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Parnell Commission Inquiry

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Parnell Commission Inquiry

Post by Karen on Fri 1 Feb 2013 - 18:13

Sixty-fifth Day of Proceedings - Wednesday, April 3, 1889





The attendance at the Court today was not so large as yesterday. Lady Charles and Miss Russell were again present, with Mrs. George Lewis. Mr. Frederic Harrison occupied a seat by the solicitors' table, and, prior to the entrance of the Judges, chatted pleasantly with Mr. Davitt. Mrs. Gladstone was a very early arrival. She had a seat in the Jury-box, near Lady Rosebery.


Sir Charles Russell at once resumed his speech, briefly relating what he had dealt with when the Court rose last night. He said he had nearly reached the end of that branch of the case. Next in order of date came the Land Act of 1870. He did not, however, desire to give the history of that Act at the moment, but he desired to deal with it when he came to that part of the case in which he should review the land question as treated by legislative action. In 1870 there was another outbreak of crime in Ireland - an outbreak which prevailed in the most marked degree in West Meath, which was one of the many counties in Ireland subject clearances on an enormous scale. Whole villages and hamlets and houses by the hundred disappeared; and in 1870 and 1871 crime had risen to a very high point. There was the ordinary Committee of inquiry, and at that time and in relation to that measure, a speech was made by a distinguished statesman, Lord Hartington. That gentleman declared that Ribbon law, and not the law of the land prevailed, and that it was the Ribbon law that most of the people were compelled to obey. This, said Sir Charles, was at least a time when there existed no open organisation in relation to the land question at whose door could be laid the blame of such a state of affairs. He would have to refer to this date also, and to the views of Dr. Neilson Hancock, for many years the statistician of succeeding Irish Governments, and whose views upon the social and economic condition of Ireland had been regarded by all men of all parties as entitled to the highest consideration. But he should have to defer that, too, till he came to the treatment of the history of the Land Act of 1870.


He now came to the question of legislation dealing with land. He had, he thought, shown in the main that the volume of crime to which he had reverted during the periods he had named was agrarian; that it was the same class of crime springing from the same cause. There was indeed a greater volume of crime than had ever taken place during the period with which their Lordships were dealing. With recurrent distress there was recurrent crime. From the evidence called by the Attorney-General, he (Sir Charles Russell) was entitled to assume - as, he believed, the fact was, and statistics showed - that in no abnormal sense did crime, even of an agrarian kind, prevail in other parts of Ireland, outside the disturbed districts. He would now ask their Lordships to consider how Parliament had dealt with the Land Question, which was at the root of the evil. Before and since the Act of Union, there had been a unanimous condemnation, by every writer of authority, of the existing land system in Ireland. He would call upon those who might dispute that assertion to produce one writer of authority who had ever defended the land system as it prevailed in Ireland.


While there was that unanimous chorus of condemnation from writers, observers, and Parliamentary Commissions, he would repeat, and he asked his proposition to be challenged, that until the year 1870 nothing was done to protect the tenants or to stay the rapacity of the landlords. While the law gave no protection to the tenants, the unhappy political and social and religious circumstances of the country deprived them of that protection of public opinion which moderated, controlled, and made the law. He would not refer to remote periods of the Land Question; but he would refer to the Devon Commission of 1843. That Commission, like all other Commissions down to the last, was a landlords' Commission, the head of which was identified with the landed interest. In the report of that Commission it was stated that unless attention were given to the respective claims of the proprietors and occupiers of land in Ireland, much social disorder and national inconvenience must inevitably be the consequence. Notwithstanding that solemn warning, however, for a quarter of a century nothing was done.


In chapter 8 of the digest Lord Devon proceeded to consider the facts as to the connection between the state of the law and crime in Ireland. He said that the great majority of the outrages mentioned in the evidence had arisen through the endeavours of the people to convert the possession of land into a substantial title. Remembering the way in which this case had been opened, he (Sir Charles) thought it right that he should read one passage in particular. In this report it was stated that it further appeared from the evidence submitted to the Commission that violence was more frequently directed to the incoming tenant than against the landlord or the agent. Possession of the land, however small, said Lord Devon, was the only security for the supply of daily food of many, and it became indeed a terrible thing directly that land was taken, and the only source of livelihood was thus removed.


Remarkable evidence was given by one of the witnesses, to which he would like to call attention - it was Mr. Hancock, brother of Dr. Hancock, to whom he had already referred. He had been for years agent on the estate of the late Lord Lurgan in Ulster. He said the tenant right was the real security for the peace of Ulster. He pointed out that the presence of manufactories in Ulster had lessened the demand for land in the sense of not making it the same necessity for subsistence. But he used this extraordinary language: "If there were any systematic attempt to interfere with the tenant-right of the tenants of Ulster, I don't believe there is force enough in the Horse Guards to put it down." The same witness, on the eve of the Land Act of 1870, was consulted, and he said that, speaking after an experience of a quarter of a century, he was of the same opinion as he was when before the Commission.


Well, nothing was done, but much attempted. Parliament, crowded with other affairs, the minds of men occupied with matters which they regarded of graver moment, did not realise the importance of the peace of Ireland, and the interests of the people involved in this question. The result was that not one of these earlier attempts at legislation was successful. Some of them might have passed the barrier of the House of Commons, but none of them issued from the House of Lords. It was simply from want of appreciation of the circumstances of the country, from a misunderstanding of the needs of the way; and he would gladly say that it was an eminent man and lawyer of the Tory Party who showed as much foresight and keen an appreciation of this question as any other man. He meant the late Mr. Joseph Napier, formerly Member for the University of Dublin. Although, perhaps, a little out of date, he would say that perhaps the most remarkable Act passed in relation to the land question was the Encumbered Estates Act of 1848. Yet a more incomplete Act could hardly be pointed to. What did it do? It sold land of the bankrupt landlord to men who were jobbers in land, and without the slightest protection against the forfeiture and confiscation of the improvements at the hands of the proprietor of the newly-acquired estate. That Act was intended, he did not doubt, to effect good. It proved a curse and a grievous evil. He had seen, as any one of his learned friends could have seen, rentals after rentals put up for sale in the Encumbered Estates Courts; and as an inducement to intending buyers, the large rentals at which they were then let were pointed out, and it was even suggested that possibly the lawyer, by another turn of the screw, could raise the rents so as to increase the percentage return for the land.


It was a sad, a pitiable, a remarkable thing, the utter ignorance that prevailed as to the remedies which the Irish question, in this regard, required. In 1870 the first Act which gave any protection to the tenants was passed. That Act provided that where by process of arbitrary or capricious eviction a landlord ejected his tenant, he should be obliged to pay him, subject to the judgment of a County Court Judge, a certain measure of compensation for the loss for quitting his farm. The Act was well intended - that no one would deny; but it was totally ineffective for the purpose at which it was aimed. It had no provision against the arbitrary and excessive increasing of rents. So little, in fact, was it regarded as anything substantial in dealing with the grave difficulties involved in that question, that the Irish Members - he meant that section which might be said to represent and to be in sympathy with the Irish tenant class - protested in the House of Commons that it was wholly inadequate for the good of the country.


Before leaving this section of the case, Sir Charles again called attention to Mr. Hancock's evidence before the Devon Commission in 1843, which he had already referred to, but not read. The particular extracts he read referred to the tenant right, which, Mr. Hancock said, he considered very beneficial to the community, because it established a security in the possession of the land, and led to the improvement of the land, which became one of the sacred rights of the country, and which could not be touched with impunity. The Government of the day were preparing for their legislation, and they were anxious, of course, to have the best information and guidance which experience and figures could give them. And, accordingly, several questions were submitted to Dr. M. Hancock. One of these was this: -
"Can any, and, if any, what, relation be traced county by county and district by district between the number of evictions and number of agrarian outrages, threatening notices, and other indications of a like nature?"
The answer was: - "The most important relations between the number of evictions and the number of agrarian outrages, and threatening letters, is that shown by the numbers of each from year to year, or presented in No. 1 diagram, founded on the statistics of all the counties." In the diagram (continued Sir Charles) the curved lines, representing evictions, threatening notices, and murderous outrages, were indeed most remarkable, and were of such a nature that he would invite the Court to look at them. Of the same gentleman questions were asked as to the Ulster tenant-right custom. In reply, Dr. Hancock pointed out that in certain defined counties - Derry, Antrim, and Down - the tenant-right custom has almost grown into the strength of law, and that in the remaining portions the tenant-right was claimed, and generally conceded. But he showed, too, that in those counties where the tenant right had almost the strength of the law, crime was much less and prosperity greater, while in those parts where the right was only generally conceded crime was much greater and prosperity much less.


Now he came to what he considered the most important part of the case - the state of things in 1879, when the Land League was established. If he could show from Governmental reports that the state of things was grievous amongst the small farming class - he was speaking principally of the west and south - that 1879 was the worst year since the famine of 1848, that it showed the least percentage of marriages and the highest percentage of deaths; if he could disclose to their Lordships that such a state of things did exist, then it was inevitable either that there was need and justification for a strong, open combination of the tenant-class, furthering their own interest, standing side by side; or, if there had not been that strong determination, there would have been a repetition on a larger and more grievous scale, than that at the tithe war of 1832-35.


There were three interests which directly depended upon, and were concerned in, the cultivation of the land - the labourer, who depended upon it for his daily wage; the farmer, who cultivated it; and the landlord, who got his rent for the cultivation of the land by the tenant. If one of those classes must go to the wall, which was the last that ought to go? He (Sir Charles Russell) would say the labourer, who had to depend upon his daily wage to put food into his own mouth and into the mouths of his family. Who came next? The man who tilled the land. He was only one degree removed from the labourer. He could not be the first to go to the wall.


At the bottom of this weighty problem in the ordinary just conception of Englishmen and Irishmen, aye, and of all men all over the world - he cared nothing about so-called sanctity of contract - was the question of rent. What was a truly economic rent? A true definition of economic rent was "a fair proportion of the surplus proceeds of the farm after the daily wage of the daily labourer had been paid, and the man who, with his men's hands, and by the hands of his children, had tilled the land, had been recompensed." That, however, had not been the view taken or acted upon by the Irish landlords, or until late years taken by the Irish tenants. The result had been that the Irish tenant had been, practically speaking - and he was mainly speaking with regard to the smaller class of farmers, who most needed protection, reduced in their surroundings of house, of clothing, and of food, to a sordid condition - a condition in which they were described, and truly described - as being the worst clothed, worst fed, and worst housed population on the face of the civilised globe.

CONDITION OF IRELAND IN 1877, '78, '79, AND '80.

Now there was in Ireland what was called a Local Government Board, an official Governmental but non-representative Board, and he would call their Lordships' attention to the reports of that body. In the report of the central authority in Dublin for the year 1880, it was stated that the number of persons relieved in 1877-78 was greater than in the previous year, that the number relieved was greater in 1878-79 than in the previous year, and that the number in 1879-80 was greater than in the previous years. The numerous reports of the Guardians of various Unions were not included in the general report, but one had been selected from each of the Unions in Clare, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Mayo, and a part of West Cork, "Which," it was added in the report, "may be considered to comprise the poorest parts of Ireland." These reports gave statistics as to emigration, showing an increase in 1879 over 1878, and an increase in 1880 over 1879. As regarded the admissions to workhouses, the statistics showed that in 1879 there was a total of 304,069, against 248,102 in 1878, against 198,951 in 1877, and against 182,748 in 1876. The figures showed the same results as regarded out-relief, and the night lodgers or casuals. Accompanying these reports, too, were reports made by various gentlemen who visited different portions of the country, all bearing out what the statistics he had already given had shown. "I need not mention," added the learned counsel, "the great dislike of the Irish poor to the workhouse; and, by the operation of the Gregory Act, they cannot get relief - unless they go into the workhouse - if they hold more than a quarter of an acre of land."
Other reports from various Guardians dealt with the failure of the potato crop in 1880. A Guardian in the neighbourhood of Dingle reported that unless private charity came to assist the tenants in the spring the possibility existed that the want of 1880 would become the famine of 1881. Mr. Burke, of Listowel Union, stated that he thought it his duty to report that if another wet season was before them the condition of the people in those parts would next year pass from the region of want into the throes of famine and starvation. "I might pursue this subject further," said Sir Charles, "but I think you will say that I am justified in asserting that, speaking generally, that describes a state of things pointing to a great actual want, and, in some places, a condition of things pointing to the people being on the verge of starvation." It agrees with the evidence given of Constable Irwin, of Mr. Ives, the Correspondent of the New York Herald, of three small farmers - Joyce, O'Flaherty, and Conan - of Hughes, of Mr. Leonard, and of Mr. Hussey.


The learned counsel went on to point the same lesson from the evidence adduced by the Richmond Commission, the preliminary report of which was issued in January, 1881. In the report of that Commission it was stated that the depression in Ireland had fallen heavily on the small farmers; and the Commissioners had therefore every reason to fear that a very large proportion of those farmers were insolvent, and the bounty of that year - 1881 - alone prevented their entire collapse. The causes of the depression - which were seriously aggravated by the unfavourable season of 1879 - must be sought in the peculiar circumstances and conditions of the country, as well as in the defects of the land laws. The Commissioners went on to state that the causes of the agricultural depression were the extreme smallness of many of the agricultural holdings, the overcrowding of the population in districts of poor land, and the general feebleness of industry, owing to a sense of insecurity which, notwithstanding the Act of 1879, prevailed, and which had tended to paralyse industry, and to produce feelings of dangerous discontent. Those feelings were also produced generally by a fear of capricious eviction, and by a more general fear of an increase of rent.


Still more important in this connection was the report of the Assistant Commissioners on the condition of things they actually saw. This was dated January 11, 1880, and related to the state of things in 1878 and 1879. They commenced their inquiries in Kerry, and went over the greater part of the country. They said they had not proceeded far ere they became assured that the agricultural population was passing through a depression that would soon become intense. In many cases they found that the real condition of the small farmers was not known to their landlords or to their agents, or even to the very bailiffs of their estates. Cottagers and labourers had lived on food obtained on credit. In good years credit was freely given, for food and other articles. A succession of bad years had caused such an accumulation of debts, that some of the tenants owed actually ten times the value of their tenancies. "My Lords," observed Sir Charles, upon this point, "if the shopkeepers had not shown more mercy at these times than the landlords did a large proportion of Ireland would have been in a state of utter collapse." The Commissioners entered into the details of some of the cases. They visited hundreds of the farms on the western seaboard, and saw them in such a condition that they felt unable to describe it. They found in several instances that the families dwelt in only one apartment, which was in many cases also occupied by cattle, and that the greatest distress prevailed, many of the farmers being on the verge of starvation.


"They then proceed to give instances of the increase of rent," remarked Sir Charles, "but one is so striking an instance of the increase of land rent that I think I should read it. It relates to Donegal." The learned counsel then read the following figures referring to the increase of rent in a holding from the year 1852 to 1869: - 1851 and 1852, 4 pounds 13s.; 1853, 6 pounds 4s.; in 1860, 6 pounds 10s. 6d.; 1861 and 1862, 7 pounds 13s., 1863 and 1864, 9 pounds; 1865, 10 pounds 1s. 4d.; 1866 and 1867, 11 pounds 2s. 8d.; 1868 and 1869, 12 pounds 13s. 2d. Thus from 1852 to 1869 this rent of 4 pounds 13s. had been raised to 12 pounds 13s. 2d.


Quotations from a report respecting the condition of County Mayo, made by Mr. Fox to the Mansion House Relief Committee, followed. His report spoke of the deep distress which existed in the districts he visited. "We visited over thirty hovels of the poor in Mayo," Sir Charles read from the report, "and in those hovels I beheld scenes of wretchedness and misery wholly indescribable. In some of these hovels evicted families had recently taken refuge, so that they were greatly overcrowded."


He would like to add to that the account of one other person who had visited that district. It was the testimony of a man now lost to his country - a man held in high esteem and admiration for the large impulse of humanity that moved him. He meant General Gordon. He had said: - "The state of our fellow country-men in those parts of Ireland is worse than that of any people in the world, let alone in Europe. I believe that these people are made as we are. They are patient and loyal, but at the same time broken-spirited - living, on the verge of starvation, in places in which we would not keep our cattle."
The Court then adjourned for luncheon.

Upon reassembling, Sir Charles Russell resumed his speech. He referred - in connection with the subject with which he was dealing - to a speech delivered by Lord John Russell, and reported in "Hansard," in the House of Commons, on the 18th June, 1846, in the debate on the Report of the Devon Commission. Speaking of the probable effects of the many Coercion Bills, Lord John said that the number of homicides in 1832, before the introduction of what was called the Coercion Act, was 242; in 1837 it was 230; in 1840, 123; in 1842, 106; and in 1845, 139; and he went on to give still larger figures as to such crime as attacking houses, to which he would not now call the attention of the Court.


Some remarkable figures he had called from the official returns, which showed the extraordinary state of affairs in Ireland in 1876-77-78-79. In this connection Sir Charles first referred to the potato crop, and the enormous decrease in its extent. The figures he gave were as follows: -

Tons. Pounds
1876 crop 4,154,784 value 12,464382
1877 crop 1,757,274 value 5,271,822
1878 crop 2,526,504 value 7,579,512
1879 crop 1,180,676 value 3,341,028

This great fall (said Sir Charles) represented a decrease of nearly three-quarters of the agricultural rental of Ireland. The next figures Sir Charles touched upon were those which showed the value of the general crops in Ireland during the same period. They were as follows: -

1876 crops worth 36,000,000 pounds
1877 crops worth 28,000,000 pounds
1878 crops worth 32,000,000 pounds
1879 crops worth 22,000,000 pounds

Having impressed upon their Lordships the remarkable decrease here shown, Sir Charles proceeded - "That story of the efforts made by those smallholders of land to keep their holdings and pay their rents is a remarkable story of frugality and self-denial. Those poor men leaving their wives and children and coming to this country and subsisting, God knows how, to manage to take back to their homes the landlord's rent, which was never made out of the land - this is, I say, a sad story of the self-denial and the frugality of these poor men."


"What (then asked Sir Charles) was the action of the Government during this period; what were the Government doing? I have here to refer to one gentleman for whom I have the highest respect, except in his character as a statesman. In Feb., 1880, that gentleman, Mr. J. Lowther, was Secretary for Ireland. Mr. Shaw, who was then a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, addressed a question to him in the House of Commons as to whether the Government were going to do anything towards land reform in Ireland, and whether there could not be an extension to the rest of Ireland of the security which the tenant-right gave in Ulster. His answer was that to extend the Ulster custom would be pure and undiluted Communism, and when questioned as to the state of Ireland, he said that the land question had nothing to do with the state of Ireland, and that it was the work of other agencies. Again nothing was done for Ireland, and Ireland had to appear once more in the humiliating character in which she had too often appeared before - as a mendicant before the world.


If you recollect, my Lords, the famines in Ireland differ from the famines of Egypt and the famines of India. At this very time there were being exported from Ireland cattle, aye, and grain, more than would have sustained the population threefold. And there were started - all credit to them for it - a number of charitable funds in Dublin: The Mansion House Fund, the fund which owes its name to the interest which the Duchess of Marlborough, wife of the then Lord-Lieutenant, took in it, a fund collected through the agency of the New York Herald, and the fund collected at the instance, and by the instrumentality, of Mr. Parnell, upon the occasion of his visit to America.


He would not (continued Sir Charles) deal further with that point now. He was dealing with the point whether in 1879 the condition of matters in Ireland did not call for exceptional measures on that part of the Government, or for a strong agitation and combination among the tenant class themselves; and, if that were wanting, the only alternative was sporadic bloody warfare in various parts of the country.
(The report will be continued.)

Source: The Echo, Wednesday April 3, 1889, Pages 2-3

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