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Importation Of Arms

Volume 65: debated on Thursday 30 July 1914

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asked the Chief Secretary whether the Irish Government have acted upon the view that arms and ammunition imported in contravention of the arms proclamation cannot be seized after they have been landed; and whether any instructions to that effect have been issued to the police?

May I ask whether it is not the case that ample powers of seizure of prohibited goods are conferred by the Customs Consolidation Act?

That is a question on which there is considerable difference of legal opinion. I have taken opinion as to what the powers of the police are, except so far as they have been constituted under Act of Parliament officers of Customs for the purpose of carrying out the Act.

May I ask whether the opinion of the Law Officers, either in England or Ireland, has been taken upon this point and, if so, on what date?

I cannot say. The subject-matter has been one of constant conversations between myself and the Attorney-General here, and there have also been recent communications with the Law Officers in Ireland.

May I ask—the matter is one of importance—for a specific answer to this question. Has any Law Officer in England or Ireland given the opinion that these goods cannot be seized the moment they are landed?


asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether the Government, feeling themselves estopped by their action in Belfast and other parts of Ulster from taking any measures in other parts of Ireland to prevent the landing and conveying of arms and other similar illegalities, communicated this new policy in orders or in written instructions to the chief officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary and of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, or whether they left these officers without any guidance as to how they should discharge their duties in view of the Government's decision not to enforce the law?

No such decision has been arrived at, and accordingly no such orders or written instructions have been issued.


asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland if, in view of the fact that the Assistant-Commissioner of Police, Dublin, committed an error of judgment in invoking the services of the military in connection with the importation of arms at Howth and showed lack of discretion, he will, without delay, place upon the Table the Reports and other Papers which justify this accusation?

Pending the inquiry into this very subject about to be held it is not desirable to lay any Reports or other Papers upon the Table.

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is fair or equitable to adjudicate upon this case without the facts having been known?

No, Sir, I acted on the primâ facie view of the case, and the matter has been referred to an inquiry, at which the very question on the Paper will be investigated.

Has it occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that pending the inquiry he should suspend himself?


asked when the inquiry into the conduct of Mr. Harrel will be held; who will conduct the inquiry; an I when the proceedings will be published?

The inquiry into the conduct of Mr. Harrel will be held without delay. It will be conducted by Lord Shaw, of Dunfermline, and the procedure will be in the hands of His Lordship.


asked the Chief Secretary whether any general instructions relative to the importation of arms, in contravention of the Proclamation of December, 1913, were at any time issued to the police in Ireland; and, if so, whether he will publish those instructions?

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. The instructions were confidential, and I am not in a position to depart from the general rule as to non-publication of documents of this character.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on 8th July arms were actually passed through the Customs of Londonderry and afterwards seized, and, if so, upon what instructions were the officials in question and the police who assisted them acting?

On a point of Order. May I ask whether it is in order for the hon. Member for South Tipperary to call the hon. Member for the Abercrombie Division of Liverpool a liar?

That is a question which it is hardly necessary to put to me. The word is one which should not be used between gentlemen.

Is it proper for the hon. Gentleman to charge the Irish people with shooting in the dark, and murdering people? Is it proper for him to make those charges here in face of the charges of shooting down defenceless people in Dublin?

I hope that hon. Members will be able to sit on the benches near each other without insulting each other.

Will the right hon. Gentleman lay on the Table the instructions to the police to which he has referred?

Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman lay them on the Table of the House?


asked whether the Under-Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, on receiving a telephone message at his residence at 2 p.m. on Sunday from the Assistant Commissioner of Police acquainting him that arms had been landed at Howth, asked the Assistant Commissioner himself on the telephone to meet him at 2.45 p.m. at the Castle; whether the Assistant Commissioner informed him that he could be at the Castle at the hour named; and did he receive any subsequent message before leaving his residence from either the Assistant Commissioner or the Superintendent?

The Under-Secretary informs me that he telephoned to Mr. Harrel that he was coming down to the Castle at once, but that no hour was named, nor did the Assistant Commissioner make any engagement to meet the Under-Secretary. No subsequent message was received by the Under-Secretary before he left his house, but shortly after his arrival at the Castle a superintendent informed him that Mr. Harrel was sorry that he was unable to see the Under-Secretary as he had an engagement with General Cuthbert at the Kildare Street Club.

No. [AN HON. MEMBER: "From the landlords' club."] He telephoned, as it turned out, from his house in Monkstown direct to the Under-Secretary.


asked the Chief Secretary whether he can now state the hour on Sunday morning at which the disembarkation of arms was commenced at Howth, the hour at which the intelligence of the disembarkation was received at the office of the Commissioner of Police, and the hour when the Assistant Commissioner left his office to meet the party who were in charge of the convoy of arms; whether he can say if the telephone message to the Under-Secretary from the Assistant Commissioner was taken by the former in person; and, if not, who took it; and what conversation, if any, such person had with the sender.

The disembarkation of the arms took place shortly after one o'clock. Notice of the disembarkation was received in the office of the Commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police at 1.30 p.m., and was then telephoned to the Assistant Commissioner who was at his own residence. The Assistant Commissioner motored to the office which he left somewhere about 2.30 p.m. The telephone message from the Assistant Commissioner was taken by the Under-Secretary himself.

Was this telephonic communication made direct by Mr. Harrel to Sir James Dougherty, and did they speak to each other over the telephone?


asked the Prime Minister if it will be open to the Imperial Government, under the Government of Ireland Bill, to prohibit the importation of arms into Ireland if and when that Bill comes into operation?

The right of prohibition to which the hon. Member refers is not affected by the Government of Ireland Bill.


asked the Prime Minister whether it is his intention to advise His Majesty to revoke the proclamation prohibiting the importation of arms into Ireland?

The whole question is under consideration, and I can make no statement on the subject at present.


asked the Secretary to the Treasury by whose order and on what authority sixteen small boxes of sporting cartridges, ordered from Birmingham by a Mullingar merchant in the ordinary course of his business, were examined, disturbed, and delayed on the 13th instant by Customs officials at Holyhead, and again on the 14th instant by Customs officials at North Wall, and a charge of 4s. made for each examination, though the goods were quite in order and carriage paid; and whether he will have the 8s. refunded and an apology tendered forthwith?

I am making inquiries in this case, and will in due course communicate the result to the hon. Member.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the charge has been made, and will he refund it and have an apology tendered to the owner of the goods?

I am making inquiries and will let the hon. Member know as soon as I have them completed.