HC Deb 10 August 1860 vol 160 cc1132-9

said, Sir, I gave notice yesterday, that I should on this evening call attention to the conduct of Irish business, and also ask some questions relating to the Poor Law Department in Ireland. The mode in which Irish business has been conducted, both in and out of this House, is a subject too large and important to admit of having full justice done to it, without transgressing the bounds of that privilege still enjoyed by independent Members, upon the usual Motion to adjourn from this Day until Monday. This privilege is naturally disrelished by Ministers, who would willingly narrow its legitimate limits, because under existing arrangements it supplies almost the only opportunity for directing attention to special subjects. In my observations upon the conduct of Irish affairs, I shall be as brief as practicable, and will avoid every expression at all irritating to any Member, whether in or out of office. What are the Irish measures which have either been presented to Parliament, or are likely to become law during the present Session? Of the latter class there are only the Irish Land Bills, which are useless—perhaps harmless—abortions;

and the Maynooth College Bill, which will simply abstract some funds from educating the poor students, in order to keep the roof over their heads, thus "robbing Peter to pay Paul." The other Government measures for Ireland were the Reform Bill, which was withdrawn; the Irish Prisons Bill, also withdrawn; the Births, Deaths and Marriages Bill, likewise abandoned. A Poor Law Bill, afterwards converted into a mere Continuance Bill, with two valuable clauses introduced by independent Members in this House, but struck out this very evening in "another place." There are on our paper for this night two Coercion Bills for Ireland, the one called "Peace Preservation Bill," and the other "Party Emblems Bill." We are to have no Volunteers for Ireland, though myriads of men have been enrolled in England and Scotland; no coast defences for Ireland, though millions of pounds are to be expended on them in England; and no effectual step towards remedying the atrocious injustice of English and Scotch deportation of Irish paupers, beyond the appointment of a Select Committee, whose Chairman is also President of the English Poor Law Board. The grave question which now most interests Ireland is, whether a mixed system of National education shall continue to prevail there, or separate aid be supplied for the schools of each religious denomination. That most urgent of all subjects has been thrown over and postponed, notwithstanding repeated remonstrances from the Catholic Prelates of Ireland, and from others whose position ought to entitle them to some attention. In November last I wrote to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and also applied to him Early this Session, but could extract no reply or information, beyond an intimation that the proper time to explain the views of Government would not arrive until the Estimates for National Education should be submitted to Parliament. It is now near the middle of August, but no Irish Estimates have been brought forward; and it will not be until after "Partridge Day" that a thin and impatient House will be invited to discuss this perplexing question. It is, therefore, manifest that any settlement of it must necessarily lie over until next Session. The Chief Secretary for Ireland is all bland civility, which invites corresponding courtesy. Accordingly, I handed to him yesterday morning a copy of my intended notice for this night, and he received it with that distinguished suaviter in modo, which often accompanies the fortiter in re I have no means of actual knowledge, but can easily conceive that, on receiving my notice for this evening, the right hon. Gentleman at once directed the preparation of a counter notice, in the form of the usual Government circular, to Members occupying seats on this side of the House. That circular I got this morning in an open envelope, and it is, therefore, no secret, nor its production any breach of confidence. These are its precise terms:— Certain Division—Tour attendance is earnestly and particularly requested in the House of Commons on Friday, August the 10th, at the evening sitting, on the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Bill, second reading. That was the vigorous response which I received in reply to my present notice. I have now endeavoured to present briefly a faithful outline of the mode in which Irish business has been conducted in Parliament during this Session. For any shortcomings, I do not altogether blame the Irish portion of the Administration, as it is probable English matters interfered, regarding which English Members may have their own grounds for complaint. But, what has been the conduct of Irish affairs out of Parliament, and in Ireland itself? That country is governed by an English Lord-Lieutenant, through English Commissioners, and heads of departments, constituting a system of foreign bureaucracy, which deserves the old title—"The English Garrison in Ireland." In addition to the Chief Governor of Ireland, we have a Chief Secretary for Ireland, an Under-Secretary for Ireland, the Commander of the Forces in Ireland, the Commanding Officers of Artillery and of Engineers in Ireland, the Inspector-Generals of Irish Militia and Irish Hospitals, the Chairman of the Board for inspecting Irish Prisons, the Chief and three others out of the five Commissioners of Poor Laws in Ireland, the Chief Officers of Income Tax, Excise, Customs, Fost Office, and other departments in Ireland, who are not natives of that country. The Protestant Archbishop of Dublin—who, with the Commander of the Forces and the Lord Chancellor, usually govern Ireland during any temporary absence of the Lord Lieutenant—is also an Englishman. It would occupy much time to expose fully all the practical evils, arising from a system of functionarism, presided over by persons whose natural ties and interests do not identify them with the governed country. Some of those mischiefs may be collected from a description given by a philosophic traveller, of the bad effects of the bureaucratic system in Continental countries. In his Observations on Europe, Mr. Laing (father of our present Secretary to the Treasury) says— In all countries of Germany, occupied by the French, the established functionaries, in every district and department of public affairs, became the willing instruments in the hands of the French, of the most grievous exactions, contributions and oppressions; which without their assistance and organization, could not have been carried into effect by the French Commissioners. The chiefs only of a few departments had to be removed, or rather to act under a French functionary; but almost all the machinery of functionarism remained. Every man sticking to office, and quite as effective for the enemy as ho had been for the sovereign of his country. It is notorious in Ireland that the smallest official there has more real weight with the local government of that country than the united influence of all its independent Representatives, not one of whom is ever consulted about its affairs, or as to any intended measures. Indeed, all Bills which concern Ireland are invariably preserved as profound state secrets from Irish Members, and the first intimation that we ever receive respecting them is the ordinary printed notice on the papers of this House. The Lord Lieutenant is a sort of roi faineant, with a mock regal court in Dublin, where he gives pleasant banquets and parties, at which the several officials with their families dine, dance, and make merry together, as well as at their own habitations; thus becoming a family party, which, in effect, governs the whole country, and arranges all its public affairs and appointments. Should the official conduct of any among that compact coterie happen to be impugned in this House, they have their Chief Secretary here to defend it, however culpable, as was recently exemplified in the case of the Rev. Mr. Fox, whom the Irish Poor Law Commissioners dismissed so unjustly from his office of chaplain to the South Dublin Union. A main objection to Austrian rule in Lombardy was the exclusive employment of Germans in its civil and military affairs. For my own part I should not in the least object to a large English element amongst officials in Ireland, were there any reciprocity observed by a due infusion of Irishmen into Imperial offices and counsels. But I do protest against the present one-sided arrangements. It is, perhaps, useless to reiterate any solitary protest, that although the so-called Act of Catholic Emancipation was passed more than thirty years since, not one Roman Catholic has ever been admitted into the Cabinet of the Empire. From the present Ministry all native-born Irishmen are also rigorously excluded, though some subordinate situations are occupied by Irishmen, who have been already described as outside passengers upon the political omnibus of the noble Lord. Two of those inferior offices are filled by noblemen of great consideration in Ireland, who represent the counties of Kerry and Wicklow (Lord Castlerosse and Lord Proby). A third office is occupied by the Member for the county Louth (Mr. C. Fortescue, heir presumptive to a peerage, and known amongst Englishmen through his Oxford career. The Attorney General for Ireland is necessarily an Irish barrister, my right hon. Colleague for the county of Cork, whose abilities well qualify him for the office. There is also an Irish Lord of the Treasury, which inferior post was refused by two Irish Members, and afterwards accepted by a gentleman of large position in his own district, the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. Bagwell). Now I do not suggest that fitter gentlemen could have been selected for Government appointments, but I do assert that, in their subordinate positions, they are utterly powerless to influence the counsels of the Ministry, or urge their own views as to public affairs in the manner they might desire. That they were really anxious to benefit their own country, and procure useful measures for it, by accepting office under the present Government, appears from some of their addresses upon that occasion. The hon. Member for Clonmel, in his election address of June, 1859, stated, no doubt most sincerely, that— Having accepted office in a Government composed of all sections of the great Liberal party, I trust by unremitting attention to imperial and local interests, to prove that, by joining the most advanced Ministry that has ever ruled in this country, I have neither surrendered my principles nor relaxed my endeavours to procure useful measures for Ireland. With equal sincerity the present Attorney General for Ireland, in June, 1859, addressed the electors of Cork county in those terms:— The Government under which I have accepted office is composed of the most Liberal statesmen, chosen from all sections of the great Liberal party, and is especially a Government of progress. In the benefits of that progress, I believe that Ireland will largely participate; and that the new Government will seriously and promptly address itself to the remedy of grievances long felt, often admitted, and too long left unredressed. You will find that in office I will endeavour, honestly, to carry out those views, which I have uniformly advocated when I was unconnected with, or in opposition to, preceding Governments. We may reasonably conclude that those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are even more distressed and disappointed than ourselves at the supineness of their English colleagues, who have not merely left all old grievances wholly unredressed, but have so conducted affairs as to lose all political influence in Ireland, and to injure seriously "the great Liberal party" by alienating from it many of its Irish Members. And here I wish to address myself especialiv to English Liberals, who should clearly understand that a defection of fifty Irish Liberals to the opposite ranks will in effect cause a difference of 100 votes, which can only be compensated by corresponding accessions in England or Scotland. Formerly some seventy-five of the Irish Members, constituting five-sevenths of their entire body, used to occupy seats upon the Liberal side of the House. That state of things is at present reversed, there being now perhaps about seventy-five on the Tory, and hardly thirty on the Liberal benches. Some of those thirty Members retain their positions with difficulty, and probably against the wishes of their constituents, but being Liberals of long standing, and not mere mushroom Liberals of yesterday, it is repugnant to their political feelings to cross over to the Tory side of the House. They may, however, have to do so soon, or to leave the House altogether, should Irish remonstrances remain unregarded, and admitted grievances be left unredressed. Even now there are but few who have faithfully adhered to the Liberal side, and the last "rose of summer" may ere long be "left blooming alone" on these seats. Under these circumstances, and even in an English aspect, every reasonable means should be adopted to revive and restore the Irish Liberal party, instead of alienating its members still further, as would seem to have been wantonly done at a Ministerial meeting in Downing Street, on Monday last. Being no supporter of the present Government, I did not go to that meeting, but we have all heard various versions of what occurred there, and that in consequence of some ill-timed expressions of the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston), no fewer than twelve staunch Liberals, representing Irish constituencies, deliberately abstained that evening from recording their votes in favour of the proposed reduction of duty upon foreign paper. Not having attended the meeting in Downing Street, I experienced no personal slight, and felt at liberty to vote for the reduction of duty, on the obvious grounds that such reduction formed a part of the Commercial Treaty with France, which I had already supported; that the opposition to it was a mere set against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to which I ought not to lend myself; and also because I felt that the vote would give me a stronger hold upon English Liberals, as well as upon the Government itself, in any remonstrance I might afterwards make with regard to Irish matters. I will now take the liberty to suggest to the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) that he should profit from his recent experience, and not again venture to— Cast off his friends, as a huntsman his pack; Assured, when he likes, he can whistle them back. For, it may happen, that the more the noble Lord shall whistle, the less they will feel inclined to return; and that when he may desire to recall his departed "spirits from the vasty deep" of Toryism, they will disregard his invocations. It is possible, however, that he may feel personally indifferent to these consequences, because he can safely calculate to be the political "Vicar of Bray," in any conceivable complication of circumstances, or form of administration, But it is manifest the proper conduct of Irish business vitally affects the Liberals of England, as well as the Liberals of Ireland. I have submitted these remarks in the most temperate, and almost subdued language, though not in any terms of "puling complaint,"—to borrow an expression used this evening by the noble Lord. They are offered in a spirit neither hostile nor friendly towards the Government, but from a simple desire that some remedy shall be devised for the existing evils, by those who have the power to apply it. Any which I might suggest, may not be accepted in good part, and, perhaps, were I to point out the right course, that might only be a reason for taking the wrong one. But, I venture once more to warn English Liberals that, unless some effectual remedy is applied during the tempus penitentice afforded by the approaching recess, they will probably find that Early next Session a strong Tory Government will be permanently located in office. I shall now conclude by asking the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whether the Rev. Mr. Fox is actually reinstated as chaplain of the South Dublin Union; and is it intended, on the part of the Government, to infuse a due proportion of Irish and of Catholic elements into the constitution of the Irish Poor Law Board, which now consists of five Commissioners, of whom not one is a Catholic, and only one an Irishman?

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.