§ MR. J. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
Mr. Speaker, I beg to ask leave to move the adjournment of the House in order to call attention to a matter of urgent public impor-ance—namely, the extraordinary language used by the Crown Prosecutor in the Court House at Westport, Mayo, on Thursday last, and the subsequent action 1536 of the police in violently dispersing a public meeting without notice or proclamation.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The first part of the hon. Member's motion refers to the language used by the Crown Prosecutor, and the second part to the subsequent action of the police. I suppose the hon. Gentleman proposes to connect the two, as the first alone would not constitute a matter of urgent public importance. Has the hon. Member the leave of the House?
[The pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. SPEAKER called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen:]
§ MR. DILLON
Mr. Speaker, the question which I desire to direct the attention of the House to is one which, I confidently affirm, had it occurred in Great Britain would have provoked the speedy and emphatic condemnation of this House; and it is, I think, a striking and instructive example of the methods which have caused the administration of the law in Ireland to be held in contempt and hatred, and so long as those methods are approved of, as we have heard from the head of the Executive in Ireland today they are approved of, it will be impossible for any Government to expect that the law will be respected. What is it that occurred? On Thursday last six young men were summoned to a Petty Sessional Court at Westport. The exact charge I have not got, but it is a very small one. They were summoned to appear before an ordinary Petty Sessional Court. The case had been adjourned for a fortnight from the previous Petty Sessions at the request of the Government Prosecutor. When last Thursday came the counsel who was defending these six accused requested by telegram from this House a further adjournment for one fortnight to meet his convenience. The Crown Prosecutor agreed to that adjournment, and consequently it was well known that the trial was not going to take place on that day. However, in accordance with the procedure of the law, the men 1537 were obliged to appear in court, and a formal application was made by the solicitor for the defence for the fortnight's adjournment. Mr. Kelly, who represented the Crown, and is prosecutor for the county of Mayo, consented to the adjournment, and after so consenting to the adjournment, he went on as follows—He could not allow this occasion to pass without referring to what took place in this district recently.I ask the House to remember that this language was used by the Crown Prosecutor in the Court House before the Bench, and after he had agreed to the adjournment of the trial of persons who were to be tried on that day fortnight. Here is the extract—He could not allow that occasion to pass without referring to what had taken place in this district recently. He wished to say that the clemency that had been shown would not be continued if there was a repetition of criminal conduct. The Government was determined to put down disorder, and to enforce the law in the interests of the public peace, and to protect individuals from insult and outrage, and for that purpose it would use all the powers of protection; and he desired, also to say that the utmost protection would be afforded to individuals assailed, and, if necessary, the forces of the Crown would be employed to protect them, should occasion arise. And should occasion for strong measures arise, he desired to say the authorities would be no respecter of persons, and that every person who broke the law, no matter what his position, would be treated as would be the humblest individual. He uttered these words of warning to let people know what was in store for them. Lawlessness would not be tolerated by the authorities. It had gone on long enough, and if there was any repetition of it the Crown would deal with it in a manner that would surprise all the parties concerned.That was intended for the learned counsel. I do not know what other meaning he could have.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
I suspect it had reference to Mr. William O'Brien, and possibly to the hon. Member himself.
§ MR. DILLON
Is that language that is customary to be used in this country by Crown Prosecutors against men who are not even charged with an offence? I should think the right hon. Gentleman is fond of using strong language. I was 1538 not aware before that Crown Prosecutors, engaged in the prosecution of prisoners, were allowed to assume their guilt, and the guilt of other men who were not charged, and to explain from their high and mighty position what is to be the policy of the Executive Government under certain circumstances. He used these words of warning—It had gone on long enough, and if there was any repetition of it the Crown would deal with it in a manner that would surprise all the parties concerned.Well, "surprise all parties concerned!" It is rather hard to surprise us in Ireland. We have been accustomed in the past to the brutal flinging away of even the ordinary decent administration of justice which prevails in this country. If the right hon. Gentleman proposes to recur to the methods which were so common in Ireland seven or eight years ago, we could not be surprised; but I think he will find that the people who listened to his speech in Leeds the other day, when he declared that Ireland was in an exceedingly peaceful condition, would be at a loss to understand the language he has used to-day. That was the language that was used by Mr. Kelly, and we now have the gloss put upon it by the right hon. Gentleman that this Crown Prosecutor was levelling his charges at Mr. William O'Brien and at myself, who are not charged with being guilty of any offence; and the right hon. Gentleman thinks that is a decent and proper way of conducting the administration of justice. I suppose he is in the confidence of the Executive, and, perhaps, has had a hint from the right hon. Gentleman that he is ready, if occasion should require him, to do what was done in my own case, when a district was proclaimed in order to prosecute me, and a special iron-clad magistrate brought 150 miles in order to convict me, when I was guilty of no offence whatever. That language is a disgrace to the Executive Government in Ireland. It is language which ought not to be tolerated in a Court of Justice by a Crown Counsel in any civilised country. Sir, I was reading this morning, and we have all been reading for some time past, the language in which the English Press has characterised the trial of Zola. There is nothing that has happened in the court at Zola's trial which for one 1539 single moment could be put beside the outrageous language, and the flying in the face of all the decencies of the ordinary administration of justice, which the right hon. Gentleman now approves of, in the case of these young men. That language would have been very natural if the right hon. Gentleman had made up his mind to revive in Ireland the system of Government approved of by Oliver Cromwell of blessed memory. The hon. Member for Belfast longs and hopes for the day when that system will be revived. If one of the Major Generals, whom the Protector was in the habit of sending through the country, had used such language, it would be natural and proper. It would be a declaration on the part of a military governor of the policy which he proposed to establish in the case of certain courses being adopted by the people of the district. I say, what right has an ordinary Crown Prosecutor to set aside his official character to take up the position of a military governor, and announce deliberately what will be the policy of the Government in case the people of the district did not act in accordance with his ideas of what is due to the Government of Ireland? Now, I come to the second part of my complaint, and as you pointed out to me, Sir, I propose to connect with this extraordinary declaration of policy the consequences which followed. When the harangue was over the people left the Court, and they proceeded, an immense crowd, down to the rooms of what has been described by the right hon. Gentleman as the United Irish League; and when they got to the rooms they expected to be addressed from the windows, as they frequently had before. They were immediately followed by a large body of police who dispersed them, and, according to my information, used a great deal of unnecessary violence in so doing. The proprietor of the League rooms, seeing this, said that his yard was at the disposal of the people to hold a meeting. The people then began to get into the yard, but directly they did so the police pursued them and pulled many of them off the premises. Even the owner of the place was pulled out of the gateway leading to the yard, and he was then hustled about by the police on the pathway. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman says that his information is that there was no 1540 violence used by the police whatever, and he goes on to justify the action of the police by saying, first of all, that there was no meeting announced, and, secondly, that the crowd was so great that it was blocking up the thoroughfare. The idea of justifying the dispersal of an orderly crowd upon the plea that it was blocking up a thoroughfare is a most preposterous suggestion. He knows perfectly well that if that contention were to be acted upon it would be impossible to hold any country meeting in any county town in Ireland, because, of course, the crowd does very frequently block up the street, but the inconvenience of blocking up a thoroughfare of a town in Westport cannot be held to be a sufficient cause for the action of the police upon this occasion. With regard to the police reports which the right hon. Gentleman referred to, they state that no violence was used. A great deal of violence was used, and the crowd was broken up—and more would have been used, doubtless—but the crowd were acting under the advice of their leaders, and it was well they did so, as the police were armed with batons, and would no doubt have used them. I will give an example to the right hon. Gentleman as to the reliability of such statements coming from the police. About four months ago a question was put in the House of Lords as to a certain meeting which was held, at which Mr. William O'Brien was present and Lord Ashbourne; the Government, then being desirous of minimising Irish disturbances, said that the meeting was a most insignificant one. About six weeks or two months afterwards a prosecution arose. There was a question, in the course of the prosecution as to the size of this meeting, and the Sergeant said that the meeting was a most gigantic one, one of the most remarkable he ever saw, and that there were 8,000 people present.
§ MR. DILLON
That was merely by way of illustrating the great danger of relying upon the police reports, from which the right hon. Gentleman made his statements. Now, Sir, that is all I have got to say about this question, but I may mention, as an illustration of the inconvenience, and a further illustration of 1541 the policy indicated in this extraordinary way by the Crown Prosecutor, that subsequent to last Sunday, when a small meeting was to be held at a little place half-way between Westport and Connemara, a large body of police was marched out there. It was a wet Sunday, and they were kept marching backwards and forwards on a wild goose chase for seven or eight hours. What I want to say is this: that the language used by the Crown Prosecutor upon that occasion is calculated to create disturbances and exasperate the people. It was language which no Crown Prosecutor in this country would attempt to use, and if any man in a similar position in England used it, no matter what the provocation was, his conduct would be brought under the notice of this House and promptly condemned. And this is an illustration of the way in which the law is brought into contempt in Ireland, and the people are driven to treat the law with hatred. I take it that part of the policy which the right hon Gentleman himself has declared the Executive Government to adopt, and his Department to support, is to suppress meetings. Well, that is a policy which has been frequently tried in Ireland. It is a most mischievous policy; it is a vicious policy. It is a policy which has driven discontent under the surface, and I venture to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he will not be able to suppress meetings, and the result of attempting to do so will be that they will be held in irregular ways and at unexpected times, even at night, if they are forced to it, as has been the case during the operation of the Land Leagues, when we had to get people together by torchlight. It will be impossible to prevent people from gathering in meetings so long as you have a state of things existing in a district as the one now under discussion. The people are suffering from a great deal of depression and misfortunes of a different character, which the Government absolutely refuse to alleviate, or do anything towards alleviating. As long as you have that distress, and hunger, and grievance, and if you will not let them hold meetings in the daylight, then, by foolishly endeavouring to extinguish a small fire, you will create a great conflagration throughout the country.
§ *DR. AMBROSE (Mayo, W.)
As a Member of the constituency interested in this matter, I think I ought to say a word or two in this matter, and in so doing I should like to call attention once more to the reliance placed by the Chief Secretary upon the statements of the officials in Ireland, and to the non-reliance placed by him upon other people. He says that there were only 100 police there, whereas we have papers in our hands which prove that there were at least 300 police there, and in support of my contention I say this: that never in the history of Ireland have four sub-inspectors, a county inspector, and an inspector-general of police been sent to control 100 policemen. So that I assert that the information of the Chief Secretary is quite wrong. Now, Sir, he also said that no violence was used. I have here a paper published in the town of Westport which proves quite to the contrary. The First Lord of the Treasury said a little time ago that the time would come when England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales would be one. I ask the House, is this treatment of the Irish people the sort of treatment that is calculated to bring about the happy consummation of such a result? This is one of the things that will prevent for ever the possibility of such a result being brought about, and what will happen when you try to disperse these meetings? I should like to read to the House the resolutions which were read at this meeting—this meeting which has threatened the existence of the strongest Government in the world—We hereby call the immediate attention on the English people and our Parliamentary representatives to the conduct of the police force in Westport to-day, who to the number of fully 200 entered a large meeting here and dispersed it without any previous notice that the meeting was illegal, and while the people were assembled for the purpose of calling the attention of the Government to their starving condition—that was supposed to be threatening to the Government—and to the fact that recurring famines are caused by the inability of the people to raise, crops on bogs and mountains, while the land capable of yielding a crop is held by graziers, and browsed over by cattle and sheep. 2. We again call on the Government to remedy this state of things, and we denounce as 1543 the greatest tyranny a civilised people could be subjected to, the action of the authorities in preventing us from exposing our grievances. We call upon the people to be most cautious;and I suppose the Chief Secretary will say that they called upon the people to pitch into the police—to do nothing that is illegal or unconstitutional, as the United Irish League, now founded in West Mayo, can be advanced best by keeping within the constitution, and by not giving the police force any opportunity of batoning and bayoneting the people, as they seemed prepared to do to-day in Westport.And, Sir, on this very bench of magistrates who tried these poor tenants we find the landlord of the district—Lord Sligo and his agent. They thought it was within their right; it was according to their ideas of honour that they should attend and try these tenants of their own. Well, Sir, what will happen? Let anybody go to the West of Ireland, and he will see the life-blood of the country leaving it every day, and these young men will go to America and swear allegiance to the President of the Republic there, and their daily and nightly prayer will be that the day may come, as assuredly it will come, when they will be able to meet their enemies in the open plain, and when they will compel you to cry aloud to Heaven as your kings did before, "Cursed be the laws which deprive me of such fighting men."
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The hon. Member for East Mayo has moved the adjournment of the House for the purpose of calling attention to two questions—first, the language used by the Crown Solicitor upon the 17th February, and, secondly, the action of the police, as he described it, in violently dispersing a meeting without notice or proclamation. With regard to the second of these matters I have already fully stated to the House, in answer to a question put to me by the hon. Member for West Mayo, what I believe to be the facts of the case. I will repeat that statement. "A force of 100 police," not 300; the hon. Member seems to know how many police were there better than I, who ordered them to be drafted there. 1544A force of 100 police was assembled at Westport on the day mentioned for the preservation of the peace, on the occasion of the prosecution of certain persons at Petty Sessions. A large crowd assembled outside the Court House, and subsequently, on the adjournment of the cases, the crowd, described in the Freeman's Journal as 'an immense mass of people,' marched through the town to the rooms of the United Irish League. This immense crowd completely blocked the thoroughfare and impeded the traffic, and a police party of 30 men dispersed the crowd by marching to and fro, and causing the people to move on. No force whatever was employed by the police, and it is quite untrue to say that the people were hustled about and roughly used. No notice of any public meeting at Westport on the 17th inst. was given, and, as a matter of fact, no meeting, as such, was dispersed. The action of the police was confined to clearing the thoroughfare, and the people who were desired to move off did so quietly.Sir, I believe that to be an absolutely true account of the facts. I say no more about that. The hon. Member who has just spoken differs from me as to the facts. I can only give him my account. He is at liberty to give his. Now, as to the language used by the Crown Solicitor on this occasion. Sir, that language has been vehemently attacked by the hon. Member for East Mayo. I think the-House should understand what the circumstances of the case are. Sir, for some years, for a considerable number of years past, there has, from time to time, been an agitation in this particular district against the holders of evicted farms and against the holders of grazing farms. That agitation, speaking generally, was not serious until a comparatively recent date. It was, however, sufficiently serious on one occasion, at all events, to cause an outrage against a certain Peter Doyle—a herd on one of these grazing farms. Peter Doyle was shot at on the night of 16th March, 1896, and one of those shots took effect, although I think his injuries were not, on that occasion, serious. Well, Sir, this movement, which was, as I have told the House, in existence for some time, assumed a more serious aspect, beginning on the 23rd January of this year, on which occasion the hon. Member for East Mayo and Mr. William O'Brien addressed a large meeting. For the convenience of the House I will read out the remarks which were made on that occasion by the hon. Member for East Mayo to a large crowd of about 4,000 people, as reported in the Freeman's 1545 Journal. The hon. Member used this language—I hold that if the force which lay in the organised columns that entered the town to day could at any moment, when the occasion required it, be mobilised and directed according to the old and well-known methods"—we all know what "old and well-known methods" are—against any enemy of the people who struck a blow at their homes or their lives, then, I ask, where is the man in the district—however powerful he may have been in the past—who would dare to touch you? He could not do it. I trust, therefore, that the result of this meeting will be that in every parish and in every town land there will be a captain—I don't care very much what you call the organisation—who, when the necessity arises, will have under him a certain number of young men, whom he will undertake personally to produce on a certain day and at a certain hour, day or night—men for whom he is responsible; and if that is once brought about—and I trust it will be brought about as a result of this meeting—you will find that land grabbers will vanish absolutely from the district. What is more, I promise you will find that those who now, unfortunately, are associated with, and even patronising, the land grabber, will cease to do so when they know that they have no longer to deal with one persecuted man or persecuted woman, but with the organised men of the surrounding parishes, under the command of a Committee, which, when the word goes forth, can summon and mobilise the public opinion of West Mayo, and bring any man to his reason who is fighting against it. I wind up by saying that the refusal of the Government—their persistent refusal—to give to the people of these districts these lands, from which the people in the past were driven, their refusal to purchase and distribute amongst to the people of these districts these lands which would banish famine for ever from West Mayo and other districts, is an intolerable attitude, and the time may come when the people, in their extremity, will be driven to take the ranches, or know the reason why.That was the language used by the hon. Member for East Mayo, according to the Freeman's Journal, at a meeting which professedly was called in order to consider the distress at present in the West of Ireland. What followed was this: on the 3rd February, this year, at the West-port Petty Sessions, two prosecutions arising out of an agitation against Michael Duffy took place. Duffy, who is an assistant teacher of the Moyna National School, holds a grazing farm. For this he had been denounced as a land-grabbed, and subjected to acts of intimidation, and his school had been boycotted.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Michael Duffy had a grazing farm, not a farm from which he had been evicted. This was on the 1st January. The first charge was one against James Gammon and three others, for assaulting Thomas Corcoran, son of Duffy's herd, on the 1st January. Now I will also read an extract from the speech of Mr. William O'Brien made upon the same occasion—We will claim the right to picket their shops, and to picket the shops of their sympathisers, and we will go on combining together every young man who is worth his salt in West Mayo, until we see once more these immense grazing tracts around Westport, from which the people were banished in the famine times, occupied by happy and comfortable homes for our people.Now, Sir, after that speech of Mr. William O'Brien's, the crowd paraded the town, and groaned outside Lord Sligo's Estate Office. On the same occasion, in addition to the trial of these persons, which ended in a conviction and a sentence of a month's imprisonment, which the magistrates were requested to make a month and a day, so that there might be an appeal, but which they refused, there was also a prosecution against John O'Donnell for intimidation on the 9th, January. That case was adjourned until the 17th instant. What happened, Sir, in the interval between this adjournment of the 3rd February and the Petty Sessions of the 17th February? Sir, in obedience, I have no hesitation in saying to hints, or something more, given by the hon. Member for East Mayo, and Mr. William O'Brien, bodies of men in military array, armed with sticks, paraded the country. They visited these grazing farms; they intimidated the herds employed by grazing farmers, and on the day after the 17th February, which was the day on which the Crown Solicitor used the language which the hon. Member has quoted—on February 18th the Freeman's Journal reported what took place. I will read it to the House—Two more herds in the Kilmaclasser and Newport districts have thrown up their positions, and workmen have refused to work for other graziers. During the coming week the 1547 people are to erect a house for one of the herds, who has given up working for one of the graziers.Those are the facts of the case, and I ask the House to judge whether, under the circumstances, the language used by the Crown Solicitor was not justified, amply justified. One word more. The hon. Member for East Mayo, and those who are acting with him, appear to me to be desirous of bringing the Congested Districts Board into this matter. The object appears to be to intimidate persons who are not farmers, in order that they may be induced to sell to the Congested Districts Board at a price below the value of these farms. Let me say this. Speaking as a member of the Congested Districts Board, I shall certainly do my utmost to persuade my colleagues, so long as this intimidation lasts, not to look at a single one of these farms to which there attaches the slightest suspicion of intimidation. It is in that way, and that way only, that the matter can be dealt with.
§ MR. M. DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has delivered a speech which I hope he will permit me to call a very intemperate speech, and which is certainly in marked contrast to another speech made in this House a few nights ago. The Chief Secretary began by a mere quibble about the number of police which had been drafted into Westport on this occasion. He laid emphasis on the fact that there were only 100 police; but let the hon. Gentleman opposite bear in mind that the town of Westport has not a population equal to that of Manchester. Its total population is under 4,000, and I venture to say that to have such an extraordinary number of police in so small a place is a most unnecessary thing to do. Now, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the police did not in reality disperse any meeting, and that no meeting was held. I presume that, among other duties, the right hon. Gentleman reads the Press of Ireland occasionally, and if he has not done so up to the present he can read in the Freeman's Journal, on the Friday following these proceedings, a full account of the meeting held in a house, and statements made by well-known citizens in Westport that they 1548 were driven to hold this meeting inside a public building because they had been denied the right of holding a meeting in the public streets. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman quoted from a speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo, and he seemed to make it a charge against my hon. Friend, that he had at another meeting in Westport appealed to the young men of the West of Ireland to meet and organise in accordance with the old principles and methods of the Land League. Well, Sir, I am here to say that the principles and methods of the Land League were well known to be an organisation of the people for the purpose of obtaining constitutional reform. Yes, and you hon. Members who laugh must remember, halve helped in this House to place upon the Statute Book those very laws which they insisted upon forcing upon the attention of that House; land let me say this, I believe that, following your traditional bad policy in this House, you never would have passed these laws if it had not been for the power of the Land League. To call upon the young men of Ireland to organise appears to be a crime according to the Chief Secretary, but let me remind the House that this advice was not given in secret. It was spoken in the open day, knowing right well, as my hon. Friend did, that every word he said would be reported for the information and for the action of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Sir, I know of nothing in my hon. Friend's speech for which he, or any of his colleagues, are called upon to apologise either to the Chief Secretary or to this House. There is nothing in these methods of public organisation, of public meeting, of pickets ting shops, that is not practised here in England, as the Chief Secretary knows, in connection with the Trades Unions. The right hon. Gentleman quoted with marked emphasis an offence, an outrage, which had been committed, and then he incidentally informed us that this illegality had taken place before my hon. Friend had made his speech. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has referred twice or three times in this House to Mr. William O'Brien, and I think it would have been more manly, more legal, and more just, to have confronted Mr. O'Brien in Ireland and charge him with an illegality if he had committed it, instead of insinuating it in this House.
§ MR. DAVITT
I desire to discuss this matter in a temperate manner. I venture to say, as a friend of Mr. William O'Brien's, that he is not a man to shirk the consequences of his action, and if he is to be put down for advising the people of Ireland to organise a meeting to press upon the attention of this House the grievances of the people with whom no man more deeply sympathised, the Chief Secretary would have no difficulty to discover Mr. William O'Brien. What are the facts in connection with this whole matter? Three public meetings were held at or near Westport previous to the proceedings referred to in the question put to the right hon. Gentleman today, and no disturbances, no illegality took place. No crime whatever was committed as a consequence of these three meetings. The occurrences on the 1st January, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, took place previous to the formation of the United Irish League, and consequently that body had nothing whatever to do with the occurrences. Now, one of these charges was the "booing" of a teacher in the public streets who had grabbed land. Well, I am not, Mr. Speaker, in favour of booing myself, but I have been frequently "booed," but I never found the constabulary in Ireland so sensitive as to disperse people in the public streets for booing me in that way. Sir, these prosecutions have had their origin in the conduct of Lord Sligo, and if Lord Sligo was "booed" in the public streets of Westport, then, I think, speaking for myself, that he richly deserved that mark of public disapproval. Sir, I do not intend to detain the House any longer. I can only say this: that if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he is going to intimidate the people of my native county and the young men of the West of Ireland by bellicose speech in this House, and by intemperate harangues by his subordinates in Ireland, he is making a great mistake. Such a spectacle of a travesty of the law as that which took place at Westport would be impossible here in Great Britain, and while proceedings of that kind continue in connection with Ireland and the administration of the law, you can never 1550 expect the Irish people to treat your laws-with anything but contempt.
§ *MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I should like to say a word or two upon this matter. Having regard to the fact that the Crown Prosecutor had agreed to the adjournment of the charge hanging over the heads of these men, I do distinctly say that anyone prosecuting for the Crown in England would have never thought of using language anything like approaching to the language used by the Crown Prosecutor in Ireland, and that if such language had been used he would have been at once stopped by the Court. I wish to say firstly, that it is such conduct, Mr. Speaker, that brings the administration of the law into contempt; secondly, I want to say a word or two with regard to the meeting. As I understand the case which has been put forward in regard to the meeting, it is not alleged that it was an illegal meeting. It is put upon this ground, that the interference of the police was justified at this meeting because there was an obstruction of the public street. Well, I will assume, then, that there was an obstruction of the public street which might have justified the police in moving on the people. It has been alleged by my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo, and has not, as I understand, been distinctly traversed from the other side, that not only was Mr. O'Grady, the proprietor of the rooms of the National League, assaulted while he was standing in his own doorway, but also that part of the crowd, having been invited by Mr. O'Grady into his own private yard, and having entered that private yard, they were followed and assaulted there.
§ *MR. PICKERSGILL
I did not understand that it was denied. Of course, I accept the denial now. The right hon. Gentleman, who is responsible for the administration in Ireland, says it is denied, and, of course, I must leave it there. My third point is with regard to the alleged agitation in this part of Ireland. It appears that there was a meeting addressed by Mr. William O'Brien and my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo on the 23rd January. The right hon. Gentleman told us, or evidently suggested 1551 to the House, that it was in consequence of that meeting that the offences prosecuted on the 3rd February were committed. I say it was most disingenuous on the part of the Chief Secretary.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
There is nothing in what I said to justify such language. I alluded to those circumstances to show what subsequently took place outside, and subsequent illegal acts of intimidation were the consequence of that language.
§ *MR. PICKERSGILL
What I say is, that it was disingenuous of the right hon. Gentleman not to tell the House at once that the offences prosecuted on the 3rd February had taken place prior to the meeting. The right hon. Gentleman has evidently forgotten what occurred, but, in fact, the information was dragged out of him at last. Now, I do not want to detain the House, but my fourth point is simply this: These men were convicted, and they were sentenced to a month's imprisonment, and they, or their counsel, very properly asked, very reasonably asked—surely hon. Members in this House will think that it was reasonable—that, in order that there might be an appeal, the sentence should be increased. Now, I say that these transactions illustrate the difference between the law in England and Ireland. In England there could be no necessity for any application of the kind. In England, if a man were sentenced to a month's imprisonment, he would have a right to appeal, and I say that if a man is sentenced to a month's imprisonment in Ireland he ought to have a right of appeal. I think hon. Members who have taken the trouble to listen to this Debate, if they are impartial and fair-minded, will think that gentlemen from Ireland have brought forward a very reasonable complaint in a temperate spirit; and in sitting down I only regret that that reasonable spirit has been met by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland in a spirit which, I think, will not contribute to the success of his administration either in this House or in Ireland.
§ MR. W. H. K. REDMOND (Clare, E.)
Chief Secretary for Ireland gets up in House to-day must have listened to the 1552 speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down with a great deal of interest. A speech such as that delivered by the right hon. Gentleman goes, at least, some way to reconcile Irish Members to the general lack of interest which is taken in the administration of Irish affairs. I am perfectly certain that if hon. Members took the same trouble as the hon. Member who has just spoken to inquire for themselves into the administration of the law in Ireland, and into the details of a case such as that brought under notice by the hon. Member, for Mayo, the condemnation of the administration of the law in Ireland, and the condemnation of interference with such meetings as that in Westport, would not be confined to a single English Member, but hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House would find themselves compelled to disapprove of it. Now, Sir, I was rather interested when the hon. Gentleman for Mayo was speaking to find that his references to the Land League organisation in Ireland was met with considerable laughter and interruptions from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Well, of course, hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot be expected to know too much about Irish affairs, although they undertake to govern us, but one would have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have been aware of the fact that the Land League organisation, which is laughed at here to-night, has been—by legislation passed through this House and passed through the other House, amply justified in every course that it took in Ireland, and in all the efforts that it made. Now, I hold this view about the Land League agitation, and probably hon. Gentlemen opposite will be somewhat shocked to hear at this time of day what I am going to say. I think at the present time in Ireland there is not sufficient of the spirit of the old Land League, and if I could possibly do it I would like to see the Land League organisation, or some such organisation, with all the old spirit which inspired it in days gone by, once more established in Ireland, in order to give hon. Gentlemen opposite some idea of how deep the feeling of the Irish people is with regard to the administration of their affairs. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland gets up in the most persuasive way at the Table 1553 in this House at Question time, or later on during the Debate, and emphatically denies all the statements that have been made here with regard to events and occurrences in Westport that are complained of. He says there is no foundation for this statement, and he says the other statement is absolutely untrue. Now, I do not charge the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland with having desired, in this House, or out of it, to get up and deny what he himself knows to be a fact, but what I complain of, and what every Irishman in this House has a right to complain of, is that when the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland gives a denial of these charges he is not giving us the benefit of his own personal investigation and inquiry, but the denials that are given here are simply the denials of the police constables in Ireland in reference to these charges. But, Mr. Speaker, I was tempted when I heard the right hon. Gentleman reply to this demonstration, to ask him upon what authority he made his statement, and who gave him the information upon which he based his facts. I say here, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that when an appeal is made in this House against the conduct of the police in Ireland the police themselves are referred to, and the answers given by the right hon. Gentleman simply amount to this: that the people who are implicated and charged in this House deny the charges that are made against them. Of course, Mr. Speaker, Irish Members of Parliament cannot expect to receive too much consideration, either at the hands of Members of this House or at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland; but I do say that it is a hard thing that when Members representing a constituency like that of Mayo come here and make certain charges that their statements should be altogether disbelieved, and that the government of Ireland should place full reliance and implicit belief in the statements of police constables. Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary said, when he was asked why he did not institute a prosecution in this case, that newspaper reports are not sufficient evidence upon which to secure a conviction. Now, I venture, with all due respect, to say that 1554 this is a miserable shirking of the question. If anything illegal has been done—the law has been infringed in connection with the Westport, or any other meeting in Ireland, the Chief Secretary knows perfectly well that he need not rely upon evidence of any newspaper reporter, because attending every meeting of that kind in Ireland there are scores, and I might say hundreds, of police officers, who would be only too glad to come forward and prove anything which the Government required. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has given no excuse whatever which is valid in this House, or out of it, for the interference with that meeting in Westport. Does the hon. Gentleman who represents a London constituency think that if the Crown Prosecutor, or an official in this country, used the language or acted in the manner which this Gentleman acted in Westport the whole of Great Britain would not ring from end to end; but because it has simply happened in Ireland, and because the Irish Members of Parliament have no power in their own country, because we are obliged, at this time of the nineteenth century, to live under the benevolent but, nevertheless, the despotic sway of the hon. Member for Sheffield—I mean the hon. Member for Leeds. Now, Mr. Speaker, I will make a sporting offer to the right hon. Gentleman: He thinks that these meetings in Ireland are very dangerous; he thinks that prosecutions would be instituted only that the evidence of newspaper reports cannot be verified. Now, I hope very soon to go to my constituency and hold a meeting there. If the right hon. Gentleman is in any difficulty about the newspaper reports, he may send one of his note-takers from Dublin Castle, and I shall give him a seat right under myself. The right hon. Gentleman, it appears to me, is endeavouring to treat us to a sort of diluted coercion. One hundred years ago the same thing occurred in Ireland, and bloodshed and crime followed your interference with the liberties of the people. Here we have at this time of the day, in the county of Mayo and other districts, the very same intar-ference, which might lead to disturbance and crime. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant imagines, because he has introduced a 1555 Local Government Bill that has got one or two good things in it, he is otherwise at liberty to do what he likes with the Irish people. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he is very much mistaken, and if he has any lingering idea in his mind of going back upon the old policy of coercion, instituted by his distinguished brother some ten years ago in Ireland, I assure him that the spirit which met his brother is still living, and will be ready to meet him also. Mr. Speaker, Sir, I can speak with some little impartiality in this matter, because I have had experience, not only from Tory administrations, in this matter of interfering with the liberty of meeting and the right of free speech, but I have also had some delicate attentions in that way extended to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs. But the charge is that these meetings, such as that at Westport—if they are to be interfered with, and if you are to bring the people and the police into collision—should be proclaimed.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
Well, the right hon. Gentleman surprises me. He says that in this case, no meeting was announced. Does he require, in order to carry out his idea of announcement of a meeting, that a note should be addressed at Dublin Castle, saying that a meeting is to be held? Sir, what is the good of the right hon. Gentleman saying that the meeting was not announced when everybody for miles round the countryside knew of it; when it was an open secret that the meeting was to be held and that speeches would be delivered? Sir, what I complain of is that this policy of suppressing public meetings in this way, and interfering with the people by an armed force, is sprung upon the people. If you do not want meetings to be held, proclaim it your intention, give everybody notice that you do not intend to allow meetings to be held. The right hon. Gentleman says no notice was given of this meeting. Sir, there is always notice enough in Ireland to enable the Government to draft in hundreds of police upon the scene; and if they had sufficient information to enable them to make their preparations for drafting in the police, 1556 surely they had information enough and notice enough to enable them to give the people warning, and to let everybody concerned know that if a meeting were held the people ran the chance of being arrested. I do not complain of the right hon. Gentleman's administration in this matter particularly, because I know it is the continuance of that system which always has been adopted in Dublin Castle, and which always will remain under the present system, no matter who may be Chief Secretary, whether Tory or Liberal. Under the last Administration, I went to my own constituents, held a meeting, and addressed a speech, for which I was quite prepared to be responsible and accountable. When I arrived upon the scene of the meeting—which was advertised—I was confronted by 200 police, who ordered me not to hold the meeting, and refused to allow me to say a single word. Upon my attempting to exercise my right, which was that of an Irish Member of Parliament amongst those who voted for him—the same right of speaking to his constituents as a Member representing any English or Scottish constituency—upon my attempting to exercise that right, having received no notice, no information, no warning that I was to be prevented, and having come specially from Dublin to attend the meeting, I was shadowed by the police, dragged through the streets of the village before my own constituents as if I had been guilty of some crime, and not allowed to hold the meeting or to make a speech. No charge was made against me that I had done anything illegal, or that the meeting was assembled for any illegal or unlawful purpose—we were scattered by brute force.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
I am endeavouring to show—if it is in my power—that this system, which allowed interference with the gathering at Westport, is a system which has obtained for some time in Ireland, and which is not peculiar to this Administration, but appertains to every Administration, so far as I know, ever since the Act of Union was carried. I will refer to this matter no further than to say that I am very glad that this matter was 1557 brought before the House. And I hope that upon every single occasion when any interference is indulged in with regard to the right of public meeting in Ireland, the adjournment of this House will be moved, and that the right hon. Gentle man the Chief Secretary will be obliged to give some explanation of the action of the officers of this Government in Ireland. Sir, in dealing with this matter of the Westport meeting, one is con fronted with the whole system which makes such occasions as this at Westminster—at Westport, I mean, possible. The right hon. Gentleman who represents a Division of Leeds in this Parliament is a sort of little king in Ireland. He comes over and does exactly what he likes with the people, and when the representatives of the people offer a protest there, he finds that it is quite convenient for him to treat the matter lightly, if not positively to sneer at what Members like myself say. The hon. Gentlemen in this House who have not been to Ireland know little of what we have to submit to from the interference of the police in carrying out political work. Here, in England, such a thing as that which happened in Westport could not take place, because the police are the servants of the people, and would not for a moment think of insulting or interfering unlawfully with the action of English Members of Parliament. But, I say there is no Irish Member on these Benches who will not agree that what I say is perfectly true, and that in order to be treated with contempt, and, in many instances, with positive insult, by the police force, it is only necessary to be elected the representative of a Nationalist constituency. Sir, I have been for 15 years a representative of the Irish people in this House, and I say that during that time I have noticed——
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must again remind the hon. Member that he is only at liberty to discuss the definite matter before the House, and that is the action of the police at Westport.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
Of course, Mr. Speaker, I bow to your ruling, but I must say it is rather difficult for me to deal with the action of the police at Westport, unless I explain how it is that the relation of the police in Ireland to the representatives of the people is such that 1558 they are enabled, by the system of government which prevails, to act in the manner in which they did at Westport. I shall detain the House no further, but say, in conclusion, that I am, for one, heartily delighted that this matter has been ventilated, and I promise the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, if his only complaint in regard to matters of this kind is that he has not sufficient evidence, that if he cares to have evidence of such occurrences in my constituency, I shall offer him every facility; and I never have said, and never will say, one thing in this House and another before the people.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
Mr. Speaker, Sir, I was practically in ignorance of the facts of this case until I came into the House and heard the statement made from these Benches, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The conclusion I have come to I may state in as few words as possible. But first, I think the House should note the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has adopted what I must describe as a rather menacing method with his political opponents. Across the floor of this House he threw at my right hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo what I must describe as the language of menace, which no Member of this House ought to use, and which, he will permit me to say, was unbecoming any man holding the position he does, of Chief Executive Officer for Ireland. Now, Sir, there has been some controversy with regard to the facts, but I am content to state and defend our case, on the facts as stated by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, with this proviso—the right hon. Member the Chief Secretary said—I have made one set of statements, and Members on those Benches have made another set of statements, and the House must judge between them.Sir, the House will remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland was not making statements within his own knowledge, but statements on the authority of the police, and the action of the police is the very thing we are discussing. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman brought forward as conclusive evidence on these 1559 cases the testimony of the men whose conduct is in dispute. He said a body of people assembled, and were dispersed, but not as a meeting. But what is the distinction between dispersing men who have assembled together, whether we consider them as a meeting or not? These are subtle distinctions worthy of a spokesman of the Second Empire, in the shackled assembly which existed in the reign of Napoleon the Third. The right hon. Gentleman does not deny that this body was dispersed, but he says that no unnecessary violence was used. And what is the defence of the right hon. Gentleman? His defence is that this meeting was obstructing the traffic, and obstructing a thoroughfare in the crowded, tumultuous, busy, excited, and densely crowded streets of Westport. Why, Mr. Speaker, to hear the right hon. Gentleman, you would have thought that, when speaking of a street in Westport, he was referring to some such thoroughfare as the Strand, or Cheapside, or Trafalgar Square. Why, Sir, of all the desolate and scantily-populated regions in the world, commend me to a street in Westport. Its tumultuous traffic and tempestuous life were actually interrupted by a body consisting practically of all the inhabitants of the place. Well, Sir, that is the defence of the right hon. Gentleman. It is another of the subtle defences which Despotism has always ready to bring forward, when it has no more solid defence to offer. So much as regards the meeting. Now, with regard to the purpose for which the meeting was held. I am sorry there was not a larger House when this Debate began, and I am particularly sorry that there was not a larger number of English Members present. I defy any English Member to conceive even the possibility of such an occurrence taking place in any part of England, Scotland, or Wales, without a universal protest from the nation, and all parties in the nation, as is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Ireland. I will take the case of the dispersal of the meeting on the ground of interruption to a thoroughfare in the busiest part of this metropolis of Irish trade and centre of world-wide industrial prosperity. I recently read the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk's account of the rise of the agricultural labourers' agitation in England. 1560 The labourers were in the infancy of their movement, and they called a meeting on a convenient spot in the cross roads. The magistrates—and I shall have a word to say about the magistrates in this case presently—finding that the organisation was still in its infancy, were determined to strangle it, and sent forth word that the meeting would be dispersed, on precisely the same ground as in this case, for interruption to the busy hum of traffic and crowded people at cross roads on an autumn evening in a rural district of England. Well, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk very properly said that the labourers came from all parts of the district, determined to stand by the right of public meeting, and when the busy traffic was interrupted, the magistrates did not interfere. As everybody knows, there was a powerful Conservative Ministry in power at that time, and if that meeting had been dispersed, the life of that Ministry would not have been worth 24 hours' purchase. Now, I said something about the magistrates. The right hon. Gentleman quoted some speeches that had been made. I will not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green, in accusing the right hon. Gentleman of disingenuousness. I hope he did not mean to be disingenuous, and I do not think he did mean to be disingenuous; but what happened was this. The right hon. Gentleman quoted some speeches, which I think would lead the House to believe that they were calculated to provoke a certain state of agitation, and even of violence, in the county of Mayo. And then, not spontaneously, I am bound to say, but in answer to an interruption from these Benches, he had to confess that the only violence that had taken place was nearly two years before this meeting was dispersed.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The offence which was tried took place on the 1st January this year, and the speeches were made on the 23rd.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
That is not the point to which I was alluding. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to a series of offences which, I think, took place in March, 1896, in a case in which a herd was shot, and I was under the impression—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman 1561 did not mean to convey it, but I was under the belief, when the right hon. Gentleman was quoting those speeches, that he was about to bring some facts to the knowledge of the House as to speeches which had been uttered and followed by violence, and which justified the contention that this state of things in Mayo had been brought about by the speeches of my hon. Friends; but the right hon. Gentleman was unable to make good that case. I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman this: nobody will deny that we have at present in Mayo a critical state of affairs. We have a large number of people in a state of destitution. The right hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that himself. The one point of difference between him and these Benches is as to the degree of that distress. The right hon. Gentleman brings down to Mayo all the resources of arbitrary power, and I think destitution accompanied by violence and coercion instead of benevolent relief on the part of the administration is about the worst combination you can have. It is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman that two men were sent to a month's imprisonment, and that an appeal was denied them. They were——
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! This has no reference to the definite matter which is set down for discussion. The only matter to be discussed is the speech made by the Crown Prosecutor and the conduct of the police in dispersing a meeting. There is no attack made upon the magistrates, and it is not relevant to refer to them.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I shall not dwell on the point. I was really answering an observation of the Chief Secretary, but as you, Mr. Speaker, rule it to be outside the Motion, of course, I immediately drop it. And now I come to the speech of the Crown Prosecutor. Imagine such a thing taking place in England! A couple of men are on trial in what I may call a labour dispute, because a dispute between landlord and tenant in Ireland is as much a labour dispute as a dispute between employer and workman in England.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not think that 1562 a pertinent or fair interruption. I know as well as the right hon. Gentleman that it is a dispute connected with the question of land-grabbing and large farms. All these things we associate with the land question in Ireland, and, therefore, I say I am within my right in calling it a labour dispute. I really would say, in all courtesy to the right hon. Gentleman, that if he would stick to facts and avoid metaphysics in dealing with Ireland he would be a great deal better. Now, Sir, imagine a labour dispute such as we had in England a short time ago, and imagine a couple of workmen in the course of that dispute being brought before the magistrates. Imagine the Bench manned almost entirely by employers, the very employers with whom the dispute was taking place. Imagine Colonel Dyer on the Bench and a workman in the employ of the Employers' Federation in the dock. It would be to put the imagination to the stretch to imagine such a thing to be possible in this country—it is impossible in this country. Well, now, the Crown Prosecutor, after an adjournment had been agreed on, and when, therefore, the case was eminently sub judice—imagine the Crown Prosecutor branching off from the particular case under discussion and under adjudication into a homily upon the agitated state of the country generally. Why, Sir, is that the function of the Crown Prosecutor? It is a matter of high and general policy on the part of the administration, and the man to make a statement with regard to the general policy of the administration is the Chief Secretary, responsible to this House, and not the Crown Prosecutor sitting and prosecuting in a court of law. Even supposing it was within the right of the Crown Prosecutor to make it, and I deny it, fancy the fairness of the Crown Prosecutor going into the general condition of the district and the country with regard to the case of two men still under trial, and when the case had been adjourned. I think it was a most unfair and injudicial proceeding, and, therefore, I think my hon. Friends who, in the course of this Debate, have asked you not to be too censorious in your judgment of French methods in the face of a procedure of this kind are justified. I promised the House to be as brief as I could. I have now stated my view of the case, 1563 and I shall have the pleasure of supporting my hon. Friend.
§ The House divided.—Ayes 130; Noes 227.