HC Deb 20 July 1869 vol 198 cc352-7

MR. W. JOHNSTON, in rising, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to recent events in Ulster, bore testimony to the courtesy with which the various questions affecting that province had been dealt with by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. A large force of military and constabulary had no doubt been sent to that part of the country on the occasion of the great anniversaries which had been held there at the commencement of the present month; but then he had no complaint to make against the Government on that score, because he was bound in fairness to admit that, in taking those steps for the preservation of peace, they were simply following the precedents which had been set them by their predecessors in Office. He must at the same time complain of the action of the constabulary in several parts of the North of Ireland, while he had no desire to prejudge the investigations which were now being instituted into their conduct both at Derry and Portadown. The conduct of the Roman Catholic population of Ulster on the occasion of the recent anniversaries was such as to entitle them to the thanks of those from whom they differed in politics and religion; but he believed that the presence of the constabulary frequently did more harm than good. In one instance when he was asked what could be done to preserve the peace, his answer was—"Keep the police out of sight and there will be no disturbance." The advice was taken, and the result justified the opinion. He had been requested by Mr. Watson, the father of the young man who had been shot by the constabulary at Portadown, to urge upon the Government the necessity of an early, searching, and impartial inquiry into their conduct on that occasion. On one occasion, when a flag had been placed on a church in the county of Down, exciting no feeling of hostility in the Roman Catholics in the neigh- bourhood, the stipendiary magistrate and the police had ordered the flag to be taken away to prevent disturbance. That order was not obeyed, as there was no law to prevent the flag being exhibited, and no danger was apprehended from the Roman Catholic population. When, however, the Orangemen heard that the flag was about to be pulled down, great difficulty was experienced in preventing a collision between them and the police, and he hoped therefore the Government would take steps which would prevent the constabulary in future from pursuing a course which might lead to a breach of the peace. There was another point to which he wished also to call attention. It was stated that, since the occurrences at Derry, a subscription list had been opened in connection with the pending inquiry at all the constabulary barracks throughout Ireland, under the sanction of the Inspector General, and that those members of the force who had not put down their names as subscribers were duly registered in its black books. The feeling of the Protestants of Ulster was, he need scarcely add, entirely opposed to the ecclesiastical policy of the Government; but it was opposed also to the one-sided Party Processions Act, and he hoped the Chief Secretary for Ireland would be able to announce that he would introduce a Bill on the subject next Session which would meet their reasonable views. At four meetings which had been held on the 12th inst., and which were attended by no less than 150,000 persons, the following resolution had been passed:— That, disclaiming any intention of annoying or intimidating any class or creed of Her Majesty's subjects, and according to others the utmost freedom in the expression of their religious and political sympathies, we desire to assert for the Protestants and Orangemen of Ulster their constitutional right publicly to manifest their attachment to those principles which they hold dear; and therefore declare the 'Party Processions Act' to be impolitic, ungenerous, and unjust, and demand its immediate repeal, in the name of justice and liberty. The Ulster Examiner, which was reputed to be the representative of Bishop Dorrian, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, of the 13th of July, had, he might add, made the following statement in a leading article:— It cannot be denied that the lodges had a field-day yesterday; but we do not object to this. Their right to assemble in their 'tens of thousands,' or in their hundreds of thousands, for any legitimate purpose is undisputed, and had they in years past avoided outrage and insult to their Catholic fellow-citizens, no Irish voice would have been raised in opposition to their displays. The reporter of the same journal, in de scribing the meeting at Killyman, said— The Bangor procession for which Mr. Johnston was prosecuted and convicted sinks in the shade when compared to it, and certainly a more 'effective' demonstration I could not conceive or imagine. Words would fail to describe the appearance of the field. It is most variegated, and the beautiful dresses of the Orangewomen of Tyrone, and the colours worn by their partners, together with the crimson and purple that everywhere prevail, form a pleasing contrast on the green bill side. How was it possible, then, that the Government should legislate against such demonstrations as calculated to lead to a breach of the peace? It would be impossible to prosecute a whole province, or imprison 250,000 people. The Party Processions Act, it was quite clear, was ineffectual to prevent the meetings against which it was directed; and, seeing that its provisions could not be carried out, and that it was calculated to do more mischief than it was likely to prevent, it ought, he contended, to be repealed. But it was not only such Acts as the Party Processions Act which were violated. The right rev. Dr. Moriarty, Bishop of Kerry, had, on the 19th of July, 1867, when examined before the Select Committee on the Ecclesiastical Tithes Bill, stated that— The enactment had been totally inoperative, and that he had held it to be unlawful and void," adding—"My practice ever since I became a Bishop has been to use my title, and I do so because I think it is a right and proper thing to resist authority, whether spiritual or temporal, when it goes boyond its just limits. The hon. Member concluded by moving— That there be laid before this House, Copies of Reports of the Stipendiary Magistrates relating to the state of Ulster on the 12th day of July, 1869.


said, he was not very clear as to the object of the hon. Member in the statement just, made to the House; but he was glad to hear an admission that the Government had been actuated by no other feeling than one of duty in the measures they had taken for the preservation of the peace of Ulster. Language differing very greatly from this, however, had been held by Members of the Orange party, who had charged the Government with invading Ulster with an army of horse and foot, and insulting the Protestants of the North—language of the wildest and most unfounded kind, which it was agreeable to hear the hon. Member repudiate. He was glad also that the hon. Gentleman had fairly admitted that the Roman Catholic population of Ulster had in general acted with great prudence and forbearance on a recent occasion. From his intimate knowledge of all that had passed in Ulster he could fully confirm that statement. It was most fortunate for the peace of the North of Ireland that the Roman Catholic population, under circumstances in some cases of no small provocation, had, at the suggestion of their clerical advisers and others, maintained a most prudent and for bearing attitude. It was true that in some districts of the North of Ireland there might be no danger of a breach of the peace, but in other districts, where parties were more equally balanced, there was serious risk of the most fatal consequences as the result of these demonstrations. He could assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that in several districts, if the public authority had not been well represented by a sufficient force, there would have been great danger of hostile collisions, and, perhaps, of a lamentable loss of life. The hon. Gentleman said that these demonstrations were for the maintenance of the political and religious principles of the Ulster, Protestants. Now, he was not going to discuss the general state of Ulster or the history and present position of Orangeism; but it seemed to him that Protestants might well maintain their political and religious principles without the demonstrations which the hon. Gentleman seemed to think essential. Was it necessary for the purpose of maintaining the principles of Protestantism and their equal rights as citizens—which were not in the smallest degree endangered—to make these displays in the face of a population which could not but regard them as irritating? Was it necessary to make night hideous with firing and with drums, which resounded all over Ulster, and which were more worthy of some African village than of a flourishing province in Ireland? For the moment these displays might be inevitable, but he trusted and believed that they were not destined to be perpetual, and that the Protestants of Ulster would not think it necessary to support their political and religious principles, which he hoped they would always maintain, by keeping up these semi-barbarous and childish observances. In one important respect the hon. Member, whose general fairness he admitted, had exerted himself to avert the dangers which might arise—and did arise—from these great assemblages. The hon. Gentleman was strongly opposed to the dangerous and reprehensible practice of carrying arms on such occasions, but, as he knew, arms were in many instances carried. With regard to the particular occasions on which the police had come into collision with the people, the hon. Gentleman could scarcely expect the Government to express any opinion, because these cases were now the subject of inquiry. He did not believe that anything could be gained by going further into these matters in that House. There was great reason for congratulation that the 12th of July had passed off so well, and perhaps the least said the best. No doubt the law of the land, as embodied in the Party Processions Act, had been openly violated in a great number of cases; but, upon the whole, peace and order had been preserved, and the measures taken by the Government had proved effectual. As to the Reports asked for by the hon. Member, he could not consent to produce them, for it would be destructive of the relations between the Government and their officers if it were the practice to produce such Reports, except in cases of the most exceptional kind and supported by the strongest reasons. He congratulated the House and the country on the comparative success which had attended the efforts of the Government to preserve the peace in the North of Ireland.


said, one might imagine from the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland that there were no party processions in Ireland but those of Orangemen. He (Mr. Vance) recollected a procession of 80,000 persons, which was formed in Dublin to follow the remains of M'Manus, who had been convicted of treason; and also another procession in honour of those who were called the "Manchester martyrs," which was most alarming from its numbers, and from the principles of those who took part in it. Neither of those processions were interfered with, and he therefore maintained that the Party Processions Act had been very partially administered. The processions which toot place in the North of Ireland were, for the most part, composed of loyal men, and were in support of the English connection, while those which took place in the South were composed of men who were not well affected to the Queen and Government of this country. The people of Ulster would never cease agitating until this penal enactment of the Party Processions Act was repealed.

Motion made, and Question, That there be laid before this House, Copies of Reports of the Stipendiary Magistrates relating to the state of Ulster on the 12th day of July 1869,"— (Mr. William Johnston,) —put, and negatived.