HL Deb 09 May 1843 vol 69 cc1-12
The Earl of Roden

rose, pursuant to the notice he gave last night, that it was his intention to ask a question of her Majesty's Government, with respect to the excitement which prevailed in almost every part of Ireland on the subject of the union, to carry that intention into effect. He trusted that he; might be allowed, considering the great importance of the subject, to preface his proposition with a few observations respecting what he must, call the awful subject of the repeal of the union. Nothing; but the importance of the subject could I warrant him in taking up the time of their Lordships with any considerations connected with the notice which he had given, and he apprehended there were few or none; of their Lordships then present who were not in some degree acquainted with the excitement which exists, and which had, existed for a considerable period in Ireland on the subject of the repeal of the union. The great cause of this excitement was the assembling together in different parts of the country of immense masses of the people, and those assemblies being addressed by demagogues, and he regretted to say, addressed by Romish priests in; language the most seditious and the most violent — language which, he must say, tended to inflame the minds of the people, and tended to nourish in them a hatred towards England, and towards the connection with this country. Such of their Lordships as had not witnessed these effects as he had, could not, conceive the conspiracy—he must call it a conspiracy —could not conceive the extent of the conspiracy, nor the violence and intimidation which at present prevailed in every part of Ireland. He was aware that he was speaking strongly on this subject; but he was anxious to speak so; it was his duty, and his duty earnestly to bring the subject under their Lordships' notice. He was anxious to state the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, to demand the attention and obtain the assistance and support which he had a right to ask from her Majesty's Government. He had lately come from that part of the country, and such a state of things as now existed in Ireland he never, in the whole course of his life, which was now not a short one, was acquainted with. The people of Ireland entertained very generally feelings of alarm and distrust, such as amongst the loyal part of the people of that country he had never known before under similar circumstances. That distrust and alarm did not arise from the violence and threats of demagogues, for they could meet those threats as they had met similar threats before, but it arose from a circumstance to which he lamented to refer, but which he felt it his duty to refer to, and that was the silence and the apparent apathy of the Government while these proceedings were going on, proceedings entirely subversive of the peace and prosperity of the country. No one would venture to suppose that her Majesty's Government were not most anxious to put an end to the growing evil and to the baneful crimes which must result from it, but the loyal subjects of her Majesty had a right to have some mark and sign of opinion of the Government, and some declaration that it would support those who were anxious to maintain the public tranquillity. They had a right to require that the Government should express their determination to uphold the integrity of the empire. He could assure their Lordships that the loyalty of a large portion of the people of Ireland was as sound and as pure as ever it was at any period. He did not confine that remark to the Protestant population, but many of the Roman Catholics he knew deprecated the present system of agitation, though he lamented to say, many of them had been compelled to join the cry through intimidation, and not from any good will. His countrymen he could assure their Lordships were as loyal as ever they were, and he could answer particularly for the people of Ulster, with whom he was more immediately connected, that they were as willing to perform that for their country in 1843, which they performed so successfully in 1798; but in order to bring this to a successful termination, they demanded and required, and had a right to look for the cordial co-operation of her Majesty's Government. The circumstances in which they were now placed with respect to this cry for the Repeal of the Union were much more serious than at any former period. The difference between the evil in 1830, when the Government met the cry with firmness and determination, and the present time was that then the cry of repeal was supported only by demagogues and one particular class of persons; at that period he believed there was not a single Roman Catholic priest, nor one Roman Catholic bishop who was in favour of it; but now it was far otherwise; and, therefore, as the danger was so much the greater, it required tenfold energy to put it down. If the former Government exhibited firmness and determination to oppose the Repeal of the Union, it became the present Government, as a true friend to Ireland, to state its opinion and avow its determination to maintain the integrity of the empire. In the circumstance to which he had referred in 1830, when a noble Friend of his (the Marquess of Anglesey) was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, though at that time the Coercion Act was in existence, his noble Friend conceived the agitation for the Repeal of the Union was a subject of paramount importance, and he issued a proclamation to put an end to the agitation. The Government of that period with which he found no fault, followed up the same course in 1831. The act of the Lord-lieutenant was described by some persons as unconstitutional, but it was defended by Lord Althorp in the House of Commons, and defended in that House. In 1831 Lord Althorp expressed himself on the subject, in reply to Mr. O'Gorman Mahon, in the following manner, and he earnestly begged the attention of their Lordships to Lord Althorp's language:— The case with respect to the Government is this; the hon. Member for Waterford, has, it is well known, been exciting so much discontent in Ireland—has been keeping up what he calls agitation in that country—that although the conclusion of every speech, however violent or inflammatory, has been an advice to his auditors to be obedient to the laws, it must be evident to every unprejudiced man who has read those speeches, or who has marked the course which the hon. Member has been pursuing, that his language and conduct has bad but one tendency,—namely, to incite to insurrection and rebellion throughout the country. I repeat it, their direct tendency has been as 1 describe it. What, I ask, has been the avowed object of the hon. Member for Waterford's agitation? To obtain a Repeal of the Union. I would beg; to ask any man, who has considered what the Repeal of the Union must produce, whether it does not become the duty of Government to employ every means in their power to prevent the accomplishment of an object which must directly lead to an entire separation of the two countries. Sir, I trust that those who seek for a Repeal of the Union will not succeed. If they do succeed it must be by successful war, and, from the spirit of my countrymen, I hold that to be impossible. The hon. Member has made allusion to such an extremity. I tell him that no man entertains a greater horror of war than I do; and of all descriptions of war I think a civil war is most to be dreaded. But, Sir, I also tell him, that even civil war itself would be preferable to the dismemberment and destruction of the empire. I have felt it my duty to state thus fairly and boldly what are the views of her Majesty's Government on this momentous subject, Such was the bold and manly language of Lord Althorp. The noble Lord's speech on that occasion was responded to by the then Leader of the Opposition, his right hon. Friend, who was now the First Minister of the Crown, and to the speech of his right hon. Friend, he would beg leave now to refer, in confirmation of what was said by Lord Althorp, Sir Robert Peel said,— Since the question has been agitated, it becomes every man who takes a lead in the discussions of this House to come forward and declare whether he has or has not irrevocably made up his mind to stand by the executive government—whether he has or has not determined at all hazards to maintain the legislative union of the two countries, and to prevent the dismemberment of the empire. This is now the domestic question of paramount importance. I should be ashamed of myself if I did not cast into oblivion all party political feelings which may have existed between myself and the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I should be ashamed of myself if I did not cast them aside, and, without hesitation, express a steady determination, by all the means in my power, to support the King's Govern- ment in every extremity of maintaining inviolate the union with Ireland. It is the duty of the Government, even in the dreadful extremity to which the noble Lord has alluded, the extremity of a civil war, to prevent a dismemberment of the empire. If the union with Ireland is to be dissolved, why may not Scotland and Wales demand the same? Why should not the empire be broken up altogether? It is to me perfectly clear, that the safety and well-being of the empire cannot be preserved but by the maintenance of the union; and to maintain that union the Government would, in my opinion, be justified in resorting to force. How much more incumbent, then, is it on them to resort to every legal measure, however severe, to prevent a recurrence to that more dreadful alternative, a civil war. Government would, indeed, be deeply responsible if they did not employ every legal and authorised means to avoid the necessity of employing the more dangerous method. If the law may be unable to stay the progress of those who desire a Repeal of the Union, still the Government would be highly to blame should it afterwards dye the scaffold or the plains of Ireland with blood, without having first tried all the existing authority of the laws, The noble Earl continued: he had quoted these opinions to show their Lordships what was then thought of the important subject to which he was calling the attention of their Lordships. They might be told, perhaps, that the laws as they now stood were insufficient to put down the enormous evils of which he complained; but before he adopted that conclusion, he would ask, had the existing laws been tried? He had seen no efforts made to put down those meetings; on the contrary, he had seen magistrates, who were bound to preserve the peace of the country, attend those meetings which were deplored and deprecated by right minded men of all parties, and not only attend them but preside over them, and those magistrates, he regretted to say, yet held, he believed, her Majesty's commission. If the laws were not sufficient there was no doubt, that his noble Friends were quite strong enough, and had power sufficient in Parliament, with the assistance of noble Lords opposite, to obtain sufficient power to stop the agitation in limine, and prevent the most baneful effects which must be produced if that agitation were continued. The same spirit, he was convinced, would animate his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, as animated him in 1831, when in opposition, and he would be as ready now to give the Government all necessary power to maintain the integrity of the empire as he was then. He was sure, that the Government would feel it a duty to confirm the loyal population in their attachment by giving them proofs that it did not look on this subject with indifference, and he was sure that the Government would exert itself to preserve the peace of the empire, and give the loyal people of Ireland that security which they called for, and had a right to expect. He was sensible, that he had gone to greater length than was usual into this important subject, when he only rose to put a question to her Majesty's Government, but he hoped he should receive their Lordships' pardon on account of the interest he took in the subject. Fie could only add, that he hoped her Majesty's Government would weigh well the important danger with which the country was threatened, and provide the necessary remedy. He hoped, that the Government would, if necessary, exert its utmost strength to put an end to the agitation, to give encouragement, strength, and confidence to the loyal people of Ireland, of all sects and denominations, and to convince the agitators and all the world, that it was determined to maintain the integrity of the empire. He would conclude by asking her Majesty's Government whether it were aware of the dangerous excitement which at present prevailed in several parts of Ireland on the subject of the Repeal of the Union, to be carried by large assemblies of the people, who were addressed by demagogues, in violent and seditious language; and whether it were the intention of her Majesty's Government to take any measures to repress the evils of such meetings, to guard against the consequences which must ensue, and to maintain unimpaired the legislative union between the two countries.

The Duke of Wellington,

in answering the question put by his noble Friend, did not feel it necessary to follow his noble Friend through the speech by which he had prefaced his question. He must say, however, that his noble Friend was perfectly justified, by the circumstances of the case, in departing from the strict rules of the House. It would not, however, be necessary for him to go into any lengthened details, and he should give a brief answer to his noble Friend's question. The Government of Ireland was sensible of the state of excitement existing in a part of Ireland on the subject of the union, and it was sensible of the danger which might be the result of that excitement. The attention of the Government had been given to that state of excitement, and to the measures which had been adopted in order to keep it up; and the Government of Ireland and her Majesty's servants here had adopted measures in order to enable the Irish Government with certainty to preserve the peace in Ireland, should any attempt be made to disturb it, and to prevent the successful result of any measures to disturb tranquillity which any mischievous person in Ireland might have in contemplation. There could be no doubt, though he was glad that his noble Friend had read extracts from the records of the proceedings of Parliament to confirm it—but there could be no doubt whatever that the sense of the Legislature had been declared, and that it had been, and was at the present moment resolved to maintain inviolate the legislative union between the two countries. It was therefore the duty of her Majesty's servants to take every measure in their power that could tend to maintain that union, and prevent any disturbance which might tend to break the peace of the country. He could not doubt the continuance of that desire on the part of the existing Parliament, he might say the anxiety of Parliament to maintain inviolate the legislative union, as had been declared in the addresses of the year 1834, upon the motion of a noble Lord in the other House of Parliament, and of a noble Earl in that House. There could be no doubt of the intention of her Majesty's Government to maintain the union inviolate; it was the duty of every government, and he would say it was the determination of her Majesty's present Government to maintain that union inviolate, and to come down to Parliament and call on Parliament to give her Majesty's Government its support in carrying into execution any measures which may be considered necessary to maintain the union inviolate, and preserve from disturbance the peace of her Majesty's dominions. He would now read to their Lordships the joint address of both Houses in 1834. It was as follows:— Our fixed determination to maintain unimpaired and undisturbed the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland, which we consider to be essential to the strength and stability of the empire, to the continuance of the connection between the two countries, and to the peace, and security, and happiness of all classes of your Majesty's subjects. We feel this, our determination, to be as much justified by our views of the general interest of the State, as by our conviction that to no other portion of your Majesty's subjects is the maintenance of the legislative union more important than to the inhabitants of Ireland themselves. That was the opinion of her Majesty's Government at the present moment; that opinion he felt confident would now receive the support of Parliament; and on that opinion her Majesty's Government would invariably act.

Lord Brougham

said, that he felt quite confident that his noble Friends who sat near him remained silent on the present occasion simply because they considered, as every one must, that there could not exist the possibility of any doubt or hesitation in agreeing heartily to the observations of the noble Duke opposite. He deemed it only necessary to add, that, if he addressed the House in support of that joint address which the noble Duke had quoted from, and which was laid at the foot of the Throne in 1834, the experience of nine years, and everything that had happened in those nine years, as well in England and Ireland as abroad in Europe, had only strengthened his opinion that the severance of the Legislative union (for that was the phrase under which the real object of these hardly lawful and most unconstitutional proceedings was cloaked) meant in reality the disruption of the empire itself, and the entire dissolution of the integrity of that empire; and no man could doubt that to prevent such a catastrophe, which would be the ruin of one of the greatest (if not the greatest) monuments of civilization which human wisdom had ever reared—that to prevent that grievous catastrophe, grievous to England, more grievous, if it were possible, to Ireland, and grievous to the whole human race; the uttermost exertions of the power of this country its moral force, its legislative force, and its physical force, would be put forward cheerfully and anxiously and heartily, at the first intimation on the part of her Majesty's Government, that any such extraordinary exertion was by them deemed necessary for a purpose of such paramount importance. Let their Lordships recollect the majority by which the address referred to by the noble Duke was passed in 1834; and let those who cherishad the hope that they might receive some support in this country for their abominable projects in Ireland, also recollect what took place at that period, and then let them feel their hearts sink within them. Of all the Members for England, Wales, and Scotland, who were attempted to be seduced by one factious appeal or another, by one topic of declamation or another, by pressure from without doors, and by intrigue and agitation within doors, how many did their Lordships think were found so forgetful of their duty to their country, and so bereft of all common reason and sense, as to support that wild project of the repeal of the union? But one single British Member was found to support that project; and that Gentleman had ceased to adorn the House of Commons. It was his belief that now there would not be found one single British voice raised in support of this mischievous project. He was reminded by his noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) that 523 Members of the House of Commons voted for the address to the Crown, including Irish, Scotch, English, and Welsh, and in opposition to them was found only one solitary British vote. He (Lord Brougham) entertained no fear whatever of the result of these agitations; but, if he entertained no such fear, it was because he knew his noble Friends opposite too well to believe that they were capable, for the sake of courting any fleeting, trumpery, base popularity, of taking a course of what was called concession and conciliation towards those who wished to destroy the empire—which had the uniform and inevitable effect of making enemies of your friends, and making your enemies despise you.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, the noble and learned Lord had ascribed his silence to the right motive; and he could assure their Lordships that it was not founded on any want of sympathy with the sentiments and opinions of the noble Duke. He might have risen earlier, but he observed with the greatest satisfaction in every part of the House—he might say such feeling universally pervaded the House—a desire to give that firm support to the Government on which the noble Duke justly stated he relied, and which he might add, he was sure would also be found in the other House of Parliament. Both Houses, he was sure, would be ready to accede to all those measures which the Government could at any time require to enable them to maintain inviolate the connection between Great Britain and Ireland, founded on the union—a connection which, as the noble Earl and the noble Duke said, had been so beneficial, and which, after forty years' experience, had been confirmed by that joint Address to the Throne to which the noble Duke had referred. That Address was moved by his noble Friend, Earl Grey, in their Lordships' House; and moved in the other House by his noble Friend whom he had now the happiness to see amongst their Lordships (Lord Monteagle)—and moved by him in a speech which was worthy of the occasion, and which would be for ever remembered. In that Address every Member of the Government cordially concurred; it was supported by every Member of the Government which succeeded—that of Lord Melbourne; and it met with the concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Robert Peel) who succeeded Lord Melbourne. That Address, he believed, represented the opinions on the subject of the repeal of the union of all the leading persons of every party in the country. The views which he entertained on the subject then he entertained now; and every event that had since occurred, every improvement that had taken place in civilization and in communication, since that period, had only served to link the two countries more firmly together, and make it less advantageous to both, and more impossible, to effect that separation which was stated to be the object of many persons in the other part of the United Kingdom. Therefore it was, that he concurred most heartily in the statement of the noble Duke, and therefore he was convinced that any measures which attempted to disturb this union, at the same time that they would be based on deception, would be met by a firm determination on the part of their Lordships to oppose them, and that determination being based on justice would be powerful to effect its object, that of preserving the union between the two countries.

The Marquess of Downshire

considered that the reply which the noble Duke who represented her Majesty's Government in that House, had given to the noble Earl deserved the thanks of every loyal and well-affected man in Ireland. He himself took the deepest interest in the welfare of that country, and he could assure their Lordships that what had just taken place had given him the utmost satisfaction. The determined front assumed by the noble Duke would do more to settle the minds of the people of Ireland than any thing which had passed this Session.

Conversation at an end.

Back to