HC Deb 13 February 1922 vol 150 cc591-7
67. Mr. LYNN

asked the Prime Minister whether he has seen the statement issued by Commandant-General O'Duffy, chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army, regarding the raid in Ulster last week; and what steps His Majesty's Government pro-prose to take to punish the raiders and prevent similar raids in future?


I will deal with this in the general statement which I propose to make at the end of questions.

Captain C. CRAIG

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether any, and, if so, how many, persons kidnapped by the Sinn Fein forces last week have been released, and what steps the Government have taken to secure the return of these persons to their homes since the right hon. Gentleman last addressed the House? Also, if the right hon. Gentleman can give the House any information as to outrages which have occurred subsequent to Saturday morning; whether he has any information as to an American Press correspondent who has been, according to the information at my disposal, captured by Sinn Feiners; and, further, if the Government have met the wishes of the Cabinet of Northern Ireland, with reference to certain movements of troops which, I understand, the Northern Ireland Government have asked for?


We have been in constant communication with the Irish Provisional Government, and they have assured me that they are doing and will do everything in their power to secure the liberation of the persons kidnapped in the raids of last Thursday. We believe that such is their sincere wish and intention. The extent of their powers at the present time is much more doubtful. So far none of the 43 persons taken in the raids last week nor the six missing from Clones on Saturday have been set free.

The difficulty is that the so-called Irish Republican Army organisation in County Monaghan are incensed at the arrest and detention in prison of certain Monaghan men who were arrested in the territory of the Northern Government a month ago. These men were proceeding to play in a football match at Derry, but they were also identified as the commander and headquarters staff of the Monaghan division of the so-called Irish Republican Army. They were armed and were arrested by the Northern police on this ground. Papers were found upon them identifying them with the Irish republican organisation referred to. These men have been committed by the magistrates for trial at the Northern Assizes, which do not begin until the end of this month. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland has written to Mr. Collins stating that if these men apply for bail it will not be opposed by the Crown. They, however, decline to apply for bail, as they will not recognise the jurisdiction of the Northern Government. In these circumstances the Government of Northern Ireland have not been willing to take any special action, and there the matter rests for the present.

On Saturday morning the Irish Provisional Government issued a declaration of oblivion and goodwill in respect of persons who had sided against them during the period of the rebellion couched in terms which were certainly very satisfactory. I therefore availed myself of the authority accorded me by the Cabinet some time ago to release the prisoners confined in Great Britain for offences committed from Irish political motives in Great Britain previous to the truce.

During Saturday, however, an event occurred which has greatly aggravated the situation. By what appears to have been an error of a subordinate, a party of Ulster Special Constables were sent to Enniskillen viâ Clones in the Southern Irish area instead of viâ Omagh in the North. A collision occurred between these men and a party of the Irish Republican Army at Clones Station, in the course of which a Mr. Fitzpatrick, described at Acting Commandant of the I.R.A. in Monaghan, in the absence of Mr. Hogan, now under arrest with the other Monaghan prisoners in the Northern area, was killed. Four of the Ulster Special Constables were also killed, two other constables being seriously wounded and others made prisoners.

On hearing this lamentable news His Majesty's Government telegraphed in strong terms to the Irish Provisional Government requesting them to do all in their power to apprehend the persons concerned and to prevent the repetition of such shocking events. On this the Provisional Government sent Mr. O'Duffy, Chief Staff Officer, to Clones yesterday, and they have now furnished us with the following account, which, as will be seen, is in conflict with other versions which have been received:— The train arrived at Clones at 5.10 p.m. containing a number of Special Police who went to the waiting room at the station. Although Clones is outside the six county area the Specials carried arms. Word was conveyed to the I.R.A. that these armed Specials were at the platform. When the I.R.A. troops got to the platform they discovered that the Specials had gone into the railway carriages but that the engine was not attached to the train. They called on the Specials to get out and put up their hands. This was refused and instead the Specials opened fire and shot Commandant Fitzpatrick through the head killing him instantly. The body was carried into the waiting room. The I.R.A. troops again asked the Specials several times to get out and surrender. They would not do so, but fired again. The I.R.A. then took up positions and opened fire on the carriages. After an interchange of shots there were four Specials killed and two badly wounded. A few civilians were slightly wounded. Five of the surviving Specials were taken prisoners to the barracks at Clones, from which they were subsequently removed under arrest.

Lieut.-Colonel CROFT

Why did you trust them?


That is the account which I have received, and I give it to the House as I give all other statements as I receive them. His Majesty's Government also telegraphed to Sir James Craig assuring him that the troops in Ulster would be reinforced to any extent necessary to maintain peace and safety in the area of the Northern Government. We also appealed to him in the strongest terms, in virtue of the ample support which will he given to the Northern Government, to take effective measures to prevent anything in the nature of reprisals or irregular action on his side of the frontier. We have no doubt that this is being done.

The Provisional Government have expressed a desire for a meeting between the heads of the two Governments. We have conveyed these representations to the Government of Northern Ireland, but so far, in the present state of tension, it has not been possible to arrange a meeting. Such a meeting is most desirable if quiet is to be restored along the Ulster border, the whole condition of which must continue to be a cause of serious anxiety.


Can the right hon. Gentleman answer the question which I put as to whether Mr. O'Duffy, who was appointed to his present position by Mr. Griffith, actually arranged this raid in Fermanagh and Tyrone last week?. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"] Because he admits it.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's description of the very incomplete control exercised by the Provisional Government over the Irish Republican Army, will he give an undertaking that no further British garrisons will be withdrawn from Ireland until the Provisional Government are in a position to satisfy the Lord Lieutenant that they have every means by which they can ensure order and prevent any recurrence of these murderous attacks?


I think the rate at which troops are to be withdrawn from Ireland, and the places from which they are to be withdrawn, are matters which should be dealt with by the responsible executive Government of this country, and I am not prepared to answer questions about them at the present time; but I will deal with them when there is any general challenge of the policy we are pursuing.


Arising out of that part of the right hon. Gentleman's answer relating to the release of prisoners for pre-Truce offences, may I ask whether he has also released the officers who were serving in the Forces of the Crown and who were convicted by court-martial for exceeding their duty? There are several of them at the present time undergoing sentences, some with hard labour, at Liverpool, and there may be some elsewhere, and I want to know whether the same clemency is being extended to those who were endeavouring to serve the Crown as is being extended to those who were endeavouring to serve our enemies


My recollection is that this matter is a subject dealt with in a question standing in the name of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. McNeill) for to-morrow.


As the right hon. Gentleman admits that the British Government are still responsible for law and order in Ireland, will he say why British troops have not been sent to release these Ulster men who are still illegally detained when it is known where they are being detained? [An HoN. MEMBER: "That would be civil war, which is what you want!"]


We are passing through a very difficult time, and we are trying to do our very best in the interim period. Until the Irish Government is equipped with proper constitutional powers, and is properly in the saddle, we cannot expect that they can have the control that is necessary and which every civilised Government has over its agents and forces. Therefore I do not think that we should judge them at this date by exactly the same rules by which we judge well established Governments. The question of the use of troops in the South of Ireland is quite different, and it is a very serious matter which might easily have the result of making things much worse than they are.


Does the right hon. Gentleman propose that these men who have been taken away from their homes and are kept in illegal custody are to stay there until the Provisional Government have made up their minds?


No, Sir; every effort is being made to secure their release, and I am satisfied that the Provisional Government are using the whole of their influence and authority, as far as it goes, to procure their release.


In view of the events which have occurred last week, would it not be possible to consult fully with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland before any further troops are withdrawn from any part of Ireland, and with the heads of the former responsible Government in Ireland, in view of the temporary breakdown of the authority of the Provisional Government?


This matter of the withdrawal of troops from Ire- land is one of the most difficult questions which the Government have to solve, and I can assure my Noble Friend that we shall give careful consideration to every step taken in regard to that matter.


How soon will reinforcements be sent to Ulster to prevent a repetition of these attacks?


As soon as they are asked for and as rapidly as they can be dispatched.


Are we to understand that the right hon. Gentleman has assumed in this country the office of Home Secretary, by means of which he liberates prisoners convicted of offences in this country, and, if so, does he think it a convenient time after these outrages have been committed to have done this on Saturday just after these fresh outrages have been committed? Will not this give colour to the strong feeling that the Government have been intimidated and are still being intimidated?


Of course my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was a party to the Cabinet decision, and I was entrusted with the duty of advising the Home Secretary as to the moment, and I exercised that function on Saturday. As to the question of out having been intimidated, that is really not the case. I have been most anxious to reach a stage where we should have broken with the evil past to which I have referred, and I thought a good moment had been reached for inaugurating this act of clemency when the Proclamation of the Irish Government was published on Saturday morning, in terms more satisfactory than any we had seen so far in their published announcements.

Mr. LYNN (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister whether he was aware that on Saturday last, when a party of Ulster Special Constables, who were travelling by train, arrived at Clones Junction, members of the Irish Republican Army, armed with rifles and machine guns, came on to the platform and opened fire on them, with the result that four of the Special Constables were killed; and whether he can state what steps, if any, His Majesty's Government proposes to take to prevent loyal subjects being attacked by armed men from the Free State?


I think, looking at it, that this and the other questions of the hon. Member have really been answered. I was not aware that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Antrim (Captain Craig) was going to add to his Private Notice question, or I would have sent the hon. Member notice.

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