HC Deb 16 February 1922 vol 150 cc1185-9
23. Lieut.-Colonel CROFT

asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether, on Sunday, 22nd January, a number of men armed with revolvers visited the houses of a number of ex-soldiers in the neighbourhood of Callan; whether revolvers were placed at their heads, and they were warned to clear out of Callan with their families within six days; whether, on the same night, the houses of some of the principal shopkeepers in Callan were visited, and they were warned to clear out of Callan with their families within a week, presumably on the grounds that they supplied troops from their shops; whether in this neighbourhood there have been numerous other outrages of a similar character; and what steps His Majesty's Government are prepared to take?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Churchill)

I am informed that on the date mentioned a number of armed men visited the houses of ex-soldiers and shopkeepers at Callan and ordered them and their families to leave the town within a week on the ground that they were loyalists and had supplied troops. About 40 families were so intimidated. The local officers of the Provisional Government at once countermanded these orders, and issued a public notice stating that they were unauthorised; and none of the persons intimidated has since been molested in any way. As regards the latter part of the question, I am informed that on the night of 24th January a policeman's family were turned out of their house and their furniture was destroyed, and that an attack was made on another policeman's lodgings. The matter is being taken up with the Provisional Government.

Lieut.-Colonel CROFT

Has all protection been withdrawn from this area pending the passing of authority to the Free State?


I think it is very much better that we should allow the Provisional Government to carry out their undertaking, and to give full effect to the spirit of their own Proclamation.


Have any arrests been made of the persons concerned in these outrages?


I must have notice.

Lieut.-Colonel CROFT

Is it not an outrage that 40 or 50 people should be threatened with revolvers and intimidated in this disgraceful manner?


I think it is very wrong indeed, and a great outrage, but I am very glad to think that those who are at present in charge of the Irish Government are using the forces of the Irish nation to prevent such outrages.


Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that steps have been taken to trace and punish these people?


I am quite satisfied with what is being done.

24. Lieut.-Colonel CROFT

asked the Chief Secretary whether his attention has been called to the following series of outrages in Callan recently, namely, that Michael O'Brien and James Walsh were arrested by the Irish Republican police and brought before a court, where Walsh was charged with having, some two years ago, obtained from a Kilkenny shopkeeper a bicycle by means of false pretences, and O'Brien was charged with having, two years ago, broken a window in a shop in Callan, and also with having joined the Black-and-Tans, and that these two ex-non-commissioned officers, who served during the War, have received the following sentences: O'Brien to be handed over to the Irish Republican army to be dealt with as they saw fit, and Walsh fined £5 and ordered to be deported; and what steps His Majesty s Government propose to take?


I am informed by the police that Michael O'Brien was kidnapped from his home in Callan on 19th January in connection with a charge of window breaking made against him two years previously, but that he has since been released on parole. The matter is being taken up with the Provisional Government. The police have no knowledge of the alleged arrest of Walsh or of the penalties stated to have been imposed on him.

Lieut.-Colonel CROFT

Is it not an outrage that this man should have been kidnapped in this way, and has anyone been punished for it?


asked the Prime Minister what steps the British Government propose to take in cases like the Clones case, where it is important for this House and the country to know the truth and where the versions of the Northern Government and of the Southern Provisional Government differ materially?


I shall make a general statement covering this point at the end of questions.

47. Captain FOXCROFT

asked the Prime Minister whether the British authorities in Ireland have evidence of some 41 orders for assassination which were signed by Mr. Michael Collins, of which 29 were actually carried into effect?


No, Sir. We have no such evidence; and I regret that the hon. Gentleman should have placed such a question upon the Order Paper.


Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that the evidence suggested in my question is not substantially correct?


Yes. I say that we have no evidence of any kind to that effect.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. ALLEN

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and in view of the fact that the typewritten reply which I received in answer to my question yesterday differed very materially from the reply given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, as also from the OFFICIAL REPORT, I should like to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity now to repair the omission which he then made, I am quite certain, inadvertently. The particular part of the question concerned is— If he will say whether the military and Royal Irish Constabulary are now under the control of the British authorities? I think it is very important that for future reference we should have the answer to that printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


I apologise for having inadvertently not read the last few lines of my prepared answer, after the telegram which I read from the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. I did not notice that the question was not completely answered. Perhaps I may read it now: As regards the second part of the question, the Government of Northern Ireland are responsible for the preservation of order within the area under their jurisdiction, and for this purpose all the police forces within their area are at their disposal and under their control. Any troops stationed in Northern Ireland are in the same position as troops in Great Britain in the event of civil disturbance, namely, they are empowered to act in support of the civil power at the request of that power, and not otherwise; but the responsibility for any such action rests upon the senior officer present.


In view of the difficult circumstances of what is practically a triple control in Northern Ireland, namely, the military authorities, the local police force, and the Royal Irish Constabulary, if in the event of the senior military officer present taking any action he may think necessary, will the right hon. Gentleman give us some assurance that he will not be persecuted in the same way as was General Dyer?


The hon. Member ought not to take advantage of a special question, for which he has gained my permission, to make an insinuation of that kind.


I might tell the House that 26 persons have been released as a result of the action of the Provisional Government up to my latest information. With regard to the outbreak at Clones Junction, I have received the following report from the Northern Irish Government, and as I read the other account to the House, I feel I am absolutely bound—and it is my desire to do so—to read this report, too: A party of Special Constabulary were going to Enniskillen as reinforcements on the 11th instant in pursuance of an order given on the 7th instant. This party consisted of 19 men, 6 of whom were armed and the remainder unarmed, in accordance with the ordinary constabulary practice. The railway route on which they were travelling passes for a small portion of the journey outside Northern Ireland and involves a change of train at Clones Junction, which is just outside the Northern border. There had been hitherto no question that members of the Royal Irish Constabulary are permitted to travel anywhere in Ireland. These men, on changing trains at Clones Junction, had a half an hour's wait in the station, during which nothing untoward happened, although there were some members of the Irish Republican Army at the station. On the arrival of the train for Enniskillen, the constables proceeded to join the train with the other passengers. Some of the constables had taken their seats, and the remainder were in the act of entering their carriages, when, without any warning, the order "hands up" was given by members of the Irish Republican Army, which does not seem to have been heard by the Special Constables. Fire was opened simultaneously by the Irish Republican Army, who had taken up a strategic position, evidently in accordance with a pre-arranged plan, and who used a machine-gun, probably a Thompson gun. Most of the Special Constables were put out of action almost immediately, 4 being killed, 5 wounded men are in hospital, and 7 are missing, and 3 managed to escape. The Special Constabulary seem to have behaved with gallantry in trying to return the fire. The firing of the machine-gun by the Irish Republican Army was kept up for a period estimated at from 10 to 20 minutes, and it is almost certain that a number of civilians must have been killed or wounded, but it has not been possible to get into touch with them. It is evident that there is a complete conflict between these two reports, but I am glad to tell the House that. I have communicated both with the Northern and with the Southern Irish Government and that both Governments hold exactly the same view, namely, that there should be an impartial inquiry, and I have notified them that the Imperial Government will place at their disposal a suitable judicial officer, on whom they may agree between themselves, who will hold an inquiry in pubic and ascertain the facts of this lamentable affair.