HC Deb 05 August 1885 vol 300 cc1228-36

said, he would like to draw the attention of the House as shortly as possible to a matter which had excited a great deal of interest in Ireland, and he believed it had also attracted considerable attention in England and Rome—he referred to the publication of a letter purporting to be, and as he thought he could show actually was, a secret communication between the hon. Baronet the Member for Longford (Sir George Errington) and Lord Granville, with respect to the hon. Baronet's mysterious Mission to the Vatican. His hon. Friends and himself were at first anxious to put a Question directly to the hon. Baronet, as to whether he was or was not the author of this communication. They were prevented by the Forms of the House from doing so, because, although it was now perfectly certain that the hon. Baronet was acting in Rome as the Agent of the English Government, and although, in point of fact, the late Government gave him his Baronetcy because of his services in that capacity, the Irish Members were unable to question him in the capacity. They all knew that the late Government, though they appointed the hon. Baronet to that position, found it necessary, for reasons of their own, upon all occasions to disown him, at least publicly, in that capacity, in deference to English opinion. As they could not put a Question directly to the hon. Baronet, they did the next best thing in order to clear up the question of the genuineness of this document. On Friday night he (Mr. O'Brien) sent a written Notice to the hon. Baronet that upon Monday, on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply on the Appropriation Bill, he meant to bring this matter before the House, so that he might have a full opportunity to either disclaim or avow the letter—if he did avow it, that he might be able to give the House any explanation in his power as to its contents. On Monday night the hon. Baronet did not put in an appearance; but he (Mr. O'Brien) was glad to perceive that to-day the hon. Baronet had changed his mind, and was now in a position to hear him, and f-peak himself on the subject. He could not help remarking that the hon. Baronet's course of conduct since the publication of this letter was, to say the least, singularly unsatisfactory, if not of a suspicious character. If the hon. Baronet never wrote a letter of that description nothing would be easier than for him to say so over his own name. Instead of that there appeared on Friday a communiqué in The Daily News. They all knew that was the official organ of the late Government which employed the hon. Baronet, and it was the paper which generally spoke with some authority; and he did not think it was too much to assume that though the voice was the voice of The Daily News, the inspiration was the inspiration of the hon. Baronet the Member for Longford. On Friday there appeared in The Daily News this very confident and precise announcement— Sir George Errington has no knowledge of the letter published in United Ireland purporting to have been written by the hon. Baronet to Earl Granville on the subject of the Vatican and of the election of an Archbishop of Dublin. That beyond all doubt was a point-blank denial that any such letter was ever written by the hon. Baronet, and a point-blank statement that the letter was a bogus document. But upon the following day there appeared in The Daily News a paragraph of a very hesitating and timid character. It was not his business to account for the change of tone in the two declarations in The Daily News. He merely mentioned the fact that in the meantime his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had given Notice in the House of his intention to question the hon. Baronet and sift the matter, and in the meantime the paper in which the document had appeared had come to hand, in which it was stated that they—United Ireland—had the original letter in their possession, and that they were perfectly ready to submit it to any friend of the hon. Baronet's who wished to verify the handwriting. In The Daily News, as he had stated, a statement appeared to the effect that— Sir George Errington had no recollection of having written such a letter. And then The Daily News went on to make some ridiculous speculations as to the manner in which the letter had been obtained. He would, however, leave the hon. Baronet to settle the matter with The Daily News. There had been, however, a change in the tone of The Daily News from day to day after it was announced that the Irish Members had evidence of the handwriting in their possession. As to the letter itself, he need hardly say that he was not going to make the smallest apology in the world for giving it to the public Diplomatists who went in for mean, dirty tricks like this ought to expect no mercy from the Irish Members. The idea of everything that was vital to the religion and liberties of the Catholics of Ireland being trafficked in and bargained for in this miserable way at Rome was most repulsive to all Catholics, and even to every decent Protestant in England. At all events, every effort had been made to smother up the truth concerning this Gentleman's doings at Rome. Every document was refused them and kept under lock and key; and he really regarded it as a dispensation of Providence which had enabled them to clear up the mystery. There was, he believed, no room for conjecture in this matter, for, as far as he was himself concerned, he was satisfied, beyond any reasonable doubt, of the authenticity of the letter before publishing it. He had submitted the letter to several hon. Members who were acquainted with the hon. Baronet's handwriting, and they at once recognized it as his. There had since come into his possession another communication in the undoubted handwriting' of the hon. Baronet, addressed to an hon. Member of that House; and he did not think that there would be one moment's hesitation in saying that both letters were in one and the same handwriting. This was the letter which he had felt perfectly secure would be maintained a perfect secret—

"House of Commons, Friday, 15th May.

"Dear Lord Granville,—The Dublin Archbishoprick (sic) being still undecided, I must continue to keep the Vatican in good humour about you and keen up communication with them generally as much as possible. I am almost ashamed to trouble you again when you are so busy; but perhaps on Monday you would allow me to show you the letter I propose to write. This premature report about Dr. Moran will cause increased pressure to be put on the Pope and create many fresh difficulties. The matter must therefore be most carefully watched, so that the strong pressure I can still command may be used at the right moment, and not too soon or unnecessarily (for too much pressure is quite as dangerous as too little). To effect this constant communication with Rome is necessary.

I am, dear Lord Granville,

"Faithfully yours,


He could understand the hon. Baronet denying having written that letter; but how any man could forget the writing of that letter certainly exceeded the bounds of belief and credulity. The only fact with reference to the communication which made him doubt its genuineness was the extraordinary un-guardedness, levity, and cynicism with which it was written. The hon. Baronet was, he thought, usually regarded by his admirers as a model of Catholic piety. Yet here they had, in his own handwriting, a deliberate insult to His Holiness the Pope. It was almost inconceivable that a serious diplomatist, engaged in what were considered as delicate negotiations, should write such a letter. Upon second thoughts, however, he had come to the conclusion that this was an additional proof of the genuineness of the letter. The secrecy upon the matter which was maintained by the late Government gave the hon. Baronet a most perfect sense of false security. It might, at least, have been justly supposed by him that whatever he might write would never have been perused by the Pope or the people of Ireland. The consequence was that they had the hon. Baronet, from this sense of security, blurting out his mind in a manner that certainly, he thought, would not induce him to boast of his skill as a diplomatist in Rome. He would not try to make a point of the hon. Baronet's denial, that he did not recollect ever having written such a letter. He would, however, say that he did not manifest much skill as a diplomatist in writing such a letter. There was one thing which might be said in its favour. There was no mistake as to the meaning of it. The meaning of it was this. The hon. Baronet wished to inveigle the Pope into appointing the nominee of the late Government to the Archbishopric of Dublin. The hon. Baronet was empowered by the late Government to hold out certain promises, certain considerations to the Court of Rome; and what was worse was that these considerations and promises had evidently not been intended to be performed. Until the Dublin Archbishopric was decided he must continue at the Yatican—that was to say, that the Pope was to be amused, duped, and kept in good humour, and cheated with what he would not hesitate to call dishonest hints, that Lord Granville might open diplomatic relations with the Vatican favouring Catholicity in India and Malta. When the case with regard to the Archbishopric was decided there would be very little further care taken as to the humour which the Pope would be in. He did not like to trust himself to express his opinion about this miserable, unworthy intrigue on the part of an English Minister, and still more on the part of an English Catholic diplomatist. One thing they might congratulate themselves upon, and that was that the diplomacy broke down. The whole thing seemed to be similar to that kind of brilliant success which had characterized the diplomacy of the late Government in other matters. The plot had utterly failed. Lord Granville appeared to be the only person who was in the least imposed upon by the diplomacy of the hon. Baronet. The hon. Baronet, at all events, got his I Baronetcy, but Dr. Moran did not get his Archbishopric. He congratulated the hon. Baronet upon having kept Lord Granville in good humour; but the Pope, whom he sneered at in private conference with Lord Granville, seemed to have taken the measure of the hon. Baronet in the whole transaction pretty truly. He aid not know how this matter was regarded by English public opinion; but he rather suspected, from the pains taken by the late Government to keep it from the public eye, that they had an uneasy feeling that it would not tend much to their credit among the constituencies at the next General Election. As far as the Irish people were concerned, they regarded it as a vile insult to the Papacy, as well as an outrage upon their own liberty and independence. People, he thought, must regard with humiliation and disgust the spectacle of the English admirers of Cavour and Mazzini sneaking over to the Vatican and endeavouring to get privileges in a miserable and Machiavellian manner. They would appreciate the attempt to invoke the temporal power of the Pope against the liberties and nationality of the Irish people. He ventured to say that after the hon. Baronet had been heard the House would have to admit that the document he had read was a perfectly genuine one, and that the meaning was perfectly clear on the face of it. It seemed to him that the present Government had no course open to them now except to publish every scrap of writing which was in the Foreign Office on this subject. If it was possible to disprove the disgraceful inferences which must be drawn from this letter, it could only be done by the publication of all the Minutes concerning the Mission of the hon. Baronet. Then, at all events, the English and Irish public would be able to appreciate both the religions professions of the hon. Baronet and the morality—the delicate political morality—of the late Government, who were so horror-stricken at the imaginary compact with the Representatives of Ireland, and who were now detected in an attempt to establish a secret, and, what was worse, a dishonest compact with the Pope.


Before I say the few words I have to say—and they will be much more in the form of an explanation than any contribution to the debate—I wished at first to ask a little further information as to how the document or letter that has been alluded to got into the possession of the hon. Member for Mallow. On second thoughts, I think any such inquiry would be superfluous. One of two things must be absolutely certain. Either this document is not genuine—in that case it must have been forged—or, if it is genuine, it can only have been obtained by a most gross breach of the most elementary laws of honesty and of honour. In fact, Sir, it must have been stolen. I refrain from charging the hon. Member for Mallow with any direct complicity in either one or other of these two alternative transactions. It is enough for me to know this—that he is in possession of a document so obtained, and that he is endeavouring to use it in I this House so as to make it impossible for me to give any explanation whatever with regard to it. I received a few days ago from the hon. Member the following note:— Sir,—I beg to give you notice that as the Forms of the House prevent me from asking you whether you are the writer of the letter to Lord Granville, published in this week's United Ireland, I mean to bring the letter before the House on the Appropriation Bill on Monday, so that you will then have an opportunity of avowing or denying the authority of the letter. I must say that on receiving this letter, even from the writer of it, such a citation as this appeared to me quite preposterous. My first impression was that not only I should not be called upon, but should not even have been justified in taking any notice whatever of it, or in coming down here. I thought it should be treated, as I always treat such attacks coming from such quarters, with the indifference and contempt they deserve. On consideration, however, I felt if I were absent I might appear wanting in that courtesy and deference which is due to you, Sir, and the House in general; and, on the other hand, I felt this—that there was no place where I could more effectively appeal to the best principles of honesty, honour, and self-respect than in this House, and no place where any infraction of those principles would be more thoroughly condemned. I owe no duty to make any answer or afford any information whatever to any inquirer or inquiry of this sort.


You owe it to the Pope.


Order, order!


If I were to answer to the extent of one word, I should be assisting the hon. Member for Mallow in the ultimate object which he has in view. I should be aiding him in entering upon a discussion in relation to matters the full responsibility of which I am willing to bear to all who have the slightest claim to call me to account. Therefore, taking this view of my position and responsibility, I prefer leaving such a weapon I as the hon. Member for Mallow says he has obtained, and seeks to use, unheeded in his hands.


said, he wished to call attention to the inability of the hon. Baronet to deny the specific charges which had been brought against Mm by the hon. Member for Mallow. There was a literal document put forward which he had not the manliness either to acknowledge or disprove. He had no reasonable explanation to make for conduct which was utterly indefensible. His whole action in regard to the Vatican was of the most reprehensible character. He had deliberately attempted to mislead the Pope or the advisers of the Pope; but he was quite certain that they would not listen to him for one moment. He had endeavoured to influence parties whom he believed might indirectly communicate with the Pope. He, as a Catholic, certainly held that anyone who would act as the hon. Member for Longford did acted most improperly by that Church. He contended that the Parliament in this country, having refused to authorize the Government to send a properly accredited Representative of Great Britain to the Holy See, it was only the Catholic Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops of England and Ireland who had a right to communicate with the Vatican in reference to purely spiritual matters. He regarded the intriguing and under-handed action of the late Government with the Holy See as disgraceful, and as opposed to general English feeling; and he trusted that the result of the conduct of the Whig Party in this matter would be to place them in a minority at the next General Election. He thought that the present Government were bound to publish, in the form of a Blue Book, all the Correspondence that had passed in relation to this matter between Earl Granville and the hon. Baronet.


said, that the hon. Baronet had virtually acknowledged having written the document in question; and it was interesting to compare that circumstance with some of the explanations and speeches of the late Prime Minister, wherein he conveyed to the House that his Government knew nothing of any communications carried on with the Vatican. He was not surprised, however, at now learning of the underhand way in which they had conducted negotiations at Borne. He regarded the action of the Government in this matter as thoroughly dishonest. The Irish Members, much as they condemned the Whig Government, did not deem them capable of descending to such measures as this. They had all a recollection of the pamphlets written by the Leader of the late Government, who had in a moment of exceptional candour condemned the Vatican. What, therefore, were they to think of the action of the Government in this matter? He certainly hoped that the present Government would disclose the whole of these negotiations which the document which had been read disclosed. He also hoped that the Vatican and the hierarchy would learn from this a lesson as to the value to be attached to any communication from a Whig Administration. Certainly the Irish people would not easily forget the class of men with whom they had had to deal in the case of the so-called Liberal Administration.