HC Deb 05 March 1880 vol 251 cc426-8

asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland, If his attention has been drawn to the reports that, on Wednesday last, a public meeting to advocate Tenant Right in the neighbourhood of Portadown was attacked by a large body of persons armed with bludgeons and other weapons, and headed by a band of fifes and drums playing Orange party tunes; whether it is true that a notice or proclamation had been previously published denouncing the proposed Tenant Eight meeting as disloyal and seditious, and summoning the adversaries of Tenant Eight to attend and of pose it; whether it is true that many of the advocates of Tenant Eight present were severely struck and beaten and the mooting violently broken up; and, whether he can inform the House why the authorities took no precautions for the defence of a number of people engaged in holding a public meeting?


asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether any of the persons concerned in the attack upon a public meeting held at Portadown on Wednesday the 25th ult. for the purpose of urging upon Parliament the further security of tenant right in Ireland had been made amenable; and, if it is the intention of the Government to institute an inquiry into the circumstances connected therewith?


Sir, I find that the facts are substantially as stated in the first three paragraphs of the Question of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell). With respect to the last paragraph, I find that the constabulary authorities, both before and after the publication of the notice denouncing the intended gathering, consulted the local magistrates as to the necessity for the adoption of extraordinary measures of precaution. The magistrates, however, among whom was the gentleman who occupied the position of chairman at the tenant-right meeting, were unanimously of opinion that there was no necessity for precautionary measures, and they recommended that the constabulary should not be displayed in force in the field where the meeting was to be held. In defence of the action of the authorities, I think it right to place before the House the evidence upon which they had to form their judgment. A proclamation was published, as has been indicated. It ran as follows:— To the Loyalists of Portadown and Neighbourhood.—A number of reckless agitators, under pretence of endeavouring to ameliorate the condition of the tenant-farmers, are promulgating doctrines in the south and west of Ireland which, if acted upon, would rupture the bond of union between England and Ireland, create universal anarchy and communism, and plunge the country into the horrors of a civil war. The province of Ulster has hitherto been happily free from this pestilential agitation; but latterly attempts have been made to divert the attention of the tenant-farmers from the peaceable industries which they have hitherto contentedly pursued, and incite them to a denunciation of their landlords, with whom the most cordial relations have up to the present been maintained. In answer to the so-called tenant-farmers' meeting announced for Wednes- day next, let the loyalists of Portadown and neighbourhood assemble in their thousands to protest against this exhibition of sedition in a town which has so long maintained a reputation for loyalty to the Crown and Constitution. God save the Queen. I must say that, taken by itself, the perusal of this document might have given rise to some apprehension that a breach of the peace might possibly occur, but about the same time a resolution adopted at a meeting of the Portadown Orange Lodge was made public. It was in the following terms:— That no drums or drumming parties in connection with this district will assemble in Portadown on Wednesday for the purpose of interfering with the meeting to be held on that day, and that we, as a body of loyal Orangemen, will not have anything whatever to do with the meeting. Acting on that information, the authorities and the constabulary arrived at the conclusion that there was no necessity for any exhibition of the police force. With regard to the Question of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir Thomas M'Clure), I understand that no person has been made amenable to the law with regard to these transactions. It, however, rests with the persons assaulted to institute proceedings themselves, and until the result of such proceedings is ascertained it would be premature for the Government to arrive at any conclusion in the matter.