Oral Answers to Questions — Captain Rev. T. J. O'donnell: Court-Martial.

– in the House of Commons on 1st December 1919.

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Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is in a position to make any statement with regard to the arrest and recent trial of Captain Rev. T. J. O'Donnell, of the Australian Imperial Forces; whether this officer was arrested on a charge of which he has been found "Not Guilty"; whether after his arrest, and without any opportunity to establish his innocence, he was subjected to every humiliation, was thrown into a cold and filthy cell over which was stationed an armed guard with fixed bayonets, and, still without trial, was transferred to the Tower of London, and generally treated as a dangerous criminal; Whether this treatment of an officer under arrest is a breach of all Army Regulations; whether he can state who was responsible for this outrage on an officer with such a distinguished record, and a member of the gallant Australian forces who rendered such incomparable service at the most critical moments on the battle front; and whether all the officials responsible will he immediately dismissed?

Photo of Mr Henry Forster Mr Henry Forster , Bromley

I regret that I am not in a position to make any statement on this case at present, as it has been necessary to call for reports. I will let the hon. Member have a detailed answer as soon as I am in a position to do so.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

May I ask the Leader of the House, in view of the vital importance of this matter, not only to the honour and dignity of the Army as a whole, but to the unquestioned indignant feelings that exist amongst the Australian people, whether it is treating this question fairly for the Under-Secretary to give the answer we have just heard. What is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to this matter?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I realise as strongly as the hon. Member the seriousness of this matter on account of its effect on Australian opinion if it is found to be a fact that steps were taken which ought not to have been taken, but I do not see how it is possible for the Government to give any other answer than that they are going to look into the matter and when they have done so say what their decision is.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Is it the right hon. Gentleman's opinion that a matter of this sort should be brought before the House by an Irish Member instead of sore member of the Government repudiating the conduct of those responsible, and expressing his repudiation of conduct of this character towards a gallant officer?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

The hon. Member is entirely mistaken. The Government did not wait for his intervention. We quite realise that this is a matter which must be gone into to the bottom and we are doing it.

Photo of Mr Jeremiah MacVeagh Mr Jeremiah MacVeagh , Down South

Have any representations been received from Mr. Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, with regard to tins case?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I have seen none, but it is very likely there may have been. I can quite understand that there should be feeling about the matter, but what more can we do than give a definite promise that we will go into the matter?

Sir H. DALZIEL:

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that, after the Reports have been received, if there is any general demand for a Debate, he will afford an opportunity?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

I think it would be well, before giving an absolutely definite promise, owing to the scarcity of time, that the right hon. Gentleman should wait for the reply. What I have already said shows that the Government quite realise that the matter must be sifted to the bottom.

Photo of Mr Jeremiah MacVeagh Mr Jeremiah MacVeagh , Down South

Will the officers implicated meanwhile be suspended from duty?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

That is a very strong suggestion. It is not usual to condemn people until they are heard.

Photo of Captain William Benn Captain William Benn , Leith

Was this officer arrested under the King's Regulations or under the Defence of the Realm Act?

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

How can the hon. and gallant Gentleman expect me to answer that question without notice?

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

May I ask the Under-Secretary for War, on a matter so vitally important to the honour and dignity of the Army

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

called on Brigadier-General Croft.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

On a. point of Order—

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

The hon. Member has had a good deal of latitude on this matter. The Government have said they will institute immediate inquiries. He cannot expect more than that.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I beg to move, as a matter of urgent and definite public importance, "That the intolerable outrage committed on the Rev. T. J. O'Donnell calls for the immediate reprobation of this House, and the instant dismissal of the officers who are responsible for this indefensible insult on a brave officer of the Australian Army and people."

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

I cannot accept that Motion. There must be inquiry, and as soon as the inquiry is held and the facts are laid before the House, should the Hon. Member desire, he will have an opportunity of raising the matter.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I agree, Mr. Speaker, that you have given me great latitude, and I do not want to take undue advantage of it, but I desire to point out that when I put down this question, which, in the judgment of Members of all parties, is a matter of the most vital concern to the honour and dignity of the Army, instead of the Minister for War, who usually is so courteous to Members, coming to the House and. dealing with this matter himself—

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

That is not relevant to the question of the Motion of adjournment.