HC Deb 01 March 1880 vol 251 cc116-26

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, it had been brought before the House last Session with the general concurrence of hon. Members of all Parties, and he had reason to hope that it would receive that evening the same support which had been accorded to it on that occasion.

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


said, that the hon. Member for Wexford County was, in his opinion, mistaken if he thought that, in the social condition of Ireland at that moment, he had found a remedy for the existing state of things by the institution of a Volunteer Force in that country. He had thought last year, and thought still, that it was an over-straining of the conciliatory intentions of the Government to allow the Bill to pass that House. The Bill had appeared to him not to possess the authority requisite for so serious a change, and for so important an alteration in the affairs of the country as the institution of a new armed Force. Surely it would be obvious to everybody that the circumstances of Ireland were entirely different from what they had been six months previously. When the people came armed with barbarous weapons to platforms where speeches were uttered to them calling upon them to lay aside the spade for the rifle; when they were told that every man should not only possess a rifle, but know how to use it; when they came to listen to a new code of civil law, which might be summed up in the words, "Boys, dishonesty is the best policy," he maintained that, under such circumstances, it was obvious that the social condition of the country had changed. But he would also remind the hon. Member for Wexford County that the Bill had not even last year earned the support of his own Party, the Leader of which, at all events, the hon. Member for Cork, spoke of it with the greatest indifference, as did also the hon. Baronet the Member for King's County (Sir Patrick O'Brien). Another of the hon. Member's political comrades, in an interesting and instructive correspondence on the purity of language, had denounced it as a sham, and had also proved to demonstration by that correspondence that true patriotism could only be found in connection with a fine Irish brogue. Moreover, in what the hon. Member himself had said, on first introducing the Bill, he must be considered to have condemned it, for he had excepted from its operation one of the Provinces of Ireland. He took it for granted that, in making this exception, the hon. Member did not intend to cast a stigma upon the Province of Ulster, for one of the principal reasons given in support of the measure was that the refusal of a Volunteer Force to Ireland cast a stigma upon that country. Now, he maintained that Ireland was already well represented in the Volunteer Forces of this country, among which the Irish regiments were second to none. He held, also, that England was the proper centre for the Volunteer Forces, which were only supposed to exist for the purpose of resisting invasion. There was no prospect of an invasion of our Irish coasts—they were more exposed to danger from within. He asserted, in answer to another of the arguments—namely, that of assimilation, which had been used in support of the Bill—that, as in Ireland the police were armed, and in England not, there could be no assimilation whatever between England and Ireland upon this question. He did not think it necessary to go any farther in urging his objection to the Bill, nor did he know what might be the intention of the Go- vernment with regard to it; but he trusted that, under the altered circumstances of Ireland, hon. Members would see the inexpediency of introducing the Bill, and he, therefore, begged to move that it be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir John Leslie.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he had been astonished at the facility with which the Bill passed through the House last year. He thought that had hon. Members who were present when the Bill was brought forward been better acquainted with the state of party feeling in Ireland, and with the danger of putting arms into the hands of those who were already inclined to fight without them, they would have hesitated to give the measure their support. Until the state of the country was changed it would, in his opinion, be a most dangerous thing to introduce into Ireland a fresh cause of discord and a fresh means of arming one portion of the country against the other. It never happened in England, nor in Scotland, as it did in Ireland, that thousands of men attacked each other, and fought battles in which there were killed and wounded on both sides. It was, he supposed, in the recollection of hon. Members, that in the district represented by an hon. Friend below him, a battle was fought not more than 10 years ago, in which firearms were used, and that it required a large force of Constabulary, and. three or four regiments of the Regular Forces, to put an end to the disturbance. His countrymen, whether the staid Northern or the fiery Southern, were all excitable, and he could not believe it would be for the peace or good of the country that the Bill should pass. He thoroughly agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Baronet the Member for Monaghan (Sir John Leslie), and hoped that the House would not read the Bill a second time.


said, that last year the Bill was read a second time, if not with the assent, certainly with the approval of Her Majesty's Government. He did regret that, on the present occasion, the Bill should be opposed by two hon. Members from the North of Ireland. The speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Monaghan ought to have ensured the passing of the Bill, for he admitted Irishmen in this country made excellent soldiers and admirable Volunteers. But it was true, after being thus compelled to praise those resident in this country, he said Irishmen at home could not be at this time entrusted with arms. Both Members had drawn vivid pictures of the scenes of disturbances and violences which, no doubt, did so frequently take place in the North of Ireland. But what was the reason why the North presented so dark a contrast with the South and Midland portions of Ireland? Because, at the present moment, there was in the North of Ireland a body called "Orangemen," whom the Government liked to encourage, and who, on certain occasions, were allowed to hold complete control of the North. Under those circumstances, it would be better for that body, as well as for others in the North of Ireland, that they should be placed under the control proposed by the Bill, and that the Government authorities should have power to regulate the use of arms in the North of Ireland as elsewhere. It was somewhat singular that the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney) should call attention in that House to the scenes that had disgraced the city represented by the hon. Member for Belfast. He fully agreed that there was no city in Ireland which had been the scene of more extreme disorder than the City of Belfast. In that respect, the observations of the hon. Member for Tyrone were perfectly right. If he thought that the refusal to read this Bill a second time would remove arms from the hands of the Orangemen in the North of Ireland, then he should certainly oppose the measure. But what would be the result? Arms would still remain in the hands of Orangemen in the North even if this Bill was rejected. Was it to be now gravely asserted that Irishmen in the Midland and Southern portions of Ireland were not to be allowed their Constitutional rights because the North of Ireland was disturbed? If there were any clauses in the Bill that would require consideration they could be considered, and, if necessary, amended in Committee; but he did think it would be a most unreasonable thing that mere declamation, such as they had heard from the two hon. Members from Ulster Counties, should be a sufficient reason for the House refusing a second reading to a Bill substantially the same as that which had been sanctioned by and passed through the House last Session. So far as one could form a judgment from reports and the Charges of Judges, he thought the Government could not assert there was exceptional crime in Leinster or the South of Ireland. Notwithstanding the severe distress under which they wore suffering there was an absence of disorder in those places, and their sufferings were borne with unexampled tranquillity and moderation. It would be a very bad precedent if the House should refuse to give this Bill a second reading, merely on such arguments as they had listened to from the two hon. Members on the other side.


said, that the Orangemen in the North of Ireland were no more armed than the inhabitants of any other part of the country. As was well known, Belfast was under the Peace Preservation Act, and every arm, therefore, was licensed. No one carried arms except by authority. Unfortunately, in times past, they had been subjected to very serious disturbances in Belfast; but he was quite satisfied to contrast the loyalty of the North of Ireland against the disloyalty which had been manifested in other parts of the country within the last 12 months. He did not wish to detain the House; but he thought it right, as a Representative of Belfast, to make these observations in reply to the statements of the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. P. Martin).


said, that he regretted very much that they had not had any expression of opinion from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland in regard to this Bill. Last year, in consequence of the assistance of the Government, the Bill was carried through a second reading, and proceeded so far as to obtain a second sitting in Committee. They were aware that pressure had been brought to bear upon the Government since that time; and, perhaps, in obedience to orders submitted to them by some of the Representatives from the North of Ireland, the Bill, which in the last Session of Parliament received the sanction of Her Majesty's Government, was now to be opposed. Probably, Her Majesty's Government had consented to indulge the Representatives of the North of Ireland, knowing that in the next Session they would be troubled with them no longer. He must compliment one of those Gentlemen who, he believed, had made his farewell speech in that House—namely, the hon. Baronet the Member for Monaghan (Sir John Leslie)—for the very able arguments he adduced in opposition to the Bill. But, as he did not consider that there was really anything in them, he had taken no note of them. The hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney) had adopted his usual róle of attacking the Catholics in Ireland. He must say that he was as well acquainted with Ireland as the hon. Member for Tyrone, and he could deny the truth of every statement which he had made. He had said that every year in Ulster they had disturbances and unpleasant party fights. He was glad to find that the hon. Member characterized those disturbances as party fights; for, in the county which he represented, no one was credited with having lent a more willing and helping hand to the creation of bad party feeling than the hon. Member himself.


rose to Order. He wished to know whether the hon. Member was in Order in accusing him of having created a bad party feeling?


said, that his statement was, that the hon. Member was credited in Ireland with having more than any other person created a bad party feeling in his county. One day, driving between Enniskillen and Londonderry, he was informed that there were no party fights in that part of the county excepting when the hon. Member was there. With regard to the observations of the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. J. P. Corry), he had no doubt whatever that he had felt acutely the charges made by the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. P. Martin), and he was right in standing up for his disorderly constituency. The hon. Member had further congratulated the North of Ireland on its loyalty, and compared it with the disloyalty that he said had prevailed in other parts during the past year. He presumed that the hon. Member alluded to the meetings of the Land Leagues. He would read to the House the substance of an account which he had found in a Conservative newspaper with respect to a meeting at Port-adown. The account stated that a land meeting was summoned last Wednesday week, at which a gentleman named Shillington occupied the chair. Last month, he (Mr. Callan) was present at a meeting in County Louth, at which several Members of Parliament also attended, and there was an assemblage of about 8,000 people. They had bands and banners, and played "Cheer Boys Cheer," "Garry Owen," "St. Patrick's Day," and "God Save Ireland!" He made a most loyal speech, and they all went home quite sober. Not a single case was brought before the magistrates the next day. But at the meeting at Portadown there was present Sir William Verner, a gentleman who was anxious for Parliamentary honours, and who was going to stand in the tenant right interest. The meeting was interrupted by the strains of a band playing "Croppies Lie Down," "The Boyne Water," and other tunes. The loyal gentlemen whom the hon. Member for Belfast praised advanced upon the meeting, gave one wild cheer, and charged the platform. A scene of great confusion took place—chairs and anything else handy being used as weapons. Here, therefore, was an instance of the Loyalists of the North of Ireland charging down upon a meeting and disturbing the tenant righters and Home Rulers, and retiring to the triumphant strains of the "Boyne Water." He did not see how conduct of this kind was evidence of loyalty, or how the perpetrators of it could be praised for the observance of law and order. The Bill was surrounded with safeguards, and the Government had it in their power to prevent any harm being done. Last year the Government assisted the Bill in its passage through the House; and he hoped that, on the present occasion, they would show that they were not the tools of the Orangemen of the North of Ireland by allowing the Bill to pass.


said, that as the House had been reminded, this Bill last year was passed through a second reading in the House of Commons with the assent of Her Majesty's Government, but eventually failed to obtain the assent of Parliament. It became, therefore, the duty of Her Majesty's Government to consider the position of the Bill in the present Session. He must say that he was most anxious to see how far the condition of the country could permit him to afford support to the measure. Having regard to the condition of Ireland at the present moment, it must be candidly admitted that they were bound to look very carefully at a proposal which put weapons into the hands of any portion of the population of Ireland. Hon. Members opposite had saved him from what would be an unpleasant task—namely, that of offering reasons why the measure should not become law. He was bound to say that the instances afforded by the hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. Callan) were the most conclusive arguments against the Bill. What did the hon. Gentleman state, but that the most prosperous part of Ireland was frequently the scene of very great disorder. He did not suppose that it would be proposed to exclude Ulster from the Bill; and, certainly, the hon. Member had advanced very strong reasons why that Province should not be included. That was not the first time they had heard in that House of the late disturbances that took place at Portadown. He was not in a position officially to confirm the account; but he believed it to be true. The hon. Member had stated that there were two parties opposed to each other at that meeting, which could by no means be considered to consist of the residuum of the population, but of persons who might be considered to form the middle class. When they heard such scenes of disorder described, it was not encouraging to the House to place weapons of a more formidable character in the hands of those persons. Clause 2 of the Bill provided certain safeguards with regard to its administration, and enacted that it should be lawful for Her Majesty to accept the services of persons desiring to form Volunteer Corps whom the Lord Lieutenant should recommend. He must say, having regard to the present state of Ireland, that he should not feel himself justified in advising the Lord Lieutenant to sanction the formation of any corps. Without considering what might be the case in more favourable circumstances, yet, if at the present time the Lord Lieutenant were to recommend Her Majesty to permit the formation of Volunteer Corps, very serious remonstrances would arise from the neighbourhoods so favoured. Hon. Members who supported the Bill relied almost entirely upon the safeguards provided by Clause 2; and without that clause, no doubt, they would not have ventured to submit the Bill to the House. He should, however, be guilty of recklessness if he allowed the Bill to pass, and did not advise the House that at the present moment he saw no practical opportunity of carrying it into effect. They could not at that time even contemplate the formation of armed bands sanctioned by Parliament. For his own part, he would gladly see the establishment of a state of affairs which would admit of the Bill being safely passed into law; but, having regard to the unfortunate condition of the country, both from a social and an economical point of view, and having regard to the other circumstances mentioned, he thought it would be unwise for the House to adopt any measure of this kind; and, therefore, he should support the Motion of the hon. Member for Monaghan.


said, that he could hardly be supposed to be of the same opinion as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland; but, on this occasion, he agreed with him in thinking that Ireland was not at present in a fit state to permit of this Bill being passed. Until it had enjoyed for some years the benefit of intelligent legislation, and been governed by an intelligent Administration with some idea of its wants, it would be a risk to authorize the present Government to arm any part of the Irish people, more especially those in the North, who, in former times, represented an armed foreign aggression. They might be perfectly certain that the greatest partiality and unfairness in the execution of the measure, more particularly in the choice of the officers of the proposed corps, would be shown by the present Government. He considered the Government to be the real obstacle to the passing of such a Bill as this. He thought the fact should be fully recognized, that the main obstacle to anything like progress being attained in Ireland was the present Government. To give Ireland such a measure as this, with the present Government in power, would be to inflict an unmitigated curse on the country. For these reasons, he could by no means condole with his hon. Friend the Member for Wexford upon the prospective rejection of the Bill. He rather congratulated him that his measure would be postponed till a time when a Government was in power which would not seek to stir up class against class and nation against nation. When they had obtained a Government which ceased to do that, then his hon. Friend might attain his object, which would then tend to promote a real union between Great Britain and Ireland, formed upon solid reasons of mutual respect and equality, and cemented by the strong sense of nationality upon each side. The present Government simply regarded. Ireland from an electioneering point of view, and merely cared for what would serve their purposes.


said, that the House and the country generally would receive with surprise the announcements made to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He did not see that there were any more reasons why the Bill should be opposed by the Government in the present Session than in the last. In point of fact, the rows to which attention had been called had occurred between contending portions of the supporters of the Government. There had been many rows in England, but that was no reason why Volunteers should be denied to it. Englishmen ought to be ashamed, considering the fine Volunteer Force they had, to make it known that Ireland, which contributed £90,000 a-year in support of English and Scottish Volunteers, should not be allowed to have a Volunteer Force of its own. Perhaps some good might result from the rejection of the Bill, in this—that Ireland would be furnished with an argument why she should not be taxed for the payment of the English Volunteers. He thought that consideration should make Englishmen blush for the rejection of such a measure as this. Considering the way in which the Bill was received last Session, he certainly was surprised at its rejection on the present occasion. As regarded the remarks made upon that side of the House, he might say that the Bill was three months before the House last Session, and was in no way intended to further the interests of any political party in Ireland. If the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had any objection to the measure, he ought to have made it last year. In his opinion, the rejection of the measure would be received in Ireland as a token of a covenant of the Government with the few Orange Representatives in the House. They had been labouring for years to try and bring about a better state of feeling in Ireland; but it was perfectly evident that their efforts were futile, for the Orange Representatives were still masters of the country. The feelings of the majority of the Irish Members were entirely disregarded, and three or four Orangemen, by obtaining the ear of the Government, were masters of the situation. He thought it his duty to press the measure before the House; and he should also feel it his duty to enter his protest against the Vote for the English Volunteers when the Estimates came before the House upon Report. He did not wish to make any objection to the English Volunteers, for he considered the Force a great credit to the country; but he considered that he was bound to object to them so long as the spirit of fair play, of which Englishmen were so fond of boasting, was not extended to Ireland. It would, therefore, become his bounden duty to object to the English Volunteer Force, and he should persist in that objection until the second reading of this Bill was passed. Every Englishman should be proud of his country's Volunteers; but he did not think it was right to deny to Ireland the same right as that enjoyed by the Sister Country. He regretted very much that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had refused to allow the Bill to be read a second time.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 12; Noes 81: Majority 69.—(Div. List, No. 30.)

"Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.

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