HC Deb 09 April 1804 vol 22 cc1588-91

I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland how many persons have been arrested by the Constabulary in connection with the continued assaults which have been made upon Protestant preachers in the streets of Cork; and whether any of the persons so arrested have been brought to trial; if so, with what result?

MR. CARSON (Dublin University)

At the same time I will ask the right hon. Gentleman, with reference to the riotous scenes which on each Sunday for some months past have taken place in the City of Cork by reason of attacks made on Protestant clergymen, whether the action of the said clergymen in preaching in the streets is legal; and, if not, whether they have been proceeded against for continuing; such preaching to test the legality of their action; whether any persons have been proceeded against for assaulting and interfering with said Protestant preachers; and whether he will give instructions to the police either to prohibit the preaching or to prevent the assaults upon the said preachers?


Is it a fact that these preachers have themselves assaulted the police; if so, have any of them been arrested, or had proceedings taken against them, and with what result?

* MR. W. KENNY (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)

Has the right hon. Gentleman observed that the Rev. Mr. Hallowes, of Arklow notoriety, has gone to Cork to join those street preachers, whom I, in common with gentlemen opposite, regard as a menace to the public peace and an insult to Catholics in the vicinity? And would therighthon. Gentleman think well of drawing the attention of those gentlemen to the admirable letter written on the 3rd of February, 1891, by the present Leader of the Opposition to this same Mr. Hallowes, in which he points out that the division between dif- fcrent sections of the community caused by difference of creed is so deep and so far-reaching, and religious convictions are so closely interwoven with political opinions, that a course which would be innocent and even praiseworthy on one side of St. George's Channel might be morally and if not legally indefensible on the other, and that this fact, while it affords no shadow of an excuse for violence, may very possibly offer sufficient grounds for criticising the action of those by whom the violence is knowingly provoked?


In answer to these questions, I have to state that no person has been arrested or brought to trial by the police for proceedings arising out of the religious services in the streets of Cork. The police have not witnessed any assaults upon the preachers, and, as I am informed, no actual assaults of a serious nature have been committed on them. The assaults that have been committed were of the nature of horseplay, consisting of hustling and mud-throwing, and were invariably committed by women and boys; but the police have seen no stones throw n, as has been alleged, nor do they believe that a single stone has been thrown on any occasion. In confirmation of the reports which have been made to me by the police, I am informed by their very experienced officer in charge that not one of the preachers has received the slightest hurt or injury since the commencement of these proceedings in November last; and it is due to the police to say that the unwearying and efficient protection afforded by them to the preachers at all times has prevented the commission of serious assaults, or the occurrence of anything more painful and deplorable than has already taken place. I have previously remarked that the accounts of these transactions which have appeared in the Press have been grossly exaggerated, and as regards the complaints that have been made regarding the action of the police throughout those very trying proceedings, many eye-witnesses of the occurrences—both Protestant and Catholic—have, unsolicited, offered to testify to the good temper and forbearance displayed by the police. With reference to the question raised by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University as to the legality of the preaching, I would observe that street preaching per se is no offence by Common or Statute Law, but that in the performance of an otherwise legal act the preachers act illegally if they thereby obstruct or by gathering crowds cause an obstruction of the highway. This was the principle recognised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in his dealings with the more violent proceedings at Arklow. It is competent to the Constabulary to compel any person obstructing the highway or causing an obstruction to move on, and, in addition, it is the duty of the police, if they cannot otherwise prevent a breach of the peace, to disperse such an assemblage as provokes it. The preachers must be aware that they are acting illegally by causing obstruction, but, as the offence is one which can be prosecuted by any member of the public, it is also well known that the police, as public prosecutors, claim the exercise of a discretion in the institution of proceedings. At Arklow private individuals prosecuted with unsatisfactory results, notwithstanding the fact that a conviction for obstruction was obtained and one of the preachers, in default of paying the fine, went to prison. There was no encouragement for a police prosecution at Arklow, and, having regard to the experiences there, there is no encouragement to proceed at Cork.

MR;. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

As to the charge of obstruction, is it not a fact that the Mayor and Corporation of Cork had suggested that the street preachers should carry on in future their proceedings only on the Marina, or other open space?


I believe that is their recommendation.


Is there not some Society or Organisations which, by providing funds, is responsible for the obstinate persistence of these street preachers? Will the right hon. Gentleman direct inquiries into that point?


I am not aware of that, but I will cause inquiry to be made.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government propose to mete out a different treatment to the preachers in Ireland to that which was meted out a short time ago to the Salvation Army preachers in connection with meetings they attempted to conduct at East- bourne and elsewhere? Did not the Government in those cases interfere, and even repeal a clause in Private Bills which was contrary to the public law? I am not defending these Cork preachers, but I cannot see any difference between the two classes of preachers or meetings, and I think that the law that applies to gathering's of that sort at Eastbourne should also apply to the proceedings at Cork.


This question is only an argumentative way of bringing forward a matter having reference to another question than the one under consideration, and I must rule it out of Order.