HC Deb 14 June 1832 vol 13 cc717-28
Mr. Stanley

then rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to restrain, in certain cases, Party Processions in Ireland. He hoped that, at that late period of the session, and with a knowledge of the near approach of one of those periodical processions which it was the object of his Bill to restrain, no hon. Member would object to his bringing forward his motion at that late hour of the night (half-past one o'clock). He acknowledged that the title of his bill was calculated to awaken constitutional jealousy; at the same time, in the provisions of the Bill itself there was nothing to alarm the warmest advocate of the most extensive political liberty. The object of his Bill was not to fetter the manifestation of political opinion in any way whatever. His Bill was directed against party processions connected with religious subjects, and calculated to maintain and prolong religious animosities, which moved with banners exciting angry feelings, and which were not unfrequently armed, ready to meet the conflicts they provoked. It would be for the House to decide, after it had made itself acquainted with the details of the measure, whether he had properly characterized its nature and extent. The object of it, he again repeated, was, to place certain restrictions on those processions which, for a series of years now past, had taken place periodically—which arose out of the former collision of religious opinions—and which produced no other result than an increase of that mutual rancour, which for so long a time had animated the two great religious sects into which Ireland was unfortunately divided. His Majesty's present Government had hoped, and their predecessors in office had also hoped, that the settlement of the Catholic Question would have terminated these displays of religious animosity; and any Government would have preferred waiting for the happy consummation of that healing measure—for a healing measure he was certain it would still turn out to be—to placing restrictions upon those ebullitions of sectarian feeling which it was the object of this measure to restrain. But the experience of the last three years proved too clearly that no diminution of that rancorous feeling had yet taken place. Year after year the religious festivals of both parties had been marked by violent ebullitions of religious feeling; and scarcely one of the processions by which they were distinguished, had terminated in Ireland without tumult and bloodshed. Former Governments had issued proclamations warning the people that these processions were illegal. The most respectable men of both parties had exerted themselves—and, in many instances had exerted themselves successfully—in order to prevent these displays of angry feelings. He knew that several Magistrates, who, though they were themselves enrolled among the Orangemen, had shown the most marked anxiety to put an end to these processions, which terminated not only in bloodshed for the day, but in the continuation of animosities for years, he might perhaps say, for generations. On the other hand, it was only an act of justice to the Catholic clergy to acknowledge, that they had endeavoured, with the most praiseworthy zeal, to prevent the display of Catholic feeling on the 17th of March. At the same time, both the Orange Magistrates and the Catholic Clergy were placed by those processions in a situation of delicacy and of difficulty, from which it was the object of this Bill to relieve them. Every one of these processions, as they had all a tendency to break the peace, was a misdemeanour by the common law; but the question which rendered the interference of a Magistrate so difficult, was the question as to the precise moment when these meetings became illegal. The Magistrate must have the oath of an informer, declaring his apprehension that a breach of the peace would ensue from them; and, even when that oath was obtained, the Magistrate had to exercise his discretion, lest he should interfere with an assembly that was perfectly legal, or should admit a meeting to continue which was illegal. The object of his Bill was, to define the cases in which these processions were illegal, and therefore punishable as a misdemeanour, and to lay down a line which would enable the Magistracy, by following it, to put an end to such processions when they were illegal: At that late hour of the night it was impossible for him to enter minutely into a description of the details of the Bill. He would merely say, that processions on days set apart for religious festivals, or on days set apart for celebrating party triumphs, arising out of religious events, accompanied by banners, badges, and fire-arms, of which latter too many of these processions were even wantonly lavish, were circumstances which called for a declaratory law rather than a new enactment by the Legislature, as an assistance to the Magistracy in the performance of those duties which, he was happy to say, most of the Magistracy were anxious to discharge. He would not enter at that moment into a further description of this Bill; he would only say, that it was a short Bill—but short as it was, it deserved, he admitted, to be thoroughly canvassed, and the limits of it to be fully investigated. Looking at the period of the year, and knowing that one of the days for the manifestation of religious feeling was rapidly approaching, he thought that nobody would deny, that it was expedient that Parliament should pronounce an opinion upon processions of this description. He therefore trusted that no objection would be made to the Motion with which he should conclude—namely, for leave to bring in a Bill to restrain in certain cases party processions in Ireland.

Mr. Maxwell

objected to the measure, because it was partial in its application. It ought to extend to England as well as to Ireland; it ought to apply to the Radicals, as well as to the Orangemen. The Radicals were quite as much in the habit of marching in procession as the Orangemen, but the object of these two parties was very different. The Radicals wished to upset, the Orangemen to preserve, the institutions of their country. The object of the Orangemen in their processions was not to irritate the feelings of their Catholic fellow-countrymen; they walked together to celebrate events to which they thought they owed the many blessings which, as Protestants, they enjoyed, and for which they never could be sufficiently thankful. He was sorry to say that he must object to this Bill being brought in.

Mr. Ruthven

heard with regret the sentiments which had just fallen from the hon. member for Cavan. At the same time, he could not help declaring his opinion to be, that there was no necessity for adding that Bill to the Statute-book, if it were to be considered as nothing more than a declaratory law. He thought that, if the Government of Ireland would determine to carry the present law firmly into execution, it would be found sufficient to check the evil which the right hon. Gentleman had so properly denounced. So long, however, as Magistrates were allowed to act as reviewing officers of these processions, so long would these processions continue to disgrace and to harass the country.

Lord Ingestre

would not oppose the introduction of the Bill. He could wish, however, that its application were extended in the mode suggested by his hon. friend, the member for Cavan.

Colonel Perceval

must defend the Orangemen and Orange Magistrates from the imputation of hon. Members; but he declared, at the same time, that he was an enemy to these processions. He was not at present in the Commission of the Peace; but when he was in it, he had used his utmost endeavours to prevent these processions in those parts of Ireland in which he resided. The case was, however, very different now. The country was in such a state of agitation, he might even say of rebellion, that the Protestants no longer looked to Government for that protection which they had a right to claim. The Orange Societies were not secret Societies; their objects were known and avowed; they sought to uphold the Protestant Establishment in Ireland, and to maintain that connexion with Great Britain which some persons were so anxious to dissolve. And yet, with these objects in view, the Orangemen were almost driven out of the country, and treated as rebels. Such of the Magistrates as were Orangemen were treated with contempt; if they ventured to attend the most peaceable Orange procession, they ran the risk of losing their commissions, whilst Magistrates on the other side, who attended tithe meetings, and encouraged the peasantry to open breaches of the law, were allowed by Government to proceed without interruption, and with complete impunity. Now, too, on the 12th of June, a measure was brought forward to prevent the processions of the 14th of July—a measure which he would at once denounce as a direct insult on all the Orangemen of Ireland. And yet this very month, processions which marched with tricolored flags, and banners emblazoned with Reform, were encouraged, if not promoted, by the Irish Government. Let Ministers do their duty impartially to persons of every religion in Ireland; and if they did that, they would find no difficulty in tranquillizing that country. When that was done, he should be happy to lend them his humble assistance to put down all party processions in Ireland. At present, however, he could not support this measure. On the contrary, as it would give encouragement to the agitation and rebellion with which Ireland was so rife, he must meet it with his most strenuous opposition.

Mr. Shaw

looked upon this measure as a mere mockery of legislation. It was legislating against a particular class, and not for the benefit of the community at large. Why should it not be directed against the Political Unions as well as against the Orange Associations? He would tell the House the reason why. The reason was, that noble Lords were favourable to those Unions. The country had seen noble Lords corresponding, on the most friendly footing, with those Unions, which had put down the independence of the House of Lords, and weakened the stability of the Throne itself. There had been processions in Ireland, headed by Catholic priests, taking the most revolutionary course; and yet the country had not seen Government take any measure to put them down. This measure was avowedly brought forward on account of the proximity of the 14th of July. He could not help considering it as a measure intended to conciliate the hon. and learned member for Kerry and his friends, and to neutralize the hostility which they felt against the Government, for the opposition which it had given to their plans of Reform. He belonged to no party in Ireland. He had never been a party to any procession; he had never attended any political meeting either in Ireland or elsewhere, except for the purposes of his election. [Mr. Sheil said, "You have been at Exeter Hall, at the meeting for the education of the poor in Ireland."] He admitted such to be the fact; but that was a religious, and not a political meeting. As to these religious processions, he had always set his face against them. Still, with that settled opinion operating on his mind, he could not help denouncing this measure as a partial, unjust, and unnecessary measure. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland had told them—and not many days ago—that he would not call on the House to arm the government of Ireland with any extraordinary powers, and now he came forward with an extraordinary measure, and without having made out any case, to put down the Orange Societies; and yet, strange to say, the right hon. Secretary had not taken any steps to put down other processions, which were equally injurious to the public peace. He had received a letter from a member of a noble family, who was distinguished for the liberality of his opinions, giving him a description of the seditious proceedings of a large meeting, which had taken place at Dungarvan, in the county of Cork, on the 4th of June, and which, if he might trust to appearances, had not yet attracted, nor was likely to attract, the notice of Government. At that meeting, a Catholic priest, the Reverend Mr. Connell, of Dunhealy, near Castle Martyn, had used this language to the populace:—'They may send out the military, but don't be afraid of them, boys; for one half of them are Roman Catholics, and will bite the balls of their cartridges, or if they fire upon you, will fire clean over your heads. In future you must pay no tithes, no taxes, no absentee rents. Whenever a distress takes place, you have all of you to attend. You will not do anything. You are even to help to drive the cattle; but let me see, boys, who dare buy. You are to look on. You are to commit no 'breach of the law.' ["Hear," from Mr. Ruthven.] The hon. Gentleman was welcome to his cheer, but would he cheer what came next? 'But if one beast is sold, then you know, boys, what you are to do.' He believed that the hon. Gentleman knew enough of Ireland, to know what construction the hearers of this tirade would put upon it. At the same time, 40,000 persons were assembled for the same object at Carlow; and a Catholic Priest there also told them, that they were not to be guilty of any violation of the law—a piece of advice which was too often given for the purpose of producing quite the contrary effect. But what said this priest afterwards? "We are come to take vengeance on our oppressors;" and then he described the Clergy of the Church of Ireland as individuals who would as readily imbrue their hands in the blood of the people as they would in the blood of wolves. This multitude, thus cautiously advised not to commit any breach of the peace, went from the place of their meeting to Dr. Doyle's house, and Dr. Doyle bestowed his blessing upon them. He had received a letter from a relation of his own, informing him, that on that same night, fifty-three bonfires were lighted in the district, and cast a funereal blaze over a country extending for twenty miles, through which the telegraphic communication, of which the priest of the parish boasted, had been kept up during the day: and yet, with a country in this frightful condition—all ordinary intercourse interrupted—the functions of the law suspended—the whole frame-work of society unhinged—the right hon. Secretary for Ireland was not ashamed to come forward with this puerile and paltry legislation. He spoke of it the other night as a measure of general application; but then, the hon. and learned member for Kerry threatened him; and now he confessed the truth—that it was intended alone to suppress the exhibition of Protestant feeling; and by avowing that it was aimed at what he termed meetings of a religious character; that was, according to his reading, Protestant Assemblies, he implicitly sanctioned the insurrectionary political movements of the Roman Catholics and their priesthood, which were convulsing the greater part of Ireland. Did the right hon. Gentleman, while his hidden object was, to purchase the hollow and adventitious support of the agitators and habitual opposers of all order, think, that by such a course as this, he could raise a little dust wilfully to blind himself, and, at the same time, to conceal from others the real dangers which threatened that unhappy country? Did he think that, while he permitted the actual delinquents to go unpunished, he could expect those whom he knew were the best and only support of any settled government or established law in Ireland, patiently to submit to the galling injustice with which he treated them? His most anxious desire was, to put an end to all party feeling; but the right hon. Gentleman was adopting the means, of all others, best calculated to exasperate party spirit, and perpetuate religious animosity. He would carefully guard himself against being considered to defend or to justify party processions; but he could not, under the present circumstances of Ireland, too strongly or indignantly avow his opposition to a measure of such flagrant injustice, gross partiality, and insulting mockery, as that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Maurice O'Connell

thought, that the existing law was sufficient to put down all illegal meetings, but, at the same time, he was desirous to see the Bill. He would support it if it were proved that the present law was not sufficient, but, till that were proved, he certainly should not support it.

Sir Robert Peel

was in a similar situation as other hon. Members with regard to this Bill; for, from the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman, he was at a loss even to guess at the exact nature of the processions which the right hon. Gentleman wished to put down, and, therefore, he should like to see the Bill before he pledged himself to its support. He certainly thought that there would be no compromise of opinion in allowing the measure to be introduced; and he would, therefore, suggest, that it would be inexpedient to divide the House. The measure, he thought, was desirable, for he was opposed to party processions, as they were only calculated to lead to disturbances. He was aware of the injurious effects produced by those processions on the minds of both Protestants and Catholics in Ireland; and he certainly thought that it was peculiarly the interest of the Protestants to avoid processions calculated to irritate the great body of their countrymen. To celebrate the battle of the Boyne, and the birth-day of King William, would have little effect in this country; but the battle of the Boyne was commemorated in Ireland with the view of celebrating the defeat of the Roman Catholics. There could be no other object in view: he, therefore, most anxiously wished that this source of irritation should be put an end to. It was, however, more desirable that party processions should be put a stop to, by the exercise of such influence as his hon. friend, the member for Sligo, had exerted, than by legislative enactments; but if the latter should be found necessary for the attainment of so desirable an object, he should not be prepared to oppose a measure for that purpose. He had always felt that it was a most dangerous subject to legislate on; and he did not see how the right hon. Gentleman was to steer clear of all the evils with which he was surrounded; but, at any rate, the utmost caution must be used. They should strive to get rid of the animus, for, as long as that remained, it would be impossible to put a stop to acts which would excite irritation. It was very easy to say, that no party processions should take place on the 12th of July, but it was so easy to have the celebrations on other days, that little or nothing would be gained by preventing them being held on the 17th of March or the 12th of July. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had other difficulties to deal with; he had to define what party processions were; we can tell well enough, in common parlance, what is the meaning of those words, but it would be extremely difficult to point out the meaning in an Act of Parliament. If the right hon. Gentleman, too, wished to interdict the party processions of the Protestants, how could he avoid putting a stop to those demonstrations of physical force; the object of which was not, perhaps, to oppose by force, but to intimidate and to prevent the administration of the law of the land. The state of Ireland was such as to call for legislative interference. When bodies of men to the number of 20,000 or 30,000, headed by priests, were moving about the country for the purpose of preventing the collection of tithes, an illegal object, it was right to interdict them by law, as well as these processions. In either case the object of the law would be, to prevent the violation of the public peace. If it was desirable to put down the Protestant processions, he did not see on what ground these demonstrations of physical force could be defended, which were brought forward to prevent the administration of the law, and which placed in danger the persons and property of the loyal subjects of the King. He certainly could not imagine how the rights or the liberties of the subject could be violated by putting a stop to these assemblies. He did not see how the right hon. Gentleman could interdict party processions, unless he also put a stop to these large congregations of persons which tended to breaches of the public peace and the violation of the law. He was friendly to the object of the right hon. Gentleman, in so far as the right hon. Gentleman could show that the exercise of influence was not sufficient to prevent these processions. If influence would not prevail, he would not oppose a legislative interference, if it could be shown that it would be effectual; but it would not be effectual unless a stop was put to the assemblies he had alluded to.

Mr. Sheil

said, there was a manifest distinction between these processions and the large public assemblies to which allusion had been made. The processions about to be held were for the purpose of celebrating the triumph of one party over the other; and they hardly ever took place without bloodshed; but he believed there was not a single instance of blood having been shed at these large assemblages of the people, which did not meet to violate the law, but only to offer a passive resistance to it. Blood had repeatedly been shed in the Orange processions; and he had repeatedly heard them denounced by the Judges from the judgment-seat as the cause of the greatest evils, and always tending to breaches of the peace. The right hon. Baronet said, that other meetings must be prevented; but what were they? Did they ever lead to bloodshed—were the persons who attended them guilty of breaches of the peace or violations of the law? The one class of meetings were held for the purpose of triumphing over, and insulting the feelings of, the great body of the people; while the other class was of entirely a distinct character. At the processions the people attended armed—this led to attack on one side, and defence on the other, and both were actuated by the worst party feeling. Both were guilty; but it was the duty of Government to prevent these meetings being held when such scenes occurred. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the assertion, that mobs of 20,000 or 30,000 persons were led about the country, headed by priests, and that they were addressed in the most violent and inflammatory language. But what were the facts that the right hon. Gentleman had to depend upon in support of his assertion? Certainly, the hon. and learned Recorder had read a letter to show that this was the case, and he had even gone the length of naming a priest who used language of the most inflammatory nature. He had not, however, stated the name of the writer of the letter. And were these, then, facts that could be proved in a Court of Justice? Let the hon. and learned Gentleman prove that what he stated was fact, even before the Committee now sitting on the state of Ireland. He called upon the hon. and learned Member to do so; and he challenged him to produce the letter-writer as an attesting witness on the state of Ireland, and to prove the assertions which he had made. He was sure that there was no man with the feelings of a citizen, nay, more, with the feelings of a Christian, who would not concur in an expression of utter detestation at the sentiments given in the letter, as having been uttered at a public meeting; but if there should be found a Christian priest who had uttered such language, the single exception of such a person would not justify an Act of Parliament, nor should a case of individual impropriety form the basis of legislative enactment. With respect to the present measure, he was content to have it laid on the Table, with a view to examine its provisions. He was satisfied that its object was good, for it was to destroy that unhappy religious animosity which prevailed to such an extent in Ireland, and to prevent the one party embruing their hands in the blood of the other. He could not pledge himself, however, to the details of the Bill till he saw it before him.

Mr. Anthony Lefroy

admitted that there was a difference between the Orange and the Anti-tithe meetings, but thought the latter were infinitely the worst. He thought it likely that the powers proposed to be given to Government by the Bill would be tyrannically applied in some instances, and, therefore, he would vote against its introduction if a division should take place.

Mr. Crampton

said, the object of his right hon. friend was, simply to put down those party processions, which had been productive of so much mischief in Ireland, and the only feasible objection that had been made, or could be made to the Bill was, that it did not go far enough. The only wish of the Government was, to prevent bloodshed and riot, and as to anti-tithe meetings, he believed they would not be heard of after the Government measures had been carried into execution. There was no difficulty, as the hon. member for Clare said, in bringing the guilty to justice under the law at present, after they were apprehended, but there was some difficulty in apprehending them, while there was no means of preventing their crime, which this Bill was intended to supply.

Mr. Henry Grattan

lamented that Gentlemen should, on this occasion, as on so many others, have attacked the Catholic clergy, who, he did not believe, ever countenanced illegal proceedings, much less excited their flocks to take vengeance. With respect to the proposed measure, he was of opinion that the processions should, at all hazards, be suppressed, and he, therefore, would support the Motion.

Leave given, and the Bill ordered to be brought in.