HC Deb 30 June 1834 vol 24 cc1000-3

On the Question, that the Speaker leave the Chair, to go into a Committee on the Roads' Act Amendment (Ireland) Bill,

Mr. O'Connell

lamented, that there should be so much of legislation in gross ignorance of the state of the country in Ireland. There was no necessity for this measure, which would only tend to bring the police into continual collision with the peasantry. He hoped, that the right hon. Member would withdraw it.

Mr. Littleton

replied, that the aim of this Bill was, to prevent the very circumstance to which the hon. and learned Member had objected. Much blood had been shed in affrays between the police and the peasantry, in consequence of the former impounding the stray cattle of the cottagers, and the measures which this Bill contemplated would, he thought, do away with this unfortunate state of things.

Colonel Perceval

took a very different view of the nature and tendency of the Bill to that entertained by the hon. and learned member for Dublin.

Mr. O'Reilly

said, that nothing was more likely to provoke the peasantry, and bring the Government of the country into odium than this species of petty legislation. Formerly a Magistrate, whose importance was offended by seeing a pig upon the road, might have had the pig taken to the pound, and thus the owner, at least, might be found out. But now a policeman might act in a much more summary manner. He put it to every Magistrate, who had ever attended Petty Sessions in Ireland, whether it was not better to give up these petty prosecutions? The unfortunate peasant could not live, if this system of legislation were pursued against him, and if every policeman and informer were allowed to harass the population in this manner, and by merely saying, "I saw such a one's pig, or such a one's cow, on the road," get the poor owner fined.

The House divided on the Motion for going into Committee: Ayes 72; Noes 25 —Majority 47.

House went into the Committee.

On Clause 4 being put,

Mr. Littleton

said, that in Ireland, according to the existing law, cattle found straying on the high roads were to be impounded. When the police, in discharge of their bounden duty, interfered to remove the cattle to the pound, the people resisted, and constant scenes of bloodshed were the consequence. The Lord-lieutenant seeing this issued an order, that the police should not interfere. It was then proposed to put an end to the pounding of cattle, and in lieu of the present penalty to inflict a small fine. If the fine were large, the object would be defeated, as the people would resist.

Mr. O'Reilly

did not like legislation which operated exclusively against the poor. He knew a poor widow, the support of whose large family was a single cow that was allowed to graze on the road side, watched by an infant of five years old. To impound that cow, would be considered such wanton inhumanity that no policeman ever attempted it, and if he did, no Magistrate would sanction it. But if the present law passed, it would be imperative on the Magistrates to impose a fine which the widow could not, in all human probability pay. Gentlemen who had large demesnes, and contrived to improve them at the public expense, could afford to keep their cows off the road. He did not think the police should have the power of summoning poor persons for allowing a cow to graze on the road side, and keeping it locked up till the following day.

Mr. Littleton

said, as the cattle should of necessity be pounded at present, there was no other way of getting over that evil than by adopting the present Bill.

Mr. O'Reilly

said, that the police should be punished if they interfered wrongfully, and a provision to that effect should be introduced. He knew the pig-stye and cow-house to have been maliciously opened at night, in order that the animals might get out and be then impounded. Not only that, but the parties were kept for a long time without remedy or trial.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that within the last six months, five hundred families were turned out to live or die by the ditches. The Magistracy were the cause of much of the calamities of the people.

Sir Robert Bateson

said, as the hon. member for Dublin volunteered such sweeping accusations against the Magistrates of Ireland, he called on him and defied him to name the parties. He would contradict the hon. and learned Member in the strongest terms the English language would admit.

Mr. Ruthven

said, Magistrates were in the habit of issuing blank summonses to be filled up by their underlings at their pleasure, and according to circumstances.

The Committee divided—Ayes 58; Noes 14; Majority 44.

Mr. O'Reilly

must repeat the accusations of the hon. and learned member for Dublin against the Magistracy of Ireland, who used to levy fines for the sake of their favourites.

Major Macnamara

said, that in his county (Clare) no such practice existed; and he would testify for the humanity of the landlords of that county.

Mr. O'Reilly

said, that it was the severe conduct of those eulogised landlords which notoriously drove the peasantry of that county into the late insurrection.

The Bill passed through the Committee; the House resumed; and the Report to be received.