29 JUNE 1889, Page 6


MR. GOSCHEN, in his powerful speech at Hanley, referred again to the amazing language which Mr. Gladstone has set the example of using as to the captivity of Ireland, as to Ireland trampled under the heel of a tyrannical Government. It is, indeed, worth while to con- sider a little carefully what the actual state of. Ireland is, as compared with that of conquered countries whose liberties are trodden down by the brutal indifference and hostility of the victor. In such countries there is no constitutional means of calling attention to wrongs, and still less of righting wrongs. The people may not meet to protest against the cruelties they suffer. The law is violated in various directions, and there is no remedy. Patriots are put in prison for what their old laws allowed them to do. The prisons are full and wretched, and there is no sort of check on the ill-treatment of prisoners. If one of the conquering race seizes the property of one of the conquered race, it is usually impossible to obtain any remedy. The few who venture to make themselves the mouthpieces of complaint and rebuke are thrown into hopeless captivity. Bad. laws are rapidly passed, and if there be any guarantees in them against an oppressive interpretation of their drift, these guarantees are utterly neglected. This was the state of Naples when Mr. Glad- stone wrote his celebrated letters to Lord Aberdeen. And he ventured some time ago to intimate,—though he has not recently repeated that marvellous flight of imagination,— that in various respects the Government of Naples in 1850 was less oppressive than the Government of Ireland now. This is the present condition of Russian Poland, and indeed, for that matter, so far as regards political liberties at least, of Russia itself. This is the state of Turkish Armenia. Let us consider for a moment whether it is the state of Ireland. Is it true in Ireland that there is no con- stitutional means of calling attention to violated liberties and broken laws ? Why, in the first place, there is no Press in Europe which is so absolutely free as the Irish Press to assail the Government of the country in all tones of menace and scorn, nor which uses that freedom with so much relish and such utter confidence of. impunity. There has hardly been a regular Press prosecution since the Government came into office ; and yet, from United Ireland to Mr. Harrington's Kerry Sentinel, there has been a chorus of jubilant vilification of the Government from day to day and week to week. But it is not the free Press alone which publishes and exaggerates and imagines injuries from which Irishmen suffer, or are supposed to suffer. Of the one hundred and three Irish Members in Parliament, eighty-five or eighty-six at least have hardly any other occupation than to sift to the very bottom,— often a very shallow bottom indeed,—every rumour of injustice, and to excite sympathy for the injured, or those alleged to be injured, in every key of plaintive and indignant rhetoric. Well, but in spite of all this chorus of complaint, are the Irish prisons full as a matter of fact ? Is it true that thousands or hundreds or scores are languishing in prison who have committed no offence at all against the law ? And are those who have committed offences against the law treated with exceptional rigour and severity ? So far is this from being true, that the Irish prisons are rather empty, and that the Irish Members boast of their emptiness. Moreover, the prisoners who are to be found in these prisons, whether placed there under Govern- ment prosecutions or not, are treated, on the whole,. more mildly than in England. The prison rules are less severe, and relaxations of those rules are much more frequent. The prisoners are well cared for, the conditions of confinement are mild, and the food is good. If an Irish prisoner thinks that he is imprisoned in violation of the law, he sues out a writ of habeas corpus immediately. The writ is brought before an Irish Court of Justice, and if it appears, as has happened in one or two cases since the present Government came into power, that the imprison- ment was not perfectly legal, the prisoner is dis- charged. But are the laws themselves exceptionally severe ? The laws of which Irishmen are most dis- posed to complain, the laws governing the occupation of land and eviction from that occupation, are exceptionally favourable to the tenant, so favourable to him that there is not another country in Europe or in the Western world, not even a corner of another country, unless it may be a portion of the Scotch Highlands since the latest Crofter Act was passed, where there is anything like the same pro- tection for the tenant, and the same strict check on landlord rights.

What, then, is the excuse for all this outcry about the trampling on Irish liberties ? What is the pretext for it.? The only excuse, the only pretext, is, that as regards com- binations to break a particular class of contracts,—contracts made to pay rent for land,—and agitation intended to encourage those who have made such contracts to break them,—the case is tried before two Irish Magistrates instead of before a jury, and that those who are convicted by these Magistrates are liable to a penalty never exceeding imprison. meat with hard labour for six months. And there have been a fair number of such cases, in many of which the persons convicted have been Members of Parliament who have themselves ventured to encourage their constituents to break their contracts. But these are cases in which there has always practically been an appeal to the House of Commons, and cases which the House of Commons has dis- cussed with a very strong bias against the Government on one side of the House, and a very strong determination even on the side favourable to the Government, to admit of no shadow or semblance of injustice. It is so far from true that trade combinations which are perfectly lawful in England are unlawful in Ireland, that there is not a case of combination to raise wages or to reduce rents (not already settled by contract, that is, not already agreed to) which is not just as lawful in Ireland as in England, nor a case of this kind in which a prosecution has been even attempted. If a "Plan of Campaign" were started in England, it would be as unlawful as it is in Ireland. If intimidation such as the Parnellite Members freely defend in Ireland, were attempted in England, it would be as clearly punishable and as certainly punished. The only vestige of pretext for what is said as to the riding rough-shod over Irish liberties is this, that in the case of a few offences in which it has been shown again and again that Irish juries will not convict, Irish juries have been dispensed with and the judgment of Magistrates substituted for it,—the judgment of Magistrates, moreover, to whose impartiality and disposition to take into account everything that can be said for the accused, independent witnesses, not in the least biassed against the popular cause, —like Miss Bird for instance,—have borne the strongest possible testimony. That is the pretext, and the only pretext, for saying that Irish liberties are trampled under foot. And those Irishmen who are committed to prison under this exceptional law are either a class specially protected by measure after measure which the English Parliament has lately passed in favour of the Irish tenants, or else professional agitators who go about inciting to illegal acts on behalf of that class. The simple truth is this, that in Ireland it is legal for a man or woman to do anything that that man or woman might do in England, unless it be to attend meetings of a particular Association which the Lord-Lieutenant has proclaimed illegal, but which even the Lord-Lieutenant could not proclaim illegal without Parlia- ment being challenged to confirm or disagree with that proclamation. The Irish prisons are not full, but rather specially empty. The Irish prisoners are not ill-treated, but very specially cared for. Irishmen speak in public with far greater freedom than Englishmen. Irishmen write in newspapers with far greater indifference to the feelings and acts of the Government than Englishmen. The class of laws about which popular feeling in Ireland. is most deeply interested are much more favourable to the popular cause than they are in England. In a word, it is a pure figment, and the most wild of figments, that the liberties of Ireland are trampled under foot, for they are, indeed, very jealously guarded. If the Irish had Home- rule to-morrow, they would find themselves governed under a very much severer law the day after to-morrow than that under which they now complain.