THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE COERCION ACTS.
WE approve heartily of the declaration made by Mr. Forster and Mr. Gladstone on Thursday night, deeply as we regret the conclusion to which they have, as we believe, rightly come, not at present to release the Irish "suspects." Mr. Forster read to the House the most convincing evidence that some of the leading spirits of the Land League have made up their minds to do all in their power to injure the working of the new Land-law, and to depreciate its character to the people of Ireland. We can hardly be wrong in saying that Mr. Healy is one of the leading spirits, if not the leading spirit, of the Land League, as it is organised at present. It has been even said that only three men really understand the new Land Bill, —the Attorney-General for Ireland, the Prime Minister, and Mr. Healy. Well, what was it that Mr. Healy said at a recent meeting of the Land League ? Mr. Forster quoted a report of Ids remarks from the Freeman's Journal of July 25th :—" If the Court did not establish a fair rent, what satisfaction would the farmer have ? He would have none. But if the League declared what was a fair rent, and if the League declared that only a fair rent should be paid, the League gave him a remedy. If the landlord evicted him, no man would take the land." On hearing this quotation, Mr. Healy called out, "Why did you not arrest me ?" And really the only answer possible was that Mr. Forster has bound himself to administer the Coercion Laws in a spirit of scrupulosity that prevents him from taking notice of anything except a fcrmal exhortation to break the law. But no words could more clearly have evinced Mr. Healy's intention to encourage the Irish farmers to treat the decisions of the new Land Court with contempt, unless they are en- dorsed by the decisions of the Land League, and to keep up all the machinery of the Land League for the purpose of terror- ising persons who are willing to take farms from which other tenants have been ejected.
But Mr. Forster's evidence to this effect went much beyond that of Mr. Healy's speech, though a speech from Mr. Healy -weighs more on a subject of this kind than many speeches from less able and less popular men. Mr. Forster went on :— "Again, there was a Land League meeting last Tuesday. I read the report of the meeting with very great interest. The mover of the first resolution said that if the Land Bill of 1881 should pass into law, the Land League would go on as if it never existed, and that he believed that under the Bill the tenant-farmer would be far worse off than under the Land Act of 1870. That appears to me to show that we shall have a dangerous agitation." Again, Mr. Forster showed that the Irish World, published in the United States, raises something not far short of half the total revenue of the Land League, and that the fin, wing are the views of the Irish World as to the operation of the new Land Bill :—" If it" (the Land Bill) "is accepted by the Irish in lieu of what they have been demanding at every meeting since the first one held at Irishtown, then, indeed, the Land League may furl its banner and acknowledge itself beaten, not by the power of England, but by the cowardice of those whom it has sought to free from the yoke of land- lordism But we hope better things from them. They have learned that no mere modification of landlordism will cure Ireland of the disease which has so long sapped her
vitality Gladstone by this time is probably con- gratulating himself upon having successfully laid the spectre that so startled the land-thieves of Ireland and England. No time ought to be lost in dispelling his delusion. This can be effectually done by Ireland resolving not to give to the
land-thief any part of the coming harvest Let Ireland's determination to hold the coming harvest be her answer to the man who under the guise of a benefactor,' would rivet still closer the chains of land- lordism which have so long bound her to poverty and misery." Now, with all our detestation of a law of suspects, with all our eagerness to see the prison doors opened for men who have not been proved guilty of any crime, but are merely detained by the Government because they know that they could iiet no Irish jury to convict them, we do say that a more unfortunate moment could not be chosen for letting loose such agitators than one when the members of the Land League are plotting to paralyse the new law, as they have paralysed the old, and to prevent its having any fair chance in Ireland.
Whether it were wise or foolish to pass the present Coercion Laws, it is obvious enough that the right time to abandon them is either when they expire, or when the need for them ceases, even though they have not expired. Neither moment has come as yet. They will have validity for another year ; and at the present moment there is more evidence of a dangerous and mischievous use of the agencies of intimida- tion in Ireland, than at any time since the Coercion Acts were passed. It would be childish to abandon the powers they give at the very crisis when they are most needed not only to maintain the authority of the old law, but to assert the au- thority of a new, juster, and more beneficent law. We believe that Mr. Forster and Mr. Gladstone have entitled themselves afresh to the respect of all good citizens, by insisting that they cannot abandon the special powers put into their hands for maintaining order in Ireland, at the very moment when Order is to mean something larger, nobler, and juster than it has ever meant as yet, and at the moment, nevertheless, when a special set is being made against that nobler Otder, through pure jealousy of the source of its justice and beneficence.