William Morris. Commonweal 1886

‘The’ Law in Ireland

Source: ‘The’ Law in Ireland” Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 50, 25 December 1886, p.305;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The Government has struck its stroke and we are to have another State trial on behalf of law and order. Unless a miracle of jury-packing is performed the accused will be acquitted, or at least the jury will not agree; so it is hard to see what the Government can gain unless they are prepared to go head over ears into coercion. Meantime not only are the Tory and other definitely reactionary papers jubilant at this exhibition of firmness, but all the Liberal Press approves with the single exception of the Pall Mall Gazette, to which must be added that Mr Labouchere at Birmingham spoke strongly and generously of Mr Dillon ‘as one who had come forward to protect the poor and humble Irish against the exactions of the vilest set of Shylocks that ever existed'; and was by no means scared of the illegality of Mr Dillon’s action.

It is perhaps not certain that this apparent withdrawal of the Liberal party from the Irish alliance is as serious as it looks, because it may mean nothing more than the usual conventional twaddle that Parliamentary people are wont to indulge in; but whether it is merely this kind of petty lying, or a serious attempt to back out of a difficult position and surrender the Gladstonian fort to the enemy, it is discreditable enough to the Liberal party. In the first place these virtuous people are in a mighty hurry to condemn the accused before they have been heard; for, to take the matter on the lowest grounds, is it so sure that the Plan of Campaign is illegal? As the Pall Mall leader writer very reasonably points out, just the same kind of decisions as the Judges have made in Mr Dillon’s case the Judges gave in cases of combination between workmen in the militant days of Trades Unionism.

But we Socialists at least need not trouble ourselves about the legality of proceedings which are necessary acts of self-defence against mere greed and tyranny. And pray what suggestion of action less determined than the Plan of Campaign has the Daily News, for instance, to suggest to the tenants whom Lord Clanricarde and others have made up their minds to ruin? It is at least a plan, and has been successful, in some instances at least, in bringing the landlords to such reason as is implied by their taking all they can get and not trying for more. Once more see how very tender the conscience of constitutionalists is! It is the threat against such very doubtful property as the second skin of a cat which has frightened these useful allies of the Irish people. Where will the Liberal ‘Justice to Ireland’ be when property is seriously threatened there?

Indeed it seems probable that the Irish question is drifting into a new phase, which will for a time throw the Irish on their own resources, until both they and the people of England, Scotland, and Wales have begun to learn the true lesson for the oppressed, Property is Robbery. Surely the events now taking place in Ireland should teach them something in that direction. I have said that the Plan of Campaign may not turn out to be illegal; but I admit that that will only mean its finding a loophole whereby to evade the law. The law which allows rack-rent and backs it up with the full force of the executive is quite blind to any ruin which may be the result of it. Lord Clanricarde and the other shabby tyrants have, according to law, full right to squeeze the uttermost farthing out of their luckless tenants; and we may be sure of one thing, namely, that if any check is put on that right by laws made by our bourgeois government it will mean just the same kind of kindness which is accorded to sufferers on the rack, who are recovered from their fainting in order that they may be racked again. Those tormented by the rack of usury have sometimes to receive the cup of cold water so that they may live to be squeezed once more for the benefit of the usurers. The latter years of the Irish question must have taught the Irish peasants that in the eyes of English law they are people whose function it is to pay landlords, and who must be helped to do so, sometimes by coercion, sometimes by Acts of Parliament made apparently in their favour, really in favour of the landlords.

When they have got rid of their last illusion, which would seem to be that an English Constitutional party can help them, the day of their redemption will be drawing near.