HL Deb 10 February 1852 vol 119 cc324-32

said, that many days had not elapsed since he had left that part of Ireland in which those outrages had been committed of which their Lordships had heard so much through the newspapers. Those outrages had been committed, all within a very short time, some of them within a mile of his own residence, and others at a not much remoter distance. Their Lordships, therefore, would not be surprised that he should be most anxious, as soon as an opportunity arose, to be informed of the intentions of the Government relative to the lamentable state of things which existed in that part of Ireland. He was referring more especially to the outrages which had occurred in the counties to which the special commission applied—Louth, Monaghan, Armagh, and Down. There had existed in those counties for a long time a system of confederacy, which had broken forth recently into some of the most cruel acts which had ever stained the history of any country. He would not enter at present into any details of the circumstances to which he referred, but would defer them to another opportunity, when he should probably have to bring the whole state of Ireland before their Lordships. He lamented to say, that the confederacy of which he complained was not the confederacy of a few, or of a particular number of persons, but that it was a confederacy of the whole population of the country, which, acting by intimidation, and in most cases under intimidation and compulsion, was committing the most dreadful crimes, murders, beatings, and other inhuman acts of violence, against Her Majesty's peaceful and loyal subjects. Such was the state of terror prevailing among persons in his own class of life, that no gentleman went from his house to ride through the country without carrying arms in his pocket to meet the persons who were prepared or hired to attack him. These outrages were not confined to the night—in open day these awful murders were perpetrated. Their Lordships must also bear in mind that the people had been led to believe that these murders were no murders when the unfortunate victim of them had previously received three notices that it was the intention of his assailants to visit him. Such was the state of intimidation among the higher classes in these districts, that gentlemen going out to enjoy the pleasure of hunting, were in the habit of carrying pistols with them throughout the day. It had come to his knowledge that nine gentlemen were recently standing together by the side of the cover, and that seven out of the nine had pistols in their pockets. Their Lordships could have no idea or conception of the reign of terror thus established in those districts. He hoped that the noble Marquess opposite would forgive him for asking whether Her Majesty's Government was acquainted with the extent of the distressing circumstances which he had just mentioned, and whether it was prepared to propose to the Legislature any measures to meet the evils which existed, as the common law bad been proved incompetent to meet them, and as a special commission, for the first time in Ireland, had failed of its object?


I am not at all surprised, my Lords, that the noble Earl should have called the attention of the House to this subject. It is quite natural for him, himself an intelligent, humane, and benevolent landlord, to seek to know, as far as Government can inform him, what are the causes which threaten life and property, and what are the means in the hands of Government for securing landlords in the rights which undoubtedly belong to them. Not only the noble Earl, but every gentleman in that country, has a right to know whether, in a state of things so lamentable as he has described, and, I believe, justly described, the state of that portion of the country to be, the Government has been prompt to apply, and efficacious in the operation of the proper remedies, and whether the powers of the law have been and are sufficient for their protection. I can say—and the information which the noble Earl pos- sesses will not controvert my statement—that, from the first indication of this system of outrage, commencing, I believe, about May, 1850, but proceeding to acts of a more aggravated character in the course of the subsequent year, in each stage of these proceedings the Government has shown itself fully alive to the importance of the duty which it had to discharge. Upon every occasion, when communications have been made as to the insecurity of life and property from this system of outrage, the Government promptly and immediately attended to every suggestion on the part of the local magistrates, as to the mode in which assistance could be most efficiently supplied. In an early stage of these violences it was the opinion of the magistracy that it would be attended with great effect if the local constabulary should be increased. No time was lost in detaching to those parts where these outrages had been committed such a number of constables as the magistrates deemed sufficient for the protection of life and property, and I believe that in many cases this has acted beneficially. In the present instance it was submitted that a special commission should be sent down by the Government, for the purpose of administering speedy and effectual justice in the disturbed districts; and when your Lordships consider how this commission was constituted—that there was placed at the head of it one of the most able, enlightened and experienced Judges that ever sat on the Irish Bench—that he conducted his duties with the greatest ability, and that he was supported by the law officers of the Crown, and others most able in the discharge of their duties, you will not think that that portion of the duties of the Government has been in any respect neglected. That that Commission has not, however, effected all that it was intended to do, I am with sorrow compelled to confess; but because, from causes into which I shall not enter, but upon which some conjecture may be formed, one or two trials have not been successful—for it must be remembered there have been convictions obtained, which, I am told, will be of great importance—I am not, therefore, prepared to admit at once the entire failure of the law, or that it has been shown that extraordinary measures ought to be submitted to Parliament, until at least all legal means of repression at the disposal of the Government have been exhausted. Fresh measures, consistent with the law and the existing state of the constitution, are being taken for the vindication of justice; and, from information which has reached me from parties deeply concerned, I feel fully justified in saying that the great object sought for will be attained. I am not, therefore, disposed to admit that, until all those means are exhausted, any measures inconsistent with the general principles of the constitution, ought to be adopted by Parliament. I am ready, however, to declare that if all those should fail, then it will be the first duty of the Government and of Parliament to consider how, by any means, life and property can be secured, because I take that to be the first duty of all Government, and the end of all laws, whether constitutional or of any other description, all being intended for that great and legitimate end. I hope that Government will not be pressed at this moment to propose any extraordinary measures, since Parliament will be able to watch the working of those legal means which are now being taken; and, above all, as it will be the duty of Government to take care that in those districts where by the criminal connivance of some, and the intimidation of others, all feeling of security has been destroyed, no advantage, pecuniary or otherwise, shall accrue to any person connected with that system of outrage, and equally guilty with the actual perpetrators by their connivance. But this disposition on the part of the Government will require the concurrence of the Irish landlords, and they must think it their duty, as well as that of the Government, to see that those deluded persons shall not be placed in a position to suppose that, by any acts of theirs, subversive of law and order, they have attained the objects they sought for. It can only be by the determined concurrence of the Government, and those employed by it, with the proprietors of the soil, that a conviction can be forced upon these persons that no benefit will ever be ultimately obtained from the system of barbarous vengeance in which they have been engaged. With regard to the future, I trust the noble Earl will keep his attention alive to this subject. I can assure him that the Government of Ireland—ay, and of the country too—is awake to its importance, and will be anxiously watching from day to day the progress, and in devising the means of repression of these outrages. In the meanwhile, we shall be glad to receive from, and attend to, any communication from the noble Earl and his brother magistrates on the subject. There will be an opportunity, in the course of the present Session of Parliament, for considering the point; for in the present state of things there will be good ground for considering the expediency of renewing the Crime and Outrage Bill, and it will be for Parliament then to consider whether any more expedient provision can be introduced into that Bill—a Bill which, I may say, has been found most advantageous in other parts of Ireland, and in the south more particularly, has been attended with a success most remarkable. I do not, therefore, despair that that Bill, as it now stands, may ultimately effect those objects which all must so anxiously desire.


, who was very indistinctly heard, said he had listened with the greatest respect and deference to what had fallen from the noble Marquess, and could assure him that with many parts of his statement he entirely concurred. But having last year been much in Ireland, he wished, in a few words, to give his opinion of the state of the country. He regretted to say that in the north of Ireland, which had hitherto been one of the most peaceful and industrious districts, there had been instances of the most barbarous murder, the houses being attacked, and the lives attempted of persons who had been the greatest promoters of the comfort and well-being of the population. What was the cause of that unfortunate state of things? He very much feared it was owing to the agitation which had raged on the subject of tenant-right; and he thought, if we had been able to arrest the influence of the clergy in the north as well as the influence which had been exercised by the clergy in the south, a great portion of these deluded people would not have been led astray, and would not now form the nucleus of lawless combinations and associations. Though there had lately been a diminution of the cry of tenant-right, their Lordships would find that it was still one of the greatest evils with which they had to contend. Until lately his own tenantry had been amongst the most attached and best affected in all Ireland; but he was sorry to say that the principle of the prevalent mischievous agitation had found its way amongst them, as well as amongst the tenantry of many other landlords. He had every reason to believe that the Tenant Right Association would take very much the character of the Ribbon organisation. Independent of these particular associations, however, he was ready to acknowledge that his own tenantry were generally in a better disposed state than they were last year. A combination existed for the purpose of compelling landlords to reduce their rents; and he regretted to say that clergymen were found making inflammatory speeches instigating the people to agitation. The consequence was intimidation to so great an extent that the agents in many parts of Ireland were unable to perform their duty to their employers; and he believed it was pretty well known that the agents to estates were not able to get an insurance upon their lives. The noble Marquess was understood to conclude by complimenting Lord Clarendon on the anxiety and activity he displayed to preserve the peace in Ireland.


hoped that when the Government was devising the measures it intended to propose, it would bear in mind that the "Ribbon" system was not a partial thing, and that it had been going on for years in Ireland. It was a well-known fact from the history of Europe, that a very small body of individuals combined together could do a very great amount of mischief; and he hoped the Government would remember that the system of agrarian outrage in Ireland was kept up by a comparatively small knot of agitators, who involved large masses of the people in their lawless confederacy against their own consent. If it adopted any measures at all against that association, it must adopt measures of a rigorous character. But there was one remedy which formed part of the Crime and Outrage Act which he hoped would not be adopted—he referred to the system of quartering the police force which was sent to quell disturbances upon the immediate district or locality where the outrages took place. This might be a very good remedy in ordinary circumstances, but it was not all suited to the present condition of Ireland; for it was one of the greatest calamities of the present state of things in that country that strangers came into a district for the purpose of committing outrages in which the inhabitants of that district had no share, and when those outrages were committed, at once disappeared; in fact, those districts were the greatest sufferers from these outrages; and, if the system were adopted of quartering a police upon them, it would only be adding another calamity to those which had already been inflicted upon them. He trusted therefore that that part of the Act would not in this case be relied upon, but that, on the contrary, it would be repealed. He had only another remark to make. He was afraid that what had fallen from the noble Marquess relative to the Irish landlords was liable to misconstruction. The noble Marquess had expressed a wish that the landlords of Ireland would co-operate with the Government in promoting the restoration of peace in Ireland. Now, he was aware that the noble Marquess was a model landlord, and he was perfectly sure that every one connected with the land in Ireland entertained the same feelings on this subject as the noble Marquess himself did. But it ought to be remembered that all offences which had lately taken place had been directed either against landlords or their immediate connexions, and that in no one instance had they been the instigators of crime. He thought it right to make these remarks, because it might have appeared from what the noble Marquess had said, that he had been reading a lecture to the Irish landlords with regard to their duty on this subject, whereas he was sure the noble Marquess could have had no such intention. The parties who had suffered had only put in force the ordinary remedies of the law where rents had for years and years remained unpaid, and where their land had been occupied against their wish; and for taking the mildest remedy, they received notice that they would be shot.


was glad that the noble Marquess had given him an opportunity of explaining any obscurity that might have attached to the language he had used with respect to the Irish landlords. What he meant to have said was, in speaking of the importance of the duty which the Irish landlords had to perform, that he hoped that, in concurrence with Government, they would take care that the instigators of the criminal proceedings, and the persons who gave them countenance, should not derive, nor appear to derive, any benefit from the perpetration of those outrages; and that even where rents had been reduced, a suspension of that reduction ought to take place, if it should appear that those reductions were sought to be continued by intimidation.


could not avoid expressing his regret that Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to take strong measures to remedy so urgent a state of things as existed in Ireland. At the same time, he gave them every credit for their feelings on the subject, and he trusted it would he found in the end that they were right, and that he was wrong. But he must say, that unless they took measures to strike at the root of the Ribbon system—for the system was not confined to any particular counties, but extended throughout all Ireland—they would do little or nothing to put it down. He was glad that the noble Marquess had had an opportunity of explaining what had been said about the Irish landlords; for, certainly, without this explanation, a very different impression of his remarks might have gone forth to the public. He (the Earl of Roden) trusted that the Irish landlords would use every effort, in conjunction with the Government—he meant, of course, when they acted rightly and promptly—to combat the evils complained of, and to assist in giving confidence and security to the people at large. He was perfectly sure that such was their object and desire. He trusted, above all, that they would not allow themselves to be intimidated, and that, even at the risk of their lives, they would remain at their posts, in order to maintain the honour and credit of Her Majesty's subjects. He earnestly trusted, also, that whatever measures the Government adopted would be found effectual, and he should feel it to be his duty to watch them, in order to see whether they were so. He would defer saying anything more on the subject until he saw how things went on in Ireland; and, therefore, he would not now name the day for bringing the subject more at large before their Lordships; but he freely confessed that he thought, from what he heard and saw, that things would grow worse, and that the time was not far distant when the Government would be sorry that they had not sooner adopted strong measures to prevent the continued effusion of innocent blood.


considered that the outrages which were taking place in Ireland were to some extent attributable to the tenant-right agitation, the legitimate consequence of which must be the extermination of landlords in that country. The "Tenant League" might not have had its origin in this desire, but he considered their principles to be quite incompatible with the existence of rights to property. He hoped, therefore, that in any measures which might be adopted for meeting the present evils, the Government would not forget to include the means of watching and checking the proceedings of the Tenant League meetings.

House adjourned to Thursday next.