HL Deb 25 May 1922 vol 50 cc786-90

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether any person has been brought to justice for the murder in June last of the very reverend John Finlay, aged 80, formerly Dean of Leighlin, who was foully murdered in his residence in the City of Cavan; and whether any, and if so, what efforts have been made to secure the punishment of his murderers.

I understand that yesterday the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack rather deprecated my asking the Question which I have put on the Paper, on account of the general discussion regarding Ireland which it is proposed to take next Tuesday. But I can promise the noble Viscount that I will not enlarge it into a general discussion of any kind; I will solely and entirely confine myself to the facts of the particular case.

May I say perfectly frankly to your Lordships that I was prompted to put down this Question when I saw the question of the Archbishop of Canterbury? The Archbishop of Canterbury very naturally takes a great and wide interest in this persecuted divine and in other divines of the Russian Church, and in the threats which are now being made against the whole of the Church in that country. I cannot tell your Lordships how often I have been twitted by those with whom I was brought up in Ireland, and who are now refugees in this country, with the utter absence of any interest on the part of the bench of Bishops in the persecution of Irish Protestants. This sort of thing is often said to me: "I see there is a large subscription being raised in England, fostered in the City and fostered by the Church, on behalf of the starving victims of the Soviet, on behalf of the Church in Russia, on behalf of Armenians who have been persecuted by Turks, on behalf of the Greek Church, and other matters of that kind; but nobody seems to take the slightest interest in what is happening or going to happen to your Protestant fellow-countrymen in Ireland." Never since I came into this House have I heard one word of sympathy from the bench of Bishops regarding what is happening to these people in Ireland.

I have promised, however, not to raise the wider question. This case of the very rev. John Finlay is one of the most pathetic out of all the horrible crimes that have been committed during the last two or three years in Ireland, and one which I should have thought would have awakened some feeling among the bench of Bishops, who are so devoted to religion in this country. This rev. gentleman, eighty years of age, at one time Dean of Leighlin, and at one time chaplain to the Lord-Lieutenant in Ireland, always a man entirely removed from politics and much beloved by everybody who had ever come across him, had retired some little time before to this small property which he had in the County of Cavan, and was leading with his aged wife an ordinary simple life of retirement, having done his work in the Church of which he was a great ornament. His house was raided by gunmen, not for any political reason so far as one can make out, not at a time when the Provisional Government had been set up, but when the country was under the control of His Majesty's Government. Coming downstairs, with his wife following him, he was pulled out on to the steps, riddled with bullets, and after he had been shot dead his head was battered in by a blunt instrument. That was not all. These scoundrels then proceeded into the house, where his wife was, set fire to the house, and burnt the whole place to the ground. That is the case of the very rev. John Finlay.

I have put this Question down really in the hope of arousing some interest in what a man like the rev. John Finlay has had to go through, after the kind of life I have described. I do not know whether His Majesty's Government can give me any information. I have never heard that anybody has ever been arrested for this murder, or has been brought to justice, but as His Majesty's Government handed over the control of this County, among others, to the Provisional Government, I should like to ask whether any terms or conditions were made with them that they were to attempt to bring these murderers to justice. If I may ask one more question, which is not on the Paper, I should like to know whether any compensation has been given for the burning of his house, or any other compensation to his poor wife, who was a witness of this dreadful affair.


Before an answer is made to the noble and learned Lord's Question, I should like to reply to what he has said with regard to the lack of sympathy with which he imagines the bishops in England view the position of affairs in Ireland. I would ask the noble and learned Lord to believe that I am in closest touch with three of the most prominent ecclesiastics in Ireland, namely, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Archbishop of Dublin and the late Archbishop, now Provost of Trinity College. If he will consult them, I am sure he will find that there has been no lack of constant and frequent intercourse with them as to the difficulty and complications of the whole matter, and no lack of sympathy on our part, or of desire to assist them.


I quite accept what the most reverend Primate says, but I was referring to the public action which the Churches of this country have taken in aid of other Churches, and never so far as I know has there been any public action for the assistance of the Protestant Church in Ireland.


My Lords, I appreciate the purpose of the noble and learned Lord in confining this debate within narrow limits, and I think in doing so he has adopted a convenient course, having regard to the fact that there must be discussion at an early date dealing with more general questions. The noble and learned Lord has spoken about subscriptions for Russian purposes, and made one or two observations. The competitive claims of different objects are always very difficult to appraise, but I confess I think there are cases of hardship among all classes in Ireland, emerging in the last twelve or eighteen months, which would justify a claim upon the assistance of the compassionate not inferior to any that can be urged in the case of Russia, nor do I think it would be possible to maintain that in the rapidly deteriorating standards of the sanctity of life there is a very great deal to be learned by one community from the other.

The noble and learned Lord has asked me a question as to what took place nearly a year ago, and the facts in relation to the question he has put to me are as follows:—About 2 a.m. on the morning of June 12 of last year, Dean Finlay was murdered on the lawn outside his house. More than one witness tstated at the Military inquiry that about forty men broke into the house, which they set on fire. Afterwards, the Dean was found on the lawn. He was dead. A few days later nine men were arrested on suspicion and were identified by different witnesses as strangers who had been present on that occasion, and some of them were stated to have carried short iron bars, with which Dean Finlay might have been struck down. No witness came forward who was able to say that he saw the blow delivered. These nine men were in custody awaiting trial at the time of the General Amnesty which followed the signing of the Treaty. They were never brought to trial, and were released from custody in pursuance of the Amnesty extended to persons convicted of, or suspected of having committed, offences from political motives in Ireland. No person has since been brought to justice by the Provisional Government for the murder. As regards the last part of the Question, the restoration and maintenance of law and order in Southern Ireland is now a matter for that Government.

The noble and learned Lord has asked me a further Question, which he himself has pointed out was not in the Question on the Paper. It is with reference to the compensation which might be payable, or ought to be paid, to the widow of the late Dean. I am not in a position to deal with that question without notice, but this I may say, that the claim would appear to be a strong one for compensation and one which, there can be no doubt at all, will be treated as a case in which full compensation should be paid. If the noble and learned Lord will allow me, after having obtained specific information I will communicate with him privately and inform him what course has been adopted.

There are general issues involved, but as he stated the facts disclosed by the particular Question of the noble and learned Lord make it plain that a particularly horrible murder was perpetrated under circumstances of exceptional cowardice, the victim being a blameless and worthy servant of the Church, and a devoted citizen of his country. We must all recognise, each of us drawing what inferences he thinks proper from a recognition which I think must be general, that since that date, more than a year ago, there has been a succession of detestable crimes which I think it would be impossible to match in any comparable period even in the history of that unhappy country. Many noble Lords will probably have views to urge, and inferences to suggest, and facts which I think will not be very greatly controverted in the debate, and I shall perhaps be forgiven if, without in any way under-rating the gravity of the case which the noble and learned Lord has put before the House, I ask leave not to anticipate the observations which I shall make next week.