HC Deb 27 March 1823 vol 8 cc790-800

The following Papers relative to the State of Ireland, were resented to the House:—

No. I.—Letter from the Lord-Lieutenant to Mr. Secretary Peel, containing Extracts from a Letter from the Attorney-general to the Lord-Lieutenant.

Dublin Castle, Nov. 26, 1822.

Sir;—I have the honour to in close, for the information of his majesty's government, the copy of a letter from the attorney-general, together with an authentic report of the evidence taken on the late trials in Dublin, of several persons, for the crimes of administering and of taking unlawful oaths.

I request your particular attention to that part of the letter of the attorney-general, which recommends the extension of the provisions of the act of the 39th Geo. 3rd to Ireland; and I beg leave to express my entire concurrence in that recommendation, and to add my humble request, that the early attention of parliament may be called to this measure, as being intimately connected with the means of checking the progress of the system of illegal associations in Ireland. I have the honour to be, &c. &c. WELLESLEY.

P. S.—These communications would have been forwarded sooner, but that considerable time was required for printing authentic copies of the evidence given on the trials.

Nov. 9, 1822.

My Lord;—Your excellency will learn, from the report of Mr. Greene, who has taken a correct note of the evidence, the particulars of the late trials.—I cannot, however, postpone my congratulations on the result, which I consider as likely, not merely to give an immediate check to the spreading of the conspiracy, but as affording the reasonable expectation of its final suppression at no very distant period.

I fear that, in five or six counties, great numbers, indeed, of the lower classes have been involved in it; some of them from a love of enterprise and ready disposition for mischief; some on a principle of counteraction to exclusive associations of an opposite description; but most of them, I should hope, from terror on the one hand, and the expectation of impunity on the other. This expectation must now be effectually removed; and the terror of the law will, I trust, soon be substituted in the place of the terror of the conspirators.

I strongly incline to think that the course of proceeding, which, with your excellency's sanction, I have adopted, has been the wisest that could, under all the circumstances, have been resorted to.

A prosecution for high treason would have rested on an insecure foundation in law; its success would have been extremely doubtful, with reference to the probable effect of the evidence; and to have been defeated in the attempt to establish such a charge, would have been injurious in a high degree. A charge for a traitorous conspiracy, would not have been liable to the same objections in law, but its success would, in my opinion, have been very doubtful; and even if convictions had been obtained, many persons would have doubted their justice, and the punishment would have been nothing beyond that of a misdemeanor; whereas we now have seven convictions, drawing after them the sentences of transportation for life; and one, that of transportation for seven years; and besides, every person must be entirely convinced, that the crime alleged was really committed, and that the evidence was, in this respect, perfectly true. Universal distrust is now spread amongst these people; and, by watching the occurrences at these meetings, and, perhaps, by a few additional convictions in some of the counties into which the mischief had extended itself, I trust we may, without being too sanguine, look for a gradual return to quiet, and, perhaps, to better dispositions. At the same time, I cannot but wish, that the provisions of the 39th of the late king were extended to this country; under them we could transport for seven years, all who should be proved to be members of the association, without the necessity of establishing the fact of administering or taking the oath; with such an instrument to work with, I should entertain a confident expectation of entirely subduing this offensive and disgusting conspiracy.

Your excellency will observe with regret, that the association has been founded on a principle of religious exclusion. It is, however, a matter of great satisfaction to know, that no person of any rank or consequence, or indeed of any respectable station in society, has joined in or countenanced it. The juries were sworn without any reference to religious persuasion; a rule which I have uniformly observed, and in the consequences of which I have never been disappointed.—I have, &c.



No. II.—Letter from the Lord-lieutenant to Mr. Secretary Peel.

Phœenix Park, January 29th, 1823.

Sir;—A considerable time has elapsed since I have addressed to you a detailed report of outrages committed in the provinces of Ireland, according to the plan which I pursued during the last winter and spring, of submitting periodical statements on that subject, for his majesty's information.

During the summer and the early part of the autumn of 1822, the measures sanctioned by parliament, for the restoration of tranquillity, combined with other causes, had produced such a degree of quiet, that no necessity existed for my usual communications; and I entertained a hope, that I might have been able at this time to furnish a very favourable report of the actual state of the country; and that this winter would have passed without any material disturbance of the public tranquillity.

Although events have happened in some of the provinces, which have disappointed my expectations, I am happy to inform you, that the general condition of Ireland, with respect to internal tranquillity, is considerably ameliorated.

In the county of Limerick, the principal seat of the late disturbances, my expectations have not been disappointed. The reports from the magistrates of that county, present no aggravated cases of crime, but manifest indications of the decline of that system of illegal and secret combination, which originally led to open violence. Information is now more readily afforded; criminals are more easily detected; and the witnesses against them no longer entertain that extreme apprehension of danger, which, during the early part of the year 1822, so universally, and so justly prevailed.

Limerick, therefore, has been restored to a state of tranquillity, and it is now more exempt from crimes than other counties, which have been deemed tranquil. The condition of Limerick, however, cannot justify the removal of any considerable portion of the force of the army or police; nor the suspension of the operation of the Insurrection act.

In the general conflict of political opinion, which is the prevalent character of Ireland, many persons declare the spirit of the people of Limerick to be unimproved; and attribute the existing tranquillity, exclusively to the terror produced by the means employed for enforcing obedience to the law.

But, whatever may be the original cause of tranquillity, I do not apprehend that the county of Limerick will soon be disturbed again, to any great degree. Under the protection of the law, lately enacted, an improved force of police has been established in the county; and the magistrates have incessantly laboured to improve the local administration of justice, and to give additional power to the laws, by a more vigorous and impartial exercise of their provisions.

If the protection now afforded be continued for a sufficient period of time to render the success of the plans of the original agitators hopeless and impracticable, the ordinary laws, under a just and pure administration, may be found amply sufficient for the preservation of the public peace in that county.

It is impossible not to contemplate the improved condition of the county of Limerick with a degree of satisfaction, not confined to the limits of that district, but opening to a prospect of similar and more extensive benefits, through the introduction of similar improvements in other parts of Ireland. Nor can I withhold the testimony of my most cordial approbation of the merits of the nobility, gentry, clergy, and magistrates of Limerick, in enabling the government to lay the foundations of this great and auspicious work—by which the main source of disorder and lawless violence has been rendered an example of tranquillity, and of the due administration of justice. In the advance which has been made towards this salutary reform, the services of Mr. Serjeant Torrens have been most essentially and eminently useful; nor is it possible for me to express, in terms of too warm commendation, my grateful sense of his judicious, humane, and active and persevering exertions.

The county of Clare has generally been exempt, until lately, from outrages of a serious or insurrectionary character.

At the end of November last, however, some disposition to disturbance began to manifest itself in Clare—by notices on the subject of tithes—by punishing persons engaged in the collection of them—and by a violent attack on Mr. M'Cullock, a clergyman, whose life was seriously endangered by the injuries which he suffered.

To such an extent had crime prevailed in the barony of Tulla, that the magistrates had anticipated the necessity of requiring the application of the provisions of the insurrection act.

Serious outrage, however, has been principally confined to the proclaimed districts of the counties of Cork and Tipperary.

At the close of the harvest, a general disposition was manifested, in those districts, to invade the property of the clergy, and of others receiving an income from tithe.

The system of notices (not applied, as formerly, to rents and tithes,) was confined to tithes; and these notices were followed by acts of outrage, differing from those in the last year, both in character and conduct.

Tithe property, whether in the hands of laymen or ecclesiastics, was the object of attack; and the means usually employed, destruction by fire. During the latter part of September, few nights passed without the destruction, by fire, of some building, haggard or stacks of tithe-corn, in the proclaimed baronies of the county of Cork. The same system has continued in those baronies, with some abatement, to the present time.

It is a curious circumstance, however, in the character of these transactions, that, in several instances, the grain had been artfully separated from the straw, and had been sold by the proprietor of the stacks, for its full value; and that the same proprietor had destroyed the stacks of straw by fire, with a view of recovering from the barony the full value of the corn already sold. These cases were not unfrequent.

The incendiary was of course undiscoverable.—The fact of such numerous and secret conflagrations was alleged to be an indisputable proof of general combination, until the vigilance of the military and police actually detected a considerable number of the stacks of straw, cleared of the grain, and prepared for the fire, and thus discovered the whole mystery of this double fraud.

By the activity of the troops and of the police, the number of conflagrations has been gradually reduced; several instances, however, of that outrage occurred during the last week, in one barony.

While these lawless outrages have been directed against tithe property, the former system of robbing houses for arms, has not been altogether abandoned.—Atteratits to destroy persons obnoxious to the insurgents, on account of information given, or of a refusal to obey their commands, have been renewed; but these robberies have not been frequent, and have appeared rather subsidiary to the attainment of other objects, connected with the destruction of the property of the church.

In the course of November, the system extended itself to the barony adjoining those originally proclaimed, to such an extent, as to require the application of the provisions of the Peace Preservation bill.

Instances also have occurred of similar outrages against tithe property, in parts of the county of Cork, more remote from the baronies in which the spirit of violence originally appeared. There is reason to believe, that in some of these cases, the outrages have been perpetrated by persons detached for the special purposes, from the disturbed baronies; and even in the parts of the country where the outrages have most prevailed, they have seldom been conducted by persons of the immediate neighbourhood, with the exception of the cases of fraud already described.

In Tipperary a similar system commenced, though in a mitigated degree. During the latter part of September and the month of October, some destructions of property by fire occurred; notices were posted, and some attacks were made for the purpose of procuring arms. The progress of disturbance appeared so rapid to some persons, as to induce the magistrates, assembled at a special session, to request an extension of the Insurrection act to a barony to which it had not been previously applied.

The request having been received on the eve of the proclamation for carrying in to effect, in that county, the new system of police, it was thought advisable to withhold the application of the Insurrection act, until the effect of the new system of police had been ascertained by experiment.

Many crimes have since been committed in the county of Tipperary, but not generally, of the former insurrectionary character.

The districts of the King's and Queen's counties, bordering on Tipperary, have been affected by similar disorder; property has been destroyed by fire; and some places, great apprehensions have existed of the disturbance of tranquillity. The establishment of an effective police, under the act of the last session, in both these counties, will probably reduce the spirit of outrage within more narrow limits; and, it may be hoped, will ultimately extinguish it.

In the county of Roscommon, notices, of an inflammatory and threatening character, during the winter, have been generally circulated.

Outrages have at intervals been committed, of an aggravated nature, some partaking of the character of those now prevailing in certain districts of the county of Cork, and others more connected with the general disturbances of the last year; but, in consequence of the exertions of the police, the outrages in Roscommon have not attained any alarming height.

Some disturbance has also occurred in the counties of Kildare and Westmeath; it has been met, in both instances, by an extension of the Peace Preservation act to additional baronies.

The province of Ulster maintains its tranquillity. From many quarters information has been received, of an increased activity in the swearing of Ribbon-men; and, in some instances, meetings have been held, which have terminated in serious affrays; but, with the exception of these riotous proceedings, the peace of the province had been generally preserved by the exertions of the gentry and magistrates. This general view of the state of Ireland certainly exhibits a scene of improved tranquillity, compared with the corresponding period of the last year.

Numerous crimes are recorded in the reports of the several magistrates; but they have not been so frequent, and generally not of so sanguinary a character, and not so strongly marked by a systematic resistance of authority. The fear of the law appears, in many instances, to have superseded the dread of lawless vengeance. Difficulties of procuring evidence of crimes, committed even in the presence of many witnesses, still exist; but those difficulties are neither so great nor so general as in the former periods of time. The execution of some individuals, for the murder of a crown witness, at Limerick, has given confidence, to the well-affected; and has created a general impression the law is able to avenge and to protect those who assist in its due administration. On the other hand, in most of the lately disturbed districts, a general distrust of each other, has been diffused amongst the authors and agents of violence and disorder: and a general terror exists of the peril of extensive combinations of insurrection. This alarm has certainly arisen from the more vigorous, and, at the same time, impartial administration of the law.

Undoubtedly, throughout the whole country, a general disposition prevails to evade the property of the clergy, to resist the payment of tithes; and to resort to every means of defeating all demands of the church. This may be partly attributed to the difficulties of the times, partly to the spirit of resisting lawful authority, which has been so sedulously encouraged. While this spirit shall continue to break forth in outrages of the nature now prevailing in some districts of Cork, and in other places; while these outrages shall he committed by combinations of persons not immediately connected with the actual scene of mischief, but traversing the country at night, in gangs of incendiaries; prudence must forbid the relaxation of those extraordinary powers which parliament considered to be necessary for the preservation of the peace of Ireland; and which, duly exercised, have already contributed to produce whatever improvement has been effected in the general state of the country.

Among the causes of public amelioration which have commenced to operate in Ireland, the act of the last session of parliament for the improvement of the police, demands particular notice.

The introduction of the improved system of police, has been accomplished gradually, and with general good will and temper in several counties.

The magistrates have cheerfully cooperated in giving effect to this great and salutary alteration in the internal government of Ireland.

It would neither be prudent nor just to precipitate the extension of so considerable a change of system; the beneficial progress of which might be frustrated, but could not be accelerated by a premature effort to force its universal application.

In some districts, the practical benefits of the system, itself, have already commenced their operation. It would, how- ever, be as vain and presumptuous to expect, instantaneously, the full advantages of such a change, as it would have been rash to hasten its introduction. The course of time, the steady perseverance of the government, and the progressive confidence of the gentry and magistracy, may be expected to mature and perfect the good fruits of this wise and useful law, wherever it has been applied; until a general sense and view of its happy consequences shall sanction its general extension.

In the mean while, it is highly satisfactory to observe, that the early appearance of this plan bears an aspect so favourable and hopeful.

Similar observations occur with respect to the revision of the commission of the peace. No reasonable mind could expect that so invidious a task could be attempted without occasioning partial discontent; or that a work so difficult and complicated, could at once be accomplished and displayed in complete perfection. The experience of all practical government, the rules of all political wisdom, would naturally suggest, that such a revision could not be perfect in its first effort; and must require frequent and careful reconsideration, before its advantages could be entirely realized.

Accordingly, complaints have arisen, with respect to the most delicate and arduous considerations, in the progress of this necessary reform; attention has been paid to these complaints, wherever it has been deemed consistent with the principles of the proposed improvement; and I have no doubt, that the commission of the peace will be the object of constant vigilance and care, until the beneficial views of his majesty's government shall be perfected, to the utmost practical extent, in the general improvement of the magistracy of Ireland.

In some counties, the reform is already almost complete, and is generally satisfactory; while, throughout Ireland, the mere knowledge of the existence of a system of revision has produced salutary consequences, by increasing the diligence, accuracy, and careful conduct of the magistrates—and by a more effectual and more pure administration of the law.

The useful practice of assembling frequently and regularly in, petty session, has been introduced into some countries; and the dangerous habit of administering justice by separate magistrates, at their respective residences, is gradually subsiding.

I have given every encouragement to the extension of the system of holding petty sessions; and, at one moment, I contemplated the propriety of suggesting a law upon the subject. But, having reason to believe that the magistracy is generally disposed to adopt the practice by voluntary regulation, I prefer the experiment of their own uncontrolled goodwill, until I can ascertain, by time, whether the addition of legal rule may be necessary to stimulate their exertions.

From the statement of facts contained in this despatch, and from the observations which I have submitted to you, it will appear, that the general condition of Ireland, with regard to the internal peace and tranquillity of the provinces, is considerably improved since the last winter; that the appearance of systematic disturbance is confined to a few districts on the north-western boundary of the county of Cork; and that, even in those districts, no insurrectionary combination has been manifested; but that a most outrageous attack has been made upon the system of tithes, and upon the rights and property of the church with reference to that system.

That a considerable improvement has been effected in the administration of the law, within the districts which had been disturbed; and that it is reasonable to expect increased vigour and purity in that administration. That the new police had been introduced into the lately disturbed districts, and into others, with general approbation, with the cordial and effective co-operation of the magistrates, and in many instances, with great success in the detection of crime, the speedy apprehension of offenders, and the maintenance of public peace.

That the revision of the magistracy is proceeding regularly; and that the general conduct of the magistrates, in establishing frequent petty sessions, and other useful regulations, affords just reason to expect a progressive improvement in the magistracy of Ireland.

I have not referred in this despatch to the dangerous system of associations under the obligation of secret and mysterious oaths. Having, sometime since, submitted to you a separate despatch, relative to the trial and conviction of several persons denominated Ribbonmen, I added to that despatch some observations, suggesting the necessity of strengthening the law of Ireland against the peril of those societies.

The question of the increase or diminution of the spirit of this association, is stated differently, according to the particular views, imaginary interests, and flagrant zeal of conflicting parties.

In this contention (ludicrous in principle and theory, but mischievous to the state in practice), it is, at least, an advantage to the king's government to have completely detected and publicly exposed the whole craft and mystery of the Ribbon conspiracy. And I cannot believe that such an exposure, accompanied by such convictions, sentences, and punishments, should neither assuage the zeal, nor abate the bravery of these covenanters, nor relax the holy bond of their illegal oaths, and treasonable contract.

But I request your attention to the suggestions which I have submitted, for the more effectual restraint of this system of mysterious engagements, formed under the solemnity of secret oaths, binding his majesty's liege subjects to act under authorities not known to the law, nor derived from the state, for purposes undefined; not disclosed in the first process of initiation; nor until the infatuated novice has been sworn to the vow of unlimited and lawless obedience.

The vigour and activity of the law should be exerted to extirpate this mischief, which has been a main cause of the disturbances and miseries of Ireland. The mystery is now distinctly exposed: I therefore anxiously hope and trust, that his majesty's government will add to the various benefits which they have already-imparted to this country, the inestimable favour of abolishing by law, in Ireland, an evil, which has been abolished by law in England. I have, &c


P. S. In examining this despatch, I perceive, that although the necessity of continuing the Insurrection act, is repeatedly to be inferred from the tenor of the facts and observations stated, I have not directly recommended that measure; I request his majesty's government to understand, that I consider the renewal of the Insurrection act, for another year, to be indispensably requisite, not only for the preservation of tranquillity in Ireland, I but for the success of all those plans of improvement which may be expected, ultimately, to render the Insurrection act unnecessary.—W.