§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £10,108, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1903, for the salaries and expenses of the offices of the Chief Secretary in Dublin and London, and of the Inspectors of Lunatic Asylums."
§ (2.30.) MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said all who had listened to the Chief Secretary's speech yesterday—everyone, at least, who was interested in the future of Ireland— would feel certainly no very agreeable anticipations for the near future of the affairs of that country. The speech was, from beginning to end, a declaration of war. It was marked by a total absence of those fair prophecies which they had been accustomed to listen to in previous speeches of the Chief Secretary, and which had not been fulfilled. In yesterday's speech he threw away all that mannerism and declared war upon the Irish people, and announced that no measures of reform could be considered until what he was pleased to describe as the policy of social prescription was renounced by the people and put down by the power of the Government. That was language to which they had been accustomed to listen from successive Chief Secretaries, and he had noticed on more than one occasion it was language which generally preceded some really serious attempt to apply a remedy to the condition of Ireland. The Chief Secretary made a very extraordinary declaration, He charged the 1162 Irish Party with being more addicted to inflaming the passions of the Irish people with rhetoric than to recommend to the judgment of the House the case of reform and ameliorative legislation. Of course, that was one of the things they had always been complaining of. Ever since the Irish Members came into the House it had been admitted by all English Ministers that one of the enormous evils of the situation in Ireland was that a hearing could never be got from any advocate of Irish reform until the passions of the Irish people had been inflamed to boiling point. It was one of the curses of Ireland that they had ever been taught, generation after generation, that it was not to reason or argument in that House, not to the ordinary methods adopted by free and constitutionally governed people, that they had to look for reforms, but precisely to that, and that alone, which the Chief Secretary denounced in his speech, namely, the inflammation of the passions of the people to some form of social war. Every great reform that had been carried for Ireland during the last hundred years had, first of all, been flouted, denied a hearing—spat upon, he might almost say—in that House, year after year. That was the case with, regard to Catholic emancipation and every one of the Land Acts which had to some extent mitigated the horrors of the Irish land system. It was the case in regard to the abolition of the Established Church and every reform, without exception, which bad marked the history of English government in Ireland, and that was one of their chief indictments against the system of government of their country. They could not encourage their people to hope for any reform until the whole country had been turned upside down, and all the forces of social strife and bitterness had been let loose. What was the use of the Chief Secretary indulging in such absurd tirades, condemning them for inflaming the passions of the people by rhetoric? The real cause of these inflammations and social disturbances were the men who, like himself, admitted that to postpone justice was to deny justice, but who deliberately refused to meet, or attempt to meet, the admitted grievances of the Irish people. He knew the Irish people well, and, with all that had been 1163 said about their excitable character, and the excitable Celtic nature, no rhetoric that they were masters of would succeed in letting loose those social wars in Ireland unless they had been originally provoked by that denial of justice which the Chief Secretary himself had admitted within the last few weeks. Three or four months ago, on the debate on the Address, and on the subsequent debate when the Coercion Act was first proclaimed over the greater part of Ireland, the Chief Secretary adopted a tone of cheerful optimism, and treated this as a matter of very small importance, which would all pass over before a little firmness. He addressed to the right hon. Gentleman a warning, which he thought he might have given a little more weight to as coming from a rather old campaigner. He had said that the Irish Government, which embarked on a policy of coercion, was getting on a slippery slope, and would go much further than they expected. Since then, coercion had been proclaimed, and nearly sixty representative men had been put into gaol. Had the situation in Ireland improved? The clouds were darkening round the right hon. Gentleman's course, and he was beginning to realise for the first time the road on which Lord Londonderry and his gang had driven him. He appeared before the people of Ireland as the obedient servant of Lord Londonderry and the De Freyne combination. Not in one single sentence had he attempted to answer the indictment of the hon. Member for Waterford, with regard to the shameful and most scandalous transaction in which Lord Clonbrock and Mr. Smith Barry, members of the De Freyne syndicate, as Privy Councillors, were invited to the meeting to proclaim half Ireland. That brought the Government into direct touch with the conspiracy, and made them, until explanations were offered, the partisans and the slaves of the landlords.
The right hon. Gentleman had applied a monstrous coercion law without a shadow of justification in respect to agrarian crime. Ireland today was in every respect more free from disorder and crime than any part of the United Kingdom. One of the counties where coercion was in force was Tipperary, where Mr. Justice Johnson, addressing the Grand Jury at the last assizes, said there were only two cases of crime in the whole county—an English soldier charged 1164 with assaulting a little girl, and an Englishman charged with stealing a bicycle. He protested, next, against the infamy of treating these coercion prisoners as ordinary criminals. When Dr. Jameson was convicted, two Tory Members came to him with a petition to get him made a first-class misdemeanant. He signed it, but asked the Tory Members whether they would remember it when the next Coercion Act was before the House, and they said they would, and he believed they did; but it had been ineffectual, and political prisoners were being wrongfully and shamefully convicted as common criminals. Some years ago he was himself undergoing a sentence of six months imprisonment, and he read in a newspaper that was smuggled in to him the account of a case which had been heard in the Dublin Courts. A man was charged with knocking a woman down and nearly kicking her to death. The only defence be offered was that he had mistaken the woman for his wife. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment, the same sentence which he himself was undergoing, and he could not help thinking what a strange country they lived in. He was a Member of Parliament who had done and said nothing which his own conscience condemned, nothing which was wrong in the eyes of the vast majority of his countrymen, nothing which would cost him their votes or their confidence, nothing which would deny him the right to go back to the House in a position of equality with any gentleman in England; and yet, in the eyes of the Government, he was a criminal in every respect—the same as the man who nearly kicked a woman to death. The obstinacy of the Government in pursuing such a system as that was infamous, and he agreed with Mr. Redmond that no nation of men in the world, who did not deserve to be called a nation of cowards and slaves, would be loyal to such a system. If they had power, it would be their duty—if they failed by argument, as they did—to put an end to that abominable system.
Turning to the question of the De Freyne Estate and the Associated Estates, the hon. Member ridiculed the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Antrim as to the condition of the De Freyne tenants, and said they were living in a condition that was a reproach to any Government that 1165 tolerated it. The bogs on which they lived were wet morasses, which these men and their fathers had won from the wilderness—land not worth a penny an acre, excepting as it had been made worth it by the unrequited labour of these unhappy people. The practice on this and the adjoining Dillon estate had been, when any people married in the old days, to give them six or seven acres at a shilling an acre, and when they had built their house and reclaimed a portion of it to raise the rent to £2 or £3. That was the way the landlords built up their estates, and now they had the audacity to talk about sordid agitators who lived upon the free gifts of the servant girls of New York. That the men who bad obtained these, he would not say ill-gotten gains, because he had no personal animosity against Lord de Freyne, should complain of the present movement, amazed him. He was prepared to agree that the land lords should get a good deal more than the market value of their estates in order to bring happiness and peace to these districts, and allow the people to enjoy the fruits of their labour. The Congested Districts Board did a great work when they bought the Dillon estate, which had so changed that it would not now be recognised by one who had known it before the purchase. Up to two or three years ago there was a horrible green pool in front of every house, breeding typhoid fever; and the pigs, cattle, and children were all together in the house. All over the estate now cattle sheds and dairies were being built; drainage was going on; and improvements on every side; and there were also signs of reviving industry. Although more would have to be done to increase the holdings of the poorer men who had not enough land to live on, the change already effected was like a miracle. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Antrim had never taken the slightest interest in the fate of these poor people, until he went down to back up the evictors. Whether it were soon or late, the De Freyne estate must be sold; and, although the Chief Secretary might repeat his cheap heroics, the day would come, and that soon, when he would be forced by the public opinion of this country, as well as of Ireland, to buy this estate and settle these people in peace 1166 in their holdings. This could easily be done, and to postpone the settlement until there had been a further amount of disturbance and bad blood aroused was another instance of the system of Irish government. The argument was all on one side, and the solution was easy. He himself offered, before a single crown of costs had been put on the De Freyne estate, that, if the Government would give them a reasonable hope that they were nearing a solution, he would go down and implore the tenants to pay their rents.
The situation on the De Freyne estate was another illustration of the perversity and stupidity of the Government in dealing with Ireland. The action of the De Freyne tenants had been grossly misrepresented. It had been represented as a strike against rents, but it was nothing of the sort. In the case of the Congested Districts Board purchasing Lord Dillon's estate, they offered a good deal less than he subsequently got. He said deliberately that the tenants were offering to buy from Lord de Freyne at their full value the tenants' own property which they had themselves created on the estate. Yet they were called robbers! This was monstrous. The right hon. Member for South Antrim made the amazing statement that the cause of the trouble on the De Freyne estate was not the settlement on the Dillon estate. Judge O'Conor Morris stated from the Bench that the curse of the district was the De Freyne estate, and that the trouble on that estate was the inevitable result of what had been done on the Dillon estate. He (Mr. Dillon) had been tormented by poor people coming to lay their complaints before him about Lord de Freyne's agent and his predecessor. These tenants urged him to go to meetings. He did not tell them to pay their rents, but he did tell them to keep the pot boiling, and keep up a fierce agitation. On the Dillon estate they kept the pot boiling, and they got it sold. The same thing would happen on the De Freyne estate. He challenged the Chief Secretary to say that the condition under which the tenants of the De Freyne estate lived was tolerable. The Chief Secretary could not say that, but he said that there must be no agitation, that there must be peace, they must all pay up, 1167 and then he would consider their case. Why had not the Chief Secretary considered their case? Ten years ago the right hon. Member for South Tyrone went over the De Freyne estate at the request of the Colonial Secretary, and denounced, in The Times newspaper, the misery, and poverty, and shame of the condition of the tenantry there. The Chief Secretary thought it was a good thing to use the sufferings of these people to abuse the right hon. Member for Montrose, but the tenants were in exactly the same position, and now they were told if they would pay up, the Government would consider their case. They had been told that not a single acre of land would be bought by the Congested Districts Board in any parish where a branch of the United Irish League was formed. They were not intimidated by that in East Mayo, and the result was that within a year that pledge was broken. He, therefore, hoped that a better day would dawn after some time for these unhappy tenants. The record of the Government in regard to the De Freyne estate was a base record. They had used the sufferings of these tenants when it suited their purpose, but now they threw them aside. The right hon. Member for South Antrim made one of the most cowardly and false statements last night in reference to a very dear friend of his—Mr. Valentine Kilbride—that was ever made in the House. He said Mr. Valentine Kilbride, a well-known Dublin solicitor, had deserted those tenants, and had been instrumental, for selfish purposes, in heaping up enormous costs in regard to these tenants. He characterised that as a most scandalous falsehood, and he said that it was a most cowardly thing for the right hon. Gentleman to avail himself of the protection and shelter of the House to make such statements.
*THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
Order, order! To impute falsehood to an hon. Member of this House is not in order.
§ MR. DILLON
said he would not impute falsehood to the hon. Member. He imputed falsehood to the statement, and he was going to say, before he was 1168 interrupted, that he considered it a most cowardly thing to impute to an absolutely honourable man—a far more honourable man than the hon. Member was himself —a dishonourable line of professional conduct, which he would not desire to repeat outside the House.
Turning to the case of Sergeant Sheridan, no one who took part in the debate on this matter last Thursday week on the Constabulary Vote attempted to criticise or find fault with the action of the Chief Secretary up to the presentation of the secret report. He had no fault to find with his action in declining to prosecute Sheridan in regard to the case of the tramp Ryan, who was supposed to have posted the threatening notice; he had no fault to find with him for deciding that the investigation should be a secret one; he had no fault to find with him in deciding—he thought he was entitled to, and was wise and perfectly honest in his desire to get at the truth—to give an indemnity to the police who gave information against Sheridan. That was all fair and defensible and right, and, in his judgment, in view of the circumstances, the best plan of getting at the truth. But on Thursday week the question that was left unanswered by the Chief Secretary was, why, after he got the secret report, he did not arrest and prosecute Sheridan. The Chief Secretary did not attempt to give any reply to that question, but on the other band the Attorney General gave a series of answers. He said Sheridan was not prosecuted because the indemnity given to the witness was of such a character that the Government could not prosecute. He declined to give the terms of the indemnity, and then he made the extraordinary and amazing statement that the question of the prosecution of Sheridan never came before him. Sheridan was a criminal at large, and yet the prosecution of this man never came before the Attorney General. Dealing with the debate of last Thursday week, The Times newspaper said in a leading article—One point remains inadequately explained by either the Chief Secretary or the Attorney General. Sheridan himself had no share in the indemnity, and immediately the result of the secret inquiry was known he might have been arrested and put upon his trial, unless 1169 the terms entered into with the other constables prevented their being put into the box.That showed that, even in the mind of so prejudiced a witness as The Times the answer of the Chief Secretary and Attorney General was unsatisfactory. What was the answer of the Chief Secretary last night? He said he had not investigated the secret report with view to the prosecution of Sheridan, who was discharged five months before that secret report was presented; but he took the report in order to see whether any reparation could be made to the persons convicted on the evidence of Sheridan. They had it from the Chief Secretary that he did not consider even the possibility of prosecuting Sheridan. In the report presented to him the Chief Secretary had plenty of evidence against Sheridan, but the deduction lie drew was that there was no sworn evidence. There was abundant evidence to ensure the conviction of Sheridan, and, although the Chief Secretary had had placed in his hands a report showing that this man was engaged in these crimes for years, and that he had convicted many men, it had never occurred to his mind to prosecute him. The Chief Secretary said the indemnity given to the constables was not in writing, and was not submitted to him, and was given by his subordinates. He said that was most improper, and the Chief Secretary's subordinates had no right to give to those constables art indemnity that protected not only themselves, but also protected Sheridan. He refused to believe the indemnity was in that form until he saw it. He held that it was open to the Chief Secretary to put Sheridan on his trial, to put those witnesses into the box and get them to confirm on oath the statements they made to the secret inquiry. If this were the case of an ordinary criminal, the Government would have been free with their rewards to get evidence against him. But this was not the strangest part of the case. Throughout the whole argument it seemed to be assumed that the Government was thrown back on the police evidence, and the whole structure of the case of the Chief Secretary and Attorney General rested on that foundation. 1170 Nothing could be more mistaken than that idea. The Government, with the secret inquiry, had at their disposal not only the police evidence, but ample civilian evidence also. There were plenty of civilians only too anxious to give evidence. He received a letter from a man on the 25th July last, before the Government, had announced to the House the result of the secret inquiry. That letter contained, among other things, the following statement—Pat Farrell said to them, and is prepared to swear that Sergeant Sheridan asked him to get up a party and break into the house of Michael Carry, a cousin of McGoohan, and half kill him. Carry, and that he (Sheridan) would watch for him. Farrell and Carry were on bad terms, and Carry was to be assailed because he said it was Sheridan who cut the tails off the cows.There was Sergeant Sheridan organising a moonlight raid. In the writer of that letter they had a man prepared to swear that Sergeant Sheridan was engaged in organising another moonlight outrage, which did not take place, simply because the writer was too decent a man to fall into the trap. There was plenty of civilian evidence upon which to put Sheridan on his trial. Why was not Dan McGoohan's oath taken?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
said that technically it was necessary to have either two witnesses, or one witness with material corroboration.
§ MR. DILLON
contended that Dan McGoohan could have sworn to the perjury, and the cow doctor who went over the field and failed to discover any tracks would supply the corroboration. If it had been a case of hunting down Nationalists, the Government would not have been so particular. The hon. Member proceeded to quote a letter published in September last, and written by Dan McGoohan himself, giving his account of the matter, which he thought gave a 1171 vivid picture of the way in which the administration of law in Ireland was regarded by the people. The anger of the judge, the packed jury, the repeated trials, the placing of the policeman's oath above all others, and the advice of prisoner's counsel that a plea of "Guilty" should be entered, to which Dan McGoohan had referred, were all ordinary elements of trials in Ireland, and one could not be surprised that the administration of the law was held in contempt. As to Sheridan himself, many hon. Members seemed to be doubtful whether he was within jurisdiction, after the Government were fully aware of these crimes, and had at their disposal, as he contended, abundant evidence, even without putting the policeman in the box, on which to bring him to trial. He had had a long correspondence with Sheridan, in which the latter denounced the Government, asserted his innocence, and claimed to be ready to prove before an impartial tribunal that he was the victim of a conspiracy. The last of the letters was after the secret inquiry, and in it he defied the Government, and stated that they were afraid to prosecute him, because if he was put into the box he would reveal such a state of things as would astonish the world. Nearly a month after the Chief Secretary had denounced him as a criminal. Sheridan wrote a letter, which appeared in the Independent on September 9th, 1901, dated from New market, County Cork, declaring that the public had heard only one side of the question and that he would be able to show that others had planned and secretly worked his ruin.
The sum total of the matter was that the public in Ireland believed that the Government were afraid to prosecute Sheridan and no amount of rhetoric would remove that impression. In the interests of his own police and his own Government, the Chief Secretary was very ill-advised in leaving this matter in its present position. It had been said that the Nationalists were attacking the police force, and trying to make out that it was wholly composed of Sheridans. That was not true. They had never said it, nor did they believe it. He had heard the bitterest complaints in regard to the machinery and the method of management of the police 1172 force, and again and again he had heard the complaint that the Constabulary in Ireland was no place for an honest man to succeed in, that spies were constantly found in the barracks, and that only the men who did the dirty work got promotion. There were others who were doing the same kind of work as Sheridan, and they were the men who would get promotion, and the men who did their work honestly found they were passed over when promotion was in question. Those who acted as the accomplices of the police and as the instruments of the landlords, or as promoters of crime, were those who were rewarded by promotion. He was confident that the Irish Constabulary under an Irish Government would become an excellent police force, but it would be because they would find that characters like Sheridan would get no encouragement, and the men who did their duty would be properly rewarded. The Government had given no adequate explanation of their conduct in regard to Sheridan. This man had been at the mercy of the Government, and they had abundant evidence to put him on his trial; and it would have been better to have taken this course, even if the jury had disagreed. There was a profound conviction in Ireland that there was a mystery about this case which the Government did not desire to clear up, and this transaction altogether strengthened the conviction that the Irish Government, at all events, if not in its heads, at least in its subordinates, were still pursuing that abominable policy of agent provocateur, and manufacturing crime; and that was still accepted by the Castle as one of the necessities of Irish government.
§ (3.50.) MR. HARRIS (Tynemouth)
apologised to the Committee for taking part in a debate which did not immediately concern himself or his constituency. He had listened with feelings of hopelessness to the vindictive remarks which had been hurled across the floor of the House. He ventured to offer to the Chief Secretary one word of encouragement in the extremely difficult and, thankless task which he had to discharge. There was no more thankless office than that of Chief Secretary for Ireland. As an 1173 Englishman, he thought it was both satisfactory and significant to observe that in the speeches they had heard during the last two days the representatives of each section of Irish politics—the United Irish League, the Orange organisation, the landlord and the tenant parties—seemed to consider that it was their one individual interest only which was being oppressed by the Government of Ireland, and that too much toleration had been shown to every other interest. Only a few months ago the United Irish Lengue complained of the application of coercion, while at the same time the representatives of the landlords and Orangemen complained that the measures taken by the Government were not sufficiently strong to prevent disorder. What did they say now? They complained because an Orange demonstration which the Government considered was dangerous to the peace, and which was to have taken place at Rostrevor, was proclaimed. In the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and that of the hon. Member who seconded his Motion, three points were raised. They were the case of Sergeant Sheridan, land purchase in Ireland, and the coercive measures now in force, and with the exception of the meeting at Rostrevor, the debate had been more or less confined to those three points. He considered the case of Sergeant Sheridan a most unfortunate one, but he confessed that he, and many others on his side of the House, after having listened to the various debates upon this case, were heartily tired of Sergeant Sheridan. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: You have only had the beginning of him.] The Leader of the Irish Party had told them that the object in continually raising this question was that the details of this case might be published far and wide wherever Irishmen existed. There was, however, one result of this constant repetition which had perhaps been overlooked, and it was that some of them were beginning to think that all these other cases which had been spoken of, and of which, the House was told, that of Sergeant Sheridan was only an example, either did not exist, or that the Members of the Irish Party were unable to produce them. With the exception of a man named Whelehan, which occurred 15 years 1174 ago, they had had no other instance given during the debate of a similar case taking place among the Irish Constabulary in Ireland. He thought he might almost venture to congratulate the Government upon this fact, because the Irish Party admittedly were desirous of finding similar cases, but were unable to produce any other. This one case of Sheridan was the only instance which could be produced of that "mass of villainy and corruption" which the hon. and learned Member said was rampant among the Irish Constabulary. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: How many examples do you want?] He ventured to think that the Chief Secretary had had before him a hopeless task, and one almost deplored that be took so sanguine a view of the situation as to bring in a Bill which was calculated to meet with the bitterest opposition from the Party opposite. He recollected a speech made before that Bill was brought to the House, in which a Gentleman now sitting opposite, not even knowing what that Bill was intended to promote, or what its conditions were to be, told his constituents that when the Bill was produced the only way to treat it was to spit upon it. That speech convinced him that, however anxious the Chief Secretary might be for the good of the country, and whatever remedies he might wish to propose for the troubles which existed, and whatever Bill he might introduce, his efforts would be received with premeditated opposition and contempt by these ungrateful agitators. What would be the result, even if he brought in a Bill for compulsory purchase? In a speech which the hon. Member for East Mayo made in the North of Ireland, he said, in connection with compulsory purchase—If I believed the farmers of Ireland, when they got their land, would sit down as the willing slaves of an alien Government, I would leave them, as far as I am concerned, under the harrow of landlords for ever. As far as I am concerned, I am an advocate for the abolition of landlordism mainly and chiefly because I believe that with landlordism goes the chief prop of the British Government in Ireland.To Englishmen, compulsory purchase was synonymous with confiscation. The members of the Irish Party complained when a different standard of legislation was applied in Ireland from that which was enforced in England. He 1175 ventured to think that no one in England, in his wildest imagination, would ever suggest that a man's property should be taken away against his will, and that he should only be paid such remuneration as would return to him an income barely half that which he would enjoy if he held his property. [AN HON. MEMBER: What about the railway companies in this country?] In England, when property was taken compulsorily, a fair value was allowed to the man from whom it was taken. He ventured to say that, if the same rule was applied in Ireland, so that approximately the same return of income would be given to the landlord to enable him to pay the interests and those unfortunate charges which existed so much on Irish property, and at the same time allowed him sufficient to avoid starving, no compulsion would be necessary, and the land throughout the length and breadth of the country would change from the landlords to the tenants. That the coercive measures of the Government were justified, he thought anyone would admit who had followed the speeches which had been made by Members opposite when in Ireland. He would venture to give one more quotation to show this. In a paper called the Irish People the hon. Member for East Clare was reported to have said—Nor, all the police in Ireland, not all the Army in England, not even if they brought Kitchener with his whole gang (groans)—that is, if he had got any of them left, which he (Mr. Redmond) doubted very much—not all the power of England can make them talk to, or walk with, or sell or buy from, or go next or near, any scabby land-grabber.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that the, quotation which he has just read of my words is absolutely accurate, but I think, in order to be fair, he should have gone on to quote that portion of my speech which I delivered to my constituency in which I warned and exhorted the people to have nothing whatever to do with outrage or violence in any way, and to conduct their movement upon the lines on which the trades unionists conduct their movements in this country.
§ *MR. HARRIS
said that to his mind such speeches as those he had quoted were the justification of any coercive 1176 measures the Government might bring into force to prevent the inciting of an ignorant and poor peasantry to forms of cruelty more abominable than even recognised crime.
§ (4.8.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said he should have expected to hear something better in the way of a speech than that to which they had just listened on behalf of a Government which embraced so many able men both above and below the gangway. He thought it was a somewhat unfortunate position that a new administration, from which they wore entitled to have a definite expression of policy, should be left to the support of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. They were all glad to recognise nascent talent on the other side, and they acknowledged that rising Members should get an opportunity of expressing themselves; but he thought the hon. Member, in liberating his soul, would have given greater sustenance to the right hon. Gentleman. While the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was in his cradle, they had exactly the same speeches from that side. If he would turn to Hansard any time for the past five-and-twenty years, he could read, almost in the exact words, the same kind of feeble support of the Government and the same kind of feeble attacks upon the Irish Members. Permit him to say that he thought that at the beginning of the career of a new administration, on the appointment of a new Prime Minister, they had some reason to complain of the total absence of the First Lord of the Treasury in these controversies. In former times, when a new Ministry was inducted, it was always customary on the part of the Opposition to challenge the Government for their policy in regard to cardinal matters of administration. During the whole of this debate, so far, the First Lord of the Treasury, the new Prime Minister, had remained away, with the exception of one hour, conspicuously from the House of Commons, denying to the Chief Secretary that support and comradeship to which, as a new member of the Cabinet, he should have supposed the right hon. Gentleman was entitled, and leaving him to the support of dolorous, dissonant eloquence such as they had just heard. Where were the 1177 other members of the Cabinet? Hitherto, this question of Ireland had been supposed to be worthy of some attention.
In regard to the question of Sergeant Sheridan, he thought that the Chief Secretary had acted very well indeed up to a particular point. He would go further, and say that, but for him, they would have been entirely in the dark as to the crimes this man committed. But he failed to see what answer, for his own credit's sake and for the credit's fake of his own administration, he had now to make to the demand that the criminal should be brought to justice. With the disclosures they were now acquainted with, why did he not put the law of extradition in force and put Sheridan on his trial? They all remembered how this House used to be excited in regard to Mr. Jabez Balfour, a member of the Liberal Party in this House, who defrauded some poor people of several thousands of pounds. Every day the Liberal Party were asked why they did not bring Jabez Balfour to trial, and the whole resources of civilisation were employed, and thousands of pounds were spent, in regard to the case of Jabez Balfour, because, being a Liberal Member of Parliament, it was thought that dirt could be thrown on his Party. There was a Liberal peer the other day who went and contracted an irregular marriage in Arizona. It; was not alone that they tried Lord Russell for what he ventured to say, English morality being what it was, was a mere trumpery crime; but they set up in the House of Lords a special chamber to try him, and for that fine pageant they put the country to an expense of several thousand pounds. He would not go into other cases, but they were numerous. Here, in regard to a matter on which the opinion of the House of Commons was unanimous—namely, that they were dealing with a base and shocking criminal—he should have supposed that the Government, in their own interest, would have been glad to have vindicated the Royal Irish Constabulary by giving Mr. Sheridan what he demanded—a full inquiry. Why was it not done? If they could have the truth about this matter the Chief Secretary had a much better defence to make—only he could not make it—than he had given to the House. He ventured 1178 to say that this was what had occurred: The Chief Secretary was young and ingenuous when he went to Ireland. He detected this man red-handed in convicting, one after another, four innocent men. One of the judges was involved in it, many policemen were involved in it; and he was probably told by older officials that he had burned his fingers, and that he had better go no farther, because, if he did, he (the hon. Member) believed the whole fabric of the Royal Irish Constabulary would fall to the ground. He would say this: Well as the right hon. Gentleman up to this point had acted, he did not believe they would ever have heard of Sheridan's crime, but that Sheridan was a Catholic, and that Irwin, his sub-inspector, was a Protestant. If Sheridan had been a Protestant, he would be still holding high office in the Royal Irish Constabulary. He did not say this as against the right hon. Gentleman, for he believed he was entirely free from bigotry. He was speaking of the immediate chiefs of this man; and every one of them, from the highest to the lowest, and every engine of the Royal Irish Constabulary, would have been set in motion in order to screen him. Why did the Government not try him now? He did not believe they could convict Sheridan now, and that was probably what was also in the mind of the Chief Secretary, because of the class of jurors which they got in Ireland. Did they think they would give the Nationalists a triumph? Did they think the Crown Prosecutors would give the Nationalists a triumph? Did they think that the judges would be anxious to throw dirt on the decision of one of their own number when he had harangued the jury for the conviction of the unfortunate M'Goohan? No; the old Juggernaut car of British justice in Ireland was not made to "reverse engines!" They could not grow figs on thorns, and they could not get justice in Ireland in a case of this kind. He maintained that there was a horrid contrast between the fairness of the justice administered to ordinary criminals—thieves, garroters, prostitutes —and the justice administered the moment anything approaching to an attack was made upon a landlord, upon an intolerant Protestant, or the moment in which any member of the ascendency class was involved. In any of these latter cases there was no chance for any man to get justice in Ireland.
1179 The right hon. Gentleman, he must say, made a very brilliant speech last night but he regretted its tone and its temper. The right hon. Gentleman was, as he understood — although as yet there was no official knowledge of the fact—to be put in that cabinet with sole charge of Irish administration. Well, they were told that the Chief Secretary's office was a thankless office. Fifty years ago Dan O'Connell said that the Chief Secretary's office was that of a "shavebeggar," that it was an office into which a man was put while he was learning his duties for other posts. That was the misfortune of the position. He could remember 13 different Chief Secretaries in 22 years, and in that time they had spent a million of money on the Chief Secretary's office, and another million on the Lord Lieutenant's office; and the only change that he could find that they had made—the only reform which they had brought about in the case of Dublin Castle—was that they had saved the salary of one kettled ruminer—amount, £12 10s. For the twenty-two years they had been debating Castle reform, that was, as far as he knew, the sole result of the attacks they had made on the Castle system. He was saying that the right hon. Gentleman, in his tone and temper last night, was ill-advised. Perhaps from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view it was not unnatural for him to say that Nationalist Members were "more apt to excite the passions of the Irish peasantry by rhetoric than to convince the House of Commons by argument." Did any one suppose that if, instead of eighty Irish Members—picked up, owing to the necessities of the case, from the desk, the shop, the counter, and the farm—they had eighty Demosthenes, all speaking with the tongues of angels—did the Committee think that they could make any impression on the hon. Member who had just sat down? He must say that, when, in the course of time, the hon. Member was rewarded—of course, he did not know when that would be, but when he was rewarded with a position on the Treasury Bench—he might, perhaps, be even Chief Secretary: he was just the timber that Chief Secretaries were made out of—he ventured to say that his invincible ignorance would cling round him still. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Irish Nationalist 1180 Members could not argue with the House of Commons. One would think, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, that it was the House of Commons which ruled Ireland. It was not the House of Commons that ruled Ireland; it was the House of Lords. What representation had they in the House of Lords? They might send Bill after Bill affecting Ireland from this House up to the House of Lords, but these would be smothered in that lethal chamber, and scarcely a bubble would rise above the surface to denote their asphyxiation. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, he was quite sure, was carrying out a policy in which he did not believe. It was forced upon him by Lord Londonderry and his friends. Did any man on the Conservative Benches believe that, if an Irish Chief Secretary could have his way, and could rule Ireland from his own personal point of view, he would rule it from the point of view that the present Chief Secretary was doing now? The right hon. Gentleman dropped something yesterday which they heard on these Benches. The right hon. Gentleman was asked something about providing money for land purchase; and he was heard to exclaim under his breath, "How could I get over Beach?" That was the trouble: he could not get over Beach. But he had many another five-barred gate to get over. There was Balfour, and Long, and Hanbury.
§ *MR. T. M. HEALY
said that of course he used their names as cyphers. He did not mean to offend the right hon. Gentlemen in the slightest degree, and he had the highest admiration for all of them. What he was going to say was—how was the right hon. Gentleman to get over Lord Londonderry? The Chief Secretary, in order to bring about any reform in Ireland, had either to threaten a Cabinet crisis, or be assisted from Ireland by a blunderbuss. There was no other alternative. The wheels of legislation were clogged. They had their own English Bills, their Water Bills, Education Bills, Electric Railway Bills, and all their other Bills, year 1181 after year. They had their own interests to consider, and the notion that one man in the Cabinet dealing with the urgent affairs of Ireland with nineteen ignorant Englishmen could overcome the vis inertia of these nineteen Gentlemen was an absurd suggestion. Then it was said that the Irish Members had to argue with the House of Commons. No, Sir, they did not come there to argue. He had never argued on anything in this House, and he never would. They came there to state their opinions, and they told the Government to take the consequences. That was the position they assumed. But he had some hope with regard to the Irish Land question, though all of them on this side did not see eye to eye on that question — that the right hon. Gentleman would have been able, with his great experience of Ireland, to demand, as a right, a competent portion of time for debating Irish interests. That was denied to them. What became, then, of the Act of Union? They did not come there to discuss Estimates. What was it to him whether the right hon. Gentleman got £5,000 a year or £500 a year? That was for himself to consider. They did not come there to discuss Africa; they came there to talk about their own parishes and their own counties. They did not care a groat for the British Empire. The British Empire could take care of itself. They were there to look after the small concerns of the daily life of the people of their country. They had no other concern under heaven. England destroyed their little Parliament. England took it away by corrupting the very same gang which were now in the ascendency. It was not the common people who sold the Irish Parliament. It was the predecessors of Lord Londonderry and his friends who sold it for gain. They asked from the Government a competent portion of time to discuss the affairs of their island. He had said years ago in this House that if they took out a volume of the statutes passed in any year by this miserable Ascendency Parliament in Ireland which was destroyed—and remember every one of these men were Protestants, belonging to the little narrow ascendency knot who were the curse of the country—that, bad and all as they were, these statutes, mottled though 1182 they were with Coercion Acts from time to time, contained on almost every page something about canals, roads, piers, harbours, fisheries, grazings—something about lightening the taxes, something in the interests of the country. All the noble public buildings in Ireland were erected by the Irish Parliament. But what had this Parliament done for Ireland? It was said by some one in Russia that when England was expelled from India nothing would be left as a monument of English rule but railways and soda water bottles. There would not be even the soda water bottles in Ireland; and as for the railways, these had been turned into an engine of oppression of the Irish people. Turn to the statutes today, passed by this great civilised Parliament, this Parliament of the Empire—go back for any period of the last century — and what was the attention they had given to this neglected, this miserable Ireland, this sick child of the British Empire? He ventured to say that if one Act a year was passed for the benefit of Ireland, forty were passed for Great Britain, leaving out of account altogether the hundreds of private Acts passed for the benefit of the municipalities and big towns. How many Bills per annum would a native Parliament enact for Ireland in all those years? Would the burning question of the moment be handled there as it is treated here? This Land question was so simple as to be almost ridiculous. It was so simple that even the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down knew something about it, because he had said it was simply a question of price. They asked for a fair amount of time to deal with the matter; they spoke as the representatives of the Irish nation, the representatives of "My brave Irish soldiers" who fought so well in Africa, and so many of whom were now in the poorhouses in Ireland. But the answer they got was, "No, we have no time for your trumpery affairs." But while he demanded that the Irish Land question should be dealt with as a whole, because his constituency was as much entitled to legislation as any other part of the country, this terrible horror on the De Freyne estate was a measurable question which could be dealt with by the application of a few thousand pounds. Why was it not forthcoming? Two hundred and fifty million pounds had been sunk 1183 in the sands of Africa to please the Jews and to get the franchise for the Uitlanders. Where was the Uitlander now? But when Irish Members, asked not for two hundred and fifty or fifty millions but only for a few millions to deal with this terrible question in Connaught, the answer was, "Oh, no, we cannot do anything out of the British Treasury." His generous English friends should remember how Ireland was being robbed all this time. Ten million pounds were being extracted year after year out of the country for the upkeep of "Sergeants Sheridan," with no good that any human soul could see resulting from the existence of British Government in Ireland. He would rather that the Turks were there. He would cheerfully exchange the rule of the Sultan for that of His Majesty King Edward VII. He would, at any rate, make a trial of him, and see how they could get on with the Bashi Bazouks.
A more appalling system of administration was never inflicted on any country. It was impossible to know where the Government of Ireland was. In fact, there was no Government. There were a few gaugers taking in the money, and a few policemen for putting agitators into jail, and that was the sum total of Government in Ireland. There was no paternal administration, no shepherding of the industries and interests of the people. He was surprised at the fuss the English made about law and order in Ireland. The Chief Secretary yesterday held up his hands in holy horror because some speeches which he did not like were made in the Cork Court House. One would have thought that the Ark of the Covenant had been violated. The right hon. Gentleman declared that a grave scandal had been committed. What was the grave scandal? Every stone of the Court House was paid for by the ratepayers' money. It was their Court House just as much as that hat [The hon. Member held up his hat] was his hat; and the grave scandal consisted in the fact that the representatives of the ratepayers gave an hour's shelter to a number of gentlemen whoso speeches they were anxious to hear. According to the view which seemed to prevail, the 1184 sheriff should have ordered the constabulary to fix bayonets and drive out of that polluted temple of justice, sacred to the oaths of "Sergeants Sheridan," the leaders of the Irish people. That was the reasonable position taken up by the Chief Secretary. It was an absolutely hopeless position. There was not, so far as he knew, a single ounce of sense in the Government of Ireland. Could not the Government quietly take the ten millions a year out of the pockets of the Irish people, and leave them alone? Could they not make a ring, and see fair play between landlord and tenant? Lord de Freyne had commenced an action against his hon, friends on the civil side of the Court. Why did not the Government leave him to his remedy? Lord De Freyne, who, presumably, was well advised, said that he could recover heavy damages in the Chancery Division against everybody who had taken money out of his pocket. Why, in addition to that, did the Government give the Nationalist Members the plank bed to boot? Was that holding the scales evenly? Why, when they robbed the Irish people of this £10,000,000 a year, and got the Irish soldiers to enlist in their regiments, did not the Government leave these great proprietors alone to fight out their battle with their tenants, instead of coming in and throwing the Sword and the Crown into the scale on behalf of landlords like Lord De Freyne? His views on this Land question, as well as on the conduct of public affairs, were such that it was not easy for him, differing as he did as to details of policy in many respects from some of his hon. friends on that side of the House, to state without conflict, which he wished to avoid, what he thought ought to be done for the Irish tenants. He certainly conceived that when they got down to the machinery of purchase it was largely a question of price. He believed that if they could get the landlords to leave their case, such as it was, in the hands of skilled and temperate men—who, after all, could be obtained for a consideration—and, on the other side, the representatives of the tenants to put forward their case, they could settle three-fourths of the Irish 1185 Land question, and that whatever be draggled tail remained behind the English people would be quite willing to deal with on the lines of compulsory purchase. But much as he differed from some of his hon. friends as to some of their recent action the notion that the Irish people could be dragooned and driven by Coercion Acts was absolutely absurd. There, was no justification whatever for the proclamation of the Coercion Act. He had stated in a former debate that a Coercion proclamation should not issue unless the Government were able to make a case for a Coercion Act in this House. No such case had been made, and the right hon. Gentleman was in the unhappy position of being, with good intentions and instincts, powerless to deal with the Land question; and he would go, as other Chief Secretaries before him had gone, either to promotion or to—he would not say perdition— somewhere else. Let him remember, however, when he had only Coercion to offer that there was no more ungrateful gang under the sun of heaven than the Irish landlords. The right hon. Gentleman would be broken on the wheel in this conflict with the Irish people, or he would be promoted, he did not know which. After he had excited the ire and indignation of the Irish people and their representatives, the landlords would turn on him as they turned on his predecessors. He had seen the present Prime Minister standing on the steps of the throne in the House of Lords, with his face as white as paper, while his uncle. Lord Salisbury, was appealing to the Irish landlord gang not to throw out a Water Bill, which they were anxious to do, because it would add 3d. a thousand gallons to the contribution of Kingstown and Pembroke to the City of Dublin. The late Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, appealed to the Irish Peers to stand by their own Chief Secretary, who had stood by them in regard to the Coercion Act in Ireland, hut they derided that appeal from their own Prime Minister, although he told them that if the Bill was not carried the Chief Secretary would resign; and the Clonbrocks and the Londonderry's, and the rest of this piteous collection in this Chamber of Horrors went into the Lobby against the Chief Secretary for Ireland 1186 on the question of 3d. per thousand gallons for Dublin water, and they were prepared to ruin him and break him on the wheel in order to gratify the wishes of a little ascendancy gang which is the curse of Ireland. The hon. Member concluded: I do not know what question will come up, but the present Chief Secretary will get from the landlords exactly the same treatment as his predecessors. The Irish Question will still remain, after all your Coercion Acts, to baffle British officials. The Irish people have staggered along this thorny road for a century with bleeding feet, now gaining, now losing, now driven back, but never despairing. After all these years you have not brought them one whit nearer to your Empire. You have not won the allegiance of a man of them; and you yourselves by your own policy, in order to please a number of men who are no credit to you, who have done nothing in England, nothing for your arts, industries or discoveries, who have not even led your armies—for the sake of these men, and the miserable considerations that lie at the root of this conflict of centuries which they have waged against us, you deny yourselves the affections of as brave and gallant a people as were ever seen on the face of this earth.
§ (4.50.) MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
said he wished to draw attention to one specific case. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last but one complained that in the course of this debate the Irish Members had brought forward only a very few cases of grievances, but the reason for that was that only a few Irish Members had spoken. There was not a single Irish Member in the House of Commons who could not bring from his own personal experience cases in connection with the Constabulary and their system of governing Ireland, which would shock the mind of any impartial person either inside or outside of the House of Commons. After the eloquent speeches which they had heard from the Irish Benches, he would only refer to one case which he regarded as a police outrage, which occurred in his own presence and with which he was to some extent connected. Those English Members who had recently visited Ireland had been, shocked because they were "shadowed" by the Royal Irish Constabulary, but what would English 1187 Members think if, instead of being "shadowed," they were brutally and outrageously assaulted by the police and prevented from addressing the people who wanted to hear them? Last October he attended a public meeting at Kilmaine, in South Mayo, which had not been proclaimed, accompanied by the Member for the Division. The audience consisted mainly of farmers and labourers. The meeting had hardly commenced before a police officer pushed his way through the crowd at the head of fifty or sixty policemen armed with rifles. He came up to the platform, and addressing him said, "You are a stranger, but I have heard that your name is Mr. Redmond." He then gave notice that he would allow him to speak, but that he would not permit the hon. Member for South Mayo to address the meeting. He had seen many exciting scenes in Ireland, but he had never before seen a Member of Parliament ordered by a common police inspector not to address the men who sent him to Parliament. That was exactly what took place, and what was reported in all the newspapers. The meeting proceeded, and he spoke strongly and without any hesitation whatever, but when the Member for the district rose to speak, the officer in charge of the police at once gave the word, and the Member for South Mayo was seized arid dragged away with the greatest possible violence to the police station, where he was kept in charge. And his only crime was that he wished to address a meeting of the men who had cast their votes for him. Not satisfied with dragging this Member of Parliament through the streets and preventing him from addressing his constituents, this police officer gave orders to charge the crowd. The crowd had come together without any prohibition; they had not been warned that the meeting was illegal; they were an ordinary crowd come to an ordinary meeting in the ordinary way, and the police dispersed them in the most violent and outrageous way, driving men and women right and left and beating them and knocking them down, and several persona were seriously injured. When the crowd was dispersed, he walked up to the police station where his hon. friend the Member for South Mayo was in custody. He spoke 1188 very strongly to the police, and told them they had no right to detain his friend without there being a charge against him, and, after some hesitation, the police released his hon. friend. Later in the evening he again addressed a meeting in the village, in order to test the question, and he asked the police officer to say by whose orders he prevented the hon. Member for South Mayo from speaking, and told him that he himself was prepared to say everything that the hon. Member could say, and he challenged the officer to lay a finger upon him. Again he was allowed to speak, and again the hon. Member for South Mayo courageously insisted on asserting his right to speak to his constituents. Again the police were ordered forward, and again the hon. Member was seized and torn away from the meeting, and again the people were batoned and bludgeoned and beaten right and left, a man standing by him on the platform being struck on the head and beaten when he had fallen to the ground, and having one hand broken. The Committee would bear in mind that this was not a proclaimed meeting, arid that no notice or warning of any kind had been given to these people. He had been to many proclaimed meetings, and the people who attended them who were injured were not injured without some warning; they had some inkling of the treatment which might be meted out to them. In this case there was no warning whatever. The Protestant clergyman of the village, a man who could not be described as being partial to the Nationalists, was present at the meeting and watched what took place. That gentleman subsequently wrote to the papers complaining that the report published was exaggerated, but he did not deny any of the facts stated in it; he only said the people had not been so much injured, and there had not been so much disturbance as the report stated.
But that was not all that occurred, and he pledged his personal honour and reputation on the statement he was about to make. After these two futile attempts to address a meeting in this village, they mounted the wagonette and drove out of the village. Immediately the police officer ordered a large number of police 1189 to follow them on cars. As they drove out of the village, they came upon a large crowd of people, also going away from the meeting, and all those people did was to raise three cheers for their Party representative and for the United Irish League; no attempt was made to speak; these people only cheered their Member. The police leapt from the cars and at once charged the people, beating them wherever they could; the people scrambled over the ditches on each side of the road and ran as far away as they could. That surely might have been considered sufficient to satisfy the police; but, no! the police pursued them over several fields, and he was so horrified and disgusted at what he had seen that he would not trust the description of it to any newspaper reporter, and he telegraphed directly he reached a telegraph office a statement of what he had seen. That statement had never been contradicted, and upon that statement he staked his character and reputation. The Chief Secretary and the Attorney General know no more of what took place at Kilmaine from their own personal knowledge than they knew of what took place at the capture of Pretoria. What was the result? They applied to their police officer who would, no doubt, give his version of what took place—the police officer who did these things, against whom he made this charge—and that illustrated what took place in Ireland. The police behaved in this way; their conduct was condoned by the Irish Government; Members of Parliament laid a solemn complaint, and their complaint was set aside upon the report of the police officer who was guilty of the act. What reason was there for this action on the part of the police? He had never been in the district before, and was ignorant of any circumstances that would render the meeting Undesirable. There was the fact that there was an evicted farm in the neighbourhood, but that was no justification for the police following the people who came to hear an address from their Member of Parliament. He applied to the Chief Secretary to look into these matters, and give an assurance in this House that innocent people should not without warning, proclamation, or notice of some sort, be beaten and driven as lie saw these 1190 unhappy people of Mayo driven, whose only crime was listening to the man they had elected to serve them in Parliament.
§ (5.25) MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I agree —and I am afraid it is the only remark with which I do agree—with one observation made by the hon. gentleman who spoke from the Benches opposite a few moments ago, that it is both the right and duty of members who represent English and Scottish constituencies to take part in these debates, remembering that this Imperial Parliament in which Ireland is represented governs Ireland today, as it has done in the main over since the Union, in accordance not with Irish but with English and Scottish opinion. We should therefore, I think, be neglecting the responsibility which the Constitution casts upon us if we did not vigilantly scrutinise, when proper opportunity offers, and unflinchingly criticise, the action of the Irish Executive. I am not going to deal with any of those larger questions of general policy which, not unnaturally, have occupied some share, at any rate, in this debate; but I am going to confine myself to one particular point, I mean the case of the man Sheridan. I shall speak of that case very briefly, and I hope dispassionately, and as it presents itself, not to an Irishman either on one side or the other, but to one who has some acquaintance with English law and the principles of English administration. I need not say that I do not associate myself in the leas with some of the charges which have been made against the Chief Secretary in relation to this matter, or with the suggestion, which I do not think is really seriously put forward, that the Chief Secretary acted at any stage in these proceedings from a desire to screen guilty persons, or to prevent further disclosures, if they could have been made—a suggestion which is not only prima facie incredible, but is contradicted by all the materials the House has before it. On the contrary, I will start by saying that to the right hon. gentleman is duo the entire and undivided credit of having unearthed and unmasked these villainies —for villainies they were—which had been going on undetected, and, as far as we know, unsuspected for years past. and had resulted in the conviction of 1191 three, if not four, entirely innocent persons. I gather that the hon. Gentleman opposite, to whom I referred, and his friends are tired of hearing of this case; but I think that is not a very creditable sentiment. If this case had happened anywhere but in Ireland, if it had happened in any colony, if it had happened here in England, it would have been a very long time before the House of Commons would have ceased talking— and rightly talking—about it, until it was satisfied that every step had been taken that policy and statesmanship could suggest, not only to bring the offender to justice, but to prevent the possibility of the offence recurring. I am sure the Chief Secretary will not demur from what I have been saying so far; and great credit is due to the right hon. Gentleman for the steps he took in investigating this matter, and probing it as far as he could. I also agree that after the case of Ryan, when suspicion seemed first to be aroused, there was not adequate material in the possession of the right hon. Gentleman, or of the Irish Executive, to justify a prosecution. I think it extremely probable that the result of the prosecution would have been the acquittal of Sheridan, and it might have stopped all those further disclosures that have taken place, and have rendered Sheridan himself at any rate incapable of doing further mischief in Ireland. Nor do I think that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong—and I do not believe that my hon. friend the Member for Mayo will differ from me here—in the circumstances in ordering a secret inquiry. I think it extremely doubtful whether an open public inquiry would not have defeated the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman had in view. And, therefore, putting myself so far as I can in his place, and supposing I had had to deal with a similar situation, up to that point I do not see how any one could have done differently.
But now I come to the points on which it appears to me that the action of the Executive is open, not only to criticism, but to censure. They are three. In the first place I think it was a great mistake that the right hon. Gentleman should have left to some subordinates of his— for so I understand the statement he made last night—the task of formulating, the terms of the indemnity which should 1192 draw confession from the accomplices of Sergeant Sheridan. Could you have a more delicate and difficult matter than that? Here were the men who ex hypothesi were accomplices or accessories to the crime. They were to be tempted to come forward and give evidence— evidence which, I agree, they could not have been compelled to give at the trial, for no man can be compelled to convict himself. Everybody knows that that is a most difficult situation indeed; and it appears to mo that what the right hon. Gentleman ought to have done was to insist that he himself should first carefully consider, and then as carefully formulate, the terms on which these men were to be invited to come forward. We do not now know what those terms were; but it would rather seem, from the interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman puts upon them, that they must have been so vague—I was going to say so mischievously and fatally comprehensive—that they actually, in his view, put him under a moral or honourable obligation to reinstate in the police force, or in a position in which they would receive the same emoluments, these men who, by their own admission, were accomplices in most disgraceful and criminal breaches of trust. Therefore, my first criticism is that the form of indemnity was one which ought to have been most carefully safeguarded by himself, and that the course pursued was a course of laxity, which has led, I cannot but think, to regrettable and discreditable consequences.
But my next criticism is of a more serious nature. An inquiry was held. Evidence was given that convinced the right hon. Gentleman, and I have no doubt rightly so, that Sheridan had been for years engaged in the systematic manufacture of bogus crimes, and, what is still more serious, in the organised and deliberate conviction of innocent men. I need not use rhetorical language to describe that which, by the unanimous judgment of this House, is one of the basest and foulest crimes it is possible to bring home to a human being. When you have a minister of the law abusing the trust which the State has reposed in him, and you got, what it is no exaggeration to call the stream of justice polluted at its very source, no action that the Executive can take can be too strong, no 1193 punishment you can inflict can be too severe, and no measure, of precaution against the recurrence of similar things can be too vigilant or drastic. What was the course the right hon. Gentleman should Lave taken? I do not hesitate to say— and I have never uttered an opinion in this House with a clearer conviction of its truth—I do not hesitate to say that at all costs he ought to have prosecuted Sheridan. I do not care for this purpose what the precise form of the charge was. There were many charges that could have been made—such as perjury or conspiracy to defeat the ends of justice. It would not take the ingenuity of a skilled lawyer to frame half a dozen indictments against him. But I do not care what the precise form of the charge was; I do not even care if, in consequence of what I call the regrettable laxity in regard to the form of the indemnity, the evidence given at the trial by the accomplices did not come up to the mark. I think in such a case you would have had plenty of evidence. You would have had the evidence of this unfortunate man McGoohan, whose most pathetic and moving statement the hon. Member for East Mayo read in the House today. I do not think it possible for the imagination to conceive a more terrible position than that in which McGoohan was placed, except, indeed—for there is one more terrible still—the position of that still more unfortunate innocent man who, on the advice of his solicitor, pleaded guilty to a crime which he had never committed. I cannot help thinking that there is not a jury in Ireland— you would not need what is called a packed jury—who, if Sheridan had been put on his trial and these men had told their story, even if the corroborative evidence of the accomplices was open, as it would have been, to much observation, would not have convicted him; and there is not a judge in Ireland that would not have been glad to pass on him the heaviest sentence that the law allows. [A You don't know them.] I say that because I am certain there is not a judge on the Irish Bench who would not feel it his duty to do so. I deeply regret that the right lion. Gentleman let that opportunity slip; and I must say I cannot think that even now all is being 1194 done or has been done that might be done to bring about the conviction of Sheridan. Where is he? I understand he is somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic, and the presumption is that he is in some country or other between which and this kingdom there is a treaty of extradition. Reference was made by my hon. friend the Member for North Louth to the case of Jabez Balfour. I remember it well. I was at the Home Office at the time; and, as my hon. friend truly said, we were assailed month after month, week after week, almost day after day, with Questions in this House and comments in the Press, for our supposed slackness in trying to obtain the extradition of Jabez Balfour. He was in a country where there was no extradition I treaty at all or at all events none relating to the crime of which he was guilty; but at any rate we did succeed after a long and laborious task, and at much: expense, in bringing him back to this country. If that could be done in a case of that kind, infinitely more difficult than this, why cannot you, if Sheridan is in a country with which an extradition treaty exists, and if he has committed extraditable crimes—why cannot you demand his extradition even now, and have him brought before an Irish judge and jury to answer for his crimes?
My third criticism on the action of the right hon. Gentleman is this. I give him full credit for scrupulous observance of an honourable obligation, but I cannot help thinking that he has made a great mistake in putting these officers who were accomplices and accessories in the crime of Sheridan back into the police force. I do not think any promise of indemnity— certainly no promise of indemnity that was properly and reasonably framed— could possibly have imposed on the Government the obligation of bringing back into their service men who, by their own admission, had been proved guilty of a gross dereliction of duty. I am sure it would give great satisfaction to the Committee and to the House of Commons and to public opinion outside if the right hon. Gentleman, on both points to which I have referred, would now reassure us, namely, that, whatever happens, these officers will not be regarded as in any sense members of the public service in 1195 Ireland, and, secondly, that the deplorable omission made at the time in the failure to prosecute Sheridan is now about to be repaired, and that if he can be discovered in the country where he is thought to be ho would be brought back to Ireland, and there made amenable to justice for the heinous offences which he has committed.
(5.40.) HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
said the Leader of the House, now that attention had been called to the Sheridan case, ought to impress upon the Chief Secretary the necessity of taking steps to see whether there were not other cases of abuse. The Chief Secretary, on the previous evening, made a speech leading the House to believe that this was a perfectly isolated case. There was nothing singular about the case except the fact that this was the first occasion on which the Irish Government had acted with reference to those men who had been inciting to commit crime. The wonder was, not that the case had not been prosecuted, but that the case of Sheridan had been exposed by the Irish Government at all. The case of Sheridan was not nearly so glaring a case as that of Sergeant Sullivan, which occurred a short while ago. In the case of Sheridan there was no incitement to murder. In the case of Sergeant Sullivan there was a letter written to which a name was forged, urging an acquaintance of the person whose name was forged to go and raid a house and to shoot the man inside the house. The evidence was perfectly clear. He had the documents in his own hand, and if the Chief Secretary would examine them he would find that the forged letter was written by a man who was still in the police force. In Ireland they knew perfectly well that there were such cases as that of Sheridan, from time to time, in which no prosecutions had taken place. He was engaged in the case of Sullivan, but the proofs happened to come under his notice, and in a subsequent trial some witnesses who were being examined stated that, under the sanction of the county inspector and of the district inspector, the whole constabulary force of the district had subscribed to the fund for the defence of Sergeant Sullivan, who was tried before a Sligo jury. And that brought him back to 1196 the question of jury packing. The right hon. Gentleman said, where was the use of admitting men into the jury box to whom the doctrines of the Irish Land League had been preached, and who were in sympathy with these principles? But on the same principle the Attorney General ought to exclude from the jury box men who were the sworn life-long opponents of the principles of the United Irish League. Every Nationalist, and every man who was supposed to be in sympathy with the United Irish League organisation, was excluded from the jury. Of course the result was that this packed jury told the judge they wished to hear no more evidence, and acquitted Sergeant Sullivan. If the right hon. Gentleman was anxious to go back on the history of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Irish Members could give him a number of cases where the suspicion was strong in the public mind that this system of manufacturing evidence had been organised by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary who were desirous of getting promotion. The temptation was very great. The men with whom they had to deal were the landlords and magistrates in the district, and the constables naturally wanted to make friends of them. If the Irish Executive was not sufficiently strong to inquire closely into cases where suspicion was aroused and their attention was directed to them, these officers could go on with their evil practices with impunity. There could be no doubt that constables had invited threatening letters to be written, and the case of O'Halloran was notorious in County Clare. That man had been going round with money in his pocket to all the fairs, asking people to join in moonlight meetings.
He did not want to blame the Chief Secretary. That right hon. Gentleman differed from all his predecessors, in that he had the courage to probe Sheridan's case to the bottom. The Irish Members invited the right hon. Gentleman to go a step further, and make an inquiry into the whole system; and if the right hon. Gentleman was anxious, to show that the police force in Ireland was above suspicion, the Irish members would assist him. If the Chief Secretary would only take the trouble to go through 1197 the papers in the Sullivan case, he would find that it was worse than that of Sheridan. The right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland had made the extraordinary statement that the government of Ireland could not be carried on without jury packing. What the Irish Members said was that if England could not govern Ireland without jury packing, then they should give up governing Ireland. English Members could not realise what the system of challenging jurors was in Ireland. In an ordinary trial in England there was no challenging. The right was there, of course, but it was hardly ever exercised. He would give a concrete case. Two men from County Mayo were tried at Sligo for conspiracy in connection with the United Irish League. The panel of jurors that was to try them consisted of 258 men. Such a panel in a criminal case was absolutely unknown in England. Why were 258 jurors called? To enable the Government to challenge 246 of them before they selected their twelve jurymen to go into the box. Under such a give such confidence to the people in the system there was no man, however innocent, who could get a fair trial, especially whore political differences were so strong as they were in Ireland. On that panel, out of the 268, 168 were Catholics, and not one of them was admitted to the jury box, simply because the men to be tried were Catholics; and the jury which did try them wore exclusively Protestants. As a matter of fact, the men were found guilty; but the foreman of the jury, when announcing the verdict, said that they wished to recommend the men to mercy, because they were the dupes of the United Irish League. Again, there was the case of the hon. Member for North Leitrim who was brought to trial in Dublin. The jury panel consisted of forty-eight, but only twenty-eight answered to their names; and the Attorney General refused to go on with a panel of only twenty-eight, although right the accused had only a challenge of six—leaving the right hon. Gentleman twenty-two to operate upon. The trial was postponed for a week, when thirty-six jurors answered to their names. The Crown challenged the first name balloted for; and, after the accused had exhausted his six challenges and the 1198 Crown theirs, it was found that there ware only eleven jurors in the box. The Crown had therefore to accept the first juror whom they had challenged. All this was provided for in Sligo, where they had a panel of 248, and it would be absurd if, out of a panel of 248 or 258, they could not select twelve men according to their own choice and of their own mind. The result was that in the case of the hon. Member there was a disagreement of the jury. He could never appreciate the sense of fair play of the right hon. Gentleman in excluding from the box men who were known to be in political—if not in religious—sympathy with the accused. Was it the case that men in political sympathy with the accused would not find a just verdict, however strong the case might be? If it were so, indeed he was afraid the practice of jury packing in Ireland would go on for a very long time. Even if there should be a failure of justice occasionally, it was preferable that the Government should administration of justice as would promote a good spirit among them, rather than that they should challenge everybody known to be in political sympathy with the accused.
Another matter to which he desired to draw attention, was a matter affecting the constituency he represented, and that was the demand made in the previous year, or in the beginning of the present year, upon the municipal authorities of Dublin in regard to its police rate. Dublin, in regard to this matter, was in an extraordinary position; although they were taxed far beyond the limit of other towns in the United Kingdom for police, they had no control whatever over the police; the police gave no assistance for fire brigade purposes, or for carrying out the sanitary laws. They were-there as a foreign body. Some three years ago the Dublin Corporation made a bye-law to regulate the placing of newspaper placards all over the street where they were not only a nuisance to everybody but, owing to their flying up in front of horses, a source of danger to the people. The Corporation, having passed the bye-laws, called upon the municipal authorities to carry it out. Up to now the police had refused to carry it out.
interrupting, said that any discussion of the police on the present Vote would be irregular unless by consent of the House and the Chair.
§ MR. HARRINGTON
said he had consuited Mr. Lowther the previous night, and he told him it could he done if the Chief Secretary did not object.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
suggested that as the hon. Member was the chief magistrate of Dublin and wished to bring the matter forward, he should be allowed to do so.
§ MR. HARRINGTON
said that under the now Act power was given to the Corporation to make further bye-laws for the regulation of the traffic, and one bye-law which they made was that every vehicle should carry lights at night and that all bicycles should carry lights. In that case the police had refused to carry out the bye-law without an indemnity being given to them before they attempted to enforce it, and a large correspondence had taken place between the Corporation and the police upon the subject. Dublin was taxed to the extent of 8d. in the £ for police, and that contribution was fixed fifty years ago, yet, although the population had increased three-fold since then, the tax had remained precisely the same. The people of Dublin were contributing 8d. in the £ as against 3d. in the case of Bradford, 3¾d. in the case of Glasgow on rents over £10 and 1¾d. in the case of rents under £10, 5d. in Sheffield, which was the highest rated town in England, and if they took Belfast, which they ought to compare, perhaps, most with Dublin, the police rate was only 3d. The cost of police per head was 8s. 2½d. in Dublin and 11d. in Belfast. In no town in England did they approach the Dublin figures. In addition to the fixed maximum rate of 8d. the Irish Government constantly made demands. This year they demanded £5,000, which demand was finally abandoned because it was made on a basis which could not be supported, but he feared the demand was only abandoned for the time. These figures resulted in great injustice to the community, because the 1200 Treasury refused to make grants for im-improvements on the ground that the rates were so high, and the rates were high because the Irish Government would not treat them as English towns were treated. If this could be justified by any increase of crime, there would be a reason for it, but it could not. In 1863, when this rate was fixed, the indictable offences in the year amounted to 9.520, in 1901 they were 2,196, and the cost of police in the same time had been doubled. The number of offences dealt with summarily in 1863 was43,694, and in 1901 29,736. So that while there was this enormous diminution in crime there was this enormous increase in the rates. He hoped the Chief Secretary would direct his serious attention to this matter, which so greatly affected the whole community of Dublin.
§ (6.10.) MR. ATHERLEY- JONES (Durham, N.W.)
said it was with no feeling of disparagement to the Chief Secretary that he said he recognised that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was, both in substance and in form, almost identical with the speeches he had heard from successive Irish Secretaries for the last seventeen years. There was the same strenuous assertion made in earlier years of this dispute of an intention to vindicate the law, and the same protestation of infallibility on the part of the executive and administrative officers of the law in Ireland, and no doubt that speech accurately represented the attitude of the Irish Government. The economic conditions of Ireland still offered the same field for exploration as it did in 1887 and 1888, but the position now was worse, perhaps, than then because former Chief Secretaries had the sympathy of what was called the loyal minority. The right hon. Gentleman was the first Chief Secretary to be without the support of the loyal minority in Ireland. This recrudescence of Irish disturbance was due not merely to the fact that legislative reforms were not introduced, but to the fact that there was inequality in the administration of the law between this country and Ireland. In England the magistrates and judges were independent of the Executive, and not under its control; it had no power to remove them. Superior judges could only be removed by Parliament, and the inferior 1201 Judges by the constituted judicial authority of the country. In Ireland there existed the extraordinarily anomalous state of things that the resident magistrates (improperly so-called) were chosen at the will and caprice of an executive officer, and sent down as the servants and creatures of that officer to try political offenders. In the event of a person charged being committed for trial in England, the jurors were called according to the alphabet, but in Ireland they were called according to their political and religious creed, and were invariably composed of Protestants. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman would probably be that if a Catholic jury were empanelled it would be impossible for the Crown to secure a conviction. But purely the converse of that argument also held good. If a Catholic jury was unreliable in the interests of the Crown, he thought it was established that a Protestant jury was equally unreliable in the interests of the prisoner; and it was a principle of British justice that if injustice was likely to arise it was far better that the Crown rather than the prisoner should be the sufferer.
As to the suppression of meetings, in Ireland it appeared to be done at the mere caprice of the Chief Secretary or his officials, whereas in England a meeting could not be prohibited unless satisfactory or reasonable grounds were afforded in the view of those responsible for the maintenance of order that violence, upon either persons or property, would be exercised, he had little sympathy with the methods by which Orangemen conducted their political propaganda, but he was at a loss to understand en what principle the meeting at Rostrevor was prohibited. It was the duty of the Executive to protect lawful public meetings such as, apparently, that at Rostrevor was; but he had also heard of other gatherings for peaceful and lawful objects being suppressed by the strong arm of the law because it was supposed they might militate against the interests of the Government.
He fully associated himself with all that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary with regard to the Sheridan case. There was probably no graver scandal in the history of the administration of our law than the action of the Irish Executive in 1202 failing to prosecute Sheridan. He agreed that probably the material at the disposal of the Chief Secretary when the Ryan business was discovered was not sufficient to justify legal proceedings against Sheridan, but on further inquiry being made it was found that three innocent persons had been convicted on false evidence. One would have thought that then nothing in the world would have prevented the Chief Secretary instituting a prosecution against the persons concerned in the concoction of false evidence, but instead of that an indemnity of the widest possible character was given. To have given an indemnity to one person was surely the fullest length to which the right hon. Gentleman need have gone. Even apart from the evidence of the constables, ho believed it would have been almost impossible for Sheridan to escape conviction. But assuming it would have been difficult to secure a verdict, it was the duty of the Government to have shown their solicitude for the police force to be as far as possible above suspicion, and even though Sheridan on some technical point had escaped conviction, the Government would have been amply justified in placing him on his trial. It was not yet too late to make some reparation. This matter concerned not Ireland alone, but the whole administration of British law, and ho submitted that it was the duty of the Government to cause an extradition warrant to be applied for. For the satisfaction of public feeling in England, as well as in Ireland, he, as an English lawyer, urged that this stop should be taken; and, beyond that, it was incredible that men who had been morally convicted of the crime of procuring the conviction of innocent men should still be serving in the police force.
(6.36.) MR. HEMPIHLL (Tyrone, N.)
said that the very fact, referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh, that these debates recurred year after year was the strongest proof that the course now being pursued by the Chief Secretary was reactionary and pernicious. Why was the same old story perpetually being told? Because the Irish people had no confidence in the administration of law in Ireland. That peculiarity was a reproach to England 1203 which ought long since to have been removed, and a misfortune to Ireland, which could and ought to be remedied, he was in hopes that they would have initiated a bettor system than the one which previously prevailed, but instead of this the Chief Secretary had gone back and reversed the policy which prevailed in Ireland ton years ago. From 1893 up to the present year coercion was asleep, and that incident of unconstitutional oppression, the Coercion Act, was not put in force by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs. From 1895 up to the present time the immediate predecessor of the Chief Secretary, the present President of the Hoard of Trade, was able to govern Ireland without the Coercion Act. He thought scant justice had been done to the President of the Board of Trade by his own party, by whom he had been persecuted because he had not revived that odious system of coercion. In 1898 they got the first instalment of Home Rule in the shape of the Local Government Bill, and why did the present Chief Secretary for Ireland not follow up that example and give them a still more generous Land Act, and a still better development and expansion of local Government in Ireland. Instead of this they had had a proclamation of some of the most important parts of Ireland, followed by the imprisonment of several Members of Parliament and others. These men had been subject to the ignominy of imprisonment, at the behest of magistrates who were removable at the pleasure of the Lord Lieutenant. He arraigned the present administration for reviving this system of coercion. They should bear in mind that this landlord "combine," which was formed to counteract the organisation of the Irish tenantry, was formed by a circular issued on the 7th of April, and on the 14th of April a meeting of the Privy Council was called, and on that day the Coercion Act was put in force. The proclamation reviving the Coercion Act was signed by two of the leaders of the landlords' combination, the object of which was to stamp out the present agitation, not in the interests of the country, but in order to secure the payment of their rents. It was at the instance of these landlords that the Coercion Act was revived. How could any hon. Member defend that conduct who had any sense of justice, for in this case the landlords were the 1204 judges of their own cause, whether it was right or wrong. This point had not been answered. The Chief Secretary had passed over this argument in his eloquent speech last night, and while he attributed to the rhetoric of his hon. friends below the gangway and their agitation responsibility for oppression in Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman forgot that he himself was one of the greatest offenders in the abuse of that rhetorical power.
There was no occasion for coercion in Ireland, and its application was unnecessary and unfair. Want of confidence in the administration of Ireland on the part of the people was at the root of all the misfortunes of the country and this was the bed rock on which all its calamities rested. This want of confidence in the administration and in the fairness of the British Government, as exercised in Dublin Castle, had been fomented and increased by the course which the right lion. Gentleman had taken. One might imagine that lie was reading the history of Ireland a hundred years ago in regard to that dreadful rebellion of 1798. The revival of coercion in the present year had boon brought about and initiated for the purpose of driving the people into such a state of desperation as would warrant a further suspension of the constitution and a further persecution of these poor wretches. There was nothing in the state of the country or in any of the districts proclaimed to warrant the resuscitation of this odious Act Want of confidence in the administration was at the root of all the trouble. It was pointed out by Mr. Lecky in one of those admirable books, which he wrote when he was not a Member of Parliament, that four years after Catholic emancipation there was not a single Catholic lawyer on the Irish Bench. While three-fourths of the Irish people were Roman Catholics, out of eighteen judges in the superior court in the year 1902, whoso incomes ranged from £4,000 to £8,000 a year, only three of those judges were Roman Catholics by religious profession. Was that a fair proportion having regard to the population? Out of twenty-one County Court judges, there were only seven who were Roman Catholics. As an Irish barrister, he held that that was not doing justice to Catholics, and it was not calculated to inspire confidence in the law in Ireland. They could 1205 not expect an ignorant peasant to bare: the same confidence in judges who belonged to a different religious persuasion. Under this state of things, the suspicion of unfairness was enough to create a feeling of despair, and a sense of oppression and wrong that nothing could overcome. He did not say that the Chief Secretary was responsible for this state of things. In the cause of his country and in the cause of justice, lie (Mr. Hemphill) thought it was his duty to call public attention to what he believed to be unreasonable and unfair.
The interference with public meetings in Ireland had been grossly abused. He agreed that every Government had a right to prevent public meetings, if there was any reason to suppose that a breach of the peace would ensue from it. That power in such a case must be exercised, and it had been exercised even in England. He did not, however, think that any Government had the right to prevent a Member of Parliament addressing his own constituents on the public topics of the day, even though he might wish to argue in favour of a compulsory purchase Bill, or any other measure. It was monstrous that at a meeting of that sort, before it was known what the member was going to say, should be interrupted and broken up by the police. Such a thing could not exist in England. If it had existed, England would not be what it was now. It was the right of public meeting, the right of calling for the redress of grievances, and the right of protesting against oppressive laws, that had brought England to the height of prosperity of which they were all so proud. Why should Ireland be prevented from a like opportunity? Why should the people of Ireland not have the right of assembly in order to make their voice heard all over the three kingdoms in pressing for any legislative change? If there was a breach of the peace the police were bound to interfere, but they were not bound to interfere when a meeting was called for the purpose of hearing a Member of Parliament address his constituents on political subjects.
At Cork the other day the court house was occupied by the county Council, and because some question arose after the business of the Council was 1206 over—he understood that many members of the Council were also members of the United Irish League—the sheriff came in and endeavoured by force of arms to break up the meeting. That was grossly illegal, because the Local Government Act provided that the court house should be under the control of County Council, and that—he was giving a paraphrase—if any difference arose between the Sheriff and the County Council as to the use of the court house, it should be laid before the Lord Lieutenant and decided by him. That course was not pursued in this case. The course taken by the Sheriff' was a lawless proceeding which deserved the reprobation of this House.
In the De Freyne estate dispute he maintained that the Chief Secretary should have followed the example of his famous predecessor, Thomas Drummond, who refused the forces of the Crown to enforce tithe, and told those who sought the aid of those forces to resort to the ordinary Courts of law. In the case of Sheridan there had been a monstrous failure of justice. There had been a monstrous deviation from executive morality in allowing Sheridan to go unpunished. One of Sheridan's accomplices was still in the police force in a depot. Was a man powerless for evil because he was in a depot? He regarded the action of the Chief Secretary in the Sheridan case as a compounding of felony. Sheridan should have been brought to trial and the responsibility of discharging him thrown upon a jury. What the Roman satirist said should have been remembered—Quis custodiet ipsos, custodes. The responsibility should have been thrown upon a jury of deciding whether he was to go unpunished. Then the Chief Secretary would have been able to say that he had done all he could to bring this monstrous betrayer of his trust to justice.
§ (7.10.) MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Tyrone had censured the Chief Secretary for holding a secret inquiry in the Sheridan case.
§ *MR. HEMPHILL
I did not say a word about the secret inquiry. I 1207 studiously avoided that. But I did presume to censure him for not bringing Sheridan into court for trial.
§ *MR. STUART WORTLEY
said the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife made his censure cover the action of the Chief Secretary in regard to the indemnity. He complained that the Chief Secretary had not exercised sufficient care in the preparation of the indemnity so far as the exact terms were concerned. They had in this case to look not merely at the form of the indemnity, but to those men who had to read it, and who had to form expectations as to what would inevitably arise after the inquiry.
§ *MR. STUART WORTLEY
thought the House would feel that the Chief Secretary had taken a bold course in the Sheridan case, which required much courage, and should be appreciated in persons in his position who were apt to be much dissuaded by persons of influence. A poor reward had been meted out to him in the censures levelled at him in the House. Let it be remembered that the indemnity to the police constables preceded and did not follow the discovery of Sheridan's guilt, and that the Chief Secretary's course was taken with a nobler object than that of exacting vengeance against Sheridan. It was undertaken with what he would call the nobler object of freeing from prison innocent men, and of establishing their innocence in the face of the world. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife said that Sheridan ought to be prosecuted at all costs. He did not agree with the view of the right hon. Gentleman, that it was in accordance with English tradition to go forward with a prosecution of this kind, where there was infirmity in the evidence and difficulty of corroboration. The right hon. Gentleman stated that if a conviction had taken place there was not an Irish judge who would have thought he had done his duty except by inflicting a severe sentence. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman was right in his estimate of the Irish judiciary. But it would have been not less the duty of the judge 1208 to warn the jury against convicting upon prejudice or on uncorroborated testimony.
Even with such a risky proceeding in trying to get a conviction by the help of the prejudice surrounding this case, there would not have been much chance of obtaining a verdict. The hon. Member for Harbour Division of Dublin had complained of the cost of the police, in Ireland, and had stated that in the city of Dublin it was equal to a rate of 8d. in the £ on the valuation of the city. But in Liverpool the police rate was 8d. in the £ of rateable value, and in Manchester and Salford it was only a little less. These figures showed that the cost of the police in Ireland was not so wasteful as it appeared to be. The charges brought by hon. Members opposite against Ministers were also an indictment against a whole people who had been, to a steadily increasing extent, refusing to be brought into unjust sympathy with the case of the Irish tenants, because they had begun to sec the practices by which the grievances of the Irish tenants were used for political purposes. As to compulsory purchase, it was necessary to persuade the British people to part with their money for that purpose; but that would not be done by exaggerating the case and by working up theatrical agitation. They had been told that because the Government had gone so far with a generous policy of land purchase, and because they had put the tenants of one estate in a better position than those on another estate, they were bound to take another step forward, not because of financial considerations, but on account of geographical contiguity. He could assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that as they had failed at every election since 1886 in England, they would continue to fail to elicit sympathy here for their agrarian grievances so long as they were paraded before the British electorate as had been this case of the De Freyne tenantry.
§ MR. CHARLES DOUGLAS (Lanarkshire, N.W.)
said that the right hon. the Chief Secretary, in his very gloomy speech, rebuked the right hon. the Member for Haddington for impartiality. At all events the right hon. Gentleman's own speech was singularly free from that vice. 1209 There was a time when the right hon. Gentleman was suspected of impartiality in Ireland, but he had told the Committee the previous day, that, as the result of a longer experience, he had found that impartiality would not do; and he seemed from some of his latest speeches, to have gone far in abandoning any spirit of impartiality. It was certainly a remarkable fact that every question that arose in connection with Irish administration provoked an extraordinary heat and temper in the course of the discussion. For his part, he thought the only explanation of this lay in the fact that every grievance, however small, every detail, however insignificant it might appear in itself, was connected in the minds of the people of this country, and in Ireland, with the general grievances and the general problems which were vital to the whole interests of the country. When he spoke of small matters, he did not include amongst them the Sheridan case. He regarded that as a great and a grave matter. The shame and displeasure all Englishmen and Scotchmen felt was no small matter that a man drawing their pay and wielding their authority should ha re been guilty of the conduct of Sheridan. But that was the least of it. he felt bound to say, after having listened most respectfully and carefully to all that the right hon. Gentleman had stated about his past action and present attitude, that, in his opinion, there had been a very grave error of judgment which had led to a most unfortunate and serious failure of duty on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. What was the situation at the moment? At the best it was riot that the position of the Royal Irish Constabulary was seriously affected. But must it not be a bitter humiliation to every honest member of that force that he wore the same uniform as the man who had been concerned in acts which had been universally condemned? Was it not the fact that there remained an untried case, and allegations generally made against the Royal Irish Constabulary? At the worst they had allegations made by hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, which he himself did not believe, but he submitted that, at all events, Sheridan ought to have been put upon his trial, and what 1210 had been said by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had done nothing to remove that impression from his mind. He admitted that at an earlier period there might have been a difficulty in proceeding with die trial of Sheridan; but he sincerely trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would remove the painful impression made on the minds of hon. Members by endeavouring to find whether there was not evidence on which he could go forward with a reasonable hope of conviction. He maintained that even if the Government had failed in the prosecution to secure a conviction on account of the evidence breaking down, they would have been in a better position in Ireland than now if they had made the attempt. Some British Members of this House had incurred the displeasure of the right hon. Member for Antrim by interesting themselves in Ireland. That was a great misfortune from which they might never recover, but they must hear it as best they might. It seeded to be the newest brand of Unionist opinion that English and Scotch Members were not to take an interest in Irish affairs, or if they did, that they were to get their information from the right hon. and gallant Member for Armagh, who produced to the House few newspaper extracts. It was high time that hon. Members tried to see and learn the facts for themselves and think for themselves. When he said that they had been so unhappy as to incur the displeasure of some hon. Gentleman who represented the Irish landlord interest, he wished particularly to state that he knew very well that that had not been the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to their desire to inform themselves. Neither was it the spirit in which they had been received by Lord De Freyne's agent against whom he had no complaint to make, who had given them all the information that he could give after the instructions he had received. He did not understand why the Irish landlords should resent their interests in this matter. For himself he desired to say that whatever position the Irish landlords take in Ireland he was perfectly satisfied that they could not move forward in this matter at all unless they took a most reasonable and even generous view of the position of these landlords. He could not see what the landlords had to gain by having this question postponed. His opinion was that they were in a falling market.
§ It being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman loft the chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report progress; to sit again this evening.