HL Deb 12 February 1846 vol 83 cc743-9

then rose to move for— A Return of all Murders or Attempts to murder, committed in Ireland since the 1st of January, 1842, specifying the County and Barony of the County where such murder, or Attempt to murder, was committed, and the Name and Condition of the Person murdered, or assaulted as aforesaid; and also a Return of all Rewards offered, since the 1st of January, 1842, for the Discovery of Offenders who have committed Outrages against the Person or against Property, specifying the Date and Place of each Offence, the Nature thereof, and whether or not such Reward was claimed, and the Instances in which a Conviction has followed. His Notice did not refer to the general state of Ireland, and he should confine himself to the topic in hand; for he had observed great mischief to Ireland and to Parliament to arise from mixing and confusing together matters relating to the physical, social, and political evils of that country. The present subject referred to the administration of the criminal law, in respect of which the Executive Government was much to blame. Crime had prevailed to a degree almost, if not quite, unprecedented: this return might not show so great a number of crimes of late as in some former years; but it would show this, that a spirit of combined outrage had now spread over a greater part of Ireland than ever within his memory, or that of many much older than himself, in the centre of Ireland, in some parts even of the north, and in the west and south. This increase had been gradual, and he had to accuse the Government of great neglect in respect to them. It was impossible, with their means of intelligence, so much better than those of the public, that they should not have been aware of what was going on in Ireland; indeed he knew that communications had been made to the Government upon this very subject; and last Session he had the honour of presenting petitions to their Lordships, setting forth the state of the country, and praying for their interference. It was the duty of Government to have taken some steps to prevent such an increase of crime. The failure of checking it must be either in the law, or in the mode of administering it. If the law was sufficient to put down crime and to afford protection to honest men in their honest callings, the law ought to have been put into operation. But if it was not, then the Government were bound to come to Parliament, and either propose some permanent alteration of the criminal law, so as to provide for the security of life and property; or, if necessary, to propose some of those temporary acts which had at different times been resorted to. But no such thing had been done by Government. Instead of encouraging the good and repressing the bad, their whole line of conduct had been such as to give encouragement to evil-doers, and to discourage, or at least to hold out no encouragement to those very few individuals who had had the manliness and loyalty to stand up against those outrages. Last year he presented a petition on the subject, in which a permanent improvement was suggested—namely, that wherever gross outrage had been committed, a fine should be imposed on the inhabitants of the locality, and that the county should be bound to make provision for the surviving relatives in cases of murder. No objection was offered to that suggestion; but matters were allowed to go on just as they were. In Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, Her Majesty is made to use a phrase which intimated that some attention would be paid to the subject, but not in such terms as to reassure honest men. Her Majesty says— I have observed, with deep regret, the very frequent instances in which the crime of deliberate assassination has been of late committed in Ireland. Was there any person who did not view it with regret, and was the language used from the Throne sufficient to reassure persons that the law would be put in force? It was impossible to have used milder terms. The next paragraph stated— It will be your duty to consider whether any measures can be devised, calculated to give increased protection to life, and to bring to justice the perpetrators of so dreadful a crime. What was that but actually implying a doubt whether the law of the land could be framed in a manner to protect life? But life was not the only thing to be considered: there were outrages on property, and to assassination was to be added a criminal combination, which he believed had never been exceeded. Three weeks had elapsed since Parliament met—assassination was still going on—and yet no notice had been given by Government on the subject. After the communication which had been addressed to them, it was the duty of the advisers of the Crown to be prepared at the earliest moment to take energetic steps to restore tranquillity. He had no wish to go into details. It could not be denied that not only assassination, but combinations and secret societies prevailed among the people, and to such an extent as to attract the notice, not only of the Government, but of the Repeal Association. In fact, a great part of Ireland was in a state of insurrection: it was notorious that about 2,000 persons had encamped before the town of Limerick; and in other parts of the country large assemblies took place at mid-day, in the face of the legal authorities. Near the town of Roscommon, where, he apprehended, there was a police force, a gentleman sent his servant on horseback on business into the town; and, within one mile of that great town, at noonday, a party of persons took the man off the horse, which they killed, and told the man to go back to his master, who, they said, would be treated like the horse, if he did not comply with certain demands which they made. Again, a police barrack had been destroyed in sight of another police station; and yet no steps had been taken by the Government to punish the guilty parties. He did not blame the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for what had occurred; because he knew that he had done all in his power to prevent it, and he had heard of no instance in which the Irish Government did not pay immediate attention to every communication which had reached them, relative to the peace of the country. But the exertions of the Lord Lieutenant had wholly failed. When he had presented petitions on this subject during the last Session, the noble Lord then Secretary for the Colonies observed, that if he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) meant anything, he meant a Coercion Bill. Now, it was not for him to say whether he meant a Coercion Bill or not; but he was not one who would shrink from saying that he did mean a Coercion Bill, if a Coercion Bill was necessary; and he felt that, when he spoke for life and property, he was not speaking against the liberty of the subject, but in its favour—he was not speaking for class legislation in favour of the proprietors and the middlemen, and against the lower orders; for these returns, when presented, would prove that the lowest classes were the greatest sufferers from the present state of things. The poor man was the least possessed of the means of defence or flight, and if honest he must be sacrificed. It was useless to talk of ameliorating the condition of the country, and of improving its agriculture, while security of life and property, the primary and elementary step, was wanting. How could people be expected to follow an improved system when they were not free to adopt it? To illustrate his meaning, he would refer to a case which occurred in the course of the last year. A farmer who held a considerable quantity of rich grass land was ordered by the people to break up part of it, in order to grow potatoes; and he yielded to the request, in order to secure peace and quietness. The individual to whom he alluded, had been in the habit of stall-feeding a large number of cattle; but he received a communication, stating that he would not be allowed to feed his cattle in stalls this year, inasmuch as the scarcity of potatoes, turnips, &c., was apprehended. He thought it wise and prudent not to put the cattle in the stalls, because an intimation was given him, that if he did so, he would not live to eat any of the beef. He was, therefore, obliged to give up a system by which he was enabled to collect the manure of his beasts for agricultural purposes. How absurd, then, was it to talk of encouraging improved agriculture, if a man was not allowed to pursue that system which he preferred? He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) might be told that this gentleman, being above the lowest class, ought not to have submitted to such intimidation. That might be true; yet there were some men who did not listen to other suggestions than those of their own interest. But, if he were not misinformed, the individual he alluded to, did actually take considerable trouble to ascertain how far he would be sustained by the Government, if he set his face against this coercion; and he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) did not hesitate to state the fact, that persons who had been in communication with Dublin Castle gave the gentleman private advice to the effect, that upon the whole, the wisest thing for him to do was, not to risk his property, but to give way. It was high time that something should be done for the administration of the criminal law in Ireland; and he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would speedily state their intentions, for three weeks had already elapsed since the meeting of Parliament, without any step having been taken. Perhaps he might be told that the returns would show a diminution of crime during the last few weeks. If it were not an Irish way of expressing it, he should almost say he was afraid that was the case, because he believed the absence of outrage could only be attributed to the combined law-breakers having it all their own way, and he knew that to be the case in one part of the country. The system of combination had spread to an unparalleled extent, and could only be attributed to the supineness of the Government. Many parts of the country which were before untainted, had lately become affected; and it was only by showing a determination to support those who would stand up for the laws, and resist outrages, that life and property could be protected. The noble Marquess concluded by moving for the Returns.


did not rise for the purpose of offering any opposition to the production of the Papers moved for by the noble Marquess; but simply to inform the House that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to lay on the Table of the House, on Monday next, a Bill, which, in accordance with the recommendation contained in Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, was, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, calculated to remedy the evils which the noble Marquess had depicted in very gloomy, but not too dark colours. He thought that would be the proper opportunity for discussing the subject to which the noble Marquess had called the attention of the House, and would merely observe, with respect to the charge of apathy and supineness in not having more immediately introduced a measure of this nature, that it was not a light matter to set aside the authority of the law or abridge the liberty of the subject; and it was a matter deserving of deep consideration, whether the present circumstances of that country were such as to justify the enactment of extraordinary measures of that nature. Her Majesty's Government had come to the conclusion that the state of the country was such as to justify the enactment of such a law, and they were prepared to take upon themselves the responsibility of recommending its adoption. He did not think it necessary to enter into further particulars, and would merely express his concurrence in the opinion that it was the duty of the Government and of the Parliament to uphold those who were anxious to maintain order; and to repress those who were parties to the system of "organized disorganization."


expressed his thanks to the noble Marquess for having brought the subject under their Lordships' notice; but felt bound to state that in that part of the country with which he was more immediately connected, the Government had done all in their power to assist the local magistracy in maintaining the supremacy of the law.


concurred with the noble Lord in expressing his thanks to the Government, for the assistance which they had rendered to the local magistracy.


rejoiced to hear that it was the intention of the Government, on so early a day, to lay on their Lordships' Table, a Bill, for the purpose of carrying into effect those objects to which their attention had been called by the noble Marquess. He entirely agreed with his noble Friend, that, by whatever means, the security of life and property in Ireland must be established. This was, undoubtedly, the first step towards the improvement of that country; but he hoped that their Lordships and Her Majesty's Government would not delude themselves with the idea that in doing this they were doing all that was necessary. The existence of this system of agitation—of this want of security for life and property in Ireland—the existence of that extreme distress which had been produced by the accidental failure of the potato crop—all these things were but symptoms of a deep and most formidable conspiracy, which it was the duty of the Government to endeavour to put down. Mere measures of repression—mere measures of temporary relief to meet the immediate difficulty arising from the failure of the potato crop—would of themselves be utterly insufficient. They must look to the state of Ireland as a whole. There was something radically wrong in the condition of that country, or these symptoms would not perpetually recur; and until Parliament and the country were prepared to look the real difficulty in the face, and to adopt measures sufficiently large and comprehensive—not shrinking even if it should be necessary to go against long-cherished prejudices and opinions—until Parliament was prepared to deal in this spirit and in this comprehensive manner with all the evils of Ireland, although some abatement of the disease under which she was labouring might be effected, no real, permanent, or effectual cure would be accomplished. The question had unfortunately been made too much a party question; but he hoped the time was coming when, without reference to national prejudices, every one would concur in the endeavour to devise some efficient remedy for the existing evil. He had taken this early opportunity of expressing his opinion, because he had been led to infer, from the remarks of the noble Earl, that the Bill about to be introduced by the Government was confined to the single object of endeavouring to establish better security and to repress outrage. To a measure having these objects he should be ready, under proper securities, to give his assent; but he must say that the Government would fall short of their duty to the country, if, in imposing a Bill of this kind, they were not, at the same time, prepared to lay before the House some account of their general policy with respect to Ireland.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned.