HC Deb 14 February 1868 vol 190 cc775-87

, on rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill to renew for a limited period the Habeas Corpus Suspension (Ireland) Act, said, The Act which passed this House in the month of May last for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland expires on the first day of next month, and anybody who has watched events during the last six months cannot be surprised that the Government should feel it their duty to ask Parliament to continue for a limited period those extraordinary powers which on three different occasions it has felt it necessary to confide to the present Government. I am sure the House will agree with me when I say that a more irksome duty than that which I am called upon to perform to-night can hardly fall to the lot of any Minister; but so deep is my conviction and that of my Colleagues of the necessity of the measure which I am about to propose that we feel we should be guilty of betraying our duty and deserting our post if we did not express to the House our conviction that it is absolutely essential for the peace of the sister country, and for the continuance of the endeavours made by the late and the present Government to frustrate and destroy the efforts of the Fenian conspiracy, that Parliament should grant a renewal of the powers with which we are at present invested. It is for this reason we feel it our duty to ask the House to continue the existing Act. So far as Ireland is concerned the efforts of this Fenian conspiracy, which has existed for four long years, appear to be greatly paralyzed, the leaders of the movement seem to have transferred their more active exertions to this side of the water; and the people of this country have within the last few months been astonished to find that in some of the great centres of our population there exists an active conspiracy, whose avowed object is the promotion of rebellion, in Ireland, and the severance of that country from the Crown and Government of Great Britain. There is no doubt that this conspiracy, carried on with great skill and secresy, has existed amongst us for a considerable time; and its course, so far as England is concerned, has been marked by the commission of crimes which are happily unparalleled in the history of this country. I believe that by the occurrences which have taken place on this side of the Channel the true character of the movement has been made manifest. At all events they have shown the recklessness and daring of the leaders and the lengths to which they will go for the purpose of carrying out their designs. Though the movement in Ireland has happily not been characterized by those crimes which have been committed in England, late occurrences in Ireland have shown that a very considerable activity on the part of the conspirators still prevails there. It appears that for some time it has been the plan of those who direct the movements of the brotherhood in Ireland to endeavour by isolated outrages to keep up a state of alarm and excitement in the minds of the population. We are also in possession of information which enables us to say that in America and on the continent of Europe the members of the Fenian conspiracy are busy. The same features still characterize all the movements of the conspirators, and show us that the Fenian society is guided and ruled by men who have altogether thrown off their allegiance to the British Crown, and who boast that they are no longer subjects of the Queen—the greater portion of them being men who were born within the limits of the United Kingdom, but who have really transferred their allegiance to another Power. This is a feature not met with in any other conspiracy that has ever affected the safety of this country. The leaders of the society are beyond the grasp of this country; they are the subjects of a foreign Power, and consequently are out of the reach of British laws. It appears to me to be a very lamentable circumstance that the greater portion of the persons who are devoting themselves to the furtherance of the objects of the Fenian Brotherhood did not follow the bright example set them by the great majority of the citizens of their adopted country. I do not believe that a more remarkable spectacle was ever exhibited to the world than that which followed the close of the civil war in America, when the enormous number of men who had been engaged in a great war returned immediately, with the greatest ease, and apparently with the utmost willingness, to the occupations of peace. You will see now in America men employed in the counting-house, in shops, in railway-stations, in schools—in all the peaceful occupations—who, but a very short time ago, were leading battalions to victory in "all the pomp and circumstance of war," surrounded by all that makes war attractive. The class to whom I allude, and among whom are, I am sorry to say, a great many of my countrymen, have not followed that praiseworthy example. It appears that for the persons engaged in this Fenian conspiracy industry has no charm, and peace no attraction; for no sooner was the great civil war over than, instead of turning their attention to the arts of peace, they directed their energies to the promotion of rebellion, and to the raising of the flag of civil war in their own country; and thus we see men who had only recently been engaged in a desperate struggle for the maintenance of the union and integrity of their adopted country entering into an undertaking which had for its object the declaration of civil war and the disruption of the country in which they were born. These are the men to whom must be attributed in a great degree the misfortunes which this Fenian conspiracy have brought upon the country. I said before that they are beyond our reach. They are out of this country; and I think it is the duty of the Government to take every means to keep them where they are. It is clear that those men who are known as American-Irish are the leaders of the movement; and, lest there should be any doubt as to the effect of the measure—of which I am about to propose the renewal—I shall read from a New York paper, which is supposed to represent to a great extent the opinions of the Fenians in America, a short extract, which shows, beyond question, how useful the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act has been. In the New York People I find this statement, under the head of "Advice to the Brotherhood in Ireland"— For the men in Ireland to attempt to supply themselves with arms even where they have means to buy them would be hazardous as well as ineffective while the habeas corpus remains suspended. Let there be no more foolish demonstrations then. Let the 'men in the gap' bide their time patiently, but resolutely, nor ever make another attempt to strike at their country's oppressors until they shall find them right under their blows. Besides, the men at home require some rest now, in order to recover from the shock of their late defeats. Let them take it while they may. In England and Scotland, however, there is no need for so much secresy and caution. The habeas corpus is not yet suspended in these countries. The work of Fenian propagandism should be urged on vigorously and incessantly there. Every Irishman capable of bearing arms should, as soon as initiated, be instructed to furnish himself with a rifle or a revolver and with the ammunition requisite for their use, provided he can afford it; but when procured he should lay them secretly by in some safe place, and say nothing about them to any one except his immediate superior officer. I think the events of the last six months show that the members of the Fenian Brotherhood have followed that advice almost to the letter. But, in asking the House to renew the Act, I conceive it to be my duty to show what the Government have done in conformity with the provisions of the Act, and in the exercise of the powers reposed in them. The number of persons now in custody under warrants signed by the Lord Lieutenant is 96; of whom 83 are in Mountjoy Prison under uniform treatment. The number of persons arrested from the 1st of January, 1867, to the 31st of January, 1868, was 265. In January, 1867, there were arrested 14; in February, 21; in March, 111; in April, 31; in May, 7; in June, 38; in July, 8. During August, September, and October, there were only two arrests; but I am sorry to say that in the last three months—November, December, and January—we found it necessary to exercise the powers given us by the Act to a greater extent. During these three months there were 33 arrests. The total number arrested since the renewal of the Act, on the 1st of June last, is therefore 81. It is rather interesting, and I think very important, to trace the occupations of the persons against whom it has been found necessary to apply the provisions of the Act suspending the Habeas Corpus Act. In almost every instance—I believe I may say in every instance—it has been shown beyond doubt that those men who have been arrested were implicated in the conspiracy. The warrants were limited to those who were known to be leaders, and we have never exercised the power of arrest against those who were merely dupes, who were following the advice of those who ought to know better, and had not the opportunity of judging for themselves. I have before me an analysis of the occupations of the 265 persons who were arrested. There were designated as "officers" 10; professional men and clerks 25; artizans 90; farmers 11; labourers 66; shop-keepers and shop-assistants 28; miscellaneous 35. The class of miscellaneous includes 4 merchants, 6 National school teachers, 5 sailors, and 10 men of no stated employment. That shows how small a number of the class, which is in Ireland the most numerous and the most important, have engaged in these treasonable practices. I regard it as a matter of special congratulation that of the whole number of 265 persons arrested last year eleven only were occupiers of land. It will not be necessary for me, as a full discussion must shortly take place on the state of Ireland—a discussion which we are anxious shall take place—to enter at any length into that part of the question at present, but when it does come on hon. Members, I think, will do well to bear in mind this most significant fact, that while 90 artizans, 66 labourers, 28 shop-keepers and assistants, and 35 persons of various miscellaneous occupations have been arrested for treasonable practices, only 11 persons were imprisoned who were connected with the occupation of land in Ireland. Those numbers also show how entirely confined the participation in these seditious treasonable practices has been to the lower class of the community—almost to the lowest class—and to those who are supposed to have the least education, knowledge, and opportunity of judging for themselves. The Fenians themselves have declared, both in their speeches and writings, that the great difficulty they have had in Ireland has been that they never could get any man who has anything to lose to join them, and that their adherents were composed of men who had no stake in the country, and who were the most reckless and unthinking class of the community. The whole history of the conspiracy shows, and in this I am confirmed by all the inquiries I have made—and from the position I have the honour to fill, I possess more expe- rience in the matter than most men—that no Irish resident of character, position, and intelligence has become, or attempted to become, an active leader in this movement. There is another remarkable fact connected with the figures I have given. Of the 265 persons who were arrested not less than ninety-five—and among them are included many of the principal men arrested—;had been recently in America, many of them having passed a great deal of their life in that country. It is impossible to say exactly the precise occupations which they carried on in America. We have usually only their own statements on this point, but the fact is patent that a large proportion of them have come from the other side of the Atlantic. I wish also to impress on the House that, notwithstanding the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, we have availed ourselves of the ordinary tribunals of the country as much as possible. Upwards of fifty of these persons arrested under warrant were afterwards committed for trial by the ordinary tribunals of the country. Throughout the whole of our dealings with this conspiracy we have never deviated from the policy we first laid down—the policy of prevention—we have never allowed any person whom we knew to be actively engaged in promoting this conspiracy to remain at large. Insinuations were, indeed, thrown out on more than one occasion last year—but which never took any other form than that of mere insinuation—that the Government had allowed treasonable practices to go on, in order ultimately to strike a more severe blow at the conspiracy. But although such a course might possibly be justified on the grounds of policy, it could not in our opinion be justified on the grounds of morality. We have held it to be the duty of the Government in a time of dangerous conspiracy, to endeavour to thwart on every occasion at the first moment the designs of the conspirators, and I can conceive nothing more cruel than that the Government should play with such a movement as this for the purpose of making some great effort to crush it by the strong arm of military force. The course which has hitherto been pursued, has been perfectly successful. The objects of the Fenians were avowed—namely, war to the knife and rebellion against the power of this country; but such has been the nature of the precautions we have taken that, with the exception of the rising of the 5th of March—an abortive attempt, which was put down in about twenty-four hours—nothing like an armed movement has taken place in the country. We have, in almost every instance, been able to thwart the plans and stop the designs of these men before any serious event occurred. To give particular instances, I would mention that during the last few weeks two notorious conspirators who were engaged in the rising of the 5th of March, and who, from all the information we received, were men of the most desperate character, lately appeared in the country. They had not been many days in Ireland before one of them was arrested by the police in Dublin in the most gallant manner. He has been tried, and I am informed by a telegram to-day that he has been sentenced to fifteen years' penal servitude. Another man who appeared in another part of Ireland, and who was known to have taken a prominent part in a number of outrages at Cork, was by the unceasing activity of the police arrested and has been committed for trial at the next assizes. These circumstances show that these men must know that they cannot come to this country with impunity, or carry on their treasonable practices with any hope of success; for even before they arrive in the country the Government are fully informed of their designs, and though a little difficulty has been experienced at times, there has seldom been any failure in bringing them to justice. There is a very remarkable fact that the House ought to be aware of. The number of persons pointed out and described to the Government before the rising of the 5th of March as military leaders, or men of military experience who had come from America to Ireland, was about 43. I have taken pains to ascertain the fate of these men. The statements made to the Government about them proved to be quite true. Out of these 43, the 3 principal leaders never arrived in the country at all; 1 died before he was brought to trial, and of those who did arrive, 20 being arrested were brought to trial and sentenced to various periods of punishment. Out of 18 remaining, there were only 3 who took an active part and who were persons of importance. Those who were amenable to justice and who have not been dealt with according to law, are for the most part in exile, and do not desire to come again to Ireland, and the rest have been subjected to the punishment of their offences. That shows these men, if anything can do it, how impossible it is for them to carry on their designs with the smallest success. Everyone must have observed the invariable course of the painful scenes which have occurred. At the trial of all these men there has been the same scene of the prisoner in the dock, the informer in the witness-box, certain conviction and sure punishment. It is also to be remarked that everyone throughout these transactions who has been called upon to act in the performance of his duties, from the humblest policeman to the highest Judge—everyone, witnesses, jurymen, and those engaged in carrying out the law—have discharged this most painful duty with loyalty, faithfulness, and fearlessness. Great personal risk has been undergone by many of those men, and particularly by those connected with, the two police forces of the country. Repeated attempts at assassination have been made upon men who were merely doing their duty, and I am sorry to say that in some three or four cases those attempts were successful. The Dublin Metropolitan Police, who have invariably behaved with a zeal, a courage, and a fidelity which has been equalled only by the men of the Royal Irish Constabulary, have perhaps more than any other body been thrown into contact with these desperadoes, and have discharged their duties in a manner which entitles them to the highest praise. The list of the outrages inflicted on them since the commencement of the Fenian conspiracy, though not a long is still a very painful one. I find that Constable Charles O'Neill on the 29th of April, 1866, was shot by a pistol bullet in the stomach by a man named Kearney, and died the same day; Constable Patrick Keenan on the 31st of October, 1867, was shot by a pistol bullet, and died after seven days; Sergeant Stephen Kelly on the 31st of October, 1867, was shot in the stomach, and for three weeks he was at the point of death, but happily he recovered, though he is still an invalid; Constable Matthew Donaghue on the 20th of October, 1867, was fired at by a man who attempted to assassinate a Crown witness, but not injured. Three or four other men have been permanently disabled by wounds received in the discharge of their duty connected with the Fenian conspiracy, and have been obliged to retire from the force with marks of severe personal injury; which I am afraid they will bear to the day of their deaths. I refer to these lamentable cases, not to raise undue animosity against the members of this conspiracy, but merely to remind the House how much we are indebted to the courage and fidelity of those men who are daily, at the risk of their lives, engaged in maintaining the public peace and upholding the authority of the law. In asking the House to continue this Act, Her Majesty's Government propose that it should be renewed for a longer period than has hitherto been done. Looking to the aspect of the Fenian conspiracy, it is not, I think possible to anticipate that things will assume so favourable a condition as would justify the House in allowing the Act for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act to expire during the present Session. I am certain it would not be safe, looking to the experience of the past, to permit the Act to expire at a time when for several months Parliament might not be sitting, and when, if there was a revival of activity, it would be impossible to obtain a renewal of these powers. What the Government therefore propose is, that, with the sanction of the House, the Act should be continued for one year longer, or till March, 1869; and provision will be made in the Bill that, in the event of Parliament not being in Session at the time, its operation will extend until three weeks after the next meeting of Parliament—so as to enable this House, in the case of a new Parliament being elected, to express its opinion at the earliest possible opportunity, whether this Act should be further continued or be allowed to expire. No one who has been actively connected with the administration of the powers given to the Government under the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act can avoid being thoroughly convinced of all the inconveniences and dangers which attend the conferring of such powers on the Executive. I own that in the suspension of that which we all regard as a great bulwark of our liberties there are disadvantages of the very greatest magnitude, and therefore in asking for the renewal of these powers I do not wish to conceal from the House the gravity of the proceeding. But I believe there is not a man in Ireland really anxious for the peace and wellbeing of the country who does not know that an absolute necessity exists for this measure, and who would not experience something like a feeling of dismay if he thought the House would not continue it for a certain time longer. No doubt it is a measure which nothing but the greatest necessity and the gravest national peril could justify; but I think it is clear from the experience of the past that, with all the objections and drawbacks which naturally surround them, these great powers can be exercised and administered without any real danger to the liberties of the people. The Habeas Corpus Act has now been suspended in Ireland for a considerable period; yet nobody can fairly say that in consequence thereof there is not as much freedom of action, freedom of discussion, freedom of thought, freedom of writing and speaking in that country as in any other part of the kingdom. Indeed, the only freedom which has really been interfered with under this measure is the freedom to rebel, and that has been thoroughly and completely restrained. Therefore, it is with the fullest conviction of the absolute necessity of the case—and also with the feeling that if the Government is further intrusted with these powers, we shall be able to exercise them, as we have hitherto done, without interfering with the constitutional privileges of our fellow-subjects, in the most efficacious way for the speedy repression and, I hope, the ultimate extinction of this painful conspiracy—that I now have no hesitation in asking the House for leave to introduce this Bill.

Motion made and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to further continue the Act of the twenty-ninth year of the reign of Her present Majesty, chapter one, intituled "An Act to empower the Lord Lieutenant or other Chief Governor or Governors of Ireland to apprehend and detain for a limited time such Persons as he or they shall suspect of conspiring against Her Majesty's Person and Government."—(The Earl of Mayo.)


said, he should have been surprised if the Government had not brought in this Bill; but he must say he was much surprised at the manner in which they had brought it in. He should have imagined after all the discussions which had been going on in England, after all the speeches made upon every platform in England during the last six months, after the expression of the opinion by statesmen of all parties, and even by leading Members of the Government that the Irish question was one which recommended itself to the Government's grave and serious consideration, that they would not have had a Bill introduced for the continuance of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland preceding any Notice given or Motion made for any measure for the amelioration or the pacification of Ireland. His noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland had given no notice of any measure on the Irish Church, on the land question, or on education—the three great questions which agitated the public mind in Ireland. He (Mr. Bagwell) could not but regret his noble Friend's reticence on these vital subjects, because like every other Irish gentleman, he (Mr. Bagwell) was sincerely anxious to strengthen the hands of the Government in repressing a conspiracy dangerous alike to Ireland and England. It must be the object of every Irish gentleman to strengthen the hands of the Government; but what were they to think if the Government said, "We propose nothing for the amelioration of the country?" He was much afraid it was the old story—the twice-told tale of coercion, coercion, coercion—and nothing but coercion. In the course of the observations made by his noble Friend, he said the great object the Government had in view was prevention. But there was a speech made at the end of the autumnal Session by the noble Earl at the head of the Government, in which he said that the funeral processions with reference to the Manchester men were strictly legal. He thought his noble Friend said the same thing in this House. [The Earl of MAYO: I never said anything of the sort.] Well, but did his noble Friend mean to say that Lord Derby had not said the processions were not illegal and could not be stopped? Did his noble Friend mean to say that his chief had not said that? If Lord Derby had not said so, then the people of the United Kingdom had been grossly misled by the newspaper press. The processions did take place with the consent and approbation, he might say, of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. After the procession in Dublin the Government thought the thing was going rather too fax, and they stopped all further processions; and not only that, but they actually prosecuted people for attending a gathering which the head of the executive power in this country had declared was perfectly legal. Now, if that was prevention he did not know the meaning of the term. He must say that the noble Lord (the Earl of Mayo) had made an exceedingly temperate speech—a speech which, if it had been preceded by a Notice of any measure which the Government thought fit to bring forward for the amelioration or pacification of Ireland, he (Mr. Bagwell) would be the last man in that House to find fault with. The noble Lord had made a speech upon a subject with which he was thoroughly conversant—a speech most creditable to him under the circumstances of grave difficulty in which he was placed. Now, the noble Lord said, that all through this Fenian conspiracy only eleven farmers were found to be connected with it in Ireland. He (Mr. Bagwell) had not thought there were so many; but his noble Friend took very good care not to say how much sympathy with the conspiracy was shown by the farmers of Ireland. There were two ways of promoting rebellion—one was by a man openly taking the field at the risk of life and liberty, and defying the power of the Crown; another way was to sympathize with rebels, and do all in one's power to shelter them from the consequences of their acts. Now, if the farmers of Ireland were contented, would they be sympathizers with that state of crime and rebellion which they knew must be more injurious to their interests than to those of any other class in the country? If sympathy were not shown by the farmers, this conspiracy could not be carried on for a week by those wretched people who talked sedition in public houses, aided by a few "rowdies" from America; and what was more, it would not be sympathized with if the Government brought in measures which would satisfy the Irish people. He should like to know whether the Bill now about to be brought in was exactly the same as the last one? [The Earl of MAYO: It is.] He (Mr. Bagwell) was glad to hear it. He concurred in the expediency of continuing the Act for a considerable time, as it was highly undesirable that irritating measures of this description should be constantly brought under renewal. He must bear testimony to the mildness with which the powers given by the last Bill were exercised. The police and the magistrates had acted admirably; and he must also say that if any mistakes had been committed, the blame lay with the Government, who directed the police and the magistrates, and not with either of the latter. Now, he did hope that in the course of discussions which would shortly be raised, the Government would tell the House and the country what they really meant to do. They had been asked that very night, and on the previous night as well, when they meant to bring in the promised Bill for the reform of the representation of the people in Ireland. Well, that had been put off yesterday, and on that evening also no satisfactory answer had been given to the question. The question would be asked of the Government next week whether they intended to bring in a measure to satisfy the tenant farmers of Ireland? Would the same answer be given that had been given to the question respecting the Irish Reform Bill? There was a question to be put by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire), and it was to be hoped that in the discussion which would ensue upon it the Government would tell the House what they were about to do—because he declared that if the present Government had not made up their minds to take up and deal with the Irish question, they ought not to be allowed to sit longer on the Treasury Benches. He said that without the slightest wish to replace them by Gentlemen sitting on that (the Opposition) side of the House, because he thought, from the composition of the present Government, they were more Irish than a Government composed of Gentlemen now in Opposition would be. He had no intention of opposing the introduction, of the Bill, but sincerely hoped the Government would declare what their policy towards Ireland would be.

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by the Earl of MAYO, Mr. Secretary GATHORNE HARDY, and Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 28.]