The Government of Endowed Orangeism

From Modern Ireland: Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government, 1868

By 'An Ulsterman'

The Government of Ireland is newspaper-ridden. If this meant that it took note of the public opinion of the nation, and whilst legitimately following out its own principles, shaped its course in the manner least likely to offend the general sentiment, there would be nothing to object to in the fact. But this unfortunately is far from being the case. No doubt the men who hold the reins of government in Ireland desire to act on such a method; but they are weak of will, unsupported, and too amenable to the pressure of the more intolerant of their party. A Government which has taken up a certain position, and publicly announced its adherence to a certain line of action, should not change unless the circumstances have changed. It cannot veer about without loss of dignity; it cannot honourably steer a self-contradictory course; and when it falsifies its professions at the obvious dictation of a faction, it cannot escape without discredit.

No doubt the situation is a delicate one. A Tory administration has to rule a country under the guidance of Tory principles, whilst the vast majority of the population is anything but Tory. It has to control the destinies of millions in accordance with a set of views which harmonize only with the feelings of a few hundred thousands. Its party adherents are not merely in a minority in the nation at large; they are in a minority in that one of the four provinces where alone they can be said to have an existence. All the more reason, one would say, why its conduct should be temperate and intelligible, and above all things firm enough to prove to the nation at large that it is ruled by an impartial Government, and not by the organs of a small and prejudiced party.

Once confound the Government with an unpopular and contemned fraction of the population, and a heavy blow is dealt to respect for law, to reverence for authority, and as a consequence to the peace of the country. This was the defect of former rule in Ireland, when party ends were alone aimed at and alone secured. A swarm of self-seekers profited largely, but the cause of Government as largely suffered. The lawless spirit which in times past appeared amongst the peasantry was a logical development of that selfishness on the part of their superiors which made the name of law a mockery, and authority a cover for the attainment of private ends. From anything that might seem like a tendency to fall back upon such a state of things, it is especially requisite that the Irish Government should guard itself. It will not achieve this end by obviously deferring to the dictation of that small ascendancy minority which formerly rode rough-shod over the country; and yet this is what it seems to have found it necessary to do for party purposes, however averse it may have been from such a course.

To have a proper conception of the state of Ireland at present, we must not forget that the Church Establishment overlies the country like a gigantic cuttle-fish, with prehensile arms outspread in every direction, and adhesive suckers at work in every parish of the land. The vacuum within only causes them to adhere with more desperate tenacity. The Establishment is in danger, and feels itself to be so; and instead of withdrawing its grasp from those points where it is most open to attack, it clings to them with more defiant obstinacy—

As when the cuttle-fish, enforced,
forsakes His rough abode,
with his adhesive cups
He gripes the pebbles still.

Nor is it oblivious of measures of defence. Itself the prime cause of discontent and disaffection, it assumes the hues of loyalty; and to dissemble the motive of the struggle, its special organs, the ascendancy press, pour forth—again like the cuttle-fish—an inky torrent that clouds the view and blackens the victim. This is the case of Ireland. The existence of the Establishment there is the cause of incessant strife; and to save the Establishment men are told to believe that the strife is directed not against it, nor because of it. Such an argument is only an evasion of the fact; and it is persistently repeated in order that it may acquire, from frequent iteration, a force which it has not in itself.

For it must be borne in mind that the Establishment in Ireland means more than an endowed religion; it means an Endowed Party. It means the endowment of Toryism, of Irish Toryism, that is to say of Orangeism more or less open and avowed. This is a fact deserving of the most serious consideration, and requiring most urgently a speedy remedy. Are we content with the endowment of Orangeism? Are we content to stand quietly by whilst Orangeism, endowed by the State, parades itself before the Irish nation as identical with Government, till the millions take that silence for tacit approval, and turn against Government in the belief that they are striking down Orange ascendancy? If not—if we are not satisfied that Fenianism should flourish perennially—then we must at once strike at its root; and the root of Fenianism lies deep in that system of Orange ascendancy which has been permitted to work its will in Ireland. Orangeism proper was the first secret society in the country after the Williamite Wars. It was not long in being before it provoked hostile organizations; and the same cause has been productive of the same effect every year since. A decisive interference was found necessary when the old Orange Society conspired to subvert the succession to the throne; and Parliament has as much reason now to extinguish an ambition which is a perennial cause of danger to the peace and prosperity of the nation.

If the commonwealth is to be saved from this peril, it must apparently be saved in despite of the party now in power. In the Government of Ireland the Administration has shown that it is too weak to maintain an independent attitude, or even to stand by its own avowed opinions. A case in point will be found in the conduct of the prosecutions against persons who joined in the National Funeral Processions; and there could hardly be found a case more instructive.

When the first procession had taken place in Cork, Lord Derby, in reply to a question in the House of Lords, declared that such processions were not illegal. This opinion being accepted, and explicitly stated as a basis of procedure, a similar procession was organized and took place in Dublin.

The Government stood by its declaration, and did not interfere. The semi-official organs, however, were instructed to say that if there had been any person to testify that a breach of the peace was apprehended, its interference would have been prompt. Meetings of the Privy Council had been held; and although, on the day before the procession, it had had both a morning and an evening session, it issued no proclamation against the intended procession, neither on the ground of intrinsic illegality nor on that of State policy. The procession changed nothing in this respect. Some days elapsed and the Government did not alter its attitude. The Chief Secretary for Ireland made a speech in Parliament declaring that he would vindicate, but not strain, the law, which necessarily meant that Lord Derby's declaration was to hold good. But presently all this was altered. Proposals having been published for other processions on the succeeding Sunday in several other towns, proclamations were issued to forbid them; and these proclamations no one seems to have thought of ignoring. Thus much could be done in a straightforward manner on the grounds of State policy; but advantage was next taken of the occasion to deal a backhanded blow at the Dublin procession, which had not been forbidden, and whose projectors quoted Lord Derby's declaration as a reason for proceeding.

The consequence of these tactics is that the Government is accused of having laid a trap to entice men to commit an act for which it could then come down upon them with divers pains and penalties. The result is disastrous to the cause of good government. It destroys the confidence which a nation ought to have in its rulers; and this is exactly the vital misfortune in Ireland. But what was the cause of this change of policy?

Apparently it can be traced to no higher source than the wild Orange outcry raised against the Ministry and against the Irish Secretary in particular. His statement that he would govern according to law was quoted with indignation and disgust: he was denounced as a blusterer and a coward. He was declared to be perplexed, palsied, pallid, trembling, craven, stupid, and dull. He was asked where were his arrests and his prosecutions. This language from a special organ of the Establishment and of Orange ascendancy, backed by letters from one or two Ulster representatives, was followed by an immediate surrender of the Government. Whether Lord Mayo was overruled by his colleagues or not, at all events Lord Derby's declaration was disregarded, and the people were once more taught not to confide in the good faith of English Statesmen. The effect it is needless to enlarge upon. In its subsequent course the Tory Administration appears to have been solely anxious to follow the line dictated to it by the newspaper in question. Some members of the popular press having been summoned as Crown witnesses, the Establishment organ condemned the proceeding, and pointed out one of them as proper rather to be placed in the dock. No sooner said than done. At once the intended witnesses were informed that there had been a mistake; and a few days after the gentleman designated for prosecution was brought up with some others before the magistrates and committed for trial. It has been the same with respect to other prosecutions.

In all this we have an instructive example of Government as it is in Ireland. Lord Mayo's good intentions, and Lord Derby's declaration, have had no other effect than to make the conduct of the Administration appear perfidious in the eyes of the people. This, indeed, is not at all a thing to be deplored by the party of Endowed Orangeism, which confidently and with undoubted reason expects that its power will expand with the widening of the schism between governors and governed. It is another question whether a disintegrating force like this shall be permitted any longer to exist.