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Parnell Commission Inquiry

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Parnell Commission Inquiry

Post by Karen on Sat 2 Feb 2013 - 18:45

Sixty-sixth Day of Proceedings - Thursday, April 4, 1889






The Court was in a state of semi-darkness when business was resumed this morning. A heavy cloud hung just over the centre of the large sky-light, and, the electric lamps not being lighted, the Court was intensely gloomy. It was only for a few moments, however. Then the sun shone down through the prim windows quite cheerfully. The Court was not very crowded. The gallery was comfortably full, but the body of the Court afforded accommodation for a few other than the members of the Press and the parties charged. Amongst the few spectators were Mrs. Gladstone - who again occupied her accustomed seat in the Jury box - Lady and Miss Russell, and Mrs. Lewis. Mr. Jacob Bright was present for the first time this week.
The Judges took their seats shortly after half-past ten o'clock.


Sir Charles Russell, resuming his speech, pointed out that yesterday he endeavoured to lay before the Court the state of things prior to 1879, which, they submitted, justified the creation of some strong defensive organisation on the part of the tenantry of Ireland. That organisation afterwards became the Irish National Land League. He had to lay before the Court for the first time the written constitution and the aims and objects of that organisation. It was established in October, 1879, and it was suppressed in October, 1881. Previous to October, 1879 there had been several meetings in a great many Irish towns at which the formation of the organisation was discussed. These meetings were held at a great many places, and some of them were addressed by Mr. Davitt, who had been called, and rightly called, "the father, the parent, of the Land League." "Mr. Parnell, I did say it at once," continued Sir Charles, "did not readily give his assent to its formation or to its programme, not, however, that he failed to realise the necessity for some such organisation. But he had the distrust that was natural. He had never taken part in any popular movement of the kind. He essentially, by temperament, by accomplishments, by character of mind, was a Parliamentarian. I say it plainly that while he possesses distinguished and distinguishable qualities of the statesman he lacks many of those qualities which one is apt to associate with the idea of a great popular movement. He is impassive, he lays no claim to the eloquence that moves multitudes, although he does unquestionably possess some great qualities - those of discernment, of resolution, of foresight, and of self-control."


After consideration (Sir Charles went on), Mr. Parnell joined, and joined heartily, the movement, and became its President. He foresaw, as anyone must foresee, that in any great popular upheaval there must be difficulties, there must be disturbing elements, and that there were always men who would attach themselves to such movements, professing sympathy with the objects of the movements, and being actuated by ideas of their own. Well, the League was formed, as he said, in 1879.


At the meeting at which it was inaugurated, its objects were declared to be - (1) to bring about a reduction of rack-rents; (2) to facilitate obtaining the ownership of the soil by the occupiers; and (3) the promotion of the objects of the League by organisation amongst the tenant-farmers; by defending those who might be threatened with eviction for refusing to pay unjust rents; by facilitating the working of the Bright clauses of the Land Act (the Act of 1870); and by obtaining that reform which would enable every tenant to become the owner of his holding by paying a limited rent for a limited number of years. The other resolutions passed at the meeting were that Mr. Parnell should be president, and that the other officers should be Mr. Kettle, Mr. Thomas Brennan, Mr. Biggar, Mr. Sullivan, and Mr. Patrick Egan. The last resolution stated that none of the funds of the League should be used for the purchase of any landlord's interest in the land, or for furthering the interest of any Parliamentary candidate. That part of the resolution, however, was afterwards rescinded, but only modified to the extent that a sum of 2,000 pounds only was to be devoted towards the Parliamentary Fund. The learned counsel then read the list of the members of the Committee of the League; it was a very long one. He had troubled their Lordships with the enumeration of those names which formed the executive committee of the League because there were only five who had ever been connected with any secret organisation.


At the same time there was circulated "An Appeal to the Irish Race." This document was issued with the sanction of the executive of the League. But perhaps their Lordships would allow one of his learned friends to read it.
The President assented.
Mr. Asquith then proceeded to perform that task. After alluding to the distressed condition of Ireland, the appeal declared that it could no longer be denied that it was necessary to apply a remedy to the wretched condition to which the barbarous land system had gradually reduced the country. It was urged that landlordism should be swept away, and that the occupiers of the soil should take their place as its proprietors. The remedy put forward by the League was, it was declared, justifiable, reasonable, and expedient, and was absolutely necessary to insure the prosperity and contentment of Ireland. They, however, wanted money, and the patriotism of their exiled sons in America had been appealed to to assist in the patriotic cause. The object of the League (the appeal went on) was to assist the tenant-farmers, and to help them to lift themselves from that state of misery and social degradation into which they had plunged, to free the land of Ireland from the unwise and unjust restrictions which prevented the development of its full resources, and, further, to secure by methods of disinterested effort the contentment and prosperity of the greatest number of their fellow countrymen.


What, asked Sir Charles (who rose immediately on the conclusion of Mr. Asquith's task), were the rules of the League? The first one stated that branches should be established in every parish in Ireland. Then followed rules for the conduct of those branches. In these it was laid down that no person taking an evicted farm should be admitted as a member, and that a member taking such farm should be expelled; and that no man taking part in an eviction, or purchasing goods seized for the non-payment of unjust rent, should be admitted as a member of the League.


On the 5th November, 1879, an address was issued to the farmers of Ireland and "all interested in the settlement of the land question." In the course of the address an appeal was made for help towards securing the soil for those who had cultivated it. It pointed out that the agitation for the reduction of rent must be sustained. It was expressly declared that the movement was not of a sectarian nature, but was intended for the good of the farming classes generally. Ulster, formerly in the van of every Irish popular movement, had of late years, and mainly because of religious differences which had been fomented by interested persons and classes, stood apart, or, at least, a great portion of Ulster stood apart. At the time a manifesto was issued to the farmers of Ulster in which they were reminded that it was a case of common interests, and were invited to lay aside sectarian or religious differences which had, to some extent, at least, kept them apart from and out of sympathy with the greater portion of the race of the Irish people.


If this League was a conspiracy, it had features which distinguished it from any other conspiracy the world had ever known. A large number of Catholic priests were, from the first, in sympathy with the movement; but when it became manifest, after the rejection of the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, that Parliament could do nothing to interpose its protection for the tenant classes, when the clergy of all ranks in Ireland, with hardly an exception even amongst the higher hierarchy, gave it their sympathy and support. No great national movement, in Ireland or England, has ever been initiated without the incidental accompaniments of disturbance and crime. "I have thought it right to state this point," said Sir Charles, after dwelling on this fact at some length, "and I would remind your Lordships that, even if my argument does not - as I hope it will - carry weight with your Lordships, your Lordships are not here sitting as moralists to judge of moral responsibility, but are here as Judges to try a distinct unequivocal charge of direct complicity with crime."


At the end of 1879 Mr. Parnell went to America, and appealed to the American people in aid of that movement. He addressed them at meetings; he had an unparalleled reception; all classes in that great community received him, listened to him with sympathy, and extended to him practical aid. He also had the rare honour of being allowed to address the Representative House of Legislature in America at Washington, and before his departure from America he gathered together around him in New York a number of men representing all shades of political opinion in America, and all shades of political opinion in relation to Ireland. "Now, I ask this question," continued Sir Charles, "Was it to be expected - was it in reason to be expected - that in invoking aid in such a movement as this, Mr. Parnell ought to have required a certificate of the previous political conduct from each man who came into his movement. Was he to require some account of the doings of each individual who came into a movement perfectly open, perfectly legal, and perfectly justifiable in its objects, and objects which had since become parts of the policy of the Governments of the day? The taunt had often been levelled at the Irish Party, because of their poverty, and because they had to rely in a great measure - and true it was that they had so to rely - upon the support of the expatriated members of their nation in another country. Was he to refuse their help, and was he to say, "Although you are giving me this for the good, for the purpose, of the organisation which I have controlled, yet I decline to receive it because you, whose hands are presented to me, have been mixed up in some previous, or may even now be concerned in some political schemes for which I have no sympathy, and in which I can take no part?


Did Irish landlords scorn American money? Did the Irish landlords when the rent was coming in in hundreds of thousands, as it did come in, from the sons and daughters of the tenant farmers of Ireland from beyond the seas, sent to enable their parents to eke out a miserable existence at home and to help them to discharge a rent that was never made out of the land, did the Irish landlords scorn the American money which came from these sources?


Their Lordships had heard from the spy, Le Caron, of certain unconstitutional movements in which the Irish had been engaged in America. But he assured their Lordships that they had not yet heard of the breadth and strength of that movement. How ridiculously puny was the movement by the side of that which Mr. Parnell has created! "The gratitude of communities," said Sir Charles, sinking his voice very impressively, "to public men is often melancholy in its retrospectiveness." It is not always that the merits of a man are recognised in the day in which he lives. The motives are misconstrued, the aims are misrepresented; and within the last few days we have had a notable example of what one may call the posthumous gratitude of a nation, when by the grave of one of the greatest men of this generation has ascended the loudest and the shrillest "keen" of mourning, coming from the men who spent their whole lives in denouncing the character, in vilifying the motives, and doing all they could - but puny were their efforts - to bring disgrace and infamy upon his head. I doubt not a day will come - indeed, it is coming rapidly - when, through all the mists of prejudice which now surround the actions of Mr. Parnell's public life, he will be recognised as having played the part of a statesman, who, though working for the good of the people of Ireland, rendered true and loyal service to England, by bringing about something like a reconciliation between two people who have been kept apart, but between whom there never has been, and is not, just cause for quarrel or difference."


Their Lordships (resumed Sir Charles) would observe that the programme of reform - (and a programme formulated in April, 1880, had in the meantime been read) - pointed to an occupying proprietorship of the land, a policy which had now been adopted by both political parties. It proposed terms of settlement that the landlords of today would be only too glad to accept. They, however, had missed an opportunity, which they were not likely - unless there was another revolution in process - to get again. That was offered to them, pressed upon them, pressed upon the public by the Irish representatives, backed up with remarkable unanimity by the Irish people; and that at the instance of men who were now stigmatised, or sought to be stigmatised, as disturbers of the peace, and as men who did not desire the contentment of their country because, forsooth, they lived upon agitation.


Their Lordships might have observed that there was one name wanting among those attached to that programme. It was the name of Mr. Michael Davitt. In the Land League movement, as in every movement, there was a section more advanced, and there was a section less advanced. Mr. Davitt belonged to the more advanced section. He thought - and subsequent events had justified his judgment - that the terms offered to the Irish landlords in that programme were too favourable; he thought that the terms were terms which the Irish tenants would be unable successfully to carry out and fulfil. But he did desire - and it was now his desire - that the settlement of the question should be full, not only in the sense that it should be just, but that it should be upon such a basis as to offer a reasonable belief that the undertaking entered into with the tenants would be faithfully carried out and observed.


"How does it come" (asked Sir Charles, alluding to all the documents he had quoted from) "that these documents are not presented before your Lordships, if this case it to be fairly presented in a broad, in a just, and in a statesmanlike fashion? How comes it that all these documents come, I think I may say, as a revelation upon your Lordships? My Lords, nothing but blind animosity, the judgments of men distorted by prejudice, carried away by a desire and impulse to blacken the characters of political opponents, can account for the way in which the Attorney-General has been imperfectly instructed in presenting this case. I think it is a grave matter. I must say it is a grave scandal."


He would admit that some of the members of the League had advocated boycotting. With regard to boycotting, he would use a celebrated phrase of Dr. Johnson, "Let us clear our minds of can't?" Boycotting had existed in all times, and in all societies. It was only a question of degree. Up to a certain point boycotting was not only not criminal, but was justifiable and right. What did it do? It focused the opinion of the community in condemnation of the conduct of an individual of that community. Was there no boycotting at the Bar? Was there no boycotting in the Church? No boycotting of tradesmen? What was the meaning of sending a man to Coventry? Boycotting had existed, and always would exist. He could point to historical, sacred records, but need not go so far back. Apart from intimidation, apart from violence, boycotting, or any combination, was neither actionable nor criminal unless it took place under circumstances which would warrant a Jury in finding, as a fact, that the object was not merely repression of supposed misconduct, but was an object to injure the individual against whom it was directed.


The past history of constitutional agitation had shown but poor results. Again and again sacrifices had been made, and still no remedial measures were forthcoming. Men of the class of O'Hanlan - belonging to, it might be, a hopeless and condemnable enterprise - at least carried their lives and liberties in their hands. Was it surprising that men like him should feel distrust, and feel a want of hope, in the fulfillment of the programme of the Land League - fulfilled as it was today - should have thought that it was an impossible task to attain its fulfillment by constitutional methods? "Even applying the vague laws formulated by the name of the law of conspiracy," continued Sir Charles, referring to the ground upon which he intended to take up his defence, "which have never found any definite expression in the statute book, this proposal is sound: That those acting in concert, for Society's sake conspirators, are only responsible for the acts of co-conspirators where such acts are of a kind and class agreed on by all the conspirators to be done or committed in furtherance of the common design. Unless, therefore, it can be shown - and I say the evidence utterly fails to establish it - that Mr. Parnell - take him for example - was a party to the use of murder and outrage as part of the agreed means and methods of the Land League, he is not liable, criminally or otherwise; but I say it at this point - I submit at this point - that if your Lordships were trying this case in a criminal Court on a charge of direct complicity with crime, that there is not - even as the case now stands - any evidence which your Lordships would think right to submit even to a Jury for their consideration."


Sir Charles next reminded their Lordships of what he considered a remarkable and striking fact in the evidence. In every case - without exception he thought - where there had been proof of outrage by persons who came to swear that they had acted in concert with persons who were professed to be Land Leaguers - those perpetrators were sworn members of a secret society, altogether distinct from the Land League. "Let me remind your Lordships," Sir Charles added, "of a statement - absurd and ludicrous though it may be - to which the Attorney-General gave utterance when he told your Lordships that he would prove that not in one isolated case, but again and again, Mr. Egan, Mr. Brennan, or Mr. Biggar, as the case might be, doled out 20 pounds, 30 pounds, or 40 pounds in Dublin, which was handed to persons to bring to localities in which particular localities that 20 pounds, 30 pounds, or 40 pounds was doled out to the actual perpetrators of outrages." Where did the Attorney-General find his authority for that statement? Who was the informer, or who the convict, who told that blind story? The Attorney-General had not even attempted to substantiate that statement.


An ingenious statement of the Attorney-General's was that he did not mean to suggest that Mr. Biggar, or the others, knew the particular persons to be outraged, or that they committed the particular outrage themselves. What a contemptible case, a wretched shred of patches had been presented to their Lordships in face of such statements as that? Would an explanation be given of them? Would an apology be given for them? They were directed against his colleagues in Parliament, whose reputation was as dear to them as the Attorney-General's reputation was dear to him. Such statements as that should not be made broadly, recklessly, without the gravest examination by a member of the Bar, be he the highest or be he the lowest.


Passing on to the actual work of the League, Sir Charles described it under two heads - as a work of relief and a work of organisation. Dealing with the latter first, he said it consisted in the creation of the executive, the creation of the local branches throughout the country, and the inspection of those branches. The relief was of a different kind in different places, and Sir Charles mentioned that the Land League were the first to spend in the time of the famine 10,000 pounds for potatoes for the destitute, and that they distributed in all a sum exceeding 50,000 pounds during the time of that horrible visitation. The relief also took the form of defending persons evicted, and, under a Coercion Act to which he would have to refer, to defending persons charged with certain offences, and persons put in prison as subjects under that Act. Up to the time of his arrest in 1881, Mr. Davitt remained in Dublin at the head of the League, though during that period he made a tour in America. Upon returning from America he caused to be issued a circular, which urged the members to be united, and pointed out that disjointed action was not what was wanted in the League, but compact and steady work. The Land League platform was set out in this circular to be "No compromise with landlords." Further, the circular warned the people not to be led away by the intoxication of purpose which had been so much against the interest of the community in the past, urged upon them to assert their claims without violence, declared that threatening letters were as stupidly unnecessary as they were criminal, and asserted that the persons who resorted to such means were neither worthy of concessions from their landlords nor consideration at the hands of the members of the League. In strong language the circular denounced the outrages which were continually taking place in various parts of Ireland, and asserted that the Executive could not believe, under any circumstances, members of the League could be identified with such outrages. That circular, said Sir Charles Russell, was printed and circulated all through Ireland, and yet the Attorney-General's instructions were so lamentably scanty that he had never referred to it, nor had he to any of the speeches made by Mr. Davitt and others of the Irish Party in condemnation of the outrages. Sir Charles read - in this connection - from the Attorney-General's speech in the "O'Donnell v. Walter" trial, in which he asserted that it was stated that not one of these men - referring to the leaders of the Irish Party - deprecated the outrages.
The Court then adjourned for refreshment.


Upon the Court resuming, Sir Charles Russell said that while Mr. Davitt was engaged in undoubtingly furthering by his presence and his speech the agitation, he at the same time earnestly and honestly denounced crime. He was stopped in that work on the 3rd of February, 1881, when he was arrested. To him succeeded Mr. Dillon, Mr. Sexton, and others - all of whom, in addition to Mr. Parnell and other leaders, were arrested under Forster's Coercion Act. Immediately following these arrests the Land League was suppressed, and a number of persons, many of whom were in official connection with the local branches of the League, were arrested.


What then followed? The disorganisation of the Land League movement all over the country, and therefore their Lordships would not expect them to produce the records, accounts, books, and correspondence of the Land League. Some of these documents had found their way to Paris, while others had been brought to London and left in the care of a man named Moloney. That man had been subpoenaed by the Times, but, for some reason or other, the Attorney-General did not think fit to produce those books in Court.


Reverting to the events which preceded the suppression of the League, Sir Charles said he did not think there was anyone on any side of politics who would now justify that Coercion Act. It was one which enabled the Executive to take into custody anyone suspected of criminal motives, and keep them in jail for any period without trial - an extreme measure, he need not say, an unconstitutional measure he need not say. It was justified, however, by the information Mr. Forster had received from Magistrates in Ireland - Magistrates who were landlords and of that class against whom the land agitation was directed. The effect of this mode of treating the people was not to allay, but rather to increase the discontent. It had the effect of making men who were not entitled by their conduct to public sympathy at all martyrs in the eyes of their neighbours, and long after the title of ex-suspect became a title of honour to many of them; indeed, years afterwards he himself had seen letters in which these men had with pride signed themselves "ex-suspect."

CRIME IN 1880-81-82.

As to the "No-Rent Manifesto," he did not justify it, and he did not believe Mr. Parnell would justify it. If Mr. Parnell did justify it he would say it was an unconstitutional blow in return for an unconstitutional blow. Passing on, Sir Charles said his learned friend Mr. Asquith, whose services he could not too highly estimate, had enabled him to produce a succinct statement as to crime over 1881 and 1882. Their Lordships would remember the Land League was suppressed in October, 1881. From October, 1881, to April, 1882 - making, inclusively, a period of seven months - the number of cases of crime of an agrarian kind amounted to 3,531, or an average, for each of the seven months, of 504 crimes - an average higher than during any corresponding period over the whole of the agitation. Analysing the statistics of crime produced by the Attorney-General, Sir Charles also produced figures, which he set against these. In 1880-1 the average number of cases of firing at the person was 45.5, and in 1882 alone it was 58, the average for the two years 1880-1 of incendiary fires and so forth was 283, the average for the year 1882 alone was 280; cattle outrages averaged for the two years 128, and in 1882 alone they reached 144; threatening letters in 1881-1 reached an average of 1,764, and in 1882 alone they were 2,009; firing into dwellings averaged 105 in 1880-1, and in 1882 they reached 117. These figures gave an average of cases of crime over the two years 1880-1 of 2,338, and of the year 1882 alone of 2,635.


The Attorney-General compared these averages with the averages of a later period, and the result he attributed to the operation of a Crimes Act. But he attributed them to another and different cause. He quite agreed that the stringency of criminal law would restrain crime, but only for a brief period. It did not alter the temperament of the people, it did not bring them in closer sympathy with the law. There was, however, in operation in these later years that which the Land League had desired should be in operation long before - the operation of a Land Act, the first great charter of freedom for the Irish tenant farmers. And there was in operation an Arrears Act, which, if the wise counsel of the Irish Members had been followed, would have been passed long before, and made the operation of the Land Act much wider, much speedier, in its tranquillising effects on the country. Had that Act of 1881 been passed fifty years ago, it would undoubtedly have changed the social condition of the Irish people in a marked degree. But the evil of legislation in regard to that country was that it came too late. It came only after pressure, often after unconstitutional pressure, and under circumstances which undoubtedly weakened its efficacy and deprived it of its grace. That was true of the Act of 1881.
(The report will be continued.)

Source: The Echo, Thursday April 4, 1889, Pages 2-3

So, the Land League caused the violent outrages in Ireland in order to prove to the Irish people how important the Land League was to the country's development and freedom. When the Land League was suppressed in Ireland in 1882 (around the time of the Phoenix Park murders), the League then stepped up the violence in order to attempt to show how suppression of their League caused the common Irish people to commit outrages, which was actually caused by the League themselves!! What utter nonsense Russell's whole summation was!

Karen Trenouth
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