HL Deb 27 April 1914 vol 15 cc1048-50

My Lords, I rise to ask the noble Marquess who leads the House the following Questions of which I have given him private notice—

Whether, as stated in this morning's newspapers, three battalions of Infantry—one from the Curragh and two from Dublin—are to be moved immediately to Belfast, and, if so, for what purpose;

Whether any other movement of troops is in contemplation; and

Whether His Majesty's Government have any reason to apprehend raids or serious disorders in the Province of Ulster?


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Marquess for having been so kind as to give me private notice of his intention to put these three Questions to me. In reply to the first Question I have to say that no movement of troops from Dublin and the Curragh has been reported to us here, and no instructions have been given from the War Office to move troops from Dublin or from the Curragh. But I must remind the noble Marquess and the House that the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland has discretion to move troops within the area of his command, and therefore, when I state that no report of the kind has reached us, it is subject to that consideration.

My reply to the second Question is also subject to the same consideration as regards the discretion of the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, but I can say nothing as to any intention or contemplation of the movement of troops, which must depend, as the noble Marquess will, I think, realise, entirely and solely on the circumstances of the case and the possible need for their presence in any particular part of the United Kingdom.

Then the noble Marquess asks whether His Majesty's Government have any reason to apprehend raids or serious disorders in the Province of Ulster! I cannot help thinking that that Question would have been more appropriately put by me to the noble Marquess and his friends. The proceedings in the North of Ireland on Saturday which we have seen reported in the newspapers involved direct interference with His Majesty's officers in the execution of their duty. They also involved interference with the comfort and convenience of the public. As it happened, no actual collision or loss of life by violence took place, but that could not have been foreseen. Although I have no reason to suppose that they did not do their best to guard against it, it could not have been ensured by those who initiated that proceeding. Those deplorable results might have occurred and disorder of a very serious kind might have ensued; and, therefore, when the noble Marquess asks me whether we have any reason to apprehend serious disorder, we must act on such information as we have and on such experience as we have had to undergo. Beyond that I am afraid I can give no information to the noble Marquess.


My Lords, I do not think I can keep silent after what has been said by the noble Marquess opposite. I have been closely connected with Ulster now for some years past, and I have associated myself entirely with the line taken by Sir Edward Carson. When the noble Marquess talked about the question of raids, may I say that there has been no part of Ireland more peaceable during the past two years than the Province of Ulster, and that has been entirely due to the fact that the Volunteers have been so trained and disciplined that they have resisted provocation of the most violent character that has been offered by friends of the noble Marquess opposite. These Volunteers have been ridiculed by members of the present Government. We were told that they were dummy soldiers with dummy guns. The Government have had a rude awakening and are consequently very much alarmed at the condition of affairs. Why they did not realise this before or why they allowed themselves to be deceived and were not told what was taking place by the Chief Secretary we in Ireland are at a loss to know. But this I do say, that had it not been for the discipline of the Volunteers most serious riots must have taken place in the last year and a half, and for these riots His Majesty's Government would have been solely responsible.

The provocation began two years ago when the Government sent Mr. Winston Churchill to desecrate the Ulster Hall and to prove that his father's statement was inaccurate. They had 5,000 soldiers in the streets, and where was the Chief Secretary at that moment? Was he endeavouring to stop riots and raids? No; he was looking at a hockey match at Montana. The Government ought to thank Sir Edward Carson and the Volunteers for not having had these raids before. It is the fault of the Government for having ignored what was taking place. I look forward with dread to any collision taking place between the Volunteers and the Army. It is difficult to say who are the most loyal subjects of His Majesty, the Volunteers or the Army, and if any crisis arises, if there is a collision between them, on the Government, and on the Government alone, must rest the responsibility for any bloodshed.