Monday, February 14, 2005

Sedition by Example III: Bishop Liston

(Being an ongoing series of seditious utterances which have resulted in prosecution under our archaic sedition laws)

Bishop James Liston, to a St Patrick's Day gathering, Auckland Town Hall, 17th March, 1922:

My parents were driven from the land in which they were born and in which they would have been content to live. Why were they driven out? Because their foreign masters did not want Irish men and women peopling their own land, but wanted to use it as a cattle ranch for snobs of the Empire.

So my father and my little Irish mother, and thousands of others, had to go. They came to this country with the memory kept sacred of their privations and wrongs. They have left to us the sacred traditions of their sorrow.

I am a native of New Zealand and I love my country very well. In every land the children of Ireland this day are gathered by some common and holy impulse to rejoice that at long last they have won some measure of freedom and to hope for a complete deliverance from the house of bondage. I do not say for one moment that Ireland has got all she asked for, and all that her sons died for, but she has got the first instalment of her freedom, and is determined to have the whole of it. I say that because the omnipotent hand of God made Ireland a nation, and while grass grows and water flows there will be men in Ireland and women too to fight, and even die, that God's desires may be realised...

The bulk of Liston's speech dealt with the role of the Irish in world history, and contrasted Ireland's current problems over the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State with those of the wider British Empire. But he thought that those problems were not insurmountable, and would eventually come to a happy ending - thanks in no small part to those like de Valera who were suspicious of British intentions and would "see that the rulers are not duped by England". But the sting was in the tail:

We must not forget the martyrs who died in the fighting in 1916, that glorious Easter. I have here a list of 155 men who during and since 1916 have died for Ireland. 16 were executed by shooting in 1916, 52 were killed while fighting during the Easter week in 1916, 7 died on hunger strike - including Terence MacSwiney the Lord Mayor of Cork - 8 were executed by hanging, 12 by shooting, and 57, including three priests, were murdered by foreign troops.

We cannot forget these men and women but in order that our dream about Ireland can come true, and while we cannot forget, we can forgive.

This caused an uproar in the New Zealand press, and Liston was swiftly charged with sedition for inciting disaffection against His Majesty and promoting hostility between different classes of subjects. He was tried before the Supreme Court in Auckland, but acquitted by an all-Protestant jury, who could not find him guilty for recounting what was, essentially, historical fact.

(Source: Bishop in the Dock: The Sedition Trial of James Liston, Rory Sweetman, Auckland University Press, 1997.)


No, I haven't. I'm really only interested in what Liston said because he was prosecuted for it (along with several others who spoke in favour of Irish independence at the time).

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/15/2005 12:09:00 PM