HL Deb 19 May 1904 vol 135 cc330-7

My Lords, I rise to ask if the attention of His Majesty's Government has been directed to the language reported to have been used at a meeting of the East Gal-way Executive of the United Irish League at Ballinasloe, on Sunday, 15th May; and if they propose to take any steps in the matter. It is to me a matter of very real regret that I find myself bound at this time, when the new Land Act has been little more than half a year in force, to bring a matter of this nature before your Lordships. I do not think, however, that I need offer any apology for doing so, for I find that the people in this country are left very imperfectly informed of what is really happening in Ireland, and this constitutes for us a danger which I think we owe it to ourselves to remove.

So little is the state of affairs over there understood, that I may mention as an example that yesterday when I attended a meeting at the Mansion House to support the establishment of an international exhibition in Ireland, one of the speakers referred to the land question as completely settled, and no longer capable of delaying the onward march of progress and prosperity. One wishes indeed that it were so, but unfortunately we have to look at the other side of the shield, and we are confronted with a state of affairs which gives very little justification for such optimism. Very many revolutionary and violent speeches have, unfortunately, been delivered in Ireland during the last few months, but I think that the proceedings which took place at the meeting of the East Galway Executive of the United Irish League on Sunday last were of an exceptionally mischievous character, and fully justified me in bringing the matter before your Lordships House.

The meeting was addressed by amongst others, two members of Parliament and the Roman Catholic clergyman, and each speaker seemed determined to, if I may say so, go one better than his predecessor in the force and energy of his language. The chairman (Mr. T. J. Manning) opened the proceedings with some observations which, in comparison with what follows, may be described as mild and almost platitudinous, he merely remarking among other things that— They had at last brought the fortress of landlordism, with all its accursed associations, to the point o£ capitulation, and they should maintain their organisation in full strength till their objects were achieved and in the national organisation, without preaching either confiscation or anything immoral, the tenantry of Ireland had that behind their backs which would strength their hands and protect them if they made a proper use of it. I do not know what the speaker was referring to when he said that "the tenantry of Ireland had behind their backs that which would strengthen their hands." That remark was received with laughter, so we may, I suppose, draw our own conclusions. The next speaker was the parish priest of Ballinasloe, the Rev. J. Pelly, who remarked that every man should join the League, and added— If any man stood out let them make it hot for him. Father Pelly was succeeded by Mr. Roche, M.P., who said— He was convinced that the time was not far distant when they would have to fall back on the organisation which bad won such victories for them in the past. There should be a branch in every parish, and every man should be a member. he further said — In future no man ought to be elected to the position of district councillor in any part of East Galway unless he was a member of the the national organisation. On no account should they allow any sale to take place between a body of tenants and the landlords directly. He quoted a case in which he said that a landlord had put holdings up for competition between his tenants, and let them go to the highest bidder. The result was that the men who stopped at home during the agitation and minded their own business, and had got a few pounds more than their neighbours who had been attending meetings, got the farms, and the men who supported the national agitation were left out in the cold. He begged of them "to set their faces against the grazing system by every possible means." I would specially draw your Lordships' attention to the remark of the speaker in which he admits that the industrious farmer who mind a, his own business is able not only to make both ends meet, but to save a little money to increase his holdings. But he does not get any credit for his industry. On the contrary he is held up as a warning and a reproach, and contrasted very unfavourably with the idle loafer who spends his time going to meetings and neglecting his work, and minding everybody's affairs but his own. I would also ask your Lordships to observe that Mr. Roche's dictum that no sales are to be allowed to take place between a body of tenants and the landlord directly is exactly contrary to the intentions of the framers of the Bill of 1903, which was based on voluntary agreements between landlords and tenants. Such advice, or I may say such order, I entirely destroy any chance which may remain of landlords in the West obtaining anything like a fair price for their lands.

Another speaker, Mr. John O'Donnell. M.P., said, inter alioEast Gal way had already the distinction of engaging the attention of the House of Lords. That was a proof that they were doing work for Ireland, and work annoying to the landlords who had been crushing them. He could not say at present, nor would it be prudent for him to say, what the Directory might decide upon in the future. The time might, or might not, he ripe for taking such action as was hinted at by the House of Lords, but whenever action was taken they must he in a position to see that they would be victorious in any struggle in which they would he engaged. Again Mr. O'Donnell said— If their organisation was perfect, and if they were true to each other, when they had their arrangement made in such a way that the enemy would not be aware of their plans until the moment arrived to strike, they would rise up in their might and say to the graziers, the grabbers and the land lards, "Faugh-a-Ballagh. The time had tome to declare war upon the accursed enemies of our race. The time had come when we should go into the possession of the land of our fathers. Members of Parliament, priests, and people should stand together now—the most important crisis in Irish affairs for the past 150 years. The time had come when neither Dublin Castle nor Irish landlordism should be allowed to stand between them, and their God-given rights. In the old days the men of Connaught smashed the power of landlordism, and struck terror into the hearts of tyrants, and he believed there was material enough in Ireland and Galway to show the common enemy that they would hare men to face if they were unreasonable, or not willing to sell at a fair and reasonable price. That utterance was followed by loud applause. My Lords, I hope I have said enough to convince you that the situation in Ireland, especially at this moment in the West, is a difficult and a dangerous one, and one that may develop into a state of affairs which it may be difficult to remedy if allowed to go on unchecked-In these circumstances I think I am justified in asking His Majesty's Government what steps, if any, they propose to take to prevent speeches such as those I have quoted from being delivered, and what punishment, if any, they propose to inflict upon their authors. The harm they do is incalculable, and can only be realised by those who have any experience of the situation in the West of Ireland to-day.

The issue is a plain one. (1) Are speeches of this nature to be allowed to be delivered with impunity or are they not? (2) Is the voluntary character of the Act of 1903 to be defeated by the orders of professional agitators or is it not? (3) Are turbulent priests to be allowed to "make things hot" for law - abiding British subjects who do not wish to join the League, or are they not? In short, (4) are His Majesty's Government prepared to exercise the ordinary functions of a Government in protecting rights and property in Ireland, or are they not? I appeal to the Chief Secretary not to pass over such incidents as these, but to recognise that a state of affairs exists which calls for serious attention. He has entered enthusiastically into the solution of one of the Irish questions, and his reputation as a statesman cannot fail to be largely affected by the action which he may take in a crisis which demands all his courage and all his firmness. If he shows himself determined to put down disorder and to prevent the incitement to it, he will indeed have deserved well of his country; but if he allows the present state of affairs to continue, and licence to remain unchecked, then indeed may despairing Unionists cry out, "Oh, liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!" I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name.


My Lords, I desire to associate myself with all that has been said by my noble friend. The Purchase Act of last year is fast becoming a dead letter. The future of that Act must be a matter of conjecture. Whether the transfer which it facilitates of land in Ireland from those who now own it, and who are, as a rule, warmly attached to the connection with this country, to those who are, at least at present, bitterly hostile to that connection, will be eventually conducive to the prosperity of Ireland and the good relations between the two countries must be a matter of conjecture; whether further, it is possible by Act of Parliament, not only to establish, but to permanently secure a system of small proprietors, or whether the more thrifty men will not, in some war or other, absorb the property of their less provident neighbours, with the result that, in some fifty or 100 years there will be as many landlords as ever, and perhaps a good deal harder ones, must also be a matter of conjecture; but, whatever opinions we may hold on this subject, all must allow that the Act of last year was an honest and well-meaning effort on the part of His Majesty's Government to put a stop to the state of unrest and disquiet long existing in Ireland, brought about by faulty legislation, in the past, and all must desire that that Act should have a fair trial. But how is it to have a fair trial, when the tyranny is allowed to exist which my noble friend has described, when men are not allowed to make their own bargains, but must do so only with the authority of the League in the manner prescribed by the League, and on terms settled for them by the League, Moreover, how can the Act be anything but a dead letter when we are told that landlords are to be forced to sell? The voluntary nature of the Act is being entirely lost sight of. Owners of farms are to be starved into submission. The action of the League is such as would lead one to think that the leaders are anxious that the Act should not succeed, and that a state of unrest should continue, under which, as often happens, the leaders of agitation live and thrive, while their unfortunate followers are ruined. Assuming that their professions are sincere and that they are striving to get the best terms for the tenant farmers, it is perfectly clear that in most cases the result will be that landowners will prefer to face the chance of loss, annoyance, and possible danger by refusing the terms proposed to them, rather than be exposed to the certainty of loss by acquiescing in them. A few, no doubt, may be terrorised into submission, and may accept anything that is offered to them, and, of far transfers will take place. But it is not under such auspices and such conditions that His Majesty's Government can wish their policy to be carried into effect. We therefore call upon the Government to maintain the voluntary nature of the Act of last year, to sternly repress any tendency to intimidation, and to refuse to sanction agreements in districts where such agitation and intimidation are known to exist.


My Lords, I need hardly Bay that the action unfortunately taken at the present moment in some parts of Ireland is extremely disappointing to those who hoped that they might count upon the co-operation of all parties for the purpose of making that great Act of last year a genuine success, and for the purpose of bringing peace and quiet to that distracted country of Ireland. I can only assure the noble Earl, by emphasising what I stated the other day in reply to Lord Muskerry, that His Majesty's Government will be prepared to take all measures necessary for the purpose of protecting the life and property of individuals, and for the purpose of enforcing the law. With regard to the speeches quoted by the noble Lord it is certainly much to be regretted that language of this character should have been used, for no doubt in addition to its possible result in inciting to criminal courses those who might act on the advice given, it cannot possibly fail to impede the peaceful and rapid working of the Land Purchase Act of last year, especially in the direction of the reinstatement of the evicted tenants. That measure was based upon a general agreement that it was voluntary in its character, and should be allowed by those interested to be carried out on the broad lines of voluntary purchase. If the tenants are not compelled to buy, but on the contrary have all their rights under preceding legislation preserved to them, so on the other side must the landlords not be forced to sell by a system of violence, intimidation, or invasion of their legal rights. Lord Westmeath quoted a speech made by a Roman Catholic priest at the meeting to which he referred. I should like as a set-of to that to draw his attention to the words which fell from the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, which I think your Lordships will agree shows the correct spirit in which the settlement of this great question should be approached. His Lordship is reported to have said at Drum, county Tipperary— When working for the distribution of the land we must do nothing in violation of the laws of charity. Keep strictly within the bounds of honour in all your dealings. As far as I can judge, and I have an experience of over thirty-four years as priest and Bishop, the spirit of revenge is the best indication of a mean, low individual, while the spirit of forgiveness is the best indication of a noble nature. Be full of the noble spirit of forgiveness, and be not actuated by the spirit of revenge, in spiritual as well as in social conduct. I only hope that the words which Tell from his Lordship the Archbishop may be taken to heart in the proper quarter, and that many others may be found besides the Bishop who may seek to do their part to give the interpretation to the Land Act which was desired by His Majesty's Government, and who have the welfare of Ireland at heart.


My Lords, I asked the Government what steps would be taken to put down the kind of thing of which I complained, but I have only received a vague reply. The noble Lord who has spoken for the Government has not said whether he intends to take any action in the matter, and what I wish to—


I must remind the noble Lord that he has no right of reply.


thereupon resumed his seat, and the subject dropped.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Five o'clock to Tuesday, 7th of June next, a quarter past Four o'clock.