HC Deb 21 August 1835 vol 30 cc804-8
Mr. Scarlett

had to present a Petition, the allegations in which represented grievances, the magnitude of which, as the petitioners truly stated, were so excessive and monstrous, that the very excess of them deprived the petitioners of the ordinary remedies. The petition proceeded from the freeholders of the county of Kerry, and detailed a series of the most flagrant and persevering intimidaiion exercised upon them. The intimidation, they stated, consisted not only in the use of open force and violence, and in the influence of the ministers of religion over their flocks in their clerical or in their lay capacity, but in the most iniquitous perversion of the religious, or, he might rather, perhaps, describe them as the superstitious feelings of the people, to political purposes. All the allegations in the petition could be proved by the most direct and positive evidence. Part, indeed, of them, had already been proved before the Intimidation Committee. The petitioners stated, that the return of the right hon. Maurice Fitzgerald (the Knight of Kerry) was secured beyond all question, if the county had been allowed to remain tranquil; but so far was this from being permitted, a system of the most violent and iniquitous intimidation and exercise of undue influence had been resorted to for the purpose of returning Messrs. Mullins and Morgan John O'Connell, as Members for the county. The first outbreak of these illegal proceedings consisted in a speech delivered by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, at a meeting of the Association in Dublin; at which the hon. and learned Member, after stating that he was the day after going down to the county of Kerry to oppose the Knight of Kerry, fulminated a sentence of condemnation against every man who should dare to vote for the right hon. Gentleman, that "a death's head and cross bones should be chalked on his door, to shew the people how great a miscreant dwelt there." The petitioners added, that in Ireland there were multitudes of deluded men, ready to *Col. Fairman kept out of the way till the Session was brought to a close, and no further steps were taken with regard to him. carry into execution every and any threat that the said hon. and learned Member might think proper to give utterance to, and that any one who, after this declaration of his, should venture to vote for the Knight of Kerry, stood in danger of being murdered. The result was, that a great many persons were deterred from voting for the right hon. Gentleman, who lost his election in consequence; but subsequently, at a meeting held at Tralee, the hon. and learned Member renewed the threats just mentioned, and in addition declared that no man guided by his opinion, would deal with any tradesman who should venture to vote for the Knight of Kerry. Simultaneously with this the electors were addressed by the Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese, in favour of Messrs. Mullins and Mr. J. O'Connell, and the Roman Catholic Priests of the county resorted to the most unjust and illegal measures to induce the electors to vote for these hon. Gentlemen. The hon. Member detailed several cases, exemplifying the manner in which the priests had been guilty of the conduct he complained of. In a great many cases the priest said "he would not prepare ajiy of his flock for death, baptize children, or perform any of the sacred rites for them. And that, in short, they should be excommunicated, unless they voted for Mr. Mullins and Mr. Morgan John O'Connell." For gross violations of the freedom of election such as these, the petitioners prayed the House to pass some special remedy. The hon. Member also read to the House a manifesto issued at the same period, and with the same object as the proceedings he had described. The document was headed "The Patriot's Curse," and it denounced the anathema of every lover of freedom and of his country upon every one who should vote for the Knight of Kerry. "Upon the loathsome object who should so forget his duty," thundered the denunciation, shall the slow and unmoving finger of scorn be for ever fixed." The petition was signed by nearly every Protestant freeholder in the county, and by several respectable Roman Catholics. Among the subscribers to it were several Magistrates. The petitioners stated that the whole of their allegations could be proved by the most satisfactory evidence, and that a portion of them had been fully proved before the Intimidation Committee by two witnesses, who had, in particular, completely substantiated the statements in reference to the hon. Member for Dublin's share in the proceeding. He hoped that the subject would be carefully inquired into on the part of the House, either this or next Session.

Mr. William Ord

, as Chairman of the Intimidation Committee, would trouble the House with a few observations in reply to the petition last presented, and to the statements made by the hon. Member, in both of which son ething of the nature of complaint was made against that Committee. He could assure the hon. Member that at any rate, so far as related to this case, there was no foundation for any such complaint. He might refer him in the first place to the Report of that Committee, now on the Table of the House, in which the Committee had endeavoured to show the House the character of the inquiry which they had conducted; and disclaimed on their parts any attempts which might have been made to make that Committee a receptacle for individual charges against particular persons concerned in electioneering matters; their exertions had been directed to the sifting the cases brought before them in such a manner as to make each charge stand upon absolute proof or disproof. It had been the object of the Committee to obtain evidence which might direct the House to some practical remedy (if such could be suggested), by ascertaining the nature of the system through individual Acts; by arriving, when it could, at general facts which were undisputed, and by leaving aside those which being disputed might involve the Committee, in the course of investigating them, in such a loss of time as was wholly inconsistent with the limits of the period prescribed for the inquiry, and which would, in fact, have been a deviation from the object for which the Committee was appointed. With this view, in reference to the subject of bribery, the Committee had laid aside all charges against particular individuals, and all charges which,being matters of dispute, might have involved a lengthened inquiry into them. The attention of the Committee had been directed to those towns and boroughs where the existence of bribery had been proved; and they had examined witnesses as to the mode and manner in which that bribery had been carried on. In particular, they had selected those places where such practices had been carried on by both sides, and where the wit- nesses of one party, while criminating the other side, were under the necessity of admitting that similar practices had prevailed on their own. One circumstance he was bound to state, in reference to the limitation of witnesses in the Kerry case—namely, that it was utterly impossible for the Committee, consistently with the rules they had laid down, and which he was sure would meet with the sanction of the House—it was quite impossible for them to go into the case of the Kerry election so long as the subject of the election itself was pending before a Committee of the House. Indeed, almost all the Irish cases were postponed by the Committee as coming under the same category. In reference to the charge which had been made against the Roman Catholic priests, a witness had been examined, named Brownrigg, who had been an agent of the stipendiary magistrates, and was now an inspector of police. This person had been commisioned by Government to make inquiries as to the intimidation by which it was alleged the priests had obtained for their candidates the votes which tenants had previously promised to give their landlords. The evidence given by this person, although it referred to the whole county of Kerry, had not been sufficient to make out the charge against the priests. The hon. Member then repeated the reasons which had induced the Committee to limit the evidence in this case, adding, that the refusal to go into it had been impartially made to both parties. This refusal had been in accordance with the unanimous opinion of the Committee, among whom was the right hon. Member for Launceston. But he must protest against what had been said by the hon. Member, that the charges contained in this Petition had been fully proved before the Committee. With regard to the allegations of the Petition, he was bound to admit that a great deal of influence, which he must characterize as undue influence, had been exercised by a class of persons which both in England and Ireland, he should like to see removed from the scene of politics—he meant the ministers of religion. Some matters were stated in the petition as facts, which tended to throw discredit on the other real or supposed grounds of complaint. For instance, the hon. Member had read with great impression and emphasis what was called "The Patriot's Curse," which had been clearly shown not to be a genuine document; its origin had been traced to some ingenious persons, who had palmed it upon The Times newspaper, which was generally extremely careful in the assertions it made as to matters of fact. If, on the other hand, the House was of opinion that this petition contained sufficient to induce it to institute an inquiry— not, as the petitioners prayed, to pass a law without investigation—he should have the greatest pleasure in lending his assistance, with a view of doing justice to all parties. As one statement, however, of the petitioners was utterly and entirely disproved, it was doubtful whether any number of witnesses, if they were called, could substantiate the remainder. It seemed a little incongruous that the petitioners should now be prepared to prove intimidation by witnesses who had been intimidated, when they had avowed that they would not proceed under the Grenville Act, because the witnesses could not venture to acknowledge the influence under which they had voted. If their apprehensions were now removed, the chance was, that they would be able to make out a case for inquiry hereafter. As he was convinced that Gentlemen on both sides would be anxious to speak upon this Question, he would move "That the farther Debate upon the Petition should be adjourned until Monday."

Debate adjourned.