HC Deb 23 May 1832 vol 12 cc1416-28
Sir Henry Parnell

rose, pursuant to the notice previously given to make a Motion relative to the county he had the honour to represent. It was not his intention at that hour to occupy the attention of the House at greater length than was indispensably necessary for the discharge of the duty he had undertaken. To such hon. Members in that House as were connected with Ireland it must have been matter of notoriety that the Queen's County, to which the Motion he was about to submit to that House referred, was in a state of frightful disturbance—disturbance which, he regretted to say, so far from diminishing, was considerably on the increase. He was aware that his Majesty's Government had taken steps to repress these scenes of insubordination, and that a Commission had been sent down for the purpose of bringing to justice the perpetrators of the outrages which had disgraced that county. He trusted that this measure would have the desired effect, and that it might be the means of restoring peace and tranquillity. He felt, however, that this case was of such a serious character that he should not discharge his duty to his country and his constituents, if he did not persevere in bringing it under the immediate notice of that House—and in taking this course he was only acting in obedience to the wish of a numerous and respectable portion of his constituents, who had called upon him to do so. The Motion which it was his intention to make on this subject was, for a Select Committee to inquire into the general efficiency of the law in repressing disturbances of the nature he had described. Before he called upon the House to accede to his proposition, he felt bound to state what measures had been adopted by the local authorities to check the progress of crime in the Queen's County. In the first place—a meeting of thirty-seven Magistrates was held at Philipstown, to inquire into the state of the county, to investigate the proximate causes of those outrages, and to devise the most effectual remedy to arrest them. After much deliberation, it was determined at this meeting to form an armed association, in whose ranks all classes of the people were to be enrolled. Circular letters were despatched to the most remote parts of the county, announcing this resolution, and subsequently a meeting of the Central Committee of Magistrates was held, at which it was resolved to communicate with Government. In pursuance of this resolution, a communication was accordingly opened with the Government, and a supply of arms was requested for the armed association, of which he had before spoken. This demand, it was necessary he should state, was refused by the Government, on the alleged ground that the parties to whom the arms were intended to be supplied were exclusively Protestants. When this application had been refused, several other measures had been resorted to by the Magistrates of the county, and it was in consequence of the failure of all these measures that the Magistrates were compelled to adopt the present course, and to bring before the notice of the House the state of the Queen's County, with the view to remedy such defects as might be found in the existing law. In the observations which he had felt it his duty to make, he did not mean to impute blame to his Majesty's Government; on the contrary, he was convinced that they were actuated by the most sincere and anxious desire to put down these disturbances, and to promote peace and social order in the country. Such were also his motives in bringing forward his present Motion. He could not anticipate any opposition to this proceeding, because he was satisfied that every Gentleman in that House felt as great an anxiety as he could possibly feel, in rescuing the county from the foul disgrace which these outrages had unfortunately entailed on it. With these preliminary remarks, he would now move, that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the general efficiency of, the law in Ireland for repressing outrages and disturbance.

Sir Charles Coote

seconded the Motion. In doing so he was influenced by the double motive of obeying the wishes of his constituents, and doing that which was also in accordance with his own feelings and conviction. The speech of the hon. Baronet who had brought forward the Motion, had thrown such light upon the state of things in the county which he had the honour to represent, that little remained for him to add upon the subject. One thing, at all events, must be apparent to the House, from the statement of his hon. friend, that to whatever cause these disturbances were attributed, they did not arise from any indisposition on the part of the Magistrates to perform their duty. Every measure which the law authorized them to adopt had been resorted to—an armed association, to consist of all classes indiscriminately, had been proposed, but this plan failed—not from any want of energy on the part of the constituted authorities, but in consequence of the system of intimidation which was spread throughout the county, and which prevented the peasantry, who resided in thatched cabins, through fear of personal violence, from joining in this confederation, the avowed object of which was the preservation of social order, and the repression of those disturbances which had disgraced the county. He, like his hon. friend, could not anticipate any possible objection to the Motion. The state of the Queen's County was such as every Member of that House must deplore, and he felt convinced that they would all lend their sanction to any measure that might be calculated to remedy this appalling state of things—a state of things which, he was grieved to say, in place of mending, was daily becoming worse. Murders had been lately committed in that county in the most public manner, and several stands of arms had, within the last few days, been seized by the people. These were matters of too serious a character to be permitted to go on. Some strong and decisive steps were necessary, or it was impossible to say where it might end.

Mr. Stanley

did not rise for the purpost of casting any imputation on the Magistrates of the Queen's County, and in any observations which he had to offer to the House, he should cautiously abstain from saying anything which might by possibility imply a disposition on his part to attach blame to their conduct—neither did he rise for the purpose of resisting the Motion of the right hon. Baronet. He had no objection to the Committee for which the right hon. Baronet had applied, if it would be likely to effect the object which it was intended to promote—namely, to correct any deficiency in the existing law; at the same time, he felt bound to state, that he was determined to oppose any extraordinary or unconstitutional measures, if any such were sought for by the present Motion. He had no doubt but the Magistrates had taken prompt, and what they considered efficient measures, to repress the disturbances in the Queen's County; but, notwithstanding this, he was also of opinion, that the existing law was sufficiently strong to put down all outrages: that it possessed a vigour which, if properly understood and exercised, could not fail to check the progress of this evil. He, however, saw no objection to the proposed Committee. On the contrary, he conceived that the investigation which was sought might be productive of the most useful and salutary results. For example, Gentlemen connected with other parts of Ireland—Clare, Galway, Roscommon, and other places, where disturbance existed—would have an opportunity of comparing the effects of the working and operation of the law in these various places—the extent and nature of these disturbances—the causes from which such effects had been produced—and the remedies which had been found most effectual in repressing these disorders. Nay, further, if after a patient investigation of these matters, the Committee should be of opinion that the ordinary laws required to be strengthened, then such additional alterations or amendments might be made as this House should deem consistent with the spirit of the Constitution; but he, for one, believed, as he had before stated, that the existing laws were sufficiently strong, if enforced with vigilance and vigour, and because he entertained this conviction, he could not resort to extraordinary measures at any time without extreme reluctance—because if once the system of resorting to these extraordinary measures were adopted, the powers supplied by the ordinary laws, which were sufficiently ample in themselves, would fall into disuse, and upon every slight occasion the Government would be called upon to interfere in such a way, as nothing but the most urgent and pressing necessity—in fact, which nothing but the total failure of every remedy afforded by the ordinary laws—could possibly justify them in acceding to. He therefore thought, that it would be most unfair to impute blame to the Irish Government for the part they had acted in the case referred to by the right hon. Baronet. In refusing the application made by the Magistrates of the Queen's County, the Government had been influenced by the soundest and most impartial views. They naturally felt that it would be exceedingly unwise and improper to place arms in the hands of any particular class in the community, and that such a proceeding, so far from being calculated to restore peace and tranquillity, or to repress crime, would, on the contrary, tend, in no small degree, to augment the disturbances of the county. Acting upon this principle, and on those views, the Government of Ireland felt that they were bound to refuse the application, and he should much regret that these acts, which were dictated by the purest motives on the part of the Government, should be made the subject of misconstruction and misrepresentation. He begged, however, not to be understood as casting any reflection on the hon. Baronet for the manner in which he had alluded to that circumstance—so far from this, he felt that the right hon. Gentleman had introduced the subject with much taste and delicacy. For the reasons he had already stated, he would not oppose this Motion, at the same time that he retained his opinion that the law, as it stood at present, was sufficiently strong and effective; but, under all the circumstances, he was not disposed to deny, that considerable benefit might result from the labours of this Committee.

Mr. James Grattan

was of opinion that the object of the inquiry ought to be extended, and that it should be the duty of the Committee, not only to investigate the efficiency or non-efficiency of the law, but also to trace these disturbances to the fountainhead, and endeavour to ascertain the cause which produced effects so extraordinary and unnatural. He had but just returned from that part of the country which had been represented as in a state of disturbance, and, from experience derived from personal observation, he was enabled to state, that the laws were sufficiently strong as they at present stood, but why they failed in their efficiency he conceived was a subject of useful and interesting inquiry. He had received information about twelve months ago of the intention to form the armed association alluded to by the right hon. Baronet. Upon receiving the intelligence, he immediately went amongst his tenantry, and forty of them declared their willingness to bear arms for the preservation of the peace of the country, and to join this armed association. He immediately communicated this fact to the Magistrates, but from that day to the present he had never heard a word upon the subject. To prevail upon them now to join in such a plan would be a matter of impossibility, for he had within the last ten days made application to them, and they had to a man refused to bear arms, such was the state of intimi- dation which prevailed throughout the country. This state of things he thought was mainly attributable to the supineness of the magistracy, or at least to the injudicious system they had determined to adopt. In illustration of this, it was only necessary to remind the House of the fact he had already stated, that the services tendered by his tenantry had been rejected. Had the Magistrates, at the commencement of the disturbances accepted the assistance of the peaceable and well-disposed inhabitants of the country, the marauders would have been put down at once, and the peace of the country effectually secured. He did not rise for the purpose of opposing the appointment of the Committee; on the contrary, he thought that if the objects were extended, and the origin of this disturbance sifted to the bottom, much practical good would result from the labours of the Committee. He could not forget, that in 1825 or 1826 a similar inquiry took place before a Committee of that House, which had been productive of much good, and he entertained little doubt but that if this Committee were conducted with a similar spirit, it would be attended with equally beneficial results. It was monstrous to suppose that these outrages had resulted from any gratuitous love for mischief on the part of the people. There must be some pressing cause—some radical defect in the system, which required to be sifted to the bottom. It was on this account that he wished the inquiry of the Committee to be extended. If this humble suggestion were acceded to, he should support the Motion, but if it were not, he should feel it his duty to oppose it.

Mr. O'Ferrall

said, that he should trouble the House with very few observations. He resided in a neighbouring county to that in which these disturbances had taken place, and from his proximity to the scenes of the outrages, and his constant residence in the country, he had an opportunity of watching their progress, and tracing them to their source. He quite agreed in opinion with his hon. friend, the member for Wicklow, that if proper steps had been taken in the commencement, before the disturbance had arrived at its present pitch, it might easily have been put down; but also fully concurred with his hon. friend in thinking that the people were not influenced in their conduct by any gratuitous love for mischief, but that there must be some primary cause, some radical defect in the system, which required to be investigated and amended. For these reasons he was anxious that the inquiry of the Committee should embrace all those points, for he conceived that it would be useless to attempt prescribing a remedy until they first perfectly understood the nature of the disease. And to understand it properly it was necessary that all the symptoms should be carefully examined, and accurately traced through their most remote ramifications. He had no doubt but if the inquiry was conducted on this principle much good would result from it, and he was perfectly satisfied that his view of this question would be fully sustained, and that it would be found, that these disturbances were, in a great measure, to be attributed to the conduct of the landlords; that, in fact, it was a war of property on the one hand, and the resistance of poverty on the other. If the suggestion of his hon. friend were complied with, and the inquiry extended to the consideration of these matters, the Motion should have his support; but, if otherwise, he should feel it his duty to oppose it.

Mr. Leader

said, that he felt reluctant to differ from the right hon. Baronet, and the Secretary for Ireland, and the more so when several Gentlemen who represented counties which were contiguous to the Queen's County appeared desirous to support the Motion for a "Select Committee to inquire into the efficiency of the laws at present in force in Ireland." He admitted that it did not follow of necessity that there was to be a great change in the existing laws, because there was a Select Committee appointed to inquire into the efficiency of the laws at present in Ireland for the suppression of outrages against the public peace, but still he had been always apprehensive of seeing that done by the House which might lead to novel, and, perhaps, extraordinary proceedings. It was with him an invariable principle to enforce the old laws rigorously, rather than bring blame on the old laws to excuse the introduction of new laws possessing greater vigour and severity. He was not prepared for a very important Motion of this kind, and he was less prepared when it was brought on at one o'clock in the morning, and in a very thin House. He did not wish to interfere with the government of the country. He knew that, even in the county where the tithe disturbances commenced, there was a change for the better. He was mistaken if the Secretary for Ireland would not be disposed to admit, his official communications did not warrant the assertion that the state of the county of Kilkenny was not more tranquil than it had been ["hear, hear!"]. He presumed those cheers were for the purpose of denying the fact of any improvement. He thought the Gentlemen who entertained that opinion mistaken, as his information was, that, with the exception of the part of Kilkenny bordering on the Queen's County, the rest of it was very tranquil, compared with what it had been. Did Gentlemen forget, or were they entirely ignorant, that a special commission was, probably, at that moment, sitting in the Queen's County? Was not that county surrounded by a strong military force? Would it be denied that the same Government which sent special commissions into Limerick, Clare, and Galway, and tranquillized Clare, that was in a state little short of open insurrection, was not still responsible for the peace of Ireland? Would any man say, that Clare was not even a worse case than the Queen's County? Was there any Select Committee proposed, after the special commission to Clare, to inquire into the efficiency of the law at present in force in Ireland for the suppression of outrages against the public peace? He had no relish for Special Committees, at one in the morning for inquiring into the efficiency of the laws. He was afraid the Committee would be soon looking to the Insurrection Act, or some other strong coercive measures. He would be no party to Committees appointed in a moment of fever and exasperation. He would confide in the measures of Government which had been tried and had succeeded. It was painful to him to differ when so many appeared to agree. He did not think it was by more severe laws than those at present in existence, that disturbances were to be repressed. He looked for laws ameliorating the condition of the people, notoriously destitute and unemployed, as the only laws calculated to insure tranquillity and peace. He was happy to be in his place at that late hour to oppose the motion of the right hon. Baronet. He believed in his conscience that penal and severe laws only increased the mass of popular discontent, and if the remedial laws in progress for the improvement of the people did not tranquillize the country, he confessed he had very little expectation from any Special Committee for any such purpose as commencing an inquiry now into the efficiency of the laws at present in force for the suppression of outrages against the public peace. He was sorry to disturb what appeared to be the general sense of the House, but he expected from the desire he saw evinced by the Gentlemen on the other side for the Committee, that new laws were contemplated to be recommended, on the authority of the Committee, and he, therefore, entirely disapproved of the measure.

Mr. Stanley

felt, that having already spoken on this question, he was not strictly regular in again addressing the House. He, however, begged their permission to make a few observations in reference to what had fallen from hon. Members who had lately spoken. The object of the motion of the right hon. Baronet was, to inquire into the efficiency or non-efficiency of the law; and it would extend to other districts than the Queen's County in which disturbance might exist. The right hon. Baronet had done him the honour of giving him intimation of his intention to bring forward the present Motion, and it was agreed between them, that the inquiry should be limited to the objects specified in the Motion. If they went beyond that, it would be attended with considerable inconvenience, and it would be impossible to define the duties of the Committee. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. member for Kilkenny, as to the efficacy of special commissions, he must observe, that it did not meet the motion of the right hon. Baronet. Special commissions, no doubt, had a most powerful influence in putting down disturbances, when they had arrived at an alarming extent; but measures of this description could not be brought to bear, until much mischief had been committed. For instance, a special commission could not be sent to any county until a number of prisoners had been taken; when this was the case, there was certainly less difficulty in procuring evidence, but the complaint of the right hon. Baronet was, that the powers afforded by the existing law were not strong enough to crush those disturbances in their bud, and before they had extended through the country. To this point the attention of the Committee ought to be confined; and he, for his own part, thought it would be productive of no public advantage, but, on the contrary, of much inconvenience, to extend the inquiry beyond this proposition.

Colonel Perceval

considered the Irish Government to be highly blameable for their treatment of Captain Graham. He himself had been a Magistrate for twenty years, but in consequence of the scan- dalous treatment that gallant Officer had received, he felt that he should be dishonoured if he continued any longer in the Commission of the Peace; he also felt bound to say, after twenty years' experience as a Magistrate, that if he had been placed in the same situation as Captain Graham, he should have acted in a precisely similar manner. Now, with respect to the Queen's County, there was one fact which he thought it his duty to state to the House; two men had been capitally convicted for firing upon a Magistrate, a friend of his, and yet the Government, notwithstanding examples were necessary, from the disturbed state of the country, actually extended its clemency to these men, and commuted their sentence to transportation for life. Was this the way, he would ask, to quiet the country? For his own part, he felt convinced that, if strong measures were not resorted to, it would be impossible for any gentleman to live in the country.

Mr. Spring Rice

was surprised at the remarks which had fallen from the gallant Colonel. He could not but deprecate such a line of conduct, upon a subject of such deep importance to the interests of the country. Violent observations were most unbecoming in discussing a question which required the most cool and dispassionate consideration. He implored of hon. Members to reflect upon the condition of the country, and he would ask them, if any possible good could result from indulging, at this period, in observations like those which had been made by the hon. Member who last addressed the House? He thought that much good would result from the intended Committee, and he, therefore, would support the motion of the right hon. Baronet.

Colonel Connolly

said, he had that morning seen a letter from Mr. Greene, the stipendiary Magistrate, who had been lately appointed by the Lord Lieutenant for the county of Kilkenny. In that letter the county was described in a state of the most perfect tranquillity, but before he had concluded the letter, no less than seven murders were mentioned at the bottom of it. The inefficiency of the law in Ireland for repressing disturbances was notorious, and he, therefore, was determined to support the Motion.

Mr. Shaw

complained of the tone in which the hon. member for Limerick had alluded to his hon. friend (Colonel Perceval). He thought that every Member in that House had a right to express his opin- ion upon the conduct of Government, and he must say, that he saw nothing in the observation of the hon. member for Sligo to warrant the lecture which the hon. member for Limerick had thought proper to read him. The hon. member for Kilkenny, he conceived, had been most infelicitous in his citation of that county as an example of proving the influence of the law in putting down these outrages. It was a well known fact, and admitted by the Irish government, that the law had been signally defeated in the county Kilkenny, and that his Majesty's Attorney General was actually obliged to postpone the prosecution of several persons, charged with the most atrocious crimes, from the system of intimidation which prevailed. He meant, certainly, to support the Motion.

Mr. Ruthven

opposed the Motion. It was the conduct of the gentry which occasioned disturbances in Ireland, and as long as they held their present language, and pursued their present course of proceedings, Committees and severe laws would not repress disturbances.

Mr. Walker

felt it necessary to oppose this Motion, from a conviction that its result and intention were, to obtain measures of increased severity against the people of Ireland. The wording of the Motion alarmed him, but after the violent speeches he had just heard from Gentlemen opposite, who supported this Motion, he was convinced that the Report of such a Committee would be to endeavour to obtain more coercive measures to goad the peasantry into rebellion. Had the Motion been what he first understood was intended, for a Committee to inquire into "the causes of the disturbances in the Queen's County," and other parts of Ireland, he should have voted for it, because he was convinced it would then appear that much of the disturbance could be traced to the oppressive conduct of the gentry and clergy—to the inactivity of Magistrates in some instances, the partial administration of the law in others, and unnecessary severity in more. He was firmly convinced, that the existing laws, if steadily and impartially administered, were quite sufficient to repress and punish outrage. It was not owing to a deficiency of severity in the laws in Ireland that the existence of outrage was to be attributed. It was to those persons solely who, by tyranny and oppression, sting their victims to madness, and by their partial and sectarian administration of severe and cruel enactments, drive them to despair; and then, instead of remedying those evils by retracing their steps, by acts of kindness or justice, they apply to Government for Insurrection Acts, and to Parliament for new powers to re-act the tyrant with impunity. He had acted for many years as a Magistrate; he had watched the causes which produced crime, and he had always seen the existing laws sufficient to repress it, and he could speak from experience, that those laws, when, executed with mercy, impartiality, and steadiness, never failed in preserving peace, and, when so executed, were always respected by the people. He was perfectly astonished at the unnecessary reference which had been made to the occurrence at Newtownbarry, by the hon. member for Sligo, and the praises he had bestowed on Captain Graham, and the yeomanry, for their conduct on that occasion, and the attempt to throw blame on the people of the county of Wexford. It was impossible that he could suffer such remarks to pass without noticing them, as he could never look on that individual and his associates but as murderers ["No, no"]. Yes, yes—he could never look on their acts in any other light, His countrymen were accused of crime—the county he belonged to was represented as the theatre of sedition—but he would say, that the only serious crime which had occurred for years; the only murders which had been committed, were those committed on twenty innocent persons, who had been so unnecessarily shot at Newtownbarry; for, he would ask, what other name than murder could any unprejudiced person give to the indiscriminate slaughter of so many unresisting and flying people, by yeomen pretending to force an illegal sale and distress of cattle, seized for tithes actually not due, and yet to the sale of which no opposition was offered? He must oppose the Motion, feeling that the present laws were sufficiently strong and efficient, and should, certainly, resist the formation of any Committee, the result of which was likely to have the smallest tendency to increase the severities of the laws in Ireland.

Mr. James Grattan

requested the right hon. Baronet to enlarge his Motion, so as to embrace an inquiry into the causes of disturbance in Ireland.

Sir Henry Parnell

saw no advantage likely to result from it, and must, therefore, decline to accede to the request.

Sir John M. Doyle

said, as the right hen. Baronet would not accede to the request of his hon. friend, he must, though unwilling to do so, divide the House on the Motion.

The House divided, but there being only twenty-two Members present, it necessarily adjourned.