I received a telegram yesterday from the Northern Government. It reached me after question time, and as I read a summary of the statement which I had received before that time from the Government of Southern Ireland I think that I ought to summarise this statement also. From the statement received from Sir James Craig I gather that a Crossley tender with armed I.R.A. men which had come from Donegal was found inside the Derry border on the 36th instant. About the same time 20 rifles and 3,000 rounds of ammunition were captured on members of the I.R.A. in the same locality. Pomeroy Royal Irish Constabulary barracks in the County Tyrone were raided on the 19th instant by about 20 men who commandeered a motor-car in the district in the name of the I.R.A. Maghera barracks in the County Derry were raided on the 19th inst by about 30 men while wires, bridges, and roads were cut by members of the I.R.A. The view of the Northern Government is that these raids were organised from Southern Ireland, the local members of the I.R.A. may have taken part in them. Sir James Craig adds that four members of the B special constabulary have been murdered and their homes have been burned within the last few days. Firing is opened constantly on special constables and civilians from the Southern side of the border, but in no case has that firing been replied to. The Government have ordered the destruction of bridges in certain cases to prevent incursions from Southern Ireland into Northern Ireland. The Senior Officer of the Northern B order Commission reports that the situation around Caledon is tense and he fears trouble unless the Provisional Government appoint someone with sufficient authority to restrain insubordinate elements from the Southern Irish border.
I transmitted that part of the telegram which I got to the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland, and I received a communication from them, which I will also summarise to the House. The Provisional Government say, with reference to the Crossley tender, that it was seized about 100 yards inside the County Derry border. They are informed that the rifles and ammunition which were discovered near Limavady barracks were about 12 or 15 miles away, and that there was no connection between the Crossley tender which strayed across the border—the boundary is a very tortuous boundary—and the capture of these rifles 15 miles away. They further say that there is no connection between these two episodes and the raids in Maghera and Pomeroy. These places are respectively about 25 and 12 miles from the County Derry boundary. These raids were entirely planned and carried out by people resident in Tyrone and Derry with the desire—so it is alleged—to get some protection for themselves against the terror from which they allege they are suffering.
If I give one side I must give the other. I am summarising, but not bringing in needlessly provocative statements on the one side or the other. It is said by the South that it is incorrect to state that fire is opened constantly from the South side of the border, and that the very reverse is the fact. There is a tense situation in Caledon due to firing into Monaghan. The Catholic families in the Caledon district have received threaten- ing notices, and have had to fly to Monaghan for protection. Directly they have gone their houses were burned. I am giving the two sides, and take no responsibility for the statements one way or the other, but I do take responsibility for nakedly disclosing the facts of a detestable situation. The Provisional Government add that some of their people have been wounded.
They also say that the blowing up of the bridges is indefensible and unnecessary, and some of these are County Monaghan property, and they hold those responsible accountable for the loss. They finish by offering that the British Liaison Commissioner should examine the whole position and report. I have received two other telegrams, one from the North and one from the South, which in similar strain make violent accusations and counter-accusations. No doubt the whole situation on the boundary is very lamentable and disquieting. I can only say that I trust that everyone who has any influence will use it in the direction of quietening the situation. It appears to me that the whole question of the measures to be taken to control the border must be reviewed at a very early date by His Majesty's Government.
There are two questions I wish to ask. I did not gather whether the right hon. Gentleman said that the Provisional Government give any reason for their statement that the raids at Maghera and Pomeroy were carried out by men inside the Northern boundary. I would be glad to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has any information confirming that statement.
No, Sir. I said yesterday that General Macready was of opinion that these raids had not originated from across the border. I suppose, no doubt, he meant that parties had not got into motor cars and gone across to carry out the raids. As to whether individuals have percolated through at earlier stages and had joined with local elements to cause the raids, I cannot say, but I do not believe that was the case, and my information is entirely contrary to the view that definite military raids have been perpetrated from the Southern side of the border into the Northern part within the last few days. May I say that there is nothing more important in the whole situation than that a meeting should take place between the heads of the Northern and Southern Governments. Such a meeting is definitely asked for by the leaders of the Southern Government, and considering the way things are going from bad to worse on this frontier a very great responsibility is assumed by everyone who puts obstacles in the way of such a meeting.
Having regard to the fact that this state of affairs, which the right hon. Gentleman describes, is mainly owing to the boundary question which the Government have raised, will the Government take any steps to expedite a decision on that question, because until it is finished, there can be no end to this state of affairs?
A very good position was reached a few months ago, when an agreement was signed between Sir James Craig and Mr. Michael Collins. Unhappily, events occurred which led to a partial breakdown of that agreement, but the interest of all concerned in this matter is to review that discussion with the intention of bringing to an end a state of affairs which is disgraceful in the highest degree to Ireland and to all connected with it.
In the event of no other meeting taking place, such as the right hon. Gentleman desires, will the Government expedite the decision on this question, which they have hung up for months and which is causing the present situation?
I do not consider that it is as bad as that. There is a great deal of tension, but not many lives have been lost in the last few weeks, and the greater part of the loss has taken place in the slums of Belfast.
Arising out of the last statement of the original answer of the right hon. Gentleman, I wish to ask whether, now that the Treaty has been signed and when the Bill is through both Houses, His Majesty's Government is still to be responsible for law and order in Southern Ireland?
No, Sir. When the present Bill establishing the Irish Free State has been passed, the Northern Government will be responsible, as at present, for what takes place in Northern Ireland, subject to certain qualifications which it would take too long to describe now, and the Southern Government will be entirely responsible for Southern Ireland. The kind of action I had in mind was that the Government might have to consider whether it would not be possible to draw some cordon of Imperial troops between these warring factions in the same way as has been done recently with such success in Silesia.
I would ask whether, with a view to decreasing or shortening the period of tension, the Government cannot, in agreement with the Southern Government, arrange to hold the Boundary Commission within a month after the passing of the present Bill, which ho told us originally was the desire of the Southern Government?