HC Deb 15 June 1865 vol 180 cc319-25

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [12th June],"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to continue and amend 'The Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act, 1856.'"— (Sir Robert Peel.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, that he must oppose this Bill as he had opposed the original Act when it was brought in. A Return for which he had moved some years ago showed that the counties and baronies in Ireland were proclaimed upon the most ridiculous and frivolous pretexts. Cork, for instance, was proclaimed, not because of any crime or outrage which had been committed, but on a charge of disaffection, in the year 1848. The fact that peace and tranquillity were observable throughout the county rendered the renewal of the Act perfectly unnecessary. When a barony in Ireland was proclaimed under the provisions of this Act no person was allowed to carry a gun without a licence, and it was an easy thing for any person to make a representation to the authorities that an outrage had been perpetrated, in order that a proclamation might be issued. The Chief Secretary must have seen that persecutions had taken place under the Act. In order to show the tyranny which had been practised under its provisions he might instance one or two cases which had occurred, In Tipperary a young lad possessed a toy dagger of the most harmless description, hut his possession of this dangerous weapon having become known to the police they entered the house in which he lived and arrested him, and the boy was subsequently sentenced to a severe term of imprisonment. A short time since, in the same county, a man who had been to a fair and had become intoxicated was arrested. Four percussion caps were found in his pocket, and he was sentenced to a month's imprisonment with hard labour on the charge of being in possession of munitions of war—the lawyer by whom he was sentenced, and who acted in the absence of the barrister of the county, sapiently remarking that percussion caps were necessary for the use of fire-arms. In another case two boys taking part in the theatrical representation of Douglas were engaged in a mimic combat with old foils, when a sub-Inspector of police rushed upon the stage and took them into custody. The two lads were dragged through the streets and detained in prison during the night. No murder had taken place for a considerable time in the country, and it would be a graceful act on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw this Motion, and to leave the act to drop, at least for this year.


said, he had always opposed these Algerine Acts for Ireland. Such a thing would not be tolerated for one moment in England. The Bill was entitled, "An Act to continue and amend the Peace Preservation Act," a complete misnomer. He should like to know what amendments would be introduced by the Secretary for Ireland? Tipperary was always under the Peace Preservation Act. During the garrotting times in London he found it necessary to provide himself with a weapon, but when he went to Tipperary he was in danger of being arrested by an officious policeman for carrying weapons in a proclaimed district without having a licence, so he got a licence—a document printed in red ink—a sanguinary affair, giving him leave to carry one gun and two pistols. But this did not prevent bad characters having arms, and if a Member of Parliament passed through Tipperary with a fowling-piece and stopped at Goolds' Cross Station he would be liable to be arrested. Lord Lismore, the lord lieutenant of the county, happened to send his gun by his servant to the gunsmith for repairs, and the policeman finding him with a gun in a proclaimed district — it was the town of Nenagh—brought him before the magistrates. And sometimes it was difficult to get a licence; the landlord of one of the police barracks, who was a tenant of his, applied to the resident ma- gistrate for leave to carry arms, and he was refused on the ground that they were all thieves in that district. And in this Bill an arbitary power was given to the Lord Lieutenant to impose taxation in any district which was proclaimed a most objectionable thing.


said, he hoped it was by accident that the Bill was not brought forward at an early hour, when English Members could see the nature of it. No such law as this was ever thought of for England or Scotland: and there was no pretence for it in Ireland where there had been no recent agrarium outrages. The Peace Preservation Act had been made a source of great oppression and injustice. He hoped the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland (Sir Robert Peel) would state to the House clearly the necessity which existed for the Bill, and what clauses he considered it imperative to pass.


said, he must deny that Ireland was in a state to require the renewal of this Act. The gaols were almost empty. At the last assizes in the North Riding of Tipperary the grand jury disposed of the business in about an hour; and the judge who presided got rid of all the criminal cases in about six hours. He hoped the Bill would not be pressed.


said, he objected to Bills of this nature, which were only intended to meet cases of disturbance and agrarian outrage.


said, that the charges delivered by the Judges during the last two or three years showed that there was no necessity for any such measure as this. Instances had occurred in almost every county in Ireland in which, without its being so intended, these Acts had operated oppressively, and he, therefore, trusted that, under existing circumstances, the right hon. Baronet would not think it necessary to press this Bill. The state of the county which he represented was conclusive against the necessity for such a measure, and the opinion of Irish Members was decidedly against it.


said, he was quite ready to admit that the state of the country was vastly improved from what it was in 1860. He believed that Tipperary was as peaceful and as quiet as the streets of London. Still there were certain districts which were considered dangerous and which had been proclaimed. In conjunction with the authorities at the Irish Office he had gone carefully through the proclaimed list, and with respect to certain districts of Armagh, to which the hon. Member for Wexford had referred, it was true they were proclaimed, but the proclamation had been withdrawn, and no part of Armagh was now proclaimed. The same might be said of the counties of Wicklow and Wexford. There was a proclamation in existence since 1861 for some part of the county Mayo, but he had consulted with the Irish authorities, and to-morrow he proposed to write to inform the Lord Lieutenant that there was no longer any necessity to continue the proclamation in that particular barony. But he appealed to the House to support him in giving power to the Government of exercising this power on occasions when it might be necessary. Certainly there were instances in which the Act had been carried out with great indiscretion, especially where some young men were interfered with who were acting the part of Norval. It was much to be regretted that there had been any interference on the part of the police, who had exceeded their duty and been severely rebuked. Stories were current which he did not believe, and alarm existed in the minds of some persons which he did not share, that there were some persons of the name of Fenians who were disaffected to the Government, and it was desirable that the Lord Lieutenant should have the power of exercising this power of proclamation when necessary. Parts of the counties of Antrim and Down were proclaimed in consequence of the disturbances at Belfast, and there the measure was not taken in order to insult the inhabitants, but as one necessary for the preservation of peace and tranquility. As soon as the state of things permitted it would be revoked. He trusted, therefore, the House would support the Government in this matter. The measure had been originally passed in 1847, and had been in force for nearly eighteen years. He should be the last man in the House to get up and support the measure if he thought it not necessary for Ireland. In this country it certainly was not necessary; but everybody must admit there was great difference in the circumstances of the two countries. This power had always been exercised in the most lenient manner. The Act would, if this renewal Bill were passed, continue for two years longer, and at the end of that time it would be competent for any hon. Members who might be then in Parliament to oppose or support the Government who might ask for its renewal. But meanwhile he thought it absolutely necessary to place this power in the hands of the Government, and he hoped the House would assent to the Motion.


said, he trusted that English and Scotch Members would give the Bill some further consideration. The Chief Secretary for Ireland admitted that the Bill was of an exceptional character. No substantial reason had been given for its introduction, and he was quite certain that it would not be tolerated for England. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the state of Ireland afforded no justification for the passing of such a penal measure. Some gentleman connected with the North of Ireland asked for the Bill, because Ireland was filled with peace and contentment, and the right hon. Gentleman asked for it because Ireland had vastly improved, and was free from outrages. Tipperary was as peaceful as London, and there was no necessity for such exceptional legislation. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not believe in the existence of the Fenians, and therefore this Bill must be passed. Surely the House would not support this reasoning. He blushed with shame when he saw Volunteers parading through London while they were not permitted in Ireland. If there were any reason for this Bill, he (Mr. Maguire) would readily agree to it; but in truth there was none. The Government had not pursued a generous policy towards Ireland; and he thought that it was time that they did so. England would not bear one-tenth of such severity as the Bill proposed to inflict upon Ireland which was now in a state of permanent tranquility. The wisest policy Government could adopt would be to trust the people rather than to exhibit this continual distrust of them. He was aware it would be absurd as well as factious to fight the Bill through its various stages, but it was the duty of Members who opposed it to take one division in order to show their feeling upon the subject.


said, he thought that Government would be very unwise if they did not press this measure.


said, that his experience was, that in places which were proclaimed the Government did not carry out the law, and he instanced Belfast, where, notwithstanding the locality being proclaimed, there were a great number of arms, as was proved by the firing which took place during the recent disturbance. He should vote for the Bill in the hope that the Government would enforce it where necessary.


said, he would vote for the Bill if it were necessary, but the fact was crime in Ireland had decreased. He thought that at all events the Government should give them some distinct assurance that there was a necessity for the Bill before the House was asked to agree to it. He should like to know what local authorities the right hon. Baronet had consulted before he framed the measure, for he (Colonel Dunne) had never heard of the magistrates being consulted upon the matter, and if it were the police only who had given their opinion he must say that he should distrust them. Mere stories about Fenians should not form the ground of penal legislation. Nor did disapproval of the acts of the Government form disloyalty.


said, what he had stated was that he did not believe in the disaffection of the Fenians, of which they had heard so much; neither did he believe that the loyalty of the people of Ireland would allow of an insurrection being attempted either by that or any other body of men.


said he trusted that in the course of a few years this Bill might be altogether done away with, but thought it would be premature to permit it to drop at present. When all disturbances in Ireland ceased the Bill would fall to the ground of itself. Of his personal knowledge he could state that the local magistrates had been consulted in reference to this Bill.


said, he regretted that the right hon. Baronet had not given some stronger reasons for the continuance of this anomalous law. He (Mr. Henley) had always been very much averse to the continuance of such legislation, especially in face of the fact that there was a decrease of crime in Ireland in proportion to the population. The right hon. Baronet seemed to think no more of the continuance of this legislation than of blowing his nose. He (Mr. Henley), however, thought that they ought to know the precise grounds upon which it was proposed, and why the Government thought that the common law of the land was not sufficient to keep the peace in Ireland. This seemed at first sight a very innocent Bill, but to repeat an expression which had been used, there was a great deal of white brandy in it. He was most anxious to see the same laws in England and in Ireland, and he repeated that before they proposed such an exceptional law as this they should have a statement of strong grounds for it.


said, he wished to refer to a very peculiar circumstance connected with this Bill—namely, that during the last Administration of the late Sir Robert Peel this Bill had been introduced and rejected by a largo majority, and Sir Robert Peel was turned out. Now that the state of Ireland had greatly improved the Bill had been again introduced. It did not come with a very good grace from the party who had before resisted it.

Question put:—The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 43: Majority 92.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir ROBERT PEEL, Sir GEORGE GREY, and Mr. LUKE WHITE.