HL Deb 21 July 1856 vol 143 cc1067-70

VISCOUNT DUNGANNON rose to ask the Secretary of State for War—Whether he had received any official communication of the Dismissal of fifty-seven men of the City of Limerick Artillery Militia, from Youghal, on the 5th instant, who were suffered to depart, many of them, with scarcely any clothing, and who had to proceed all the way to Limerick with only six-pence allotted to each individual? And, also, Whether it was correct that 240 men were discharged on the 10th instant from the Curragh, belonging to the Mayo Rifles, to find their way home, with only one day's pay allotted to them? It appeared, that on the 5th of July notice was given to the Limerick Artillery Militia, that such as were disposed to avail themselves of the permission, might at once proceed to their homes. About fifty-seven men availed themselves of the permission, and they were accordingly suffered to go home; but in what manner? They were deprived of their clothing, and given sixpence each, to enable them to proceed from Youghal to Limerick. On their way to Limerick they were obliged to pass the night under haystacks or in open fields, and they reached that city in a state of destitution and nakedness. It was also stated that on the 10th of July 240 men were dismissed at the Curragh from the Mayo rifles, and sent on their journey homewards with only one day's pay allotted to each of them, He had that morning learnt further that 240 men of the Queen's County Militia had been dismissed with much the same amount, and entirely deprived of their clothing, and consequently had to go about begging for raiment. It might be replied that all this was strictly according to regulations; but if such were the regulations they reflected very little honour on the country, and very little credit on the Government; and though he admitted that distress did not justify crime, yet he thought that if these men had committed any thefts, the moral responsibility would rest on those who had driven them to that course of conduct. They could not forget the circumstances under which the militia had been embodied. They would not forget the alacrity and readiness which every class of persons had shown to serve the country during the late war; and he must ask was this a fair return for such alacrity and such readiness, and for such faithful services? It might be said that these men could have applied to the parishes through which they had passed; but if they had done so they would have been sent to the next union-house; and he must ask whether the union-house was the place for those who had had the honour to wear Her Majesty's uniform? They knew not, in the present aspect of Europe, how soon the services of the militia might again be required; but was it likely that such treatment as this would ultimately tend to the advantage of Her Majesty's service and to the interests of the State in general? The Irishman was, above all others, susceptible of the feelings of gratitude, but he was equally alive to a sense of injustice and ill-treatment; and therefore the House must not be surprised if a knowledge of these facts should extend to every quarter in Ireland. He was afraid that the Government would find that they had been influenced on this occasion by a feeling of false economy. The present state of Ireland was tranquil, but that would not justify the Government in turning loose a large body of men without the means of support or the hope of employment. He had been led to believe that the disembodiment of the militia in Ireland—would not have taken place until after the harvest. But he found that the disembodiment had been fixed for not later than the 7th of August; and he must say that a more inconvenient and inappropriate time could not be selected, as at that period employment would be scarce, and difficult to be obtained. He understood that it was intended to call out the militia for twenty—eight days' training in each year, He was afraid that when the time came the muster in Ireland would be a sorry one. The feelings which existed on this subject would become general in Ireland, and he believed he might say, as a notorious fact, that from Ireland had sprung many of the most gallant and brave soldiers who had distinguished themselves in the service of this country. He did not mean to say that the Government was bound to find employment for these men; but, surely, it would have been better to have dismissed them with proper clothing, and with a sufficient gratuity. He hoped that the noble Lord the Secretary for War, would be enabled to say that these statements were unfounded; but if that, unfortunately, should not be the case, then he trusted that his noble Friend would be enabled to state that this proceeding had not been approved of, or received the sanction of Her Majesty's Government. One satisfactory result would at least arise from his putting this question—it would show the people of Ireland that in both Houses of Parliament there were Members who were willing to take up their case, and to fix public and parliamentary censure upon, those who might deserve it. The noble Lord concluded, by putting his question to the Secretary for War.


said, the noble Lord's first question related to the dismissal of fifty-seven men of the City of Limerick Artillery Militia from Youghal on the 5th instant, and the noble Lord drew a very melancholy picture of their condition at the time of their discharge. He could only state in answer to that question that he had received no such information, either officially or privately; and he apprehended that had such an occurrence taken place it must have come to the knowledge of the Lord Lieutenant, who had recently been in Limerick, and his Lordship would have taken care to apprise him of it. In answer to the noble Lord's second question, as to the discharge of 240 men from the Curragh with only one day's pay, he had to state that the men were permitted—not discharged—to retire from the regiment and go to their homes, in order to find employment, which they had been led to expect was open to them. They were allowed the proportion of pay and gratuity due to them up to that time, and thus provided for the journey home they quitted the service. With regard to the disembodiment of the militia he had already stated that it was the intention of Government that the disembodiment should take place at a time when the men could be employed in the harvest. He saw nothing in the present state of Ireland to prevent them doing this, and justice required that they should deal with the Irish militia in the same way that they dealt with the English and Scotch, and this would be done.