§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Churchill)
I promised the House a week ago I would make a full statement about Ireland before we separated for the Whitsuntide Recess. I will make a full statement, but it will only be an interim statement. It will, I hope, be a plain statement, yet it cannot be a complete statement. I will give the best appreciation I can to the House, at the moment, of the situation.
Until 10 days ago we were entitled to look forward across the disappointments, vexations, misgivings and perplexities of the Irish situation to a great and hopeful event. A General Election was to be held in Southern Ireland, at which we had a. right to expect that the Irish people would have the opportunity of giving their decision upon the generous and sincere offer of Dominion Home Rule embodied in the Treaty made with this country. The Irish people would thus have been free to reject or accept our offer with their eyes open. Had they rejected it and returned a Parliament pledged to set up a Republic, an issue would immediately have been raised comparable to that which arose in the American Civil War between the States of the American Union and the seceding Confederate States. But we were assured on every hand that there was not much chance of this—indeed, that there was no chance, at all of it. From every source of Irish information the same tale comes, that the Irish people, if allowed freely to express their wishes and convictions, would, by an overwhelming majority, accept in good faith and in goodwill the great Treaty of reconciliation which gives Ireland her own freedom, her place in the world, and the hope of the final unity of Ireland itself.
No one has disputed for a moment, and no one now disputes for a moment, that that was, and is, the wish of the Irish people. It is common ground in the Dail Eireann between Republicans and Free 2126 Staters. It is common ground between regulars and irregulars in the Irish Republican Army. It is common ground between Catholics and Protestants, between landlords and tenants, between Unionists and Nationalists from one end of Ireland to the other, that the wish and the will of the Irish people is to take the Treaty, work it honourably, and restore under its aegis the dignity and prosperity of Irish life. So sure were Mr. de Valera and his supporters of what the will of the Irish people would be that they openly declared their intention of forbidding its expression by means of terrorism and violence. Every offer by the Provisional Government to ascertain the will of the people was passionately refused by the anti-Treaty men. They refused to allow an election because they said the register was incomplete and the suffrage was not sufficiently extensive. When they were offered a plebiscite at which everyone could vote, they refused that with even greater indignation. Up to 10 days ago the leaders of the Provisional Government—with the growing support of public opinion and the increasing adherence to their own side of men who had hitherto been extreme Republicans—appeared resolved to march steadily forward to a free election and to do their best to put down, if necessary by force, all armed persons who tried to prevent it. It was in this spirit that Mr. Griffith on the 19th of this month told the Republicans in the Dail that in their violent courses they did not represent 2 per cent. of the people of Ireland and that the course they were pursuing placed them on the level of the worst traitors in Irish history, namely, those who by their actions were rendering the return of the English troops inevitable. The very next day, to the astonishment of everyone, to the dismay of many supporters of the Provisional Government and to the joy of every enemy of Irish freedom and Irish unity, wherever they may be, in this country or in the North or in the South of Ireland, a compact was signed between Mr. de Valera and Mr. Collins.
The compact, as the House is no doubt aware, comprised an agreement that the Republican anti-Treaty men—whom Mr. Griffith had declared a day before to be not representing 2 per cent. of the Irish people—were to have 57 seats in the new Parliament, as against 64 for the supporters 2127 of the Treaty, so far, that is to say, as the Provisional Government was concerned. They were not to be opposed by the Provisional Government to the extent of 57 seats—in other words, the existing balance on the question of accepting or rejecting the Treaty should be preserved in the new Parliament, and should not be disturbed by any contests between members of the Sinn Fein party. Secondly, this compact prescribed that, after this election or so-called election, a Coalition Government should be formed—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Let me take this opportunity of saying that the issues with which we have to deal are too tragic for the introduction of cheap scores and sneers of a party kind, for which there is plenty of scope and opportunity on other occasions. This agreement prescribes, in the second place, that after the election there should be a Coalition Government formed, consisting of five pro-Treaty Ministers and four anti-Treaty Ministers, with the President of the Assembly and the Minister at the head of the army additional. It was added that every other interest in Ireland would be free to proceed to the poll and challenge the candidates on the national Sinn Fein panel.
The consequences of this agreement are very serious. It seems probable, as far as we can judge, that the Irish people will not be able to give free expression to their views. It is almost certain that they will not be able to say in any way that is intelligible whether they accept or reject the Treaty offered by Great Britain. A certain number of Labour or Independent candidates may, it is true, no doubt secure election, but it is difficult to see how the Parliament resulting from the election, and the Government to be based on that Parliament, after the election, can have either representative or democratic quality or authority, as it is usually understood, and it is certain that it will he a Parliament arbitrarily divided without reference to the national will upon the supreme, urgent, vital issue of whether a Republic should be set up or the Treaty should be accepted. It may be argued quite properly that these are matters, whether of agreement or of division, which primarily concern Irishmen and Ireland, and that is quite true, but in so 2128 far as they affect the faithful carrying out of the Treaty, they concern us. We are not in the least disposed to relax our vigilance and responsibility in regard to it.
The agreement, for instance, that Republican anti-Treaty men will be included in the Government after the election, strikes directly at the provisions of the Treaty. In making the Treaty, we did not wish, during the provisional period which we saw was inevitable, to put any difficulty that could be avoided, to put any unnecessary stumbling-block in the path of those who were setting up the new Government and the new Constitution. We did not, therefore, demand that the members of the Provisional Parliament, either of this present Parliament or the new Provisional Parliament, that we contemplated being elected before the Free State was brought into existence—we did not demand that the members of the Parliament should take the oath which is prescribed in the Treaty for the Free State Parliament when it is finally constituted. We were content with the provision inserted in Article 17 of the Treaty that members of the Government should in this interim period sign a declaration of adherence to the Treaty, which has hitherto been signed most willingly by all members of the Provisional Government. If Mr. de Valera and his three anti-Treaty men, or whoever the Ministers are to be who are to come into the Government after the election—if they are willing to sign that declaration in abonâ fide manner, we have no ground of complaint on this score. But if they become members of the Government without signing that declaration, the Treaty is broken by that very fact at that very moment, and the Imperial Government resumes such liberty of action, whether in regard to the resumption of powers which have been transferred or the re-occupation of territory, as we may think appropriate and proportionate to the gravity of the breach. I must make it clear to the House that we shall not in any circumstances agree to deviate from the Treaty either in the strict letter or the honest spirit.
I must now, in fairness, set out the reasons which I understand led or forced the Provisional Government, formed expressly to carry out the Treaty, to enter 2129 into this compact with those who are fundamentally opposed to the Treaty. They declare that the conditions in Southern Ireland were degenerating so rapidly, that they had not got the power to hold a freely contested election—a free election that was at the same time a vigorously contested election—that sporadic fighting would have resulted in many parts of Southern Ireland; that ballot boxes would have been burned or ballot papers destroyed by vitriol; that persons would have been intimidated—that candidates would have been intimidated—or prevented from reaching the polling stations or otherwise taking part in the election, and that no coherent expression of the national will would have resulted from an election held in these circumstances.
If that be true, it is a very terrible reflection upon the Irish people and on their capacity to use the democratic institutions to which they have so long and so loftily proclaimed their devotion, and it is also, I think, a reflection upon the Government which, while urging and pressing for us continuously to withdraw our forces from the country, in order to make the whole Irish people see that we were acting in strictbona fides, have not been able, in the whole six months that have elapsed, with all the resources which are at their disposal and with all the resources which we would have placed at their disposal, to organise an efficient adequate police force capable of maintaining the Treaty position.
When we are told that 20 determined pistoleers could prevent the citizens of a whole county from exercising their constitutional rights, one sees quite clearly to what a low level at the present moment civic courage and manhood in Ireland must have fallen. However, that is the first reason which is given that a free expression of the public will could not in any circumstances have been obtained at the present time. If the democracies of Britain, of France, of the United States, had been of so meek and poor a spirit in regard to the management of their own affairs, the liberties of those nations would never have been attained or, having been attained, would never have been preserved.
But there was a second reason which Actuated at least some of the Provisional Government, and which certainly should 2130 carry all due weight with the House. The progress of disorder, of lawlessness, of social degeneration, had been so rapid and extensive in the 26 counties since the departure of the British troops and the disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary, that the Provisional Government could not possibly guarantee the ordinary security of life and property, if these securities were challenged by an active, ardent, violent, Republican minority. This Republican minority, it is explained, consists mainly of a comparatively small number of armed men, violent in method, fanatical in temper, but in many cases disinterested or impersonal in motive. But behind these, strengthening these, multiplying these, disgracing these, are a larger number of common, sordid ruffians and brigands, robbing, murdering, pillaging, for their personal gain or for private revenge, or creating disorder and confusion out of pure love for disorder and confusion. These bandits—for they are nothing else—pursue their devastating course under the so-called glamour of the Republic and are inextricably intermingled withbonâ fide Republican visionaries.
The Provisional Government declare that they found themselves unable to deal with these bandits, while at the same time they were engaged in armed struggles withbonâ fide Republicans. They declare that the Agreement into which they have entered with the Republicans would isolate the brigands and would enable these brigands to be struck at and suppressed, that a greater measure of liberty and security would immediately be restored, and that such conditions are an indispensable preliminary to any free expression of the political will of the Irish people, to which they look forward at an early date. They say, further, that it is in the power of the extreme minority in Ireland, by murdering British soldiers, or ex-soldiers, or Royal Irish Constabulary men who have retired from the Constabulary, or Protestants in the South, or by disturbing Ulster, to produce a series of episodes which, if prolonged and multiplied, would, in fact, destroy the relationship between Great Britain and Ireland and render the carrying through of the Treaty impossible on both sides.
I am bound to say that I can see there is great force in that. They point out that if, as they have frequently done, they give protection to 50 or 100 persons who 2131 are menaced and apply to them, and one person in another district is murdered, they get no credit for the efforts they have made with their limited forces to give the protection to the 50, and the blame and discredit of the murder of the one is naturally and legitimately assigned to them. On these grounds, therefore, the Provisional Government declare, and on other grounds which they will no doubt state in their own way—I am placing the House in possession of their views as far as I have been able to assimilate them; I am not holding them responsible for the actual language I have used, but I am trying to show their point of view—on these grounds, therefore, the Provisional Government felt themselves compelled to enter into the compact to which I have referred.
I am not concealing from the House the grave, possibly fatal, disadvantages of such a compact. If, however, it were attended by any marked and immediate improvement in the conditions of social order throughout the 26 counties, by a cessation of all attacks on Ulster or outrages from the Irish Republican Army within Ulster, by a cessation of the murders of ex-servants of the Crown, or of Protestants in the South, or of British soldiers, then I say that these would be great advantages which might well be set off against the disadvantages of the increased delay in ascertaining the true, free will of the Irish people in respect of the Treaty offer which has been made by Great Britain. It is too early to say now whether any of these compensating advantages will be gained. Some of the positions occupied by the mutineers, by the irregulars, or whatever they are called, in Dublin have been given up, and I am assured by the representatives of the Provisional Government that the general position is much easier. No doubt it will be for the moment. On the other hand, two or three most cruel and atrocious murders have been committed in Dublin itself, apparently for political motives, and I shall have to deal with those which have occurred in Ulster in a moment. Unless this compact which I have described to the House is followed by a general restoration of peace and order throughout the 26 counties, and by a cessation of the violence which has disturbed Ulster, so far as it comes from 2132 one side, the obvious, lamentable disadvantages of the compact will be unrelieved by any compensating advantages.
I need scarcely say that the situation in Ulster has been seriously affected by this compact. The House will remember the Agreement which was signed on the 31st March by Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins. This Agreement, unhappily, broke down to a very large extent almost as soon as it was signed. Before Sir James Craig could get back to Belfast several murders, some of Catholics, others of policemen, were committed before he could put the case to his own people and take the steps for putting the Agreement into operation. The demand of the Provisional Government for the investigation of these cases under the Agreement, a demand which in the letter seems to have been correct, led to a long dispute between the two Governments as to whether the investigation should date from the signing of the Agreement or only from the period when Sir James Craig was really able to get back to his people and begin to take effective charge of the situation.
At the same time that this discussion was going forward, the members of the Irish Republican Army in the six counties—I should say the so-called Irish Republican Army, because, although I use it for short, it is clearly understood that we at no time recognise such an expression—the members of this army in the six counties, under the control of Mr. de Valera and out of the control of the Provisional Government, were stimulated by him, or by others behind him, into a series of outrages designed to break down the Agreement and bring about a hopeless situation. The Ulster boycott was renewed by Mr. de Valera's followers and by the irregular Irish Republican Army men with the utmost violence. It had never been so complete as it was a fortnight after this Agreement had been signed. Only slow and partial progress was made by the Northern Government in carrying out their part of the Agreement. They did a great deal, but at the same time the progress was partial, and neither side lacked material or opportunity for complaint against the other.
So, while these recriminations were proceeding, the Collins-de Valera Agreement was published and, at the same time, a most violent series of outrages and in- 2133 cendiarism, not only in Belfast, but in some of the most peaceful parts of Northern Ireland, were initiated by irregular Republicans. In consequence of these, the Agreement is for the time being largely inoperative, largely in suspense. The Northern Government have declared that now that Mr. Collins and Mr. de Valera are to be members of the same Administration they cannot have any dealings with them such as were contemplated in the agreement previously reached.
Therefore, while all the hopes of Ireland depend upon friendly co-operation between the Northern and Southern Governments, this compact that was made 10 clays ago has rendered all such cooperation doubly difficult and has driven the parties further apart than they ever were before. At the same time it must be admitted that the disturbances which have been going on in Ulster for so many months, and the cruel warfare between Catholics and Protestants which is being waged in the streets of Belfast, have undoubtedly played their part in making the position of the Provisional Government in Ireland difficult, in exasperating the Catholic majority throughout Southern Ireland, and increasing the supporters of Mr. de Valera and the extremists who follow him. Mr. de Valera and his followers have, of course, been fully aware of this. One of their surest means of fighting against the Provisional Government and against the Treaty has been to excite outrage in the Northern area and so provoke counter-action of as violent or a still more violent kind, which they in turn use to arouse passions in the South.
I stand here to-day in the presence of a recent and very grave incident which has occurred on the frontiers of Ulster. We are informed that the townships of Belleek and Pettigo have been seized and occupied by the Irish Republican forces. Belleek is in Northern territory—in the territory of the Northern Government—and Pettigo lies astride the border.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Immediately I received this information, which I did by telegram sent off late last night—as soon as I was able to consider this information—I reported it to the Prime Minister and my colleagues, including the Secretary of State for War, and we invited 2134 the representatives of the Irish Provisional Government, who were here in London, to visit us at Downing Street. We told them the reports which had reached us, we told them that, of course, we were sending Imperial officers to ascertain, on the impartial authority of the Imperial Government, whether the facts were strictly correct as they had been reported to us, whether these townships in the Northern territory were in fact in the occupation of the Republican forces, and we asked them, assuming that this was correct, had these forces any authority from them or were they in any degree responsible? They immediately gave us the most unqualified assurance that they were in no way responsible, that they repudiated the action of these forces in the strongest possible manner, and, of course, that they had no information.
That being so, the matter passed obviously into another sphere, and I am not prepared to give the House any in formation—I am sure the House will support me in declining to give them any information—of any measures or movements which may be necessary in consequence, if it has occurred, of a violation of the territory of the Northern Government. It is at this stage, and in a situation already sombre and critical, that the Constitution of the Irish Free State, which is being prepared by the Provisional Government, appears upon the scene. This Constitution is to be framed by the Provisional Government in accordance with the usual Dominion practice. It is to be published by them before the election. The election is to be held on the 16th June—a fortnight from now—-and the Constitution is to he submitted immediately as the first task of the Provisional Parliament resulting from the election. The Provisional Government promised Mr. de Valera that the Constitution should be before the electors in good time for the election. The Provisional Government also promised us that we should have an opportunity of seeing it before it was made public. This promise they have kept, and the British signatories of the Treaty, with their legal and technical advisers, have now had an opportunity of examining the Constitution. We are entitled to examine it from two points of view only. First, we are 2135 entitled to examine it in order to ascertain whether it is in full and true accord with the Treaty, and, secondly, from the point of view of the assurances which have been given to the Southern Unionists at the time the Treaty was signed. Those are the two standpoints from which we are entitled to examine the Constitution. So far as the Government of the interior of Southern Ireland is concerned, the methods of government that prevail there, the constitutional system which is involved, the electoral system—all those are Irish matters far outside any scope which we intend to claim for ourselves. But, on these two points, we are not only entitled, but bound to examine the Constitution.
Our examination of the Constitution at this stage is informal and confidential. A Dominion framing a Constitution would not necessarily show it to Imperial Ministers beforehand, although no doubt it would be a practical, a useful, and a friendly thing to do. It has been done in this case, but our examination of it at this stage is informal and confidential. I am not prepared to make any disclosure to the House about it, and I ask their support, in not doing so, as it would be a breach of confidence at this stage. I must, therefore, refuse to answer any question about it, or give the House any information upon it. But the House will not have long to wait. Probably in a week, or at the outside 10 days, from now, and certainly before we return from our holidays—if we get any holidays—the House will be in a position, and the country will be in a position, to judge the Constitution for themselves, which will then have been published in the form in which it is to be submitted by the Irish Provisional Government to the Irish people. Everyone will be able to judge then whether or not it faithfully conforms to the provisions and spirit of the Treaty entered into between the two countries. The House, therefore, will be in a position, after Whitsuntide, to take a far more searching and decisive view of the situation than is possible at the present time. I strongly deprecate, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, any premature judgment given now in the absence of essential and vital facts.
I hope I shall not keep the House very long, but I would ask them to allow me 2136 to deal with the subject as fully as possible. Let me now direct the attention of the House to the prospect, so far as it can he surveyed, which would lie before us if anything went forward without being interrupted by any violent events. After the Constitution has been published, and after the election has taken place, the Constitution will be submitted to the Provisional Parliament, such as it is, resulting from the election, and, after it has been passed through that Provisional Parliament in Dublin, it will be sent to us over here for confirmation, and for the final ratification of the Treaty. Not until we have passed another Act of Parliament confirming the Constitution, and finally ratifying the Treaty, does the Irish Free State obtain its full juridical status, nor does that month begin to run during which Ulster may exercise her option of contracting out, and not until that option has been exercised does the Boundary Commission, which has been the cause of so much heart-burning, come into being or into operation.
How fortunate it is that we did not yield to the repeated demands of those in this House, and at the other end of the passage who, when the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act was passing through its various stages, repeatedly called upon us to make the Ulster month, and subsequent Boundary Commission, date from the passage of that Measure. If we had hearkened to their counsel, we should have lost all Constitutional and Parliamentary control over the final stages of these serious events; whereas now—I hope the House will bear this in mind—if the Constitution is not in accordance with the Treaty, if the Treaty is broken by any act such as the inclusion of Ministers in an Irish Government who have not signed the Declaration under Article 17, if the election is such that it cannot be said, in reasonable common sense, to have any effective validity, if the Constitution, as it emerges from the Provisional Parliament, is amended in such a way as to be no fulfilment of the Treaty—in any of these events, we are perfectly free to withhold the assent of Parliament to the final Measure of ratification, to withhold that assent until these defects have been made good, and these complaints have been set right. And until, and unless, a thoroughly satisfactory fulfilment of the Treaty conditions has been presented by Southern Ireland, there is no obligation 2137 upon us to proceed with the Boundary Commission, or call in question in any way the existing frontiers of Ulster.
I must now speak of the conditions prevailing in Southern Ireland. I was specially asked a question, I think, by an hon. Member behind me. They are, in many respects, lamentable. They have not been attended with serious loss of life or limb. Far fewer persons have been killed and wounded throughout the whole of Southern Ireland in any given month since the Treaty was made than in the City of Belfast alone. When six Protestants in County Cork were murdered three weeks ago, the condemnation of these murders was universal, and every group and section in Irish political life denounced them. I am sure the Provisional Government have done everything in their power to prevent such murders taking place, and to prevent such attacks on property and liberty throughout the 26 counties as have become numerous. The condition of things ought not to he exaggerated, but it is undoubtedly very had. There is a universal feeling of insecurity both of person and property. There is a whole crop of petty tyrannies and illegal exactions. Protestants, unionists, Loyalists, ex-servants of the Crown, suffer persecution and oppression, mostly of a minor kind, but menaces of a very serious kind. In some cases they have received very serious injuries, and in all eases they are in great distress and anxiety. They suffer these injuries and menaces, let me point out, although they have in no case given any provocation themselves, although they only ask to be allowed to support the Treaty and Free State, and make their own contribution to the life and prosperity of their own country. There is no comparison betwm'n the position of the Protestants, Loyalists or Unionists, in Southern Ireland and that of the Catholics in Northern Ireland, because a most vehement and combative campaign is going on there. I am not saying who began it, or on whom the greater amount of blame rests, but, undoubtedly, a very active combat is going on there, with many killed and wounded on both sides; whereas throughout the South all the 300,000 or 400,000 Protestants—persons of weight, ability and education—have been, and are now, ready to throw in all their weight and aid on the side of the Treaty and the Free 2138 State Constitution arising from the Treaty.
I say, as a consequence of this insecurity, prosperity has been seriously affected. Banking and business are curtailed; industry and agriculture are languishing; revenue is only coming in with increasingly laggard steps; credit is drying up; railways are slowing down; stagnation and impoverishment are overtaking the productive life of Ireland; the inexorable shadow of famine is already cast on some of its poorer districts. Will the lesson be learned in time, and will the remedies be applied before it is too late? Or will Ireland, amid the stony indifference of the world—for that is what it would be—have to wander down those chasms which have already engulfed the great Russian people? This is the question which the next few months will answer. Already there is a trickle—only a trickle—but it may broaden into a stream, from Ireland to this country, of refugees from the Loyalist or Unionist. population. We may also be confronted with a very considerable exodus of the poorer people, who will be unemployed and in great distress in Ireland, and who will seek entrance to the already congested labour market of this country, and that is a matter which may require special measures. In so far as the Loyalists who are driven out by persecution are concerned, the attitude of the Provisional Government has been perfectly correct. I will read an extract from their official letter on this subject, and, if the House desires it., I will lay the document from which I quote. I wrote an official letter, pointing out what was happening, and that we were taking certain measures through the Committee of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), and that we considered that it was their duty to bear the expense. They replied on the 18th May. I will quote only the relevant part:The Provisional Government of Ireland have given careful consideration to your letter of the 13th inst. in which you intimate that His Majesty's Government have established machinery for affording pecuniary relief to a number of persons who have arrived in Great Britain, having been driven from their homes in Ireland by intimidation or actual violence at the hands of disaffected persons, and in which you ask that the Provisional Government will admit the immediate financial liability which is thus being incurred, as well as the ultimate responsibility for the restoration of these people to 2139 their homes, and for compensation for loss or damage to their property. My Government regret that a certain small number of law-abiding citizens have been recently obliged to flee from their homes in this country under threat of violence, and they are aware that some of these people have left for England. In so far as these persons are concerned, the Provisional Government fully realise the necessity of making provision for relieving their distress, and they appreciate the prompt action of His Majesty's Government to that end. They have no hesitation in giving the desired assurance that they accept liability for the expenditure incurred in providing such relief inbona, fide cases.Then the letter goes on to say that they hope that the case will not be looked at from any political point of view or aim, and further states that the Provisional Government are themselves suffering from an incursion of Catholics who are fleeing and taking refuge from what is going on in Ulster, and they raise the point on whom the responsibility lies for provision in regard to these poor people. I quote that letter to the House because it is a dignified document emanating from this Government and shows that they are adopting a perfectly proper attitude in regard to this lamentable situation.
Although I have criticised quite unreservedly to-day—I think it is much better we should be outspoken and candid—the course adopted by the Provisional Government, firstly, in postponing the elections so long, and, secondly, in entering into this extremely questionable compact with the opponents of the Treaty, I do not believe that the members of the Provisional Government are acting in bad faith. I do not believe, as is repeatedly suggested, that they are working hand in glove with their Republican opponents with the intent by an act of treachery to betray British confidence and Ireland's good name. I am sure they are not doing that. They may not have taken the wisest course, or the strongest course, of the shortest course, but they, and a majority of Dail Eireann who steadfastly support them and support the Treaty are I sincerely believe, animated by an earnest desire and resolve to carry out the Treaty. Not only Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins, the two leading men on whose good faith we took this memorable departure, but the other Ministers who are in this country, Mr. Cosgrave, Mr. Kevin O'Higgins and others have repeatedly declared their adherence to 2140 the Treaty and have renewed their personal assurances while they have been here with us in the strongest manner. They have argued vehemently that the course they are taking—questionable and doubtful as it appears to British eyes—as it must necessarily appear to almost any eyes—they have argued that the course they have taken is the surest way, and indeed the only way open to them of bringing the Treaty into permanent effect. Whether their policy and methods are right may be questioned. Whether they will succeed or not is open to doubt. But that they are still trying to do their best to march forward on that path which alone can save Ireland from hideous disaster we firmly believe. Some here may think us wrong. Some here may think we are being deceived and hoodwinked, and by being deceived ourselves are deceiving others.
If we are wrong, if we are deceived, the essential strength of the Imperial position will be in no wise diminished, while the honour and reputation of Ireland will be fatally aspersed, I say to the House, whether you trust or whether you mistrust at this moment, equally you can afford to wait. We have done our part, we are doing our part with the utmost loyalty before all the world. We have disbanded our police. We have withdrawn our armies. We have liberated our prisoners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hoar, hear!"] Yes, I say it, and I boast it! We have transferred the powers of government and the whole of the revenues of Ireland to the Irish Ministry responsible to the Irish Parliament. We have done this on the faith of the Treaty, solemnly signed by duly accredited plenipotentiaries—for such they were—of the Irish nation, and subsequently endorsed by a majority of the Irish Parliament. This great act of faith on the part of the stronger power will not, I believe, be brought to mockery by the Irish people. If it were, the strength of the Empire will survive the disappointment, but the Irish name will not soon recover from the disgrace.
Let us on our part be very careful that we do all we have to do in scrupulous and meticulous good faith—in scrupulous, meticulous, and even—if I may dare the word—in credulous good faith. Let us not be led by impatience, by prejudice, by vexation, by anxiety into courses which would lay us open to charges of 2141 fickleness or levity in dealing with these issues so long lasting as the relation between the two islands. Let us so direct our steps that, in spite of every disappointment, we give this Treaty arrangement every possible chance of becoming the true act of reconciliation. By so doing we may yet succeed But if we fail, if we fail in spite of all our efforts and forbearance, then by these efforts and that very forbearance we shall have placed ourselves upon the strongest ground, and in the strongest position, and with the largest moral resources, both throughout the Empire and throughout the world, to encounter whatever events may be coming towards us.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I have listened as the House has listened, I think, with unqualified admiration, and, as far as I myself am concerned, almost with complete agreement, to the very weighty and important explanation that the right hon. Gentleman has given us of a situation which in all its aspects is not only embarrassing and serious, but even formidable. I believe anyone with any sense of responsibility can best do his duty on this occasion by using the fewest and most carefully chosen words. I am not going to say more than half-a-dozen sentences. The picture which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn, without any exaggeration or over-colouring, of the present state of Ireland is a very disquieting one, and to people, whose faith is not deeply-rooted, it may cause not unreasonable feelings of serious mistrust for the future. I believe the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right when he said in an eloquent sentence towards the conclusion of his speech that it is only by continued trust, and still more by continued patience and forbearance, that you can hope to straighten out this tangled web, which, after all, is not the creation of to-day or yesterday, but an inheritance from a long and troublous past. It is only by patience, forbearance, and faith that you get out of the twilight into the light of day.
Amid all the unsatisfactory features of the case which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, there is one, I think, most encouraging fact, and that is that in the anarchical condition of things over a very large part of Ireland, the Provisional 2142 Government cannot be held responsible for what has been going on. I do not say they have always been wise or prompt, but upon the whole, as the right hon. Gentleman told us, both as regards outrages in the South, and as regards these border forays on the Northern frontier, the Provisional Government has done, and is doing, in good faith, all it can to prevent and detect crime. That is a very satisfactory feature, and shows that they have undertaken this most onerous and complicated task in the spirit which breathes through the Treaty itself. I will only say one word about the so-called compact. I quite agree with the right. hon. Gentleman that although under normal conditions, certainly when Dominion status has been completed or achieved in Ireland, we should concern ourselves as little as possible, indeed not at all, with the internal administration of the country. Let them make what experiments they please, legislative, administrative, fiscal, or otherwise, so long as our Imperial interests are not touched.
I agree with my right hon. Friend in the hope that that will be the situation as soon as the new Constitution is in full working order. At present we are in an intermediate stage with the Treaty as the governing instrument, and to that Treaty the people and the Parliament of this country have formally made themselves partners. We clearly, therefore, are within our rights—I am not saying for the moment how far and at what point those technical and Treaty rights ought to be pushed—but clearly we are within our rights in commenting upon, and even objecting to, these arrangements, and saying that however convenient they may be in themselves from the internal point of view of Ireland, they are not consistent with good faith in the observance of the Treaty. I confess, like everybody else, that from the democratic point of view I was a little shocked about this compact on its merits. To start a consultation with people with whom you disagree, and with to all intents and purpose a pre-arranged Parliament, is not in consonance with democratic procedure, but I do not think it is desirable or expedient to go into these matters at this moment.
Ireland is really in such a state as regards the maintenance of order that it, is very difficult to see how a free election, 2143 as we understand it, can at this moment be conducted. I hope the difficulties will turn out in practice much less than they appear to an outsider. At any rate, whatever may be the ultimate fate of this corn-pact, whether it is allowed to go through or not, it can only give rise to a provisional state of things, because it is quite clear that a Parliament elected like this, what I call a pre-arranged one, cannot ultimately, and will not, be regarded by the Irish people themselves as a free and representative organ of the expression of their opinions and safeguard of their interests. Therefore I do not think that necessarily the situation is quite so serious as would appear. I hope that consideration will be borne in mind. The sum and substance of the matter is this. We are at the most critical stage in the history of a great and generous experiment—that is the sum and substance of it. Let us in this House do nothing that it is in our power to avoid to increase the difficulties, to envenom and embitter feelings which are very sensitive, or to prevent the attainment of what I believe nine out of 10 of us here believe to he the only possible solution of the real problem of the future government of Ireland.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I have listened to the statement which has just been made by the Colonial Secretary with profound disappointment. He has said much and revealed very little, and he has not told the House what are the real causes of the difficulties which lie before the Provisional Government and His Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman has made some remarkable admissions as to the real state of things prevailing in Ireland. He admits that the whole position in Ireland is profoundly disquieting, and he also admits that the agreement between Mr. Collins on behalf of the Provisional Government and Mr. de Valera representing the Republican party has created an entirely new situation.
would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he still adheres to the repeated statement which he has made in this House and elsewhere, that under no circumstances will he or the Government recognise the setting up of a Republic in Southern Ireland?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Yes, certainly. I say so in the strongest possible way. 2144 The setting up of a Republic in Southern Ireland would raise an issue comparable with that which arose between the Union and the Federal States of America, when civil war broke out. We should no more recognise it than the Northern States of America recognised secession.
§ Colonel GRETTON
have listened during my Parliamentary career to many statements on the subject of 2148 Ireland, but I confess I never heard anything so pathetically hopeless as the statement of the Colonial Secretary this morning, I wish more hon. Members were present at this moment, and particularly on my own side of the House. I would ask them as a body whether, if they had been able to foresee what has happened during the six months since the passing of this Irish Free State Agreement Act, they would have confirmed that Treaty? I say a hundred times, no. We who come from Ireland, and who know the conditions there, foresaw what would happen. We foresaw that all the statements by the signatories of the Treaty as to their desire not to go beyond the terms of the Treaty—that is to say that they would be satisfied with the constitution they have got under this Treaty, and would not endeavour to obtain a republic—were all nonsense. They were bound to be. With the best will in the world, Mr. Collins could not prevent himself from being pushed forward by the republicans in Ireland. Indeed, it was only a short time after the passing of the Treaty Bill that, on being asked whether the Treaty was to be the last step towards the liberty of Ireland, he frankly said no, but that it was only a step in the direction of a republic. Yet to-day we have the Colonial Secretary telling the House of Commons that, under no circumstances, would this country ever recognise a republic in Ireland. That is trifling with the House of Commons.
We had been told on many occasions that the House of Commons would never tolerate a position in which any section of Ireland would be allowed to have an army of its own, and that this House would never tolerate a number of things which are actually provided for in the Treaty. Yet in those days, if we remonstrated with the Government, they proclaimed, apparently just as sincerely as they have have done to-day, that such things as these were impossible. Those of us who want to see a better state of affairs in Ireland need not look to the Government. The people to whom we have to look are the unofficial Members of the House of Commons. I am glad to say that during the last few weeks we have seen every evidence of the fact that the House of Commons is becoming daily more disgusted with the condition of affairs in Ireland 2149 and with the Government's handling of them.
We have all looked forward with a considerable degree of anxiety, mingled with curiosity, to the position that would be taken up by the Government with regard to the Pact lately come to between Mr. Collins and Mr. de Valera. The House will remember that when the Treaty Bill was before it, we were told by the Government, time after time, that no alteration of any sort or description could be made in that Treaty. The House will remember how we from Ulster, in particular, fought for the excision of the Clause dealing with the Boundary Commission. We pointed out that the continued inclusion of that Clause in the Treaty would lead to civil war; a statement which I repeat to-day. If that Clause is enforced, and if it is sought to take any considerable portion of Northern territory from the Government of Northern Ireland without its consent, it can only be done at the cost of civil war. We pressed that upon the House of Commons, but, while professing sympathy with us, the Government informed us that the Clause could not be touched in any way for the reason that it was a Treaty which must be accepted in its entirety or thrown out altogether. The Government, although they refused modifications of the Treaty to Ulster Members on the ground that no modification of any sort could be made in it, proceeded, at the request of Mr. Collins and his friends, to modify the Treaty. To-day we have a second violation of the Treaty, in this Pact between Mr. Collins and Mr. de Valera, and we have been told by the Colonial Secretary that at present, and until it is seen what effect that breach of the Treaty is going to have, no adverse action will be taken.
That is a position of which the Government ought to be thoroughly ashamed. It is only one more instance of the deplorable manner in which the Government has given way during the last 10 years to force and threats in Ireland. The history of Ireland during late years shows one long surrender by the Government to the worst passions in the country. It is by this continued surrender that the present position has arisen. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) said the Irish people at the pre- 2150 sent moment are under the impression, and perfectly rightly so, that they have brought the British people to their knees and that Great Britain will never be able to enforce her rule and influence in Ireland again. That is the effect produced by the continued surrenders of this country during the last eight or 10 years. There was the refusal to apply conscription. That was the beginning or the most important in the series of surrenders to Ireland, and has been responsible for a great deal of what Ireland is now suffering. So far as we in Ulster are now concerned—and I have primarily to look at, all these questions from the Ulster point of view—this Pact, serious as it is, is not so serious as other matters connected with the Irish situation. After all, if this Pact brought about a greater degree of contentment in the South, and a cessation of murder, confiscation and the hundred and one wickednesses which are going on there at the present time, I do not know that the North of Ireland would make any great complaint because the Government did wait a little. As I have not however the faintest ghost of a hope that such a happy condition of affairs will result from the acquiescence of the Government in this pact I do not think I need labour the point. I hold it will not make the slightest difference in the position in Ireland. Murders and confiscation of property are going on exactly the same as before. The two points with which Ulster is particularly concerned are these. We are first and foremost concerned with the safety and good government of Northern Ireland. We are almost equally concerned with the position of our unfortunate Unionist fellow-countrymen in the South of Ireland.
The most conspicuous thing about the Colonial Secretary's speech this afternoon was that he did not deal with the position of the unfortunate people in the South of Ireland, but, on the contrary, he rather led us to believe that their condition was not so bad as we suppose, it to be. I say the position of the Loyalists in the South of Ireland i3 a thousand times worse than the House knows. It is not realised that these people, are living under dreadful conditions. They are fearing from day to day death or confiscation of their entire property, and that state of affairs is not known to or 2151 realised by the people of this country. I submit that any Government, and especially a Government which claims to be so great and so powerful that it can afford to do these things should have said to Mr. Collins that for every loss sustained, for every stick or stone removed or confiscated, there shall be compensation paid.
Think of what, is going on in the South of Ireland at the present time Who is going to pay for it? I believe that the people of Great Britain will have to pay, in the first instance, and right well they deserve to have to pay for it. I believe that when the country realises the present disgraceful state of affairs, when it realises how people are despoiled of their property simply because they are ordinary loyal subjects of the community, then it will insist that compensation shall be paid. The Government should have taken a strong line. It should have told whoever was responsible for these confiscation of property and these burnings of houses in Southern Ireland and for driving people out of the country, it should have made it clear that all these things must be paid for, and would, in the first instance, be paid for by this country and at a later date exacted from Ireland itself.
§ Captain CRAIG
I think it would be quite easy to do so. There is barely one pennyworth of Irish exports which does not come into this country, and it would be quite easy to put a tax on them. I believe if we insist that the destruction of the property of the citizens of Ireland shall be paid for, if we tell the Irish people that this country will see that every penny of compensation necessary shall sooner or later be taken out of their own pockets, the destruction and confiscation of property could quite easily be put a stop to. I submit to the House that the story of how this Government has allowed, ever since the passing of this Treaty, unfortunate innocent men, women and children, to be pillaged or killed, or driven out of the country is one of the most sordid and horrible stories ever known. There was no necessity for it. If the House will only take matters into its own hands, and will tell the Government that they must deal with this question drastically, it can easly be done. No one would blame the 2152 Government for one moment for taking such action. As it is, it is making itself an object of disgust to every right minded man in the world. It may be suggested that by taking such action it would be offending the people of America or of some other country. Far from it. At the present moment America is full of surprise and shame at the way in which the Government of this country is abandoning its old friends in order to placate the enemy.
As regards Northern Ireland, I want to know from the Government why they have not told the authorities in Ireland, be they Mr. De Valera or Mr. Collins. or any one of the hundred and one people who appear to be able to lead insurrectionary bands on their own account, that they will have to pay for all the damage done, and that the cost will sooner or later fall on their own heads. It could easily be done in the same manner as I have said it could be done in the case of property damaged or injury done in Southern Ireland. How long are we in the North of Ireland to go on tolerating these incursions over our borders—these perpetual shootings and murders which are going on in Belfast and the surrounding districts, this damage to property in its latest form, and this intimidation which they are exercising? How long are we to tolerate it? It is quite evident that unless we have greater co-operation between the military forces in Ulster and the Ulster Government, these things will continue. We asked a question yesterday or the day before in regard to the concentration of so-called Irish Republican troops on the borders of County Derry. A definite question was asked whether, if the military authorities think the correct way of dealing with that concentration of forces is to attack them and disperse them, the troops will be allowed to cross the border for such a purpose? The answer was that the matter was of such grave importance that it would have to be considered by the Cabinet.
I say that such a state of affairs is ridiculous. Here we are told that on the borders of Derry there is a concentration of troops. We know they are well organised and that they are in possession of a large fleet of motor cars—some of which are armoured. These people can only be there for the purpose of raiding and attacking Northern Irish 2153 territory. They cannot be there for the purpose of repelling an attack from Northern Ireland, because no one believes there is the slightest intention on the part of anyone in Ulster of making any incursion into Southern Ireland. Therefore they are there only to attack us, and our military are so tied by the restrictions imposed upon them by the Government that they must wait and allow themselves to be bombarded and shot at until it pleases the Government to give them permission to go forward and attack the enemy. From every point of view, from the point of view of common-sense, military strategy, and the prestige of the Government, that is a ridiculous position, and it is also one extremely exasperating to the people in the North of Ireland.
I hope that whoever is going to reply on this Debate will tell us what is the position of the military forces in Northern Ireland in relation to the Northern Government. We ought to be told what powers the Officer Commanding troops in Ulster has. At present the connection between the troops and the Government of Northern Ireland is very unsatisfactory. The troops do not appear to have any power to attack the armed bands to which I have referred except with the consent of the Cabinet, which we know is negotiating with Mr. Collins and is exploring avenues which will enable them to do nothing. Therefore, the consent of the Cabinet to simple ordinary military precautions is the very last thing for which we can hope.
§ Captain CRAIG
For the reason I have given. You are pursuing a policy which is utterly futile, and we cannot hope to do anything in the circumstances. I should like to appeal to hon. Members to back us up in our demands in this direction. We ought to be allowed the command of the military forces, to the extent of carrying out simple military operations without having to ask the permission of the Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech, said several things which I feel bound to contradict. Among other things he told us that we could afford to wait, instead of insisting on the Government immediately taking drastic action in order to bring things to a better state. Can we go on like this? We have waited a good many years already. For 2154 a year or two before the Treaty was signed, we were led to believe that a really serious attempt was being made to deal with the Irish question, and to bring to submission the forces arrayed against the Crown. Now we know no serious attempt was made, and that, instead of it being made, there were underhand efforts to encourage the people in exactly an opposite direction. When the Treaty was brought before this House we were told that from then onwards peace was going to prevail in Ireland.
That is six months ago, and what is the condition of Ireland now? I say without hesitation that it is worse than it was when the Treaty was signed. In Ulster a ruthless campaign is being waged by our enemies. The right hon. Gentleman will tell me that Mr. Collins has nothing to do with them, but I gravely doubt that. I do not believe that all the people who are operating in Ulster are doing so against the express wishes and commands of Mr. Collins. But, whoever is doing it, the fact remains that a most determined campaign is being pursued in Ulster, the object of which is to make the Government of Northern Ireland impossible. I say that the right bon. Gentleman should have told Mr. Collins and the world at large what should be the cardinal points of his policy in Ireland. There should be two. One should be that the Unionists of Southern Ireland should be absolutely protected, and that, where they are killed, or their property is destroyed, the fullest compensation must be made. The second cardinal point should be that Ulster should be given every chance to work out her own salvation, and, where she is attacked by forces from Southern Ireland, no matter who they may be, the Government of this country will do everything in its power to defeat any attempts on the part of those people from outside the Ulster borders to render the Government of that part of Ireland impossible.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say he has done those two things? He certainly did not deal with them in his statement this morning. He dealt simply with the position of Mr. de Valera as against that of Mr. Collins, and a very pretty state of affairs he disclosed. He says that Mr. Griffith told him that the people who are creating all the trouble in Ireland amount to no more than 2 per cent. of 2155 the population. I submit to the House that that is ridiculous. The moral courage of the South of Ireland is, I know, at a low ebb, but it is not so low that, if there be only 2 per cent. of the population to crush, it is not sufficient for that purpose. There is a very much larger section of the people in Southern Ireland who are against Mr. Collins. That is obvious to anyone. If they were only 2 per cent., or even only 10 per cent., what have we to say to a man who claims to be the head of the Provisional Government when he cannot even govern Dublin, the part of Ireland where he has more supporters than anywhere else? Actually, the regular Courts of the Free State, owing to the fact that the Four Courts were captured by some irresponsible Republican, have had to sit in another building, and Mr. Collins has not the force at his back to re-take the Four Courts. Worse than that, not only are the regular Free State Courts, as I suppose they must be called, compelled to sit in another building than their own home, but Republican Courts are sitting all over Dublin, and are issuing their decrees and having these decrees executed by their own officers. Mr. Collins, the head of the Provisional Government, is not able to stop that. What possible hope is there of his ever being able to govern Ireland if he cannot even carry out these simple elementary acts of government in his own stronghold of Dublin?
And yet the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies tells us that we can afford to wait. He tells us that we may yet succeed. Was there ever such a brilliant hope put forward? After all that has gone before, after all the hopes that were held out at the time of the signing of the Treaty, after the telegrams that were sent to the ends of the world saying that peace had at last come to Ireland, all that the right hon. Gentleman can tell us, six months later, is that we can afford to wait, that we may yet succeed. As an Irishman, I cannot restrain my language when I think of the desperate mess into which this country has got Ireland. I do not blame the Government altogether; I blame the House of Commons. The House of Commons, against the experience of everyone who knew anything about Ireland, allowed the Treaty to go through without 2156 amending it in the slightest degree. They allowed the Government to take the troops and police out of Ireland, and that has been responsible for nine-tenths of the disorders that have since occurred. One would have thought that anyone with any knowledge of Ireland would have known that the trouble which has come about in connection with the proposed election was bound to come if the guardians of order were taken out of the country. The only thing that could ensure a free and fair election in Ireland, and the only thing which now can ensure it, is the presence of the strong arm of some law, whether that of this country or that of someone else. The only thing that can ensure a fair election is a police and military force which will guard every ballot-box and every polling-place, and can see that the people are allowed to come and record their votes as they wish. That is the very first necessity, and yet the very first thing the Government did after passing this Treaty was to take away every one of those guardians of peace and order from the country, thus ensuring that the party of Mr. de Valera should be able to make it quite clear that such a thing as a fair election could not possibly be held.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever is going to reply to the speeches on this subject, if he cannot give us some hope? Goodness knows, the position is black enough, but can he not give us some hope that these unfortunate loyalists in the South and West will get some protection? Will he not give us a definite promise that, if they lose their property, as they are doing by the hundred in the South of Ireland, the Government will undertake to see that they are compensated? I do not ask them to bind themselves as to how that is going to be done, but sooner or later the sense of honour and justice of this country will make it absolutely necessary. If the right hon. Gentleman would now say definitely that that. compensation will be paid, and that the Government of this country will exact that compensation from Ireland itself, it would do a great deal to stop these confiscations, burnings, and destruction of property which are going on at the present time.
I have dealt with the position at Derry, and with the question of the Boundary Commission. As to the position at Pettigoe and Belleek, the right hon. 2157 Gentleman has said something, but, there again, I hope I have only to appeal to the House of Commons to ensure that in regard to territory which was handed over to us by the House of Commons only 18 months ago, and which is now in the possession of troops of a State which does not belong to us, steps should be taken by the Government, in conjunction with the Northern Parliament, to eject these marauders. The condition of affairs there is such that the anger and resentment of the people of Northern Ireland generally is rising day by day, and there is no doubt that the breaking point will come sooner or later.
Belfast has been held up to a good deal of obloquy in this House from lime to time, but I utterly deny that it deserves that obloquy, and I say, with all the emphasis at my command, that all the trouble there, all the bloodshed and destruction of property, is entirely and absolutely due to the Sinn Fein party. It was they who began this thing. It is a vile slander on Belfast to say that we want to get rid of the Catholics of that town. It is also ridiculous to say that, because, in many of the trades upon which Belfast depends for its prosperity, the whole of the workers are Roman Catholics. The workers in the spinning trade, for instance, are very largely Roman Catholics, and so in other branches of the linen trade. To say that we want to get rid of the Catholics in Belfast is absurd; we could not get on without them. I would ask the House to remember that the so-called expulsion of workers from the shipyards and other places in Belfast only took place after a long series of outrages, not only on the people of Belfast, but on loyalists in other parts of Ireland, culminating, as has been often explained to the House, in the horrible murder of a certain Major Smith in Cork. Up to that time, the people of Belfast had tolerated an immense amount of goading and provocation, but you can provoke a person once too often, and the point is bound to come when their patience and forbearance must give way. That is what happened in Belfast.
As things got worse, particularly in the early days, when the people of Belfast saw that the Government of this country, then responsible for order in Ireland, could not ensure good order in Belfast, they took the law into their own hands. We know, of course, that there 2158 have been many reprisals, and I am sorry to say that those reprisals are continuing to this day. But it is absolutely untrue to say that there is an attempt on behalf of the Protestants of Belfast, or of any part of Northern Ireland, to get rid of the Catholics. The trouble arose, in the first instance, from the action of Sinn Feiners, and is kept going by the desire and intention of the Republicans and Sinn Feiners to make the government of Northern Ireland by the Northern Irish Government impossible.
Let me remind the House that at this moment, or until the other day, when the Irish Republican Army was proclaimed, there were actually two divisions of the Irish Republican Army acting in Northern Ireland. No decent, self-respecting Government or man could tolerate that for a moment. I have it on good authority that one of these divisions is in charge of the City of Belfast and the Counties of Antrim and Down, while the other—I think it was the third division—had charge of the other four counties of the Northern area. It is these men who have been carrying out this campaign of murder and unrest in Belfast, and, until they are eradicated, or until they find that it pays better to be law-abiding citizens, these disturbances will go on. I say, as my last word, that I repudiate absolutely the charge which has been made, not only in this House, but largely in the Press of this country, that the unfortunate events which have happened in Belfast are the fault of the Protestants; and much more do I repudiate that they are in any way acquiesced in by the Northern Government, The Northern Government desires peace; every decent citizen desires peace in that town; and the idea that a community wants to have a continuation of a state of affairs in which innocent citizens walking along the street are liable to receive a bullet in their head is so absurd on the face of it that its absurdity should not require to be demonstrated in this House. I do hope that the ordinary unofficial Member of this House will express very plainly his entire dissatisfaction with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman to-day.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. HOARE
I approach his question from a different angle from that taken by my two hon. Friends who have just spoken. Unlike them, I 2159 have always supported the Treaty, and I have done everything in my power to make it as easy as possible for the Treaty to be carried out. None the less, I should not be honest with the House did I not say that I feel very anxious at the present moment, and that my anxieties have not been entirely removed by the speech of the Colonial Secretary. I am well aware that it is very difficult for any Provisional Government, or indeed, for any new Government in a country, to establish its authority and make its power felt. We have had many examples of that in Europe. We had the example a century ago of the difficulties with which the American Government was faced after the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, with those lessons before us, I am sure the whole House would desire to make every possible allowance for the Provisional Government in the difficult task with which it has been confronted. None the less it seems to me well that the House should face the facts. Let them look, making that full allowance for the difficulties of the Provisional Government, at what has happened since the Treaty was ratified by this House last December. Take first the action of the British Government and the British Parliament. I do not believe there has ever been an example in history which can compare with the generosity and the sincerity with which we have carried out our part of the Treaty since last winter. We have withdrawn the British troops. We have disbanded the Royal Irish Constabulary. We have handed over Dublin Castle and all that it stands for to the Provisional Government. We have given a political amnesty to the Sinn Fein prisoners. We have given the Provisional Government £1,500,000 and a full call on the rates and taxes with which to carry on their administration. In view of those facts no one can say that we have not carried out in the letter and in the spirit our part of the Treaty that we ratified last December. So much for our side of the bargain.
Now let us look at what has been happening in Ireland since the Treaty. Let the House follow the chain of events which have taken place. First of all, there was the long delay in the ratification of the Treaty—a delay that went on for nearly a month. Then, on 21st January, there was a ray of light which came about as the result of the agreement entered into 2160 between Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins. What was the history of that agreement? In a very few days, owing to the interpretation, in my view the altogether false interpretation, which was placed upon the boundary Clause by Mr. Michael Collins, that agreement came to an end. Anyone impartially regarding what then happened cannot but come to the conclusion that that agreement came to an end because of the action of Mr. Michael Collins. A few weeks afterwards the Provisional Government offered publicly an amnesty to the men who had opposed them. Let the House consider how that amnesty has been carried out. I can speak from some personal experience. I know from the kind of case that is brought before the Irish Distress Committee that there are many men, ex-service men, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, ex-civil servants in our service in Ireland, who so far from receiving the benefit of that amnesty, cannot return to Ireland. As to the enforcement of law and order, I do not think I need say anything. So many cases have been brought up during the last few weeks that it is quite unnecessary for me to do more than allude to the fact that week after week the enforcement of law and order has become worse in Southern Ireland. Finally, we thought that a General Election was going to bring about a better state of affairs. When we agreed to the Treaty last December we were under the impression that a General Election was going to take place at once. Instead of that, for reasons into which I need not go, the election was postponed for two months. We accepted the postponement because we were assured that it would bring about a better state of affairs and make it more possible for a fair and free election to he held. What happened? Instead of a better atmosphere being created for a free and fair election to be held, we are confronted with the Pact of 21st May between Mr. Collins and Mr. de Valera, a pact which was signed within 24 hours of a statement made by Mr. Arthur Griffith that 98 per cent. of the country were in favour of the Treaty. Let hon. Members study the facts, and they cannot but come to the conclusion that its terms strike a fundamental blow at the basis of the Treaty of last December—the fact that a free election is not to be held, the fact that almost half the places in the Government are to be given to men whose 2161 avowed intention is to set up a Republic, the fact that, as it seems, members are still to be returned for the Ulster constituencies. Conditions of that kind, even though one makes full allowance for the Provisional Government and for the difficulties in which they have been placed, drive one to the conclusion that the Pact of 21st May is destroying the whole basis of the December Treaty.
What conclusion do I, a friend and supporter of the Treaty, draw from this long course of disastrous events? First, it seems to me that Mr. Collins is either afraid to fight his opponents, as General Smuts fought General Hertzog in South Africa, or that, for political reasons, he feels it expedient to make a political bargain with him. Secondly, it seems to me that Coalitions formed in these conditions will try to do what of all things is the most dangerous from the point of view of this country and allow things to drift so that day after day and hour after hour ade facto Republic will be set up in Southern Ireland. Thirdly, I believe that if the Coalition between Mr. Collins and Mr. de Valera continues the common bond which will unite them will be a policy of hostility to Ulster. I hope I am wrong in drawing those conclusions, but certainly, looking at the course of events as impartially as I can and telling the House quite frankly what is in my mind, I find it very difficult to draw any other conclusion. If my conclusions are right it seems to me it is the duty of the Government not to allow things to drift, but to bring matters to an issue and to tell Mr. Collins quite definitely that we have said the last word, that we have made our final concession in the Treaty, and that we refuse to have it abrogated either in the letter or in the spirit. Let Mr. Collins be told quite definitely that there is no party in this country that is going a single inch beyond the Treaty of last December, and let it also be made quite clear to him that while we have been prepared to give his Government every chance, while we have been prepared to make for it every conceivable allowance, we cannot allow things to drift, and that in the course of the next few weeks he must make it quite clear to this House and this country upon which side he is. If the Election is a sham the Treaty falls to the ground, 2162 and the responsibility for the destruction of the Treaty will not be upon our shoulders. The men who have destroyed it will not be ourselves, and the result of it will be that they will not get the Treaty, and they will certainly not get a Republic.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I congratulate my hon. Friend (Sir S. Hoare) on the very interesting and frank speech he has made, and particularly do I congratulate him on the courage with which he has looked facts in the face. Incidentally, he has reviewed the history of the last three months much more eloquently and brilliantly than I could possibly hope to do, as I had intended, and I will confine my remarks merely to asking the Government one or two questions on which I think we are entitled to an answer. I am very glad the Colonial Secretary has returned to his place. I could not help being struck by the contempt with which the Government treated the House during the speech of the Leader of the Ulster party There was not a. single Cabinet Minister on the Treasury Bench except for very rare intervals and not a single member of the Liberal or Labour party present.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Not all the time. We now have the Colonial Secretary here, and I am sure we are very grateful. I would ask him if he can give the House any idea as to what the Government intend to do and I want to ask my hon. Friends opposite who normally support the Government, and have supported their Irish policy throughout, what they intend to do. I take it from what my hon. and gallant Friend has just said that he, at any rate, is not going to have what he calls ade facto Republic. I do not believe that the Secretary of State for the Colonies would agree to that. I wish I felt equally sure about the Prime Minister and other Members of the Government. I want to ask them when and where are they going to draw the line. How long are we going to slip down the slippery slope? No one could possibly have heard the review of facts just given by my hon. and gallant Friend without realising how entirely the situation has shifted imperceptibly week by week and month by month, until we are now faced with a 2163 situation which not one single supporter of the Government contemplated when they agreed to the Treaty last December. If they have doubts on that, I would ask them to re-read the letter which the Prime Minister addressed to Mr. de Valera on 20th July, 1921, where he laid down the six vital conditions of a Treaty between England and Ireland. I would ask hon. Members to re-read that letter, and then re-read the articles of the Treaty, and see how fundamentally the position has shifted between the dates on which those two documents were drawn up, and how fundamentally it has again shifted from the time of the Treaty to where we stand to-day.
We are now faced with the appalling situation—there is no other word to describe it—which the Colonial Secretary dealt with in his speech. Southern Ireland has become a second Russia. The right hon. Gentleman practically said so. That is because the British Government have abrogated the functions of Government. It is because the men who were responsible for the maintenance of law and order washed their hands of that responsibility, and on their shoulders rests the appalling responsibility for the murders and outrages and the present situation in Southern Ireland. I ask my hon. Friends opposite how much longer they are going to allow this state of affairs to continue. Are they going to wait until the munition factories in Dublin have completed their work? Are they going to wait until the last loyalist has been butchered, or the last Protestant family in the South of Ireland has been driven out of its home?
§ Viscount WOLMER
How long are they going to stand by? I applaud the hon. and gallant Member's demand on the Government that they should declare to the whole world now what their intentions are, and where they draw the line. I ask the Government to issue what is in effect an ultimatum to the Irish people, and stick to that ultimatum, and, if necessary, go to the people of this country and get their sanction and authority at a General Election to enforce that ultimatum. That is the only policy that can succeed, and I hope that my hon. Friends opposite will insist that if the Irish show they are 2164 unable to govern themselves according to the canons of decent and civilised peoples, we shall resume our trust for the government of Ireland ourselves, and that we shall return to the old Unionist policy, the policy of Pitt, Disraeli, Salisbury and Joseph Chamberlain: the only policy that has ever been successful in Ireland, and the only policy whose opponents have had to admit that it did produce peace, prosperity and contentment—
§ Viscount WOLMER
There will be no population left if my hon. Friend and his friends have their way much longer. The policy of the Unionist party, of 20 years' resolute government, was such that the late Mr. John Redmond said that Ireland had never been more prosperous than she was in 1905. Mr. Birrell said that she had never been more peaceful, and Lord Bryce said that she had never been more contented. On the irrefutable authority of three of the greatest. Home Rulers of the day, the Unionist policy of 20 years' resolute government was justified. I beg and beseech hon. Members who support the Government not to think that that result can be achieved without the most appalling calamity, and without the most appalling sacrifices and hardship on the part of both nations. It is not a matter to be discussed lightly, or in the spirit or language of party controversy, and I apologise if I was betrayed into that line of argument in the last few minutes.
We have to realise that the situation has got into such a terrible mess that nothing but the most desperate measures can retrieve it. I ask my hon. Friends to realise that nothing good can be accomplished, that only evil can result, by trying to coerce Ireland by the method of blockade. Of all possible courses open to the Government that would be the most fatal course. A naval blockade may be used with great effect against an organised enemy as we used it against Germany in the War, but we have not to deal with that now. We have to deal, by the confession of the Colonial Secretary and by the confession of Mr. Michael Collins, with a band of assassins who are terrorising and coercing the rest of the population, because they have not the capacity to govern themselves and run a democratic form of government. There is no hope of coercing a band of assassins of 2165 ten thousand, twenty thousand, fifty thousand, or whatever number they may be, by an economic blockade. You may ruin Guinness's, you may ruin the farmers, but you will not touch the assassins. They are the last people who will go under. They are the last people who will suffer. They will be able to maintain warfare against you for months, even for years, on the basis of an economic blockade, because Ireland is practically self-supporting so far as food supplies are concerned. Therefore I do not see what possible issue there can be from the appalling situation into which the Government have brought us by the abrogating of the elementary functions of government except the terrible issue of reconquering Ireland, and I want to ask the Government whether they are prepared to face that issue, and, if so, when and where they will draw the line, and what pledge they can give us that their word can be taken, and that it will not be broken as it has been so many times in the past.
Field-Marshal Sir H. WILSON
I shall not detain the House many minutes, because almost everything that can be said has been said; but there are one or two questions I want to put to the Colonial Secretary and a few observations I desire to make. On the showing of the Secretary of State for War the troops in Dublin have at this moment got themselves into such a parlous condition that it is not safe for them to go about the street armed, and the troops, therefore, are ordered to go about unarmed. The men, then, are murdered. I want to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, what are the troops doing in Dublin? They are not there to keep order, because they are not allowed to keep order. They are not there at the request of Mr. Collins, for the right hon. Gentleman has said so. They are not there at the request of the War Office, because the War Office has said so. They are not there because they cannot be taken away. What are they doing in Dublin? Is it fair to put troops into a town which is in such a condition that the poor men are ordered to go about unarmed, because it is not safe for them to be armed, according to what the War Minister has said, and then keep them there and have them shot down in the streets of Dublin? What are the troops doing in Dublin? I should like an answer.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The troops in Dublin are remaining in the positions they hold, which I am assured are militarily completely secure, waiting upon eventualities.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have been asked by hon. Members who are in agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for North Down (Sir H. Wilson) whether we will tolerate the setting up of a Republic. I have been asked to give an assurance on that point. I have said, "No. We will not do so." In the event of the setting up of a Republic, it would be the intention of the Government to hold Dublin as one of the preliminary and essential steps in military operations.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Sir H. WILSON
Now we know that the troops in Dublin are being kept in Dublin in order to go to war with the Republic if a Republic be established. We quite understand now. The right hon. Gentleman opened his speech by saying that he was going to make a statement which, so far as I could hear, he said was both incomplete and inconclusive. Many of us will agree with that definition because was not the whole speech from end to end an admission that every single element of the Irish problem has been miscalculated? It has always seemed to me to be an amazing thing that the Government should hand over three and a half millions of people to a body of men who—let us grant for a moment that they were willing to do their best—had no administrative or governing experience, and before that body of men could get going to withdraw the whole of your army and to disband the whole of the police. How any Government could imagine that four or five or six men, be their intentions ever so good, without an army and without police, could govern and keep order in a country with 3½ million people, where they themselves had taught over a period of three years that the only way to get anything was by 2167 murder, and that they would get successful results from that policy and a peaceful, happy, and contented Ireland, has always passed my understanding. We have come to this, that the Colonial Secretary told us to-day that Mr. Griffith said that there were only 2 per cent. of people in Ireland who were opposed to the Free State. With 98 per cent. on his side he is unable to knock out the 2 per cent. I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member behind me, that those figures are not quite correct. If those figures are correct, then, beyond all question, they prove that the Provisional Government are totally incapable of governing, and, finding that they are totally incapable of governing, they make friends with their enemies and take into the Government half of their enemies. Now we are told that this plan of governing by a Coalition of two sets of enemies is going to give peace to Ireland. The Colonial Secretary says we can wait. Can we? All this time murders are going on at the rate of, I should say, about six or seven a day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] All over Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Belfast."]
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think that there were only three or four murders in Southern Ireland during the last 10 days. The number has been larger in Northern Ireland.
§ Sir H. WILSON
The alternative would be to reimpose the Union, and it is apparently now clear that the Colonial Secretary contemplates that that may have to be done. I would like also to ask the Colonial Secretary whether he can give any guarantee at all for the Southern Loyalists in the 26 counties? I 2168 am one of them. I do not ask him to give me any. I do not want to go into any military details. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I do not think it wise in the face of the enemy to disclose these facts, but if serious trouble arise on the Frontier between the six counties and the 26 counties, I hope that the Government will not restrain the military from crossing the frontier in their own self-defence. I wonder when the moment will come when the Government will have the honesty and truthfulness to come to this House and to say, "We have miscalculated every single element in the Irish problem. We are exceedingly sorry for all the terrible things that have happened owing to our action. We beg leave to retire to private life, and never to appear again."
§ Captain FITZROY
I do not think that there is any Member of this House, however humble his position, who takes part in this Debate but must do so with a full sense of the responsibility that rests upon him lest anything which he may say or do will aggravate the seriousness of the position with which we are faced. There is a great danger in taking part in this Debate in being misunderstood as to the attitude which one takes towards the present position. But I am sure that the right, lion. Gentleman who has spoken on behalf of the Government, and the Government themselves, will acquit me of any desire to embarrass them in the extremely difficult position in which they are placed at the present time. But I do not think it would be right if we did not offer one word of warning at this particular moment as to the feeling of a large number of Members of this House, and more so of large sections of the people of this country, that this policy of the Government is developing into a policy of drift.
I have consistently, I hope, supported the Government in their policy from the beginning with regard to the Treaty with Ireland, and I am not afraid to justify the attitude I have taken with regard to that Treaty. I think that the attitude of the Government and of those who supported them with regard to this Treaty can be amply justified. Now is obviously not the occasion on which to go into the remarkable sequence of events which led up to the deplorable position in which Ireland has stood for the last two or three 2169 years. All Members of this House know very well the sequence of events which led up to that situation. Many of us were much influenced in the line which we took by the feeling that our reputation, not only with the rest of the civilised world, and especially in our own Dominions, was at stake, and that there was a danger, at any rate, that the way in which we were dealing with Ireland would be seriously misunderstood. Consequently the Government were fully justified, in my belief, in the action which they took with regard to the Treaty. But in spite of all that, the Treaty was then and must remain now an experiment. That experiment has now been tried for six months, and those of us who supported the experiment, I must say, have been disappointed—
§ Captain FITZROY
—with the result of that experiment. If my information be correct, and I have no reason to suppose it is not, the actual condition throughout Ireland, whether it be in the North or the South, is infinitely worse to-day than it was six months ago. I cannot help feeling that the statement of the Colonial Secretary to-day does not give that assurance to the minds of Members of this House that we should wish, while we might have had a fuller statement, instead of what he describes as an interim statement, as to what is to be the policy of the Government with regard to Ireland in the future. The Colonial Secretary made a great deal to-day, and there always has been a great deal made, of the assertion of good faith on the part of the Provisional Government, and more especially of those who speak on behalf of the Provisional Government, Mr. Collins and his associates. I have no reason to doubt the good faith of these men, but after all at this moment that is not the point. The question now, to put it, plainly, is, are these gentlemen and the Government for whom they speak in a position to deliver the goods? Are they in a position to re-establish law and order and to give protection to life and property in Ireland?
It appears from the events which have taken place in that country during the last six months, they are incapable of fulfilling these general principles of justice.
The question must arise, what is the Government of this country to do? 2170 Whether there has been a breach of the Treaty or not, whether there is a legal obligation to fulfil or not, the ultimate responsibility for the re-establishment of law and order in Ireland rests with His Majesty's Government here. It must do so. Therefore, I do not think that the question is now whether we can place confidence in those who represent the Provisional Government. Obviously, it is asked of anyone who says that in his opinion some change is necessary, what is your alternative? My alternative is a re-establishment of law and order by the responsible Government. After all, the maintenance of law and order is the first and elementary duty of any Government, and if it is not able to fulfil that duty it is incapable of being a Government at all. It is a bold thing to say, but, as far as one can be certain, I am sure that the people of this country would give their hearty support to the Government in any measures that they thought fit to pursue in order to re-establish law and order in Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Naturally, when I make that statement, I mean the majority of the people of this country would give their support to the Government. In any measure there is quite certain to be a minority which would oppose the Government.
I have said that we were greatly influenced, and I am sure that the Government were influenced in their feeling before the Treaty was signed, that the condition of affairs in Ireland was not creditable to their reputation throughout the world, and more especially in our dominions. I think that our reputation among the nations which matter, and especially in our dominions, is at this moment in equal danger of losing respect because of the present condition of Ireland. When I rose, I said that I had a feeling of deep responsibility in intervening in the Debate, and I conclude merely by again telling the Government, with all the force at my disposal, that there is a growing feeling of apprehension among their loyal supporters in the House that unless some definite assurance is given that stronger action will be taken and that law and order will be re-established in Ireland, we cannot promise them that support which we have loyally given them in the past.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
So much has been said, that there is very little for me to add 2171 on the subject, especially as the view which I hope to put before the House is also largely the view put by my hon. Friend who has just spoken. I also was one of those who voted, and was not ashamed of having voted, for the Treaty. I ask the House and the Government to throw their minds back and to ask themselves this question: If they had known the position was to be what it now is, would they have ventured to bring the Treaty before the House? We understood that Ulster was safeguarded from danger, and in that respect all good Unionists were able to say that the position was quite different from that in any Home Rule Bill previously brought before the House. We hoped that the Government policy might succeed. Moreover, many of us had still a vivid recollection of the horrors of war, and, naturally, shrank from the alternative to the Treaty. I believe that the great masses in the country and in the Empire coincided with that view at that time. Now, however, the Government must realise the profound suspicion and unrest which is growing among different sections of this House and among large sections of the population outside, over the prolonged negotiations with the Provisional Government.
The very able and brilliant speech with which the Secretary of State for the Colonies opened the Debate ended with a peroration of vague aspirations. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the possibilities of the future and what he could hope for. He said we could afford to wait, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) talked about an intermediate stage. If we allow this intermediate stage to be crystallised into something more permanent, what are we doing but setting up an intermediate Republic? We have it on the authority of the leaders of the Free State party that only 2 per cent. of the country are against the Treaty. At the same time they are agreeing to arrangements by which nearly 50 per cent. of the new Parliament is to consist of those definitely and avowedly opposed to anything but a Republic. We are asked to trust Mr. Collins. I am very glad to have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. Collins is genuine and sincere and means, or hopes, to carry out the promises which he makes; but, as has been said, that is not the real point. 2172 The point is, can he do it? If he is making these professions while knowing that he cannot carry them out, he is merely a puppet in the hands of Mr. de Valera and is far more dangerous to this country than when he was able to carry out his professions.
When the Treaty was made this country would not have supported stronger measures, which were the only alternative against Ireland. Unless we have the backing of public opinion it is impossible to carry out stronger measures. I believe the country thoroughly disliked the reprisal policies of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, as they were carried out. They were as stupid as they were ineffective. There was, and there is, a feeling of brotherhood with the Irish race, and at that time there was a great feeling of dislike of anything in the nature of war. The country and the Empire were willing to try a generous policy. But a generous policy to be justified requires a generous response. If the Government have been tricked once the country will give them credit for having done their best, but if they are tricked twice the country will never forgive them. I ask that we should have some definite statement here and now that, if the Treaty is not carried out, a stern and forcible alternative will be adopted, that some date will be fixed for the completion of negotiations, that some line will be drawn, that the Treaty is the absolute maximum for this country as a whole, and that we cannot tolerate any longer the state of things that exists now in Ireland.
It was surely a strange commentary on the state of public opinion that it could be stated, as a sign of coming peace, that only two or three murders have been committed in Southern Ireland in the course of 10 days. An hon. Member opposite asked what was our alternative to the Government policy? Naturally a. peaceful person, I have had some experience of the horrors of war. If we have to do a thing, and it is our duty to do it, we must face it. We have been through worse situations than this, and we have got through. The world will never have any respect for us if, from fear of what the future may may bring, we refuse to do our duty by a section of the population to whom we owe a great deal—the loyalists, the ex-service men, the ex-policemen, the men hounded out of their homes, who are, arriving so far only as a. small trickle.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I wish to reinforce the points already made, namely, that the policy of the Government with regard to Ireland has entirely broken down, and that we no longer can rely in any way upon the Provisional Government to function in Ireland. The Secretary of State for the Colonies made a very brave statement. He said that under no circumstances would the Government consent to the establishment of a Republic in the South of Ireland. He repeated that statement with emphasis, and seemed almost hurt that any hon. Member should think that a Government's promise would be broken. We have a Republic in Ireland at the moment. It seems to me that the policy of "Wait and see"—that is the only policy announced by the Government—is one which this country will not tolerate much longer, and I do not believe that this House of Commons will tolerate it much longer. What is the position? There is no question but that the Provisional Government has absolutely ceased to function. There is no doubt that the Provisional Government when it entered into that compact, which gave nearly half the executive to the Republicans, which gave the Republicans almost equal representation with the Free Staters in the new Parliament, when, above all, they consented to doing away with the free election at which the people were to decide whether or not they would agree to the new Constitution—when the Provisional Government did all that they absolutely and entirely surrendered to the Republicans. We have now this situation, that the Provisional Government, to whom this country confided the destinies of Southern Ireland, has becomede facto an absolutely Republican Government. I have here a newspaper "The Republic of Ireland" which is the official organ of De Valera and his Republicans, and what does it say about the Pact? It says:Examined clause by clause, the Agreement provides a confirmation of the outstanding principle that Ireland remains an independent nation, free from Imperial ties or suzerainty.Having reviewed the various clauses, it proceeds:These then, are the seven clauses of the settlement signed by Mr. Collins and Mr. de Valera. There is no breach of Republican principle discoverable in them.This Pact, is claimed, and rightly claimed, by the Republicans in Ireland as a 2174 triumph of Republican principles and yet the Government come here to-day, and announce that they will take no action upon it. We are to wait, I do not know how long—any time, apparently, for which this House can be induced to allow matters to drift—and we shall probably wait until this Republican Government is well entrenched in Southern Ireland, has manufactured its munitions, has trained its army, collected its taxes, and driven out of the South and West of Ireland all the decent people, whether Catholic or Protestant. Then, perhaps, the Government will, all too late, wake up to the fact that there is a Republic in Ireland, and all the fine phrases delivered from the Treasury Bench will not change the fact. What will happen then? Far worse even than a Republic in Southern Ireland. In my humble opinion there will then be a concerted attack by all sections of the population in Southern Ireland against Ulster, and then the Government, whether they like it or not, will have to put in troops to defend Ulster. I do not believe any Government, even this Government, could be so mean and so cowardly as not to defend our fellow citizens of Ulster, who, relying upon our promises; are endeavouring to carry on their Government as best they can. My point is that it is a most dangerous attitude for the Government to take up to say they will come to no decision at the present moment. They ought to say whether or not they will agree to a Republican Government in the 26 counties, and we should know then where we are and take immediate steps to prevent such a Government being set up.
§ Major BOYD-CARPENTER
It is with very great reluctance that I intervene once again in a Debate on Irish affairs. I agree this is not the moment, as has been stated by several speakers, in which to indulge or attempt to indulge in ordinary party politics. The situation is far too serious for that, and those who occupy positions of responsibility and who have to carry the burden of office upon their shoulders, are entitled at the present moment—even if we may regard the present situation as largely the result of their errors—to a measure of consideration from this House and the country, which in ordinary circumstances, some of us might not be willing to extend to them. The Secretary of State for the Colonies 2175 made a lucid and clear speech, but it was a speech based entirely upon faith, and if I were to remember my ecclesiastical origin for a moment, I might be led to recall to the House the fact that the definition of faith is "A belief in things unseen." I wish the Colonial Secretary and the Government could see a little more clearly and have less faith in this mundane world. Many of us are grateful for the expression of views given by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox), and the hon. Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy). I think they are rightly interpreting the growing feeling of apprehension which exists and we welcome their attitude for this reason, that whatever division we may have had in the past and, indeed, since the existence of the Treaty, we feel that gradually in the terrible situation which confronts us, as a House of Commons to-day, we are getting closer together in our appreciation of facts and we shall therefore be more ready to work together if and when the day of the test of courage should come.
I would not like to add anything to the witch's cauldron of trouble in Ireland; that has been sufficiently stirred, and one wishes the fire to be put out, but there are one or two things I should like to say. I was not quite clear on one point in the references of the Colonial Secretary of the Pact made on the 21st of the month. Does it mean that De Valera, that alien and would-be President, is to be included in the Provisional Government with some other gentlemen whose names have been mentioned? I should like to ask is a Provisional Government consisting of two bodies of persons who are diametrically opposed to each other in view actually functioning at the present moment? If not, if the association of these two bodies of opinion in this way is to be withheld for the moment, will they function as a Provisional Government before this House has an opportunity of considering the matter and before the Government has made up its mind as to whether or not that breach of the Treaty is to be treated with some severity, or at any rate with some determination? A Provisional Government consisting of these two bodies of opinions functioning in Ireland will depend entirely on what is called the third Dail, 2176 which is in itself composed of a majority of people who have taken the Republican oath of allegiance and not the oath of our country. That is a dangerous position. I hope I am wrong in suggesting that these two bodies of gentlemen are functioning together at present.
I was horrified, as were many of us, by the reference of the Colonial Secretary to what he called the "trickle" of refugees from the South of Ireland. A trickle often becomes a stream, and a stream often becomes a torrent, and that very quickly too. I do not know where the Colonial Secretary gets his information, but some of us in this House are associated with organisations for the relief of these people, and we see them daily, and know their conditions. We know that it is by no means a trickle, but a growing stream, and beside the horrors which these people have undergone, some of the reputed wrongs committed in Russia pale into significance. I cannot disguise my indignation at the want of—I do not say of heart, because the heart is there—but the want of power, perhaps, and certainly the want of energy which has caused His Majesty's Government to refuse to meet the needs of these people. I saw the other day a man formerly of the Royal Irish Constabulary, who has come over here to save his life. He told me, "I had to come, I have left my wife and family, and I cannot go back." I said, "What do you propose the Government should do?" and his reply was, "Ah, sure they never used the stick yet. They have only waved a bramble twig at them." That is true. Last Wednesday week a man over 60 years of age, a Scotsman not an Irishman, in Tipperary—a paralysed man attended by a nurse—was at 4.30 in the morning confronted by 30 of these blackguards with revolvers. They discussed before him whether they should shoot him or not, and finally, in their tried and experienced cruelty, they said they would not shoot him, but they hurled him into a van, and he arrived here two days afterwards more dead than alive.
"But," says the Colonial Secretary, "this is only a trickle." Has he heard of the village of Timahoe in the Queens County? Twenty-five families there have not only been given notice to quit, but most of them have had to go, bringing with them children. That is the trickle. We have had appeals in this House on 2177 various occasions on behalf of Russian refugees and Armenian refugees, and, while I am quite willing to welcome any help this House can give to those unfortunates and all who have come low, I confess I cannot understand why the Government will not do something to help and reassure the people who are suffering in the South and West of Ireland—people whose sole crime is their passionate loyalty to our country, whose sole offence is their recognition of duty and service, and whose decreed extermination is the determined policy of those who are conducting these pogroms in different parts of Ireland to-day. I heard last year, and I hoped it was true—much as I opposed the so-called Treaty—that, at any rate, the dove of peace, of which we hear so much, would become apparent to our eyes and represent some reality, but the dove of peace to-day is transformed, I fear, into a vulture—a bird of prey waiting greedily on his opportunity when the weakness of the Government of England may allow him to devour the remnants of the loyalists of Ireland.
§ Sir HALFORD MACKINDER
In the moving appeal of the hon. Member who has just spoken, the case, the terribly hard case of the loyalists of Southern Ireland, has been worthily voiced. I did my best as far as in me lay, to persuade the Unionists in Scotland to support the Government in the policy which they inaugurated in Ireland, and I am not ashamed of having done so because I believed that, at that time at any rate, it was the only practicable policy. This is a democratic island, and after all the people of this island has the Government which it deserves. The people of this island must be united if the Government is to have a strong policy, a continuingly strong policy, in any part of the world, and certainly at our own doors, and therefore I believe that the course which the Government took was the only practicable course at that time, because I feel certain that the people of this country at that time would not have supported the Government in strong action in Ireland. I believe that our only course was to adopt the course that was taken, and for this reason, that ever since the Home Rule policy was launched in this island, ever since the two great parties of the State had two rival policies for the treat- 2178 ment of Ireland, a national policy ceased to be possible. Whenever you had strong, coercive action in Ireland, at once you had from the other side of the House, from the other half of the nation, the alternative put forward of Home Rule, and as long as that continued it was impossible for a country like this to persist in coercive measures. Therefore, I believe that especially in the atmosphere which has prevailed in this country, and indeed in the world, since the War, it would have been impossible to have obtained that consent of this island for strong measures in Ireland which would be essential unless those strong measures were to leave us in a worse condition than before.
As we stand to-day, I feel bound to say this. I have told my constituents that I should support the Government's policy in Ireland until I felt that that policy had failed. I am not. prepared to say that it has failed yet. I believe that the appeal that was made to us by the Colonial Secretary for patience a little longer was a right appeal. I believe that the Debate in this House to-day is not merely a Debate but an historical fact, that the words which have been said in this House from all sides may have their effect even in Ireland, certainly will have their effect within this island, and I believe will have their effect in the world at large. I think, as the Colonial Secretary has said, that if we are driven to take strong action in Ireland, we shall take it with the approval of the whole world, and without that approval we should only make matters worse. Therefore, I believe that there is no reason to regret the course of events thus far. I believe it was more or less inevitable. I believe that, given the condition of the human mind at large as the result of the War, it was impossible to take any other course, but I feel that it is necessary to say what others have said—and I say it as regards the region which I have the honour to represent—that there is growing anxiety, that the time is not unlimited, and that those in Ireland who are trying the patience of this island must reckon with the fact that the time is limited. It is that, and that only, that I venture to say to the Government.
§ Captain FOXCROFT
As one of those many Members of this House who very 2179 much admire the Secretary of State for the Colonies and his eloquence, I must say that I was profoundly disappointed at his speech to-day. I look back in contrast to a speech he made many months ago in the precincts of this House which showed his accustomed ability, eloquence, and force, but which contained, if he will allow me to say so, a new note, the note of conviction. He was asking us then to save the loyal people of Russia from the men who were wrecking their country. To-day, as I listened to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, I heard all his accustomed eloquence, his accustomed force, and his accustomed energy, but to my mind the conviction has disappeared, and I do not think it is a great wonder that it had disappeared, for surely he is not, as at first, asking us to save the people from their enemies. It seems to me that the first idea of the Government at the present time is to wait and see, to seek some new avenue of escape from its own responsibility. For what, stripping the facts of all camouflage, does this pact really mean?
It is a three-fold threat. It is an attack on the last liberties of the South of Ireland, it is an attempt to torture the North into submission, and, lastly, it is an attempt to found an independent All-Ireland Republic. An independent Republic at our door is the same as a dagger at our heart, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for the Colonies realises that as much as anyone, for we know, whatever we may say of his politics, that he has very deeply at heart the welfare of this Empire. I would appeal to him, even at the eleventh hour, to say, "I have gone thus far, and I will go no further." By saying that, he would encourage all the secret loyalists in the South, he would encourage the openly loyal people in the North—and they need encouragement at the present time—and he might indeed start a new era for Ireland, an era when liberty and law might at length be in the ascendant; and he would do something else for himself. He would stand out straightway as a statesman. He would rise above the ruck of mere successful, opportunist politicians, and he would stand out as a statesman who prefers his conscience to his office.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I rise mainly to refer to certain international questions not dealt 2180 with in the Debate which took place in this House on Thursday last. But before I touch upon that subject, I would like in a sentence or two to express the Labour view of the situation which has been debated to-day. First, I wish to say-that I particularly welcome the spirit and terms of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary. I welcome it as a speech which befits an occasion of the greatest embarrassment and gravity in our relations with Ireland. But we must not face this question as one which can be detached—the question as it is now—from events in this country and in Ireland, particularly since the year 1913. In that year we saw the beginnings of events which have travelled until now, and those events altogether form, I think I may say, the saddest and the most bloodstained chapter of Irish history. We had organised attempts in the North of Ireland to defeat the forces of the Crown if those forces supported decisions that were then promised in this House of Commons. In the middle of the War we had an Irish rebellion. After the War closed, we had a form of government which expressed itself in deportations, in executions, in coercion, in reprisals, and so forth, which no one now thinks it wise or proper to defend. I refer to these matters only to say that I am convinced that conditions in Ireland to-day are the growth of those things which preceded it, and we therefore are in a large measure to blame for the unhappy situation now presented to us in that country.
The fact is that now the North and the South may be said to be equally to blame in regard to crime of every description. It used to be that Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ireland were content to fight with sticks and stones. The struggle has developed, and, profiting by example and adopting what went before, imitating what went before, the sticks and stones have been changed into bombs and bullets, and therefore I am not so much moved when I hear eloquent speeches delivered as though this situation were the growth of the last two or three years. The picture is lamentable, it requires skilful handling, it requires enormous reserves of patience and the highest qualities of statesmanship than can be brought to bear upon it. It is a lamentable fact that Ireland now is more full of fear from certain groups of gunmen, 2181 and in that fear is disabled from exercising the degree of freedom which the Treaty to establish the Free State intended to confer upon the Irish people. I am confident that Irish democratic spirit will survive the threats and activities of this armed tyranny which dominates Irish life for the time being. I am satisfied that it is not by mere physical forces that the will of this country, as expressed in that agreement for a Treaty, will be made to prevail, and I look more to the application of sustained moral forces and the power of good will among all parties in this country and in Ireland than I look merely to the application of greater physical force for the settlemenit of this Irish quarrel. Though it may not appear to be of any use, I would like to ask whether the leaders of the Dail Eireann and the leaders of the Northern Parliament could not try the usefulness of joint and sustained and earnest appeal to their respective supporters.
There has occasionally been an isolated comment on the part of these leaders and an expression of pious hope that reason would take the place of the rifle. Trained and responsible men, educated, possessed of a knowledge of the world, could, if they recognised the necessities of Ireland, by a joint and sustained appeal, go far to cause both Catholics and Protestants to live in conditions of greater amity. I reject the view that Irish differences are in the main not due to religious differences, but to a deep difference between one section of the people and the other with regard to the observance of the law. The people in the North of Ireland, if they ever had the right, have lost the right to claim a monopoly of the description which they always applied to themselves as being a loyal and law-abiding people. The law is being equally violated and trampled on by Northerner and Southerner alike, and I say that the leaders of both might well exert themselves, by joint appeal to their followers in all parts of Ireland, to bury the hatchet and seek Irish prosperity and agreement upon those lines. Personally, I am convinced that there can be no Irish union except upon a basis of agreement and unity within the British Empire. I am satisfied that the establishment of an Irish Republic would mean the beginning of a violent and 2182 frightful state of civil war in Ireland, the end of which no man could foresee; so that I think we might, at least, try this line of appeal to which I refer, and, in the meantime, look further to the Government for the resource and the patience manifested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon.