HL Deb 16 June 1882 vol 270 cc1398-400

asked Her Majesty's Government, Whether any organized search is being made for arms in the disturbed districts in Ireland; and, if so, with what results? The noble Lord said, he did not put the Question in any Party spirit, nor did he wish to import into it any controversial matter. All he wished was that, as arms were being largely carried in Ireland at the present time, as besides the murders and outrages of which they had heard lately, there had been, according to the official Returns, 396 cases of agrarian outrages during the month of May, the Statute enabling the Government to institute a search for arms should be put in force as generally as possible. Outrage, disorder, and terrorism were hanging like an unwholesome mist over that unhappy land; and although the Government were taking measures in "another place" to bring about a more satisfactory state of things, it might be some time before those measures were completed; and, in the meantime, it was desirable that the Executive should avail themselves of all the powers now at their disposal. They might be availing themselves of the powers conferred on them last year to some extent; and it was to ascertain the exact manner in which they were putting them in force that he brought forward his Question. It was quite plain that all the outrages which had been committed in Ireland had been committed with guns and revolvers, save and except the horrible murders in the Phoenix Park. Landlords, magistrates, ladies, land agents, and farmers had been shot in all places and at all seasons. On the moors and in the coverts of England and Scotland there was close time for game; but in Ireland for the landlords and their agents there was nothing of the kind. These fearful outrages were committed on all days of the week— Sundays included. Nor, in this war against the landlords, were the landlords or their agents the only persons who Buffered. Sometimes it was a car-driver; and only recently a poor corporal had met with his death, not on the field of battle, but at the hands of skulking assassins, who fired at him from behind a wall. The worst feature of those outrages was that they were now of frequent occurrence, and in daylight. There had been an elevation in rank in connection with these distressing occurrences. "Captain Moonlight" having been raised now into "General Daylight." He would suggest that the Government should fix a certain day and a certain time for a general search for arms throughout Ireland. It might be said that he, as a Scotch Peer, had no connection with Ireland. It was true that he had no very direct connection with the country; but he felt very keenly with the loyal and respectable classes there; and, as a matter of fact, one of the noble houses in Ireland had descended from his own ancestors. If the question agitating Ireland were simply one of land, he should not have come forward in any way. They were all, of course, interested in seeing that the laws affecting the land in England, Ireland, and Scotland were not relaxed; but this was a question of blood, and he, as a Member of the House of Lords, felt himself impelled to take his present course, in order to clear himself from all complicity in the horrible outrages that were occurring in Ireland.


I am afraid the noble Lord over- rates the effect of searches for arms in Ireland upon the horrible assassinations which have from time to time taken place there. I am afraid that under no possible system of searching for arms, or an Arms Act, however strict it may be, is it possible so to denude a district of firearms as to prevent the possibility of assassination. At the same time, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the stringent enforcement of the Arms Act, or whatever form of that Act may be in force, is absolutely necessary, and that searching for arms is one of the proceedings which the Irish Executive is bound to take in disturbed districts. I know that the Lord Lieutenant is using all the powers at present at his command for the purpose of suppressing crime in these districts; and I know from the Irish Government that searches for arms have taken place, and do take place, though the result, I am informed, has not come to much as to the number of weapons discovered. But, as the noble Lord has said, the Bill which is now passing through the other House contains a more stringent, and, indeed, a much more efficient, provision with respect to the possession of unlicensed arms and searches for them. We are anticipating the arrival of the Bill containing these provisions in this House, and I only hope that it may reach us before long.