HC Deb 24 July 1848 vol 100 cc757-64

Order of the day read for resuming the Adjourned Debate from July 21, on the Amendment, and to the Motion that the Speaker do leave the chair, to go into Committee of Supply.


vindicated the course which had been taken by the hon. Member for Athlone (Mr. Keogh), in bringing forward the question of juries in Ireland before the House. Although differing entirely from that hon. Gentleman in politics, he must do him the justice to say, that he had not commenced that scene of acrimony and personal recrimination which had occurred. All this personal matter had, however, nothing to do with the question before the House. He contended that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had not answered any of the statements put forth in the hon. Member for Athlone's speech, with the exception of the first—namely, that the sheriff was appointed by the Crown. With regard to the second statement, that out of a list containing two Catholics to one Protestant, the sheriff had selected 150 persons, in the proportion of four Protestants to one Catholic, the right hon. Gentleman had argued that the sheriff was justified in point of law in the selection he made. He admitted that the sheriff might be legally right, but he believed him to he morally wrong. The right hon. Gentleman had also said that the sheriff had selected the names in rotation, according to their wealth and respectability; respectability in this case being wealth. That statement had been corroborated by a witness examined to try the validity of that panel, who stated that the respectability of the jurors had reference to their wealth; and the sheriff himself, in vindicating his own conduct in respect of two persons in the same business, stated that the selection had been made according to relative respectability. Both these persons, however, being in the same business, nothing but wealth could have been meant as the test. He protested against this principle of selection; and if the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, in a remarkable letter written to the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, regarding the propriety of carrying out the Emancipation Bill by the appointment of Roman Catholics, were of any authority, the character and not the wealth of the parties, should be the rule of selection. If the sheriff had made his selection on that principle, the discontent now prevalent in Ireland would not have existed. He would now read to the House the opinion expressed by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, in the debate on the state of Ireland in 1844, on the subject of jury packing:— It does. Sir, appear to me that such a fact of itself deprives the whole of those proceedings of any weight or value. I can understand if the object had been to obtain a jury to convict—if it had been the practice which a violent partisan might adopt for the purpose of sustaining a private right to obtain a jury to suit his purpose, I could then, and in such a case, understand such a course being taken. That speech had no doubt had its influence upon the mind of the sheriff, and had operated upon him in making the selection. The question to be tried was whether Catholics had been excluded from the panel; but would the House believe that that question, which was the main and sole question, was not allowed to go to the jury at all; one of the Judges declaring that they were not justified by law in inquiring into the religion of any man, while the Attorney General, by a technical objection, prevented the point from being brought to decision at all. The right hon. Baronet had read a letter from the Attorney General, who said that the Roman Catholics proscribed had been set aside, not on account of their religion, but their political opinions; and he had said that the celebrated instructions of Sir M. O'Loghlen referred to ordinary cases, and not to such a case as this. Sir Michael said in his instructions— You will not sot aside any juror on account of his political or religious opinions, and you will be pleased, in every case in which you may consider it necessary to set aside a juror, to make a note of the objection to him. These were his general instructions. But allowing, for argument's sake, that the Attorney General was justified in setting aside jurymen on account of their political opinions being the same as the prisoner's, he denied that repealers sympathised with Mr. Mitchel. Mr. Mitchel repudiated repeal, and called it a humbug. On that ground, therefore, the Attorney General was not justified in setting these jurors aside. The majority of the repealers were Roman Catholics; and the consequence of this rule, of setting aside repealers, would be, that almost all the Catholics of Ireland would be excluded. By leaving no other than anti-repealers on the jury list, trial by jury in Ireland would become, in the words of Lord Denman, "a mockery, a delusion, and a snare." The right hon. Baronet said that six of the men set aside had been selected by the prisoner's counsel to be retained upon the trial, and that justified the Attorney General in setting them aside. How did the Attorney General obtain that information? Who was the traitor to the prisoner, by whom the Attorney General was informed of the parties to be left on? In Ireland the religious feeling was very strong; and any insult to their religion was taken up very warmly. Reference had been made to a certain trial in 1844; he had reason to recollect it, for he filled the office at that time of chief of the city he now represented; and the first duty he had to perform was to call a meeting of his fellow-citizens to protest against the insult and wrong done to the Roman Catholics in striking off ten Catholics from the jury panel; and so strong was the fee- ling of the Roman Catholics on that occasion, that whereas it had hitherto been the rule not to allow their chapels to be used for any political meeting, yet that meeting was held in the great Catholic chapel. There were 300 meetings of Roman Catholics in Ireland to protest against the insult offered to the Roman Catholics. He should have wished that the hon. Member for Athlone had brought forward this subject at an earlier period of the Session; but as he had brought it forward, and as the right hon. Baronet had made his statement, he, in vindication of his insulted countryman, had thought it right to trespass upon the attention of the House.


did not think it necessary to enter deeply into this question. He had intended to bring it before the House himself, but he had been informed by the hon. Member for Athlone that he proposed to do so. He would give the hon. Member his advice not to agitate the public mind in the present state of Ireland. The condition of that country was dreadful; the fever was increasing, and whole districts were becoming depopulated; in some places there was not even an animal. Instead of dividing upon this question, it would he much better to divide amongst the starving people of Ireland loaves of bread, and give them physic and clothes. Considering the destitute state of the people of Ireland, there existed abundant materials for inflammatory proceedings; but, situated as the Irish people were, it did not become the Government to bring forward such a measure as they introduced last Saturday, without sufficient notice—without a message from the Crown, or the examination of a single individual before a Committee of the House; and only justified by newspaper extracts, and the ipse dixits of a few individuals. The noble Lord, while some of the Irish Members were absent at the assizes, introduced and passed that Bill in a morning sitting, and thus in seven hours the liberties of the Irish people were taken away. The people of Ireland were discontented, and justly so; and it was only the storm that had raised up many of these men, against whom the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act was directed, and who, if left alone, would sink to their natural level. The trial had made Mitchel a man of importance. On Saturday last a most inflammatory article was sent forth from Newgate prison, in Dublin. How happened it that that letter was allowed to be conveyed from the pri- son; and were the liberties of his country to be taken away because some men, like the writers of these inflammatory articles, bad gone mad? Had it come to this, that the connexion between Ireland and England could only be supported at the expense of the liberties of the Irish people? he had on a previous occasion voted for a Bill of the Government, with the view of putting a stop to assassination; but he should never have done so if he had contemplated that such a city as Dublin would be put under its operation. Extracts from Irish papers had been read the other day, and it was said that plunder was intended; but he did not think that Mr. O'Brien, and others acting with him, meant that. Did this country, he asked, always expect to remain at peace? Did they think that the republican movements on the Continent would pass away without occasioning excitement elsewhere? He cautioned the House to beware how they excited feelings in the breasts of the Irish people which it would be difficult, if not impossible, to subdue. He might state that rather more than a year ago be was in a seaport town, and entered into conversation with an Irishman who was on the point of embarking for America. He advised the man to remain at home, in the hope that better times might arise. The man replied, "No, Sir; I will go to the land of liberty." He (Mr. Grattan) said, "But consider your sons." The reply was, "Ah, they will comeback; and when they do come, it will be with rifles on their shoulders." Now, he would ask the House to consider what might be the state of this country if this man's anticipations should prove to be well founded. He would also remind them that only the other day the Irish in America subscribed no less than 1,000,000 dollars to aid the plans of their countrymen at home. The Legislature of the united kingdom, by their measures, had not only run the risk of separating the two islands, but in Ireland they had actually divided the north from the south, the Catholic from the Protestant, and had made religion the cause of discord and war. He had himself heard it said in Dublin Castle—"Depend upon it, if the repeal movement goes on we will give you up to the Orangemen." He believed that the trial of Mitchel had only aggravated the irritation which before prevailed in Ireland; and he considered that the hope of restoring Ireland to a state of tranquillity had been almost destroyed by the measure which had received the sanc- tion of that House on Saturday. It was his desire that the two countries might continue under one Crown, though under separate Legislatures; but he did hope that, so long as they were governed by the same Legislature, a more conciliatory course would be adopted towards his countrymen.


I am not going to follow the hon. Member for Meath into a discussion of the measure which received the sanction of this House on Saturday; but I think no one can deny that the intelligence which has been received from Ireland this day would fully justify the adoption of that measure. I rise, Sir, merely to say a few words, because I understand that the hon. Member for Athlone (Mr. Keogh), in bringing forward his Amendment on Friday, was pleased to comment upon my absence from the House. Now, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not leave the House from any want of respect for him, or from any inattention to the subject which he brought forward; but, having early on Saturday to propose to this House a measure of the greatest importance, and, it being necessary for me to consult documents, and to consider what ground I should take for the measure I had to introduce, I thought it was bettor to take some time for the inspection and preparation of those documents, than to attend in the House during the remainder of the debate. With regard to the Motion of the hon. Member for Athlone, having heard the greater part of his observations on the subject, I do not think be was justified in the statement he made. He went particularly into the case of Mitchel; and he stated that the sheriff of Dublin was an officer appointed by the Crown. Now, technically and literally, this may be true; but, in point of fact, the names of three gentlemen are returned by one of the Judges—in this case, I believe, the return was made by the Chief Justice—for the choice of the Crown. That, certainly, is a totally different thing from the sheriff being selected by the Crown; for the only choice the Crown has is to select one of the three persons; unless the Crown thought proper to set the whole three aside—a course which, I need scarcely say, was not taken in this case. The sheriff, I believe, performed his duty most conscientiously. Then the hon. Gentleman says it was wrong to exclude a great number of Catholics from the panel, and to challenge the names of certain persons who were placed upon the list. An. hon. Member, who has addressed the House to-night, has asked whether it is intended to exclude Catholics and Repealers from juries? I should reply, neither the one nor the other. I do not think there is any reason why Catholics ought not to he placed upon the juries equally with Protestants. So, likewise, with regard to the general question—the political opinions of a repealer would not disqualify him for sitting upon a jury. But the question in this case was, with regard to the offence of a person who had declared openly that Ireland ought to be separated from England—that Ireland ought to be made a separate republic—that the Queen ought to be deposed from her authority and title in Ireland—and that these objects ought to be accomplished by force. Now, the question to be considered with regard to persons upon the jury list was, whether or not they would do their duty in trying the issue; because the jury are sworn well and truly to try the issue, and to give their verdict according to the evidence. But if the Attorney General, or those who were acting under his instructions, thought that any persons were not likely to give a verdict according to the evidence, but that they were likely to give a verdict against the evidence, they were perfectly right not to leave such persons upon the list of the jury. I do not think it would be a sufficient answer to the challenge in any particular case to say, "Oh, but this gentleman is a Roman Catholic, and because he is a Roman Catholic—although he is not likely to try the question fairly—his name ought to be left upon the jury. "Whether or not the discretion, in this case, was well exercised—whether the persons omitted were persons who would have tried the question with perfect fairness, is a matter into which neither I nor the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland could enter. It is, however, well known that in January last, persons were promulgating opinions in Ireland for which, I believe, they might have been tried for high treason. There were also individuals in and about Dublin who felt themselves perfectly justified in aiding to publish such opinions; and these certainly were not persons who could properly be left on juries to try offences of this nature. That, I believe, was the case with regard to those who were omitted from the jury lists in the instances to which the hon. and learned Member for Athlone has referred. I believe there is no ground whatever for accusing the sheriff of partiality with respect to the selection of the jury. With regard to the Attorney General for Ireland, he is a Roman Catholic, and I do not think it likely that, without good reason, he would take any step which would have the effect of disqualifying his coreligionists from sitting upon juries. This is a plain statement with regard to what took place in the case of Mr. Mitchel. I have not received any particulars as to the other cases referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Athlone; and, as he did not enter into the particulars of those cases, it is, I think, unnecessary for me to do so. I have only to say that, in the present situation of public affairs, I cannot agree to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The House will not, I think, regard it as advisable to enter into any inquiry on this subject; and I can only assert, generally, that there is on the part of the Government, on the part of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and on the part of the Attorney General for Ireland, every disposition to afford a fair trial to persons who may be accused of such offences as have been referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Amendment negatived.

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