Imagini ale paginilor

of the Cabinet were present, the noble lord, in the course of his speech, passed in review the several questions which at that time occupied the public mind, and would shortly demand the intervention of the Legislature. After particularizing several of these, Lord Stanley prefaced the remarks he had to make by a forcible appeal to his hearers on the urgency of the case of Ireland. "It is one," he said, "which I suppose at the present moment is hardly ever absent from the mind of any person who takes part in public affairs. I mean the painful, the dangerous, and to us, in appearance at least, the discreditable state of things which unhappily continues to exist in Ireland. We have, indeed, in that country a strange and perplexing problem to solve. I suppose there never was a time when Englishmen of all parties and all classes were more anxious to give all reasonable satisfaction to Irish demands, and even, as far as can be done without national injury, to humour the feelings and prejudices of the Irish people. The material condition of Ireland is not bad. Certainly it is far above the average of what it has been in former years; the peasantry are better fed, better clothed, and better paid than they were twenty years ago. The more educated class share absolutely and without restriction the advantages of British citizenship. Nothing is wanted except a little peace and security for uncounted millions of British capital to pour into that country, as English wealth has poured into Scotland, and as it continues every day to pour into colonies that are separated from us by the breadth of the globe; yet it would be idle to deny that discontent is very widely spread, that disaffection is not unfrequent, and that there is a portion of the population-I hope not a considerable portion, but still a portion-who regard their connexion with England as a burden rather than as a benefit. Well, that is a miserable state of things; and yet when we look for a remedy, who is there that can give us an intelligible answer?" The noble speaker went on to examine in detail the various demands made by the organs of Irish discontent for redress and satisfaction, characterizing some of these, such as the repeal of the union, and the conversion of yearly tenants into owners of the soil, as too chimerical to be entertained. Another great subject of controversy, that of the Protestant Church Establishment, Lord Stanley, while admitting its gravity, passed over as one which, in his position, and under the circumstances of the time, it was inexpedient to descant upon. "It is perfectly clear," he said, "that if there is to be any legislation-I don't say that there oughtaffecting the political position of the various parties in Ireland, such legislation ought not be the work of a dying Parliament, returned by a constituency which is itself about to be considerably modified." Finally the noble lord concluded his review of Irish affairs by the emphatic declaration, which was frequently referred to in the Parliamentary discussions of the ensuing session, that the condition of Ireland was "the question of the hour." After such a statement from one of the leading members of the Government,

it will not be a matter of surprise to observe how very large a space in the proceedings of the Legislature, and how important a bearing upon the current of political events, and upon the position of statesmen, are to be ascribed to the controversies arising out of the condition of the sister country.

It will be remembered that the Parliamentary Session of 1867-8 commenced in the latter part of the former year, in consequence of the occasion which arose for summoning the Legislature in order to make provision for the expenses of the Abyssinian expedition. The Royal speech, containing the usual programme of the ministerial projects of legislation, was delivered on the 19th November, 1867, and included, among its leading topics, the recent aggression on the Papal territories, and the consequent intervention of France; the "treasonable conspiracy" and outrages of Fenianism; the intended Reform Bills for Ireland and Scotland, with the Boundary Bills for the three kingdoms; the great question of the Education of the People; together with measures for the Prevention of Bribing at Elections, for the better administration of Public Schools, for the amendment of legal procedure, and other


The first question of importance which engaged the attention of Parliament on its re-assembling after the Christmas recess, on the 13th of February, was the renewal of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland. This was the third year in which the condition of the sister kingdom had unhappily rendered necessary the continuance of this restriction on the personal liberty of the subject. Two years before the first Act had been passed, which gave the Lord-Lieutenant the power of imprisoning those whom he had reason to suspect of traitorously conspiring to disturb the peace of the realm. Twelve months later the Government supposed the Fenian conspiracy to be so far crushed that they advised Her Majesty to declare, in her speech from the throne, her hope that exceptional legislation might then be dispensed with. Unhappily the effect of this announcement was to bring back to England the foreign emissaries engaged in fomenting the conspiracy, and again enkindle the spirit of sedition. It became necessary to renew the expiring Act, but the Government were still content to ask a renewal for three months only, and it was not till the session was well advanced, and sedition had developed into rebellion, that the suspension was further extended till the spring of 1868. Again, for the third time, the Secretary for Ireland found it necessary to ask for a supension of constitutional rights, nor could he now venture to limit his proposal to three or even to six months, but proposed to Parliament to sanction for a whole year, viz. till March 1, 1869, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. In asking leave to bring in a Bill to this effect on the 14th February, Lord Mayo assured the House of Commons that nothing but a conviction of the absolute necessity for the preservation of peace would have induced the Government to ask for a continuance of these

exceptional powers. In justification of the measure, Lord Mayo stated that though the Fenian leaders had recently transferred the scene of their active operations to this country, there were still events occurring in Ireland which made it necessary that the Government should have this power. They had also information that among the leaders of the conspiracy, both in the United States and on the Continent, considerable activity prevailed. Most of these leaders were men who had been engaged in the American war, and had refused to return to civil life, who had thrown off their allegiance to the British Crown, and carried on their machinations out of the reach of our authority. Explaining the mode in which the Act had been worked, Lord Mayo stated that there were at that time ninety-six persons in custody under the LordLieutenant's warrant, of whom eighty-three were in Mountjoy prison, subject to no other hardship than detention. The number of persons arrested from the 1st of January, 1867, to the 31st of January, 1868, was 265, and of these 111 were arrested in March last, when the short-lived outbreak occurred. The numbers arrested fell away at first after the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act was continued. In July eight were arrested, and during August, September, and October there were only two arrests; but the number subsequently increased, and in the last three months thirty-three arrests were made. Out of the whole number of 265 arrested, ninety-five, including many of the principal persons, had come from America. An observation of at least equal importance might be made on the classification of the persons arrested. They were, almost without exception, persons whose industry was their only wealth-men who might, if they wished, earn a living, and possibly at some time had done so, as clerks, shop-assistants, artisans, and labourers. The agents of sedition were thus those who risked nothing but their liberty in engaging in it, while those who had given any hostages to fortune kept aloof. Among the 265 were ninety artisans, sixty-six labourers, twenty-five professional men and clerks, a certain number of shop-assistants, sailors, and persons of no employment, and only eleven farmers. Lord Mayo called attention to this remarkable abstinence of the occupiers of land-the most numerous industrial class of the community-from participation in Fenian designs. He stated that the Government had invariably been careful to arrest only the leaders, and not to put these powers in force against the mere dupes; and he drew from the statistics of the arrests the conclusion that the movement was confined in Ireland to the very lowest class of the population. To show that these powers-which had been used to suppress no other liberty than that of rebellion-had been efficacious, he read an extract from the New York People, and he mentioned that, out of forty-three military leaders sent from America, the three principals had never reached Ireland, and the others had either been brought to justice or were exiles. After repelling indignantly the insinuation that the Government had at one time shut its eyes to

the conspiracy with a view of encouraging it to an open revolt, in which it might be more summarily crushed, Lord Mayo concluded by warmly eulogizing the conduct of all concerned in the maintenance of the law, dwelling particularly on the fidelity and courage of the police.

Mr. Bagwell, while admitting the necessity of the Bill, and that the powers granted to the Government had been exercised with much mildness, expressed his regret that the proposal to renew the suspending Act had not been preceded by some measures of conciliation and relief. He assured the Government that unless they were prepared to deal broadly with the Irish question, they must not expect to continue in office. The Bill was read a first time without further discussion and passed rapidly through its remaining stages in the House of Commons, a few remarks only being offered upon the second reading by Mr. Chichester Fortescue, who, while admitting the impossibility of refusing these exceptional powers, and that the Bill had the acquiescence of all persons in Ireland who had any thing to lose, maintained that its necessity was an evidence of continuous disaffection, and regretted that it had not been preceded or accompanied by some remedial measures.

A discussion of some interest took place in the House of Lords on the 24th of February, when the second reading of the Bill was moved, in the absence of Lord Derby from illness, by the Earl of Malmesbury. That noble lord in so doing expressed a confident opinion that this exceptional and most painful mode of legislation would soon be no longer necessary. His lordship drew a comparison between the Fenian conspiracy, which was joined by none but the lowest of the people, and the great rebellions of '98 and 1803, which were supported by some of the most considerable of the gentry in the sister kingdom. It was plain, therefore, that the great remedial measures which had been passed in the interval of sixty-five years had had their effect in rendering the great mass of the industrious people more peaceable, more contented, and more loyal. He trusted that, though the Government took powers to suspend the Act for another year, long before that time expired they would be able to restore to the people of Ireland the same full measure of liberty as was enjoyed by the rest of Her Majesty's subjects in other parts of the kingdom.

Lord Russell said it was no light thing for the Government to ask leave for the third time to suspend one of the most important liberties of the subject, and to come unprepared with any statement as to how they meant to conciliate the disaffection which undoubtedly largely existed in Ireland. Ireland stood almost alone among modern European countries in its chronic disaffection, and it could not be denied that it laboured under both evils and grievances. Opportunity after opportunity for passing conciliatory measures had been thrown away; but he hoped the present year would not be neglected as its predecessors had been. There was no time like the present for dealing with this question. No man

knew what the future might bring forth, or how our relations with the United States might suddenly become complicated and threatening, and in such an emergency it would be almost impossible to really pacify Ireland. Relief, above all, must be given in the matter of the Irish Protestant Church, which the great mass of the people regarded with aversion and as a badge of conquest. The Irish Church had no parallel in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, or America, and immediate legislation was necessary to remedy this and other grievances of which the Irish people most justly complained.

Lord Hardwicke said Lord Russell had only found out the grievance of the Irish Church now he was in Opposition. With all the opportunities which he had so often enjoyed, how did he account for his inaction in what he considered such a vital matter? He thought there should be perfect equality between the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches in Ireland; but merely to abolish the Irish Church Establishment would be to raise enemies in Ireland than the Government had there even now.

up more

Lord Grey could not let the occasion pass without expressing his firm conviction that the day was very distant when Ireland would be as quiet and contented as other parts of the empire. The evils of misgovernment had been too long, too real, and too severely felt to be forgotten at once when justice was administered. Irish nature was human nature, and it could not discard the recollection of its wrongs at the first offer of reconciliation. The real evil lay in the alienation of the minds of the great body of the people from England and from its rule; and in this respect things were daily getting worse instead of better, as was shown by the sympathy evinced for the three murderers whom the Irish called martyrs. To begin with a pacification of Ireland, it was necessary that the Irish Church Establishment should be remodelled. While it remained as it was he had no hope of the quiet or well-being of Ireland. Ireland was supported in its determination to resist this grievance by the opinions of all liberal men, and, indeed, by the opinion of the civilized world.

The Duke of Richmond observed that inasmuch as on the following day the intentions of the Government respecting legislation for Ireland would be made known in the other House of Parliament, it would not be convenient on this occasion to enter upon the subject of Irish grievances. After a few words from the Marquis of Westmeath, who ascribed to a portion of the Roman Catholic priesthood a great part of the evils which afflicted the sister kingdom, Lord Ellenborough expressed his concurrence in Lord Hardwicke's opinion that there ought to be a perfect equality in regard to religion in Ireland. He did not wish to depress the Protestants, but to raise the Roman Catholics. He would not set up one creed on the spoliation of the other, but equality was necessary. It was demanded by justice and dictated by the soundest policy. At the same time it must not be forgotten that

« ÎnapoiContinuă »