§ THE PROCLAIMED MEETING AT BALLYCOREE. ENNIS, CO. CLARE.
§ MOTION FOR ADJOURNMENT.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I wish to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, if he can give us any information on two matters of great importance in Ireland. First, I want to ask him on what grounds the Government have prohibited the meeting announced to be held near the town of Ennis next Sunday, and also if he will state at the same time whether the prohibition will bring the meeting under the definition of an unlawful assembly dealt with under Clause 2 of the Crimes Act; and also I wish to ask how it is, in spite of repeated assurances given by him in this House, evictions are still being carried out on the property of The O'Grady at Herbertstown, county Limerick, of tenants under £100 a-year rent?
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, N.E.)
As the 750 hon. Gentleman is aware, what I have said in the House with regard to evictions does not depend upon any assurances of mine, but upon what the law is, and upon that point the hon. Gentleman is probably as good a judge as I am. I apprehend the law to be exactly as I have previously stated—at present there can be no legal evictions in Ireland—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Of tenants under £100 a-year, and therefore every eviction in Ireland must be either upon title or where the rent is over £100. That I believe to be the law.
§ MR. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman has not taken the least notice of the first Question as to a meeting proposed to be held at Ennis, in County Clare, being proclaimed, and whether such Proclamation of the meeting will bring it under the definition of an unlawful assembly under Clause 2 of the Crimes Act?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, Sir; I believe not. If the hon. Gentleman would address that Question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman near me, perhaps he would get a fuller answer.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON) (Liverpool, Walton)
I think it has been often explained that the action of the Executive in proclaiming any assembly is only a measure of a precautionary character, and does not make an innocent assembly an unlawful one. There is no additional efficacy given to the Proclamation of a meeting by the recent Act of Parliament passed that Session. That Act, under Section 2, deals with cases of riot and unlawful assembly. The Proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant does not constitute an innocent assembly an unlawful assembly, but it is a warning that, in the opinion of the Executive, the assembly was an unlawful one, and, of course, law-abiding citizens would naturally pay attention to the admonition.
§ MR. DILLON
In consequence of the answers I have received I feel compelled to ask the permission of the 751 House to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the conduct of the Executive Government in Ireland in proclaiming the meeting announced to be held in Ennis, County Clare, next Sunday, and also in sanctioning the carrying out of evictions on the old system, of tenants paying under £100 rent.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is mixing up two subjects. He is proposing to deal with two subjects instead of one.
§ MR. DILLON
Under these circumstances, I shall be compelled to confine myself to the first matter—namely, the conduct of the Executive Government in proclaiming the meeting announced to be held at Ennis on Sunday next.
§ The pleasure of the House not having been signified,
§ MR. SPEAKER
called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen,
§ MR. DILLON
said: The practice which has long been in abeyance of proclaiming public meetings in Ireland without the slightest reason appears to be revived. I would ask the attention of the House to the fact that when I addressed two Questions just now, one to the Head of the Executive Government in Ireland, and the other to the Chief Law Officer of the Crown in Ireland, that neither of them deigned to give me even a reply to my Question as to what were the grounds on which this meeting was proclaimed. I twice put the Question to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland as to the grounds of the Proclamation, and he did not deign to pay me the compliment of an answer.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I was communicating with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General at the time; and I forgot to answer that Question, which was one among others addressed to me by the hon. Member. I meant no discourtesy, and I am perfectly ready to answer it.
§ MR. DILLON
In any case the discussion might have had to take place. It would have been more prudent, however, for the right hon. Gentlman to answer the Question. It was the very 752 first Question I put, and I repeated it twice over. This forms a very good case on which to debate the principle of suppressing public meetings in Ireland. Now, Sir, what are the facts in connection with this public meeting? This meeting is a meeting called on long notice. It is a meeting which was announced to take place on last Sunday, and which was announced publicly in the newspapers for three weeks before last Sunday. I believe it is a meeting called, as I shall presently show, for two purposes—one to meet the Representatives of the County and myself, and the other to pass resolutions of thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) and the English democracy for the support and sympathy they have given our country, and also for the purpose of condemning the Crimes Act. These were the purposes of the meeting —no other purpose was stated for the meeting, and no other purpose existed for the meeting. Let me point out this fact—that the meeting was announced to be held not in the immediate vicinity of any estates on which disturbance exists, though I do not for a moment admit that the Government would have a right to prohibit meetings in such a case; but this meeting was announced to beheld in the immediate vicinity of the town of Ennis, a district where there has been no disturbance for a long time. In order to understand the full meaning of this action of the Irish Executive it is necessary to keep in mind this fact — that in the whole course of the movement which has existed in Ireland now for upwards of seven years, during which there have been, I suppose, 10,000 meetings, there has not been a single case of disturbance or injury to property or person springing from any one of these meetings, except where the police interfered and tried to disperse them. I point to that with special pride, for I do not know any country in the world which has such a record. I have got a copy of the only placard issued in connection with the meeting, and it is to the following effect:—The people of Clare are summoned to assemble on the Hill of Ballycoree, within a mile of Ennis, on the 28th of August.That was the date originally fixed for the meeting, but the meeting of last Sunday was not proclaimed—it was 753 postponed at my request. The Government, having had three weeks' notice, did not proclaim the meeting last Sunday.This meeting is to be attended by Mr. William O'Brien, M.P.; Mr. John Dillon, M.P.; Hon. Philip Stanhope, M.P.; and Dr. Cox, M.P. Resolutions will be proposed assorting the inalienable right of the Irish people to the making of their own laws, pledging renewed fealty to and confidence in Charles Stewart Parnell, thanking Mr. Gladstone for his message of peace to Ireland delivered in Parliament, and the democracies of England, Scotland, and Wales for their noble and truly patriotic efforts to bring about a real and lasting union between the Irish and the English people; and condemning the wantonly exasperating policy of the present Government towards the people of Ireland.Then there is a short call to the men of Clare to prove themselves worthy of their historic county and "God Save Ireland" at the bottom of the placard. I do not see anything except it be the "God Save Ireland" which the Government could put forward as a justification for the Proclamation. On what grounds have the Government proclaimed the meeting? It seems to me, Sir, that as they have proclaimed that meeting called by such a placard, and held in a district remote from the centre of disturbance, that we are entitled to expect that as soon as Parliament rises and criticism is removed from their action that they will absolutely prevent all right of public meeting in Ireland except the meetings of the Orangemen. What is the information they have received? The Government as long as they acted on the information of their own officials took no steps to proclaim this meeting, but the magistrates and landlords of the County Clare met last week and sent to Dublin an urgent appeal to have the meeting proclaimed. But when was there ever a Land League meeting held which the local magistrate did not ask to have proclaimed? Have we not got the testimony of Lord Spencer and Sir George Trevelyan as to the tremendous pressure which was brought to bear upon them to put down meetings of Nationalists in every part of Ireland, and we have their testimony to the fact that one of the difficulties they had to deal with in carrying on the government of Ireland under the Crimes Act was this persistent and determined pressure on the part of the landlord and Tory faction to get them to prevent any Nationalist 754 meeting from being held in any part of the country. This was a doctrine openly and positively laid down by the faction, and especially by the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Ireland (Colonel King-Harman), that it was the duty of the Executive to prohibit Nationalist meetings everywhere throughout the country, because they were treasonable and rebellious, and because sedition was spouted there. As I was pointing out, all the facts go to show that the action of proclaiming the Clare meeting was taken at the dictation of the local magistrates, the agents and the landlords of the County Clare. Are we to understand that wherever the magistrates of an Irish county assemble and swear information or send up petitions to the Castle, that meetings will be proclaimed? The object of this Proclamation is simply this—that Colonel Vandeleur and Mr. Burton, and other Clare landlords, are preparing to evict on an enormous scale. Colonel Vandeleur is going to evict 60, and Mr. Burton 20 tenants, who are rack-rented up to the hilt, and who, if they could go into Court, would get greater reductions than we ask for, and these landlords, terrified by. The result of the enormous quantity of public opinion we brought to bear on Colonel O'Callaghan, are shaking in their shoes lest they should be held up to the public odium of England as Colonel O'Callaghan was. They do not care for the odium of the Irish Nationalists, but they want to prevent the public opinion of England from being fixed on the iniquities they are about to perpetrate. What is it that makes me consider this worth taking up the time of the House about?—for I do consider it to be as important a subject as could possibly be brought under the attention of the House for two reasons —because, not content with enforcing your Coercion Act, you are going also to deny to the people of Ireland the right of public meeting, no matter how peaceable a district may be. If the Government are going by means of the powers they possess under the Coercion Act, to deny the people of Ireland the right of public meeting for peaceable purposes, that will be a sandal that I believe the people of this country will not tolerate. The people of the County of Clare will not be put down. We shall hold our meeting next Sunday whether it be proclaimed or not; and we shall challenge 755 the opinion given by the Attorney General for Ireland as to its lawfulness. I say it is not unlawful. Those who are seeking to put down this meeting are doing a most dangerous and deadly act against the public peace in Ireland; and those who would attempt, by means of their bludgeons and bayonets and buckshot in the hands of men under the command of ruffianly inspectors, instructed by secret telegrams like Captain Plunkett's, not to hesitate to "shoot down the people if necessary," would have the blood of the people upon their heads. Very little would induce Captain Plunkett to think it necessary. What was the action of Captain Plunkett the othey day as reported in The Times of this morning? Why, two or three women were standing outside a house, when they saw Captain Plunkett coming along the road. They called him a hangman, and he turned on them and said—"If you say that again I will send the police in amongst you," That is the kind of man who in all probability you will have in command next Sunday. I say we will bring the peasantry of Clare into Ennis. We are standing on our rights, and if, when the people enter Ennis on Sunday they are met by some 500 or 600 armed men with loaded guns, there is bloodshed, it will be upon the head of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who is breaking the law in prohibiting a political meeting and is allowing himself to be made the tool of exterminating and rack-renting and ruffianly landlords of Clare, who dread the public opinion of this country, and know that their action towards their tenants had best be done in the dark. Why, if, as they are proud of boasting, they are not ashamed of these evictions, why are they afraid of our going to Clare and bringing an English Member of Parliament with us? They want bloodshed. They have tried peace for six months, have found the people too strong, and what they want to do is to get back to the old and evil days, and, by creating riots and disturbances, be allowed to let Plunkett and his bludgeon men loose on the people. I look forward to this kind of thing with the greatest possible anxiety and alarm; but it is absurd to suppose—and I do not think the Chief Secretary even can suppose that, even if we were cowardly and base enough to do as the London Times, with its manly sneer, thinks we would, to run away, we 756 could not do it. The Times, that great advocate of law and order, says that Mr. Dillon and Mr. O'Brien are skilled in the art of running away from a policeman." I would like to see the editor of the London Times with his head batoned by a constable, and without any means of resistance. I promise him he would run faster than I would. But whether we are inclined to run away or not, one thing is perfectly certain—we are not in a position to do it. It very often happens that when a man is inclined to show the white feather he finds it far more difficult to do that than to face the danger. I am bound to say that I would not be the least ashamed to run away from a policeman, though I never did so in my life. But if a man with no weapon in his hands is attacked by 20 or 30 men who have weapons, I do not think the man need be the least ashamed to run away. I have seen very brave men run away in such circumstances, who, if they had weapons, would have made short work of their assailants; but, what we cannot run away from even if we wanted, is the public opinion of England and of Ireland. Let the Government be under no mistake in this matter; the meeting at Ennis next Sunday must take place, and it will be continued until it is dispersed by the bludgeons and the bayonets and the buckshot of the armed force sent to put it down. I call upon the head of the Irish Executive to justify himself in face of this country if he can for what he is going to do in Ennis next Sunday, and if he has not got very much stronger grounds to go upon than anything he has been able to put forward for some time past, the people of this country will teach him and his Government that there is a length in Ireland to which he cannot go in dealing with the people. In order to afford the right hon. Gentle man an opportunity of justifying his action, I beg to move the adjournment of the House.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Mr. Dillon.)
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) might have had the chief portion of the information I shall now give him of the grounds upon which the meeting at 757 Ennis was proclaimed had I not inadvertently omitted to reply to one part of his question. I the more greatly regret that inadvertence on my part, because it has afforded the hon. Member an opportunity of delivering a speech which, however innocent it may be in this House, will, I am afraid, have an evil effect upon people on the other aide of the Irish Channel. The hon. Gentleman asks me on what ground we have proclaimed this meeting, and he has read out a placard as proof and testimony that the objects of the meeting are purely political, and that it ought, therefore, not to be interfered with by the Executive. In dealing with this matter, the Executive have to consider two questions—first, what are the real objects of the meeting; and secondly, what are likely to be its results. I am not at all prepared to deny that the objects of this meeting, as appearing from the placard read out by the hon. Member, are entirely and purely of a political character, and that if the meeting had no other object, and was likely to lead to no more serious consequences than an ordinary political meeting held in the Rotunda in Dublin or held in this country, the Irish Executive would have had no right to interfere at all. But I would remind the hon. Gentleman that those who have called meetings in disturbed districts in Ireland have never found any difficulty whatever in showing that the avowed objects of those meetings were of the most innocent political description. The principles that we have adopted in proclaiming the meeting are identical with those that were adopted by Lord Spencer, and carried out year after year by the late Liberal Government. Looking over the list of meetings which Lord Spencer found it his duty to proclaim, I could find several in the very county with which we are now dealing. In Clare Lord Spencer prohibited a meeting at Feakle, as there were very serious disturbances in the immediate neighbourhood, tie proclaimed an endless number of meetings altogether. He proclaimed one at this very place—at Ennis. The meeting was one convened by public placard for the purpose of the hon. Gentleman who is now the Member for Mid-Tyrone (Mr. M. J. Kenny) addressing his constituents, and that hon. Gentleman, it was announced, would be accompanied on the platform 758 by Mr. O'Brien, M.P., Mr. Biggar, M.P., and other gentlemen, who would address the meeting. Is there anything more innocent than a Gentleman going down to address his constituents? And yet Lord Spencer, on the ground, and the sole ground, that Clare at that time was in a disturbed state, thought it was his duty—and I believe it was his duty— to prevent that meeting taking place. I could multiply such instances times without end; but there is no doubt about the precedent of Lord Spencer. The right hon. Baronet to whom allusion has been made to-night, who is now the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan), and was at the time of which I am speaking Chief Secretary for Ireland, told us that in his opinion the National League was a purely political organization, and as such ought to be spared; but I observe the Government of which that right hon. Gentleman was the chief responsible officer in this House proclaimed a meeting in County Cork which was avowedly called for no other purpose whatever than that of establishing a branch of the National League. In other words, he proclaimed a meeting which had for its object the purely political one of establishing a branch of what he regarded as a purely political organization. [An hon. MEMBER: When and where was that?] At Castle Lyon, County Cork, 23rd October, 1883. I am not going to labour this point in reference to the proceedings of Lord Spencer or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division, because precedents abound. There is no question whatever that Lord Spencer invariably considered it to be his duty, and one of the functions of a responsible Government, to proclaim, and, in so far as he could, to stop, any public meeting whatever where its avowed objects, however innocent, or purely political, providing he thought such a meeting would lead to a disturbance of the public peace. But this is not the question. Where, I ask, is this meeting going to be held? The hon. Member for East Mayo said it was going to be held in a peaceful part of the country.
§ MR. DILLON
What I said was that it was going to be held in Ennis, away from the centre of disturbance.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
This meeting is to be held in the very centre of what 759 is by far the most disturbed, disorganized county in the whole of Ireland at this present moment. If any gentleman chooses to consult the statistics of crime in Ireland, he will find that the County of Clare stands on the unenviable pinnacle of having produced out of all proportion the largest number of grave agrarian crimes; and not only so, but that Clare is undoubtedly a county in which the system of intimidation, for which we, on this side of the House, think the National League is chiefly responsible, prevails in its most aggravated form absolutely unchecked. Now, Sir, the hon. Gentleman has told us that meetings in Ireland—at any rate more in Ireland than anywhere else—are innocent, as they are a peaceful people. The hon. Gentleman really misapprehends the whole purport and meaning of Proclamations of this kind. I do not doubt the least in the world that a great majority of the meetings in Ireland are peaceful meetings. Wherever the mass of the population is in favour of a meeting there is no reason why that meeting should not be peaceful, whatever the doctrines proclaimed at it, whatever result in the form of outrage might ultimately spring from it. The evil of these meetings does not exist, as the hon. Gentleman appears to think, judging by his speech, in any disturbance of the public peace which occurs at the meeting; the evil of these meetings arises entirely from the consequences they produce in the district where they are held—the disturbance of the public peace, the crime, the outrages and the acts of intimidation which., unhappily, too often flow from them. The hon. Gentleman has told us that the Executive Government has been moved in this matter simply by the pressure which has been brought to bear upon them by rack-renting landlords in the County of Clare. On what ground does the hon. Gentleman make that accusation against the Government? The hon. Member in the speech which he has just delivered has spoken of several matters which are within his own personal knowledge, and on which his statements and opinions are entitled to consideration, and respect by the House; but when the hon. Member describes the motives which, have actuated Her Majesty's Government; when he tells us what kind of letters we have received, 760 and what kind of effect those letters have produced in our minds, it is manifest from the nature of the case that he speaks without authority, and purely from conjecture, upon a subject upon which he can have no direct knowledge whatever. Sir, I directly traverse and contradict the statements of the hon. Gentleman in that respect. So far as I know, at all events, no letter has come from any Clare landlord.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I gave my sanction, and am responsible for this meeting being proclaimed. Among the documents brought before to my notice when I gave that decision there was— so far as I am aware—no letter from any Clare landlord; and certainly if there was one, which there was not, I was not influenced by it. I was influenced, as every man in my position would be, by information and opinions given me by those responsible for the public peace on the spot. Their clear conviction and opinion was that the meeting to be held was one which would lead to a disturbance of the public peace and to crime and outrage, and, that being their opinion, I was not going to take upon myself the responsibility of saying that with my goodwill the meeting should go on. The Hon. Gentleman has told us that, whether we proclaim this meeting or not, the meeting will be held; and he has said that if, in consequence of holding that meeting in defiance of the Proclamation, bloodshed should ensue, that bloodshed will rest on the head of the Government. [An hon. MEMBER: On yours.] Yes, I think he singled me out especially. But I can assure the hon. Member that responsibility is not to be fixed on one person or another merely on the fiat of the hon. Member. I venture to tell him that the responsibility for the evils that may—and very likely will—ensue, if in defiance of the Proclamation this meeting is held, will rest, and must rest, on the head of those who insist upon holding this meeting in defiance of the Proclamation. It will rest upon those leaders of the Irish people on whom already rests the great weight of responsibilities in these matters; and if the hon. Gentleman thinks that he can acquit himself and absolve his Friends from their share in the responsibility by pointing over to us and 761 saying, "Upon your head will rest that responsibility," I tell him that that will not be the verdict of the English people, and it will not be the verdict of this House. The hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) has told us he was driven to take the course he had in regard to this meeting by the force of popular opinion behind him.
§ MR. DILLON
I did not say that at all. I said that if I felt any inclination to play the coward I dare not do it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It appears to me that the hon. Gentleman has emphasized the sentiment I had watered down when trying to repeat it. What he did say is that if he wished to run away he would be afraid to do so. Well, Sir, that means, and can only mean, that whatever his conscience may say, he is driven on by a force over which he has no control. [Mr. DILLON: Absurd!] I venture to dispute that proposition. I believe if you would let alone this unhappy peasantry—if you did not use that influence which your position and your abilities give you, there would be no difficulty whatever in inducing them to be the law-abiding members of a law-abiding community which I hope in the near future we shall see them to be. But, Sir, I do not know that I need say anything further upon this question. [Interruption from the Irish Members.]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) not to interrupt so constantly.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I again give the House the assurance which I have given them before with regard to this meeting and with regard to every such meeting which it may the duty of the Executive in Ireland to proclaim. We shall not be influenced under any circumstances by political considerations. We shall in no degree be influenced towards proclaiming a meeting by the political objects which may be announced or the topics to be dealt with at that meeting; we shall be influenced by the consideration which must always be present to our minds, that on us rests the responsibility, in an far as we can, of preserving law and order in Ireland, and that we are bound to suppress all meetings which, in our judgment, exercised to the best of our ability, may conduce to disorder, to outrage, or to intimidation.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) seemed to imagine that he alone had authority to speak in the name of the English people; but he ventured to say that the English people, aye, and those who elected him at Manchester, if called upon to decide on this question as to whether the right of free speech was to be abolished, would restore the right hon. Gentleman to the management of his rack-rented estates in Scotland and deprive that House—if it could be called a deprivation—of the presence of the modern Stafford. The right hon. Gentleman had said to the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) "Let alone the unhappy peasantry of Ireland." Why, for 700 years that had been the cry of the Predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman. For 700 years they had been let alone to be starved and evicted, and now, because Englishmen were happily alive to the miseries the Irish peasantry had endured and had made the Irish cause their own, the right hon. Gentleman said they were defying the law—the law which the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends had made in opposition to the wishes of the great majority of the English people—because they refused to be intimidated into silence or suppressed at the order of the Irish Executive. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government had not in that matter been inspired by the landlords of Clare. He (Mr. P. Stanhope) would ask, had it not been inspired in that matter by Captain Plunkett? Was not Captain Plunkett the agent of the landlords?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. Captain Plunkett has nothing to do with the district in question.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE
said, he had, perhaps, mistaken the name of the Resident Magistrate who inspired the right hon. Gentleman, but, whoever the Resident Magistrate might be, he, in any case, must be by the very circumstances of his arbitrary position a friend and a representative of the landlord class. He hunted and shot with the landlords, and reserved another kind of shooting for the tenantry. Well, this meeting in question was called for objects which, were purely political. He 763 admitted, however, that one of those objects was unpatriotic and unconstitutional in the eyes of the Government. That object was to express a vote of thanks to Mr. Gladstone for his message of peace to Ireland, He could understand that must strike the lackadaisical and whimsical mind of the right hon. Gentleman who now held the reins of power in Ireland as being a monstrous proposition.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must caution the hon. Member against using language which is not Parliamentary nor commonly courteous. If the hon. Member repeats that language I shall name him to the House.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE
I bow, Sir, to your decision If, under the impulse of a very strong feeling with regard to the Executive in Ireland I used an expression which I cannot believe will be condemned by the majority of the English people—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must ask the hon. Member not to defend language which, from the Chair, I have emphatically condemned.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE
, resuming, said, then he had this to say, that his contention was that the meeting in question was called for purely Constitutional objects. It was not called to excite or encourage ill-feeling or any irritation which might unfortunately exist among the peasantry in Ireland; but it was called for the purpose of saying to them words of peace and goodwill, and of telling them—as he (Mr. P. Stanhope) on the part of his constituents now told them—that they were not alone in this fight, but that they had the English people behind them, and that while there was no doubt that the majority seated on the Ministerial Benches were willing to follow the Government in whatever courses they might desire to pursue, yet that there was flowing now throughout the constituencies of England a tide which was rising—a tide which would sweep away that Act under which the right hon. Gentleman had suppressed this meeting, which would restore to the people of Ireland the right of free speech, and some semblance of liberty, and which, in doing so, would also remove a Government which he would venture to call both arbitrary and incompetent from the Treasury Bench.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
said, he was astounded with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to justify his action by referring to the precedents set by Lord Spencer, and in particular to a meeting of his (Mr. M. J. Kenny's) constituents which was proclaimed several years ago. He would tell the right hon. Gentleman that Lord Spencer subsequently recognized his mistake, and that a short time afterwards the meeting was held, and in no way molested. What he objected to in regard to the Proclamation of the meeting at Ballycoree was that whereas Lord Spencer proceeded under specific sections of the Crimes Act of 1882, the present Government had taken no such powers. They went upon what they said was the Common Law— though, in his belief it was not the Common Law—and they proclaimed a meeting which, in his opinion, they had no power whatever to proclaim. The Proclamation was absolutely valueless, and every bayonet used and every charge of buckshot fired into the people would be a crime, and if the lives of the people were taken the responsibility would rest on those who had suppressed the meeting. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had stated he had got no representation from the landlords of Clare. Now, it was a matter of notoriety that a meeting of Clare landlords was held— the report appeared in the Press—and at that meeting a resolution was adopted calling on the Government to proclaim the Ballycoree demonstration, and a copy of it sent to the Castle. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary said he had not seen that representation; but he (Mr. M. J. Kenny) would like to know whether the Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Lord Ashbourne) had not seen it, and whether really it was not in consequence of that representation that the Castle Authorities took action and declared the meeting illegal. The meeting had been proclaimed, in the first place, not because of the presence of Irish Members, but for the purpose of preventing English Members of Parliament from speaking to the people of Ireland. It was a very easy thing to send Irish Members to the plank bed. That was done before, and would be done again; but it was a totally different thing to send an English Member to prison. He should like to 765 see the Bench of Magistrates, men in Ireland, who would venture to send an English Member to prison. They dare not do it; and it was for the purpose of preventing English Members from going across to Ireland and exemplifying by their presence the union between the peoples of England and Ireland, and of preventing a vote of thanks being passed to Mr. Gladstone, that the arbitrary step of proclaiming the meeting was taken by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had said the meeting was to be held in the centre of a disturbed estate; but he (Mr. M. J. Kenny) challenged the Government to prove that following any meeting in Clare there had been an outbreak of crime. It was meetings of this kind held throughout Ireland for the past seven years that had changed the country from a country abounding in agrarian crime to a country in which agrarian crime did not exist, and it was only in districts in which meetings had been proclaimed that disturbances arose. In the second place, it had been proclaimed for the purpose of giving facilities to certain landlords in the district to evict their tenants. It was in order to enable the rank-renting landlords to proceed to the full extent in evicting their tenants that that meeting had been proclaimed. He concurred in the declaration of his hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) that he did not intend to yield to that Proclamation. The result of the Proclamation—if it were persisted in—would be that instead of only one meeting there would be more than one held on the hill of Ballycoree. The Government would not succeed in putting down those meetings. The Irish Members did not care a pin for the Proclamations of the Government. In one respect they were valueless, and could easily be avoided; but by this debate they wanted to show the people of England that the Government were acting illegally, and that it was through no fault of the Government that free speech was not entirely suppressed in Ireland.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he thought that the House and the country owed a great debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) for bringing that matter forward, because they had an opportunity of learning what the doctrine of the Chief Secretary was in regard to proclaiming 766 meetings. The right hon. Gentlemen fully admitted that the meeting was essentially a political one, so far as the object stated in the placard went, and also that there was not likely to be any disturbance at the meeting itself.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The right hon. Gentleman did not affirm that the meeting would be in any way a disorderly meeting, provided that the police did not interfere. In fact, he seemed to intimate that one of the grounds for proclaiming it was that the district was so exceedingly Nationalist, the people being all of one mind—and it takes two to make a quarrel—that there was not likely to be any disturbance. [Cries of "No, no!"] That was the effect of what he had said. But the right hon. Gentleman alleged that meetings in disturbed districts might incite the people to outrage, crime, and intimidation, not at the meetings but subsequently, on account of what the speakers had said. But how could the right hon. Gentleman know what was to be said at that meeting? He was bound to accept the statement of the conveners of the meeting that they would meet to pass a vote of thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) to express confidence in the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), and to ask God to protect Ireland. Were these propositions likely to lead to intimidation and outrage? But the right hon. Gentleman says there have been outrages in that part of Ireland. His (Mr. Labouchere's) hon. Friends denied that, and said there were these landlords who had been rack-renting and evicting, and who intended to evict. Now it appeared to him that all the landlords of any part of Ireland had to do was to rack-rent and evict to produce a feeling of discontent, in order that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary might be able to say to the people in consequence of that ill-feeling, "I shall deprive you of your political rights;" for, be it remembered that the right hon. Gentleman had acknowledged that this was a political meeting. The right hon. Gentleman said he could not conceive how anybody would suppose that the landlords of that part of Ireland had influenced him to proclaim the meeting. Then why did 767 not the right hon. Gentleman proclaim the meeting last Sunday? It was a mere accident that the mooting was adjourned to next Sunday; so what were the grounds which influenced him to proclaim it for next Sunday when he had not thought fit to proclaim it for the Sunday before? Had the right hon. Gentleman been induced to change his mind in the interval by the advice of the Resident Magistrates or other Magistrates of the district? Let the right hon. Gentleman fairly tell them who had advised him that the meeting would lead to outrages and intimidations; whether it was the landlords, or whether it was not. He understood that the landlords had met and passed resolutions against the holding of this meeting—[Mr. M. J. KENNY: They sent them to the Castle]—and that a representative was positively sent to the Castle. It could only be supposed that it was at the bidding and dictation of the landlords that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary proclaimed that meeting. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of Lord Spencer having proclaimed meetings; but there was this difference between the two cases, that Lord Spencer had, under the Crimes Act, a special responsibility thrown upon him to prevent those meetings if he thought it necessary; whereas there was no such obligation thrown on the right hon. Gentleman, who did not proceed under the Crimes Act, but acted under the same Common Law of England and Ireland. Whenever the conduct of Members of the present Irish Executive was impugned they always slunk away under the shadow of Lord Shakespeare—[laughter] —he meant Lord Spencer—who had admitted that the previous Crimes Act was a mistake, and said he would not support another. Lord Spencer found that the system of coercion had failed, and he would put it to the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, whether it was not unfair to attempt to shelter himself under the plea that Lord Spencer some years ago had done the same, when that noble Lord admitted that it was a mistake which he would never repeat again if he were in the same position? He held with the hon. Member for East Mayo that the people of Ireland would utterly despise the warnings of the right hon. Gentleman. What would happen if the people went to that meeting, and there was no quarrel 768 among them, they being all of one mind except the police and the military? Were the police and the military to be sent there simply to excite disorder by attacking the people? If the police and the military kept away there was not the slightest probability of any disturbance. That Proclamation appeared to be a species of political manifesto on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. A political meeting was called to express confidence in the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary issued a Proclamation urging all law-abiding persons not to go to the meeting. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), if he thought anybody would follow it, would issue the same sort of Proclamation in England. He trusted that the Irish people would go to that meeting, and that the English people would realize and understand that what the right hon. Gentleman confessed was a political meeting, was attempted to be stopped by the Executive for political purposes and for nothing else.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON) (Liverpool, Walton)
said, that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) was altogether in error in saying that his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) stated that that meeting was to be held for political purposes. His right hon. Friend had made no such statement. If all that was required to take any dangerous meeting whatever in Ireland out of the prohibition of the law was that its promoters should only profess to have some political object the law would be paralyzed. There could be no doubt that Lord Spencer when he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland endeavoured to stop certain meetings in Ireland—having proclaimed 55 in all—and up to the time when that noble Lord left that country nobody had heard a word suggesting that he was dissatisfied with the result of his Proclamations. [An hon. MEMBER: He said he was.] The hon. Member for Mid Tyrone (Mr. M. J. Kenny) had observed in the course of his speech that the meeting called for Sunday next would have the effect of preventing crime—[Mr. M. J. KENNY: Hear, hear!]—but the fact was, statistics showed that a great number of agrarian 769 crimes had occurred in the districts where the public meetings had been held. [An Irish MEMBER: Give the statistics.] He was not going into the question of statistics on that occasion. Now, the ground upon which the Government had proclaimed the meeting as an illegal one was this. They had proclaimed the meeting, not under Statute, but under the Common Law, as he had stated in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). The Common Law enabled the Government—a responsible Government—to declare that it would suppress and prevent the holding of an assembly, which it regarded, upon the evidence before it, as calculated to cause public disorder, or to be called for a legally improper purpose.
§ MR. DILLON
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether this Proclamation is under the same Common Law as exists in England?
§ MR. GIBSON
It is under the Common Law of the land, and so far as I know it is the same. It was impossible to say beforehand, from the mere statements of the placards, what the actual circumstances of the meeting would be, or what would be the danger of the meeting. In England or Scotland meetings might be hold with perfect safety, and he should not be uneasy at English Members going over and rousing any amount of popular enthusiasm in Ireland; but the view which the Government took was that Ennis was a disturbed district. There was no doubt that many references would be made at this meeting next Sunday to the action of the Government in proclaiming the League. Having regard to the state of the country there could be little doubt that the result would be violation of the law, possibly actually at the meeting; and the persons who incited disobedience to the police at this meeting would themselves be liable, as hon. Gentlemen knew, to be proceeded against. Speeches would probably be made at this meeting inciting the people wholly to disregard and disobey the Act of Parliament; and responsible officials on the spot had formed the opinion that it would be dangerous to the public peace if this meeting was held. That justified the action which the Executive had taken; and a serious responsibility would rest on responsible politicians who, instead 770 of challenging the policy of the Executive, insisted upon setting their private judgment against the decision of the Executive and trying to force the people of the country into a conflict with the officers of the law. That was a terrible responsibility for hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. He would caution them, and he would ask those of them whom he knew were interested in the fortunes of the Irish people not, by their example and language in that House, to try and force the people of the country into such a disastrous conflict. The Government in this Proclamation had declared on sworn information that this meeting is to be proclaimed and not allowed to be held.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, the terms of the Proclamation were—Now, we, the Lord Lieutenant and General Governor of Ireland, do hereby prohibit such meeting, and do strictly caution and forewarn all persons whomsoever that they do abstain from taking part in, or encouraging, or inciting to the same; and we hereby give notice that if in defiance of this, our Proclamation, any such meeting at Ballycoree or its neighbourhood shall be attempted or take place the same will be prevented, and all persons attempting to take part in or encouraging the same or inciting thereto will be proceeded against according to law.That was the solemn Proclamation put forward by the Executive Government. Responsible politicians might challenge the policy and the authority of the Executive in doing this; but as far as his memory went back he could not recall an instance of any responsible politician in that House inciting the people of the country to violate the Proclamation and insisting upon holding a meeting which the Executive had declared to be illegal.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
said, he had hoped before the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland sat down that he would have set at rest one point which had been urged by more than one previous speaker. The Irish Members had specifically pressed about 10 times for an answer to a plain question; and if the Government found fault with his hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) for making a Motion of this kind, he must point out 771 that it could be easily avoided by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary giving straightforward answers. He thought the country would judge on whose shoulders the responsibility for wasting the time of the House rested. They had asked why, if this meeting was illegal next Sunday, it was not illegal if it had been held last Sunday? Were the Government going to give an answer to that question?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, as the question had been put before the House he had not the slightest objection to answer it. The Government had decided to proclaim the meeting had it been held last Sunday.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I presume the hon. and learned Gentleman does not cast doubt upon my words? The reason why the decision was not made public was because we had heard some time previously that owing to the debate which would take place on the Proclamation of the National League the meeting was to be postponed.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he thought the answer was a very fair one; but he desired to point out this curious fact. He presumed that it had been the intention of the Government from the very first to proclaim the meeting. This meeting had been announced nearly four weeks; but the responsible politicians who were concerned in the meeting, and who had made all their arrangements for attending it, never heard of the Proclamation until the Thursday morning—three days before the meeting—that it was to be put down. The Government would probably remember the famous case of O'Connell at Clontarf. In that case the Government were charged with having a desire to get O'Connell into a conflict with the law by issuing a Proclamation of the meeting at Clontarf almost on the eve of its being held; and it was charged, and not denied, that the Government took that course in order to got O'Connell into a trap. They had their guns presented from the Pigeonhouse Fort towards Clontarf, where the meeting was to be held. Now, it struck him (Mr. T. M. Healy) that the right hon. Gentleman wished to follow the fatal and unfortunate action of the Government 772 of that day in postponing the Proclamation of the meeting to the last moment that he might get the people on the bayonets of the soldiers and police. He had been greatly surprised by the observations of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland, when he said that no responsible politician had ever before challenged the action of the Executive. Was Cromwell a responsible politician? Was John Hampden a responsible politician? Were any of the men who made English liberties what they were prominent or responsible politicians? Every liberty won for this country and for Ireland had been won in defiance of their Executive. What were the bases of the Government's legality? The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had put himself into their hands when he stated that Lord Spencer proclaimed meetings. When Lord Spencer proclaimed meetings he had in every instance statutory warrant under the Crimes Act. Could the Government produce any authority or warrant under their Crimes Acts?
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Yes, in the case of the Sheriffs' sales, although at these people were allowed to assemble, otherwise there would have been no auction; but he would tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what Lord Cowper did. When Sheriffs' sales and evictions were going to be held, Lord Cowper issued Proclamations stating that he would not allow riotous assemblies at Sheriffs' sales; but he asked the Government to give an instance of Lord Cowper proclaiming a public meeting. He had listened with some amazement to the talk of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary as to the responsibility for bloodshed. He was not aware that there was to be any bloodshed next Sunday. The people would assemble and disperse when they had done their business; and probably instead of one meeting being held there would be 20 meetings held. In addition to this, a feeling of irritation would be produced in the minds of the people, which would probably have more detrimental effects than if the Government had left the meeting alone. The Government believed that the meeting would be mischievous in its results; but they may be 773 assured that the consequences of the Proclamation would be mischievous. Supposing one drop of blood was spilt, did the Government think that the crimson stain shed by them in Clare next Sabbath would not—like the eddy in the pond—grow larger, and encircle in a far wider sweep than they ever contemplated? He deplored the conduct of the Government; they had no law or warrant on their side; they had nothing but the ipse dixit of Lord Londonderry. The Government said, however, that they had the Common Law. On the contrary, the Common Law was in favour of the Irish Members. The Common Law showed that where a sworn information was made it was laid down by the highest Courts in the country that the mere apprehension of the people going to create a disturbance was not a reason for the magistrates dispersing the meeting. He had always thought that instead of O'Connell going to Clontarf he should have gone somewhere else after the Proclamation. The Irish Members had advanced a long way since 1847. They knew better how to conduct politics and organizations since that time. They were old Parliamentary hands; old Constitutional hands so far as they were allowed to have any Constitution. [Ironical Cheers.] He would withdraw the expression if it was offensive to hon. Gentlemen who had deprived them of it. Therefore, so far as the Constitution permitted they would face and put down the illegality of Her Majesty's Government. Lord Londonderry's Proclamation was a more dummy; the fact that he had signed it gave him no more power than if it had been signed by John Smith, or W. H. Smith, or anybody else. Lord Spencer had the power under Statute; but was he to be told that when an Act of Parliament lapsed the power resided in the Executive? In the Act of 1882 the Government had to take statutory power to proclaim meetings; therefore they had no such power without the Statute. In the present Crimes Act the Government did not take any such statutory power; therefore in proclaiming the Ennis meeting they stood on the rotten footing of illegality. He might be told that the Government would resist the assembling of this meeting; but the power of the Government, after all, was limited by the number of soldiers and 774 police at their disposal, and though by massing a large force at Ennis next Sunday they might succeed in preventing a meeting on this particular hill, still they had to consider the effect this would have upon the minds of the people. The people would be exasperated and inflamed at not being allowed to meet peaceably, and at being driven to hold hole-and-corner meetings on the highways and byways. Thousands of people would come there, and there would be plenty of people to address them; and would they prevent those people from listening to them? The Government were only at the beginning of their difficulties; they had only got their feet into the mess; they would be up to their chin in it soon. This particular Proclamation referred only to next Sunday and to County Clare. Supposing the Government could mass the British. Army in the County Clare next Sunday — supposing they could bring their cannon—as he believed they did in one instance lately in New Ross—to sweep the approaches and prevent an assemblage, it would be very good in relation to the County Clare and in relation to next Sunday; but there were 52 Sundays in the year, and there were 32 counties in Ireland, and innumerable parishes and places where the people could assemble, and the Government would only drive the people to a game of hide and go-seek. After all, the Government had only got 30,000 troops and 12,000 police, and if they meant to be successful they would have largely to supplement this force. They were, therefore, trying to do what was practically attempting to keep back the tide with a pitchfork. The Proclamation would have a much more inflammatory effect than the right hon. Gentleman reckoned upon. He had flung down the glove to the Irish people. It was said that the Government on their own responsibility, at whatever cost, at whatever bloodshed, would resist the assemblage in Clare by force. Suppose some foolish Constabulary man should allow his rifle to go off, the matter could not end there. He would let the Irish people place their construction upon it. He would place his own. Suppose the leaders advised the people peaceably to disperse in Clare next Sunday; the policy of suppressing meetings could not stop here. The land- 775 ords, in response to whose resolutions this meeting had been proclaimed, would have an appetite for more suppression, and the people would say—"We will not go to these meetings in future without some means of self-defence." Of course, the Government must be well aware that under the Areas Act they had only taken power to deprive the people of the ordinary weapons of war; but he apprehended that the people of Ireland would not tamely submit to illegality. That kind of thing could not be allowed to go on. The liberties of the people had to be won, sometimes at a very great price, and the fact that they had in the Government a number of Gentlemen sworn to put down the liberties of the masses of their fellow-countrymen would simply teach the Irish people that they had far better meet the Government fair and square at once. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Ireland (Colonel King-Harman), after the Dromore meeting, when Giffen was killed, mourned thus—"A loyal man stabbed, and not a single Nationalist's head broken ! "No doubt, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman found it a very unpleasant thing that no Nationalist's head had been broken; but now that he was at the beginning of directing operations against the Nationalists it was well to know that the very first Nationalist's head broken would not be the only head broken. In stating these facts he was not in any sense advising the Irish people to enter into a contest with the Government; he was simply indicating what he believed would be the result of the tyranny of the Government, and of their intention to needlessly spill the blood of the Irish people. The only chance for the people of Ireland to get fair play from the landlord Executive during the coming winter was the holding of public meetings. The landlords coveted the huts of the people; but the people would defend those huts, and their only means of defence was to assemble in their thousands to overawe tyranny and despotism. The Government of Ireland was a tyranny tempered by public meetings; and it was Captain Plunkett, and others like him, who had instigated the Government to proclaim this meeting. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was doing the work of the 776 landlords, whose puppet he was, whenever he stood up at the Table of the House. If hon. Gentlemen who voted away the lives and liberties of the Irish people could only see the conduct of this wretched crowd of landlords — from Sunday until Monday, and from the 1st of January to the 31st of December— who instigated them to that action, they would loathe and shrink from expressing approval of their conduct. It was that miserable gang of local landlords who had made Ireland detest the name of England, and caused English law to become a bye-word in Ireland. The Government might secure the friendship of 150,000 people in the country, instead of six; but they preferred the friendship of that miserable gang, simply for the purpose of preventing Irish landlords giving reductions of rent which English landlords had already given. That was the whole object of this Proclamation. It was as much a question of pounds, shillings, and pence as if the money were counted out on the Table; and it would be cheaper to vote the amount of the money to the landlords than to transport troops and policemen to Ennis next Sunday. It would be better to put a Vote on the Estimates every year for these reductions which the Irish landlords were called upon to make, but which the English landlords made voluntarily, than that there should be a repetition of these barbarities. It cost the taxpayers more to carry out these evictions than the whole reductions of rent came to; and he would, therefore, be in favour of reducing the Vote for Police and president Magistrates in order that the Irish landlords might be paid their rack-rents out of the Exchequer. It was a melancholy thing that English Governments went through the same round of repression year after year. Was war to be always going on in Ireland? Was there never to be any truce? Was there to be this winter the same round of scenes, sacrifices, disturbances, and even bloodshed that had occurred in previous winters? He told the Government that their Proclamation would be derided and torn up by the people. They would run a hole through it; they would drive a coach and four through it. The Proclamation would have just as much power to stop the people as the paper hoop had to stop the progress of the acrobat in a circus who leaped through 777 it. The people of Clare would jump through the Proclamation as the acrobat; jumped through the hoop, and would then hold it up and show others how it was done. The Government would issue one Proclamation after another, and get deeper and deeper into the mire, until the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, broken in health, spirits, and perhaps in reputation, would be replaced by someone who knew no more than the right hon. Gentleman had known last March, drafted on to the Treasury Bench to make new mistakes, and perhaps spill new blood. The Irish people knew it was useless to make further appeals to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, but they would make appeals outside; and he would tell the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that he was treading in a path which lead nowhere, except to destruction so far as his own personal reputation was concerned. The course the Government were pursuing would do the landlords no good; but, on the contrary, it would do them mischief. It would lead to irritation and, perhaps, to disorder, which in the end would only bring about what all must desire to prevent. It would make the Irish still more indignant against the English laws, would make them still more persistent, and might cause them to fling over the advice of their Representatives as the advice of men who were too moderate, because the Irish Members had strained their minds to give the people the advice of moderation within the past few months. He appealed to hon. Members opposite to use their influence; to endeavour in private —they could not do it in that House because they would be denounced—-to put some pressure upon Her Majesty's Government and try and knock a little common sense into the heads of the managers of the Irish Government. He assured them that if they did that they would do more good for their own country and for Ireland than they would do by any amount of support they gave to the policy of repression.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I wish to say in all sincerity that if I were convinced that the meeting that is to be held on Sunday nest is of such a character as to be manifestly an illegal meeting, or if I were satisfied that the Government had legal ground for the action which they propose to take next 778 Sunday, I should—while deprecating the impolicy of the proceeding—abstain from condemning them by following the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) into the Lobby, as I intend on the present evidence to do to-night. I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson); and I felt, after hearing both of them, more entirely bewildered than I was before they began as to the grounds on which this meeting is to be put down. What is the legal ground given by the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland for the course the Government are pursuing? It is not statutory ground. He said that the Government were proceeding under Common Law, and he defined the Common Law as this—that Her Majesty's Government in Ireland were entitled to suppress any meeting which, in their opinion, would tend to disorder and violence. Then as to the reason for the action which Her Majesty's Government have taken. The right hon. and learned Attorney General says that Clare— where this meeting is to be held—is in a disturbed condition; therefore, the result of the meeting will be violence and crime. There is a third reason which the Government allege for their action. It is that the Resident Magistrates of the neighbourhood are of opinion that disturbance of the peace will be the result of the meeting. Is that the Common Law of England? I, for one, should be both sorry and surprised if such a doctrine could be proclaimed as the Common Law either in England or Ireland. If this meeting is to be suppressed, the Government is taking upon itself a great responsibility. It would be a great responsibility, even if the meeting were illegal, to put it down by bare brutal force. The only justification for such action would be in the case of what is called an unlawful assembly. I am going to read to the House a few sentences, in which the greatest living master of Criminal Law in England has defined what, according to the Common Law in England as well as in Ireland, is an unlawful assembly. Mr. Justice Stephen says—" An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three or four persons"— here the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland is on safe ground— 779 ''together with intent to commit a crime by open force." Is that what the meeting in County Clare is going to do? Has anybody declared that they intend to commit crimes either by force or without force? On the contrary, those who have got up the meeting have declared their objects in the placard read this evening; and these objects have been admitted both by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary and the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland to be distinctly political, and not criminal. Another definition which Mr. Justice Stephen gives of an illegal assembly is this—They must meet with intent to carry out any common purpose, lawful or unlawful, in such a manner as to give firm and courageous persons in the neighbourhood reasonable grounds for apprehending a breach of the peace in consequence of it.Now, who are the firm and courageous persons in the neighbourhood of this proposed meeting who have given this information to the Government? Is that doctrine of the greatest master of the Criminal Law now living in England consistent with the doctrines laid down by the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland — namely, that wherever the Government believes that a meeting will tend to disorder, no matter what the intent of the persons calling it may be, it must be suppressed? When the legality of this procedure comes to be decided by a Court of Law, one of the points which will have to be considered is whether the Government have weakly yielded to panic, or whether their complainants were firm and courageous persons. The main thing is this. There must be an intention on the part of those who get up the meeting, not only to carry out the purpose of the meeting, but to carry it out in such a manner as to give those persons reasonable grounds to apprehend a breach of the peace. I call the House to bear witness that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland have shown nothing to justify a reasonable fear that any breach of the peace whatever is likely to result from this meeting. All they allege is that this is a public meeting on an exciting subject in an excited neighbourhood, and that the result will be to tend 780 to disorder. Is the language of Mr. Justice Stephen consistent with that position? I say, with reference to the action the Government are taking, that this House is called upon to preserve, not merely the liberties of Ireland, but the liberties of England—and, as a Scotch Member, I will say the liberties of Scotland as well. The House should follow the well-beaten and authoritative path marked out in the words of Mr. Justice Stephen, and repudiate and refuse the vague and unconstitutional legal doctrines laid down by the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland. There is another point. Though the Proclamation has been read to the House, we do not yet know what the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary or the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland intend to do on Sunday; but I now put the question boldly and broadly in this House. Do they mean to put down this meeting with the exercise of all the force that may be necessary to prevent the people coming together to that assembly? We are told by those who are well entitled to speak, by those who are advertised to address the meeting, that they mean to go to that meeting and resist with legal force any force that may be used against them. I put it to the Government—Do you intend to use the powers that undoubtedly are at your disposal? Do you intend to use the fullest influence that may be necessary to enable you to put down the meeting which you have declared to be illegal? Do you intend, if necessary, to kill — legally if your view is right, but illegally if your view turns out to be wrong, and that of Mr. Justice Stephen is right — those who insist on holding that meeting, contrary to the Proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant? That position you are bound to take up. Your ground is utterly worthless. Unless you commit yourself to the most extreme consequences— namely, to the extent of bloodshed— you will not prevent that meeting being held. What I ask is—Are you willing to back your opinion as to the unlawfulness of this assembly to the extent of killing those who may choose to take part in it? If you have not that intention your Proclamation, I venture to say, is worthless. If you have that intention, the seriousness of the case is such that this House ought to pause 781 before assenting to the position which Her Majesty's Government have taken up. I, for one, will be no party to it, either by my vote, or my voice, or my silence. I hope the Tory Party itself will pause before committing the House to such an extreme and such a dangerous position as that which I have shown to be the necessary and logical consequence of the doctrines which have been laid down in this House to-night.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said, they were entitled to assume, and did assume, that this meeting, which was convened for political purposes, was, by the admission of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson), suppressed for political purposes. He (Mr. Clancy) challenged contradiction when he said that three-fourths of all the meetings suppressed in Ireland had been suppressed in the counties of Clare and Kerry; and yet crime, instead of decreasing, had actually increased in these particular localities to a larger extent than in any other part of Ireland. It seemed to him that if the Government had not the action of the last Liberal Government to point to in defence of coercion they would not have a log to stand upon in this controversy, or any of the recent controversies in which they were engaged. They were told, as usual, that what the Government proposed to do now had been done by Liberal Governments in former years. But, even if that were true, how could it bo argued that because a Liberal Administration once acted in defiance of the principles of liberty, the present Government were justified in acting in the same way? The answer to that was this —that two wrongs did not make a right. Among the many remarkable admissions which Lord Spencer had made since he gave up the government of Ireland the most remarkable was that the result of his action in suppressing public meetings and carrying out the coercion policy of the last Administration was from day to day to increase the power of the Nationalist Party, and that from day to day the power of the English Government in Ireland to maintain its position decreased steadily. Let the Government bear that in mind. They might suppress 50 or 60 meetings; they might imprison 1,000 men; they might hang 20 or 30 persons for political offences; but all he could say was that when the 782 present Government had carried out their present policy of coercion, the result would inevitably be the same as in Lord Spencer's experience, and they, or their Successors—if Successors of the same kidney still sat upon those Benches—would be forced to say that their policy of coercion was a failure— that from day to day the consequence of it was not to decrease but to increase the strength of the National Party in Ireland and weaken the power of the British Administration.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
said, that, as a Member of that House, he desired to wash his hands publicly of the awful responsibility that rested on those who supported the Government on that occasion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) had truly said that the Proclamation did not make illegal that which was innocent in England. He would remind hon. Members of this—that there was a vital difference between the position of the Government now and that of Lord Spencer's Government. Lord Spencer had a special statutory power to suppress meetings at his own discretion; but that was not the case with the present Government. He gathered from the right hon. and learned Attorney General that what constituted the illegality in his eyes was not what would occur at the meeting on Sunday, but certain "ulterior consequences" of an injurious character which he imagined, at some future period, might flow from that meeting. If that was the ground on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman rested, he warned him that if any of his subordinates should come before a jury it would be the duty of the Judge to charge that jury that that afforded no ground of illegality whatsoever. The only circumstances that could by any possibility make an ordinary meeting unlawful would be that the manner in which it was brought about was such as to give firm and courageous men reasonable belief that a breach of the peace would arise. Ulterior consequences had nothing to do with it; and no person, no soldier or policeman, engaged at the meeting derived any protection whatever from that Proclamation. If a jury found there was no reasonable ground for anticipating breach of the peace, every one of the persons was liable for assault, 783 and if any lives were lost they would be liable to be tried for murder. It appeared to him that the Government had now entered on the fatal path which for some time he had foreseen they would be obliged to take. They had now openly declared war on public meetings in Ireland. He challenged any hon. Member who had beard the placard road to say, if this was not a legitimate public meeting, what political meeting possibly could be legitimate in Ireland. Nothing had been alleged to justify the Government in suppressing this meeting which would not justify them in suppressing all meetings. That was a very serious state of affairs. If it was not too late, he would address a word of warning to the Government. For many years past the political affairs of this country had been conducted without extreme violence on the part of one Party towards another; but the Government had taken powers to give the plank bed, the prison code, starvation fare, and the treadmill to their political opponents in that House. That was a very serious thing, because, if his reading of history was not entirely wrong, wicked conduct of that kind led to reprisals. Hon. Members opposite would not always be in power. The turn of the other side would come—the turn of an indignant and an outraged democracy would come—and he feared that the example which had been set of violence and illegality by hon. Members on the Ministerial Benches might produce evil and injurious consequences. They had heard from the landlords and their friends that the cure for all the difficulties of the Irish tenant was the emigration of the people from the soil—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is not keeping himself to the point of definite public importance —namely, the Proclamation of a meeting next Sunday.
§ MR. HUNTER
said, he was afraid that in his illustration he had gone a little beyond that point. He only wished, before sitting down, to say that the course which the Government had wantonly adopted was a proceeding like that of the bloody Peterloo; and all he could say was that they would be very fortunate if the massacre of Peterloo was not crowned by the worse massacre of bloody Ennis.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool. Scotland)
said, he was surprised that the two able addresses from two able lawyers had received no reply from the Treasury Bench. He had heard nothing from the Treasury Bench to show that in the opinion of the Government the meeting was illegal.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman claimed that if they thought a meeting was dangerous to the public peace they were acting legally in proclaiming that meeting. He must say that that was an opinion which might have been proclaimed with some show of reason some time ago; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman was surely not unaware of the fact that a Member of thatHouse—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), who was at one time Home Secretary, and who had been an eminent practitioner at the Bar—had declared that that conception of the Common Law right of the Government was wrong. The Executive possessed no such right, the decision in the Salvation Army case having disposed of any such claim. If Lord Spencer and the Executive had a Common Law right to proclaim meetings and prevent them, why was it necessary to confer that right upon them by Statute in that House? He contended that the Act of 1881 was unnecessary and uncalled for. The doctrine laid down seemed to be that because something might be said which the Government would not like, therefore the meeting should be suppressed. The position they were in then was that if a number of persons meet next Sunday in spite of that Proclamation they would be acting perfectly within their legal: right, and if they disregarded the Proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant they would disregard a Proclamation that was illegal, and that if they defended their rights against the police sent to disperse them they were defending their legal right against illegal offenders. He wished to know what crime the Government would be guilty of if their soldiers or police shed innocent blood, when they were acting illegally, and when those whom they killed were acting within their legal rights? He was asto- 785 nished at the action of the Government. He thought that with all the powers they had at their disposal they would, at all events, attempt to minimize the action of the Executive with reference to large bodies of men. They had the power to strike, and to strike hard, at individuals who offended them or made themselves unpleasant. That being so, surely they might have refrained from interfering with large political rights. He should have thought, also, that the circumstances of the times would have been a reason for their not needlessly provoking the people. The fact of it was the Government had proclaimed war against the Irish people. Their Proclamation was issued in that spirit, and it would be received in that spirit by the Irish people, and it would be resisted in that spirit. By the time this conflict was over, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would be as bankrupt and dishonoured as ever Judge Jeffreys was; and right hon. Gentlemen who were in the position of the Government would be as bankrupt and disreputable a political Party as ever used power which a temporary chance had given them.
§ MR. ROWNTREE (Scarborough)
said, that a more unfortunate expression never was used than the expression used by the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) with reference to English and Scotch political Reformers. The right hon. and learned Attorney General told them that if the people of Ireland were left alone and were not interfered with by political performers things would go on all right; but it was because he and others believed they had a great duty to do towards the poor peasants of Ireland that they were found devoting themselves to that duty. Perhaps at no period of history had so many evictions gone on without crime being committed; and were English Members to be warned away from Ireland and be told that they were political performers? The abject condition into which the Irish people had sunk might be inferred from the fact that when he was in Ireland the people, hearing that he was a Member of Parliament, crowded round him, and asked him whether he could not do them some good, imploring him, at all events, not to do them any harm. It would be doing the Irish people a great deal of 786 harm and a great wrong to take away the last miserable rag of their liberty which existed in the right of public meeting; and it struck him that it was a most melancholy finish of this Session of Parliament.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 61; Noes 97: Majority 36.—(Div. List, No. 440.)