Dáil Éireann - Volume 1 - 06 August, 1920

BELFAST.

SEAN MACENTEE (Monaghan South) presented the following memorial signed by representative citizens of Belfast, which he had been asked to lay before the Dáil:

“We, the undersigned, members of the Belfast Corporation, and others, representing the views of Irish Republicans (and many others) in that city, beg to call the earnest attention of the Dáil to the war of extermination now being waged against us, and we appeal to you to stand by us in the struggle.

“We assume that you have read the press reports of the pogrom which started on July 21st with the violent expulsion from work of well over 5,000 people; of the murders wrecking, looting and wholesale eviction of families. The situation for expelled workers grows worse daily, and all signs go to show that the persecution is to be continued with unabated vigour. No one, not being in Belfast can have any adequate idea of what our people are suffering now and must continue to suffer.

“From the first, the promoters of these outrages have been publicly declaring that they are out to fight Sinn Fein, and drive it from the North-Eastern Pale. Already thousands of young men from every county in Ireland have been forced to fly, and thousands of others are idle here with destitution staring them in the face. The only condition on which they will be permitted to work is that they sign a declaration of loyalty to the British Government.

“We earnestly appeal to Sinn Fein, through the Dáil to take up this straight challenge, and fight Belfast—the spear head of British power in Ireland. The ‘Loyalists’ have repeatedly declared at public meetings and in the Town Council that this time they are not fighting Popery as such, but Sinn Fein, so that mere sectarianism does not enter in.

“We suggest that Sinn Fein can strike back with powerful effect by a commercial boycott of Belfast. Drastic action of this kind has already been taken spontaneously in various places, but the movement ought to be made national and thorough. The chief promoters of Orange intolerance here are the heads of the distributing trade throughout Ireland.

“We further suggest that the most effective action Sinn Fein can take (to make Belfast realise that it is in Ireland and must be of Ireland) is to secure that its supporters throughout the country immediately withdraw all accounts from Banks having their Headquarters in Belfast, and transfer them to Banks with Headquarters in other parts of Ireland. This action is of vital importance. It will deprive Belfast merchants who mostly either support or assent [192] to this war on Irish Nationalism, of the fluid capital on which their business, through the medium of Belfast Banks, is largely run.

“Other additional measures will doubtless suggest themselves to some of the gentlemen of the Dáil. The above will meet with the fullest approval of nearly 100,000 people in Belfast.

“It should be strictly enjoined that Protestants in other parts of Ireland are not to be molested in any way on account of the actions of their co-religionists in Belfast. But, of course, those of them who are in business must be given to understand clearly that if they continue to get their goods from Belfast firms they cannot dispose of them to Sinn Feiners.

(Signed),

“Joseph Cosgrove, T.C.

“D. McCullough, T.C.

“A. Savage, T.C., P.L.G.

“Jer. Barnes, T.C.

“Jas. McEntee.

“Dr. Moore.

“Dr. Jn. Doherty.

“Mrs. A. McCullough, P.L.G.

“Jas. Connolly.

“Dated, August 5th 1920.”

There were 5,000 or probably 10,000 people driven from employment in Belfast and now without any means of livelihood, and there was no prospect that any proportion of that number would be allowed back to work within a year. The Dáil was the body purporting to exercise all the functions of government in Ireland and in every part of Ireland, and he appealed to the Dáil as the only custodian of public order to take such steps as would prevent a recurrence of any similar outbreak.

This outbreak was more than a purely sectarian matter. It was the first direct attack made upon the Irish Republic. It was the first open act of Rebellion against the Republic, and they should be prepared to deal firmly and strongly with such acts.

He quoted an extract from the “Belfast Newsletter” which in its issue of the 22nd inst. stated that this was not a move against Catholics but against rebels who belonged to an organisation which was engaged in murders.

He said he had a duty to the people of Belfast, who, as a consequence of the establishment of the Republic had been made the subject of bitter persecution and repression there and he urged that Military measures should be used against those responsible for that persecution.

They were not in a position at the moment to take military action, but there was the more potent weapon of the blockade. By this means they could break the prosperity of Belfast. The trade done with Belfast in the North of Ireland, as indicated by the value of cheques cashed in Belfast in one week amounted to about £200,000 per week or ten million pounds per annum. This amount did not include the trade done by the branches of Ulster banks in the South and West, which probably amounted to an additional five million pounds. That was to say that the whole distributing trade of Belfast with the rest of Ireland amounted to fifteen million pounds annually.

He therefore moved:—

“Whereas in the City of Belfast an organised and long premeditated attack has been made upon loyal citizens of the Irish Republic, or those held to be such, wherein and whereby citizens of this Republic were murdered, many more greviously injured, and some 8,000 or 10,000 driven from employment and denied the means of livelihood; whereas this violence and disorder has been condoned, if not actively incited, by the civic authorities of the City of Belfast; and whereas it has been declared by the said civic authorities, those who planned and carried through the attack, and by the organs of the Press which profess to speak on their behalf, that these things have been done in support of and in alliance with the enemies of the Republic; it be and is hereby declared that an embargo be laid upon the manufactures of the [193] aforesaid City of Belfast; that all trade and commerce with it by citizens of the Irish Republic be forbidden and that the Government of the Republic calls upon all its loyal citizens to rigorously enforce the provision of this decree until such time as the Government and Legislature of the Republic may otherwise decide.”

PAUL GALLIGAN (Cavan West) seconded the motion.

E. BLYTHE (Monaghan North) was entirely opposed to a blockade against Eelfast. Such action should be taken against individuals only. To declare an economic blockade of Belfast would be the worst possible step to take. If it were taken it would destroy for ever the possibility of any union. Belfast could not be brought down through the banks. They were there as a Government, and they could not afford to range any section of the citizens against them. The basis of every trouble in the North was sectarian. It was that fact that made possible the fury of the anti-Catholic forces there.

A. MACCABE (Sligo South) suggested that the motion on the agenda in his name should be considered in connection with the matter.

COUNTESS MARKIEVICZ (St. Patrick's, Dublin) would be in favour of the blockade, if it could be made effective, but she was not convinced that it could be. To declare a blockade would be playing into the hands of the enemy and giving them a good excuse for partition. It was even possible that this was a trap on the part of the English Government to cut off trade with Belfast and so make Ireland into two trading centres. The arguments put forward by the Deputy for South Monaghan were not enough to warrant such action as he proposed.

E. BLYTHE (Monaghan North) moved as an amendment:—

“That the Ministry be directed to consider what action can be taken by way of a commercial embargo against individuals responsible for inciting to the recent pogroms in Belfast.”

COUNTESS MARKIEVICZ (St. Patrick's, Dublin) seconded the amendment.

D. FITZGERALD (Pembroke) was of opinion that the Belfast Pogrom was an attempt to exterminate the Nationalist population there. The Republican movement had been gaining ground in Ulster and to adopt a blockade against Belfast would be to vote for partition.

The ACTING-PRESIDENT said that the was not speaking on behalf of the Government. He was voicing his own views. He disagreed with both the resolution and the amendment. The resolution was practically a declaration of war on one part of their own territory. If the proposed scheme of dislocation were passed and published it would be an admission that Belfast was outside Ireland. The situation did not permit of delay. There were five or six thousand men, representing 40,000 people, thrown out of work, and there was no likelihood of their getting back. A printed form had been prepared which it was sought to compel every Catholic workingman to sign, and which contained a repudiation of Sinn Fein. It was a case where they could not stand aside. There were twelve or thirteen million pounds paid annually into Belfast Banks from Leinster, Munster, and Connacht, and the middle-class employers depended on this money to keep their business going. That could be cut off. If they held up the banks it would bring the Unionist gentlemen to their senses very quickly. He would have the same objection to any other employer in any other part of Ireland imposing a test on his employees as in Belfast. He considered that it should be declared illegal for any employer to impose a test on an employee. If the Belfast employers refused to comply within seven days, then a blockade of Belfast could be declared. In this way they could cut off the whole of Belfast for a period. A white list could then be made out of the firms who refuse to impose any test.

T. MACSUIBHNE (Cork Mid.) agreed with the Acting-President in view of the urgency of the matter. It would however, be a mistake to deal with it on a temporary basis. Any attempt to settle [194] the problem permanently would have to be undertaken along constructive lines. The establishment of co-operative factories to provide employment for Republicans who could be induced to settle in Belfast would be a big step towards the solution of the problem.

JOSEPH MACGRATH (St. James's, Dublin) suggested that the Trades Congress be asked by the Ministry to open negotiations with the employers for a settlement.

M. COLLINS (Cork South) spoke of the effect which a boycott of the Belfast Banks would have in Belfast. He protested, however, against the attempt which had been made by two deputies from the North of Ireland to inflame the passions of members. There was no Ulster question.

LIAM DE ROISTE (Cork City) was opposed to economic boycott as it would mean having to purchase English-made goods instead of Belfast-made articles. Economic penetration was the solution of the Ulster question.

After further discussion the amendment was put and defeated.

The ACTING-PRESIDENT then moved as a further amendment:—

“That the imposition of political or religious tests as a condition of Industrial Employment in Ireland is hereby declared illegal, and that action be taken by the Ministry to prevent such tests being imposed in Ireland.”

After further discussion, this amendment was accepted by SEAN MACENTEE (Monaghan South) and was put and carried.