HC Deb 02 July 1861 vol 164 cc243-52

said, he rose to move the Resolution of which he had given notice on the subject. He wished to assure the House that he would not have ventured to receive the question if he had not the con. scientious feeling that it was necessary to the peace and tranquility of Ireland that there should be an inquiry into the whole case. It might take place either by a Committee of that House or by a Royal Commission. Upon that point all he could say was that he would willingly allow it to be made in any way which the Government might propose, but he contended that there never was a clearer had evicted the whole of the population on that estate; 47 families, or 350 individuals, had been turned out simultaneously, and their houses levelled to the ground, and that had been done not in the ordinary exercise of the rights of property, but as a punishment for the murder of a steward. In this first communication with the Government on the state of society in Donegal was such that he had been driven to defend his life and property by his own armed retainers. The Lord Lieutenant, in his reply, called Mr. Adair's attention to the serious responsibility that would devolve on him if he took the step he contemplated. In this next letter to the Government, of the 16th February. Mr. Adair distinctly said that the eviction was not intended to benefit his property, but as an act of public vengeance. There was a distinct allegation on the part of Mr. Adair that it was his bounden duty to remove these people as the only means of ensuring safety to himself and family and servants. He drove these people from his estate. That did not rest upon his own assertion, but had been endorsed in that House by one of the respresentatives of the county, while the other hon. Member remained silent. They ought not to rest satisfied without further inquiry, and, indeed, they would not do their duty if they did not grant a Commission to inquire into that state of things in the county of Donegal. He could not conceal from himself that these evictions among the higher classes of society and the owners of land in Ireland, and the House ought to express some sympathy for these poor people who had been so cruelly evicted and driven from their homes. Mr. Adair admitted that his was an act of vengeance in superseding the law of the land; and after what had passed in the House there ought to be further inquiry, and, therefore, he begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, having regard to the papers which have been laid before this House in relation to the evictions which have recently taken place on the lands of Derryveagh, in the county of Donegal, the nature and extent of those evictions, and the allegations as to the causes by which they are said to have been produced, this House is of opinion that it is expedient that a full and efficient inquiry should be instituted into all the circumstances attending these transactions.


said, he was not aware that when the question was brought before the House on a former occasion the conduct of the Government was in any way impeached, nor did he think it necessary to defend it. The letter written from the Castle, and his own remarks on the subject, evinced, he thought, very plainly the feelings of the Government in regard to the eviction of so many families, a great part of whom could not have been concerned in the outrage which was said to have occasioned the measure. He also felt it his duty to state that the Government would not have been justified in removing Mr. Adair from the commission of the peace on account of their individual opinion on an act which was not think it would be right to seek in Mr. Adair's correspondence for an excuse for such a step. The former Motion was a Motion for inquiry; but, like the Motion then before them, was simply for inquiry, and not with an express view to any definite result. He would ask them if it were in the power of the Government to invite the House to concur in an inquiry when they did not know the result to which it was to lead? That result was not started in the Motion, and he had failed to collect it from the speech of his hon. Friend who had moved it. If its object were to discover the person who had committed the murder to which reference had been made in the discussion, he would reply that there were already persons responsible for the inquiry. There were resident magistrates and police on the spot whose bounden duty, earnest desire, and constant object it was to arrive at the discovery of the crime, and to bring the perpetrators of it to justice. But would they favour the discovery of the crime if they appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into it? Such a Commission was armed with no power to take evidence on oath, or to compel reluctant persons to answer the questions which might be put to them. It appeared to him that by such a Commission they might frustrate the object of justice, as they might give publicity to the tracks evidence by which it was hoped to detect the criminals; but they could not possibly promote the ends of justice. Returns showing the state of the district for the last ten years were ready to be laid on the table, and no Royal Commission could add to the information which would be furnished to the House. The appointment of a Royal Commission might interfere with the efforts of the constituted authorities to detect the perpetrators of the murder, but could not lead to any practical or useful results. He could not, therefore, advise the House to do otherwise then adhere to the opinion which upon the occasion of the former Motion they had expressed.


said, he regretted the determination of the right hon. Gentleman, particularly after he had condemned, in as strong language as an official could make use of, the conduct of Mr. Adair in regard to those evictions. It was a fact to be noticed in the case that the rent of the parties evicted had been paid up to the moment of their removal. It was a question, then, whether the laws for the protection of property had not been perverted to the purposes of vengeance; and he thought it would be a fitting subject of inquiry to see whether the law could not be so altered as to restrain individual landlords from these gross outrages, while preserving the protection which it afforded to the rights of property. He thought that in such cases a landlord should be made to intimate his intention beforehand to one of the superior courts in Dublin, and that such wholesale evictions should be carried out under the sanction and control of the law. Great sympathy had been evoked by the ejection of these poor people. They were the descendants of those who two hundred years ago were driven from the fertile plains of Ulster. They took shelter in these lone mountain recesses, and remained for land tempted speculators, and stories were raised about the crime of the country in order to justify their wholesale eviction. He did not know any case which had excited so much sympathy in Ireland as that referred to, and he thought it as that referred to, and he thought it a very proper one for a Government inquiry.


said, he thought the Government not entitled to remove a gentleman from the commission of the peace who had only exercised the rights of property which the law gave him in Ireland; but deemed it the worst part of the case that Mr. Adair had not transgressed the limits of the law. No doubt that his hon. Friend would be satisfied with a Parliamentary inquiry if any special objection existed to a Royal Commission. The picture drawn by the hon. Member for Donegal the other evening of the state of the county was greatly exaggerated. It had been said that a gentleman had been obliged to fly from Donegal because he was in danger of losing his life. The fact was, the gentleman alluded to became insolvent, and had to remove from the county on that account. There was a strong feeling against Mr. Adair among the gentry of Ireland, and resolutions had been unanimously passed at a full meeting of a board of guardians, at which eleven justices were present, proclaiming their indignation and horror at the conduct of that gentleman. An attempt had been made to justify that conduct on the ground of the outrageous state of the county; but, as that was denied by those who knew the county best, he thought it was incumbent upon the Government to step in and inquire into the truth.


said, he thought the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not taken into consideration the special circumstances of this case. He never remembered any case where the eviction of so large a number of persons had been justified by such motives. The indignation of Parliament ought to be brought to bear on every man who was guilty of such a barbarous outrage. An attempt had been made the other night to justify the act of Mr. Adair by reference to the proceedings of the late Lord Lorton removed no one from his property except by purchase, and every family received money enough to take it to America. The manner in which the case had been justified, and the atrocity of the case itself, did call for exceptional treatment at the hands of the legislature, and he trusted that his right hon. Friend would not continue to oppose a Motion which was supported by nearly every Irish Member on that side of the House.


said, he regretted that his hon. Friend, the Member for Donegal, was not in the House to justify the statement he had made on a former occasion, which was that night called into question. He did not think that the language of his hon. Member for Dungarvan seemed to imagine.


said, he had hoped some English Liberal Member would have stepped forward and uttered a few words of sympathy with the Irish sufferers who were the objects of that discussion. The case had created more sympathy in Ireland than any other that he had ever known. His own wish in the Motion he had himself made was not for a personal inquiry, but an inquiry into the general subject of evictions. He had, however, given way to the advice of hon. Gentleman, and especially to that of the hon. Member (Mr. Butt) himself, who had told him that to take up an individual case was no more frittering the subject away than the impeachment of a single statesman was frittering away the cause of the people of India. He had taken more pains to get up the facts than he had ever done before in his life; and he maintained that the allegations made by Mr. Adair respecting the state of the country in the neighbourhood of Derryveagh were totally untrue, and that Mr. Adair had in his possession the means of ascertaining their utter groundlessness. A very able article had appeared in The Times, which, in his opinion, set forth the necessary of further information. On the other hand, the Conservative organ in this country had alluded to Mr. Adair's assertions as established. The writer of that article commenced by observing "Mr. Scully has had his meed of revenge, and we congratulate him upon it."


intimated that it was contrary to the rules of the House to read articles from newspapers in the course of their discussions.


said, he would express his regret at having infringed upon the rules of the House, and would conclude by saying that he thought, therefore, a clear case was made out for inquiry, and hoped hon. Members on both sides of the House would concur in granting it.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland would not press the House to a division, but would agree to the Motion of the hon. Member for Youghal had stated, and it was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman himself, that society in that part of our common country was in such a state of disorganization that two classes were at war with one another. The landlord stated that for the protection not merely of property but of life, he was obliged to use his rights of property for vengeance. He thought that the House should have information as to what brought society in any part of the United Kingdom into such a state, and he should, therefore, support the Motion.


I am not at all surprised that the transaction which has been the subject of discussion should have excited a great amount of feeling, both in Ireland and in this country. I do not find fault with those who have thought it expedient to discuss it in this House, in order to elicit the opinions and sentiments it entertains upon that transaction. But at the same time I must say, when the House of Commons is called on to address the Queen for Commission of Inquiry into the subject, the question assumes a different character. I think the House should pause and deliberate carefully before it takes any step of that kind. There is no doubt of the powers of the House of Commons; those powers, I may say, are almost unlimited. But great as those powers are, there ought to be a limit to their exercise. It ought to be very careful in the exercise of powers that are not denied, not to overstep that bound, and exercise its powers in a manner not justified by the principles of the constitution. It may very properly inquire into any public transaction, or into the conduct of the Government, or any matter affecting the interests of the nation at large. But it would be a most outrageous and dangerous abuse of the power of the House if it interfered with private transactions of any individuals within the limits of their legal rights. If they have done anything beyond the limits of the law, if, from any motives whatever, they may have exceeded their power, the law itself will correct the evil. But it is not necessary for this House to interfere unless the Government has had a duty to perform, and has neglected to perform it. That might have been urged, had it been shown that the Irish Government ought of have removed Mr. Adair from the commission of the peace. But I am prepared to show, and it has almost been admitted, that this is not the case; the Government, therefore, ought not to be taken to task for not having done it. We are now called on to make an inquiry into the subject. What is to be the consequence of that inquiry? The hon. Member who spoke last says the state of Irland is dreadful—that there is a war raging between different classes. I am not aware that that is the fact; certainly it is not in the county with which I am connected, which is not very remote from Donegal. I am not aware that such a calamity exists as a war of classes. But we are called on to institute an inquiry; it might be a fair reason for inquiry into the social state of Donegal, if it was alleged that the county is in a state of insurrection and lawless violence, that crimes are committed there every hour in the day, and that some effective measures are necessary to repress them. So far a knowledge of the state of Donegal might be the foundation of proceedings to be taken either by the Executive Government or by the House. Well, this material will be furnished to the House immediately by the Return moved by the hon. Member for Donegal of the amount of crime in that county committed during the last ten years. When that Return is made it will be for the House to consider whether it furnishes grounds on which other steps ought to be taken, or whether a Coercion Act ought to be applied to that county. If it should be thought, on the whole, that no inquiry into the state of Donegal is necessary, are we to address the Crown to ascertain who was the guilty party in the murder of Mr. Murray. ["No!"] My hon. Friend says "No," and certainly no sensible man can say "yes;" for, if this House is to address the Crown for a special inquiry into the circumstances of every such murder, that would be assuming the functions of the Executive Government, and imposing on the House duties quite foreign to its attributes. We might much sooner address the Crown to investigate the Road murder, that excited so much interest in the public mind, or any of the strange murders that are from time to time committed. The object of inquiry, therefore, not being the state of Donegal or the murder of Mr. Murray, the only question that remains is the exercise by Mr. Adair of his unquestionable right to eject his tenants; but that is not a fit subject for an inquiry by this House. If any one alleges that he has exceeded his legal power over his tenants, they or their friends have a remedy by process of law. But it is admitted that this exercise of power on the part of Mr. Adair was within his legal attributes and functions. If the House is to inquire into the conduct of individuals in exercising the rights the law gives them merely because it considers and, perhaps, justly considers them in the wrong, and not justified by the circumstances of the case, then I say we may assume to be the case, then I say we may assume to be the censors of the private conduct of every private individual in the country, and our authority would be carried to the extent of abuse. The House of Commons, I trust, will never be induced to take the first steps in such a proceeding. I do not mean to justify Mr. Adair. I have a great abhorrence of the system of clearing estates, that has been practised extensively in parts of Ireland, though not so much of late years as formerly. But when hon. Gentlemen say that this act of Mr. Adair is more unjustifiable than any similar clearance that ever was enforced, I must dissent from that proposition. When a man, merely from interested motives, and for the purpose of filling his purse, ousts hundreds of unhappy beings who cannot find a refuge anywhere but on the roadside, in the suburbs of a town, or—since the establishment of the Poor Law—in the workhouse, the Act is far worse than that committed by mr. Adair. I am not going to justify him, but he might allege that the interest of society was his object; that the Ribbon conspiracy had spread among his tenants, and the only way to check it was to let its agents see that they could not execute their vengeance without punishing may persons in whom they took an interest. That may have been a wrong view, but it is one that could be urged in justification, and a person who acted with this object stands on fairer ground than the man who acts solely on the sordid motive of self-interest. I say again I am not defending Mr. Adair. A man's mind must, indeed, be very much distorted who can fancy it a real justification for sweeping away a whole population that he thought they ought to give evidence against a murderer, when probably they knew no more about the deed than he did himself. But the House of Commons cannot inquire into the motives from which an individual had exercises rights that none deny. With reference to Mr. Adair, therefore, there is no proper ground for inquiry. But the hon. Member for Kildare (Mr. More O'Ferrall) says the House should inquire with a view to legislation. My hon. Friend said that we might inquire with a view to legislation, and recommended the introduction of a measure giving fixity of tenure in Ireland. I may remind him, however, that the facts as they would affect such a measure are all granted, and that, therefore, on that account no inquiry in needed. I hope that the House will not be led by feelings which are honourable in themselves into what would be an entire departure from the proper functions of Parliament, and might lead to abuses so intolerable that the whole country would rise in indignation against the proceedings of this House.


said, that he had been misrepresented unintentionally by the noble Lord. He had not said one word about fixity of tenure or permanent tenure. What he had said was that an inquiry might be instituted as to whether the law had not been misapplied for pur- poses of vengeance, and, if so, whether such an alteration could not be made as would prevent landlords from applying the law to such purpose?


in reply said, he must deny that the conduct of Mr. Adair was a private transaction. Upwards of 200 policemen, who were supported by the country, were brought to the aid of Mr. Adair for the purpose of ejecting his poor tenants. Was that not a public transaction? The people of Ireland would be justified in inferring from the tone of the Government speeches that there was no sympathy for them in that House, and he would warn the Government that that opposition to the wishes of every one of their Irish supporters, could not, in the nature of things, continue much longer, and that they would soon lose all Irish support.

Question put,

The House divided;—Ayes 23; Noes 88: Majority 65.