HL Deb 01 March 1867 vol 185 cc1213-22

, in moving for Papers on the subject of the Employment of the Military at Elections in Ireland, said, that in any allusion he should make to recent events, he did not seek to throw blame upon any one. It would be improper in him to do so, if for no other reasons than that, arising out of the two elections to which he should refer, there were petitions to the other House of Par- liament against the return of Mr. De la Poer and Captain White for Waterford and Tipperary, and that some men of the 12th Lancers might be put upon their trial for an event which took place at Dungarvan during one of those elections. He should have been ready to leave the duty which he was now about to discharge to some noble Lord locally connected with the part of the kingdom in which those elections had taken place; but he was glad to be the means, however humbly, of showing that in Irish affairs a warm interest was felt on this as well as on the other side of St. George's Channel. Further, he ventured to think that the use of Her Majesty's troops at an election was a matter which any Member of their Lordships' House might reasonably bring under the notice of Parliament. He should now very briefly state the reasons which had induced him to put his notice on the paper. In England it had been found unadvisable to call on the military either to convoy voters to the poll, or to parade the town or village in which the polling was taking place. In Ireland it was quite the reverse. In Ireland when violence was apprehended troops were called out, and the election was put under military supervision and control. In England it was thought better to run the risk of individual encounters between the inhabitants rather than that a single man should receive a wound at the hand of any of the Queen's troops. In Ireland, however, electoral purity and independence and freedom of election were upheld at the point of the lance and with the edge of the sword. Now, what was the Parliamentary declaration with respect to English elections, made on the 17th of November, 1645? It ran in these words— That all elections be made without interruption or molestation by any commander, governor, officer, or soldier. Again, on the 22nd of December, 1741, it was declared— That the presence of a regular body of soldiers at an election is a high infringement of the liberties of the subject, a manifest violation of the freedom of elections, and an open defiance of the laws and constitution of this kingdom. But Parliament had gone still further. By the 10 & 11 Vict. c. 21, s. 3, it was enacted— In order to secure freedom of election it is directed that the Clerk of the Crown or other officer making out any new writ shall as soon as the writ has been made out, give notice to the Secretary at War, or, in case there be no Secretary at War, to the person officiating in his stead, and he to the General commanding the district, who is to see that no soldier, within two miles of the place of election or poll, shall be allowed to go out of barracks on the day of nomination or polling, unless to mount or relieve guard, or give his vote at the election, and that going out for such purpose, he shall return with all convenient speed. Such was the law as regarded England. In Ireland the principle appeared to be quite the reverse. At the recent elections in Tipperary and Waterford the military had been called out. The events of the Waterford election were so recent and so well-known, that he need not detain their Lordships by detailing them. In the town of Dungarvan, in the latter county, a number of the 12th Lancers were engaged in escorting voters to the poll, when a disturbance took place, and a gentleman named Captain Keily, who lived in the town, received a fatal wound from the lance of one of the soldiers. A coroner's inquest was held, and a great deal of evidence was given as to the throwing of stones at the troops; but the result of the inquiry was a verdict of wilful murder against several of the Lancers. It would appear to him that while the troops were powerless to protect the voters, unless they were allowed to use their arms freely, their presence on such an occasion was a cause of irritation. Every officer knew that it was impossible for him to order his men to act; the men knew the same thing; and the Irish mob was equally well aware of the fact. He found that in the reports of the inquest these observations were attributed to Mr. Waters, a professional gentleman who appeared for the friends of the deceased Captain Keily. Mr. Waters said— It was asked was a trooper to sit in his saddle and be stoned, and not resist it? He asserted that he was, and such was the law of the country. That doctrine might appear extraordinary to some of their Lordships, but an Irish jury had borne Mr. Waters out in his view of the law. What, he would ask, was the result of the employment of troops at the Waterford election? First, it had placed gallant officers in a very painful position; next, it had led to a stigma being for a time cast on one of the finest regiments in the service, and, of course, had rendered that regiment unpopular in one of the richest recruiting districts of the Empire; and lastly, it had, in all probability, raised a hostile feeling between Her Majesty's troops and a portion of her people. Sol- diers in the discharge of their duty were but men after all, and at the inquest it came out that one of the Lancers said to his officer, referring to the conduct of the mob, "Flesh and blood cannot stand this." Under such circumstances, officers must feel it extremely difficult to decide how they ought to act. He spoke in the presence of illustrious and distinguished officers, and he asked them whether he was not correct in making that statement? He submitted that the proper instruments for securing freedom of election in Ireland were the Irish police, and the power of petitioning Parliament against any return which was brought about by violence. It might be said that there would be breaches of the peace if the military were not employed; but it must be remembered that the Irish constabulary was a very large and a very well disciplined armed force. During the last election for the county of Dublin the troops were confined to their barracks, and yet no disturbance took place. He had been assured on all hands that the noble Lord now at the head of the Irish Government (the Marquess of Abercorn) conducted his administration not only with great splendour and liberality, but with a hearty desire in every way to promote the best interests of the country. At the same time, when the true interests of the people in both countries pointed to a perfect assimilation of rights and privileges, an elector of the county of Water-ford might well ask why he was to exercise the franchise under different auspices from an elector in the county of Sutherland. He would conclude by thanking their Lordships for the kind attention with which they had listened to him.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copy of the Instructions or Orders issued to Officers commanding Regiments and Detachments called upon to aid the Civil Power in maintaining Order at recent Elections of Members of Parliament in Ireland: Also,

Copy of the Instructions issued to the Stipendiary or other Magistrates concerning the Use of Troops on such Occasions: Also,

Copy of any Reports or any Extracts of Reports to the Government from the General commanding the Forces in Ireland respecting the Employment of the Military in aid of the Civil Power during any recent Elections in that Country, and the Conduct of the Troops upon such Occasions.—(The Duke of St. Albans.)


said, there had been three elections lately in Ireland, at which troops had been employed in aid and upon the demand of the civil power. He did not find that, at any one of these, special instructions had been issued, relative to the conduct of officers or soldiers, whose duty, in such cases, was well understood. The Queen's Regulations provided generally for the movements of troops to aid in the suppression of riot, and were applicable, generally speaking, to Irish elections. Each officer was provided with a small book, in which the Queen's Regulations were somewhat amplified; and those books were also supplied to magistrates. There would be no objection to produce one of those books, if the noble Duke wished, but their contents were simply what he had stated. He was further informed that the stipendiary magistrates acted under their ordinary instructions; those he could not produce, as they were not actually in his hands; but his noble Friend the Under Secretary for the Home Department would, no doubt, be able to say whether there was any objection to produce them. To enable 3,400 electors of the county of Waterford to exercise their constitutional privileges, nineteen stipendiary magistrates were collected to cooperate with the local magistrates; and a force of 1,900 soldiers, besides a body of police, was stationed in the county, and stationed in vain; for since the election a petition had been presented, setting forth that a number of voters, through the violence and intimidation which prevailed, had been unable to record their votes. Voluminous reports had been received from the General commanding the district, covering other reports from officers who had exercised independent commands, bearing testimony to the admirable conduct of the troops under gross provocation, harassing duties, and violent assaults. These reports also gave details of numerous instances of violence perpetrated by organized bodies of men, who openly set the law at defiance, constructing barricades most skilfully disposed, accumulating with prudence and foresight great heaps of stones, at points where they might prove serviceable, and generally obstructing, by all the means in their power, the progress towards the poll of those electors to whose opinions they were opposed. At Tipperary election, although there had been considerable violence, although the troops had been insulted, and subjected to most disagreeable duties, no loss of life, at the hands of the military, had been reported. But at Dungarvan, as the noble Duke had stated, the outrages were carried to much greater extremes. In the town of Waterford, at Dungarvan, and at many other points in different parts of the county, attacks were made upon the military, sometimes in small parties, sometimes even when they were in large bodies. At Dungarvan an affray took place, in which the Lancers were obliged to defend themselves from the violence with which they were assailed; two men, unfortunately, lost their lives, one a person who, he believed, had taken no part in the disturbances. The responsibility, however, of that loss of life rested on those who organized bands of rioters to disturb the public peace, and not on those who, in the exercise of their duty, and by no will of their own, were placed in a position which brought them into conflict with the populace. A charge had been put forward against the soldiers of having acted with unnecessary violence; but, having read the various reports which had reached him, and also those which had been published, he was disposed to concur with what an officer upon the spot, unconnected with the troops, had declared as to the great forbearance exercised by the soldiers under great provocation and most trying circumstances. The noble Earl having read extracts from reports received from Lord Strathnairn, Colonel Sawyer, Captain Betty, 6th Dragoon Guards, and other officers, descriptive of the movements and duties of the troops during the elections, and of the outrages to which they had been subjected; and from Mr. Fleming, senior magistrate of Tipperary, Mr. Gore Jones, one of the most experienced stipendiary magistrates in Ireland, Mr. Miller of Waterford, Mr. Warburton, stipendiary magistrate, who read the Riot Act—testifying to the forbearance, good conduct, and efficiency of the soldiers—proceeded to say that all these reports tended to prove that the skirmishes were not local or accidental, but formed part of an organization deliberately set on foot. Into the legal aspect of the question, he would not enter, for it had been debated only a few evenings ago, on the question raised as to calling out the Volunteers in aid of the civil power; and it would, he believed, be brought directly under the notice of the other House by a Bill introduced with the object of extending to Ireland the English law as to the non-employment of military at elections. If it were decided to withdraw the military, there were two alternatives, either such an increase of the civil force as will make them equal to the performance of such duties as the civil power may require; or, police as well as soldiers might abstain from taking any part in elections, leaving it to each individual voter to make his own way to the poll, by whatever means, and with whatever arms for his protection, he thought best. Upon the propriety of the latter alternative, of course, he offered no opinion whatever; but he would gladly concur in any project by which the military may be relieved from a most ungracious duty. If the noble Duke pressed for such documents as he had declared it to be in his power to produce, the desired information would, of course, be afforded.


said, that in the case of riot at an election the troops were sometimes called in in England in aid of the civil power; and he had himself, on two occasions, commanded troops in Warwickshire under such circumstances.


said, that no instructions of a special nature had been issued by the Home Office to the stipendiary or other magistrates with reference to such occasions as were referred to in the Motion.


My Lords, I wish to express my sentiments with respect to the employment of troops at elections, and I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without doing so. I think the practice most objectionable; and I believe there is no duty of which the troops have so great a horror. At the same time, it must be remembered that the initiative must always be taken by the civil authorities themselves; and it is clearly laid down that when the troops are called on by the civil power it is necessary that they should support it in the preservation of the peace. I apprehend that these troops are not sent to attend the election, but practically in obedience to the requisition of the magistrates stating that they apprehended a breach of the peace and that the civil power at their command was not sufficient to meet the emergency. Unfortunately, in Ireland it almost always happens that the services of the military are called into use at elections, at the request and in aid of the civil power. Under these circumstances, the law is clear; and although, for the sake of the troops as well as the people, I should very much like to see such a change as would enable the civil authorities altogether to dispense with the use of troops, I am afraid that it is im- possible to make any change in this respect. How is it possible if the civil authority requires assistance on the ground that it apprehends a breach of the peace, bloodshed and loss of life, that the Government could withstand the pressure from without if they refused to do all in their power to prevent such a calamity? I should heartily wish to see a more conciliatory spirit prevailing at Irish elections on both sides; but until such a change takes place I am afraid you cannot alter the law. At the same time, I am strongly of opinion that no troops should ever be exposed to unnecessary insult or provocation. With reference to the acts of the troops in cases of riot, I desire to say that, although I have no wish to screen any from the censure due to those who exceed their duty, I think every allowance should be made for bodies of troops employed in the suppression of riots; and respecting the cases under discussion, I have every reason to believe, from the representations we have had from responsible persons, that the troops were exposed not only to the greatest obloquy and insult, but that they were actually attacked with stones and other missiles. This, I think, is almost beyond a man's powers of endurance; it is not to be expected that men are to sit still under such a state of excitement; such a passive endurance is not in human nature, and is more than can be expected of the troops. I verily believe that, if we were to go critically into the conduct of the troops, we should find that the amount of forbearance which they exhibited redounds very much to their credit. I deplore, perhaps more than any of your Lordships, that two cases of death resulted from the riots at the Waterford election; but I must express my belief that these deaths were occasioned by one of those unfortunate combinations which it is almost impossible to avoid in a dense and excited crowd of people, crushing upon one another, and surrounding a few soldiers endeavouring to extricate themselves from the general confusion. We must not forget that upon such occasions as these the throwing of stones and shouting not only irritate the men, but make their horses uneasy; and in this particular instance the horse of the officer in charge became so restive that it was unmanageable. These are incidents which still further complicate the difficulties of the situation. I merely wish to point out to your Lordships the great difficulties to which the troops have been exposed. I hope, then, on full consideration of the circumstances of the case, not only your Lordships, but the public at large, will appreciate these difficulties, and be led to take a generous view of their conduct. I do not wish to defend anything palpably wrong, and I think that the whole profession will deplore these results. There is not one of the men who were engaged who would not, I am sure, feel with me delighted if these sad events could have been avoided. I am satisfied that nothing would be a greater solace to the troops than to know that the country believed that they had endeavoured to do their duty without recklessly or inconsiderately availing themselves of the opportunity to exceed it. My Lords, I feel called upon to make these remarks in justice to the troops. If I felt the slightest doubt as to their conduct, I should be the first man to admit that censure might be due. I feel, however, justified in stating distinctly I believe honestly and sincere that no censure is due, but that the troops, on the occasion in question, did conscientiously and moderately perform their duty.


My Lords, we must all have heard with great satisfaction the observations which have fallen from the illustrious Duke, and we must all concur in deploring the necessity of using troops to quell civil disturbances; but, at the same time, we must not forget that it is the first duty of the Government to protect Her Majesty's subjects in the exercise of their lawful rights. Riots with violence must, at all hazards, be put down; if the civil force cannot do it, then the military must support them, and if painful consequences ensue, the fault lies, not with the troops, but with those persons who have broken the law in the first instance. The very essence of free Government is violated if an elector is coerced by fear when giving his vote. It is therefore absolutely necessary that violence at elections should be put down; and if any fault was committed by the troops upon the occasion referred to, it was an excess of leniency, inasmuch as they allowed, so far as we can judge from the published reports, an excess of rioting before they decisively interfered. It should be understood by the populace that troops are not sent out at elections as a mark for stone-throwers and as subjects for violence; and it should be understood that they are justified—nay, that it is their duty to use their arms to put an end to the violence of rioters.


expressed his belief that the troops were not only called out at the request of the civil power, but refrained from acting until the civil power directed them to do so. He presumed, then, that the Lancers al Dungarvan did not act until called upon, and then he believed they performed their duty with great forbearance. He rose, however, for the purpose of inquiring of the Under Secretary for War as to the actual position of the Volunteers. The old adage, "Quot homines tot sententiœ," had never fitted any case so admirably as it applied to this question.


said, that on the last occasion when the subject was discussed in that House, it was stated that very shortly would be published instructions, which are under preparation in the Home Office, for the guidance of the civil authorities and Volunteers in the cases referred to.


hoped that the Government would give proper attention to the subject, as it was a matter of considerable importance.

Motion (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.