HC Deb 17 April 1833 vol 17 cc244-57
Mr. O'Connell

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to certain occurrences which had taken place in Ireland since the passing of the Coercion Bill, which at once put an end to everything in the shape of constitutional right. It had been frequently asserted, during the progress of that Bill through the House, that it was more than probable it would never be put in force at all; yet not twenty-four hours were suffered to elapse alter its arrival in Dublin before an entire county was proclaimed under it, and that in the most tyrannical and offensive manner. Ireland for 700 years had bitterly felt the oppression and the galling tyranny of this country, yet she never at any period felt such an indignant sense of injustice as now. He never yet could learn what good this country had done for Ireland—what kindness she had shown towards her. He had often asked the question, but had never been honoured with an answer. Knowing this, he felt it his duty anxiously to watch the operations of this Act, that every injustice committed under it might be at once and thoroughly exposed. Why, then, was the whole county of Kilkenny proclaimed, when they had it only a few days since, on the authority of the noble Lord opposite, that a part of it only was disturbed? Why, then, resort to the severe measure of proclaiming beyond the parts disturbed? But that was not the subject of his present complaint. Not content with putting the county beyond the pale of the Constitution, the Irish Government must proceed the length of proclaiming the county of the city. The city, it should be known, contained 25,000 inhabitants, and had straggling suburbs branching into the county. In those suburbs there had, he too well knew, been three or four White feet offences; but they furnished no valid ground for proclaiming the city. The night before this harsh and uncalled-for measure, there was what he night term a little melancholy merriment amongst the people. Music was provided, and when night was fast closing in, many of those melancholy airs were played which were for ever wedded to the Irish mind by the series of calamities inflicted on her by this country. The second night came on, but they were interfered with by the Lord Lieutenant issuing his Proclamation, which, to call despotic, was to treat it lightly, for it was in fact, most brutal [some conversation here taking place the hon. Member continued]. The House was careless—why should it not be? It was only an act of despotism be was complaining of—it was only au added insult—a new wrong upon his unfortunate country. He was obliged to raise his voice to its highest pitch, for the poor chance of getting some one on the other side of the Table to hear him. The Proclamation of which he complained was signed, to his astonishment, by some of the Judges of the land and the Commander of the Forces. The Irish Government, too, used their influence with the newspapers in urging the necessity for such a proceeding, and paid for paragraphs inserted in the Dublin Times and Dublin Evening Post, for the purpose of having them copied into the London Journals. These papers he might properly designate as the Moniteurs of the Pacha of Ireland. Now, putting these paragraphs out of view, he should like to know on what grounds the Irish Government had included the whole of the county within the operation of the Bill? The only reason he believed, why the city of Kilkenny had been proclaimed was, that it contained hotels for the accommodation of the officers, who were bound, under the Coercive Ad, to hold the Courts-martial within a proclaimed district. If the despatches for which he was about to move were granted, he believed that what he now asserted would be found to have been officially stated—namely, that it would be more convenient to the members of the Court martial to assemble in the city than in the county of Kilkenny. The hotels in that city were excellent, and to enable the officers to have the advantage of living in them, the city of Kilkenny had been put under the severe operation. He believed he should be able to show that this was the reason if he was allowed to have what he now applied for, a copy of the Despatch from the Lord Lieutenant or the Secretary of Ireland, slating the reason why that city had been proclaimed. If the despatch was produced, the reason he had stated would be found to be avowed. But it would not be produced—it would be suppressed; and he knew that it was of little use for him to appeal to that House, who were not in-cline to listen to appeals on behalf of Ireland. He spoke without disguise on that subject at least. He therefore desired, in the first dace, to have laid before the House, "Copies of all Proclamations and Orders issued by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, under the statute of 3 William 4th, c. 4." In the next place he wished to have "A return of the number of persons committed to gaol of the county of Kilkenny for the lust twelve months, specifying the crimes and offences for which each person was committed, the time when, and the place where, each such offence was perpetrated, how many were indicted and tried, and the result of each trial." So far he did not anticipate any opposition from the right hon. Gentleman opposite; but, as the other information for which it was his intention to ask was of a more important nature, he imagined it would be opposed. He wished to have "A copy of a despatch or letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, or the Secretary, stating the reason for proclaiming the county of the city of Kilkenny to be in a state of insubordination or disturbance, pursuant to the Act of William 4th, c. 4." The document would, he presumed, be suppressed, and the House which passed the Disturbances Act would be very ready, he had no doubt, to accede to the propriety of that suppression. After the measures which had been adopted, he did not expect much sympathy for Ireland in that House; but if any sympathy did exist, could there be any reason for withholding this document? If they passed an unconstitutional and arbitrary Bill—if they placed a despotic power in the hand of a military man, certainly not a very wise man, that his intentions might be most honourable, no one would question, but the amount of whose intellect it was perfectly safe to dispute; if they had placed a despotic power in the hand of such a man, did it not behove them to see that he did not abuse it? He wished to know, then, what were the reasons for subjecting the county of the city of Kilkenny to the operation of this despotic law, and upon that ground he asked for the papers which he had described.

Sir John Hobhouse*

hoped that in the few observations which it would be his duty to make, in answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman, it would not be expected that he should deem it necessary to go into any justification of that which the Parliament had so recently thought fit to enact. He must, however, on this first occasion of his addressing the House in the situation which he now occupied, protest against the assertion made by the hon. and learned member for Dublin, that the British Parliament was not inclined to do justice to Ireland, or to listen to appeals in her favour, or to hear in good faith everything that was advanced in her behalf by * The right hon. Baronet had recently been appointed Secretary for Ireland, in consequence of Mr. Stanley having been appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies. The vacancy in the Colonial Office was caused by Viscount Goderich accepting the office of Lord Privy Seal, on the resignation of the Earl of Durham. those whom she sent hither as her Representatives. If the hon. Member really meant this, let him bring the question fairly before the House, and he would find that it could be met most triumphantly. The question which the hon. and learned Gentleman asked, was, why the city of Kilkenny had been proclaimed. The answer was to be found in the state of the county of Kilkenny for the last year. In that time more offences had been committed in that county than in the whole province of Ulster taken together. From the 1st to the 14th of March alone, there were 114 offences, against which it was the intention of the late Act to provide, committed in that county. It was manifest, therefore, that it was necessary to proclaim the county of Kilkenny; and when they proclaimed the county, were they to leave out of the operation of the Act the city, which was the most important part of it? He had a communication from the county to show, that it was from the understanding that this Act would be at once put in operation, that the Magistracy did not assemble and address the Lord-lieutenant to put the Act in operation there. Knowing that Kilkenny would be made the subject of discussion, he had thought it his duty on the day he came into office to write to Ireland, expressing his wish that the city of Kilkenny should not, if possible, be included in the operation of the Act. The answer he received was, that the first wish was not to include the city, but that it was found in the suburbs and in the city itself, there were numbers of the very persons who were not only suspected but known to be considerably implicated in these very White feet outrages which the hon. and learned Gentleman had been among the first to disclaim, and to put down which he had again and again declared that he would lend a vigour beyond the law—namely, his own to put it down. To leave the city unproclaimed, would be to allow it to be a refuge to those who were guilty of these outrages. That was the substance of the answer which he received in reply to his letter. He would not state from whom he received it, because the hon. and learned Gentleman would only tell him that his correspondent was one of those persons who were implicated in what he was pleased to call a wicked conspiracy against the liberties of Ireland. He trusted, however, that the learned Gentleman would live to see that the strong measures adopted towards Ireland were not for the purpose of crush- ing liberty there, but for the purpose of restoring and securing that which was real liberty—freedom of action to every honest and well-disposed man, without the dread of violence from the lawless and turbulent. The learned Gentleman protested against 25,000 peaceable and well-disposed persons, resident in the city of Kilkenny, being subjected to a punishment which ought to be borne only by those who were actually guilty, but it was his duty to inform the learned Gentleman, and the House, that every care had been taken not to have any of the more severe restrictions of the Act put into operation in the city. That, in a general view, might be no palliation; but the inhabitants of the city of Kilkenny regarded it as a very material palliation; and so far from being thought an evil, I know, from the best possible authority, that they look upon the operation of the Act as an advantage, the more especially as the more penal enactments were not to be put in force. The inhabitants of Kilkenny were satisfied that this Proclamation had been the means of their protection. There would be no objection to give the copy of the Proclamation, for it had been placarded; nor any to give the amount of committals, though it would not show the real state of crime, for out of ten offences there were not more than one or two committals. The other return for which the learned Gentleman asked was, and the demand he must be permitted to say, was perfectly unreasonable, A "Copy of a despatch or letter from the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, or the Secretary, stating the reasons for proclaiming the county of the city of Kilkenny to be in a state of insubordination, or disturbance, pursuant to the Act of 3rd Will. 4th c. 4." The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that that despatch or letter would show, that the real and only reason for proclaiming the city was to afford the military officers, who would compose the Court-martial, the accommodation of good hotels and a comfortable court-house to sit in, instead of being obliged to conduct their proceedings, and to put up with the inconvenient lodgings of the neighbouring villages. The reasons for proclaiming the city were those which he had already stated, and he begged to assure the learned Gentleman that nothing relative to the accommodation of the officers, was to be found in any of the communications of the Government upon the subject of that proclamation. He trusted, therefore, that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not press the House to a division upon the production of the Government despatches. He had heard the hon. and learned Gentleman ten thousand times express the utmost anxiety for the suppression of the White foot outrages; and how, in the name of wonder, could he wish in the very outset—in the very first instance of its application—to attempt to paralyze a law which, so far as the mere putting down of these outrages went, the hon. Member must, if his previous assertions were true, be anxious to support in every possible way. If he were really desirous of putting down Whiteboyism in Kilkenny, upon what principle was it that he wished for the exclusion of a particular spot from the operation of the Act? It did so happen, that in the city of Kilkenny, one of the learned Gentleman's active ambassadors, was some time since very busily employed in organizing one of those bodies which were taught to co-operate with the learned Gentleman, and who in that case assembled in a particular part of the city, and gave themselves the name of the "Black Alley Meeting." One of the effects of the proclamation would be to break up that meeting; and perhaps it was for that reason that the learned Gentleman objected to the city being included. It was not, he could assure the House, without some strong conviction of the absolute necessity of such a step that it had been adopted by the Government.

Mr. Sullivan

said, that if there was any ground for inflicting this act on the city of Kilkenny, it ought to be stated openly and fairly. He was sure that there were none of the authorities of the city who would justify the measure. The last Assizes there showed it to be unnecessary. It had been most injurious to the city. He had a letter, which stated that on the market-day next after the Proclamation, the usual supply of provisions did not come in—there was not one-tenth of the potatoes that were required brought into the city. He admitted that the Act was administered with the utmost lenity; but he denied that it ought to have been inflicted at all on the city. He admitted that there was a necessity for some strong measure to preserve the peace of the county, but that necessity did not extend to the city. If there had been any such, the right hon. Gentleman would not have withheld it.

The Solicitor General

said, he agreed with those who thought that it was impossible for that House to show too much vigilance in watching the exercise of the powers lately conferred on the Government by the Act under consideration. Those powers were unconstitutional, and required to be watched; but in this instance there was not the slightest reason for imputing to the Lord-lieutenant that he had unnecessarily put them into operation. The hon. and learned Gentleman had complained that the Proclamation was signed by such of the Judges as were Privy Councillors. That complaint came with a very ill grace from the hon. and learned Gentleman, who, among the Amendments he had proposed, had brought forward one, the object of which was, that no Proclamation should be issued that was not so signed, and he especially recommended that the Judges of the Court of King's Bench should sign it—persons who, in his (the Solicitor General's) opinion, were the least fit to be selected from the other Judges of the land, inasmuch as, by their very office, they must necessarily be the persons before whom the offenders would come. The Magistrates of Kilkenny had presented a Petition to that House, praying for them to pass the Bill, in order that it might be put in operation in the county. Now, but for the accidental circumstance of the city being a county of itself, it would necessarily have been included within the terms of the Proclamation regarding the county of Kilkenny. Why was that mere accident to make a difference in the conduct of the Government, and to make them neglect the means of preserving the peace of the city? It had been stated that incursions had been made into the city and was it not, therefore, plain that if the city were exempted, it would become the refuge of all the lawless. It was only by vigorously enforcing the Act wherever it was necessary, that any success could attend it. To him, therefore, it seemed that the complaint and the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Dublin were destitute of foundation.

Mr. Hume

said, the Solicitor General had made out no case whatever in defence of the Irish Government's having put the city of Kilkenny under the operation of the Coercive Bill; indeed he looked upon all the hon. and learned Member had said to be but a lame excuse for a very indefensible proceeding. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland declared the Lord-lieutenant's reason to be founded on the fact that certain meetings, tending to a violation of the public tranquillity, had been held in Kilkenny city; but if so, why punish the whole city for the act of a few? Why not prohibit the meetings by Proclamation, as had been done in Dublin? He was of opinion that the Act had been very improperly enforced in the case of Kilkenny city.

The Attorney General

said, that the only question for the House to consider was whether the Irish Government had not acted in strict conformity to the law in all that had hitherto been done with respect to the enforcement of the Irish Disturbance Bill in the county and city of Kilkenny; and if such was the case, what ground was there for the complaint of the hon. and learned member for Dublin, or what reason had he urged to induce the House to accede to his Motion? None, that he knew of; for the Irish Disturbance Bill was either intended to be enforced, or else it was a dead letter—and being enforced strictly within the limitations prescribed by the measure itself, there was no cause for complaint, unless any case beyond the law could be brought forward, which had not been done. Under these circumstances he must decline to sanction the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Dublin.

Mr. O'Dwyer

contended, that the city of Kilkenny was perfectly quiet. This was admitted on all hands, and, therefore, that city ought to have been excepted from the operation of the Proclamation. It was quite clear that Government had exceeded the necessity of the case, and they ought to be compelled to lay upon the Table of the House something like a justification of their measures.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that the distinction which the hon. and learned member for Dublin had drawn between the case of Kilkenny county and Kilkenny city would not have been thought of but from the mere accident that Kilkenny city was a city and a county of itself, and was therefore of necessity distinctly and separately named in the act of proclamation, by which the district was placed under the operation of the Disturbance Bill. If it was admitted, that the county of Kilkenny was justly placed under the Disturbance Bill, why should the Government be called upon to admit so trifling a distinction as that of a mere local difference, in order to exempt Kilkenny city from the Bill? Were such a distinction allowed practically to exist, it would lead to the most serious inconveniences. What must be the consequence if the mere passing a line was to give security to the offenders? He recollected the case of the city of Limerick, which, when the Insurrection Act was enforced in the county of Limerick, was exempt from its operation solely because it was a city and a county of itself. The consequence was, that a man could commit an offence on one side of the street which would render him liable to the Insurrection Act, which he escaped by crossing over to the other side of the same street. He must say, that if the city of Kilkenny were to be specially exempted from the operation of the Act, the consequence would be, that it would become the focus of insurrection and sedition, and the exemption would only tend to establish a sanctuary where sedition could be planned, and where plots could be hatched, without rendering the guilty amenable to the laws which were framed for the express purpose of putting down these acts. If, therefore it was right to enforce the Bill in the county, it must of necessity follow, and a lamentable necessity he admitted it was, that the city of Kilkenny must also be included in its operation. Before he sat down, he must observe that no objection existed on the part of Government to grant the two first returns asked for by the hon. Member—namely, the copies of the proclamations under the Act hitherto issued, and the returns of the number of committals and species of crimes, during the last twelve months, to Kilkenny city and county gaols. The other part of the Motion he decidedly objected to, and would oppose.

Mr. Harvey

said, that not one argument had been advanced by the right hon. the Secretary for the Treasury in defence of the proclamation of the city of Kilkenny but what would be equally applicable to the whole of Ireland, if any hon. Member chose to get up on that side of the House and urge the proclamation of the whole kingdom. The speech of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland was an experimental speech; and he had no doubt, if the experiment he now recommended were found ineffectual, and that crime fled from the city and county of Kilkenny to the country in the neighbourhood, the right hon. Gentleman would feel himself authorised, in the same spirit, and by this ingenious invention of his of asylums (a word not to be found, by the bye, in the whole melancholy Act, as it was called), to recommend placing each district, which proved the asylum of those who had once been disaffected, out of the pale of the Constitution, till he had tried the experiment on the whole of Ireland. This Bill was granted to the present Ministry upon their own responsibility. That responsibility was now challenged, and the Government were bound to produce the documents now required to the House; for it was distinctly upon the faith of an assurance they would do so, when called upon, that the measure had wrung a reluctant assent from the House.

Mr. William Roche

said: Sir, my right hon. friend the Secretary to the Treasury, having adverted to the disadvantage he conceives to have arisen from the city and county of the city of Limerick being exempted from the operations of the Insurrection Act, while the adjoining counties were, in consequence of their then state of disturbance, placed under its restraints, calls upon me as one of the Representatives and one of the Magistrates of that city to set my right hon. friend right, and to assure him that no such disadvantage had been experienced; at all events no disadvantage adequate to the necessity, or commensurate with the hardships, of placing the inhabitants of a perfectly loyal and peaceable city out of the pale of the ordinary law for the protection of their liberties. No doubt. Sir, it demanded some increased vigilance and vigour on the part of the municipal authorities, but that vigilance and vigour were found quite sufficient to prevent contamination and spare the commission of the great injustice (from an overweening precaution) of exposing the innocent and guilty to a similar state of coercion. I apprehend, therefore. Sir, that the case of Limerick is no illustration of the necessity or propriety of placing the city of Kilkenny, tranquil as it is admitted to be, under the still more severe enactments of the new law—Sir with regard to the question in general I think the city of Kilkenny stands peculiarly entitled to exemption and respect, for the more contiguous it is to the moral contagion raging in its vicinity the more merit it deserves for keeping itself free from the malady. In another point of view also, Sir, I think it would have been judicious as well as just to make the distinction, because it would show the disturbers of the peace in the county, in the most forcible colours, the evil consequences of their misdeeds, by the contrast of freedom and comfort enjoyed by their neighbours in the city compared with the restrictions and restraints to which they were subjected; I therefore, Sir, see no case made out to justify this mixing up promiscuously of guilt and innocence; for may not the disturbers in the county say to their tranquil brethren in the city: "Well, what advantage have you gained by your conduct—are you not as much coerced and annoyed as we are?" With regard. Sir, to the production of the papers called for, I think Ministers ought not to have waited till they were applied for, but should have voluntarily produced them in order to show their anxiety to justify themselves with the House and the country in this first exercise of the great and extraordinary powers committed to them by this law. I shall, therefore, Sir, vote for the production of the documents called for by my hon. and learned friend, the member for Dublin.

Mr. Aglionby

expressed his surprise that the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Dublin should have met with the reception it had at the hands of the House; and that his Majesty's Ministers should not have instantly conceded, as a matter of right, demands so reasonable as those of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It was the duty of Government to prove—the onus probandi entirely rested with them—that the city of Kilkenny was in such a state of disturbance as to require the enforcement of the Act which had been lately passed. The question, at present, was not whether the Government were right or wrong in their proceedings, but whether the House had a right to call for the documents to which the Motion before the House related.

Sir Samuel Whalley

said, that his Majesty's Ministers were not called upon to defend their conduct, but to give to the House information on the necessity of proclaiming the city of Kilkenny. He, therefore, conjured Ministers, unless there were very great obstacles to so doing, to produce the documents asked for by the hon. and learned member for Dublin.

Lord Sandon

said, that he was not surprised at the stern opposition which those Gentlemen who originally opposed the Disturbances in Ireland Bill now opposed the proclamation, and the conduct of the Irish Government in respect to this district, but he, having consented to a departure from the Constitution, was willing to see the law put into full execution. Was that measure, he would ask, to which he, as well as many others, had very reluctantly given assent, to remain as a mere brutum fulmen on the Statute-book? He thought that the onus probandi did not rest with Ministers; but it rested with the opposite party to prove that there was no necessity for the enforcement of the present measure. He should support the Irish Government in the course it had adopted with respect to the district of the county of Kilkenny, of which they had but too often heard the most alarming accounts, until he was convinced they were culpable in the conduct they had pursued. It would be utterly ridiculous to call on the Ministers day by day for the reasons of their conduct whenever they carried that Act into execution; some confidence must be placed in them; and if they wished for the restoration of tranquillity, it was incumbent on them to allow the Government to proceed with its work.

Mr. O'Connell

called to the recollection of hon. Members, that on a former occasion he moved, that in a fortnight after the proclaiming of any district by the Lord-lieutenant—provided that that House was then sitting—evidence should be adduced, and reasons given, why that district had been proclaimed. He acknowledged that his Motion was lost by a large majority. But the Ministers then promised that, upon all occasions, they would instantly produce evidence, and give reasons for the proclaiming of any district. Had they kept their word? Their present conduct was the answer. As for the argument that Kilkenny would be an asylum, or that any other district would be an asylum for the lawless, nothing could be more shallow—more unstatesmanlike. By none of the clauses of the Act was it provided that a place should be proclaimed because it was an asylum. It was enacted that a district should be proclaimed when it was found to be in a state of disturbance. But was the city of Kilkenny disturbed? It was not. The Proclamation then was a lie! That Proclamation, signed by the Lord Lieutenant, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and by the Irish Ex-attorney General, was a lie! That it was a he had been that evening admitted by the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, and by his Majesty's Attorney and Solicitor General; and yet the Lord-lieutenant was allowed to proclaim a tranquil city—to deprive its peaceable inhabitants of the Trial by Jury—to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act—and to force them to remain within doors between the hours of sun-set and sun-rise. Hon. Members on the other side of the House had unceasingly cried out about confidence in Ministers—that Ministers would well repay that confidence. This was the confidence which the Irish people were taught to look for from the Reformed House of Parliament. They talked about suppressing Whitefeet, yet their Bill was the best possible means of making White-feet. For instance, would the people of Kilkenny be more satisfied for their oppression? Since the Ministers had only got this Bill on the agreement that they would never do wrong without just cause, he now demanded, since they had done wrong, that they would show some reason for it. If Ministers refused this, the country, at least, would agree with him in saying that they refused because that they had no reason to give.

The House divided—Ayes 28; Noes 115: Majority 87.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Fitzsimon, N.
Attwood, T. Lynch, A. H.
Blackstone, W. S. Maclaughlin, L.
Blamire, Wm. O'Connell, Maurice
Ewart, W. O'Connell, C.
Harvey, D. W. O'Connell, J.
Jervis, J. O'Connell, Morgan
Parrott, J. O'Dwyer, A. C.
Phillips, M. Roche, W.
Roebuck, J. Ruthven, E. S.
Romilly, J. Ruthven, E.
Thicknesse, R. Sullivan, R.
Tullamore, L. TELLERS.
Warburton, H. J. Hume
Wason, Rigby Daniel O'Connell
Whalley, Sir S.
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