HC Deb 20 May 1852 vol 121 cc802-3

Sir, I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland for information respecting the arrest and committal to gaol of eight Ribbandmen, seized in their lodge at Granard, and committed to Longford gaol, and concerning their having been subsequently admitted to bail. These eight persons, when seized by a police officer, were in the act of writing threatening notices to individuals in the neighbourhood. They were committed to gaol, and subsequently brought before the magistrates. There was a division amongst the magistrates as to their being admitted to bail, and the majority agreed to admit them to bail. On one of those persons, named Brierley, there was found a death notice to Mr. Green, the clergyman of Granard, and on another of them, named Donnelly, was found a notice of death to be served upon a person of the name of Fitzpatrick, a most respectable farmer, of the neighbourhood, he having been served before with a notice to the same effect. At the bottom of the notice was written, "This is the second time, and by God Almighty if this dost not do, you may have your coffin ready afore long." They have been admitted to bail, and there is a strong sensation in the country with regard to it. I this day received a letter from that part of the country, stating that on their being committed to gaol, a number of bad characters were missed out of the neighbourhood, but they all have returned since the principals were let loose. I have no other interest in troubling the House on the subject, than the security of my labourers in that part of the country. I beg, therefore, to know from the Attorney General for Ireland whether the crime committed was bailable, and what steps are likely to be taken for the purpose of restoring confidence to the loyal and well-affected individuals of the locality?


It is quite true, as stated by my hon. Friend, that there have been eight persons taken up under circumstances which induced the magistrates to think that they were justified in committing them to gaol for the purpose of being tried as members of an unlawful confederacy. My hon. Friend must be aware that a change was made in the law some years ago—a change that is under the consideration of the Committee upstairs at this present time, and consequently the difficulty has arisen with respect to persons found in those lodges with papers. Formerly the possession of those papers afforded substantive evidence of the guilt; but the change of the law has caused embarrassment and difficulty to the magistrates and police in taking up persons under these circumstances. In regard to this particular case, there were eight persons discovered, but not exactly as stated by my hon. Friend. They were not discovered writing the notices, but they were discovered in a public-house, with pen and ink on the table, and the papers which are annexed to the informations were discovered in their possession. The offence would be an offence of being members of this ribband society, and it might assume the higher character of conspiracy to murder. The magistrates are intrusted by law with a discretion in cases of felony and misdemeanour to consider the circumstances, and, if they think proper, to admit the parties to bail, taking sufficient secu- rity for their appearance. They must he tried in the county where the offence was committed; they cannot he tried except by a Special Commission, until the summer assizes, and the magistrates thought they were hound to admit them to bail. Two of them are still in custody, not being able to find sufficient bail; five of them have been admitted to bail; and one of them remains willingly in custody, and there is no question as to him. However desirable it may be to bring such parties to justice, we should not do anything that may appear to be a violation of the Constitution; and if the magistrates honestly thought they were bound to admit them to bail, we ought not to prejudge the case. It is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to use all the power they possess to have these and similar cases tried, and they will put all the power of the law in force to the utmost of their ability to bring the offenders to justice. I am not aware that there is any intention imputed to the magistrates of acting corruptly, and they thought that under the Act of Parliament they ought to admit them to bail. All I can promise to do is, to proceed at the next assizes with all the power of the Executive Government to put down this system. [Mr. O. GORE: The amount of bail is from 10l. to 30l.] I cannot say, for the magistrates decide upon that. It is stated that the sureties are respectable farmers in the neighbourhood, and have given such bail as the magistrates think sufficient, and it would be wrong in me to impute anything improper to the magistrates.

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