Ireland.

– in the House of Commons on 24th June 1921.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Alfred Waterson Mr Alfred Waterson , Kettering

I am pleased to notice the entry of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), but I am afraid that if he takes part in the Debate to-day, he will be sorry that he missed his opportunity, because the Bill to which his name is attached could not get a Second Reading. I am sorry that I have not had an opportunity of communicating with the Chief Secretary about a matter in which I am particularly interested. Hon. Members will be aware that, by questions supplementary to questions asked in the House, I have been endeavouring to find whether the Government are adopting a certain policy in reference to creameries in Ire- land at the present time, and I am now-afforded an opportunity of raising the matter so that the British public may know exactly what is taking place. I do not know whether the Chief Secretary is within the precincts of the House. If he is I would like him to be present while I raise this matter. Part of the present policy of the Government in Ireland is the closing of certain creameries in the Martial Law area. The reason given by the Government is that the people in charge of the creameries who are responsible for their management are not keeping in order the roads in the districts in which the creameries are placed. When one reads the Irish newspapers and the English newspapers one is led to believe that the cutting up of these roads is not, generally speaking, done by what is known as the Irish Republican Army, but in many cases it is done by what are known as flying columns of His Majesty's forces, and when they are performing work of this character it is hardly fair to assume that those in charge of the creameries are responsible. But how can people in charge of the creameries protect these roads? The policy of the Government is such that anyone who does not happen to be a member of the Crown forces who is found in possession of arms is liable to great punishment. If these men in charge of creameries were found with arms in their possession, ready to take every step possible to protect these roads, even by force of arms, they would be arrested at once by the Government and would probably suffer the penalty of death. Another crime, according to the Government regulation, is to be out after curfew hours. How can these people, who in broad daylight are unprotected, so far as arms are concerned, prevent people from doing wanton damage to these roads?

Apart from the question of who is responsible for these roads, the closing of these creameries is a wasteful and foolish policy. I am glad to see that the Attorney-General for Ireland has come into the Chamber. I know that he is sympathetic to us who put the opposite point of view. I have in my mind one particular creamery that is dealing with 6,000 gallons of milk a day. The Government have deliberately closed that creamery at exceedingly short notice. The managers of the creamery have had no opportunity of arranging for the dis- tribution of the milk, of which the children in the area are in need. We in this country also are going short of supplies because of the Government's action. The managers of the creamery have not had time even to remove the stocks of cheese and butter, and those stocks are going to rack and ruin. It may be said that it is not the duty of the Government to arrange for the delivery of the milk in that or in any area. What was done in this country when there was the prospect of a big industrial dispute? Was no action taken by the Government to see that the people were fed and that milk was supplied to the population? If it was right to take such action in England it must be equally right in Ireland.

The closing of creameries will not assist the country. It will create disaffection; it will increase the mistrust existing among the people; it will embitter those who take moderate views and are in favour of constitutional methods. It blocks the way to the avenue of peace. There is a cause of complaint also as to the application of orders in the martial law areas. Authoritative persons have informed me that when an order has been given in a martial law area for the closing of creameries, preferential treatment has been shown in the application of the order; in other words, the order has been applied to one creamery and not to another which is perhaps only 200 yards distant. In one case there was a co-operative creamery managed solely in the interests of small farmers in the neighbourhood, but another creamery which was allowed to keep its doors wide open happened to belong to private enterprise. Why make such a distinction against the creamery run on a co-operative basis? We are constantly being told that industry ought to be encouraged to the fullest possible extent and that there never was a time when industry needed rehabilitating more. A revival of trade is essential for the nation's well-being, but in Ireland the avenue of industry is being closed and the Government is creating, not only hardship, but unemployment. Moreover, the Government's action is forcing unemployment on people in this country who are entirely dependent on a particular industry in Ireland. Is that the Government's intention? I appeal to the Attorney-General for Ireland to give greater consideration to this matter and I hope I shall not appeal in vain.

Photo of Mr Charles White Mr Charles White , Derbyshire Western

I sympathise with the Government in their desire to adjourn. I wonder that they have survived this week, considering how many hard knocks they have received, and I am certain the members of the Government, after such a strenuous time, need an opportunity to recuperate both morally, spiritually, physically and mentally. While I admire the eloquence of the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Swan), and while I hope it will be a long time before he gives us his swan song in this House, I am in sympathy with the desire felt by the Government to study agriculture outside, instead of the political situation inside the House of Commons. I am not an orator, but while the House of Commons, on a Friday afternoon, is a splendid training place for budding orators, I do not intend to take advantage of it. I judge matters by results, and I do not know what good result will accrue from talking this afternoon. Even if we could force a Division on any subject we would be defeated as we usually are. Therefore, I say let us go out and enjoy some of the sunlight which we are usually debarred from having. I beg, therefore, to support the Adjournment of the House and for the first time in my life I support a Government which does not deserve support because of its sins both of omission and commission.

3.0 P.M.

Photo of Mr Jack Lawson Mr Jack Lawson , Chester-le-Street

I was rather surprised at my hon. Friend supporting the Motion for Adjournment after the eagerness which was shown so recently to sit up all night, and discuss other questions. I cannot understand why, at a time in the history of this country when its industrial and political affairs are in such a critical state, we should adjourn in the middle of the day, despite the attraction of the sunshine outside. I desire to follow the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Waterson) on the question of the closing of creameries in Ireland. Speaking the other night on a strictly limited motion I said while I disagreed fundamentally with the policy of the Government in Ireland, I thought it would be much better if they had some consistent policy from their own point of view and if they employed disciplined forces and a responsible head in carrying out that policy rather than have the present state of things prevailing in Ireland. The present Dublin Castle rule is one of the bloodiest and foulest things in human history, and I can say that, as one who has seen some of its work at first hand. We have heard recitals in this House of its activities day by day and of the terrible things which are happening under its régime. The hon. Member for the Falls Division yesterday gave us an instance of the kind of thing which takes place night after night when he told us of two young men—brothers—being torn away from their home, walked along the street barefooted and scantily clad, stood up against a wall and shot and left lying there. Yet the hon. Gentleman who represents the Irish Office tells the House and the country that they have no information as to who the murderers are. I now come to deal with a specific instance, for which the Government knows its forces were responsible and which the Government has allowed to drift. When revelations were made concerning it the Government was compelled to hold a military inquiry, and now in order to cover its own representatives, the Black and Tans, it tells the House that it has not yet received information as to the actual result of the inquiry. I am dealing with the case of the burning of the creamery at Ballymacelligot in November last; the shooting of two men there; the disgraceful treatment of a nurse who rendered good service to this country during the War, and a robbery which took place. I wish to place the full facts before the House and the country in order that they may judge for themselves of the actual deeds perpetrated by the hired assassins of the Government and of the Irish Office. I am speaking of an incident which I assisted to investigate on the spot a fortnight after it occurred. On 11th November last a body of men were standing at Ballymacelligot creamery when suddenly there rushed up a party of the Auxiliary forces, who immediately commenced firing into the midst of these men. On the same evening they returned and arrested several of the men. The following day they burned the creamery, but in the meantime a series of incidents occurred, including the taking of the nurse's property and of notes to the extent of £100, and the burning of her mother's and brother's ricks. What was the reply given in this House to a question based upon those facts? The Chief Secretary for Ireland replied on the very same evening when he declared they were tracking down these murderous forces, and he told the House that innocent men had been fired at from an ambush party hidden in the creamery. He declared the manager of the creamery was a well-known rebel, and when asked if the manager had been arrested, he said "Yes." When I was there in November, this man had not been arrested, and up to a few weeks ago he was not arrested. If he has been arrested since it will be information to some of us. That was the first misstatement the Chief Secretary made. Then there was published an official photo purporting to be a photo of Ballymacelligot taken at the time of this incident. We discovered that the original of the photo was a place over 100 miles from Ballymacelligot.

When we got there we found that actually there had not been a military inquiry, at least a fortnight after. Two men had been killed on the spot, a creamery had been burned down, ricks had been burned down, a member of His Majesty's forces; a nurse, had been disgracefully used and robbed, five men had been arrested and were lying in prison, and there had been no military inquiry. When we drew attention to the fact here there was one in a hurry. Six months afterwards the five men who had been arrested were put on their trial and immediately two were released. The other three, we understand, were convicted. This is about two months ago, and they have since then been released, so we understand. What is the situation with regard to the whole incident? It occurred seven months ago, it involved brutal murders and robbery on the part of the forces of the Crown, it was six months before the men arrested were put upon their trial, the trial took place two months ago, and for public consumption purposes three men are convicted and then released, and the Chief Secretary tells us that he has not yet got a full report as to what has happened. It was a shameful incident. If the Irish Office desired to conduct its policy with some sense of fairness and honesty to Ireland and to this country, it was an incident that they would have washed their hands of at once and punished the people concerned in it, but we find that they cover it, and they come to the House of Commons and think they can say repeatedly that they have no in- formation. When the hon. Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin) and others give special notice of questions day after day about brutal murders that have taken place in the night, do they wonder that we say at once that they are doing the same thing as they did in regard to Ballymacelligot?

Ballymacelligot is, to my mind, the key question and proof that Dublin Castle is a cesspool of murder and of deceit so far as the public in this country are concerned. I wonder when this House—I do not care on what side one sits—is going to strike and to speak definitely against the contempt with which the Irish Office treats this House. It is a shame. I spoke the other night, and I was misinterpreted even by some of my own fellows on this side. I said very definitely, "If you are going to carry out a policy with which I disagree myself, get at least disciplined forces and a man at the head who will be responsible to the representative of the Irish Office in this House." Does anyone dream that it would be possible with the Army, if they were guilty of that kind of thing, for a body of men to go out and commit murder or pillage and then for the commanding officer to say that he did not know who was out or exactly what had taken place? That would not be possible, but it is possible now because the Government and the Members who support the Government have not even a faint idea as to an efficient method of carrying out their own policy, and I say that, if this is the method with which they are going to deal with the creameries of Ireland and with the people of Ireland, there is no hope whatever, as far as this country is concerned, of anything but a long-drawn-out, bitter struggle, in which we may keep the people of Ireland with us by brute force, but what is left when we are finished will scarcely be worth the having.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will cease that wriggling that is so characteristic of the Irish Office, that he will be straight with this House, and tell them what occurred in regard to the Ballymacelligot inquiry. If he is not honest, and not prepared to tell the truth about an incident of that kind, which has clearly gone against him, I say we shall be right in coming to the conclusion that they have made up their minds to defend organised robbery and organised murder, which is supported and encouraged by the Irish Office, and the Irish Office treats the House of Commons in return absolutely with contempt when it dares to ask about this question. This is only a part of the great tragedy. It is the same thing whichever way you turn. According to the Irish Office, the only means of settling any question, or of arguing with any person, is to hit him with a club. That is the policy of the Government. It is that spirit which is reacting upon the people of this country, which is responsible for industrial disputes; it is that spirit which creates irritation and friction and which leads to the sour temper which is so manifest throughout the country at the present time.

I therefore ask the representative of the Government to tell us frankly what occurred at Ballymacelligot, what has been the actual result of that trial, what they are going to do with the creameries, if they are going to destroy the creameries altogether, or if they are going to destroy the agricultural industry of Ireland. In other words, have they made up their minds to destroy one of the best customers we have and thus intensify the unemployment that is prevailing in this country? I hope we shall have a frank reply along those lines. If not, I am going to tell the right hon. Gentleman and this House that in the future, when dealing with Irish questions, I shall not deal along the ordinary lines of reason, but I shall meet the Irish Office with the same methods with which they meet this side, and if it has results personal upon me, I shall at least have this consolation, that I am not silent in this House while innocent people are being murdered and robbed by the forces of the Crown with the consent of the Irish Office, as they have been during the past year or two.

Photo of Sir Francis Acland Sir Francis Acland , Camborne

I should normally have agreed with anyone who suggested that a rather warm Friday afternoon was not the time to raise an Irish debate, but the question of Ireland is such a misery and an anxiety to many Members of this House that it seems to me that any time is a good time upon which to call attention to the matter. This has been a very dramatic week in the history of Ireland. I shall refer to His Majesty's Speech in Belfast knowing quite well that constitutionally His Majesty gives utterance to the words that his Ministers have advised him to use, and I shall refer to his speech only as being an expression of the considered opinion of the Government. It was a noble and splendid utterance, and did credit to them, and to the Monarch who uttered it. What was the thing, above all things, that the Government should have tried to do at the time they advised His Majesty to make that speech? Why, create a good atmosphere in Ireland for the reception of those magnificent words, asking the Irish people to forgive and forget. And yet, I think, it was the day before, we had pronouncements in another place and in this House, known the next day by every Irishman through the Press, which must have made them think that, either the utterances in these Houses were hyprocrisy running entirely counter to the speech, or that the speech which His Majesty had been advised to deliver was hypocrisy, running dead counter to the policy to which utterance was given in the two Houses of Parliament. I listened from the steps of the Throne to the speech in another place, and every suggestion that had been made, trying to bring a new atmosphere and a new spirit into Irish administration, was gone through with great ability and great power by the spokesman of the Government, but one after another they were absolutely turned down. Suggestions had been made for revising the financial provisions of the present settlement, and we were told that if it were proposed only to make a partial revision of finances, that would reconcile no one; whereas, if it were proposed to give Ireland fiscal autonomy, that would result in people in Belfast having an income tax of 1s. 6d. and people in Glasgow one of 6s., and that that was clearly impossible. Suggestions had been made with regard to entering into negotiations. We were asked, in a rhetorical way, with whom we were to negotiate. If we were to negotiate with Dail Eireann, many of them were responsible for murder, and that was impossible; and if we were to negotiate with anybody else, that also was impossible, because nobody would take any account of negotiations, except with those who had been chosen by the great majority of the Irish people.

One suggestion after another to bring about a better atmosphere was turned down, and at the end, we were told that if the Government found it necessary to send more force, that force would be unhesitatingly supplied. And the same evening in this House, the Secretary of State for War chimed in with an expression of the same policy. Troops, and still more troops, were to be sent to Ireland. The policy of troops was the only one the Government had in its mind. The policy of troops, the policy of force, has never succeeded in the British Empire as a way to settle any question. It never will succeed, and still less can it possibly succeed with a very high-spirited, ingenious nation like the Irish. Everyone knows it cannot be a settlement, and yet here, when we had a chance through the splendid words of His Majesty in turning the thoughts of his Irish people, if it is not too late, in the direction of friendliness to this country, that chance seems to have been deliberately smashed by the utterances of representatives of His Majesty's Government itself. How can the Irish people come to any other conclusion than that a certain section of His Majesty's Government is determined to checkmate and to overthrow the policy of His Majesty's Government in general as it was enunciated in Belfast the other day?

This is the central tragedy of the Irish position as I see it at the present time. Things must be done soon. The demand for absolute, unconditional independence is hardening out every day. The sands are running out. People are getting tired of having any truck or lot with us, and we know quite well that, if you take the ordinary citizen of this country, practically never would he agree to Ireland being an entirely independent country. We are faced, if we do not take care, with two unalterably hard determinations on the opposite sides of the Channel—on one side a determination to have absolute independence, and on the other a determination that it shall never be given. I believe these next two months are absolutely vital if we are to prevent that hardening out of opinion on the two sides of the Channel, and yet in power here is a Government which, owing to its actions, no Irishmen really will trust to give them anything like fair play and fair dealing, even if both sides did meet together round the council table for mutual discussion and accommodation of difficulties. I suppose the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henry) cannot deal with these great, terrible and tragic questions this afternoon, and it would be hard to expect him to do so, but I have thought it right for five minutes in this House today to express the terrible anxiety, and indeed misery, with regard to this question that is in the minds of so many of us, I am sure, in all quarters of the House at the present time.