7 OCTOBER 1882, Page 6

THE SECRET SOCIETIES OF IRELAND. T HE Government is constantly blamed

for its failure to

suppress assassination in Ireland. Nobody suggests what ought to be done, but every second man is ready to tell you that if the Government were more determined, and if the police were better organised, and if there were no pines, agrarian murder in Ireland could be easily prevented. We wish those who think thus would study carefully the evidence now being produced before the Special Petty Sessions of Armagh, and state frankly their ideas of the method by which such organisations as the one therein revealed can, in the absence of evidence, be swiftly or certainly " put down." The witnesses in that case may be telling falsehoods, or " improving " the evidence; but the Crown lawyers believe them, and allege that their statements can be supported by documentary evidence which cannot have been previously manufactured. If, then, their narratives are true, there has existed for years in Armagh and Monaghan a Secret Society or criminal federation, the object of which has been the

commission of crime for social and political ends. This Society, calling itself the Patriotic Brotherhood, has affiliated Committees throughout those two counties, each of which acts independently in issuing and carrying out its sentences, and is, in fact, the Society for its district. Any one who chooses, who will take the oath, and who is accepted by the Committee, can join it, and thenceforward binds himself to pay a small subscription, and to murder, maim, or threaten any one whom the Committee considers an enemy to the country,—that is, who breaks the unwritten agrarian law, or supports, as against that law, the law of the land. " The object," says one witness, who had been a member, was " to put down landlordism, agents and bailiffs, and to kill or murder any person who made him- self obnoxious to the members of the Society, and to free themselves from British rule." The members, who speedily became numerous, for, besides the agrarian passion of the people, there was the temptation of enormous secret power, were bound to execute all orders, were promised defence in case of trial, and whenever a crime was commanded, were paid according to a well-understood tariff, not, we imagine, so much to remove scruples, as to provide for their subsistence while engaged on the Society's " work." The selected men were, of course, well aware that disobedience was treachery, and treachery death ; and, according to the evidence, they 'vent out when ordered to stalk the victim as if they had been poachers after deer. Thoroughly acquainted with the person and the habits of the man condemned, and with the lie of the country, momentarily furnished with information by their confederates, and unable to draw back, they could hardly fail of success, and a victim once marked by a Committee was, in most instances, a lost man. No matter how slight his offence, if he had only as agent done his duty to his employer by giving notices of eviction, he was waylaid by men who would watch patiently for hours, renew the watch at intervals, and then shoot him as coolly as if he were an animal good to eat. One man, an agent, who by a providential accident escaped, was con- demned by the Committee as a tyrant, and watched for hours from behind a hedge by armed men, who, had he passed them, would have executed the sentence without remorse, but who, so far as appears, had no more personal animosity against hina than has a poacher against a pheasant or a hare.

Will those writers to whom the government of Ireland seems so easy, just tell us how this kind of murder is to be put down ? It is impossible, of course, permanently to pro- tect the threatened individual. No agent could do his work and be attended by an escort all his life, nor could a whole country-side be so watched and patrolled by police that men who in appearance are ordinary labourers should never have an opportunity, by night or by day, of firing a shot from behind a hedge. Punishment there might be, but punishment implies evidence of some sort, and whence could evidence be obtained ? Beyond a suspicion that a Society was at work, the police, if the man once got home, could have no clue. The murderer has no confederates outside the Society. The murder is not committed by known enemies, or by those who benefit by it, nor is _any article carried off which could be traced. There are none to suspect, except a class, and no possible witnesses, save by rare accident, except the men who are cognisant of the intention to commit the crime.

It was always from them that the police hoped for a clue, and it was to prevent the giving of such a clue that the whole< force of the Society and much of the social force of Ireland was directed. The informer, under English law, must speak out publicly, and thenceforward, unless he were prepared to fly to the uttermost ends of the earth, or to live his life as a prison warder, he was a doomed man. He could be hunted and killed if lie remained in Ireland as easily as an agent, while so, long as ho escaped, existence could be made a torment to him, by a public abhorrence such as in England hardly waits upon the worst kind of criminal. It was scarcely possible, there- fore, to obtain any but secret evidence ; and when the Govern- ment at last determined to act on secret evidence, they failed. The central idea of the first Coercion Act, which expired last week, was to enable the Government, acting on secret evidence, to seize and imprison the men belonging to such Secret Societies, the " village ruffians" of whom Mr. Forster originally spoke. The Act was passed by a dead-heave, and was acted on, the very men, for example, now under trial having been suspects ; but here the " special irony of fate " which binds Ireland to England once more stepped in. The Coercion Act covered politicians as well as criminals, and to pass it at all, it was in- dispensable that detention should be short, should be unaccom- panied by suffering, and should be free from any imputation of disgrace. An "arrest" signified, therefore, to the members, of such a society a pleasant detention, during which they were admirably fed, un worked, and unpunished ; while their families were provided for by the Society, and they themselves,. when released, rewarded by a popularity so great as to act as a social baptism, washing off all previous stains of character. Nothing better could happen to an Irishman of the lower kind than to be sent to Kilmainham. Arbitrary arrest was, therefore, useless, or worse than useless, for it satisfied the police ;. and except in arbitrary arrest there was, while the Societies held together, no hope whatever. The difficulty did not arise, either from want of determination or want of power, but from circumstances which baffle a despotism in Russia, a semi- despotism in Singapore—where the Societies, called there. " Hoeys," laugh in our faces and inflict death at will—and a Constitutional Government in Sicily. A General in occupation of Armagh, with irresistible force and unlimited power, could no more put down these Societies without information than the: Magistracy could, for the execution of the innocent would only strengthen the Brotherhoods, by giving to their crimes. some colour in their own eyes of justice, or defence of the country-side. There are no means whatever of putting down murderous Societies, except fines on the district, which are not just, though they may be excusable ; and life sentences passed upon secret evidence, as under the Thuggee Law, which English- men, wisely, as we think, will not sanction, and which would in a very short period breed entire crops of new crimes, murders. of innocent persons suspected by the Societies of treachery. Is. • there, then, no remedy when the Societies grow rampant, as hap-, pens in Ireland every twenty years ? It is a hard thing to say, but we are doubtful if there is any, if any Government of any kind can do anything, except watch, prosecute in every privz facie case, and wait until the social instinct which, and not law, keeps down such crimes, revives within the district, and information of some kind becomes once more procurable. Torture has not helped the Russian Government against the Nihilists, any more than the right of interrogation has helped the Italian Government against the Camorristi. When. a community approves poaching, or smuggling, or rick- burning, those offences are never extirpated ; and the mag- nitude of the guilt involved in murder, as compared with those crimes, does not make its suppression one whit more easy. Murder makes more sensation, it is true ; but then, also, it makes its votaries more desperate and more resolute to suppress or punish every kind of evidence. The best hope, some-. times, we fear, the only hope, is in the steady, unrelaxing, but just execution of the law, so far as it can be executed, until, the popular conscience, unseared by oppression and undo- benched by legal tolerance, has again reasserted itself, and murder has become an act which only men utterly evil or made delirious by passion will perpetrate, and against which,. every man, save the criminal, is a willing or eager witness.. The Government is bound to do all it can, to take powers, if powers are necessary, to reward informers, if only reward will bring out the truth ; but the experience of the world does not inspire much hope, except from a break-up of the internal cohesion of the Societies themselves, such as we hope se now occurring in Ireland. So long as there are large,

organised groups in which the conscience is dead, in which men will commit crime from calculation and without in- dividual provocation, and make of evidence the single social offence, so long the force of the State, if it is a Christian State, will remain partially paralysed. A Pagan State might, perhaps, put down agrarian murder in Ireland at once and finally, by executing every tenant who benefited by the murder—the Roman Patricians " put down " the murder of cruel slave-owners by that very rule, unhesitatingly carried out —but a Christian State must wait, and trust to its own well- founded belief that an anti-social combination can be suc- cessful only for a day.