HC Deb 16 March 1827 vol 16 cc1247-58
Mr. Villiers Stuart

called the attention of the House to the appointment of a Stipendiary Magistrate at the village of Kilmackthomas in the county of Waterford, under the provisions of the Constabulary act. He had been furnished with a petition with four hundred signatures upon this important subject, from the landed proprietors, freeholders, and magistracy of the county of Waterford, assembled at a meeting convened by the high sheriff. They had not resorted to parliament until they had in vain sought hearing and redress in that quarter upon which they had a most unquestionable claim to earnest attention. The facts were within a narrow compass, but the question was one of general importance; it was not a Waterford or an Irish question only, but it touched the rights and interests of the whole empire, and the stability of the constitution itself. He therefore called upon the House to arrest, in the first instance, one of the most dangerous innovations—one of the boldest attacks upon the pure administration of justice. In March, 1826, the late governor of Waterford called upon the magistracy to take into consideration certain outrages at Kilmacthomas. Opinions were divided, and the magistrates separated into two parties, although both agreed that the disturbances arose out of the spirit generated by the eve of a general election. On the 3rd of April, the first intimation was given of the intention of the Irish government to appoint a resident Stipendiary magistrate. A meeting was held, and it was there carried by a small majority, approving of such a step; but the dissenting magistrates signed a protest, declaring that it was unnecessary, on account of the peaceful character of the county, on which it was inflicting a heavy burthen. Very soon afterwards a letter was received from the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Goulbourn) announcing that the appointment had been actually made. On the 12th of April a county meeting was held, and resolutions, strongly disapproving such a course, were agreed to; and a memorial, in which they were embodied, was presented to the lord lieutenant, by the high sheriff of Waterford. An intimation was then given, that the subject should be taken into immediate consideration. Seven months having elapsed, and no answer being returned, the county naturally felt indignant at the disrespect with which it was treated; and despairing of justice from so motley a body as the government of Ireland, a public meeting, under the authority of the high sheriff, was held on the 14th of November, when the petition to parliament, with which he was intrusted, had been agreed to.— Such were the brief facts, and the House would not fail to recollect, that the meeting of the 3rd of April, which took place at Dungarvon, was on the eve of a general election, in a county which it was known was to be contested. At such a time, when it became the Irish government to close its ears to all party representations, it had thought fit, listening to the representations of one party, and remaining deaf to the remonstrances of the other, to make the appointment of a Stipendiary magistrate, as a mere mockery of and satire upon the administration of justice. The object seemed to be, to counterbalance the popular feeling at Kilmacthomas. Had robberies, murders, the burning of houses and villages, the midnight seizure of arms, been committed in that district? No: and the House would hear with surprise and indignation, that at the moment chosen by the Irish government, the county had been free from every thing that could be fairly called disturbance. On the approach of a general election, no doubt there was a certain degree of excitement; some foolish old women, not certainly as wise and prudent as the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, had furnished children with a few faggots for bonfires, and drums, and the abomination of penny trumpets were in request among the younger inhabitants; but only in two instances had the peace of the district been more seriously disturbed, than by these juvenile processioners. Even those two instances were deemed of too trifling a nature to need further inquiry; and the calendar afforded irrefragable testimony of the general tranquillity of the county. No doubt the right hon. Secretary would contrast the state of the county of Waterford at such a time, with the calm and quiet of the archiepiscopal borough of Armagh, which had the good fortune to have him for its representative. But such unanimity could not be expected in all parts of Ireland, and if the right hon. gentleman himself had never stood on the popular interest, the lord lieutenant, before he was exalted to the peerage, had had some experience of the violence of party feeling during a general election. It could not be said, that such an appointment was necessary from the want of re- sident magistrates, for within four or five miles of Kilmacthomas there were many justices of the peace, ready at all times to discharge the duties imposed upon them by the commission. As matters now stood, the county was called upon to pay 800l. a-year for an individual to reside among them, whose interest it was, for the sake of keeping his place, to produce division and disturbance. The experiment tried at Kilmacthomas was dangerous and unconstitutional, and in opposition to the statutes of Edward 3rd, Richard 2nd, and Henry 5th and 6th, passed expressly to preserve the purity and independence of the magistracy. The 13th Richard 2nd provided, that justices of the peace should be chosen from men who were the most worthy, and of the best reputation, while the 18th Henry 6th declared, that no man should be a magistrate who was not possessed of a certain qualification. The only qualification now required was, that of pleasing the right hon. Secretary and the Lord-lieutenant, and political accordance was a strong ground of recommendation. Had there been no resident magistrate within fifty or sixty miles of Kilmacthomas, the case would have been quite different, and the appointment excusable; and as it was, it would have had some warrant if there had been any disturbances seriously calling for the interposition of the police. The only outrage at all deserving notice had occurred within the last fortnight, but that was not within thirty miles of Kilmacthomas. In order to put the House in possession of the necessary information upon this subject, he would move for a copy "Of the certificate of magistrates petitioning for, and of the memorial of the county of Waterford against, the appointment of a Stipendiary magistrate for the district of kilmacthomas, in the county aforesaid."

Mr. Goulburn

said, that after the manner in which the hon. member had arraigned the conduct of the Irish government in the particular instance alluded to, and after the efforts, not only of the hon. gentleman's argument, but of his humour— which latter he could assure the hon. member he took in perfect good part—after all this he felt himself called upon to advert more particularly to the circumstances of the case, with a view to explain to the House, and vindicate from the aspersions which had been cast upon it, the course which the Irish government had, in this instance, thought it necessary to pursue. He could not but say that the allegations of the hon. member appeared to him somewhat extraordinary. He had heard of governments being blamed for not adopting the necessary measures to suppress outrage when disturbances existed; and he had also heard governments arraigned for making use of unconstitutional measures for their suppression; but he believed this was the first time that a government had been ever called to account for applying measures which were pointed out by act of parliament, to the suppression and prevention of acts of violence arising, or likely to arise, in a moment of public excitement. The fact was, that the appointment of a Stipendiary magistrate had been recommended by the county magistrates assembled at quarter session. Was it improper that the lord-lieutenant of Ireland should take the recommendation into consideration? At the Waterford sessions, several of the magistrates determined to apply for the appointment of a Stipendiary magistrate for the district of Kilmacthomas; and, with their request, the lord-lieutenant thought proper to comply. The hon. member had said, that this appointment was made in reference to the approaching election for the county of Waterford, and with a view to favour one of the candidates; but he was sure the hon. gentleman would not have made such a statement if he knew any thing of the feelings or the principles which directed the policy of the noble lord at the head of the Irish government. Had the hon. member for a moment considered the measures (to say nothing of the character) of that distinguished nobleman, he must have arrived at a very different conclusion; and he now defied the hon. gentleman to bring forward the slightest proof of any one measure of the Irish government having been suggested by a wish to influence the election of one candidate or the other. Further, the hon. gentleman was the very last individual from whom he should have expected such a charge to emanate; for, if there was any one individual who had been more attended to than another by the Irish government, it was himself. He called upon the hon. member to say, whether his communications and suggestions had not always met with attention and respect from the noble lord at the head of the Irish government [hear! from Mr. V. Stuart] He was sure, notwith- standing the present attack of the hon. member, that the marquis Wellesley would still continue his feelings of regard and kindness towards him; uninfluenced by the course the hon. gentleman had on this occasion thought proper to adopt. The question was,—Was the state of things in the county of Waterford misunderstood or misrepresented by the magistrates, when they applied to the Lord-lieutenant? and if not, was not the appointment which they recommended necessary? It was unnecessary to detail the state of the county in 1825: for any person in the habit of reading the public newspapers, must know, that during the entire of the year preceding the late election, the whole of the county was in a state, of which individuals, who drew their ideas from the condition of this country, could happily have no conception. The animosity existing between the parties in Waterford was of a most serious nature, and such as could not but be calculated, if unchecked, to injure the peace of the county. It was not confined, as the hon. gentleman would fain lead the House to imagine, to the blowing of penny trumpets, or the beating of two-penny drums: on the contrary, very serious alarm was excited. The hon. member might recollect, that in that part of the county in which his own property was situated, armed parties of twenty or thirty on each side assembled, and were only prevented from engaging in hostile contests by the prompt measures adopted for the preservation of the public tranquillity. In the same neighbourhood an instance had occurred, in which a magistrate was obliged to order the police to attend him, in order to assist him to distrain a tenant for non-payment of rent. Such was the state of things, that a magistrate, in the ordinary discharge of his duty, required the police of the county to be called out, to enable him to check the opposition he was likely to receive Would the House, after this, believe that nothing had occurred at Kilmacthomas beyond the ordinary expression of popular feeling, on the occasion of an election? The House would permit him to detail a portion of a Report received, by the Irish government, before the appointment of a Stipendiary magistrate had been determined on. A mob of persons just returned from chairing Mr. Stuart, broke the windows of the post-office at Kilmacthomas, and committed various other acts of violence. Shots were fired, and two weights, one a half hundred, and the other of fourteen pounds, were thrown violently into the postmaster's apartment. This occurred at four or five o'clock in the evening, when it was yet broad day-light. The postmaster was compelled to send to the magistrate, and the police were called in, by whom some of the parties to the riot were arrested. The mob having collected stones, and manifested an intention to use them, it became necessary to call out the horse police, and it was thought that the entire police of the county would be necessary to quell the riot. Such was the state of things in Waterford, when the magistrates thought proper to meet to consider what measures should be adopted. If any additional argument were necessary to prove how requisite it was to appoint a Stipendiary magistrate, the proceedings of these very magistrates themselves furnished it. The first thing that happened when they assembled was, that the magistrates, being all of them in the interest of one or other of the candidates, could not consult together on the subject, to discuss which they had assembled, but immediately determined on sitting in separate rooms. This conduct would naturally lead the people to suppose, that parties so opposed in principle, as to be unable to sit in one room, could not be free from partiality. When it was seen that the friends of the hon. Member could not associate with the supporters of the noble lord, his opponent, the natural conclusion would be, that the parties could not act with impartiality, where the interest of their respective friends were at stake. He did not mean to say that the magistrates would have so acted, but it was not unreasonable that the people should imagine that they were so deeply embarked in the interests of each candidate, that they could not act without an improper bias. At the meeting to which he referred, the subject of the appointment of a Stipendiary magistrate was discussed, and eighteen had voted for the appointment of the magistrate, and thirteen against it. What was the lord-lieutenant to do under those circumstances? He had to form his own opinion as to the necessity of the application made by the magistrates. From what had reached the lord-lieutenant, previously, from persons entirely unconnected with the county, he had been led to fear that tranquillity was about to be interrupted. Under those circumstances, he did what any man responsible for the peace of the county must do; namely, agreed to the request made to him, and. appointed a resident Stipendiary magistrate.—The hon. member had argued, that this appointment was unconstitutional; but his remarks upon that subject bore the character of an attack on the legislature, rather than on the lord-lieutenant The act of parliament gave the lord-lieutenant full power to nominate a Stipendiary magistrate, when the magistrates assembled in quarter session required the appointment; so that, so far from the act being unconstitutional, it took place under the direct sanction of the law. It appeared to the lord-lieutenant, that immediately to put a stop to acts of violence was a material object; and, accordingly, a person was appointed. This individual was removed from another district, in which he had been previously employed, and placed at Kilmacthomas on a diminished emolument, and with a great probability of increased trouble. The hon. member appeared to intimate, that the high sheriff, and several of the magistrates, entertained no fears that the peace of the county would be broken at the then approaching election. The hon. member was mistaken in his conclusion; for the sheriff was so apprehensive of scenes of violence and outrage, arising out of the political feelings and animosities of the respective parties, that he applied not only for the police of his own county, but also for that of the adjoining one, to enable him to preserve the peace.—He thought the House would be of opinion that the decision of the lord-lieutenant was fully justified, the rather, as he was happy to say, that since the appointment of the magistrate, and from that period down to the end of the election, the Waterford contest had not been marked by those unfortunate circumstances which had occurred in other places. What would be his situation, if he was now standing there to defend the government of Ireland against the accusation of the hon. gentleman, for not appointing a Stipendiary magistrate, in consequence of the application of the county magistrates? How would the lord-lieutenant have felt, if the hon. member could now address the House in this manner—"We knew what would occur, and we forewarned you of it; we applied to you to appoint a Stipendiary magistrate, in order to prevent the scenes of violence which we were aware would ensue. You refused. You are responsible for the violence and deaths which have occurred." What defence could he have made in that case? If the government had erred, it had erred on the side of caution; and it was satisfactory to know, that the measures adopted had had the effect of keeping the county of Water-ford free from those scenes of violence which were experienced elsewhere. The hon. member complained of the expense of 700l. a-year entailed by this appointment on the county; but the appointment was never intended to be otherwise than temporary. Subsequent to the election, it had only been continued, because the best-informed persons were of opinion, that though no outrages were then committed, yet, as a matter of precaution, it would be right to keep the Stipendiary magistrate in the county during the winter, in order to prevent any possible breach of the public tranquillity. Again, as to the subject of expense: if the appointment had the effect of keeping the peace, the expense was a matter of minor consequence; for even in a financial point of view, it would be much better that the county should pay 700l. a-year to the magistrates, than 1,000l. on presentments, for the reparation of outrages and injuries. The question was, would the county be more willing to pay these items than the salary of a magistrate, who, in all probability, prevented the recurrence of acts of the description to which he had alluded? He thought it was scarcely necessary to go further into die discussion after what he had stated. His principle was, that it was better to prevent the commission of crimes than to provide for their punishment. It was much better to do so than to wait till the outrage occurred, and then expend time, money, and trouble, in bringing the perpetrators to justice. He was sure the House would concur with him in thinking, that the course which the lord-lieutenant had adopted was one which it became a wise and prudent government to pursue.

Mr. Carew

complained of the imputation cast upon the impartiality of the Waterford magistrates by the right hon. Secretary.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he had cast no such imputation. What he had said was, that the people might naturally conclude that the magistrates would not be impartial, so deeply did they appear interested in the success of one candidate or the other.

Mr. Carew

thought it an awkward circumstance, that the appointment should have taken place so near the time of election; as if it had been intended for the furtherance of an election purpose.

Mr. H. Grattan

considered the appointment of stipendiary magistrates and police highly unconstitutional. They might be necessary; but it was only because his majesty's ministers did not keep Ireland in the state in which she ought to be kept. If Ireland were tranquil, there would be no necessity for such appointments; but Ireland could never be tranquil under the present system. The expense of the police in that country was very considerable; and the individuals who composed it, might be almost considered as amenable to no law, for they were not punishable under the provisions of the Mutiny bill; indeed, he understood that their only punishment was dismissal. It was necessary for gentlemen on this side of the water to look to the system in Ireland, lest the evil should approach their own shore. He held in his hand, the private and public instructions given to the constabulary police in Ireland; and it would be only necessary for him to read one or two of them, to put the House in possession of their extraordinary nature. [The hon. member here read one of the public and general, and one of the private orders given to the police. The public order stated, that the police were not to converse on the roads, lest they might be overheard, and the nature of their duty discovered; that they must not divulge the countersign; that two patrols were to walk in advance of the party, lest any mistake should occur; and that, on the approach of any person, they were to demand the countersign. The private order stated, that the police should observe the habits of the people in the neighbourhood and the business and characters of persons newly arriving in the neighbourhood; that great circumspection and secresy should be observed; that they should take notes of every thing that was done in the neighbourhood; and, if they proved themselves to be trustworthy, they should be declared fit for the service.] Such was the system of espionage earned on in Ireland—a system to which the people of England would never submit. It was part of the old system of government in Ireland— part of that system which left the Catholic without freedom, the Protestant without spirit, and Ireland, herself, without the benefit of a free constitution. He should give his cordial support to the motion of his hon. friend.

Sir George Hill

was surprised to hear the hon. member for Waterford, designate as unconstitutional, an act done by the lord-lieutenant, under the authority of an act of parliament. He wished to express his decided opinion, that, considering the then disturbed state of the county of Waterford, the lord-lieutenant would, if he had not acted as he had done, have been guilty of a monstrous dereliction of duty.

Mr. Van Homrigh

said, that, although the annual salary of the Stipendiary magistrate was 700l., not more than 250l. of it was paid by the county; the remainder being paid by government. Before the Waterford election, it was well known throughout. Ireland, that that county was in a state of great excitement; and when the lord-lieutenant was called upon, by a petition signed by eighteen magistrates, to appoint a Stipendiary magistrate, he was justified in doing so. He believed that justice was never more fairly and impartially administered in Ireland than it had been since the appointment of the marquis Wellesley. But, it unfortunately happened, that the lord-lieutenant was unpopular with both parties in that country. When his excellency administered justice in such a way as was pleasing to one party, he was attacked in the Evening Mail, and when his conduct pleased the other party, he was attacked in the Morning Register.

Mr. V. Stuart,

in reply, said, that in making this motion, he intended nothing offensive towards the lord-lieutenant or the right hon. Secretary for Ireland; from both of whom he had received great kindness and courtesy, whenever he had had occasion to make any communications to them; but he thought that he should not have done his duty if he had not made this motion. He had heard nothing from the other side to induce him to alter his opinion that the appointment was unconstitutional and uncalled for. He was ready to admit, that a trifling disturbance had taken place at Kilmacthomas; and that, during the affray, a stone was thrown into his carriage; but he did not think it a disturbance of such a nature as to re- quire the appointment of a Stipendiary magistrate, with a salary of 700l. a year, whilst there were in the neighbourhood, magistrates capable of suppressing it; and he had, therefore, abstained from signing the memorial to the lord-lieutenant. The motion was agreed to.