HL Deb 09 March 1871 vol 204 cc1604-65

My Lords, your Lordships will remember that in the debate on the Address at the opening of the Session, reference was made to the release of the Fenian prisoners, and that the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) did not give more than a very slight and general reply to those observations. I have no complaint to make of his so treating the subject, as it had only been cursorily referred to; but, as I think a very serious mistake has been committed by Her Majesty's Government in the matter, it appears to me only right that they should have an opportunity of offering a fuller explanation in this House. I am aware that the amnesty is now an accomplished fact, and cannot be recalled; but it is not without its use that any mistakes which may have been made by the Government in the exercise of their powers should be noticed in Parliament, for such notice is no unimportant check on the commission of similar mistakes again. The facts of the case are very simple. Your Lordships are aware that two years ago a considerable number of persons who had been convicted of treason-felony and other offences received a remission of their sentences, but that 32 prisoners were reserved. We learn by the newspapers that since the end of last Session all—or, at all events, the majority—of those prisoners have been released. I trust not all—because one or two of them were concerned in murders of a very aggravated description, and I cannot suppose that they have been pardoned; but this will be shown by the Return for which I am about to move. It appears to me that the discharge of these prisoners was a measure which requires explanation. It has for many years been almost an axiom among all who take an interest in the effectual administration of the criminal law, that there should be the utmost certainty of punishment; nothing being so mischievous as that criminals should be led to believe that, when convicted for crimes, and the punishment duly awarded by the Courts of Law, they have a chance of escaping the infliction of such punishments. So strongly has this been felt that of late years the Government, with the full assent of Parliament, have acted on the principle of reducing the remission of a portion of the sentence of persons condemned to penal servitude—a remission which had been usually made as the reward of good conduct—to such strict and stringent rules that there should be no doubt or uncertainty as to the amount of punishment every convict was to undergo. Now, the discharge of these prisoners seems to me to be a direct violation of this first rule of criminal policy. And yet this was a case in which it was peculiarly important that the rule should be adhered to. I would remind your Lordships that these men had been the objects of very great and unusual clemency. In olden times men who had been concerned in such an attempt to overturn the Government would undoubtedly have expiated their offence on the scaffold. I believe there is hardly a country in the world in which even now the Government would abstain from inflicting capital punishment on persons guilty of such an offence. But Her Majesty's Government acted, as I think, with a wise clemency in proceeding against these men not for treason, which would have made a capital sentence the necessary consequence of their conviction, but for treason-felony, and they were consequently sentenced for the most part only to long terms of penal servitude. Now, the necessary effect of the course taken by the Government of releasing them after the expiration of a comparatively short portion of the punishment to which they were sentenced, is to lead other persons disposed to engage in similar treasonable plots to say—"Oh, there is no reason to be alarmed if we fail in an attempt to overthrow the Government, hanging is out of the question, and though penal servitude for life sounds very terrible, we know very well that after a time we shall be discharged; so that if we succeed there is a grand prize for us, and if we fail we run, after all, no great risk." Observe, moreover, how difficult it will be to future Governments, in case of the recurrence of similar attempts against the safety of the State, to practise the same clemency as has been shown in this instance. For the vindication of the law, for the creation of that wholesome fear which is necessary for the safety of the State, the measure now adopted will tend to compel future Governments to have recourse to capital punishment much more largely than would otherwise be necessary. Such, is the tendency of the measure; and I find it the more difficult to understand why such a step can have been taken by the Government when I remember the description given of these very men by a right hon. Friend of mine who lately held the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland. Two years ago, after a part of the prisoners had been discharged, the O'Conor Don pressed on the Chief Secretary in the House of Commons the claims of other prisoners; and Mr. Chichester Fortescue gave his reasons for declining to entertain the application. He stated that all the cases of the Fenian convicts then undergoing punishment had been carefully considered, and that 49 of them would be unconditionally released, while 32 were still to undergo their sentence. In justifying the refusal of the Government to include them in the list of those who were to be pardoned, he thus described the latter class— This list of thirty-two prisoners included almost all the main founders, leaders, and organizers of the Fenian movement. It included men who were deeply responsible for the attempted revolution of the last two or three years, and men whom the Government and the Lord Lieutenant felt it would not be consistent with their duty to discharge, or whose freedom would be compatible with the public safety—men, he might add, with regard to whom the Government had no reason to believe that they might not, if discharged, attempt again to renew their unhappy and criminal, although desperate enterprize, and to whom, therefore, the Government, while rejoicing, as they did, and as Lord Spencer did, that they had been able to reduce the lists so largely, felt that the clemency of the Crown should not be extended."—[3 Hansard, cxciv. 159.] That was the opinion of the Government in February, 1869, and I shall be anxious to hear from my noble Friend opposite why they have altered it? It appears to me that, while the release of these prisoners was in itself injudicious, the mode in which it was carried out was, if possible, still more injudicious. If they were to be discharged, the reasonable course would have been to discharge them freely, requiring no other condition than the simple one of their taking the oath of allegiance, and binding themselves in writing not to engage in any future attempts against the peace of the kingdom. Had they been discharged in that manner, and allowed to remain here, the bad example of the remission of punishment would have remained, but the men themselves would have been powerless for evil. They would not have even a plausible case of grievance against the Government, they would not have been raised into any factitious importance, and had they attempted to renew their treasonable proceedings they must have committed direct perjury; and I cannot but think that this would have diminished their influence even among the Fenians. The Government, however, thought fit to act differently. They would not allow the prisoners to remain in the United Kingdom, but they gave them first-class passages in the finest vessels which cross the Atlantic to the United States. They sent them to the very place where they were most able to injure us, bound to no engagement whatever. They had raised them into consideration by showing them that they were afraid of their influence at home, and by treating them in a special manner, and they sent them to the United States, where the large Fenian societies work infinitely more mischief than in the United Kingdom. I will not trouble your Lordships with an account of what you remember followed the arrival of those persons in America. It is sufficient for me to say that those occurrences furnish conclusive proof that the mode of discharging them was a mistake. We have had as yet no explanation from the Government, of their reasons for the course they have taken, and the main object of my Motion is to elicit one; but, judging by the few words which have been said, and by what has been stated out of Parliament by those who have defended the measure it appears that the grounds relied on by the Government are these—It is argued that persons who have committed political offences are by common consent to be looked on in quite a different light from persons who have committed ordinary crimes against the law of the land; it is urged that in the United States, for instance, the persons engaged in the great Civil War were not punished as criminals, and that we have on various occasions taken upon ourselves to recommend to other nations clemency towards persons suffering punishment for political offences. Now, it is true that the common feeling of mankind has long decided that when nations are unhappily divided so that civil war breaks out, both parties probably believing their cause a just one, it is not right to treat the large number of persons engaged in such a war as criminals and rebels; and the United States only acted on that view in not punishing the Confederates with severity. I admit, also, that, when men conspire against some Government, under which the people have been suffering grievous wrong, and fail in their attempt, sympathy is often felt for them. I admit, moreover, that in countries where there are continual revolutions, in which hostile parties successively drive each other from power by violence, it is felt that those who, for the moment, by a turn of the wheel are brought down, are hardly fit subjects for extreme punishment. I believe it is true, too, that the Government of this country has in some cases taken upon itself to recommend such persons to clemency—though I am not sure that the propriety with which this has been done has been in all cases unquestionable; and I doubt very much whether such remonstrances or representations have been addressed to powerful States, or to Governments of a stable and respectable character. Admitting that to this extent allowance is, in certain cases, to be made for political offenders, I utterly deny that any principle on which such indulgence has hitherto been thought proper applies to these men. They were not honourable adversaries in civil war, for there was no civil war in question; still less were they patriots, risking their lives to free their country from some detestable and grinding tyranny. Whatever may have been the faults of the English Government towards Ireland in bygone centuries, nobody can deny that for many years past it has been the sincere desire of the English people, and of the Imperial Parliament, to do justice to Ireland in the fullest sense of the word and to raise it to happiness and prosperity. There may still be bad laws in operation, but it is not true that those laws could not be got rid of by peaceable means. Now, one of the first conditions which is indispensable to give any claim to indulgence to men who incur the responsibility of risking all the calamities of civil war in a country which is enjoying peace and tranquillity, is that there should have been no fair chance by peaceable means of obtaining redress. That was certainly not the case with regard to Ireland. The attempt of these men was one of a very different character. It was an attempt to upset by violence the settled government under which the people of Ireland were enjoying peace and political liberty in as full measure as ourselves, at the price of bloodshed and confusion. Nor is this all. They have avowed in various writings and speeches that they were prepared to attempt this object by the most atrocious means—by the secret assassination of the civil and military servants of the Crown, the burning of barracks with soldiers in them, and the most cruel and barbarous modes of destruction that could be devised. All these things were deliberately recommended, and not only recommended, but, in many instances, put into operation. Your Lordships know that constables have been secretly shot at night in Ireland, and that murders of other kinds have been committed. We know that the persons engaged in the conspiracy prosecuted their object by such acts as the murder of a policeman engaged in his duty at Manchester, and by that most fiendish outrage the explosion at Clerkenwell. We know, moreover, that the men engaged in these atrocious crimes have been treated by the Fenian body not as criminals and persons whom they ought to disavow, but as martyrs in the cause of their country and as men entitled to honour and glory. Their acts have been adopted by the Fenian society, and that brotherhood, as they call themselves, must be regarded as art and part in all these proceedings. I say, then, that the persons convicted of participation in this conspiracy have incurred far greater moral guilt, as they have also done far more injury to the State, than any ordinary robber or murderer; and that, instead of being entitled to special consideration and indulgence, they ought to have been subjected to special severity. By the discharge of these men in the present state of Ireland, you have taught the Irish people to believe that an attempt to overthrow the authority of the Crown by force is regarded by Her Majesty's Government as a venial offence. You are teaching them that a rebellion or a conspiracy of such a description is not regarded as depriving them of a claim to indulgence on the part of the Government. They are looked upon as on the same level with the Neapolitan patriots, who suffered imprisonment in loathsome dungeons for endeavouring by very different means to get rid of a system of dreadful tyranny, and with any of the men who in recent years have been punished by other Governments of the same kind. Now, this, in the present state of the country, is a most dangerous lesson to have taught the people of Ireland. What is the real condition of Ireland? Your Lordships have been told, on very high authority, that the general condition of Ireland is highly satisfactory, although it is admitted that in one particular district the state of things is "intolerable;" and we have been told on the high, authority of a Chief Justice that the state of things in that part of Ireland is getting from bad to worse. But then we are told that all this is purely local, that in general the country is prospering, that the remedial legislation of the last two years is beginning to produce its effect, and that prosperity, peace, and loyalty are general throughout the country. I fear that even with regard to agrarian outrages this is too favourable an account of the state of Ireland; already these outrages are not so strictly confined to one locality, as Her Majesty's Government have assumed. I am afraid that in at least two or three other counties similar atrocities to those which have disgraced Westmeath have been committed. I am, however, willing to leave agrarian outrages out of consideration; but I want to know what is the evidence to justify the description given by the Government of the present condition of Ireland? It is correct, indeed, in one respect. I believe that there is at this moment great material prosperity in every part of Ireland, and that good harvests and good prices have made the farmers generally highly prosperous; though I am afraid that that prosperity is not what it might be, and that the feeling of insecurity which still exists prevents that great development of the resources of the country which ought to occur. Still, compared with former years, Ireland, I believe, may be said to be prosperous. When, however, I come to inquire about loyalty and the effect of recent legislation in reconciling the great bulk of the population to this country, the answer is not so satisfactory. Instead of proofs of increasing loyalty I see a change in the other direction. We cannot look to the result of recent elections, to the language used at public meetings, or to the tone of the Press, without seeing that there are graver symptoms than I remember at any former period of a disposition among the Irish people to sympathize with any who are supposed to be the enemies of England, and to rejoice at anything which appears like danger and misfortune that befalls us. I see a greater disposition than ever to struggle for a disruption of the British Empire. We have against the Imperial Government not merely those who call themselves Nationalists, who have become increasingly powerful, but other parties, which while they disclaim any desire for the disruption of the Empire, have for their object measures which would inevitably lead to it, and include in their ranks men of character and standing in the country, who did not formerly espouse these views. Under the guise of "Home Government," or other names, these persons are putting forward proposals for measures which would result in the disruption of the Empire. Some of your Lordships are old enough, like myself, to remember that 40 years ago when there was the great agitation for the repeal of the Union, those who promoted it professed loyalty to the British Crown, but said they must have a separate Parliament. English statesmen of all parties however agreed that this was a mere pretence — that were repeal granted separation must inevitably follow, and that separation and every step towards it must be resisted to the last. I trust that is the opinion of statesmen of all parties still. I trust Her Majesty's Ministers and all of your Lordships are prepared to resist to the utmost not only the rending asunder of the British Empire, but every minor measure which would by the surest steps conduct us to that result. There ought to be no mistake about the feelings of Parliament, of the Government, and of the country on this point. Are we not all convinced that the separation of Ireland from this country would be even a greater calamity to Ireland than to ourselves? When we observe the manner in which Ireland is distracted by rival factions, and the bitterness of their hostility towards each other—when we observe that even among those who concur in the object of pulling down British authority, and who unite in the United States or Canada for this treasonable object, the disposition to division is so strong that the Fenians across the Atlantic have become two hostile bodies, bitterly assailing each other—when we look at the passions which prevail, and the difficulty experienced by the Executive Government in preventing rival factions from flying at each others' throats, does anybody doubt that if these men were to succeed in their object, and to throw off the connection with the British Crown, Ireland would speedily become a scene of internal anarchy and bloodshed? This would almost inevitably lead to some foreign Power being called in to govern them, and we should see the establishment close to our own shores of some Power hostile to this country. Our duty, then, to the large number of loyal Irishmen, as well as regard for our own safety, will not permit us for a moment to tolerate such a state of things; any attempt at the disruption of the Empire must be resisted to the very last, and nothing but such a complete overthrow by a conquering enemy as that which France has lately suffered would be sufficient to justify us in submitting to such a result. This being the case, is it possible to disguise from ourselves that there are symptoms now in Ireland of a state of feeling which threatens, sooner or later, to produce a fearful struggle, and that those feelings are becoming spread among the population to a dangerous extent? I wish I could doubt that this is an accurate account of the existing state of things, and that I could see any grounds for believing with Her Majesty's Ministers that the disaffection to the British Crown which prevails in Ireland is only the consequence of former misgovernment and is now gradually dying out. I admit that among nations the effects of long-continued errors cannot be removed in a short period of time, and that the healing influence of a wise policy must at first be slow. I admit that rapid improvement from a change in the system of government is not to be looked for; but if our measures have been wise, whatever change they have produced ought to be for the better, and I do not see any sign that this is the case; on the contrary, I believe that so far from tending to improve, things are getting from bad to worse. In 1868 a Motion was made in the House of Commons for a Committee on the state of Ireland, which gave rise to a very remarkable debate, in which men of very great ability on both sides of the House took part. All the most eminent speakers on that occasion concurred in giving a description of the then condition of Ireland, which we cannot compare with what now exists without seeing that the comparison is greatly to the disadvantage of the present state of things. And this, I venture to say, is no unnatural result of what has since occurred. There has been a change for the worse from the time when, by the introduction of Mr. Gladstone's Resolution, the Church of Ireland became a party question, and an instrument for overturning the existing Administration. I do not deny that Ireland had grievances to complain of both in regard to the Church and the land; but you have unfortunately dealt with those subjects in such a manner as to deprive the concessions you have made of their real value. With regard to the Church, it is almost 40 years since in the other House I avowed my conviction of the necessity of an entire change in the policy of England in that respect. I never receded from that opinion, and I am persuaded that had the question been dealt with in a statesmanlike spirit a measure might have been passed which would have had a most beneficial influence. Unfortunately, however, it was made a party question, and the Irish people have been impressed with the conviction that they owe what they have gained, not to your good will, but to these very Fenians, whose outrages were said by Her Majesty's Ministers to have opened the eyes of the people of England to the necessity of a change of policy. With regard to the land, a great reform of the law was necessary; but I greatly fear that the measure you adopted departed far more than was necessary from most important principles, and the result will hereafter be difficulties and inconveniences, of which symptoms are already perceptible. I need not, however, go back to these old topics. For good or for evil, the Church Bill and the Land Bill are now law. All I wish to point out is that however beneficial you may think your legislation to have been, however confident you may be that by degrees it will have a good effect on the temper of the Irish people, for the present, at all events, it has not done so; and that, on the other hand, there is a feeling which makes it in the highest degree dangerous that by such a measure as that which I have brought before you we have taught the Irish people this fatal lesson—that a conspiracy to overthrow by violence and by the most atrocious means the authority of the Crown is regarded by the Government as only a venial offence. Those who have taken a step calculated to produce this impression on the minds of the people have incurred a responsibility of the heaviest kind. I am far from imputing to my noble Friends opposite, or their Colleagues, that they have wilfully done that which they knew to be injurious to the nation for the sake of any temporary convenience, or of gaining favour with any section of their supporters—I could not for a moment dream of imputing to them such guilt as would be involved in such conduct; but I can only acquit them of it by attributing to them an error of judgment so flagrant and with so little to justify it as to leave them little claim to the confidence even of those who have hitherto been the most ready to repose confidence in them.

Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for,

Return of the names of any convicts who may have been specially discharged from custody since the 1st of August 1870 as having been political offenders; together with a statement of the crimes of which they had severally been convicted, and the dates of their conviction: Also,

Copy of any instructions given by Her Majesty's Government with respect to the conditions on which such convicts were to be released, and to any arrangements made for sending them away from the United Kingdom."—(The Earl Grey.)


My Lords, no objection will be offered by the Government to the production of the documents for which the noble Earl has moved; and in making this announcement my task might have been considered at an end, had not the noble Earl indulged in such severe criticisms upon the Government not only as regards the amnesty extended to the political prisoners, but their general policy towards Ireland, that I must bespeak your Lordships' indulgence while I endeavour—not, I am afraid, to modify his opinion, to which I am quite unequal—but to submit to the House arguments which, in my opinion, militate against it. I do not propose to follow the noble Earl into those topics which, though having reference to Ireland, have no reference whatever to the subject of his Motion; for I do not see what benefit could arise from re-opening ancient controversies as to the Land Bill and the Church Bill, on which your Lordships during the past two Sessions expended so much time and attention. Still less do I see what benefit could arise from a premature examination of the effect of recent legislation, the good effects of which, its warmest advocates admitted, would, in all probability for some years be only partially apparent. I will pass from what I may call these extraneous subjects with only this observation, that as far as my own observation goes the operation of one at least of those measures, the Land Bill, has exceeded my anticipations. In proceeding to combat the noble Earl's opinion that the amnesty granted to the Fenian prisoners was ill-advised, mistimed, and likely to be fraught with disastrous consequences, I wish to assure him and the House that no man is more sensible than I am of the heinous nature of the crime of treason. It is a crime which carries, as it were, in its bosom the guilt of almost every other crime which can be committed, and its evil consequences on the unfortunate population in whose midst it is committed are such as words can hardly describe, or any lapse of time obliterate. I am quite at one with him also in thinking that it is the bounden duty of every Government to exact from those unhappy persons who may have been betrayed into such offences the utmost penalty which the law demands, so far and so long as the exaction of such penalties is likely to prove conducive to the maintenance of tranquillity and the restoration of order among the people amongst whom they are committed. I submit, however, that by the common and universal consent of mankind—as admitted, I think, by the noble Earl—the moral guilt of persons convicted of political offences is not of the same type or character as that of ordinary criminals, and that every Government called upon to deal with them is at liberty so to deal with them as not merely to satisfy what are technically called the ends of justice, but it is bound to consider what may best effect the main object to be kept in view—namely, the assertion of their authority and the restoration of peace and order. Let us for a moment consider the exact circumstances of the case with which the Government had to deal. A few years ago a certain number of persons, many of them possesssing considerable literary ability, and all, I believe, men of unblemished private character, brought themselves within the power of the Treason-Felony Act by a series of seditious newspaper articles. They were arraigned, convicted, and sentenced to different terms of penal servitude. A few months afterwards the seeds of disaffection, which they had thus disseminated, bore disastrous fruit in various abortive and insignificant outbreaks in different counties of Ireland. Immediately the Government put forth its power, and in the course of a very few days it—I will not say reasserted its authority, for that was never for a moment questioned — but, reestablished perfect tranquillity and security from one end of the country to the other. In the meantime all the leaders and principal agents in those disturbances were relegated to prison, where they were allowed to remain for a considerable period. Last year, however, Her Majesty's Government, acting on its discretion, extended the clemency of the Crown to a certain proportion of those prisoners who, in their individual capacity, were perfectly insignificant, and who had taken but a very subordinate part in the transactions in which they had been engaged; and I cannot but think, in reference to this event, that the completeness with which they, and their agitation, have disappeared is in itself a sufficient confirmation of the advisability of that step, and a proof that no disastrous consequences whatever, at all events as far as those persons are concerned, have resulted from it. At the same time, pari passû with the total extinction of that agitation and those demonstrations in every part of Ireland, Parliament entered upon a course of remedial legislation in regard to that country such as was entirely unparalleled in its annals, and it also armed the Government with ample powers for the maintenance, north, south, east, and west—of political tranquillity. I especially use the word "political tranquillity," because it would be most unfair and unreasonable—and I do not think that any person acquainted with Ireland would do so—to attempt to confound the Riband confederacy, and the unhappy circumstances now existing in the county of Westmeath, with any movement of a political character or with the Fenian conspiracy. On the contrary, I am prepared, from my knowledge and experience of the circumstances of the case — and in this matter I hope I may be thought to speak with some authority—to say that never for many years has political tranquillity reigned so completely and so undisturbed in Ireland as at this moment. In the first place, the whole of that military organization which had such extensive ramifications in many of the western and southern counties has entirely vanished, the notion of a Fenian rising has become simply ridiculous, and I believe that the expectation of being able either to assault or overthrow the constitutional union of the two countries has altogether disappeared from the minds of its most enthusiastic partiazns. Of course it is very difficult to prove that this is a correct description of the state of Ireland at the present moment; but, at all events, there are two circumstances which I may adduce in confirmation of the view I have taken. I believe it is well known that for several months during the present winter the Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's Forces in Ireland has been able to give his attendance in England, and to reside in London without the slightest misgiving as to anything that might happen in his absence. That, certainly, is not a circumstance that could have occurred for many years previously. In the next place, Her Majesty's Government, after consulting the Lords Lieutenant of the various counties in Ireland, and acting, as I believe, on their advice and recommendations, and on their appreciation of the state of the country, have determined in every county in Ireland to call out the Militia. These two facts, I think, speak pretty plainly as to what is the condition of Ireland as respects its political tranquillity. It was in the presence of such circumstances as these that the question of what was to be done with the Fenian prisoners who still remained in their hands forced itself upon the attention of the Government. At the same time a very strong interest—a very intense feeling as to their future fate was expressed by the great mass of the Irish people; and that feeling was exhibited not merely, or in the greatest degree, by those who might be supposed to sympathize more or less with their unfortunate proceedings, but was shared by men of every class and creed in the country, and by persons of the highest respectability, who, I am sure, entertain as great a horror of the treasonable and felonious acts committed by these prisoners as any of your Lordships. Meanwhile, however, years had been rolling on, and those unfortunate men who were incarcerated in 1867 and 1868 had been subjected to all the inevitable rigour and discipline that are inseparable from imprisonment under penal servitude. And here there is a consideration to which I do not myself attach very much weight, but which ought not to be left wholly out of sight in the discussion of this subject. When, in 1848, the Treason-Felony Act was passed, the punishment contemplated by it was transportation either for life or for various terms; but when that punishment ceased to exist under a subsequent Act of Parliament, nothing but penal servitude in this country could be substituted. Now, in the mode in which transportation was applied in our penal colonies a certain amount of elasticity existed under regulations which enabled political prisoners, whose antecedents were of a particular character, to be treated in a way which was universally admitted, where it was possible, to be desirable. But the moment that method of punishment was changed into penal servitude at home, any consideration of that kind was, of course, no longer practicable; and for the sake of their security, as well as from the necessity of maintaining discipline among the whole batch of prisoners confined within the walls of the same prison, it was impossible to distinguish in any degree between men with such antecedents as these political prisoners and the grossest and most brutal criminals who had committed murderous acts. And further, so exceptionally was this discipline thought to tell on those very persons whose case we are now considering, that the Commission appointed to investigate the truth of the allegations preferred by their friends in Ireland, as to the harsh treatment to which it was said they had been subjected—although they fully exculpated those who had them in charge from any undue severity, yet they called the attention of both Houses of Parliament to the fact that, from the nature of the case, it was impossible but that such persons should be subjected to greater rigours than might be desirable; and I believe they recommended to Parliament that if these unfortunate persons were to continue to be incarcerated, or if others should afterwards take their place, they should be relegated to a separate place of confinement, and their imprisonment regulated according to somewhat different rules from those hitherto adopted. I merely mention this circumstance to disprove the allegation of the noble Earl that these persons have got off almost scot free. But, be that as it may, and quite independent of any reference to this consideration, but taking into account the complete suppression of the attempted insurrection — taking into account the perfect political tranquillity which has been maintained for some time in Ireland—taking also into account that the demonstrations formerly made on behalf of these prisoners had ceased—remembering, further, the general feeling prevalent on the subject in Ireland itself, and looking likewise to what in all probability would be the effect of their liberation in assisting to maintain the future tranquillity of that country, Her Majesty's Government determined to commute the sentences of these prisoners not into an absolute pardon, but into a qualified pardon, subject to their removal from the United Kingdom, rather than to retain them in prison to be objects on whom, perhaps, would be concentrated a considerable amount of agitation in future, and a great deal of sympathy on the part of a large body of their fellow-countrymen. In arriving at this conclusion I believe the Government came to what, on the whole, was a right conclusion. At all events, they merely followed the precedents set not only by other European Governments, but by every Government which has had to deal with a similar case in this country. In 1848, Mr. Smith O'Brien, Mr. Martin, and their companions were convicted of treason, and condemned to transportation for life; but in a few years afterwards—I believe in 1856 — their sentences were commuted, and two years later a free pardon was granted to them; and at this moment one of those persons is the representative of an Irish county and a respected Member of the other House of Parliament. Questions of this kind must he left to the discretion of each successive Government, and certainly the question under discussion was one of the most anxious that could be submitted to any Government. But, on taking into consideration the points which I have submitted to your Lordships, I cannot help thinking you will come to the conclusion that the clemency extended to these unfortunate persons was most wisely conceived, and was eminently calculated to compose the agitation which the proceedings of the Fenians had created. There is but one other topic upon which I shall venture to address your Lordships. The noble Earl (Earl Grey), in concluding his speech, described in language very weighty, and very eloquent, what, in his opinion, would be the consequence of separating Ireland from this country. I cordially concur in all that he has said upon that point. I am glad also to express my entire concurrence in all that the noble Earl said respecting the movement for "Home Government." I see by the papers that this question is occasionally agitated in Ireland; but, living in the neighbourhood of Belfast, and being in continual communication with persons residing in all the northern counties of Ireland, I find that movement has attracted, so far as I have been able to learn, not only no sympathy, but no attention whatever. I cannot but think, therefore, that the noble Earl has greatly exaggerated its importance, and greatly overstated the consequences which are likely to arise from it.


My Lords, it was hardly to be supposed that an act of the Executive Government, such as that referred to by the Motion of the noble Earl (Earl Grey), should pass unnoticed by Parliament, and it was hardly to be supposed that it would be possible to refer to or comment upon that act of the Executive without at the same time referring to the condition of the country to which that act especially related. I am therefore somewhat surprised at the complaint made by the noble Lord (Lord Dufferin) that the field of discussion had been widened by the noble Earl who commenced the debate beyond the scope of his Notice of Motion; and I am the more surprised, because Her Majesty's Government are avowedly at present in search of a policy for Ireland. They have appealed, we are told, to a tribunal "elsewhere" to obtain suggestions and advice upon that head; and I cannot see why Her Majesty's Government should not be willing also to accept suggestions at the hand of any of your Lordships who may be prepared to make them. The question introduced by the noble Earl is, I venture to think, one of extreme importance not merely as regards the condition of Ireland, but as connected with the whole system of the administration of our criminal law. I have endeavoured to inform myself of the grounds upon which Her Majesty's Government has proceeded in this case. I am aware what are the grounds stated by the Prime Minister, and I will presently refer to them; but before doing so I must remark that the ground stated by the noble Lord (Lord Dufferin) this evening, is one which, upon reflection, the Government would be scarcely prepared to support. The noble Lord has gravely told us that one of the leading reasons which led to the release of the Fenian prisoners was that the prisoners found the system of prison discipline extremely disagreeable. That reflection would have applied with equal force as a reason for not putting them in prison at all. But what is the ground on which the Prime Minister based this act of the Executive Government? Mr. Gladstone says— What we have done is this; we have acted upon the principle which we have invariably recommended to every other country in Europe; we have acted upon the principle which every truly civilized country in the 19th century has never hesitated to act upon, and that is that a political crime, when it has ceased to be dangerous, and when suffering has been undergone, should be treated with the utmost leniency."—[3 Hansard, cciv. 1181.] If I were to complain of a certain vagueness in the expressions used in this passage it would be only repeating what is often said with regard to statements coming from the same source. What is the meaning of the term "undergone suffering?" Does it mean imprisonment for one, two, or three years, or imprisonment for life? And what is meant by "treated with the utmost leniency?" Does it mean commutation of the sentence of imprisonment or absolute release, with an outfit of clothes and a supply of money? But let us consider the advice which it has been our habit to render to other countries. There have been and, I believe, are countries in Europe where, according to their system of laws, it has been in the power of the Executive Government to imprison offenders without bringing them to trial; there have been other countries where it is in the power of the Executive to conduct those trials in a manner entirely at variance with our ideas of justice to the prisoner; and there are some countries which include in the catalogue of political offences acts which we do not regard as criminal, and which have for political offences a scale of punishment which any of us would regard as entirely excessive. I believe it has been the case that, when we have found countries so circumstanced dealing with political prisoners in a manner different from that in which we should deal with them ourselves, we have interfered to remonstrate, and to solicit some remission of sentence or some speedy trial. In doing so we have been quite right; but I do not believe we have gone further than that. If we have gone further, and in dealing with a constitutional Government like our own, with a system of laws as wide as ours, and fixed principles for conducting the trial and punishment of offenders, we had interfered to deprecate the severity of the punishment inflicted, we have overstepped our duty. The true principle is this—We should not eliminate from our criminal law all offences which ought properly to be found there under the head of political offences or under any other head; we should take care that our system of law provides most speedy and fair trial of those charged with the offence contained in it; we should take care that our punishments are not excessive—and our course for years past has been to diminish the severity of punishments; but when we have done all that, I maintain it is of the essence of a good and wholesome system for the administration of law to maintain the certainty of the law—to insist upon the certainty of the law and the certainty of the execution of the punishments when once pronounced. Now, my Lords, I would assume for a moment that the persons of whom we are speaking are political prisoners, and I would ask your Lordships to consider for a moment whether, upon the principles laid down by the Prime Minister, the release of these prisoners was a politic or reasonable act. Had the dangers represented by these prisoners passed away at the time of their release? Was there no danger to be apprehended from the prisoners themselves? I answer that question by calling your Lordships' attention to a fact which the noble Lord relied on who has just sat down (Lord Dufferin). These prisoners were not pardoned unconditionally — they were obliged to leave the country; and if no danger was to be apprehended from their liberation why was that condition imposed? I will, in further illustration of this point, take a description of these prisoners from the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville). Two years ago, on the 18th of March, 1869, a conversation arose in this House upon the release of the Fenian prisoners who were at that time liberated, and the noble Earl described the condition of those who were detained in these words— The Irish Government made repeated scrutinies into every single case, and there were three classes of offenders whom from the first they determined not to release—the criminal, if I may so distinguish them, as against the purely political offenders—the class which comprised those who were known to be habitual conspirators, and those who, from their energy or talents, as soldiers or men of letters, might, if released, prove a source of danger in the present dormant state of Fenianism."—[3 Hansard, cxciv. 1638.] That was the description given two years ago of persons from whom it is now said no danger can be apprehended. But I will go further. We have had a still more recent description of these persons from the Prime Minister, in a reply to Mr. Moylan, of the Canadian Government Emigration Office in Dublin, who addressed a letter to the right hon. Gentleman, by way of remonstrance on behalf of Canada, in relation to the liberation of the Fenian prisoners, cramped, as that act of grace is, with the condition of exile. The following is Mr. Gladstone's reply:—

"10, Downing Street, Whitehall,

"December 22.

"Sir,—I am directed by Mr. Gladstone to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 19th inst., which he has read with attention. Mr. Gladstone has every confidence in the motive which dictated it, but does not consider that Her Majesty's Government would be responsible for allowing persona, of whose future obedience they have no assurance whatever, to remain in the midst of the community whom they had sought, and probably would seek again, to disturb.

"I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

"J. G. Moylan, Esq. ALGERNON WEST."

Therefore, as to there being an absence of danger, as far as the character of the persons released is concerned, we have the authority of the Prime Minister that they are dangerous persons, and that the Government had no information which could lead them to believe in their future obedience to the law. But where were these men sent? They were sent to the United States. You remember the history of the Fenian insurrection, and I ask, where was our greatest danger to be looked for? It was not so much in this country, because here these persons were under the control of the law; but the place which was the greatest source of danger was to be found across the Atlantic, where Irishmen, as the centres of the movement, were conducting machinery which was developing itself in Ireland. Therefore, as regards the persons released, I do not think it can be said that they were set at liberty because no danger could be apprehended from them. I do not go into the mode and form of their release. The noble Earl who spoke first (Earl Grey) has reminded your Lordships, with great justice, that if the prisoners were to have their release they could hardly have had it in a more inconvenient and unhappy way. They were released and sent out in a body to that place where it was known they had thousands and hundreds of thousands of sympathizers. They were sent out in a sort of state, and it was the mere accident of the delay of a week which prevented the occurrence of their being in the same ship which carried out the noble Earl the President of the Council, and the other Commissioners; in which case—if he had found himself along with those gentlemen in the steamer which carried them across the Atlantic—one reception at Washington and one triumphant meeting at Brooklyn would have sufficed. As to the danger to the country, let me ask your Lordships to go back a few months, because here, again, I do not want any further information than that which I have from the Prime Minister himself. Exactly 12 months ago, the Government introduced into the House of Commons a measure for the better preservation of the peace in Ireland, on the ground of the state of three counties—Meath, Westmeath, and Mayo—not, observe, their state as regarded Fenianism, but with respect to the Riband conspiracy, which the noble Lord who has preceded me has said is so entirely distinct from Fenianism. It was upon the ground of the Riband conspiracy in these three counties that the Peace Preservation Bill was brought in. And I remember that when it was suggested that the county of Tipperary was not in a healthy condition, the Chief Secretary said he only sought for powers on the ground of the state of those three particular counties. I may remind your Lordships that we have heard of three counties being now in a similar condition as regards the prevalence of the Riband conspiracy. Mayo has been dropped out, but King's County has been put in. But, passing by that, what was the statement of the Prime Minister? On the same night that the Peace Preservation Bill was brought into the House of Commons, Mr. Gladstone had to answer the application which was then made for the release of the Fenian prisoners, and he said— The hon. Member asks whether we think the time has now come when the amnesty which was partially conceded not by an arbitrary choice, but upon particular grounds of selection, somewhat more than 12 months ago, may be extended to the whole of the political prisoners taken up in Ireland. I am sorry to say that my answer must be most repugnant to my inclination; but, at the same time, most imperatively imposed by duty. I must point to the state of Ireland, where we are engaged in what I hope is materially and morally important remedial legislation, but are compelled to interrupt this beneficent, and, at all events, well-intended process, by a Motion which will presently be submitted by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) for special powers with a view to the security of life and property in Ireland. I do not think it would be possible for us to announce in this House, or to hold out elsewhere, any hope whatever that it would be consistent with our duty to open the doors of the prison on behalf of those prisoners, until we can see a different and better state of things in Ireland. … . It would be cruel to encourage the friends of these prisoners to cherish any hopes whatever with regard to their release, until we are able to see a state of things in Ireland when Her Majesty's peaceable and well-conducted subjects may be enabled to pursue the ordinary avocations of life with that degree of comfort and confidence which is the best test and criterion of a civilized and a Christian country."—[3 Hansard, cc. 80.] This was 12 months ago, at the time when the only disturbed districts of Ireland were said to be the three counties I have mentioned, and the only disturbance complained of was their connection with the Riband conspiracy. I ask your Lordships—What is the difference between the danger that now prevails and that which prevailed 12 months ago? What is the state of things in Ireland now? I am sure your Lordships were pleased to be told in Her Majesty's most gracious Speech that the state of Ireland was peaceful and satisfactory, and that if there was an exception to that general condition, it was a spot so isolated that—we might gather from the tone of the Speech—it was scarcely worth referring to. We were told that all Ireland needed was repose, and that no measure was intended to be brought forward regarding Ireland which could provoke controversy or animosity. Unfortunately, we have received very different information since that Speech was pronounced in this House. I do not intend to enter into any statistical examination of the number of offences in Ireland; neither do I wish to enter into any controversy as to the effect that may be expected from the legislation of the last two years. The noble Lord (Lord Dufferin) said what was very fair when he remarked that even those who were opposed to these measures must admit that the time had hardly come for us to judge of what their operation would be. He also said they had succeeded beyond his expectations. But when I remember that the noble Lord told us last year, in words of great eloquence and solemnity, that he expected the reverse from the passing of the Land Bill, I do not think the success beyond his expectations manifests, on the whole, a great result from that measure.


I beg pardon for interrupting my noble and learned Friend, but I must emphatically say that was not the effect of my speech. If my noble and learned Friend did not hear my remarks, I will send him a copy of my speech.


My noble Friend need not send me a copy of his speech, for I heard it with the greatest pleasure. I do not pretend to remember or to quote the words; but it certainly left in my mind the impression that the noble Lord performed somewhat the reverse of the part of the prophet in the Old Testament—he was brought to bless the Bill, but he ended by cursing it altogether. However, I will not go into that which is debateable ground, nor will I occupy time in canvassing the two reasons which the noble Lord assigned in proof of the improved condition of Ireland at the present day. Those two proofs seemed to me to be singular ones. The first was that the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Ireland was able to spend the greater part of his time in London; the second was that the Government intends to call out the Militia regiments in Ireland. The first is, no doubt, a matter of fact; the other is only the intention of the Government, and we shall be better able to judge of that by its result, whatever that may be. I will turn to things as to which there can be no dispute, and which cannot give rise to controversy. But before I do so, allow me to ask your Lordships to bear in mind two reflections with regard to the condition of Ireland, which all who are acquainted with that country will know to be well-founded. In the first place, mere numerical calculations as to the number of crimes in particular districts of Ireland are by no means a complete test, but are very frequently an entirely fallacious one of the state of the country. If it be the case, as the Government have announced, that there is a conspiracy in a particular district of Ireland affecting life and property—a conspiracy against law and order, and one which seeks to substitute rules of its own for the laws of the country—the absence of crime in that district may indicate nothing but the complete and perfect triumph of the conspiracy. It is when a conspiracy seeking to assert its own rules, comes into collision with those who have not succumbed to its power, and when the latter appeal to and insist upon the law of the country that crimes occur; and, therefore, crime is or may be a proof that the conspiracy is not so triumphant as it would be if no crime occurred. Another observation to be borne in mind is this—very great emphasis is laid by Members of the Government upon the isolated spots in Ireland where they think the conspiracy exists. I do not think a greater mistake can be made. The Riband conspiracy is not a local organization—it is general throughout the country — it crops out and makes itself known for particular reasons in this place or that; but those who are acquainted with Ireland know perfectly well that almost as a universal rule the perpetrators of Riband outrages are not persons who live on the spot where the outrage occurs, but are brought from a distance, and that circumstance shows that the conspiracy has ramifications throughout the country and has the command of agents in all parts. What is the state of the country? I will refer shortly to the state of Westmeath—but I am greatly afraid that it is not by any means in Westmeath and Meath and King's County only that outrages are occurring. What do we read in the newspapers? I find that on Tuesday night, in Tipperary, five men attacked the house of Mr. Howes, a resident in the district, and fired five or six shots into the house, fortunately without injuring any of the inmates. The next day, in Donegal, a steward was shot dead. Only the other evening the President of the Board of Trade, till recently Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, stated officially that Ireland never was more contented, never more tranquil than at the present moment. But at the very time that he was speaking, the house of a tenant of one of your Lordships in the County Clare was attacked by an armed party. Fortunately they did not succeed in committing murder. But in the County Limerick, at the same hour, the steward of Mr. Conyers was shot dead. This was at 7 o'clock in the evening — the very moment that the President of the Board of Trade was speaking in the House of Commons. Let me refer to the County Mayo. I do not know whether your Lordships read in the newspapers the history of what oc-occurred in that county; but I confess it impressed my mind with deeper feelings of pain than anything else which I have perused with regard to the state of Ireland for many months. At Foxford, in the county of Mayo, there was a man whose name was Davis; he seems to have been a respectable peasant, having a servant in his house, and living with his wife and children. It was night time, and he was in bed; his wife was sitting by the bedside nursing a child. A shot was fired through the window which fatally wounded him in bed; he raised himself up and showed his wife that he was shot, and she was so paralyzed with fear, that she was unable to give the alarm till next morning. After a couple of days the poor man died, and a coroner's inquest was held. I will read to your Lordships what we find as to the proceedings in the leading London newspaper— Sixteen of the jury returned a verdict that the deceased was killed by the accidental discharge of his own gun. There were joyous demonstrations in Foxford when the verdict became known, and it is stated that some friends of the man who was shot were warned to return home as quickly as possible, as violence was apprehended from the populace. Satisfaction is felt in the district at the verdict. Had it been one of wilful murder, as was expected, a tax would have been levied to compensate the family of the deceased. What do your Lordships suppose was the evidence on which the jury proceeded? There was the evidence of the wife, who stated that she was in the room when her husband was shot; the evidence of the servant, who, hearing the shot, ran into the room and saw the window broken, which had not been broken before, through which the shot had entered; there was the evidence of a man who had been getting water from a well outside the house, who heard the shot and saw two men running rapidly away, men whom, of course, he did not know; and there was the evidence of the constable of police, who had found broken pieces of metal and glass scattered about the bed, who also found the gun of the deceased standing in its accustomed place, without any symptom of its having been discharged, and who, in fact, drew the charge from the gun upon the day of the inquest, and stated that he believed the gun to be at the time in exactly the same condition as it was on the night of the murder. Upon that evidence I blush to say that 16 men, with the widow and orphans before them, found that this man had come to his death by the accidental discharge of his own gun, lest the neighbourhood should have to compensate the orphans and the widow. That, be it observed, is away from the disturbed and disaffected part of the country; that is in the peaceable and calm and well-regulated part of Ireland. These things are done in the green tree; now let us see what is done in the dry. What does the Chief Justice Monaghan say at the assizes which are now going on in the county Westmeath? These are his words— I feel it my duty to say, looking over the returns which have been furnished to me by the constabulary of the county, that the county is in that state that must be a source of annoyance and grief to everybody interested in its welfare. When I was last here it was in an unpleasant state; but I indulged in the hope that things would mend. I find now, on the contrary, things have got from bad to worse, and the very deplorable state the county is in it is almost impossible to conceive or to describe. One cannot wonder that it has engaged the attention of Her Majesty's Government, and I can only trust and hope that the proceedings that are now being taken in Parliament will result in devising measures that will be productive of improvement, and will afford some safety to the inhabitants of this county. In the list that is before me I find that in the months of November and December last two men were shot. One of the name of Dowling was shot, and died immediately from the results of the wound. A man named Waters, a police constable, was also shot. Another man of the name of Heney or Hyney was wounded and assaulted, which terminated with his death. Then the Chief Justice goes on to describe other offences, which had not terminated fatally, but offences committed in the light of day, witnessed by scores of persons, without anyone being brought to justice for those crimes. I will pass from the Chief Justice, who, no doubt, was shocked by the state in which he found the county, and I will take the evidence of the Roman Catholic Bishop, who, from living in the county, is intimately acquainted with all the people. And what does Dr. Nulty say. He says— Every man now fears that scores of assassins are secretly and stealthily lurking about in the very midst of us. The mystery in which they have shrouded themselves, and with which they have hitherto successfully concealed themselves, has spread terror and alarm among all classes of society. Every man is in terror for his life, and trembles for his safety. And then the Roman Catholic Bishop goes on to say—what hardly shows a grateful spirit on the part of one in his position—that he thinks the Government a very weak and pusillanimous Government. Bad, however, as the state of the country is, according to the language of the Chief Justice in his Charge to the grand jury, I am sorry to say that the result of the assizes just held in that county seems to be even more alarming. For what do we find? I have taken four cases almost at random, and they show it to be utterly impossible to obtain a conviction in the district. Four men were indicted for attacking a corn mill, and assaulting a man who had taken a situation from which another had been dismissed. The prosecutor had identified all the prisoners at the petty sessions; but, when confronted with them at the assizes, said he did not know them, and they had to be discharged. A much worse case, I think, was one which your Lordships may have observed—that of Constable Supple, whom a man named Bray had tried to murder. The case proved to demonstration was this—Constable Supple was standing outside his barracks, beside the yard of the chapel, there being a wall between: a man fired at him from over the wall. Though wounded the constable was able to jump over the wall, and saw Bray making off. Bray again fired, but missed him; and the constable grappled with him, wrested the revolver from him, and threw him down. While struggling on the ground Bray pulled out another pistol and snapped it in his face, but it did not explode: the struggle continued for some time, and ultimately, the constable becoming exhausted, Bray got away—but I think it was one of the most manly endeavours to arrest a criminal that I ever heard of. But now observe. Bray was no stranger to the constable, who swore to him positively, and had known him for five years; they were face to face, at one time their faces almost touching each other, and he had seized him by the hair of his head. There was not the slightest doubt that he was the man who had tried to murder him. Not only that, but a labourer of Bray's had left Bray standing in the chapel yard shortly before the time of this oc- currence. An attempt was made to prove an alibi; but it was no alibi at all. Somebody came forward, and said that they had seen Bray about the time of the attack, but not at any very great distance from the place. Moreover, the person had neither clock nor watch to tell him the time. The Judge evidently disregarded his evidence; nevertheless, the jury, after a few minutes deliberation, acquitted the prisoner. In the next case, in which a man was charged with breaking into a house and assaulting the inmates, an alibi was set up and the jury returned a verdict of "Not Guilty." And then occurs this remarkable circumstance — the Chief Justice cautioned the prisoner to be more careful in future, as the great probability was that if tried again he would not escape. In the case of Robert Black, who was indicted for firing at Mr. Blagrove, with intent to murder him, the jury disagreed. The prosecutor swore positively as to the identity of the prisoner, whose father held a farm from which he had been evicted. These cases, I contend, show a state of things which is even worse than that which would exist if those prisoners had not been apprehended at all. It is deplorable if, when they commit crimes, they cannot be arrested; but I believe it would be better for ten criminals to escape in that way than for one man, duly arrested and having had the crime clearly brought home to him, to escape either through sympathy or through fear on the part of the jurors. And this, my Lords, leads me to ask why the powers which were entrusted to the Government last year have not been exercised with regard to offences of this kind? One power, and a very valuable one, which was given them was to remove particular trials from the county which was the scene of the offence and to have the cases tried elsewhere. I want to know why the Government did not remove those trials to Dublin, where a proper jury might have been obtained, free from feelings, on the one hand, of sympathy, or, on the other, of fear. I venture to think the Government, from that point of view, have been chargeable with very great neglect in the manner in which these prosecutions have been conducted; and I therefore am justified in asking the Government what it is they now propose to do? From the records of the other House of Parliament, we are given to understand that a Committee has been appointed on the subject of the Riband conspiracy in a particular district in Ireland. I will not enter into what those same records tell us of the alterations which from time to time have been made in the proposals of that Committee—how it was at first to have been a Secret Committee, and to have suggested the best mode of remedying the condition of that country; those parts of the Motion, wisely or unwisely, have dropped out, and I will not discuss a matter which is more properly for the other House of Parliament. But now we understand that the matter is reduced simply to this—that a Committee of the other House has been appointed to inquire into the condition of this disturbed district of Ireland. Is that, I will ask, to be a substitute for legislation, or a prelude to legislation; or is it to supersede all legislation on the subject? Here is the view taken by a Member of the Government, who ought to be well informed on the subject—I mean the late Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, who is now President of the Board of Trade. Mr. Chichester Fortescue says— It is perfectly well known in Ireland that we have succeeded beyond expectation, and almost beyond hope in improving the condition of the country, and that at no time within memory has Ireland been so prosperous, so calm ["Oh, oh!"]—I know what I am speaking of—I repeat, so prosperous, so calm, so confident of the future, so contented, so loyal as she is at the present moment."—[3 Hansard, cciv. 1020.] No qualification, you will observe. The right hon. Gentleman went on— Although I readily admit that the information so to be obtained will be of value to the Government, still I believe it will be of equal value to the House as enabling them to ascertain beyond dispute the facts and causes of this want of success, which, as I have said, has been limited and exceptional."—[Ibid. 1021.] Therefore, according to him, the object of the inquiry is to show that although the Government have failed in their legislation with regard to Ireland, yet their failure has been most exceptional. And now let me direct your Lordships' attention to the opinions expressed by a legal Member of the Government. What does the Solicitor General for Ireland say?— I do say that it would afford to me, and that it would afford to Her Majesty's Government, the greatest satisfaction if, as the result of the labours of the Committee, it should clearly appear that Westmeath may be safely left to the operation of the law as now existing. … When the facts are reported to the House, and the House and the Government have seen and considered them, whatever the Committee may then reoommend—even if it should be legislation of the most penal character, or no legislation at all—the Government will bring an unbiassed judgment to bear upon the question, and will deal with it as they have dealt with all measures relating to Ireland, from a broad and statesmanlike point of view. And if it should be shown that no necessity for exceptional legislation exists, no one will be more gratified than the Members of Her Majesty's Government. They will rejoice if Westmeath can be safely left to yield to the same healing influences that have made themselves felt in all other parts of Ireland."—[Ibid. 1241–3.] Well, judging from these declarations alone, I should have supposed that the Government were quite at sea; that they were equally prepared for legislation or no legislation; and that they had no opinion as to what the legislation ought to be; but I am bound to say that the expressions which fell from two other Members of Her Majesty's Government were more satisfactory. The present Chief Secretary for Ireland, after referring to his "painful dismay" at being obliged to introduce the subject, went on to say— Now, if this state of things really exists—and it can be too readily proved—the Government say, and I say to the House, that it is an intolerable state of things. The Government are prepared to admit it, and we say that we are determined to apply to the House for a remedy. … We have no desire to ask the Committee to suggest a remedy. Upon the facts so established, as I believe they would be before a Committee, the Government will be prepared, as I have said before, to legislate. The Government think the state of things intolerable, and a remedy they are determined to find, if not within, then without, the ordinary limits of the Constitution."—[Ibid. 995–8.] That is a declaration of the most explicit kind on the part of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and I have not a word to say against it. Neither is there much exception to be taken to the view of the Prime Minister, who says— I, for one, am not prepared to allow, and my Colleagues have at no time asserted, that the state of Westmeath at this moment, taken all in all, is worse than it has been in any former years. We do not found ourselves on that allegation. I will not, even for myself, presume to say that it is worse than it was 12 months ago. But we do say that the state of Ireland, and of the Government of Ireland, is, and has been—I am speaking of the Executive Government—necessarily in many respects defective and even deplorable. The Government have been obliged to wink at a state of crime or intimidation which, in well-governed countries, is intolerable. … It is not so much because we assert that the state of Westmeath is now worse than in former times that we propose a Committee of Inquiry; but it is because we think that the state of Westmeath is a disgrace to a civilized country, that we are of opinion its condition demands the attention of Parliament. … . But, independently of that, there is another matter which we should wish to examine by aid of the Committee, and that is, how have the Government used the powers given them under the Peace Preservation Act? Seeing that Parliament last year entrusted us with large stringent powers, and seeing that we declare that still more stringent powers are required in reference to the state of Westmeath, is it not right that the House of Commons should inquire whether or not we have neglected properly to use the powers given us?"—[Ibid. 1192–4.] From these declarations I gather the following conclusions:—that the Government find in Ireland a state of things which is described as intolerable; that the Government are obliged to wink at a system of crime and intimidation; and that they may, perhaps, ask Parliament for further and more stringent powers. But when are they going to do that? Do they mean to wait for the termination of the inquiry by the Committee? And what is the Committee to do? Is it to take evidence? Why, whatever evidence can be procured from members of the police, from magistrates, and from civilians who are in office the Government are already possessed of. They have at the present moment the means of examining all the evidence which from these sources can be obtained. Besides, the Government in Dublin Castle possesses secret information which they could not disclose, and which it would be their duty not to disclose to a Committee of the House of Commons, for the simple reason that the disclosures of the information would defeat the object for which it was given. Under the Act passed last year, and by means of the stipendiary magistrates, the Government possess powers more stringent than was ever before given to the Executive in this country. When an outrage occurs, and even before anyone is accused, the magistrates are empowered to summon any or every person in their district, to examine such person or persons on oath with reference to all subjects connected with the outrage, and to commit them to prison if they refuse to answer. These are powers which a Committee of the House of Commons cannot have; and, therefore, for the Government to say that they are waiting to obtain information is to make a suggestion which will not bear examination for a single mo- ment. Is it an answer to people who reside in these unfortunate districts, and who are in the state which Dr. Nulty and the Government describe, to say—"You must wait one, two, or three months, or perhaps till nearly the end of the Session, before we can venture to propose any legislation to Parliament?" Then it must be borne in mind that there are some Members of Parliament who do not think any legislation of this kind is necessary, and they, of course, will endeavour to prolong the investigation. Therefore the Government will be confronted with a rival movement in the Committee, which will lead to a prolonged inquiry, with a view to procure evidence which, after all, the Government does not want. I have now to ask your Lordships to consider the effect upon this Riband conspiracy and on the disturbances in this particular part of the country, of the doctrine which the Government has manifested by the release of the Fenian prisoners. We have heard a great deal to-night of the distinction between Fenianism and Ribandism. Well, I have no doubt there is a difference in the details of organization; but both Fenianism and Ribandism are organizations having for their object the overthrow of our rule and of our laws, and the substitution for them of the laws and rule of the organization itself. I have often heard it said that the two cannot be the same, because when Fenianism prevails Ribandism droops down to a minimum. I have no doubt of the fact; but I take it to be a proof that the two societies are cognate and allied. Fenianism is the larger organization of the two, and when it is in the ascendant Ribandism falls into abeyance, as it were; but only to be resuscitated and to rise in fuller vigour again after Fenianism has disappeared. Lord Hartington said in the speech to which I have referred that the origin of Ribandism was political, and Dr. Nulty said very much the same thing. The original object of the organization was to bring about a change in laws considered at the time to be injurious to Ireland. Now, if this were its original character, remember what a tendency there is in Ireland always to elevate crime into politics, and to convert every criminal, if possible, into a political martyr. The other day I noticed a statement that when one of the released Fenian prisoners was bidding farewell to his friends at Cork, he said—"I am going to America, but I have one consolation. The Prime Minister has admitted that all the good legislation for Ireland is owing to the Fenians." I do not know whether he was referring to any particular expression of the Prime Minister, or to the current of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman—but the observation is important as showing the way in which people in Ireland reason in these matters. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) spoke of the "National Party"—God forbid I should suggest that the National Party are Fenians; but what I would call attention to is this—that crime is committed in order to attain a political object, and in that way it becomes a political crime. It seems to be assumed that if a political criminal becomes a political prisoner, he must be treated, as the Fenians were, with the utmost consideration. Hence these men say "Let us take the strongest steps we can to oppose English rule; our first chance will be the grand jury won't find a true bill; our second chance will be a jury won't agree to convict; if we miss both these chances, we shall be convicted, and we shall become political prisoners. But Mr. Gladstone says we must be treated with the utmost leniency while in prison; and in a short time we shall receive an outfit, and, with a supply of money in our pockets, we shall be put on board, a first-class steamer and sent to the United States, where we shall be received with acclamations by the populace, thanked by the House of Representatives, and interviewed by the Press. After all, it is not so bad a career, and we will at once engage in it." I ask the Government, in all sober seriousness, what is the course they mean to take in regard to legislation for these disturbed districts? Parliament is ready to give them all the power they require. I only lament that the power they possess and the power that may be conceded to them may be found to be so much weakened by the acts of the Executive which are the subject of the present notice.


My Lords, my noble and learned Friend (Lord Cairns) has undoubtedly evinced the greatest rhetorical talent in passing "from grave to gay, from lively to severe"—by placing in juxtaposition two subjects which are essentially different, with the view of throwing upon the course which has been taken with regard to one set of political prisoners that degree of obloquy which would naturally attach to similar leniency adopted towards those guilty of the crimes instigated by Riband associations. I shall not attempt to rival my noble and learned Friend's humorous description of the voyage of the liberated prisoners to America, in a steamer possibly conveying one of Her Majesty's Ministers, for I think the subject is really a very grave one. I entirely sympathize with the feelings of the noble Lord who introduced the subject (Earl Grey)—it deserves the gravest discussion; but the two classes of crimes referred to ought to be entirely separated in argument as they are in fact. No doubt, it was a dexterous move on the part of my noble and learned Friend to tack on to the Motion of the noble Earl a question which intimates a species of connection between Ribandism and Fenianism, which is so wholly imaginary that it could be scarcely attempted otherwise than as a rhetorical juxtaposition: in attempting to connect the two he signally failed. I will advert for a few moments to the release of the Fenian prisoners. My noble and learned Friend, at the outset of his speech, assumed that the Government are on the look-out for a policy, and that they ought to be thankful for any assistance which discussion may afford them, and thereupon my noble and learned Friend himself volunteered argument and evidence on the subject of the Riband conspiracy. It is not difficult to state exactly the course the Government propose to take; indeed, I thought it had been sufficiently expounded in that discussion "elsewhere" from which he made quotations. With regard to Fenianism, the Government found prevailing in Ireland a tranquillity which might be called all but absolute. They found a great improvement in general feeling towards the Union with England and towards the Government, which they attributed to the good impression produced by the legislation of the last two years. But, as stated in the Queen's Speech, there existed in a certain part of Ireland, as there has existed for 40 years, a system of Ribandism that forces itself on the attention of the Government, now that remedial legislation has eliminated discontent, and the exercise of exceptional powers has extinguished Fenianism. Last year separation from this country was advocated by the organs of the Fenians in no measured and gentle terms, and a main object of exceptional legislation was to meet this evil. Incidentally, it would affect other secret societies and other forms of violence besides those of Fenian origin; but these being got rid of, it found there was a remainder of a spirit of insubordination, which has existed for a long time in a particular part of Ireland, and which has not been eradicated. It became the duty of the Government to make full and complete inquiry as to the character of these Riband associations, and to consider the best remedy to be applied. But this is an evil which has existed nearly for a century, and has engaged the attention and foiled the efforts of every successive Administration. Last year large powers were granted to the Irish Executive; but it was found they were not sufficient to deal with this evil—though they bore excellent fruit in that thorough suppression of Fenianism which, no doubt, was mainly due to them. What, then, became the duty of the Government? It is certainly a proper question to ask—Have you used the powers with which the Legislature intrusted you? It is right this question should be answered before new powers are applied for. The Committee to be appointed will very properly inquire whether these powers have been exercised; if so, with what result, and in what respect they have been found deficient. They will also inquire into the extent of the evil, and whether it is limited to a certain district, or whether, as the noble and learned Lord seems to think, we are in error in supposing it is confined within certain limits. The noble and learned Lord has taunted the Government with their original intention of making the Committee a secret one; and with asking for its advice. But he also said that these points had been raised and discussed in the other House. My Lords, they were raised, and the taunt was triumphantly answered by the majority in favour of the appointment of the Committee; by a Resolution conformable to that which was explained to have been from the first the intention. It was not the intention of the Government to ask the Committee for any special directions to govern them with regard to the course of legislation. They ask the Com- mittee to sift to the bottom the existing condition of Ribandism, but they reserve to themselves the full power, immediately when it is thought necessary, and without waiting for further inquiry, if new circumstances should arise to render it necessary, to apply at once to Parliament for measures of a remedial character. We are in no way fettered by the inquiry, and in no way bound to wait for it. On the other hand, assuming the evil to be limited, as we believe it to be, we do not think it right to ask immediately for those measures of which we do not perceive necessity so urgent as to prevent due inquiry. It is probable the result of the inquiry will be that the Government will ask for such powers in excess of those granted on a former occasion as shall, in their judgment, be absolutely necessary to meet the occasion. So far, the Riband question may be considered as being separate from Fenianism and Fenian prisoners. Ribandism is so entirely antagonistic to the principle of Fenianism that my noble and learned Friend's laboured attempt to connect the two was, in the state of facts, an entire failure. It is not only that where Fenianism has prevailed Ribandism has not prevailed; but it is well known that the Riband conspiracy is of a totally different character from Fenianism—not directed to any change in the Government, and not seeking foreign aid to accomplish it, but confined to one special object, an alteration of the law with regard to the occupation of land, which has now become no longer a desire on the part of the large mass of the people of Ireland, who are well content with the measures that have been passed on that subject, but which still remains a fixed idea with those who have been bred up to it from infancy, and who, as members of the Riband association, have taken strong vows and religious obligations of a specific character. Those who belong to the Fenian organization, on the other hand, take no oaths. There is no religious element associated with it. My Lords, I now come to a much graver question—the exercise of the Royal clemency in the case of the Fenian prisoners. My noble and learned Friend (Lord Cairns) laid down certain principles which are correct as far as they go—that law should be certain, and punishment certain, speedy, and defined. No one will dis- pute these principles; but if they were not modified in practice, their mischievousness would be equally undeniable. The proposition is no doubt true in the abstract, but there is another proposition of equal truth—that punishment should never be excessive, so as to enlist the sympathy of the governed on the side of the offender rather than of the law. That is a principle of human nature which no wise statesmen will forget. Let me point out that, with regard to punishment, you had formerly the system of transportation, which afforded an adequate and far more convenient remedy than imprisonment. When you were driven back on imprisonment, you had to place these men in prison for a certain term of years. You could not sentence them to a life term of imprisonment; but the sentence must be for a considerable number of years. During that period, as years run on, the offence has passed by, the danger has passed by, the public forget all the alarm and distress occasioned by the conspiracy, and the tide of sympathy turns towards the offenders, and their sufferings are more remembered than their crimes—thus showing how essential it is that the prerogative of the Crown should be exercised, even at the risk of their being some outcry on the score of uncertainty of punishment. These persons had been placed in custody, they had been punished, they had suffered, their punishment was definite and certain; but when the tide begins to turn, and when, from the nature of the offence, there is no probability of its repetition, then is the time for exhibiting leniency and relieving them from their imprisonment. My noble and learned Friend asked—What is suffering? Does it consist in being sent out to America with new clothing, with money in pocket—in being made martyrs of, and feted on arrival? But is that, I ask, a fair description of the facts? The crime of which these men were convicted was political. However mischievous, it was not of a sordid character—persons accused of political offences, bad as they may be, and great as the evils they may produce, are generally by comparison men of education, of high moral sensibility, and of good feeling towards those with whom they were not brought into immediate political antagonism. Are these men to be placed in the condition of common felons, thieves and murderers? "Hear!"] The noble Duke cheers; but does he know of any country in the world which, within the last half-century, upholds consistently that doctrine? It has been tried in more countries than one, but abandoned. Austria tried it, and acquired a bad reputation for her treatment of political prisoners; but I am happy to say there is not at the present moment a single political prisoner in Austria. It is, I hold, simply a play upon words to speak of political offences and thefts and murders being placed in the same condition. When, therefore, you have fearlessly punished the political offences, you must take care that the just measure of punishment is not exceeded. This was the principle acted upon in 1849. Again, I say that imprisonment to men of education is a much severer punishment in every way than it is to the common felon, who often finds in prison that regular food and lodging which he never enjoyed when in freedom. The universal instinct of modern civilized nations draws a line of distinction between the two classes of offenders. Do we not all know a case in which an attempt was made to overthrow a great monarchy, and a homicide was committed in the course of it? Failure took place, and the author of the attempt was not executed, but he afterwards escaped, and attained the highest station in his country. His life was justly forfeited, and perhaps no one could have blamed the authorities if they had taken it; but they abstained. If we turn nearer home, I may remind your Lordships that this is not the first Government, or the only one, that has treated Irish political offenders with leniency. The noble Duke who now presides over the fortunes of his party in this House was, I believe, concerned in the liberation of four of the prisoners of 1849; and one of them, named Doran, was, if I am not mistaken, implicated in a homicide.


said, that he had a list of the prisoners, and no charge of felony was associated with Doran's name.


You had the crime in its worst form in the Manchester case, where an unarmed man was murdered in a cowardly and atrocious manner. The guilty men were justly condemned to death. But, even in that case, processions were formed, and the name of martyr was very liberally applied—a degree of sympathy was excited in favour of the men. It was said you did not do this to get a purse; you did not rob or set fire to a house—you did it for a different purpose, for a public principle, however mistaken you may have been. And there were other persons who, though utterly opposed to Fenianism, and what is called the popular agitation in Ireland, made the conduct of the Government in the Manchester affair a subject of accusation on totally different grounds. To have invested these prisoners with a "sham" glory would have been ten times more mischievous in reproducing their offence than any course that could possibly have been adopted. I submit that we do not act wisely or justly in punishing men of education and refinement, guilty of political offences, beyond a certain stage when sufficient had been done to vindicate the law; and a continuance of the punishment is only calculated to turn the tide of sympathy in their favour, and ultimately to produce a state of feeling in the public mind ten times more mischievous in its effects than any amount of clemency the Government might show to such prisoners. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) said that the Government, before releasing those prisoners, should have exacted a promise from them that they would hereafter bear true allegiance to the Government, and then should have set them free to wander about the country. I think my noble Friend, as a statesman, would hesitate, if in office, to follow such a suggestion as that. If that had been done, instead of the sympathy with these men dying out, as it is now doing, it would have been revived by their reception at demonstrations and public dinners; and, if any one of them had happened to die, his funeral would probably have been attended by a vast mass of people to bear witness to his martyred dignity. It was surely far better to release them, and send them out to a place where any sympathy they might meet with would be very harmless. When the Irish vote ceases to be in question, you will find that these men will sink into the entire obscurity into which the large body of Fenians has sunk in America. The reception given to these men in America has been spoken of as something wholly novel and unprecedented; but at different times many refugees have come to England from other countries in which they might have been executed as rebels, and yet they obtained a hearty welcome here. I recollect that a noble Lord now no more (Lord Dudley Stuart), long the representative of a large metropolitan constituency, took a very active part in presiding over public meetings held to enable some of those refugees to tell their grievances. From Poland, Italy, Spain, France, and other countries political exiles have come to England—their own Governments, in many instances, with a wise clemency, conniving at their escape; and they have often been warmly received. The desire for the liberation of these Fenian prisoners was not, as has been stated, confined to their co-conspirators, but was evinced by persons in every class of society—some of them highly educated, and in a considerable position as to wealth, and who would suffer most severely if any attempt at insurrection were made, as was once anticipated. Men of every class were anxious that these prisoners should not be made martyrs of, but that they should be placed far from Ireland, and not allowed to return there. True wisdom, as my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government said, suggested that we should first seize them, treat them with severity, and make them suffer; and when their suffering has been such as to make the loyal part of the community think that they have endured enongh, then to remove them from the society of those whom they have corrupted, and might again corrupt, to a place where they may be harmless, and where they may also be useful to themselves and their families if they will live a sober life; and thus to make them monuments not of your vindictiveness, but of your clemency, as well as of your justice.


said, he did not think that justice had been done to the leniency which had been shown to these Fenian prisoners by this country. Last May a complaint was made in the House of Commons that these political prisoners had been improperly and harshly treated. Well, a Commission was appointed, over which the Earl of Devon presided, to inquire into the truth of those complaints; and, after three months' investigation, the Commissioners reported that they had con- sidered everything they could for the good of those prisoners, and all that they could find out in the way of harshness practised towards them was that hot rations had not been invariably issued to them for their Sunday's dinner. The Fenian prisoners should have received not only meat every day, but hot meat every Sunday—and cold rations had been occasionally substituted. The Commissioners also found that the tea supplied to them was not quite so good as it might be; not that the tea was of bad quality, but because it was kept too long in the cauldron before it was used. He believed that many of their Lordships at that moment were in a condition to appreciate the grievance of food being kept a little too long before it was used, and therefore they could sympathize with the Fenian prisoners. On the ground of that cruel treatment some wonderful speeches were made in "another place," exciting the minds of the Irish people on that subject. He wished the Irish people to know—in case there should be anymore Fenian outbreaks, such as an attempt made to blow up Dublin Castle, or any other venial offence—that the guilty persons when imprisoned would be very well treated, and would always have hot roast beef on Sundays.


My Lords, in the very few words which I shall address to your Lordships, I hope I shall make the fullest allowance for the difficult position in which those are placed who have to administer affairs in Ireland. I do not complain that they have at all overrated or exaggerated that difficulty. On the contrary, I confess that I should have been very willing if, in the only speech delivered to-night from the Bench opposite, my noble Friend (Lord Dufferin) had recognized more completely than I think he did what I fear is the real gravity of the situation of affairs in that country. My noble Friend said that never was the political tranquillity of Ireland more undisturbed than it is now, that the very idea of a Fenian rising is ridiculous, and that, in fact, all danger and all apprehension on that score are at an end. Well, I should be very glad if I were able to take an equally rose-coloured view of the situation. I quite admit that there have been many times when the anti-English feeling in Ireland was more violent than it is at present, and many times when the surface of society was more disturbed; but I doubt if there ever was any time when that which lies at the bottom of the feeling against England—the desire for a separate nationality—was stronger or more deep-rooted than it is now in Ireland. Unfortunately, you have deprived yourself of the means of knowing what the strength of that feeling really is. The state of the Irish Press became such last year that the Executive had to appeal to Parliament to put upon it a restraint totally at variance with our ordinary practice; but nevertheless necessary under the circumstances. But that is a state of things which cannot last for ever. It is in the nature of the case a temporary expedient, and when it ceases you will have a recurrence of this treasonable writing. It is an inseparable inconvenience of what you have done, that you cannot really gather the state of feeling in Ireland, and you have not sufficient warning of what may occur. I will put it in another manner. Is there a public man in this or the other House of Parliament who would at the present time more than at any other time in the memory of man like to submit to a plébiscite the question whether the two countries should be separated? You know perfectly well you could not do it; you know that the lower classes would vote for separation. And I am sure that feeling would not be confined exclusively to the lower classes. The feeling cannot be ascribed to want of material prosperity, because never has the material condition of Ireland been more satisfactory than it is at present; it cannot be ascribed to a State Church, because that grievance has disappeared; you cannot ascribe it to unjust land laws, because if the laws are unjust in any direction they are certainly not unjust in the way of refusing any reasonable claim made by the tenant. The Legislature, by the Bill of last year, has put an end to every grievance on that score. I am afraid, my Lords, the cause lies deeper, and is one of a more enduring type. We cannot fail to see that ever since 1782—or rather, I should say, ever since the beginning of that movement which culminated in 1782—there has existed in Ireland a belief in an incompatibility of feeling between the two races, which leads the people of Ireland to desire independence. While that feeling exists, and while it is widely felt, I say that, whatever you may have done in the way of relieving the people of burdens, the Irish difficulty still remains, and the Irish problem is still unsolved. Look at the various classes in Ireland, and consider the attitude they bear towards this country. You have, indeed, with you the Protestant clergy; they are wealthy and energetic, but they are not, perhaps, in particular good humour at this moment, or disposed to feel very cordially towards the English Parliament; but, still, their interests are identical with ours, and they will come round in time. You have the Roman Catholic hierarchy, a great social and political power, to which great concessions have been made; but considering that the United Kingdom, of all countries in Europe, most emphatically opposes itself to ecclesiastical pretensions in any form, and insists upon ideas of social organization widely different from what we suppose the Roman Catholic hierarchy to maintain, we cannot look to the representatives of that power for cordial co-operation. I do not mean to say they are, as a body, in favour of separation, or endeavour to promote it by violent means—indeed, I believe they are thoroughly frightened by the power of the Fenian agitation; but I say your relation with them must necessarily be one rather of political calculation than of sympathy. The landlords of Ireland, though by no means satisfied with the measure passed by the British Legislature last year, are, I believe, generally speaking, warm friends to British connection. The middle classes, however, in Ireland, being unhappily, almost everywhere the centre of all political agitation, feel strongly interested in this question of separation, and they are ranked against you. Unhappily, that party in Ireland, which is everywhere the steadiest opponent to all agitation, whether political or religious, is neither numerous nor powerful; and if you come to the peasantry they have only two guides—the one, the priesthood, of whom I have spoken; the other, that Press which you have, at this time, put under restraint, and you know that restraint cannot be permanent. When I look at the situation generally, I see something painfully hostile to this country, and I see mere force on the other side. It is clear, my Lords, that, in the way of political conciliation, there is nothing more to be done—there is no other interest in the sister country to be satisfied. The one thing which so very large a proportion of the Irish people want is, unhappily, the one thing which it is utterly impossible for you to give them. They want nationality; they want, at least, legislative independence. A great deal of that marked hostility to law, traceable in the act of the Ribandman quite as much as in the act of the Fenian, is due not to the feeling that the laws are bad or unjust in themselves, but to the feeling that they are laws made for you and not made for them. If you ask me in what manner this should be met, I would say I see only one way. In the long run—though I admit it is often very long first — men give up schemes and ideas which protracted experience has taught them to be utterly impracticable. If you could once convince the Irish people that they might just as well sigh for the moon as ask for Repeal, then in the course of generations — I can hardly hope for it earlier—that longing might die out. But if you take that line, there should be no mistake either as to the policy or the language you hold. This is not a time, with this feeling to which I have alluded deeply felt and widely spread, when you can afford to allow yourself the gratification of branding those who are styled political offenders by exceptional denunciation. You have but to create in Ireland a feeling, not existing there now I am sorry to say, that rebellion, or attempt at rebellion, is a dangerous game for the individual who plays it, and a grave offence against society. You are dealing with a nation where, as we have had abundant proof, law is not respected, where order is not desired, where human life is not held sacred, and where the general sympathy of the population go with the assassin and not with the law. I say for that very reason, in dealing with these men as a class, you should punish them not in a spirit of undue severity, but certainly not in a spirit of exceptional leniency. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack argued this question at some length, and in the course of his remarks he said—"If you are too severe in your punishment of political offenders, you will defeat your end, because you will create a feeling of sympathy for the offender; whereas by more merciful dealing, you will have public sympathy with you." I accept that argument where it is applicable; but I do not believe it is applicable in a country where, to begin with, all popular sympathy is with the offender. The noble and learned Lord proposed to justify the course pursued by the Government in another way. He told us that when the punishment inflicted had produced a sufficient effect upon the country, the remainder of that punishment might be safely remitted. I take the liberty of dissenting altogether from that view. It is not very wise to say you will punish a man not for what he has done, not in proportion to the magnitude of his offence—but in consideration of the state of feeling which may exist among the people after the sentence has been passed. The noble and learned Lord has expressed sympathy for the political prisoners of foreign countries, and I should be quite prepared to justify such sympathy as a general rule. No doubt some Governments run to excess in dealing with political offenders; but the prisoners with whom the British people have always been so ready to sympathize have been men sentenced, without trial, at the arbitrary will of the Executive, often for acts which we should not regard as offences at all. Now, we have to contend with the feeling that, although the British Government could not, for decency's sake, avoid giving the prisoners some punishment, still they pitied the offenders, and thought them persons deserving of great commiseration, and in whose favour much might be said, that they were persons not so much morally guilty, as that they were persons who had shown their patriotism in an indiscreet and undesirable manner. I know that many persons are inclined to take that view of political offences in general, though, of course, the term "political offences" is a very wide and vague one. Any man who undertakes to subvert a Government by means of armed force contemplates as a matter of course and as a necessary incident to the execution of his plan murder, or many murders, according to the resistance he meets. For my own part, I confess I do not see that the offence of murder is in any way expiated or lessened because the crime is committed in the prosecution of treason. If there is any sympathy at all to be shown, I confess mine would be given to those who are the innocent victims of attempts of this kind. Let us look at the state of things which exists. Take the case of any man who has made himself conspicuous on the loyal side; and in the streets of Cork, or perhaps of Dublin, his life is not worth a week's notice. Putting aside, however, this general question of the degree of demerit belonging to the political offenders, I think there is something peculiarly unfortunate in the circumstances of the release of these men. I have heard many people, on all sides of politics, say that what has been done during the last two years in the way of remedial legislation for Ireland has been done at such a time, under such circumstances, and in such a manner that the universal feeling in that country is that these concessions have been granted not as a matter of justice or policy, but as a matter of fear. The bulk of the Irish people maintain that if it had not been for Fenianism they never would have got rid of the Irish Church Establishment, and that if an agrarian war had not been carried on they never would have had a Land Bill passed. Though we may know perfectly well in our own consciences that the feeling of fear which they impute to us is entirely imaginary, still we cannot deny that there is an amount of plausibility in the statement that neither of these measures would probably have passed, or not so soon, tad it not been for the continual direction of English attention to Irish affairs by the disturbances and disorders that were continually occurring. They argued from these premises—and not without some plausibility. They said—"Let us go on as we have begun; let us keep the game up a little longer; let us wait till we have rendered government in Ireland impossible; we have got a good deal, and by-and-by we shall get the rest." That is the feeling you have to dissipate if you can, and I think you can only do it by making them see that insurrection is regarded by the Legislature of this country as a serious crime, and one which will involve a heavy punishment. I have heard in discussions outside this House reference made to what occurred after the American Civil War. It is said—"Look at what the Americans have done after the gigantic struggle in which they were engaged during four years; they have ended with an almost complete am- nesty." That argument would be good if the cases were parallel to any degree. But in America there had been a gigantic civil war, in which hundreds and thousands of lives had been sacrificed, and the whole country had been desolated. The American Government might very reasonably say that after the punishment which had been inflicted there was not the slightest danger that the attempt would be renewed. But we cannot say that heavy suffering or penalty has been inflicted upon or endured by the Fenian leaders or followers, and we cannot speak so confidently about their not renewing their attempts. As to the reception at Washington I say nothing, because, considering the great honour with which they were treated by our own Government, I do not admit that there is anything unfriendly in the House of Representatives having continued that courtesy and honour to them. In the next place, it is more a matter for them than for anybody else to judge what kind of company it suits them to keep; and if they are willing to give a similar measure of cordiality to the too numerous body of persons who issue from our gaols, they will help us very materially in solving the difficult and perplexing question—"What are we to do with our criminals?" I find no fault; but I regret the act of our Government, because we often see that those who spare themselves the pain of punishing—and pain it is—when punishment is necessary very often undergo it because they have to punish over and over again. I hope, rather than expect, that it will not be so in this case.


My Lords, my only reason for rising to address your Lordships is a supposition that you would naturally expect someone to speak who has a personal acquaintance with the subject which is now under your consideration. The noble Earl who has just spoken (the Earl of Derby) has taken a disheartening view of the condition of Ireland; but to my mind it does not precisely bear upon the question before your Lordships at this moment. With reference to that view I shall only say this—assume that the feeling to which the noble Earl had referred does exist to a large extent in Ireland, the fact is—and I can say it with a perfect knowledge of the evidence—that that feeling which was heretofore exhibited in forms of sedition and violence, now, at least, if it continue to exist, has ceased to wear those forms. What the Government ought to do in the first instance is, I apprehend, to put down all external force, all resistance to the law; and when that has been accomplished, and when, whatever may be their view, the people proceed to assert it constitutionally and within the law, the Government has accomplished that which is much for the benefit of the country. And I say further that, when that has been accomplished, whatever may be your view as to the remaining feeling, which may not be dissipated all at once, you have advanced a great and an important step towards its extinction. And I shall say this only upon this part of the matter, before I approach what seems to me to be the real question in dispute—that it is a very disheartening view of the case to say that you are at the end of your remedial measures—that all the measures you have taken have produced no good result, and that you are to despair of the country with which you are connected. I confess I am of a different view. In 1782, 1798, and at various other periods of Irish history, we have read of Coercion Acts, Special Commissions, and abridgments of the liberty of the subject. Now we have begun to try the remedy of justice. It was time that that beginning should be made. I believe the experiment has actually succeeded as far as it could within the time; and if that experiment succeeds, and if justice is administered to Ireland as it never has been administered before, Irish nature is human nature, and justice will succeed in pacifying Ireland. It is not very long ago since the condition of things which has existed in Ireland prevailed to a more flagrant degree in Canada. You had in Canada those Catholic Bishops with peculiar views; you had Bishops on the other side with their peculiar views also; and you had a divided population in a state of open and flagrant rebellion. The country was dealt with in a certain way which the Imperial Government considered was necessary. Justice was done according to the views of the Canadians, and I believe that England has now no more loyal defenders. I do not see why that which was accomplished in Canada should not be accomplished in Ireland, and I for one do not despair. Let justice be tried, and completely tried, and I believe you will not be sorry for the experiment. There are two points which appear to me to be legitimate subjects of discussion in this House. The first is with reference to the question of the liberation of the political prisoners, and the next is my own convictions as to the condition of Ireland, and as to the measures to which so much reference has been made in the course of this discussion. I differ from my noble and learned Friend (Lord Cairns) as to the identity of Fenianism and Ribandism, because I know historically that the origin of one was wholly different from the origin of the other; and I know practically, from having had the conduct of affairs in Courts of Justice, that the nature and objects of the two organizations are absolutely different. Ribandism originally grew up in Ulster as a form of combination among the Roman Catholics to resist the combination of Orangemen upon the other side.


was understood to say that Orangeism was itself an organization of defence.


From that view I venture to differ. But no doubt there were hostile organizations—"Hearts of Oak" and "Hearts of Steel," and a number of other things — previously. Ribandism, however, originated in Ballymena, some time before the commencement of this century. The object of Ribandism is a social object—or, I should rather say, an anti-social object. But it has assumed, as all secret societies will assume, various forms at different times; at one period it has worked as a species of trade union, at another it has taken the form of agrarian combination; it has assumed all sorts of shapes for the purpose of influencing the better classes of society, and accomplishing the purposes of its abettors. Fenianism, on the other hand, is essentially a political combination for political purposes—framed expressly and exclusively for the purpose of separating the two countries, England from Ireland. Anyone familiar with Courts of Justice in Ireland must at once appreciate the difference. You cannot deal with one as you would with the other; you may even put down one without putting down the other. It is no very long time since, in the north of Ireland, in the neighbourhood of Newry, Fenian and Orange lodges actually came into collision, and fought it out like men in the open field. I give that as a matter happening within my own experience, and which I have on the best possible authority. As to the charges brought against the Government with reference to the liberation of the Fenian prisoners, I will not repeat the able and elaborate observations of my noble and learned Friend upon the Woolsack; but this I will say, that I know of no country in which civilized men have dealt with political prisoners, in which it has been found possible to maintain in its integrity and fulness the doctrine that if, on particular occasions, and under special circumstances, you allow a mitigation of punishment, you thereby interfere with the reasonable certainty of punishment. Every case must be dealt with on its own merits; and, in this case, you have to consider whether the Government had sufficient reason for the course which they adopted. Some of these men had undoubtedly been guilty of very grave offences, and of these the worst have not been released; others, who were enthusiasts—["Oh!"]—one or two of them were not I admit; but to the mass I think the term applies—have been liberated. And, although these men were guilty of treason—the highest crime on account of the evils which it brings in its train—they yet were enthusiasts, men who looked only to a political object, and were prepared to sacrifice themselves to its attainment. And when you come to consider this question in connection with their discharge, although they were men who forgot their duty to the Crown—although they forgot the absurdity of opposing and encountering the full power of this mighty Empire, and forgot that, within the Constitution and the law, the people of Ireland have the fullest opportunity of achieving everything which they can legitimately desire—still you must remember that these men had an object which was pure and good to them at the time, and in considering whether they are to be dealt with mercifully or hardly you must take this circumstance into account—otherwise it seems to me that you shock the common feelings of humanity. These people had been convicted in numbers and very heavily punished, and the result was a complete subsidence of seditious organization and a great peace in Ireland at the time. Application was thereupon made to the Government to release these people. The Prime Minister, having at the beginning of last year two measures, admittedly of the highest importance, either in actual operation or in immediate prospect, said—"Let us observe what will occur within the next 12 months, and if during a certain period the condition of the country appears to be peaceable and quiet, I think it will be for the benefit of the country that an act of mercy should accompany the passing of great legislative Acts of such moment to the country." This occurred about April or May last year. Time passed on, and the country undoubtedly got into a better condition. With the exception of the black spot to which reference has been made, Ireland undoubtedly became exceedingly tranquil and quiet. Whatever sentiment may have continued to exist in the country, it undoubtedly did not continue to manifest itself in a seditious form. When that state of things had been brought about the Premier had to consider this question—Had the time arrived when these men might safely and beneficially be discharged? I need not repeat what has been said so often, that what we have done was in accordance with the ordinary custom of different countries of the world; beyond a doubt what has been done in this instance by the Cabinet has been done by France over and over again, by Austria repeatedly, and by America upon a late occasion. I am unable to understand the force of the argument used by the noble Earl who opened the debate (Earl Grey) and of the noble and learned Lord who followed (Lord Cairns) that it is proper to release men who have been engaged in open conflict, slaughtering their fellow-men, and burning and destroying all before them, as men must do who engage in civil war, and yet that it is wholly improper to release men who have committed no acts of open violence, however evil their intentions may have been. That argument does not appear to me to carry much weight or force. What was done in this case was done undoubtedly with the cordial consent and concurrence of the country most to be affected by the step. Beyond all question the policy of the Government in releasing these prisoners from detention was sustained by the great body of the Irish people. Anybody who read the Irish newspapers at the time must know that the step was not condemned by any important section of the Irish people; and that circumstance, which is perfectly and absolutely true, goes far to sustain the view of those who express approval of the conduct of the Government. Taking a low and merely utilitarian view of the matter, what was done was really a relief to Ireland. A nucleus of agitating disturbance had grown up in connection with the amnesty movement, and this was injurious in many ways. No doubt it may be said that what was done was, to some extent, a yielding to pressure; but, taking this step in connection with other matters, we believe that the yielding in this particular has resulted in very great advantage to the maintenance of the public peace. It is easy to say that one ought not to yield under any circumstances to combination or agitation; but when by doing a certain act you have a fair prospect of advancing the peace and prosperity of the country, the mere existence of agitation ought not to restrain you from doing what you would do under other circumstances. To take higher ground—when two great measures were being launched in Ireland, and you desired that they should become practical working measures, was it an undesirable thing to appeal to the generosity of the people, and to show that you were disposed to trust them? I believe that in the appeal to their generosity conveyed in this act of mercy you did a great deal to advance the peaceful solution of those troublesome questions which have formed so great a check upon the progress of the country. Much serious misconception, I think, exists as to the legislation of the last two years, and it is desirable that discussion upon them in this House should be carried on with an entire absence of party feeling. This is a question which ought to be discussed solely on its own merits; for however much the two great measures I have referred to were debated in their passage through Parliament, they have now become accomplished facts and have passed from the region of political discussion. It now becomes the duty of every man, however much he may have formerly battled about those measures, to say that they constitute part of the law of the land, and to endeavour to derive from them the greatest possible advantage to the general community. That, in my judgment, is true statesmanship and true patriotism. This being so, let us consider for a moment what has been said about the effect of those measures of concession. It has been asserted that the Church Bill has produced no effect on Irish crime; but surely it was never intended to operate in that particular way. Again, the Land Bill was never intended to operate upon those who were engaged in committing these offences—it was intended to draw together the farmers and the higher classes, and in that way to operate indirectly upon the lowest class of the community. In Ireland, as in other countries, public opinion descends from above to below; and if you can by such a measure induce habits of peace, order, and respect for law in the middle class you will eventually reduce to order and prosperity that low and debased class of wretches who are now perpetrating outrages in the county of Westmeath. I believe Ireland is in a better condition now than at almost any time within living memory. If you take the judicial statistics, and the charges of the Judges generally at the present Assizes, you will find—although there may be exceptions here and there—the mass of the counties in Ireland are in a healthy and prosperous condition. It was said by my noble and learned Friend (Lord Cairns) that Ribandism is not a local conspiracy; but I must beg to correct him on that point. There was an inquiry instituted in 1852 as to the state of the counties of Armagh, Louth, and Monaghan. These three counties were at that time exclusively the seat of Ribandism in Ireland. But there is no longer any trace of Ribandism there. It passed from county to county, and I believe that at this moment its head-quarters are in Westmeath, and portions of the neighbouring counties. Therefore, though I admit outrages have occurred in certain districts, I deny that there is any such thing as general outrage in Ireland. I will now revert for a moment to the great measures recently passed. First of all I may say that the Church Bill has been an infinitely more successful measure than could have been reasonably anticipated at the time it passed. It was natural to suppose that a sword would have been brought into the country and not peace; but I believe the measure has been accepted by all parties in a spirit of calmness, temperance, dignity, and moderation, and that it will tend to break down the barriers which have too long divided Irishmen. Then the Land Bill, which only came practically into operation in August last, is working fairly and well; and I believe there will be none of the difficulties which were anticipated while the measure was passing through Parliament. We must not, then, despair of Ireland. The country is in a transition state, and whatever may be the issue of the experiment, it is, at all events, worth trying. We are only beginning to make that experiment, and I would appeal to my noble Friend (Earl Grey) not to interrupt the progress which has already commenced. When the people of Ireland are saying that they believe what you have done for them will be of advantage to them, do not let us here or "elsewhere" tell them that it will be of none. I think it is a great duty of legislators, and of those who hold high positions in society, to encourage the peaceful revolution which is being wrought in Ireland. If it be allowed, to proceed — if the people be taught by self-interest to respect the law—you will find them a loyal and a law-respecting people. In modern times loyalty is founded not merely upon sentiment, but upon substance. What makes people loyal is that they will derive advantage and protection from the Government and the institutions under which they live. As sure as you make them believe that they derive these advantages under the existing system, so surely will they cling to that system, and so surely will law prevail and peace exist in Ireland. If that be only done—if the experiment which has been made be allowed to proceed—you may hope to see falsified that prophecy which was recorded by Edmund Spenser long ago—that it seemed as if Ireland had been left by the Almighty to be a secret scourge to this country; you may hope to see the people of Ireland, contented by justice, and by fair and equitable laws, adding greater security to the Throne, and more and more manifesting a disposition to be comprehended in a consolidated British Empire.


My Lords, I yield to no one in admiring the eloquent speech to which we have just listened; but the noble and learned Lord (Lord O'Hagan), while he began by saying that it was too early to look for beneficial results from recent legislation, closed by attributing to that legislation the condition of Ireland, and by expressing the hope that the experiment just begun would be allowed to proceed. That remark was unnecessary, because no one on this side has manifested any desire to interfere with that experiment, as he calls the passing of the two measures affecting the Church and land. But while the noble and learned Lord anticipated the greatest benefits from the Church Bill and the Land Bill, I, for my part, consider the former a most wanton destruction of the Irish branch of our Church, and the latter, one of the most revolutionary measures ever passed by this or any other Parliament. I listened in vain to the speeches made on the part of the Government for the special reasons which induced them to liberate the Fenian prisoners, and it was not until the Lord Chancellor for Ireland spoke that I learned that their release was a relief to the country, inasmuch as it terminated the agitation which had been got up for their release, and that in yielding to that agitation the Government found themselves extricated from a difficult position. But was it wise to yield, in opposition to the belief entertained that too much concession should not be made to agitation in Ireland? Agitation has taken a very wide range for many years, and I had hoped that we should not have heard agitation adduced on the part of the Government as a reason for releasing Fenian prisoners. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack told us that, as regarded Fenianism, there was absolute tranquillity in Ireland, and that the Government measures which have been passed during the last two years had pacified the country; but other authorities tell us it is too soon to look for the fruits of those measures. To my astonishment the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack credited the Peace Preservation Act of last Session with some share in the extinction of Fenianism; but in introducing the measure in the other House Mr. Chichester Fortescue stated that it was designed to put an end to agrarian outrages in Meath, Westmeath, and Mayo; and the measure was passed through both Houses as one directed against agrarian outrages and not against Fenianism. Attempts have been made to distinguish between what are called political offenders and ordinary criminals. I confess I cannot draw the distinction in these cases. There is a distinction, no doubt; but unfortunately within the last few years there has been a very slight demarcation between political crime and ordinary crime. I am justified in making this remark, when I reflect that the political offenders have not stopped at any crime in order to gain their ends—they have not been deterred from perpetrating some of the most heinous and outrageous crimes. What description of crime do you call shooting the policeman at Manchester? Was that a political or an ordinary crime? No doubt it was murder, but it was in connection with the Fenian conspiracy. What was the crime of attempting to blowup Clerkenwell Prison, and involving in death, or injury, hundreds of persons who had no connection with Fenianism? Was that political or ordinary crime? What was the attempt to seize the arms stored in Chester Castle? What is the shooting of policemen in their barracks? Political and ordinary crime seem to be so mixed up that you cannot distinguish the one from the other. But I will go further and will ask what would have been the condition of Ireland and of this country if the Fenian movement had been successful? Would there not have been bloodshed all over Ireland? Was not its avowed object civil war against law, order, and government? If so, I cannot draw the distinction between political and ordinary crime that has been suggested. I cannot recognize the distinction in the type of one crime from that of another which has been alleged. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack holds that there is tranquillity in Ireland due to the absence of Fenianism; but the First Lord of the Treasury still thinks it may be dangerous. The noble and learned Lord who has just spoken referred to what was said by Mr. Gladstone last Session. I conclude that he referred to an answer given to the late Mr. Moore to the question whether he would grant a general amnesty. The answer has been already quoted to-night, but I will read it again to correct the misapprehension as to what Mr. Gladstone really did say. He said he could not hold out any encouragement to the expectation of the release of the Fenian prisoners until they were able to see a state of things in Ireland when Her Majesty's peaceful and well-conducted subjects might enjoy that degree of comfort and safety which is the best test and criterion of a civilized Christian country. Is that the state of Ireland now? Is that the condition of the "black spot," as the noble and learned Lord described it? Is that the state of Limerick, of Clare, of Tipperary, of Donegal, of Mayo? I apprehend not. Can the description of the right hon. Gentleman apply to a country in which crimes, such as the noble and learned Lord has referred to, can be committed with impunity? The crimes are bad enough, but the inability of the Government to procure any punishment for them is certainly no criterion of a civilized and Christian country. The noble Lord who spoke second (Lord Dufferin) took credit to the Government for calling out the Irish Militia; he stated, with some triumph, that the state of the country was such that the Government were justified in calling out the Militia, which had not been done for some time. Judging from what I have read in the newspapers I could not help feeling some surprise. I observe in the newspapers that in the county of Donegal, when a noble Lord holding a commission in the Militia was doing what he could to assist the recruiting for one of the regiments, which had not been so successful as he wished, he received a letter threatening that he should be shot if he continued his efforts. I do not think that an example of the benefit of calling out the Militia in Ireland. The fact is, the Government have played fast and loose with Ireland. Their system has been one of alternate indulgence and punishment. They first indulged the country with a Church Disestablishment Bill, and then came down to Parliament with the Peace Preservation Bill, which the late Chief Secretary for Ireland described as one of the most severe enactments that has been passed within the memory of man. The Land Bill followed—a measure, as I think, very revolutionary in its character; and having alternately passed these measures of concession and coercion, they now come down to the other House and ask for a Secret Committee of Inquiry into the state of part of Ireland, to know how they may govern it. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack tells us that parts of that proposition have been departed from; but why they have been departed from Her Majesty's Government can alone tell. If Ireland is in the condition described by the Prime Minister, who tells us it is "deplorable"—in the condition described by the Chief Secretary, who tells us it is "intolerable," the Government are bound to come forward with measures of their own, and not fall back on a Committee of the other House. The Government, on this occasion, have endeavoured to answer the speech of the noble Earl on the cross Bench (Earl Grey) with regard to the reasons for releasing the Fenian prisoners; but they have given no answer whatever to the question put by my noble and learned Friend (Lord Cairns). I wish Government had followed on this occasion of dealing with the "black spot" of Westmeath and the other counties, the doctrine laid down by the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies (the Earl of Kimberley) during last Session of Parliament, who, with reference to the Peace Preservation Bill, in the course of a very eloquent speech, used these words— I think the House will admit that there is no duty more specially the province of the responsible Government of the Queen to determine than at what particular period it may be necessary to ask Parliament to pass measures of extraordinary coercion and repression."—[3 Hansard, cc. 817.] My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Earl in that. It is the duty of the Government to come forward and ask the House to pass those measures of coercion and repression that may be necessary to meet the present state of things. But I venture to say that the mode in which they have governed Ireland has not been successful. They have released these Fenian prisoners, and have sent them to a country where they can do us more harm than anywhere else. In assuming office the present Government also assumed that they were the only body of Gentlemen capable of dealing with the subject of Ireland. But is their policy one which is likely to succeed with a clever, keen, sharp-witted people like the Irish—they are not so easily deluded. They are taught that they have only to clamour loud enough and long enough to obtain what they desire; and that if, in the pursuit of their object, they should unfortunately wander out of the paths of ordinary crime, and roam into the regions of treason, they will still find themselves sheltered under the paternal shield of a Liberal Government.


I wish, my Lords, to say a very few words on this occasion. The noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) has quoted some words of mine—and no doubt he quoted them accurately—with respect to the duty of the Government specially to determine at what period measures of coercion should be introduced into Parliament. Now I entirely adhere to that doctrine, and I believe the Government undertakes entirely the responsibility of determining when such measures should be brought forward; but at the same time they think they have a right to introduce them if they think proper after an inquiry by the other House. That, I apprehend, is not inconsistent with the doctrine I laid down in the extract quoted by the noble Duke. The noble Duke spoke as if the whole of Ireland was in a disturbed state; but I need hardly remind your Lordships that that statement is entirely unsupported by the facts; for the testimony that has been brought forward shows that, with the exception of one county, and two small portions of the adjoining counties, the country is decidedly improved. No doubt agrarian crimes have been committed; but it is not a fair inference to draw from occasional crimes of that kind that the general condition of the country is not improved. Whatever opinion your Lordships may entertain in regard to recent legislation for Ireland, all must admit that it is all important that those measures should have a fair trial; and never was it more important than it is now that you should be able to suppress those peculiar crimes which interfere with the well-working of such a measure as the Land Bill. Nor can anyone deny that such a state of things as now unhappily exists in Westmeath—even although I believe it is not so bad as it has been at some periods of Irish history—is peculiarly dangerous, because it interferes with that on which the future well-being of the country so much depends. What is the situation of Westmeath? It is placed in the very centre of Ireland; and I confess my own fear is that just as a small sore may extend by mortification until it involves the whole body, so the gangrene now prevalent in the county of Westmeath may, if not effectively dealt with, gradually spread into the other parts of the country. I know it may be said—"Then why does the Government not come down to Parliament at once and propose to apply a sufficient remedy to the evil?" Well, last Session we proposed a very severe Act, which was passed; and I am told it has failed in its effect in Westmeath, where the state of intimidation is most complete. It therefore, I think, becomes especially requisite that we should be able to bring forward all the facts, and examine all the evidence on the subject, in order that Parliament, if it should be called upon to adopt such measures as may be necessary, and such measures as, perhaps, were never adopted before, should understand fully the state of things with which it has to deal. I think that a great confusion of ideas exists when it is commonly said, as it is this case, that the Government are called upon to deal with this Riband conspiracy, as they have been called upon to deal with other conspiracies before, by bringing in some such measure as the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act to put it down. Now, in the case of political conspiracies, to which the remedy of a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act has been applied, the Government, being aware that the conspiracy exists, and knowing that it may break out at any moment into rebellion, comes down and asks Parliament immediately to pass a measure to prevent the conspiracy so breaking out into rebellion. But the present is not such a case at all. I regret to say that the malady that now afflicts Westmeath is a chronic one, which has existed for a long course of years. This, therefore, is not a sudden emergency, calling upon us not to allow four-and-twenty hours to pass before we come down to ask for exceptional powers from Parliament; but the evil is one of long standing, and the measures requisite for dealing with it may be such as would have to be continued in force for a considerable length of time.


was understood to say that the very first proclamation issued by the Fenians, on the occasion of their rising, declared it to be necessary for the good of Ireland that the Duke of Leinster and the Marquess of Ormonde should be sacrificed and their property confiscated. The noble Lord also related one or two instances which had come under his own observation, while in Ireland, to illustrate the cruelty and the intimidation practised by the Fenians.

House adjourned at Ten o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.