HC Deb 08 November 1920 vol 134 cc851-4W

asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether on the night of 8th September, 1919, some hundreds of soldiers left the barracks at Fermoy and proceeded to wreck the town, under the leadership of some of their officers in mufti, by way of reprisal for the shooting of a soldier in an attack on a military party some days before; whether over 50 shops were wrecked and looted and a great deal of the property thrown into the river; whether no attempt was made by those in authority to stop them, though several of their officers resided in the Royal Hotel near where the wrecking occurred; whether the men who attacked and shot the soldier did not come from Fermoy, but were all from outside districts 20 or 30 miles away, as they have all been arrested or are certainly known to the authorities; whether the shops wrecked belonged principally to people who belonged to no political party—for example, the local branch of the Munster and Leinster Bank and Messrs. Tyler's boot shop, Messrs. Tyler being an English firm, suffered damage sworn to over £1,000; whether the persons injured claimed compensation, and decrees running into thousands of pounds were ordered to be paid by the ratepayers, including persons whose property was destroyed; whether these decrees were made by the Recorder of Cork, and several of them were on appeal confirmed by a High Court Judge sitting as Judge of Assize; whether the Government were represented on the hearing of all these cases by a legal representative; whether, in view of the fact that absolutely innocent persons were injured and absolutely innocent persons have to pay for the damage, the Government have done anything, or intend to do anything, to compensate these people; whether they have not been paid the amount of compensation granted by the Recorder; and why was no punishment meted out to the troops for this outrage, although many were ready to come forward and identify the officers and men who were implicated?


My right hon. Friend has asked me to take this question, and I will answer the points seriatim. On 8th September, 1919, a party of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, after hearing the verdict given by a Coroner's jury, broke shop windows and did considerable damage to the property of the members of the jury. The verdict given at the Coroner's inquest was to the effect that Private Jones died from a gunshot wound when attacked by a party of civilians, who wished to obtain rifles, but did not intend to do any harm. Private Jones was murdered on the way to church in Fermoy on Sunday, 7th September, 1919. The soldiers were not led by officers in mufti. Some officers in mufti who eventually arrived prevented further damage, and got the soldiers back to barracks with the assistance of a picquet. Approximately thirty-nine shops were damaged. There is no evidence to show that property was thrown into the river. Some of the men arrested in connection with the murder came from the neighbourhood of Fermoy. I am informed that claims for compensation were made by a number of persons, including those named by the hon. Member. Messrs. Tylers' claim was for £1,120, and they were awarded £158, but the claim is the subject of an appeal now pending. I have no knowledge of the politics of the em- ployés of the two claimants mentioned. The total compensation awarded amounted to about £3000, including costs. The decrees were made as stated, and some were confirmed at Assizes. The Government has no locus standi at the hearing of such cases. The responsibility for payment of the sums awarded rests with the local authority, and I understand that they have not made any payment up to the present. No civilian witnesses would give evidence, although invited and encouraged to do so. As there was no evidence against any individual, no disciplinary action was taken.


asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether he has any further information as to the burning down of the printing works at Athlone; and if armed forces of the Crown were responsible for an attack on the premises on 17th October and for the subsequent destruction?


asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether he is aware that the Athlone Printing Works were burned and completely destroyed by the armed forces of the Crown at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, the 3rd instant; that the proprietor of the works, Mr. Chapman, carried on an extensive job printing department, and published a number of newspapers on the premises; that close on 300 hands were given employment by the firm; that these, as well as a number of outdoor workers, are left idle, and that the value of the property destroyed was £130,000; that three of the employes who slept on the premises made heroic efforts to combat the fire, and had succeeded in controlling it when they were cautioned by the forces of the Crown that if they interfered their lives would be taken; and whether he will take immediate steps to secure that adequate relief will be afforded to the disemployed hands, that compensation will be paid to the proprietor of the destroyed works, and that searching inquiry will be made with a view to the identification and punishment of the perpetrators of the outrage?


It is the case that the Athlone Printing Works, which I understand carries on an extensive job printing and newspaper printing business, was destroyed about 3 a.m. on the 3rd instant, and that about 100 employés have in consequence been thrown out of work. I have no means at present of checking the hon. Member's estimate of the loss sustained. I am informed that no attempt on the part of the employés to extinguish the fire was observed by the police, and that none of the employés were threatened as alleged. The inquiries which are being made with a view to ascertaining the perpetrators of the outrage, and of the similar outrage committed on the 17th ultimo, have so far proved unsuccessful. As I stated in reply to a question by the hon. Member for West Bromwich on the 4th instant, the local police were all in barracks at the time, and there were no other police in Athlone. Further, the curfew patrol did not see the outrage committed. The question of the relief, if any, to which the workers who have been thrown out of employment are entitled is one which should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, and the question of compensation to the owner of the property is one which falls to be dealt with by the ordinary courts of law subject to a claim being made by the owner in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Injuries Act.

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