, without to some extent taking the law into their own hands. Although the Government did their best to restrain them it is perfectly true that we did not punish with full severity persons who had been mixed up in this sort of affair. We have never concealed that. How could we punish them while there was no other redress open to them, while no court would convict, while no criminals were arrested, while there was no means whatever of affording these men the satisfaction of a sense of self-preservation when they saw comrades weltering in blood from a foul blow? I fully agree that one evil leading to another brought the whole of our policy in Ireland and in the world generally into gross discredit. I have never concealed it. It was not because we had not the strength to crush Ireland, for we had overwhelming strength. But the British Empire cannot afford to be drawn continually by these brutal Irish feuds into a position dishonouring to its general and long-maintained reputation.
The speech of the Noble Lord might well furnish material for the most extravagant perorations of Mr. de Valera. No doubt in reading the speech Mr. de Valera will be greatly refreshed. It is with the more fruitful and the more accurately directed observations of the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth and of the hon. and gallant Field Marshal the Member for Northy Down that I will endeavour to deal in the few moments remaining. Let me say, first of all, about the Royal Irish Constabulary that there is no word of praise for the force with which the Government do not associate themselves, and that there is no word of anxiety about their present position to which the Government are not prepared to listen. But these men have extremely good pensions. Their pensions compare favourably with those of any other class of public servant ever pensioned in this country, or in any other country in the world. A constable of five years' service, a young 523 man of 25 in perfectly bodily health, gets nearly£90 a year for life, and he has the whole of the energies of his nature with which to earn additions. The pensions have been fixed on a scale far in excess of anything that men in the Army, Navy, Civil Service or English police would receive. But we must recognise that these men, in a large proportion of cases, will have to leave their native land and begin life in a new country. We must recognise that the next three or four months will be months in which Ireland, denuded of police and military forces, and with a new Government not fully possessed as yet of the means of maintaining order, and with Courts functioning only imperfectly—that Ireland will be a very dangerous place for some of these men. Many offences, perhaps, will be committed against them contrary to the Treaty. We have, therefore, offered these men refuge in this country. Any men who like to come here have only to apply, and they will get tickets for this country, where they can draw their pensions, and they will also get the benefits of the various schemes which have been worked out in great detail.
But I do not exclude the idea of making a camp in Great Britain, at any rate, in the next few months, and if there be any general demand for it by a large number of the Royal Irish Constabulary, I think it certainly should be considered. I believe myself that the conditions in Ireland which make it dangerous for these men are temporary. It is true, and it is a terrible fact, that 19 of these men have been shot dead since the Treaty. Since that date they have been under the safeguard of the Irish people as confirmed and guaranteed by their duly-accredited plenipotentiaries and representatives in their own Dail Eireann, and that these men should have been murdered in this brutal way without anybody being apprehended or brought to justice, undoubtedly constitutes a stain upon the national record of Ireland which, I am convinced, as the years go by, Ireland will herself remove in the only way it can be removed, namely, by the patient, unrelenting pursuit of the assassins and the execution upon them of Irish justice. That is the only attitude His Majesty's Government will ever take up. These are matters that will not be allowed to be 524 forgotten. These are matters that must be pursued over the course of many years, and I am convinced that no nation endeavouring to maintain civilised government and institutions can allow its plighted word to be brought under insult and calumny, and allow those guilty of cruel and brutal murder to go unpunished.
I now touch upon the more general questions which have been raised. It is, I think, too soon to mock or jeer. Two months ago it was too soon to rejoice. It is still too soon to lament. It is a source of some satisfaction to some people to be able to say when some untoward event happens, "I told you so," but I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth is too good a patriot to get satisfaction out of that. Let me say to him and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Down that I do not think the possibilities of failure in Ireland exceed the possibilities of success. I fully recognise the very serious, chaotic state of affairs that exists. It has not been attended by any great loss of life, but there has been a great number of instances of petty tyranny, of defiance of the Constitution, of instability greatly affecting the prosperity of the country and the peace of the inhabitants. But it seems to me that these conditions were almost inseparable from the decision to begin to withdraw the troops and the Royal Irish Constabulary from the centres at which they were and concentrate them at certain quarters. I suppose that if Ireland should develop ultimately into a welter, in which it certainly is not at the present time, great reproaches will be made to the Government for taking away the Army and Constabulary and concentrating them before they had made sure that the electors had affirmed the Treaty and the Government installed had full powers and the machinery for maintaining order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Well, I think it will be one of those questions which might justifiably be raised, but we must consider what would have happened if we had not done so. The Constabulary would have got mixed up in the quarrel between the two sides. Those Irishmen who lean for support on the Treaty would have been discredited by the others of their fellow-Irishmen, and the same 525 things, such as the horrible murders of members of the Constabulary, would have happened. We have acted in this matter on the advice and at the request of those upon whom we have devolved responsibility for governing Ireland. They strongly urged that the troops should be withdrawn, and we have therefore concentrated the troops at certain points. They urged upon us that only in this way would the people of Ireland be free, and that if Great Britain intended to carry out the Treaty the responsibility for governing the country had now passed out of their hands. I believe, on the whole, that of the two alternatives we have taken the right one.
Let us see what the situation is. There is a struggle going on, a great struggle between Irishmen who want to accept the Treaty and the Irish Free State as a fair working arrangement upon which they can build the future of their country, and those Irishmen who desire, above all things, to declare an independent Republic and break away altogether from the British Empire. The first, we may say, are animated by the love of Ireland, while the others are animated by their undying hatred of this country. In this struggle between the two forces there have been, if I may use a sporting term, three rounds. The first round was fought in the Dail between the representatives who have been elected by the Irish constituents. By a very narrow majority the Treaty was carried. Those who were devoted to the National Assembly declared that the nation would put right what the assembly had defaulted. For at least a month Mr. de Valera and his friends—Mr. Erskine Childers and the rest of what I may call the hate party— went about the country reproaching the Irish Provisional Government with having betrayed the Republic. They seemed to expect that merely by making these accusations of heresy, of failure, and of deserting the national cause, they would gain immediately the sense of being supported by the great mass of the Irish people. But in the course of a month it became perfectly clear that a free election could have only one result. I say that it became perfectly clear, not because I am merely guided by the opinions of those in favour of the Treaty, but because of the view taken by those bitterly opposed to the Treaty. They were perfectly clear 526 that the Irish people were not with them. The Irish people wanted to take the Irish Free State and to make a success of it, to make it prosperous and to live on that basis. That was, and is, their wish and it was not until this realisation came home with overwhelming force to Mr. de Valera and his confederates that they then began to use the methods of violence and of anarchy which have disgraced the last three weeks. It was not until they felt that the majority of the nation was against them that they began to talk of wading through blood and of establishing a Mexican régime.
That began the third round of the contest, which has lasted now for three or four weeks. There have been a great many affronts offered to the Provisional Government and, if I may say so, to the dignity and self-respect of the Irish nation, by individuals and groups of individuals who have turned the Free State troops out of their barracks and have shot some of the officers engaged in defending property confided to their charge, or who have defied the authority of the lawfully constituted chiefs who have the military forces in their charge. There have been many attempts to obstruct public meetings, many attempts to terrorise or to gag the freedom of the Press—one being an outrage where the printing machinery of a great newspaper was smashed to pieces by sledge-hammers—trains have been thrown off the lines and even Members of the Government making speeches have been received with violence and opprobrium when they were at a most critical moment in their country's fortunes, seeking frankly to speak before their fellow countrymen and put grave issues to them. I am not quite sure at the present time that those responsible for these outrages are very satisfied with their result. The matter is obscure, but at the same time the impression and sense which I have derived from watching this quarrel is that Irish opinion is still more firm against those who are doing these things, and I may say I base that opinion on, among other things, the admirable memorandum issued by one of the principal parties in Ireland and a party known to be extreme in other ways, i.e., the Irish Labour party. It is a memorandum of sterling good sense. I also observe a very considerable rallying of public opinion to the Government.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
In this case the Labour party are supporting the Government, an arrangement of which I highly approve. I am always very glad to accept that support whenever it is forthcoming, and to make proper recognition of it. We see that thousands of people—many hundreds of people—make their way from miles around to crossroads in spite of roads being encumbered by the felling of trees, to attend public meetings in support of the Treaty, although at these public meetings they know there will be an element there armed with revolvers, and that some serious incident may easily occur.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We observe also that the Press of Ireland, almost without exception — all the influential Press throughout Ireland, local as well as the Press of the capital—maintains a most vehement and spirited conflict with the forces of anarchy and disorder. I must avow a strong confidence in the great laws of human society when they are allowed to work in freedom. I must avow a confidence in the educative value of responsibility. Everyone in Ireland can see that their fortune is in their own hands. What conceivable inducement have the Irish nation as a whole to impoverish themselves, to degrade themselves, to make themselves a laughing stock before the whole world, to play into the hands of every enemy they have got in every quarter of the world, to make themselves a bye-word, to vindicate everything that has been said of them by their enemies during all these by-gone generations— what conceivable inducement have they for that? I believe there is a growing rally of public opinion in Ireland, that it is asserting itself, and that it will continue to assert itself. As to whether I should like to have seen the Government in Ireland take this measure or that measure, I am bound to say that I have the feeling that they know their business better than we do. I am sure they do not intend to let themselves be dispossessed of the responsibilities which the Irish nation has confided to them 528 through the votes of its accredited representatives, and I believe that if they persevere and hold firmly to their task, as their strength gathers and grows, so they will wear down this attempt to wreck the prosperity of Ireland, and they will get to an election in which a national pronouncement can be made. I still think that, in spite of all the uncertainties which overhang the future, the prospect which I have indicated is the most probable at the present time.
There is only one other thing I wish to say before I sit down, because it is an urgent matter. My hon. and gallant Friend has asked that we should announce now, publicly, what we will do if a Republic is declared. Well, I am not sure that that would be very wise.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The kind of elements who are attacking the Irish Government at the present time—the National Government of Ireland—are the kind of elements that feed on opposition to England, and if they had the feeling that in a very cheap way they were daring England and daring the British Empire it would give them some bragging fame, and it would not deter them from any course which they were likely to take. In my view, we should not announce exactly what we should do. I am very anxious indeed to avoid the appearance of putting duress upon the Irish people, and therefore I think it is sufficient for us to reiterate, what we have said again and again, that we will not in any circumstances tolerate the creation of an independent Republic, of a republican form of Government in Ireland.
I do not know what will happen. Many people think that a republic will be proclaimed in some part of the country by some persons more or less irresponsible, but in Ireland almost everything happens when you do not expect it, and anything which any large number of people expect never happens. Therefore, perhaps nothing will occur at Easter. I do not think it is to be expected that the existing Provisional Government will be violently overborne by revolution in the next fortnight. If it were, it is clear that a very grave decision would be 529 forced upon the Government at very short notice, and those matters have been carefully and seriously considered by the Government for some time; but I do not think that that is at all likely. As to whether some irresponsible individuals might call themselves a republic in this or that part of the country, that is another question, and in regard to that we should have to see what the circumstances were. But I repeat—and this is the last word I have to say, not because it is any news to the House, but because it again reaffirms our position—we stand by the Treaty. Whatever happens in Ireland, however many years of misfortune there may be in Ireland, whatever trouble, the Treaty defines what we think should be the relations between the two countries, and we are prepared, and will be prepared, to hand over to any responsible body of Irishmen capable of governing the country the full powers which the Treaty confers. Further than that, in no circumstances will we go, and if a republic is set up, that is a form of government in Ireland which the British Empire can in no circumstances whatever tolerate or agree to.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman into the whole of the Irish question. I am not one of those who believe that the policy carried out by His Majesty's Government is the right policy, but I do not wish to add anything to debar any possible success which that policy might attain. I was very much surprised to hear the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). It seems to me he was raking over the dustbin of old Irish Debates in order to find some tin-cans to throw at the Government. I do not know whether he realises the fearful harm done to this country in America and other places by speeches like that, which try to prove that the Government of this country deliberately engaged in a campaign of murder in Ireland. As I know, all that the Government did before the truce was to authorise, in certain cases, certain military reprisals—a very different thing from the indiscriminate shooting and looting to which the Noble Lord referred. But, at any rate, speeches like that do no good now. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, we have passed that period, and even those who 530 are bitterly opposed to the Government in their policy of the present time, want Ireland left alone at present to see what will happen.
I wish to bring forward the case, in rather more detail, of the disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and particularly the treatment of the Auxiliary Cadets. First of all, as regards the disbandment of the regular force of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the right hon. Gentleman has just said they were treated very generously, and had very good pensions given them, better than soldiers and sailors, and better than the police force in England, and so on. I do not think that is quite an accurate picture. The Royal Irish Constabulary always were recruited with the promise that they would get a very good pension, because of the onerous duties they had to carry out, and which they have carried out in the past to the admiration, not only of their own country, but of this country for the last two or three years. The Royal Irish Constabulary say that every time they ask for a more generous offer than has been made to them, they have been met by the Government with the statement that they have got even better treatment than the former Government promised in the Home Rule Bill of 1914. The facts are these. In 1914 the men who retired were, just as now, offered 12 years to be added to their period of service to count for pension, so as to give them a greater pension than otherwise they would have. In 1914 these men were allowed to serve six years with full pay and allowances, and also they were not obliged to leave the country, because if the Home Rule Bill of 1914 had gone through these men would have been able to settle down in their country and not have been disturbed.
The conditions, however, are now entirely different. In the first place they are not allowed to serve for six years, and in the second place they have to bring their wives and children away for a time. I hope that may be the case, and that it may only be for a few months, though it looks as though they will have to come away altogether. They have put forward a demand, or rather expressed a request, that they should be granted a lump sum of one year's pay, which would enable them to have enough funds in hand to 531 bring their families over here, or if they desire to do so, to emigrate to one of the Dominions and start life afresh there. They say, and I think truly, that they deserve that in view of the repeated promises to which they have been treated most generously. The Prime Minister, speaking last year, said:The loyalty and gallantry of their services had been such that it would be a dishonour to any Government or any party to neglect their interests.That is the point. I want to ask the Chief Secretary, if he replies, to deal with this point: Will the Government give a year's pay or a substantial part of a year's pay to these men as a bonus for disturbance instead of one month—or two months in the case of the men who have over three children—which at present is being offered? Let the Government give the men a more handsome donation, a lump sum—that is as regards the regular Royal Irish Constabulary.
I want next to deal with the case of the auxiliary cadets of the Royal Irish Constabulary. We had some Debate on this matter on 20th of February, and the Chief Secretary stated that he would look into the matter again and would issue a White Paper setting forth details. He has looked into the matter, but he had done nothing whatever to remedy what, I maintain, and I believe the House will agree with me in maintaining, is an injustice to these auxiliary cadets. There are a class of something like a little under 400 cadets who are affected by this particular point. I will just recall to the memory of the House in a few sentences what are the exact facts. On 30th May last year the Government, seeing that the state of affairs in Ireland was likely to continue, and not, apparently, at that time having in their minds the offer of the truce, asked these cadets to re-engage for another year's service. An Order was sent out, first of all, on 23rd May from headquarters, which said:Re-enlistment for a further period of 12 months may be made … the matter must be considered before the end of July next.Subsequently another Order was issued from the Beggars Bush barracks on 30th May, which said:Re-enlistment for a further period of 12 months may now be made, but the re-enlistment will not be later than 31st July, 1921. 532 Individuals may not sign at a later date than 31st July, 1922.Acting upon that, several hundreds of these cadets did sign on and undertook to serve until the 31st July, 1922, this year. Can it be believed that eight weeks after that Order, and after these re-enlistments had been carried out, an Order was issued stating thatThe Chief of Police directs that he cannot confirm any re-engagement of members of the division who have had at the time of re-enlistment less than 9 months' service with the division.I am aware that the truce happened in the meantime, but this contract with these men, whose signatures were witnessed by two witnesses, and whose names had appeared in Orders as having contracted to serve two years, is repudiated by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly said that these men have been treated generously and honourably. I say that the terms may have been generous from his point of view, but it was not only dishonourable to repudiate the contract, but it was positively dishonest. I do not believe there is a single case where the Government of this country, having made a binding contract of this kind, has so flagrantly, openly, and without the slightest shame repudiated that contract. I know one case of a young officer who was offered a place in the Ministry of Pensions at a good salary, and because he had signed this contract he refused the appointment, with the result that he fell between two stools. His contract was repudiated by the Government as regards the Irish Constabulary, and he also lost the position offered to him in the Ministry of Pensions. There are many other cases where men could have looked out for work, but they knew that they were bound to serve until the 21st of July this year. Those are the salient facts, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will find it very hard to dispose of them. I suggest that it is not too late yet for justice and right to be done, and for the right hon. Gentleman to agree to honour those contracts, because it is a much greater thing than just the amount of the money. The real thing at stake is the honour of the British Government.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Sir Hamar Greenwood)
The question which has just been raised by my hon. And gallant Friend is a very 533 serious one. With regard to what has been stated about the Royal Irish Constabulary I cannot promise my Hon. and gallant Friend anything further. The terms of disbandment are before the House. There is no question whatever of generosity as they are better than the terms of the Act of 1920 which stand in every respect. The real point about the Royal Irish Constabulary is not the advancing of larger sums of money, but so to deal with these men and their wives and children that their lives and their pensions are secure. I can assure the House that the Government is doing everything in its power to contend with both these difficulties. As for the Auxiliary cadets, I have gone into the whole matter of the cadets who feel that they have been dishonourably treated. The hon. and gallant Gentleman omitted to read the first Order dealing with this question on the 16th May to the following effect:The service of temporary cadets who are Hearing the termination "—Those are the effective words—of their first year in the Auxiliary Division may be extended for a further term of six months.That expression, "nearing the termination of their first year," was interpreted by a junior officer as meaning all members whether they had served, three, six, nine, or ten months in the force.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
This is a very important point. The ruling I meant was the second one, which was an amplification of the first, as is clearly pointed out in the right hon. Gentleman's own White Paper, which says:Following further representations from the office of the Chief of Police, the following further ruling was given by the Under-Secretary's Office on the 23rd May. 'Re-enlistments for a further period of twelve months may be made for the present, but the matter must be considered before, the end of July next.'It said nothing about men nearing the end of their engagements.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
It is the first Order which governs the whole situation, and in this I have the support and the advice of General Tudor, the Chief of Police, who, as soon as it was brought to his notice that an interpretation of this original order, "nearing the termination," 534 could be extended to men who had more or less than nine months' service, took the view that that could not be maintained, and he did not allow applicants with less than nine months' service to re-engage in the Auxiliary Division. There was no question of the truce involved. There was no question of the saving of money involved. It was simply a question whether the original Order should be interpreted as applying to men who had served at least nine months or should be construed as applying to men who had served less than nine months. I felt justified in refusing this expenditure of public money——
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
I have set out in the White Paper all the Orders so that every Member of the House must judge for himself. I am giving my decision, based on the advice of the Chief of Police, which, I think, is fair to the cadets and fair to the public purse. I am at the present moment sympathetically considering certain specific cases of cadets who may be brought within all the Orders applying to the Force. When the Auxiliary Cadets were disbanded, they were met by the heads of the Police and the heads of the Civil Administration in Ireland. The whole question was gone into, including the very question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend. The appointed a representative body, and that representative body signed an agreement agreeing to the terms on which the force had been disbanded. That agreement is set out on the last page of the White Paper, which I have circulated. I do not think that at this stage it is possible to re-open this question which, in my opinion, on its merits cannot be supported. As the terms of disbandment have been already agreed and acted upon by the men themselves and their representatives, I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman can fairly ask me again to appeal to the Treasury to spend tens of thousands of public money on this force, to whose efficiency I have often testified. I think the British Government owe them much, but I feel myself that we have treated them, not only according to the terms of their contract, but more generously.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
I am sorry the exigencies of the Session compel me now to 535 raise a matter to which I have already twice alluded. It will be remembered that my remarks on Monday night were interrupted under the Standing Orders of the House when I was drawing attention to what I am informed are existing difficulties in respect of coal dust at Pits Nos. 1 and 2 of the Haydock Colliery Company at St. Helens, Lancashire. The allegation made on behalf of the workmen is that the treatment of such coal dust by 536 the colliery officials is inadequate and does not comply with the conditions set out in Section 62 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1911—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,
§ The House was adjourned at Twenty-one Minutes before Five o'Clock till Wednesday, 26th April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this Day.