Skip to main content

Shooting, Belfast

Volume 155: debated on Thursday 15 June 1922

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


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether his attention has been called to the attack on the Mater Infirmorum Hospital, Belfast, on the night of Monday, 5th June, between 11.15 and midnight, by armed forces under the control and direction of the Government of Northern Ireland; whether he is aware that the attack lasted upwards of 40 minutes, during which time a constant fusillade of bullets was rained on the hospital from Crown forces in Crumlin Road Gaol and surrounding streets, windows being smashed, and bullets flattening themselves against the walls of the wards, in which lay sick and wounded men, women and children; that the patients, many of whom were hysterical, had to be removed from their beds and laid on the floors, where they remained for over an hour; that after the cessation of fire the hospital was raided by three separate parties of special constables, some of whom were under the influence of drink, and the doctors, sisters in charge and lay nursing staff subjected to insult and indignity; that the attack took place during curfew hours, when the special constables and Crown Forces had full control and possession of the streets; and whether he will cause a full and searching inquiry into this whole matter?

On a point of Order. Before the question be answered, may I ask, in reference to this and question 51 on the same subject what is the distinction in principle between these questions and numerous questions which it was desired to put from this side of the House—questions which you, Mr. Speaker, have not allowed, on the ground that the responsibility for the administration in Northern Ireland had been conferred upon the Northern Parliament? You will observe that at the end of this question my hon. Friend opposite has, with an intention which we can all understand, brought in a reference to the Crown Forces. That was also done in former questions, on which you informed the House that the Crown Forces in Ireland could act only at the request of the civil power, and on that ground you disallowed the questions, although I am unable to distinguish them in principle from the question now asked. It would be an assistance to the House in framing future questions if you would explain why the one question is allowed and the other disallowed.

This question was not specially brought to my notice; but the ground I have taken is this, that until the House was asked to vote a sum of money in aid of the Special Constabulary in Northern Ireland, I had declined questions dealing with the action of the police in Ireland, but when such a Vote was brought before the House, it clearly altered the situation, and I did not feel justified in refusing questions about the conduct of the police in Ireland.

I would refer the hon. Member to the OFFICIAL REPORT issued on the 8th instant, of the inquiry into this matter which has already been held by the Ministry of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland. I can see no ground for a further inquiry into the matter.

What redress is there in the case of a great institution like this, when forces of the Crown attack patients, nurses and doctors, and fire into hospital wards? Is there to be no redress for criminal conduct of that character carried on by officers of the Crown, paid for by this Parliament?

I think that the statements which have appeared have been very much exaggerated in regard to this incident. It appears that a certain number of shots were fired at the gaol from the direction of the Mater Hospital, and that the special constables around and in the gaol fired a certain number of shots back, with the result that a number of windows were broken. However, no one was hurt.

Where did the right hon. Gentleman get that information? Is it not a fact that the police inquirer who inquired into the incident distinctly stated that there was no evidence of any shots having been fired from the direction of the hospital? Does the right hon. Gentleman stand up and justify firing at a hospital because persons somewhere else fired at the police? Did this not occur during curfew, when there were no civilians in the streets, and may I tell him that this was a deliberate and monstrous thing?

I do not justify a great number of things which are going on in Ireland at the moment, and particularly in Northern Ireland. I regret them very much indeed. My hon. Friend ought to remember that there is another place where these particular questions of administration in Belfast can be much better raised, though I quite agree that we share to some extent in the responsibility of the Northern Government.

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman pays for the malefactors guilty of this conduct, am I not entitled to put the question to him, and is a matter of this sort, that is being taken up by the International Red Cross Society, not one that the Government ought to interfere in and prevent a repetition of? On certain occasions have not wounded persons being taken to this hospital been attacked by mobs who have gathered around the hospital?