HC Deb 27 April 1865 vol 178 cc1168-70

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to alter the distribution of the Constabulary Force in Ireland, and to make better provision for the Police Force in the borough of Belfast, said, that Belfast was the only borough in Ireland in which there was a special Act regulating the organization of the police force. As far back as the year 1858, the noble Lord opposite (Lord Naas) then Secretary for Ireland, in consequence of riots which occurred in the previous year, brought in a Bill tending very much in the direction of the measure which he was now asking leave to introduce. The riots which occurred at Belfast last year, and which had led to the proposal of this Bill were, as the House well knew, of a most serious character. Not only were 146 persons arrested, but 316 were seriously injured and thirteen were killed; the pecuniary loss occasioned by the stoppage of mills and other causes amounted to £50,000; and in order to put an end to the strife it was necessary during the three worst days, August 15, 16, and 17, to introduce into the town, in addition to the local police, a constabulary force of 978 men, twelve officers and 252 cavalry, fifty-seven officers and 1,045 infantry, and three officers and thirty-six men of the artillery, with two guns. In fact, there was almost a small army quartered in the town. The concurrent testimony of all the witnesses who were examined by the Commissioners who inquired into those riots was that it was desirable to introduce changes into the police establishment of the borough; and he hoped by the passing of this measure to prevent the recurrence of such disturbances. The community of Belfast was, however, a very difficult one to deal with. It consisted of about 130,000 persons, two thirds of whom were Protestants and the other third Roman Catholics, between whom feelings of strife and animosity had long existed. The police force at present in Belfast amounted to 161 persons. It was most unpopular, particularly among the Roman Catholic population of the town, of whom there were in it only five. The Commissioners, in their Report of 1857, especially referred to that circumstance, and showed that the existing state of things was most unsatisfactory. He would not, however, on that occasion, enter into the observations made by the Commissioners as to the inefficiency of the force, but would content himself with simply remarking that according to the testimony of more than a hundred witnesses it was absolutely necessary that some alteration in it should be made. What, under those circumstances, he proposed to do was to abolish the present force altogether, and to introduce the constabulary into Belfast upon the same footing as in Cork and other towns throughout Ireland. He proposed to give Belfast, free of all expense, 130 men, the charge for whom should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. But in addition to that force there would be 320 men more, half the cost of whom would be paid out of the Consolidated Fund and half out of the local funds. There would thus be altogether a force of 350 men; besides which, it was proposed that there should be two stipendiary magistrates instead of one—one of those magistrates to be a Roman Catholic, and the other a Protestant. The saving to the borough which the Bill would effect would would be very considereble. The cost of the present local force amounted to £7,481, and the saving on that amount would be no less than £1,391. With respect to night watching he might observe that the proposal was, that as in Dundalk the constabulary should take that duty upon themselves, and that the men so employed should be paid something like 6d. per head per night out of the borough funds. As to the superintendence of the new force he had simply to say that it was intended there should be two sub-inspectors entirely at the cost of the Government, and one superior officer, who would be a magistrate, but who would not usually act in that capacity, and whose salary would be £400 a year. Such were the main features of the Bill, which he hoped to be able to proceed with as speedily as possible, and which he hoped would be found of some service in preventing those disturbances which had occasioned so much pain to persons of all parties, and which he hoped would never again occur to mar the peace and prosperity of the inhabitants of one of the most flourishing towns in the kingdom.


said, there was no objection to the principle of the Bill, though its details would require alteration. He could not, he might add, concur in the opinion that the present police force in Belfast was inefficient, taking its numbers into account. He feared that the saving to the town under the Bill would not be what the right hon. Baronet anticipated, and he doubted the expediency, when the desirability of getting rid of religious distinctions was so generally talked about, of laying down a rigid rule that there must be one Protestant and one Catholic stipendiary magistrate.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to alter the distribution of the Constabulary Force in Ireland, and to make better provision for the Police Force in the Borough of Belfast, ordered to be brought in by Sir ROBERT PEEL and Sir GEORGE GREY.

Bill presented, and read 1°. [Bill 122.]

House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.