HC Deb 13 June 1865 vol 180 cc140-64

in rising to move the Resolution of which he had given notice for an inquiry into certain charges impugning the conduct of magistrates of Belfast contained in the evidence taken before the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the recent riots in that town, said, that on the 9th of February the Chief Secretary for Ireland stated that the Report of the Commissioners on the Belfast Riots would be in the hands of Members in a few days. It was not, however, printed until Easter, and he therefore could not call attention to it at an earlier period. As an Irishman, however, he would frankly confess that if he could tear this page from the history of his country he should be too happy to do so. Were these riots but isolated outbreaks, without antecedents and with no probable consequences, the best thing would be to forget them; but unhappily it was not so. The Chief Secretary for Ireland stated that the riots of Belfast went back as far as 1688. He (Mr. O'Reilly) would not go so far back as that, but he might state that during the last thirty years no ten years— no five years—no three years—ever had passed without riots of a serious character breaking out in Belfast. The last riots of this kind occurred on the marriage of the Prince of Wales. While all the rest of the Empire was rejoicing, the auspicious event was celebrated in Belfast by riot and bloodshed. The evidence went to show that there was no certainty that there would not be a recurrence of these riots, and that the only hope of their prevention was by the vigorous repression of the Executive. The Commissioners stated that there was, indeed, a danger that future riots would be more serious, because there was a probability that the combatants would be better armed. It was necessary to look back into the causes of these riots, in order that they might be avoided in future. In speaking of Belfast they were speaking of a place where the causes of disturbance still remained, and where the fires were still smouldering— et incedis perignes Suppositos cineri doloso. The first serious outbreak occurred on the 8th of August last, and the riots were not finally put down until August 20. The list of casualties gave a total of twelve deaths, eleven of which were in the Report. and one other death had since occurred from a gunshot wound. There was one case of mania produced by fright—but it was necessary to state that this was not the mayor or one of the magistrates. Not less than 312 persons were wounded. The number of gunshot wounds was ninety-eight, of which thirty were serious. It was, indeed, difficult to ascertain the total number of persons injured. The market tolls fell off in one week £50, in consequence of the danger to the market people bringing provisions to market; and the sum levied at the last sessions for the damage done to the town was about £8,000. Was it nothing that one of the first cities in the Empire should be in the hands of a mob for twelve days, that twelve lives should have been lost, and that there should have been 300 people wounded? Now, what was the cause of so extraordinary a result? What was the conduct of the authorities of the town? The first and most remarkable fact was that though during the first two days of the riots the mayor slept by night at a small distance from the town; on the 10th of August he left for Harrogate. All were anxious to escape from the cares and toil of business to some quiet spot; and it seemed to him that if they desired a harbour of refuge— a bower of seclusion—Harrogate was the place to select, for they had it on the authority of the mayor, that during the eight days that he was there he heard nothing of the riots. Now, he (Mr. O'Reilly), with another Member of that House, was in Germany at the time, and every morning the telegraph flashed the accounts of the riots to Berlin and all the German capitals, and English travellers were horrified at what was called the civil war in Belfast. At the end of eight days the mayor heard something about the disturbances, and he returned to the town. But if the local authorities were at fault, what was the executive Government doing? The late Earl of Carlisle was at that time the nominal head of the Government in Ireland, but he was absent owing to his failing health; the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary was at Tam-worth on family business, but he communicated by telegraph and gave the aid of his advice; there was but one Lord Justice in Dublin, General Brown; and the Executive was practically in the hands of the permanent Secretary, Major General Larcom. It was not until the riots had been going on for several days that 150 additiona lconstables were sent to Belfast, and not until the second week that stipendary magistrates were dispatched thither. After ten days, however, it was found necessary to make a force of about 1,000 infantry, a large body of cavalry, and some artillery entered the town, and at last, on the 20th August, the riots were put down. The case was very different in 1857, when there were serious riots in Belfast, when Lord Carlisle, not then haunted by approaching death, was Lord Lieutenant, and the reigns of Government had not dropped from his hands into those of Major General Larcom. After the riots had lasted for two days the Right Rev. Dr. Denvir reached Dublin from the Continent and, upon hearing what had occurred, he waited upon the Lord Lieutenant. But Lord Carlisle was not the man to tell Dr. Denvir, as the right hon. Baronet had once said, that "he did not care two rows of pins" for what a Catholic bishop said, and the consequence was that prompt measures were taken and the disturbances were speedily supressed. That contrast afforded a strong condemnation of the conduct of the Government on the last occasion. One of the most remarkable facts connected with the riots was the mode in which they were estimated by gentlemen of position in Belfast. A magistrate and alderman of the town stated that the proceedings of last August were not riots at all in the ordinary sense of the term—the whole was merely a series of small faction fights. Far different, however, was the testimony of a Presbyterian clergyman, the Rev. Isaac Nelson, who gave an account of the gutting of houses, and the destruction of property, and the hunting of Roman Catholics from their houses by the Orange mob. The first serious rioting occurred on the 8th of August. It was quite true, as stated by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns), that that was not the beginning of the riots, but it was the beginning of the more serious riots. It was said on a former occasion that the cause of this illegal assemblage and disturbance on the 8th August was the procession in honour of laying the foundation stone of the O'Connell monument in Dublin. Now, that was a very Irish way of accounting for these disturbances; for the procession in Dublin took place at two o'clock in the afternoon, and the intention to burn the effigy on Boyne Bridge was known in Belfast on the Saturday before. On that evening the Sandy Row party, the Orangemen, assembled in their own district with guns, as it was admitted by the police that some shots were fired, and they burnt the effigy of O'Connell on the top of the bridge. The magistrates and police were present during the proceedings. On the following day there was another assemblage, when the half-burnt effigy was burned; and on neither of these occasions did the authorities interfere to supress these riotous proceedings. The turning point was the beating of helpless women as they were going to their work by the Orange party; and this it was that provoked that spirit of retaliation which produced the fearful rioting that occurred and devastated Belfast. On Friday the 12th August the Roman Catholic Female Penitentiary was attacked and wrecked, and the factory girls going to work were beaten. At this time there was an available force of 200 men in the town. Fearing the consequences the Roman Catholic clergy were appealed to. The Roman Catholic population were told that they would be protected; but next day a great deal of violence was again used towards the Roman Catholic women, and on the Saturday two Roman Catholic priests were fired at. These acts, and the absence of the protection which had been promised for their women roused the spirit of the Catholics. On Monday, August 15, the navvies, who were chiefly Roman Catholics, turned out and committed that savage outrage—the attack on the Brown Street schools. He had no wish to extenuate their conduct, but he wished the House to understand what was the neglect of the authorities which gave rise to it, and which led to the atrocious outrages that followed in every part of the town. He believed that if the magistrates had protected the women on the previous day, or given to them afterwards the protection they had promised, these outrages would not have been committed. In referring to the conduct of the magistrates, he should express no opinion of his own, but merely state the evidence on this point. True, that evidence was not taken upon oath, and was so far deprived of weight. But the principal witnesses were the magistrates, the officers in command of troops, and other gentlemen of position; and he submitted that their evidence raised a prima facie case for inquiry. One witness deposed that on the 15th of August, when the riots were in progress, Captain Verner, a magistrate, was walking up and down the street arm-in-arm with a gentleman, and did nothing. Again, in the attack on the Pene- tentiary, a witness named Sullivan, who was connected with a newspaper in Belfast, stated that he was cruelly beaten and his head covered with blood, but that Mr. Verner, who was close by with a body of constabulary and must have seen him, made no offer of protection. Another witness stated that he saw two women apparently severely beaten, and that Captain Verner was within a yard of them, but offered no protection. That was evidence relating to a magistrate in command of the military and police which required investigation. On Tuesday, again, women were beaten when they were going to work. On the previous day the navvies, who were chiefly Roman Catholics, struck work and attacked the Protestant schools and on the Tuesday the ship-carpenters, who were all Protestants, struck work at eleven o'clock, in order to have their share in the disorder, and marched into the High Street of Belfast. No police were there. The ship-carpenters broke into two gunsmiths' shops and armed themselves with guns, and marched calmly through the High Street totally unopposed by the authorities, who, as always happened in such cases, were round the corner. Now, he came to another magistrate (Sir E. Coey), who was in command of a company of soldiers. An officer who gave evidence said that he observed that the mob, a body of sixty men, carried rifles sloped in a soldierlike fasion; that he was ready to arrest them, but that the magistrate took no step whatever for the purpose. That was a matter which required investigation. While the magistrates were engaged in searching the Pound for arms, the ship-carpenters crossed the river in boats and passed down to the place where the navvies were employed to attack them. The attack lasted for an hour, and no police came up. When all was over the only persons arrested were two of the navvies; and it was stated by one of the witnesses that this excited a good deal of ill will among the people, because they expected that the assailants would have been arrested. On the 18th a still more remarkable occurrence took place. A man named M'Connell had been shot by the police in the discharge of their duty, and it was determined to make a party demonstration of the funeral. At two Catholic funerals the clergy refused to attend unless none but immediate relatives were present. The consequence was that those funerals passed off quite peaceably. But M'Connell's fu- neral, which it was well known beforehand was to be a party demonstration, was accompanied by a procession of 2,000 persons, and it appeared from the evidence that, though they were firing shots, no interference with them was attempted. The funeral, moreover, did not take the direct road to the churchyard, but went round, accompanied by the military and police, through the public streets of Belfast. The magistrates stated that they did not expect that such would be the case; but, nevertheless, they took no efficient steps to prevent it. The officer in command of the troops said that he had sufficient force to disarm the people, but had no directions to do so; and another officer stated that no attempt was made to arrest them. The procession might have been disarmed when it was crossing the bridge, and the reason given for not adopting that course was that the people might have thrown their arms into the river—perhaps the best use that could have been made of them. On their return, too, all these people might, according to the evidence, have been disarmed without any difficulty, but no steps were taken to effect that object. Such was the conduct of the authorities, and the House would now be able to form some idea how it was that the riots lasted so many days. He did not know that further inquiry could throw any light upon the conduct of the mayor, against whom no absolute charge had been made; but against the other magistrates charges had been recorded which he should be glad to see disproved, if they could be so disposed of, but into which a due regard to the character of English justice itself rendered it absolutely necessary that some investigation should be made. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That in the opinion of this House, the evidence taken by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Belfast Riots, and laid upon the Table of this House, contains statements so seriously impugning the official conduct of certain magistrates named therein, that equity to the magistrates so accused, and a due regard to the vindication of the impartiality of the administration of justice, require that a full inquiry into the truth of these charges should be instituted by the authorities intrusted with the supervision of the magistracy of Ireland."—(Mr. O'Reilly.)


said, that he had no fault to find with the manner in which the hon. Gentleman had brought this question before the House; but he should have thought that after the discussion which had taken place upon a former occasion he would not have deemed it desirable, at the close of the Session, to renew that discussion in detail. The hon. Gentleman concluded his observations by giving a warning to the Government that the season of the year was approaching when, perhaps, the recurrence of these disturbances might take place, and said that the responsibility of maintaining the tranquillity of the town of Belfast rested mainly on the Government, in consequence of the changes which they had undertaken to make in the police arrangements. He (Sir Robert Peel) quite admitted that the main responsibility for the peace of the town of Belfast rested with the Government, and they were, he hoped, prepared to check any tendency towards the renewal of disorders, such as those which occurred last year. The hon. Member commenced his observations by saying that he should be glad that the occurrences of the past year should be forgotten; and he (Sir Robert Peel) thought it would have been better if the hon. Member had allowed bygones to be bygones, and permitted those events, as far as possible, to be buried in oblivion. Both parties in that town appeared now, he was happy to say, to manifest towards one another a better spirit, and it was not desirable that former animosities should again be raked up before their eyes. It was true that some delay had, as the hon. Gentleman had stated, taken place in laying the Report of the Commissioners on the table of the House; but the Report was ready long before the date attached to it, and it was simply to the difficulty which there was in having the evidence transcribed and brought together in one complete whole that the delay was to be attributed. For his own part, he had repeatedly urged on the Commissioners the expediency of producing their Report as speedily as possible, and the House would therefore, he hoped, be of opinion that the Government were not open to the charge which the hon. Member had made against them. There had, no doubt, as the hon. Member stated, been similar occurrences to those which he had called attention to in Belfast in former years; but the Bill which he (Sir Robert Peel) had recently submitted to Parliament would, he thought, exercise a mate- rial influence in checking such proceedings in future. That the elements of riot still existed in the town there could, he was sorry to say, be no doubt, and it was in appealing to the feelings of the better classes in it, that, perhaps, the best chance of extinguishing them lay. The late riots, as the hon. Gentleman remarked, begun on the 8th of August; but it was the fact that at the close of the first week the impression very generally prevailed that they had come to an end. That, indeed, seemed to have been the opinion of everybody on the Friday, and it was not until the following Monday that they burst forth with so much fury. The mayor of Belfast was present in the town during the first days of the riot; and then it appeared that, after consulting the magistrates, and he as well as they having arrived at the conclusion that the riots were subsiding, he absented himself from Belfast, in accordance with a pre-arranged plan, for the purposes of health. Now, he must say that he thought the mayor was wrong in leaving the town at such a time, and he himself must feel that he had not adopted a wise course in doing so, placed as he was in the responsible position of chief magistrate; hut he believed that it was the opinion of the magistrates—he knew it was the opinion of one magistrate—that there was no clanger in his leaving. He (Sir Robert Peel) was not, however, surprised that the mayor did not hear of the renewed outbreak of the disturbances immediately at Harrogate, for the first intimation which he himself had upon the subject, being absent from Ireland at the time—an absence which he deeply regretted — was from a French paper, which spoke of Belfast, Ville d'Ecosse, being flooded by a most serious riot. No more could, however, he believed, have been done than had actually been done by the Government of Ireland under all the circumstances of the case. In only one or two instances, as far as he could ascertain, had the military or constabulary force fired on the people; and indeed the great desire of the Government was to keep their hands clear from the shedding of blood—they were most anxious to avoid everything which could tend to the exasperation of the feeling which already prevailed, and they could not forget that there were at the same time riots both at Turin and Geneva, in which a considerable effusion of blood had been the consequence of the discharge of shot by order of the military authorities. The hon. Member said that it was only in the second week of the riots at Belfast that a stipendiary magistrate was sent down there; but he believed that more than one was sent down before the close of the first week.


I quoted the hon. Baronet's own words. He said that in the second week of the disturbances additional magistrates were sent down.


Yes; but two were also sent down the first week. He might further observe that it was scarcely fair of the hon. Member, although he felt sure that he had no wish to produce an erroneous impression, to allude, as he had done, to an expression which he had used on a former occasion in reference to an ecclesiastical dignitary of high position in Ireland. It was not through any want of respect for that personage that he had used that expression. He had done so in a moment of haste. He admitted that he was wrong, and the circumstance was one which he regretted. He felt sure he might add that the dignitaries and clergy generally of the Roman Catholic Church would admit that he was in the habit of conducting such communications as he had with them with the most respectful deference to their position. As to the riots which took place in 1857, and to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, he would observe that they were not carried on with the same intensity of feeling as those of last year. In 1857 Lord Carlisle did not take a very active part in the transaction of the business of the office, beyond giving advice on important questions, and recommending the course which he thought ought to be adopted; and he (Sir Robert Peel) did not think that any blame attached to the Government for not acting in 1864 as they acted in the former year. As to the attacks on schools and chapels, they had no doubt taken place—the Report was full of such details, and they were to everybody a subject of regret. He did not suppose the House was desirous that he should enter at any length into an examination of the evidence contained in the Report; but he must remark that, while the statement of the hon. Gentleman was, in the main, substantially correct, he did not think he was justified in seeking to cast blame on the magistrates. The Motion had reference chiefly to the conduct of the magistracy and of the authorities intrusted with the supervision of the magistracy in Ireland. Now, they had first to consider whether the conduct of the magistrates of Belfast had been such as to expose them to the judicial censure of the Lord Chancellor. There were several statements in the Report before them as to the conduct of the magistrates; but it would be for the House to judge whether they thought they had sufficient ground for any very stringent action on the part of the authorities. It might be that they had acted with want of judgment—that "they had lost their heads" on the occasion; but great allowance must be made for them, and the Commissioners said that, in their opinion, the existing authorities and police force of Belfast are not adequate to the future maintenance of the order and tranquillity of the borough. He did not think they would find a stronger accusation against the magistrates than want of judgment. He did at the time submit to the Lord Chancellor whether he thought it desirable that any action should be taken against the magistrates of the district. The Lord Chancellor said it was desirable to wait till the Commissioners had time to give their opinion; and he did not think any further inquiry was necessary — he thought the evidence given was sufficient to show that they had not acted with that prudence they should have exhibited; but it would be most unwise and even dangerous to set about an inquiry into the conduct of the magistrates after the investigation which had taken place before the Commission. He (Sir Robert Peel) hoped that inquiry would he final. Every one knew what was the great blot of the town—namely, the inadequacy of the local police; but he believed it would have led to exasperation if further action had been taken by the Government in consequence of these disturbances. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had referred to Mr. Lyons and Mr. Verner. Well, the case with reference to these gentlemen had been submitted to the authorities, and it was the opinion of the Lord Chancellor and the Government, looking to the depositions, that it was not desirable that any further action should be taken in the matter beyond passing the Bill now in its progress through Parliament. He did not wish to prolong this discussion. His belief was that a better feeling would spring up in the town. These disturbances had been the result of faction fights and animosities, the outbreak of which it was impossible for the Government to foresee. Every one would concur in the hope that in the future they would see a better state of things in Bel- fast. Its position, its prosperity, its character demanded that. If there was to be a rivalry in Belfast, for God's sake let it not be a rivalry of one creed against another creed, but of all classes in acts of forbearance and charity one towards another! Looking to the progress which Belfast had made under all disadvantages in everything tending to develop trade and commerce, what further advances might they not expect if all her sons and citizens united in one harmonious effort to promote her prosperity, hearing and forbearing one another!


said, that in the course of the debate some observations had been made on individuals, many of whom were intimate friends of his, and he was sure the House would extend to him for a limited time the indulgence which was always shown when individual character and reputation had been assailed, and the defence had to be made through the mouth of a Member of the House. He might take exception to the course pursued by the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly), inasmuch as in his speech he had gone into matters much wider than was covered by his Notice of Motion on the paper. He had given a history, according to his own version, of these most melancholy riots, and put his own construction on their origin, cause, and progress, and on the various occurrences that took place while they existed, altogether irrespective of the persons whose conduct he was assailing. Now, he wished at the outset to say that he did not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman in that course. He did not intend at present to resume the discussion as to the real cause of these most unfortunate riots, indefensible as they were, whether they had or had not a cause; nor did he intend to follow the hon. Member in the mode in which he dealt with the evidence before the Commission. The hon. Gentleman had selected such evidence as in his opinion made out his view of the conduct of the persons engaged in the riots during the time they prevailed. As he said before, no person could deplore the riots more than he did; and it was no consolation to him to say that one party more than another was to blame. He said much blame lay on one side or the other. The occurrence of these events was a matter they had all to deplore, and he certainly would not endeavour to keep alive passions which he hoped would now go to rest, by entering on an investigation which could do no possible good. But the case was altogether different when they took the Motion, which dealt with the character and reputation of individuals, and above all the character and reputation of that class of men of all others entitled to seek fair consideration both from Parliament and the public—he meant the unpaid magistracy of the country. In England they had boroughs where local magistrates were appointed. Their duty was in the borough. There was nothing of the kind in Belfast. There were no magistrates appointed for Belfast, except the stipendiary resident magistrate. Belfast was situated partly in the county of Antrim and partly in Down, and the magistrates of either county might act magisterially in that part of Belfast which lay in their respective county, but there was no obligation on any particular magistrate to leave his residence in the county, go into Belfast, and act in his magisterial capacity for the town. There was one magistrate—a resident magistrate—who received a salary from the country for the performance of his duties. It was his duty to perform magisterial functions in the town. The name of the Mayor of Belfast had been mentioned. That gentleman had filled the office of mayor for two successive years, and all who knew him must admit that a more upright, estimable, and sagacious man than the present Mayor of Belfast did not live. It was quite true that during his tenure of office the mayor was ex officio a magistrate, but it was not usual to consider that his authority superseded that of the resident magistrate. No doubt he was in the habit of rendering as much assistance as he could, but it was the resident magistrate who discharged the bulk of the duties connected with the town. The charge made against the mayor was, in the first place, that during the earlier days of the riots he slept out of the town. Now, Belfast was a business town, and there was not, he believed, a single magistrate who did not sleep out of it—indeed it was somewhat remarkable that the person who enjoyed the name of "Resident Magistrate," Mr. Orme, had always been permitted by the Government to reside two or three miles from the town, and was so residing when the riots took place. And that was the explanation of part of Mr. Orme's evidence when he said that upon hearing of the first appearance of a riot he came into the town, but it was all over when he arrived there. The accusation, therefore, that the mayor slept out of the town during the first days of the riot had nothing it it. The next charge was that he went to Harrogate, where, according to the hon. Member, he heard nothing about the riots for eight days. He (Sir Hugh Cairns) did not know what was the nature of the telegraphic communication between Belfast and Harrogate, or how long it ought to take to communicate between those places, but they had a curious instance of the uncertain way in which intelligence travelled in what the right hon. Baronet had stated—namely, that the first information he had of the disturbances was from a French newspaper. In referring, however, to that point he did not mean to attach the slightest blame to the right hon. Baronet; and he at once admitted that the right hon. Gentleman had given the most satisfactory reason for his absence from Ireland at the time. But to return to the mayor. He was in ill-health, and had been ordered to go to Harrogate; he had made his arrangements for going some days before, and previous to setting out had consulted the resident magistrate, Mr. Orme, who told him he might safely leave the town, and he went on the night of the 11th. Now let hon. Gentlemen be just in the position in which they stood. The mayor went on the 11th; he got a telegram on the evening of the 16th; and he started by the first train next morning for Belfast, where he arrived on the morning of the 18th. It was perfectly idle, therefore, with the knowledge we now possess of the facts, to do more than regret that the mayor was absent during those days. It was but fair that those who wished to judge his conduct should put themselves in his place. But in the meantime the Government had sent down to assist Mr. Orme two gentlemen, whose names he desired to mention as being among the most efficient of the stipendiary magistrates in Ireland—Mr. McCance and Mr. Coulson—who remained in Belfast with the usual resident magistrate during the whole of the period of the absence of the mayor. So much for the case of the mayor, to whom no impartial man would, he believed, be prepared to assign the slightest blame in connection with those events. He would next pass to the case of Mr. Verner. He should, however, first of all observe that the resident magistrate did not feel it his duty to call on any of the county magistrates to act with him until after the 12th, although the riots began on the 8th, and that he did not summon any meeting of the county magistrates until the 16th. But what was the case of Mr. Verner? Mr. Verner was a well known gentleman, a relative of the Lord-lieutenant of the county, and he was happy to say, was a personal friend of his (Sir Hugh Cairns), and he could state that a more firm, a more impartial, or a more prudent magistrate, and more humane man never lived; and even if he had not discovered some conflicting evidence in the Report— evidence which had been wholly disregarded by the Commissioners—he should say with as much confidence as he ever felt in his life, that the statement which the hon. Member had taken from the allegations of one or two witnesses could not be true. But the matter did not rest on his mere opinion, he was in a position to adduce evidence on the other side, which the hon. Gentleman did not give, and which utterly blew into the air the idle and malicious statements which had been made with regard to Mr. Verner. There was a great desire on the part of some persons in Belfast to throw blame upon the local magistrates; but it was a very curious thing that against not one of them, with the exception of Mr. Verner, was a single accusation brought. But it so happened that at the time of the inquiry Mr. Verner was the only one of the magistrates who was absent; he was in the south of France; he did not hear that a Commission was about to be held, and he did not think that anything would be done in the matter until the spring assizes. Now it was said that Mr. Verner saw two women being beaten by a mob of men, that one of them came and begged for assistance, that he had with him a party of seventy or eighty soldiers, and that he declined to interfere. But it was a remarkable thing that though there were seventy or eighty soldiers, and two officers, with Mr. Verner at the time, the witnesses were unable to identify any either of the officers or soldiers, though the officers must have been very generally known to the inhabitants of Belfast. Such a circumstance must be considered fatal to the credit of the witnesses against Mr. Verner. But two men of respectability, who did not know Mr. Verner, and had no kind of connection with him, the day after this evidence was published in the papers, volunteered to come forward and give their version of what had occurred. One of these was a Mr. James Fergusson, a Scotchman, who was no party man and had never been in a witness-box before, and he stated that he saw the attack on the two girls: that Captain Verner was not near where the assault was committed, that no appeal was made to him in witness's presence, and that he saw the whole transaction. Another person, Mr. James Hill, confirmed what Mr, Fergusson had stated; and so little weight did the Commissioners—having heard the evidence on the one side and on the other—attach to the charge, so utterly exploded did they conceive it to have been, that they did not deem it worthy of notice in their Report. With that explanation he would leave the case of Mr. Verner, and proceed briefly to notice that of Sir B. Coey. The charge against him was, that when there was a riotous mob in the street, and he was the magistrate leading a military force commanded by Captain Hale, he did not order that military force to disperse the mob and to take prisoners. Now it was all very well for the hon. and gallant Member, who had won such laurels on a well-fought field, to imagine that once they had soldiers they must have extremely easy work, and that all they had to do was to fight and conquer. But the House would remember the position of a magistrate in a case of that kind. The magistrate had with him a certain number of troops, he knew that he had power to order them to fire, to disperse the mob, and take the prisoners; but he also knew that if he gave those orders, it must lead to the shedding of blood; and it was the part of a sagacious magistrate to consider whether it was not wiser to allow a mob to pass off at a moment when he supposed it was not likely to do any particular harm, rather than force the troops under his charge into collision with it, when it was not doing actual injury to anybody. Captain Hale and Sir E. Coey were at issue in their evidence as to what then took place. He felt sure that they each stated exactly what they believed to have occurred: but everybody could easily perceive how the recollection of two persons thrown into the midst of a tumult of that kind might differ as to what had happened. Sir Edward Coey said that Captain Hale asked him whether he should order the troops to fire; and Sir Edward Coey replied, "By no means; nothing of the sort;" and Captain Hale said his question related to whether the troops should disperse the mob and take prisoners, and that Sir Edward Coey used words to dissuade him from doing that. Could anything be more natural than a misunderstanding of that kind between a magistrate and an officer? and could such a circumstance justify the language of the hon. Member's Resolution— namely, that the evidence contained "statements so seriously impugning the official conduct of certain magistrates" that "a due regard to the vindication of the impartiality of the administration of justice requires that a full inquiry into the truth of these charges should be instituted?" It was idle to assert anything so preposterous. The hon. Member also told them that on a particular day during the disturbances there were some three or four funerals of persons who had lost their lives in the course of the riots; that those funerals were largely attended, and that they became the cause of increasing disorders. Now, he felt sure there was not a Gentleman in that House who would not agree with him in saying that it was a grave error of judgment to have permitted those funerals to take place, accompanied by such numbers of people. But the hon. Member, in his zeal to attack what he called the local magistrates, had rather overshot the mark. Anybody who desired to know what occurred in connection with those funerals would find it in the Report of the Commission. There were in the town at least six stipendiary magistrates. A meeting was held in the morning of the day when the funerals were to take place, at which six stipendiary and three or four county magistrates were present. It was the stipendiary magistrates who were of opinion that the funerals should proceed without being interrupted; and not only were they of that opinion, but four out of the six were told off to accompany each funeral and take charge of it. It was a curious fact that at that meeting the only persons who suggested that the funerals should not be permitted was a county magistrate, and he was that very Sir Edward Coey whom the hon. Member attacked and accused of want of discretion ! But Sir Edward Coey was overruled, and the stipendiary magistrates were assigned to attend the different funerals, with the consequences which the House had heard. The next magistrate who had been referred to by the hon. Member was Mr. Lyons, a gentleman whose reputation was well known in Belfast. The owner of a large property, Mr. Lyons had had the good fortune early in life to receive a legal training as a member of the Bar. For many years past he had, sometimes single-handed, always with the greatest diligence, as a volunteer, discharged what might be thought to be about the most disagreeable of duties—namely, those of a police magistrate in Belfast, in which capacity his services had been of the greatest advantage to the administration of justice. A more skilful magistrate from long experience than Mr. Lyons did not exist. But it did not at all, therefore, follow that he was necessarily the best man at quelling a riot when it had gained considerable head. The charge brought against him, however, was that, having gone to one of the funerals, when he found that the crowd was armed and was firing shots, he did not order the military force accompanying him to disarm it. And the hon. Member, in martial ardour, brought forward the testimony of Lieutenant Kennedy and Colonel Lightfoot to show that the disarmament might have been easily effected. Now, it so happened that there was then a greater military authority in Belfast than those two officers — namely, General Haines— who differed toto cælo from them on that very point; and the Commissioners, being a little more impartial than the hon. Member, in their Report, after mentioning the evidence of Colonel Lightfoot, went on to say— It is right to observe that General Haines seemed to doubt whether the crowd could have been so easily dispersed here. When they found those military authorities differing whether it would have been a proper strategical movement to have endeavoured to disarm a mob under particular circumstances, surely it was rather too much to say that an unfortunate peaceful magistrate, who had never seen fields of battle, like the hon. and gallant Gentleman, was to be called upon at the spur of the moment to decide that he would take on himself the responsibility of ordering such a movement. The hon. and gallant Member also remarked that on a particular day— the 16th —the Lord-lieutenant of the county, Lord Donegall, came into the town, and the moment he appeared everything was reduced to peace and quietness, and a search for arms was made. But, if he recollected rightly, the Lord-lieutenant was in the town during the whole time, and if he had chosen to call out the posse comitatus, it would have been available; and, therefore, the very witness cited by the hon. and gallant Member went against him, He had now only to say a few words on behalf of two other magistrates—Major Mackenzie and Mr. Sinclair, who were mentioned on the testimony of a witness about which he would say no more than that any person who read it through would see what kind of evidence it was. The witness accused Major Mackenzie of neglect, and of refusing to perform the duties he was requested to discharge; but it turned out that, although Major Mackenzie was an officer in a militia regiment, and happened at the same time to be a magistrate for the county of Antrim, he had never in his life acted as one of the borough magistrates, his name not even being on the list of borough magistrates. Under such circumstances, he was justified in saying that he was not the proper person to act in the matter, and that one of the regular borough magistrates had better be applied to in order to secure the peace of the town. Mr. Sinclair, another magistrate, was accused by the same witness of neglect of duty. Now, that gentlemen was one of the leading merchants in the town, as well as one of its most efficient magistrates having been appointed by the present Lord-lieutenant of the county. It appeared that, at the time spoken of, districts were assigned to different magistrates, and they most naturally and properly declined to act out of the districts assigned to them, and when a man came up in breathless haste to him to summon him to a remote part of the town, he properly refused to comply, saying that as it was not his district he would not go there. And so little did the Commissioners think of it that when Mr. Sinclair offered himself for examination, as every other magistrate had done, the Commissioners did not think it necessary to put a single question to him upon the subject of this accusation. He thanked the House for permitting him, on the part of those absent gentlemen, to make the observations he had done in their behalf; and he would only in conclusion remind the House of what the Commissioners said with regard to the charges that had been made in the press and elsewhere against the local magistrates in respect of what was called their want of firmness during the riots. They stated in their Report that there were some errors in judgment which the magistrates might have made; but beyond that they stated, in the words of one of the most sensible and experienced of the magistrates, that they were most anxious to do their duty; but where a large number of gentlemen were armed with the same power a diversity of opinion and contradictory orders were likely to prevail, and in consequence the military and the police were crowded together in some places, whilst others were not attended to as they ought to have been, which, no doubt, was the consequence of having no head over them; it was, therefore, hardly fair to criticize too closely the course that they pursued. They also stated that the prevailing idea was (and that idea he (Sir Hugh Cairns) thought seemed to prevail in the hon. Member's mind) that from the 8th to the 18th of August there was a series of increasing disorders going on in the town owing to the apathy of the magistrates. But the Commissioners stated that this was a mistake, and that whilst they felt their proceedings were open to strong disapproval in some respects, and two or three committed serious errors, they were not chargeable with such a neglect of duty, and that the subsequent riots were wholly unexpected. He concurred in the hope expressed by the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that the measure which had been passed that Session with regard to the constabulary force would be useful on future occasions; but he did not augur that quite so much good would result from it as the right hon. Baronet did. He, however, hoped and trusted that the good sense of the people of Belfast would see, as no doubt they did, that these riots brought discredit on the town. and great affliction and injury to the people; and he agreed with the right hon, Baronet in hoping that for the future a better state of things would prevail, and that such scenes would not recur in Belfast.


said, that the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland had found fault with his hon. Friend (Mr. O'Reilly) for bringing forward this Motion on tie present occasion, on the ground that the subject had been already discussed, upon the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, at an earlier period of the Session. He thought he remembered, however, that when the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Hugh Cairns) brought the matter forward the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) said that the House could not then properly entertain it, and that the debate ought to be deferred until the Report of the Commissioners, and the evidence they had taken, were in the hands of hon. Members; and it was that plea, and the feeling that the debate was in that respect premature, which induced many hon. Friends of his to abstain from taking part in it, especially as the debate on that occasion did not run very much on the occurrences which took place in Belfast, but was rather confined to the question of the advisability of appointing a Royal Commission of inquiry. The right hon. Baronet said, "let bygones be bygones," and deprecated anything calculated to revive ill-feeling and animosity. He could not see anything in the Motion of his hon. Friend of this character. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Hugh Cairns) said he would not go into the evidence taken before the Commissioners, because he had, on a former occasion, introduced a Motion on this subject. Yet upon that occasion he declared that he had nothing to say to the causes of the riots, but only as to the expediency of appointing the Commission of Inquiry. His hon. and gallant Friend did not by his Motion make any charge against the magistrates, but merely called attention to the fact that in public documents there were certain grave statements affecting the conduct of those gentlemen which ought either to be proved or disproved. The right hon. Baronet defended the conduct of the Government in the course it took to quell the riots, and said that troops and police were sent in force to Belfast sufficient to put down the riots. But the magistrates did not use that force, and that statement was, therefore, no answer to this Motion. The hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns), who had refused to go into the case before the evidence taken by the Commissioners was before the House, now quoted the testimony of two amateur witnesses in defence of the magistrates, and particularly of Mr. Verner; but that evidence appeared to him strongly to inculpate Mr. Verner. These witness said they were within fifty yards of the spot at a time when a woman was ill-treated—and the fact that they themselves did not interfere to prevent the outrage no doubt greatly invalidated their testimony; but they also said that Mr. Verner, with forty or fifty soldiers, was almost as near. The charge against Major Mackenzie and Mr. Sinclair was, not that they refused to go outside the particular districts allotted to them, but that they refused to interfere at all, because they said "they were so much mixed up with the people that they could not do so." These were grave charges against any gentleman, especially grave against any persons in the position of ma- gistrates, and he had not yet heard any answer given to them.


said, he would not have risen to address the House on this painful subject but for the personal tone the debate had assumed, and the manner in which the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) and the hon. Member who had just sat down (the O'Conor Don) had spoken of a relative of his. The magistrates of Belfast might have behaved with indecision, or might not have been equal to the occasion; but they had never heard of riots where magistrates had acquitted themselves otherwise, and he did not see why greater sins on that account should be laid to the charge of the Belfast magistrates than any others. His cousin (Mr. Verner) had been attacked by evidence not received upon oath. There was a Commission sent down to Belfast which received evidence from witnesses upon whom no reliance could be placed, and some of them attacked his cousin, who, they knew, was absent from the town at the time. The hon. Member (the O'Conor Don) said that two volunteer witnesses had been put forward in defence of the magistrates; but his cousin had gone abroad before he knew of the Commission, and never heard of these witnesses until he saw it mentioned in the newspapers. His cousin, therefore, was not responsible for anything they might adduce; but he (Captain Verner) begged to say, on the part of his cousin, that he gave the fullest denial to all the charges brought against him, and treated them with the greatest contempt. Those charges, however, and the evidence by which they were supported, showed an animus which, he was sorry to say, had been only too rife in Belfast of late, causing the worst feeling between different classes. He ascribed the troubles which Belfast had experienced of late years entirely to the existence of a newspaper, the editor of which was one of the principal accusers of his cousin. Agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that bygones should be bygones, he should be sorry to retort on the hon. Gentleman opposite by alluding to transactions in which magistrates of opinions akin to his own had exposed themselves to censure; but he put it to the House whether Motions such as the present were likely to bring peace to Belfast. The hon. Gentleman said he was only actuated by a feeling of justice towards the magistrates. The magistrates, no doubt, were very much obliged to him; but he thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman was the last person whom they would have chosen as their spokesman and defender.


said, that while the Speaker went out to tea he had looked at The Freeman's Journal of the previous night, and there found an account of rioting at Lisburn, where an Orange mob had paraded the town with the usual insignia. The fact was that rioting was, and had long been, a permanent institution in the North—it was no accidental occurrence— and that no steps were taken for its prevention. At Belfast, where the riots attained to the dimensions of a civil war, the police were composed of young Orange lads, appointed by those most just and impartial gentlemen the Belfast magistrates. [An hon. MEMBER: Not at all; by the Corporation.] He was told that the young Orangemen of the surrounding district looked regularly for appointments in the Belfast police, and that the Corporation employed Orangemen and nobody else. The result was that these riots were continually occurring, until at last they reached such a climax that the Government had been obliged to supersede the local and substitute the general police. In thus removing, however, the humblest instruments of the riot, the Government had not done enough, for these men would not have acted as they did if their conduct had not been connived at or encouraged by the magistrates. Two instances had been given. The police in one of the affrays had captured only navvies who were Roman Catholics; and in searching for arms they had found arms only in the Catholic district. This showed a bias on the part of the superior authorities of the borough in favour of the Orangemen. He contended, therefore, that the House should go further, and instead of limiting the inquiry to the conduct of particular magistrates should inquire into the whole system of government in Belfast. Did the corporation of Belfast represent the toleration and intelligence of the whole country? As to any hope that rioting would cease, it was idle to expect such a result until you checked the dominance of the Orange oligarchy in Belfast and the neighbourhood. The barbarous bigotry of that part of Ireland was perfectly shocking. There was nothing like it in any other part of Ireland or in England. A distinguished writer had spoken of the barbarous bigotry of Scotland, and had compared it with that of Spain; and perhaps some of the in- habitants of the North of Ireland had brought their bigotry from Scotland. At all events, he was sure that until something was done to check the present system of local government in Belfast there would never be anything like order and contentment.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. M'Mahon) had raised the question from one of details to one of much general importance. When he characterised the peculiar feelings of the people of the North of Ireland by the term "bigotry," the hon. and learned Gentleman should have given some definition of the term. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman that the inquiry should he somewhat more extensive than was proposed; in his opinion, it ought to extend to the nature of the influence exercised by the Roman Catholic priesthood at Belfast, and in what particular direction it had been exercised. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated that riots had taken place at Lisburn—but had no riots taken place in London and Birkenhead? The difference between Orangemen and Roman Catholics was this—that Orangemen only thought themselves aggrieved when their heads were broken or they were otherwise maltreated; but Roman Catholics had such sensitive feelings that they could not bear a particular song, and (hey could not bear to see certain banners, or to hear certain tunes. There had been that evening a manifestation of singular humility by the Secretary for Ireland, who had apologized to a dignitary of the Irish Roman Catholic Church for the expression "two rows of pins," said he had regretted this expression ever since, and professed the greatest possible respect and deference for the heads of the Roman Catholic priesthood. What did this mean? It must be because Roman Catholics were supposed to control the minds and feelings of the people under their charge; and, in point of fact, they received from the State some hundreds of thousands a year for no other purpose that he could conceive, except that of influencing the population on the side of order and good government. Well, then, it was too much to demand inquiry into the conduct of magistrates who discharged their difficult and responsible functions voluntarily and gratuitously, and yet not call in question the conduct of men whom we thus subsidised to the extent of something like a million a year. The Orangemen in Ireland challenged inquiry into the statement that never upon any one occasion within living memory could they be accused of beginning an attack upon the Roman Catholics. He contended that they were entitled to keep in mind the traditions connected with such tunes as "Boyne Water;" and this was very often the beginning and the end of their offence. This was called rioting. The suggestion that the inquiry should be extended was an excellent one; the Government should investigate how far the Roman Catholic priesthood acquiesced in or stimulated, or ought to have interfered to prevent, the riots at Belfast.


said, the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. M'Mahon) that the Belfast police had been universally recruited from Orangemen was utterly erroneous, and was not borne out by the Report of the Commissioners, who said— A reason analogous to that which we have been just considering, assigned for the distrust in the local police, is that Orangeism prevails to a considerable extent among its members. Of the fact that it docs so prevail no proof was offered us, and the witnesses connected in any way with the force declared their ignorance of its existence among them; and generally expressed a belief that men who are, or have been, members of the Orange Society are not to be found in the police. With respect to another point touched on by the hon. and learned Member, he might mention that of the twenty-two magistrates at Belfast, thirteen magistrates were Roman Catholics or Liberals and nine were Protestants, and he was sorry that the hon. and learned Member had not been a little more accurate in his statements.


expressed a hope that the hon. Member who proposed the Motion would be satisfied with the discussion which had taken place, and would not press his Motion to a division. It was impossible to read the Report of the Commission without deeply regretting the events which had taken place at Belfast, and, no doubt, errors of judgment had been committed by various persons; but he did not think that the proposed inquiry would be productive of any other effect than that of promoting dissension. If nothing had been done it might be proper that inquiry should take place, but there was before the House a Bill, the principle of which had met with general concurrence, and the effect of which, he hoped, would be to prevent the recurrence of such disorders in future. He conceived that no practical benefit could result from the adoption of the present Motion except the revival of animosities which it was to be hoped were now allayed, and he trusted it would not be pressed to a division.


wished to make only one observation. He admired the hon. Member for Lisburn (Captain Verner) when he stood up to defend his absent relative, but he did not admire him when he attacked a man who could not defend himself in that House—a man who was worthy of the respect of all who knew him. The hon. Gentleman had said that the morbid and wicked feeling which existed in Belfast had been introduced by one gentleman, the editor of a newspaper in that town. He had the honour of knowing Mr. M'Kenna, and he assured the hon. Member that Mr. M'Kenna could not be the author of the bad feeling that existed in Belfast in 1857, as he only went there two or three years ago. He appealed to the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns)—the temper and moderation of whose speech that evening did him great credit—whether the manner in which Mr. M'Kenna had conducted himself before a Committee of the House of Lords was not such as entitled him to the good opinion of all who had read his evidence. If Mr. M'Kenna was placed in a position which called upon him to defend his co-religionists, and to expose abuses which every Irishman deplored, that was not a reason for attacking him for having instigated riots the causes of which he had laboured to vindicate.


in reply, stated that he had himself made no attack on the magistrates of Belfast, and declined to take upon himself the onus of proving the charges made against them. All he said was, that certain allegations stood in record against them in the evidence taken before the Commission, and that those statements required investigation. He expressed his determination to press his Motion to a division.

Question put:—The House divided: — Ayes 39; Noes 132; Majority 93.