Source: Hansard – House of Commons Debates
THE SINN FEIN REBELLION.HL Deb 10 May 1916 vol 21 cc955-1000 955
EARL LOREBURN rose to call attention to the recent disorders in Ireland; and to move to resolve, That this House records its profound dissatisfaction with the administration of affairs in that country.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE: I thought the noble Marquess said, when my noble friend Lord Midleton referred to the importation of arms at Howth, that it was necessary to go further back if those matters should be referred to. But I am sorry if I misrepresented what the noble Marquess said. At any rate, there are many people who hold the view I have put forward. And I think a great deal was to be said in favour of that course if the Government at that time thought themselves strong enough to carry it into effect. But that is going into Party politics, and I do not want to say any more about that at present.
I should like to point out with regard to the Ulster and Nationalist Volunteers, that they were totally different from the Sinn Feiners, because they were under the control of responsible leaders who had given an undertaking that there should be a political truce while the war lasted. Therefore up to the time of this rebellion we could confidently believe that there would be no outbreak with regard to either body. But the Sinn Feiners were totally different; they were absolutely free lances, known to be disloyal, and it was perfectly certain to anybody who knew Ireland that they would take advantage of the old saying that “England’s peril was Ireland’s opportunity.”
As the noble Marquess has said, I gave notice of many questions to the Irish Office. I did not think they would answer all of them because it was a very long list, but when I mentioned what they were I hoped they would contradict any of them which they believed not to be correct. May I mention a few of them?
In the first place, I should like very much to have known what was the garrison in Dublin at the time on Easter Monday when the insurrection broke out, because it is stated that it had been reduced to an abnormally small number and that nearly all the officers of that very small garrison were absent at some races.
Another point is whether it is true that at midnight on Easter Monday all the troops available at Athlone were removed to Dublin, and that consequently for two days the West of Ireland was without military protection of any kind whatsoever; and during that time there was a Sinn Fein rising consisting of, some people say 500, some say 1,700, Sinn Feiners, who marched from Galway to Athenry, where they seized the premises belonging to the Department of Agriculture, made hostages of the officials on the spot, and proceeded to slaughter all the cattle on the farm.
This did not tend to increase the feeling of security amongst the people in the neighbourhood. It is also stated that arrangements had been made to seize the pier at Fenit, where it was expected that a large quantity of ammunition would be landed from Germany.
I point out these things as taking place in different, parts of Ireland, as I should like it to be known that the rising was not confined to Dublin, as appeared to be supposed by the noble Viscount (Lord Bryce). The Sinn Feiners elsewhere were only waiting for success in Dublin in order to break into rebellion.
I think this is a serious indictment against the Government; and now we are told that the rebellion has been squashed. Salutary punishment has been and is being inflicted on the leaders of the insurrection, and nobody is anxious that more should be done than is absolutely necessary. But when we read of casualties of over 500 amongst our troops and Constabulary and know that over £3,000,000 worth of damage has been done to property in Dublin alone, we cannot say that the punishment that has been inflicted has been too severe.
But in addition to the ringleaders there are a large number of rank and file who are at present in England, and I am sure that everybody would be anxious that such clemency as is possible should be extended to them. If they are sentenced to short terms of imprisonment in English prisons they will return to Ireland with their feelings against England even more bitter than before the rebellion started. It has been suggested in many newspapers and has been approved by many people that, if possible, these young men should be permitted to join the British Army.
If this is possible nobody would be more glad than I should be, because I believe the result would be that at the end of the war they would return to Ireland better citizens, with larger views of their duties. I am told that this was tried at the time of the rebellion of 1745 in Scotland with excellent results, and I do not see why equally good results should not follow in the present ease.
There is one more thing which I think is necessary, and that is the complete disarmament in Ireland of everybody with the exception of the Forces of the Crown. This can easily be done if Sir Edward Carson and Mr. Redmond consent; but even without that consent it should be carried into effect.
We have Martial Law in Ireland, and, although it would not be easy, I believe it would be quite possible to disarm everybody there; and I am perfectly certain that the result of doing so would be to create a feeling of much greater security in Ireland with all quiet peaceable people, who would believe that the Government were trying to retrieve the errors of the past and were alive to the dangers which still exist in that country.