I have received a certain amount of news from Ireland which perhaps the House would like to hear. We have been in constant communication with both the Governments on all the subjects which, as hon. Members can see from the Press, are urgent and vexatious at the present time. I have received a telegram from the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, in reply to an inquiry which I made early this morning as to the situation there, and that I will read first:
Replying to your wire, the greatest tension has existed in Belfast since the kidnapping of loyalists and the murderous attack on the police at Clones station on Saturday last. The city had been quiet for a considerable time, and the present outbreak began by some shooting in Wall Street, a mixed locality, on Sunday last. The number of civilian casualties officially reported during the course of yesterday was 7 killed and 25 wounded. In addition, there were wounded 1 soldier, 1 member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and 3 special constables. Further reports of cases of wounding are now coming in. The trouble yesterday began with the firing on workers, all loyalists, going to their work at Combe Barbours, the firing coming from a Sinn Fein locality in Coulin Street. Further regrettable incidents occurred later in the day, including the indiscriminate throwing of a bomb over a wall into Weaver Street, a Sinn Fein area, which resulted in the death of 2 children and the wounding of 14 others. These outrages are greatly deplored by my Government, especially the latter dastardly deed, involving the lives of children. The Minister for Home Affairs is in constant consultation with the Lord Mayor, the Military and the Constabulary
authorities regarding steps to be taken to deal with the situation, which is gravely aggravated by the intense excitement which prevails in Northern Ireland, owing to the failure of the British Government to return kidnapped prisoners. Have just learned that a most respectable caretaker of an Orange lodge was shot this morning.
I need scarcely say we have not been idle in the interim. We have done everything in our power. We have also thought it necessary to suspend the process of evacuation of troops. I have received a communication from Mr. Michael Collins to the effect that he is crossing to-night, in order to see the representatives of the Imperial Government. He says that he is now in a position to say where a number of the kidnapped persons taken from the North are being kept, and that he will take steps, before he leaves to-night to secure their release as soon as possible. He is going to let me know later on in the day as to this matter. I also received last night a communication from him to say that three of the suspected murderers of Lieut. Wogan Browne in the South of Ireland have been captured, as the result of a general pursuit against them in the district, in which the R.I.C., the I.R.A., the troops, and the civilian population all combined. These persons have been captured, and will be dealt with according to law in the most expeditious manner, if they be proved to be guilty. [An HON. MEMBER: "By what court? There is no law there!"] I presume they will be handed over for treatment by a recognised court of law. That is the practice the British Government have followed in these cases.
Has the right hon. Gentleman any information with regard to the statement attributed in the Press to Mr. Michael Collins, in which he states that the British Government have no knowledge of the reason for the stopping of the evacuation of troops, and insinuates that there is something in the nature of a mutiny among the British troops? Has the right hon. Gentleman any information to that effect?
No, Sir. I read that statement, and I think it is based on pure misunderstanding. It is not a very clear statement, and, as a matter of fact, the orders have been given from here and on the responsibility of the Government.
Quite apart from the serious political reasons, which will readily occur to the House, we have received the unanimous advice of our military experts and advisers against the adoption of such a course at the present juncture.
(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the previous record of the persons deputed by the Irish Provisional Government to inquire into the circumstances of the killing, wounding and arrest of a party of Ulster Special Constables at Clones on Saturday last, he will take immediate steps to secure, for the information of the public, an impartial investigation and report on the facts?
No notice has reached the Government of that question, but I have received from the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland a statement to the effect that the version given by the Southern Irish Government is not accepted, and that he proposes to hold an official inquiry in the North upon the subject. There is also, I understand, to be an official inquiry held in Dublin on the subject, and both these reports will, no doubt, be available to the public. The institution of an impartial inquiry would, of course, depend upon the assent of both the Governments concerned.
It will be held under the authority of the Irish Provisional Government. Of course, it is perfectly true that that Government, until the House passes the Bill which it will be asked to pass, will not have full legal authority, but nevertheless it has a provisional official character.
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly reply to the latter part of my question, as to whether he will take immediate steps to secure, for the information of the public, an impartial investigation?