HC Deb 17 August 1860 vol 160 cc1510-6

Order for Committee read.


said, he rose to move that the House go into Committee on the Bill on' that day three months. He insisted that the present law was quite sufficient to put down any of the objectionable proceedings against which the Bill was directed, and that the legal adviser of the Crown in Ireland had acknowledged that such was the case. The right hon. Chief Secretary proposed the insertion of a clause to provide that any person who should commit certain acts which were recited in such a manner as to provoke animosity between different classes of the people should be guilty of a misdemeanour. Among those nets were included the exhibition of flags or any party symbols and the playing of music. He predicted that, whether the Bill passed or not, St. Patrick's Day would still be celebrated in Ireland by the display of the shamrock and the playing of national tunes. The symbols of the Catholic churches would fall within the scope of the Bill, and it would be within the power of any magistrate who believed they caused ill-feeling among the people to pull them down. The Bill was not at all required, and would produce incalculable mischief in Ireland. It would deepen and perpetuate the divisions between the two great parties in Ireland. As Mr. O'Connell had told the Government in that very House, the spirit of a great portion of the community could not be put down by legislation; it might be managed, but could not be curbed. He then moved that the House go into Committee on the Bill on that day three months.


said, he deeply regretted that such a Bill should have been introduced, because he believed that no measure had ever been proposed since he had been a Member of that House which was so well calculated to revive all the animosity and rancour of party spirit in Ireland. It had been the custom, for example, in the Theatre Royal of Dublin, for the orchestra to play certain tunes between the first and second pieces, and if this Bill were passed it would be in the power of any magistrate, if he thought they were party tunes, to put the law in force against the innocent amusements of the people. He would second the Amendment.


said, the question for their consideration was, whether the Bill was not intended to prevent the display of political emblems which were calculated to give offence to a particular party, and to encourage sectarian strife. He believed that the measure would have that effect, and he would therefore support it.


said, he had opposed the Peace Preservation Bill on the ground that the common law of the land was sufficient to preserve the peace, and that exceptional legislation, being unnecessary, was undesirable. The Bill before the House was founded on the same principle, and open to the same objection. He thought it likely to produce ill-feeling among the people, and he therefore opposed it. The Bill would authorize the taking down of a cross from outside a chapel; in fact, it appeared to encourage the notion that anything which any person might be offended at could be removed by the machinery of the law. All exceptional laws like the present were deviations from the Constitution, and only tended to increase the evil at which they were levelled.


said, nothing could be further from the wish of the Government than to trench on the rights or liberties of Protestants. There were few Irish Members who represented more Protestants than himself, or were more indebted to them for kindness and support. But, in supporting this Bill, he felt that he was carrying out, and not acting in violation of, their wishes. Nothing could be more strenuous than the representations which the Government had received from numbers of influential Protestants in the north of Ireland, showing the necessity for passing an Act to prohibit displays tending to disastrous consequences, which the law was powerless to prevent. Unfortunately these displays had that year been more numerous than for a long time previously. He had received from the Crown Solicitor, Mr. Maxwell Hamilton, himself a Protestant and Conservative, a report stating that from the 1st to the 12th of July Orange flags had been kept flying from the different church steeples; and Mr. Hamilton urged that to prevent the serious consequences which must ensue from the continuance of such a state of things, the Legislature should at once pass a Bill such as he had recommended in 1837, when examined before a Committee of the House of Lords. In Derry an orange or crimson flag had been hoisted on the Cathedral, and though the Bishop tried to prevent it, he failed to do so. At another time when Her Majesty's Judges entered an assize town, a similar flag was hoisted for a similar purpose of insult. Could such proceedings be tolerated by the House of Commons? In England it was not customary to celebrate the battles of the Revolution—[Mr. BUTT: Guy Fawkes.] In his view the memory of Guy Fawkes was objectionally perpetuated; but yet the celebration was conducted in an orderly manner and subject to police jurisdiction. The hon. Member for King's County was, he thought, mistaken in saying that the existing law was sufficient to prevent the displays complained of in Ireland; but if the learned Judge had given any such opinion he differed from him.


said, he had based his letter on a statement in the Government paper—the Dublin Evening Post.


emphatically denied that there was any Government paper. He hoped the House would not refuse to strengthen the hands of the respectable inhabitants of Ireland, Protestants and Catholic, but would pass the measure. In Armagh, the Protestants had gone to the Catholic quarter, drumming and fifing, and the Catholics retaliated in like manner; conflicts ensued, and houses were wrecked. The Government wanted to obtain power to prevent the recurrence of such scenes, flags had been displayed on churches and were kept flying in opposition to the wishes of the Roman Catholic clergy—they wished to give these gentlemen power to prevent the irritating displays. It was the boast of the Orangemen that they obeyed the law, and therefore with the passing of this Act the provocations to outrage would terminate.


said, he had been exceedingly surprised to hear it stated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the existing law was inadequate. Did he mean to say that either at common or statute law it was permissible for large bodies to parade in party processions drumming and fifing, and in a manner calculated to disturb the public peace?


said, the existing law was competent to deal with party processions, but not with drumming and fifing.


said, the Party Processions Act expressly declared that parties were not to proceed in array with music.


replied, that it had been impossible to indict the parties in Armagh under the Party Processions Act, but they were tried for a riot.


unhesitatingly asserted that every procession assembling in a manner reasonably calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, constituted in itself an illegal assembly, and whether with or without flags, they were guilty of misdemeanour. On information by any sub-inspector that reasonable apprehensions of a disturbance were entertained, the local magistrates would be bound to prevent such an assembly, and if they did not do so, they would be amenable to the jurisdiction of the Court of Queen's Bench. The Government should bear in mind that the operation of this Bill was not confined exclusively to Protestants. If the present Bill had been in force only a few years ago every person wearing a Repeal button could have been dragged by a constable to gaol. He contended that the common law was sufficient to preserve the peace in Ireland, and that the powers now sought were unnecessary for any useful purpose.


denied that the Protestants of the North of Ireland were in favour of the Bill, and said that though he was at first disposed to give the Bill his support, upon more mature consideration he found he could not do so. He had no wish to encourage such scenes as those which had recently occurred at Armagh, but the powers already possessed by the Government were sufficient for the preservation of the peace. He recommended that the Bill should be withdrawn.


said, it might be true that the offence against which the Bill was directed was already an offence against the common law; but the Bill gave new and summary powers of repression, which it was of the utmost importance the Executive should possess.


I regret being obliged to take a different course from my hon. Friends, the Members for King's County, Tipperary, Dundalk, and others, with regard to this Bill. I give them full credit for acting up to their conscientious convictions in the matter; but after giving the subject the fullest consideration, I feel bound to give the Government my support in their effort to pass the Bill. I believe the Chief Secretary and Attorney General, in bringing it forward, have been actuated by an honest desire to prevent a recurrence of those Orange outrages which have always been productive of evil consequences in Ireland, and which were lately attended by the sacrifice of human life. I regard the question from an entirely Irish point of view, by which I mean that the only considerations which will influence me in voting will be what is most likely to lead to the cessation of practices certain to keep up ill feeling between a portion of my Catholic and Protestant fellow-countrymen. The Orangemen of the North deserve the severest punishment for the acrimony which their periodic insulting displays are sure to engender between those who ought to live in harmony together. The celebration of anniversaries of battles gained over the Catholics, the wearing of party symbols, offensive shouts, and playing insulting tunes, all contribute to bring back to Catholics sad, bitter memories, reminding painfully of long years of conquest, humiliation, and suffering. Now, this state of things should not be permitted or borne with any longer. It caused a distraction in the country, to remedy which and insure quietude one of three remedies would require to be adopted—that the Catholics should rise up and drive the offending Orangemen into the sea, or that the Orangemen devise some means to annihilate the Catholics, or else pass a stringent law for the suppression of Orange displays, and enforce it with a vigorous hand. I should be very sorry to see either of the two first expedients tried; and besides, neither party might find it very easy to get rid of the other; therefore, I give my support to the only remedy that remains, the total putting down of demonstrations that lead to collisions between the two parties. I am surprised to find Catholic Gentlemen objecting to this Bill, on the ground that it would be likely to interfere unpleasantly with the proceedings of Catholics; but I would beg of them to remember that the Irish Catholics have no party processions, war-cries, emblems, or tunes; they never do anything in that way calculated to offend Protestants in the slightest degree. ["Oh, oh!"] I repeat it, and challenge any Member to name an emblem worn or tune played by Catholics that Protestants do not also adopt. The shamrock, I am happy to say, is worn by both; and from the lively strains of "Garryowen" and "St. Patrick's Day," both derive equal delight—indeed, Protestants claim the latter as an apostle of their own. Therefore, as Catholics never indulge in demonstrations insulting to any party or religion, they have nothing to apprehend from a Bill intended to put a stop to such improprieties, and will not be compelled to resign anything; and even if the provisions of the Bill admitted of their being interfered with in instances that might be uncalled for, I believe I am justified in stating, on the part of my co-religionists, that so anxious are they to live in peace and friendship with every one, that they would even submit cheerfully to some unjust restriction if they thought their doing so would contribute to putting an end to those dreadful scenes in the North, which have been productive of such dreadful results there, as well as disturbing the harmony which it is most desirable, on every account, should exist between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. I would show no mercy to the man who raises sectarian discord, no matter what creed he might belong to. No doubt some of the powers sought for by this Bill are very stringent; and Gentlemen at this side of the House say that existing statutes are all-sufficient to prevent a recurrence of the disturbances complained of. However, Government tell us that they have not sufficient power for the purpose. Considering the great object aimed at, and that we hold the Administration responsible for the prevention of outrages, which have been endured too long, I think we should not scrutinize the measure too closely, but stretch a point to arm the Ministry with a power which they assure us will be used for an object that every Irishman ought to rejoice to aid. I therefore feel great pleasure in giving Government my hearty support on this occasion, in the earnest hope that by the judicious, but firm, enforcement of the law we are about to pass, there will be an* end put to those disgraceful practices which keep alive animosities between Irishmen of different denominations, and distract and interfere with the progress of the country.


said, he, too, gave credit to the Government for good intentions in endeavouring to legislate upon this subject, but he was afraid that mischief might result from the provisions of this measure. He believed that, if there was a general expression of opinion on the part of the House that these dis- plays should be put down, the object might be effected without legislation.


said, that this Bill had been introduced in consequence of an appeal from all sides of that House to the Government to take measures to prevent the recurrence of disturbances; and he did not think that the rejection or withdrawal of the Bill, after it had passed its second reading, would tend to promote peace or order in Ireland.

Motion made, and Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

The House divided:—Ayes 53; Noes 22: Majority 31.

Bill considered in Committee.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.

House adjourned at Two o'clock.