HL Deb 26 July 1922 vol 51 cc866-76

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether two orphanages in the County of Galway lm e recently been looted and burnt to the ground by Sinn Feiners; and whether the Admiralty sent ships which brought away to this country the staff and thirty-three boys and twenty-five girls; what has become of these children, and how they are to be provided for in the future.

After the very interesting and exciting debate in which your Lordships have engaged during the afternoon. I am sorry to bring the House back to the humdrum, everyday life in Ireland, where outrages, slaughter, and every kind of criminality proceed apace. If I owe any apology at all for bringing this matter forward I think that I have as much right to draw your Lordships' attention to the importance of human beings as others of your Lordships have to draw attention to the importance of cattle.

The particular outrage that I have mentioned in the Question I have placed upon the Paper is one of the very worst of the many hundreds which have been brought to my notice within the past few months. There were two orphanages in the County of Galway which provided for some thirty-three poor boys and some twenty-five young girls. The orphanages were started during the famine in 1849 by a very well-known humanitarian, and have been carried on since by his family. Last month, if my information is correct—and that is what I am asking the Government to tell me—certain Sinn Feiners called at the orphanages and demanded possession of six of the boys in order that they might be "done in," as these Sinn Feiners termed it. There was a plucky matron there, and by various subterfuges she managed to get those six boys to this country and, eventually, to send them out of the country, through the kindness and help of many friends. That did not satisfy these Sinn Feiners.

A few days afterwards they went again to the orphanages and asked for a particular boy so that he might be brought out and shot. That was one of the boys who, fortunately, had been got away. They then went to the master, who was a cripple, and told him that he must clear out in half an hour. He refused to go. They left him and went into the dining room where the boys were getting ready for tea. They asked who was in charge and the eldest boy stood up. The boys were then paraded outside and certain boys who were working in the fields were rounded up with revolvers and bayonets. These poor orphan children! The boys and, I think, the master, were then taken to another part of the premises. But the matron, showing great courage, pleaded with these men to spare her father's life and the lives of the boys and to give her a guarantee as to their safety. Then they told her she must clear out. This the matron refused to do.

When surrounded by these fully armed barbarians, she asked: "Why has all this been done?" The answer was: "The boys are being taught loyalty to England and the orphanage has sent many boys to the great war." That is an ordinary crime in Ireland! The whole place was looted and burned to the ground, and these thirty-three boys and twenty-five girls were left absolutely stranded with nothing but the clothes they had on. Fortunately, the founder's daughter was living in this country. She was communicated with by certain methods, and, as I understand it, she went to the Colonial Office. Eventually, the Admiralty had to send a destroyer to Galway to fetch away the staff, the thirty-three boys and the twenty-five girls. I am told they arrived in this country with absolutely nothing. I know they are grateful to the British Admiralty, and they are also grateful to the Church Army, who have lent their hostel for the boys temporarily, and a temporary home for the girls.

But I want to ask the Government one or two questions. In the first place, I want to ask them—and with this I am probably most concerned—what is to be the future of these children? Do the Government, who abandoned them, hold themselves responsible for the future of these children now that they have taken them over on these shores, or will they be treated like all the loyalists and Protestants of the south and west of Ireland, as outcasts? I want to ask further—because this is only one of hundreds of instances—how long is this to go on? Is there any limit to it? Does His Majesty's Government really mean to stand by until all the loyalists and Protestants of Ireland are wiped out? That is what is happening. Since I put this Question upon the Paper I have received information of even worse cases. This is the daily life in Ireland, and I want to know how long the patience of Great Britain will tolerate it.

I understand that an arrangement was come to with the Provisional Government, as it is called, that there was to be an Election, and, indeed, the papers reported that there was an Election. Why is the Parliament which was elected not called together? I am quite alive to the action that is going on between two sections in Ireland, but that does not seem to me to be any reason why the representatives of the people should not be summoned to meet. If you had the House sitting there somebody might at all events have the courage and the humanity to get up and thrash out such oases, and endeavour to put a stop to them. What would the people of this country think if a similar stats of affairs to that existing in Ireland arose here? Would that be made an excuse for not having the House of Commons sitting? The Irish House of Commons has been elected, and it has put off its sittings from day to day, and so far as I know there is no way in Ireland of bringing forward cases of this kind.

This is not a case of one individual, but of thirty-three boys and twenty-five girls, and the whole staff of the organisation. This little charity is absolutely blotted out in that part of Ireland. Is the Government so helpless that nothing can be done? I see that in the House of Commons, day after day, Questions are asked about matters either as important as or less important than this, and the only answer that is given is: "We will bring it to the notice of the Provisional Government." But, nothing ever happens. Or you get an answer trying to bluff the thing through from the Colonial Secretary, in which he says he is more than satisfied with the way things are progressing in Ireland. Politicians are easily satisfied if they are satisfied with this kind of thing.

A man came to me to-day and told me he had in the past few days registered over seven hundred claims for compensation made by refugees for the burning down and ruining of their houses and businesses. All that is perfectly well known to the Government. I wish they would allow it to be published. Nothing is done. We passed a Resolution in this House the other day in which we called upon the Government to protect the lives of British subjects in Ireland. Has anything been done under that Resolution or is it, like most of the Resolutions of this House, flouted by the Government? Your Lordships may think that I am very persistent in bringing forward these cases. I am going to continue to bring them forward. Your Lordships are dealing with human lives, with the lives of thirty-three boys and twenty-five girls. I hope we shall get a satisfactory answer from the Government.


My Lords, I very deeply regret to say that the statement briefly outlined in the Question on the Paper by the noble and learned Lord is correct. I can only amplify the facts, as he stated them, and I should like to do so. These orphanages are known as the Connemara Orphans Nurseries. They consisted of two houses at Clifden in County Galway, at which were accommodated thirty-three boys and twenty-five girls, together with the staff, all of them Protestants. At the beginning of July the boys' orphanage was attacked by the Irish Republican Army, and burned to the ground. It is not yet known whether the house in which the girls were accommodated was similarly destroyed. The boys were brought from Clifden to Queenstown by destroyer, and thence to London by the ordinary route. They are now accommodated in a hostel in West London, and they are being looked after by their own staff. On July 6 two of His Majesty's ships were sent to Clifden by Admiralty instructions to secure the removal of the girl orphans and the staff, and to bring them to Devon-port. Accommodation has been secured in that town through the courtesy of the trustees of the Lady Rogers Charity. The Irish Distress Committee is in constant communication with the honorary secretary and treasurer of the orphanages, and it is hoped that arrangements will be made regarding the future accommodation and welfare of these children at an early date. I am not in a position to make any statement beyond that, except that most active steps are being taken to look after the present and future welfare of these poor children. Meanwhile, necessary financial assistance is being given by the Irish Distress Committee.


My Lords, it is very difficult to speak with proper reserve in your Lordships' House when we are dealing with an outrage of this description. It is so contemptible an outrage, apart from its horror, that it really almost beggars language. That men should attack not armed men but poor orphans, boys and girls, purely because they are Protestants and friends of this country, reaches almost the depth of infamy even in Ireland.

What I rise particularly to ask is, what steps His Majesty's Government are taking with the Provisional Government to see that these outrages are punished and compensated. His Majesty's Government have been very generous with the Provisional Government in supplying them with all sorts of means for suppressing the rebellion. I do not criticise that at the moment; this is not the opportunity for doing so. But surely in return for that compliance they ought to have exacted a binding pledge, in so far as any pledge can be binding on these gentlemen, that these outrages will be punished whenever they get an opportunity, and that the damage and injury done to individuals and property shall be compensated. I should like to ask whether the Government exacted such a pledge, and if not, whether they propose to exact such a pledge.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies may I ask whether they have considered one or two suggestions which I know have been made to them by those who have practical experience in the Government of Ireland. The first suggestion is that the Government should definitely inform Mr. Collins that the patience not only of this country and of Parliament but of the Government itself is exhausted, and that unless they do make definite proposals they must expect definite action on the part of the Government here. A second suggestion is that the Government should adopt in greater numbers the plan they have adopted elsewhere and send ships of war round the coast of Ireland; let them show the flag in the various ports and harbours. Many of us believe that this, in itself, would have a salutary effect, and it would be possible, as in the case of these unfortunate children, to remove some of those who are threatened with death and murder, and bring them here.

I am aware that if they are brought here the responsibility does not end there, but the good will and benevolence of the people of this country, highly taxed as it has been, is almost inexhaustible. If the Government would only surround Ireland with these small ships of war—there are plenty of them and they are now doing no special duty; they could easily be spared; they could go there in the course of their ordinary cruise—if they only showed in Irish waters it would do a great deal of good, apart from the fact that they might remove many of these people who are now in desperate straits. There is the case of the town of Mallaranny in County Mayo. The effect there of a ship would be instantaneous, and there would be no difficulty at all in removing, under the protection of the blue-jackets, anyone who happened to be in danger.

Another suggestion made is that in addition to telling the Irish Government that our patience is exhausted they should ask them why they do not select two or three areas and restore order there. Ireland is a wonderful place. Information spreads like fire in dry heather, and it would soon become known amongst these scoundrels that the Government was coming down with a high hand in certain districts. It would bring more hope and comfort to the stricken hearts of these people who contemplate with horror and dismay the possibility that they may be exposed to absolute ruin, and probably death. Such steps as these would have an effect, and at all events they are worth trying. I ask the Government whether they have considered them and whether they will not take action on these lines.


My Lords, I only desire to call your attention to one serious point in the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson. He asked how long the Government intended to allow certain things to go on. I do not know whether many of your Lordships were present yesterday when the noble Earl opposite told the House that it was proposed to adjourn Parliament on Friday week and resume on November 14. The one thing which everyone in this House must desire, is that the present Provisional Government in Ireland should be succeeded by a Constitutional Government responsible to Parliament, and I ask the noble Earl whether he really thinks it is wise to adjourn Parliament to a date which makes it impossible for this House, and this Parliament, to carry a constitutional measure for Ireland before the close of the year?

The prolongation of the present provisional state of affairs in Ireland is a most serious question. Whatever views your Lordships may take as to the situation we must, surely, be at one in desiring that the present condition should be replaced at the earliest possible moment by a Constitutional Government, and as far as I can see the arrangements made by His Majesty's Government for the prolongation of the Parliamentary recess will have the effect of making it quite impossible to deal, before the expiry of the date of the Treaty, with those very provisions to which Parliament is already pledged.


My Lords, as I understand the answer of the noble Earl the victims of this outrage are to be left, so far as relief is concerned, entirely to private charity. I ask leave of the House to refer to a suggestion I made in the Motion I had the honour to introduce on the subject of refugees and sufferers in Southern Ireland, and to ask whether it is not possible that this relief should not be left to private charity but should be undertaken by the Government itself; that notice should be publicly given to all concerned that whatever that relief may cost it will be made an effective debit against the claims of Ireland in the financial arrangements we all know must succeed the setting up of ordinary government in Ireland. I suggest that we have that hold over Ireland and that it ought to be exercised.


The Irish Distress Committee, to which I referred, is the Committee sitting under Sir Samuel Hoare, and the funds are the funds of the taxpayer as a whole. It is not a private fund.


There have been some private funds.


I pointed out that the girls in Devonport are living in buildings of the trustees of a certain local charity. To that extent, no doubt private assistance is being offered, but the Distress Committee, as such, is financed out of the Treasury. I feel that your Lordships will probably excuse me from making a statement on most aspects of the Irish Question in reply to the Question on the Paper. I really am not prepared to do so without very careful preparation of ray speech, not being directly concerned with that Department. But I can assure Lord Long that any proposal that is made which offers any exit from this difficulty will be not only welcomed, but most anxiously considered by the Government, in order to take every possible step to end this period of distress.

I should just answer two questions put to me by Lord Salisbury and one by my noble friend, Lord Stuart of Wortley, who is under a misapprehension. Lord Salisbury asked what protest is made, what punishment is inflicted, and what compensation will be granted; and if pledges have been exacted on those three points. I cannot bear in my mind the terms of the correspondence which has been exchanged, and I do not know whether that correspondence shows that a pledge must be given that malefactors shall be punished. It is quite possible that such a tautology might have been omitted.


Why tautology?


It would not occur to me, if I were talking to somebody about compensation, to say that the murderer of the man whose widow, for instance, is to be compensated, should be punished. I confess that it would not occur to me to say that. I should have assumed it in the natural course of events.


In Ireland?


Well, perhaps I should, even in Ireland. But, as regards compensation, the exchange of correspondence, which I invite your Lordships to read, is perfectly clear and explicit and shows that the responsibility for compensation for these outrages is accepted by the Free State Government. I invite your Lordships to read that correspondence. I cannot say offhand whether Lord Long's proposal of a time limit would be as helpful as he hopes. One can see advantages in the proposal, but, on the other hand, if the time expired, and it was none the less obvious that the Free State Government was doing its utmost to restore order, what would the next course, be?

If I thought it would help, I would say offhand that my influence should be used towards doing it. But, in the present condition of Ireland, I do not know that the selection of a time limit of one month, or two or three months, whatever it might be, would help potential sufferers in Ireland, or, on the other hand, assist the. Provisional Government in doing what I believe and hope they are honestly trying to do, and that is, to put down disorder. I cannot say offhand if, apart from this particular case, the general policy of sending ships to the ports of Ireland has been considered. Lord Long suggested Mallaranny in par- ticular. If it has been done once, there is no reason why it should not be done a second time, or on any future occasions, but, again, it is a matter upon which one would have to proceed with caution, and to make sure that such a policy on our part might not produce reactions which would be deplored.

The last question put by Lord Long was as to the restoration of order in particular districts. There again, it is very difficult to lay down a rule, but, from what I can gather, there are certain districts to-day, indeed large districts, where order is much more secure and better preserved than was the case a very few weeks ago. Certainly that must be the case as regards Dublin.


I wish it was.


At any rate the large extent of street fighting in Dublin has happily stopped, and I should have thought—I hope I may not be wrong in expressing this opinion—that order is being gradually improved, if not entirely restored, not only in Dublin but in other parts of the country also.


May I ask the noble Earl if he will deal with my really vital question as regards time?


I forgot to take a note of Lord Midleton's question, and, in any case, I must ask for notice of it.


My Lords, I venture to ask a further question of the noble Earl. He said in his reply to me that he could not charge his memory—naturally enough; I do not complain of that—with the recollection as to whether or not any pledge had been asked for in respect of the punishment of these criminals, or other criminals,, in Ireland. I will venture to ask my noble friend to refresh his memory, and to allow me to address him again on that point. To me it certainly does seem that if the Provisional Government were bound to announce to these outrage-mongers that, if and when the Government were successful, they would surely be punished to the very last farthing for their wickedness, that would have a great effect.


Will your Lordships allow me to mention one matter that I had forgotten? It is a very small matter. As regards the reply of the noble Earl opposite, it is the usual thing—hapless, hopeless and despairing, with nothing in it at all to create any glimmer of confidence or any ray of sunshine in any loyalist home in Ireland. In contrast, there is one very small matter for which I should like to acknowledge my gratitude. When these children had been conveyed by the British Admiralty from the burning orphanage at Clifden over to this country, the poor sailors on board collected a sum of money, to try to do something for them when they arrived in this country.


I must not speak a third time, even with the leave of the House. Lord Salisbury's question is a very simple question of fact. The document is very short, it is on your Lordships' Table, and anybody can see it. I will look myself, to find out whether there is any mention of punishment or not.


On the Table?


It is a public document.