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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84

XII

XII.

The Parliament elected in 1885 was not fated to be of long duration. The verdict of the polls was to displace Mr. Gladstone's Liberal Ministry, and to return a Conservative administration to power. But not for long. For, defeated on a side issue (they had but a very slender majority), they gave up the seat of office again to Mr. Gladstone; who now appeared in a totally different rôle from everything that he had previously appeared in; and, despite all his previous statements to the contrary, went in fully for Home Rule. Speaking during the November elections at Edinburgh, he had said (and this was before the result of the elections were known):—

"I will suppose that, owing to some cause the present Government has disappeared, and a Liberal Party was called to deal with this great constitutional question of the government of Ireland in a position where it was a minority dependent on the Irish vote for converting it into a majority. Now, gentlemen, I tell you seriously and solemnly that, though I believe the Liberal party to be honourable, patriotic, and trustworthy, in such a position as that it would not be safe for it to enter on the consideration of a measure in respect to which, at the first step of its progress, it would be in the power of a party coming from Ireland to say: 'Unless you do this and unless you do that, we will turn you out to-morrow. '" (Cheers.)

Yet this is exactly what the right honourable gentlemen did now do. Admitted to office on sufferance by the Irish Party, he immediately set himself to curry favour with them, by completely turning round and ignoring all the honourable dictates of his previous position. He simply set all prior utterances at naught, and presented the truly unfortunate spectacle, of an aged statesman false to the traditions of his party and his great personality. But, for the honour of the great English party, it must be recorded that it refused to follow him in a body. Like the Veil of the Temple, the party was rent in twain by the adoption of the new policy, and a section, now known by the title of the "Liberal Unionists." broke page 34 away. And be it noted the "Liberal Unionist" section contained, and does contain, the most honourable and capable of Liberal Administrators, like the Marquis of Hartington, M.P., Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, M.P., and others.

Mr. Gladstone introduced his Home Rule Bill, which practically amounted to a "Bill for the better guaranteeing of Independence to Ireland," and he was defeated. And another General Election ensued on the Prime Ministers' appeal to the country for an endorsement of his policy. But, thanks to the work of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, and other Unionist Associations, the country was properly educated on the subject, and gave a distinct repudiation to the "Separatist" policy. As a consequence, Mr. Gladstone and his Home Rule followers now inhabit the cold shades of opposition; and an "Unionist" but not Coalition Government occupies the seat of power. The Unionist Liberals ceased not to be less Liberal because they spoke and agitated against Home Rule; and when a cordial offer was made to them to join the present Ministry, they refused the alliance which would necessitate a change of traditional policy, while giving every guarantee to support the Conservatives in their Imperial, as opposed to the Gladstonian-Separatist, policy.

And so it is to-day as regards the Parliamentary position. But in Ireland itself matters have not made such favourable progress. The lapse of the Crimes Act has given a new lease of life to outrage and crime, which still continues to be indulged in to a very large extent. This is shown by the Returns of the outrages indulged in since the Act ceased its operation. For the last half of the year 1885 there were five hundred and forty-three crimes reported—a doubling of the numbers for the first half—and eight hundred and ninety-nine—or three times as many—cases of Boycotting. From January up to June, 1886, there were five hundred and fifty-three crimes and eight hundred and ninety-nine cases of Boycotting reported through Government Returns. To sum up the whole criminal record of the past seven years, it may be said that there have been during this period no less than 14,374 cases of law-breaking, ranging over murder, manslaughter, conspiracy to murder, firing at persons, assaults on police, bailiffs and process-servers, cutting and maiming of persons and cattle, &c.

And if the Agitators can at all bring it about, there will be found page 35 to be even worse times in store for Ireland. While the editor of United Ireland, after private conferences with the American directors of the "Extremist" section, appeals to the Dublin populace to "give a good account"—strange phrase this, in view of the Phoenix Park murders—of the successor to Lord Fredk. Cavendish, M.P., and others, and "to go on as they have been going;" a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, speaking at the Dublin Meeting of the League, tells his hearers that the sparing of such men as landlords "strains to its utmost the teaching that we are not to murder an individual," the sentiment being warmly applauded; in addition to which a member of the Parliamentary party advises the people to pay no rent, but "be evicted with their rents in their pockets." With all these influences at work there is little of a moral tone being left in the people to whom such teaching is addressed, and the kindly traits of the Irish tenantry are fast becoming a tradition of the past. No later than a fortnight prior to the time this is written—on the 29th September in fact—the mother of a man named Michael Hill died in the King's County. Hill was unpopular, and "Boycotted" because of the fact of his working on an evicted farm—the man having no other means of supporting his dying mother. And what happened? He could not obtain in the town adjoining where his mother's corpse lay, a coffin to enclose her remains. Although he offered to pay in cash any reasonable sum demanded no undertaker would supply him, while, as a matter of fact, three of those to whom he applied, had, at the time of his application, the required article in stock. As a consequence the poor fellow was obliged to drive off during the night a distance of fourteen miles, to a place where he was quite unknown, in order to procure one. And this was all because he was Boycotted !

It may very fairly be asked, are people who act in this way past all redemption, and outside the power of their spiritual instructors ? This question opens up a new aspect of the subject which is not a pleasant matter for contemplation. Ireland's population is very largely composed of Roman Catholics, and in the disturbed districts the great majority of the community are members of this faith. At the very outset of the agitation, the Roman Catholic priesthood bitterly opposed the movement; while some of the oldest and most revered of the Church's prelates issued warning injunctions page 36 against the whole scope and tendency of it. But to little avail Gradually the land became flooded with Communistic theories and the freedom of thought, which at first only attached to questions of land, eventually extended to the matters of religion. And the position of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland grew to be a very critical one indeed. The place occupied by the old and honoured parish priests, allowed of their speaking their minds firmly and determinedly, against the communistic doctrines which were preached; but the great mass of the younger curates scattered over the country, had other and more difficult influences to contend with. Recruited in a very large degree from the classes which sided against the law, and imbued themselves with some of the free theories of latter-day literature, they were driven by a combination of circumstances,—partly by inclination, and partly by necessity in order to retain their hold over the people,—to take a stand which is open to much question and serious comment. And the necessities of the position affected not the rank and file of the clergy alone, but subsequently branched upward in significant ways.