HC Deb 26 July 1849 vol 107 cc1004-16

rose to move for copies of correspondence between the Government of Ireland and the civil and military authorities of the county of Down, relating to processions, &c., on the 12th July.


trusted the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his Motion, at all events for the present, the matter being only now in the process of investigation.


entirely concurred in what had fallen from the noble Lord, He had told the hon. Member for Dublin a little time ago, the Motion was one he could not agree to, the more especially as the investigation was only now in progress.


said, he was sorry he could not comply with the appeals which had been addressed to him from both sides of the House, for he did not feel he could do so without a neglect of those duties incumbent upon him as an independent Member. Since he last had the honour of addressing them on this most melancholy subject, another murder had been committed on an unoffending Roman Catholic by a body of Orangemen in the county Down. [Viscount CASTLEREAGH: No, no!] He could assure the noble Lord it occurred in that part of Belfast which stood in the county Down, and the facts were these: It appeared that on the 11th of July, a body of Orangemen attacked a man of the name of John Cleary, an un offending Roman Catholic, and murdered him in a brutal and savage manner. Informations were tendered to the Mayor of Belfast, once a Member of that House, but he and a brother magistrate refused the informations against four of the parties who were sworn to. But they went further; they not only refused the informations, but they allowed the men that were charged to go at large upon bail, respectively of 5l. and 10l.; and to show the contrast in their conduct, they ordered Daniel Cleary, the brother of the murdered man, to give bail to an amount which was quite beyond the reach of his humble circumstances. He was, therefore, sent to gaol, and there consigned to a dungeon, with his hair cropped, and other such treatment as only awaited felons; yet, after two days, when his brother died, he was set at liberty. This man then applied to the lord lieutenant of the county for the arrest of the parties charged; but, so far as he had heard, they were still allowed to go at large. Under these circumstances, he could not neglect the only opportunity that was offered him to bring a case before them which had caused the greatest excitement in Dublin, and the rest of the north. He knew that there had been a sham coroner's inquest held on the body, and the parties had been whitewashed. Well, it appeared that these magistrates held a solemn magisterial meeting after the occurrence, and thanked the police, notwithstanding the fact, which was known, that they had pursued the people, fired upon them, and caused their death. Shortly afterwards a public dinner was got up by the Orangemen in Downpatrick, the capital of the county where these events had transpired, and Mr. Boers was present, and the high sheriff of the county, Mr. Keown, presided on the occasion. Mr. Beers made a speech in which he rejoiced over the occurrences; he said, "There has been a small blot, if I may be allowed to call it a blot, upon these great triumphs." Such was his speech; yet that individual was in the commission of the peace, and both he and the high sheriff were allowed still to remain magistrates. Besides these two gentlemen, there were three stipendiary magistrates, who presided over the murder of the people; but Mr. Tabiteau, and the others, remained in their office. He held in his hand the proceedings of the Orange Committee of 1835. They disclosed much information bearing upon this question. It was there made clear that the Orangemen of that day conspired not only against the liberties of their fellow-countrymen, but also for the purpose of altering the succession to the Throne; and it was also more than insinuated that more than twenty regiments had Orange warrants issued to them. That the object was to alter the succession to the Throne, had, he believed, been proved by Colonel Fairman. In these observations he begged to be understood as not intending to utter one disrespectful word of the Earl of Roden in his private character, for no man's character in private life was more highly respected. But he was dealing with the political character of the noble Lord, and with his political character only; and if his acts had led to a disturbance of the public peace, and the encouragement he gave to the reckless and sanguinary Orange faction to murder, how could be (Mr. Reynolds) restrain himself from impeaching the noble Lord, as he now did, before his fellow-countrymen? The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary said there was to be inquiry, and he wanted no discussion.


What I said was, that the subject was under inquiry; and I suggested that it would not be doing any good to have a discussion upon it whilst the investigation was going on.


said, the right hon. Baronet had failed to convince him that this matter ought not now to be spoken of in that House. He would remind the right hon. Baronet that Her Majesty was likely to honour Ireland by paying that country a complimentary visit. Now, the mass of the people of Ireland were Roman Catholics, and they believed this affair had been a wanton, malicious, sectarian, and party conspiracy, to deprive the people of their lives. Unless, therefore, the question was now discussed—unless full satisfaction was given—unless there was a perfect understanding that justice would be done to the people, a great deal of discord and disunion, which might be exhibited in an unpleasant shape, might be found to exist in Ireland at a time when every good Irishman wished there should be nothing but peace and good-will. He was himself so anxious that there should be nothing but peace and good-will upon the arrival of Her Majesty, that if any man smote him on the right cheek, he would offer him the left also. He asked the right hon. Baronet these questions:—Was the Earl of Roden still a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant of the county of Down? Was Mr. Beers still in the commission of the peace? This gentleman had stated, at a dinner, that the place where the outrage was committed had been called Dolly's Brae from time immemorial, but it should now be baptized "King William's Hill." And they had baptized it, but how? In the blood of the people. They murdered a boy ten years of age, and they shot an unfortunate woman of eighty—for these heroes were remarkable for wreaking their vengeance upon children and women. The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for the county of Armagh was not so liberal as he was brave; but after these transactions, as we were in a transition state, he did not despair of converting him to liberal opinions. He regretted there should be so much party dissension in Ireland, for whilst other countries were working out their prosperity and independence by union, the people of Ireland seemed as if they were only working their own destruction by their party feelings. He condemned marchings upon the 17th March as much as he did marchings upon the unholy anniversary of the 12th July. And, after all, what was that anniversary? The anniversary of a battle between a Dutch King and an English Stuart; and upon the 12th of July in every year the followers of the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh met to celebrate the triumph of the Dutch King, King William. "This," they said, "was the triumph of Protestantism over Catholicism; we heat you then, and we will continue shedding your blood till the end of time, in the name of King William still." He asked the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, however, to give Ireland the practical benefit of his interpretation of the law, that all armed processions were illegal. He asked the right hon. Baronet to protect the unprotected Catholics of the north of Ireland against Orange aggressions. What was to prevent the Attorney General from indicting the whole of the men engaged in the transaction? Nothing. But it might be said that it was not convenient to vex the Orangemen, they being exceedingly pugnacious. This was no reason why the Government should not enforce peace, order, and obedience to the law. In asking for the returns for which he moved, he was not imputing to the Government the intention of suppressing any documentary evidence capable of throwing light upon the unfortunate circumstances of this affair; but he told them distinctly, that the answer he had received from the right hon. Baronet would not satisfy the people of Ireland. The people of Ireland were beginning to think that Protestant ascendancy was about again to exhibit its deformed head; and that the Orange establishment, which they had been led to believe was in "the tomb of the Capulets," was about to be resuscitated. They' were beginning to think that the Orange Association was part and parcel of the temporalities of that Church which had caused the people of Ireland so much heartburning upon the one hand, and so much persecution upon the other. Her Majesty's Government, under such circumstances, ought to be thankful to him for affording them an opportunity of disclaiming any intention to shield these delinquents, and for pointing out to them the parties who appeared to have been the leaders in the catastrophe. He was anxious that examples should be made of the Earl of Roden, Mr. Beers, and the stipendiary magistrates. Why? First, because justice demanded it; and, second, because such disturbances were calculated to mar the march of prosperity and improvement. Until all sectarian and political ascendancy was put an end to, Ireland would never have peace; without peace there could not be happiness; and in the absence of both, Ireland could not have prosperity. In conclusion, he prayed the right hon. Baronet to act vigorously in this matter. Let him recollect that for a violation of the law, William Smith O'Brien and his associates had been transported for life; let him recollect that for writing seditious articles in newspapers, John Mitchell and others had been transported for ten years. The theory of the law might be that such offences were more heinous than Orange murders; but it appeared to him that Orange murders were the more heinous, He was justified, therefore, in calling upon the right hon. Baronet, even before the tediousness of the inquiry, to ascertain immediately whether these magistrates had been present at an assembly which under the common law the right hon. Secretary had said was illegal. That fact being ascertained, let those magistrates be deprived of their magisterial position, and some atonement be made to the survivors of the unfortunate people who had been murdered on that occasion.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That there be laid before this House, Copies of any Correspondence between the Government of Ireland and the Civil and Military Authorities of the county of Down, relating to processions, public meetings, or armed assemblages of the people, on the 12th day of this instant July.


seconded the Motion.


said, he had already intimated, in the few words he addressed to the House before the hon. Gentleman brought the Motion forward, the reasons which should induce him to refuse the production of these papers. They were reasons with which the House had clearly intimated they agreed. It would be most inexpedient to produce the correspondence whilst the subject was under inquiry; and at the same time he could not but deprecate a discussion that could not be productive of any benefit. He had stated before, and he now repeated it, that the Lord Lieutenant had directed a thorough and searching inquiry to be made into all the circumstances connected with the lamentable occurrence to which the hon. Gentleman had called attention. The hon. Gentleman called upon the Government, both here and in Ireland, to act firmly; but he (Sir G. Grey) must say that if they were to act in the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's observations they would be punishing people without trial or investigation, and that their proceedings ought to be characterised by some other term than that of acting "firmly." The Lord Lieutenant had acted with great judgment and moderation, but not the less with "firmness," in directing a full and searching inquiry, and in committing it to a person fully competent in all respects to conduct it, and of whose fitness, impartiality, and ability no one could doubt. He did not think the House would condemn the Lord Lieutenant for having taken the necessary proceedings to satisfy himself as to the nature of the transactions. Of the other parts of the speech of the hon. Member, he (Sir G. Grey) wished to say nothing. He only hoped that Members who concurred in the view that he took, would not continue the discussion, for it could only tend to produce those results which the hon. Gentleman himself said he deprecated.


was sure the House would see it was impossible, after the marked allusions made to him by the hon. Member for Dublin, that he could refrain from one or two observations. He was delighted that the House had seen a specimen of what had so frequently taken place at Conciliation Hall; and that the hon. Member had expressed himself in that House in the same unqualified and unreserved terms which he had been in the habit of using in those meetings. From his own knowledge, and from his experience—now of nearly half a century, during which he had had the honour of holding a high situation in the Loyal Protestant Society of Orangemen in Ireland, he could give the most unqualified contradiction to every one of the hon. Member's statements respecting them. The tale of its having been contemplated to alter the succession of the Crown, was too contemptible to require notice. He had intended to move, as an addition to the hon. Gentleman's Motion, for "a copy of any correspondence between the Government of Ireland and the civil and military authorities of the county of Down, relating to processions, public meetings, or armed assemblages of the people on the 12th day of this instant July; for a similar return of any correspondence relating to a procession at Crossgar, in the county Down, on the 17th day of March last; and also of a meeting and procession which took place near the town of Ready, in the county of Armagh, in the afternoon of Thursday, the 28th day of June last, or early in the morning of Friday, the 29th." On the first of these occasions there was a procession of armed Ribbonmen. Twenty-six Ribbon flags were displayed, and several shots were fired at innocent and unarmed people. On the 28th of June, St. Peter's eve, a body of 500 Ribbonmen assembled near Ready, every one of them well armed. An inspector of police went after them, taking with him about twenty men, the whole force he had, and they found the Ribbonmen training in regular military order. Three of the leaders immediately stepped forward, and said to the inspector, "If you do not interfere with us, we will not interfere with you; but if you attempt to move one step against us, we will fire upon you." The officer did not feel justified in risking the lives of his men, and he avoided a collision. It was right and proper that the House should be put in possession of all such facts, and not only of one-sided statements, such as that made by the hon. Member for Dublin. Nobody could doubt the loyalty of Orangemen. On several occasions they had volunteered their services to the Government, and Lord Camden had accepted them. On a late occasion, when rebellion was threatening throughout the country, the Protestants of the north volunteered their services to the Government to act in any manner and in any part where they might be required. The consequence was, that the whole of the troops in the province of Ulster were withdrawn except two depôts. In whose hands, then, remained the preservation of the peace of the province? In those of the Protestants. It was not his intention to have alluded to the events that had recently taken place in the county of Down; but as the conduct of the persons present upon that occasion had been brought before the House, he would read a challenge sent to the gentry of the county three days previous to the 12th of July. The hon. and gallant Baronet read this document. It was addressed to "George Hall, Esq., Justice of the Peace," and it warned them not to meet at Dolly's Brae; and bid defiance to all Her Majesty's authorities and forces; concluding thus—"Repeal, repeal, repeal for ever! From the Repealers." The hon. and gallant Baronet also read a report of the proceedings at the dinner to Mr. Beers, with the view of showing that they had no reference whatever to the transactions at Dolly's Brae. He complained of the hon. Member for Dublin having called the inquiry before the coroner a "mock coroner's inquest." Nothing could be more unjust or unfounded; and he put it to the House whether the use of such expressions was justifiable? He should not, after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, press his Amendment.


did not think it necessary to defend the magistrates of the county of Down against the attacks of the hon. Member for Dublin. Those attacks refuted themselves, and he did not think the gentlemen of Down cared, or need care, very much about them. He thought it exceedingly unfair towards those magistrates who had been doing their duty in a time of great difficulty, that at the time when they were about to undergo a judicial trial, they should be subjected to the criticism, and he might say the abusive language, that had been used in that House. Perhaps he might be allowed to say one word with regard to these armed bodies being illegal. He wished to know why that fact had not been discovered at the time of the processions on the 17th of March last; or why it was not considered to be within the province of the Government or of the Lord Lieutenant to proclaim the meetings, when it was known that they were about to take place? They should, if necessary, have written to the lords lieutenant of counties and to the magistrates, requiring them to make known to the people that these meetings, from whatever side they came, were to be suppressed. But the fact was, he believed great misapprehension prevailed on the subject. It was true that Mr. Baldwin had declared the other day in Down, that armed meetings were illegal; but the Earl of Roden and the other magistrates who took part in the proceedings, had no idea of anything of that kind. It was to be supposed that even the stipendiary magistrates did not know of the illegality, or that they would not otherwise have been present. The people were left to act in utter ignorance of the law. But if the meetings were illegal, why, he would ask, had not the fact been so stated when the Government had been pressed to bring in a Bill to prevent their taking place? For his own part, he believed that the subject was one on which great misapprehension prevailed, and he should therefore again protest against those gentlemen being subjected at the present stage of the inquiry to the attacks of the hon. Member for Dublin, who wished to have judgment pronounced in this case before the trial took place.


said, he thought the noble Lord was not justified in describing this as an unfair movement on the part of his hon. Friend the Member for Dublin. This unfortunate occurrence in the north had created the greatest excitement, not only in Dublin, but throughout the whole south of Ireland, and it was feared that the event might lead to further disturbances hereafter. He quite agreed with the noble Lord, that it was unfortunate the Government had not taken steps to prevent the processions, when it was known for weeks before that preparations for them were in progress. That, however, not having been done, a responsibility had been incurred by the magistrates who attended, from which they should not be allowed to escape. Allusion bad been made to the Repeal Association; but the magistrates connected with that body had been dismissed from the commission of the peace on a few hours' notice. This sunk deep into the minds of the Irish people at the present moment, because they felt that equal justice was not administered between both parties. The Repeal Association was never considered as an illegal society, and therefore a connexion with it was far different from belonging to the armed assemblage by which these murders had been perpetrated. He would advise his hon. Friend to withdraw his Motion for the present, on certain conditions. He admitted, with the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that it would be impossible to produce all the correspondence at the present moment; but when the report on the matter had been made to the Government, he hoped they would consent to lay on the table of the House all the correspondence that had taken place between the Government and the civil and military authorities. He thought that his hon. Friend had attained his object, which was to express to the country and to the House the feelings of the Irish people on this subject.


said, that he agreed with the hon. Member who had last spoken, when he said it was the duty of the Government to have declared all processions illegal before the 17th March; but he rose for the purpose of appealing to the House, whether it was desirable that this discussion should proceed further. He could not help thinking that he might even appeal to the Member for Dublin, whether, after the statement of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, that the affair was under inquiry at the present moment, it was not more consistent with justice and fairness, as regards both parties—those whose cause he professed to advocate, as well as those whom he prejudged—that the discussion should be postponed till all the facts of the case should be fully and fairly before the House, when the House should be in a condition to judge who were really the aggressors. He thought that every well-minded man should discourage these inopportune discussions on partial and ex-parte statements, when so much excitement prevailed. Hon. Members ought to bear in mind that such strong language as they had heard from the hon. Member for Dublin, was of all things, at such a moment, calculated to exasperate party feeling, and to aggravate those dissensions in Ireland which were so much to be deplored; he, therefore, trusted the feeling of the House would be against any further discussion at present.


expressed a hope that the Government would extend the inquiry to what had occurred at Belfast. He hoped that his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Armagh and others would use the influence which they possessed among the Orange party to prevent such processions in future. He believed that his hon. and gallant Friend and the Earl of Roden had never encouraged these processions, and that they deeply regretted the dissensions which prevailed.


said, he felt that the Orangemen would not suffer by anything that was said by the anti-Protestant party in that House. He would wish to know why the hon. Member for Limerick and others who had spoken on the subject, had kept out of sight altogether the reasons which had induced the Orangemen to assemble. There were not only challenges sent out to the Orangemen, and threats that they would be murdered if they ventured to march, but the matter was so notorious that the Government had thought it necessary to send military to the spot. With regard to some observations that had fallen from him the other night, he thought, wherever vulgar abuse, excited by religious hatred and political animosity, was displayed, it was entitled to scorn and contempt.


felt that after the appeal which had been made to him, it would be unbecoming to press the Motion, In reference to what had been said by the right hon. Secretary of State for I Home Affairs about the Earl of Clarendon, he had to express his belief that in the Earl of Clarendon's hands the question was perfectly safe. But though he had great confidence in the Earl of Clarendon's good sense and impartiality, he felt surprised that his Excellency had not dealt with the northern magistrates as the Chancellor of Ireland had with the magistrates of the south, who had only inquired whether they attended certain meetings; and on receiving their answers in the affirmative, removed them from the commission of the peace. That was a gross injustice; but there they had to adopt a circuitous course by an injury. It was his opinion that the Earl of Roden ought to have been written to and asked if he had attended the meeting, and if he had he should be at once dismissed. He denied that the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh was correct in stating that no reference had been made to Dolly's Brae at the dinner, for Mr. Beers had stated "that they had baptized the spot, which in future would not be called Dolly's Brae, but King William's Hill." He thought that this was sufficient to show that allusion had been made on that occasion to the scene of the outrage. He thought great good had been accomplished by that discussion, for the people of Ireland would be made aware that such scenes could not be acted with impunity. The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Armagh had commenced his speech with the assertion that none of his (Mr. Reynolds') statements could be proved; but the hon. and gallant Baronet had not answered them—he had left them undisturbed. He would now say to the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, that although he had great confidence in his sense of justice, he and those who coincided with him were of opinion that justice in this case ought to have been more rapidly administered.


begged to remind the House that when Parliament expressed a wish that the Orange Society should be dissolved, the Earl of Roden took the whole odium of that act on himself, and that it was mainly owing to his influence that the Orangemen had submitted to the proceedings so quietly as they had done. He believed there was no one who would be more rejoiced if the recent processions were to be the last to take place in the north of Ireland, than the noble Lord to whom he alluded.


said, he did not wish to see the Government act in the summary manner on this occasion which his hon. Friend the Member for Dublin seemed to desire. He thought it most important that the decision of the Government should be deliberate, and that it should appear to every person in Ireland as an act of solemn justice rather than of rapid vindictiveness.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock.