The Portrait of a Minister

Painted by Himself.

SIR HAMAR GREENWOOD is Chief Secretary for Ireland. Four millions of people are in his care. The House of Commons has to rely on his knowledge, his promptness, and his sense of responsibility for the statements he makes. It is his duty to protect the civilian population from outrage at the hands of the armed forces of the Crown, and to safeguard the lives of his servants. The pages of Hansard for the last few weeks give us some idea of the manner in which he carries out these solemn duties.

The first thing to note about his speeches and answers is that he is fond of making sweeping declarations, with a gesture either of defiance or of triumph. We give two examples to show what authority these confident statements carry. In September, the Irish Government, acting under the Coercion Act, prohibited the holding of coroners’ inquests in ten counties. The Irish Secretary said, on October 21:—

There is always an inquest into the death of a person found dead in Ireland…. I will see that the inquest is held in public as most inquests are; in fact, as far as I know, as all inquests are.

On November 16 it was pointed out to him that no coroner’s inquest was allowed in the case of Annie O’Neill, the girl shot in Dublin.

Mr. Macveagh.— Will the right hon. gentleman answer my question? Does he still adhere to the statement that he made in this House three weeks ago that there is always a public inquest into every case of a person found dead in Ireland?

Sir H. Greenwood.— I can only repeat what I have said. In certain parts of Ireland there are still inquests, mainly held by a coroner with a jury. In other parts of Ireland, for reasons of disturbance and the certainty of not getting an impartial jury, we have set up, according to the law passed by this House, military courts of inquiry.

On the same day Sir. H. Greenwood said, answering another question:—

The rule about courts of inquiry held in lieu of inquest in that whether they are open to the Press or public is a matter for the discretion of the court….

On October 20 he made another sweeping statement, which greatly impressed the House:—

I have never seen a tittle of evidence to prove that the servants of the Crown have destroyed these creameries.

On November 16 Mr. Hogge asked:—

Whether an official report of the burning of the creameries of Tobercurry and Achonry was issued from Dublin Castle to certain Press representatives on or before October 6; whether this report was drawn up by a senior police officer at the request of the Chief Secretary’s Department; whether it was admitted in the report that these creameries were destroyed by the constabulary; and whether this report was presented to him before October 20, when he stated that he had never seen a tittle of evidence to prove that the servants of the Crown had destroyed creameries?

On November 25 Sir H. Greenwood made this reluctant admission:—

I have now received the full reports of the destruction of the creameries, to which my attention had not been drawn when I made the observation to which the hon. gentleman refers, and I now find that it is admitted in each case that the burning was committed by members of the police force on October 1 in an outburst of passion evoked by the brutal murder of District Inspector Brady and the wounding of another of their comrades on the evening of the previous day.

There was a great deal of other evidence which he had disregarded, but this was the information of his own officials.

Again and again the Chief Secretary is asked for information about important outrages, and he always replies that he is still inquiring. A question on November 11 marks the climax:—

Mr. Macveagh.— Will the right hon. gentleman kindly answer question No. 73, whether any reports have been received with regard to the outrages mentioned in that question, and some of which took place twelve months ago, and whether any reports in these cases will be called for and embodied in Parliamentary papers?

Sir H. Greenwood.— I repeat the last part of my answer; A number of such inquiries are still proceeding, and I am not yet in a position to furnish the House with a complete detailed account on the subject, but I hope to do so at a later date.— November 11 (1347).

On what is the information given to the House based? Let us see. On November 1, Lord Robert Cecil asked:—

When my right hon. friend speaks of inquiries, are these inquiries made in private or in public?

Sir H. Greenwood.— Some inquiries are made in private and some in public. My own experience in Ireland is that the most effective inquiry is made in private.

Mr. Devlin.— From whom does the right hon. gentleman make these inquiries?

Sir H. Greenwood.— From the officers and persons who are responsible to me for their conduct.

On November 12, Mr. Kiley asked the Chief Secretary whether at every inquiry held into alleged reprisals in Ireland there had been present some person with legal training or qualifications?

Sir H. Greenwood.— As I have already stated, the inquiries into such allegations are conducted by responsible police or military officers upon whose findings I can rely.

With this information it is interesting to turn to Sir H. Greenwood’s account of the success of his inquiry into the most sensational reprisal of all, and one in which inquiry was particularly easy because it took place near Dublin.

I myself have had the fullest inquiry made into the case. I find that from 100 to 150 men went to Balbriggan determined to revenge the death of a popular comrade shot at and murdered in cold blood. I find it is impossible, out of that 150, to find who did the deed, who did the burning. I have had the most searching inquiry made.

On October 6 it was admitted by Dublin Castle that two specified creameries had been destroyed by constables. But the Chief Secretary has not yet discovered who was responsible.

So much for the value and accuracy of the Chief Secretary’s information to the House of Commons. Let us see now how he defends the civilian population from the outrages that have shocked the world.

A weekly sheet, known in Ireland as “Hamar’s Weekly,” is issued to the police stations, in which is reprinted every incitement to reprisals that the editor can find in other papers. A particularly flagrant case occurred on October 29. This paper published the resolution of an anti-Sinn Fein society, threatening that if a constable was killed in Cork three Sinn Feiners would be killed. On November 17 an Irish sergeant of the R.I.C. was murdered in Cork. That night three civilians were murdered in presence of their wives.

Now, who is responsible for this vile sheet? Sir H. Greenwood said, in the House of Commons on November 18, “The ‘Weekly Summary’ is wholly paid for from public funds. Its cost is approximately £16 10s. weekly.” On November 24 he said that one of the methods adopted for heartening this force was the “Weekly Summary.” “I took it upon myself to issue this ‘Weekly Summary.'” This same sheet reproduces a paragraph from some paper announcing that an M.P. is to propose that there shall be no discussion of reprisals in the House. The paragraph is headed: “THE HOUSE OF COMMONS AND REPRISALS. FREE HAND TILL MURDER GANG IS CRUSHED.” Is it not clear that the official way of heartening this force is to give them the impression that reprisals are approved of?

On October 25, after town after town had been shot up by troops, the Irish Secretary made the following statement in the House:—

Major Wood.— Are we to understand that the local authorities are to make good damage caused by soldiers?

Sir H. Greenwood.— In all the cases brought to my notice, yes, because the soldiers have made the damage in acts of legitimate self-defence.

On November 24 he said in the House:—

I can assure you that if there is one creamery in Ireland, and which is the rendezvous of the Irish republican army, or one manager who is a member of that army, that creamery is in peril.

In other words, the Chief Secretary instigates reprisals both by an official publication and by his language in the House.

We will now turn to his statements on the right to kill people in the street, whether they move or keep still, whether they be men, women, or children. Take first the case of Annie O’Neill, the girl killed in Dublin:—

Sir Hamar Greenwood (November 15).— In reference to the Dublin affair, I have received a telegraphic report to the effect that on Saturday evening, at about a quarter past five, two military lorries were passing down Charlemont Street, near Charlemont Avenue, in Dublin, when a group of five or six young men were observed to run away. They were ordered to halt, and on failing to do so three shots were fired. I deeply regret to have to say that as a result of this firing a young girl, named Annie O’Neill, aged eight years, was killed, and another girl, named Teresa Kavanagh, was slightly wounded. The loss of this young innocent life is deplorable, but I hope that the House will agree with me in the view that the responsibility does not rest upon the soldiers.

Lord H. Cavendish Bentinck.— Is it the practice to fire on men who are running away?

Sir H. Greenwood.— Men who are ordered to halt and do not halt are fired at.

Take next the right to shoot when nobody moves. On November 18, Mr. Mosley asked the Chief Secretary:—

Which manual of military training advocates the method of firing in ambush in anticipation of an ambush; whether any competent military authority has advised him that firing down hedgerows is likely to deter assailants composing an ambush who presumably remain under cover until they can fire upon troops at short range; whether the only protection against such ambush is a properly armoured car, or in the case of troops on horse or foot, the ordinary method of protection adopted by a cavalry patrol and whether either of these two recognised methods of protection involve haphazard shooting in the countryside?

Sir Hamar Greenwood.— I cannot enter into a discussion of tactics with the hon. and gallant member. I can only say that the police and military, after several bitter experiences, have at times adopted the method of firing into dense clumps of hedgerows where ambushes are likely to be placed in the hope of either dislodging any assailants who may be lying in wait, or causing them to disclose themselves before they come to short range. I would willingly supply the police with armoured cars if it were possible to do so, and if such cars would perform the work required of a police lorry.

On November 1, Mrs. Quinn (a pregnant woman, with a child in her arms) was killed by a shot from a passing lorry. The facts of her case were put by Mr. Mosley in a question on November 25. They showed that in this case the police shot a woman sitting on a wall in full view of the road, in broad daylight, and that the doctor who attended her gave the opinion that she was shot at close range. Sir Hamar Greenwood did not dispute these facts. He said:—

A military inquiry was held into this deplorable affair, and found that the cause of death was misadventure. I am not prepared to reopen the inquiry by entering into a discussion of points of evidence, all of which were fully considered by the court.

On November 21, the afternoon of the day on which fourteen officers were murdered, the police attacked the crowd assembled at Croke Park to watch a hurling match. The official account stated that shots were fired at the police. The first account stated that these shots were fired outside the ground; the second that they were fired from corners of the field. The details of the casualty list were given by Sir Hamar Greenwood on November 27:—

Ten men, one woman, and three children (under fourteen) were killed, or have died as the result of their injuries. These figures include the case of a woman who was crushed to death, and of a man who apparently died from shock. Twelve men have been detained in hospital for treatment of wounds and injuries. Fifty persons have been treated in hospital but not detained. I have no information as to how many of these cases were those of men, women, and children respectively. No child was bayoneted. There were no police or military casualties.

It will be noticed that no policeman or soldier was struck by the shots which were said by the police to have been fired, and that there has been no inquiry into the facts. The number of people killed at Peterloo was eleven

But on November 18, Sir Hamar Greenwood stated:—

These casualties include perfectly innocent persons whose death I deeply regret. The responsibility for their harm rests entirety upon those assassins whose existence is a menace to the law-abiding persons in Ireland.

On November 23. he said:—

The firing by the Crown forces was fully justified in the exceptional circumstance or the situation on Sunday last.

It is, therefore, established that police may fire into a large crowd of peaceful persons and kill spectators and players at a hurling match, because they say the “shots have been fired in their direction” — shots which did not inflict a single wound.

When people are killed in Ireland by policemen or soldiers there are no inquests, but inquiries are held by the military. Let us see how the Chief Secretary protects the rights of the civilian and the interests of justice. The Chief Secretary, responsible to this civilian population, justified the policeman who refused to take Mrs. Quinn’s dying depositions at the request of a priest (“All that I can say is that none of the constables take their orders from priests”), and justified the court that inquired into the killing of Annie O’Neill for refusing to admit the legal representative of the mother of the girl who was killed (November 17). On November 25 he refused to give instructions that the next-of-kin should be allowed to be represented by a solicitor at such inquiries.

Thus the Irish Secretary deprives the Irish people of the right to any independent inquiry into the death of women and children killed by police, or even to be represented at the official inquiry which takes the place of an inquest.

Now this is a military tyranny such as Prussia enjoyed in her worst days. But Prussia did, at any rate, defend her armed servants. This is exactly what the Chief Secretary does not do. He neglects the most elementary precautions. Time after time he is asked to provide armoured cars; time after time it is pointed out that the regular military precautions should be taken to protect men from ambush. The Chief Secretary, who left fourteen officers scattered in Dublin houses without revolvers, can only reply that the way to help the soldiers is to condemn the murders carried out by Sinn Feiners.

This question and answer on November 4 is an excellent summary of the Government’s position. Mr. Mosley asked the Chief Secretary:—

Whether in view of his discovery that certain assassins never sleep more than one night in the same place, he has yet devised any more efficient system of bringing these murderers to justice than the practice adopted by certain of his subordinates in burning next day the houses of other people in the vicinity of the outrages?

Sir Hamar Greenwood.— I am satisfied that all possible means are being taken to apprehend and bring to justice the criminals who are committing the murders of policemen and other outrages in Ireland.

Reprisals are thus the politician’s substitute for efficiency. One man has been convicted of murder and executed and innocent persons have been killed, wounded, or burnt out of their homes by the hundred.

This is the record of the Minister on whom the House of Commons has to rely for its information, and the country for its escape from a crisis greater than any in the anxious history of its relations with the Irish people. It is enough to say in brief that this picture is of a Minister who has forgotten every single obligation of a governor to the governed. – Reprinted from The Nation, December 4, 1920.

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Source: University of Warwick Library – Digital Collections