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Disbanded Troops, Ireland

Volume 154: debated on Tuesday 30 May 1922

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Colonel Leslie Wilson.]

This afternoon at Question Time I asked the Secretary of State for War whether he could see his way to extend to the married noncommissioned officers and men of the Irish regiments, which are being disbanded or are about to be disbanded, the same treatment as regards separation allowances as is being given to the disbanded members of the Royal Irish Constabulary. In the case of the Royal Irish Constabulary where it is supposed the men would be in danger to life or limb, if they went to their homes and lived there, a separation allowance of 15s. a week has been granted as a temporary measure to enable them to keep out of disturbed areas in Ireland, until eventually they can safely rejoin their families. If the Government thought it was right—and I entirely agree with them—that the Royal Irish Constabulary, who have been in Ireland for so many years, should be treated in this way on disbandment, then they should give similar treatment to the men of the Irish regiments who are being compulsorily discharged whether they wish it or not. There is no conscription in Ireland and these men came voluntarily to fight for this country overseas and indeed in Ireland also. At least they should have meted out to them the same treatment as the Royal Irish Constabulary. After all, in the eyes of those in Ireland who hate this country and who are doing their best to harm this country, an Irishman who joins His Majesty's Army is just as much a traitor to the cause of Irish nationality as one who joined the Royal Irish Constabulary. In my opinion, there is not the slightest difference between the one and the other.

What was the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman? In the first place, he said: "The Government are treating these men very generously and giving them a large bonus in order that they might start life again, and we think we have done all that is reasonably necessary to acquit the nation of any obligation which may fall upon it to look after these men." The right hon. Gentleman entirely missed the point of the question. It is true there is a bonus given, whether generous or not I have not inquired, because it is entirely outside the scope of this question. The bonus is given to The man, whether he resides in London, or Edinburgh, or Dublin, or Cork, and it has nothing to do with danger to life and limb after he is discharged. It is a present given to him by the Government, because he has been compulsorily turned out of the profession in which he engaged to serve for a certain number of years, and therefore, to say that a bonus has been given him entirely misses the point. I want money given to them because they are Irishmen, because of the dangerous conditions in their home towns, and I want it given to them so that they should not be financial losers by their loyalty to this country. What was the next point? "Oh, well," he said, "besides that, they can apply to the Committee, presided over by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare)." At once the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chelsea got up and pointed out that these men are entirely outside the Terms of Reference of his Committee, and since that time T have got into communication with the Secretary of that Committee, who entirely agrees with the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea. its Chairman, that these men are outside the Terms of Reference of the Committee, and that any of these discharged soldiers who applied to them would be ruled out, not because they do not sympathise with them, but because, by their Terms of Reference, they are not allowed to give them any money. Besides, even if they were allowed, they have only £10,000, and what is £10,000 to all these men, taken along with those with whom the Committee is already dealing?

The real reason why the Government say they are going to do nothing was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in answer to a supplementary question this afternoon. He said, in one sentence, "We do not believe that these discharged soldiers, non-commissioned officers and men, when they go home to Ireland, will be in any danger at all." Really, the Members of the Government must either never read the newspapers and never have any reports from their agents in Ireland, or they must be deliberately shutting their eyes to the facts. So long as two years ago, when things were not half so had in Ireland, and 1 had a good deal to do with an ex-service men's organisation called the Comrades of the Great War, I could name scores of ex-service men who were murdered in Ireland, simply because they were ex-service men and had served His Majesty in the Army and in the Navy. If those conditions prevailed two years ago, what must be the conditions now? Does the Secretary of State for War read the Irish newspapers? If he did, he would see every day that two or three ex-service men had been murdered in Ireland, and is it seriously contended that a great number of these ex-service men scattered throughout Southern Ireland are not in great danger of their lives? I think it would be inexpressibly mean of this nation, through this House or this Government, either because it is weary of trying to govern Ireland, or because it thinks another line of policy would be more successful if it should behave in a mean financial way to those who served it with their lives. If we are going to do these things in Ireland, let us generously recompense out of our own pockets those who stood by us.

This matter was raised by me some weeks ago in connection with the kidnapping and, I believe, murder of three officers in the neighbourhood of Macroom. I raised the question then of the postponement of the disbandment of the Irish regiments in order to avoid the dange7 then being incurred by those men who wished to go home to Ireland. After the reply had been made that the postponement could not be considered, I then put a question clown as to whether provision would be made for such men as could not go to their homes in Ireland in consequence of the danger incurred by them in doing so. The reply I got was this:

"These men, unless maintained in the Army by transfer, will receive the same benefits as those provided by Army Order 180 for other men compulsorily discharged."
I do invite the attention of the House to the absolutely unsatisfactory nature of that portion of the reply. Here I asked a question about men who could not go to their homes on account of danger, and I got a reply which refers to men who could safely go to their homes, for example, in London. The reply went on to say:
"If any of them are unable to return to their homes in Ireland, their cases could be brought before the Committee presided over by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea."
That has already been dealt. with by the hon. and gallant Member for the Fylde Division (Lieut.-Colonel Ashley), and I think it is really unnecessary for me to say more about it than that it is equally as absurd as the first part of the answer —equally unsatisfactory.

With regard to the case of the officers, really the officers are in far more danger, in my opinion, than are the men. There have been many cases of officers returning from the Army to Ireland to live in their homes, who have been murdered or driven out of them, not to mention the kidnapping of these three young officers the other day—an illustration of the danger incurred by officers who go home to Ireland. The hon. and gallant Member referred to the answer which was given to me as being unsatisfactory. I go further, and say it was contemptible.

May I. also plead for these men and officers of the South and West Irish Regiments who have been disbanded? I think it is safe to say that. if these men, or most of them, go home to their little farms or businesses in the South and West they will be in real danger of their lives. It. is only fair that these men should have exceptional treatment., and in such a measure that they may be able to live in safety in some other country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened this discussion suggested that they should get the same rights as men of the Royal Irish Constabulary. That is a matter with which I am not competent to deal, but I do think that they should get some exceptional treatment and different from those, men of English battalions which have been disbanded, and who can go to their homes in safety. I have to-night been at the annual dinner of my regiment, the Rifle Brigade. The third and fourth battalions have been disbanded. I am colonel-commanding of the 3rd Battalion. The men of these two battalions can, broadly speaking, go to their homes, hard as their lot is, and lire in peace and comfort. I was originally in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. The men of that regiment cannot go to their homes. They dare not, because they will be in danger, not only of their lives, but for the lives of their wives and families. If the Government insist in treating these men of the South and West of Ireland regiments in the same way as they have treated the British battalions that are being disbanded, then I think the Government are totally unable to understand the conditions which are now existing in Ireland. I suggest once again, as I have suggested on several occasions, that the Secretary of State for War, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, or the other Cabinet Ministers who are responsible for the present state of affairs in Ireland should, before they rule out. these poor men for exceptional treatment, go over to Ireland themselves and see the state of things which exists in that country.

The ease has been put as to why we are not dealing with the officers and men of the Irish regiments, who arc being disbanded, in the same way as the officers and men of the Royal Irish Constabulary. First of all, I want to deal with the question of why we are differentiating between the two. The Royal Trish Constabulary have been employed locally in Ireland, have been stationed in villages and towns in the country districts, where their activities have brought them into conflict with the local inhabitants. Undoubtedly, many of them are marked men. It is impossible in some cases that they should go back to their homes. The officers and men of the Irish regiments have not been employed locally in Ireland at all, but all over the world, some in India, some on the Rhine, and some in England. They have not been, by reason of their duties, brought into conflict with the local inhabitants. They are not in the same category as the Royal Irish Constabulary. I admit at once that there may be cases where individuals are unable to go home. If there are such cases, I believe they are the exception rather than the rule. I am not suggesting that Ireland is a health resort. I am not suggesting that everywhere peace reigns, and that life is so secure that there is no risk to anybody. What I am suggesting is that the men of the Irish regiments going home are not in the same position as the Royal Irish Constabulary. As a matter of fact a great many of them have been on leave prior to disbandment and, so far as I know, there has been no case of an officer or man of the Irish regiments in course of disbandment who has suffered while taking his 28 days' leave in Ireland. There have been, I should think, something like 2,000 who have been on leave during the last month and I do not know a single case in which any one of them has had anything befall him. The provisions which have been made for those who are disbanded are, I believe, reasonably liberal. If the finances of the country were different I should like more to be done, but they are reasonably liberal and I think the House ought to bear in mind what is being done.

I will take the case of a private with a wife and two children. He gets the equivalent of £12 4s. during his first 28 days leave. He then gets whatever bounty he is entitled to on completion of his engagement and, in addition, lie gets, if he had less than three months unexpired —that is, if his contract of service has terminated within three months of the ordinary time, if his regiment had not been disbanded—a bonus of £8. If there is more than three months but less than six months, he gets an additional bonus of £5 I8s. If there is 12 months unexpired he gets another £5 18s., and for every additional year he gets another £5 extra. Take the case of a man with a year to run who has 'been disbanded and whose contract has therefore been broken. He gets about £32 as his bonus. If that is insufficient, if owing to local circumstances he cannot still live in Ireland—I believe that this is the exception rather than the rule—such exceptional cases can come before the Committee presided over by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). I know my hon. and gallant Friend does not agree, but I will read the reference. The reference to the Committee is:
"To investigate applications by or on behalf of persons ordinarily resident in Ireland who for reasons of personal safety cannot continue to reside in Ireland and have come to Great Britain and are represented to be in urgent need of assistance."
If the first assistance granted a man, namely, about £30, or less it may be if his contract has a smaller period than one year to run, is insufficient, if he cannot for reasons of personal safety continue to reside in Ireland, he may then come before this Committee and make application for assistance on the ground of urgent necessity.

My point is that he will be dead before he discovers whether he is safe or not. I want to prevent him going back to be murdered. You say let him go back and if he is in danger of being murdered he can come away again.

I did not say that. I will do my best to see that if there are such cases they can come before the Committee. If it is a proper, genuine case, duly authenticated, the man should not he precluded from making a claim. I repeat, the terms of reference are:

"To investigate applications by or on behalf of persons ordinarily resident in Ireland "—
We are only considering the cases of men ordinarily resident in Ireland.
"who for reasons of personal safety have come to Great Britain."
If that be the proper construction I will certainly make representations to the Committee and see that the terms are sufficiently widened to include those who fear they cannot go back to Ireland with safety and therefore have to remain in this country. I am sure there is no intention on the part of the Government to take advantage of a slip of drafting of that sort. Let me try to summarise the position. I can assure hon. Members, who will give us credit for desiring to do what is fair in very difficult circumstances, that there are fairly liberal terms granted in the first instance to those whose contracts of service are broken. It is quite recognised that this may not be sufficient in every case, but these cases, I believe, are exceptional. The experience we have had up to the present is what has happened during the leave period, and that has been the worst period, because there is no question that the last month in Ireland has been a worse period than any previous month. If it has not happened during that month, there is some hope that it will not happen at another time; but if there should be such a case, in which the amount already given is not sufficient, then in such an exceptional case I think that this Committee is the best way to deal with it. We cannot deal with it simply by a rule. It cannot be suggested that in every case in which an Irish regiment is disbanded—and, there are, I suppose, some 5,000 or 6,000 men who will be leaving the Service—it is not suggested that in every such case a grant should be made. It is only suggested that it should be made in cases where the men cannot go back. That is the individual case to be investigated. What better machinery can you have for investigating that class of case than the very Committee which is doing it in the ease of civilians and others? I believe the proper way of dealing with it is to let that Committee do so, and if the words "who have come back to Great Britain" prevent them from dealing with the case of a man who is not able to go back to Ireland because of reasonable fear of what would happen if he did, I will do my best to see that the words are enlarged.

Does this apply to men of other regiments, some of whom may be Irishmen?

Yes, the reference to the Committee does not depend upon what regiment a man belongs to; it depends upon whether he can or cannot go back to Ireland.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'Clock.