HL Deb 30 March 1882 vol 268 cc273-7

, in rising to move for the Correspondence between the Irish Executive and the Director of the Property Defence Association on the subject of police protection to caretakers, said, in moving for these Papers, his main object was to justify the Property Defence Association publicly in the steps which they had taken. He thought this was more especially necessary if it should turn out, as he thought very likely, seeing that many of the peasantry were armed, that some of the men employed by the Property Defence Association should lose their lives in the discharge of their duty. Some time ago, when the Property Defence Association asked for protection, the Government not only granted it, but promised to give them full protection, and even tried to persuade them from arming their men with pistols; but now, as the Correspondence would show, they were encouraged to arm their men, and, of course, arming men meant that they were to use their arms. Captain Maxwell, the Director of the Association, had solemnly warned the Government of the responsibility they would incur should a collision arise between the men in their employment and the inhabitants of the districts in which they were called upon to perform, not only the simple duty of caretakers, but also to use firearms in case of need. On a former occasion he (the Earl of Courtown) had expressed strongly his sense of the responsibility that devolved upon the Property Defence Association in consequence of that policy of the Government. However, he was glad to see that since the intention to remove police protection from caretakers and houses was first announced, that intention had been to a certain extent modified, and that protection would be afforded in certain cases. An understanding had been arrived at that should protection be withdrawn from houses a notice would be given to the Director of the Property Defence Association. But that arrangement did not always work satisfactorily, for information had lately reached him that in one case where notice was served that the police protection of a house would be removed, the County Inspector would not wait for an additional number of caretakers to be sent, but withdrew the police on the 20th of last month, and on the night of the 24th the house was burnt. The Property Defence Association had heretofore chosen trustworthy men as caretakers; but now they had to look out for men who had the additional qualifications of discretion, judgment, and experience in the use of firearms. They were told it was justifiable, in certain circumstances, to repel force by force, and, if occasion required, even to take life; but they all knew that magistrates had made mistakes in that matter, and that where police officers had fired on a mob it had been afterwards decided that they were not justified in doing so. How much more likely was that to happen with caretakers? It was a very nice point for those men to say how far the circumstances of the case would justify the taking of life. It was said they might obtain additional protection from police patrols; but that very much depended upon how the patrolling was carried out, and on the number of men employed. The mere perfunctorily marching along one road at a stated hour, and returning by another, might easily be evaded by the strategy of lawless men. He, therefore, hoped that the officers in command of stations would be men who were capable of meeting strategy by strategy. The question of police protection to caretakers was daily acquiring increased importance from the policy of the Land League. Last year tenants were told by the agents of the Land League that if the landlords chose to evict them, let them—that they would find no one to take their land. That was found to be true; for when landlords had evicted they had barely found tenants to take their land. Even when the farms were taken by the landlords, the tenants, even when they had the money, had allowed the interest of their farms to go for a merely nominal price. One would have supposed that they would have strained every nerve to retain their farms; but, on the contrary, they allowed them to go in the most careless way. He had known cases in which the tenant's interest had been sold for £5. It was very hard to see what would be the result of this kind of policy; but it certainly caused the landlords great inconvenience. Some active young ladies were going about the country advising tenants not to pay their rents, and they would see that themselves and their families would be well taken care of. These people were causing a great deal of harm. He believed these associations, of which these young ladies were the agents, were very liberal in their dealings towards themselves, and were making a good living out of it; but that their payments to the labourer or the farmer were most parsimonious. It was to be expected that an increasing number of farms would fall into the hands of the landlords, or of the Defence Association as trustees. Those farms might ultimately be taken by tenants; but, in the first instance, they must be occupied by caretakers. In those circumstances, he trusted that the Government would be able to afford protection to caretakers and houses. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had, he observed, in the other House, the other night, described the state of things In that country as a terrible state of things, and spoke of the great struggle now going on between lawlessness and order. The Property Defence Association were prepared to bear their part in that struggle. They hoped that what they had done in the past had not been without effect, and they proposed to carry it further. He did not charge the Government with acting in a hostile manner towards the Association in withdrawing police protection; but, undoubtedly, their course had had the effect of increasing the expenses of that body, and also embarrassed its operations. He hoped that the Association would be able to give support to law and order; and he thought that as long as they did it in the manner they had done it in the past they had a right to count upon the support of the Government, and there was very little doubt they could count upon the support of the public feeling of the country.

Moved for, "Correspondence between the Irish Executive and the Director of the Property Defence Association on the subject of police protection to caretakers."—(The Earl of Courtown.)


I have listened with pleasure to the very fair and interesting speech of the noble Earl on behalf of the Property Defence Association, especially as he has expressed a desire not to make any charge against the Government in the matter. I can only say that the Irish Government had, and still have, a very strong opinion, founded upon the best possible information at their disposal, that it was their duty to make the change referred to, and to employ a number of police, who had been told off in small bodies, for the personal and immediate protection of caretakers for other duties—patrolling and other things—in the disturbed districts, in the performance of which they believed the police would render more effectual assistance in carrying on that struggle of law and order against crime and outrage of which the Chief Secretary for Ireland spoke in such strong terms the other night. I may add, with respect to this change of system, that the Government have been in full consultation with the special resident magistrates who are in charge of the most disturbed districts in Ireland, and their opinion has been most strongly given in favour of that change. It is also their hope and belief that they will be able by other means—means less direct, but they hope not less effectual—to give that protection to caretakers which the noble Earl and the Property Defence Association naturally and properly look for. The Irish Government is very sensible of the valuable services rendered by the Association with which the noble Earl is connected. There have been services performed, and work done by it, which, on the one hand, could not be done in many cases by individuals, and which was, on the other hand, beyond the power and duties of Her Majesty's Government. In the feeling of gratitude we owe to the Association I heartily concur.

Motion agreed to.

Correspondence ordered to be laid before the House.