THE GOVERNMENT AND THE IRISH PARTY.
AFTER the debate on the Maamtrasna murder trials, we are not greatly surprised to hear that almost all the members of the Parnellite Party have declared their intention of voting against the second reading of the Franchise Bill. We at least feel no regret at that announcement. That the British Government should ever deny anything in the nature of true justice to Ireland simply from the fear of being accused of a new " Kilmainham Treaty," would seem to us the greatest possible falling-off from the standard of courage and disinter- estedness to which the policy of the Government hitherto has accustomed us. But it is obvious that the frank concession of true justice to Ireland implies the equally steady refusal of what would not be justice, but the greatest injustice ; and we can conceive no form of injustice greater than the reopening of criminal trials with which there is no plausible reason of any kind, however faint, for expressing dissatisfaction,—bar- ring always the one supreme reason that the Irish people eagerly catch at something very much short of a real excuse for throwing discredit on the administration of every Government in that unhappy island. What a reasonable Englishman has to ask himself in reviewing the Maamtrasna debate is simply this,—Supposing that the same trial had been conducted in the same way and with the same result in Eng- land, would he regard the grounds advanced for an inde- pendent reinvestigation of the case as sufficient, insufficient, or totally worthless ? We have no hesitation in saying that had this been the question, nine out of every ten Englishmen would have declared the grounds to be totally worthless, while nine out of every ten of the minority who did not think them totally worthless, would have held them to be quite insufficient to justify so very grave and dangerous a proceeding as the reopening of a criminal trial conducted by an able Judge, by thoroughly earnest and com- petent counsel, with the same conclusion three times arrived at by independent juries. Let any Englishman read the speeches of Mr. Justin McCarthy, for instance, and Mr. Charles Russell—the most moderate and the least irritating speeches to an ordinary Englishman for the reopening of the investigation —and then read the replies of Mr. Gladstone and Sir Henry James, and he will not doubt for a moment what he would have said, if the question had been one affecting English instead of Irish justice, and English instead of Irish crime. Most of us would have said simply that to reopen the inquiry in such a case would be itself a crime, since it would afford a prece- dent for reopening the trial of every murderer who might happen to be convicted in the future. We doubt if there be a trial for murder of which we have ever read the record, concerning which doubts could not be raised at least as reason- able as those raised by Mr. Harrington and his colleagues con- cerning those convicted of the Maamtrasna murders. Indeed, the case of the Parnellites implies not merely the general and reiterated blundering of Counsel,Judge, and three Juries,but also the assumption (1), that a respectable priest had voluntarily recommended men in whose innocence he was disposed to believe, to confess their guilt, knowing that it would involve the certain conviction and execution of another man who did not confess his guilt ; and (2), that of four men who were thus innocent, but who pleaded guilty, in order to escape a capital sentence, not one could have proved that he was elsewhere during the night of the murders. These are in themselves most startling assumptions. We may fairly say that if a respectable Irish priest would shrink from anything in the world, he would shrink from getting a man hanged who steadily maintained his innocence, by advising other men, whose guilt was also doubtful to him, to declare themselves guilty. And we may also say without unreasonableness, that if four men who were all absent from the scene of a great crime have no witnesses to prove where any one of them was on the night of that crime, or if all of them prefer the certainty of a long sentence of penal servitude to the chance of breaking down in an attempt to prove their innocence, human nature in Ireland is a totally different thing from human nature elsewhere. To sum up the drift of the debate,—not only have we the results arrived at by the three Juries ; not only have we no new evidence, except the new statements furnished by an informer who now swears that he swore falsely before,—but we have had the whole evidence now offered to the Crown carefully considered by Lord Spencer, under the advice of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and the Home Secretary of England, and declared wholly unworthy of credit. If reasonable English- men are to credit what such authorities on their official re-
sponsibility declare wholly unworthy of credit, the foundations of the State are themselves rottenness. It is absurd to urge the broken utterances of one delirious boy, and the translated statements of a child of nine who was considered too childish to know the nature of an oath,—all of which statements, more-
over, came out fully on the Coroner's inquest, and have been carefully re-considered by the authorities in question,—against such responsible judgments as these. The very fact that you proposed to ignore such judgments on each a mere pretext as that, would show that you regarded the whole system of justice in the United Kingdom as pure haphazard. And no doubt that is the real significance of the Irish attack. The true movers in that attack did not pretend to disguise that they regarded Lord Spencer as concerned in a conspiracy for the defeat of justice. Englishmen know better ; they know that there is not in the whole realm a man more deserving of honour and reverence, or more willing to hazard his life in the cause of justice, than Lord Spencer. If we abandoned Lord Spencer to the wrath of this clique of embittered fanatics, we should show a sort of infidelity that would justify despair of the Empire. Perhaps it is not wonderful that Mr. Harrington, Mr. O'Brien, and men who believe—wrongly or rightly—that they have suffered grievous injustice under English rule, should be wholly incapable of doing Lord Spencer justice. But that is no reason why those who know him as Englishmen know him, should not let their loyalty and their profound gratitude to him be plainly expressed. Mr. Gladstone's speech has embodied the feeling of the whole of Great Britain ; and it will not in the least degree injure the cause of the County Franchise, or any other cause which Mr.
Gladstone advocates, if the Parnellites desert him in consequence of that speech. For every Irish fanatic whom he angers he will gain the hearty thanks of probably three times as many Englishmen and Seetchmen, and of not a few, though much fewer, Irishmen also.
For the truth must be told that the Parnellite Party do not wield quite so much influence in the British realm as they
flatter themselves that they wield. A few political free-lances, like Lord Randolph Churchill and his followers, may occa- sionally combine with them, though they generally at least discredit themselves by doing so ; a few extreme Radicals, who make a crotchet of distrusting officials, may follow the example ; but it is not the menaces of the Parnellites, but a serious belief that Ireland can be governed only by a justice long refused, and far too long delayed even, after the refusal had been seen to be unjust, which has passed. such measures as the Irish Land Act, the Arrears Act, and the Irish Church Disestablishment Act. It is no fascination for the character of Mr. Parnell, no confidence in any of his followers, which has converted English Liberals to the cause of justice. If anything could have alienated them from that cause it would have been the policy of the Irish Party ; and sincerely as we should condemn even a single injustice committed from the feeling of distrust and dislike which they have aroused, it is quite certain that nothing has injured the Liberal Government so much, in the opinion of hasty politicians, as the superficial appearance its acts have sometimes presented of concession to the Parnellites. In the pre- sent case they have shown how gross is the misrepresentation that Ministers are always trying to conciliate the Parnellites ; and they will be all the stronger for the incident. Doubtless, nothing can be sadder than the fact that the lightest evidence which tends to throw discredit on the Administration in Ireland, even when it involves the personal honour of one of the most honourable Englishmen who ever served his country, is greedily caught at by Irish credulity and accepted as convincing, even where the same evidence produced in an English case would hardly convince even the weakest of the weak. That is the great legacy to our generation, of former English misdeeds in Ireland. But though we are bound to repent as heartily as we can of those misdeeds, the worst form which repentance could take would be to emulate the credulity of Trish hatred, and fail in our allegi- ance to men whom we know to be the true pillars of the State. The Government are all the stronger for the Maamtrasna debate, even though it should result, as it very likely will result, in the desertion of the Parnellites to the side of the Lords and the Tories.