HC Deb 31 July 1835 vol 29 cc1328-36

"ULSTER.—Not given.—The Inspector-General is stated to be in London, on attendance upon a Committee of the House of Commons.

"LEINSTER.—Not given.—No cause assigned.

"CONNAUGHT.—I am happy to state that this Report shows a decrease of crime, both as to number and character, as compared with my last Report and the corresponding period of last year. I regret, however, to observe, that homicides are more numerous, and this Report exhibits a sad increase of that crime. The police have in most cases secured the perpetrators, and I trust examples may be made at the approaching assizes, which may check this barbarous disregard for human life.

"MUNSTER.—The Reports afford but little ground for remark. The general state of the county at the present moment is satisfactory. In the county of Tipperary there has been a decided improvement. The number of trifling cases (common assaults and larcenies) in the City of Cork, swell the apparent amount of crime, and should, therefore, be remarked upon."

The noble Lord then said, that he would refer to the charges of the Judges of Assizes, which he was happy to find were of a more satisfactory character. They were as follow:—

"Curium Assizes.— Chief Justice of King's Bench.

"He congratulated the Jury on the state of the calendar, there appearing on the face of it only one crime of an atrocious nature, and that was the murder of a poor man, which was wholly unconnected with any of those outrages which so often distract the country."

"Drogheda Assizes, Monday, July 13, 1835.— The Honourable Judge Moore.

"From the number of persons charged on the calendar and those out on bail, it might, at the first glance, be thought that crime had alarmingly increased in this small county. He was, however, happy to say, that there did not appear any case which could justify such a position."

"County Fermanagh Assizes, Enniskillen.—Baron Pennifather.

"I am glad, upon looking over the calendar, to find upon it that the crimes are neither very numerous, nor apparently of any very serious magnitude."

"Limerick Assizes.—Sergeant Green.

"It is with the greatest pleasure I contrast the calendar I now hold in my hand with that which was presented to me last assizes. The calendar contains the names of sixty-seven persons, a very large number certainly, but bearing a very small proportion to those who were for trial when last I had the honour of addressing you."

"Louth Assizes.—Honourable Justice Johnson.

"His Lordship briefly addressed the grand jury.—He said he was most happy to find that there were but forty-six criminal cases, and amongst these there were none connected with agrarian disturbances."

"County Monaghan Assizes, July 20.—Judge Moore.

"He regretted very much to find the calendar so enormously heavy. With the exception of high treason, every other description of crime was to be found. Murders of the most atrocious kind, scarcely to be paralleled, burnings, demanding arms, &c. He regretted to allude to party processions, the illegality of which could not be questioned, and the persons joining were acting in direct opposition to an Act of Parliament, and they were not ignorant of it he feared. It had been fully explained to them on many occasions, and they could not now plead ignorance of the law. The leniency with which they had been formerly treated had no good effect with them; they had again violated the law; and he had to observe, that in a riot arising out of one of those processions, a death had ensued. With the consequences arising out of such proceedings, the parties joining them were chargeable. The jury would take care not to find any person guilty without sufficient evidence; and if found guilty, they would learn that no person of any description should commit such an outrage against the law and constitution with impunity."

"Queen's County Assizes.—Chief Justice of King's Bench.

"The charge chiefly consisted of an explanation of the New Grand Jury Bill. The calendar here is much heavier than in Carlow or Kildare, there being forty-seven persons capitally indicted, twelve of whom are for murder."

"County of Wicklow Assizes.— The Chief Baron Joy.

"When I look at this bit of paper in my hand, I really know not what to say. It is equally a subject of surprise and gratification to me, and congratulation to you. It reflects the highest honour on your county; and I can say, that in all my experience I never before saw a county calendar at an assizes without one capital offence; or any, except one, of personal injury. I again repeat, that such an instance of the absence of crime reflects the highest honour on this county, and is a subject of very great gratification to me, and for congratulation to you."

These were all the statements which he had been able to extract from the charges of Judges at the present Assizes, and in conjunction with the Reports of the Inspectors-general, they showed—not, indeed, that there had been a decrease in the total amount of crime, but that the number of offences of a more aggravated and formidable nature which formerly prevailed in Ireland had been materially diminished; and it was to this state of things that the Government had sought to adopt the Mea- sure which they then submitted to the House. That Measure was founded very much upon the Report of the Committee appointed in the year 1832, to examine into the state of the disturbed districts in Ireland, to which Committee the petition from Queen's County had been referred, and of which his right hon. Friend, the Paymaster of the Forces, (Sir H. Parnell,) had been Chairman. The object of the Committee was two-fold—to constitute a competent tribunal for the enforcement of the ordinary power of the law, and also for the prevention of those nocturnal outrages which at that period prevailed. In pursuance of the Report of that Committee, the Bill which he should move for leave to introduce gave a power to the Lord-lieutenant, on due cause being shown, to appoint a Special Assembly of the Court of Quarter Sessions, to which one of the King's Sergeants or King's Counsel, was to act as assessor, and which was to have the power of adjourning in any disturbed district, from time to time, and from place to place, till tranquillity should be restored, and no longer. At present the Lord-lieutenant had it in his power to issue special commissions; for in these cases the Judges went down, generally when crime had considerably accumulated, and to deliver gaols which were already too amply filled. The objection to that mode of precedence was clearly stated in the Report of the Committee to which he had alluded. "They remark, that although it is quite true that the ordinary and regular laws have been found sufficient to put down the various Whiteboy associations which have from time to time existed, it is equally true, that in every instance every association has made itself complete master of the county where it has been formed, and committed all kinds of crimes and enormities with impunity, for a considerable period before the enforcement of the powers of the law has produced a remedy; and while the practice of having recourse to a Special Commission, as the means of carrying into effect a vigorous application of the rigours of the law is the sole remedy which is had recourse to, the same result will necessarily occur, because the expense which attends the sending down of a Special Commission, and the difficulty of making out a case for it to act upon, must lead to postponing the appointment of it until a long time after an illegal conspiracy has commenced its operations. In point of fact, although the law has in general proved sufficiently strong and effectual for the ultimate suppression of Whiteboy associations, it has not been effectual in affording protection to the public against being exposed to the crimes and atrocities of those conspiracies for a considerable period previous to their being completely repressed." Now his Majesty's Government were of opinion that the Special Court of Quarter Sessions which they proposed to empower the Lord-lieutenant to call together by the Bill, in a due case of emergency being shown to have arisen, would do more towards the timely prevention of such offences than the issuing of Special Commissions. He now came to the second object—of preventing internal disturbances. The Bill proposed to empower the Court of Quarter Sessions in the representation of the Grand Jury—such Grand Jury being taken from the special list of the jurors of the county—and with the approbation of the Lord-lieutenant, to warn the inhabitants of disturbed districts to keep within their houses, and to authorise the magistrates and chief constables to visit houses and require the male inhabitants to appear when summoned. Persons not answering were to be deemed absent; but no power was given such as existed under the former Measure, to these functionaries of entering houses when they chose. Persons found absent were to be subjected to a certain punishment; and on the second occasion to be subjected to one more severe; also, persons found abroad in the night with unlawful arms in their possession, to be subjected to the punishment attached to a misdemeanour. These were the provisions which it was proposed to incorporate in the intended Bill. They were, certainly, such as trenched on the ordinary practice of the Constitution rather more than a composed state of things would warrant; but looking at the urgency of the case, he trusted that they would not be deemed going farther than was needed: above all, when it was borne in mind that it would not apply to or affect any district for any period except where and when that urgency prevailed. With respect to the period for which the Government purposed that the Act should continue in operation, he should be sorry to engraft any measure of such a description permanently on the Constitution. At the same time, he wished to remove from it any character of fluctuation, and to do away with that feeling of excitement which was created by the periodical and perpetually-recurring consideration of the subject in Parliament. He should, therefore, propose to limit its duration to the period of a very few years. In conclusion, he submitted it to the House, as a mitigation which his Majesty's Government were able to propose, under the improved state of affairs, of the former law, and as only containing whatever of severity might be found in it, with the special view of applying it to the meeting of the urgency of any case that might arise, and not of applying it under any other circumstances whatever. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.

Mr. Nicholas Fitzsimon

did not rise to offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill, or to enter into its details. He thought the former measure one of the most unjustifiable ever passed; but with the feeling of unlimited confidence which he possessed in the Government, of which the noble Lord was a member, he should be happy to join in passing a Bill which should prevent the recurrence of those disturbances which did occasionally take place in Ireland in spite of the existing law.

Colonel Perceval

asked the noble Lord, whether certain districts in Ireland were not at that very moment under the operation of the Coercion Act? He wished also to inquire in reference to one of the statements read by the noble Lord, which alluded to an occurrence at Monaghan, whether certain parties therein implicated had not been acquitted?

Viscount Morpeth

said, that four baronies of the Queen's County, and a part of Kilkenny, were still under the operation of the Coercion Act. As to the second question, he could give no answer having no information upon the subject of it.

Colonel Perceval

must express his surprise that the proposed alterations and modifications of the Coercion Act should be founded by his Majesty's Government, on the extraordinary ground of there having been an increase of crime in the last year over the preceding one.

Mr. Henry Grattan

said, it was impossible for his Majesty's Government to allow things to go on as at present in the north of Ireland, where there was not security either for life or property. [Laughter and Cheers] He would ask the Gentlemen who cheered, and the hon. and gallant Officer (Colonel Perceval) among them, whether they had any connexion with the north of Ireland? He himself happened to have some connexion with it; and when he heard the hon. and gallant Officer inquiring, whether cer- tain individuals in Monaghan had not been acquitted, he felt tempted to say with Sir Frederick Stone, that to appeal to the north of Ireland for redress for an Orange injury, was a farce. Let hon. Gentlemen look back to the transactions which had been only recently witnessed there, of Orangemen parading at night through the country, and drawing ropes across the road, and forcing all who came up to cry out before they passed, "To Hell with the Pope!" He had had for some time in his possession a petition, which he should shortly present, stating that certain Magistrates held Orange Lodges in their own houses, which were attended by clergymen. It was the duty of the Government to bring in a Bill which should affect the proceedings in the north of Ireland. Rather, indeed, than submit to the oppression which they brought with them, he would call on his tenants to arm themselves and settle the question, whether a band of ignorant insolent Orangemen should be allowed to parade through the country at night, and insult all persons who did not cry "To Hell with the Pope!"

Mr. O'Connell

thought, that this Bill was calculated to meet an exceeding great evil, in the suppression of disturbances which at present disfigured the whole face of society in that country. What he alluded to were the agrarian disturbances, which, although they generally originated hi some acts of local oppression, spread with the force and rapidity of infection, bringing within their vortex many who would willingly keep themselves aloof if they could. The Bill introduced by the noble Lord dispensed with the old system of Special Commissions, than which nothing in his opinion could be more objectionable. Those Commissions inquired into cases of outrage, of the perpetration of which, unhappily, there could be no doubt. The only doubt was as to the perpetrator; and in detecting this these tribunals were most defective. He verily believed that the Special Commissions retaliated by day the blood shed by night, and that in very many instances innocent parties suffered. The present Bill, if he had rightly understood it, directed the meeting of the Magistrates at Sessions to deal with cases of actual offences against the laws, and also authorized them to keep those persons within doors who were found out at night without being able to give a good account of themselves. Whilst it gave protection where it was wanted, the Bill took from no man the right of being tried by a Jury. Its only infringement upon public liberty was the power given, as he had already observed, to deal with persons who went out by night, having no lawful business to take them out; and if it should be effectual in suppressing this most baneful practice, it would have a most salutary operation, and produce the greatest benefit in Ireland. He felt convinced that the Bill would work well. He only wished its provisions had gone a little further, and that it had proceeded to touch those affiliated Societies which existed in Ireland and flourished in spite of the law, but which it was the bounden duty of the law to put down. These Societies were a fruitful source of crime; and although they assumed to themselves the exclusive title of loyalty, their loyalty was shown invariably, as at Belfast, in attacking the King's troops. The loyalty of these gentry was shown upon that occasion in knocking the Magistrates off their horses, and in assaulting the King's soldiers, until they were compelled to fire in their own defence. From the manner in which they were going on, he had reason to expect that the post of loyalty would soon be vacant. He wished the Bill had provided for them.

Mr. Sharman Crawford

said, when a proposition came before the House for coercion, even in the most mitigated form, he could not avoid protesting against any measure of that nature, unless it were accompanied by other measures for bettering the condition of the people, and providing for them subsistence and employment. It was from the want of such enactments as these, from the want of some measure to protect the people from arbitrary expulsion by tyrannical landlords, that agrarian disturbances arose, and until means were taken to obviate those evils, every effort to restore peace and tranquillity to Ireland would be abortive. He trusted neither the House nor his Majesty's Ministers would delude themselves with the idea that this or any other Coercion Act would be an effective substitute for just legislation. With respect to the disturbed state of the north of Ireland, he could assure the House that it did not arise from any bad disposition on the part of the people towards each other. It was not the fault of the people—it was the fault of the promoters and stimulators of such dispositions in the higher classes of society. He referred to the seditious if not treasonable speeches of individuals of the highest rank, and holding the highest offices under the Government, who told the people that the Government (of which they themselves were the servants and officers) was determined to overturn the Protestant religion—to deprive them even of their Bibles, and to make the Roman Catholic religion the Establishment of the country. When the people are told such falsehoods as these, and Government permit it to be done by persons acting under the apparent sanction of their authority, from the nature of the appointments which they hold, it is not extraordinary that the country should be in a state of insubordination and disturbance.

Mr. Finn

contended, that all Ireland wanted was justice, and justice demanded the Orangemen should be put down—that the police and the Magistracy should be completely purged of them. How could it be expected that the people of Ireland could have confidence in laws which were administered by Orange Magistrates? The greater part of the police were Orangemen, the greater part of the Magistracy were Orangemen, and the whole of the Yeomanry were drawn from the same polluted source. In this state of things, it was not Coercive Bills that the people of Ireland wanted, but justice. The hon. Member adverted to the case of one Patrick M'Keogh, who was convicted of an offence against the laws in the North of Ireland, and was sent by the Magistrates to the South, with an appointment in the police. Instances of this kind were frequent in Ireland. The Marquess of Anglesey had wisely observed, that the people of Ireland might be easily led by a thread, but that no force would bind them. Let that maxim be borne in mind by the present Government, and acted upon, and there would be no need of coercive measures for Ireland. He spoke strongly, because he felt so; and for his part he would conjure Gentlemen of all parties and modes of thought to lay aside all personal and distinctive feelings, and act harmoniously together for the common welfare of the country.

Motion agreed to, and leave given.