HC Deb 21 March 1922 vol 152 cc210-3

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he can make any statement as to the position to-day on the boundaries of Northern Ireland and if he can give the House particulars of the raids by detachments of the Irish Republican Army into Northern Ireland on last Sunday night which resulted in the death of a special constable near Tobermore and Robert Mulligan near Blackwater-town, and the wounding of other persons, and what steps have been taken to prevent further outrages?


I have been in communication with the Provisional Government, the Government of Northern Ireland and with General Macready. I have not yet received details of what has actually taken place in connection with these regrettable occurrences, but the Provisional Government inform me that they have ascertained that no forces from the 26 counties took part in either of the raids referred to. General Macready's Report confirms this. These raids, so far as I am at present informed were organised locally by members of the so-called Irish Republican Army who are resident in the six counties area. I have given the House the best information I have up to the present. Both the authorities I have consulted on this matter, the Provisional Government and General Macready, concur in the news which I have just given. The Provisional Government add that firing across the border is reported to them as having occurred from the Northern side. Following the destruction of bridges by Ulster special constables, apparently, a number of roads have been cratered, and a certain number of bridges have been blown up by the Northern forces with a view, no doubt, to preventing motor-car incursions. The Provisional Government say that they are seeking further information and will report later. The general position on the boundary is undoubtedly one of serious tension. The liaison Commissions are not functioning as they should on either side. Every effort is being made by the officers of those Commissions, but General Macready considered that the newspaper accounts greatly exaggerate the situation. Very highly coloured accounts are current in the papers. The situation is a very disagreeable one, but it really does not justify the alarmist versions which occupied such a large portion of our public prints yesterday. I have not received any answer as yet to my inquiries from the Northern Government.


Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been called to a statement, which has been made by one of the Ministers of Northern Ireland, that a state of war exists between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republican Army, and has that view been brought to the attention of the Government?


My attention was called to that statement, but I do not know whether my hon. Friend will wish me to offer any comment on it.


Is it not the view of His Majesty's Government that they should put down outrages of this kind, whether they be committed by local bodies, by republican forces, or by any armed bodies of men?


These outrages occurred within the jurisdiction of the Government of Northern Ireland. The Government of Northern Ireland have had placed at their disposal 13 battalions of infantry up to the present time. They are there for the purpose of assisting them in maintaining the law. In addition to this they have 3,000 constabulary. They have nearly 5,000 armed A specials. They have 20,000 B specials all armed with rifles and they have a further force of C specials behind them. The C specials are not in all cases armed. I have no reason to believe that they will not be able to maintain order in their territory.


Are not these perilous incidents on the frontier largely due to the pogrom against the lives and property of Catholics in Belfast—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—which has now gone on for several weeks without apparently any interference on the part of the Government?


Have His Majesty's Government given instructions to General Macready to help the Ulster people?


Yes, certainly. General Cameron, who is in command of the troops in North East Ireland, is aware that any demand for troops that he can make will be complied with and we are doing everything in our power to assist. Overwhelming force is at the disposal of the Northern Government for the proper purpose of their own defence and maintaining the order in their districts. So far as the question of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) is concerned I am bound to say that the conditions which have prevailed during the last few months in Belfast are lamentable in the extreme. Considerably more Catholics have been killed and wounded than Protestants, but I know that Sir James Craig and his Ministers are determined to do everything in their power to try to bring about a peaceful and orderly state of affairs in what you may call the underworld of Belfast.


May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will now afford an opportunity for a discussion on this matter which would give an opportunity of showing the falseness of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division?



Since responsible Government was given to Northern Ireland I have deprecated questions or arguments affecting the responsibility of that Government.

Lieut-Colonel CROFT

Is it not a fact that with a frontier of something like two hundred miles it is not possible to speak about overwhelming forces being at the disposal of the Northern Government? Is it not a fact that the only way of stopping this would be by bringing the Free State Government to book for not seeing that these invasions do not take place?


I have answered already that no invasion has taken place. In my opinion, the Free State Government have taken every step that they can to abolish the present state of affairs?


Abolish the frontier. Then it would be done.


Is it a fact that large forces have been massing on the Southern side?


I am informed that a certain number of men have been collected. There is a difference between collecting and massing. The numbers are not very large. I have telegraphed to the Southern Government pointing out that they are in no danger whatever of a raid into their territory from Northern Ireland. I am confident that in those circumstances a raid would not be tolerated by the Northern Government. I am endeavouring to reassure them in every way.


If the Southern Government deny that these raiders have anything to do with them, where do they get their ammunition?