HC Deb 21 August 1833 vol 20 cc807-12

Mr. Littleton moved the third reading of the Trial of Offences (Ireland) Bill.

Mr. O' Connell

was exceedingly sorry that the Government should have determined upon ending the Session as they had begun it, by offering insult to Ireland, and heaping injury upon her. If, at the commencement of the present Session, the shadow of a case had been made out for the necessity of such a Bill as the one before the House, it was utterly out of the power of any individual in existence who had the least regard to truth, to allege, that such necessity existed at present. Not a particle of ground existed for such an offence against every law and every right, as was offered to Ireland by the present measure. Since the days of Cromwell, who had depopulated the land for the purpose, that country had never been so quiet as it was now. It was not to be denied, that much agitation and irritation existed there some time back; but these were attributable to two causes—first and principal was the collection of tithes. During the last year and a-half the utmost violence had been resorted to by the clergy and the lay impropriators, in the collection of arrears of tithes. Not only had the clerical statutes been put in requisition, but the law of the last Session had been had recourse to for the purpose. From one end to the other, Ireland had been covered with military, police, infantry, and even artillery. The like had never been seen before in any civilized country. 60,000l. had been advanced by the country, and 60,000l. more had been expended in all sorts of cruelties, to levy 12,000l., for that was all which was obtained. These were the causes of the disquiet which pervaded the country in the early part of the present Session, and very natural causes they were; and, under those circumstances, the House had carried the Coercion Bill by acclamation. But now that these causes of disquiet were in some degree removed by recent measures of the Government—now that even, on the fairest hope of relief, peace had returned to Ireland—would any man have the hardihood to stand up and say, in the teeth of all the evidence of the two past Assizes—that such a Bill as that now before the House was in the slightest degree needed? Why, therefore, should that House give the power of changing the venue to any Attorney General? Why remove the trials of those accused, to Courts in which the people could have no confidence? Was there an instance at the present—aye, even at the worst times, of any want of jurors, or any fear on their part to convict? Even in Kilkenny was there not a striking instance of the contrary? Was there not, on the Carrick-shaugh trials, a degree of alacrity to convict which called for the interference of Government? The persons convicted on that trial were convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of an informer—aye, on the uncorroborated evidence of an approver. This wretch swore, that he had taken an oath to wade knee-deep in human blood if necessary—that he would do so without reluct-, ance—and that no obligation was binding on him, except, forsooth, the oath he had taken to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to the Jury. And yet, on this wretch's testimony, unsupported by any other, the Jury found the prisoners guilty. If that was not alacrity he did not know what was. If that was fear, or evidence of intimidation, on their part, then things had considerably changed their names since he had learned the English language. The Government, however, as he had said, was obliged to interfere, and the convicted prisoners were respited. It was, therefore, idle to talk of intimidation of Jurors. Never was there any want of alacrity on their part to convict, when any agrarian disturbances were the question to be tried. He had heard, that the Solicitor General had said the Court of King's Bench had the power of changing the venue to whatever county it chose. He was quite sure the Solicitor General was too good a lawyer to state, as had been published in the newspapers—that the Bill was no infringement of the law, and was conferring no additional powers on the Crown, but simply affirming a law which had been long in existence, and which had been daily practised.

The Solicitor General

said, that he had heard Judges themselves lay it down as the law; he knew of his own knowledge, that it was practised every term by them; and he fully concurred in opinion with them as to its legality.

Mr. O'Connell

Then the law is bad. But even if it were good, that very circumstance made against the present Bill. It proved it perfectly unnecessary. But the opinion of the Judges of the Court of King's Bench was not law. He had carefully read over the statutes on the subject since the question was first mooted; and he would pledge his professional reputation, that it was not law. But it was only of a piece with the conduct of the Government to Ireland all through their administration. They had began the Session with coercion, and with coercion they meant, he perceived, to end it. But it might be said, that such a Bill as the present was wanted for the North of Ireland, and that some late circumstances had proved its necessity. He would meet that objection. On a recent occasion, he admitted that disturbance had taken place there. But who caused it? The Government had passed a Bill last Session prohibiting processions—was it enforced in the North of Ireland—the only place to which it could at all apply? Why, the Orangemen only laughed at it. They continued their processions as before, and would continue them so long as the Magistrates countenanced them, and set the law and the Ministry both at defiance. In fact, legislating for that part of the kingdom was worse than useless, until there was a complete purgation of the Magistracy and all Orange partizans were put out of the commission. The consequence of the continuance of the present Magistracy in power was, that on the 12th of July there was an Orange procession in Belfast, another at Antrim, and others elsewhere; at all of which these functionaries, if not assistants, were participants, inasmuch as they were present, and countenancing the infraction of the law by not attempting to enforce its observance. Another circumstance connected with the North of Ireland was worthy of the utmost attention, as well from its curiousness as from the fatal consequences it had led to. At Coote-hill there had been an affray between the Catholics and the Orangemen; lives had been lost—every one knew that. How? Why, it had been proved, on an investigation which took place subsequently to the occurrence of the outrage, that arms had been supplied to the Orange party by the police. Several witnesses swore to one policeman, in particular—but his companions swore to an alibi. He was acquitted; but it was not denied, that arms had been supplied by the police to the Orangemen, the individuality of those charged with supplying them only was denied. Now, if justice were equally administered, not a man among those police-men who admitted the supply of arms to the Orangemen should be retained. Yet they were all retained. Had he not, there fore, reason to say, that whilst such an executive power as the Magistracy and Police alluded to in these cases was permitted by the Government, the enactment of laws for a country so cursed was useless. There was another cause why the enactment of any law, such as that contemplated in the Bill before the House was unnecessary—namely, the present constitution of Juries in Ireland. The Government had no power to regulate the formation of Juries; it all lay in the hands of the ascendancy party, who had the nomination of Sheriff's. These functionaries had the selection of the Jury panel; and, chosen as they themselves were for their adherence and devotion to a certain set of opinions—Conservative opinions—he did not wish to say anything harsher of them—it was not to be expected, in the nature of things, that they would select as persons, especially for the trial of political offences, a panel which was adverse to these opinions. They had the power of naming the Jury panel—they also had an additional power which High Sheriff's in England had not—that of renewing the panel at pleasure. In England the panel returned by the Sheriff was signed; in Ireland it was not. Thus it was nonsense to say, that the prisoner or even the Crown had the challenge of a limited number of Jurors; for, when one panel was exhausted, the Sheriff could produce another, and another, and another, until every freeholder in the county, however extensive that county might be, had been called. Therefore, the power of the Conservative or Orange party was, through the Sheriff's agency, superior to that of the Crown itself. This state of things, however, could not longer continue. Indeed, it required only the disapprobation of the Government, and its attention to the instances he had pointed out, to put an end to it. The Orange party was only an exotic in Ireland, and the power of the Crown would irremediably wither it. He did, therefore, protest against the present Bill. Could not the Government postpone it to the next Session? What was the immediate necessity for it? There would be no Assize in Ireland before the next Session was considerably advanced; therefore there would be no opportunity of proving its efficacy—no need of it, in fact. There would be an opportunity for a change in the whole of the present Jury system, which he believed must take place. He would, therefore, if they did not accede to his request, protest against the Bill, on the grounds—first, that there was no general necessity for it, secondly, that it was useless. He had thought, after all the evils which had been inflicted on Ireland, that the Government intended at least to treat her people with some degree of impartiality; he did not expect the same favour to be shown to Ireland as to England and to Scotland. He need not say, that this Bill put a crowning to his deep and bitter disappointment. He should, therefore, move, in justice to his country, that the Bill be read again that day three months.

Mr. Littleton

said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman, and those who generally acted with him, were in the habit of designating, as the people of Ireland, that portion of them only who had rendered themselves obnoxious to the Statute-law of the land. Now, he (Mr. Littleton) could not agree in the propriety of that designation. On the contrary, he deemed it quite misplaced; and, for his own part, he could only apply the term "people of Ireland" to all the well-disposed and peaceable inhabitants of that country. It was said by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the present Bill was not required by the circumstances of the country. Before he proceeded to answer that assertion, he should state to the House, that it had been drawn up while his right hon. friend, the Secretary for the Colonies, filled the office which he (Mr. Littleton) had then the honour to hold; but that it had his most cordial concurrence in all its parts, not only as applicable to the state of Ireland at that period, but also as applicable to it at the present. What was the nature of the evidence on which it was founded? Why, it was, that not only jurors, but prosecutors and witnesses, were so intimidated, that they did not dare to discharge their duty. In fact, that formed the preamble of the Bill. Who would Venture to deny, that they had been so deterred? The conduct of several of the Juries, in different parts of Ireland, was such, that it was the duty of the Crown to apply for powers to change the venue. As to the conduct of the policeman at Cootehill, if the man could be fixed upon, he should be given up to punishment. But it would be unjust to dismiss the whole party on the supposition that they could point out the guilty individual. The object of the Bill was to free the administration of justice from the charge of partiality which, at present, could be brought against it. He believed, that the effect of some of the provisions of the Bill would be, to secure impartiality, and to raise the moral and intellectual character of the people, by showing them that the Government placed the utmost confidence in them, and thought them worthy of exercising the highest functions.

Mr. O'Reilly

would have no objection to the Bill as a temporary measure. But it would be impossible to effect the equal administration of justice by the mere change of venue. The same Orange authority which packed a Jury in the north, would do the same thing in the county of Dublin. The power of the Crown to set Juries aside, gave it, in practice, the power of nomina-tion.

Mr. Sinclair

, in reply to the observations of the hon. and learned member for Dublin respecting the unfitness of Orangemen to be impartial Jurors, took upon himself to say, that amongst the Orangemen of Ireland there were many of the most respectable gentlemen in the country, who were compelled to form that association, to counteract the machinations of the Popish clergy. It was very improper to term those gentlemen "exotics" in Ireland.

The House divided on the Amendment: Ayes 15; Noes 61—Majority 46.

Bill read a third time and passed.

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