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Londonderry (Sinn Fein Troops)

Volume 154: debated on Tuesday 30 May 1922

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he can give the House any information as to the invasion of Ulster territory from the South and West, and what steps have been taken by the British troops to disperse and drive out the invaders?

I cannot add anything to the answer I gave to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Bradford (Major Boyd-Carpenter) yesterday, and the answers to questions arising out of it. I do not think that anything in the nature of invasion has taken place.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the public Press is full of the fact that Pettigo and Belleek, two villages in Ulster territory, have been invaded, and are held now by Free State troops or I.R.A. troops? I want to know what the Government are doing with the British troops. They say they have 19 battalions with which to drive out the invaders and safeguard Ulster.

That is what I said yesterday. Had I any further information on the subject, I should certainly give it to the House.

Owing to the most unsatisfactory answer of the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask your leave, Mr. Speaker, to move the Adjournment of the House to draw attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the confessed and avowed failure and refusal of the Government to use British troops to defend Ulster.

On a point of Order. I venture to submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the expressions "the confessed and avowed failure and refusal of the Government to use British troops in the defence of Ulster" are an entire misrepresentation and travesty of what I said.

I must leave the hon. and gallant: Member (Colonel Ashley) to bring this matter forward at the end of Questions. There are other questions to be put. He will recollect, however, that the initiative lies with the Government of Northern Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I do not know whether he has information that application has been made by the Government of Northern Ireland and not assented to by the War Office, or the General in Command of the British troops. That seems to be the proper way of dealing with the matter. We were informed yesterday that any request made by the Government of Northern Ireland would be promptly conceded.

Under whose orders, Mr. Speaker, are the troops in Ulster? Are they not under the Government of the United Kingdom? Are they not paid by this House? Yet we have just heard the Secretary of State for the Colonies say that he is going to do nothing to defend Ulster. He refuses to do anything. That is a matter of which this House should take cognisance.

On the point of Order. May I be permitted to say that I said nothing of the kind. I said the exact contrary. I said that the officers commanding the army in Ulster had been instructed to give all possible aid to the Northern Government in the defence of northern territory. The statement which my hon. and gallant Friend has repeated the second time is diametrically a reversal of the actual words which I used in the presence of the House.

Has a Minister of the Crown any right to shuffle off his responsibility to somebody else when he is put in charge of Northern Ireland by this House and by the Government?

I will deal with this point first. This House has entrusted this business to the Government of Northern Ireland in the first instance. We have British troops there, and they are available when asked for by the civil Government.

I would respectfully remind you of the words used by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday when he said that certain military steps which might become necessary for the defence of Ulster could not be taken without reference to the Cabinet here.

That was a very different question. That was a question of these troops going over the border.

On that point, I submit that it is really the same point as that which has been put by my hon. and gallant Friend. It is really a question of what the military authorities there might consider the best step for the protection of the border, and it might very well be from the military point of view that to go over the border was the only means of defence. The right hon. Gentleman stated definitely yesterday that no such steps could be taken at the instance of the Government of Northern Ireland, or with their authority, without reference to the Cabinet here.

On a point of Order. May I ask you, as an Irishman, whether the time has not arrived for making some arrangement to abolish all borders in Ireland?

At the end of Questions

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, "the failure of the Government to give authority to the military authorities to defend Ulster territory by any means in their power."

That, as I before indicated, is not a Motion that I can accept under Standing Order Number 10. It would subvert the constitution of the Government of Northern Ireland, a thing that is hardly desirable under Standing Order No. 10. I may say, however, that I propose to give the question of Ireland first place in the discussion on the Adjournment Motion to-morrow.

Without questioning your ruling in the slightest, may I ask you how the House is going to carry on, as apparently the troops in Ireland have two masters. They have the masters here and the masters in Ireland. If they get contradictory orders, what will happen?

The hon. and gallant Member knows the position as well as anybody. The military authority acts at the request of the civil authority, and, that request having been made, the military commander is the authority which decides the means.

If this House be responsible for the pay of the military, how can it be precluded from discussing a situation in which our troops are engaged, because if a discussion be out of order merely because it happens in Ireland, it would equally exclude all discussion if some disaster happened to us in Ireland?

May I be allowed to ask what is the constitutional position? Have we not established two Parliaments in Ireland, and have they not control of Ireland? If they cannot settle their differences, why should we be asked to send troops to settle their differences for them?

Supposing the civil authorities in Ireland give certain orders to the troops and supposing that this House thinks that those orders ought not to be given to troops who are under their supervision and whom they pay, is this House to have no opportunity of expressing its opinion?

In view of what my right hon. Friend has said, may I say that the British troops in Ulster are not under the orders of the Northern Government any more than the troops in Liverpool are under the orders of the Lord Mayor of Liverpool. But, if the Northern Government applies for the aid of troops in support of the civil power, that aid will be given, and the troops then, as you have said, will be under the orders of the military authority, who will assume control of that particular event and deal with it as they deem fit, and for that purpose will act, not only not under the orders of the Provisional Government, but under the orders of the Imperial Government.

I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for answering my point of order. Why are we to be precluded from moving the Adjournment to consider the conduct of troops whom the right hon. Gentleman has just said are under the control of this Parliament?

The Motion is not to raise something that the troops have done, but something that the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Ashley) would like them to do, which is very different. That is the ground on which I rule that the Motion does not come under Standing Order No. 10.