STORY OF IRELAND

By A. M. Sullivan

CHAPTER XCIV.

From the Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland (1900)

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COERCION—THE PLAN OF CAMPAIGN—DEATH OF MR. PARNELL—THE HOME RULE BILL PASSED—RETIREMENT OF MR. GLADSTONE.

Portrait of Justin-McCarthy

MR. PARNELL early in the last session of Parliament had introduced a bill for the amelioration of small tenants precluded from the benefits of the Land Act, and in distress through arrears. The bill was defeated, and the prospect before the poorer class of farmers whom it might have saved was wholesale eviction. To combat the horrors implied in that term a distinguished member of the Nationalist party (it is said John Dillon) formulated the famous plan of campaign. In October, 1886, United Ireland published the programme which was laid down for the oppressed tenantry, and it is but just to say they proved loyal to it; and so were, in most cases, saved from being utterly crushed under the tyrannical regime that ensued when the new coalition ministry came into office. The latter, with Lord Salisbury for premier, was composed of true-blue Tories and weak-kneed Liberals who styled themselves "Liberal-Unionists." When Sir Michael Hicks Beach, who was then chief secretary for Ireland, resigned, he was succeeded by the prime minister's nephew, Mr. Arthur Balfour. If history should not give this gentleman's name prominence and rank him with Lord Arthur Grey and other of Queen Elizabeth's gentle lieutenants, such as Carew and Inchiquin, then it is not because the aspiring young statesman has not earned that distinction.

First by framing a coercion bill which invested every policeman with judicial powers so that he might arrest whom he pleased as a "suspect." The "suspect" could be held for an indefinite period and was denied the opportunity of proving his innocence, for by another provision of the bill, trial by jury was in abeyance and Justice with her scales was ruled out of court. Crime, or rather the shadow or "suspicion" of crime, against which the measure was to operate consisted chiefly in unlawful assemblies, and by its ingenious framers any gathering of people in the open air or behind closed doors could be classed unlawful and dispersed and its leaders locked up. Like Caligula, the new secretary evinced a desire—such was the spirit in which the diabolical bill was drawn—that the nation collectively had but one neck so as he might clutch it by the throat. As it was, nearly all the prominent members of Parliament were caught in the toils beside the Lord Mayor of Dublin and many other notable persons; and while all these innocent men languished in jail a reign of terror was inaugurated outside. One of the saddest occurrences of this period happened at Mitchelstown, in county Cork. A meeting was being held there on behalf of the tenantry of a local estate at which Mr. William O'Brien, Mr. Dillon and several English gentlemen sympathizers were present.

Without warning of any kind the police burst in upon the crowd and batoned every one in the vicinity of the platform or on the street, and when in retaliation for this gross outrage and supererogation on the part of the "guardians of the peace" a few stones were flung at these brutal hirelings, they withdrew to the shelter of their barracks and opened fire on the unarmed people—deadly fire, for, sad to relate, three men and a boy paid the forfeit of their lives to that inhuman savagery. Mr. Balfour endeavored to shift responsibility from the police and rid himself of the odium this cowardly massacre entailed on the government by lying and prevarication, and utterly ignored the result of the coroner's inquest, which was a verdict of murder against the police. The treatment of Mr. William O'Brien, of poor Mandeville and others while in prison—brutal and ferocious—brought Balfour's regime under universal condemnation; but yet had little effect in staying the tyrant's iron hand. The plan of campaign proved perhaps the most effectual safeguard against the cold-blooded crusade set on foot by this latter-day Cromwell. Notwithstanding the fact that the rack-renting landlords were openly backed up by government, since at every eviction large contingents of police and often military were present to aid the sheriffs and his bailiffs; yet the campaigners won many a victory even from stern, unyielding lords of the soil. The fight was long and bitter and attracted world-wide attention.

The split which at a most inopportune moment divided the Nationalist party into two hostile camps, cast a gloomy cloud on the horizon of Ireland's rising hopes; and left in doubt for many a day the issue of this unlooked-for and most unnatural antagonism. In reverence to the memory of the great departed leader—de mortuis nil nisi bonum—we will do no more than allude to the divorce trial in which his name figured and which caused Mr. Gladstone to disavow all future alliance with Mr. Parnell as leader of the Irish Home Rule party.

The secession of many of Mr. Parnell's own followers, his denouncement by the Irish bishops—the contested elections, and all the bitterness and recrimination and bad blood evoked through this unseemly contention, can only be mentioned with deep regret and humiliation that ever such an exhibition was made before the nations by former friends and allies, and comrades in the fight. But a greater affliction was soon to plunge the nation in grief and cast a dark pall over the land, and wring the bitter pang of regret even from those who had lately taunted and vilified him. Parnell, the high-souled patriot the far-seeing statesman—the fearless, unflinching champion of Erin's rights, who had struggled and battled and led the people to within sight of the promised land of freedom—Parnell was no more! His death occurred at Brighton, England, on October 6, 1891. The immense funeral cortege that escorted his remains to Glasnevin Cemetery—the entire city of Dublin draped in mourning, but more than that, the sobbing and weeping above his bier and along the route of the funeral procession—attested the universal grief of the people for the loss of Ireland's greatest son.

The long-wished-for exit of Lord Salisbury's Tory cabinet came at the expiration of their full term in office, and again Mr. Gladstone and the Liberals returned to power.

The Liberal premier who had pledged himself to Home Rule as the first measure on the party programme proceeded to redeem his promise soon after the opening of Parliament, which latter took place on the January 13, 1893. The speech in which the new bill was introduced was lucid and comprehensive—going into every detail and providing for every exigency that might confront the embryo Irish legislature. In his introductory remarks Mr. Gladstone laid it down as a well-proved axiom that Ireland could only be governed in one of two ways—coercion or autonomy; but coercion was a flagrant breach of the promise on the face of which the Act of Union was obtained. The provisions of the bill showed that many defects in the bill of 1886 had been remedied—notably those in regard to the continuity of Irish representation in the English House of Commons; the constitution of a legislative council; the equitable adjustment of Ireland's contribution to the imperial exchequer and the fiscal arrangements in general; the gradual retirement of the existing police force; and other various details relating to the Irish legislature and executive. On the whole, the bill was a long step in advance of its predecessor, and though not a full realization of the hopes of the Irish Home Rulers, yet it received their cordial support.

The bill after being debated in the House and in committee passed its third reading and was sent to the House of Lords, where it was rejected by an overwhelming majority, and amid contemptuous laughter, on September 8, 1893. This only showed the Peers true to their traditional instincts, and caused little surprise; and Mr. Gladstone was fully prepared for such a contingency. He did not dissolve Parliament, but would continue to hold the reins of power until every measure of reform on the Liberal programme had been passed by the Commons. Then he would appeal to the country with every prospect of receiving a full indorsement of his policy, and send back to the Lords the Home Rule bill and several English Reform bills. If the Lords persisted in their antagonism to the popular will, then there remained for the Liberal leader that dernier ressort for which a precedent is found so far back as two hundred and forty years ago—namely, to propose the abolition of the Upper Chamber. Common sense is in accord with the opinions of shrewd politicians who predict that the Lords will not long pursue a suicidal policy; and hence it is not deluding one's self to take an optimistic view of the situation.

The enforced retirement of Mr. Gladstone from public life some six months ago on account of the impairment of his eyesight caused a feeling of genuine and widespread regret that the House should know no more, perhaps, the Nestor of debate and that the Home Rule movement had lost its brilliant standard-bearer. The latest account of the great statesman's condition affords a hope that he may re-enter public life; but whether it be so or not, the Home Rulers and the Liberal party in general can congratulate themselves that the mantle of the Grand Old Man has fallen on a nobleman who, so far, has proved himself loyal to the principles that in later years have guided Mr. Gladstone's policy; and men in the position to know him, ground their faith in Lord Roseberry on the sincerity of purpose shown in his public career. The Home Rule question, however, is no longer dependent on the fealty or caprice of any leader: the great Liberal party of England as a unit has placed it first and foremost of every other reform; and no obstruction by an imbecile House of Peers can stay the wheels of progress, or nullify the will of the people and its representatives.

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