asked the Secretary of State for War how many rifles, field guns, and how much ammunition has been handed over to the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland since the 1st June, 1922; if any machine guns have been handed over and if any artillery of heavier calibre than field guns has been handed over; and, if so, whether these arms and ammunition were sold to the Provisional Government or lent?
I do not think it would be desirable at the present moment to furnish detailed information of the nature and quantity of the munitions handed over by His Majesty's Government to the Provisional Government to enable them to cope with the present emergency. All munitions handed over will be included in the financial settlement to be made later between the two Governments.
I conceal them because the Provisional Government, to whom these weapons have been handed, is engaged in warlike operations against the rebels, who hold large districts of Southern Ireland, and there is no reason why these rebels should receive military information which would he a great help to them.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has any information with reference to the statement published by the Republican Publicity Department, that they have recently captured 50 machine guns from the Collins forces?
In some cases certain weapons have been lent and will be returned after use, but other weapons have been definitely handed over for the purpose of forming the army of the Irish Free State within the limits of the Treaty, and they will be taken over by the Government of the Free State, assuming that everything works out in a satisfactory manner and then the cost of the weapons will be debited to Ireland in the general financial settlement between the two countries.
I do not know whether they will or not. I suppose there will be a small air force in the possession of the Irish Free State, if they wish to have one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Nothing can be less a menace to us than such an air force. If they choose to use the machines they have now in their possession. and pay us for them, and we can bring it into account in the ordinary way, I see no objection.
Naturally, as far as I am concerned, acting on the authority which has been given to me by the Cabinet, I watch most carefully every issue of arms made. I should like to point out that it is the constitutional right of the Provisional Government to place contracts for war material. They have refrained from doing this, and I think it is much better they should take their supplies from us who have a large store on hand.
I do not quite see what better guarantee as to their use could exist than that which has been afforded by the fact that they are actually being used against those who are in rebellion against the lawfully constituted Free State.