HL Deb 23 March 1909 vol 1 cc505-16

rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the proceedings of the Clonguish Branch of the United Irish League (at which several persons were condemned by name, and the public was warned to have no dealings with them) published in the Langford Leader of February 27; and to ask whether the Law Officers of the Crown proposed to take any action in the matter.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that I need not apologise to your Lordships for asking the Question which stands in my name, for I think that noble Lords on the Opposition Benches will agree with me that the administration of Mr. Birrell in Ireland cannot be too closely watched or criticised, and I feel that I am at the same time giving noble Lords on the Front Ministerial Bench an opportunity to defend his policy and once again to apologise for its invariable want of success. On various occasions I have ventured to call your Lordships' attention to what I think is the greatest blot on the administration of the present Chief Secretary—the exercise of dispensing power; and to-day I should like to call attention to another blot—the throwing of dust in the eyes of the public with the view of making them believe that measures are being taken to enforce the law in Ireland and that the state of that country is not so bad as it is represented to be. I am not quite sure whether that is Parliamentary language to use about a Minister of the Crown, and as I should certainly not like to say anything personally discourteous to Mr. Birrell perhaps I had better modify it by saying that his action has the effect of throwing dust in the eyes of the public.

Your Lordships will remember that last November the state of Ireland was attracting a good deal of attention in this country. Long nights, which are so favourable to those who wish to indulge in agrarian outrage, were just beginning, and the number of cattle-drives even exceeded the number of one per diem which my noble friend the Lord Steward boasted of with such pride last week. Not only Unionists but also a certain number of Radicals who desired law and order to be enforced thought that action should be taken to protect life and property in the Sister Isle, and Mr. Birrell found himself obliged, whether he liked it or not, to take some steps against his friends in that country. He refurbished an old and favourite weapon—the Statute of Edward III—and caused certain notices to be sent to the proprietors and editors of various Nationalist newspapers. In this connection I will, with your Lordships' permission, read a question asked by Mr. Redmond in the other House together with Mr. Birrell's reply. Mr. Redmond asked— whether cautionary notices had been served by the Irish Government on the proprietors of certain newspapers in Ireland practically threatening them with penal consequences if they did not exclude from their journals certain items of news.

To this Mr. Birrell replied— The attention of the police having been called to the publication in certain newspapers of notices purporting to be reports of meetings at which individuals, designated by name, or by a description so accurate as to be equivalent to naming, were threatened with boycotting and other forms of intimidation, the police, by direction of Government, have given an oral warning to the proprietors and editors of these newspapers that the publication of such notices is illegal, and, if persisted in, will necessitate the taking of legal proceedings.

Mr. Birrell added— I entirely approve of the action of the police in this matter.

He further stated that these were friendly warnings— the most friendly notices in the world.

Your Lordships will be surprised to hear that these friendly notices were not received by Mr. Birrell's friends in a very friendly spirit. The Nationalist newspapers were full of abusive remarks about them. I will not trouble your Lordships by quotations; but there is one which so delightfully lets the cat out of the bag that I think I may be allowed to refer to it. The Midland Reporter of November 5 said— The United Irish League branches are powerless if they cannot get their meetings reported in the public Press. If publication of reports is stopped, the League dies.

This makes it absolutely clear what the object of publication is. They find that it is only through the dissemination of the news that they are enabled to enforce the edicts of the League concerning boycotting and intimidation. This newspaper went on to say— Mr. Birrell and his threats are politely told to make themselves to the region of Hong Kong.

Amongst the newspapers which disregarded these most friendly warnings was the Longford Leader, with the result that Mr. Farrell, the editor of that paper and a Member of the House of Commons, was arraigned before the Court of King's Bench on December 21 on a charge of publishing alleged boycotting and intimidatory notices. I may mention that this gentleman had already been convicted of this offence in November, 1902. The Attorney-General, who prosecuted Mr. Farrell in December last, stated that for some time past the Longford Leader had been publishing boycotting and intimidatory notices emanating from local branches of the United Irish League referring to individuals by name, and had also been publishing editorial articles of a similar tendency. The Lord Chief Baron said they had to determine two matters of fact—first, did it reasonably appear to them that Mr. Farrell had incited, either by act or language, to a violation of law and of right; and, secondly, if so, was there reasonable ground to believe that the delinquent was likely to persevere in that course. The result was that Mr. Farrell was convicted, the judgment given being that he was to find sureties, himself in £200 and two other approved sureties of £100, to be of good behaviour, or in default to go to prison for six months without hard labour. The accused refused to give any undertaking and was committed to prison. In March, however, he was released on the ground of ill-health, and the newspapers say he has gone abroad; and, for all I know, he may be in sunny Spain indulging in indifferent golf, if an Irish Nationalist would indulge in so essentially British a game, with the latest convert to Home Rule.

What the public in this country is concerned with is not whether Mr. Farrell is punished or not but whether the law is vindicated, and whether when the editor of a newspaper has been committed to prison, or ordered to find sureties not to publish intimidatory or threatening notices these notices cease to be published. The question is—Which is triumphant, the law of the land or the law of the League? Are these poor people who have been threatened by the Longford Leader now able to go about and pursue their ordinary avocations in peace; or, in the words of the Nationalist newspaper which I have quoted, might Mr. Birrell, so far as the administration of Ireland is concerned, as well be in the neighbourhood of Hong Kong as at Westminster? I think the answer is to be found in a quotation from the Longford Leader of February 27 last, on which my Question is based, and which, with your Lordships' permission, I will read to the House. It is as follows— CLONGUISH BRANCH, UNITED IRISH LEAGUE.—A full and representative meeting of the above branch was held in the League rooms, Newtownforbes, on Sunday last. Mr. Patrick Newman presided. Many matters of importance as well as routine business were transacted. Messrs. Michael Prunty and Patrick McGowan came before the meeting to thresh out the case against Prunty for associating himself with a landlord's man. Mr. Prunty was exonerated by his stating he would not be guilty of any such thing if he knew the man was warning for rent. A respectable lady also came before the meeting and apologised for talking to one of the grabbers, and she stated she could not get away from her at any consideration. It is so long since she had a talk with a decent person she imposed on her.—

and this is the portion I wish to call particular attention to— The action of William Beatty was again condemned, and all parties warned not to have any dealings with him as he is a dog-boy of the very worst type. A man named Savage was also considered deserving similar treatment.

I think this extract speaks for itself, and it is unnecessary to enlarge upon it.

I hope the noble Lord who will reply for His Majesty's Government will tell us that proceedings are to be immediately taken against this newspaper. If not, I ask whether it is not throwing dust in the eyes of the public to lead them to believe that these prosecutions are instituted to protect these unfortunate people whose sufferings it is so difficult to realise in this happier country. I am afraid this is not the only instance of this kind, for I am credibly informed that the same is the case with many of the cattle-drivers who have been convicted and bound over to keep the peace. These men subsequently take part in cattle-drives, and no action is taken against them by the Government nor is their bail estreated. I hope my noble friend will be able to assure me that the Government propose to take action in this matter, but, from my experience of what has been done in the past, I am very doubtful if that will be his reply. A brave man struggling with difficulties is a spectacle for the gods, and assuredly the noble Lord will be struggling with very great difficulties if he attempts to defend what is absolutely indefensible. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, my noble friend who represents the Irish Office (Lord Denman) has only just been able to return to the House and has asked me, as he has been unable to go through the Papers, to reply to the noble Lord's Question. The noble Lord will not expect me, I hope, to go into the broader question as to whether the Chief Secretary for Ireland should spend his time in Hong Kong or not. I trust he will excuse me if I confine myself to the actual Question he has asked and the specific instance therein given. The attention of the Irish Office has only recently been called to the publication referred to by the noble Lord. They have ordered inquiries to be made through the police as to the circumstances of the various persons alleged to be boycotted, and when these reports have been received the case will be considered on its merits and a decision come to as to what action, if any, should be taken in the interests of justice. I am sure the noble Lord will see that, in view of the fact that proceedings are not impossible, it would be very undesirable to discuss the circumstances of the case in your Lordships' House this afternoon. But, if further proceedings are taken, I should like to consult the convenience of the noble Lord as to whether he would rather have information conveyed to him privately or prefer to ask another question in your Lordships' House as to the decision of His Majesty's Government. With regard to the cases referred to of persons who, in spite of having been bound over, have taken part in subsequent cattle-drives, I venture to hope that the noble Lord will give His Majesty's Government all the information at his disposal so that steps may be taken to see that the law is obeyed.

THE MARQUESS or LONDONDERRY: My Lords, I had hoped that some other member of your Lordships' House would have risen to support my noble friend Lord Oranmore. I am afraid that a great many of your Lordships, and the people of England generally, do not realise the discomfort brought to bear on the law-abiding people in Ireland by publications such as those to which my noble friend has alluded, and which are allowed by the responsible Government to go unpunished. The newspapers in question are very powerful in the districts in which they circulate, and the publication of these notices results in great misery to the unfortunate people against whom the ukase of the League is issued. Were it not for such publication the ukase would not be so widely known; and it is because it is essential that the ukase should not be generally published that at the last moment Mr. Birrell, as my noble friend told the House, instructed the police to inform the proprietors and editors of these newspapers that he could not look any longer with absolute equanimity on these matters. I venture to think that this is a very mild view for the Minister responsible for the peace and wellbeing of Ireland, on which the comfort and happiness of the inhabitants depend.

Mr. Farrell,

of the Longford Leader; Mr. Keane, of the Kilkenny People; and Mr. Murphy, of the Clonmell Nationalist, have all been arrested for publishing in their newspapers resolutions of the United Irish League calculated to be injurious to the welfare of the inhabitants of those districts; and I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—for I venture to think that we should have answers more frequently than we do from Cabinet Ministers in regard to Irish questions raised in your Lordships' House—why, if, as I suppose, all three cases were equally criminal, only that of Mr. Farrell was brought before the Court of King's Bench. Mr. Keane was brought up at Assizes and Mr. Murphy at a Petty Sessional Court, and it seems to me incomprehensible why, when the crime is apparently the same, the offenders should be arraigned before different Courts. I hope we shall have some explanation of this extraordinary procedure.

I will not enter into the case of Mr. Murphy, because that is sub judice; but, with regard to the case of Mr. Keane, the Petty Sessional Court which tried that case was crowded with a number of gentlemen who sympathised with the lawbreakers in that part of the country, and if the noble and learned Lord will read the account in the local paper of what took place at this Court I do not think he will consider the Bench one of which he would be proud. I will not go further into that case now, though I think any one reading the proceedings impartially would come to the conclusion that it must have been a packed Bench that acquitted Mr. Keane. As my noble friend has informed the House, Mr. Farrell was prosecuted for publishing in his newspaper, the Longford Leader, United Irish League resolutions of an intimidatory character. What happened to Mr. Farrell? He was virtually bound over to keep the peace; he could have gone out on bail, but refused to do so. He went to gaol where he remained as a first-class misdemeanant, but while there the paper of which he is proprietor continued to publish similar resolutions of the League. I ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack what his view would be of such a state of things were it to take place in England. I have heard it rumoured—I do not vouch for the accuracy of the rumour—that while in gaol Mr. Farrell was supplied with paper, pen and ink, and actually wrote further intimidatory articles for his newspaper. Is it possible that such a state of affairs could exist anywhere outside Ireland? I hope I shall have an answer on this point from the noble and learned Lord.

The publication of these intimidatory resolutions is by no means a new offence. It existed in 1887, when I had the honour of representing the Sovereign as Viceroy in Ireland; but we realised the danger of publication and took the proper means to put an end to it. We prosecuted those responsible, and in that way stopped the publication of the notices, with the result that boycotting ceased in those districts and they assumed their ordinary law-abiding character. In 1902 the same state of things again occurred, and this very gentleman, Mr. Farrell, who seems to have had a very happy time in gaol and has been discharged on the ground of health, was prosecuted under the Grimes Act—now, I contend, a part of the ordinary law—and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment with hard labour. The notices at once ceased. They will not cease now. I am told that while in gaol this year

Mr. Farrell

continued writing these articles for his newspaper. Is not this a burlesque of the law? He certainly could not have done that under the Government with which I was associated.

What does all this show? It shows to my mind beyond all dispute the absolute contempt with which the law is regarded by the law-breakers in certain parts of Ireland. What are His Majesty's Government going to do? Are they going to prosecute Mr. Farrell again or not? If they do not do so, then I say they are bringing the law into even greater disrepute than that in which it is held at the present moment. Why did the Government allow the publication of these resolutions to continue? I ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, Would this be tolerated in England? And if it would not be tolerated in England, why is it allowed to continue in Ireland? To this inaction on the part of the Government is due the entire demoralisation of the country. Juries are demoralised, as is shown by the action of the Government in practically giving up trying cases by juries; witnesses are intimidated, and will not give evidence in consequence; and the whole system of administration at present in Ireland is so demoralised as to be a disgrace to a civilised country.

It has been said that it is very difficult to restore law and order under present circumstances in Ireland because it is impossible to get witnesses to give evidence. In the course of the debate on the Address the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made a statement with regard to the Limerick Assizes which was not accurate and which was repudiated afterwards in the House of Commons. I did not like to contradict the noble and learned Lord at the time, but I was convinced that he was absolutely wrong when he said that the juries had not been challenged. But I mention this merely in parentheses. In his speech in concluding the debate on the Address on February 18 last, the Lord Chancellor said— But what have the Government done? Prosecutions have been undertaken in every case where evidence could be procured. It is true that evidence in many cases could not be procured, and that any one acquainted with Irish history will know is not uncommon. That, in fact, is our great difficulty. There have been few cases in which evidence could be procured. Why cannot evidence be procured under the administration of the present Government when we were able to procure it during the time that Mr. Balfour and I were responsible for the government of Ireland—a more critical time, as we have been told by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, than the present? Evidence was available in our time because witnesses knew that the Government meant business and were determined to maintain law and order. It was also known that the Judges, magistrates, police, and witnesses had the Government behind them in this matter. Can that be said at the present moment? I do not think it can.

People in Ireland, like other people, wish to be on the winning side, and if they know that the Government are determined to maintain law and order evidence will always be forthcoming. It is, however, generally believed in these parts of Ireland tat the Government do not mean business, that they do not care to prosecute properly as they could do if they revived the Act to which I have referred. These people ask themselves what is the use of coming forward and giving evidence when the prisoners whom they have seen commit the offences are certain to be set free and to be made small gods of in the village, while they, the witnesses, will be boycotted. I call attention to this matter to-day because, living in Ireland and loving Ireland, I deeply regret to see the present Government prostituting the law of the land and playing into the hands of the lawless inhabitants. Holding the view that it is necessary that the people of England should fully realise the contempt in which the law of the land is held in Ireland, I am glad that my noble friend has brought the question again before the House and I give him my hearty support.


My Lords, I should be wanting in respect to the noble Marquess if I did not address your Lordships for a few minutes seeing that he has appealed to me in a pointed way. In the first place, let me say that the noble Marquess is quite right in his criticism of one thing I said in the debate on the Address. I then stated that it was a matter for sincere congratulation to us that at the Limerick Assizes there had been no challenging of the juries. I need hardly say that in making that statement I believed that to be the case, but I was under a misapprehension. The noble Marquess is right when he says there were challenges at the Limerick Assizes, and I fully admit that that circumstance takes away some part of the ground for satisfaction that I expressed at the result of the trial on that occasion. It does not, however, wholly remove it, because there is no doubt that, I think without any suspicion of unfairness, convictions were obtained in all the cases in which, according to the opinion of the Judge, convictions ought to have been obtained. Though my statement to the extent referred to—through no fault of my own, but through a misunderstanding—was inaccurate, I think in other respects my statement was correct.

As to the cases of the three newspaper owners to whom the noble Marquess has referred, I wish he had given me some notice. Perhaps he had not the opportunity. At all events, I have heard of the cases for the first time to-night. I cannot, therefore, say why one was brought before the Court of King's Bench, the second brought up at Assizes, and the third at a Petty Sessional Court; but if the information is desired I will make an inquiry on the subject. As to the inability or unwillingness of juries in Ireland to do their duty and the reluctance of persons to give evidence, the noble Marquess made an unfavourable contrast between Ireland and England, to the disadvantage of Ireland, and asked me what I would think of such a state of things if it prevailed in England. I should regret it most deeply, as I do in Ireland. But these are no new troubles, as your Lordships are perfectly aware. In England the people are on the side of the law, and give evidence for the purpose of supporting the law. In England jurymen have moral courage, are independent, and friendly to the just administration of the law. In Ireland I fear they have been alienated by tradition and by other causes to which I need not refer. I should regret deeply if England in those respects was in the same condition as Ireland, and my most anxious wish is to see Ireland placed in the same condition as we happily are here.

But what is the cause? I shall not inflict upon your Lordships an historical speech, for I am speaking to men who have heard this subject discussed and have thought it out for themselves time after time. I do not know that we shall alto- gether agree, but I do not think we shall altogether differ. The law has not always been the friend of Ireland, and there has been a considerable period of time during which dislike of the law coming from this country, or supposed to come from this country, has been burnt into the Irish people. That, I think, is really common ground. I do not wish to go further into that aspect of the case. I leave it for reflection. The only other thing I wish to say is this. The noble Marquess suggested no remedy except the one which has constantly been put forward—namely, resort to the powers possessed under the Crimes Act. I noticed that the noble Marquess described the Crimes Act as now a part of the ordinary law.


Hear, hear


I have not had an opportunity of looking the matter up, but my impression is that when, in the year 1887, the Government of the day, consisting of the friends of the noble Marquess, introduced that Act, they did not introduce it as a part of the ordinary law but as a weapon which was only to be drawn upon in case of necessity, rather than having time after time to pass a succession of Coercion Acts for limited periods. It was then said that, once it had been placed on the Statute Book as a permanent enactment, the time would come when it would be treated as the ordinary law of the land. Some of us anticipated that, and now it is verified by the statement of the noble Marquess himself. I believe that had we made use of the Crimes Act, so far from having a betterment, we should have had a worsement of the condition of Ireland. It is not for me to speak of alternative remedies, but I believe myself that the adoption of the remedy suggested by the noble Marquess would have exasperated public opinion and made evidence more difficult to get and juries more reluctant to convict. If your Lordships ask me whether, in my opinion, Ireland is in a satisfactory state, my reply is that I do not think Ireland has been in a satisfactory state for the last twenty-five years.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.