HL Deb 07 July 1859 vol 154 cc785-9

asked whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to embody any por- tion of the militia of Ireland, in the event of there being no establishment of volunteer rifle corps in that country. He would not have put the Question that he did last week, had he thought it would have been inconvenient to the Government, or that it would have provoked unnecessary discussion. It would appear from what had passed in "another place," that the Government had made up their minds not to establish rifle corps in Ireland—at least, not for the present—and for his own part he was glad that determination had been come to, in view of the unpleasant circumstances that had taken place in the north of Ireland last year. It had been thought that this country should not only assist in the formation of rifle corps, but that some degree of martial ardour should be infused among the people. He was Lord Lieutenant of an extensive county (Downshire), and he was not aware that there was any military force in it beyond two militia regiments, one of which was disembodied, and no large quantity of troops were obtainable unless they went to Belfast. Beyond this they had no protection upon that part of the coast. He was not afraid of any attack from the French, but he was of opinion that the Government should put that part of the country in the same position as they did others. He was not apprehensive of danger, but any casual descent upon our coasts from Russia, Denmark, or any other northern Power, would be attended with the greatest disaster, and he was confident that he might rely on the loyalty and patriotism of the Irish people. Considerations not only of a political, but of an economical nature, should induce the Government to put Ireland on the same defensive footing as England.


considered that if any additional regiments of militia were to be embodied, England had quite as strong a claim as Ireland. He did not wish to detract from the merits of the proposed rifle corps, but it was absurd to suppose that they could be in any way regarded as a substitute for a militia or a regular military force. He had no objection to an increase in the embodied militia of Ireland, but he contended that the same measure ought to be extended to this country. A Commission had been appointed to inquire into the militia system generally, and he thought it highly desirable that their Report should be presented as early as possible. At present that sys- tern was open to objection in many respects, and he instanced as one defect the practice of paying a bounty to militiamen on joining the regular army equal to that which ordinary volunteers received on enlistment, in addition to the bounty to which they were entitled on entering the militia. He was not one of those who anticipated invasion or a French war—on the contrary, he looked upon both the one and the other as most improbable; but that was no reason why we should not arm in every possible way to make the defences of the country as perfect as possible.


suggested that until the Report of the Militia Commission was ready and before their Lordships, it was superfluous to discuss the question on its merits, and he hoped that when they did there would be some speedy amendments in the matter, and that Her Majesty's Government would take some steps to improve the existing system.


called attention to the defenceless state of the southwest coast of Ireland, and which contained two of the finest counties in that kingdom. One was only partially defended, while the other was wholly unprotected. In the event of invasion twenty-four miles of country along Bantry Bay were defenceless, and no troops could be had unless from the small town of Bandon. It was here in 1797 that the French troops landed, although attention was called the year before by Mr. Pitt to the defenceless state of the country, upon which occasion Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Fox threw cold water on the question; yet at the present moment Bantry Bay was as unprotected as it was in 1797. He rejoiced that Her Majesty's Government were not going to attempt so dangerous an experiment as the establishment of rifle corps in Ireland.


assured the noble Marquess that it was from no want of courtesy on his part that he had not replied to the Question when put on a previous occasion, but simply because he was desirous of being in a position to give a complete and satisfactory answer to the inquiry. The noble Marquess had been rightly informed that it was not at present the intention of Her Majesty's Government to extend the organization of rifle corps to Ireland, and chiefly for two reasons. In the first place, because no application had been made from that coun- try in reference to these rifle corps, and certainly noble Lords from the sister island had not spoken as in any sense desiring to have these corps established there; and secondly, because the Act under which they would be established in Ireland was different from the Act under which they had been established in this country, the one being the 42nd Geo. III., c. 68, and the other the 44th Geo. III., c. 54. The difference between the two Acts was material, and before anything was done for Ireland it was necessary that both Acts should receive the consideration of the Government. With regard to the more immediate question of the noble Marquess, he had to state that it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government at present to embody any fresh regiments of Irish militia. It was originally the intention of Her Majesty's late Government, he believed, at the beginning of the year, that regiments of militia, both in England and Ireland, which were at present embodied, should be disembodied as the regiments of the line coming from India arrived in this country. That intention had been abandoned by the late Government, and Her Majesty's present Government intended to pursue in the matter precisely the course their predecessors had proposed to take, The noble Marquess would recollect that, besides the differences between the rifle corps and the militia alluded to by the noble Duke on the cross benches, there was another very material difference—namely, that rifle corps were little expense to the country, but the militia could not be established and maintained without applying to Parliament for a considerable sum of money. Her Majesty's Government wore not of opinion that the circumstances of the country required that they should embody more regiments of Irish militia, and they had determined not to do so; but he could assure their Lordships that that decision had not been come to from any want of attention on the part of the Government to the military requirements of Ireland. Her Majesty's Government had gone fully into the question of the national defences, and it was their desire to put the country into the most efficient and satisfactory condition of defence; and the defence of Ireland would be considered by Her Majesty's Government quite as strongly and quite as fully as that of this country or of any other portions of Her Majesty's dominions. With reference to the militia question he would prefer not entering into it at present, because as had been stated by the noble Viscount (Viscount Hardinge) the Report of the Militia Commission had been sent in, and would in a short time be presented to Parliament, when the question might be discussed with the greatest advantage. No doubt there were many matters connected with the present state of the militia that required the serious attention of the Government, but they had better be deferred until the Report was presented. As regarded the question of recruiting, there was a Commission appointed by the Government which was still sitting. In conclusion, he could assure the noble Earl opposite that the defences of Cork already had the serious attention of Her Majesty's Government, and that they fully recognized the importance of that port in any general system of national defence.


thought, that as far as the safety and tranquillity of the country were concerned, it was as important to extend the rifle corps and other movements to Ireland as to all parts of England:—but he thought the existing alarm a little outran discretion and common sense. He hoped the attention of the Government would be at once directed to the subject of the militia, without waiting for the Report which was about to be presented to Parliament, for it would be disgraceful to continue the militia under the present system, or rather want of system. That force would shortly be called out for twenty-one days; but the money to be spent in that way might as well be thrown into the sea, as far as any benefit to the militia was concerned, for the efficiency of that body would not be thereby increased in any perceptible degree. His opinion was that the militia should not be considered as a body which acted as a feeder to the regular army, but as being itself a reserve army.

In answer to the Earl of DONOUGH-MORE,


explained, that when he said no fresh militia regiments were intended to be embodied in Ireland, he should have added that it was possible that some of those regiments which had been embodied some time might be disembodied and others substituted; but there would be no increase in the number of regiments now embodied.

House adjourned at a quarter-past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Half-past Ten o'clock.