HC Deb 18 July 1831 vol 4 cc1412-22
Mr. O'Connell

wished to advert to a subject in which he felt a deep interest. When the subject of the Irish Yeomanry was formerly before the House, he had understood, that the right hon. Gentleman had pledged himself that the issuing of arms to the Orange Yeomanry should be discontinued. But he had been informed, that on the 11th of July a new company had been organized, called the Ogle Blues, and had received arms from the Government. That company did not stand high in the estimation of the county of Wexford, in which it was formed. However, on the 11th of July it received its arms in the town of Wexford — the men had gone up the river afterwards in a boat, bearing Orange flags, firing shots on both sides of the river, having a band playing party tunes. Such was the pledge which he understood had been given, and such was the manner in which it had been redeemed. More blood had been shed in Ireland. At Banbridge four men and one woman had been shot, and it was said, that two or three Orangemen had been shot. The latter was doubtful, but it was quite certain that the Catholics had been killed. In the town of Enniskillen, General Officers had joined the procession of the Orangemen in their regimentals; and how was it possible, he would ask, to preserve tranquillity in Ireland if such things were practised, and arms were put into the hands of one party? That more blood had been shed was not, he believed the fault of the Catholics, who had acted with a degree of forbearance which entitled them to the protection of the Government. In Enniskillen the proclamation had been disregarded, and disregarded by the Magistrates, who had attended the procession which the proclamation forbad. As Lord Redesdale said long ago, there was in Ireland one law for the poor and another for the rich. Let the House look at what had happened at Newtownbarry. The Government, indeed, had done its duty on that occasion, and deserved his thanks. But what had happened there? Why the private Yeomanry had been sent to gaol, while the officer, who had given orders to fire, according to the testimony of three or four witnesses, was let out on bail. This was extraordinary, too, because, of the three Magistrates who had conducted the investigation, two were for committing all the parties to gaol, but three or four Magistrates were let in from the county, and they over-ruled the decision of the two Magistrates who had gone through the whole investigation. That fact was only one of a family, and it might give the House a clue to the disturbances in Ireland. One class of persons despised the proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant —acted against it—encouraged processions—and saw the land deluged with blood. Ought these Magistrates, ought the people who did these things, to be intrusted with arms? On such a subject it was impossible for the Representatives of Ireland to do their duty and remain silent. The processions of the Catholics were not joined by any one gentleman of family or influence; they were exclusively processions of the people; hut the instant the proclamation was issued, the Catholic gentlemen used their influence to suppress these processions, and succeeded. There were no processions this year of the Catholics. The Catholic population had obeyed the Government; the loyal population—the population who called themselves exclusively the friends of the Government— had disobeyed the law and defied the proclamation. He felt it his duty to ask, therefore, if he had misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, and if he had not pledged himself, that no more arms should be issued to the Yeomanry? If the right hon. Gentleman had, as he understood, given such a pledge, he was sure that it was not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman if arms had since been issued to the Yeomanry.

Mr. Stanley

said, this was the first time that he had ever heard of the existence of such a corps as the Ogle Blues, and, a fortiori, he could not have known of their having received arms. The pledge which he had already given, he would again repeat. Arms were certainly in process of delivery to the Yeomanry in lieu of those which had been pronounced unserviceable, when the affray at Newtownbarry caused the Government to direct, that the issue should be discontinued, till further orders should be received upon the subject. He hoped, therefore, that the information which the hon. Member had just stated would be found, on inquiry, to prove incorrect. The greatest satisfaction, he believed, had been occasioned by the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers, in sending down a stipendiary Magistrate to investigate the merits of that transaction, the result of which had been, that out of forty-one persons against whom informations were laid, seven were committed, and the remainder were let out on bail to different amounts, according to the nature and extent of the allegations affecting them. The evidence against Captain Graham had been found so imperfect and contradictory, that the Magistrate, in the exercise of his discretion, had felt himself justified in taking bail, in his case, to the amount of 1,000l., with two sureties in 500l. each; and, in fact, no one could entertain the smallest doubt that a man of such respectability, under the circumstances, would be forthcoming to take his trial. With respect to the affair at Banbridge on the 12th of July, he was informed that it was a preconcerted affair between both the parties, who were determined to fight it out. The Protestants were determined to have the procession, and the Catholics were determined to prevent it, and it was agreed between the two parties, that they should meet at a certain place, and settle their difference by a fight. When the procession took place, the party which attacked it were not of the neighbourhood, but a faction called the Threshers, that were wandering about there, and laid wait for the procession. They were regularly dislodged, and though a great many shots were fired, he believed, that no person was killed, and that those who died, were drowned in the river. He had not heard, that any person had died of a gun-shot wound, though three or four hundred shots were fired. A stipendiary Magistrate was sent down from the Castle to inquire into the matter, but a Coroner's Inquest, composed of six Catholics and six Protestants, had found such a verdict that further inquiry was unnecessary. Government had acted in the affair with the utmost impartiality. With regard to the processions, the Government had expressed a strong feeling on the subject; but it must be remembered that there was no law which made the Orange processions illegal. The Government had discouraged such processions, but did not think it necessary to resort to any new laws for this purpose.

Mr. Robert Ferguson

regretted to be obliged to observe, that those unhappy Orange processions had found their way into Scotland. He had just received notice, that in attempting to check the proceedings of certain Irishmen, which were contrary to the feelings of the people of Scotland, one constable had been killed, and several people severely wounded. If such was the result of these political processions, it was high time for the Legislature to put them down.

Sir John Newport

urged, that it was the duty of the Legislature to provide by law against the recurrence of these scenes of wanton violence and Outrage, in commemoration of that which had occurred considerably more than a century back. Had similar celebrations followed up the battle of Culloden, no one could doubt, that Scotland would exhibit as bitter religious animosities as had now afflicted Ireland for more than a similar period. It was, therefore, obviously the duty of Parliament to make it penal to join in any of these processions from this time forth. He had seen a letter that had been received by the hon. member for Ayr, describing the riot in Scotland, and stating, that it was caused by Irishmen of the neighbourhood celebrating the 12th of July.

The Lord Advocate

had heard of the unhappy affray to which the hon. Member had alluded. It arose from a procession which took place at Girvan, on the I2thof July, where several bands of Orangemen had resolved to have a procession. Some stones were thrown, and on two constables stepping forward to remonstrate with the Orangemen, the latter fired at them, and one of the constables was instantly shot. More shots were fired, and several persons were wounded. He did not wish to enter further into the subject, as it was his duty, and the duty of those who exercised his authority in his absence, to institute a public inquiry into this transaction. He wished to add, that the ordinary police of the country ought to be strengthened by some law, to put an end to processions wherever there was a large portion of the Irish population.

Mr. John Wood

observed, that it was high time Government should take some decided step, and put an end to the processions, which disturbed the peace of Ireland, and appeared to gather increased strength, and were attended with more aggravated circumstances in each succeeding year. If it were true, that officers in the military service of his Majesty had disgraced themselves so far as to countenance the processions of the Orangemen, and if, also, the Magistrates had not done their duty, they ought to be dismissed from their employment with disgrace; and he must express a hope that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would not overlook such conduct.

Mr. Stanley

said, that, as yet, no representation had been made to Government of Magistrates having been concerned in these processions—but, in case any were made, he assured the House that the authorities would deal with the offenders most severely, and inflict that punishment which such an offence would warrant.

An Hon. Member observed, that what had occurred would show to the House, how unfit these men were, to be allowed to carry arms, and how mistaken were those who placed arms in such hands for the preservation of the peace. In justice to the Government of Ireland, he must say, that the arms were not intrusted to these men, but were sent down to the Captain of the corps, with a discretionary power to give them as he saw occasion. The men of this corps,—the Ogle True Blues, as the corps were called—a name, the signification of which was well understood in that part of the country—said, that they would have the arms, and that if the Captain did not give them voluntarily, they would go and take them. Surely men under so little discipline as this were not fit to be intrusted with arms.

Lord Cole

begged to deny the truth of the statement made by the hon. and learned member for Clare, in so far as it related to the Orange processions in Enniskillen.

Mr. George Dawson

did not wish to prolong the discussion, but he really could not hear the recommendations of the right hon. member for Waterford (Sir John Newport), backed as they were by the hon. member for Preston (Mr. J. Wood), without entering against them his strongest and most earnest protest. He believed, from his knowledge of the Orangemen of the North of Ireland, that any attempt to put them down, and to prevent their processions by legislative enactments, would utterly fail. ["hear, hear!" from Mr. O'Connell.] The hon. member for Kerry cheered that, and he might do so with good reason, for no one had been more successful in violating the law, as a member of illegal associations, than that hon. Member. He repeated, however, his firm conviction, that the Orangemen were not to be put down in that manner, and that nothing would be more likely to perpetuate the evils of processions, than to attempt to put down, by the means of legislative enactments, those privileges which they believed themselves to have derived from their forefathers, who shed their blood to obtain them. He was no Orangeman himself, but he knew much of them from his connection with the county of Derry, and he believed he could say with truth, that in the North of Ireland, and particularly in that part of it to which he belonged, there was the strongest disposition to comply with the views of the Government, and to put an end to all processions. Everything that could be done had been done in former years by the Protestant Gentlemen and Magistrates to stop the processions, but they had not succeeded until the present year, when, he believed, for the first time in the memory of man, no procession had taken place, except that one at Banbridge, which had produced such painful consequences. He had the strongest reason to believe, that these processions would now be put an end to, but he repeated, that the course recommended would be dangerous and ineffectual.

Mr. Hume

was surprised at the advice given by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, who had himself admitted, that these men had risen in large bodies, in hostile array against their fellow-subjects, and who yet contended that no attempt ought to be made by the Legislature to put them down. "Why, the very fact of such meetings of large bodies of armed men, as constituted these processions, was itself a reason that such meetings should be stopped. In his opinion, these men should not be [allowed to have arms; and if any farther riot or bloodshed arose from Orange processions, or from the violence of the Yeomanry, he would say, that the blood would be on the head of the Government which did not deprive them of the means of doing mischief. AH classes of his Majesty's subjects in Ireland ought to he placed on the same footing. Why should one class of men be armed to insult and domineer over their fellow-men? From the present Government he hoped better things, but from the late Government he had no such hope, as their policy was to keep up party distinctions. He was, however, surprised, that the present Government had not altered the system. It was monstrous that out of twenty-one Magistrates in one county, who had to settle the disputes between these parties, not one was a Roman Catholic. Was that fair? Was it likely to promote the ends of justice? The better way would be, to have the Government of Ireland carried on here, and we should then get rid of all those local and party distinctions, and have justice fairly administered. He asked what reason could be given for continuing arms in the hands of a body of men, who, when told they should not have the use of them, on a particular occasion, declared they would go and take them? After such a statement, what excuse could the Government offer for continuing arms in the hands of these corps? He could only attribute such conduct to some preponderating influence, which Government were ashamed to acknowledge. The Irish people must have justice dealt out impartially to them, and these local influences, which were so grossly abused, must be done away with. These Orange processions, and other party displays, must be put down by law, before they could hope to see the country tranquil.

Sir R. Bateson

regretted to hear such language as that which had fallen from the hon. member for Middlesex on this subject. There never was a time, for years, when so little display had been made by Orangemen as this year. As to the melancholy affair at Banbridge, which had been alluded to, no authentic account had yet been received, and it was most unfair to attack the Magistrates and Yeomanry by irritating language, until such an account was before the House. It was, however, to him, who, as an Irishman, was well acquainted with what had formerly occurred on that day, some consolation to think, that this was the only occasion, this year, in which blood had been shed. The day, in general, had passed overmuch more quietly than formerly. As to the hon. Member's suggestion, to get rid of the Government of Ireland, he would only say, that the hon. Member could not advise any step which would be more effectual for promoting the question of a Repeal of the Union. Any one who took the trouble to look back to the exertions of the Yeomanry in 1798, must acknowledge we owed mainly to their services the continuance of the connexion between the countries. When imputations were thrown on the conduct of the right hon. Secretary, and the Government of Ireland, he thought it right to say, that as far as the Orangemen and processions were concerned, it had been strictly impartial. If it pursued the same course on all occasions, it would be supported by all the friends of Ireland. He concurred with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. G. Dawson) that any attempt to put down the Orangemen of Ireland by force, would be exceedingly impolitic, and would not have the intended effect.

Mr. Goulburn

observed, that the hon. member for Middlesex, not knowing, or leaving out of consideration, the facts of a case, had charged the late Government with keeping up religious dissensions in Ireland. He denied, that the policy of the late Government had been to encourage any such dissensions. The measures to put down Orange Societies with secret oaths, were recommended and carried into execution by the late Government, which did every thing in its power to put down party distinctions and dissensions. He wished with all his heart, that these processions and party displays were put an end to.

Mr. Ruthven

regretted, that arms should be continued in the hands of such men as those who had taken part in the late proceedings in Ireland, for it was lamentable that such men should have the power to produce such mischief. He admitted, that the prevailing opinion amongst these men was, that these processions were not illegal. In a case which occurred some time ago in the county of Down, an Orange procession was put down by the aid of the civil power, and some of the men who were taken into custody, and sent to trial, in order to have the opinion of the Judge as to whether such meetings were illegal, produced warrants, signed by the Duke of Cumberland, and having also the names of many gentlemen of rank and station, as a sort of justification of their meeting. It was not unnatural, that when a man conceived himself authorized to hold an Orange Lodge, he was likewise authorized to join an Orange procession. The Magistrates who met on the occasion, thought the affair of sufficient importance to send an account of it to Government, but they received no answer. The men, when brought to trial, which was only effected by the determination of the Magistrates, after much opposition, submitted, but no sentence was prayed for, as the prosecutors only wished to have the opinion of the Court as to the illegality of those assemblies. The Judge on that occasion (Mr. Justice Jebb) stated generally, that which they all knew before, that any meeting calculated to excite terror, and tending to a breach of the peace, was illegal. The steps taken by the Magistracy on that occasion had, however, this effect—that the peace of that part of the country had not been disturbed since, by any such meetings, and he had no doubt that a little active exertion, and a patient and conciliatory disposition on the part of the Magistrates, would put an end to them in every part of the country. He regretted, that the wish of Government, that these processions should be discontinued, was not communicated to the Magistrates, instead of being expressed only to Orange Lodges and Orange Yeomanry; and he was certain, that with the assistance of two or three active right-minded Magistrates, he could stop all such meetings in the county of Down. But while Magistrates avowed themselves in courts of justice as office bearers in Orange Lodges, as he had heard on one occasion, in the presence of one of the Judges of Assize, who never noticed the circumstance, it was impossible to expect that Orange processions could be put down. What gave them additional importance was, that they were mailer of military parade, and when a Magistrate acted as Grand Master, or Deputy Grand Master, he gave a sanction to them. He admitted, readily, that it would be impossible to put down such processions, unless the country gentlemen assisted, and as they could put them down, he said the blame of their existence attached to them. He must express a hope, that the attention of Government, which had hitherto been so little directed to this subject, might be now called to it. While he was upon this matter, he begged to remark, that the practice of inquiring into the religion of men belonging to any corps, had a very bad effect, he himself had heard such inquiries made. The Yeomanry had expected the countenance and sanction of the Government, they expected to be put on immediate pay. He was well acquainted with the feelings of the people, and be was convinced, that nothing would effectually promote peace in Ireland, until these corps were suppressed.

Mr. Spring Rice

deprecated this desultory discussion in a case where no result could be come to. There was, in fact, no difference of opinion, for every Gentleman had expressed his disapprobation of these processions. He thought, therefore, that the sooner the House proceeded to the business of the Day the better.

Mr. J. E. Gordon

said, he did not think they ought to put an end to a discussion in which the innocent had been condemned, and the guilty praised, without the former being vindicated, and the latter condemned. In the late affair, a body of Orangemen were proceeding quietly along in a procession, as they were accustomed, on July 12th, when they were attacked and fired upon by a set of persons calling themselves Threshers, who were ready prepared with arms for the purpose, and secreted behind hedges. The Orangemen were thus compelled to act in their own defence. There was nothing criminal in their processions, and no justification of this attack made on them, by men assembled in military array, could be invented. When the innocent party were stigmatized, and the guilty were praised, hon. Members on his (the Opposition) side of the House, were called upon to defend the right.

Mr. Perrin

said, there was no necessity for a new enactment on the subject; all that was wanting was, that the existing law should be declared and put in force. For his own part, he had no doubt whatever, that Orange processions were illegal. He know, indeed, that the directions and authority of Government had been unable to prevent them in some places; at the same time he was aware the late Government had taken active steps to put them down, and had issued orders in June, 1829 —that no person connected with the Yeomanry should join these processions. In consequence of those orders, a captain of one of these corps had issued such directions to his men, but the lieutenant suppressed them, and several men attended the processions — gross outrages were committed, and yet the lieutenant was not censured, although these facts came out on inquiry.

Colonel Conolly

said, that Orange processions, on the late occasion, were not by one-tenth so numerous as in former years. The explanation of the right hon. Secretary ought to have saved them from this discussion, particularly as the matter was still under investigation.