HC Deb 04 July 1922 vol 156 cc343-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Colonel Leslie Wilson.)


I desire to ask the Colonial Secretary what steps the Government intend to take to bring to justice the murderers of the three officers and the private who were kidnapped at Macroom a few weeks ago and have since been murdered. I also wish to ask why steps were not taken when it was possible to do so to rescue these officers from the people who kidnapped them. It has been said that these men were not on duty at the time. I cannot understand what difference it makes whether they were on duty or not. They were sent by the Government to Ireland and were there on duty whether or not this particular journey was made by them for pleasure or for duty. As a matter of face, however, the three officers and the private were actually on duty at that time, and the commanding officer of one of the officers had expressed his disapproval of this particular officer being sent on this particular duty. He was told that it was a brigade order, and therefore it was impossible for him to object. The three officers and the private went to Macroom, where they were having lunch when they were arrested by certain Sinn Feiners. They were conveyed to Macroom Castle. On the following day a search party was sent out by the military and the search party ascertained that the four men were at that moment alive in Macroom Castle.

I want to know why this search party did not immediately force an entrance into Macroom Castle and rescue these men? Whether they were in sufficient strength or not I do not know, but, apparently, they did nothing. A few days afterwards, another party was sent out, and this time the party was accompanied by a Free State official. "When they got to Macroom they were met by a loyal priest, who said the road was mined and that large numbers of Republicans had assembled to resist the release of the officers: whereupon the officer commanding the party, having ascertained that the road was mined, ordered the party to return from where they had come. Let the House remember this: When an officer or private is murdered, say, on the North-west Frontier of India, what happens? A punitive expedition is at once sent to bring the murderers to justice. Why was not this done in Ireland? When officers die, their relatives are informed. According to my information, the brigadier gave orders that the relatives of these officers were not to be informed of their death. Why? As a matter of fact, the actual method of the death of these unfortunate men is not-known, but it is believed that they were taken out individually and shot. One of them, whose name has been given to me, bad been maltreated before he was shot. Those are the facts as far as I know them.

I want to ask the Colonial Secretary why, in the first instance, when it was ascertained that these men were alive in Macroom Castle, the Castle was not entered and the men removed; and, if they were not in sufficient strength at the time, why four Republicans or Sinn Feiners were not taken prisoners in Macroom and held as hostages until our own men were returned. Secondly, I wish to ask what steps the Government intend to take immediately to bring these men to justice?


The impression has been conveyed by official answers that these men were engaged in a joy-ride. In his reply, would the right hon. Gentleman make some statement which would be of some consolation and commensurate with the dignity and the loyalty of these men, and remove that unfortunate public impression?


It makes no sort of difference whether these officers were out for an ordinary motor tour of recreation or whether they were employed on duty. There is no sort of difference. It remains that they were the object of a hellish and brutal outrage. In every human probability, they have been foully murdered. Some day, somehow, in some way or other, the murderers will be brought to justice, if still alive. As to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, I can not without notice say what were the reasons which actuated the commander of the military party at Macroom the day after the kidnapping, or of the party three or four days afterwards, not to attack Macroom Castle or to take hostages for the return of their comrades. I can say that if they had done so I would have supported them. All through the last anxious months the military have been told that, if attacked, they are fully entitled to use their weapons to the fullest in reply. In the event of their going after some of their comrades who are within a stone's throw of them and almost within reach of their hands, I can conceive that they would have been justified, if they had had the force available, in taking any steps to effect their rescue. If they were not acquainted with the position in the past I hope that the words which I have used to-night will make it perfectly clear. The rescue of a man who has been captured is the first definite step to be taken by the military authorities. My right hon. Friend asked what we are going to do in the future. We are going to do everything we can, but we are going to rely on the Provisional Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] How in opportune, is that scoffing ejaculation. Here is a Government which during the whole week that has elapsed since we last discussed Irish matters has been engaged in fighting to the very best of its ability against the very kind of people who have done these foul murders and is at this moment engaged in grappling with those forces. I can quite conceive that if this question had been raised a week ago on the adjournment last Monday night I should have felt a much greater difficulty in replying in this way, because I, too, had reached the conclusion in regard to the Provisional Government, that it was doubtful that they would be able to bear the burdens cast upon them, and that they would not collapse beneath the weight. But what has taken place in the last week has enormously increased my confidence that they will be able to put down this horrible spirit of murder and anarchy which is rife in Ireland, and will be able to establish a decent, civilised government in that country. I believe that is the growing opinion which is entertained; and as surely as they do establish a civilised Government and build up a reasonable and lawful authority, so will their interests be the same as ours in tracking down, even if it be 10 years hence, those who have been guilty of these foul crimes.

Vice-Admiral Sir R. HALL

The right hon. Gentleman has rather ridden off the question, and I venture to think that he has left a very unmerited slur on these officers. Having ascertained that one or more of their brother officers had been illegally captured, he said that they ought to have attacked and released them. That is the spirit of the Army, and I agree that they would have attacked if someone had not stopped them. Someone must have stopped their action. It is not conceivable by anybody who knows the spirit of the Army that they would have sat quiet and not sent out a search party, located these officers who were under the threat of death, and left them there to die, without an effort, unless someone had stopped them, and this House is entitled to know—we cannot let the matter stop here—who prevented these officers from being rescued by the men on the spot. That is a question which we shall raise later.


I cannot share the views of the right hon. Gentleman that there is anything particularly inopportune at the present time in the interjection of my hon. Friends behind me of some contempt for the Provisional Government. I have not risen to argue that point. Referring to what has just fallen from the hon. and gallant Member for West Derby (Sir R. Hall), I do not think there can be the least doubt that there must have been some intervention to prevent the Army acting as they otherwise would have done, by their natural instincts or, at all events, that the known attitude of the Government— I think that is more likely—towards the whole of this matter, deterred the officer in command locally from taking any such steps. We ought to remember here—I do not wish to say anything in the slightest degree disrespectful to the right hon. Gentleman—we all remember how time after time in this House, when we felt the most desperate necessity with regard to these men, when we asked questions about them, we were put off day after day by the answer of the right hon. Gentleman that he had made representations to the Provisional Government. We never believed in the good faith or the capacity of the Provisional Government to protect these men. What we say now is that what the right hon. Gentleman ought to have done was to have sent peremptory orders to a sufficient force to take immediate steps to rescue these men if they were still alive. The language used by the right hon. Gentleman to-night is entirely out of keeping with his action at the time.


The Government never had the slightest knowledge as to the whereabouts of these officers or as to any place where they might be located. We never had any information that the officers were at any given place. If we had we should have taken steps to rescue them.

Colonel ASHLEY

We want to know what instructions were given in Ireland, if any, in regard to the matter. The right hon. Gentleman says the Government knew nothing about it. Did General Macready know anything about it? I am not blaming General Macready, because he only carries out the instructions of the Government. The impression on my mind was that up to the beginning of last week the Government let it be known to the Military authorities that they must keep from all active intervention.


That is totally un true.

Colonel ASHLEY

Why did they not intervene when loyal subjects were being murdered? You must tell us what the instructions were. It is obvious that the military authorities, knowing the views of the Government, did not take any steps because they believed that if they did they would lose their job by acting contrary to instructions.

Colonel Sir C. YATE

I think we ought to protest against the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that it made no difference whether these officers were out on a joy-ride or whether they were sent out on duty. I understand that that was what the right hon. Gentleman said. I want to know were those officers ordered out on duty for any purpose whatsoever or were they out against orders on some business of their own? We ought to know whether they were sent out under orders, as if they were on duty it makes a very great difference.


I wish to protest against what the last speaker has said. Whether they were officers of the Crown or civilians, they were subjects of no mean city, and yet the might of the British Empire could not protect them.


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that a great deal of pain has been caused to the families of these unfortunate officers by the suggestion that they were engaged in tracking their own way through the Irish jungle, apart from the consideration that they were British officers out on duty obeying instructions.


That is really a point which should be addressed to the War Office. I can only deal with the general aspect of the case.

Captain O'GRADY

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any definite information that these officers have been killed? I cannot get to know if they have been foully done to death.


The War Office, I understand, have notified their parents that no further hope can be entertained.


The right hon. Gentleman has changed his tone since Monday last week. If he had then made the statement which ho has made to-night—

It being half-pant Eleven of the. Clock, Mr. SPEAKER. adjourned the House, with-out Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'Clook.