HL Deb 21 March 1870 vol 200 cc310-5

moved, according to Notice, for Return, of the counties or districts proclaimed by the Lord Lieutenant since the 1st of November, 1868, and for Copies of, or extracts from, Correspondence between the Irish Government and lieutenants, deputy-lieutenants, or magistrates of counties relative to Crime and Outrage in 1868 and 1869. In making this Motion he had to complain that the Members of the Government had hardly kept faith with him with regard to their promise on his withdrawing his former Motion, of communicating as far as possible all the Papers or information he had asked for; for nothing on the subject had yet been laid on the Table. A Bill had been brought into the other House for the repression of crime in Ireland, which would probably soon come up to their Lordships. Now, it was most desirable, before that measure came before them, that they should have every possible in- formation as to the state of Ireland—not merely as to the repression of crime, but that they should have a complete statement of the policy of the Government in that country. Ireland was in a condition which led him to entertain graver apprehensions than at any time within his memory; and what he especially lamented was the total absence of any influence on the part of the Government, or of any other body which ought to possess any influence. Indeed, the reasons that had been given by the Members of the Government for introducing this Bill for the repression of crime in Ireland conveyed a very imperfect notion of the calamitous condition of the country. The Bill which had been introduced would, he was inclined to think, be found an efficient measure; but he demurred to the statement which was made on its introduction—that Ireland had often been in a worse condition, and that there was, therefore, no occasion for despondency or serious apprehension. The Bill was partly composed of provisions of the Acts of 1833 and 1847, and other measures; but, on looking back to those periods, the difficulties which the Government had then to contend with must be considered, and it was the duty of the Ministry to show how, without experiencing any analogous difficulties, they had allowed the country to get into its present condition. In 1833, the lawlessness and disturbances which prevailed were largely connected with the collection of tithes from the occupiers, which many Irishmen thought a justification for insubordination to the law; and, in 1847, famine was ruining both landlords and tenants, producing a feeling of despondency; but, when the Government rose in its might, it put down in less than a year the spirit of disorder. The Poor Law was not then in operation, and the population exceeded 8,000,000; whereas now we had a diminished population, and greater elements of prosperity, so that there was no excuse for allowing the country to have fallen into its present condition. There was now a feeling in Ireland which endangered the security of the Union more than at any time within his recollection. He recollected Mr. O'Connell, and his power over the minds of the people; but, at that time, the preponderating influence of property and, to a great degree, of intelligence was on the side of loyalty and the Union. At present, however, the Government had not such a hold on the property, minds, and affections of the people in favour of Union as in those days. This was not wholly the fault of the present Ministry; but there had, of late years, been an alienation from the Government of persons of property and influence; and this, to his mind, had been most mischievous to the tranquillity and good condition of the country; and he saw nothing in the so-called remedial measures, or policy of the Government, at all calculated to diminish the evil. Hence it was he had moved for any correspondence that might have passed between the Irish Government and the county magistrates and gentry; for such correspondence had diminished till it had reached a minimum, and no longer existed. He did not believe the Government now consulted anyone out of Dublin. He had asked several lieutenants of counties, and they had told him that, except partaking of the hospitality of the Lord Lieutenant, there was no communication between them and the Government. Now, it was a serious thing for the Government of a free country to dissociate itself from men of property, who ought to have considerable influence over it. What the Government called their "remedial measures" had had no remedial effect. He supported the Church Bill last year, seeing no alternative between it and religious inequality; but, however just it might have been in principle, it had brought no support to the Crown or the Government. So far from it, it had produced a tone of dissatisfaction among a numerous and powerful body of persons in the North, of Ireland, which had not subsided, and which led them to talk about the Union in a way which had never been indulged in before. On the other hand, the reticence of the Government on the land question all last year led to hopes being entertained by the people, which were absurdly exaggerated by factious persons, and now there was consequently disappointment and discontent, and he saw no indications of the Land Bill they had now introduced having elicited any support or satisfaction. The Roman Catholic priesthood were, of course, gratified at what they deemed the destruction of the Protestant Church; but could it be said that the Govern- ment were in alliance with them. Were they in alliance, either, with the speakers at so-called tenant-right meetings, where topics of a very different kind were introduced? Was it not persistently affirmed by a large party that the British Parliament were insensible to the wants and feelings of the people? He was extremely sorry that at this moment the Roman Catholic clergy had not more influence. They wore plainly told by the persons who perpetrated and sympathized with these crimes that they were not listened to or respected as formerly. Being suspected of an alliance with the Government, their influence was lowered—indeed, he could not recollect a time when the influence of the rural Roman Catholic priesthood was so low as at present. Of course, in a numerous body, some exceptions might be found on whose conduct blame might be cast; but could it be doubted that as a body the priesthood would help to put down crime and outrage if they dared, and if they enjoyed the respect and veneration formerly attached to them? He hoped, by the way, that there would be a definition of "outrage," when their Lordships came to discuss the Bill. In 1866, there had been a great deal of talk about the unfortunate state of affairs in Ireland, and especially as regarded security of tenure. But, did they really suppose that the Irish people, whom the Government regarded as in some respects so ignorant as not to be able to make their own contracts, were not intelligent enough to see how their interests had been treated as the subjects of party conflicts on one side or the other. Did they think they did not know how to appreciate the position of parties in this country? These matters were perfectly well known in Ireland; and if the Government did not at once take up things with a strong hand, and re-establish social order, the consequences, if not immediate, would yet be of the gravest character. He did not, indeed, apprehend that any one would successfully bring forward in the Imperial Parliament any Motion for the repeal of the Union, nor did he fear the repetition of so absurd an attempt at rebellion as the Fenian disturbances; but he had little doubt that immediate measures were necessary for tranquillizing the country; and the Government ought to give Parliament and the country a satis- factory assurance on the subject. Up to 1866 there was a minimum of crime in Ireland—and why?—partly, as he believed, because Fenianism, having greater influence than the Government in keeping the people quiet, at that time discouraged disturbances and outrages; but in 1866 the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended; and the suspension not being renewed by the Government which came into Office in the summer of that year, the result was that crime rapidly increased, and the suspension had to be renewed; but in 1867, 1868, and 1869, things became worse, and outrages were now, according to the statement of the Government, more prevalent than at any time in the present year. This condition of things demanded the communication of the fullest information—even more than that embraced in his Motion—before their Lordships were called on to consider the Bill which would shortly come before them. Moved, That there be laid before this House, Return of the counties or other districts of Ireland which have been proclaimed by the Lord Lieutenant from 1st November 1808 up to the present date: Copies of or extracts from any Correspondence that may have taken place between the Irish Government and lieutenants, deputy lieutenants, or magistrates of counties relative to Crime and Outrage in the years 1808 and 1809.—(The Marquess of Clanricarde.)


said, the Government had no objection to furnishing the principal items of information included in the Returns asked for by the noble Marquess. Indeed, they had been prepared in the discharge of their duty, irrespective of any Motion on the subject, to lay on the table such information and Returns as it was desirable the House should be in possession of. He must, however, protest against the implied accusation of breach of faith. When the noble Marquess first placed his Motion on the Paper, he communicated, with the Irish Office as to how far it was convenient or desirable that it should be complied with, and lie then informed the noble Marquess that a portion of the Returns would be produced, but that there was an objection to that part of his Motion which related to private and confidential correspondence which might have passed between the Government and Lords Lieutenant and magistrates. The noble Marquess there- upon informed him that he would not press his Motion, and he therefore concluded that it was indifferent to him whether the Returns were supplied or not. The Government, however, for the reason he had stated, had been hurrying on the preparation of such Returns as it was consistent with public convenience to produce. He would not follow the noble Marquess through his discursive observations as to the past condition of Ireland, and the various matters connected with the administration of the country; but he was inclined respectfully to question his allegation that, consequent on the legislation of last year, a disloyal and discontented spirit has sprung up in the North, which had evinced itself in disloyal and discontented language. Here and there a few persons might occasionally have indulged in strong and imprudent expressions, but he believed such a spirit was entirely absent from the North of Ireland; and, indeed, he had been much struck by the self-respect and dignity with which they had accepted the conclusions arrived at by Parliament last Session.

On Question? Resolved in the Negative.