HC Deb 16 March 1869 vol 194 cc1547-59

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, it would not be necessary for him to enter into the history of the Act of 1850, commonly called the Party Processions Act, but it might be as -well to remind the House that that Act was passed in consequence of an occurrence which took place at Dolly's Brae, in the county Down, in 1849, where unfortunately blood was shed, and much ill-will produced between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects. The House would remember that, in 1848, there were exciting circumstances in Ireland. The Government of the day thought it right at that time to encourage the Orangemen to make a demonstration in the interest of law and order. It was supposed that there was likely to be a contest between the civil powers and that party, who, with honesty and sincerity, he believed, were anxious, although mistakenly, to obtain a separate and independent existence for Ireland as a separate kingdom; but they adjourned their little fight in 1848 to Dolly's Brae in 1849, and the consequence was found in the Act of 1850. That Act was brought in by Sir William Somerville, the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, on the 8th February. Hon. Members on his side of the House, he knew, had been found ready to accuse those on the other side of bringing in these repressive and penal enactments against the Orangemen and Protestants of Ulster; but he reminded the House that the Act of 1850 was not opposed by the Gentlemen who then sat on the Opposition Benches. That Act was supplemented, in 1860, by an Act called the Party Emblems Act, which was found to be so useless and irritating in its effects that it was permitted to expire in 1865, having only been enacted for five years. One provision of the Party Processions Act he objected to as being eminently calculated to provoke party animosity. The Act of 1850 was not held to apply to the O'Connell procession, which took place on the 8th August, 1864. The then Attorney General for Ireland said there was no ground for treating it as a party procession or an illegal assembly in Common Law, as there were no party banners or emblems, and no party tunes, and everything went off peacefully. It was alleged that green was not a party colour, and that the "White Cockade" and "Garryowen" were not party tunes. It was alleged, in fact, that everything on one side was of a party nature, while nothing on the other side partook of that character. It seemed that there was, with regard to this Act, a choice of three courses—to tolerate all demonstrations with green emblems, and put down all Orange demonstrations; to suppress all party demonstrations impartially; or to tolerate all peaceable demonstrations, whether Orange or green. The last course had been adopted in Canada, where at one time an irritating Party Processions Act was adopted and found to promote violence and. bloodshed; but, by the unanimous consent of Protestant and Roman Catholic members, it was wiped off the statute book, and ever since the Orangemen had their demonstration on the 12th July, and the Roman Catholics had theirs on St. Patrick's Day, without any attempts to interfere with the liberty of the subject or with constitutional rights. When the feeling arose in the minds of the Protestants of Ulster that there was one law for the South and another for the North; that demonstrations of a certain character were to be tolerated south of the Boyne, and in the North other demonstrations were to be punished by imprisonment, a great deal of ill-feeling arose in Ulster. It was stated by that great organ of English public opinion, The Times, that it would be better to have no law at all against party processions than one which was so unequally administered as the law was in Ireland. In 1866 there was a change of Government, and it was believed that the Conservative party would deal more leniently with the Protestants and Orangemen of Ulster, who had assisted them to obtain place and power. It was not unnatural for the working classes of Ulster to expect more toleration from the Conservatives; but they were told by the noble Lord then the Prime Minister (the Earl of Derby) that the Fenian processions in the South were not illegal, and the same thing was reiterated by Lord Mayo. That was felt to be simply intolerable. The Orangemen found that they were prosecuted for peaceable and orderly processions. They had never asked that their Roman Catholic fellow- countrymen should be prosecuted for wearing green, but were ready to concede to them in the broadest spirit of liberality the right to wear that colour, and to have party processions, provided they themselves had the same liberty. It would perhaps be in the recollection of the House that a prosecution was instituted against certain parties for taking part in a public demonstration at Bangor, on the 12th July, 1867, and afterwards, as a sort of set-off, a prosecution was instituted against some parties in Dublin for taking part in a Fenian procession. The prosecution in Dublin failed, however, but the prosecution in Down succeeded. He regretted that Lord Mayo was not now in the House to give an explanation of his Irish policy, and he (Mr. Johnston) must say that the people of Ulster looked upon his Lordship's transference from the misgovernment of Ireland to the government of India as a most mysterious dispensation of Providence. It was right that he should inform the House that previous to the Act of 1850 a Party Processions Act was brought in, in 1832, by Mr. Stanley, then the Secretary of State for a Whig Government, and afterwards a Conservative Prime Minister. If they were to have a Chapter of Autobiography, they might have one from that (the Opposition) side of the House, as well as from the Ministerial Benches. The Processions Act of 1832, however, was opposed by Mr. O'Connell, who, on the 25th June. 1832, declared in this House that there was not a Roman Catholic who did not rejoice that King William succeeded, and that King James failed, and who did not hold the character of the former in the greatest respect, and the character of the latter in the most sovereign contempt, and he therefore argued that there was no ground for considering Orange processions as an insult to the Roman Catholics. Mr. O'Connell also argued that the proposed Act was unnecessary, as the Common Law was sufficient for all purposes. Those were the words of a great man, and though he (Mr. Johnston) had the honor to be an Orangeman—for he considered it an honor—he would not be worthy of the name of an Irishman if he hesitated to pay a passing tribute to the memory of one who fought the battle well for his co-religionists in Ireland, and whom it was Ireland's proud boast to look upon as one of her most illustrious and famous sons. He was glad to know that the Motion for the second reading of the Bill was to be seconded that evening by a relative of the man who, in the year 1832, so energetically resisted that tyrannical enactment. It was said that those party processions were calculated to create animosity and to provoke breaches of the peace. Now he had sometimes attended trials under the Act from a feeling of interest, and he had once unfortunately done so when he could not help it; and. he had never heard any evidence brought forward at those trials, except the evidence of policemen—who were ready to take their instructions from "the powers that be"—which would prove that the processions were calculated to provoke animosity, and lead to breaches of the peace. On one occasion a policeman was asked if certain occurrences were, in his opinion, calculated to create animosity, and he said they were. He was then asked if they created animosity in his mind, and Ms reply was "Oh no, not as a policeman." He (Mr. Johnston) was as strongly opposed as anybody could be to the carrying of arms in these processions, and as long as he had anything to do with political life he had deprecated, by every possible means, the carrying of even a pistol by a, boy in an Orange procession. He believed, too, that if the Government, of whatever party, would undertake to protect the peaceable processions of the members of all parties, no arms would be carried on the one side or the other. He felt persuaded that more animosity was created by the present Act than by all the processions which it was intended to prevent. He would appeal to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whether great irritation had not been produced by the partial administration of the Act, by its enforcement in the Northern districts of the country, and in its complete failure in the South. He was convinced that the Common Law was amply sufficient for the suppression of all offensive demonstrations, and he had received a letter from a gentleman who had formerly been a Crown Prosecutor under a Liberal Government, stating that at the Armagh Assizes, in Spring 1867, a number of persons who had taken part in an illegal procession. had been indicted under the Common Law, and had all been convicted. If he was rightly informed, all the indictments that had been drawn under Government authority against persons taking part in party processions or illegal assemblies were, until a recent date, instituted at Common Law, and not under the Party Processions Act. He hoped, then, that the Government would give up this partial legislation, and would go back to the Common Law. He made no claim on the part of the Protestants or Orangemen of Ulster to exclusive loyalty; he believed there were other people in Ireland ready to rally round the Constitution and Throne of these realms. He had no desire to see the ascendancy of Protestants over Roman Catholics; he had no desire to see the members of one sect trample upon the members of another sect, or obtain privileges which were not conceded to the whole of their fellow-subjects. He only wished for fair play for the Protestants and Orangemen of Ulster. He only asked that fair play to them as well as to the Fenians should be included in the programme of justice to Ireland. He would beg to remind the House, in the eloquent words of Lord Macaulay, "That the path of justice is the path of wisdom." He asked the House and the Government to enter on the path of justice towards the Protestants of Ulster, and he would venture to say that they would find it the path of wisdom. He trusted that Ireland would soon cease to be the shuttlecock of parties. He hoped that the day was not far distant when people of all creeds would learn toleration. Let them put an end to injustice and wrong; let them aid in developing and protecting the industry and the enter-prize of Ireland; let them legislate so as to protect the rights of labour as well as the rights of capital and property; let them respect the interests of the tenant-farmers and the artizans as well as of the employers and the landlords; let them give the people just laws fairly administered; and then he would venture to assure the House and the Government that Ireland would share in the welfare of the Empire, and rejoice in the glory of England. In conclusion he begged leave to move the second reading of the Bill.


rose to second the Motion in the anxious desire that the course he was taking might tend to promote the union of all classes of Irishmen. He was aware that the law which this Bill proposed to repeal was regarded with great aversion by his hon. Friend and those whom he represented. They complained that the Party Processions Act curtailed their liberty of action, that its provisions were never enforced except as against them, and that in its conception and by its operation it was intended to gratify Roman Catholics by the suppression of certain ceremonies to which a section of the Northern Protestants attached considerable importance. Although he was convinced that neither the framers of the Act, nor those who had prosecuted under it, were animated by those intentions, such motives were ascribed to them, and the belief was industriously kept alive in the North, producing an amount of irritation which did more than anything else to bring about those periodical manifestations which he on many grounds deplored. It was the duty of everyone to endeavour to dispel the illusion that class, or race, or creed furnished any ground upon which any man or body of men could claim special favour, and it was the duty of every one to propagate the doctrine that the State could recognize no distinctions incompatible with perfect religious equality. The interests of all Irishmen were inseparable, and it was the duty of all to obey the laws, and maintain their supremacy; and he was the best friend of his country who endeavoured to promote union by encouraging friendship amongst men of all classes and denominations. He could not give a greater proof of his desire to co-operate in that good work than by assisting the Member for Belfast in repealing this Act, which that hon. Gentleman and his friends believed to be of a partizan character. The main object of the Act was no doubt to prevent the recurrence of exhibitions which whenever they took place must necessarily wound the feelings of every Catholic. It might be said, "Do you, then, mean to give full scope to those who would insult and annoy your Catholic brethren?" His answer was that the law had failed to accomplish the aim proposed; that like all other penal laws it created and fostered a spirit of resistance to authority; and that, while partially removing from public view certain emblems much cherished by some, it had given fresh vitality to i feelings and passions which would only yield to influences far different from those that a penal law could bring to bear. Violent measures only aggravated the evil they were meant to repress, and penal laws were powerless when opposed to sentiment and feeling; they could not substitute amity for enmity of heart; and until a change of that nature could be brought about in the North of Ireland there would continue there these scenes of strife which were a disgrace to our boasted civilization. He consented to the repeal of this Act because he had faith in the impartiality of the Executive, in the resources of the Common Law, but above all in the disposition of his Catholic brethren to make every sacrifice for the sake of union; and he believed it would be impossible for the generous and impulsive minds of Protestants in Ulster long to remain insensible to forbearance springing from so noble a motive. At all events, he was convinced that it was the duty of the Catholics of Ireland to make an effort, even at some sacrifice of feeling, to close divisions and heal wounds which were an incalculable weakness to Ireland. If peace and concord followed they would have proved this patriotism, and if discord continued they would have shown that they had done their best to put an end to it. He regretted the manifestations which annually occurred in the North of Ireland on the occasion of certain anniversaries, not on account of the recollections which they suggested, but because they indicated an unwillingness on the part of Protestants to amalgamate with their fellow-countrymen. The struggle which took place at the Revolution might be said to have involved a two-fold issue—the foundation of the Protestant monarchy in these kingdoms and the establishment of Protestant ascendancy. The Catholics, in the first instance, yielding, no doubt, to necessity, accepted the two-fold result, but with the reservation that they would assert for themselves the exercise of the most sacred prerogatives of conscience. No one could contend that a Protestant monarchy necessarily implied Protestant ascendancy. The Catholics were ready to fight for a Protestant monarch, and they admitted the virtues in social life of their Orange fellow-countrymen, but the latter must not object to the Catholics claiming equality with them. All must admit that the Catholics had done their part; that the Protestants had no just ground of complaint against them, and that it was foolish and barbarous to perpetuate feuds by the annual revival of bitter strife and by the assertion of pretensions which were inadmissible because they were unjust. He would remind his hon. Friend that the vast majority of the Protestants of these kingdoms were quite as much against Protestant ascendancy as the Catholics. His hon. Friend had referred to processions in other parts of Ireland besides the North; but there was no analogy between them to warrant the inference he drew. It was only proper to consider whether the objects and intentions of the processionists were morally and legally legitimate. With regard to the O'Connell procession, to which his hon. Friend had alluded, that was intended to celebrate the partial emancipation of the Catholics from a position of political and social inferiority, and to inaugurate the erection of a statue in memory of one who was regarded as a benefactor of his race. There was not the slightest ground to suppose that it was meant to give offence to anyone. But if secret processions were held two or three times in the year, they would become a nuisance; and if they were formed in districts where they were likely to lead to disturbances it would be the duty of the Catholics to abandon them, no matter how good their object might be. No one knew better than his hon. Friend that it was impossible to show that the Catholics were actuated by any intentions inimical to their Protestant fellow-countrymen. If they wanted an extended franchise, and the ballot to enable them to exercise it freely, the Catholics were willing to help them to get both the one and the other; and if they desired security of tenure to enable them to live for ever on the soil of Ulster, they might count on the earnest support of the Catholics in the accomplishment of their wishes. They were both destined to dwell together in the same land, and it was their duty to unite together as the citizens of one common country. How could this be done? Certainly not by the annual recurrence of processions to remind them of the time when their ancestors were arrayed in hostile bands. He would, therefore, appeal to his hon. Friend to use his great influence to put an end to distinctions which must lead to disunion, and could not be productive of one single good result. In that appeal he was sure he would be supported by the majority of that House and by the people of England. The policy had been abandoned for ever which was embodied in the words "divide and govern," and henceforth justice, which knows no distinction of race, creed, or class, was to be the great principle of government.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. W. Johnston.)


said, that last year, at a late period of the Session, he gave notice of a Bill, similar in effect to the present one, on account of the strong feeling he entertained that immense injustice was practised on one particular party by the manner in which the Party Processions Act was carried out. He had been blamed for not proceeding with that Bill, but he could not proceed with a Bill without the support of either one side or the other. His own party said the great measure—the Reform Bill then before the House—must have the precedence of all legislation; and from the other side, with some few exceptions, he received no support. Since then there had been a General Election, and these reasons were all changed, and the measure was now taken up by both sides. Many friends of his thought this so important a measure, that it ought only to be proposed by the Government, and then only in case it could be proposed with perfect safety to the country. But it had always appeared to him that the Act had this peculiar disadvantage—it left a jury to say how far these processions were within the law, while, in almost every instance, it was most difficult to define what was the intention and object of the processionists. He therefore thought it better to trust a generous nation like the Irish, and leave the future to the ordinary law of the land. He hoped he would sooner or later see this Act disappear from the statute book. [Cheers.] He was delighted to hear such generous sentiments emanate from the other side of the House; he was only sorry he did not hear them oftener. But why were those on that side of the House again twitted with a desire for Protestant ascendancy? For himself he must say he never had any feeling of ascendancy; it was only because Protestants belonged to a religion which was not that of the great body of the people in Ireland, and because they lived under a Protestant Queen and a Protestant Church, that they were taunted with Protestant ascendancy. He hoped they would be able to put an end to those acrimonious debates which formerly only contributed to the amusement of the House, and if the Government thought they could take the responsibility on themselves of repealing the Party Processions Act, he was sure they would be supported, by all the Members from Ulster and many others on that side of the House.


said, he must strenuously oppose the second reading of this Bill. If the Party Processions Act were repealed it certainly would lead to a breach of the public peace. He felt very strongly the arguments which had been urged by his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast (Mr. Johnson) and his hon. Friend the Member for Tralee (The O'Donoghue); he also agreed in a great deal of what had been said by the hon. Baronet the Member for the county of Londonderry (Sir Frederick Heygate); but he did not think the House should consent to the second reading of this Bill, which had been proposed so fairly, so calmly, and so eloquently, by his hon. Friend. He believed the Common Law was not sufficient to put down party processions in Ireland, and there was great wisdom in the Act which had been passed for the purpose of curing the defects of the Common Law. The Legislature thought the jury, especially with the musical education they received in the North, would be able to tell what was the meaning of a party tune, and not being colour-blind, that they would be able to tell what was the meaning of a party emblem, and therefore all the jury tad to do was to say whether there had been a procession of 100 or 200 persons playing a party tune and having a party emblem calculated to excite animosity. The law said that was an unlawful assembly. He spoke as a Protestant and as a Liberal; above all, he spoke as an Irishman. He wished to represent in that House the feeling of his Catholic as well as his Protestant fellow-countrymen—he was strongly of opinion that if this Act were repealed it would lead to something which every lover of his country would afterwards have to deplore. He would trust the Orangeman in many things. He believed they were a plucky and independent race, and he did not think they would allow themselves to be dragged along by an oligarchy. He thought the return of his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast a proof of their independence; but he did not want to put the Orangemen of Ireland on their mettle yet. He wanted to give them a little more time to complete their political education. He wanted to disestablish the Irish Church, and when that badge of ascendancy was removed under the first Statesman of the age, when that Magna Charta of Irish liberty was passed—he would say when they enjoyed religious and social equality in Ireland. The Orangemen would give up the party processions of the 12th of July rather than vex their neighbours, just as we had given up the celebration of the 18th of June rather than vex an Imperial neighbour. All the Catholics in the North of Ireland were not as well read in the history of the British Constitution as the hon. Member for Tralee, and, as regarded the Protestants, he thought it would be as well if they would let King William rest in his grave, and not bring him up every 12th of July. If this Bill were passed, it would lead to misconception, and the Orangemen of Ireland would feel that they were at, liberty to do as they pleased on the 12th of July. Processions would take place, many of them, no doubt, would be peaceably conducted, but others would lead to bloodshed. He should vote against the second reading if it were pressed to a division.


regretted that the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Dowse) should have made his maiden speech for the purpose of crying down the Protestants of Ireland. Every true Protestant should rally round an institution which had more than once stood between the Crown and revolution. The Prime Minister was about to throw the Bible on the floor of the House—he was going to treat the Protestants of Ireland worse than Mrs. Star treated Miss Saurin, for, did she not leave her one tunic? He was proud to belong to that glorious Orange society which they should look to protect them, not only from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), but from those who wished to destroy the Church in Ireland. He had not always approved of the conduct of the hon. Member for Belfast, because he considered it the duty of every Orangeman to obey the law, whether it were harsh or not; but the law should now be repealed, and Protestants be placed in the same position of equality as the right hon. Gentleman told them he was going to place other Irishmen. He trusted that the Government would not come forward and propose a Committee or a Commission or any other "dodge" to keep the Orangemen in suspense for some time longer.

CAPTAIN STACPOOLE moved that the debate be adjourned.


said, he did not approve of the celebration of the Protestant anniversaries; but, on the other hand, he did not see why processions should be tolerated in the case of those who were not loyal to their country.


rose to Order. The hon. Gentleman had no right to speak on the Main Question.


ruled that the hon. Baronet was in Order.


said, he wished to throw oil on the troubled waters. [Laughter.] Hon. gentlemen might laugh, but he despised such conduct. While in one part of the country loyal men who broke a law with regard to processions were convicted by juries and punished, in another, men, who had not the same loyalty, indulged in similar conduct with impunity. That was a state of things which ought not to continue. He hoped that he should see no more Orange processions in Ireland, for he altogether disapproved of them.


thought the House would agree with him that the proposal to adjourn the debate was a reasonable one, because the discussion could not be concluded that night with satisfaction to either side of the House. It was the desire of the Government that the Bill should be thoroughly discussed, and it was his desire to take a proper, and, he hoped, an early opportunity, of making a full statement on the part of the Government, both of the information in their possession on this much disputed subject, and of their views as to what ought to be done. These were good reasons for ad- journing the debate. He did not think the time passed that night had been wasted, because they had heard two remarkable speeches, considering not only their ability but the quarters from which they came. He referred to those of the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion. The speech of the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Johnston) was not only able, but moderate and large-minded, and it came from a Protestant of the Protestants and a Saxon of the Saxons. Its sentiments were echoed in the same spirit by a Member (The O'Donoghue) of another religion from the most opposite point in Ireland, both in geography and in religion. Whatever might become of this Motion, these things augured well for the future of Ireland. As they had spent an hour and a half to such excellent purpose, he thought the House would agree it was impossible to conclude the debate at such an hour.


said, that if it had been stated to which day the debate was to be adjourned, perhaps the opponents of the Bill would be more forbearing. The House ought to know when the debate would be resumed.


said, it was impossible for them to name a day when the debate should be resumed. The second reading of the Irish Church Bill was fixed for Thursday next, and consequently he could not now name a day with confidence. It was not desirable that the discussion should be long postponed, and he would give every facility for its being resumed on an early day.


said, it was extremely desirable that the discussion should not be postponed. The people of the North of Ireland were looking with intense interest to the result of the discussion.


said, no conclusive reasons had been given for the adjournment of the debate. Half-past one o'clock was not a late hour to continue the debate.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Stacpoole.)

The House divided:—Ayes 113; Noes 70: Majority 43.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.