No. 278 NAI DT S1801A

Michael Collins to James Craig (Belfast)

(Copy)

Dublin, 27 April 1922

The Rt. Hon. Sir James Craig,
Premier, Northern Ireland.
Your letter of 25th inst.1 reached this Office late last night. I did not see it until it had already appeared in the Press, consequently I wired you as follows:-

'YOUR LETTER ONLY REACHED MY OFFICE LATE LAST NIGHT. CONSIDER PUBLICATION WITHOUT REFERENCE TO ME THE GREATEST WANT OF COURTESY. IN VIEW OF THIS PUBLICATION I PROPOSE HANDING ALL FUTURE COMMUNICATIONS TO THE PRESS AT THE TIME OF DESPATCH.'

Your letter under acknowledgement so astonishes me by its assertions and general tone that I think it well to set out here my wire of 22nd April, to which, I take it, your letter is a reply:-

'ALL HERE ARE AGREED THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE ANY FURTHER PROGRESS UNTIL VITAL CLAUSES OF THE AGREEMENT ARE FULFILLED BY YOU. CONSIDER YOUR ATTITUDE WITH REGARD TO PRISONERS MOST UNSATISFACTORY AND ENTIRELY OUT OF ACCORD WITH LETTER AND SPIRIT OF AGREEMENT. YOUR FAILURE TO AGREE TO INVESTIGATION OF CASES UNDER CLAUSE 5 MOST UNREASONABLE.'

It will be observed that I have raised two main issues in this wire, namely:-
(a) Release of prisoners, and
(b) Failure to agree to investigation under Clause 5.

In your reply you carefully avoid these issues, and I must insist that it is no answer to these assertions to give a long list of vague and indefinite charges, backed up with few dates and little evidence of any kind. You commence your letter by stating that your Government has conscientiously endeavoured to carry out the spirit and the letter of the Agreement. How can you maintain this assertion with regard to the points I make in my wire?

Clause 10 of the Pact states that 'The two Governments shall in cases agreed upon between the signatories arrange for the release of political prisoners in prison for offences before the date hereof.' In pursuance of this Clause I have caused the release of the Specials arrested at Clones, and furnished you, some weeks ago with a list of 170 persons detained by your Government for purely political causes. So far you have not released one single person on this list.

Clause 5 of the Pact makes provision for a 'Committee to be set up in Belfast of equal numbers, Catholic and Protestant, with an independent chairman, preferably Catholic and Protestant alternating in successive weeks, to hear and investigate complaints as to intimidation, outrages, etc. Such Committee to have access to the heads of the Government. The local press to be approached with a view to inserting only such reports of disturbances etc. as shall have been considered and communicated by this Committee.'

What has your attitude been on this important matter? You have continually and emphatically refused my repeated request to you to get this Committee established and functioning. On the 4th inst. you replied:-

'YOUR WIRE RECEIVED AND I AWAIT THE NAMES YOU SUGGEST FOR THE TWO COMMITTEES. IN VIEW OF THE PLEASING FACT THAT PEACE HAS REIGNED FOR OVER 24 HOURS I CONSIDER IT WOULD BE INJUDICIOUS TO GO BACK EITHER ON THE CASES OF WALSH SPALLEN McCRORY AND MCKENNA OR ON THAT OF THE TWO CONSTABLES SHOT EARLIER THAT DAY. THE AUTHORITIES ARE MAKING EVERY ENDEAVOUR TO BRING THE CRIMINALS TO JUSTICE.'

On the 5th inst. I wired you:-

'YOUR WIRE RECEIVED. AM CONSULTING WITH REGARD TO NAMES TODAY. ALL HERE SATISFIED THAT IT IS IMPERATIVELY NECESSARY TO HAVE INQUIRY INTO ALL CASES INCLUDING THE TWO CONSTABLES. WE BELIEVE CONTINUATION OF PEACE AND RESTORATION OF CONFIDENCE DEPEND ON THE INQUIRY. THE CONDITIONS OF THE AGREEMENT MUST APPLY RIGIDLY FROM DATE OF SIGNING OTHERWISE THEY ARE VALUELESS.'

The same day you replied as follows:-

'YOUR TELEGRAM REGARDING ENQUIRY RECEIVED. I DIFFER PROFOUNDLY. A FEW DAYS WERE REQUIRED TO ESTABLISH THE PEACEFUL CONDITIONS NOW PREVAILING. I CANNOT CONSENT TO RAKE UP PAST CASES. SUCH ACTION MIGHT CAUSE FRESH OUTBURST OF BITTERNESS WHICH WE ARE SO ANXIOUS TO AVOID. I REPEAT THAT THE AUTHORITIES ARE ENDEAVOURING TO BRING THE CRIMINALS TO JUSTICE.'

You will recollect that I further urged the necessity of the matter on the 5th inst.

So much for this matter.

Now with regard to your letter of the 25th inst. It is such an astonishing accumulation of evasions and charges supported by little or no data that I can only conclude its reason d'etre was for purely propaganda purposes - to be used ad libitum by the various journals of the great British Press combine, which is playing such an important part in the game of disunion and internal conflict in our common country.

1. In Clause No. 1 of your letter you state that 'Northern Ireland has maintained peace with Southern Ireland and has shown a spirit of conciliation in trying to co-operate with the Provisional Government in Education, Labour questions and other matters tending to promote the interests of all classes in Ireland.' Whilst I fail to see what bearing these particular matters have on our Pact, at any rate your assertion that you have 'maintained peace and shown a spirit of conciliation' with us is fully answered in this reply.

I cannot see in what way my Government has been discourteous to an Authority in whose territory the members of the greatest Church in Christendom, which enjoys the protection of all civilised Governments, are harassed and persecuted in the most appalling fashion by armed mobs, who are apparently not interfered with in any way by your police and military. Under your jurisdiction - to name but a few instances - little Catholic school children playing in the streets, Catholic expectant mothers at the doors of their homes, a Catholic father and five members of his family in his own drawingroom, a Catholic woman in the porch of St. Matthew's Catholic Church, all in Belfast, have been foully and deliberately murdered in cold blood. You suggest that we lack experience. If this be the test of 'experienced government' then we are happy to be called 'inexperienced.'

2. You seek to make capital out of certain alleged happenings with respect to the Border Commission. I confess I am astonished at your mentioning the Border Commission in view of the extraordinary attitude your Authorities have adopted with regard to it. Let me refresh your memory on the matter:-

The regulations creating the Commission were issued on the 17th February. According to these regulations the personnel of the Commission was to be formed thus:-

'Two officers of the Dublin Garrison will work on the North side of the Border in company with two officers of the Special Constabulary detailed by the Northern Government. Similarly two officers of the Dublin Garrison will work on the South side of the Border in company with two officers nominated by the Provisional Government'.

The British Government and our Government in due course appointed representatives. Up to date you have only appointed one, viz. District Inspector King, and even him you have not vested with full powers. On 24th February District Inspector King attended two meetings of the Joint Commission and informed the Commission that he had no authority whatever from the Northern Government to give effect to any of the Commission's findings and that he did not even forward reports of the proceedings to the Northern Government. At a very early stage in the proceedings - to be exact the 24th February - the Provisional Government undertook to give immediate effect to any unanimous decision of the Commission.

On the 6th March, your representative, Lt. Col. Vernon, who had proceeded to Belfast to represent the views of the Southern representatives with reference to the prisoners still detained by the North stated that he was referred to para. 6 of his instructions which 'could not be modified.'

The paragraph referred to read as follows:-

'You will however refrain from entering into any discussion affecting questions of policy which are within the competence of the Northern Govt. or affecting the administration of justice dealing with the cases of men awaiting trial.'

Again at a meeting of the Commission on the Monaghan-Tyrone Border on the 10th March, the official report states:-

'There was no reply from the Northern Government re the request of the Joint Commission to have the Northern Representative placed in a position similar to that occupied by the Representative of the Provisional Government.'

Lieut. Col. Montagu Bates' official report of the 14th inst. contains this significant paragraph:-

'Every opportunity of publishing exaggerated reports is made use of by press representatives of the Northern papers. As previously reported these exaggerated reports do an immense amount of harm amongst the local inhabitants near the Border and elsewhere.'

The White and Blue Flag of the Commission has always been respected by us, but see Paragraph (4) of Lieut. Col. Montagu Bates' report for the following:-

'On passing through Aughnacloy on the return journey yesterday at 19.00 hours, we were given to understand by a Head Constable of the Special Constabulary that they had orders to fire at sight on any car flying the White and Blue Flag.'

I agree with you that 'the Border Commission was gradually fulfilling its purpose of restoring peace on both sides' of the Border, but, in view of the facts recorded above it is obviously absurd to blame us for any 'violent interruption of its functions.'

Your entire letter has apparently been drafted with a view to keeping attention off of the daily routine of atrocities and murders which continue uninterrupted in the seat of your Government. There is not space here to detail all the abominations that have taken place in Belfast since the signing of our Pact, and I quite understand your desire to draw the attention of civilisation away from them. This much though, I must say - the ink on our Pact was scarcely dry when on the 1st inst. loads of armed Specials, uniformed and ununiformed, in Crossley Tenders and Whippet Cars, invaded during Curfew hours, Stanhope Street and Arnon Street, where 90% of the inhabitants are Catholics, and entered the houses of many of the Catholics. The result of this armed incursion was that four Catholics, one of them was an old man, and three of whom had fought on the British side in the European War, were tortured and murdered in their beds and in the presence of their wives.

You refer to an alleged 'cowardly ambuscade'. As you appear to be confident as to the identity of the culprits in this case, I trust you will assist the Provisional Government in bringing them to justice.

You make the extraordinary statement that certain Catholics have destroyed Catholic property in your area. Is this statement also intended to assist the big British Press combine which has arranged to do propaganda for you? If not, I trust you will furnish us with particulars of these remarkable Catholics.

Your statement that you have not yet received the names of our representatives on your Catholic Advisory Police Committee is contrary to the facts. The names were in your hands on the date you dictated your letter.

Let me state here that I cannot take any part in assisting you in the formation of a Police Force for your area until I am clearly convinced that the lives of its members will be safe, and that it will be able to do something to restore law and order in Belfast. In order to achieve this salutary purpose, it seems to me that the Committee should at once proceed under Clause 5 of the Pact to investgate the attempted assassination of Constable Moriarty, a Catholic member of the Belfast Constabulary in the porch of St. Matthew's church last Sunday evening.

I note with satisfaction your recent actions with regard to your Courts.

The Conciliation Committee is, I presume, the Investigation Committee referred to in Clause 5 of our Agreement. I understand you have not facilitated them in any way. On the contrary, they have been unable to obtain direct access to the Heads of your Government and this, notwithstanding the fact that they have been meeting since April 12th and that outrages and intimidation on an increasing scale are taking place daily in Belfast.

No one to my knowledge suggested that they should inquire into the MacMahon massacre, but I have insisted that they should enquire into all outrages since the signing of the Pact on March 30th. As the MacMahon massacre was perpetrated before March 30th, your allusion to this is a deliberate attempt to confuse the issue. You have persistently refused that they should inquire into the Stanhope Street and Arnon Street atrocities, already referred to.

The re-institution of the boycott by certain unofficial and irregular parties is unfortunate; but I am convinced that if you had co-operated as you undertook under Clause 2 of the Pact, you would not have grounds for a complaint of this nature against the people of Ireland. I am determined that the awful conditions that have been existing in your area since the devolution of certain powers on you, will not be tolerated in the rest of Ireland, but if you want quick results in this respect the best way to get them is by protecting the lives and property of the 25% of the population of Belfast, which is being gradually exterminated.

Many members of the R.I.C. at present in Belfast are anxiously awaiting the termination of their contract with you in order to enjoy security elsewhere in Ireland and avoid the fate intended for Constable Moriarty, and meted out to other Constables by people under your jurisdiction.

Repeated demands have been made to you for possession of St. Mary's Hall - one not later than Monday last to Sir Dawson Bates - and it has been pointed out to your Minister of Home Affairs that it is urgently required for charitable purposes, and for a shelter for people burnt out of their homes in Catholic streets in North Belfast, and at present herded together in a pitiable way - men, women and children - in wooden huts on waste ground in your city, and without any convenience whatever.

You may rest assured that citizens of Orange proclivities and their property will never be refused ample protection by us.

As arranged in London I have handed you the list of names of persons on the White Cross Committee in Belfast who are to act on the Advisory Committee set up by your Minister of Labour.

I have already referred to the question of the prisoners. There is one point, however, in your letter on this matter on which I would thank you for an explanation. You say 'In your list of nearly 170 prisoners, for whose release you make request, there is a very large proportion of criminals convicted of murder, and other serious crimes.' Have your Courts convicted more than three persons on that list of murder? And are these not obviously political cases?

As to Clause 11, I have always shown a willingness and desire as you well know, to meet you as far as possible on every ground, but I must say I have not met with anything like a similar spirit of co-operation from either yourself or your colleagues. On the contrary you appear to have shown at best a reluctance to make even the slightest effort to interfere with the unrestrained violence of the savage mobs under your jurisdiction. Of course, I make all allowances for your inability to deal effectively with those barbarians in your midst, but I must say the recent utterances of your colleagues in Belfast are anything but helpful towards peace, and in my opinion constitute a very grave breach of this Clause 11.

Since the Pact the following awful list of murder, arson, and general crime has been committed in the very centre of your seat of Government:-

From 1st April, 1922 to date:
Catholic[s] killed 24
Catholic[s] wounded 41
Attempted murders 29
No. of (R.C.) houses burned and looted 75
No. of (R.C.) families homeless 89
No. of (R.C.) persons homeless 400
No. of (R.C.) Houses bombed 5
No. of Protestants killed 11
No. of Protestants wounded 34
No. of Protestants Houses looted and burned 11

Two of the Protestants killed - Mathew Carmichael, and Johnston (26 Moyola Street and 20 Harrison Street) were shot dead entirely in Orange locality and were mistaken for Catholics. The Protestant premises were destroyed by loyalists during outbreak at Marrowbone (at Easter). No record of any Protestant families homeless as there are hundreds of houses from which Catholics have been evicted for them to occupy.

This is, you will admit I am sure, an appalling record of crime to happen in the chief city of any Government which calls itself civilised, especially after having entered into an honourable agreement with us in which you undertook to restore ordered conditions in your area.

I would suggest to you that it would be much better for the peace of your area, and the general welfare of our country, if you devoted your energies in co-operating with us in the true spirit of the Agreement, towards establishing civilised conditions in Belfast.

Micheál O Coileáin

1 Not printed.


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