HC Deb 27 June 1881 vol 262 cc1366-75

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant for Ireland, If he can state the number of agrarian offences that have been committed in the county of the City of Waterford since the 1st of January 1881?


I am informed that there has been one case of serious assault at a fair, and one bad case of intimidation. But I must say that the number of agrarian offences committed in any specified place is not the sole ground on which action can be taken by the Government in proclaiming a district. They must consider the information they have in regard to the probability of a disturbance of the peace, and the general necessity of the place being proscribed under the Act. The Government thought it necessary, in proclaiming the county of Waterford, that the city should be included.


asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, what he meant by saying it was necessary to proscribe the city of Waterford? According to the Act a person could be arrested in any part of the county.


The city of Waterford is the capital of the county, and the House will well understand that, if steps were taken to organize a system of intimidation in the county, it will be exceedingly probable that the headquarters of such organization would be in the city of Waterford itself.


asked if the right hon. Gentleman was aware that the city of Waterford was itself a county; and whether the same argument would not apply to the county of Kilkenny?


I am aware of that, or else this Question would not have been asked.


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman meant to say that he could give no other reason why a city of 30,000 inhabitants had been proclaimed, and the people deprived of their Constitutional liberties, than that an assault had been committed at a fair?


I think the hon. Member cannot have read the Question which was put to me. It does not ask why the city was proclaimed, but what was the number of offences committed.


said, he was very sorry to have no other alternative than to ask further explanations, and in order to allow the right hon. Gentleman to answer he would conclude with a Motion. So far as they could see, the Chief Secretary had not acted according to the pledges he had given the House on the passing of the Coercion Act. The Government dictinctly pledged themselves to use the powers given them only in exceptional circumstances demanding those powers. They had not the slightest indication that such exceptional circumstances existed in the city of Waterford. In fact, the county and city of Water-ford were exceptionally peaceable, which was all the more creditable, considering that almost the whole of the county of Waterford had been scheduled as a distressed district under the Relief of Distress Act. On what representations had the Government proceeded? Had the magistrates of the county approved of what they had done? Had the Catholic clergy lent their support to the scheme for placing the city of Waterford outside the Constitution? They had heard nothing, but that an assault was committed in a fair, connected with an agrarian outrage. He believed there was not a city in England where similar outrages were not repeatedly committed, and yet they were not deprived of the privileges of the Constitution. He contended that, so far as the Government had explained the case, it was nothing short of an insult to the intelligence of the House and the whole Irish people to tell them that the commission of a single assault was sufficient for the proclamation of a large Irish county. He considered that the Government were bound to give a fair answer to the Representatives of the city of Waterford, to give some indication why this slur had been cast on the city and county. As representing a portion of the county of Waterford he felt bound to protest against this mode of dealing with the liberties of the Irish people. He would afford the Government an opportunity of giving some further information, and enable some of the Chief Secretary's Colleagues to supplement the very unsatisfactory explanation he had given. The Chief Secretary, it was perfectly evident, was not inclined to give any information in a conciliatory manner to the Irish Representatives. The right hon. Gentleman's conduct was designedly provocative. He begged to move the adjournment of the House.


in seconding the Motion, said, he did not think that the reason why the city of Waterford had been proclaimed was that one assault had been committed in it within six months. He now proposed to give the reason. In the county of Waterford there was an estate of several thousand acres—he might say about 40,000 acres—which was owned, by the Duke of Devon-shire. The son of the Duke of Devon-shire was a Member of the Cabinet, and, no doubt, it was very convenient to the gentleman governing that estate to have the power to put into gaol any of the troublesome Land Leaguers who prevented the Duke of Devonshire from getting his rents. The House would, perhaps, be somewhat surprised when he told them what had already occurred on the Duke of Devonshire's estate, and he thought, after that, they would agree with him that his view was not unfounded. Before the rise of the Land League there were such things as Farmers' Clubs. They were very harmless institutions, which sometimes indulged in a dinner, and he did not know that they ever did any good, but they did not do much harm. They were the means of some little exhibition of public spirit; and, as a matter of course, the idea of a Farmers' Club existing on an estate where the Duke of Devonshire and his people reigned supreme was too much for the being who ruled there; and through understrappers, through bailiffs, through warners, and through agents, notice was given to the members of this Farmers' Club that it was very undesirable that these clubs should continue to exist in the county. Of course, the Duke would not evict a tenant; but their walls would not be repaired, their thatch would not be renewed; perhaps a little bit of arrears might be pressed a little harder; and the end of it was that the Farmers' Club went down. Now came this terrible Land League, and, of course, it was a much more formidable body, and they knew—because the League had much more information as to what was taking place in Dublin Castle than those in Dublin Castle had of the action of the League—that the Chief Secretary had issued a Circular to his myrmidons throughout the country, telling them, first, to report to him the names of the President, Treasurer, and Secretary of the Land League throughout the country; next, to get to know what sort of business was going on; and then, if there was any crime of which any Land League representatives could be reasonably suspected, at once to pounce upon the President, Treasurer, or Secretary. Nothing could be better for the gentlemen on the Devonshire estate, when these troublesome Land Leaguers were advising the tenants not to pay more than Griffith's valuation, than to tip the wink to have Mr. So-and-so, the President or Secretary of the League, put into gaol; and, therefore, he maintained it was not crime that had led to this proclamation, but a desire on the part of the Chief Secretary to help his noble Friends to get their rents.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)


said, he hoped the Chief Secretary for Ireland would give some explanation as to why the city and county of Waterford were proclaimed. During the debates on the Coercion Act, the right hon. Gentleman undertook that he would not use that measure in an arbitrary and unjust manner; but he maintained that upon this occasion he had done so. The city of Waterford contained 29,000 inhabitants, and in six months the right hon. Gentleman could only produce one case of assault, and two cases of alleged intimidation as having been committed in that population. He believed the county of Waterford was proclaimed in order to arrest the Secretary of the local branch of the Land League. There was not in Ireland a city so quiet, nor a county in such a peaceful condition; but the right hon. Gentleman seemed determined that he would treat a peaceful district in the same manner as a district where, undoubtedly, disorder or outrage might exist. He believed the right hon. Gentleman did not fully appreciate the gravity of the situation in Ireland. He did not know to what courses he was driving the people of that country. If he wanted to make the county and city of Waterford disturbed, he could not have adopted a more effectual means than by suspending the liberties of the people. When speaking to the farmers of Waterford some time ago, he remembered they said to him—"We have a branch of the Land League, and we are determined to work within the lines of the Constitution. We shall not allow upon our platform any man who uses rash or violent language, because he may compromise us, and we may then be placed under the Coercion Act." The right hon. Gentleman could not point to one speech delivered in Waterford in which outrage was not denounced, and in which Constitutional agitation was not advocated. There was, he was sorry to say, a feeling in Ireland, entertained by a very large portion of the population, that the Government by their acts were seeking to drive the people into open revolt. The people of Ireland, however, had learnt a lesson from experience. They tried rebellion in 1798, and again in 1848, and they were not be foolish, now as to be goaded on by the action taken by the Government, and which the right hon. Gentleman could not explain, for how could the taking away of Constitutional rights of thousands of people be justified by the commission of two or three crimes? He had never sympathized with the course of procedure now adopted, and he would not have joined in it but for a strong sense of the duty which he owed to his constituents. The Government, by acts of this description, were playing into the hands of the enemy. If they thought they could sustain their power by bayonets, informers, and policemen, they were mistaken, because it could never be sustained for any length, of time upon such a basis. These miserable and tyrannical acts would alienate instead of conciliate the affections of the people, without which their power would never exist. He trusted a division would be taken on the Motion, as a protest against the action of the Government.


It is impossible for me or for the Government to give a full answer to the Question which has been put. The House, in intrusting to us the great power it gave us under the Protection of Person and Property Bill, showed that it had confidence in the Government in the administration of that power. [Laughter.] A majority of the House has given us that confi- dence; and they are doubtless aware that the very essence of the measure requires us to act without, in all cases, giving the grounds and reasons for our doing so. If a Vote of Censure in reference to this, or any other case, is brought forward, the Government will be prepared to meet it. But the House at either side will not expect me to take any notice of the extraordinary grounds for what we have done which have been put forward by the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy).


said, that the right hon. Gentleman had stated that the House had placed trust in the Government when they passed the Coercion Acts. So far as his testimony was concerned, that trust had been grossly abused. The Coercion Act was used in Ireland in a manner that had never been foreshadowed by the occupants of the Treasury Bench. The arrests in Ireland were made upon trivial grounds, they were wanton and tyrannical, and they were creating, very naturally, the greatest possible exasperation. Men like Mr. Farrell, as to whom he had asked a Question, had been so arrested, and now they heard that he had been released on giving an undertaking not to do again that of which he had never been guilty—namely, inciting people to violence and disorder. On the contrary, he had himself more than once heard that gentleman urging upon the people the necessity of their keeping within the limits of the law. The Government had made an unfair use of an Act which, he believed, was vilely and foully abused every day.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had stated that there were but two cases of outrage in the county, and he would like to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite if the Constitutional liberties of 125,000 people were to be taken away because of those isolated cases? They were told, again and again, that the need for the Coercion Bill was the difficulty of obtaining evidence; but he would refer the right hon. Gentleman to two Charges made by Judges recently in the county, and he defied him to find anything in those Charges which would justify him in the action he had taken. But it was said that people might be plotting in the city of Waterford to commit crime in the county, and that that was the reason the Proclamation was issued. That, however, would be a reason for proclaiming every city and county in Ireland. Hon. Members might think the course they were taking was inconvenient; but they did not know Waterford as he knew it. He himself was born and bred there; and he challenged the Chief Secretary to find in any part of Ireland a more peaceable city. Did not the police records show it? Did not the absence of crime show it? He contended that a more tyrannical, unjust, or cowardly abuse of power he never saw. When the Chief Secretary first went to Ireland, he believed that the right hon. Gentleman intended to do the Irish people justice. He feared the right hon. Gentleman would fail; but he gave him credit for the best intentions, and thought that any English gentleman would cut off his hand before he would sanction, as the right hon. Gentleman had done, the infamous Police Circular which had recently been issued. One of the worst characters in Irish history was Armstrong, who went into the houses of his victims, sat at their boards, took their children on his knee, and then betrayed them; and a Circular pointing out that man as a type of an Irish police officer was sent out, and the Chief Secretary never protested against it. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that though he felt it his duty to protest against the proclamation of Waterford, he knew his fellow-citizens too well to fear that the abuse of his power by the Chief Secretary could have any effect on them, and make them do anything that was unworthy of them. The only effect it would have would be to stimulate the spirit of nationality and a desire to bring back the independence of Ireland.


said, he hoped his hon. Friends would not carry this Motion to a division; but if they did so he should certainly vote with them. He had never been more surprised in his life than at the proclamation of Waterford City; and with regard to the county, of which he was a magistrate, he must testify to its almost universal peace.


said, he thought it was rather cruel for his hon. Friend the Member for the City of Waterford to allude to the case of the Shearses in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman. A description was given some years ago, in one of the Dublin newspapers, of a visit of the Prime Minister to the spot where these unfortunate brothers were executed, and it was stated that when their sad story was related to him the right hon. Gentleman displayed very considerable signs of emotion. When the Prime Minister visited the tombs of the Shearses he could scarcely have anticipated that he would be the Colleague of that Brummagen Castlereagh, the present Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant; or that the spy, the informer, and the lying and traitorous friend would be the chief instruments on which a Liberal Government would rely for preserving order in Ireland. A Liberal Ministry, however, was now shamelessly employing such means in order to restore in Ireland such order as was once restored in Warsaw by the Agent of a Liberal and friendly Administration. It would be impossible to descend to a more foul, and unfair, and cowardly use of the powers which the House had given to the Government than that which had been made of them by the Administration of Ireland. Referring to the impressment of cars for police service at Tullamore, he said it was a policy which would commend itself to the Tories, but which they could not expect from a Liberal Government. However, he rejoiced in the conduct of the Chief Secretary in the matter. It was preparing the way for their final triumph. In 12 months the Chief Secretary had done more to consolidate and render certain the future of the Party led by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) than could have been done by 10,000 agents of insurrection and sedition. The Liberal Government would reap all the shame, and that Party, in the future, would reap all the benefit of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman.


as one of the Members for the County of Waterford, protested against the very unjust and most unnecessary measure of proclaiming that county, which he considered unwise and unjustifiable. He could bear testimony, from personal experience, that the city was peaceable; and he should join with his hon. Friends in dividing, in order to show his protest against such an uncalled for step.


reminded the House that it had been alleged, as an argu- ment for the Coercion Bill, that intimidation was so rife in Ireland that no jury would convict, even on the clearest evidence. Now, he held in his hand a Return of the number of criminal cases tried at the last Waterford Assizes, and was able to inform the House that they were 39 in number, that eight of the cases tried ended in acquittals and 30 in convictions, while the jury disagreed in only one instance. However, everyone knew that the Chief Secretary had not retained a shadow of regard for the reasons originally given by him for the Coercion Bill, but was determined to pursue the shameless course he had begun.


said, he never knew a case in which the facts less justified the action of the Government than this. In Dublin, which was proclaimed a short time since, only a few outrages took place in six months to which the Coercion Bill would apply. A more peaceable community did not exist in the world than in the city and county of Waterford. Nothing could be more notorious than the absence of anything approaching to violence or illegal agitation in the county. But the Chief Secretary was ignorant of all matters connected with Ireland; and he was never likely to be anything else, because he did not want to learn.


said, that the confidence placed in the Government when it demanded extraordinary powers had been outraged and violated. The midnight marauders and the village ruffians and village tyrants—the original objects of the Coercion Bill—were perfectly safe. There was not a single landlord in prison; but the men who were arrested were not arrested on account of any criminality, but simply and solely because they were energetic and efficient members of the Land League. The Queen's County—which had always been notoriously free from crime—had been proclaimed. Only two counties in Ireland—Wicklow and Louth—could compare with it, for only at last week's Sessions the presiding Judge had to inform the Grand Jury there was nothing to engage their attention. Since the proclamation of the county Limerick, three men had been arrested, including Patrick Doran—and a greater favourite or more respectable or esteemed citizen could not be ima- gined; but it was clear he was arrested simply because he was the Vice President of the Land League. An efficient member of the League in Queen's County was just arrested. Though the Government might arrest every President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer of the Land League in Queen's County, the Land League would not be suppressed. Immediately that Patrick Doran and his friends were arrested, others were ready to take their places; and if all the men in the district were arrested, it would be found that the business of the League would be carried on by the women of the country. The Land League might be made an illegal association; but do what they would, the Government could not put down land meetings. Whenever two farmers met there would be a land meeting; and this state of things would continue until this infamous landlord rule had been removed.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 28; Noes 305: Majority 277.—(Div.List,No.267.)