11 DECEMBER 1880, Page 4



NI1 R. PARNELL now avowedly agitates for a great measure of territorial confiscation. He boasted at Waterford that the Land League had five millions of Irishmen on its side, against about half a million who were identified in interest with the landlords of Ireland ; and that with such odds as these, it would be easy, without any attempt at civil war,— which he said the leaders of the people were not disposed to provoke, "so long as it suited them" to keep within the letter of the Constitution,—to render it practically impossible for the landlords to gain the benefit of the law, so far as it was in their favour. His object was, he confessed, to get rid of the Irish landlords on such terms as the Irish people are at present disposed to grant them. And if the landlords will not accept those terms, then they would have to go with- out any terms at all. These were his words :—" Let us take our stand upon our just rights,—the ownership of the land for the people of Ireland. Let us leave to the enemy the offer of compromise. Let the first offer of compromise come from them, for they are the beleaguered and isolated garrison. I warn them that if they waste too much time, and delay too long to settle with the enemy who is now at the gate, the day will soon come when they will find that their power of pro- posing or obtaining any compromise has been taken from them, and they will bitterly lament that they have thrown away their opportunity, when the people of Ireland were still willing to allow them to depart in peace, with such compen- sation for their interest as might seem fair." And in another speech, made the same day, he explains that the landlords of the Irish grazing counties will no longer be allowed to let out their land for the purposes of grazing, and will therefore be compelled, if they are to get a profit by their land at all, to let it out for agricultural purposes to the people now crowded together on the barren land of the West. This having been once effected, of course the next step will be to expropriate the landlords, according to the programme which Mr. Parnell had already laid down, with such compensation, if any, as the Land League may think fit to award. By these means a great revolution is gradually to be carried out, the end of which will be to sub- divide Ireland among her peasantry, on such terms as approve themselves to the leaders of the peasantry, without civil war, "so long as it suits them" to avoid civil war, but not without all the results which only civil war in most cases could be expected to yield. With civil war or without it, the landlords must go ; and must go on such terms as the Land League think fit to dictate. That is the long and the short of Mr. Parnell's political programme.

The really formidable aspect of this policy is not merely that it proposes to use utterly unscrupulous means for an utterly unscrupulous end,—which is in itself bad enough,— but that, if it were to succeed, it would undermine in the Irish peasantry the very conception of law and justice, so far at least as concerns the interests of the great class on behalf of whom this revolution is to be carried out. It starts from the notion that the tenant-farmers are to be the final judges of their own obligations ; its method of procedure involves a complete terrorism over all who dispute, however justly, the judgments of the tenant-farmers as to the extent of their own obligations ; and it neither establishes nor suggests any sort of authority to which this vast class-conspiracy is to be subject, for any purpose except that of striking blows against "the enemy," as Mr. Parnell gently terms all Irish landlords. It is hardly possible to conceive a more threatening situation than is presented to us by the prospect of a revolution the very purpose of which is not only to strike at the principle of authority, but to strike at it in the name of a single great class-interest, which is encouraged and even entreated to ignore entirely the justice of individual cases in the course of the conflict ; to withhold rents, however moderate ; to punish evictions, however just ; and to exact tributes to the popular organisation, however reluctant and however much condemned by the conscience of the giver. Supposing such a revolution to come to what its promoters would call a successful end, what should we see ? We should see the great Irish class of all, the peasantry of a nation, flushed by success in a movement the very principle of whose strategy had consisted in giving no !quarter to those with whom they had made any contracts which it was their interest to ignore, and confronted with no authority, human or divine, to which in such matters as these they felt the smallest loyalty or deference. Where, after such a revolution, would be the germ of a new order Where would be the power whieh could impose a new law on the victorious class that had succeeded in this great act of confiscation We have formerly seen that Mr. Parnell has felt it necessary to entreat the farmers. not to oppose the process of law where it is set in motion not by landlords, but by bankers or tradesmen. Bet 'would a powerful class which had achieved so signal a triumph over its chief creditors, be disposed, for ever after, to meet its obliga- tions honestly, or else pay the penalty of not meeting them, to other creditors very nearly, if not quite, as powerless as the landlords ? The notion is absurd. Such a revolution as Mr.. Parnell contemplates would leave not only the soil of Ireland confiscated, but the confiscators in possession of unbridled and even insolent power. The class who had so courageously imitated the unjust steward in taking its bill and writing down quickly that it owed to its lord fifty or eighty measures, when it really owed him a hundred measures, would certainly not feel inclined to deal with its fellow-servants on any different principle. Ireland would find itself in the hands not simply of a single class, but of a single class which had just success- fully mastered the art of confiscation.

At present, however, Mr. Parnell's programme has just this little defect in it,—that he takes no account of the British Government, and that the British people have not yet learned his lesson, whatever may be true of the Irish people. But the peril is great, and is a peril of a kind which the Scotch and English constituencies should consider very carefully, even if the Irish constituencies, in their present intoxication, choose. to ignore it. The lesson we should lay to heart is this,—that in doing justice to Ireland, and doing it, as we hope the present Government will do it, on generous principles, it will be neces- sary not merely to offer terms which may secure the Irish peasantry in all the rights they have so often been compelled to forfeit, but to impose the new order with the sort of authority that shall wrest the government of Ireland out of the hands of this party League, and gain for the principle of law the dignity and the commanding position of impartial justice. Not only is a large reform of the land-law wanted, but simultaneously with it a stand should be taken on the principle of the new settlement, a stand of a kind to overawe resistance from either side, whether from the discontented landlord or the discontented Land Leaguer. The worst danger for Ireland is not that caused either by bad landlords or unscrupulous agitators, but that caused by the absolute ascendancy of a single class- interest over everything that represents to Ireland either law or justice. This is chiefly due, no doubt, to the perversion of law and justice during many ages into legal lawlessness and injustice. But it is probably due also to the unfortunate sim- plicity of the present grievance in Ireland, which involves directly only one class, and involves that in a way the menacing aspect of which the other classes—the classes of the cities—have not understood. But the Government ought to take care that for the future they do understand it. They ought to take care that the cities shall understand what is involved in this attempt to dictate to Ireland, so that when once the land grievance is settled, there shall be no danger of the agricultural class again taking the bit in its mouth, and intimidating all who choose to challenge its decrees.

We do not believe it possible to regain the proper Executive authority in Ireland, without a great reform of the land- laws. An Executive identified with a system so bad as the present system, can have no hope of winning respect from the Irish people. But we do also believe that with the reform of the land-laws should come a great effort to re-establish the authority which injustice has under- mined ; to take the reins out of the hands of that un- scrupulous organisation which now dictates alike to land- lords, just and unjust, to tenant-farmers, satisfied and unsatis- fied, to city corporations, and to shopkeepers, and which even wrings forced contributions out of private persons who utterly loathe its ends. To reform the land-laws is a great end, but to vindicate the authority of the Government over a society dominated by this organisation of tyranny, is a still greater end, though one quite unattainable without the former.