HC Deb 31 May 1861 vol 163 cc406-10

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the circumstances under which the Barony of Geashill, in the King's County, was obliged to pay £300 damages for the alleged malicious burning of an outhouse belonging to a Mr. Trench, and to the fact that a confidential report from the constabulary to the authorities of Dublin Castle, stating that the person who burned the outhouse was a party resident in Mr. Trench's house, was shown in a breach of confidence to Mr. Trench; and asked why no steps had since been taken to prosecute the offender? Under the late Lord Digby, who had granted leases to his tenants, Geashill was one of the quietest districts in Ireland. His successor took advantage of some technical defects to break the leases. A new agent was appointed in the person of a Mr. Trench, who was very unpopular; and Lord Digby did not come to see with his own eyes the misery into which the place was plunged. Outrages, genuine or fabricated, were the consequence, and as a specimen he might mention one:—A fire took place in the stables of Geashill Castle one night, though the gates were all closed and no one could get over the walls from the outside. Mr. Trench having alleged that the fire was the work of an incendiary outside, a police-man named Burke had carefully examined the grounds outside the walls for the purpose of ascertaining if the fire had been caused by persons unconnected with the castle; but no trace could be found, and everything which he saw led to the indubitable inference that the person who had fired the turf in the stables lived within the castle. The report sent by Burke to Dublin Castle charged the offence upon some person residing under Lord Digby's roof; and the authorities, in breach of confidence, communicated it to Mr. Trench, when, instead of having an inquiry instituted, he endeavoured to frighten Burke from discharging his duty, and ultimately he was put upon his trial for having been found drunk on two occasions, and for habitually frequenting public-houses. He thought it was as clear as the sun at noon-day that the outrage had been committed by any of the fabricators of outrages within the castle, and not by any of the tenantry residing outside the walls, and he trusted the Government would do their best to bring the offenders to justice.


said, his hon. and learned Friend had made an attack in most unmeasured terms upon the conduct and character of Lord Digby. He would not examine into the motives of his lion, and learned Friend in so doing, but one thing was clear thathehas not investigated the facts of the case. He could inform him, however, that the grand jury of the King's County, composed of twenty-three honourable men, not connected with the Barony of Lord Digby, after hearing evidence upon oath, had come to the conclusion that a malicious injury had been done to Lord Digby's property, and that he was entitled to receive the full amount of the damage. That was also the unanimous opinion of the ratepayers of the county. His Lordship was thought to be entitled to £500, but he would only take £250. Since Lord Digby came into possession of the property only three tenants had been evicted, and they owed respectively eleven years, fourteen years, and thirty years' rent. He hoped that this would be a lesson to his hon and learned Friend to confine himself to the Woods and Forests and to the county he represented; but which he (Mr. Hennessy) feared his hon. Friend's present position showed was a little too hot for him. He hoped he would examine his facts before he dealt with them, or brought them before the House. A case so utterly fallacious had never been inflicted upon the House of Commons.


said, he had been informed that a state of things existed in the King's County which ought not to be permitted to continue, but from his own knowledge he could not say whether that were so or not. The property of Lord Digby, in the neighbourhood of Geashill, appeared to him to be an improving one. With regard to the transaction under discussion it was stated that a report concerning it had been made to the Government, and placed in the hands of a magistrate of the county; but when he (Mr. O'Brien), as a magistrate of the county, applied for a copy of that report, it was refused to him. It was the duty of the Government to give them that report, or take measures, if they refused, to show who were the real offenders in the case. He trusted the Government would allay the excitement which existed in the district by furnishing all the information which was so much desired.


said, he only wished to observe that the case made out by the hon. and learned Member for Wexford (Mr. M'Mahon) was very clear. The burning which had occurred would seem to have been caused by some one well acquainted with the position of the premises. There could be no doubt that similar outrages had occurred in many parts of Ireland, and the perpetrators of them ought to be brought to justice. He trusted the Government would take the question into their serious consideration, for it had done great injury to Ireland, and it tended to corrupt the people and to lower the standard of morality in that country.


said, he must protest against the time of the House being taken up with the discussion of a matter beyond its control. It was unfair for an hon. Member to rise in his place and arraign the whole management of an estate for some years past, because charges were often made on imperfect evidence, and no proper opportunity was afforded for their refutation. It was only a few years ago Lord Digby came into possession of his property. Up to that time he had been almost entirely a resident in England. He appointed a gentleman to manage his estates, and so well had that person acted that they were considered the best managed property in the King's County. Not long ago Lord Digby summoned his tenants to a general meeting, at which he asked them whether they had any complaints to make as to the conduct of his agents. Not a complaint was ever uttered against him. It was true that when Lord Digby obtained possession of his estates he found that several of the tenants held leases which had been illegally granted. The result was that rather than subject his tenants to ruinous litigation he distributed amongst them about £30,000 by way of compensation. With regard to the report referred to if there was any reason to suppose that any person had been guilty of the outrage alleged, of course the Government would place the report in the hands of the law officers of the Crown, and the party would be prosecuted. He must protest against charges being made against owners of property who were endeavouring to discharge their duty conscientiously and with the utmost forbearance and consideration.


said, that with regard to the first question—namely, under what circumstances the barony was called upon to pay compensation for the malicious injury to the burning of this outhouse—the circumstances were these: When an injury was committed, the law provided that the injured person should have the power of applying to the Presentment Sessions. That course had been taken in the present instance: the presentment was sent to the grand jury, was found by them, and the barony then, according to law, became liable to pay compensation. He understood that no fewer than eleven witnesses were examined. The second question presumed that a confidential report had been shown to Mr. Trench; but if that was so it had been without his knowledge, and he did not believe it. He was not, however, prepared to say anything which would fetter the discretion of Government or the responsible officers of the police in holding communications with injured parties, which might tend to the detection of crime already committed, or to prevent future injury being done. With regard to the third question—namely, why the offending person had not been the subject of prosecution—the answer was obvious. The Government were most anxious to pursue a prosecution in every case of the kind, and his hon. and learned Friend might rest assured that as soon as it appeared, in the discretion of the police authorities, fortified by the opinion of the legal advisers of the Crown, right to put any person on his trial for that crime, the Government would not fail to do so.


said, he was of opinion that as Mr. Trench was the local magis- trate of the district, the confidential report alluded to ought to have been shown to him. There was no accusation whatsoever against Mr. Trench. It was the duty, then, of the police to go to the local magistrate in a case of this kind. As to the Digby family, for some centuries that family had not resided iii Ireland. In 1641 their castle had been burned down, since which period they had lived out of the country until a recent period.