HC Deb 03 February 1818 vol 37 cc143-5
Sir H. Parnell

rose to present a petition to the House from the high sheriff and grand jury of the Queen's county, which, he could venture to say, spoke the sentiments of all the magistracy of Ireland upon the subject to which it relates. The petitioners complained of the inadequacy of the civil power, as provided by the statutes, to enable the magistrates to administer, with any effect, the criminal law; and stated, that crimes were constantly committed with impunity, and that it was necessary to have constant recourse to military assistance in very trivial cases. He could, from his own knowledge, state several instances in which the interference of the military had been attended with fatal effects. In one case, where the offence was only an assault, the person against whom the warrant was granted, was shot, while attempting to escape after having been taken; in another, several lives were lost by soldiers being called in to prevent an expected battle between two parties of the lower orders. While the last assizes were going on in Mary borough, a corporal and six men were sent to arrest a man who had been concerned in stopping carriages loaded with provisions. He had heard two judges from the bench justify the magistrates for calling out the military when the general peace of the country was in no ways disturbed, on the ground of the defective state of the civil power. Though the office of constable existed in Ireland, it was not in any respect similar to the office as it existed in this country. Here the magistrates could enforce the laws by the aid of the constables; in Ireland they were so inefficient, that the magistrates were constantly obliged to assist in person in the execution of their own warrants. If a magistrate gave a constable a warrant, in nine cases out of ten it was not executed, and the guilty escaped punishment. So little confidence was placed in the power of the magistrate to secure redress, that it was a common practice to suffer offences against the law to pass over without any attempt to punish those who were guilty of them. What the petitioners prayed for was, a revision of the laws relating to the civil police of the country, with a view of obtaining such an arrangement of it as would afford the magistrates, who were willing to exert themselves in the preservation of the public peace, and the prevention of crime, a proper opportunity of exercising their authority. It was not necessary, in order to do so, to establish any severe or unconsitutional system of police, but merely to regulate the office of constable in such a manner, that it should become an efficient instrument in the hands of the magistrates for the administration of the laws.

Mr. Peel

observed, that there was no period in which less recourse was had to the military power than during the last two or three years. The civil power in Ireland was regulated partly by the executive government and partly by the grand juries; the former superintended it in cases of disturbance where strong measures were required, the latter where the ordinary office of constable was deemed sufficient. The grand juries were empowered to remove constables for negligence or misconduct, and to appropriate salaries to the amount of 20l. a year to each individual. The only limit to their authority with respect to these situations was, that they could not increase the number, which was limited in each barony; but he thought that even with this limitation, they possessed ample means to provide effectually for the preservation of the peace.

Sir H. Parnell

said, that so far from the grand juries, having the power of reforming the office of constable, the whole complaint of the petitioners consisted in their not possessing any means of rendering the office efficient. This was not a matter concerning which any doubt could exist. Every magistrate and grand juror would be ready to agree with the opinions of the petitioners. Neither they, nor had he, found fault with the government in being too ready to make use of the military. The present government, he was aware, had taken considerable pains to place the matter under proper regulations. He had hoped that the right hon. gentleman would himself have been ready to bring forward some measure to meet the wishes of the petitioners; but as he had not done so, he would now give notice, that soon after the Easter recess, he would move for a committee to inquire into the state of the civil police of Ireland.

Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald

bore testimony to the infrequency of military interference in ordinary police cases in Ireland. Much praise was due to the government of that country for harmonising the dispositions of all classes, and abating every thing of an unconstitutional interference of the military. Considerable satisfaction had been given to the people at large, on finding the lord lieutenant had been empowered to take out of the consolidated fund, such sumsas should be necessary to maintain the public tranquillity, and preserve individuals from experiencing those acts of violence and aggression which had too long been a stain to the pages of Irish history.

The petition was ordered to lie on the table.