HL Deb 17 April 1848 vol 98 cc387-95

The EARL of ELLENBOROUGH moved— That the Return of Arms and Ammunition which have been surrendered in conformity with any Notice issued by The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and of Arms and Ammunition which have been seized and detained by the Constabulary, under the Provisions of the Act of the 11th Vict. Cap. 2. (made up to the 14th of March last), be continued to the 14th of this instant April, and laid before this House. The noble Earl proceeded to say he would take that opportunity of asking the noble Marquess a question, of which he had given him notice—it was, to inquire whether it is the intention of the Government to extend the provisions of the Crime and Outrage (Ireland) Act to the city and county of Dublin, or to bring in a measure to amend that Act? When the noble Marquess laid upon the table the return of which he (the Earl of Ellenborough) had now moved the continuation, he took credit to Her Majesty's Government for the number of arms which had been delivered up under the provisions of that Act, which, he said, proved that the Bill had been efficacious for its purpose. All those arms had been seized and surrendered in the country districts in which the Act had been proclaimed; as yet, however, it had not been applied to the city of Dublin. But it was known that in the city of Dublin arms were manufactured and sold to a very great extent, and parties were exercising themselves, as far as they could, in military organisation; and there was reason to suppose those arms were sold, not for purposes loyal to the Government. If the Act had been applied to the country districts, and not to Dublin, what conclusion were they to draw? Were they to draw the conclusion it was for purposes favourable to the Government? But in proof of the spirit in which arming of people in the city of Dublin was carried on, he would read one paragraph from the paper of Mr. Mitchel, who of late had acquired some notoriety by the language he had used. Mr. Mitchel thus expressed the grounds upon which the people of Ireland, and the people of Dublin especially, ought to arm:— The Irish people, or a competent number of them, will simply continue so to arm, and so to organise, openly, my Lord, fearlessly, zealously, with passionate ardour, with fervent prayer, morning and evening, for the blessed hour when that organisation may find itself ranked in battle array, and when those arms may wreak the wrongs of Ireland in the dearest heart's blood of her enemies. Now, who were those enemies? That was stated in the next paragraph:— The enemy against whom we wage war is the Government of England and Ireland. This was the view in which arming was going on in the city of Dublin; yet hitherto no measures had been taken for the purpose of seizing the arms or of preventing the organisation. But while such was the conduct of those opposed to the continuance of the Government of England in Ireland, he would call attention for a moment to what, he regretted to say, appeared to be the conduct of the Government. He saw in the same newspaper a statement that— A vast number of students and graduates of Trinity College had enrolled themselves in a defensive corps. The arms, however, which had been placed at the disposal of the College authorities are only to be given out in the event of an actual outbreak; Lord Clarendon having so far thought it inexpedient, and fraught with a dangerous example, to sanction, even with the constitutional object of maintaining the Queen's supremacy, a general armament of the friends of law and order. The expressions of Lord Clarendon in his reply to the address of the Royal Dublin Society were these:— You ought not to meditate attempting for a good purpose that which the Government would feel bound to prohibit, if put in practice with evil intentions. I beg, therefore, to express my entire approval of the plan you wish to propose to adopt. I trust that these associations will be open to every loyal subject of Her Majesty, without distinction, and that they will neither assemble in arms, nor assume any particular badge, except under the conditions provided by the law; and, should your services be required in the cause of public order, it will be my care to give you timely notice. But how could Her Majesty's Government expect to succeed in the conflict which was impending if the preparations of those who avowed hostility to the Government of England and Ireland—preparations of arms, of organisation, and discipline—were not to be prevented; whilst the preparations of those who desired to support, and protect, and maintain the Government, were not to be permitted? In that policy he could not concur, for he saw nothing but ruin in it. He admitted that no man should be permitted to carry or have arms unless under the immediate and direct authority or permission of the Government; but if the supporters of the Government were not allowed to make preparations, whilst its enemies were, they would dishearten those now disposed to support them; so disheartened in the midst of the danger with which they were surrounded, their loyal feelings could not long be depended upon. Surrounded by those who were armed for their destruction, and the destruction of the Government, they would begin to entertain ideas of a compromise of some kind upon a question upon which compromise was impossible consistent with safety. A vast number of persons were prepared to give to the Government every support in their power, so long as the Government remained true to itself; but such was the character of men, if they saw the slightest infirmity of purpose in the Government, or a want of the resolution essential to enable them to meet their difficulties, there would at once be a falling-off in those now ready to support the Government, and irretrievable ruin would be the consequence. The law must be supported. He was unwilling to press the subject further; but he desired to know distinctly what were the intentions of the Government. Were they prepared to put in force the Act which they had said was adequate to prevent arming in the city of Dublin or elsewhere? And if the Act was inadequate for the purpose, were they prepared to submit to Parliament other measures to protect Her Majesty's subjects, and to support the courage of those who were loyal to the Government?

The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE said, there could be no objection to the Motion of the noble Earl; but he understood the object of the noble Earl to be not merely to procure the information to which his Motion referred, but further information on a very important subject, and which, as far as he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) could, he would proceed to give; and, in the first place, he would say he hoped that the House did not believe—he hoped the noble Earl could not believe—that the Government or the Government in Ireland could be indifferent to those circumstances to which the noble Earl had alluded, and which were, he apprehended, to a certain extent, founded on fact, as to the preparation of arms in Dublin, and other parts of the country also, taken in connexion with the speeches and language referred to by the noble Earl, and which were such as to leave no doubt of seditious intentions. The Government and the Earl of Clarendon were not indifferent to those circumstances; and he could safely say that not a week, nay, not a day, had passed in which they had not been the subject of incessant and anxious consideration. There could not be a doubt that the Act which their Lordships had passed, and to which the noble Earl had referred, was an Act which enabled the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, at his discretion, to proclaim any part of Ireland, any part of a county, city, or town, where he should judge that by such preparations as those—if he found them to exist in conjunction with such speeches and writings as those to which the noble Earl had alluded—the public peace of Ireland was threatened. The noble Earl who was at the head of the Government of Ireland was perfectly aware that such was the undoubted construction of the Act; but, having said thus much, he was bound also to say that he thought it was essential to peace and good government in Ireland that the powers so intrusted to the Lord Lieutenant should be exercised on his discretion only; because all extraordinary powers beyond the usual provisions of the law would be found to require that great discretion should be vested somewhere; and he considered that the Lord Lieutenant was the fittest judge both as to the time, place, and mode in which that law should be carried into effect. Whenever the noble Earl at the head of the Government of Ireland thought the time had arrived for the exercise of those powers he was instructed to exercise them; and he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had no doubt that he would do so. But if any part of Ireland was to be suddenly placed under the operation of the Act to which the noble Earl had referred, he did not think that that House was the place in which it would be convenient that the proclamation should be first announced. He had already stated that he had no doubt that preparations were being made of the character and in the spirit which the noble Earl had mentioned; but he might state to the noble Earl—and it was fit that that House and the public should be made acquainted with the fact—that in many instances the statements respecting these preparations, though they might be founded on truth, were to a certain extent greatly exaggerated. As a proof of this, he might mention that he had seen a letter from a noble Earl, a great proprietor in Ireland, well known to their Lordships, with respect to a rumour which was universally credited throughout that country, that in the course of a short time a certain plantation of his had been cut down for the purpose of being converted into pikes. The noble Earl, it appeared, went to the plantation to see if the report was true; and not only was it not true to the extent stated—not only was it not true to the extent in which "Birnam Wood had gone to Dunsinane,"—but not even a bough had been injured." About the same time, too, that this rumour prevailed, the noble Earl at the head of the Government of Ireland received what appeared to be authentic information that on a particular line of railway every blacksmith was employed, not on works connected with the railway, but in manufacturing pikes. His noble Friend directed inquiry to be made into the truth of this report, and he found that not a single blacksmith was absent from his proper employment. He (the Marquess of Lansdowne) begged it to be understood that he did not wish to state these facts for the purpose of removing, or of endeavouring to remove in any degree, the just apprehensions which their Lordships might entertain with regard to the state of Ireland. He believed that the evil did exist to a great extent; but he stated these circumstances for the purpose of cautioning their Lordships against giving unlimited credit to all the statements which, in a time of excitement, were repeated from mouth to mouth, and which, as they passed from mouth to mouth, became exaggerated to such an extent as to acquire the actual character of falsehoods. The noble Earl, he hoped, would perceive that the mode of proceeding to be adopted in Ireland required infinite caution, infinite discrimination, and infinite care. He (the Marquess of Lansdowne) knew that that careful attention was at this moment being given to the subject; and, while he confidently believed that the Act passed by their Lordships for the repression of crime and outrage in Ireland was legally applicable to every part of that country, he hoped their Lordships would see that the expediency of applying the Act to any particular portion of the country rested with the Lord Lieutenant. He begged to say also that if his noble Friend should find that Act insufficient, and should think it necessary to apply for other powers, as soon as that application was made, those other powers would be granted, or at least a recommendation would be made to Parliament to grant those powers. But even in the event of those powers not being granted, or of their being found necessary before they had been obtained, he spoke in the hearing of those who could correct him if he was wrong in saying that the common law of the land gave the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as it gave the Government of this country, the power of seizing any instruments or any accumulation of arms which were ob- viously intended for illegal purposes, and directed to the subversion of the Government. The Lord Lieutenant was, therefore, not unarmed with powers on this subject; but if his noble Friend should find that further powers were necessary for preventing hostile attacks upon the Government of that country, he would almost venture to say, in the name of Parliament, that they would infallibly and resolutely be granted. The noble Earl had also alluded to another point, which rendered it indispensable that he should say a few words. The noble Earl had adverted to what he termed the rejection of the services of persons who were ready to come forward in defence of the constitution and Government of that part of the United Kingdom. Now, it was most material that it should be understood that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was prepared, at a fit time and upon a proper occasion, to avail himself of such services; but it was obvious that his noble Friend must exercise his own discretion as to that time and that occasion; for he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) was not prepared to say, that at all times, and under all circumstances, the Lord Lieutenant should place arms in the hands of all persons who claimed them ostensibly for the purpose of defending the Government; though he assured the House there was no unwillingness on the part of Government to avail themselves of such proposals to the extent and at the time they deemed necessary. He might add, that within these two days the noble Earl at the head of the Government of Ireland had accepted the services of a very large and efficient body of persons in that country; and that arms had been sent over to Ireland for the purpose of being put into their hands. He (the Marquess of Lansdowne) must add, after what had fallen from the noble Earl, in order that there might be no mistake upon the subject, that though a belief might exist in parts of Ireland of a possible compromise upon the repeal of the Union—and he stated it most distinctly—that on this subject there had been no compromise, and there could be none. He felt it right to say this much, because he knew that rumours, utterly without foundation, had been propagated both in Ireland and in other parts of the kingdom upon the subject. He believed it, indeed, to be a part of the policy of the domestic enemies of the country—for undoubtedly there were domestic enemies, seeing that they proclaimed them- selves such—to circulate these rumours—rumours which had no foundation—and also to exaggerate the preparations to which the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough) had alluded. This was all he could say upon the subject; and, in conclusion, he assured the House that if the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland required further powers from Parliament, Her Majesty's Government would not hesitate to apply for them.

LORD BROUGHAM said, that no person had more entire and unvarying confidence in the good sense, discretion, and firmness of his noble Friend at the head of the Irish Government than he had; but still he could not think that it was a sufficient answer to the question of his noble Friend (the Earl of Ellenborough), to refer him entirely to the responsibility of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. There appeared to him to be some doubt whether or not a prudent and consistent course had been taken on this most grave and important occasion. There was a great diversity in the course of conduct pursued by the Lord Lieutenant latterly. While one class of the community was engaged in treason—for he would not call it sedition, as his noble Friend opposite had done, though no doubt, as the minor was included in the major, it was sedition, though it was not the less treason at the same time—his noble Friend near him marvelled that at such a time the Lord Lieutenant should say to one class of persons, "Don't you arm yourselves except in a particular way and under particular control;" while to another class he said, "I will not prevent you from arming yourselves as you like; I have the power to prevent you, but I will not exercise that power." But who were they whom he would not permit to arm themselves? They were the loyal supporters of the Crown; while those whom he would not prevent arming were really the traitors—they who were arming themselves for the express purpose of levying war against the Crown. The result of such a course of things must be, that in the end the disloyal would be found armed and ready, while the loyal would be still unarmed. This led him to ask whether there was any truth in a rumour that had lately reached him. He was told that it was a fact in Ireland, though, as he had said to his informant, such a thing as a fact in Ireland he had never before heard of, that training was at present going on in that country. Persons might arm without any seditious intent; but there must be treasonable objects in view if training was going on at the same time. There was a very stringent Act passed in the reign of George III against training; and perhaps his noble Friend could tell whether the Lord Lieutenant had put it in force, if training really were going forward in Ireland. Before concluding, he could not refrain from expressing his surprise that the right hon. Baronet who filled the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland should be represented to have addressed the individual who had just returned after seeking French aid in support of treason in Ireland as his hon. Friend; and should also have expressed his great regret at not being able to support a Motion of another of his hon. Friends, the question on which he regretted not being able to give such support, being no other than the repeal of the Union. An apology, forsooth, from the Chief Secretary for Ireland for not voting for a repeal of the Union, on the ground, too, that he was sorry to oppose the wish of a large portion of the people of Ireland, as if he should not have known that repeal was not the wish of a majority of the Irish people, instead of being, as he (Lord Brougham) firmly believed it, merely the wish of a very small body of trading agitators in that country.

The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE observed, that there could be no doubt that by the law as it now stood the Government possessed ample powers of effectually stopping the training to which the noble Lord had referred—that was to say, if there was any such training, for he believed that it only existed in the imaginations of those who apprehended it. With reference to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord on the conduct of the Lord Lieutenant in refusing to arm certain patriotic individuals, he begged to repeat what he had already stated, that the Lord Lieutenant had actually accepted the services of a very large body of men, and that arms had been already sent to them. He might add, that the body to which he referred was composed indifferently of Protestants and Catholics.

LORD BROUGHAM said, that he was glad to hear the explanation of his noble Friend, as he really understood the noble Marquess in the first instance to have spoken of the Lord Lieutenant's intention to avail himself of the offer of loyal persons to arm in the future tense.

Return ordered.

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