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Situation In Northern Ireland

Volume 154: debated on Monday 22 May 1922

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he had any information to give the House with regard to recent happenings in Ulster, and particularly with respect to the reported assassination of a member of the Northern Parliament early this morning?

It will, I think, be convenient to the House if I make a very brief statement on the situation which has developed in Ireland. The House has, no doubt, seen the terms of the agreement which has been arrived at in Dublin between the Provisional Government and the followers of Mr. De Valera. This agreement was only signed on Saturday afternoon, and we have not yet been able to form any final conclusion in regard to it. It would appear to raise very serious issues affecting not only the character and validity of the election contemplated in the Irish Free State Agreement Act, but also affecting the Treaty itself. We have, therefore, invited the Irish co-signatories of the Treaty to come to London and discuss these issues with the British signatories.

I expect that a conference will take place towards the end of this week, and I hope to be in a position to make a full statement to the House on Monday on behalf of His Majesty's Government. Meanwhile, I trust that the House will refrain from premature and hasty judgment on the agreement, either in a favourable or an unfavourable sense.

With regard to the situation in Northern Ireland, I profoundly regret to inform the House that I have just received a telegram from the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (Sir James Craig) stating that Mr. W. J. Twaddell, Member for West Belfast, has been brutally assassinated outside his business premises in Belfast. Apart from this shocking fact, I do not desire to add anything to the full accounts which have appeared in the newspapers of the outrages organised by the Republicans in various parts of the six counties and of the continued conditions of sanguinary disorder which prevail in parts of Belfast.

I have every confidence that the Northern Government will continue to grapple with the serious task of restoring law and order and maintaining it effectually. Four additional battalions landed in Ulster opportunely or. Saturday last, raising the Imperial Force in the six counties to 19 battalions. Further reinforcements will, of course, be sent to any extent that may be considered necessary in the opinion of the military authorities. I am in consultation with Ministers of the Northern Government—one of whom, Lord Londonderry, has been sent as a consultant by the Northern Government to this country—as to the further issue of arms and equipment to the police force which the Northern Government are organising, and, while every endeavour will be made to avoid unnecessary expense or sensational action, I can assure the House that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to support the Government of Northern Ireland in every way that is possible and necessary.

Can the right hon. Gentleman not add something as to the situation in the 26 counties? Can he not say something about the sufferings of the loyalists in the South, and the depredations on property?

I have made statement about the two subjects to which I referred, and I am not prepared at the present moment to endeavour to make an appreciation to the House of the social conditions prevailing in the 26 counties, grave though those may be. I can quite see, however, that some discussion may be necessary.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement next Monday? Will he talk about the matter then?

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House how it is that he has made a one-sided statement as to the conditions that prevail in the six counties, and whether it is a fact that the village of Desertmartin was practically destroyed the other day, without any protection being given to the inhabitants, that a Catholic was murdered in the village, and four other Catholics in an adjoining district, and there was no protection for them, and no reference to them in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman?

I have never attempted to conceal from the House the obvious fact that murders and counter-murders are being done by both religious sects in the North of Ireland. I did not intend to slur over any of the painful incidents which have taken place. For the moment, however, the principal fact over the week-end has been the violent attempts to create outrages and disorder in what has hitherto been a peaceful part, of the country.

May I ask the Leader of the House what he precisely means by the statement to be made next Monday in view of the fact that he has already intimated that the Finance Bill will be confined to one day? Will this be an ordinary statement such as we have had now, or will it be put down for Debate, and if so, how?

Of course, I contemplate that at that time we shall have received the co-signatories to the Treaty, and that I will be able to tell the House exactly what has occurred in regard to the agreement which has been reached in Dublin, and which we are not in a position to do now. It would be very unfair and improper to attempt to do so now. Having made that statement at Question time, it will be entirely for the House to say whether they will have any further discussion.

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies has stated it is his intention to make a statement about events in Dublin next Monday. May we therefore take it that hon. Members will be allowed to put down questions in reference to incidents in the 26 counties between now and then, and also question the Minister on the subject?

On a point of Order. I never contemplated that my statement would refer to anything except the negotiations which have been taking place between the different sections in the Irish Parliament, and the reference or hearing which these negotiations have upon the Treaty entered into in this country.

That is exactly what r apprehended. The relevancy lies in the possibility of the statement seriously affecting the position under the Treaty and the Statute passed by this House.

Would the right hon. Gentleman assure the House now that His Majesty's Government will in no circumstances go away from their promised intention to demand a free election in Ireland on the Treaty? [An HON. MEMBER: "Run away!"]

Will the right hon. Gentleman supplement his statement by saying under whose control the British military forces in Northern Ireland are Whether they are under the. control of the Northern Parliament or who?

Is the British War Office, then, responsible for law and order in Northern Ireland?

Will the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS "Order, order!"]—give us an assurance that some definite steps will be taken to protect the minority in North-East Ulster, and also those—[HON. MEMBERS "In the South!"]—everywhere! [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—and—