HC Deb 19 May 1862 vol 166 cc1948-57

Order for Third Reading read.


said, he felt it his duty to call the attention of the Government to the murder which was committed on the person of a young gentleman named Fitzgerald, in the broad day, on the previous Friday, in the county of Limerick. Mr. Fitzgerald, who was a resident landlord in that county and an intimate friend of his own, was walking with his wife by his side within a few yards of his residence, and consequently within a very few yards of a somewhat important town adjacent, when two men—one armed with a gun and the other with a pistol—accosted him. Whilst Mr. Fitzgerald was telling one of them to come to his house, the other suddenly fired a pistol at him; and as he fell wounded, his wife flung her arms around to shield him against further injury. The second assassin deliberately removed her arm, and despatched the victim by a second shot. He demanded the special intervention of the Government in that case, not because Mr. Fitzgerald was one of his most intimate friends, but because it was the third murder which had been committed during a very brief period, within a limited area of country. Very recently another friend of his had been attacked, and he escaped by a miracle, and he had in his pocket a list of five gentlemen whose lives had been threatened. The present state of Ireland was due to the gross misgovernment of successive Governments. In no other country could such deeds be perpetrated in broad daylight, and without the instant apprehension of the murderers. It was surely high time the Government took up the matter. They ought not to be contented with petty legislation on the subject, but ought to grapple thoroughly with the condition of the people, investigate the cause of these horrible outrages, and take effectual measures to prevent a repetition of them. The first thing that should be done was the punishment of the assassins. If the Government did their duty, and the police force for which the country paid so much were worth its salt, they would be hung within three days. The cause of these crimes was the tenure of land and the position of tenants in Ireland. Being a landlord himself, he was not likely to be without due sympathy for the landed interest; but he held that the present relations of landlord and tenant required amendment. It was impossible to legislate for Ireland in the same way as for England. Her case was quite exceptional, and allowance must be made for her unfortunate condition. Apart from the crimes connected with land, Ireland was singularly virtuous. Much was said of the rapidly increasing prosperity of the country, but there was a great deal of exaggeration on that point. Throughout the whole of the land there was a wide-spread undercurrent of misery and despair, and the people were inspired with a feeling of hatred and disaffection towards the British Government, whom they regarded as the authors of their desolation, and who were certainly the cause of their prolonged unhappiness. He entreated the right hon. Baronet to consider whether the time had not come for a reconstruction of the police force, which as a detective force was utterly useless, and whether it was not the duty of the Government to institute some inquiry into the present state of Ireland, and ascertain what steps should be taken to place her in that position she ought to fill, surrounded as she was by Providence with every element of prosperity.


It is unnecessary for me to say that Her Majesty's Government share with the hon. and gallant Gentleman and the House the deep feeling of horror and detestation of these crimes, but it is obviously impossible for the Government to foresee occurrences, or to prevent the commission of such murders us have occurred in Tipperary and Mayo. The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that there should be some summary jurisdiction to hang the murderers in three days; but I think, in his calmer moments, he will see that, it will be better to have recourse to the issuing of a Special Commission. That is a rapid way of dealing with criminals, and I think it is better to act with forbearance and judgment than to rush at once upon the unhappy prisoners, and, without following the forms of law, to execute them as the hon. and gallant Member suggests. [Colonel DICKSON: I did not say without form of law.] I am anxious that there should be as summary a jurisdiction as is consistent with the forms of the law, but I should be the last man to wish to see a prisoner executed without a fair and lawful trial. The murder to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred was committed on the afternoon of the 16th. The murderers escaped and got some distance off, but that very night one of them was apprehended and taken back, and identified by Mrs. Fitzgerald, and has since been committed to gaol. The other has escaped; but we have sent to Cork, to another port, and to Liverpool, in order to render it impossible that he should effect his escape to America or elsewhere; and I have great hopes that within twenty-four hours he will be arrested. That shows that in this instance we have not been remiss, because I believe that not three hours elapsed before one of the murderers was arrested and identified by the unfortunate widow of the murdered man. I should be sorry to trespass further upon the attention of the House with regard to this painful subject, but I do protest against the remark of the hon. and gallant Gentleman that these murders and these agrarian outrages are owing to the state of the land tenure in Ireland. In his calmer moments he will, I am sure, see that he has cast an imputation upon the landlords which is not justifiable. In some newspapers the murder of Mr. Thiebault has, shocking as it may appear, been justified; and it is unfortunate that any hon. Gentleman should in his place assert that these horrid murders result from a state of things which the law has sanctioned. In all these cases great activity has been manifested by the police, and I have here a letter from Colonel Larcom, in which he says— In the midst of all the abuse of the constabulary, it is something to see how promptly in every one of these terrible tragedies the murderer has been taken, almost with a red hand. The difficulty we have to overcome is the determination of the people to screen the murderers. That is the unhappy state of things on which the hon. and gallant Member observes. I hope it will not be of long duration. I shall be glad to have the documents referring to the five persons whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman has mentioned, and will, without a moment's delay, take steps to have them properly warned, and for the adoption of measures to prevent the commission of the crimes which are threatened.


said, that the right hon. Baronet had misunderstood what he said about the tenure of land. He had cast no imputation upon the landlords of Ireland; but what he meant was that the land was the only support of the people, and that the moment they lost their land they were driven to despair and starvation. Some inquiry was needed to see if means could not be devised to put an end to so miserable a state of things.


said, that in South Leitrim there had recently been a great deal of crime; but the provisions of this Act had enabled the magistrates to prevent much more. He regretted that it was not to be continued for ten, instead of for two years.


said, that the sole object of Irish Members ought at present to be to express their abhorrence of the crimes which had stained their country, and to support the Government in the adoption of measures to prevent their repetition. The constabulary force was more an army of occupation than a police force, and measures ought to be adopted to make it more efficient for the detection of crime; and he would also suggest the desirability of bringing it more in contact with the magistracy, as in England. It was understood that the murderer in one of the recent cases was a returned convict, and he would further recommend that some supervision should be provided when returned convicts were let loose upon society. He was opposed to the taking of anything like hasty vengeance for the recent murders. The duty of the Government was calmly to mete out justice, and not to execute revenge. What was wanted was, not that a victim should be sacrificed, but that the guilty parties should be brought to punishment.


said, it was a matter of painful consideration that while intense distress had prevailed in many parts of the west of Ireland, crimes of unusual atrocity should have been perpetrated in the south. Something had been said of uncommon modes of vindicating the justice of the country. He knew of no mode but one—the honest, prompt, efficient, and impartial administration of the law; and he did not believe that, in the hands of a firm and competent Executive, that mode could fail. Some eight years ago, when the Earl of Eglinton, first became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the new Irish Government found Louth in a state infinitely worse than anything he had heard of that night. Several gentlemen had received notices to prepare for death, and one was actually attacked and wounded. However, there was no violence done to the law or the justice of the country, and he recollected the Earl of Eglinton saying to the head of the police, that no Government was fit to exist which could not protect life and property. All the gentlemen who had received notices were protected, he would not say how; the guilty suffered the penalty of their crimes, and that district of Ireland had been perfectly quiet ever since. In those instances, many of which it was his duty to investigate, he never found any case of cruelty on the part of the landlords, nor did he hear or see anything to warrant the imputation that the crime of murder was to be committed because men asserted the rights of property. That was a rather dangerous idea to promulgate. Something had been said about the tenure of land, but, without expressing any opinion upon that subject at present, he thought it was monstrous that any people in Ireland should imagine that a legal question justified the commission of any species of crime. He was not quite satisfied with the speech of the Chief Secretary, because he did not understand what the right hon. Gentleman intended to do. No additional power was required, for he was convinced that the laws of the country, firmly and promptly administered, were sufficient to put down crimes such as those which had recently been perpetrated. He believed the Irish Government would do everything it could to prevent the repetition of these outrages; but, nevertheless, he could not help saying, that a Government to be strong ought to have sympathy with some section of the people which it ruled.


My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has already stated that he deprecates any departure from the ordinary forms of law, and that it is the duty of the Government—a duty it is now fulfilling—to endeavour to bring the perpetrators of the recent murders to justice by a prompt, firm, and impartial administration of the law. He informed the House that the police have already apprehended some of the persons suspected of having committed these murders, and that as soon as the Government feel that those persons can be put upon their trial with a reasonable hope of a conviction, no time will be lost in bringing them before a jury according to the ordinary forms of the law. If the Government were to pledge itself to issue a special commission, it might take a step calculated to defeat the very purpose for which the law is to be enforced. Its first duty is to collect evidence, and then, instead of taking any steps of a vindictive nature, it must follow that course which it may think best fitted for bringing the criminals to justice.


said, he entirely agreed that the law, if firmly and properly administered, was sufficient to repress such crimes as those which had recently occurred. But, as representing the county where the murders had taken place, he could not agree with the Chief Secretary that it was not within the power of the Government to foresee and prevent the commission of such atrocious outrages. The late murders were perpetrated in a very small district, on the high road, and in the light of day. When such crimes were committed one after another in rapid succession, the Government ought to have sent down a police force to watch what was going on, and to give notice and protection to the persons whose lives were threatened. He believed that Ireland was subject to those terrible occurrences, because there was nobody connected with the Government who, knowing the country and its condition, could take the necessary steps not only for punishing crime when it was committed, but also for discovering and bringing to justice the organized conspirators who directed the actual assassins in the execution of their terrible work. It was to be regretted, moreover, that an admirable police force had been converted into a quasi military body, and he trusted that something would immediately be done to render them more capable of discharging the duty for which they were originally constituted—the prevention as well as the detection of crime.


said, it was only due to the Government to correct the error which appeared to exist as to Mr. Thiebault not having been warned. He had been told that he was in danger, and two policemen were placed at his disposal; but he would not accept their protection, or admit that his life was in peril.


said, the House was agreed in opinion as to the atrocity of these outrages, and the necessity of preventing them by any means known to the law. He himself would vote for any measures, however stringent, having that object; but he believed these Peace Preservation Acts were utterly ineffectual, and that the constabulary, by the military character of their training, were powerless for the detection and suppression of crime. The root of the evil, however, lay in the land system; for Sir Matthew Barrington, in 1852, declared, as the result of thirty years' experience, that there had not been a single occurrence of a nature similar to those which lately attracted attention, which was not traceable either to the eviction of tenants or to the changes in the ownership of land. That it was idle to proclaim districts was shown by the fact that murderers always had weapons in their hands when they required them, for the commission of crime. The people, he maintained, no longer communicated with the police, as they used to do before they were armed with the Enfield rifle, were moustaches, and carried the Zouave bayonet; for a murder which was known in the evening to the inhabitants of the village of Golden was not known to the police till seven o'clock the following morning. He thought it only required energy on the part of the Government to put an end to these crimes.


said, he did not think that a change in the organization of the constabulary would effect any good. Some of his hon. Friends had formed erroneous opinions upon that subject. A police force that would be merely detectives in every village, would be objects of suspicion to those who committed petty larceny and other small crimes, and would not be so popular with the people as the present system.


said, he should protest against the notion that any law to be passed by that House relating to the law of landlord and tenant would be adequate to put down these crimes. The idea of fixity of tenure was a mere delusion, and the sooner it was removed from the minds of the ignorant peasantry the better. He did not recommend the slightest straining or tampering with the law in dealing with these crimes; but the law ought to be rigorously exercised, and the most extraordinary precautions ought to be taken by the Government to prevent the commission of these crimes on persons who were known to be threatened.


said, he differed from the noble Lord as to the advisability of altering the law of landlord and tenant. The present law was in the most unsatisfactory condition possible. He believed, if the law were improved, the hand of the murderer would be struck down, and that he would be tracked to justice by the hands of the peasantry themselves. He was no friend to Ireland who did not advocate an alteration in that law. The question was whether the Bill should be read a third time or not; but had a single reason been alleged for the Motion? In Leitrim there was a proclaimed district, and what had the Bill done for that district? He believed the laws properly administered were adequate to deal with the state of thing, and he protested against the Bill as useless and unnecessary.


said, he was sorry that the question of landlord and tenant had been raised on that occasion. He should be glad to know if the police who warned M. Thiebault of his danger gave any notice to any local magistrate. [Sir ROBERT PEEL: The matter was very generally talked about.] The local magistracy were generally ignored by the police. No reports were made to them, and the preservation of the peace was too much left to the police on the one hand, and the stipen diary magistrate and the authorities in Dublin on the other. Until the Government took the gentry into their confidence, they would never govern the country efficiently.


said, he should oppose the Bill. It could have no earthly effect in preventing crime, which could be traced distinctly to the question of tenure of land.


said, that the whole of the present Opposition in 1846 voted against the Bill introduced by Sir Robert Peel, and what was the result? The next Government were compelled to introduce a similar measure. Let the House remember that, and he trusted he should never see any party again take advantage of an opposition to such a Bill to assist them into power. He believed that the crimes which the measure was intended to meet had a political origin, and the system of brigandage which existed in Ireland was fostered by the debates in that House.


said, the crimes arose entirely out of the tenure of land question.


lamented that the subject of landlord and tenant had ever been introduced. He, for one, could not parley with assassins. When persons were lying dead was no time to make election speeches. The British House of Commons could never for one minute parley with assassins. Let justice take its course, but let not apologies be made and sympathy almost be expressed with assassins. The police were excellent as a military body, but they were totally inefficient as detective police. The police officers were above their duty, owing to the system of competitive examination. In Dublin they had a mess and a band, and there was such a system of centralization going on as would be most disastrous in its results. The day was fast coming when the whole, system of the executive would have to be overhauled. From the Lord Lieutenant to the lowest understrapper of Dublin Castle every man that had anything to do with the Government of Ireland would be brought to account. He did not mean to attribute blame to his right hon. Friend. On the contrary, he sympathized with his right hon. Friend, because he was without a law officer, and he was unacquainted with the affairs he had to administer. Everything was done by centralization in Ireland. The local gentry, the county lieutenants, were not consulted. When there was a change of Government, the lawyers got something; another Lord Lieutenant went over; he might be a man of great personal energy, or he might probably be contented with racket, cricket, or playing smaller games; but the poor, wretehed country remained as it was. As for the present Bill, let them protect life in the first instance, and then he would go with those who wished it into other questions.

Bill read 3° and passed.

House adjourned at half after Two o'clock.