HC Deb 15 June 1858 vol 150 cc2151-6

, in moving for leave to introduce a Bill to make better provision for the police force in Dublin and other towns in Ireland, said that there had been for a considerable number of years a police force existing in many of the towns in Ireland. The present force in Dublin dated from the year 1836, when the metropolitan district was enlarged, and the police of Dublin, which until then had been a municipal force, under the control of the corporation, and paid out of the corporate funds, was placed under the immediate control of the Lord Lieutenant, and a considerable part of the expense was charged on the Consolidated Fund. The present force in Dublin amounted, including officers and men, to 1025; and the cost, including the salaries of the stipendiary magistrates and of the Recorder, was £77,000 per annum, a moiety of this being paid out of the Consolidated Fund. He thought it only due to the force to say that he believed that, on the whole, it was a fine and well-trained body of men. But one principal objection to the force was its great number and expense. The population of Dublin metropolitan police district amounted to about 300,000 persons; but although the district was large the duties of the police force were not heavy. On making a comparison between the police force of Dublin and that of the large commercial towns in England, he found that while in Manchester there was only one constable to 520 inhabitants; in Liverpool, one to 328; in Birmingham, one to 648; in Bristol, one to 457; and in the metropolitan police district, one to 384; the proportion in the Dublin metropolitan district, was one constable to 272 inhabitants. The fact that there was this larger proportion of police to inhabitants in Dublin than in the large towns of England was in itself sufficient to show that the system required alteration. The Dublin force was more expensive than need be, because it was an isolated force, and it was therefore necessary to keep up a reserve in addition to the men required for duty on beat, in order to meet extraordinary circumstances. Great inconvenience also arose from the necessity of issuing concurrent warrants to the Dublin force and to the general constabulary of the country in cases where it was uncertain whether they might have to be served in the metropolitan district or in the adjoining county. The late Lord Lieu- tenant, he might observe, had expressed his intention of dealing with this subject had he continued in office. The Belfast force differed from that of Dublin, inasmuch as it was a purely local and municipal force, under the direction of the corporation. In that case also, there was the same objection to the force, that its duties were performed in Belfast concurrently with a large body of the general constabulary, and this led to continual misapprehensions as to their duty on the part of the two forces. The consequence of this had been that a fixed number—sixty—of the general constabulary had been quartered in Belfast; sixty more were quartered there in consequence of the riots of last year; and a considerable additional force had been sent there after the recent events. The local force now consisted of fifty-five men, a superintendent, and five inspectors, for day duty; and 104 men for night duty; and the total annual cost was £5,700. The Commissioners who inquired into the riots at Belfast last year had commented upon the inefficient way in which the police were armed (they had only a walking-stick), and had recommended that there should be a total change in the management and appointment of the force. Both the Belfast and Dublin police forces were open to the grave objection of containing an undue proportion of men of the same religion, which was particularly objectionable in a country like Ireland, where the population was divided between two religions, because it gave a sectarian character to the force, which it was most desirable to avoid. In the Dublin police force there were, for instance, only fifty Protestants, while there were not more than six or seven Catholics in the Belfast force. These facts would show the necessity of some change. The greater portion of the cost of the general constabulary of the country, which amounted to 12,000 men, was paid out of the Consolidated Fund. A redistribution of that force had been made by an Act passed in the last Session of Parliament. It had been divided amongst the several counties of Ireland, and a Parliamentary quota had been fixed for seven great towns. Ten other towns, under the Municipal Act, the 3 & 4 Vict. c. 108, had the power to call for a force of constabulary, provided that they paid a moiety of the cost. But then there was a third class of towns, which came under the "Towns Improvement Act" of last Session, which were subject to a totally dif- erent regulation. They had to pay the whole cost of the constabulary allotted to them. But as the Act to which he had referred had repealed the 9th Geo. IV., they had no power to levy a watch rate, and they had, therefore, no means of meeting the expense of the police they might require. These defects of the police system, as regarded the towns in Ireland, were so great, that it seemed to the Government to be expedient that some remedy for them should be provided. A reorganization of the local force in Dublin and Belfast might with that view have been proposed, but, looking to all the bearings of the question and keeping in mind the difficulties which such a reorganization would involve, the Government had deemed it their duty entirely to abolish these local forces, and, amalgamating them with the general constabulary, to place by that means the whole police force of the country upon the same footing. They had the less hesitation in adopting that plan as the constabulary force of Ireland had for many years performed its duties with admirable efficiency and with great advantage to the country. He was, therefore, of opinion that no danger could arise from the establishment of that force in the towns as well as in the country districts. Following the principle of the Act which had. been passed last year, it was proposed that the Parliamentary quota for Dublin should be 400 men, and that for Belfast 100 men, it being provided in the case of Dublin that the number of men should be as nearly as possible that of the present metropolitan police force, so that no extra charge would in consequence of the proposed change be thrown upon the Consolidated Fund. In addition to the quota which he had just mentioned, it was proposed that the Lord Lieutenant should have the power in the case of the two towns of Dublin and Belfast of fixing such an increased force as he might deem necessary; one half of the cost of maintaining that force being charged upon the towns themselves and the remitting half upon the Consolidated Fund. By that means they would be placing the whole of the police force throughout Ireland upon a uniform footing, while increased efficacy would he secured. The Chief Commissioners of the Dublin force were at present paid out of the Consolidated Fund; and the Government proposed that they should retire on that full allowance, to which they were indeed entitled by the length of their services, while the other officers should be dealt with as the Lord Lieutenant might think proper. But as under that scheme the charge on the local rates would be diminished, it was intended that any compensation or allowances that might be made to those officers should fall on those rates. The Dublin force now consisted altogether—commissioners, inspectors, and other officers and constables—of 1,030 men, and the force that would replace it would consist of 650 men. The expense of the present force was, exclusive of the police courts, £65,550; and that of the new force would be about £50,000 a year when the whole thing came into operation, which could not be immediately, but would take four or five years. The revenue now derived from the police courts for fees, &c., was something like £13,500 a year, from the police rate £11,000 a year, and the Parliament grant £36,000. When the plan came into full operation there would be a considerable reduction in the local rates of Dublin. It was also proposed that the offices of the divisional magistrates in Dublin should be reduced from three to two, and that the number of divisional magistrates should be reduced from seven to five. In Belfast the quota was fixed at 100, and every member of the old force would be, as in Dublin, admitted to the constabulary if they were fit for service. The cost of the present local force in Belfast was £5,700 a year, and the cost of the new force would be about £3,800. The small towns throughout Ireland would be allowed an extra constabulary force wherever the inhabitants might think such a force was required on the condition that they should defray one half of the charge which would thus be created, while the other half would be fixed on the Consolidated Fund. In these small towns the constabulary would be required to parade the streets in the same way in which the streets of Dublin were paraded by the metropolitan force, and he believed that such an arrangement would give much satisfaction to the quiet and orderly inhabitants. He had detailed the principal provisions of the plan he had to submit to the consideration of the House. It had been most carefully prepared, a d he confidently believed that it would be found calculated to remove the evils of the existing system, and to produce much good in Ireland. It gave to every town in Ireland an efficient police force; it diminished in some cases the local rates, and it did not add a sixpence to the charge upon the Consolidated Fund. The noble Lord concluded by submitting his Motion to the House.


said, he did not mean to offer any opposition to the Motion for the introduction of the Bill; but he could not help observing that the 15th of June was an advanced period of the Session to bring forward a measure of so much importance. Without expressing any decided opinion upon the measure, he could not forget that they had had in Dublin for many years a most admirable force framed upon the basis of the London police, and that during the time it had been in existence there had been a remarkable absence of great and minute crimes in that city. It was true the police were most of them of one religion, which was a disadvantage which Colonel Brown had endeavoured to avert, by enlisting a greater number of Protestants in the force, but he was unable to procure them. He also entertained very serious doubts whether the discipline and efficiency of the force could be maintained in their present high condition under a system by which it would be amalgamated with the ordinary constabulary of the country. He hoped that the second reading of the Bill would be fixed for a day sufficiently distant to allow the people of Ireland maturely to consider its provisions.


said, he could with a safe conscience defend his noble Friend from the charge of dilatoriness in having brought forward this measure. Lord Eglinton and his noble Friend, during the brief period they had been in office, had been actively employed in consulting those who were competent to give an opinion on the question, and he was happy to say that though the right hon. Gentleman (M. J. D. FitzGerald) anticipated failure, yet this was not the opinion of the parties to whom he referred, who considered it a sensible, practical, simple, and economical scheme. Among other things it would improve the police of Belfast, which he believed required some improvements, though he must say that the riots that had taken place there had been greatly exaggerated, for it was to be remenbered that no lives were lost.


said, it could hardly be expected he could give a decided opinion at the first blush of a question so wide and extended as this Bill. One thing he was glad of, however, and that was that they were to get rid of the Dublin metropolitan police force, of which he had already complained in that House for their arbitrary and overbearing conduct. As the Dublin police force were to be so greatly reduced he thought that the inhabitants ought to have the benefit of the reduction of the expense. He hoped the noble Lord would not send this Bill to a Committee, for then it would be shelved for the remainder of the Session. At the same time, he hoped that it would not be pressed forward before the inhabitants of Dublin had time to consider it.


said, that as representing the city of Dublin, he would give his adherence to the general principles of the Bill. The enormous expense of the present police force in Dublin had excited great dissatisfaction in that city.

Leave given. Bill to make better provision for the Police Force in Dublin and other towns in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Lord NAAS and Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND.

Bill presented and read 1°.