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Special Constabulary, Ulster

Volume 155: debated on Thursday 15 June 1922

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether his attention had been drawn to the interference with priests in pursuit of their religious duties during the last few days by Ulster special constabulary in county Armagh; whether he is aware that the Rev. Canon Sheeran, parish priest of Crossmaglen, was held up, ordered out of his car, and searched when on his way to a temperance congress at Armagh; that the Very Rev. Canon Corr, who is over 80 years of age, and has been invalided for some time, was held up while motoring to Armagh on important business by specials at Lisnadell; that, after searching the driver and nurse who were accompanying the canon, the specials then ordered Canon Corr to get out and be searched; that the canon refused to comply, stating that he was unable to get out owing to illness; and, seeing that this interference with ministers of religion in discharge of their duties constitutes a breach of Clause 5 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and is contrary to the spirit and intention of that Act, what action he proposes to take in the matter?

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to a somewhat similar question which he addressed to me yesterday, from which I hope he will understand that it is very far from the intention or wish of Sir James Craig or of his colleagues that any discourtesy to, or interference with, Catholic priests as such should occur, and that the necessary steps to put an end to any such action, if and where it has occurred, will be taken. I have not made any inquiry into the specific instances referred to by the hon. Member; but I have no doubt that if he will call the attention of the proper authorities in Northern Ireland to any such cases, prompt inquiry and, if necessary, action will be taken.

In view of the fact that the persons who commit these outrages are paid servants of the Imperial Government, is this not the proper place to raise this question, and has the right hon. Gentleman made specific and direct representations to the Northern Government to put a stop to these gratuitous and constant indignities and insults to ecclesiastics in the discharge of their duties?

I said yesterday, in answer to the hon. Member, that I had had the opportunity of discussing these matters personally with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Did the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland give any assurances that there would be a cessation of these constant insults and indignities put upon ecclesiastics in the dicharge of their functions?

He asked me to make a statement to the House, which I made yesterday.