HC Deb 11 May 1824 vol 11 cc647-52
Mr. J. Smith

rose to present a petition which would be found to be of considerable importance. The petitioner was a poor man of the name of James M'Cusker, and he stated, that on the 15th of December, 1823, his cabin had been surrounded by forty or fifty persons, armed with guns, & c. five of whom burst into his dwelling, stabbed him in various parts of his body, broke his arm, cruelly ill-treated his wife and children, wounded his two brothers that came to his assistance, and finally set fire to his cottage. For some days, in consequence of the personal injuries he and his brothers received, he had been unable to apply to a magistrate, but afterwards went before lord Belmore who said that he could not properly interfere, as recourse ought to be had to some justice of the peace in the more immediate neighbourhood. The petitioner accordingly went before other magistrates, and preferring his complaint, a number of persons were apprehended. It was one part of the complaint, that though the offence charged against the prisoners was felony, they had been admitted to bail—a proceeding directly contrary to law. They were subsequently tried at Enniskillen, and were all acquitted. A very few days afterwards, three of the prisoners, armed with a writ of distringas from the Seneschal of Enniskillen, claimed of the petitioner the payment of costs to which they had been put by the trial, and by virtue of the warrant they seized a cow. Such a course of proceeding might be law in Ireland, but most assuredly it was neither law nor common sense in England. The petitioner was subsequently accused of a riot and assault stated to have been committed by him after the apprehension of the parties whom he accused. He was tried at Omagh, in the county of Tyrone, for this supposed offence, was found guilty, and sentenced to six months imprisonment. With regard to the prayer, although the hon. member could not concur in the whole of it, he felt bound, nevertheless, to present the petition: it was this, that the House would call upon the judge who presided at the trial of the parties whom the petitioner accused, to produce the notes he took upon that occasion; to inquire into the conduct of the magistrates who had admitted the prisoners to bail, and into the proceedings on the trial of the petitioner for a riot and assault. It appeared that the persons apprehended, boasted that they were "Clabbey Peelers." What was meant by those terms he could not clearly understand. Ireland was torn by political and religious animosities, but he had observed that those parts of the island where the population was entirely Catholic, were the most decent, tranquil, and well conducted. He did not present the petition in the hope that relief could be given, but he was anxious to hear what course the government had pursued in relation to this case.

General Archdall

vindicated the juries of the county of Fermanagh; and maintained that they were as conscientious a body as could be found in any part of the kingdom. As to the attack upon the cottage of the petitioner, it did not appear that it was made by the Orange or Protestant party; for the Orange and the Protestant party in Ireland were the same thing.

Lord Milton

lamented that the gallant general had thrown an imputation upon the great body of the Protestants of Ireland, of whom he (lord M.) was one; for he had been born in that country. The imputation was, that all Protestants were Orangemen; which was, in other words, to say, that they were all members of associations which it had been declared necessary to put down. Such associations were almost of a seditious nature; since they were calculated to promote dissention throughout the country.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he did not pretend to be cognizant of all the steps adopted in the case. He recollected that, on the eve of his departure from Dublin, he had received a statement of the case of M'Cusker. Directions were given to the Crown solicitor to inquire into the particulars of the transaction, and to bring the offenders to justice. There his (Mr. G's) knowledge ended. He had never heard of the trial, and did not know of its result, excepting from the statement of the petitioner.

Mr. Plunkett

remembered the case of M'Cusker, who had sustained a very gross outrage. When the facts were laid before him, he had directed that inquiries should be made into the whole affair. The Crown solicitor had been of opinion, that the parties ought to be prosecuted, and the defence before the magistrate was, in truth, rather an aggravation of the original crime. On the trial, the prisoners had proved alibis, and were acquitted. As to the subsequent distress for costs, that part of the transaction seemed almost impossible; and he could not help thinking that the hon. member had been misinformed respecting it. The gentleman complained of was not a county magistrate, but a justice of peace by virtue of his office; he was provost of Enniskillen, not removeable by the lord chancellor, but upon application to the court of King's-bench, on its being shewn that he was unfit for his situation. Although he (Mr. P.) had thought his conduct highly censurable, he had not believed that he acted wilfully and maliciously, and had therefore refrained from making any motion in the court of King's-bench to remove him.

Mr. J. Smith

thought the Irish government had not done all that it ought to have done, under the circumstances. If such a transaction had occurred in England, very different measures would have been pursued. Whenever he heard of a case of this kind he would fearlessly bring it before the House, for he was convinced, that if the evils of Ireland were extensively known, they would hardly be suffered to endure beyond the present session.

Mr. Dogherty

said, he did not think that any thing would have passed, even on the subject of Ireland, which would have overcome the reluctance he felt in rising for the first time. He was as yet a stranger, and if the hon. member for Midhurst had confined himself to the facts of the petition, however strongly he might have stated them, he should have remained silent. He begged it to be understood, that it was not his intention to offer any observations in vindication of the magistrate whose conduct had been called in question; of the attorney-general, who had prosecuted the offenders; or of the right hon. secretary for Ireland, who had directed an inquiry; but, coming newly from the sister kingdom, any imputation on the mode in which justice was administered there, sounded strange in his ears. It was under the superintendence of a body of great and good men, who acted with integrity and impartiality, and whose conduct would be an honour even to this country, where the law of the land was so nobly dispensed to all classes of the community. He had been provoked to open his lips by hearing statements made as of facts that could only have been tolerated in Spain or under some severer despotism. They would not be tolerated in Ireland. That they had occurred, he was not prepared to deny: they might have occurred in England, but they would have been followed by merited punishment. He begged leave to say, in anticipation of any future slur upon the administration of justice in Ireland, should any such be made, that his name could carry no further weight upon the subject, than that he had just come from Ireland, had just witnessed the manner in which the law was dispensed, and he could therefore say, without the slightest hazard of rebuke, that it would gratify the sincerest lover of the purest justice to witness the manner in which the courts were open to the rich and poor of all parties. Upon this subject he had had a professional experience of some seventeen years. He had been a diligent attendant in five counties of Ireland, and he could not charge his recollection with a single instance where the slightest distinction had been made between persons of opposite religious persuasions. For himself, he would say, that he had reached this country perfectly untainted by party, and long as he had been in public life (if the pursuit of his profession might be called so), the present was the first time he had ever opened his lips upon any political question. He admitted that Ireland was divided by factions, and that their influence was most prejudicial to her welfare; but, the administration of justice was untouched by them. It was pure and equal, and acknowledged none of the distinctions that were kept up elsewhere, with such painful and injurious pertinacity.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

rose, to ask the right hon. secretary for Ireland, whether he would make any objection to the production of the judge's notes, as requested in the petition? What had fallen from the attorney-general rather strengthened the claim of the House in this particular. He had said, that before the magistrate the men accused vindicated themselves on the ground of justifiable revenge against M'Cusker, but that on the trial they had rested their defence successfully on an alibi. These were inconsistent; but, from the judge's notes, it would appear on what ground the jury had acquitted the prisoners. Some of the remarks of his learned friend who spoke last, shewed that he had not long sat in the House, or he would have known that the acknowledged candour and moderation of the hon. member for Midhurst little justified those remarks. He united the zeal and warmth of an Irishman to the acuteness and discrimination of an Englishman. Did his learned friend mean to extend his eulogium to the magistracy of Ireland; or, rather, did he not know that there was much in their conduct that deserved strong reprobation? Hence the recent inquiries and the recent sweeping exclusions by the lord chancellor. Was it not notorious that gross partiality had existed among them? He valued as much as any man the trial by jury; but because he valued it, and because he reprobated religious distinctions which were likely to deprive it of all its advantages, he would go so far as to say, that it might become a serious question, whether, for the sake of the tranquillity of the country, it would not be advisable to suspend even the trial by jury? Certain, he was, that in a case on which religious animosities prevailed, he would infinitely rather trust the life of a man to one of the judges of the land than to an Irish jury.

Mr. Peel

suggested, that, as the House was at present discussing the subject on imperfect information, it might be advisable to postpone the motion for printing the petition for a few days, during which time inquiries might be made, the answers to which would probably be satisfactory to the House. According to his recollection, the petitioner had omitted on the trial to bring forward an important witness.

Upon this, Mr. J. Smith postponed the motion for printing the petition.