HC Deb 04 May 1881 vol 260 cc1744-6

acquainted the House that he had this day received the following Letter from the Right Honourable the Earl Cowper, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland:—

Vice Regal Lodge,

May 3rd, 1881.


It is my duty to inform you that Mr. John Dillon, a Member of the House of Commons, was arrested yesterday evening at Portarlington on a Warrant issued by me under the Act for the better protection of Person and Property in Ireland, and is new in the Gaol of Kilmainham in Dublin.

I have the honour to be,


Your obedient Servant, COWPER.

The Rt. Honble.

The Speaker House of Commons.


said, he would not anticipate the discussion which would, no doubt, take place on the subject of the very important announcement just made to the House, on the Motion of which his hon. Friend the Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) had given Notice, and which amounted to a Vote of Censure on the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in reference to this latest use or abuse of the Coercion Act by himself and his Colleagues. He hoped he was right in anticipating that the right hon. Gentleman would not be anxious to allow that Vote of Censure to hang over him longer than was necessary. He wished meanwhile to give the right hon. Gentleman fair warning that on behalf of the hon. Member for Longford and his hon. Friends around him they intended to press, and that by all such means as the Forms of the House would permit, for an immediate and full discussion of that very important matter. He did not wish to anticipate the discussion; but he would point out to the Chief Secretary the points which they should urge, and upon which they should expect a satisfactory reply. In the first place, he must refer to the fact that so far as he could see his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant did not put himself much about in order to accelerate the announcement to that House of the fact of the arrest of one of its most prominent Members, and he must also say that he perceived a con- trast between the terms of the letter just read and the terms of the letter with regard to a similar event which was laid before the House by one of the Speaker's Predecessors on the arrest of Mr. Smith O'Brien in August, 1848. The letter addressed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to the Speaker of the House of Commons was in the following terms:— Sir,—It is my painful duty to inform you that Mr. Smith O'Brien was yesterday arrested on a charge of treason, and is now in the gaol at Kilmainham. There was no expression of pain on the part of the Lord Lieutenant in respect to the arbitrary and extreme use he had made of the powers conferred on him by the Coercion Act, probably because he thought that Liberal principles had not sufficiently advanced since the dark days of 1848 to enable him to follow the example of his Predecessor. The points on which the right hon. Gentleman would be asked for explanations were—How he could justify to the House the arrest, pending the discussion of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, of an hon. Member of the House who notoriously represented almost more than any other Member of the House of Commons the opinions of a very important section of Irish farmers with respect to the legislative proposals of the Government? Why the right hon. Gentleman had thought it necessary to select the present moment for the arrest, when it was known that his hon. Friend was on his way to London to take part in the discussion of the Land Bill. And how the right hon. Gentleman could justify the arrest of his hon. Friend because he had made a statement with respect to the state of Ireland which had been in the fullest manner corroborated by the right hon. Gentleman himself? The right hon. Gentleman would be invited to state whether it was or was not the case, as asserted by his hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary, that ejectment processes were hanging over the heads of between 5,000 and 10,000 persons at the present moment, and if that statement was not in exact accordance with his own statement, made yesterday, that 2,273 processes of ejectment had been decreed at the recent Quarter Sessions, which meant the impending doom of between 10,000 and 12,000 Irish farmers. The right hon. Gentleman would be asked, therefore, whether the statement of the hon. Member for Tipperary in regard to the tenant farmers of Ireland, and the action of the landlords thereto, was not, if anything, an understatement of that of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the present condition of Ireland? They should ask the right hon. Gentleman to convince the House, if he was able to do it, that the hon. Member was not justified in bringing to the notice of the House, or bringing to the notice of the Government and the public, the calamities which were necessarily threatened by this monstrous and wholesale exercise of power in the present miserable condition of the people. He thought that those considerations would show to the right hon. Gentleman the expediency of meeting them in a prompt and frank spirit, and of giving them facilities for a fair and full and early discussion of the arrest of the hon. Member for Tipperary. He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) was bound to exercise self-restraint and self-repression in regard to that arrest, and accordingly abstained from expressing his own feeling on the question; but he should have the opportunity of doing so, and of showing that this latest act of the right hon. Gentleman was one of the worst blunders he had ever made.


said, he did not intend to speak with regard to this question; but seeing that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland did not make any reply to what was said by his hon. Friend the Member for Galway, he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the propriety of withdrawing from a position for which he was notoriously unfit. He warned the right hon. Gentleman that he and his Friends would be under the necessity of speaking very plainly, and of saying some truths which would not be at all palatable to the right hon. Gentleman, and which might rather clash, more or less, with the prejudices of some hon. Members of that House.


gave Notice, on the nomination of the Committee on the Rivers Conservancy and Floods Prevention Bill, that he would move that the name of Mr. John Dillon be added to the Committee.

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