HL Deb 09 June 1843 vol 69 cc1289-97
The Marquess of Clanricarde:

In asking the question of which I have given notice, there is not, I think, much apology due, in the present state of Ireland, not only from any one connected with that country, nor would there be from any Member of this House who may desire to know distinctly the grounds on which the Irish Government have taken the step to which I mean to allude. I therefore rise to ask a question, the object of which is, to ascertain distinctly on what principle the Irish Government have proceeded, and are proceeding, in dismissing certain gentlemen from the commission of the peace in Ireland, and from the office of deputy-lieutenants. I shall make no comments on these proceedings, my object being to obtain information as to the facts. In order to make my object clear, I shall have to point out certain discrepancies in letters addressed by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to the magistrates I have referred to, and which certainly involved the views of the Government in such obscurity, that we ought to hear on what principles they have determined to act. In the letter ad- dressed to Lord Ffrench, to which I felt it my duty to call your Lordships' attention some time back. It is stated:— It has been his earnest desire not to interfere with the expression of opinion by any magistrate in favour of repeal, although from his first arrival here he deemed it inconsistent with the determination of her Majesty's Government, to uphold the Union between Great Britain and Ireland, to appoint as a magistrate any person pledged to a repeal of that Union. Her Majesty's Government having recently declared in both Houses of Parliament their fixed determination to maintain the Union, it becomes the duty of the members of the Government to support that declaration. And the whole matter is wound up thus:— This view of the case, which the step taken by your Lordship has forced upon the attention of the Lord Chancellor, will compel him at once to supersede any other magistrates who, since the declarations in Parliament, have attended like repeal meetings. I do not mean to make any commentary on this, for I think it is pretty clear from it what the intention of the Government then was. It is dated the 25th of May, and on the 29th May there is another letter addressed to Mr. Otter, in which there is this phrase:— If you had confined yourself to a statement of the grounds of your resignation, the Lord Chancellor would have been anxious to satisfy you that Government had not any intention to interfere with the constitutional right to assemble and petition for the repeal of any act of the Legislature. It is impossible not to see that those words allude to the act of Union. Now, I certainly did understand from the former letter, that after the declarations of her Majesty's Ministers in Parliament, every magistrate who took part in the repeal agitation, was to be dismissed; yet the letter which I have just read would lead to a contrary conclusion. But, my Lords, that is not all, for it appears that a letter was addressed to Mr. Clanchy, inquiring whether or not he attended a repeal dinner. His answer is, that he did attend a dinner to Messrs. O'Connell and Roche, the representatives of his county. This is his letter:—

" Charleville, 24th May, 1843.

"Sir—In reply to your letter of the '23rd instant, I beg to state, for the information of the Lord Chancellor, that I did attend a dinner in Charleville on the 18th instant, given to Messrs. O'Connell and Roche, at which were persons differing in opinion on the subject of repeal, as well as on other matters of politics. Messrs. O'Connell and Roche are representatives in Parliament for this county. I supported them at the last general election, I purpose doing so (please God) at the next. Neither at this dinner, nor at any meeting, have I given any opinion on the act of Union, perhaps because my ideas on that question may not be as yet perfectly founded. But this I will say, that my intentions are to support such measures only as will promote the interests of Ireland, and at the same time strengthen and preserve the British connection.—Your obedient servant,

" H. Sugden, Esq. D. CLANCHY."

Now, it is impossible to say of this dinner, as was said in the letter to Lord Ffrench, that " it had an inevitable tendency to outrage; " because whether the dinner was given to the representatives of the county, or was a mere repeal dinner, it was absurd to say that it had an inevible tendency to the breach of the peace. There must be a total change in all our habits and proceedings before such maxims are laid down for the conduct of public meetings. I am sure that, generally speaking, the Government would not so act. It is evidently considered, that a mere expression of opinion on the subject of Repeal of the Union, justifies the dismissal of a magistrate, though the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had previously said, that he would not interfere with the expression of opinion as regards, an Act of Parliament. There is, besides, the case of Colonel Butler, whose offence is, that he could not attend a repeal meeting, as he was confined to his bed. It is quite clear, then, that the mere expression of an opinion favourable to repeal is deemed a justification fordismissal. Now I am not saying, that the grounds thus alleged are right or wrong; but I do, think that at this particular moment, the Irish, Government (but when I say the Irish Government, I mean, of course, the Ministers who are responsible for its acts), should let the country know clearly what they mean, and on what principles they are proceeding, in what is already grave, and may he a graver matter—the dismissal of magistrates in Ireland.

The, Duke of Wellington

My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Marquess for explaining the object of this question, I certainly was. not aware of the letters to which the noble Lord referred; but he has been so kind as to state to me in writing, that he intended to inquire on what principle these magistrates and deputy. Lieutenants have been dismissed from their offices, and to that question I am prepared to give an answer. These Gentlemen having been some of the persons to instigate and encourage the assembly of those large meetings in Ireland, on which the first law authority had pronounced in writing the opinion that they had " a tendency to outrage;" that" they were not in the spirit of the constitution, and may become dangerous to the State;" the Lord-lieutenant or the Government could not feel any confidence in the performance of their duties by these magistrates and deputy-lieutenants, who had thus excited these meetings, or who presided at them, or who even attended them. Your Lordships are perfectly aware that on one occasion it was proved that these meetings had a tendency to outrage—indeed, outrage was actually committed. I told your Lordships on a former occasion that there was a great difference of opinion in Ireland on the subject of the repeal of the union. Now, suppose that two assemblies representing such opinions assemble on the same occasion and in the same neighbourhood, why it is obvious that outrage and bloodshed may occur, and it must be likewise obvious that those magistrates and deputy-lieutenants are not officers on whom the Lord lieutenant can rely for carrying into execution measures for the repression and suppression of outrage which he may think proper to take on such an occasion. My Lords, I have besides to observe to your Lordships, that for a very considerable period of time it has been a matter of notoriety in Ireland that the Members of her Majesty's Council, her Majesty's servants in this and the other House of Parliament, declared it to be the positive and fixed determination of the Government to maintain inviolate the legislative union between the two countries. Some of the most distinguished Members of both Houses of Parliament declared, in their places, that they had the same intention; and this declaration of opinion has been communicated to the public more than once, and in no one instance, as I believe, has there been an intention avowed to promote the object of this repeal of the union. Well, then, what must be inferred from the notoriety of that fact? What but that the repeat of the union, so far as a vote of Parliament is concerned, is hopeless 1 It is to be carried, then, by intimidation, by force, and violence, and of course, as the Go- vernment, whose duty it is to resist and repress such acts of intimidation, force, and violence, whenever they should be attempted, by all the means at their disposition, cannot use such instruments as those who excite the people to appear at their head, the Lord-lieutenant and Lord Chancellor have taken measures to remove them from the commission of the peace, and deputy-lieutenancies of their several counties. This is the principle, my Lords, on which I conceive that the Government has acted. Indeed, there can be no doubt of it. The letters from the learned Judge at the head of the Court of Chancery in Ireland state that there is no desire on the part of Government to prevent any Gentleman from entertaining any opinions he may think proper to adopt upon the subject of the repeal of any Act of Parliament. No one can desire to do any such thing: but what we say is, that we must endeavour to preserve the peace of the country notwithstanding those large meeings—meetings having a tendency to outrage and violence—and, in doing so, we must make use of instruments such as there are in Ireland, and we cannot make use of the services of those who incite the people to assemble at such meetings, and who preside over them.

Earl Fortescue

said, be did not rise to offer any observations upon what bad fallen from the noble Duke, but merely to correct a misrepresentation which had been made in his absence, both in that House and in another place, with regard to expressions he had used, and acts done by the Government of which he was, for some time, the bead in Ireland. He understood it had been stated in substance in that House, that if precedents were wanted for what he must call the extraordinary proceedings taken by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland—that if precedents were wanted to justify those proceedings, they could be found in the declarations made by him, and in the arts done by the Government of which in Ireland he had been the bead. Now, he held in his hand a correct copy of the report taken at the time of the declaration which had been referred to in that as well as the other House of Parliament, and he hoped to have their Lordships' indulgence whilst he read that part of it which had reference to the subject of the Repeal of the Union, The occasion upon, which the speech in question had been made was the presentation of the Lord Mayor of the city of Dublin to the Lord-lieutenant—a ceremony which the Municipal Bill had done away with. Before the passing of that measure, however, it had been the custom for the Lord-lieutenant to address himself to the Lord Mayor on being so presented; and he begged to state that, besides the agitation then carried on by the Repealers, he had an additional motive for making the observations to which he begged to call attention, because he had been informed—he could not say how truly—that a portion of the old corporation had expressed sentiments favourable to repeal. After expressing in the strongest and most distinct terms his determination, and that of every Member of the then Government, to maintain the union between the two countries —after stating his conviction that its repeal could not be obtained by legal and constitutional means, and that even if it could be obtained, it would be fraught with equal calamity to both parts of the United Empire, he had proceeded to use the following words:— Need 1 say, entertaining as 1 do these opinions, that I have felt it to be my duty to discourage and discountenance, by all legal and constitutional means, the agitation of the Repeal question? Need I say, that I shall withhold all the Government favour and patronage which Administrations are entitled to confer upon their supporters from all those who take a part in this agitation, no matter what claims they may have, upon other grounds, to the good will of the Government? And if I have not had recourse to stronger means or more decided measures for the discountenancing or the suppression of the agitation upon this subject, it is certainly from no sympathy upon my part with the object or the feelings of those who are embarked in it; but because—although most strongly deprecating the agitation I continue to feel the same respect I have always entertained for the constitutional light of the people, openly to meet, and freely to discuss any acts of the Legislature which they may consider, however erroneously, prejudicial to their interests, or the interests of the country; so long as that discussion is carried on in a proper manner, with the view of obtaining, by legal and constitutional means the consent of the Legislature to the alteration or repeal of any particular act of Parliament—the only object to which the agitation in the present instance is declared to be directed. It is from these causes that, although entirely disapproving, the object of those meetings, and the sentiments expressed at them, more particularly with regard to our foreign policy, that I, at the same time, have not yet considered any danger likely to arise from those meetings to be such, or the sentiments expressed at them to have produced any such effect upon the general tranquillity of the country, as to justify the interference of the Executive for their forcible suppression, or a recourse to measures which, if not of paramount necessity, are often calculated to foment the spirit?which they seek to allay, and to increase the mischief which they were intended to cure. Acting up fairly to the spirit of that declaration, he had given no portion of the Government favour or patronage to any person who had taken part in that agitation, but, at the same time, it never had been in his contemplation to take from any person, in consequence of his opinions, the situation he held; and he was sure their Lordships would agree with him in thinking, there was a wide distinction between withholding an appointment and withdrawing it, between refusing to confer an office, and taking it away. He had been anxious to set himself right on this subject, and he trusted this explanation would have that effect.

Lord Brougham

said, that undoubtedly great excitement prevailed amongst those who held that the people of this realm had a right to assemble in public meetings to petition for the redress of grievances, but it should not be forgotten that the grievous abuse of this right might end in bringing it, in the first place, into contempt; next, into apprehension, and finally, if not in jeopardy, at least into desuetude. He had more than once expressed his decided opinion that the principles which any man entertained—his being free to express them on any measure, however wild and impracticable—his being- free to express them on any measure, however hurtful in its tendency, provided he gave vent to them in a peaceful and becoming manner, like a good subject of the Crown, was no ground whatever for fixing any stigma on that person on the part of the executive Government. He had gone further, and in doing so had had the misfortune to differ from his noble Friend who had just sat down, and who had so well administered the Government of Ireland, in the view his noble Friend had taken of the repeal question, when his noble Friend stated, as he had repeated to-night, that whoever chose to entertain those opinions must in vain look to the Government for favour or patronage. [Earl Fortescue.—No; whoever took part in the agitation for repeal.] —That was a very different matter. Taking part in agitation might be a pernicious act, and an act deserving more than discountenance and frustration of purpose. If the agitation were of a plainly illegal and perilous nature,—illegal would not be enough,—if it were of a perilous nature, it would afford a sufficient vindication of the course taken by his noble Friend. But he understood that his noble Friend went further, declaring that any one who took part in agitating for repeal would in vain look to him for promotion. But had his noble Friend forgotten that a Member of the other House was promoted to a very high place, although he was known to be a member of the Repeal Association, and was actually the teller of that very small minority when one English Member was found to vote in favour of that object? It was not, therefore, for holding an opinion, but for taking part in public agitation, that his noble Friend withheld patronage. But, with regard to public meetings, if they must be held, they must at least have some colour of being meetings for discussion and deliberation. He had no fear, he never had indulged any fear, of the people of this country assembling according to their undoubted right to discuss their grievances, to discuss and claim their rights, to discuss the measures of their rulers, and to discuss measures of former legislators, and to call aloud for new measures of legislation, and to call aloud for the repeal of former measures of legislation. He was not the man to doubt their right so to meet; he was not the man to feel alarm at their exercising such right of meeting; but then it must be a bonâ fide right to meet, and a bonâ fide meeting in circumstances making it at least within the bounds of possibility that discussion, and deliberation, and due consideration of the measures or the grievances, or the repeal of former measures, might be the object of that assembling of the people. But talk of 200,000 or 300,000 persons meeting to discuss and deliberate! to deliberate, and argue, and reason with one another ! Why, the idea was so preposterous that it almost converted into something of the ridiculous- -of the ludicrous, a matter which in itself was but too serious. He would not be understood to believe all that he was told of the numbers attending those meetings, when he was told that a person had addressed, and boasted of having addressed, between 200,000 and 300,000 persons at once, who all heard What he said! [A noble Lord.—500,000.] He believed his noble Friend was right in what he mentioned. 500,000 had been boasted of, but he believed, having had some experience, that it was absolutely impossible; it could be nothing short of a miracle. The human voice, human lungs, human ears, all made it impossible for one man to speak to be heard by every member of such immense assemblies. But it was quite enough to hear of an assemblage of 150,000 persons —and that he believed was not over the mark—to induce him to implore their leaders—to induce him to lift up his voice, in the hope, at least, of its being heard in its echoes by them—to implore them, as a friend of the rights of the people, as an advocate for the right of public meeting, as a friend, an avowed and consistent friend of the exercise by the people of the right to meet, to deliberate, and discuss their claims or their grievances—in that capacity he did implore them and their dupes who attended those meetings, not to be led away by vain imaginings, that anything but one thing could by possibility be the object of these assemblages— and that object was not really deliberation —not discussion—not reasoning, not reflective consideration, but to make demonstrations of power, exhibitions of physical force, assemblages intended to intimidate the peaceable and well-disposed, and to make it appear, what in his conscience he believed not to be the truth—that there was no voice raised in Ireland against the dismemberment of the empire. He had said before, that it was his perfect belief that such was the object of these meetings, and all that he had since seen and heard of them, had confirmed him in that opinion.

Their Lordships adjourned shortly after six o'clock.