MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
I rise, Sir, to ask the leave of the House to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the perilous aggravation of the destitution of the people of the county of Donegal, and the danger to the public peace arising from the combined action of the Government and the landlords.
Leave was given, and
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
The matter upon which I move the Adjournment is indeed of urgent public importance. No minor political issues would have induced me to take such a step. It is because I believe that the effect of the Motion will be to direct public attention to the condition of Donegal, and many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives may be involved. In the county of Donegal the people, even in their best times—even in what are prosperous times for Ireland generally—are never tolerably well off. The Chief Secretary to-day answered my question, with the little official information supplied him, that the inhabitants of Donegal had commenced to live on Indian meal somewhat earlier in the present year than usual. I hope the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members do not know the physical and mental discomforts of a low dietary of this kind. At the best of times the people of Donegal are under- 255 fed. In prosperous seasons, with fine harvests, they manage to eke out their existence by little additions to their usual famine diet; but in times of famine and distress, if ever there was a land that could be said to be under the shadow of death, it is Donegal as it is to-day. Very briefly I will lay before the House some few facts described in letters I have received, to show the actual state of destitution in the country, and then I will show the special circumstances that aggravate that destitution. We must remember Donegal is in a remote corner of Ireland, shut out from means of intercommunication with other counties, with no railways, except on the outskirts of the county. It is wild, moor-like, and barren, and the potato crop is the sole means of subsistence for the inhabitants, and when the potato crop fails the people are at famine's door. Many will recollect, and most of us will have read of, the social condition of Ireland at the time of the great potato disease of 1845. Donegal is at this instant in the same physical condition as were the people of Ireland then, threatened with the selfsame danger. I will not ask the House to simply accept my statement. I appeal to evidence. We must all respect that of the Irish priesthood. The Irish priesthood—I say it with not the less feeling of admiration because I worship at a different altar—have ever maintained a conspicuous part in Irish history, but in Donegal the Irish priest bears a still more conspicuous part; he is the sole defence of the people, their sole guardian, their sole protector. Low down in the scale of social position, ignorant—for no education has reached them—under-fed always from various physical and landlord reasons—the only educated person the Donegal peasant has in whom to place confidence and find sympathy is the Irish parish priest. It is the priest who advises the people in difficulties, who reconciles their disputes, who protects them in danger, who consoles them in sickness and adversity, who is a tower of strength to all. The Bishop of Raphoe—a great part of whose diocese consists of the county of Donegal, and includes my constituency—Dr. O'Donnell, wrote to me a letter inclosing one sent to himself in the confidence that exists between the parish priest and his Diocesan, by the Rev. 256 Patrick Logue, of Kilcar, in the Northern Division of Donegal. I will read the House a few extracts from this letter, which is dated from Kilcar, March 11—Relative to your Lordship's inquiries, I can safely say that the condition of the people in this parish—Kilcar, a large extensive mountainous parish—is much the same as in 1880. The potato crop has been as bad a failure in the last autumn as in the autumn of 1879. Some are buying Indian meal since Christmas in order to preserve the seed. Others are coming to me for the last fortnight asking for a trifle to buy meal, saying they are eating the seeds. They will get nothing on credit, as their shopkeepers here are struggling themselves and cannot afford to give. I firmly believe that not more than half the people of this parish will have sufficient seed.And now I turn to another passage—it illustrates so thoroughly what the parish priest is to these poor people, how he is guardian and comforter, and seeks to prevent aggravation of the distress. Father Logue goes on—I may, perhaps, mention that for the last few days Mr. Musgrave's (landlord's) process server is going through the parish accompanied by two of the Royal Irish serving ejectment processes. Looking at all these things, I am afraid, my Lord, that the situation of the poor people will be a sad one.Now, if the House will allow me, I will read an extract from a letter in which the foregoing letter was inclosed to me by the Bishop. It is dated Letterkenny, 12th March. After referring to the letter from Father Logue, describing the condition of Kilcar, Dr. O'Donnell says—Glencolumkille, the neighbouring parish, is still worse off. In West Donegal, Gweedore "—Father M'Fadden's parish, it will be remembered—the Two Bosses parishes, and several other districts are in the same plight.He goes on to say—It would be useful to find out whether the inhabitants of these parishes are not without seed for the coming spring, and in many instances without the prospect of food. In any case I thought it right to make the true state of affairs known to you, as representing South Donegal—and then comes the first faint indication from the Bishop of the organization making the distress worse, bad as it is in itself—Gweedore," says the Bishop of Raphoe, "is still treated as if the natives were. savages.257 [An hon. MEMBER: "Hottentots!"] Now, I come to another letter from gentleman who was sentenced in my presence—or, rather, I witnessed the mock trial. The sentence was pronounced next day, although we all knew what it was to be as well as the Castle. I refer to the Rev. Father Stephens, one of the most devoted men I ever came across in the course of my life. I say of Father Stephens, without hesitation, that I believe, if he could advance the good of these poor, poverty-stricken, half-starved, thinly-clad creatures, he would cheerfully lay down his life for them. He regards his own life and comfort as nothing compared with their social and spiritual needs, and this man has got six months' imprisonment, for, of course, the sentence will be enforced by the County Court. Father Stephens wrote to me on the 21st March, and he says in his letter—One very strong point in connection with the state of the district is this: that at the trial of Mr. John Kelly, for conspiracy with Father McFadden at Bunbeg—This was the first occasion on which Father McFadden was prosecuted, when he got two months' imprisonment, and immediately afterwards went through the length of England, receiving everywhere honours of which any Cabinet Minister might have been proud.At the trial of Father McFadden in connection with the Olphert Estate struggle Sergt. Kenny, of Falcarragh, one of the Crown witnesses, swore in cross-examination that he had been stationed in this district of Falcarragh for the last 14 years, and that he never knee the potato crop during all that time to be a bad as this year.Father Stephens tells me—This statement is to be found in the depositions in Mr. Kelly's trial.Then he gives a deplorable account of the struggle of the people, especially in the two townlands where events are, proceeding, which I made the subject of questions to-day. In the neighbourhood of Falcarragh, says the rev. gentleman—There are two townlands where, as the Chief Secretary admitted to-day, the inhabitants have been living on Indian meal for the last two months; they are the townlands most affected by the potato disease this year, and they are now afraid to plough their land, being in daily expectation of eviction.And now they have fallen victims to the proceedings of the crowbar 258 brigade. I have here another letter from Father Logue, the gentleman who wrote to his Bishop in confidence, and whose letter I would not have repeated without leave if it had not been referred to in the more extended report of the state of his parish he makes to me. The House will bear with these details on account of the gravity of the circumstances. It is far better to hear the words of these people than any amount of declamation from me. This is the further letter from the Rev. Patrick Logue, dated March 22—I have seen your question to the Chief Secretary relative to the Messrs. Musgrave's process server, and I have read the answers of Mr. Madden.It was the Solicitor General who answered my question—This process server (Byrne) may have come into the parish on a car, but during the days of his duties in Kilcar no car was employed by him or the Royal Irish. I have seen Byrne more than once walk through the parish with a policeman at each side of him.Here comes a remonstrance from the parish priest anxious that a slur should not be cast on the reputation of his parish.—I am in a position to say that if Byrne were serving processes in this parish for a hundred years not a hair of his head would be touched, not an angry word would be said to him, and well he knows this. I may tell you the poor people are quite mad, disgusted with the proceedings, as they say it will bring a bad name on the parish, at all times so peaceful under sufficient provocation.Then comes his statement as to the distress existing—I have been through the parish for the past fortnight, and found out more fully the circumstances of the people, and I can say with a safe conscience that the reports I have sent to the Bishop are underrated. Many of the people are eating the potato seed, and some are coming to me for a little money to buy Indian meal, that they may save, at least, a little seed. I did not imagine that they were in such circumstances until I had gone amongst them and found out the sad realities. I repeat it, this year is just as bad as 79–80. They have no credit. I cannot see how they will be able to struggle through until August without aid from some quarter, and from the Government quarter we need not, I suppose, expect much.No; except, perhaps, a battering ram. Then I have another report from another parish priest. These devoted men have in their hands, I say—distinctly speaking, from my own knowledge—the lives and destinies of these poor people—they are their only protection against the iron 259 hand of arbitrary power. This gentleman writes from another parish in the district. It is from the Rev. Peter Kelly, the parish priest of Dunphanagy. He writes on March 22, and says:—I have before me in the Freeman of March 27 your question re failure of potato crop in Gweedore. I wish this question could be put in such a way as would compel the Chief Secretary to give his authority for denying that the potato crop of last year has not been so great a ailure in Donegal as it was in 1879.I ask attention to these statements in contrast to the official information which lightly passes over this horrible distress, but which comes to us who know the reality, who have seen the scenes of misery in former days, with terrible emphasis. "The fact is," continues my correspondent—It is universally admitted to have been worse. This applies to the entire coast line and the mountains. In a former question several parishes were named as suffering peculiarly this year from failure of potatoes last season. Many parishes not named are quite as badly off in this respect as the ones named—for instance, Clondahnky or Dunfannaghy parish. I have been engaged for several weeks back at the half-yearly visitation of this parish, and I find that quite a large number of the peasant occupiers have little or no seed potatoes or oats; and, speaking generally, the quality of potatoes saved up under great difficulties for seed are of a very inferior quality. This holds for all the parishes around the seaboard.The Chief Secretary has never been to Donegal, but let him look and see what "all the parishes around the seaboard" means—I think it is to be greatly regretted that this matter has not been urged more than it has been on the attention of the Government. But with us locally in these parts,and here comes in the aggravation—here comes in the action of the Government, who, instead of playing the part of Good Samaritans, rub salt and vinegar into the wounds and help the landlords to take advantage of this distress—with us locally in these parts other things forced themselves on us too much "—he refers to the prosecutions of Father M'Fadden and Father Stephens—to admit of fuller attention to this one. It is now too late to do anything in the way of having seed provided for the poor people, and the consequences, I must believe, will be very serious. Mr. Balfour could have been answered on the former occasion when the failure of the potato crop was brought up, and when he denied it, by referring him to the sworn testimony of Sergeant Kenny, R.I.C.. Fal- 260 carragh, at Mr. John Kelly's trial a Bunbeg."—This evidence I have given in my reference to the letter from Father Stephens. This man swore against his own interest, for it is the interest of the Government to put the best face possible on these matters, and there is not a man of the Constabulary, from the Sub-Constable up to the Inspector General who does not give evidence with. his eye on the Treasury Bench. Respect for truth compelled him to make a statement which the Government will not, however, accept. Further, Father Kelly writes:—Shane O'Donnell, of Falcarragh, who is poor rate collector in his own and Gweedore parishes, holds that there has not been so complete a failure of potatoes since 1847.And now comes another contradiction to the statement which a gay Castle official. who does not care, put into the mouth of the Chief Secretary—Ordinary seed potatoes are now being sold for 6d. a stone. Usually they do not fetch more than 3d. or 2½d. or 2d.Sixpence is then a famine price, and be it observed that the people do not usually buy seed potatoes at all, so that to pay even 2d. means severe sacrifice to them.If the people were able to buy seed potatoes in sufficient quantities for their lands, there would be nearly enough to be had in all these parishes at any money. I never knew the people in any parish I have been in—and I have been over the greater part of the country—so far run down at they are here at present.. Their shop debts would be equal to a year's produce of their holdings all round, and the same may be said of all the parishes in the poorer parts of the country.In fact, these wretched holdings, which create horror in the minds of people who see them for the first time, are precisely of that class of holdings that come under those which Sir James Caird said at the best of times could pay no rent at all. They would pay no rent at all, or far less rent, but that it is collected by the Castle officials. The Chief Secretary gives the answers supplied to him by persons who are irresponsible to us but he might ask—the thought might occur to him—parish priests to give him information upon which he might rely. It is no pleasure to the Irish Party—for this question is raised by the Party; I would not make this 261 Motion on my own responsibility — to parade the misfortunes of our people; it is a most humiliating thing, and we would not do it except as a last resource. On the near approach of the famine of 1845 we had Government denials just as we have them now. The Chief Secretary, I dare say, sometimes reads the Dublin Evening Mail. In 1845 it had the same political views as now, and on Nov. 3 the Dublin Evening Mail made a statement that the Chief Secretary might have repeated to-day—" The potato crop far exceeds the average, and apprehensions are unfounded." At that time too, we, had Mr. Stanley—he was called Scorpion Stanley, and became famous afterwards as Lord Derby—declaring that apprehensions of potato famine were baseless. There was like wise a man of genius hovering round the skirts of the Conservative Party, but giving them a prod now and then, though their friend on an emergency—Lord George Bentinck. He said the famine was a gross dilusion. This was the view of the Press and Government of that day, but the gross delusion cost Ireland in deaths alone the loss of a million souls. Landlords exercised their harsh rights then, and people who were not destroyed outright were shipped off in thousands to America and elsewhere. Public opinion is too strong for that now, and it is to public opinion we appeal from the Government, with an unvarnished statement of facts. When a deputation from Achill in the days of 1845 waited upon Sir R. Rouse at Dublin Castle, and urged their claims for assistance, the gaunt looks of the members of the deputation supporting the appeal, they were met with refusal on the grounds of political economy, and with a reference to the writings of Edmund Burke. Would a Parliament in Dublin, even though composed of landlords, have allowed the people to starve? And now I have to refer to the aggravating circumstances of this destitution I have described in the words of parish priests. The poverty now prevailing in Donegal s aggravated by the Government striking down the natural leaders of the people, terrorizing the peasantry, and ending the forces of the Crown to carry out unjust evictions. Gweedore is probably the most destitute parish in Ireland, and it has been subjected to 262 needless trouble and cruelty by the circumstances attending the arrest of Father M'Fadden. I believe the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division would admit that during the two years he held the office of Irish Secretary not a single difficulty occurred in the whole county of Donegal, while he carried out a coercion régime under Lord Spencer. It was a crimeless county. What is it now? Dragooned by police, military, and resident magistrates. I do not regard these last as judicial, but as executive functionaries. All this has arisen from circumstances in connection with the arrest of Father M'Fadden. First let us consider what Father McFadden was arrested for. They have arrested him now on a charge of murder, and they are going to keep him in gaol until July next, that they can have a free hand to exterminate his parishioners. That is the real reason why he has been remanded. But what was his arrest for? It was for giving counsel, in his capacity of a parish priest, such as any Christian and just man ought to have given—namely, that the poor people ought to continue to retain their houses—or rather their wretched miserable hovels—for they are places which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would be very sorry to put his dog in, if he has one. The rev. gentleman had been arrested before. He was too good a man to escape arrest, and he regards his imprisonment as a high honour. And so did the English people among whom. he went after his last imprisonment, and who received him with joy and acclamation. Father M'Fadden was arrested on the last occasion on a Sunday, in the very midst of his congregation, and wearing his priestly vestments. The congregation consisted of some 500 persons, and yet only six policemen were sent to arrest the priest. I am extremely sorry for Martin's death, and we all regret it most deeply, but as this is a case involving the lives of the people, I am constrained to say that Martin was known to be an excitable man. The arrest was made under circumstances which were described to me by Father M'Fadden himself whilst I was sitting beside him in Court. Father McFadden laughed at and ridiculed the idea of his being charged with murder. He said he was quite expecting arrest, but not on. 263 that day. Mr. Martin, however, when the rev. gentleman came out of the chapel, went up to him and said, "I arrest you." Father M'Fadden asked where was the warrant, and a sergeant brought it up two or three minutes afterwards. Martin caught the rev. gentleman by the collar of his coat in a very savage manner, and at the same time drew his sword and brandished it over his head. A woman, seeing this violence, rushed in between the two. Father M'Fadden did his best to quieten her. Martin was still brandishing the sword. Another woman then called out, "They are murdering the priest." Then a melée took place, and Father M'Fadden and his sister were both hit. The priest turned back, at the risk of his life, to put a stop to the disturbance; but it was of no use. Well, I say that the Government are directly responsible for that occurrence. Father M'Fadden was put in prison, and then came the reign of terror. In all my experience I never recollect 46 persons being placed in the dock on a charge of murder. The police had a free hand. They went through the country and treated the people, as the Bishop of the diocese has stated, as if they were savages. The incidents of the arrest were something too shocking. They were characterized by both cruelty and cowardice. I have said that 46 persons were placed in the dock. Of the persons who were arrested and let off after being terrorized by the police there are no statistics. The whole district was like a country under siege. Men were actually known to hide in the caves of the earth and in the mountains for three weeks, to avoid the police. One man's mind was affected by the terror. They are very simple and primitive people, the only parallel to the completely patriarchial life in Donegal that I ever heard of being that to be found in the history of the Jesuits in Brazil. The Derry Journal of March 1889, states that a man named James M'Caffery attempted to commit suicide, thinking that the police were going to arrest him in connection with the murder. Another man, who was not at Derrybeg at all, went away and hid himself for three weeks. The Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden), when I asked him a question recently, admitted that two shots were fired, but 264 said they were fired for the purpose of signalling. I have often heard magnificent suggestions and explanations proceeding from Dublin Castle; but I never heard such an explanation as that before. It must have been received with a burst of laughter by Head Constable Mahoney, who was one of the heroes of that incident, and who has been promoted from the rank of sergeant on account of it. I find the case to be this. A man named Anthony Gallagher was walking in the district of Gweedore three weeks after the murder when Sergeant Mahoney called on him to stop. The man ran away and four constables followed him, three shots were fired at him, and, finally, when the police got up to him, Mahoney rushed up to him and, putting his revolver to his breast, asked where the other men were. There was absolutely no evidence against Gallagher and he was subsequently released from custody. A man named Cafferty also ran from two policemen, one of whom was Varrally, who gave evidence in favour of Father M'Fadden, and a shot was fired at him. Now I come to the cowardice, and you will always perceive that cruelty and cowardice go hand in hand. The cruelty that has been perpetrated is of so odious and vile a character that it would not, I believe, be tolerated on a slave-dhow manned by Arabs. Her Majesty's Ship Banterer arrived at noon on one day and landed policemen on the islands surrounding Gweedore. Twenty men were arrested and handcuffed. The inspector put the keys of the handcuffs in his pocket, and put the prisoners in a boat, remaining on shore himself. The prisoners were tossing about handcuffed in a cockle-shell boat on a rough and dangerous sea during a severe storm from 1 p.m. till 4 p.m. When the Banterer again appeared the naval officers told the constables that they could not take the prisoners on board handcuffed, but they were eventually taken into the vessel, where they lay huddled together, handcuffed, and with their wrists bleeding, until the morning. When they reached Gweedore barracks they were discharged by a constable on his own responsibility. And what was the reason for this treatment? The police wanted to strike terror and dismay into the breasts of the people, so that when the battering- 265 rams came, and the country was to be cleared, the Chief Secretary might be able to say, in his gayest tones, that the evictions had been effectual. One man was arrested four times, and at 4 a.m. on March 6th, the Rifles, the Scots Greys, and all the police, took possession of all the roads and began to march through a district sixteen miles in circumference. They moved slowly down to the shore searching every house and barn, and smashing in the doors. They arrived on the shore at about 6 a.m., having made no arrests. The fact is, they did not care to make any arrests. What they wanted to do was, to strike terror into the hearts of the people, and so carry out the Government policy. The police and soldiers suffered severely, it is said, from cold and hunger, and I think their rulers ought to have suffered severely from the pangs of conscience, if they have any consciences. Raids also took place on two other occasions, and doors were broken open. Well, I believe, on my honour, that Father M'Fadden is kept in prison to-day on this got-up charge of murder simply to keep him from protecting the tenants. I will show the House conclusively that the removable Court, before which he has been appearing, is as much a part of the Castle machinery as Head Constable Mahoney himself. Father M'Fadden was arrested on the 3rd of February, and the Assizes took place on the 4th or 5th of March. Between the two dates Father M'Fadden was remanded three or four times. No evidence whatever was adduced against him until after the Assizes had closed, and then came the police evidence, which was all in Father M'Fadden's favour. He was not brought up at the Assizes, but was kept in prison, and is to be kept there until July, in order that the work of eviction may go on. On Monday, March 4th, I saw Father M'Fadden in the court, and, though I have seen poverty in all its forms, I never saw a more pitiable spectacle than I witnessed in the streets of Derry that day. There were a number of poor and miserable creatures, with despair on their faces, walking two and two, with handcuffs actually dug into their flesh. It was snowing at the time. The men were lugged like so many pigs into a third class carriage. After them, in a cab, came two women, 266 with no hats on, with very thin shawls, and wretched gowns. One of them had a child in her arms, and the cold wind seemed to be almost freezing the marrow in the poor creature's bones. I saw Captain Hamilton, in court, act a remarkable part. It was the third or fourth remand, and Captain Hamilton stated to Mr. Ros, the Crown Counsel, that he could not understand the remands being so frequent. However, although this reprimand was given to the Crown Counsel, they were not remanded finally until the 30th of March. And why was that? If they had been remanded finally on March 4th or March 8th, Father M'Fadden would have been sent to the Assizes. After the 4th of March there were no less than ten remands. The fact proves that the men on the Bench were as completely the servants of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) as a figure in Punch and Judy is the creature of the man who pulls the strings. The Solicitor General for Ireland (Sergeant Madden), in reply to a question put by some hon. Gentleman from England who takes an interest in these matters, stated that nothing unusual occurred in the remanding of Father McFadden on the charge of wilful murder. We can scarcely get Englishmen to believe the methods which are used in Ireland. I have stated that the Government are cruel, and that their Administration is cruel in these matters, and I now turn to the question of evictions, which are going on at this day, and which are necessarily fresh in our minds. I would ask this question—Why is not the Sheriff employed at these evictions, and why are emergency men, full of loyalty and mischief, employed—men of straw against whom no action can be brought and who have no responsibility. I should have been treating the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary unfairly if, in the spirit of Party, I had overstated the case. The right hon. Gentleman has admirers in Dublin, but I charge him with having raised a spirit of sectarian hatred in the country. At a meeting of the Donegal Temperance Loyal Orange Lodge, No. 832, the Worshipful Master in the chair, a resolution was passed condemning the cold-blooded murder of the late District Inspector Martin while in the peaceful discharge of his legal duty to his Queen, Country, 267 and Constitution, under the eye of his parish priest, and expressing their unwavering confidence in "our superior, excellent, and redoubtable champion, Mr. Balfour, Chief Secretary." There is a pinnacle of fame for the right hon. Gentleman. May that superior, excellent and redoubtable champion of the Orange party long be spared to them, and I may say that we on this side of the House would be sorry not to have him, as we consider him a great friend of ours although he does not appear to know it. In conclusion I must express my gratitude to the House for the patience with which it has heard me. I have only to add that I have instituted this action under the advice of my hon. Friends. I believe that in Donegal the whole procedure of the Courts of Justice is prostituted to political ends, and if no protest were made against this there would be a repetition of the scenes of 1846, and thousands of lives might be lost. For my part I have no apprehension of the result, for sooner or later there must be an end to this régime. I move the Adjournment of the House.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Mac Neill.)
§ *MR. STUART (Hoxton)
In seconding the Motion, I desire to say that the speech just addressed to the House has been full of earnestness and of telling and solid facts, and in seconding the Motion made by the hon. Gentleman I shall detain the House but a very short time. I have risen to perform this duty because of my own connection with Father M'Fadden, and because of what I have myself observed in relation to the district during the past few years. The last speaker has drawn a vivid picture of the misery of the peasants of Gweedore. That misery is a chronic misery. I think one of the most painful records of this House is the Blue Book containing the proceedings of the Committee which inquired into the condition of the peasantry of Gweedore a considerable number of years ago. The narrative of those proceedings shows that the people of Gweedore are an ignorant people, but they have a great deal of natural nobility of character, are a very virtuous people, and very free from crime and drunkenness. But there are, of all things in the world, 268 three things which characterize them. First of all they have great veneration for their priests—a veneration which is worthily placed by them in those men. In the second place, they display a love for their homes and an extreme terror of those homes being torn down or destroyed; and, in the third place, they have a continual and an enduring belief that the landlords and the Government are one and the same thing. Now, Sir, the Government have attacked these peasants of Donegal on all these three points. They have placed their beloved priest under arrest on a charge of murder upon a class of evidence which, I will venture to say, no one can enter into without feeling its unworthiness. They have closed his mouth as a witness in respect of what occurred. They have been sending battering rams and other means of destroying the houses of the poor peasantry, and I think enough has already been said to show that they have been identifying landlordism with the Government. Now, Sir, why do the Government do nothing on the other side? It may be that they are sadly necessitated to connect this priest with the murder—I will make that admission if they wish it. It may be, also, they are under the sad necessity of tearing down and destroying the houses in which this miserable people might, by seeking refuge there, render themselves criminals; and it may be the sad and unfortunate necessity of the Government to bring to bear the forces of the law in support of a system of landlordism which is essentially unjust. But, if this be so, surely it is their duty to try and hold as even a hand as they can, and surely, when there is so much good evidence of the immense sufferings and poverty, starvation and famine, in Donegal, it is their duty to make the most minute inquiries, and even to go further than those inquiries. I think that a good case is made out, if for nothing else, for their interference in some way, to shelter from famine those poor people of Donegal, whose natural shelter they have removed—for the shelter of the Donegal people has been their good priests, such as Father M'Fadden, men who have withstood the iron hail which the landlords have showered against them, and have remained the friends, and just friends of the people. The settlement Father 269 M'Fadden made a full year ago on the Gweedore estate was made with the full concurrence of the Crown Solicitor, and the Resident Magistrate, Mr. Bourke, took an active part in assisting to bring about the settlement. Father M 'Fadden' s share in it was this—that when he saw a settlement made that was admitted by the Crown Solicitor to be just, he undertook the collection of the rents, and in eleven days he collected £1,500, the whole sum he had undertaken to collect, and which not the whole of the armed forces of the Crown could have got without him. Perhaps I ought to say he did not collect it all; for, finding he was £150 short, he paid that sum out of his own pocket. Well, what happened? It was when he was promoting this settlement on the estate of one who is nearly allied to the head of the Government in Ireland, that the Government came down on him and he was cast into prison. The result was that terror and agitation reigned in Gweedore. I hold in my hand a letter in reply to one which I myself wrote for the purpose of ascertaining the state of things there; the curate said the excitement was so great that it took him all his time to keep the people quiet, and he added that what had been the great difficulty there was to collect such a sum of money from the poor people, "but the sum needed was collected and paid over to the Crown Solicitor to be given to the landlord—the same Solicitor who is now prosecuting Father M'Fadden." If the excitement was so great when he was arrested on a charge of conspiracy, cannot the House understand the feelings of the people when Father M'Fadden was arrested on a charge of murder? The tenants of Gweedore had been living on the charity of the world—or rather, not the tenants but the landlords. I have a letter from Father M'Fadden himself, in which he describes the way in which he collected the rent. He tells of how eagerly the people make the effort to pay, and mentions the case of Hanna Sweeney, whose payment was £1 8s. 9d.—a fact showing how small the tenancies are, there being 940 tenants from whom the £1,500 was obtained. Father M'Fadden also speaks of money that was sent over from America and the Colonies, and also contributed by girls in service. Well, what was the result of all this? The result 270 was that the people were kept in their homes, so that you can easily see what grounds there are for the confidence of the people in Father M'Fadden, and their reverence for him, and the danger there is in his wanton removal by an imprisonment of six months. Why, I ask, are the Government passing over the Assizes and keeping his trial back till July? When I was there there were very few tenants in that part of the country who have got a judicial rent, and the reason for this lies in the matter of sub-division. This question of subdivision is an exceedingly difficult one. There are something like 150 or 200 tenants, who got the judicial rents awarded three years ago, and every one of them had their cases put through by Father M'Fadden. He has been their shelter and their rock of defence, but the Government have removed him. If he be guilty, if the Government have reason to think him guilty of murder—why do they not try him? They will have no more evidence in consequence of all this hurrying backwards and forwards, and carrying so many shivering creatures about, not only on the railway, but in cars on the roads over those bleak mountains. The Government will get no evidence they have not already, and all the evidence they have is police evidence. Father M'Fadden has not only been the people's priest and defender against the landlord, but he has also been their medical man and engineer. From top to bottom of the whole system we find the moving influence exercised by such men as Father M'Fadden. I think I have made out that by the arrest of Father M'Fadden the Government have removed a bulwark and a rock of defence which has been a great assistance in the protection of the people of this district. They have sided with the landlords, but I would ask the Chief Secretary what has he done for the poor, and what is to take the place of that which he has removed? What has he done to bring contentment and order into the misery and confusion he has left behind, and if he has done nothing,, what does he intend to do?
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Mac Neill.)
§ *THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester,
The debate has wandered over a great variety of topics, some of them large and some of them small, and I might have been able to give hon. Gentlemen who have manifestly come down with prepared speeches fuller information if they had advised me of their intention to bring forward this Motion.
§ MR. STUART
Allow me to make a personal explanation. I had no knowledge of this Motion until I came down to the House.
MR. MAC NEILL
I certainly knew of the intention to bring this Motion forward, but I purposely omitted to give any intimation because I feared that if I did so some notice would be placed on the Paper which would have prevented the Motion being made.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not make it a matter of complaint; but I mentioned it in order to state that, if hon. Gentlemen choose to raise such a debate without Notice, they, have themselves to blame if they do not get as full and satisfactory an answer as they desire. It is absolutely impossible for the Minister, under such circumstances, to give the same detailed information he would otherwise like to give. I certainly thought the hon. Member who introduced the subject would have been able to make a more satisfactory explanation of the want of notice. With regard to some of the matters which have been mentioned, it is not necessary that I should say a word. Both the Mover and the Seconder, in the exercise of their rights as Members of Parliament, have thought it right to refer to matters which are still pending in a Court of law—namely, those relating to the arrest and trial of Father M'Fadden. It is a very bad precedent, and I shall not endorse it by following it. The Mover has given a long and sensational account of the incidents that attended the arrests in connection with the murder of District Inspector Martin. Those who are acquainted with that transaction know that a large crowd of persons took part in it; and it was consequently inevitable that a large number of arrests should be made I deny, however, that any unnecessary hardship has been inflicted by the police in making the arrests. The hon. Member has made the usual attack on the Resident Magistrates, and has repeated the old cry that, because their 272 tenure of office is not a permanent one, they are the mere tools of Dublin Castle. That is an ancient complaint; but all those who are acquainted with the Government of Ireland know that it is a suggestion that has been repudiated in as strong language as any I can use by right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the Bench opposite, and who have been responsible for the government of Ireland. Hon. Gentlemen who make this charge are really not very wise in their generation, for the same charges of unfairness and of dependence on the Castle are also levelled against the County Court Judges, who are irremovable and absolutely independent of the Executive.
MR. MAC NEILL
I referred to Judge Webb, and I said that I had a great personal regard for him except when he came to adjudicate upon these cases. He is well-known to be a member of the Loyal and Patriotic Rest Society.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I cannot see what the explanation of the hon. Member has to do with the matter. My remark was simply that the Resident Magistrates are attacked on the ground that they are removable, and, therefore, the creatures of Dublin Castle, and the same charge is levelled against the County Court Judges who hear the appeals from the decisions of the Resident Magistrates, and who are absolutely irremovable. It is easy to estimate the value of such accusations against the tribunals of the country when we find the same charges made against the Resident Magistrates because they are dependent on the Government, and also against the County Court Judges who are not dependent on the Government. Another charge made by the hon. Member against the Government is that a police witness in this case appeared in the witness-box who was not absolutely sober. No doubt that was a serious matter from a disciplinary point of view, but how can it be made a matter of charge against the Government or the Resident Magistrates? I pass from that part of the hon. Gentleman's speech to the remarks he made with regard to certain evictions which are now going on. The hon. Gentleman complained that in the evictions on the Olphert Estate the agent of the landlord has been employing special 273 bailiffs, and not the officers of the sheriff; but this is left quite optional under the Act of 1887, and before that Act the employment of special bailiffs was in every case the invariable and necessary practice. Mr. Olphert, or his agent, in employing special bailiffs is only doing what he would have been obliged to do two years ago. I cannot see what the grievance is in regard to this point, nor is it one with which the Government, the Resident Magistrates, or the police have anything to do. They cannot decide whether special bailiffs shall be employed or the agents of the sheriff. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last complained that battering-rams have been used by the police to support the landlords' agents and destroy the tenants' houses. As a matter of fact, these battering-rams have been constructed and are solely employed for the protection of the lives and limbs of the police. What has been the course of procedure which has rendered them necessary? The National League sent down an emissary of their own to induce the tenants to combine under the Plan of Campaign.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then the National League. The people are prevailed upon to pay their money into "the war chest," and they thus are deprived of all opportunity of settling or making an arrangement with their landlord. When an attempt is made to evict them they barricade their houses,
Bridges are broken down and roads destroyed, boiling water is poured on the police, weapons of a most formidable kind are used, and the resistance is often prolonged for hours, during which both the police and the persons offering this resistance are exposed to great danger. Being responsible for the executive government of Ireland, I feel that I should be guilty of a grave dereliction of duty if I did not do all in my power to put an end to such scandalous scenes, and therefore it is that these battering-rams have been constructed for the purpose of affording protection to the police in the discharge of their duty. There cannot be a more innocent, a more harmless, and a more effective method of carrying out that object. The 274 hon. Member for Hoxton (Mr. Stuart) says that battering-rams are being used to back up an unjust system of landlordism, and I am curious to know what the hon. Gentleman means by landlordism. When a gentleman of culture and education uses the word in that House he must attach a meaning to it. Does he mean property in land? If not, what does he mean? If he does, is it to be understood that he objects to it? Does he adopt the idea of some that there ought to be no property in land? Can he suggest any scheme by which property in land is to be a reality and not a sham, and yet in which at some stage, sooner or later, when the tenant deliberately refuses to fulfil his legal obligations, the law is not to step in and enforce the obligations sanctioned by the law? If that is landlordism, then I say that landlordism ought to be supported. If it is not I wait with great interest to learn what is meant by the expression. I will not lay down so extravagant a proposition as that every landlord is always right, but I emphatically assert that on these estates in Donegal, where the Plan of Campaign has been in operation, the iron sleet "has not been poured by landlords upon tenants, but it has been poured by those who, unfortunately, had it in their power to influence tenants to adopt the Plan of Campaign. I do not propose to frame an indictment against priests or one of them; but I say that if any priest in Donegal has been instrumental in starting among his flock the Plan of Campaign, it may have served the interests of a political Party, but it has not served the interests of the tenants. We are told that it has been adopted on the Olphert estate. Until a few years ago, and through all the bad years of 1878 and 1881–2, the landlord was in perfect harmony with his tenants; he was a resident landlord, and he was recognized as a good landlord and it was the intervention of irresponsible parties that had brought upon the peasantry the evils of eviction and all the attendant horrors that have been so loudly complained of. The hon. Gentleman spoke with evident feeling —a feeling with which, if he will permit me to say so, I fully sympathize—of the distress which exists in Donegal; and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has complained of the Govern- 275 ment for not making inquiry into the extent and nature of that distress. His complaint is unjust, for an inquiry has been made. I have from time to time taken such means as I could, through such channels as were open to me, to acquaint myself with the condition of things in Donegal, and the information I have more than once received and communicated to the House does not bear out the sensational statements that have been made by the hon. Gentleman.
*MR. MAC NEILL
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I may remind him that he was once asked the date of a Report and he did not know it.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I was probably, as usual, asked without notice. I have made inquiry, and I have just received a telegraphic summary of the results of another inquiry in Donegal.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman who interrupts me knows very well that for such information I can appeal only to magistrates, the police, and the Inspectors of the Local Government Board.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will leave it to the hon. Gentleman to supply an answer to his own question. The telegraphic summary I have just received states that there is not the slightest ground for believing that there is any distress which the ordinary Poor Law cannot deal with; the potato crop of last year is not up to the average, but the falling off is chiefly in the size of the potato and is not due to disease; and it is believed there is more money in the country than usual. The cause of this is probably the rise in the price of stock. On property on which tenants have been allowed to pay their landlords, they have paid in many cases a portion of their arrears as well as their rents; stock is fetching good prices; pigs sell well; there is a good crop of oats with plenty of straw; tenants are buying meal, but that is usual in these months unless the potato crop has been good; on most farms people are hard at work; and there is no difficulty in getting seed potatoes at 6d. a stone or less. [Several hon. MEMBERS: "Six- 276 pence?"] A similar famine cry was raised last year in regard to the Ardmore estate when evictionswere pending; but the Plan of Campaign was not adopted on the Ardmore estate; the tenants paid their rent and nothing more was heard of famine. My informant says that he never heard anything of destitution or of famine in connection with this district. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not interpret what I am saying as indicating that there is no poverty in Donegal. I do not deny that there is great poverty, for there has been chronic poverty in parts of Donegal; but no Gentleman opposite has suggested a remedy for the poverty in these congested districts of Ireland. It is admitted it is not to be met by dealing with rents, for the rents range from £2 to £3, or, say, a shilling a-week. No labourer in England gets a house for a shilling a-week, and, if the rents are small, still more insignificant and microscopic is the difference between the tenants and the landlords in respect of their amount. It is absolutely futile and absurd to suppose that if the rent was got rid of altogether that of itself would produce a happy and prosperous tenantry. It seems to be supposed that this and other evils are to be cured by the mere establishment of a Parliament in Dublin. I do not dispute the wisdom of the measures which a Parliament in Dublin will pass when such a Parliament is established, and I suppose that the hon. Gentleman expects to be one of the ornaments of that Parliament; yet he does not suggest to this House any way of dealing with this chronic poverty. I accept the fact of that poverty, and I deplore it, but do not let us be led away by the cry that it is altogether due to the action of the landlords. It is due to a cause which has been mentioned by the bon. Member for Hoxton—the subdivision of land against the wish of the landlords. It is not because land is over-rented, but because it is overcrowded, that there is chronic poverty, and until means are suggested by which overcrowding can be diminished, it is in vain to talk of landlordism, to protest against evictions, and to try to make political capital out of the lamentable incidents which attend them. No man can deplore more than I do the necessity for these evictions. The Plan of Campaign is responsible for 277 them. No man can deplore more than I do the poverty from which some of these poor people suffer, but neither this Government nor any other Government has been responsible for that poverty, and I have not yet heard from any Irish patriot any reasonable solution of the evils.
§ MR. O'HEA (Donegal, W.)
Sir, we are becoming accustomed to the sophistical speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Of course the Irish Nationalists and the Plan of Campaign are, in his mind, the causes of the great distress that at present prevails in Donegal. During the course of his speech, he only very faintly touched upon the substantive portion of the Motion put on the Paper by my hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman complained at the outset that this Motion was sprung upon the House; but let me remind him that there have been a series of questions on the Paper in this House, day after day, for upwards of a month, and the information at the command of the right hon. Gentleman must have been fully adequate to enable him to make the speech which he has just delivered. He complained that two of my hon. Friends had discussed a case which was sub judice; but, Sir, that complaint comes rather badly from one who proceeded at length, and in detail, to discuss a case which is pending, for he discussed the case of Father Stephens, who has to take his trial to-morrow. He referred to the condition of things in the parish of Falcarragh, and he denounced, with all the strength of language and vituperation at his command, the attempts we are making to redress the grievances, and to alleviate the sufferings of the unfortunate people in that district. The right hon. Gentleman asks why we have no nostrum to put forward. He admits there is a great deal of suffering and destitution, and I think an answer to his question is contained in the treatment both of Father Stephens and of Father McFadden. When reasonable offers of settlement are being made, they are met with contumely, and indignantly and contumaciously spurned. The two men who are the victims of a Crimes Act prosecution are, I believe, as beloved as any clergymen in Ireland. I refer to Father McFadden and Father Stephens. Father Stephens 278 endeavoured to act as mediator in a case in which his own people were under notice of eviction; Father McFadden did the same. As to bow the efforts of these gentlemen were received, I propose, with the permission of the House, to quote shortly from a letter received by Father McFadden from Mr. Henry Nixon, the owner of an estate in his district. Father McFadden used every effort that a human being could use for the purpose of bringing about a friendly and just settlement between this landlord and his tenants, and the words of Mr. Nixon which I propose to read will speak more eloquently than any words I could utter. "I may tell you," writes this Gentleman,that I would not now accept 99 per cent of all the rent and costs due to me, as I am going to clear the two townlands of Dringlass and Glaasachoo. It is my land that I want now; remember they are living on my land so long as I let them. I have ample private means, and will set aside a certain sum yearly in order to clear them out. In doing this I am only following out the scriptural pretext—They say a certain sable gentleman always quotes Scripture when it suits his purpose—the scriptural pretext that a man may do what he likes with his own. I am so determined on this, that in five, or at least ten years, there will not probably be a single family left there.That, Sir, is how many landlords have behaved, and it shows how those who are honestly and sincerely working to establish peace and bring about an amicable settlement, are met. I now turn to another property in Father McFadden's district, a property which about an about 45 years ago produced a rental of from four to five hundred pounds. That rental has now been trebled, and no doubt the holdings are small ones. The Chief Secretary has referred to small holdings, and has instituted a comparison between the occupiers and farmers who live upon these holdings, and English agricultural labourers. But the right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that these unfortunate people have to support themselves with what they can get out of this cold, inhospitable soil. They and their families not only have to labour on these holdings, but for at least three months in the year the men have to go away to work elsewhere, in order to 279 get money for the support of their families during the winter. I was particularly struck, two years ago, when I visited Gweedore, and in Father McFadden's church saw about thirty men and three or four hundred women worshipping. I asked where all the men were, and was informed that they had left in order to earn money in the harvest fields in the north of England and Scotland. I went with Father McFadden through the district, and I saw a most revolting condition of things, at a place where unfortunate people who had been evicted a short time before were endeavouring to keep body and soul together. They were living under a few boards; they were warming themselves over one or two lumps of peat; women and children were huddled together, and I saw a few potatoes about the size of marbles. My hon. Friend has expressed himself in terms of great alarm lest the scenes of the famine of 1846 and 1847 should again be enacted in this district. Mr. Tuke, in his description of the famine in Donegal, says that nothing could describe the dreadful condition of the people, many of whom were living on a single meal of cabbage a day, and some were even reduced to eating the seaweed. I fear very much that the Government may be brought face to face with a similar condition of things during the coming autumn. I hope we shall not again witness hundreds of people going to the workhouses, and refused admission. I hope that those who are admitted will not be treated and not be subjected to the same sufferings as occurred during the former famine, when there was no bedding in the workhouse; the people were obliged to lay in rows on dirty straw, half-a-dozen, perhaps, under one rug, and not a blanket to be seen. Sir, that is not a pleasant outlook. The right hon. Gentleman has painted in roseate colour what he thinks are the prospects of the coming autumn; but I think the opinions of hon. Members who know a good deal of this district ought to be held in a little higher regard than they now are. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the protection of the police by the Regulars, and the protection of the bailiffs by the police, and said that extraordinary and criminal things had occurred in the 280 course of these evictions. But, Sir, if a settlement could only be come to, if the landlords of the district would only open their eyes to the reasonable demands of tenants—there would be no necessity for dragooning the district. From my own knowledge of Gweedore and Falcarragh, I believe that if the place were surrounded by a wall of brass, and if the right hon. Gentleman placed in it men who were compelled to subsist on what they could get from the land, in two years there would be a raging famine, and two years later there would be a catacomb of bones spread over the district. The people of the district of Gweedore are cruelly oppressed: it is a landlord-ridden district. We have learned from an hon. Member of this House, who sat on a Sub-Commission, that he recommended a reduction of 25 per cent in the rents on the Olphert estate, but his brother Commissioners refused to accede to his suggestion. Thus, the rents have been kept at an inordinate level, and this will explain why it is that this battering ram and all the other methods of attack have been brought into requisition, and why it is that Father Stephens has been taken away from his people, and will probably be kept in durance for some time. You have taken away from these people their guide, the man who could best advise and help them, and you are so treating him because he has been suggesting a remedy for their troubles. And the same is the case in regard to Father M'Fadden. My bon. Friend the Member for South Donegal did not, in the smallest degree, exaggerate when he referred to the condition of the unfortunate people who are now waiting their trial.. I saw these people, handcuffed together, marched on a snowy day through the streets of Derry; I saw-them standing in the dock, and I saw one poor woman with an infant in her arms. The condition of these poor people was as wretched as is possible; yet they all had an appearance of Arcadian simplicity. Father M'Fadden is now removed from the district, and goodness knows what may occur in consequence of his arrest and prosecution. It suits the policy of the landlords, and possibly the policy of the Government, to do this; but I believe the verdict of public opinion will be entirely 281 on Father M'Fadden's side. There is no one who deplores more than we do the unfortunate assassination of District Inspector Martin, but the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has himself made the admission that the deceased officer acted with considerable rashness, and certainly nothing could be more rash than the seizing a clergyman by a portion of his vestment, and brandishing a sword over his head in the sight of his congregation. I do not intend to detain the House any longer; but I am sure all right-thinking men wish to see peace restored to that unhappy district; and the only means to secure that is to put an end to the wretched, abominable system of tyrany which at present prevails.
§ *MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
The adjournment of the House has been moved on many important subjects, but I know of none of greater importance than the Motion brought forward by my hon. Friend to-night. We are now accustomed on these Benches to the philosophical superiority of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, and questions of the utmost gravity, and affecting the interests of the very poorest of the poor in Ireland are lightly answered by the right hon. Gentleman. He does not deny that in this district extreme poverty exists; all he says is, that for two or three years he has listened to speeches from hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House, and he has never yet heard a suggestion as to how the poverty and the congestion of the district of Gweedore is to be dealt with. Sir, it has passed into an axiom of political life, that the Opposition are not bound to put forward legislative proposals, so long as there is a Government in power. At any rate, the way to relieve the poverty of these districts is, not by placing the services of the Crown at the disposal of the landlords, in order to clear out these unfortunate people. Neither is it by authorizing the use of new and improved appliances for the demolition of their dwellings. Mr. Deputy Speaker, there are times when I am tempted to think that Members of the Tory Unionist Party speak on Irish questions with a levity approaching criminality, and I apply an observation that character to their conduct in 282 regard to a letter written three years ago by Sir James Caird on a memorable occasion. A letter written by an eminent authority such as he is, and endorsed in sum and substance by a leading article in the Times newspaper, is received as a valuable contribution to the political question of the day. It was also received by hon. Gentlemen opposite as deserving the most serious consideration. The statement was to the effect that, on two-thirds of the holdings of Ireland, owing to the fall in agricultural values, all economic rent had disappeared. Surely, it cannot be denied, if there is any part of Ireland to which this observation of Sir James Caird can be addressed, it is to the unfortunate district of Gweedore, and other parts of Donegal. And yet, in this district, in which, according to this high authority, no economic rent ought to be paid at all, the taxpayers are now being called upon to furnish large bodies of soldiers, armed constabulary, officials of the Crown, and all the paraphernalia of authority, in order to drive these unfortunate people from the homes which they have made, because they cannot pay rents largely in excess of the economic rent. Do the Government attach no importance to-day to that statement of Sir James Caird? If they do, how can they reconcile it with their duty as a Government to eagerly assist, as they are doing, the landlords in their cruel, wanton, provocative, and unnecessary evictions? Every one knows that even if these people are cleared away with the help of the new appliances, the miserable land will be of no value to the landlords or to the country. I do not suppose for a single moment that the hon. Member for South Tyrone would attempt to colonize Gweedore with his Ulster peasantry, but if he does, I am sure he will burn his fingers. What, then, will the Government or the landlords have gained by these proceedings? The debate to-night is a very strange commentary on the Bill we brought in yesterday. I know I should not be in order in referring to that Bill, but allow me to illustrate my position by one observation. We referred to the question of the arrears of rent in that Bill, and we also referred to the fact that tenants were rented upon their own improvements. Now, here are these unfortunate people in these 283 holdings, whereon the landlords have never expended one penny, and where if there is any margin of rent over prairie land, it is due to the tenants' improvements. When they went before the Commission, we are told on authority, that although one of the Commissioners suggested a reduction of 25 per cent he was overruled, and the result was that these unfortunate people got no reduction in their rents, and now they are plunged in debt; heavy arrears have accumulated, and they find it impossible to pay them. I see that the champion of the landlords class in this House is eager for the fray, and he is anxious to prove how dishonest these unfortunate tenants are. It is the same old story with regard to these people; they are always in the wrong. If they are unable to pay their rents, they are deprived of their holdings, and charges of dishonesty are lavished upon them. I have no doubt that these Gweedore tenants have the sympathy of the whole of their fellow - countrymen, and I think that my hon. Friend was fully justified in moving the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention to this state of things. Neither the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) nor the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Sergeant Madden) has been able to explain away the extraordinary business of these passes along the roads of Donegal. It has been proved in this House that policemen issued permits and passes to Her Majesty's subjects to travel along the highway in the unfortunate, police-ridden county of Donegal. And this was done, not only in the immediate neighbourhood where the murder took place, but in a large tract of country miles around it. Are we living in the 19th century, or are we not? No Member of the Government has tried to explain away this very ugly transaction. The hon. and learned Solicitor (Mr. Sergeant Madden), who is fast acquiring the ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour), has made several attempts to explain it—but, endeavour as he may, he cannot explain away the fact that men, going about their ordinary avocations, have been obliged to furnish themselves with passes signed by policemen, as if they were travelling in an enemy's country in time of war. If 284 such a state of things existed in any other country but Ireland, the whole Press of England would have teemed with denunciations of it. Well, you have these people, on the unimpeachable authority of the priests and other public men, on the verge of the borderland of famine. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) acknowledges that one of the reports say s the potatoes are below an average crop. That is only a euphonious way of saying that they have almost altogether failed. In my own constituency, w here the character of the country is much the same as in the Gweedore district, there is not half a crop of potatoes, and in some parts of the county of Cork they have nearly altogether failed. I am not going to take the right hon. Gentleman as an authority on a matter of which he is utterly ignorant, and with which we are thoroughly acquainted. The House has been told that the stock of Indian meal in many parts of the country is very nearly exhausted, and that the people are on the very verge of famine. Is this a time, then, that these prosecutions are to be launched against them; is this a time to remove Father McFadden from his parish by the present series of extremely suspicious judicial proceedings; is this a time to bring forward and use against the people the newest appliances in the art of eviction? I think the Government, if they realize as they ought the importance of the present crisis in Donegal, will make some effort to meet it by promoting an inquiry into the condition of these poor people.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, South)
This question of distress in Donegal is not a thing of yesterday or to-day. A precisely similar state of things was the subject of inquiry by a Select Committee in 1858. Then 10 priests signed an appeal, which stated that in the wilds of Donegal thousands of human beings were perishing, amidst squalid misery, for want of food and clothing; but a Committee appointed to inquire into the truth of the statement reported that destitution such as was complained of in the appeal did not exist. I went to Gweedore in January last, and that is my reason for taking part in the discussion. That the people are poor goes without saying, but the question is whether there is at this moment excep- 285 tional poverty. The hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Mac Neill) had a Notice on the Paper on Friday to inquire into the subject, but he and his Party allowed it to be counted out. The people of whom they have been speaking are not tenant farmers in the ordinary sense of the word at all. They are English labourers with Irish allotments. I may say that while I was amongst them I heard not a single complaint against Mr. Olphert personally. It has been said that the great majority of the tenants are not judicial tenants, but I examined the rent-roll of the Olphert estate, and found that an overwhelming majority were judicial tenants. There was not a single tenant among those evicted in January who had not had a judicial rent fixed, and who was not offered an additional decrease of 10 per cent. A further reduction was offered of 25 per cent upon rents that were not judicial, and I say from what I know personally, that not only was Mr. Olphert anxious for a settlement then, but he is anxious for a settlement now. Mr. Olphert, however, is not willing to hand over the management of his property to the managers of the Plan of Campaign. He is willing that the Land Court set up by this House should fix his rents, but he is not willing that the Land League should fix them. Surely that is a perfectly tenable and perfectly reasonable position for even a landowner in Ireland to occupy. If Members below the Gangway believe that extreme destitution and poverty exist in Donegal—and I am not prepared to challenge the statement that it does exist—I cannot understand why they allowed a Motion for inquiry to be counted out, and now come forward with a simple Motion to adjourn the House, which they know cannot be accepted. When I find that course taken, and the responsible Minister of the Government saying, on the authority of au official Report—which I take to be the Report of the Local Government Board—that exceptional destitution does not exist, I cannot believe that it does. I should not have risen but that I visited the district in January last, and found that the equities were all in favour of Mr. Olphert and against the tenants. If the tenants are suffering, it is not because of any act of Mr. Olphert, but because 286 of the advice they have been foolish enough to take from the managers of the Plan of Campaign.
§ *MR. H. J. WILSON (York, W.R., Holmfirth)
I wish, Sir, to make a few remarks respecting what has come under my own notice in the Gweedore district, and illustrating what I believe to be the real truth with regard to the destitution, and how the police are practically mixed up with the cause of the landlords. I ant convinced there is very great destitution in the district of Gweedore. I have seen a number of families there, and I heard from some of them that they had had no potatoes since November. One man told me, with reference to a number of houses, that he did not believe there had been for weeks past a potato among them, and another man told me that there was scarcely any potato seed left except his own, and he was breaking into his stock and taking it away to eat because he was expecting eviction. Some land was pointed out to me where the crops were so bad that it was not worth while to turn over the soil and get out the wretched abortions of potatoes. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary argues that because there were false alarms some years ago, and people did not actually die of starvation, the House is to take no notice of their state of destitution and misery now. Why, the people are living on Indian meal, and even that they are getting partly on credit, and partly by charity, and if a charitable fund which has been established for their relief be not largely increased, many of them will die or will have to go to the workhouse. These people go away to work in Scotland, and come back with a few pounds, which serves, not to buy meal, but to pay for meal that has already been eaten. They are now living on Indian meal obtained on credit. They will go again to Scotland in the summery and when they return with a few pounds it will go to pay the debt. They have also a practice of sending their children of fourteen, eleven, ten, and even nine years of age to be hired out in the Lagan and other more prosperous districts, and when the children come back the £2 or £1 saved from their wages is applied in payment of the debt for the food of the family. There are two men of the name of O'Brien on the Olphert estate, and 287 one of them, Paddy, is an old and asthmatic man, who has not been able to work for many years. He lives in a most wretched hovel, to which there is no proper door, and from such a dwelling the man is to be turned out. The other, Dennis O'Brien, is 85 years of age, his wife is over 80, and he has an invalid son 30 or 40 years of age, who has been bedridden for five years. They also are to be turned out. In all directions there is evidence of the way in which the administration of the police is mixed up with the acts of the landlords. At the police barracks I saw posted up Captain Hill's notice to collect his rents. When the final warrants were issued for the eviction of 43 unfortunate people, the landlord, Mr. Olphert, was on the Bench at Falcanagh, though he took no part in the proceedings, and there was a row of stalwart policemen keeping the people back, so that they could hardly see or hear what was going on. If, after eviction, any of these poor people should have to go to the workhouse at Dunfarraghy, they come into the hands of Mr. Olphert once more, for he is the Chairman of the Guardians, and they are very much at his mercy in the workhouse. And I could not help noticing, and being disgusted with, the different way in which witnesses were treated. When Mr. Olphert's bailiff was giving his evidence he sat with his hands in his pockets, lounging back in a chair; but a man who came forward to give evidence on behalf of the tenants, was told to stand straight up. The bailiff could do exactly what he liked, but witnesses for the poor tenants were treated with the utmost strictness, as if they were going through some kind of drill before their superiors. There was, too, an expression of disgust and impatience on the part not only of the solicitor for the landlord, but on the part of the Bench itself, because some people who came forward claimed to give their evidence in Irish. The day before the proceedings at the Court-house the police were scouring the district, with no object, as far as I could see, except to prevent these poor people from taking counsel together or receiving advice from others. Is it only a curious coincidence that these things happened and the battering ram of the police was needed just at the moment when the poor tenants were deprived of the assistance and 288 advice of Father Stephens? Captain Hill, besides being the owner of large property at Gweedore, is practically the landlord of the hotel, which is resorted to in the summer time by tourists and sportsmen, but is usually empty in the winter. It is now filled with police officers and soldiers, so that if Captain Hill does not get his rents he gets an equivalent for them in the increased receipts of the hotel. One would suppose that the district must be full of crime and disorder, but, as a matter of fact, these officers were going about alone at all hours of the day and might, with not the slightest apprehension, and, as illustrating the peacefulness of the locality, I may mention that an English resident was in the habit of hanging his letter bag on a tree at a considerable distance from his house, and that the postman took away the letters left there, and put into the bag the letters he brought. My firm conviction is that there is very deep distress in the district, and that the administration of the law is all in favour of the landlord.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 88. (Div. List, No. 72.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 89; Noes 137. (Div. List, No. 73.)