HC Deb 16 February 1858 vol 148 cc1473-7

, in moving for a Select Committee to inquire into the system and management of the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force, said, that he very unwillingly interposed between the wish of the House and the adjourned debate on India; but the present Motion was an important one, and private Members had so few opportunities of bringing such subjects forward, that be felt bound in duty to proceed. When the Bill of 1846 was introduced by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Hors-man), who was the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he (Mr. Grogan) felt that it contained so many objectionable provisions, and so great an extension of the powers of the police, that he moved to refer it to a Select Committee, but was unsuccessful. In the following year a similar Bill was introduced by the Attorney General for Ireland, who stated that the objectionable clause of the first Bill had been expunged. That was true; but still it required investigation by a Select Committee. His opinion was that the powers of the Commissioners were too great, and that they had assumed power which more properly belonged to the magistracy. The police of Dublin were an effective and useful body, and he wished to see them in possession of the fullest powers necessary for securing peace and order. But he wished to see them confined to their proper sphere. It was the part of Parliament to make the law, of the magistrate to interpret it, and of the police to execute it. He knew not why the Dublin police should be an exception to those of other large towns, or why the Commissioners should assume powers which the Legislature never intended they should possess. His object now was to have the whole question referred to a Select Committee. The police, he was convinced, had exercised their powers in a manner more arbitrary and stringent than the occasion required, and it was the duty of the House to interpose to remedy such grievances. He thought he should be able to show that the police of Dublin were too great in point of number, and more expensive than those of other large towns. With the exception of London there was no large town in the kingdom in which the police force was so great, compared with the population, as in the city of Dublin. The population of London city in 1856 was 128,851, and the police force was 569, being in the proportion of 1 to 256 inhabitants. There were many reasons, arising from the immense wealth accumulated in London, which made this large proportion of police necessary. It would be found that Dublin, of all the great towns in the empire, stood nearer to London in the numbers and the cost of its police force; and there could surely he no reason why it should be placed in that unenviable position. The population of Dublin, according to the census of 1851, was 258,361. The number of policemen employed for the city specially, and irrespectively of those who did duty in the suburban districts, was 806, giving a proportion of 1 policeman for every 320 inhabitants. The cost of maintaining that force amounted to upwards of £62 for each policeman, and was equivalent to a charge of 1s. 11½d. in the pound on the valuation of the property of the city. It was true that a portion of that charge was borne by the public exchequer, according to the principle adopted for all the towns in the United Kingdom; but still the cost of the police, in proportion to the valuation of the property, was far higher in Dublin than in any other of those towns. In London the cost of the police was only 10d. in the pound on the property of the metropolis. Let them extend the comparison to a number of the other principal towns in the empire. In Liverpool, where the population amounted to 423,000, and where the property was valued at £1,538,000, the total police force, including 314 who were employed in the docks, amounted to 956, and the cost of maintaining them amounted to only £60,401, or only 9¼d. in the pound on the valuation of the property, while in Dublin the cost of maintaining the police was £73,000. It also appeared that in Liverpool there was but one policeman for every 442 inhabitants, while in Dublin there was one policeman for every 320 inhabitants. In Edinburgh the cost on the valuation 4½d., and the proportion of policemen to the inhabitants was 1 in 455. In Glasgow the rate upon the valuation was 6½d., and the proportion of police 1 to every 611 persons. It was evident from these statements that there must be an unnecessarily large police force in Dublin, and that the cost of maintaining that force must be excessive. There was a general feeling among the inhabitants of that city that they were over-policed, and an impression also prevailed that the powers of the police force were exercised in many cases in too stringent and too arbitrary a manner. In order to show that this latter belief was not ill-founded, the hon. Gentleman here referred to the case of a misunderstanding and a quarrel between two gentlemen in one of the streets of Dublin, in the course of which certain police officers had acted harshly and illegally, and one member of the force had used very considerable violence, which Mr. Baron Pennefather had marked from the bench with his reprobation. He felt bound to add that a conviction pervaded the minds of a large portion of the inhabitants of Dublin that sectarian feeling exercised an undue influence over many members of the Dublin police force. But he would not dwell upon that point, as he was anxious to obtain the aid of all his fellow-members from Ireland in his attempt to carry his Motion. He thought he had shown sufficient grounds why his proposal should be adopted, and he had then only to leave it to the decision of the House.

Select Committee moved for.


said, he regretted that his hon. Friend had not thought proper to postpone his Motion, in the unavoidable absence of the Attorney General for Ireland, who had directed his special attention to the question of the Dublin police force. His hon. Friend was aware that during the last two years the Government had introduced Bills upon that subject; and that fact surely showed that they were not indisposed to take it into their careful consideration. His hon. Friend had entered into lengthened details for the purpose of showing that the police force were more numerous in Dublin than in the great towns of this kingdom; but it did not necessarily follow from such a circumstance that the force was too large in that city. No doubt the county police were also more numerous in Ireland than in this country; and yes he believed that the Irish county Members did not think they had too many policemen in their respective districts. The amount of the police force which ought to be maintained in any place must be decided by the special circumstances of the case; and there could be no possible reason why any Government should be desirous of adding, unnecessarily, to that force. His hon. Friend had alluded to what he considered abuses of their powers on the part of the Dublin police; but the courts of law were open for the trial of cases of that kind, and they could not properly become subjects of inquiry by a Committee of that House. His hon. Friend had shown great discretion in the mode in which he had referred to the charge of sectarian partiality on the part of the Dublin force. Now his (Mr. Herbert's) attention had been drawn to cases in which that charge was involved; and he could state that, as far as he had been able to investigate those cases, the charge was either totally unfounded or was, at least, grossly exaggerated. He and his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland had taken into their careful consideration during the last recess the state of the Dublin police force, and they had come to the conclusion that it was desirable to give to that force a new organization. They had, accordingly, prepared three Bills upon that subject, which would have been introduced but for the necessary absence of his hon. and learned Friend; so that, even if the House should think proper to reject one portion of their scheme, they might adopt some other portion of it. Those Bills they would immediately introduce, and they would thus adopt the best means of dealing effectually with the question. It would surely be better to adopt that course than to appoint a Committee, which would only have the effect of suspending all legislative action in the matter.


said, he was surprised to find that the right hon. Gentleman had refused to assent to the Motion. The present state of the police force created great dissatisfaction in Dublin, and that dissatisfaction would not disappear until the whole question should have undergone a thorough investigation. He would call the attention of the House to the great disparity in the expense of the police force of Dublin and other large towns in the United Kingdom. In Dublin it was no less than 1s. 11d. in the pound, while in London it was only 6d., and in some of the great provincial towns it was even less. Did not that show that there was something wrong in the system? He considered the provisions made for the administration of justice by the police magistracy of Dublin on much too large a scale. For instance, he found in the Castle district there were three police magistrates, the same number in the College division, and in the Rotunda district two. Notwithstanding so great a number of police magistrates had been condemned by the late Bill, every one of the appointments, as they had become vacant, had been filled up by the present Government. This was not alone a question of local but of national taxation; and when they called to mind that there was a large garrison in Dublin, who were always at hand to come to the assistance of the civil power, and that there was a large training depot in the Phoenix Park for the provincial police, those were additional reasons why the number of police in Dublin should be reduced. The citizens of Dublin demanded inquiry at the hands of the Government, and he felt convinced that if the Committee which had been asked were granted a very few sittings would settle the question, and thus the passing of any measure on the subject would be greatly facilitated.

Motion made and Question put, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the system and management of the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force."

The House divided: Ayes 105; Noes 200: Majority 95.