§ Order for Second Reading read.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that as it was important the measure should pass through its various stages as quickly as possible, 717 he should endeavour to set a good example by trespassing as little as he could help upon the time of the House; at the same time, he must say that the Government did not, in any way, wish to restrict or curtail hon. Members in their consideration of its details. The very full discussion which had occurred in an earlier period of the Session, before and upon the appointment of the Select Committee, had, he thought, relieved him to a certain extent of the necessity of entering into a detailed statement of the condition of those parts of Ireland which came within the scope of the Bill, as all that he had stated, when the subject was first brought under the attention of the House, had, he believed, been substantiated by the witnesses examined before the Committee; and, in passing, he might observe, that he should be ready, at a subsequent period of the debate, to give any information that might be required. The character of the outrages which had been committed was, as in former times, chiefly agrarian; but he stated—and that statement had been confirmed by the witnesses—that during the last few years the operations of the Ribbon Society and those connected with it had been extended to other subjects to which they did not formerly direct any attention; and he had stated that the Ribbonmen now endeavoured to influence not only the relations existing between landlord and tenant, but also those existing between employer and employed, and, in some cases, even the relations of trade. There was, however, only one point to which he did not advert on a pevious occasion, and which had been brought out very strongly before the Committee, and that was the very remarkable system of outrages committed in the case of the railway running through the district—namely, the Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland. From the evidence of Mr. Cusack, the Chairman of the line, which was such as to take every member of the Committee by surprise, including himself, it seemed that the objects of the conspirators were such as not only to affect the relations between landlords and tenants, but positively to endanger the lives of those who travelled by this railway. The statement, too, which he (the Marquess of Hartington) made with respect to the difficulty of obtaining evidence in the case of these outrages had been more than substantiated by the resident 718 magistrates and the Crown Solicitors for Meath and Westmeath, as had been also his statement with regard to the effect of these murderous outrages upon the public mind of the district in which they occurred. Every witness had borne testimony to the reign of terror established by the Ribbon Confederacy, and every witness had spoken of this society as something which was above and more powerful than the law; and all of them united in deprecating the baneful effects of the conspiracy as it now existed, substantiating his remarks on a former occasion, that the state of the district had become intolerable. In fact, so completely had all his statements been corroborated by the evidence of the witnesses examined before the Committee that, until any of them were called in question, it would be needlessly wasting the time of the House to quote anything from the evidence in their support. There were only two points to which it would be his duty especially to refer, and he should refer to them, because they bore to a certain extent upon measures which had been brought forward by the Government: the first of these subjects was the evidence which went to prove the existence of an organized conspiracy; and, secondly, that part of the evidence which went to prove the limitation of the area in which crime now generally prevailed. With regard to the first, the resident magistrates had borne testimony, without any hesitation, to the existence in all its organization of a Ribbon conspiracy, modified in some respects perhaps, but conducted generally on the same principles as those which prevailed formerly, and the only witness who had expressed any doubt on the point was Dr. Nulty, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Westmeath, but even he, in cross-examination, stated his belief that these outrages were committed by the remains of the organization of what he called the old and defunct Ribbon Societies, and that there existed certain small and secret societies, whose leaders were nevertheless well known to the police and to the public of the district generally.I understand you to state that Ribbonism, in your opinion, does not exist as a confederacy at present in the county of Westmeath?—Certainly it does not.—[Q,. 2806.]In what sense, then, does it exist?—In this sense: that there are certain small cliques of vagabonds here and there through the county, who 719 formerly belonged to the regular Ribbon confederacy, and who may be considered to be, as it were, the disbanded Ribbonmen of former times.—[Q. 2807.]And in your view it is incorrect to say that there are five or six persons at the head of the whole thing in Westmeath upon whom the magistracy could lay their hands?—There are five or six persons at the heads of these little cliques or knots, as I have said.—[Q. 2836.]What you stated was that you thought there was one head who ruled each particular body?—Yes.—[Q. 2904.]That is what I ask you; you say that there are several persons, each of whom exercises his influence over a distinct body?—There may be only one or two.—[Q,. 2905.]Is one or two enough?—I mean one or two individuals in each of these little cliques.—[Q. 2906.]Are those persons pretty well known?—I do not know; they are said to be known, but of course I have no direct positive knowledge of that."—[Q. 2908.]Therefore, though Dr. Nulty was not in favour of the measure of the Government, yet even he would not, he believed, deny that for the arrest of the supposed leaders of the secret society its provisions would be effective. Then, with reference to the second, the proof of the limitation of the area of crime, Captain Talbot stated in his evidence, and he was borne out by Mr. Rogers the resident magistrate of King's County, that the operations of the society had extended throughout the whole of Westmeath, although in certain districts the state of things were worse than in others. He would next deal with the means which had been, and should be, taken to repress the state of things described by the witnesses, and here the evidence showed that everything had been done by the magistrates and the police consistent with the powers conferred on them by the ordinary law and the special Act of last Session, although it was true that some witnesses had expressed opinions that, notwithstanding the police were zealous in the performance of their duties, their organization was defective, but no practical suggestion had been made for its amendment. He (the Marquess of Hartington) thought that any hon. Member reading the evidence must be of opinion that the organization of the detective force was clearly not as complete as was desirable a short time since, nor was it such as to enable them efficiently to cope with this description of crime; but efforts had been made to improve it, and the police examined were naturally indisposed to go very fully into a description of the amended 720 system. Probably, under these circumstances, the House would rest content with the assurance that the attention of the Government had for years been directed to the improvement of the detective force, and that any change experience could suggest for its improvement would be adopted; but he was afraid that little, however, could be expected from a purely detective system, no matter how efficient, while the people were still indisposed to assist the police in the detection and punishment of criminals. The witnesses themselves, with two exceptions, suggested but one means, and one only, for the repression of agrarian outrage, and that was the temporary and local suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act; and those exceptions were Dr. Nulty, and the right hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon (Colonel French). Dr. Nulty relied upon the rigid enforcement of the present law, accompanied by the beneficial workings of the Land Act and measures for the improvement of the labouring classes. The suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, Dr. Nulty thought, might check agrarian crime, but would excite the conspirators to retaliate; he relied, in fact, on a more vigilant police, an increased number of resident magistrates, and more stringent regulations over publichouses as regarded closing and granting licences. With part of those recommendations few would disagree, for, unquestionably, the only sure way to prevent agrarian outrage was to remove its causes. The Land Act would do much in removing the cause, and he agreed that when the operation of that Act was felt the condition of the labourer would be improved, and the motives to commit crime greatly decreased. The Legislature had done all it could towards effecting it by passing the Land Act of last Session; and he believed it had been shown by witnesses that the action of the Legislature was beginning to have a good and salutary effect; but it would be too much to expect—and the supporters of the Bill never did expect—that its results would be immediate; and what the Government desired was to give that remedial measure every opportunity of being tried, but which the present state of Westmeath would not permit, for there was an organization existing, which sprung from former times and from causes that no longer existed, but which 721 it was the duty of the House to meet by temporary measures, as he believed the organization was only temporary. In regard to effecting what he had stated as desirable, Dr. Nulty's remedial measure everyone would admit to be inadequate, for it had been stated that the police had done everything in the way of patrolling, but that could never put a stop to the acts of determined and well-organized men, and the closing of publichouses had been tried under the Act of last year, being in some cases attended with very good effect, and in others not, and therefore it could not be admitted that Dr. Nulty's remedy was adequate for the necessities of the case. Some witnesses had asked for a more efficient patrol of police; but no system of patrol would check the proceedings of Ribbon conspirators; and the right hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon had suggested the repetition of measures adopted upon his suggestion in 1848, when special constables were enrolled and stationed at various places within call of each other, so that a large force could be gathered at any point of attack upon short notice. But the state of things prevalent in Roscommon at that time was very different from the state of Westmeath, for, in 1848, armed bands wandered about the country, and administered the oath to travellers with a pistol at their head; and whereas the proceedings of those times might be described as open rebellion, the proceedings of these times must be described as secret assassination, the same remedy could not therefore be relied on in each case. The Government, after a full consideration of the subject, came to the conclusion that they ought to adopt the only remedy that had been seriously proposed by the great majority of those who were fully qualified to give an opinion upon the subject, and that remedy was the one known as the partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. The Government admitted that this remedy, as regarded the suppression of agrarian crime, was a new and unconstitutional one, for formerly Parliament had attempted to deal with this class of crime simply by defining and describing new offences, by giving additional powers to the police and to the magistrates, and by imposing excessive penalties upon those who were convicted of those offences; but the measure which the Government now asked the 722 House to adopt, although an unconstitutional one, and one which would place in the hands of the Government a grave and a novel power, was not necessarily a severe one, its object being not so much the punishment, as the prevention of crime. He did not mean to say that to put a man into prison for two years was not to punish him; but that the object of the measure was not so much that the man so imprisoned should be punished, as that he should be prevented from committing crime. The only way that the Government saw before them of putting an end to this organization was to keep its leaders out of mischief for some time by imprisoning them. The question naturally arose why, when a similar state of things had prevailed in Ireland for the last 40 years—for it could easily be proved that the state of things all over Ireland had been much worse within that period than it was in Westmeath at the present moment—this particular remedy had never been proposed before? The truth was, that the various Governments, who had never been checked or restrained in their measures for putting an end to agrarian crime in Ireland by any weak feelings in favour of the perpetrators of these crimes, did not propose this particular remedy, because Parliament had always looked with the greatest possible jealousy upon any interference with the securities we enjoyed for our personal liberties, to which, it attached an extreme—he would not say an excessive importance; for instance, he, himself, did not think it possible, even in this day, to attach too great an importance to the right which a man possessed of being brought to trial within a reasonable time after his arrest. It might, doubtless, be said, with some show of truth, that the necessity for jealously guarding this safeguard of our liberties no longer existed with the same force as in former times, because no Government of the present time was likely to be so powerful that they could afford to abuse the power of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Were we to surrender this right that every man now possessed, the time might come when we might have occasion to regret our precipitation, because strong and arbitrary Governments sprung sometimes from democratic as well as from despotic institutions, and some time the time might come when we might see in this country a Government 723 so strong that we should be unwilling to place in its hands the power of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. When the question as to the appointment of the Committee came before the House, he was much astonished at the extreme levity with which the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act was discussed; and he was also surprised at the tone of some of the questions put to witnesses examined before the Committee, for the Government had not felt themselves justified in proposing this measure until every other remedy had been tried and had failed. In order to check the state of things that a year or two since had prevailed, not only in Westmeath, but over the whole of Ireland, the Government had introduced the Peace Preservation Act of last year, and the result of that measure had been to restore the supremacy of the law in all parts of Ireland, with the exception of the district of Westmeath and a part of Mayo; but had the Government, however, listened to the suggestions of the resident magistrates in Ireland, instead of passing the Peace Preservation Act, which had proved so successful in its result, they would have at once asked Parliament to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act. Under these circumstances, the House would see that the Government were not justified in bringing forward this measure until every other remedy had been tried and had failed; and, in his opinion, that justification was well borne out by the facts that the necessity for the measure had been fully proved before the Committee; the provisions of the Peace Preservation Act had been put into execution in Westmeath without effect; and the chief causes which might have excused in some degree agrarian crime had been removed. Dr. Nulty himself had stated that he could call to mind no evictions on a large scale in the district during the past few years; and, therefore, the Government felt justified in asking Parliament to give them the power mentioned in the Bill. He admitted that much still remained to be done to improve the condition of the labouring classes; but that must be effected by other means as well as by legislation, because it was impossible that the rate of wages could be raised, or that a hovel could be converted into a comfortable dwelling, by Act of Parliament. The evidence 724 taken before the Committee tended to show that the condition of the labourers in Westmeath, although, perhaps, not such as could be desired, had greatly improved during the past few years, and that, therefore, their condition could in no way account for the exceptional state of things that existed in that part of the country. Sir George Lewis had stated that he despaired of the success of any repressive measures for Ireland until the causes that led to crime had been removed. He recommended the establishment of the Poor Law in Ireland, and the Poor Law has been established, there. He also spoke of the state of the land question; and Parliament had made a sincere, an honest, and, as he believed, a successful attempt to deal with the land question. Until within the last few years Parliament, though always willing to deal by coercive measures with Irish crime, had hesitated to deal with the causes that had been pointed out as producing it; but now the Government and Parliament stood in a different position, because they had done all they could to remove those causes. Again, when crime in any district was the result not of an organization such as now exists in Westmeath, but of a general lawless state of the population—of a general state of discontent, disaffection, and desperation—then he did not believe that such a measure as this could repress it, because under such circumstances when any man who had the opportunity was willing to take the life of anyone who he thought had injured him, any mere power of arbitrarily arresting a particular person could not put an end to such a state of things, and they could not arrest or put in prison the whole or the half of a population. But he believed that no such state of things now existed in Westmeath, where, as the evidence before the Committee proved, although there might be some sympathy with the Ribbon Society in the mind of a great number of people, still they were themselves ruled rather by a feeling of terror, and the great majority of the people would hail with satisfaction anything that would repress the exercise of power on the part of the leaders of that society. There was nothing desperate about the state of the population of Westmeath—nothing very desperate even in the operations of the Ribbonmen themselves. 725 It was the impunity with which their operations were carried on that encouraged them; and it had seldom been found of late years that even the most determined Ribbonmen had put their own lives in any considerable danger by risking a collision with the police. During the last suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, though it was not at all directed against agrarian crimes, yet the people of those districts were hardly aware of that fact, and when they thought there existed an arbitrary power of arrest they almost entirely desisted from the commission of those crimes; and he thought there was every reason to hope that the Bill proposed would be equally effective in districts where crime was limited, as he thought it was in this case, to a small number of the inhabitants. He now came to the scope of the Bill, which was directed against two classes of persons, and the first of those classes were the leaders of the Ribbon Society. With regard to these, power was given to the Lord Lieutenant, by his warrant, to arrest any person whom he had reason to believe was a member of, or connected directly or indirectly with, the Ribbon organization: that part of the Bill was strictly limited in its local operation; and it would only apply to a leader of the Ribbon organization, who was or who had been during the present year resident in Westmeath or the prescribed districts; and the rest of the inhabitants of Ireland would have nothing whatever to fear from that portion of the measure. The second class of persons against which it was directed were the principals or accessories to any crime committed in Westmeath; and it had been necessary there somewhat to extend the local application of the Bill. Frequently, when an outrage was to be committed in a district, a person was brought in from some place outside of that district, and he immediately passed out of it again; and it was evident, therefore, that if they confined the operations of the Bill to residents within the district it might fail in its object; and that the power taken to arrest in any part of Ireland either the principals or the accessories in any crime was a necessary one. The power, however, to which he attached the greatest importance, and which he believed would be most effectual, was that directed against the leaders of the Ribbon organization and not against the 726 actual perpetrators of crime. The measure was founded on the belief that the area of the crime was limited; and the evidence, he thought, showed that its area in Westmeath was limited; therefore, the Government asked for all the powers that were necessary, when they asked that these powers should be intrusted to the Lord Lieutenant in those districts only. They also thought that those crimes being the effect of causes which had been mainly removed, if they could suppress that organization which had survived its original causes, then the operation of natural causes—the improved general condition of the people and of the country, would enable the Government and the well-disposed of the community by themselves, and without the assistance of any extraordinary powers, to deal with the evil-disposed classes. There was one other point to which he wished to refer, and that was with regard to the clause for the extension to two years of the operation of the Peace Preservation Act. He found that several Irish Members objected to this clause, and his hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon (The 0'Conor Don) had given notice of his intention to oppose it; but he would remind them that the powers of that Act were now, and had been, very sparingly exercised. Under them the counties of Westmeath, Meath, King's County, and Mayo were proclaimed. Since the passing of the Peace Preservation Act the number of outrages committed in Mayo had greatly diminished, and there was every reason to believe that, under the powers conferred on the Government by that Act, tranquillity would soon be entirely restored to that county. The only other parts of Ireland to which that Act applied were very limited portions of Longford, Cavan, Tipperary, Roscommon, and Sligo. He much doubted whether the inhabitants of the districts now specially proclaimed would desire that special proclamation to be removed; but as soon as the necessity for it ceased in any of those districts, the Government would immediately discontinue their proclamation. No injustice or hardship had been inflicted under that Act. Since it was passed it had not been necessary to enforce its provisions against any newspaper published in Ireland. The tone of the Irish Press was sufficiently free at present; and if that Act had prevented it from degenerating into absolute 727 licence, and deterred certain newspapers from publishing downright treason and incitements to murder, no hon. Member would, he thought, regret if its provisions were continued for some time longer. He would show the House the nature of the writings which, except for that Act, would be disseminated throughout Ireland, being published in newspapers printed in America, and seized, under its provisions, on coming into Ireland. [The noble Marquess proceeded to read extracts from the newspapers referred to.] One of these writings declared that secret societies, in other words Ribbon Societies, were the only associations worthy of a moment's attention in Ireland: another called upon the Irish people to possess themselves of arms by any means, even advocating the search for them, either by night or day; while a third begged of the subscribers to these prints in America to post them to their friends in Ireland, and to get them scattered broadcast over the island, because the sentiments to which they gave expression could not be printed in any newspaper published in Ireland. [Mr. CONOLLY: Where was that printed?] It was printed in America; he thought in New York. [The O'CONOR DON: What was the number of papers seized, and where?] The papers from which these quotations are made were seized during the present week, he believed at Cork; and, although he did not know the number of papers seized, he believed it was very considerable, and there could be no doubt, if it were not for the Peace Preservation Act, treasonable writing such as he had read, and worse would, if not printed and published in Ireland, be printed in America and scattered broadcast over Ireland, and he thought the House would not hesitate to give the Government the power to prevent the contamination of the Irish people, or of any people, by such mischievous and abominable stuff. He regretted it had been necessary to detain the House much longer than he had intended; and he would conclude by expressing the hope that the House would, after such discussion as it deemed necessary, agree to pass the Bill, the second reading of which he now proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)728
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
rose to call the attention of the Speaker to a Question of Privilege. There were three Amendments on the Notice Paper in reference to this Bill—one by the hon. Member for Roscommon (The O'Conor Don), which was—That, in the opinion of this House, it is not expedient to continue 'The Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1870,' beyond the date settled by that statute;another Amendment was by the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. M'Mahon), and it was this—That, before proceeding further with this Bill, it is expedient to inquire into the causes of agrarian outrages and to remove the same if found to be the consequences of existing legislation;and the third Amendment was his own—namely, "That the Bill be read a second time this day six months." He wished to know whether his Amendment had not precedence over the other two?
§ MR. SPEAKER
replied that there might be a question as to the hon. Members for Roscommon and New Ross; but there could be no question whatever as to the position occupied by the hon. Member himself; for both of the other Amendments were Amendments immediately following the word "that" in the original Motion, but the Amendment of the hon. Member came in in the middle of the sentence, and was, that instead of the word "now" there should be inserted "this day six months;" and, therefore, the hon. Member for Roscommon had the right of precedence.
THE O'CONOR DON
, in rising to move—That, in the opinion of this House, it is not expedient to continue 'The Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1870,' beyond the date settled by that statute,said, he had no intention, when he put his Notice on the Paper, of interfering with the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Downing), nor had he placed it there without much hesitation, and a full sense of the responsibility he was incurring. He felt that as the second reading of the Bill involved two very important principles, and as he could not approve of both he was bound to give Notice of the Motion which he now rose to move. In doing that, he must say that he was not one of those who believed that it was, under all circumstances and in every case, the duty of an 729 Irish Member, representing what was called a popular constituency, to oppose every Motion of an exceptional or coercive character, simply because it happened to be so, for every Representative was bound to consider the special circumstances of the case, to examine whether there was any justification for the proposal, and if there was, then, however distasteful or repugnant the case might be, he was bound to support it. Having read the evidence given before the Westmeath Committee, and given the subject every attention, he could not conscientiously say that the Government would be justified in standing by and allowing things to remain as they were in that district, for he thought the state of things shown to exist there was a disgrace not only to Ireland, but to the principle of constitutional Government. There was no doubt that, up to the present time, in the minds of the people of Ireland there existed reasons for secret confederacies and Ribbon conspiracies, for so long as there were unjust laws between landlord and tenant—which Judges denounced in their administration of the law as instances of injustice—so long was it idle to expect that the people would quietly submit, and the result of those laws was the organization of the Ribbon conspiracy. While these laws existed, he would not feel justified in supporting coercive measures such as that now brought in; but when the tenants were placed on an equality with the landlords, and the Courts of Justice would not be called on to administer injustice against the tenants, the reasons which had existed in favour of the conspiracy existed no longer, and he thought that the Government and the Legislature were bound to interfere, and with a strong hand to put down the illegal combination. He had never regarded the Habeas Corpus Act as a mere nominal security of personal liberty, to be abandoned on every trifling difficulty in the administration of justice, on the contrary, he had regarded it as one of the strongest bulwarks of the liberty of the people who lived under this Government, and as a measure, the operation of which was not to be lightly suspended whenever a Minister found himself in a slight difficulty; and he exceedingly regretted that an occasion should arise when he should find himself obliged to support the extension to his own country 730 of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. Had he seen any other proposal to put an end to these combinations, gladly would he have had recourse to such a measure, instead of having recourse to the unprecedented course now proposed—the suspension of personal liberty for agrarian outrages. He was very much struck by the unanimous opinion expressed by the witnesses who were examined before the Committee, that the real difficulty of administering the law consisted in the impossibility of getting evidence. It was not that the magistrates and the police were not aware who were the leaders and concoctors of the Ribbon conspiracy, but that it was utterly impossible to procure evidence that could bring conviction home to any person that might be charged. It was not that the juries would not discharge their duties; he believed that notion to be a libel on Irish juries, and he believed that there had been no want of courage on the part of Irish juries in convicting offenders. It seemed, then, that the proposal made by Her Majesty's Government with respect to the district of Westmeath and the surrounding country, although unconstitutional and abhorrent to his feelings, was justifiable, and he could not undertake to vote against it in that House. If Her Majesty's Government had confined the measure to dealing with Westmeath and the surrounding country, and to the partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, he would not be opposing them. But was that the case; was that the character of the Bill, which had been explained by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) in a speech of more than an hour's duration. What was the measure which the House were now asked to read a second time? In that Bill there was one of the most unprecedented enactments which, till the present Session, had ever been introduced into Parliament; for what was the character of the Peace Preservation Act of the last Session? Why, the right hon. Gentleman the present President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) told the House that it was the most stringent measure ever proposed within the memory of man; and this measure, proposed for only one year, was now to be extended for twice that term, and there was not a single word said in its favour, 731 except the few words uttered by the noble Marquess at the close of his speech. As the noble Marquess had not alluded in any detail to the Peace Preservation Act, it would be necessary for him to speak of some of its provisions. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade told them that it was the most stringent and the most efficacious Act that was ever passed; but in this he did not agree, for if it had been so efficacious, the House would not be now called on to continue it for double the term, nor would the Committee have been sitting upstairs to inquire into the state of Ireland. Before that Committee, every magistrate admitted that the Act was utterly useless in those provisions to which the right hon. Gentleman attached, last year, the greatest value. The only result of the clause relating to the enforcement of evidence was perjury, for even if the witnesses, compelled to give evidence, were to give a sort of truthful account of what they knew, they would so hedge it about with difficulty and doubts as to render it useless. He thought, then, he was perfectly justified in saying that this part of the Act had resulted in nothing but perjury, excepting in some parts of Ireland, where witnesses had refused to give evidence, and had been locked up by the magistrates for a week, and then were obliged to be released. He now came to the proposal of levying a rate on certain districts as a compensation for criminal outrages. He was aware that, by a technical rule of that House, the clause relating to compensation had been omitted from the Bill, for the Bill was introduced in "another place," where, according to its rules, financial matters could not be dealt with. If it was the intention of the Government to exclude that clause he would be exceedingly glad, because he believed it to be most mischievous; in fact, the Bill itself seemed to him to be a return to the ancient barbaric days. It was an endeavour to harmonize subsisting institutions with those existing in the Anglo-Saxon times. It was trying to reconcile impossibilities. In principle, the plan of imposing a tax on a locality for a crime committed in it was unjustifiable, and it could not be said that practically it had succeeded. Quite the contrary. The evidence on this point before the Select Committee left 732 no doubt on the subject. Captain Talbot said it had totally failed in procuring evidence or in stopping crime, and that while it did not touch the guilty, who were unable to pay, it rendered the loyal and well-disposed inhabitants discontented. The fear of the Ribbonmen was greater than the desire to escape pecuniary loss, and consequently it was idle to expect that through this tax information which would lead to the detection of crime would be received. Such was the evidence of a gentleman who originally believed in the efficacy of the tax, but who, having seen its practical working, told the Committee that he had seen reason to change his opinion. Mr. Reed, another resident magistrate, Captain Barry, Mr. Boyd, and Dr. Nulty, all regarded the tax as one which alienated friends and loyal inhabitants without rendering the detection or suppression of crime any easier. The only two witnesses who approved the tax were Mr. Julian and Mr. Rogers, neither of whom, however, could produce a single fact in support of their view. Moreover, the manner in which the grand juries had discharged the functions imposed upon them respecting this tax was in itself highly unsatisfactory. It was proved before the Select Committee that in the case of a man named Moran, who knew perfectly well the name of his assailant, and refused to give it, the grand jury awarded compensation; in another case a man named Pox, who asked only for £150, was awarded £300—though, however, the Judge overruled the verdict—and in a third instance the compensation was so heavy that it amounted to 5s. 10d. in the pound on the poor inhabitants of an impoverished agricultural district, the crime in this case never having been even imputed to those who were obliged to make compensation for it. The proposal of the Government to raise an additional 2d. in the pound income tax had lately been violently opposed on the ground that it would press harshly on the professional man and small trader; but what was 2d. in the pound to 5s. 10d., as incurred by the operation of this Act? As for the argument that the people when they found themselves made responsible for the discovery of crime committed in their district would hunt up and endeavour to discover the criminal, he could only say that the Irish people never regarded it in that 733 light at all; they regarded it simply as a tax imposed upon them by Parliament, and its imposition they felt as an injustice. He believed that any proposal to apply such an enactment to England would not be listened to for one moment. He now came to the subject of the restrictions to which the Press in Ireland was liable by some of the clauses in the Peace Preservation Act. He believed that they had been utterly useless, for anyone who consulted the files of the "National" papers for the last 12 months would find in them plenty of articles of a highly spicy and seditious character, and full of inuendoes that were more dangerous and objectionable than open treason. It was not the treasonable article, upon which, if brought into Court, the Government could obtain a conviction, that did the most harm; the greatest danger lay in the insidious articles which were daily published in the journals in Ireland, and in dealing with them the Government was powerless. Moreover, if the argument of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) was good for anything, this supervision of the Press in Ireland must be perpetual; for it was pretty certain that the time would never arrive when certain American papers would cease to contain seditious articles against England. The sooner, therefore, that this enactment, which had yet found no record in a Court of Law, was erased from the Statute Book, the better. As the Peace Preservation Act was continued by a single clause, it might be asked why he did not content himself with voting for its omission in Committee, instead of opposing the second reading; he hoped to do so, but the continuance of the Act was referred to in the Title and Preamble of the Bill as well. Holding these views, it was impossible for him to vote for the second reading of a Bill which proposed to continue that Act; and he appealed to his hon. Friends around him to support his Motion, which did not clash with the others that stood on the Paper. He wished to know what had passed since the passing of the Peace Preservation Act to render its continuation necessary? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and the Chief Secretary for Ireland had stated that the condition of Ireland was most satisfactory; then, why propose such a measure as that now before the House? 734 The Peace Preservation Act ought not to be re-enacted for twice the term for which it was originally proposed, without a single reason having been alleged for its continuance. And if such a system were countenanced he feared we might insensibly glide into the practice of renewing these coercive enactments as a matter of course. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
, in seconding the Amendment, expressed his conviction that the Bill which had been introduced by the Government was not at all necessary. To show the use which was sometimes made of the Peace Preservation Act, he wished to state, on the authority of a brother magistrate, that a young man was apprehended by a constable for being out at night under suspicious circumstances. No ground was shown for the arrest, and when the magistrate asked the constable why the man had been apprehended, the constable replied that the mother of the young man came to him, and asked him if there was not an Act which would enable him to take into custody a person who was out at night under suspicious circumstances. On being told that there was such an Act, the woman desired him to arrest her son, who went out at night for the purpose of paying his addresses to a young woman in the neighbourhood whom she did not want him to marry. That was one way in which the Peace Preservation Act was carried out in Ireland, which he thought was scarcely one of the purposes contemplated in the renewal of that Act, a proceeding, in his opinion, fit to be linked in with the present Bill, which he considered altogether unnecessary, and he therefore trusted it would be sent to that place to which the Matches Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had gone, and like that measure to rest there in peace, if it were possible to do so.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is not expedient to continue 'The Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1870,' beyond the date settled by that statute,"—(The O'Conor Don,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."735
§ MR. M'MAHON
said, no one could deny that it was expedient to suppress the conspiracy which now existed; but the House ought to be in possession of such materials as would enable it to effect that suppression. It was an ascertained fact that the heads of that conspiracy did not reside permanently in Ireland; but that it was conducted by persons who could not be reached by that Act, but who were within the jurisdiction of the House, for they resided in Manchester or Glasgow, and the society was directly governed from Manchester. If that were so, why did the Government not take means to catch and punish the offenders in those places? In Glasgow there was no Habeas Corpus Act, and the Government could lay their hands upon the offenders at once; but he thought it was clear that the Government could not rely on the statements of their informants, or, relying upon them, were either ashamed or afraid to ask for power to deal with the liberty of the people of England as they systematically did with the people of Ireland. By the Bill now before the House provision was made that the Lord Lieutenant should be able to seize upon and imprison for two years all persons who were suspected by him, and they were not to be allowed to communicate with anyone. Now, what punishment would that be to any idle, dissolute vagabond, who, after being locked up for two years, would be again let loose upon society? One of the witnesses called on the part of the Government—the Rev. James Orofton—in reply to the Question—"What would be the effect of locking up such a man?" replied that the result would be that he would come out foaming at the mouth like a mad dog. There was another anomaly—namely, that by the Act the law of forfeiture for treason-felony was abolished; but that punishment would be renewed in Ireland by the present Bill. The crimes now complained of began in 1760, and Acts had been passed from time to time for their suppression; but it was not until the last Session that any Act for the removal of the causes of discontent had been passed, and it could not yet be said that that Act—the Land Act—had done anything whatever to ameliorate the condition of the agricultural labourers and small farmers, the classes among whom these crimes chiefly prevailed. It was 736 clear that the cause of Ribbonism was the want of constant employment and the insecurity of tenure; and as an illustration of that, he might mention that when employment was abundant, as it was in the summer months, crime and outrage were unfrequent, and they were only committed when the nights were long and there was a great want of employment. Now, what had preceding Governments done to provide employment for the people? Why, they had not merely been contented with not doing anything, but they had on two occasions deliberately destroyed the means of employment which the people possessed, and which they had provided for themselves; for instance, the cultivation of tobacco, which at one time was carried on in Enniscorthy, and which gave employment to great numbers of people, had been put an end to by Parliament; yet, according to the statements of Mr. Davis, the cultivation of that plant was productive of the most beneficial effects. The result of that ill-judged interference had been that Wexford, which had hitherto been a quiet and law-abiding district, had become noted for the crime and outrages prevailing there. In Belgium the very same system of agrarian discontent had prevailed for three centuries, and crimes of all kinds had been committed by persons who had been hired at a distance, in broad daylight, and under the eyes of the population. That system had arisen from causes similar to those which existed in Ireland, and, in his opinion, the change which had been effected in Belgium might also be effected in Ireland. In 1838 some industrious people in Ireland, finding that there was no Excise law upon the manufacture of sugar from beet-root, commenced that manufacture, and in that year they made 1,500 cwt of sugar, but the Government then came down upon them, and instead of encouraging such a trade they imposed heavy Excise duties, which abolished it altogether. If the Government were to seek for means of giving employment to the people, instead of passing these Coercion Bills, they would do a great deal more good, for mere coercion was of no use in that country, and entertaining that conviction very strongly, he should oppose the second reading of this Bill.
§ SIR FREDERICK W. HEYGATE
said, he thought the debate would have turned upon the policy of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, but instead of that it had become a criticism upon grievances that might or might not exist under the Peace Preservation Act, the main clauses of which, relating to the system of fines, and which were so much complained of, he thought had been struck out of the present measure. The real question, however, was, whether this Bill ought or ought not to be passed? He did not wish to add to the difficulties of the government of Ireland, for he admitted that these difficulties were so great that it was the duty of every hon. Member of that House to sink all personal and political animosities and feelings in endeavouring to pass those measures which were for the welfare of that country. It was the first duty of every Government to enforce law and order, and if they could not do so by ordinary means, they should without any loss of time, on their own authority, and without any reference to a Select Committee, propose such measures, even though they might be extreme measures, as they might think were necessary. He looked upon the present Bill, not as the result of the deliberations of the Select Committee—for that Committee had never made any recommendations—but as a measure proposed simply and solely on the authority of the Government; and he did not understand how there could ever have been any question of appointing a Select Committee at all, unless it was the belief of the Government that Parliament and the country would pay more attention to the recommendations of a Committee than to the recommendations of the Government themselves; a belief which, if it existed, was certainly humiliating to any Government. His own impression, confirmed by reading the evidence, was that no good could result from such inquiries, especially as in this case the Government were in possession of far more evidence than they were able or dared to produce. If such inquiries could not be full and exhaustive, it would be far preferable to accept the dictum of the Government and have no inquiry at all. The same observations would also apply to the second part of the Bill, which was so much complained of; and the Government ought to be allowed, if they thought 738 it necessary, to continue the operation of an Act of Parliament the effect of which they themselves best knew. He felt some pity for the embarrassed condition in which Her Majesty's Government now found themselves; but he attributed that position to the legislation in which they had indulged during the last two years. When the Irish Church Bill was introduced two years ago, it was said that it would cure almost all the evils of Ireland, and be a message of peace; but such results had certainly not yet been brought about; and, on the other hand, only very recently the Chancellor of the Exchequer had complained in his Budget that the deficiency in the year had been aggravated by the advance of £500,000 to the Irish Church under that Act. The Irish Church Act had led to the attack on the English Church, which was so well defended the other night by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) in a beautiful speech, which everyone must have felt was almost as well applicable to the case of the Irish Church Act. Then there was the Irish Land Bill; but he admitted it was unfair and hard to charge the Government with the want of success of an Act which had really not yet had time to work. Whatever the results of that Act might be however, it would have nothing to do with the increase which had taken place in the amount of Irish crime. While he felt sorry for the Government, he was still more sorry for the position of the noble Marquess the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he would not say a word against the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fortescue), who preceded the noble Marquess in that office; but that right hon. Gentleman had certainly viewed the state of things before him with marvellous equanimity. When, however, the noble Marquess became Chief Secretary he was naturally struck with the amount of crime and outrage in Ireland, and he did not lose a day before he brought the question before the Government. In 1866 the number of agrarian outrages specially reported in Ireland was 87; in 1867, 123; in 1868, 160; in 1869, 767; in 1870, 1,329; and in the first three months of 1871 the number was no less than 1,050. He did not wonder that the noble Marquess took instant action upon the matter; but he did wonder that, instead of proposing 739 a legislative measure at once, the noble Marquess should have contented himself with moving for a Select Committee, which must inevitably cause delay. He did not believe that these agrarian outrages and crimes were due to the causes to which they had generally been attributed, for at the time of the Fenian conspiracy in 1866, 1867, and 1868, one of the most alarming features of the conspiracy was that burglaries and other smaller offences almost ceased to be perpetrated in certain parts of Ireland. It was a lull before the storm, and was a dangerous portent, inasmuch as it showed how entirely the one idea of Fenianism had banished or absorbed all other kinds of crime; but as the hopes of the Fenians became more and more faint, ordinary crimes grew up again, and Ireland returned to its normal state. The amount of crime and outrage that had been lately committed was fearful to contemplate—and here he wished to answer the allegation that the county magistracy of Ireland had failed in the performance of their duty. He denied that allegation altogether, and he would tell hon. Gentlemen who were county magistrates in England that they would scarcely feel so comfortable in the discharge of their duties if they knew that a terrible retribution might possibly fall upon them. It was all very well, also, to talk of Irish juries; but it should be remembered that the men who served on those juries did so at the hazard of their lives, and the question of Irish juries deserved the most serious attention of the Government. With regard to the magistracy, a mixed system was adopted in Ireland, a stipendiary magistrate sitting with a certain number of county magistrates, and it was not to be expected that such an arrangement would work so satisfactorily as the system adopted in this country. As to the Irish police, it had been said that they were of no use as detectives, and that they were too military a body of men; that was true to a certain extent, but it should be borne in mind that when the police were taken from among the people they would naturally have a strong sympathy with the people, and that feeling could only be got over by making them a semi-military body, and giving them a special pride in the force to which they belonged. That the desired result had been gained he thought 740 was evidenced by the fact that nothing could be more striking than the way in which the Irish police behaved during the existence of the Fenian conspiracy, for there was not one case of hesitation. With one consent the whole of the police force stuck to the cause of law and order. He disliked this sort of legislation; but he believed the present Bill would succeed for two reasons—first, because agrarian outrages seldom took place in the summer months, when the nights were short and the days long; and secondly, because the Irish people, who were a clever race, began to perceive that the Government were really and truly in earnest in their efforts to repress outrage and crime. This knowledge would restrain them from the commission of crime, and would render it unnecessary to put the Act in force. The worst feature in the Bill was that the time it was to remain in operation was defined—a fact which might cause quiet during two years, followed by a return to acts of violence, rendering it necessary to re-enact the measure. He thought it would have been better to state in one of the clauses that the Act would remain in force until a certain fixed time had elapsed during which no outrage had been committed in the district affected by the Act. He hoped that a policy like that of Lord Palmerston's—who thoroughly understood the state of Ireland and the character of her people—would be adopted by the Government, and that, though it was now necessary to pass an Act like the one under discussion, Ireland would speedily return to a state of peace and quiet.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
said, the hon. Baronet who had just sat down (Sir Frederick W. Heygate) must have changed his opinions very much since last year, for when the Peace Preservation Bill was introduced, he stated that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act was not warranted by the state of Ireland in the month of April, 1870; and as the state of the country in May, 1871, was very much better than in April, 1870, the hon. Baronet could not vote now for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act with much consistency. The Government had been deceived on this question altogether; in the Queen's Speech, delivered on February 9, it was said that Ireland, if not in a 741 state of perfect tranquillity, was at all events in a state not calling for any immediate attention, and that it only wanted repose; and yet, on the 23rd of the same month, the noble Marquess the Chief Secretary for Ireland had moved for the Westmeath Committee. Had any outrages been committed in Westmeath in the interval to justify that Motion? Not one. According to the noble Marquess's speech in February, seven murders and ten attempts at murder had been committed in Westmeath in the year 1870 and winter months of this year; but, according to the actual fact, there had only been two murders there during the whole of the time; and thus the House was led to believe there were seven murders, whereas five of these occurred before the introduction of the Peace Preservation Act, and led to the adoption of that measure, and yet the Government, with such slight reason on their side, now proposed a Bill which was without parallel even in the darkest phase of England's hatred to Ireland. Was it to be tolerated that, because there had been two murders committed in a population of 175,000 inhabitants, they were not only to continue the Peace Preservation Act, which had been described by a noble Lord in "another place" as little short of martial law, but also to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act? But what was the state of Westmeath? In January of this year there was no murder and no attempt at murder, though there was one case of firing at the person, and although in 1870 there were no fewer than 648 threatening letters and 346 administrations of illegal oaths, there were not in January, February, and March any case of the administration of unlawful oaths, and only 14 threatening letters. The correspondent of The Times at Dublin stated that Ireland was tranquil from one end to another; that the country was never so prosperous as it was at present; and yet this was the time that a Government that was supported by Irish Members selected for bringing in a Bill that had never been outdone even by the Whigs in their worst days. The suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Westmeath might do no harm to any well-disposed person; but the power was a serious one to intrust to any man or to any set of men; and the power, moreover, would, as a matter of fact, be intrusted to the police, for it was 742 from them that information was obtained, and such a power afforded the members of that body an easy mode of feeding their revenge or clearing a rival out of the way. In 1852 crime was excessive, but the Committee which inquired into the state of Ireland at that time—the Conservative party being in power—simply recommended the amendment of the jury laws, powers to change the venue of trial, and some slight amendment of the licensing system. They had recommended no such severe measures as were contained in this Bill. Even the testimony of the witnesses before the Committee, although they were chiefly composed of official persons, the Government having called no extra-official, except Dr. Nulty, and he being called only in consequence of statements made to the Committee, yet when analyzed, it did not justify the course they were about to take. Mr. Seed, the senior Crown solicitor, agreed with the late Sir Matthew Barrington that the vigorous administration of the ordinary law was the most effectual remedy for the suppression of disturbance; and that gentleman, in his evidence stated, that though he believed that crime must more or less exist in every country—for that state of things appeared unfortunately inseparable from the weakness of humanity—yet it was his conviction that Ireland was at that time as free from the commission of aggravated crimes as any country in Europe, and he added "that crime in Westmeath was not a twentieth of what it was in former years." He (Mr. Downing) felt deeply grateful to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government for the many benefits he had conferred upon his country; but he asked him whether he had really road the evidence to which he referred, because if he had, he could not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would have consented to the introduction of the present measure? If he uttered not a word more, he thought he might appeal with confidence to the justice and generosity of both the English and Scotch Members against the enactment of a law against Ireland so unconstitutional as that now under consideration. Would the Representatives of England or Scotland tolerate the introduction of such a measure for their countries, founded upon such a weak and unwarrantable basis? But he was afraid that because his country was Ireland, 743 that many hon. Members would be disposed to support any measure of coercion, without thinking it necessary to investigate the reasons for it, and that when the bell rang for the division, many such Gentlemen would be found hastening into the House who had not been listening to the debate, eager to support by their votes a Bill intended to crush the liberties of Ireland. On the 17th March, 1870, St. Patrick's Day—a day which was dedicated by the people of Ireland to pleasure and the interchange of courtesies, friendship, and goodwill—a debate occurred in that House; this House presented to the people of Ireland its offering in the shape of the Peace Preservation Act, and on the 17th March of the present year, the subject of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act engaged its attention. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, in replying to some observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for Londonderry (Sir Frederick W. Heygate), on the first occasion stated that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus was not a measure that ought to be adopted except under the most stringent necessity'—in cases only of apprehended outbreak or civil war. That was the deliberate opinion of the Premier in March, 1870, and yet he was the head of the Government that now, in 1871, introduced this unconstitutional measure, when the state of Ireland was infinitely better than it was a twelvemonth ago. Even in the Speech from the Throne, on the opening of the present Session, it was declared that Ireland was in a state of comparative peace; and he denied that there was any evidence to prove that the condition of Ireland was worse at the present time than it was on the 9th of February, when the Queen's Speech was read from the Throne. What, then, was there to justify this exceptional legislation? In 1870 there were upwards of 600 threatening notices. What was the case in the present year? In Westmeath, the most disturbed part of Ireland, as it was alleged, there had been only six such notices in January, eight in February, and none, he believed, in the following months of March and April. The Irish Members had had two years of heavy Parliamentary work; and, on reading the Queen's Speech for the Session, he (Mr. Downing) had flattered himself that they would have a quiet 744 time of it in the present Session; but he had not been on English soil more than two hours when that pleasing delusion was dissipated, on reading the Notice given by the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, which resulted in this Bill being introduced, on the Report of a Committee before whom the witnesses had shown how the reports of alleged outrages had been fabricated. Many of the cases that had been represented as crimes in Westmeath were got up. One person said he had been fired at and wounded, and he showed the blood; but the blood was nothing more than the colouring with which sheep were marked, and the whole thing was found to be a fabrication. Another man was proved to have written a threatening letter to himself; and a constable named Supple reported that he had been fired at and struck by three bullets. He said he knew the man who fired, but he was acquitted. A memorial was sent to the Government to have the case investigated, but the Government made no reply. What was to be thought of cases manufactured in this way? Yet he believed Supple was promoted, and received a medal of honour, whilst Westmeath was to have a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. Memorials, too, had been sent from time to time, to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, praying for an investigation into many such cases, but those memorials were not even acknowledged. He (Mr. Downing) thought that his country had been most unfairly and unjustly assailed, and that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had been deceived; for he believed that there was not in that House one who would be less willing to give his assent to such a measure as this, if he could have informed himself of the facts, than that right hon. Gentleman. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman could not possibly apply his mind to the examination of all the circumstances connected with the various measures that were introduced into that House, burdened as it was with the weight of Imperial legislation that was cast upon it; he therefore did not think the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for this part of the scheme for the good of Ireland; but the Executive of Ireland were the parties that were responsible for it. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland he knew was a man to whom power might 745 safely be confided, and, he must say, that noble Lord was esteemed and respected by all classes in Ireland. The noble Marquess the Chief Secretary for Ireland, too, though not as experienced with the duties of his new office as his predecessor, was yet a man who was connected by family ties with that country, and who, he believed, was moved by the best intentions and the most sincere desire to improve the condition of Ireland. Giving the two Noblemen he had named and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government every credit for the possession of the purest and most honourable feelings, he (Mr. Downing) still maintained that they had been imposed upon in the information upon which they were now acting, and that they had utterly failed to make out any case to justify this harsh and exceptional measure. They had been told, for instance, that they should go into a Committee of Inquiry; but what did they get there that was not fully known before? The noble Marquess the Chief Secretary gave up the condition of secresy which he had first suggested in connection with this Committee, and subsequently refused to make any Report upon the evidence that was produced before it; what, then, he (Mr. Downing) asked was the Committee appointed for? The present Bill was the unhappy sequel of those proceedings, which Bill he defied them to justify by any evidence that would be tolerated by the English and Scotch Members, as furnishing the slightest pretext for legislation for any other part of the United Kingdom. This was a measure which the people of Ireland could not but resent; it was one which public opinion would denounce as cruel and uncalled for; and as an additional wrong driven to the quick without cause or justification. At present the Constitution was almost entirely suspended in Ireland, and English Members could not have the least idea of the state of things which now existed there. As an example of what went on there every day, he would instance a case coming within his own knowledge, in which a most respectable farmer, of 70 years of age, living on the sea coast, and whose crops were destroyed by crows and wild pigeons, wanted to obtain a gun licence for shooting; but his application was repeatedly and persistently refused. Having himself known the man intimately for many years as 746 being one of the most respectable inhabitants in his barony, he willingly certified to his good character; but the recommendation of a Member for the great county of Cork was not deemed sufficient to secure for him from a resident magistrate a licence to shoot crows. He would now conclude, as he knew that he had trespassed much too long upon their valuable time; but he hoped he would be forgiven, in consideration of the love he bore his country, and his indignation at seeing it treated far worse than they would think of treating any other part of the British Empire, even under farmore aggravated circumstances, and he trusted that they would give him credit for an indisposition to obtrude upon their time, except upon matters with which he was thoroughly acquainted and deeply interested. He had entered that House as a warm supporter of the Government, and he was desirous of continuing his confidence in them so long as he could do so consistently with his principles, but not a moment longer. He believed this to be a fatal step of the Government, and one which would prove fertile in the production of discontent, disloyalty, and national hatred to the British Legislature; and if he might presume to give advice to the Prime Minister, he would suggest the withdrawal of this Bill, as the Government had twice withdrawn their Budget. It was not too late to remedy the evil they had committed; let them perform that act in a gracious and conciliatory spirit, and they would go far to bind the people of Ireland to this country by the strongest ties of justice and generosity, and secure their warmest feelings of regard, esteem, and confidence.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
said, that it must have been inferred from the statement of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, that Mr. Seed had given an opinion adverse to the Bill now before the House. If, however, his evidence was referred to, it would be found that he thought it essential that the power to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act in particular districts should be given to the Lord Lieutenant, though he hoped that it being known that he had the power, it might not be necessary for him to exercise it. The hon. Member had by mistake referred to a Paper laid before the Committee by Mr. Seed, in which he gave a full account of the organization 747 and mode of action of the Ribbonmen. One paragraph would read—The deed of blood is usually done in implicit obedience to command; but if the party commanded should demur, it is done by lot. If he escapes immediate detection, money is collected and he is sent out of the country; if detected, he is supplied with means for his defence. At his trial witnesses also are provided for him.This was the confederacy with which, according to Mr. Seed, whom hon. Members described as a witness upon whom the House might rely, they had now to deal, and the evidence before the Committee showed what were the results of that confederacy. Between the 1st of January, 1870, and the end of February, 1871, there were committed in Westmeath, 115 agrarian offences, and only two were followed by punishment. In King's County there were 42 cases, and not one person was punished; in Meath there were 83 cases, and only one person was punished. But the whole story had not been told; for not one-third of the outrages that occurred were reported to the police, and information was obtained only with the greatest difficulty even from the sufferers themselves, because they were held in terror of their lives by the Ribbonmen. For instance, a poor farmer's wife having ventured to report her case to the police, she had to be guarded night and day by two constables. Then the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Downing) referred to the absence of murders; but what was the cause of this? Nobody dared to do that which would provoke the murder. There was ample evidence to prove that farms remained unlet for years because nobody dared to take them; and on one of these a tenant was evicted in 1856; another man took the farm; he was threatened, he disregarded the threat, and in 1858 he was shot; another person ventured to take the very same farm in the following year, he likewise disregarded a similar threat, and he too was shot. From 1859, when the last outrage took place, that farm had not been the scene of any more murders, simply because nobody had dared to do that which had provoked murder—namely, to take the farm, which remained unlet on that account. In 1863 the tenant of another farm was evicted for non-payment of rent. A person took the farm and was shot at. He refused to give information that he had been 748 shot at, but he gave up the farm to save his life. That was the reason why there had been no murders lately, and it was part of the evidence that something was necessary beyond the ordinary law. Nor was the case an isolated one, for very many cases of the same character had occurred in Ireland; and he was convinced that they were not such as might be dealt with by the ordinary law. The system of terror was not confined to land. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), who brought forward this Bill, had alluded to the extraordinary evidence of the chairman of the railway which passed through Westmeath. There, for example, was a case of terrorism. That railway was controlled, not by chairman and directors, but by a secret body, whose efforts prevented its proper management. An inspector of the railway was reported for incapacity, and his place was offered to another person; a threatening letter came from that secret society, and the company had to retain an incapable inspector on the line; while a station master who had discharged his duty faithfully was obliged to be removed, because he had reported a man for stealing coals, and in consequence of that he was threatened and obliged to make the station bullet proof in order to protect his life, and had two policemen to watch day and night. The Crown prosecutor told the chairman of the railway that he could not be answerable for the consequences if he remained, and he had to be removed to another place. Another station master, who was not removed under similar circumstances, actually lost his life. The hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. Downing), having referred to the evidence of Dr. Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath, he (Mr. Russell Gurney) would allude to that Bishop's Lenten Pastoral of this year. He there said that Ribbonism now occupied itself in sending threatening letters and notices, paying domiciliary visits, breaking into peaceful dwellings, and shooting down men and even women when the operation could be performed with safety. That was the state of things which the hon. Member described as one of peace and prosperity. In fact, he might say, and with perfect justice, that the operation of these secret societies extended to all the affairs of every-day life. The only question, then, he had to ask himself was, whether the proposed 749 remedy was adequate to the end; would the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act have the desired effect? If we might rely upon the evidence of persons acquainted with Westmeath it would. They told us that there were a number of Ribbon leaders well known to the police, any one of whom could be laid hold of, and the seizure of them would produce an amount of terror which would destroy the organization; for the existing organization was such that witnesses could not be got, and if they were, verdicts could not be obtained from juries. At the last Assizes at Westmeath, there was no difficulty in six cases of ordinary crime, and prosecutions were successful in six others which were proved by the police; but in three cases witnesses refused to repeat the evidence they had formerly given; in ten, juries disagreed, and witnesses had to be protected by the police. He (Mr. Russell Gurney) cared little by what name such a confederacy was called. The evidence had satisfied him that the ordinary powers of the law were not sufficient to meet it. He (Mr. Russell Gurney) entered upon the inquiry with grave doubts as to what was the fitting remedy for this evil. He knew that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act would afford temporary relief, but he feared it might be only temporary, and that, trusting to the compelled quiet, other remedies for the evil might be neglected. But he was convinced that even if temporary, much would be gained, as in Ireland time was everything, in order that the measure of last year might have its natural effect, and he trusted that it would be more than temporary, and that the leaders being either taken or compelled to quit the country, the organization, which at one time extended over a large portion of Ireland, might be driven from the limited districts where its baneful effects were still seen. The Bishop of Meath was, no doubt, unwilling to admit that that which he called Ribbonism existed; but he admitted that in different districts there were distinct bodies which were led by one or two "heads" who knew each other, and kept up communications; and if one of them wished an outrage to be committed in his own neighbourhood, he knew that some one from a distance could be secured to commit it, with diminished chances of detection. These "heads" being known, could be 750 taken, if they remained on the spot, which he did not believe they would do; and, if they did not, their dispersion would break up the organization which, was doing the mischief.
§ MR. O'CONOR moved the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Debate adjourned till Tuesday next, at Two of the Clock.