HC Deb 05 May 1865 vol 178 cc1566-70

said, that considerable interest was felt in Ireland with regard to this matter. It was doubtless well known that the Curragh, which was a large open space many miles in extent, had been used from time immemorial by the public for various purposes, sometimes military, sometimes agricultural or pastoral. A large portion of it also had been used for the racing. It was impossible to define exactly the rights of the Crown over this extensive plain; in fact, he believed that hardly any Member would venture to offer a confident opinion upon the subject. In years past the Crown seemed to have the power to give charters to certain individuals as to liberty of pasturage. Other rights had doubtless been exercised by the Crown; and of late years rights had been exercised to a considerable extent in the way of granting leases for small portions of the Curragh for various purposes. A notable instance of this had occurred lately in the plain having been taken possession of by Government for a camp and for rifle ranges in connection with it. They would find, on the other hand, that there were extensive public rights in connection with the Curragh; that rights of pasturage were claimed by certain corporate towns in Ireland; that in some Acts of Parliament the Curragh was described as a common; and that almost within his own recollection the county of Kildare appointed an officer—a Conservator of the Curragh—whose duty it was to see that no encroachments were committed. It had also been asserted by lawyers that the public possessed the right of traversing any portion of the Curragh on horseback and on foot. Some time since some women were summoned for trespassing on the Curragh, but the magistrates refused to convict on the ground that the charge could not be maintained unless the prosecution proved an ownership in the soil. A stipendiary magistrate, acting upon the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown, did subsequently, he believed, commit some of these people. The question was, however, re-considered; and it was generally held by those competent to give an opinion on the matter, that the magistrate had no right to send those persons to prison at all. He mentioned this circumstance merely for the purpose of showing how doubtful were the rights claimed by the Crown, and how desirable it was that the disputed points should be determined before any definite steps were taken with reference to the Curragh. If the rights of the Crown were to be defined by legislation, he thought that it should be preceded by inquiry, in which the public on the one hand, and the Government on the other, would have a full opportunity of stating their views. He understood that the military authorities complained of the great inconvenience resulting from the doubtful nature of their right to exercise the powers of police for the proper maintenance of discipline and order in the camp, and that it was partly with a view to remedy this grievance that the Government proposed to take the steps they intended. If the public really possessed any rights over the Curragh, those rights had undoubtedly been materially interfered with by the establishment of the camp. One-third of the Curragh was occupied by the camp and the ranges, and there could be no doubt that certain rights both of highway and pasturage were obliterated altogether. Some years ago he was informed that a Royal Commission was to have been issued upon this subject, but he could never discover that any steps had been taken in that direction. He would now ask whether it was intended to lease the whole or only a portion of the Curragh; if so, on what terms and conditions, and to whom that lease was to be granted; and whether the War or any other Department would have the right of selling or otherwise disposing of any portion of the Curragh, for other than public purposes. He wished also to know whether it was intended to propose any legislation on the subject during the present Session?


said, that since June, 1854, the Curragh had been used as the site of a large encampment. The numbers were to be limited to 10,000, but they had not always been so. The Curragh was Crown property, subject of course to those common lights referred to by the noble Lord. It was decided, after some communication between the late Lord Herbert when at the head of the War Department and the Office of Woods and Forests to lease the Crown rights to the War Department for the term of twenty-one years, subject to termination, if deemed advisable, at the end of seven or fourteen years. It was not intended to introduce any Bill during the present Session; in fact, no Bill was required to authorize the Commission- ers of Woods to lease the Crown rights over the Curragh to the War Department, As the War Department might find it necessary to erect buildings of considerable size and importance during their lease, they had asked for a right of purchase if they should find it necessary, and the arrangement upon this point was to the effect that the War Department should ascertain the value of the fee simple of the property, paying to the Crown one-half after deducting any preliminary expenses which might have been incurred, and that they should take any steps which might be found necessary afterwards for obtaining an Act of Parliament to ascertain, define, and extinguish the rights of common. With regard to the terms of the lease, the Commissioners of Woods had received from the War Department to the present time for the occupation of the Curragh and for the right of taking gravel for military roads, and for letting ground to booth-holders, £170 a year, and they had in addition to pay £350 a year to the Ranger of the Curragh, making together £520. The War Department would, therefore, during the continuance of this lease, have to pay every year the sum of £520. It was proposed that the gentleman who had acted for many years as Ranger should retire upon a pension equal to his salary, and that the office of Ranger should remain in abeyance while the lease lasted, as it was found that the exercise of the duties of his office was inconsistent with the rights of the War Department as lessees of the Crown.


wished to know if the whole of the Curragh was included in the lease?


said, that it was, subject to the rights possessed by the Turf Club for racing and other purposes. The lease had, of course, been made subject also to such rights of commoners and others as might be found to exist. All that would be leased would be the Crown rights, whatever those rights might be.


said, that when the camp at the Curragh was formed the Government said there would be no infringement of the rights of the commoners, but he had always apprehended an interference with those rights. He had from the first objected to the course adopted by the Crown in reference to this matter, because the Crown possessed no rights whatever upon the Curragh. He believed that a more atrocious invasion of public property had never been heard of. There used to be 30,000 sheep, the property of the people of the neighbourhood, kept on that plain; but the number had been reduced more than 20,000, and no compensation was allowed to these persons for the loss of their privileges. In England the Government purchased at a great expense the ground for Aldershot camp; but in Ireland they went and occupied land for a similar object in a most violent and outrageous manner. The Curragh belonged to the Irish people, and the Crown had no right or power to dispose of it. He hoped to be able to get up a subscription for the purpose of trying the question of right against the Crown. The Turf Club and the gentlemen of Kildare had acted supinely in the matter, but he trusted they would now bestir themselves in order to have the opinion of the Court of Queen's Bench on the subject. The lease which the Government were secretly arranging was a most unpopular as well as most unwarrantable proceeding, and he would do his best to resist it.


said, he was not so anxious as his hon. and gallant Friend to go to law about the matter, hut he had no conception that such a cool and deliberate scheme of spoliation as that apparently contemplated by the Government would have entered their heads. It was a matter of notoriety for years past that the Government had a faulty title to this land. But the affair was much worse than he thought, and he was glad it had been brought before the House. They had no right to transfer the land to the War Department, yet they proposed not only to do that, but to make permanent erections upon the Curragh. The camp there was a nuisance and an eyesore, and yet it was sought to perpetuate it. There was no knowing where all that would end. The Curragh was a place of national renown, and ought not to be cut up and destroyed. The bargain which the Government were about to make was not only illegal, but would be most obnoxious to the whole country. Barely 12,000 sheep were allowed to feed where there used to be 30,000, and the office of the ranger was to be put in abeyance. It was most essential that there should be an officer like the ranger to look after the Curragh and make such regulations as were required for the convenience of the community resorting to it. He earnestly hoped that Government would re-consider the matter before coming to a final determination upon it.


said, he did not think it desirable to continue the discussion. He thought the Government from what bad taken place must be convinced that it ought to pause before embarking on the illegal course which they were contemplating. He denied that the Crown had any right whatever to these lands, and maintained that there ought to be a full and fair public inquiry, with a view to the protection of the public interests, before the proposed lease was entered into. What was complained of had arisen in consequence of Irish interests not being understood by any one connected with the Government.


said, that he viewed that as another instance of the great inconvenience which had arisen since the passing of the Act 14 & 15 Vict., owing to the distinction between Crown and public property, and also of the aggressive spirit shown by the Commissioners) of Woods and Forests in encroaching upon what might be deemed public rights. The respective rights of the public and the Crown ought to be ascertained in regard to that property, and he regretted that the noble Lord (Lord Naas) had not proposed the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the subject.

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

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