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Peace Pact, Belfast

Volume 155: debated on Wednesday 14 June 1922

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether his attention has been called to the action of the Special Constabulary in Belfast in arresting and detaining, without charge or trial, two Catholic members of the Conciliation or Peace Committee set up under the Craig-Collins pact; whether he has information that warrants have been issued for three other Catholic members of the committee; and whether, seeing that the peace pact cannot be carried out while the Government of Northern Ireland pursue this policy, he will inform it that the £500,000 grant recently voted will be withdrawn from the Ulster Parliament and handed over to a committee who will use it for the relief of the expelled workers and Catholic refugees in Belfast who have been left without homes or livelihood?

Yes, Sir; my attention has been drawn from various quarters to this matter, and I have personally seen the representatives of the Northern Government upon the subject. They inform me that charges of substance are to be preferred against these two men, but I have not yet received information as to what these charges are. It certainly is a great pity that the committee which was to have been set up under the agreement of the 31st March should have met with so little success, and I do not think anyone can be satisfied that the position should be left where it now stands. The Imperial Government was a party to the agreement of the 31st March, and on this ground as well as on others has the responsibility for endeavouring to secure its execution as opportunity may serve. We have been passing through an extremely critical and violent period in Northern Ireland in the last few weeks, and at the first opportunity afforded by a calmer situation, I shall endeavour to press upon all parties concerned the importance of persevering in an endeavour to carry out that agreement. At the present moment such intervention would not be useful, both sides being animated by the greatest possible distrust and indignation against one another.

With regard to the last part of the question, I cannot see that it would be any advantage at the present time to withdraw this grant, which is divided proportionately between Protestants and Catholics, and which is a mitigating and merciful factor in the general harshness of the scene.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say by what process of impartial administration this pact can be carried out if the representatives of one side to the pact are arrested and imprisoned without charge and there are no representatives of the Catholics on this body?

Before the right hon. Gentleman replies will he also tell the House whether, in fact, the Craig-Collins pact did not break down completely as a result of the action of the Provisional Government in setting up a railway commission of their own? Secondly, what useful purpose could be secured to the unemployed in Belfast by the withdrawing of the grant of £500,000 from His Majesty's Government, which would involve the withdrawal for the same reason of £500,000 voted by the Corporation and the Harbour Board of Belfast to be distributed in the proportion provided as between the two sections of unemployed in that community?

I think, on reflection, my hon. Friend the Member for the Falls Division of Belfast (Mr. Devlin) will see that my answer covers the whole point raised in his question. I do not for a moment suggest that the agreement is being carried out at the present time, but I hope an opportunity will occur soon when we can resume our efforts.

In view of the pledge which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the House, that this £500,000 of Imperial money, advanced for a definite specific purpose should be distributed upon the terms laid down, namely, impartial administration as between the different interests concerned, what steps does he propose to take to deal with the fact that the representatives of the Catholic body have been arrested by the orders of the Ulster Government?

May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks a worse service could be rendered to the cause of peace than the putting down of offensive and unfounded accusations of this kind?

I may answer the supplementary question of the hon. Member for the Falls Division. His Majesty's Government naturally are responsible for seeing that this money is distributed in the proportion agreed upon, and in the quarters for which it was intended. I shall be quite glad to answer questions in the House upon that subject. I am assured that Catholic unemployed will get the full share of the money prescribed for them. I am quite willing to take responsibility for doing my best to see that this is carried out.

In view of the fact that they have no representation upon the administrative body, what guarantee have they that the money allocated by the Imperial Government will be adjusted according to the spirit of the allocation?

That is very far from the question originally on the Paper. If my hon. Friend puts down another question, I am quite ready to show him the machinery which will be adopted for making sure that there is a distribution of the grant in proportion to the population.