HL Deb 28 July 1868 vol 193 cc1897-901

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


With a considerable experience of Ireland, my Lords, and as commanding the troops in that country, I cannot refrain from expressing my great regret that the Registration Bill should have come up without the salutary measure of the increase of polling-places. The distance and scarcity of polling-places not only facilitate, but invite attack on voters, and render necessary the employment of troops at elections. The bad effects of troops being thus employed are so universally recognized and have been so often brought before your Lordships that I shall not dilate on the matter. The distance and scarcity of polling-places cause great concentration of voters and the consequent concentration of rioters, and necessitate those long journeys by road through a highly-excited country which are so dangerous to voters. The increase and proper distribution, my Lords, of polling-places obviate these disadvantages, enable electors to vote in comparative security, and render unnecessary the general employment of troops at elections. If the increase of polling-places in Ireland was at all times called for, they are doubly so since, as was seen at the Tipperary and Waterford elections, the elements of disorder and intimidation have been organized by men who have learnt tactics in the American war. For example, barricades, strongly constructed with trunks of trees and large stones, are drawn across the road in ground which enables assailants, under cover, to attack the escorts on both flanks with a cross-fire of stones. At one place in Waterford one of these barricades was drawn across a sunken road; on the almost precipitous banks looking into it were stationed men ready to roll down rocks and stones on the voters as they passed. Luckily, the voters took another road. If they had not, your Lordships can judge how many good farmers and good soldiers would have been killed or cruelly maimed. At another place four-cross-roads was selected as the place of attack, as favouring the concentration of rioters from different quarters. They arrived at the rendezvous with a punctuality which would have done credit to the Quarter Master General's Department. They were placed in two lines—one attacking, one in reserve; both under cover. All the gaps leading from the roads into the fields had been solidly built up to prevent cavalry clearing rioters out of the fields; and piles of large angular stones called "smashers" had been carefully stored up in rows on each side of the roads. A man performing the duties of Staff officer rode continually during the collision which ensued with orders from the first to the second line. The results of these organized attacks on voters and their escorts were in the Waterford election thirty-six casualties among the military. Some of them were serious. One, a corporal of the Carbineers, a very good man, hovered between life and death from concussion of the brain by a "smasher." Another, a captain of the 75th, had his eye cut out by a stone. Under these circumstances, and as recent political events, into which I will not enter, render it more than probable that the coming elections will be unusually stormy, I venture to ask my noble Friend who has charge of the Bill whether it would not be possible, even now at the eleventh hour, to improve the old law in a way which would afford some protection to voters, and obviate the unsparing employment of troops at elections. For I am sure, my Lords, that you will agree with me that the present condition of elections in Ireland is very unsatisfactory, and discreditable to humanity, good and civilized government, and the freedom and independence of election. I beg to say, my Lords, that I have made these observations, not under the influence of any party feeling whatever, but solely from a sense of professional feeling.


Certainly, no authority on this subject can be higher than that of the noble and gallant Lord. I regret extremely it is now too late to do what he wishes to do—namely, to increase the number of polling-places in Ireland by an Act of Parliament. I must inform my noble Friend that the Government had taken measures for increasing their number in the counties, and that clauses with that object were prepared and inserted in the Registration Bill for Ireland when it was presented to the House of Commons. I regret still more to say that they met with so factious, so unbending, so determined, and what, looking to the consequences that may follow, I may call so wicked an opposition, that the Government were obliged to withdraw them; that opposition coming from those who two years ago were advocates for an increased number of polling-places. It is a disagreeable thing to attribute motives to anybody at any time; but, looking at the palpable advantage on the score of convenience of increasing the number of polling-places in a country where, in some cases, they are thirty and thirty-five miles apart, and seeing the palpable advantage to humanity and peace, and the general good of society in those districts, of increasing the number of polling-places, it is almost impossible not to impute motives as actuating the violent manner in which the Government were opposed on this particular point, There can be no doubt that an increase of polling-places in Ireland would not only contribute to the peace and tranquillity of the elections, but would render it unnecessary to employ a great number of the troops that are employed to maintain order. That of itself would be of a great advantage. Putting on one side the question of fairness and justice with respect to the elections in the counties, the very fact that one-half the number of troops would be required at the elections ought to have been the strongest inducement to any Irishman to do as much as possible to increase the; number of polling-places. It is now too late to consider the question. The Government having been baffled in the manner I have described, I have only to say I trust the good sense of the people of Ireland and the courage of the electors themselves will contribute to maintain peace and order, and, although I sincerely trust that nothing of the sort will be necessary, Her Majesty's Government will feel it to be their duty to maintain order if it is broken, and I think the maintenance of that order cannot be in better hands than that of my noble and gallant Friend.


thought it was due to Ireland that something of a conciliatory nature should be said before the close of the Session, and that every facility should be given for electors to register their votes, and it was to be lamented that the efforts of the Government had not proved successful in this respect. One of his first reasons for joining the party of the noble Earl late at the head of the Government, as he stated to him by letter, before his seeming likely to be again in Office (in January, 1858), was his knowledge of the forbearing and generous conduct at the time of the potato famine towards his tenants in Ireland by remitting their rents when they had not the means of paying them, and by forgiving them the severance of crops, and by paying their passage to a country where they might better their condition. He could not imagine how bitterness amongst such emigrants could be entertained. He had the honour of holding a name which of itself promised justice to Ireland; and acting on the conviction that Fenianism was not general, and that antipathy to England was not founded on the question of religion, he had called the attention of Her Majesty's Government to an old historical document, which showed that in 1641 there was an unreasonable desire, that— Such of the English as could not prescribe a settlement in this Kingdom (Ireland) for 200 years are to be cut off, notwithstanding they be of the Romish Sect; and, what exceeds all, not an English beast, nor any of that breed, must be left in the Kingdom."—[Somer's Tracts,vol. 5, p. 578.] This unreasonable prejudice, then as now, had no foundation; and as the prerogative of mercy had been extended at the last moment, he could not but hope that his intercession in May of last year had helped to turn the balance in favour of the convicts whose case just before had seemed hopeless; and, as regarded the passing of abstract Resolutions with reference to the Irish Church they were likely to prove as abortive as the Appropriation Clause of 1835, and would do no more to advance a settlement in Ireland than any vague declamation in Hyde Park could have advanced the cause of Reform.

Bill read 3a; Amendments made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter before Four o'clock.