HC Deb 27 March 1823 vol 8 cc757-65

The reader is requested to substitute the following correct report of Mr. Dawson's Speech on this subject, in the room of the brief outline which will be found at p. 529. It took place on the 10th of May, upon the bringing up of the report of the Committee on the Army Estimates. On the resolution, "That the sum of 19,384l. 4s. 3d. be granted for the charge of Volunteer Corps in Ireland," Mr. Spring Rice took occasion to make some pointed observations on the conduct of the Orange Associations. Upon which,

Mr. Dawson

said, he thought the House had some right to complain of the manner in which all questions relating to Ireland were treated. Whenever an Irish subject was started, it was a signal to commence an attack upon those who were designated Orangemen. He was in hopes, from the tone adopted by his hon. friend, the member for Limerick, in the beginning of his speech, that he would have avoided this dangerous and unnecessary topic, but in the conclusion his moderation failed him. According to his view, the magistrates, the yeomanry, and the police were all Orangemen; nay, the first symptoms of the Orange spirit which had showed itself in the south, he traced to the importation of the police in that district. Now, as a proof how soundly these aspersions were made, and with what little justice, he would take the liberty of correcting the error into which his hon. friend had fallen; and he was sure his hon. friend would excuse him, because it was only seldom that he gave any proofs of incorrectness. His hon. friend had stated, that the south of Ireland was entirely free from the spirit of Orangeism until it had been introduced by the police.—If his hon. friend had ever visited Bandon, in the county of Cork, he would have found an inscription on its gates which savoured strongly of those principles, which are denominated Orange principles in Ireland:— Turk, Infidel, or Atheist May enter here—but not a Papist. He merely mentioned this circumstance to prove, that even gentlemen of his hon. friend's accuracy were not very scrupulous in their assertions when an attack was to be made on that devoted and calumniated body of men.—But if he was not disposed to agree with the member for Limerick, he was still less disposed to agree with the member for Aberdeen. He could not help expressing his indignation at the manner in which he came down to the House, night after night, and made the most sweeping declarations against every institution of the country. He trusted the House would pardon him for giving vent to his feelings; but, having the honour of commanding a corps of yeomanry—having the honour of coming from that part Ireland, which, of late, had been exposed to so much misrepresentation—he could not sit still, and permit the hon. gentleman to assert, that the yeomanry were more ready to foment disturbance than to quell it, that they were willing at any time to turn their arms against the government, without calling upon the House to mark their indignation against such unmerited attacks. The hon. gentleman might think himself justified in such a course; but, he would ask the House, what degree of conciliation, what prospect of abating party feuds, there could be, when a member gravely and deliberately accuses a whole body of men, and persons of the highest Tank and respectability in the country, of encouraging treason and sedition. Will men with spirit and feeling submit to such accusations in silence? Where were his proofs? Not personal knowledge—not experience, not practice, not observation; but drawn from the most polluted sources—from either anonymous correspondents, or mischievous detractors. His hon. friend, the member for Limerick, himself an Irishman, would not have had recourse to such a mode of argument; but the hon. member—a stranger, a foreigner—neither acquainted with the habits or history of the country—without inquiry, and without hesitation, makes his unfounded statement. He called upon the House for protection, not for himself, but for his injured and calumniated countrymen. In order to indulge his rancour against the Orangemen, the hon. member had travelled widely out of his track, and had forgotten the subject more immediately before the House. He (Mr. Dawson) should, however, take the liberty of recalling the attention of the House to the question properly under discussion. With respect to the policy of continuing the yeomanry in Ireland, he thought no man who looked back to the distinguished sevices of that gallant body of men; no man who looked forward to the events which the present state of society in Ireland is likely to produce, would object to the continuance of such a constitutional force—a force upon which the same reliance might be placed in times of future danger, as had always distinguished its exertions when danger had actually appeared. From the first enrollment of the yeomanry, in the year 1796, down to the present period, the loyalty—the same desire to support the constitution, whether assailed by foreign or domestic foes—the same readiness to sacrifice their domestic comforts, to appear in arms at the call of government, had always distinguished the yeomanry of Ireland; and he could see nothing in the present state of Ireland to justify the government in depriving themselves of the support of this force. For the last four or five years a daring opposition to the laws—a secret system of intimidation, had manifested itself throughout Ireland; in 1820 it broke out into actual rebellion in the west; no sooner was that quelled than it burst out with increased atrocity in the south. The king's troops were Insufficient, and the country gentlemen most gladly availed themselves of the services of the yeomanry, wherever they could be found. Instead of complaining that they were too numerous, the complaint was, that they were too few. In his opinion, the yeomanry was necessary to the salvation of the country; it had contributed, and always would contribute, to cheer and support the loyal and well-affected—to dishearten and to alarm the turbulent and disaffected; its strength had been well administered by the government; and notwithstanding the calumnies of the hon. gentleman, and the misrepresentations of the public press, its power had never been abused by the members of the yeomanry themselves, and it has found no detractors; it has found no enemies, except in those who feared the beneficial influence of its example, and who saw the annihilation of their own rebellious hopes, in the loyalty and purity of its principles: it has received, over and over again, the thanks of the parliament of Ireland—it has received the thanks of the parliament of the United empire: its conduct, in the most perilous times, has been praised by the lords-lieutenant, in their speeches to both houses of parliament in Ireland; and their services have been acknowledged and honoured by the notice of his majesty himself, as will appear by a reference to the lords' Journals in Ireland, in 1799. But, as a convincing proof of the estimation in which this force was held during the period of the rebellion, he would take the liberty of reading an extract from the report of the secret committee, appointed by the Irish Commons to examine into the disturbances of 1798—and be it recollected, that this secret committee had the best means of knowing both the causes of the rebellion, and the means which checked it, by having the evidence before them of some of the most notorious persons who figured at that time, such as Arthur O'Connor, M'Nevin, Sheares, and others—the extract attributed the salvation of the country to the yeomanry. Up to this period, he never heard a word of opposition to the renewal of the act, which has taken place, on various occasions, within the last five or six years. He thought the House was unanimous in its approbation of the constitution of that force; and it was with sorrow that he heard the report of the debate which had taken place, on the introduction of the bill. He never regretted the indisposition, which prevented him from attending his duty in the House, so much as on that night; and he gladly availed himself of this opportunity of expressing his sentiments upon the yeomanry in general, and particularly upon what fell from his hon. friend, the member for Limerick.—He thought he de, parted from his usual good sense and discretion, in allowing himself to make a comparison in the number of yeomanry corps in the north and south of Ireland, creating thereby an impression, that the greater number in the north was owing to the preponderance of Protestant, or, what latterly has become most improperly synonymous in Ireland, of Orange feeling. He thought it would have been wiser to have abstained, at the present moment, from any insinuation, which savoured more of party than of argument, which can have no other effect than to throw out an additional bone of contention between the two parties, and which, by a comparison addressed to the passions, and not to the judgment of the country, will remove still farther and farther the hope of that conciliation, which he so strongly advocates, and against which, by a singular felicity, he has been ingenious enough to throw out this new stumbling block.

He regretted also the intention, expressed by his hon. friend, of proposing a clause to prevent the yeomanry from joining in what he calls orange processions, and playing party tunes—with respect to the last assertion, his usual accuracy has failed him—if it had not, he would have seen that there is no occasion for any such clause—for he would venture to assert, that, for a considerable time, the yeomanry, as a body, never have joined in any such processions, or played any party tunes. There is an annual order issued by government to prevent such practices, and if any corps had disobeyed this order, he was confident, on proof of such disobedience, that it would have been disbanded instantly. Such reports may appear in the newspapers, which are so fond of considering the yeo- marry for their own party purposes, but they have no foundation in fact; he had himself sat upon trials, wherein, in the collusion of parties, the yeomanry had no more to say to the quarrel than the clergy or the army; but because one of the parties, whether the aggressor or the aggressed, happened to be a yeoman, he had seen the trials magnified in the hostile newspapers, into regular conflicts between the Orangemen and Catholics—he did not fear contradiction in asserting, that the yeomanry, as a body, had not infringed this order, and that his noble friend was greatly misinformed.

Now, with respect to the insinuation which the hon. member for Limerick had thrown out, of an undue degree of preference being shown to the north in the establishment of yeomanry corps, the answer is very obvious. It is true, that out of 328 corps in Ireland, 208 are to be found in the province of Ulster: his hon. friend is aware, that, in the years 1795 and 1796, there existed a formidable coalition between the Presbyterians and the Roman Catholics, which broke out afterwards into the rebellion of 1798. The dangers of this rebellion were so great, that the government thought the military force in Ireland, at that time, much too small, and, according to the preamble of the Yeomanry act, "that further measures were become necessary for the defence of the kingdom, and for the preservation and security of the lives and properties of his majesty's subjects." It was therefore proposed to the loyal and well-affected of all religious persuasions, to enrol themselves into military corps; and, in order to avoid the embarrassments which had arisen under the old volunteer system, in which the men chose their own officers, the new yeomanry were to act under officers commissioned by his majesty. This was the origin of the yeomanry establishment—it was formed without any view to religious distinctions. There was but one qualification necessary, namely, loyalty and attachment to the constitution of the country, and a desire to subdue those who wished to overturn it. But if his hon. friend had consulted the publications of that day, he must have found how very soon the spirit of party manifested itself in this as it universally does in every case in Ireland. The Presbyterians soon detached themselves from the rebellion, when they discovered the real designs of their colleagues and allies, the Roman Catholics—when they found that instead of establishing a republic, their favourite system, they were instrumental in forwarding the designs of the Roman Catholics for the overthrow of all government, and the extirpation of the Protestant religion. They soon detached themselves from the rebellion, and many enrolled themselves in the different yeomanry corps established within their districts. But the Roman Catholics adopted a different course of proceeding—they not only opposed themselves to the establishment in its very commencement, by discouraging all persons of their persuasion from enrolling themselves in the yeomanry, but when parish meetings were summoned by the churchwardens and magistrates, for carrying the provisions of the act into execution, the Catholics attended the vestry-rooms in multitudes, and attempted to stop all the proceedings by clamour and vociferation. Finding their efforts unavailing to crush the establishment, they waited upon Mr. Pelham, then chief secretary, and proposed to enrol themselves into a corps of their own sect exclusively. Mr. Pelham most properly declined their proposal, and recommended them to join their Protestant fellow-subjects in defence of their country without distinction of religion. But this recommendation was far from their intentions; and finding the enrollment going on with great success, and the ranks of the yeomanry filled daily with persons of the greatest character and property in the country, the Catholic leaders broke out into open condemnations of the establishment, entered into resolutions at public meetings against it, published them in their own newspapers, and loaded the government with every species of abuse, for having formed this useful body of men in defence of the country, and calumniated the yeomanry themselves in the grossest manner, by the application of party and factious epithets. The consequence was, that the spirit of the Catholic leaders in Dublin spread throughout the whole country, with a few exceptions; and as the Catholics declined entering into the corps, it naturally happened that, in those parts of the country where the Protestants prevailed in number, as in the province of Ulster, the corps were also most numerous, and where the Catholics preponderated, as in the south and west, the number of the corps de- clined. This was the arrangement into which the establishment naturally fell at its institution, and it has continued so, with very little variation, up to the present time. Now, with respect to the effect which has been produced on the peace of the country by this establishment, he would take six counties in the north, which have the greatest number of yeomanry corps in them, and he would take six counties in the west of Ireland, which have the smallest number, and let the House mark the result. Down has 32 corps, Antrim 29, Tyrone 25, Fermanagh 23, Cavan 21, Donegal 19; are any symptoms of disturbance to be found in any of those counties? Donegal may be afflicted with illicit distillation, and may be the scene of conflicts between gaugers and illicit distillers, but there is nothing dangerous, nothing political in, these conflicts; they are not disputes between the yeomanry and the peasantry, but between the peasantry and the revenue officers; all those counties are quiet; peaceable, and, as far as the circumstances of the times will admit of, prosperous. Now, look at the other parts of Ireland—Cork, the largest county, has 8 corps, Kilkenny has 3, Limerick 3, Tipperary 7, Waterford 1, Westmeath 4, Galway O. Let the House mark the contrast, in every one of those counties, Waterford excepted—the Insurrection act is in force. Such is the disposition of the people, that the most rigorous means are necessary to keep them even in apparent subordination. They neither fear God nor respect man; and if there is a temporary calm at present, it is owing to the force employed to maintain order, and not to any returning love of good habits. Look at the present condition of the north of Ireland, where this much calumniated yeomanry force is said to produce such disorders; where it is said to be the promoter of mischief; the origin of outrage, violence, and irritation; the bane and curse of the country; the parent of rapine, murder, and spoliation. And look to the general condition of the south, where, the inhabitants ought to be happy, because the yeomanry force is comparatively small. In the north, the people are industrious and contented; and having property of their own, they abstain from attacking that of others. In the south, the people are neither industrious nor contented; and, having nothing of their own, they attack life and property with the most indiscriminate cruelty. In the north, the people have arms, which they use only in defence of, their king and country; in the south, the people will risk any danger to get possession of arms, which are destined to be used against the constitution and the state. There is no part of his majesty's dominions where the power of the law is more recognized; where there is more ardent attachment to the constitution; where there is more tranquillity, order, and regularity, or more safety in confiding the possession of arms to the peasantry, than in the north. There is no part of his majesty's dominions where there is more contempt for the laws, more hatred to the established order of things, more danger from the possession of arms than in the south; and though he could not hope to convince the hon. member for Limerick that he might trust himself with perfect safety to the yeomanry of the north, yet he did not despair of securing his acquiescence in this respect, that if the government, according to his principles of justice, was to establish an equal number of yeomanry in Cork, Tipperary, and Limerick, as exist at present in Down, Antrim, and Tyrone, that the nocturnal visits of captain Rock's men for, the possession of their arms, would make a residence in those counties even less desirable than it is at present. He did not wish to be understood to condemn the establishment of yeomanry in those counties, if arms could with safety be trusted to any class of the population, and if those persons would take care to prevent them from falling into dangerous hands. Let corps be formed for the protection of the county, and no matter whether they are composed of Catholics or Protestants; but he objected to the sweeping equalization of force, by which the Protestants of the north were to be disarmed, for the sake of gratifying the prejudices of the member for Aberdeen, and of giving their arms to others, who either cannot keep them, or may by possibility abuse them. Such were his opinions of the yeomanry, and he trusted, if any warm expression had escaped from him in their defence, that the House would consider the member for Aberdeen as responsible for the warmth of the discussion, and not him, who only stood up, in defence of himself and his constituents.