HL Deb 20 March 1923 vol 53 cc449-54

LORD CARSON rose to ask His Majesty's Government if their attention has been called to an appeal made in the Press on behalf of 23 little girls (mostly orphans), refugees from Ireland, for the use of a home to shelter and accommodate these children, and whether His Majesty's Government will undertake to see that these children are provided for as being British subjects and the victims of abandonment by the British Government.

The noble and learned Lord said:—My Lords, the other day I read in The Times newspaper the following advertisement:— Twenty-three little refugee Girls from Ireland (mostly orphans) have been happily housed in Devonshire for the last few months. The house they occupy is now needed for a hospital. Have you a large empty house to lend them for the time being? A simple, plain advertisement, but, knowing something of the facts, I could not help thinking what a tragedy lay behind those simple words. I could not help contrasting, as I proceeded to read my newspaper, the great public interest taken, especially in the House of Commons, in the deportation from this country of a number of people who were conspiring, and have been conspiring, together, for the purpose of carrying out the very outrage which have driven these unfortunate little orphans, in this condition, into this country.

I brought this matter before the House last July. The facts are lamentable, and will, I think, go down, in all the horrible history of the outrages in Ireland, as one of the worst incidents of the abandonment of the loyalists in Ireland by the late Government. Here was a little orphanage, carried on since the year 1849—one house for girls and one house for boys—and one evening last June the house for boys was not only raided but burnt down, as a reprisal, openly announced and so stated by Mr. Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, for the fact that this orphanage had supplied boys and men who joined the British Army.

In one night these thirty-five or forty boys were left in the field without any protection of any kind. A ship of war came to the coast and brought them away to this country, so that they might get the protection of the flag under which they were born, and which had been ignominiously hauled down. I am glad to see, in the reports that I have received from time to time, that through the great generosity of certain people—and I must also acknowledge certain help from His Majesty's Government—those boys have now all been settled far away in those Colonies to which the noble Duke has just referred. I think it is a matter of comment that the only result of what has happened, in your policy towards Ireland, is that these children have had to be distributed throughout the length and breadth of the British Empire, thousands of miles away.

After the treatment meted out to the boys it was thought by the British Government unsafe to allow the orphan girls, 25 or 26 in number, to remain in this little orphanage at Clifden, in the County of Mayo. There again, as all communication with Clifden had been cut off, it became necessary for the Government to send over a warship to take these girls away. They were landed, I think, at Plymouth, not long after the boys, and owing to the great kindness and hospitality of a number of people they were assisted in obtaining a house that was placed at their disposal, and which was built or intended to be used as a hospital for cripples. Since last July they have lived there happily and merrily, but this house has been demanded from them, because it cannot be kept indefinitely away from the objects for which it was built, or at all events for which it was purchased, and hence the advertisement to which I refer. All praise is due, I think, to the honorary secretary for what she has done since these children came over here. But could anything more pathetic be found in fiction than the spectacle of these children, or those who represent them, writing to the public Press and saying: "Give us a house that we may live, because, though we were loyal, and, indeed, in consequence of our loyalty to your country, you abandoned us and allowed us to be driven from our own country, so that we had to seek refuge in the country which had treated us in that way"?

I do not want it to be imagined that I think the present Government are likely to be unsympathetic. After all, this is a legacy from the last Government; but the Government of Great Britain, whatever it may be from day to day, cannot escape responsibility in this matter. I admit that they have done something. I know they gave a grant towards the support of these children, and I think they gave a grant towards keeping some of the boys in Dr. Barnardo's Homes. But the whole of this question of refugees from Ireland is a matter that ought to be taken in hand in a thoroughly sympathetic manner by the Government. No fault lies with the orphanage or with the children. There are willing hands and loving hearts prepared to look after the children at the very minimum of expense, and I do not imagine for a moment that the Government will allow them to go unhoused when we appeal to them for assistance.


My Lords, my noble friend, in raising this Question, has given the history of what occurred in July of last year. A debate followed in your Lordships' House at the end of July, and it is therefore unnecessary for me to go back beyond this immediate Question. I am glad to say that reports which I have received about these boys coincide with those to which my noble and learned friend referred. The majority of the thirty-three boys have migrated to the Dominions, and I have every reason to believe that they have made a most successful start in what, I hope, will prove a happy and prosperous career. The twenty-three girls were very kindly accommodated in Dame Rodgers' Home at Plymouth. They have been very satisfactorily housed there, and I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Government, of expressing my gratitude to the trustees of the charity, to the Civic Guild, and to many private individuals for the attention, the sympathy, and the kindness which they have shown to these unfortunate children. I am glad, however, to remind your Lordships that no financial liability, either in the case of the boys or of the girls, has fallen upon the shoulders of private individuals. The Irish Distress Committee has advanced £1,000 for the purpose of housing and accommodating these children. That sum is not yet exhausted, and I can assure your Lordships that, when it is necessary that further sums should be advanced, that application will receive a most sympathetic hearing from the Government.

The point which we have now to consider is not a question of financial assistance, but, as the home where these children are is now required for other purposes, further accommodation has to be provided. I have every reason to believe that we shall experience no difficulty in finding that accommodation. For what it is worth, I can say that I am personally responsible for seeing that proper and adequate accommodation is found for these unhappy children, and everything which we can do will be done, not only to make them comfortable, but to see that they are as fully equipped and trained as they possibly can be to lead happy and prosperous lives afterwards.

This orphanage is supported by voluntary donations and subscriptions, and must, of course, continue to be supported in that way. But we realise that at the moment, whatever may be the outcome later on, it is our duty to carry these children through the trying position in which, through no fault of their own, they find themselves. I trust that we shall succeed in obtaining compensation from the Irish Free State in respect of the destruction of the buildings and property in Ireland. I understand that possibly, later on, I shall have a further opportunity of dealing with the question of compensation in a wider sense, and I shall therefore not refer to it to-day; but I can assure your Lordships that both in this and, I do not hesitate to add, in further cases His Majesty's Government will give the most sympathetic and, I hope, practical consideration to cases of this cruel description.


My Lords, this subject, as the noble and learned Lord himself said, is only part of a larger matter, which ranges far beyond the story of this particular orphanage and its crushing sorrows and difficulties. I am day by day, of necessity, in touch with the kind of question to which the noble Duke has referred as now receiving the attention of the Government. I find the greatest possible difficulty in knowing how most helpfully to deal with the problem as it is constantly coming before me. I am doing everything in my power to help in the matter by constant pronouncements about it, by appealing on almost every opportunity that I have, and by calling, too, for the remembrance of those sorrows in the most sacred of all manners. But we find a difficulty in answering the question as to what the Government believes to be the position of these people who are suffering so terribly. We are not able to say what is the Government's attitude or the Government's view as to the probabilities of help being forth-coming in the way of compensation to which the noble Duke has referred. I thoroughly understand the difficulty, and I am thankful for the statement which the noble Duke has made. It will help in dealing with one of the most difficult and trying of the problems with which I, for one, have to grapple week by week and month by month.


My Lords, I should like to say one word of thanks to the noble Duke for the manner in which he listened to what I had to say and for the way in which he received this appeal. I am perfectly certain that the present Government will do all they can in these difficult circumstances. It is not worth while in a great revolution such as that which is unfortunately going on in Ireland, for the sake of a few thousands or even millions of pounds, to sacrifice people whose only crime was their loyalty to this country. In reference to what His Grace has said, may I be allowed to say that I have placed on the Paper a Question for Thursday to try to elucidate the whole matter, and to obtain information, if it is possible for the Government to give it to us, which will enable us to proceed in these cases which are so often brought before us.