HC Deb 29 May 1922 vol 154 cc1674-6

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he has any information of the alleged massing of Sinn Fein forces and many motor vehicles on the Donegal border of Londonderry, and if His Majesty's Government are taking any precautions to protect the city of Londonderry?


I have no information beyond what I have seen in the newspapers, but the Government of Northern Ireland and the Military Commander on the spot may be trusted to take whatever measures are necessary.


Do "any measures that are necessary" include taking measures against these forces which are gathering on the Free State side of the boundary, and will any impediment be placed by His Majesty's Government against such action?


Yes, the crossing by our forces of the boundary of the six counties would have to be a matter which, in the first instance, must be considered by the Cabinet.

Lieut.-Colonel ASHLEY

Has the Commander-in-Chief in the North of Ireland been instructed to give all support to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland when he asks for it, without referring to England?


Yes, certainly; but that does not apply to an invasion of territory external to the six counties.

Captain CRAIG

As the crossing of the border between Northern and Southern Ireland by the Free State troops, or the Irish Republican troops, or whoever are massing at the present time, is very likely to take place, may I ask whether the Cabinet have taken this matter into consideration?


I do not think I can give accounts of subjects which the Cabinet have taken into consideration.


If the account which the right hon. Gentleman has seen in the newspapers be true, and there is a large massing of hostile troops within half-an-hour's run of Derry City, and if the military in these circumstances think that the best way of dealing with it would be to take the offensive against these troops, will it be necessary to have a Cabinet decision upon the matter before that can be done, or may Derry City be invaded and sacked possibly within half-an-hour?


It certainly would be a very grave decision requiring the mature deliberation of His Majesty's Government before an act of aggression outside the territory of the six counties could he taken, even if such measure was necessitated as a measure of self-defence.


As that position may arise at any moment, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that the matter shall be immediately considered by the Cabinet in case of necessity?


Will the right hon. Gentleman ask leave of the Provisional Government that British troops should go to disperse the rebels who are massing against Ulster?

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

Will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to Mr. Collins and the other Irish leaders over here, now that they are met together here, that they should withdraw these troops and prevent the threatened situation arising?


I shall certainly see that these matters are brought to the notice of the Irish Ministers over here, and find out what they have to say.

Captain CRAIG

Are we to understand that such important matters as these have not yet been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman in conversation with Mr. Collins and his colleagues?


I am not prepared to say what portions of the serious and difficult situation in Ireland have yet been discussed or not discussed between the British Government and the representatives of the Irish Government. So far as the situation in Londonderry is concerned, I received last week a request from the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to procure a naval force in the shape of a destroyer and other naval vessels. I communicated with the First Lord of the Admiralty, and almost immediately the vessels left, and are in position there. The actual position there is being carefully studied by the military authorities, the War Office and the Admiralty. We take full responsibility for giving protection to Ulster.


Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the military forces in and around Derry are sufficient to meet any calls for assistance that may be made by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland?


There are 19 battalions in Northern Ireland, and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland is in constant touch with General Cameron, who is commanding there, an able officer, who has full discretion to take any measures which are necessary, and if more forces are necessary, infantry, cavalry and artillery, they will be sent.


Do I understand that General Cameron has full power on the request of the Government of Northern Ireland to do anything that is necessary for protecting life and property.


Certainly; he has full power to work in conjunction with the Prime Minister and Government of Northern Ireland, and to act when they require him.