§ MR. ERRINGTON
Sir, before the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney) puts the Question which stands in his name on the Paper, I would ask you, Whether it is in accordance with the usage of the House and the public convenience that Questions should be asked bearing closely on matters which are at present the subject of criminal proceedings, at the risk of prejudicing those proceedings?
§ MR. SPEAKER
There is no positive Order on this matter; but Questions are not usually put in this House on matters which are the subject of criminal proceedings. There may be occasions, however, when such liberty should be given, and I leave it to the discretion of the hon. Member for Tyrone whether he will put the Question.
I do not wish to do anything contrary to the Bales of the House. I understood that the criminal proceedings had been concluded. [Major NOLAN: No.] Yes. But my Question does not bear on the facts of the case thus investigated, but is with regard to matters which took place before and since the riots, and in reference to which nobody is accused. 687 I beg to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether it is true, as stated in the "Dublin Daily Express" of April 21st, that on the 15th of April, when thirty-nine persons were summoned before the magistrates at Clifden, in the county of Galway, for riot and unlawful assembly near Omey Island, on the 2nd, 4th, and 23rd of March, the fact was elicited, on cross-examination by Mr. Henderson (the priest's solicitor), that the magistrate had actually asked the same Roman Catholic clergyman who was summoned for riot on March 2nd to assist in preserving peace in the district on April 3rd; whether it is true, as stated in the "Dublin Evening Mail" of April 18th, that during the trial Dean M'Manus and several priests, sitting together below one of the jury benches, repeated in an audible tone the evidence to be taken down by the clerk; whether it is true that, since the discharge of the persons accused of said riots and unlawful assemblies, the Protestant children attending the National Schools in that neighbourhood have been hooted and pelted with stones, and that Miss Walshe, the Dish Church Mission teacher at Errismore, was assaulted on her way home on the evening of the 1st of May by a number of women with their faces covered who were lying in wait for her, who seized her, tore her clothes, and cut her head, leaving her in a fainting condition; and, whether any steps have been or are intended to be taken to prevent Her Majesty's Protestant subjects in that part of Ireland from the persistent persecution to which for some time past they have been and still are exposed?
§ MR. ERRINGTON
Before that Question is answered, I wish to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, with reference to the question of the honourable Member for Tyrone, Whether, in taking steps for the due protection of Her Majesty's Protestant subjects in Connemara "from the persistent persecution to which," as alleged, "they have been and are still exposed," he will consider the justice of also protecting Her Majesty's Catholic subjects in that part of Ireland from the provocation to which they have been long exposed from the proceedings of certain proselytising societies, which wound the religious feelings of the population and tend to produce breaches of the peace?
§ MR. O'DONNELL
I also have a Question to ask, and it is unnecessary to say that I ask it without any sectarian feeling. I wish to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, with reference to the Question of the honourable Member for Tyrone, Whether the Government is aware that the so-called "Irish Church Missions to Roman Catholics" in the West of Ireland are conducted by means of the publishing of placards and the distribution of tracts in which Catholics are invited to become "Christians," and the deepest convictions of a Catholic people are grossly insulted; whether his attention has been called to the conduct of the agents of these Missions, who, it is complained, thrust upon the Catholic peasantry statements that the Sacrifice of the Mass is "a sacrilegious mummery," the respect paid to Saints "a blasphemous idolatry," confession "a system of vice," and similar provocations; whether it has been brought to his notice that these agents are in the habit of seeking out needy peasant families, and offering victuals and money as the price of conversion; and, whether the Government will cause an investigation to be made, for the purpose of preventing conduct designed to provoke to breaches of the peace, although ostensibly pursued under cover of zeal for religion?
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Sir, it is manifestly impossible to deal fully with this subject within the limits of a reply to Questions; but, as far as I have been able to ascertain, the facts of the case are given with substantial accuracy in the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney). With reference to the Questions of the other hon. Members, I believe that in some instances placards of a very objectionable character have been made use of by some of the agents of the Church Missions, though I am glad to learn that this practice has been discountenanced by the responsible heads of the movement. Now, as to the course pursued by the Government, I must point out that we have no jurisdiction over what is termed proselytizing, or the distribution of alms. ["What?"] I see I must spell the word alms, and explain that we have nothing to do with gifts of what are alluded to as victuals and money; and, therefore, our duty is simply to put down disturbances by 689 whatever party they may be created. With this object, a force of 100 constabulary was sent into the district, and will be maintained there at the cost of the inhabitants as long as its presence may be deemed necessary. Legal proceedings were instituted against the leading participators in these discreditable proceedings, and a similar course will be adopted against any persons who may be guilty of any attempt to disturb the public peace in future.
§ MR. CALLAN
Can the right hon. Gentleman state whether these objectionable placards have in any one single instance been publicly discountenanced by the leader of the Irish Church Mission party; and, if so, when and where?
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
I have reason to believe that the exhibition of any placard of an irritating character has been discountenanced by those persons who are responsible for the conduct of the Mission.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
I am sure the House will indulge me for a moment, for I live in the immediate neighbourhood of the place where these occurrences took place. I beg to say to the House, and to the right hon. Gentleman, that to my certain knowledge the zeal of certain persons ostensibly connected with this Society—or, at any rate, sympathizing with it—has led them to undertake the distribution of tracts. ["Order!"] I will conclude with a Motion, Sir, for this is really a very serious matter. The locality in which these events occurred is inhabited by some of the poorest of Her Majesty's subjects. They are almost every one of them Roman Catholics, and there is carried on in their district a system of distributing tracts of the character mentioned in the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Longford (Mr. Errington), which tracts, and post-cards as well, are systematically sent to the priests as well as to the people; and when it has happened, as unfortunately occurred on a recent occasion, that there have been disturbances through these poor people finding their religious feelings outraged, they are subjected to all the pains and penalties of the law, as the right hon. Gentleman says they are to be now. They are the poorest—without exception, the very poorest—individuals in Her Majesty's 690 Dominions; and they are now called upon to bear the expense of about 120 police, who have been distributed through these wilds. I will take an early opportunity of asking the sense of the House of Commons as to whether it is just or right that these expenses should fall on these unfortunate people. It is the duty of the Executive to keep order in all parts of the country; and it is a new law, which is not carried out in this country, that the expense should be thrown on the people of the district for keeping up the police, who ought always to be maintained there if their protection is needed. I beg, in conclusion, to move the adjournment of the House.
§ MR. CALLAN
I will second it. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to say specifically if he has any authority for the statement which he has just made; and, if so, what authority? Within the last three months of my residence in Dublin, three placards were put in at my door as I was standing at my library window. They were put in the letter-box. I saw the man do it, and then I saw him go and place a similar three in the letterbox of the late Mr. Butt, and I saw him put three more in at the door of the Loretto Convent. I then collared the vagabond, and inflicted summary chastisement on the spot. I have the placards in my possession; and I would like to know whether the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), who supports the Irish Church Mission, will disavow and disown these discreditable and disgraceful practices.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Mitchell Henry.)
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I have no information on the subject, except such as has reached me through the Press, or by means of Questions asked and discussions raised in this House. If the hon. Gentleman desires to know what is the impression produced on my mind by this information, I can only say that I think that what has happened will be remembered when hon. Gentlemen opposite again put forward, as I have heard them urge, pleas on the score of religious liberty.
The hon. Member for Galway speaks of the propriety of throwing the cost of extra police upon the people in one part of the country. I know that when disturbances take place in the North of Ireland, and extra constabulary are sent down, they are charged to the county, and the Government do not have to pay for them.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
I wish the public to know the facts. I can speak from a knowledge of 20 or 25 years, for I have property in the district, and I know within my own knowledge, having heard many things on the spot, that, from 20 years ago down certainly to within the last four or five years, there has been a constant system of offering children clothes and food, and, in some cases, I believe, money—but I am not sure as to money—on condition of their changing their faith. Well, there are people in London who contribute to the Irish Church Mission, and they should make up their minds as to whether they wish for these disturbances, or consider whether that is a right and proper means of influencing the religious feelings of the people by giving them food and clothing on condition that they change their faith. Of course, these disturbances were extremely wrong; but I believe that those who read the evidence will see that they originated, in the first instance, in the action of a Protestant schoolmaster. I know that that is contested—I do not wish to speak with authority—but there is no doubt whatever of a system of wholesale bribery going on. There has never been the slightest feeling against the Protestants; but there has been, at different times, a strong feeling against this system of proselytizing by means of money or money's worth. What has happened is, of course, very much to be regretted; but, at the same time, the people who subscribe the money for the purpose of converting the children, sometimes the parents, ought to be held in some measure responsible for the disturbances which occur.
I would remind hon. Gentlemen that they will find in the Liverpool papers of a year ago letters from English Protestant clergymen who went into these districts, and who had these circulars put into their 692 hands; and one of these clergymen declared that if he had received one of these placards, outraging his own religious convictions, he could not have restrained his feelings, even if they had led him into violence.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) has not answered the Question as to whether any investigation will take place. This is a matter concerning the peace of a very large district, and in which the facts are disputed. I altogether take exception to the manner in which the Government has treated the subject; and I venture to say that if an incendiary Catholic society were to extend its operations to an English Protestant town, and were to hand about tracts and send round agents using the most foul-mouthed language with regard to the Protestant religion and its rites and doctrines, Her Majesty's Government would go a long way beyond merely quartering an extra force of constabulary in the district, and would consider whether the Catholic society had or not been guilty of the offence of provoking breach of the peace. It is all very well to speak of respect for the law, and of the necessity of avoiding outrage; but human nature is human nature in Ireland as in England. In England, conduct on the part of Catholics like that of these most unworthy Protestants in Ireland would have led to riots, and those riots would necessitate the serious attention of Her Majesty's Government. It is impossible to suppose that the Catholics of the West, or of any other part of Ireland, will put up with these continual outrages on their religion; and, though they may commit a legal crime, their natural resentment will receive the warm sympathy of a vast majority of their countrymen—the honest and free-thinking—wherever such outrages may be repeated.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.