HC Deb 23 May 1890 vol 344 cc1719-31

Resolution, 22nd May, reported (see page 1632.)

Resolution read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

(5.50.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

I have now to demand from the Irish Government an explicit declaration of their intentions with respect to a public meeting, fixed to be held at Tipperary, on Sunday next, in order to afford the Members for the district an opportunity for conferring with their constituents on public affairs, and especially on the legislative proposals with regard to Ireland which are at present before the House. I insist that there is nothing in the state of popular feeling in the district constituting anything like a menace to public order or the public peace. It cannot be pretended that the Plan of Campaign is in operation there now. On the 13th of last month a public meeting on a very large scale was allowed at this very spot, without interference on the part of the authorities, and the result justified such non-interference, and I maintain that there is no rational ground for apprehending danger in the present case. The meeting has been advertised for many weeks; extensive arrangements have been made for holding it, and contingents of Nationalists are to attend from various parts of the country. We are now within 48 hours of the time fixed for the meeting on Sunday, and yet the people and all concerned are left in ignorance as to whether the meeting is to be permitted or not. Such a policy,. I contend, is calculated to create disorder. I know that within the last few hours the right hon. Gentleman has had a private conversation with Mr. Smith-Barry and his agent. There can be no worse enemy of the public peace than the Minister or the Government which allows arrangements for a meeting of this kind to go forward throughout a wide district, and up to the last moment leaves everybody in doubt as to their intentions in the matter. I claim for the people of Tipperary the right to hold this meeting as an essential and indispensable part of their system of Parliamentary government.


The information I have received does not bear out the notion that extensive local preparations have been made for the meeting announced for next Sunday at Tipperary. The information I have re- garding the meeting is drawn from certain statements which have appeared from time to time in the Freeman's Journal, and the report of a speech of the hon. Member delivered, not in Tip-penny, but in Dublin, on the occasion of a recent meeting of the National League. These are very imperfect sources of information from which to ascertain clearly or explicitly what the character of the demonstration is to be, and it was from the mouth of the hon. Gentleman himself that I first learnt that what is contemplated is a great open air demonstration in the town of Tipperary.


I am aware of five special trains to be run from Cork, Waterford, Dublin, Kanturk, and Clonmel.


I am obliged for the information; it is not yet in possession of the authorities in Dublin Castle, and, of course, I will take advantage of it to prevent the intending excursionists from being put to inconvenience. The intended open air meeting cannot be permitted by the authorities. I am sure the hon. Member for West Belfast will agree that nothing could be more concisely explicit than the statement which, as the Representative of the Irish Government, I made on this subject yesterday.

An hon. MEMBER: In the William O'Brien Arcade.


Yes, in the William O'Brien Arcade. I was not certain what the meeting was. But I did say, in a most explicit and categorical manner, in regard to Sunday's meeting, that if one of the great open air demonstrations which from time to time had taken place in Ireland was contemplated, that could not be permitted in a town in the condition of Tipperary at this moment. The hon. Member desires to convict me of inconsistency, because, holding these views, there was no attempt made to prevent the meeting in connection with the formal opening of the William O'Brien Arcade. I would point out, however, that the circumstances were entirely different. The programme of the demonstration held, I believe, on the 13th April [An hon. MEMBER: "The 12th."] was well-known to the Government, and those who were responsible for organising the banquet were informed that if the programme was adhered to there would be no objection to its being gone through. An open air meeting was no part of the programme, and though I believe it is the fact that some ceremonial or other took place at the door of the William O'Brien Arcade, the whole of the proceedings were certainly not of the character which I understand attaches to the proceedings which are to take place on Sunday, and had they been, the meeting of the 13th April would have been stopped precisely as two preceding meetings, at which the hon. Member for North-East Cork was announced to speak were stopped earlier in the year, or at the end of last year. The consistency or inconsistency of the Government in this matter is, after all, a small affair. What is of importance is whether the Government are or are not justified in interfering with this meeting, and I say—and I say it confidently—that no one who has really studied not merely the rights or wrongs, or the origin of this dispute, but the history of the method by which it has been carried on can entertain the slightest doubt that meetings of this sort must lead to boycotting and intimidation, and ought, therefore, to be prohibited. I do not think it would be convenient or suitable that I should, on this occasion, dwell upon the not only insufficient but absurd reasons that have been alleged for stirring up the tenants of my hon. Friend who sits below the Gangway (Mr. Smith-Barry), reasons which amount, in short, to this: that my hon. Friend is one of those who resises an illegal conspiracy to which another landlord might probably fall a victim. I am not going into these reasons, but I do not think hon. Gentlemen opposite will persuade the people of this country that the actions of the Member for Fast Cork and others were otherwise than wholly unjustified in their origin, as they have been criminal and disastrous in their consequences. What I am more concerned with is what is actually taking place in Tipperary itself, and I do not think it at all necessary to go into disputed matter on this point. nor is it necessary that I should rely on the reports of police constables and inspectors, because it is not denied by the chief actors in the drama that intimidation and boycotting have gone on to a great extent. I observe that the Member for North Wexford gave a description of the state of things on the 14th September last. In the Wexford People the hon. Member was made to say that— He had never seen such excitement in his life as there was in the town of Tipperary. The houses of the men who paid their rents were there left alone by everyone. The houses of these men have been nearly wrecked That is a statement made by a Member of this House, an influential Member of the organisation which has produced the existing condition of things in Tipperary—a statement in which he actually triumphed at the disasters which his action, and that of others, had brought to the town. Another Member of the House, the Member for Longford, is reported in the Freeman's Journal, with regard to the conspiracy not to pay rents to my hon. Friend (Mr. Smith-Barry), to have said— Would the hon. Member (Mr. Smith-Barry) seek to eject these tenants. The way to consider this matter was to consider it calmly, and he should like to see Smith-Barry trying to eject a score or more of the principal shopkeepers of Tipperary! Ballycoohey would be nothing to it. Ballycoohey is well-known. It is a place in Tipperary where a landlord had some dispute of an agrarian character, the result being that a constable and the steward of the landlord were shot dead. I do not misinterpret this speech of the Member for Longford when I attribute to him the opinion that it was as impossible for my hon. Friend to do what, I think, as a matter of fact, he has done, namely, evict a score of the principal shopkeepers of Tipperary who have not paid their rent.


It was done in perfect peace.


I observe that at a meeting of the Tipperary branch of the National League Dr. J. F. O'Ryan made a speech in which he moved a Resolution directed against my hon. Friend (Mr. Smith-Barry), and in which the meeting pledged itself from that day forward not to hold any dealings whatever with the men who paid their rents, or their aiders or abettors. I could multiply examples of that kind. It is not denied, and cannot be denied, that there is a conspiracy against the payment of rents, that that conspiracy is supported by intimidation and violence, that the houses of those who venture to pay their rents have been wrecked, or nearly wrecked. [Cries of "No."]

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

Give a single instance.


The instances are given by the Member for North Wexford in the speech I have just quoted. It is not denied that not once or twice but many times there have been attempts by means of explosives and otherwise ["No, no!"] to terrorise and intimidate those who have done anything to fulfil their legal obligations. It is not denied, and cannot be, that boycotting exists to an enormous extent in Tipperary, and since this meeting of the 13th April, to which allusion has been made, Father Humphrys, a clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church, has written a letter, the authenticity of which has never been denied, in which be said,— As one of the Catholic clergy of Tipperary he protested against the libel that he was doing all he could to stop boycotting. I say if that is the attitude of Catholic clergymen in Tipperary, if that is the result of the agitation started by the Member for North-East Cork and his Friends, if the means I have described were being used to intimidate the shopkeepers of Tipperary, the Government would be neglecting its primary duty if it permitted a vast mass meeting under the auspices of the Member for East Cork, and the Member for East Mayo, to be held, a meeting, the only possible consequences of which would be that the terrorism which has existed for the last few months would be redoubled. I have had made out an account of certain crimes which have taken place in Tipperary during the last four months of 1887, 1888, and 1889 respectively, which is significant. I find that the number of persons convicted of drunkenness, assaults, or other crimes affecting the public peace in these periods was, in 1887, 143; in 1888, 162; and for the last four months of 1889, 274. [Laughter and cries of "Police statistics."]


You run them up when you like.


Though this may appear a laughing matter to some hon. Gentlemen, I apprehend that those who have the good of Ireland at heart will regard it as a serious result of the agitation of hon. Members.


If the right hon. Gentleman, instead of giving us the last four months of last year, had given us the first four months of this year. It would have been more to the point.


I do not know why it would be more to the point. I may say that these are figures which I got prepared for me some months ago, thinking that this question might be raised; but if the hon. Member thinks it desirable to go into the matter I will have further statistics collected. I think I have said enough to convince the House that the Government are more than justified in doing all they can to stop this proposed demonstration in Tipperary. I can prove without going to police statistics, but relying on the utterances of Catholic priests, Members of Parliament, and members of the National League, that a system of terrorism and boycotting exists in Tipperary which the Government is bound to put down by every means in their power, and which they will be responsible for encouraging if they permit meetings of this kind to take place without doing their best to prevent them.

(6.17.) MR. J. O'CONNOR

Anyone who has listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman must have come to the conclusion that the interview he had with the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Smith-Barry). and his agent from Tipperary has not been without effect.


I forgot to allude to that part of the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) in which he insinuated that the action of the Government had been in some way directed, or dictated, or suggested, by my hon. Friend below the Gangway. I need hardly say that I did not consult with anyone but my own officials in determining what to do.


Is it denied that the right hon. Gentleman last night conferred with Mr. Maurice Townsend, the agent for the hon. Member opposite?


It is absolutely untrue to say that the interview I had with Mr. Townsend last night—[Ironical Irish cheers]—yes, and which I am not ashamed of having had, decided the line I should take. That interview took place many hours after I had sent over a telegram to Ireland saying that under no circumstances would an open air meeting be permitted in Tipperary.


Well, there was a good deal of uncertainty in the replies given yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman to our questions as to the proposed meeting, and there was a good deal of uncertainty to-day in the mind of the learned Attorney General for Ireland.


I stated distinctly, when asked the question, that my right hon. Friend had stated yesterday that a meeting of the kind which he described—a large open air meeting—could not be held, and that I had nothing to add to the statement.


That explanation may be all very well in its way, but people of common sense will draw their own conclusions. It is a very strange thing that the certainty of the Government as to prohibiting the meeting should synchronise so completely with the meeting between the right hon. Gentleman and Mr. Townsend. In order to justify the proclamation of the meeting the right hon. Gentleman has quoted a list of crimes which have been committed in the district. But what is the nature of those so-called offences? In one instance a constituent of mine was charged with riot, and the Magistrates, having heard the case against him, found that there had been no riot, but because they thought that the meeting had been an exciting one they sentenced him to six weeks' imprisonment. In another case 15 persons were charged with taking part in a riotous assembly, and although they were acquitted of having committed the offence with which they were charged, for fear that they should do it again they were all sent to gaol for two months. The statement that a Mr. Phillips was boycotted, that a policeman attending a funeral was stoned, and that the services of a midwife were refused to the wife of a policeman, are absolutely untrue, though it is true that at the funeral a number of little children, all of whom were under seven years of age, seeing several policemen gathered together, shouted out "Balfour," which is an epithet of opprobrium in Ireland. Those are the kind of crimes which the right hon. Gentleman relies upon as justifying him in destroying the liberties of the Irish people, and in taking away their right of public meeting. People who make these and similar statements to the Chief Secretary have done so knowing them to be false, and the right hon. Gentleman has not been ashamed to repeat them, to the misleading of the House and the country. The speeches which were made at the previous meeting at Tipperary, which was conducted most openly, and during which the people and the police fraternised, were of a Constitutional character—of the same nature as those which we intend to deliver next Sunday at Tipperary, for we will hold that meeting at the risk of our lives in spite of the right hon. Gentleman's buckshot and bayonets, and will continue to hold such meetings until the liberties of Irishmen are restored to them. The right hon. Gentleman may send his police with their buckshot to the place of meeting. We have faced them before, and we will face them again.

DR TANNER (Cork Co., Mid.)

All he wants is blood.


I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that we will continue to hold meetings when he and his name are relegated to an obscurity from which history will never redeem them. It does not matter to Irish Members under what Government they are, when the only effective argument that is used against them is that of force. The Irish authorities are not willing that a good feeling should exist between the Irish people and the police, and that is the reason why this meeting is to be proclaimed. We will hold our meeting in the town of Tipperary, and we invite the right hon. Gentleman with all his force to come forward in aid of the hon. Member opposite, who is engaged in his unmanly and wretched crusade against the homes of the Irish people, backed up by the arms and repression of a tyrannical Government.

(6.30.) COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)

The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has told the House, like another celebrated Irishman, that he is "agin the Government." I do not see why the hon. Gentleman should blame the Chief Secretary for employing force, because the hon. Gentleman has told the House it is the only argument he will yield to. I have observed that hon. Gentlemen opposite are very reticent about the question of Tipperary. It has not been a favourite theme with them, because I suppose they know as well as I do that their action at Tipperary is condemned by the vast majority of the British people. I do not think hon. Gentlemen will describe to the British people how the action of the inhabitants of Tipperary was developed into the present condition of affairs. It has been represented by hon. Gentlemen that it is a sort of spontaneous manifestation on the part of the tenants of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry) because of his action with regard to the Ponsonby estate. How were the men of Tipperary got up to high-water mark? Boycotting notices were sown broadcast about the town. Within the last three weeks boycotting notices have been posted throughout Tipperary condemning the action of certain unpopular persons who have offended against the League, or who have held communication with those who are under the ban of the League. I think it a very good thing that the House and the country should remember that the action of the men of Tipperary has not been a spontaneous but a got-up action, under the authority and threats of the National League and of hon. Members below the Ganway opposite. Within the last three weeks a boycotting notice was posted in the Division which the hon. Member who has just spoken represents, holding up to execration a certain Mrs. Peer and a certain Tom Coghlan, of Fermoy, who supplied meat to a certain landgrabber named Noonan.


Fermoy is not in Tipperary, but in County Cork, 100 miles away.


Similar boycotting notices have been posted in Tipperary. I hold some in my hand— Boycott Smith-Barry. Boycott Horace Townsend, the long, oily, slippery, petty agent of a Syndicate. Boycott Walter Nolan, the emergency attorney from God knows where. Boycott Several others in similar terms. The action of the Tipperary people was not spontaneous, but got up and caused by the pressure and tyranny of the League which hon. Gentlemen opposite represent. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite who have advised the men of Tipperary to leave their good houses, built with stone and roofed with slate, and to go and live in the lath and plaster shanties in which they shiver at the present time—let those hon. Gentlemen give a banquet to the men who have followed their advice, and try to persuade these men that it is a more comfortable thing for them to live in their present huts than in the houses they have left. I think it matter for the greatest satisfaction that hon. Members have thought fit, just before the Whitsuntide recess, to bring this matter before the House and the country, because I believe the Government never had, and never will have, a better case to go to the country with than Tipperary. I believe nothing will do more damage to the cause of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

*(6.40.) MR. W. H. SMITH

May I be allowed to make an appeal to hon. Members. It is that they will now allow the Report to be taken, in order that I may make the Motion for the Adjournment?


Will the right hon. Gentleman closure the Motion for Adjournment?


Certainly not. If the House desires to sit on Monday I shall not offer any opposition.

MR. GILL (Louth, S.)

I shall not occupy more time than is necessary; certainly I shall conclude my remarks in time to allow the right hon. Gentleman to make his Motion. We have heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman's description of what he is pleased to call the terrorism going on in Tipperary. He has read to us a boycotting notice which referred not to County Tipperary but to County Cork, and he has argued that the men of Tipperary in surrendering their homes as a protest against the action of their landlords did not act spontaneously, but in a got-up manner. We must have a very great deal of power indeed in Ireland if our influence is so great as to compel men to give up their comfortable houses and properties and go out upon the roadside and occupy the shanties the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of. I cannot conceive a more forcible way of bringing home to the minds of the people the heroism of the people of Tipperary than the description the hon. and gallant Gentleman has given. We will await the verdict of the English people on the action of the men of Tipperary with absolute confidence: we will await their verdict on the action of the hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry), and the Government, which does not scruple to enter with the hon. Member and his agent into a conspiracy to suppress the right of public meeting in Ireland. The Chief Secretary has cited a number of statistics and reasons why this meeting should be suppressed. He told the House that at Ballycoley the tenants barricaded the houses and shot a constable and the steward of the landlord. Does he mean to insinuate that the people of Tipperary have carried out the programme of Ballycoley? I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to assert that in any single instance in Tipperary was there the slightestresistance to the process of eviction. I maintain that this attempt on the part of the Chief Secretary is a most monstrous and unscrupulous attempt to bemirch the character of the people and to misrepresent the great problem with which the Government in Ireland have to deal. Suppose that all the right hon. Gentleman has said were true; suppose every one of the so-called outrages which he describes had taken place before the meeting of April the 12th. If the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman has cited are valid reasons for suppressing the meeting of next Sunday, they were still more valid reasons for suppressing the meeting of last April, because they had occurred still closer to the time of meeting. I ask the House to consider what is the reason which common-sense-can alone deduce from the action of the right hon. Gentleman for the suppression of next Sunday's meeting and the allowing of the meeting of April the 12th. A large English contingent, consisting of a considerable number of English Members of Parliament and English leaders and representatives of English organisations, attended the meeting in April, and that is the sole and single quality which differentiates the meeting in April from the meeting next Sunday. I ask the House and the English people to consider well the extraordinary and glaring state of things which the Government action now reveals—to bear in mind the fact, that if the Irish, people wish to hold a meeting in their own country they must hold it under the protection of Englishmen. In face of his action in regard to next Sunday's meeting, will the right hon. Gentleman ever assert again that the Irish people enjoy the same liberty as the English people? The right hon. Gentleman cited a passage from a letter of Father Humphrys, in which that reverend gentleman said, in effect, he would be ashamed to refrain from defending boycotting'. I repeat the sentiment expressed by Father Humphrys in his letter, because I know well what it means. I. should be ashamed to refrain from defending boycotting as it is understood in Tipperary. Boycotting has taken place in Tipperary, but it is of the class which I am prepared to defend here or before any civilised audience. It is simply and solely exclusive dealing, the exercise by the community of one of the rights they possess, to protect themselves against the hostility of individual of their own class.

It being ten minutes to Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed this day.