§ Viscount Duncannon
, in moving the committal of the Unlawful Oaths (Ireland) Bill, said, the subject to which the bill related had engaged for the last twenty or thirty years the attention of the Government in Ireland, and an act (50th Geo. 3rd) was passed to enable the Government to put down parties bound together by unlawful oaths in that country. That Act was amended by another statute, the 59th of Geo. 3rd, which was found, however, to be equally inefficient, and eventually a representation was made to the Government to extend the powers of another Act (4th Geo. 4th) to Ireland. That application was made to the Government in a very able dispatch of the Marquess Wellesley, which stated the matter so clearly, that he would read an extract to their Lordships. It was addressed to Sir Robert Peel, dated the 29th of January, 1823, and was as follows:—I have not referred in this despatch to the dangerous system of associations, under the obligation of secret and mysterious oaths. Having some time since submitted to you a separate dispatch, relative to the trial and conviction of several persons denominated Ribbandmen, I added to that dispatch some observations, suggesting the necessity of strengthening the law of Ireland against the peril of those societies. The question of the increase 23 or diminution of the spirit of this association is stated differently, according to the particular views, imaginary interests, and flagrant zeal, of conflicting parties. In this contention (ludicrous in principle and theory, but mischievous to the State in practice) it is at least an advantage to the King's Government to have completely detected and publicly exposed the whole craft and mystery of the Ribband conspiracy. And I cannot believe that such an exposure, accompanied by such convictions, sentences, and punishments, should neither assuage the zeal, nor abate the bravery, of these covenanters, nor relax the holy bond of their illegal oaths, and treasonable contract. But I request your attention to the suggestions which I have submitted for the more effectual restraint of this system of mysterious engagements, formed under the solemnity of secret oaths, binding his Majesty's liege subjects to act under authorities not known to the law, nor derived from the State, for purposes undefined; not disclosed in the first process of initiation, nor until the infatuated novice has been sworn to the vow of unlimited and lawless obedience. The vigour and activity of the law should be exerted to extirpate this mischief, which has been a main cause of the disturbances and miseries of Ireland. The mystery is now distinctly exposed; I, therefore, anxiously hope and trust, that his Majesty's Government will add to the various benefits which they have already imparted to this country, the inestimable favour of abolishing by law in Ireland an evil which has been abolished by law in England.The Act in question was extended to Ireland, but still it was found very difficult to put down illegal societies, and they had engaged the attention of the Government from time to time from that period up to the present moment. It had always been found extremely difficult to fix the guilt on persons who had taken unlawful oaths, although it was well known that there were such persons in many parts of Ireland. This subject had also engaged the attention of her Majesty's Government during the past year, and in consequence of information which had been received, the present bill had been prepared. He would now only allude to that part of the bill relating to the use and possession of pass-words, for the purpose of stating that he hoped to meet an objection which had been started by a noble Lord opposite by inserting the words "without lawful excuse." The object of the bill was to discover and punish those who used passwords, and it was necessary that the law should be severe, or the suppression of these illegal societies could not be effected.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
said, it was very far from his intention to do anything to defeat the object of the bill, but he wished to draw the attention of their Lordships to some facts in connection with this question. The Government seemed to think it necessary to do something more than the present laws could do in order to reach what he could not but consider a dangerous system of conspiracy prevailing in Ireland. But why had nothing been done before? It appeared that on Monday, the 15th of July, this bill was brought into the House of Commons by the Solicitor-general for Ireland, and it was possible that a notice of it might have been given on the previous Friday. The bill was presented and read a first time on the 16th of July, and read a second time on the 18th, after 12 o'clock at night; on the 19th it was considered in committee after 12 o'clock, and reported on the following day; and on Monday, the 22nd, it was read a third time and passed, without any debate whatever, being the last day on which their Lordships' committee sat for hearing evidence on the state of crime in Ireland. He thought, that he had a right to complain of the late production of this bill. It was true, that every one of the practical characteristics of Ribbandism was made clear by the bill, and subjected to transportation; and it could not but be admitted that Lord Wellesley's letter must have furnished some grounds for its provisions. But the Government had done nothing year after year, though it had been repeatedly twitted in both Houses of Parliament with neglecting to suppress these mischiefs until after the committee, whose report was now before their Lordships, had commenced sitting and hearing evidence. If no other good should result from the appointment of that committee he must say that this circumstance alone was a proof of its utility. Their Lordships were well aware that great anxiety for an inquiry into the state of Ireland had existed for some years amongst the gentry of that country; but it was found impossible to obtain it in the other House—at least such an inquiry as would clearly and satisfactorily ascertain what was truth and what falsehood. His noble Friend (Lord Roden) having over and over again called the attention of the Government to the subject, at last determined to take the vote of the House, as to whether the gentlemen of Ireland having made repeated 25 complaints, their Lordships would refuse them an opportunity of going into the grounds of their complaints before a committee. Their Lordships agreed, in opposition to the Government, to the appointment of the committee, and that was followed by a resolution of the House of Commons, which was carried by a majority of 22, by which that House declared, that they were ready to acquit the Irish Government of all blame without any inquiry. But their Lordships were determined to inquire first, before they gave utterance to any decided opinion upon the subject; not choosing to follow the example of the other House, and decide without inquiry. Was it to be supposed, that if their Lordships saw the rights of peaceable citizens interfered with, and endangered by illegal proceedings and ineffective government, they were to remain silent? Did the noble Baron (Lord Holland) mean to say, that the House of Lords had not the power to inquire into the administration of justice by any public officer or public body in any part of the Queen's dominions, and that it was not as much the business of their Lordships to do so, as of the House of Commons? He repeated, then, that a resolution exculpating the Irish Government from censure, was passed in the House of Commons by a majority of twenty-two; which, be it observed, was not a very large majority, there being forty Members of a particular party there, besides others, of whom something might be said in connexion with the formation of majorities in that House. That majority was only equal to about one-half of a number of persons not directly, but indirectly, impugned, or who were the supporters of the Government of the noble Marquess, and therefore the resolution must naturally have been acceptable to their feelings and views. The committee appointed by their Lordships, had not escaped from censure. They had been blamed for not making a report of their opinion upon the evidence, but, that, under the circumstances, was not their duty; and if they had expressed an opinion, probably it would not have been satisfactory to those who wished for one. Then the composition of the committee furnished another ground of complaint to some noble Lords. When it was first appointed, it consisted of ten noble Lords on his side of the House, and eleven on 26 the other. A noble and learned Lord was subsequently added to the list, who certainly could not, according to the views of the noble Viscount, be called a supporter of the Government. It might be truly said, that fewer supporters of the Government sat upon the committee than others. But whose fault was that? If noble Lords on the other side did not choose to attend, they themselves were to blame. If the proceedings and the committee were unfair, it was in the power of noble Lords to alter it by attending the committee. He could only say, that every means were tried to get a regular and full attendance of the committee, and if the attendance, in point of parties, was as thirteen to five, he must say, that the fault was chargeable on those noble Lords who were appointed on the committee, and did not attend. The noble Marquess had said, that there were many subjects connected with the state of Ireland which still remained untouched; but he did not say, that the committee had not completed their inquiry into many subjects. Undoubtedly there were many points which the committee had not time to go into, but they had not absolutely said, that the inquiry should not be resumed; on the contrary, they had entirely left it to the House to decide that question. There was one point, for instance, on which very erroneous opinions prevailed—the degree of influence at work in almost every department of the Government. But the evidence already collected, might be found to bear very much upon that point. He would speak, however, principally of that part of the evidence which related to the bill now under discussion. Since the rebellion of 1798, it appeared, that a Riband Society had existed in Ireland, and it had been said, that it was established as a defensive body against the Orangemen. The whole of the evidence taken before the committee, however, was against that supposition, for, on the contrary, it rather seemed, that the establishment of Orange societies was merely a defensive precaution against the Riband societies established in 1798. These Riband societies had gone on increasing from that time to the present, and they had ever had the same objects in view, varied in some slight degree, it might be, to suit the differing political circumstances of the country. In 1822, certain persons had been prosecuted in 27 Dublin, for having been connected with those societies. Mr. Kemmis, who had been examined before the committee, was then the Crown prosecutor, and a person of the name of Michael Keenan, and another of the name of Brown, were tried for administering unlawful oaths. The speech of the Attorney-general of that time, in opening the case, so exactly described those societies as they at present existed, that he could not refrain from quoting it. He said—It is with great pain, that I feel myself called upon, in the exercise of my official duty, to lay before the public the very odious, dangerous, and disgusting conspiracy, by the machinations of which this country has been for some time infested, and its tranquillity exposed to hazard. For some time past (how long, I am not exactly aware—more, I believe considerably more, than two or three years), a plan has been formed in Iceland for associating the members of the community by un lawful oaths and engagements, to resist the laws, disturb the public peace, and overthrow the established Government. The machinery by which it is sought to effectuate these purposes is one of a very complicated nature, and evincing much consideration and contrivance. Its construction is extremely artificial, and far beyond the capacity and abilities of such persons as will appear to you to have been engaged in it. The course was, first to have lodges formed, the number of men in each of which was not limited, but seldom exceeded thirty or forty. Each of these members was bound by an oath to be of the society, to conform to its rules, not to reveal or divulge its secrets, and to obey the order of his superior. Each of these lodges had a master who was to represent his lodge in the baronial committees; from these baronial committees, delegates were appointed to represent the counties; and from these, delegates to attend at provincial meetings; and from these, again, delegates to the national meeting; thus, finally composing a general association, affecting to represent the entire community. Gentlemen, it is a great satisfaction to me, to be able to state, that to this confederacy no person of any consequence or consideration has been discovered to belong.It is at all events clear, that it has been founded for the purpose of violating the law, and interfering with the constituted authorities; and more than all, of infecting all orders of the people with a spirit of infuriate disaffection and insubordination, ready for any plan of mischief, should the exigencies of future times give that occasion, of which the present tranquil state of the world affords no immediate prospect. One feature, however, of this combination distinguishes it from those of 1797 and 1798. It is exclusively confined to persons of one religious persuasion—I 28 mean to persons professing the Roman Catholic faith. This circumstance alone, on the face of it, stamps the association with every mark of danger and illegality.The association has already extended into several neighbouring counties, and it is intended to embrace the whole kingdom. It is, however, not connected with the outrages which have for some time past disgraced the south of Ireland. Its object is rather the hatching of mischief to be brought into future operation. They condemn the disturbances in the south, and regret their premature appearance; their design is to wait until some period of danger and of difficulty, when they hope by a vigorous and united effort, to be able to shake the whole frame of our civil polity to its centre.All, however, are agreed in these points—to observe the commands of any person, who, by their rules, may be their superior, to veil their proceedings in profound secrecy, and to subvert the present system of laws and government.Another object in view was to overturn the Protestant religion, and establish the Roman Catholic in its stead. At another time, they proposed the utter extirpation of all Protestants out of the country.The bond by which its members are held together, is an oath or engagement of the nature you have heard described. They have conducted their plans with considerable secrecy.No immediate danger, it is true, is to be apprehended from persons of this character and description; but, Gentlemen, it is a formidable thing—an alarming thing, to know that a conspiracy is on foot, and has been going forward for years in the land—that bands of wretches have been from night to night, meeting in the heart of this our city, endeavouring to poison the minds of all orders of the people, and prepare them for the perpetration of any mischief, to which any future emergency may afford opportunity and temptation.Such was the account given by the then Attorney-general of those societies as they existed at that time, and the description to a word fitted their actual condition and objects now. He thought, then, they might fairly conclude, that these societies had existed for a considerable time; and the only questions which they had to consider were, how far they had increased? whether their objects were now different? and whether they were to be viewed as dangerous to life and property, and as rendering both insecure? Such had been the objects which the committee had in view, and to the elucidation of those questions they had called several witnesses, and it was worth while to consider for a 29 moment who those witnesses were, and what were their characters. With respect to all those witnesses, he thought it right to say, that much as he had been in the practice of hearing evidence, he had never seen brought before him a body of more intelligent men, or men more capable of giving their evidence in a satisfactory manner. They did great credit to the intelligence of the country, and he had great pleasure in thus stating his opinion of their character and conduct. But who were those persons? Were they picked out by his noble Friend behind him (Lord Roden) from party feeling, or because they were attached, and favourable to the party to which his noble Friend belonged? No; for, with one exception, they were all persons in the employment of the Government. Some were stipendiary magistrates, others belonged to the constabulary, and and all were men of great knowledge and experience. They had also had before them the commissioners of police of Dublin, and finally Mr. Drummond, the Under Secretary for Ireland. They had had before them, as witnesses, Major Warburton, inspector of police, Major Rowan, Mr. Faussett, Captain Despard, Captain Tracy, Captain Warburton, Mr. Wright, and a great many others. Besides these, they had the two commissioners of police for Dublin, and all the Crown Solicitors. These persons all agreed that, more or less, those Riband societies existed in Ireland. They agreed that the members of those societies were bound together by oath, some giving information relative to one part of their proceedings, and others with respect to other parts; and, for the most part, it was stated, that not the least doubt could exist as to the existence of those societies: and that, whatever might be their object, they were so organized as to make it easy to convert them to purposes fatal to the peace and tranquillity of the country. Mr. Drummond had tried to depreciate the evidence of Mr. Rowan, which, he must say, appeared to him clear and satisfactory, and well worthy of their Lordships' consideration. Before, however, comparing his evidence with that which had been given by the other witnesses, and showing its general correctness, he must observe, that no one was justified in stating that his evidence had not been substantially borne out by the rest of the witnesses. There could be no doubt of the correctness of the facts of 30 which that gentleman poke. But let them even take away the whole of the evidence adduced by Major Rowan, and let them suppose that he had never spoken a word upon this subject, yet there was abundance of evidence remaining to show, that those societies did exist, that they were full of danger, and that they were connected, in a material degree, with the outrages and crimes of which Ireland had unhappily been so long the scene. It was possible, he was ready to admit, that persons who had communicated information to Mr. Rowan on this subject had been guilty of exaggeration, and that they had taken mere matters of conversation relative to those societies, as illustrative of the serious designs of their members; but, leaving Mr. Rowan's evidence out of the question-, there still remained enough to show the existence of those societies, and the danger to which they exposed the country. He would come to the evidence of Captain Despard, a stipendiary magistrate, and one who had been rather an unwilling witness, as he had been reluctant to make certain communications to the committee without the authority of the Government. He did not mean to say, that he had been improperly unwilling to give evidence, but only that he had been extremely cautions, and anxious to have the authority of the Government in making certain communications to the committee. Captain Despard had explained the objects of those societies, and the manner in which they carried on business. He said—It has been detailed to me by a person I examined, that in the event of anything being done which was obnoxious or unpleasant, as he said, to the people of the neighbourhood, a committee sits upon the person who does that act; that this committee consists of committee-men and parish masters, and they decide upon the punishment which is to follow. If the man is to be beaten, a party is brought from many miles off to beat; if he is to be shot"—I think the word of the man was—"may be one man is appointed to do it, and he must, for whoever is ordered must obey. I think those were the words of a man I have examined.If a part of the country was to be raised, it appeared "that a man is sent from, say a lodge in Dublin, to the nearest town, with a verbal message, which he delivers to one person, who delivers it to three, each of whom delivers it to three more," and so on till the whole district is raised. Captain Despard also explained the nature of the pass-words and 31 quarrelling-words, as they were called. The pass-words were generally short sentences, sometimes in verse, and the quarrelling-words were used to point out a person to be beaten or maltreated. When the man was indicated by the quarrelling-word, he was immediately marked, and then an opportunity was taken of beating him on his way home, by a person brought from a distance. Captain Despard was not the only person who stated these facts, and it appeared quite clear from the whole of the evidence, that the information which he had given to the committee was quite correct. He said that one of the statements which had been made to him on this subject by a person he had examined, bore evident marks of truth and had been corroborated upon oath. But all the evidence he had taken had been to the same effect, and had also been sworn to. Captain Tracey had stated that those societies sought by force to obtain their objects, that they turned out whole districts, but not till they had received the sanction of their leaders; and regarding their leaders there was much mystery. It was generally understood that a directing committee sat in Dublin, sometimes in Armagh, and, he believed, sometimes in Belfast; but that part of the subject was still involved in considerable obscurity. Major Brown had, however, stated, that of the fact of a leading body existing there could be no doubt. He had said that it was clear that some person directed the operations of the societies, for all their business was contrived in a way which showed great cleverness and ability. Major Brown was a Commissioner of police, of great experience, and he had stated that he had no doubt of the existence of Riband Societies, independent of the Trades Societies for Dublin, with which it was sometimes attempted to connect them. He had also corroborated the evidence of Mr. Rowan, and given it as his opinion that Mr. Rowan had not gone too far in the evidence which he had given before the committee. When asked what the difference of opinion between him and Mr. Rowan was, he had stated that he believed pass-words existed, but that he doubted whether all the members of those societies would consent to assassination. There was, however, nothing in Major Brown's evidence to contradict in any material point the statement made by Mr. Rowan. Now, Major 32 Brown had taken great pains to obtain information on this subject, and had been employed by the Government to inquire and make a report upon the subject, and there was really, after all, nothing contradictory of Mr. Rowan's evidence in the evidence adduced by Major Brown. The pass-words were stated to be changed every three months, and they were given out at the meetings of the parish committee by the master. The people paid a small sum for the benefit of those passwords, and it was supposed that a person possessing one of them might pass through Ireland without molestation. If these pass words were detected and found out they were instantly changed. In speaking of those societies, it was curious, that, although they pervaded a great part of Ireland, and particularly the middle counties, viz.—Meath, Westmeath, Sligo, Longford, Queen's County, part of King's County, Dublin, and other parts—yet they did not prevail so much in the south, and it was more extraordinary still that they were not known to exist in Tipperary. One asked naturally, what was the reason of this, and the answers of some witnesses were, that where the mass of the people were Roman Catholics such societies were not required, because being the most powerful body any defence of this kind was unnecessary. It was clear that those societies at present were established by Roman Catholics, and it was evident from the trial to which he had alluded in 1822, that such was also the case then. It could not be doubted that a great part of the outrages in Ireland arose out of the disputes about land. Some of those attacks were directed against the landlords, but generally they were directed against the tenants. The course pursued was to send a threatening notice, and if the party did not at once obey the orders contained in that notice, a person was brought from a distance who was employed to waylay the party and beat him, and in some instances murder was committed. But the system of bringing strangers from a distance to commit those crimes rendered it difficult, and often impossible, to find out the criminal, and notwithstanding the efforts of the Government the murderer often went unpunished. The noble Lord was understood to say, that doubt had been thrown upon the statement that these murders were com- 33 mitted by strangers, but he must take as better evidence, the statements made by those magistrates who were living in the parts where the murders were committed, and they universally agreed that they were committed by strangers; and not only to, but they had information supplied to them on oath, after the tiling had occurred, how the whole business was managed, and even 10 what part of the country the parties had gone to get persons to perform their vengeance. But there was another reason why it was no easy matter to penetrate the mystery in which the proceedings of the Ribandmen were involved, and why it was difficult to procure evidence; and this was the fact that the parties who gave evidence gave it in danger of their lives. It was also difficult to get at evidence which would lead to a conviction, because one of the things with the members of these societies were bound to do was to go into a court of justice and perjure themselves in order to get off their accomplices. If then it was true, in the first instance, that any person who gave evidence against the Ribandmen was in danger of his life, and that there were plenty of persons ready to commit perjury on his behalf, it was no wonder that discovery was difficult. There were many persons who said, that one of the objects of the society was to have a large body of men always ready to turn out on a short notice, for what object, indeed, they did not know; some said for one thing, and some for another, but they said, that although there were now no people of consequence who belonged to the society, yet when they once turned out, there were persons of consideration who would be placed at their head. Their Lordships had heard of speeches which had been made, in which it was said, that in Ireland her Majesty would have ready to turn out for her, 500,000 men. He did not know how far the persons who made those speeches were aware of the existence of this conspiracy, but he did not know any better mode of carrying the threat into effect than by means of this conspiracy. He could not help thinking, that if there were persons who knew that such a society existed, they might threaten in such a way that they might make their threats good at any time. This was certainly not a matter which could be proved, but if the persons who made use of such language meant any thing more than idle words, 34 they had this conspiracy at their hands, and it would be difficult to conceive any better mode of carrying the threat into effect. He would now turn to the evidence of Mr. Drummond, who said he did not relieve that the objects of the society were such as had been attributed to than. He said, that the matter of Riband lodges were generally publicans, and as the persons who were members said a small sum of money towards the society, Mr. Drummond thought it was the desire of gain which influenced the publicans to become masters of these lodges. He certainly believed, that generally they were publicans, and it appeared that payments were made by members, and that accounts were kept of the sums paid, but he believed that no account was rendered of the way in which the money was expended. He could not believe, however, that the society would have gone on for so many years, and that the members would have continued to pay their money, without some ulterior object. He imagined that those persons conceived they would get some good from the society, or else they would not belong to it. He sad, therefore, that this was no argument—atleast not an argument satisfactory to his mind—against the existence of the society with ulterior objects. Another ground for incredulity expressed by Mr. Drummond, was the character of the informers. Mr. Drummond did not, indeed, deny the existence of the society, but he denied its power. He spoke of it as a rude organization, and a clumsy contrivance. He spoke with contempt of their power to upset the institutions of the country, but he by no means denied the existence of the society. Mr. Drummond founded one of his objections on the character of the informers. Undoubtedly, if they had taken an oath to the society, and afterwards come to give information about it on oath, the first thing that struck the mind was, that they had already perjured themselves. They were also persons in low life, and in want of money, and they were also accomplices. All these things indisposed the mind to receive their testimony with credit. These objections, however, to the testimony of informers had always existed, and must always exist. It was impossible to get respectable persons to give evidence against their accomplices, for they would feel themselves bound by their first oath, and it was not, therefore, 35 sufficient for him to be told, that because the informers were of perfectly bad character, he must totally disbelieve the existence of the society. These were the principal grounds on which Mr. Drummond disbelieved the power and extent of that society, and he had shown why he did not think Mr. Drummond's reasons of sufficient weight. He must observe, that it appeared by the evidence, that there was undoubtedly a feeling on the part of those people, that the parish priests, although they from time to time decried the society, were glad that it existed, and would make use of it at an election. He did not mean to say, that his mind was made up on that point, but there was evidence to show, that there might be cases in which such things would occur. The result of the evidence on his mind was this, that there existed a conspiracy in Ireland, the objects of which certainly were directed to agrarian purposes, and which was made use of for the purpose of vengeance, and deterring people from taking land; but with respect to more serious objects, and particularly the design of overturning the Protestant religion, and substituting the Catholic religion in its stead, there was not evidence sufficient to show that such objects were contemplated. There was, however, much evidence to show, that there were a great number of persons who had those objects in view, many of the pass-words were of a political complexion, and though he could not say that the objects of the whole society were political, there were a great number of persons belonging to it who were ready to make use of it for that purpose. No person could go through the evidence without believing that the country gentlemen in many parts of Ireland were surrounded by a conspiracy, and he must say, that it was too hard to expect, that their complaints should not he heard both in that and in the other House of Parliament. He must say also, that the country gentlemen of Ireland, notwithstanding what had been said of them, were fully aware of their duty, ready to improve their estates, and make their tenants comfortable, and the evidence showed, that they made a sparing use of the power of ejectment. It was proved by the evidence of most respectable witnesses, one of whom was Mr. Cahill, a Crown solicitor, that there was no truth in the charge which had been made, that 36 the gentlemen of Tipperary had made ejectments by wholesale. It was true that ejectments took place, but that was not for the purpose of getting rid of tenants, but of collecting arrears of rent. He thought it hard, therefore, that the country gentlemen thould be told by the Secretary for Ireland, that "property had its duties as well as its rights." It would have been well if they had been told so quietly in a private room, but when it was written in a letter, which was meant to be, and was instantly published, the whole country must believe, that it was intended as a censure upon those gentlemen. He could not but say, that this expression of Mr. Drummond was most imprudent, and must have irritated the tenants. He was afraid that he had entered into this question at too great length, but he could not close his remarks without saying what in his opinion was the real reason why Ireland was not suffered to remain quiet. He was happy to say, that he had come from the committee with his mind satisfied that a better moral feeling had arisen in Ireland than existed some years ago. This improved state of moral feeling was shown to be exhibited by the country gentlemen, and and he was in hopes that in time it would produce its proper effect. But there were in Ireland elements which could not but interfere with the progress of these results. They would find that assaults, and murders, and other acts of violence, always followed political agitation. There were persons who made a profit of this. The peasantry were told that their superiors were their enemies; the gentry were pointed out as "bloody Tories," and "bloody Sassenachs," and not only as a body, but individually. He was sorry also to say, that there was a leaning on the part of the Government towards those persons and the party to which they belonged. So long as that lasted he could not believe that there was any prospect of peace for Ireland.
The Marquess of Normanby
would not have obtruded himself upon the attention of their Lordships were it not for some observations which had fallen from his noble Friend at the beginning of his speech, and a few words at its conclusion. He should not detain their Lordships longer than was absolutely necessary, looking as he did at the unpromising state of the House, which afforded a striking, contrast to its appearance two nights back. 37 His noble Friend opposite had taken credit for the committee, as having caused the Government to prepare this bill; but, in fact, it had engaged the attention of the Attorney-general a long time before he left Ireland, and the very first time that his hon. and learned Friend the present Solicitor-General for Ireland addressed the House of Commons, he had stated that it was his intention to introduce such a bill. His noble Friend had also taken credit to those noble Lords who supported the motion on a former evening for the smallness of the minority. He did not exactly see the inference which his noble Friend had intended to draw from that circumstance, but he begged to remind him that of those who formed the minority on that occasion, several were members of the Government who could not attend on the committee, even if the objections which they entertained to the constitution of the committee had not sufficed to prevent them. His noble Friend had also said he did not see why he might not have attended on the committee; but he would call to the recollection of noble Lords that on a former occasion, when that subject under was discussion, his noble Friend observed, that he had very properly withdrawn from it, as his own conduct was involved in the inquiry. With regard to the existence of Riband Societies, he would address himself to a portion of the report which his noble Friend had wholly omitted to notice—he meant the evidence of Mr. Rowan, and the information sent by that gentleman to the government at Dublin last year. His noble Friend had, in stating the case, completely thrown away his principal witness. When noble Lords heard what was the nature of that evidence and that information—when they found what a very credulous gentleman (as he was described by one witness) Mr. Rowan was, they would perhaps, not be surprised at his noble Friend's silence upon that part of his case. With regard to the society, however, he must say, that take the last account his noble Friend had given of the nature and object of this conspiracy, and there was very little difference between them on the subject. He had always admitted that a conspiracy existed in Ireland ostensibly addressed to agrarian outrages. That was, in his opinion, all that had been established. He could, indeed, scarcely conceive a greater discrepancy than that which ex- 38 isted between the announcement of the noble Earl, when moving for the committee, and the case as attempted to be proved by the evidence before the committee. What were the words of the noble Earl?The subject was that of a conspiracy in Ireland—a conspiracy systematic, organized, and secret, and which was directed against the life and property of all who would not join it, and support the treasonable objects which its members had in view. From that conspiracy the poor farmers were the greatest sufferers; for, however anxious they might be for security, peace, and quiet, yet if they refused to join this conspiracy, or to obey the dictates of its members, they were visited at night, beaten, maltreated, and exposed to the greatest cruelties.[The Earl of Roden: Hear!] The noble Earl cheered; he would be glad if the noble Earl would point out where his assertion was made out by the evidence. The noble Earl went on to.say:—The object and ultimate aim of the Riband conspiracy was exactly the same as those of the Precursor Association—namely, separation from England, in which was involved the annihilation of the Protestant faith. Such, he believed, were the chief objects of both bodies. He had stated before, that the Government were acquainted with the existence of that conspiracy from the investigations of its own officers, and he well remembered, that when he made that statement, the noble Marquess opposite had said, that he knew nothing of such a conspiracy, and, if he recollected right, the noble Marquess also added, that he did not believe such a conspiracy existed.Now, he appealed to his noble Friend opposite, whether he had not asserted his belief, that the evidence did not bear out the first statement of the noble Earl? [Lord Wharncliffe had said, that there was not sufficient evidence to satisfy his mind.] The allusion of the noble Earl to his denial of the existence of such a conspiracy, referred to what had fallen from him in 1837. What he did say on that occasion was, that there had been, for a length of time, a conspiracy of an agrarian kind in Ireland, but that he did not think its objects were political. In fact, he did not think its objects were political any more than his noble Friend opposite believed them to be so.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
had said, that there was not sufficient evidence on the face of the inquiry to show what really was the object of the conspiracy. He by no means 39 went the length of saying that no political conspiracy existed.
The Marquess of Normanby
No doubt there might be persons connected with the society whose objects were political, or who might, in order to delude their dupes, assume political masks. He further stated at that time, that he had not seen any such oath as was stated to be in existence; but at the time he added, that although he had not seen such oath, and did not believe in the existence of a conspiracy, to the extent and of the kind and character described by the noble Earl, yet if the existence of such a society could be proved, no man would be more determined than himself to put it down. He appealed to the House, whether the evidence did not prove that such had been his intention, and that the acts of his government had borne it out. On another occasion, early in the present Session, he had thus expressed himself on the subject of these conspiracies:—With regard to what the noble Earl had said of secret oaths, he did not believe in their existence; at least not by any means in the shape of any general confederacy; but still he admitted, that there were traces of Ribandism in Ireland. It was impossible for him to say that Ribandism was entirely extinct in Ireland; but he held in his hand a document which proved that Government had not overlooked that fact; but still, with every exertion on their part, and with every effort possible to put an end to the last vestige of that system, they had not been able to procure evidence of a nature sufficient to ensure a conviction; and he thought that a committee of their Lordships' House, without knowing really what they were about, would be the most likely way of any to discover the truth. When this question was formerly discussed, he had stated that the Government had observed vestiges of Ribandism in different places, but that they had seen no evidence of any general conspiracy: but if any traces of it could be found, they would inquire, and endeavour to find it out. There was evidence to show that Riband lodges existed in some parts of Ireland, but certainly a committee of their Lordships' House was not the best way of ascertaining the extent or nature of the evil.These were his words on the motion for the Committee he appealed to the House whether the evidence had not borne them out. He still retained his opinion with regard to Ribandism—that it did not exist in the same state now as formerly—certainly not to the extent described by his noble and learned Friend, Lord Plunket, in 1822. The whole characteristics of the 40 system were different. Captain Despard distinctly stated in his evidence, that Ribandism did not exist now as formerly. It was, he said, better established and more fully developed in 1831 than at present. There was also the evidence of the stipendiary magistrate (referred to by Mr. Drummond) on the authority of a Roman Catholic bishop, that Ribandism was on the wane—that it did not possess those political characteristics that formerly appertained to it. Another question also was, whether Ribandism was confined to purposes palpable and obvious to a local application and limited in extent, or whether it exercised an universal influence over the peasantry, and whether the purposes to which it was applied were illegal—whether there was any one great object common to all the persons engaged in the society, or whether the members of it were bound to obtain for others whom, perhaps, they did not know, objects, of the full nature of which they were not aware. He would call the attention of the House to the state of the information on the subject of Ribandism at the time he addressed their Lordships in 1837. There had been two cases of murder in Sligo in 1836. The Government endeavoured to bring the parties to trial, but the evidence was not sufficient for conviction. And so long a time having intervened without a single conviction, the Government were naturally inclined to doubt the existence of the treasonable conspiracy complained of. He had also alluded to the combination assaults in Dublin. They were associations arising out of the operations of trade—and it frequently occurred that there was no foundation whatever for the statements of the informers. But, at the commencement of 1838, the Government received from Mr. Rowan this letter:—Confidential.—County of Westmeath.—In submitting the annexed documents, I consider it right (as briefly as possible) to state, for his Excellency's information, how I became acquainted with the matters referred to therein. Some outrages having taken place in a particular district of this county, respecting which I was anxiously endeavouring to procure information, a person presented himself to me with a note from a public functionary, stating that the bearer had frequently made himself useful to the police authorities, and that I might probably find it advantageous to examine him respecting the district in question, as he was connected with a large faction there, and was supposed to be intimately acquainted with the various agrarian outrages now so preva- 41 lent. I, of course, examined him, and found that he was willing to inform me respecting a then recently committed offence on a solemn pledge that his name should not be mentioned without his consent, and that he should not be required to become a public prosecutor at the risk, if not the certainty, of losing his lifeAll informers were in the nature of discreditable witnesses, and their information was not always to be relied on. His complaint against these informers was not on the ground of their character only, but that they were useless, as they always stopped short when called upon to publicly substantiate their statements. Up to the time when they were called upon to make good their information all went glibly enough—they were ready enough to give you any story, but you could never induce them to come forward and swear publicly to the information they had given. Mr. Rowan went on:—This individual (though quite unlettered) evinced so much shrewdness and intelligence, and, at the same time, showed such extensive knowledge of a large and turbulent portion of this county, that I at once perceived he could communicate much useful information, which I led him to do by questions on various subjects, and chiefly respecting Riband Socities, which I had reason to believe prevailed extensively throughout the county. The information contained in the annexed papers is the result of my inquiries collected at different interviews, and which, when arranged, as now submitted, he expressed his willingness to verify on oath, stipulating expressly that his name should never be disclosed without his sanction to that effect, and that he never should be required, unless by his own express consent, to appear as a public witness in the matters referred to.Now, supposing the informant only anxious, to make money with the greatest certainty and the smallest risk to himself, it was impossible to suppose a better trade than to let him state facts and receive money for doing so (all these informants but one did receive money), and never call on them in any way to substantiate those statements. Mr. Rowan then went on to state:—I should not have hesitated to swear him at once to the truth of his statements (which I have drawn out in the form of a sworn information with that object in view), but that I did not perceive how I could sustain my pledge of secresy in the event of any of the parties implicated being arrested and held to bail, or otherwise made amenable, or unless sanctioned by Government to that effect, it being now the regulation to allow persons 42 charged on oath with alleged offences to obtain copies of the informations sworn against them. Under these circumstances, I have considered it my duty to acquaint the Government with the information I have thus received, in order that the Lord-lieutenant, being in possession of the facts as they have been represented to me, may be enabled to judge to what degree of credit they are entitled, and whether any and what further proceedings ought to be adopted thereupon. As the subject (if the allegations of my informant are well founded) is of great importance, and likely, in its further development, to occasion much anxiety, trouble, and responsibility, I request, should I be further employed therein, to be favoured with precise instructions for the guidance of my conduct.It apeared by the correspondence between Mr. Rowan and Mr. Kemmis, that Mr. Rowan had incorporated the evidence of seven or eight informants in this document. The examinant stated—That he is a member of the society commonly known by the name and appellation of the Society of Ribandmen in Ireland, and that he has been a member of the said society for about fourteen years; and he saith that he is now one of the committee-men of said society in and for the parish of—, in said county of Westmeath. Examinant states, that said society hath assumed different forms, and has been (so far as he understands it) distinguished by different names at different periods, since it was first formed by Lord Edward Fitzgerald, as examinant has been told, in the year 1798, or thereabouts, and was then called the Society of United Irishmen; but that a new modification of it took place on the 1st of November last past, and that it is now generally known among its members as the Religious Liberty System, or, more shortly, as the Liberty System. He saith, that the said Religious Liberty System, or Society of confidential Ribandmen, hath had and now has many objects in view; but that its present great objects are, viz., to dethrone the Queen of the United Kingdom from being Queen of Ireland; to place Daniel O'Connell, the Member of Parliament for Dublin, as Catholic King of Ireland in her stead; to put down and destroy the Protestant religion in Ireland, and to restore the forfeited estates.'[Lord Roden, "Hear."] If the noble Earl, by his cheer, meant that he believed this, perhaps he also believed what followed.The forfeited estates that were taken by Oliver Cromwell (a list of which is kept by the. priests), to be returned to their lawful owners.How would they find the lawful owners? Great portions of the lately purchased estates in Ireland had been purchased by 43 Catholics. [Lord Roden: No.] Unless the noble Earl was quite sure to the contrary, he rather thought, that a great portion of the recently purchased property in Ireland had been purchased by Catholics. The examinant went on:—And he saith, that quarterly returns are made to the said Grand Lodge of the number of members of said society comprised in each parish of the kingdom respectively; that there is no list or roll (that examinant knows of) of the names of the members of the society, but they keep a List of the names of the baronial delegates throughout the kingdom.
was asked by the committee, whether he believed all this. It appeared that he told the Police Commissioners, that it was much more probable that Daniel O'Connell would be king, than that he was backed by the Duke of Leinster. Thus it seemed Mr. Rowan communicated this important intelligence to the Police Commissioners. How was it that he did not state the same thing before the committee? Probably because he had received some hint that it was better not to tell the story to them. This was Mr. O'Ferrall's statement of what was said by Mr. Rowan:—I have received a communication from H. W. Rowan, stating, that the object of the Riband Society was, to make Mr. O'Connell King of Ireland, and to overthrow the Protestant religion, which they hope to do now, as the said Mr. Daniel O'Connell is backed by the Duke of Leinster.The examinant continued:—There are in three parishes of the aforesaid county, with which he is intimately acquainted, about 1,000 men now enrolled as members of the above society; that they have increased in numbers very much of late, and are still increasing, in consequence, as he understands, of the present rebellion in Canada, and their hopes of a war between England and the United States of America.Considering that this examinant was spoken of by Mr. Rowan as an intelligent man, he really did seem to possess a great deal of general information:—Which has given great encouragement to the members of the said society, as every pains is taken to persuade the country people that that rebellion cannot be put down; and he believes, that nothing would now persuade the country that the said rebellion ever will be put down, till the said Daniel O'Connell is crowned King of Ireland.How Mr. O'Connell's becoming king of Ireland would put down the rebellion in 44 Canada, he was quite at a loss to understand. The examinant continued:—The members of the society are impressed with the conviction, that when the time comes for them to turn out altogether, there will be plenty of arms and ammunition prepared for them from abroad.The noble Earl, on a former occasion, alluded to a very large importation of arms; at that time Colonel Kennedy took great pains to inquire into the facts, but found that there was no such thing. [The Earl of Roden: We have proof of it in the evidence.] The examinant then went on to state:—The members of the society are in the practice of going out at night, sometimes to the amount of 100 men, to be drilled in the use of fire and other arms.Now here was a fact stated, which Mr. Rowan might have verified. Had he been in Mr. Rowan's situation, he would not have rested until he had ascertained the truth or falsehood of the statement. If the informant knew where they were to meet, why could he not enable the Government to detect them? But the fact was, that the Government never could get information of these outrages beforehand. True, it was urged that these outrages were not concocted until just before they were perpetrated. But what said Mr. Faussett, of Sligo? That one outrage in that district (a murder) had been concocted five months beforehand. The examinant further stated, thatSuch of them as had not fire-arms had pikes, made something like bayonets, fixed on forks or poles, and that others of them have bayonets or pistols. The rule is, that there must be a drill once in each month, but that sometimes they go out three or four nights in succession for that purpose.If that were so, surely this informant must have been able to point out where they assembled. Mr. Rowan's information was forwarded to Mr. Kemmis, the Crown Solicitor, who wrote thus to Mr. Rowan on the subject:—Kildare-street, Dublin, June 11, 1838.My dear Sir—Mr. Drummond has forwarded to me your correspondence with him, containing a detailed account of the existence of an extensive conspiracy in this country, with directions to confer with you on the subject, in the view of ascertaining what information may be obtained, by your exertions, respecting the persons alluded to in the papers in question, as residents in Dublin, adding, that it is most 45 desirable to ascertain whether the statements regarding them are correct. I have read these papers, and conceive that the best mode of arriving at the truth in this matter is to take an early opportunity of examining your informant with respect to his own personal knowledge of the facts in his power to communicate. Let hearsay and conjecture have no place in the deposition to which I refer; let him, in the first instance, state when he became a Ribandman, and at whose instance; when he was sworn, and by whom, and who were present; the several meetings he afterwards attended, setting out time and place as nearly as he can recollect the persons present at each; who acted as president, secretary, or other officer; the business transacted; the conversation which took place; the plans and designs of the conspirators, as they appeared by the words used at any of those meetings; the name, address, and description of the very individuals who used those words; and the books, lists, or other documents in their custody, if any of them. If, however, you should find it difficult to obtain those minute particulars from him, let him state when he learned the facts he has communicated to you, not only with respect to the individuals whom he names, but the grand lodge in Dublin, and the baronial, parochial, and other lodges. He can have no difficulty in stating the name of every individual from whom he learned the various branches of the information he gave you, and the occasion, time, and place, at which he learned them. If he is disposed to communicate freely with you, on the several points adverted to, and is at once intelligent, rational, and consistent, confidence may be placed in his veracity. If, however, he shows any reluctance, and will only talk to you of the general system, and tell you a story that any person of common astuteness might invent, you probably would hesitate to give him the credit that would be requisite in a matter of so much importance, before a single step could be taken upon his evidence. I was in hopes of seeing you in Dublin; but as I find that you are not immediately expected here, I think it better to write to you, notwithstanding the necessity that exists for caution on such a subject,—I am, &c(Signed) "WM. KEMMIS.What was Mr. Rowan's answer?"La Mancha, Mullingar, June 15, 1838.My dear Sir—I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 11th instant, which reached my address only on the 13th of this month, and to which I have not till now had a moment's leisure to reply. I am very glad that the papers in question have been put into your hands, as I shall now be able to communicate with you fully on the subject. I have given all the attention to your letter which it merits; and it appears to me, that every particular you require from my informant has already been complied with, and so far as is practicable in the nature of things, for 46 some of the circumstances which you appear to think ought to be given in detail, having occurred fourteen years ago, cannot possibly be particularised in the manner you require. You appear, moreover, to be under the impression, that I have had information respecting the conspiracy adverted to but from one individual. The fact is otherwise; and my communications surely must have made Mr. Drummond aware, that the contrary is the case. I have, it is true, taken the trouble to put the information alluded to into specific form from but one person; but I have had representations from others, more or less corroborating his statements. With the various duties I have to perform, I am really quite unable (without neglecting them) to submit in writing all the information, more or less important, that has been given to me; nor do I perceive any mode by which any satisfactory representation of such important matters can be made in writing. If, therefore, you are authorised to require my presence in Dublin, in order to confer with me, or that you will procure such authority, I will proceed to town to communicate to you in person all I know on the subject. If this is to be done, I request to hear from you by return of post, in order that I may be able to go to town on next Monday, as I shall be continually engaged after that till the end of the next month. Then comes the 12th of July, when I suppose I shall be sent somewhere to the north, and then the assizes, &c, &c. Hoping to be favoured with a line in reply, I remain, my dear Sir, very truly yours,HILL W. ROWAN.To this Mr. Kemmis replied:—Kildare-street, June 25, 1838.My dear Sir—I can readily excuse a delay on your part, when a similar reason, the press of business, has occasioned a similar delay on mine since the receipt of your last communication. I conceive that Mr. Drummond has placed in my hands the whole of the papers which he received from you on the subject of the conspiracy; and to render them of avail, so as to justify any proceeding, however slight, upon them, it is absolutely necessary that you should be in possession of all the facts, upon oath, as minutely described in my former letter. Your chief informant can have no difficulty in stating who induced him to become a Ribandman, and the several circumstances attending his admission, even though it took place fourteen years ago. He may not be able to recount conversations at meetings long past; but surely he can detail all that took place at recent meetings. If he cannot, his evidence is worth but little; and surely, if there is any foundation for the general view he has given of the system, it is in his power to state the acts done and the words spoken on those occasions when he obtained the knowledge in question, and to point out the very individuals who were actors in those scenes. You intimate that you have had information of 47 this conspiracy from more than one individual. If so, all that I have suggested as to one is equally applicable to all your informants; and it would be in the highest degree advisable, that you should examine them all upon the points to which I have adverted in my former letter, and take down their depositions on oath.After you have obtained and forwarded to me the depositions of these several individuals, embracing the facts to which I have adverted, it will be time enough for a personal communication with you. You can at present state nothing of which your papers have not already made me fully aware; and it would be giving you the trouble of a long and expensive journey to no purpose now to require your presence in Dublin. If your informants will not enter into particulars, but confine themselves to an account that is as likely to be false as true, and which cannot be tried by any test, they might as well have been altogether silent, for any advantage that can be derived from their statements.I shall be anxious to hear from you,and remain my dear Sir, very truly yours,(Signed) "WM. KEMMIS.To this letter, Mr. Rowan sent the following answer:—(Private)"La Mancha, Mullingar,7th July, 1838.My dear Sir—I have deferred replying to your letter of the 25th ult., till after seeing again the principal individual therein referred to, and this for your satisfaction, not fur mine, as I was quite aware beforehand what must be the result. He made not the slightest hesitation about stating the various particulars adverted to by you, nor would he hesitate to swear to their truth, on one condition, viz., that his name should never be disclosed, and that he should never be called un to prosecute. This, you will say, renders any information he has given (however true it may be), mystery, since, under such circumstances, it cannot be acted on. But surely, my dear Sir, no one knows better than yourself, that to make himself known as an informer, would be, in other words, to forfeit his life, and probably the lives of all his family. It does not become me to suggest a remedy for such a state of things; the remedy is, however, in my mind obvious. If what is stated to me be, as I am persuaded it is, true, there exists a widely-spread system of high treason. I have done my duty in endeavouring to develope it, and in submitting t e information I have obtained to Government.I remain, my dear Sir, yours very truly,W. Kemmis, Esq. "HILL W. ROWAN.
tried again to pet something either from Mr. Rowan, or from his informant, and wrote the following letter:—(Private) "Kildare-street, Dublin,13th July, 1838.My dear Sir—It is quite impossible to set 48 upon the information of your informant in its present state. He has not mentioned the acts or words of a single individual from his own personal knowledge, and until that be done upon oath, there can be no proceeding; even though he will not consent to come forward as a prosecutor, still it would be very desirable to obtain all the facts and conversations of a treasonable nature which he actually witnessed, reduced to writing, and deposed to upon oath. In page 3 of his examination, he states, that the objects of the society are, to dethrone the present Queen from being Queen of Ireland, and to place Daniel O'Connell in her stead; to destroy the Protestant religion, and restore the forfeited estates, &c.; but he does not state the names of the individuals who entered into this conspiracy, nor the conversation which took place between them, if he was present, nor even the person he heard it from, or if it be mere hear say evidence. In fact, there is nothing tangible in anything he has communicated, and it is impossible to decide whether these prominent charges may not be altogether a fabrication, so that in this view the Government cannot be said to possess any substantial knowledge on the subject; and there is no doubt that it would be of consequence to them to possess such knowledge, even though they cannot bring forward the informer.—I remain very truly yours, (Signed) W. K.Hill Wilson Rowan, Esq.To this last communication Mr. Rowan returned no answer. But this was not all with regard to Mr. Rowan. He was examined as to what communications had passed between him and the Government relative to the information that bad been received upon the subject of the Ribbon Societies; and whether the Goverment had taken any steps and what was his answer? That no spet had been taken as far as he was aware. With this communication from Mr. Kemmis in his possession, if no further step were taken, with whom rested the blame? Mr. Rowan further stated, that in his opinion what influenced the Government was the very great difficulty in taking proceedings, unless they were furnished with evidence of a more particular and positive description, so as to enable them to bring offenders to trial. Again, when he was asked whether he had been directed to endeavour to obtain more information, he replied, "Yes, recently; within five or six weeks." Still not one word was said of the communications with Mr. Kemmis the year before. He attributed motives to no man, but he must say the time of five or six weeks, mentioned by Mr. Rowan appeared to be an allusion to the appointment of the committee, He 49 was then asked whether that was the first instruction he had received, and he stated that the reply to him in several instances was, that no steps could be taken, unless the individual could be induced to come forward and make the communication on oath in such a form as to justify proceedings. Now, he asked the House whether this was a fair statement on the part of Mr. Rowan after the communication with Mr. Kemmis? Then came the following question and answer:—Are you of opinion that there is any measure the Government might have adopted which it has not adopted to discover the origin, extent, character, and proceedings of the Ribbon Societies?—Your Lordships will allow me to make an observation in reference to that question. Unless I am directed positively to do so, I should think it would be unbecoming in my situation to express an opinion upon what Government ought to do, what they can do, or what they ought not to do.This certainly was very delicate and considerate and especially when Mr. Rowan knew that the Government had taken every step which they could take to obtain information, but this Mr. Rowan and the principal witnesses judiciously left out of their case. Mr. Rowan himself, knowing that if no further steps were taken it was entirely his own fault. He must repeat this was great delicacy and consideration towards Government. Mr. Rowan was again asked:—Do you consider the existence or operations of those societies to have been owing, in any degree, to any inertness or mismanagement on the part of the Government?—I think that the only answer I can now give is, that which I gave to the last question. I trust your Lordships will not press me to answer any question that might look like presuming on my part to give an opinion with respect to any steps the Government have taken or withheld; and further I beg to add—your Lordships, I trust, will perceive the indelicacy of any individual in the situation of a public officer presuming to give an opinion on communications made to him by the Government, unless required to do so.Now, what was the impression meant to be created by this answer? Why, that Mr. Rowan had something to conceal. It was true, there was something concealed, but it was something that affected Mr. Rowan himself, and not the Government. He would not say anything farther of Mr. Rowan's evidence. The Government took bit information into immediate considera- 50 tion; they took the greatest pains to bring the truth to the test; and it was for their Lordships to say who had been to blame. There were certainly several undisputed facts contained in the evidence taken before the committee; but there were two ways of accounting for them. No doubt there existed, and had for a number of years existed, in certain parts of Ireland, societies bound together by secret oaths; but all the information which the Government or its officers, or the public received with reference to these societies or conspiracies was derived from informers, who, from the nature of their business, were degraded in character and low in station. Their evidence generally went to show that those societies met at public houses, and that to a certain extent money was collected, and those informers stated that such societies existed in a great many parts of Ireland where they had themselves never been, and of the state of which they could only speak upon hearsay. The noble Earl who moved for the committee stated, on the authority of a charge of Judge Burton, that these conspiracies existed in the county of Tipperary. Now, as far as he could speak, from having studied the character of the people of Tipperary, he would say that conspiracies there were by no means of a permanent or political nature. He must say that he was sorry to hear the noble Earl speak as he did of the Catholic priests. He must say, from his experience in Ireland, that those persons bad been most sincere, most active, and most useful, in their determination to put down not only Riband conspiracies, but all agrarian outrages. There were two modes of accounting for the existence of those societies. Either they were got up for agrarian objects by certain designing men, who, under false pretences, obtained sway over the people; and they were further kept up by what was a characteristic of human nature in general, and particularly of the lower orders of the Irish, namely, that they wished it to be thought that they were not merely spending their money at a public-house, but that they were there as the agents of some great plan for the furtherance of a great object. This, he believed, was one of the grounds on which a political character was affixed to these societies. But supposing, that they did not take this view of the Riband conspiracies, they 51 must then believe, that there did now exist, and had existed for half a century, a conspiracy without parallel in history: a body without a head; and a body, all the members of which were aware of its most secret functions, but yet was not aware of the purposes to which they were to be adplied; a body consisting entirely of the lower orders of society, and yet with objects involving the interests of the better classes, not as might be imagined for their injury, but the contrary, for it appeared that their object was to produce a revolution of property, not for their own interests but to recover the forfeited estates, for the purpose of re-appropriating them to the supposed owners. And again, it would appear that one object of this conspiracy was to give a permanent ascendancy to a religion, the prelates of which invariably denounced them; and, last of all, and indeed it was a very likely object, namely, that of making Mr. O'Connell king of Ireland, a person who had most systematically denounced them; and whose object Mr. O'Connell believed to be equally injurious to his own interests as to those of his country. If their Lordships believed any part of the story, they must believe the whole—they must go with Mr. Rowan, as far as he went. Yes the only alternative was, the Rowan creed, and of that creed he was not a disciple. They had discussed one topic of this subject the other night, but he thought it was not convenient to discuss these subjects before the evidence was sufficiently considered, and he would not, therefore, advert at present to any other topic. At the same time, he was glad to hear the admission of the noble Lord who introduced this subject, that he believed, that a better feeling now existed in Ireland, and that political agitation and outrage were less now than formerly. Certainly, minor offences had increased, but the more serious offences had much decreased. [Lord Ellenborough: Not during the last eighteen months.] He certainly had not been able to read the whole of the evidence, but he had gathered from the tables before the House that there had been a decided diminution of crime, and that there had been more convictions in proportion to committals. Now, he agreed with the noble Lord in thinking, that all these were symptoms of an improving state of feeling in Ireland. He must, however, utterly deny, that the Government had done anything but hold 52 the scale fairly between the two parties in Ireland. He utterly denied, during the whole time he was in Ireland, that he considered whether a man was a Protestant or a Catholic. If he had acted otherwise he should have considered that he was departing from his duty, and he appealed to all those who knew him, whether, in the distribution of the patronage of office, he ever considered what was the religion of the candidates? He could not help saying, with regard to what had fallen from the noble Earl (the Earl of Roden) the other night, that he hoped the noble Earl would withdraw the charge he had made as to the conduct of the Government with reference to the detection and punishment of crime. The noble Earl persisted in saying that the Government had suffered crime to go on increasing in Ireland. Now that was a very grave imputation upon the Government—an imputation which the I testimony of every witness showed to be unfounded. The noble Earl had not produced a single iota of evidence to support the charge; and truly, when he made such a charge, he was bound to prove some remissness on the part of the Government, or to withdraw the charge. The testimony of all the witnesses went to prove that never had a Government taken more pains or shown greater activity and zeal in the detection and punishment of crime. He would only say one word more. Their Lordships had already pronounced their opinion of one portion of his conduct. But of this he would say no more, and whatever conclusion they might again come to, he would say this, that out of the inquiry before the committee, had arisen a better feeling towards the people of Ireland. He called upon their Lordships, in justice to himself and in justice to Ireland, before they took further steps to read the whole of the evidence, and when they met next year they would then be able to judge whether his Government had the tendency ascribed to it by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Roden), and whether he had by his conduct reduced Ireland to such a desperate and unparalleled state of crime and iniquity as that noble Earl had described.
The Marquess of Westmeath
said, the noble Marquess had denied that the evidence bore out the statement that Ribandism had extended generally amongst the Roman Catholic population in Ireland. Now, he thought there was evidence, par- 53 ticularly that of Mr. O'Ferrall to show, that Ribandism had extended very generally amongst the Roman Catholic population. The great object of the noble Marquess seemed to be to break down the evidence of Mr. Rowan, and to set up that of Mr. Drummond; and he had passed over the evidence of other important witnesses with very little notice. Mr. Rowan was a gentleman of the greatest respectability, and most efficient and impartial in the discharge of his duties as a magistrate. This was attested by the letters sent to him at the close of the election for Youghall in 1835, when he received thanks for his judicious and impartial conduct from the committee of each of the candidates. He had also received a letter of thanks, signed by nine deputy-lieutenants and forty-seven magistrates of the county of Westmeath, for his unwearied exertions in bringing criminals to justice, and in preserving the peace of the county. This was enough to show, that he was a man who should not have been spoken lightly of. There was in the whole tone and manner of the noble Marquess an evident inclination to disparage Mr. Rowan, and to cast ridicule on his evidence because he had mentioned the statement of the intention of some of the Ribandmen to make Mr. O' Connell, King of Ireland, and that Mr. O'Connell was backed up by the Duke of Leinster. But the noble Marquis had omitted to notice those parts of his evidence where he was corroborated by the testimony of several other respectable witnesses. What was the evidence of Mr. Drummond on which the noble Marquess relied so much? It was little more than a commentary on the evidence of others, while Mr. Rowan got much of his evidence from parties who had the best means of being informed on what they spoke of. The noble Marquess had also spoken disparagingly of the description of the extent of Ribandism given by the noble Earl (Roden) on a former evening, because it did not suit such a Government as that of the noble Marquess to do that which would not be favourably received by certain parties who had given that Government their support. The noble Marquess wished to have it impressed on the people of England, that Ribandism was not carried to any extent in Ireland; but that statement was not borne out by the testimony of many most respectable witnesses who were examined. The noble 54 Marquess was on some points at variance with the testimony of his own secretary, the one saying that the conspiracy was not prædial, and the other that it was not agrarian. It was not his intention to trouble their Lordships by going into the evidence in detail; he would only touch lightly on some points of it. It was clear, from the evidence of Captain Despard, that Ribandmen sat in committee on the persons of those who were marked out, judged, and sentenced to destruction, and Mr. O'Ferrall said that the conspiracy existed throughout Ireland; but Mr. Drummond wished it to appear that it was only an organization of the people to stand together at fairs. It should be remarked, however, that it was coming from fairs, that persons denounced, and who had not the secret sign or watchword, were most frequently exposed to loss of life. The noble Marquess appeared to treat very lightly what had been said about the belief of the lower classes of Irish that the estates, forfeited in the time of Cromwell, would be restored and divided amongst them, but there was abundant evidence to show, that such notions were studiously impressed upon them, and there could be no doubt that they were calculated to excite that very excitable and inflammable people. Both the noble Marquess and his secretary seemed to rely much on the fact of no previous information of intended outrage being given, and they sought from that, to throw discredit on the whole thing; but in what other way could they I account for the intimidation of witnesses, which so often defeated the ends of justice? Information was given only when the outrage was to be perpetrated, and the parties who were required to act did not know till the moment, the time or the place, or even the person on whom they were to execute the dreadful outrage. In one part of the noble Marquess's statement he gave great credit to the Roman Catholic priests, for their disposition to put down this conspiracy. He should be deficient in truth and Christian charity if he did not admit that there were some among that body who desired to do so, but when it was recollected that the influence of the Roman Catholic priests, who scarcely possessed an acre of land in fee and only a few on lease, was sufficient to break up those ties which had so long bound landlord and tenant together, and despite of the landowners, to return many 55 Members to Parliament—when this was so, let him ask, was it not too much to say, that they had not influence enough to put down this conspiracy amongst their flocks? He wished he could believe it; but the facts were too strong against such a conclusion. He would mention one or two facts in illustration. Some time ago, a man was under sentence of death for the murder of Mr. O'Keefe. He was attended to the place of execution by a Catholic priest; the man gloried in his death, and declared his perfect willingness to suffer rather than inform on his accomplices, and he died without making any such avowal. In the other case a man was under sentence of death for the murder of his own father. He was also attended by his priest, but in this case the man confessed his guilt, and asked the people to pray for him. These cases were in strong contrast. The one in which no confession of guilt was made was a political offence; the other was not. He would have their Lordships to draw their own inference. He believed, that there was evidence to prove, that this conspiracy had heads, and that one of its chief objects was the separation of the two countries, and, therefore, it was the duty of a Government not to make light of it.
§ Lord Lurgan
felt that he should be shrinking from the discharge of his public duty, if he did not make a few observations on the present occasion. He had recently left Ireland, and nothing had surprised him more than to find their Lordships immersed in this question of Irish Government and of Irish confederacy. Not that he was ignorant their Lordships were so employed, but what he wished to impress on them was, that he had, about two months ago, left Ireland, and that Armagh, which they had been told was the head quarter of this mysterious society—and he spoke advisedly—he left Armagh, and he left Ireland generally, tranquil, prosperous, and improving in almost every respect in which the moral improvement of a country can be regarded. Then coming into this country as rapidly as the traveller was now borne from one part to another, he was scarcely thirty-six hours out of Ireland, and scarcely in this metropolis, before he was called upon to renounce all his opinions and settled convictions as so many idle dreams and fancies without any reality; for he found, that whilst be bad been fostering these, 56 according to their Lordships, idle delusions, their Lordships were almost at their wits' end with respect to the sister island, and were employed in an investigation with respect to that amount of crime and outrage which their Lordships said had rendered life and property insecure in that portion of the empire. This to him, as an Irishman, was very perplexing and embarrassing. He was free to admit this was a most important discussion. The statements that had been made by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Wharncliffe) were very startling, but to him they were not unexpected, because he had had the honour of serving on the committee, and it had appeared to him that without some such proceedings as noble Lords opposite had adopted, the finale on this question would have been little in keeping with the opening and with the progress of the whole of this Irish discussion. What was the opening? Why, that such an amount of crime and outrage had prevailed in Ireland, as rendered life and property insecure in that country since the year 1835. Up to that year, noble Lords opposite would have it supposed that. Ireland had been a sort of blissful Eden, where man's disobedience had never been heard of, and the fruit of the forbidden tree had remained untouched. But noble Lords had contrived at the close to bring up something very highly seasoned, and they now called on their Lordships to believe that Ireland, or at least a very great portion of Ireland, was bound together by illegal oaths, and signs, and pass-words; and were ready to turn out at a moment's notice to do anything no matter what. He might endeavour to weaken the noble Lord's speech by setting one part of it against the other, because that noble Lord had stated, and had stated most correctly, that it was a great comfort to him to perceive, in his investigation, that there was a considerable improvement throughout the whole of Ireland, moral and intellectual. There was hardly any country in Europe more rapidly advancing than Ireland—none more likely to repay the care and anxiety of its Legislature. This he would maintain as the truth, against all comers. If that, then, were the truth—if it were true that the internal trade of Ireland and her foreign commerce were increasing—that her capital was augmenting—that the moral feeling of her people was improving—if, above all, the Emancipation 57 Act were working out its results in a better spirit, a milder temper, beginning to diffuse itself through Ireland—if party spirit were subsiding—these were undoubted proofs and characteristics of an improving country—characteristics which could not co-exist with the universal rebellion and crime which were represented to pervade Ireland. To believe that they could, would be to dishonour the first law of nature, that the tree is known by its fruits, and, therefore, he felt warranted in asserting, while Ireland was rapidly advancing and improving that universal conspiracy and crime did not exist. Up to this time he had rather been speaking as a witness himself than commenting on the evidence which was before their Lordships. But if he were to speak from these books—if he were to see by others' eyes, and to hear with others' ears, and speak according as this inquiry gave him utterance—he must admit, that before a committee, as impartial in its operations as it was possible to imagine, and under the presidence of as honest an Englishman as ever presided over any committee—he was bound to admit that before this committee so discharging its duties—whatever he might think of its first constitution—it was true, that by the most respectable witnesses—and he had heard with pleasure the testimony which had been borne to the intelligence and integrity of those witnesses—he must admit that crimes and outrages of a fearful sort, and conspiracies, very alarming conspiracies, did pervade and disfigure a large portion of her Majesty's dominions in Ireland. Now, if he did regret anything in connexion with that committee, it was, that having pushed their inquiries to the greatest extent—into the root of the disturbances in Ireland—they had made no report as to the proper remedies to be applied; the noble Duke had supported the motion for the committee on the ground that he was disposed to think there might be something in the jurisprudence of Ireland, in the administration of justice, which required some remedies; excellent reason too, in his opinion; but the committee had turned up every kind of outrage—disgusting and atrocious; but no remedy had been applied, reminding him of what had humourously enough been put over an apothecary's shop—"vendita hic, emeticum, narcoticum, et omnicum, prœter remedium." Many persons seemed disposed to consider this an exclusively Irish 58 debate; but, in fact, it was no such thing, for those who had gone through the vast expanse of these volumes, would find, that not only did this conspiracy exist, as was said, in Ireland, but that it had been found in Liverpool—in Birmingham—in Manchester—and in Paisley. Certainly if this conspiracy did exist in Ireland, there was no difficulty in conceiving, with the bridge of boats now established between this country and Ireland, that it should find its way here. But was it true, that in the heart of Protestant England, not Chartism, but Ribandism prevailed—even in Birmingham; that the staple trade of Manchester was likely to sink before the rival trade of ribands—nay, that even in the trading capital of Protestant, Presbyterian Scotland, this conspiracy was rampant. This did fill him with unfeigned astonishment, and with incredulity. For aught he knew, if these confederacies were to be found in the places he had mentioned, their Lordships might at this moment be sitting within a circumvallation-line of ribands, surrounded by that mysterious system, whose object, it seemed, was to overthrow the Protestant religion—to sweep away the right rev. Prelates from the Bench—and to set up King Daniel O'Connell on that throne which was wont to present to their Lordships' eyes, all that was most interesting and beloved in these realms. He could not but look at all this, however, as the most fabulous romance ever known. It must come from no other quarter than La Mancha; and by-the-bye it was rather singular, that Mr. Rowan came from La Mancha—not in Spain, certainly, but in Westmeath; and the noble Marquess in defending that gentleman's testimony, had taken up a more chivalrous enterprise, than ever the Spanish hero of the windmill. But what now were the proofs of this conspiracy? For "by their fruits ye shall know them." There was no proof at all of a political conspiracy. There were no crimes analagous to such a combination. There were no political crimes—no insurgent movements—no insurrectionary outrages. Sir R. Peel himself, even in describing much more horrible crimes—murders in the face of day—near chapels—before congregations—had expressly negatived any such combination. But where was the head of this conspiracy?—where was the commanding genius?——where the presiding traitor? Could he 59 even be guessed at? No. His name had not been breathed; nor, so far as could be proved, ever dreamt of. So that here was a complete natural curiosity—a body of rebellion, with hands and arms, and nether limbs, wanting nothing to give it power but the rebel head. It had been observed as remarkable, that the meetings of these societies were generally held at public houses, and, that the publicans, often presided; yet, though this Riband conspiracy was said to include the whole population from sixteen to sixty, no one piece of evidence, tangible and conclusive, had been discovered. The people of Ireland, if they were traitors, were most faithful depositories of treason, most careful keepers of a secret, whether sober or drunk, for all these proceedings it would seem, were steeped in whiskey—carried on as they were in their public houses. But he dismissed from his mind as romantic, as fabulous; he trampled under foot, as most calumnious to the people of Ireland, the idea that they were a revolting or rebellious nation; he denied it altogether. He believed, that they were as sound at heart as any portion of the subjects of the British empire. But he did not wish to undervalue the evidence which had been laid before their Lordship's committee. He denied the political, the treasonable conspiracy, but no one could deny, that these societies—by different barbarous designations—existed throughout Ireland—their objects being to control the management of land and the employment of labour, and carrying the most fearful intimidation into the families of those who disputed their tyrannical mandates. This no one could deny. Nor could it be denied, that these societies were working much stronger now, than at any former period. Indeed, an agrarian combination must be increasing, from that which was now going on in Ireland, as to the management of landed property. Ireland was now in a transition state. There were novel and extensive improvements going on. These improvements necessarily tended to throw out of their possessions great numbers of the poorer classes, who, severed from their little holdings of land, were unable perhaps to provide a meal of potatoes for their famishing children, and thus become unhappily, too ready for Ribandism, or any other conspiracy. It would not become him to bring any charge against the 60 gentry of Ireland. He believed, that no country had a better and more liberal landed proprietary. But there were many Acts against sub-letting—enforcing clauses in leases on the tenantry—against alienation,—increasing the Parliamentary franchise, and so on—all against the people,—nothing could be more probable, therefore, than that unlawful combinations should now be more frequent than ever; and unless their Lordships adapted their legislation to this transitory stale of things, more crime and outrage would arise than had ever yet been witnessed. As to the evidence, he thought their Lordships should in a great measure dismiss it from their minds. But, if they allowed such fears and panics as some endeavoured to excite, to influence them, to balance their decision, farewell, then, to reason, to candour, to justice—farewell to the spirit from which would spring an appropriate and beneficial Legislation; for party feeling, though blind and deaf, was overpowering in its influence, and irresistible in its power; therefore, he entreated their Lordships to be watchful and vigilant, as to the effect which they gave to this evidence.
§ The Duke of Wellington
entirely approved of this bill; to it there was no opposition offered from any quarter of the House, and certainly he had been quite satisfied with the discussion of that part of the subject to which his noble Friend near him (Lord Wharncliffe) had drawn their Lordships' consideration, and he had been in hopes, that he should have been enabled to have allowed the debate to conclude without asking for attention even for a single moment. It appeared to be the opinion of the noble Baron who had just concluded his address to their Lordships, that this bill ought to be extended to England—or rather, that it ought to be applied to England instead of Ireland. On that subject he would say a few words presently, but in the meanwhile he would remind their Lordships of the motives which, at the commencement of the Session, he had stated actuated him in voting for the appointment of the committee, to the proceedings of which, and the evidence taken before it, so much allusion had been made in the course of the present debate. The noble Baron opposite (Lord Lurgan) was not in the House at the time that committee was appointed, if he had, he would have known, that for several previous 61 Sessions this House had heard from her Majesty's Government, and in speeches delivered by the Sovereign from the Throne, of the tranquillity of Ireland, and that at last, after hearing of several other outrages committed in that country, they heard of the murder of Lord Norbury. The noble Baron himself had lately come over from Ireland, and said he had heard neither of crime nor outrage, their Lordships had, however, been more unfortunate, for at that period they had heard of the last-named outrage, of the perpetrators of which he believed there had been no trace from that period up to the present time. The notice of the public just at that moment had been drawn to the fact of the existence of these Riband societies. At that period, the fact which had been generally known for a great length of time to the Government was for the first time admitted in Parliament, just previous to the period at which his noble Friend (the Earl of Roden) moved for this committee. There were some curious facts with respect to the evidence of the existence of these societies mentioned at that period, which had not come out in this debate—namely, evidence given on different trials in various parts of Ireland nearly at the same time, which proved that these societies did exist throughout the country, and in all parts of it. Under these circumstances, considering also, that the gentlemen of Ireland had great reason to complain of the state of the society in which they were living in that country—considering, that there was a strong difference of opinion on the part of the Government on the one hand, and of the public on the other, as to whether Ireland was in that tranquil state, in which the Government in the most solemn manner, from the Throne, declared it to be—considering further, that although there were on the Table a vast number of returns, yet not one upon which any man could rely upon, as conveying an accurate statement of the state of crime in that part of the realm—considering all these things, he did think, that it was expedient and advisable, that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the real state of crime in Ireland, and into the administration of justice there. On these grounds, he voted for the appointment of that committee. He had not been a member of that committee, but he was quite satisfied with the results 62 which had been already produced by the publication of the evidence. In his opinion, that evidence, in the first place, made known to the country as well as to Parliament, the real state of society in Ireland. That was a satisfaction which he derived from the publication of the evidence produced before the committee. But besides that, he had the satisfaction the other night of hearing the magnificent speech of the noble and learned Lord opposite, and of voting for the five resolutions which the noble and learned Lord had proposed for their Lordships' adoption. As to that speech it never could be forgotten, it must produce its effect upon the administration of justice in Ireland. Whatever might be the effect produced by the resolutions for which he had the satisfaction of voting, (for he doubted their effect in consequence of what he had heard had been stated elsewhere), of this he was convinced, that ultimately the principles recommended by the noble and learned Lord in his speech, and asserted in his resolutions, must prevail in the administration of justice in that, as they did at present in this country. Another effect, which, in his opinion, his noble Friend, (Lord Wharncliffe) had proved to night as resulting from this committee, was the bill now under their Lordships' consideration. He hoped the bill would be carried into execution, and have some effect in checking the disposition to join illegal secret societies in Ireland. But another and a most important effect produced by this committee, had been to lay open to their Lordships and to the world, the real existence of these societies, and the dangers resulting therefrom. He would not at this hour of the night pretend to go over the evidence—he could not attempt to follow the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Normanby), and show the manner in which he had attempted to extenuate the effect of the evidence; but thus much he would say, that the result of the whole had been to produce a conviction in his mind of the existence of this general conspiracy, and of its great danger, most particularly in Ireland, and especially at this moment, when the Government had been so imprudent as to reduce their peace establishments so low, that they were scarcely equal—indeed, not equal to the performance of peace duties—at a moment too, when a Member of Parliament of great influence and 63 power, had taken that opportunity to inform the Irish public, that they were 9,000,000 of people, and that 9,000,000 had only to desire to be independent, really to become so; and when he found, that at the time this Member gave that information, he had under his hand this very conspiracy, capable of carrying into execution any plan which he or anybody else might form, in order to attempt to effect the design to obtain independence for these 9,000,000 of people. When he saw these things, he must say, that it was fortunate for the British public, as well as for all those who wished to maintain the honour and power of this country, and the connexion of Ireland with it, that complete evidence had been obtained of the existence of this conspiracy, and that the country knew that it was a conspiracy founded upon the same principles, and carrying on its measures by the same precise means, as the conspiracy of United Irishmen and other more extended conspiracies existing abroad. It was fortunate too, that their Lordships knew that the Government—that her Majesty's Ministers had, as it appears now, the knowledge of these things; that they were acquainted with the existence of these conspiracies at the very moment at which they were boasting in the speeches of the Sovereign from the Throne, of the tranquillity of Ireland, and that they were weakening the military peace establishment in Ireland, in order to carry on their war in Canada at the very moment when, on the contrary, they ought to have augmented them all. These were the advantages which had been acquired by the inquiries of this committee; and he confessed, that he rejoiced, that their Lordships did appoint that committee, and he thought they were greatly indebted to his noble Friend who proposed it, and to all those noble Lords who had attended so laboriously upon the business of that committee, and for the exertions they had made in order to bring out the facts contained in the evidence.
§ The Duke of Richmond
should not have risen at that moment, but that he was anxious to answer an observation or two which fell from the noble Marquess, who had remarked, in the early part of his speech, upon the thinness of the House, and said, that he saw but few Members of the Committee present, who, he supposed, had come to give an account of 64 their proceedings. That made it imperative on him to get up and vindicate the proceedings of the committee. He believed, that it was admitted by every man who attended that committee, that never could a committee of the House of Lords be more fairly conducted from the beginning to the end of its labours. He could only say, as the noble Lord connected with the county of Stafford had frequently said, that he had never attended any committee of the House of Lords, that was not conducted with the greatest fairness, and whenever he moved a committee on a bill, he always recommended, that the larger portion should be of those against the bill, than for the bill, because he had found that such a majority dealt kindly and fairly with the bill before them. He would now proceed to state his reasons why he had supported the resolutions which were proposed by the noble and learned Lord. He could not but express his surprise that Ireland was as tranquil as it was; for he must say, that he knew many parts of this country where, if a person did not come forward and give evidence on the breach of any law, after being bound over to do so, and if that man's recognizances were not forfeited, there would be the greatest dissatisfaction and mischief. In Sussex, for instance, not one in a hundred cases could come to a satisfactory issue under such a system. He knew it might be urged that in Ireland the law was not strong enough to prevent that evil; but if the law was wrong, it was the bounden duty of the Lord - lieutenant to come to Parliament, and ask for an alteration of it. Nevertheless, so long as it was the law of the land, that a man bound over to give evidence should do so, or pay the penalty, every man in the country was bound to obey it. He must say, that he deeply regretted the liberation of prisoners which the noble Marquess had ordered; but he regretted it the more, because of the example which the Lord-lieutenant gave of not acting up to the law. What did he do in one instance? He went into a gaol and by his verbal order discharged a number of prisoners—a thing which no person in the realm—not even the Crown itself—had the power to do. If he, and his noble friends, then, were called upon to give an account of their proceedings—if they were called upon to give a reason for their votes, he would tell the noble Marquess in 65 a few words. He had felt the case strongly—and it was with regret at the present moment he said so—that he felt himsel compelled to vote against the Executive Government; because, if ever there was a time in the history of this country wherein the Government ought to be supported, it was the present, when secret societies were found to prevail in Ireland to an extent which he could not believe to be so insignificant as some noble Lords did. He did not think it an insignificant matter, that there should be such an organization of these secret societies, that a man being a member, should be able to pass from one part of Ireland to another if he had a Riband pass, and that he might go to a market-town 100 miles away from his own neighbourhood in perfect security from that molestation to which others were exposed. He knew well, that much of the information which had been got up on this subject had been furnished by informers, persons who, unfortunately, generally did come forward from private motives of their own, but was he entirely to put out of the question, that if those men had come forward in a public court of justice, they would be admitted as evidence, even in a capital case, if they were corroborated by other witnesses? What opinion was he to form of those societies, when he found that men belonging to them could go about from place to place in Ireland, being protected and supported by common consent? What was he to think when he found them coming to Liverpool, and being recgonised and fostered there? He did not much fear that they would do harm in this country. He did not believe, that the Riband-men of Liverpool and Birmingham were able to make a revolution in this county, because he thought the good sense of the great majority of the people of England would not encourage them, differing as they did on point of religion, for it must not be forgotten, that they were all Roman Catholics. He said nothing against them as Roman Catholics, although he was one who to the very last opposed the admission of Roman Catholics into Parliament, indeed, he admitted, that he had the greatest regard for many persons who were Roman Catholics. But he did not believe, that in either Liverpool, Manchester, or Birmingham, those people would do much mischief. Yet it was known, that there were other societies organized, or in pro- 66 cess of organization, and he knew that the Government were at the present time paying the most serious attention to the subject. It was stated, that in Ireland these Ribandmen were in the habit of holding meetings in whiskey-shops, and that they had always a sentry outside. Now, if their meetings were purely of a convivial nature, he was sure, if he knew anything of the composition of an Irishman, one of their number would not remain outside, but go in and join them. Before he entered that committee he had a prejudice against the Irish landlords, and thought they required to be reformed, but by attending the committee, and reading every line of the evidence which he did not hear, he certainly must say, that he was convinced that the great body of Irish landlords were most anxious for the prosperity of the country, and the well-being of the tenants and labourers. It was, therefore, a great satisfaction to him, that he had attended the numerous meetings of the committee, because he had been disabused of a prejudice. With respect to what the noble Marquess had said of Mr. Rowan, he must observe, that if it could be avoided, the less one attacked a man who it was admitted had come forward honestly and conscientiously, and who, in virtue of his oath, was bound to state the truth, the better. The gentleman in question had been examined as a witness, and he had stated his impressions. He, for one, certainly credited Mr. Rowan, and he thought with his noble Friends, that the committee were bound to believe Mr. Rowan, who must have been a respectable man. Would his noble Friend have continued him in office if he were a credulous man, and a man in whom no confidence could be placed? Such a man would be unfit for the office of a stipendary magistrate. In times such as these, to place a credulous man, one open to every impression, in such a situation in a country like Ireland, would be a gross breach of duty in the Lord-lieutenant, But his noble Friend did not find out, until very recently, that Mr. Rowan was so credulous a man, or, if he did find it before, why did he keep him in office? He was present during the whole of his examination, and he was sure, that he only spoke the sense of the great majority of the committee, when he said, that Mr. Rowan did himself very great credit, and that there was no man who heard him 67 who was not convinced that he spoke the truth. He thought his noble Friend would see it right to explain this matter before the close of the present debate, in order that it might not go forth to the country, that Mr. Rowan had not conducted himself to the satisfaction of the committee. He had never been acquainted with that gentleman; he had never spoken to him until he came before the committee; but he could safely testify to the talent, and the desire to speak the truth, evinced by that gentleman; and, indeed, by all the witnesses. He thought he should net act justly if he did not also say, that the Government had given every facility to the inquiry, and encouraged the examination of every witness, that was likely to give evidence of any value. With regard to another point touched upon by the noble Marquess, he must say, that it was not very usual for committees to recommend legislative enactments; the committee felt that it was their duty to present the evidence in the present instance, because the lateness of the Session would prevent them from doing more. He believed, that evidence would be of the greatest service to his noble Friend now in the high office of Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, if he knew anything of him. He was an Englishman, who perhaps had seen Irish questions with English eyes, as it had been expressed, but he would there see them in a different light. He had been brought up in this country; he had acted as a magistrate of the county in which he resided, and he would go to Ireland, if he knew his noble Friend at all, with a firm determination to carry the laws into execution to the uttermost, and of being impartial to all, showing to the Irish people, that which he believed would do the most to place them in a better situation than they were, which was, that if they disobeyed the laws their punishment would be certain, but that they would have a full and fair trial, and that when convicted they must certainly undergo the punishment assigned to their offence. He had had something to do with Irish soldiers, and he had found them easy to manage upon this principle, that you should always be the same to them one day, as on another. Tell them fairly what you expect from them, and what they must not do: if they do what you command them, well—return them thanks; if they do the contrary, let them know 68 that the punishment is certain, 'and the sooner they are punished, the better. That, he believed, his noble Friend, who was gone to Ireland, would do. No new enactments were required to encourage that prosperity which was now opening upon Ireland, or to make that part of the country as tranquil as this. He felt that some parts of Ireland were in a dreadful state. The frequent murders there, indicated the entire absence of all compunction for taking away human life. So much was that the case, that it was found by the evidence, that in one part of the country, an acting magistrate, for doing his duty, and an agent to a proprietor, for only carrying into execution the necessary, but not harsh, powers of the landlord, were exposed to continual danger. In one instance, the individual durst not go, in broad daylight, a quarter of a mile from his own house to a neighbouring town, without being armed; and, in the other case, the person durst not venture to the lodge of his own park without being armed, and accompanied by two armed policemen, He, as an English country gentleman, felt bound that they ought to do their utmost to relieve the landlords of Ireland from that situation. A man might as well live in New Zealand, or in any savage country, if, because he did his duty, though not unpopular perhaps, he was to be marked by one of these secret societies, so that he could not venture out of his own house without arms and a guard. He need not say, that he had no party-feeling on this subject. He went into the committee with a firm determination to do his duty as a juryman, and he felt that as a juryman he had done it. His noble Friends knew he had never opposed them, when it was in his power to support them. He believed he had always acted so from principle, though perhaps he might have been somewhat influenced by feeling too, having acted with some of his noble Friends in the Cabinet, believing, and indeed knowing, that they were actuated by pure motives. He was always anxious to do his duty, and to express his opinions honestly; and he believed no man could charge him with having given a factious vote, either in this or any other instance.
The Marquess of Normanby
, in explanation, said the noble Duke must have misunderstood him, with regard to what he had said of the presence of many Members of the committee that night. 69 All he had said was, that he believed they were present to give an account of the proceedings only as reporters merely, because he knew, that the evidence was in the possession of their Lordships generally. With regard to Mr. Rowan, he had said nothing against that gentleman's respectability; he had merely read his evidence, and commented on it as he went on.
§ Lord Hatherton
was anxious, before he made any observation, to allow any noble Lords to address the House who were connected with Ireland; but he was anxious, in consequence of the part he had taken in the committee, to make some observations to the House. He could not help expressing the greatest surprise at the tone in which the noble Duke (Wellington) had spoken of the proceedings of the committee. When he heard the noble Duke's impassioned speech, he thought that he must have misread the past history of Ireland, and the state of crime there for the past year. All former statements must have been grossly exaggerated if they took for granted the inference that was attempted to be drawn by the noble Duke. The result of the observation that he had made was, that, comparing the state of crime of Ireland at former times with what it was at present, the latter was tranquillity itself. The noble Duke certainly said the reverse, but this was the result that he arrived at from reading the opinions of Sir R. Peel, Mr. Goulburn, Mr. Daly, and other persons connected with Ireland. The language used by these Gentlemen in former times proved that the present state of Ireland was tranquillity itself as compared with its condition, but, comparatively, a few years ago. With reference to the appointment of this committee, the noble Duke was the only person who supported the motion who gave anything like a valid reason for its appointment. The noble Duke stated that he thought that there were great discrepancies in the statements as to the returns on crime in Ireland. He stated that he thought that it would be part of the duty of the committee to reconcile these discrepancies. The results also were very different as to the numbers. The examination of the witnesses before the committee showed that a distinction was to be drawn between the number of commitments and convictions; and it also appeared that a prisoner's name was en- 70 tered several times in the committals under various headings. In consequence of this, Mr. Cahill, a most intelligent gentleman, examined before the committee, had been induced, by these discrepancies, to draw up a report on the state of committals and convictions. He had confined himself to the three years 1836, 1837, and 1838. They were described at length in the evidence, but he would not detain the House with alluding to it. It appeared, however, from Mr. Cahill's evidence, that, in one county, one man's name, for the same offence, had been reported in the list of committals thirty times; and that the name of another prisoner, for a single offence, made its appearance forty-two times. It appeared also from the evidence of this gentleman, that the return of the clerk of the peace of the county of Tipperary showed a number of 5,412 persons charged with offences at the Quarter Sessions for the year 1836; but the return of the real number, as appeared from the Crown books, was only 2,720; and the real number of cases upon which offences were charged was only 889. In the subsequent years the returns showed nearly the same result. This, he thought was a very material document in explanation of what had fallen from the noble Duke. He had opposed the appointment of this committee, which had been made a matter of so much importance by noble Lords opposite, as he felt, from the situation that he had held as Secretary for Ireland, that the appointment would be attended with great inconvenience. He had listened to the motion for the appointment of this committee with some anxiety, and also to all the extraordinary charges that were brought forward by the noble Earl who made the motion; and he had consented to act on the committee, because he thought that he could be of some assistance, from the situation that he had held, to those noble Lords with whom he had generally acted, and as he was also fully aware of the insufficiency of the grounds to which he had alluded. It was rather amusing to notice the feeling of the witnesses when they were called into the committee-room as to what was the object in view; they generally smiled, and returned answers upon which it was often difficult to fix an interpretation as to what the committee were assembled to inquire into. Major Warburton is asked, what is 71 Ribandism? And he says, "there is the greatest posssible difficulty in getting at the nature of it, and I should be much puzzled indeed to give any description of it." Mr. Plunket says, "I cannot exactly explain what I mean by Ribandism." (Mr. Tomkins Brew states, "I never knew what it was." Mr. Barrington says, "I hardly know what it is." Mr. Barnes declares: "I do not know anything about the system of Ribandism." Mr. Hickman declares: "I do not very well know the meaning of the word." Mr. Green says, "I have read a great deal about it in the newspapers, but don't know what it is." Captain Vignolles asserts: "I know very little of what is called the Riband Society." Col. M'Gregor states:" I have had reports of the meetings and pass-words of the Ribandmen given me, but could make nothing of them." Mr. O'Ferrall observes, "whilst I have been in office I have received a great deal of information about Ribandism, but I know no more about it than before." This witness adds,Major Browne, who has has had very great experience as a magistrate in all parts of Ireland, and who was present at all the investigations which I have made upon the subject, is exactly of the same opinion as myself. He says, elsewhere that Ribandism was a secret society, bound together by an oath, which he states to be the only definition which will include all varieties of Ribandism; and that the oath is an oath of secresy, and to be ready when called on to commit some outrage.The evidence was all of the same character, and tended to show that the combination had long existed, although the Government was charged with having fostered these societies within the last four years. One of the witnesses, Mr. O'Ferrall, says:—Although a most efficient police and the most active magistrates have been employed, with ample means at their disposal to procure information, yet, notwithstanding all their exertions and rewards, we know no more of Ribandism than we did before. The Commissioners have had daily interviews with Mr. Rowan, but never have received from him any information, except a statement of an absurd nature, that the Riband Societies now expect to make Mr. O'Connell King of Ireland, and to overthrow the Protestant religion, as Mr. O'Connell is now backed by the Duke of Leinster. That another object was, to make Mr. O'Connell's son a Prince, and to establish the Cotholic religion in Ireland.
Sir William Somerville
said also, that 72 the Riband Societies were a kind of trades union; and Mr. Ford said, that what is called Ribandism in Meath is in the nature of the combination of trades. All the witnesses agree, that these sometimes are composed of the most ignorant classes. With respect to the classes composing these societies, Mr. Plunkett says, that he never knew a respectable person 10 belong to the society. Mr. Hutton says, that he never could trace it to any person of respectability; it is confined to the humbler classes. Mr. Drummond says: "There is nobody amongst them of a class as high as a shopkeeper or farmer." Mr. C. Wright says: "They are composed of the lower classes." Major Warburton says: "It is composed of the labouring class; those who take the lead are generally ill-disposed farmers' sons; never knew a respectable shopkeeper to join: he also says, the society has always been composed of the lowest class, generally speaking, the lower class of the peasantry." Mr. Kemmiss: "The servant boys of farmers principally." Mr. Drummond says, that "the publicans are the only shopkeepers whom he knows to belong to the society." Mr. O'Ferrall says, that he never knew a shopkeeper to belong to the society except a publican. Mr. Rathbone says: "Those who called themselves Ribandmen, in Galway, in 1819–20, were composed of the lowest class of the peasantry." Major Browne says: "The fact of the Riband Societies being exclusively Catholic, may be the result of their having originally been formed in opposition to the Orange Societies, which were exclusively Protestant." Mr. Drummond says, that Ribandism is exclusively Catholic, because the distinction between the religions is so great that it would be almost impossible to find a society in Dublin where the different religionists meet. The burial societies and benefit societies are exclusively Catholic or Protestant. And even temperance societies, except the principal one at Dublin, are of some religion exclusively. Now, as to the extent to which Ribandism prevailed, there was the most extraordinary evidence. Mr. Rowan says: "The information which I have received applies to particular counties, but I have been given to understand by the parties aforesaid, as far as they know the fact, that it prevails throughout the Roman Catholic population of Ireland, and in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, and also in Scotland." Mr. 73 Dudgeon, Crown solicitor, Connaught, says: "I have no doubt but Riband ism exists in Sligo, but we never got a case that we could prosecute with effect." Major Browne thinks, that the system exists principally where the parties are equally balanced. He thinks, it does not exist to any extent where the great bulk of the population is either Catholic or Protestant, but only where the population is divided between both sects. It may have been formerly the case, that the Catholics formed this combination when the Orange societies were in existence, which makes them exclusive as the others were so too. Mr. Tracey says: "My information, on which I can place much reliance, is to the effect, that all the peasantry, from sixteen to fifty, were engaged in it." Mr. Plunkett says: "I believe that every county in Ireland is more or less concerned." Sir William Somerville says, that the combinations in Meath are local and temporary. In answer to these statements, it was thought, that the best course that could be pursued by those who took a different view of the subject from noble Lords opposite was, to call on the Crown solicitors, all of whom were summoned to give their evidence upon the committee. They were all men of great experience and ability, and had, generally speaking, an intimate knowledge of the state of crime in Ireland. It was objected by some noble Lords, that they did not reside in the counties they were officially connected with; but they were all acquainted with the state of crime and with the opinions of the magistrates in the counties. Mr. Geale, Crown solicitor of the home circuit, says, that Ribandism existed formerly more than it does at present. Mr. Hickman, Crown solicitor of the Connaught circuit, says: "In so far as it means anything, personally I have never met with anything of the kind on my circuit. We had a case about which Mr. French, the Crown counsel, seemed as anxious as any man I ever saw, but there was no evidence to sustain a prosecution." Mr. Hick-man says, that he does not believe that any wide-spread system of Ribandism exists upon his circuit (Connaught) or in any county of it. Mr. Barrington, Crown solicitor of the Monster circuit, says: "I can trace almost every outrage on the circuit to a particular cause, and cannot attribute it to a hidden cause, if I see it proceeds' from one that is known, I 74 never could trace upon my circuit such a society as Ribandism is described to be, and I believe, no such societies have existed there during my time. We never had a case of Ribandism on my circuit; in fact, I hardly know what it is." Mr. Barrington says, that he thinks it highly improbable that any system of combination or of premeditated mischief, to any considerable extent, could prevail in his circuit without his knowledge, as he has been for years anxious to find out the cause of every outrage, in order to discover what would be the appropriate remedy to prevent the recurrence of disturbance. Mr. Kemmiss, Crown solicitor of the Leinster circuit, says: "No Ribandism has come to my knowledge as Crown prosecutor. I think, if it existed upon the circuit I should know it. I have not missed a circuit these thirty-eight years, and on my Leinster circuit I know no such thing as Ribandism. The circuit includes Wicklow, Wexford, Kilkenny, and Tipperary. In Dublin crimes are numerous, but trifling, decreasing for the last five years, and continuing to decrease; I have had no prosecution there for some time; five or six years ago I used to have prosecutions. Could not trace any Ribandism in Waterford, and do not believe it exists there." Mr. Leed: "We have had but one case of it on our circuit, on the information of Dr. O'Reilly, the parish priest of Navan." Mr. Green says, "No Ribandism exists in Kilkenny; I must know if it did; I have read a great deal about it in the newspapers, but do not know what it is." Mr. Tibiteau: "No trace of Ribandism in Tipperary; I have spoken with the stipendiary and other magistrates of the county, and they could not give me any instance of it." Mr. Howley says:If it means branches affiliated under a head, with signs, oaths, &c, I have never seen a single trace of it in Tipperary, nor heard of any such in my intercourse with the magistracy, nor of any other sworn confederacy. I have made vigilant and anxious inquiries into the state of crime in Tipperary, and all the means of judging in my power lead me to conclude, that there is no such conspiracy; and if any other person told me he believed it to exist, I should suppose that he was mistaken.
, sessional prosecutor in Tipperary, says: "I are perfectly convinced that there is no such thing as Ribandism in the country with which I am 75 acquainted. It could not be without my knowledge, and I have never had the slightest intimation of it." Lord Donoughmore says: "I know nothing of any secret society in Tipperary" (and Lord Donoughmore's was an opinion to which noble Lords could not object). Mr. Drummond says:As to Ribandism itself, I doubt the existence of such a society, formed with a view to the commission of agrarian outrage; and founded upon feelings of religious animosity, from the effects which appear, I cannot even conclude its existence. There is no evidence whatever, except the unsupported assertion of informants, of any outrage having been planned at any of their meetings; and a strong presumption against this supposition is furnished by the remarkable fact, that our informants, though professing to be present at the meetings where murders have been concocted, have never, during several years, been able to give information of any such murder until after its execution.He would refer also to the opinion of Sir Robert Peel as to the absence of combination in the outrages of 1824, which were much more likely to be the result of combination than those of the present day. Now, as to the persons by whom these societies are originated and kept on foot. Mr. Plunket quotes Lance Corporal—'s information:As far as I know, every meeting of a lodge is in a public-house. A great number of the masters are publicans. The lodge is usually held at a public-house. One reason for keeping up the system is, that the meetings are held in public-houses, and the publicans being parish masters, receive 1s. a piece from each committee-man in the parish, beside the profit on the drinking. Each committee-man gets 1s. from every man he tests or swears, and after that 3d. a quarter from every man in his lodge; and the county masters get 3s. 6d. a quarter from each parish in the county.
quotes an information—That at the quarterly meetings each of the members pays 6d., of which 3d. are allocated to the purpose of drinking, and the other 3d. are paid to the masters for passwords. At other meetings each of the members pays 6d., of which half is for drink, and the other half goes to a fund for private purposes. The publicans have a great interest in the system—it brings grist to their mill; a great many of the members are imposed upon, and don't know what becomes of their money.One object of keeping it up was to make money, as the county delegate made 300l. a year. Captain Despard stated: 76That one of his informants paid on his admission a fee of 1s. 6d., and about 7s. 6d. for whiskey; and that he afterwards paid 5s. on being made a committee-man, and gave 4s. 4d. for drink for those present.The whole of his answer is very important, and should be read at length. Mr. Drummond says:The promoters are publicans, who receive quarterly payments, and render no account. The publicans have a sort of connection with each other, and affect mystery, and attribute the whole to some head unknown. The promoters are knaves, and the members dupes. I think that it is chiefly formed and carried on by publicans to bring trade to their houses, and that the money subscribed goes to support in idleness a great many more clever than the poorer.An informant of Mr. Faussett says: "The 6d. a month is subscribed to buy arms, but they have not bought any yet." The noble Lord also quoted the evidence of Mr. Cahill, Mr. Tracy, and Mr. Faussett, for the purpose of showing that the informers were distressed and in want of money. After all the evidence which he had offered, noble Lords would not be surprised at the universal failure to secure convictions for the offence of Ribandism. [The Earl of Roden: There was one conviction at Drogheda.] That was the only case of successful prosecution. While on this branch of the subject, he would state what had passed in committee. Mr. Drummond, in one of the seven days of his examination, came before the committee with six or seven boxes of papers relating to the prosecution for Ribandism, and with some anxiety of manner observed, that if any noble Lord entertained the slightest suspicion that the Government had not diligently and perseveringly done their duty for the punishment of Riband outrages, he was ready to enter at full length into every single case. The committee kindly allowed him to do so, although both the noble Chairman and the noble and learned Lord acquiesced in assuring Mr. Drummond that not the slightest doubt was entertained but the Government had done their utmost. But when it was remembered that the main ground of the charge of the noble Earl was, that there existed a conspiracy, which had been fostered by the neglect of the Government, that the organization of such a conspiracy was a certain source of crime, and that his noble Friend (the Marquess of Normanby) was responsible for more 77 crime and bloodshed than any previous Viceroy, was not this communication from the committee to Mr. Drummond a complete justification of the conduct of his noble Friend? To come to the immediate subject of discussion, the bill before the House, which enacted a new mode of dealing with persons having passes, pass words, or unlawful oaths, there was nothing new in the nature of these offences. From Mr. Barrington, Crown solicitor, he had procured a statement of the nature of the Whiteboys' oaths in former years:In 1761: To be ready when called upon. In 1785: To obey Captain Wright. In 1807: To be ready when called upon. In 1811: To keep secret, and be ready when called upon. In 1812: Not to sell potatoes for more than 6s. per barrel, nor to work for less than certain wages. In 1821: To join Captain Rock. In 1822: To keep secret, and be loyal to the party; to keep secret and assist the Whiteboys. In 1824. Never to assist in the execution of a civil bill decree, or serve a civil bill process; to procure money to aid the Whiteboys; not to discover or give evidence. In 1824. To kill ministers, proctors, spies, and informers; not to discover on a murder if he saw it committed; to become a three-year-old-boy; to swear on the altar not discover on Captain Bock. In 1829. To keep secret; not to work for less than 1s. a-day, and to be ready when called upon. In 1830: To be true to the Whiteboys. In 1833; Not to pay tithes or church-rates. In 1834: Not to work under certain wages. In 1837: Not to serve tithe processes. In 1838: Not to prosecute at sessions.In further corroboration of the state of Ireland with regard to these crimes, in former years, he would quote from speeches of Sir Robert Peel in 1814 and 1816. In 1814, Sir Robert Peel said:—The evil which it was now proposed to remedy, had not, he was sorry to say, risen on a sudden. It had existed for a considerable time, indeed he might say for the whole period he had the honour of forming a part of the Irish Government. The disturbances in this county (Westmeath) appear to have commenced about the beginning of the year 1813, and have been rapidly increasing ever since, notwithstanding great exertions have been made on the part of the magistracy to check and subdue them. The persons engaged in those disturbances, styling themselves 'carders,' commenced their outrages, by attacking houses, robbery of fire-arms, and swearing the lower orders to obey such rules and orders as should be dictated and pronounced by them. To effect these purposes, they posted notices through different parts of the country, and declared vengeance against any person who should not comply with such, their lawless 78 dictates. If a tract of land was to be set in con-acre, these lawless miscreants would fix a price per acre upon it, and any person giving, more would certainly receive personal torture, or suffer some injury in his property.In 1816, Sir Robert Peel, in bringing the state of Ireland before Parliament, said:—That in former periods of the history of that country, tumults and outrages had subsisted, but they were generally to be traced to small and comparatively unimportant causes; particular and local grievances; personal animosities or hereditary feuds constituted the principal sources of them; at other times, grievances of a more distinct and positive nature were alleged, such as the high price of land, and then the professed object of the combination was to lower it. But the disturbances then existing have no precise or definitive cause—they seemed to be the effect of a general confederacy in crime—a, comprehensive conspiracy of guilt—a systematic opposition to all laws and municipal institutions. The records of the courts of justice show such a settled and uniform system of guilt, that such monstrous and horrible perjuries could not be found in the annals of any country on the face of the globe, whether civilized or uncivilized. Time alone, the prevalence of a kind and paternal Government, and the extension of education were the remedies which must be relied on.In 1820, the county of Galway wag so much disturbed, that Mr. James Daly, in his place in Parliament, stated:—There never was a period when the state of that country required a more prompt and more vigorous interposition on the part of Government, when the disturbance was so extensive, and the outrages of so violent and dangerous a character. The disturbances to which he had alluded commenced about the middle of November last, in the county of Roscommon and the parts adjacent. Renewed disturbances took place, in which some lives were lost, and a gentleman of respectability was shot by the roadside on a public highway. The meeting of the magistrates was adjourned for a fortnight, and in that short interval, such was the increased audacity of the rebels—for he could designate them in no other manner—that upwards of seventy gentlemen's seats had been attacked and plundered, and there were actually 'not five seats in the whole district which had either not been entered, or defended and saved from the depredations, after an obstinate engagement. They attacked the police-barracks, and thirteen of the police were dangerously wounded in a desperate engagement, which lasted from half past nine in the evening till three in the morning. For above five hours was this band of rebels engaged with his Majesty's organized and veteran troops, 79 The country was studded so thickly with troops that no man could stand at his door without seeing parties of soldiers. Government had been obliged to take another step, which was unconstitutional, although he allowed it was necessary, namely, to grant the qualification of the peace to field officers and captains commanding detachments. What he had described related only to one county. He had heard that both Kilkenny and Cork were disturbed, and that horrible outrages had been perpetrated in Westmeath.In March, 1829, in bringing before the House of Commons the bill for the removal of the Roman Catholic disabilities, Sir Robert Peel described the state of Ireland thus—I apprehend it scarcely possible we can change for the worse. W hat is the melancholy fact? That for scarcely one year during the period that has elapsed since the Union, has Ireland been governed by the ordinary course of law. In 1800, we find the Habeas Corpus Act suspended, and the act for the suppression of rebellion in force. In 1801 they were continued; in 1802, they expired. In 1803 the insurrection, for which Emmett suffered, broke out. Lord Kilwarden was murdered by a savage mob; and both acts of Parliament were renewed. In 1804 they were continued In 1806 the West and South of Ireland were in a state of insubordination, which was with difficulty suppressed by the severest enforcement of the ordinary law. In 1807, inconsequence, chiefly, of disorders that had prevailed in 1806, the act called the Insurrection Act was introduced; it gave power to the Lord-lieutenant to place any district, by proclamation, out of the pale of the law; it suspended trial by jury, and made it a transportable offence to be out of doors from sunset to sunrise. In 1807, this act continued in force, and in 1808, 1809, and the close of the sessions of 1810. In 1814, the Insurrection Act was renewed; it was continued in 1815, 1816, and 1817. In 1822, it was again renewed, and continued during the years 1823, 1824, and 1825. In 1825, the act intended for the suppression of dangerous associations was passed; it continued during 1826, and 1827, and expired in 1828. In 1829, disturbances to a frightful extent existed in part of the county of Cork; conspiracies were formed for the assassination of magistrates; murders were committed; the police barracks were attacked, the inhabitants shot; houses and villages burned, and gentlemen in their carriages and on horseback, fired at and wounded. A special commission was held in the county at this period.At a general meeting of the Kilkenny magistrates in March 1832, it was resolved—That it appears by official documents that 80 in the seven months ending January last, the number of outrages of an insurrectionary character committed within the county have amounted to 300, while the number of convictions have been only nine, notwithstanding the great exertion of the constituted authorities.At a similar general meeting of magistrates of Queen's County in 1832, it was stated, thatNo man can venture to leave his house unguarded at any hour in the twenty-four. Within the last three months 133 houses in the Queen's County had been attacked, from 65 of which, arms had been plundered.Those magistrates called for a renewal of the Insurrection Act. The magistrates of other counties also assembled in the same year from similar causes. There was evidence sufficient to prove that the state of things complained of by the noble Earl, even if proved to exist, was not new. But it might be said that the noble Marquess had not grappled with the evil as former Governments had done. He was quite sure that the two last of the predecessors of the noble Marquess, Lords Anglesey and Wellesley, were far too high-minded and honourable men to receive a compliment of that sort at the expense of their successor. The truth was that the noble Marquess had done as much if not more than any of his predecessors to bring back the country to tranquillity and to ameliorate its condition, and he was quite sure that he would be saying nothing that could at all wound the self-love of those noble Lords—if such a term could be applied to their feelings—when he said that the administration of the noble Marquess would be regarded by the great majority of the Irish people with the most grateful recollection. That was the best answer that the noble Marquess could give to the charge of indifference to the punishment of crime. The present Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, admirable as his administration undoubtedly was, was fast pursuing the course originally chalked out by Lords Anglesey and Wellesley, and since so excellently followed up by the noble Marquess. To one other topic he would refer as illustrative of the facts of the noble Marquess's Government—the amount of military force now in Ireland. When he assumed the reins of Government, there was in Ireland an army of 23,000 or 24,000 men. The nominal force now in Ireland was 11,257, of whom, perhaps, not more than 10,500 were effective men. If there were not 81 another argument in favour of the administration of the noble Marquess, this single fact spoke volumes in favour of the admirable principles upon which the noble Marquess had acted in Ireland.
said, there could not be a doubt, from what had fallen from the noble Lord who had just sat down, as well as from the statement of the noble Chairman of the committee, that Ribandism was a most dangerous association, and one which the magistrates were bound to take the most energetic measures to put down. Noble Lords seemed to think the association less dangerous, because it was agrarian in its objects. But could there be anything more dreadful than an association for such purposes, and with such objects as those detailed in the evidence? Why, it was in evidence that for five shillings or six shillings any man who had taken possession of a tenement, from which another had been ejected, could be shot. He had never seen a greater desire in any witnesses to tell, or any committee to ascertain the truth. He still thought that the appointment of the committee was proper; he thought, with the noble Duke, that the result had proved highly important, and although he did not go the full extent of the opinion of some noble Lords as to the proof of the extent and object of secret societies, still he did not even know, till the appointment of the committee, that there did exist such a dangerous weapon to be snatched up at any moment, and he had never thought that Ireland was in such a state at present as it was found on this inquiry to be. A noble Lord who had been lately introduced into that House, and who had spoken with much ability in the course of this debate (Lord Lurgan), had borne testimony to the fairness of the committee, and he did not envy the feelings of those leaders of the noble Lord who would now impugn it, or who, with a no more certain majority than twenty-two, had chosen to pass judgment before they had even heard the evidence.
§ Lord Plunket
said, that it was a mistake to suppose that it was not the desire of the Government to use every exertion effectually to put down any secret societies; but it would be foolish in him if, after the favourable verdict which had been passed by all on his noble Friend, he provoked any further discussion. Having been for forty years in public employment, and having; been assured that secret 82 associations had existed in Ireland, he must say that they had never ceased since 1798. The machinery established by the United Irishmen was the commencement, and that machinery was found so convenient for carrying on such societies that it had never been abandoned. The society of 1798 was formed originally by the Protestants of the north of Ireland—it was not formed by the Roman Catholics. He had only further to remark that the Roman Catholic priests of Ireland, of whom he had had any knowledge, although of course there were exceptions, as there were in every large body, appeared to him some of the most respectable and meritorious individuals he had ever met with.
§ Viscount Melbourne
had hoped, that the noble Duke (Wellington) would have allowed the debate to close without troubling their Lordships with any observations; but the noble Duke had not only broken silence himself, but he had also compelled him to break silence. Some observations which the noble Duke had made, it was necessary for him to notice. The noble Duke had stated the reasons for which he had supported the appointment of the committee, and had said that he was satisfied with the result, and that this result entirely justified the course which he had taken. He had opposed the appointment of the committee, on the ground that it was unnecessary and useless, and intended to criminate and accuse the Government of Ireland. As to obtaining by its means, information, it was, as he thought, useless; but, whether it had proved so or not, as he had not perused this great body of evidence, he could not say, but having heard the substance of the evidence, with respect to Ribandism, very fully, and no doubt very fairly, stated by noble Lords near him, he was of opinion, with respect to secret societies, that the committee was a complete failure. There was nothing proved that they had not heard for many years—there were no new circumstances, and no new information on the subject The noble Lord opposite (Wharncliffe) was well acquainted with the state of Ireland; he well knew what had taken place in committees on Irish affairs for the last twenty years, and he had taken part in the debates on those affairs, and he would appeal to that noble Lord, whether, with respect to secret societies or Ribandism, whatever it might be called, there were stated any circumstances with which they were not acquainted before the committee was appointed 83 Their nature, their object, and the manner in which they worked, had been well explained by his noble and learned Friend who had lately addressed the House; he fully agreed in that noble Lord's view of the subject, but at the same time there was no subject on which they ought to be more cautious in expressing their knowledge. In the first place all was secret; all that was unknown was assuredly greatly dreaded; there was no subject on which there was more room in which fancy could work. In the next place, when they were adopted in one part of the country, it was said that they had great communication with others. Many of the members entertained violent and ulterior views—many were not acquainted with those views; the more artful did not state to the others their object. It was always stated that there were progressive degrees in the society—to some of these part of the society were admitted, and part not. He acknowledged the great dangers of such societies—he acknowledged the great evil which they might effect; but still it was a subject on which it behoved a person to exercise extreme caution as to the belief which might be grounded on such suspicion or such evidence. Some very sarcastic observations had been made in the course of the debate, and especially by the noble Duke, in reference to its having been said that there were nine millions of inhabitants, and that they could not be resisted, and because it had been also said that there were five hundred thousand ready for any purpose for which it might be called for. They all knew very well that the influence of particular individuals was very great; their extraordinary influence was not exerted through secret societies; he was not so much afraid of secret societies, but public meetings were much more to be feared. Give him the force and the power of a public meeting, and he was not very much alarmed at any political danger from secret societies. The noble Duke had, as usual, brought forward two or three charges, which he had before made—he said that now every one admitted that secret societies did exist. He owned that this seemed a strange delusion on the part of the noble Duke. They were known to have existed for a long time. It had been so stated by his noble and learned Friend—it had always been admitted—it was known that there had been the Society of United Irishmen—it was a society which grew 84 up suddenly—it grew up secretly—it grew up to a great extent without the knowledge of the Government of the day. There had always since been secret societies of all descriptions for the worst of purposes—to control trade, to control labour, and for purposes of tyranny and of violence; and it was impossible to deny that to the violence from which the country in which we live was unfortunately not exempt, there was a greater propensity in Ireland. Then the noble Duke made another charge, that while the Government knew of the existence of these secret societies, and these elements of evil, there had been a speech from the Throne congratulating the House on the peaceable state of Ireland. He only remembered one occasion in which there was such a speech, and that was at the end of the Session of 1834, for which the noble Duke (Richmond) was fully as responsible as himself, and the Government did conceive that they were then justified, by the circumstances which then existed, to state the greater degree of tranquillity in Ireland. They did not negative that there was not in Ireland any dangerous symptoms; he thought, then, the Government was justified in putting into the mouth of the Sovereign on the Throne the congratulation of improvement, and he thought now that they were justified. Then the noble Duke (Wellington) complained that, with the state of things that existed in Ireland, and with the other dangers that threatened, they had reduced the peace establishment. Than this statement nothing could be more erroneous. He could not mean that they had not provided as large a civil and military force as they had received from the noble Duke in the year 1830. But what the noble Duke meant was, that circumstances had since arisen, for he said, "You have drawn troops from Ireland to support the war in Canada," and that when these circumstances had arisen, and there had been this great demand, they had not augmented the force of the country to meet them. The great question of the police was not discussed by the noble Duke. But the Government thought that present circumstances justified them in trusting the maintenance of the interests of the country to the force at present in their possession. He must observe that very often general opinion made a force which was not otherwise of quite sufficient 85 strength, quite adequate for the purpose they were required; and he confessed that he did not see the policy of continually proclaiming the inadequacy of our present force, and it did appear to him that such a statement, coming from such an authority and such a source, was calculated to produce the effects which were deprecated.
§ The Duke of Wellington
explained. With regard to what he had said as to secret societies, he hoped that the noble Viscount would not run away with the opinion that secret societies were known to have existed, because it was known that there had been a secret society of United Irishmen. What he contended for was, that the existence of the United Irishmen was not known till the evidence of one gentleman let it out, and showed what the organization was; and as the existence of the society was unknown till that information was procured, and as it turned out to be afterwards a rebellion of the most formidable character, from the effects of which the country had been suffering up to the present moment; so, he said, that the same ignorance of all the events—the same inattention to this state of organization up to the recent inquiry—might possibly produce the same consequences. That was what he had contended for, and that was what he contended for still. There could be no direct evidence upon this part of the case; it must be all derived from hearsay; he did not pretend that there was the same complete organization, but all the evidence produced before their Lordships' committee went to the same point, that there was now the same ignorance of all organization as there was of the organization of the United Irishmen up to the last moment of the breaking out of the rebellion, and they ought to beware that the same events did not happen from the same organization. He had also mentioned that the peace establishment had been considerably lowered; but he did not make any comparison between the general peace establishment of this day and of the year 1830. He thought that the peace establishment was reduced in 1829, and if he was not mistaken, it was reduced again in 1832 or 1833. Therefore, in the year 1838 it was lower than in 1830. He had made no comparison, but he must remark, that on the peace establishment, as originally fixed, the force of the army was at least 10,000 higher than in 1838. It was 86 reduced by the Government to which he had had the honour to belong, below the first amount, and it had been also reduced, for the sake of economy, the same season by the Government at the head of which was the noble Earl (Grey.) The establishment in Ireland had been more reduced than had been ever known on any other occasion, on account of the war in Canada His opinion had always been, and he had frequently stated it, that the establishments in Ireland, and elsewhere, ought not to have been reduced at that period and that the establishments at home, and elsewhere, ought to have been kept so complete, that the war could be carried on in the other part of the world; and he now repeated, that if proper exertions had been made two years ago, the country would not have been in the state in which he was afraid they found it at the present moment, and in which he was still more afraid they would find it a short time hence.
The Earl of Roden
, as the mover of the committee, must say a few words, and they should be but few. The witnesses called were the police magistrates, the agents of the police, and Major Warburton. Not knowing whom it was best to examine, the committee asked Major Warburton, and he recommended them to take the evidence of Major Rowan, Captain Despard, and others, who were examined. He thought that the comments on Major Rowan had been most severe. That gentleman again and again said, that he was an unwilling witness; he was brought there, and being on oath, he was bound to give the knowledge in his possession. He would take the evidence of any one of the other witnesses, and would compare it with the evidence of Major Rowan, and it would be found quite as strong as the evidence of that gentleman; nothing could be clearer than Major Warburton's own view of this conspiracy, extending itself, as he said, to all parts of Ireland, and increasing from day to day. He did object to the answer given to his former speech in 1837, referring to the tranquillity of Ireland, for he then knew of this wide-spreading conspiracy, and he had been fully borne out in his representations by the evidence taken before the committee. In his speech of 1837, the noble Marquess denied that there was a secret society with any political object; the evidence proved that it had a political object. Major Warburton expressly said, that it was not agrarian, but 87 that it had more of a political object. The noble Marquess said then that he had no knowledge of any such oath, as he had quoted at that time. [The Marquess of Normanby: You quoted an oath which was to make Mr. O'Connell king of Ireland.] He did not read any oath of that kind. On the 16th of April, 1836, Mr. Tracy, in a letter to the Government, directly referred to this secret society, and called it a widely-spread and dangerous conspiracy, He said in that letter.In reference to my report of the 10th ultimo, relative to a combination called 'The Shamrock Society,' lately discovered in this town, I have the honour to state, for the information of his Excellency the Lord-lieutenant, that the testimony of—alluded to in that report, has been strongly corroborated within the last three days by the concurrent evidence of two individuals who are connected with the association, and each of whom is ignorant that any information has been given by the other. The first and principal informant is—, as stated in my letter of the 25th of February; and although he denied having any knowledge of the society—, he is now not only ready, but anxious to give all the information in his power. He wished to communicate on the subject with the Messrs. Faussett and myself together in the first instance; but I was absent on duty, and therefore he was examined by Mr. William Fausset only, who took down the most of his statement in writing, and he has promised to meet that gentleman and me to-morrow evening, to communicate to us the proceedings of a meeting at which he is to attend this night, for the purpose of settling 'the county delegate's accounts.' The second informant is—, who denies being a member of the society, but states that he is pressed to become one; that he knows much of the movements of the body, and has offered to conduct me to the house where I shall find the society at their occupation and their papers with them. But—, above-mentioned, states that is a member of the society, and that—who first gave information as to the existence of this widely spread and dangerous confederacy, states that he has been at some meetings of the society since his examination before the Crown solicitor and me on the 8th of March; that he has seen several new members initiated, and his general statements are fully borne out by the testimony of the persons above-mentioned. The several statements made by those persons, and the purport of the documents produced by—and—are too voluminous for the limits of a report, and as they are on a subject of more than ordinary importance, and requiring a very skilful mode of treatment in its development, I would wish to confer with the Solicitor-general; or such other legal authority as I might be 88 referred to, in person, in order that I might receive his instructions on several points of the case, which could not so well be conveyed to me by letter; but of course I could not go to Dublin for the purpose of obtaining such instructions without the orders or permission of his Excellency. I have little or no doubt, from the means of information within my reach, of being able to apprehend, if directed so to do, the members of at least one of those secret clubs in a week or two: but it occurs to me that it will be very difficult to obtain their conviction under any existing act of Parliament; their regulations and passwords being arranged with great caution, and their members being admitted by a declaration instead of an oath. The informants whose names I have mentioned are in terror lest they should be discovered, and therefore any attempt to examine them here by a person sent from Dublin would be worse than useless; but if, after my interview with the law officer of the Government, it should be thought expedient to re-examine them at all, I could easily make arrangements for having them sent up to—separately, and thereby prevent their suspecting the business of each other, and their associates from suspecting them to be informers against the society alluded to.He could not, therefore, conceive, how the Government could deny their existence. One part of the oath pledged the members to secrecy, and the other pledged them to turn out to assist Mr. O'Connell in obtaining justice for Ireland; he had not said a word about making Mr. O'Connell king of Ireland. He felt most grateful to the noble Duke for the assistance which he had given him when he moved for this committee, and he begged to express his sincere gratification, at the termination of the inquiry, and he hoped that the object which he had desired to be attained, the benefit of his country, would be secured. If this bill had been the consequence of that inquiry, he thanked the Government also for having taken up the subject, even though thus late.
§ Viscount Duncannon
begged again to remind their Lordships to the fact, that this bill was not produced by the inquiry before this committee. It had been brought before Parliament before the committee was appointed, or, at all events, before the any of the evidence adduced could be made public.
§ The Bill went through Committee, and the report was ordered to be received.