The Right to Shoot

(From Hansard)

“No one is in danger in Ireland who obeys the law.”
Sir Hamar Greenwood, House of Commons,
November 17th, 1920.


15th November, 1920.

Mr. T.P. O’Connor: I wish further to ask him [the Chief Secretary] whether it is a fact that on Saturday evening a military party in pursuit of a crowd of men in Dublin shot a young girl aged 12 years, killing her almost immediately, and also wounding a five-year-old girl.

Sir Hamar Greenwood: 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 the firing, a young girl named Annie O’Neill, aged 8 years, was killed, and another girl, named Teresa Kavanagh, was slightly wounded. The loss of this young innocent life is deplorable, but I hope 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.

Mr. O’Connor: With reference to the very important statement which the right hon. gentleman made a few moments ago to the effect that he considered it to be the duty of the soldiers to fire when people do not halt upon command, may I ask whether he has considered the possibility of people running away in terror, and whether there is not in many cases a risk of people being shot down who were quite innocent and who acted, not in disobedience to the order to halt, but in terror of the result of the soldiers firing?

Sir H. Greenwood: I appreciate perfectly the situation in Ireland to-day. In many counties, though not in most, it is tragic. But when men are ordered to halt, surely, if they are innocent men, they will halt.

17th November, 1920.

Mr. T.P. O’Connor asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether, at the military court which inquired into the death of the 12-year-old girl Annie O’Neill, in Dublin, the bereaved mother, who wished to be legally represented by her solicitor, was refused this request, and her solicitor denied admission to the Court…. and whether the group who remained behind were searched and no arms were found upon them.

Sir H. Greenwood: I have received further information since yesterday, I have not yet received a copy of the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry into the death of Annie O’Neill, but I am informed that the public, including the solicitor and the Press, were excluded owing to the likelihood of danger to the witnesses appearing before the Court… None of the youths who ran away were arrested, and no arms were found on those who did not run and were searched. I repeat my profound regret at this occurrence, one of the tragedies resulting from the present Irish situation.


4th November, 1920.

Mr. Devlin asked the Chief Secretary whether his attention had been drawn to the case of Mrs. Ellen Quinn, who was shot on Monday evening last, and whether it is the fact that this woman was sitting on the lawn in front of her house, County Galway, with a young baby in her arms when she was fatally wounded by a rifle shot fired from a passing lorry containing uniformed men, and whether he is aware that there is a general practice on the part of uniformed men to drive about country districts in motor cars wildly discharging rifles and revolvers, to the great danger of innocent people, and will he take immediate steps to have the parties guilty of this murder brought to justice?

Sir H. Greenwood: I regret to have to say that Mrs. Quinn was fatally wounded on the 1st inst. A Court of Inquiry opened on the case to-day at 10 a.m. I am informed by the police authorities that two police lorries were passing at the time, and it may be that the wounding resulted from a shot fired in anticipation of an ambush in the neighbourhood.

18th November, 1920.

Mr. Mosley asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland which manual of military training advocates the method of firing in anticipation of an ambush; whether any competent military authority had advised him that firing down hedgerows is likely to deter assailants composing an ambush, who, presumably, remain under cover until they can fire upon the 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 H. Greenwood: I cannot enter into a discussion on 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 at corners 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.

Mr. MacVeagh: Has the right hon. gentleman seen the statement published by the parish priest that he himself twice asked the Head Constable to take a statement from the dying woman, and that the Head Constable refused?

Sir H. Greenwood: I read a letter to that effect in the “Westminster Gazette,” taken from the “Irish Bulletin,” and that if it is so that the priest made the request to this Head Constable, all I can say is that none of the constables take their orders from priests.

November 25th, 1920.

Mr. Mosley asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether Mrs. Eileen Quinn, of Kiltartan, County Galway, was killed by a shot fired from a passing police lorry on 1st November, 1920, while sitting on a wall in broad daylight with a child in her arms; whether he will state the distance between this wall and the road from which the shot was fired; whether the position of Mrs. Quinn at the time she was shot was in full view of the road; whether the police occupying the lorry in question were called as witnesses at the Court of Inquiry; how many rounds of ammunition were fired by the occupants of this lorry in the course of their journey; and how far away was the nearest point at which murders of soldiers and policemen had occurred to the scene of Mrs. Quinn’s death.

Sir H. Greenwood: A military Court of 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.


In the afternoon after the murder of officers in Dublin, the police surrounded a crowd of about 15,000, who were watching a football match at Croke Park, Dublin. Shooting occurred, as a result of which one player and 13 persons among the crowd were killed. There were no police casualties.

In the Government accounts given in the House of Commons by Sir Hamar Greenwood (November 23rd) it is asserted that “the police were fired upon from two corners of the field”; but this is denied by eye-witnesses.

24th November, 1920.

Major Barnes asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland what were the total deaths, men, women and children respectively, occasioned by firing on the crowd at the Croke Park football ground on the 21st November; how many men, women and children respectively were wounded; whether a child was bayonetted; whether the military and auxiliary police suffered any casualties; and, if so, what were the number of dead and wounded respectively?

Sir H. Greenwood: Ten men, one woman, and three children (under 14) 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 or injuries. Fifty persons were treated in hospital, but not detained. I have no information as to how many of these cases were those of men, women or children respectively. No child was bayonetted. There were no police or military casualties.

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Source: University of Warwick Library – Digital Collections

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