HL Deb 31 March 1882 vol 268 cc457-9

, in rising to call attention to the danger of establishing railway communication with the Continent, in connection with the widespread disaffection now and constantly prevailing in Ireland, and the uncertain reliance to be placed on the immature soldiers of our army as lately exemplified in South Africa, said, it was impossible to comprehend the great danger of England's changing her insular position, which had always protected her freedom and her independence, and made her the greatest naval and commercial nation in the world, for a railway communication—that was, a land communication with France and the Continent—unless they contemplated the question by the light of past and present times. That contemplation was most discouraging as regarded Ireland, which he had mentioned in his Notice, and was the perpetual cause of England's weakness and anxiety. Ireland's proverbial and treasonable watchword was—"England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity." Then foreign affairs indicated, he feared, a change of that national policy which for centuries had upheld their possessions in India, and their commercial and maritime rights in the Mediterranean and the East. The disaffected masses in Ireland had never been able to take the field against our organized troops; but they had been able to organize Riband Societies and carry on agrarian campaigns. They had asked for and obtained no fewer than 11 times foreign aid, for war against England, in men, arms, and munitions of war. They had also instilled into Irish soldiers treasonable disaffection. Our distrust of the Irish Militia prevented their being called out for training. It was dangerous to allow the first-class Army Reserve in Ireland—all Irish trained soldiers—to remain without officers or military organization, scattered through the country; and it was all the more dangerous now that their numbers were increased. In case of difficulty or invasion the Irish Militia could not remain in Ireland. All this evinced the deep-rooted disaffection of the Irish masses, and the intensity of their hostility to English government, law, and connection, which proved that it would be a misprision of common sense and every principle of the art of war and strategy to give to a foreign enemy the means of a successful invasion of England by the Tunnel—afforded him by traitors in the camp, such as Fenian soldiers. To show the bad spirit which prevailed amongst Irish soldiers at times, he would state that during his period of command in Ireland, which began in 1865—the commencement of the Fenian period—it was his painful duty to bring to courts martial no less than 80 soldiers for different degrees of treason. In all the foreign quartermaster-generals' departments, Ireland was noted, on account of her disaffected population, as the point of descent, either for diversion in favour of a descent on some part of the English coast, or as the base of an actual invasion; and he had no doubt if a foreign enemy attacked us on the shores of Ireland, we should have to contend against an enemy from within as well as one from without. Under such circumstances, what was to be done with the Irish regiments? He would not go into all the details of how these numerous regiments, with sympathetic masses in the towns and districts, might operate. Favoured by night, the Tunnel might fall into the hands of an enemy, who would lose no time in entrenching the heights above it as a defence for the first invaders, reinforcing them to any extent with concentrations carried through the Tunnel. All this would be accompanied, as a matter of course, by continued feints along the coast, which, as frequently happened, might divert from the Tunnel attention and troops. The strategy would be facilitated by the probable collapse of the moral courage of our under-aged soldiers enrolled under the short-service system, which gave us immature and inefficient men, whose numbers were increased by fraudulent enlistment. But, besides the under-age of the troops, which might cause a Tunnel disaster, there were other causes which would operate unfavourably in similar circumstances. That was the mistaken instruction of officers under the present system. He had so often had the honour to submit opinions in proof of this, which had never been contradicted in the House, that it would be superfluous to enlarge upon the subject on the present occasion, especially as he intended to bring forward a distinct Motion upon it as soon as possible after the Recess. The remaining causes were the want of reconnoitring, of the knowledge of the ground, and of a second line of fortifying heights, through which the disasters of South Africa might be repeated on our coasts and in front of the Tunnel.


said, the question why the Irish Militia was not called out had not received a satisfactory answer. He could not understand why that step had not been taken, seeing the disturbed condition of the country. The Duke of Wellington showed no distrust of the Irish Militia when, at the beginning of the century—in 1806 or 1807—it was said that the Irish people generally were only waiting for an invasion of the enemy. He brought the Irish Militia, then a very powerful body, numbering 26,000, under arms. He (Lord Waveney) did not believe in the policy of not calling them out, and he was convinced that the Irish Militia would do their duty as well as any other servants of the Crown.


said, he felt some difficulty in dealing with the subject, owing to the confusion arising from the combination of the two questions of the Channel Tunnel and the state of Ireland. The noble and gallant Lord (Lord Strathnairn) had travelled over a very wide field; and he would excuse him if he (the Earl of Morley) did not go into the various topics affecting the condition of Ireland, short service, &c. With reference to the Channel Tunnel, he could say no more than he had said on two former occasions—namely, that a Scientific Committee was inquiring into certain points connected with the defence of the Tunnel; and until that Committee had reported, and the Military Authorities had had an opportunity of advising the Secretary of State for War on the general policy of the construction of the Tunnel, he could not but regard any discussion of the subject as premature, and he could take no part in it.