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Motion For Correspondence

Volume 203: debated on Friday 29 July 1870

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I rise, Sir, to move for Copy of the Correspondence between the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Secretary of State for War, relating to calling out for training the Irish Militia Regiments in 1870, the re-enrolment of their men, or the reduction of their Staff. Under ordinary circumstances, any person conversant with the usages of the House would take it for granted that such correspondence as I have asked for would be laid before Parliament in accordance with the terms of my Motion. However, I have heard from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the War Department that it is his intention to refuse the Papers. It certainly appears strange to me that a Minister of such a specially cautious temperament as my right hon. Friend should commit himself in writing to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, or to any other person, by a statement which he is either afraid or ashamed to submit to the House of Commons and the inspection of independent Members. Ireland is supposed to be governed by a Lord Lieutenant responsible to his Sovereign for the tranquillity of that country, and there exists no reason why he should be either crippled or fettered by political expediency or red-tape interference. It was the custom—as the Secretary for War very well knows, having himself served as Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant in Ireland—that, before any steps were taken from the War Office to interfere with either the Militia or other military arrangements, a communication to that effect should be made to the Lord Lieutenant. It also was the custom, until the precedent afforded by the present Secretary of State for War, to attend to the objections and to follow the advice of the Queen's representative in Ireland. I feel perfectly persuaded that, from the knowledge possessed by Earl Spencer as to the necessity for continued training and an efficient service, he would be about the last man to sanction either the non-calling out of the Irish Militia, or the steps taken by the Secretary for War to render their Staff ineffective. For what could be more absurd than, as the War Office proposes, to take men out of the Line, who are incapable of teaching the troops their duty, and to set them at the head of drilling operations. Those, of course, who are competent will be kept by the commanding officers of the regiments to which they are attached. Now, all these matters are within the knowledge of Earl Spencer, a man of considerable experience in military administration, possessed of no ordinary amount of sound common sense, remarkable for his administrative ability, and distinguished for that boundless hospitality and manly character so well calculated to conciliate the people of Ireland. Still, the Irish Militia Regiments have not been called out for the last five years—a bad return, let me say, for their conduct when England stood sadly in need of their services. You hesitated to call out the Irish Militia. Why? Was it this? You doubted the loyalty and the fidelity of the nation, and yet you lacked the manliness to say so. The conduct of the Administration almost tempts one, in the words of the poet, to exclaim—

"Those tyrants teasing, tempting to rebel,
But well deserve the fate their fretting lips foretell."
You have cast an imputation of distrust upon a body of men who furnished some of your best soldiers for the Crimean War and the suppression of the Indian Mutiny. No less than 13 Regiments of Militia volunteered for the Crimea—Antrim, Armagh, North and South Cork, Down, Dublin City, Fermanagh, Limerick City, Longford, South Mayo, Roscommon, South Tipperary, and Westmeath. For service in India—Antrim, North Cork, Donegal, Donegal Artillery, Armagh, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary Artillery, and Londonderry, every man of whom, from the colonel to the humblest private, declared his willingness to embark for the seat of war. Under your cheese-paring system of economy you have allowed the Irish Militia force, which supplied the casualties of the Line during the Crimean War, to dwindle down from an efficient strength of 30,000 men to 14,000 men on paper. Ireland has a right to be treated, at least, as well in all respects as England and Scotland. On that equality we are resolutely determined to insist to the utmost. I am not without hope that those hon. Gentlemen who plume themselves on their economic principles, and who profess to mean well towards the sister country, will do all they honestly can to support the claims of Ireland to be treated as a portion of the United Empire. But to the Administration, and I speak in the presence of the Premier, and several other Advisers of the Crown, I offer this advice—be warned in time. The Militia in Ireland, in common with the mass of the people, distrust you. The first step towards dislike has been taken, and the next move is not far distant. You could have an attached and contented people; but bungling and gross mismanagement has, unfortunately, made it far otherwise.

Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, a Copy of the Correspondence between the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Secretary of State for War, relating to calling out for training the Irish Militia Regiments in 1870, the re-enrolment of their men, or the reduction of their staff,"—(Colonel French,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

said, he would venture to say that his right hon. Friend (Colonel French) in the course of his experience, which was very great—he believed greater than his own — never know departmental correspondence of this kind, between the Secretary of State for War and the Lord Lieutenant as to the policy of calling out the Irish Militia, to be laid on the Table of the House; and he (Mr. Cardwell) must, on the present occasion, ask to be excused from producing it. Neither should he feel it his duty to state what share of the correspondence was his own; but he agreed with his right hon. Friend that the responsibility for the calling out the Irish Militia constitutionally devolved upon the Irish Government and the Lord Lieutenant. It was not from any want of confidence in the loyalty of the Irish people generally, and certainly not from the smallest distrust of the gallantry of those enrolled in the Irish Militia, that it had not been called out. It was not thought necessary by the Irish Government, even in the early part of the year, to call out the Irish Militia. Then the question was, whether it was right to go to any expense in the matter of enrolment; and with respect to the new enrolment the right hon. Gentleman said that he (Mr. Cardwell) had introduced a new regulation, though in the next sentence he said that the regulation had been in existence for the last five years. Therefore, the responsibility for the regulation must belong, not only to himself, but to many of his predecessors in Office. The enrolments were continued till the present year; but they involved an absolute waste of money, because there had been no training since 1865, and it was not intended that there should be any training in the present year. With regard to new recruits the Government were perfectly confident that the gallantry and loyalty of the Irish people would furnish abundance of them whenever it should be thought proper to call out the Irish Militia. As for the permanent Staff, they were very useful for certain purposes when the Militia were not called out; but there was no necessity for the number to be so great, and, with the concurrence of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Government had determined not to reduce the permanent Staff; but when a certain number of vacancies occurred those vacancies would not be filled up. That this process had not been carried to a very great extent would be admitted, when he stated the number had been 1,208 and it was now 1,177. With respect to the quartermasters, his right hon. Friend said that Ireland should be treated with the same equality as England and Scotland. Well, they had been treated in exactly the same manner. The quartermasters were not satisfied with their position, and wished for a retiring allowance. In consequence, the circumstances of their position were reviewed, and the Government and the House agreed that they should have a retiring allowance, and that in future the office of quartermaster should cease. He believed he must now have have satisfied his right hon. Friend that he had acted constitutionally by acting in concurrence with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and that he had treated Ireland in a perfectly equal way with England and Scotland; and his right hon. Friend, if he acted in conformity with his experience in that House, would not insist on the production of departmental correspondence.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.