HC Deb 12 February 1880 vol 250 cc520-33

said, in his reply to the charges brought against the Home Rule Party, he had found himself much embarrassed by the fact that certain Ministerial journals had devoted long articles to misrepresentations of his observations, while they had suppressed the report of those observations. Those journals had not only represented his proceedings as mere obstruction, but had also represented the proceedings of Home Rule Members in the discharge of their duty to their constituents as disgraceful proceedings, for the purpose of obstruction alone—and he begged most respectfully to protest against the exceptional privileges of the Gallery of that House, which put thousands in the pockets of those journals, being used to falsify the reports of that House. The Home Secretary had stated that the reason why the Government refused to give a single word of encouragement to the starving people down to the middle of November was because they were afraid that it would lead the Irish people to expect relief, and that the poor peasants would, in consequence, consume more rapidly their miserable stock of food. He (Mr. O'Donnell) did not think a statement more unconsciously brutal could be uttered; and he quite agreed with the most Rev. Dr. M'Cormack that the authors of any disturbance which might ensue were the Government of the day, who, charged with the duty of providing for the people, persisted in an attitude of silence and did not utter a single word of encouragement to a starving people. During that time the people were left to themselves, and then the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) took the measures he did for the preservation of life and property in Ireland—for he contended that, looking to the experience of the scenes of bloodshed and disturbance which took place under a similar attitude of the Government in previous times, he could not but think that it was the manner in which the hon. Member for Meath taught the people to meet peacefully, and by constitutional organizations to bring their wretched condition to the notice of the public—it was to that action and that policy alone that the country had to be thankful for the total absence of crime which marked the whole period of agitation conducted by the hon. Member for Meath. He observed also with regret that the Government officials deserted their benches during the explanations of Irish Members, just as the Government organs suppressed the reports of their speeches. With regard to the condition of Cararoe, they had the authority of the Catholic priests of the district to prove that the population of that place were steeped in the utmost distress and destitute of both food and clothing. With one honourable exception the landlords were determined to evict, and it was in the midst of the sore need of this wretched population that a body of armed constabulary were sent to accompany the process-servers in order to eject 150 families from their miserable huts on the roadside. All the arms the poor creatures possessed were the arms of women and children, and the way in which they used them was to get in the way of the constabulary, clasping their knees, and tearing their own hair in their desperation. Those women and children were repulsed with the utmost brutality by the armed constabulary—not with the gentle hand which would be used by the London constable, but by striking the women with the butts of their heavy rifles and prodding them with the bayonets—a scene which would disgrace the reign of a Turkish Pasha in Bulgaria. Those scenes were the result of the policy of the Government, and not the result of the agitation of the hon. Member for Meath. He saw with regret that the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), who was very bold in his assertions, had not courage to stop and see them challenged. The statements of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin had provoked a reply from the President of the Balla Branch of the National Land League in respect to the number of evictions which took place on the estate of Sir Robert Blosse, the number given being considerably more than was stated to be the case, and all the other allegations referred to in respect to Sir Robert Blosse were similarly contradicted. But what was a still more serious matter on the part of the hon. and learned Member for the Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) was his attack on the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), whom he accused of having openly rejoiced over the misery of the people, because that misery would tend to advance the land movement. In the whole history of political animosity and rancour, was there ever such a charge brought by one man against another! It was as false as it was atrocious. The hon. Member for Meath was doing a good work thousands of miles away and could not defend himself; but his Colleagues, from their seats in that House, would, and that victoriously and easily. Before he went to America the hon. Member for Meath told the people of Ireland, in the darkest hour of their misery, not to despair, and that from the justice of their cause it must provoke the attention of the Legislature. The hon. Member for Meath had endeavoured to console the people by reminding them that the very extremity of their suffering must soon provoke a reform of their miserable condition; and this, forsooth, was the pretext for the abominable accu- sation of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University; this was the paltry and odious foundation for imputing to an illustrious patriot the vilest motives which could actuate the basest of demagogues. The hon. Member for Dungannon (Mr. Dickson) had similarly reminded the tenantry of Antrim that the evident breakdown of the land system must provoke reform. Nay, the great Tribune of the English people, the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), had used similar language, and at the inauguration of the Cobden Memorial, a couple of years ago, had stated how, in the struggle for the repeal of the Corn Laws, the time came when the artificial dearness of the people's food at length produced its predicted results, that they had warred against the famine, and that now the famine had declared itself upon their side. The hon. Member for Meath went to America to obtain aid at the solicitations of the tenant farmers in Ireland, as a delegate of the National Land League in Ireland and of the Tenants' Defence Association. His was no private mission of personal ambition or personal agitation. He was the authorized ambassador of the tenant organizations of Ireland. Whether the charge came from Ministerial politicians, or from certain quarters in Ireland, the pretence that the hon. Member for Meath's visit to the United States was anything less than a public and national undertaking was utterly unfounded and misleading, and every attempt to weaken his authority or injure his influence in the American Republic was directed not only against him individually, but against the Tenant Association and League of which he was the President at home and the representative beyond the Atlantic. He (Mr. O'Donnell) and his Colleagues were in favour of fixity of tenure, which would before long secure the prosperity not only of the tenant but of the landlord; but they utterly denied that they were, in the reform of the Land Laws, seeking anything else but to benefit the numerous classes in Ireland. They said that in raising the status of the tenantry they were improving the position of the landlord, and they were all in favour of the creation of a peasant proprietary. Criticisms might be directed against this or that proposal; but it was utterly mon- strous, on the ground of some difference of detail, to denounce the authors of schemes which had their parallels in so many of the Conservative States in Europe. In spite of the representations of Boards of Guardians and others, which placed beyond doubt that the Irish people were on the verge of starvation, the Government maintained a contemptuous silence; and then only the hon. Member for Meath told the people that if they were dealing with good landlords let them pay them to the best of their ability; but if they were bad landlords, and they demanded all that the tenants got and afterwards served them with ejectment writs, he told them to resist such action as far as was advisable. It had been falsely represented in some of the Government organs that it was an anti-rent agitation. On the contrary, it was purely an exceptional remedy, and they utterly repudiated the idea of urging the abolition of rent. Let rent be paid to the utmost, and with the utmost punctuality; but the duty a father owed to his famished children was far beyond that of a rent-contract. "When the Government were appealed to in the matter they only answered in insulting mockery, and did not give one word of hope. At the Mansion House banquet Lord Beaconsfield, on the 9th of November last, denied that there was any serious distress in Ireland, and made the question of Irish distress the subject of some of his most elegant badinage and jest. The noble Lord, the Head of the Government, agreeably chaffed the Irish people for the amusement of the assembled guests of the Lord Mayor of London. The Irish were his "brilliant brethren," whose only misfortune was that they were not "logical" as well as brilliant. While Lord Beaconsfield was expending his after-dinner gibes at the Mansion House feast, his "brilliant brethren" were starving around fireless hearths in a hundred mountain valleys, were wasting in the slow agonies of hunger, while the head of the Government was making a mock of their misery amid the loaded dishes and flowing wines of the banquet at Guildhall. That was how the Government understood their duties to Ireland. The joyous speech of the Premier took place on the 9th of November. Within 10 days afterwards four of the most prominent friends of the people were arrested under a warrant from Dublin Castle; and still the Government had not expended a single sixpence in relief. This was their policy, a policy of neglect and insult, of outrage and provocation. They seemed to have calculated on driving the people to despair; and but for the calm counsels of the hon. Member for Meath, who used the authority which he held from the affection and confidence of the people in order to lead them safely through the provocations of the Government, who knew but that the calculations of the Government might have succeeded? He (Mr. O'Donnell) had now abundantly proved the character of the Government policy towards the distress in Ireland. He would next meet the misrepresentations of the Ministerial orators on the subject of Irish self-government. The claim for Home Rule in Ireland was perfectly constitutional, and it was a deliberate slander to assert that it implied the disintegration of the Empire. On the contrary, it was the policy of the Ministry which was disintegrating the Empire, by setting nation against nation, and sacrificing the friendly co-operation of the British and Irish peoples to the detestable suggestions of a factious electioneering. Home Rule meant national legislation for national concerns, and Imperial legislation for common Imperial affairs. The men who pretended to misunderstand Home Rule had plenty of examples of the success of Home Rule systems before their eyes. He would not refer merely to the self-governing Colonies of Britain. What was the great German Empire but a complete example of a strictly Home Rule Constitution? Bavaria, Saxony, Baden, Wurtemberg, Prussia, all had their Home Rule Parliaments. Did that prevent the Imperial Parliament of Germany from being a true Imperial Parliament? If Lord Beaconsfield thought that Home Rule meant weakness and disintegration, let him venture to act on such a supposition in his dealings with Prince Bismarck. Jingo Imperialism would, however, take good care to avoid such a test, and none knew better than the Tory Premier that it was German Home Rule which made German unity so formidable and so strong. In the vast Republic of the United States we had again a strictly Home Rule Constitution, which conduced, as no other Constitution could, to the power and majesty of that more than Imperial Commonwealth. Lord Beacons-field had a soul above national distinctions. This Imperial leveller had no ideal of Government beyond a servile horde of the subjects crouching beneath the irresponsible supremacy of the State. A Byzantine Cæsarism or an Oriental Sultanate were the models of his predilections to which he appeared to be drawn by his very nature and genius. He had no sympathy with the ordered freedom of European civilization. No responsive chord within him answered to the instinct of home and native land. The strong ties of birthplace and national tradition were undervalued and unexperienced. He apparently could not conceive that anything could be wanting in a State than somebody at the top who should rule and a multitude at the bottom who should be ruled. He (Mr. O'Donnell) found a great difficulty in taking account of such ideas and such a system as seemed to be embodied in the political theories and practice of the present Chief of the Ministry. He could understand them at Constantinople or Bagdad; but how came they here? They would have nothing foreign or unnatural among Turks or Moors; but they were at once repulsive and ridiculous in the midst of the free traditions of the West. If some cosmopolitan refugee, some flotsam and jetsam of historical revolutions, had been cast upon our shores, as he might have been cast upon the shores of Tunis or Tripoli; if some being without a country or a home had become domiciled by some freak of fortune amongst us; if some creature of abject arts and tortuous ability had flattered, and intrigued, and finessed his way to power among us, as some pipe-bearer or slipper-bearer might flatter, and intrigue, and finesse his way to the post of favourite or Vizier in some Eastern despotism—he could indeed comprehend, he could indeed frame to himself some explanation of the growth and propagation of servile and astounding ideas more fit for the Courts of a Bajazet or an Amurath than for the least free of Western Kingdoms. He could understand that such a stranger and interloper, however dexterous, would be unable to practise a liberty which neither he nor his had ever known by any natural title; that, satisfied with the position which he had succeeded in acquiring, he would be unable even to conceive how other men could be moved by a less ignoble ambition; and having himself arrived at the summit of the State without patriotism, consistency, or nationality, he would naturally despise as weakness and folly the influence of national and patriotic sentiments among the peoples whom he had so subtly secured the power to insult, to outrage, and to oppress. To be the master, no matter by what means, of a vast Empire; to see his outlandish name accompanying or preceding that of the Sovereign in magniloquent decrees and Imperial proclamations; to set in motion, as from the operator's chamber of a puppet-show, the cranks and wires which pulled and directed the mechanical regularity of a blind and organized majority, would, doubtless, to such as he (Mr. O'Donnell) had supposed, be the perfection of Constitutional order, as it would assuredly be the utmost gratification of personal inclinations. This transplanted Vizier would not be able always to contain the scorn which vulgar honesty and an unfelt patriotism excited in his fine Orientalism. On occasion even he would voluntarily confess, unconscious of the degradation of the avowal, that the art of government was only one of the arts of self-advancement; and he would rule and be proud to uphold his rule by the same tricks of show and petty dealing by which at some former epoch of his vagrant family history his ancestors had passed off dubious silks of Egypt on the dames of Venice, or extolled to voluptuous Signori the fine points of contraband slave-girls from the Levant. Irishmen declined to be led away from their national traditions. They declined to accept the cosmopolitan example of an Imperial Bohemian. They did not respect, far less could they follow, the policy of Lord Beaconsfield. That policy was not respected, however it might be utilized, in the ranks of the Conservative Party itself. Ask any Member of the Conservative Party, and he would say that Lord Beaconsfield was clever, was able to dish the Whigs, and always was ready with some sly move, and always able to out-manoeuvre the other side. Lord Beaconsfield was a great electioneering agent—he was no Premier of England. His rule might yet last some time longer, and, speaking as a Member of an advanced section of Irish politicians, he looked without the slightest dismay upon the prospect of another seven years of Tory rule. Another such lease of power would consolidate the forces of the Irish popular Party, and it would make them certain of their triumph at some future day. The Members of the front Opposition Bench were often found playing the game of the Government, as was shown by the goody-goody speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), and others, who, upon the faith of the bigoted Tory writer who was the Dublin Correspondent ofThe Times,had retailed to English constituencies during the Recess every infamous fable invented against the hon. Member for Meath. These silly Liberals had blindly done their best to discredit the Irish Party and the darling Leader of the Irish people; and now they were discovering, at Liverpool and elsewhere, that they had only been doing the work of the Tories. This great electioneering confederacy, at the head of which Lord Beaconsfield was, had not a single scruple in the attainment of its ends. He impeached them as a Government without political honour, reckless of the peace of the country, and prepared to stick to place by any means, however nefarious. They were the Party of public intoxication, the Party of bigotry and national discord. There motto was "Place! place! place!" That was their conscience. The true translation ofImperium et libertashad not yet been given, just as the quotation itself was not to be found in any classical author. It meant "Place by any means!" That was a free translation; but he denied that the most learned pundit of the British Museum could find a truer translation of the principle which ruled the policy of the Government. In conclusion, the hon. Member moved the Amendment of which he had given Notice, declaring that every word which it contained was true.


in seconding the Amendment, said, he should not detain the House long, as he had a prior engagement to address the Irish electors of a Metropolitan borough. He complained that the statements of Irish Members had been replied to by English Members who knew nothing of the facts, and who had, therefore, based unsound arguments on insecure foundations. The London morning papers had charged the Irish Members with obstruction; but those Members had acted entirely within their province and in the discharge of their duty to the Irish people, who would have been very dissatisfied if their Members had not brought their grievances before the House of Commons. He said this, in order to show the difficult position in which the Irish Members were placed. He did not himself care for the English papers; but they were used for the very unfair purpose of setting a very stupid class of half-hearted and unprincipled section of the Liberal Party against the Irish Members. The Irish Members did not appeal at all to the public opinion of the English morning papers; but they appealed to the public opinion of the Irish people, and they were thoroughly content if they satisfied their own constituencies. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) had made out a wonderfully strong case. When the South Africa Bill was before the House the opposition to it was called obstruction, and the House now saw what had been the result of the tyrannical manner in which the Bill was forced through. His hon. Friend was undoubtedly right in his references to the land agitation. The Irish Members had never charged all the Irish landlords with being bad landlords. The hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman) had been pointed out as one of the best of landlords, and he (Mr. Biggar) would say that if all the landlords of Ireland were equal to the best there would be no land agitation. But many of the landlords were bad ones, and in some parts of Ireland the tenants were actually paying four times the amount of the valuation. The result was that, in bad times, the unfortunate tenants of bad landlords had no reserve, and must either pay his exorbitant rent or be turned out. If unable to pay his rent, a tenant had no claim for compensation under the Land Act. He had heard of a case in which a tenant had sunk £1,000 in improvements, and was now unable to pay his rent, and he was told that the landlord was going to turn the man out without any compensation for his improvements. He (Mr. Biggar) contended that no landlord ought to have the power to turn a tenant out without compensation, and that the State should say that nothing more than a fair and reasonable rent should be paid, and that an attempt should be made to establish what was called a peasant proprietary. That was the programme for which his hon. Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) contended. It had never been pretended that the vested interests of the landlord should be taken away from him without full and fair compensation. The Government had prosecuted three or four friends of his for having recommended the clearing away of the landlords; but they advocated the clearing away of the landlords with compensation. That was no offence against morals, and it ought not to be one against law. The result of the present system was that the people were driven into the mountains, and that the good land was being used in the most wasteful manner for grazing. If it were used for the raising of crops, the production of the country would be increased, and all the interests of the country would be improved. But the rights of property were considered to be more valuable than the rights of the community. "With regard to the distress, he believed that the average land of Ireland was worth literally nothing last year. He held that the landlord who asked a tenant to pay an unfair rent was more to blame than the unfortunate tenant who refused to pay it.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Address, to add the words "We humbly represent to Tour Majesty that, while 'wasting the resources and straining the honour of the State in unjust aggressions abroad, the Ministry have endangered the peace and neglected the interests of the Country at home: That when the attention of Your Majesty's advisers was called during last Parliament to the approaching distress in Ireland, they only replied with insulting mockery, and that when the distress deepened, and the inhabitants of the afflicted districts sought to move public opinion by peaceable meetings, the Government adopted an attitude of provocation, and answered the Petitions of the starving cultivators by arbitrary arrests and displays of military force: That the Ministry seek to stir up evil passions and prejudices between the English and Irish peoples: That they sedulously describe as seditious and disloyal the Constitutional endeavours of the Irish representatives to establish improved relations between Ireland and the other portions of Your Majesty's Dominions and to bring about a better distribution of the legislative work which now overburthens the Imperial Parliament: That when any English Party or English politicians seek to promote the removal of Irish grievances, they are denounced by the present Ministry to the prejudices of the unthinking and unreflecting as the bad patriots and enemies of England, and that there can no longer be a doubt that this policy hag been adopted for the purpose of obtaining a factious and, calamitous success at the approaching General Elections: And that, therefore, in face of such misconduct, we have no alternative but to beseech Your Majesty to dismiss from Your Councils Your present advisers, in order to prevent the further practice of abuses more dangerous than open, treason to the State."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)


said, he should briefly go through the several points of the Amendment. He contended that Her Majesty's Government had, as his hon. Friend alleged, disturbed the peace, not only of this country, but of Europe, by their foreign policy. By rejecting the Berlin Memorandum they had separated England from the Councils of the other European Powers, and had thus led to the Russo-Turkish War; and as long as they pursued their present policy of threatening Russia they would render it impossible for Russia to disarm. "While Russia remained armed Germany would not disarm, and the armaments of Germany involved the armaments of France. Thus the Government prevented the disarmament of the European Powers. He believed it was too late to convert the Government to a peace policy; but he hoped the Opposition would take warning, and turn their attention to questions at home. The paragraph in the Amendment relative to the Irish distress was warranted by the facts. He complained that the Government, although very early warned last year by Irish Members of the calamity which then threatened the South and West of their country, had turned a deaf ear to all such appeals. They never did anything for Ireland until they were shamed into it by the public opinion, not only of this Kingdom, but of Europe and the world. He doubted whether they would have moved to save the perishing peasantry unless they had been compelled by that very strong and just public opinion. From the speech of the Home Secretary, it would appear still to be the intention of the Government only to do so much for the starving people as would keep them from the grave, forgetting that the want of proper clothing and other comforts would engender disease among large numbers, while others would be obliged to fly to this country, where they would increase the competition in an already over-stocked labour market. Instead of having another exodus of the poor pea- santry from Ireland, it was time that they had an exodus of landlords. It would be a good thing both for Ireland and for England if the House could frame and pass such a measure as would give an equitable compensation to the landlords, and the lands were handed over to the tillers of the soil for the creation of a peasant proprietary. Instead of offering to Ireland some beneficial measure, Her Majesty's Government, as the distress deepened and the people peaceably assembled to agitate their grievances, proceeded to put into force the old policy of police and bailiffs which it was hoped had long ago been abandoned. At the meeting held in Dublin on the 24th of November, those called Irish agitators had used language such as was to be found in the writings of no less a political economist than John Stuart Mill, and yet they found the Government stepping in and menacing the right of public meeting and free speech by a display of military force. He had been informed, though he was open to subsequent correction, that the officer in charge of the constabulary on that occasion had private orders to shoot the illustrious Member for Meath in case any disturbance arose. He had no doubt this might sound very pleasant to some Tory Gentlemen; but if this were the policy which Her Majesty's Government approved, it was time to bid adieu to all hope of a pacific understanding between Ireland and England. He took it that on the part of men who professed anxiety that the Empire should be cemented by the ties of equality and justice such a policy met with their reprobation and condemnation. It was stated in the 3rd paragraph of the Amendment that the Ministry sought to stir up evil passions and prejudices between the English and Irish peoples, and having recently been in Liverpool he must say that the supporters of the Government used every ignoble and vile device which it was in the ingenuity of man to conceive to stir up ill-will and prejudice between the people of that town. Was it worthy of the Party who professed to govern the country in the interests of the Empire that they should renew that spirit which formerly reigned to the detriment of England and Ireland, and which everybody thought had been buried by the Catholic Emancipation Act? As an Irish Representative, it was immaterial to him at what altar a man might kneel so long as he found him on the platform of common humanity. So long as he found a man endeavouring to do justice to Ireland without injustice to England, so long was he ready to grasp his hand and strike with him in a battle for their common humanity. He hoped the Liberal Party would expose the ignoble policy of the Government, and lay a nobler policy before the country. The Government stood condemned before the country for their foreign policy, and they stood condemned in the eyes of all thinking men by their policy on the present question, by which they fostered bigotry and prejudice among the people and were really severing the links which united the Irish people to the Constitution in a spirit of loyalty. With respect to the last paragraph of the Amendment, he had no doubt that in a short time the present Advisers of Her Majesty would be dismissed; and when the claims of Ireland were laid before 60 or 70 English constituencies, he felt sure that neither the chicanery of the Tory Party nor the weakness of the Liberal Party would induce them to disregard those claims.

Question put.

The Housedivided:—Ayes 12; Noes 128: Majority 116.—(Div. List, No. 4.)

Addressagreed to:—To be presented by Privy Councillors.

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