HC Deb 04 June 1858 vol 150 cc1534-8

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the recent riots at Belfast; and to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether it is the intention of Government to propose any measure for the better preservation of the peace and protection of property in that Borough, He would occupy the attention of the House for a few moments only while he directed the attention of the Irish Government to the recent outrages in Belfast, and endeavoured to show that whatever might be the prosperity of the borough, its social condition was of the very lowest character. It had no doubt come to the knowledge of hon. Members, through the instrumentality of the Newspapers, that a series of riots broke out on Sunday last, were continued day after day, and, for all he knew to the contrary, were going on at the present moment. He had no special information, nor did he wish to go into the origin of those riots, as it was far from his intention to involve the House in a religious or political discussion. His sole object was to ascertain from the Government their intention with regard to the preservation of peace. These riots he believed to be a continuation of those that had occurred in July last year, which broke out again in the month of September, when the Government was obliged to place Belfast under military law, to proclaim the town, and, as a consequence of that proclaiming, to disarm the inhabitants; and now they found that in June, notwithstanding those Proclamations, rioting had again broken out. It appeared that a district in Belfast, named Sandy Row, was inhabited by Orangemen, and another district, named the Pound, was inhabited by Roman Catholics, and such was the animosity between them, that no Roman Catholic could be allowed to live in Sandy Row, nor any Orangeman in the Pound. On the occasion of the riot in September last the Government poured a large military force into the town, and in virtue of the Proclamation to which he had referred they appointed persons to grant licences for the carrying of arms, with strict injunctions to grant licences to none who were members of either Orange or Ribbon clubs. In consequence of those circumstances, the late Government appointed two Gentlemen of high standing and irreproachable character—the one a Roman Catholic and the other a Protestant—to proceed to Belfast and inquire into the causes of the outrages, and those Gentlemen (Messrs. Smyth and Lynch) took evidence, and reported a state of facts which could not fail to startle the House. The same scenes which had been enacted in July last year were now being repeated; and the report of the Commissioners was of great importance under present circumstances. The Commissioners gave a description of the means which then existed for the preservation of peace m Belfast. There were on the 13th of July last, a local police force numbering 160, and a body of general constabulary force numbering thirty. That force, they said, was plainly insufficient to protect the town; and when the military or a fresh body of constabulary was sent their first and principal duty was to protect the local police. They also stated that the members of this local police, with six or seven exceptions, were all Protestants; that those in command were entirely so; that there were several Orangemen among them, and that two at least of the police had walked in an orange procession. The Commissioners concluded their report by expressing a hope that the worst had been seen of the riots in Belfast; and that, as all the inhabitants seemed ashamed of the consequences which had ensued from the state of party feeling, the good sense of the people would put a stop to any such proceedings for the future. Notwithstanding the expression of that hope, he regretted to say that the social condition of Belfast was in a very unhappy state. The Report of the Commissioners was drawn up in November last, but was not placed in the hands of Members until February last. It was the intention of the then Government to have proposed legislation in reference to the subject, and especially as to police affairs in Belfast, which were undoubtedly in a very unsatisfactory state. He had intended to draw the attention of the House to the subject, because in March last, when there was a discussion on the Trinity College riots, he had understood the hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland to say that it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take any steps on the Report of the Commissioners. He (Mr. J. D. FitzGerald) then stated that he did not think they would be doing their duty to the people of Belfast if they left the police in the state they then were. He might, however, have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, and he had now to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland the question which he had brought under his notice. Since he had put his question on the paper he observed that notice had been given by the noble Lord of a Bill for the regulation of the constabu- lary in towns in Ireland, and perhaps a remedy for some of the evils of Belfast might be found in the provisions of that Bill. At the same time he felt assured that it was not by a mere constabulary Bill that the evils which beset that town could ever be thoroughly removed, and he would put it to the noble Lord that it was his duty now to take the matter into his consideration, and to introduce a measure which should put an end to such a disgraceful state of things.


said, he thought it was hardly necessary for the right hon. Gentleman, in putting his question, to go into a long and laboured statement of the riots of last year. He certainly would not follow him into these details; he would merely tell the House what he knew with regard to the unfortunate events which had recently occurred. On Sunday last, on the return of a procession from the funeral of the relation of a man who was the relative of the chairman of a well known Ribbon association, known by the name of the Gun Club, a collision took place between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics. Some thousands of persons collected together, and there was considerable excitement. The operations of this riotous assemblage on Sunday were confined to stone throwing, and on that evening no serious damage had been done to life or property. During the day and night of Monday and Tuesday these riots were repeated, and though he had no official information of what took place on the subsequent days he feared that up to a late hour of Wednesday the rioting was continued. The moment the Government received information of the matter they took steps to put it down with the strong hand, and a large force of cavalry was sent on to Belfast, which already contained a depot battalion of infantry numbering 1000 men. Mr. Coulson and two other experienced stipendiary magistrates had been ordered to Belfast to assist Mr. Tracey. Mr. Hamilton, the Crown solicitor, was also sent down to be on the spot to take informations; in fact, everything had been done which could have been done. With regard to the further measures the Government proposed to take for the protection of the peace, it was his intention immediately to submit a Bill dealing with the police force of towns in Ireland generally, and when the right hon. Gentleman saw the mode in which it was proposed to deal with the police in towns he would be perfectly satisfied. The Right hon. Gentleman had not indicated what other steps he would recommend; but for his own part he (Lord Naas) believed that for the suppression of riot and disturbance the ordinary law of the country was perfect and sufficient, provided it were administered with prudence and firmness. Besides, he really did not see what further measures the Government could take, and from what he had heard that afternoon he had reason to believe that the riots were now thoroughly put down. They were of a different character from those which took place last year. Owing to the Proclamation the people had no arms in their hands, and in consequence, the riots were not so serious as those of last year. He hoped this would satisfy the House. He could assure the House the matter was occupying the serious attention of the Government, and that everything that prudence and firmness could suggest would be employed to put down those disturbances.


said, he must complain that Belfast was not treated like other towns. When a riot occurred elsewhere the constabulary was poured into the district, and the inhabitants were assessed to pay for them. When Belfast was disturbed, soldiers were employed, or the riot was suppressed at the expense of the country. He believed nothing would teach those persons the necessity of order so much as touching their pockets.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.