§ MR. WHITESIDE
, in rising to call attention to the circumstances of the escape of Mr. Stephens from Richmond prison, and to move for Papers, said: Sir, the subject on which I wish to address the House for a short time relates to the escape of Stephens from Her Majesty's gaol at Richmond, in which he was detained. It is not my intention to enter into the large and general question which awaits discussion, as to the 741 principle or the policy which led to the Fenian conspiracy. It has not been deemed judicious until the prosecutions which have been undertaken are completed to submit to the House the views which are entertained by some, and amongst others by myself, of the policy which led to the sad events which have disgraced and damaged Ireland. The particular question which I now wish to submit to the attention of the House is a short one compared with that of the Fenian conspiracy, and well deserves the attention of those hon. Members who wish to ascertain the true condition of the country, and the state of the departments and the morals of certain officials who are intrusted with the execution of the law. Sir, the question relates to Mr. Stephens, and the first question that might naturally be asked is—"Who is Mr. Stephens?" I became acquainted with him—but not personally—during the trial of the late Mr. Smith O'Brien, in 1848. I was engaged for Mr. Smith O'Brien and General Meagher. When I first heard of Mr. Stephens he was aide-de-camp, I believe, to Mr. Smith O'Brien; and, together with Mr. O'Mahoney, he got into conflict with the police. Mr. Stephens was wounded, and then, with his accustomed dexterity, he managed to quit Ireland, and fixed his abode with O'Mahoney at Paris. There, I am informed, he studied French and other revolutionary accomplishments, and every thing which a gentleman undertaking so serious a matter as the overthrow of the Irish Government ought to acquaint himself with prior to embarking in so perilous and desperate an effort. He afterwards returned to Ireland and was introduced to many respectable families as a teacher of the French language, and I have heard that he was esteemed and admired for his qualifications. Towards the year 1858 or 1859, a Conservative Government being then in power, the Earl of Eglinton, the Lord Lieutenant, from his habit of reading the police and magisterial reports, perceived plainly the beginning of a conspiracy in Ireland, and after some time it was found to be connected with persons in America. My noble Friend the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas), who was Secretary for Ireland, recommended that a faithful agent should be despatched to America, to discover whether there was any reality in the truth of the statement that the conspiracy had a connection with persons in that country; that person returned 742 and reported that it had, and that in his judgment there was a dangerous confederacy in America in connection with the movement in Ireland. After a time it was discovered that Stephens was the person who had organized this second conspiracy, and in the case for the Crown, prepared by a most efficient officer (Sir Matthew Barrington), the following facts, which were afterwards proved in evidence, were stated—It further appears that the members of this treasonable confederacy have bound themselves by oath to carry out their designs; but no trace of pass-words or secret signs has been discovered. The earliest fact which has been ascertained appears to be that a person, named Stephens, and who was also known by the soubriquet of 'Shuke,' and who was implicated in the insurrectionary movement of 1848, was in this country last summer, and that he traversed the localities mentioned, organizing this society, and giving to certain persons the form of oath which they were to administer to others for the purpose of extending the operations of the society.That oath was proved on evidence, and the terms of it will give the House to understand what an unhappy event has been the escape of Mr. Stephens. The oath, which these persons took, was in the following terms:—I, A. B., do solemnly declare, in the presence of God, to renounce all allegiance to the Queen of England, and do my utmost endeavours, at every risk, to make Ireland an independent democratic Republic; and that I shall take up arms and fight, at a moment's warning, and shall yield implicit obedience to the commands of my superiors; and that I will preserve inviolable secrecy with regard to brotherhood; and finally, I take this oath without any mental reservation—so help mo God.Two or three witnesses proved the connection of Stephens with these proceedings; and to show the character of his friends, who acted with him to the last moment of his arrest, and were so properly prosecuted lately by the Government (and I admit that from the time the Government acted we have reason to be thankful for the conduct of the officers, magistrates, juries, and Judges) I will read a short extract from a letter of one of the conspirators—Dear Sir,—I am ever ready to do my utmost to promote the cause and achieve the reality of nationality; I am, therefore, your servant in any undertaking to obtain that result; but I differ with some sentiment expressed in the seventh paragraph of your prospectus, inasmuch as I do not believe that the Saxon will ever relax his grasp except by the persuasion of cold lead and steel. No, never! cold steel: to that it must come at last, nor quake to hear it spoken; by the blow alone which we strike can the chains of the despot be broken; and, if I take the liberty to offer another remark, I would say that too much is said 743 about the divinity of our own creed, and when a principal object is to promote union among Irishmen. Excuse the liberty I have taken, and wishing God speed to the cause.I should mention to the House that the following statement was made by myself as Attorney General in 1859 as to Mr. Stephens:—It appears that a person, who I deeply lament to say has escaped the hands of justice, who was known by the name of 'Shuke,' but whose real name was Stephens, appeared about a year ago in this county, sometimes in Skibbereen, sometimes in Bantry, sometimes in Kenmare, sometimes at Killarney. He is described as one of the patriots of 1848, and therefore more qualified than another to guide the movement of 1858. I will prove that this man Stephens was the person through whom it was understood the Americans would come over to Ireland, aided by the French, to conquer the country; that the conspirators were to have money from America and soldiers from France. This man 'Shuke' you will find constantly referred to as the person through whom foreign aid was to be obtained, and that bears directly on the overt acts laid in the indictment.The result of the trials in 1859 was that the man who was tried at Killarney was convicted, and the judgment, which was not severe, considering his offence, was ten years' penal servitude. A motion was made for the discharge of certain persons who were not tried in Cork, which I thought it my duty to resist, believing them to be all guilty of high treason, and the Court of Queen's Bench refused to discharge them. Accordingly they were left in custody until the Government of Lord Derby was obliged to retire. The right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Cardwell) then became Minister for Ireland, and I will ask him hereafter to explain his policy. The first thing that occurred was the discharge from custody of all those persons who, after pleading "not guilty," had withdrawn that plea and pleaded "guilty," and among them the writer of the letter I have read; and then Mr. Stephens, who had fled the country, returned to Ireland for the third time. I do not make any charge of motives against the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies. My belief is that he failed to comprehend the character of these men. The right hon. Gentleman is amiable and courteous, accustomed to live among plausible politicians, and could not comprehend the character of Mr. Stephens. In one sense I have a respect for Mr. Stephens. He is a daring revolutionist and enthusiastic Republican, and the right hon. Gentleman was no more 744 qualified to deal with such a man than a child. These men had a policy and a conviction, and I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman could have dreamt that they had abandoned their opinions because they had been discharged from prison. We did not hear anything of Stephens for some little time afterwards; but after the right hon. Gentleman had been the Minister for Ireland, for about fifteen months, a grand demonstration was got up in honour of the memory of M'Manus, who had been convicted of high treason in 1848 with Smith O'Brien, and who was described as having risked his life for his country. That procession did take place—it was said that there was no human body in the coffin—but whether that were so or not, no prayers were said; but they did not want prayers; what they wanted was revolutionary speeches, and these were delivered at the place of interment without any interference on the part of the Government of the day. The next thing we hear of Mr. Stephens was the formation of the present conspiracy which dates from the Chicago Convention in 1863. Stephens was there. Ho must certainly be a man of considerable ability, because he influences the masses with more success and secresy than any man who has been in Ireland since Wolfe Tone. But it does also appear that by means of passes he got access to the troops in America; he addressed himself to the regiments of the American army, to a great extent composed of Irishmen, and he held out to them the prospect of paying us a visit and those compliments, the result of which would be so very agreeable to themselves and so very disagreeable to us. Then we have an account of what he did in Ireland. A remarkable paper was produced at one of the trials in Ireland, which gave a description of Stephens, from his own lips. It said, "I dined at the tables of the rich; I slept in the cabins of the poor; I traversed the country from end to end"—and I wish I could say I disbelieve him, when he adds, "I enlisted," that is, brought into the Fenian conspiracy, "about 60,000 men." He accomplished that in about two years, from 1863 to 1865. He paid several visits to America. He organized a conspiracy there, said to consist of 250,000 men; and then he founded in Dublin what the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Sir John Gray) so well described as the revolutionary journal, The Irish People, every line that appeared in which during the two years of its existence was 745 treasonable; but the fact that Stephens was the real conductor of it was quite enough to explain this. For two or three years he was the ostensible manager of that journal. When I say "ostensible manager," I mean that he directed all those persons whose names have been heard by the House, The Government of the country most properly placed a detective to watch Stephens. He followed him in April, 1865, to Cork, where he stated that Stephens had no fewer than seventy visitors in one day, some from America, engaged in the concoction and development of one of the most detestable conspiracies that ever existed in our own or any other country. While the j conspiracy was thus developing itself everyday, it did occur to the Government, I believe, in September, 1865, to act. 1 quite agree with the statements made by the Judges and Law Officers, that there was I overwhelming proof of a general conspiracy among certain classes in Ireland—not, as in our time, confined to parts of Cork or Kerry, but a general conspiracy, composed of persons of a certain class—quite distinct from the middle class and the substantial farmers—but a very large and effective class, complaining of no particular grievance, but organized, controlled, and influenced by Stephens for one object—the overthrow of the British Government in Ireland. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite may talk as they please of the fiddle-faddle of Reform to those men—they may offer them any reduction of the franchise; but what they want is the country, the redistribution of the land, the abolition of landlordism, and the establishment of a system of Republicanism similar to what exists in the United States. Well, when Government began to act, they acted vigorously; and when the agitations connected with the election had subsided, on the 15th of September, they made a seizure of everything that could be found in the office, of The Irish People. That office is within two minutes' walk of the head police-office and within three minutes' walk of the Castle. It was a weekly journal, and had a circulation of 8,000. It occurs to me here simply to say that 1 think, as the seizure of Stephens would have been more advantageous to the country than that of 10,000 peasants, it does appear somewhat remarkable that when the Government had detectives on his motions it never occurred to them to arrest him first; because he was really the head-centre and leading man of the whole movement. Mr. Justice Keogh is 746 reported on the trial of Moore to have said of him—They had heard a great deal about a person named James Stephens, and he thought there could remain little doubt in the mind of any one that lie was the heart and soul of this confederacy; that he was even the prime mover—that he was, in fact, its great executive officer; and as it struck him that those who were acting in America, even J. O'Muhoney himself, were acting under the suggestions and under the control of this very James Stephens.That is the description which was given of him by the learned Judge, and there can he no doubt of its accuracy. On the day on which The Irish People was seized Stephens was in a house in Denzille Street; and when told of the seizure he said he had always anticipated that would occur, but that it would not interfere with the movement. He then pocketed his six-barrelled revolver and walked quietly out of the house, and for six weeks or two months nothing was heard of him. Diligent search was made for him, but he was nowhere to be found. Three times had this man been engaged in insurrectionary movements against the Queen, and while they had seized I do not know how many of his confederates the great chief and head of this conspiracy was for a considerable time unheard of. He was arrested and lodged in Richmond Prison in November; and here I may be allowed to pay a passing compliment to the admirable officer who conducts the Dublin police, a force whose conduct has been most exemplary; and I take great pleasure in saying so, because eleven-twelfths of them are Roman Catholics, and their fidelity has never in any instance been shaken. One morning in November Colonel Lake surrounded a villa about a mile from town, and Stephens was seized. Three or four other persons were in the house with him. I do not believe there was any cowardice in the case. Everything was done so suddenly that the whole party was taken as by surprise. There was a knock at the door. Stephens, who had expected some one, came down in his night dress. He was told if he did not open the door it would be broken in, He knew his position, and accordingly he surrendered. I suppose the House never heard of such a scene as occurred when he was brought before Mr. Stronge, the magistrate Stephens denied his magisterial authority. He told the Justice with the utmost composure he could not recognize his jurisdiction, because the Queen had been deposed, Every word he used that day 747 would have convicted him on his trial. The magistrate warned him the officials would take down his revolutionary statements; but he met them with courteous defiance. He turned round to the detectives and told them what he thought of them and their schemes in arresting him, and under the circumstances with a defiant air he maintained his position. He was committed for trial. I think with such evidence as they had of his own language no jury would have hesitated one instant in convicting him—for the conduct of the juries in Ireland deserves more respect and praise than they have yet received. In every part of the country their verdicts have been discriminating and firm. Stephens is lodged in Her Majesty's prison, and he was as safe in Richmond Prison as Her Majesty in Windsor Castle. I have I think sufficiently described the character of Stephens. He had been three times engaged in insurrectionary movements, and having been brought before the magistrate, the responsibility of the executive Government now began. That responsibility is not to be fixed on any inferior or subordinate person. The executive Government cannot escape the responsibility of explaining to the House what was their conduct in the matter, and how it happened that Stephens escaped. He could only escape by a combination of three circumstances; first, that no military guard had been sent to the prison; second, if there was a sufficient guard of police, it must have been withdrawn; and third, the inmates of the prison—I mean the officials—must have been greater traitors than the rebels they were intended to guard. These three circumstances must have concurred. Did they concur? Some of his confederates had been imprisoned in September; he was arrested in November. The Richmond Prison is supported chiefly by the ratepayers of Dublin, and in a weak moment—I say it with great respect—Lord Clarendon, as if to do the popular thing, gave to the Board of Superintendence, which is elected by the Dublin corporation, the power of submitting to him the names of the officials who were to be appointed on the staff of Richmond Prison. In point of fact, the appointments rested with the Crown, and up that time the Crown only allowed the authorities to announce the fact that a vacancy had occurred, and then filled it up by appointing some fit and proper person—by which I mean a person of fidelity—one who would not take the 748 pay of the State in order to betray the State. We have all our failings, and a corporate body is not indisposed to possess a little patronage. The corporation of Dublin, therefore, on an address to Lord Clarendon in 1851, obtained this patronage. They continued to exercise it, and I freely admit that Lord Wodehouse had no more to do with the appointments than I had. That, however, is not the point. Two or three Reports have been laid before Parliament, in which it appeared that prisoners' escapes had been made from the Richmond Prison. Mr. Stephens is lodged there by the act of the executive Government. They might have lodged him in another prison, or they might have placed a guard of soldiers there, or have added to the number of the constabulary, or have taken any step they thought fit. If they had said to Colonel Lake, "We have succeeded in arresting this dangerous revolutionist, guard him until his trial," I do not believe he would have escaped. In 1848, when a number of conspirators were confined in the same prison, a military guard was sent down, and the prisoners were kept in safe custody until they were tried and convicted. But on this occasion no military guard was sent down, and, to the astonishment of every loyal man in Ireland, Mr. Stephens escaped. It was a very extraordinary occurrence, and as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth (Sir Robert Peel) was then Secretary for Ireland, I suppose he will be able to explain the matter to the House. It is said that some of the officials were suspected of being Fenians. It is also said that there was a guard of twenty-five policemen, and that twenty-two of them were removed. I wish to ask if that is the fact; and, if so, whether they were removed after the great head of the conspiracy was lodged in the prison, or immediately before it? Secondly, I want to know whether the executive Government were aware of what passed between the Board of Superintendence and the Governor whom they had appointed. It seems that the Board got up a discussion as to who was to bear the expense—the expense of a few pounds—of maintaining the extra police sent to the prison; their argument being that the ratepayers ought not to keep State prisoners, and that persons about to be tried for high treason should be maintained by the State as was done in 1848. I think a more miserable dispute under the circumstances cannot be conceived. The Government, 749 however, must have had notice of the fact; they must have received an intimation that the Board declined to pay for the extra guard. But the result was that they were removed, only three extra policemen remaining; and I have been told by a military gentleman that it requires at least three soldiers to make one sentry; so that in this large prison there were only three additional policemen, of whom one would be the sentry, and he was carefully locked off at a spot where he could neither see nor hear Stephens should he attempt to escape. As to the military, it has been stated—and it is to the credit of Lord Wodehouse—that an order was written or sent for a military guard to be despatched to the prison. Now, we are fortunate in Ireland in having one of the best soldiers of the British army in command of the troops there—I mean Sir Hugh Rose, and I venture to say that if any such order had reached him it would have been promptly obeyed. It is asserted, however, that the number to be despatched was only six; so that if it had arrived it would have sufficed only for two sentries. But it did not arrive, and that, therefore, is the second event essential to secure Mr. Stephen's exit. There were plenty of soldiers and plenty of police to be had, but no precautions were taken for the safe custody of a man who had thrice already committed treason, and whose life was forfeited if the Crown choose to try him on that charge. The consequence was, that, to the unspeakable alarm and indignation of loyal people in Ireland, this extraordinary individual disappeared from the Richmond Prison. Now, the question arises, when did he quit it?—for I do not believe he was in any hurry, but that he left just when it suited his purpose. Some say that in the dusk of the evening of the 22nd or 23rd of November a cab drove up to the door, and that this gentleman who had committed high treason descended and drove away. It was sworn, however, when a particular warder was tried as an accessory, that he was in custody on the morning of the 24th. One feature in this extraordinary case was, that two tables—too heavy to be carried by one man—were carried and placed against the wall, one on the top of the other, evidently with the intention of leading to the conclusion that he had got over the wall. That, however, was found to be perfectly absurd, and was a mere sham, in which nobody believes. What is believed is that false keys were provided 750 by some of the officials, who, though paid by the State, shared the same opinions, and who assisted Stephens at the moment he thought fit in making his exit from that prison, into which he has never been recommitted. But who is responsible for his escape? It has been said that the Board of Superintendence are responsible, or that the Inspectors of Prisons are responsible; but, Sir, I maintain that nobody is responsible but the executive Government. The inspectors are not magistrates; they have not the care of prisoners; they simply make an annual Report on the state of the prisons which they visit. The Government of the country had to prosecute these conspirators; they had got possession of the leader of that conspiracy, and they had him in their prison; there was a guard of police, but it was removed; a guard of soldiers was intended to be sent down, but it never arrived; and then with the assistance of persons within the prison, and by means of false keys, artistically made, and which therefore could not have been procured in a moment, the chief of the revolutionary party walks abroad and is now, notwithstanding the very large reward, amounting to several thousand pounds, offered for his arrest, in perfect safety. I have only stated what has appeared in the public press, for of course I do not know the exact facts of the escape as they are known to the Government; but I say it is one of the most disgraceful transactions that have ever taken place in Ireland, and that it reflects discredit upon the department in which it occurred, and fills the mind of loyal people with suspicion as to the efficiency of other departments. For what are we to expect if in the capital of the country, with a large garrison, with an ample force of police, a revolutionary character of this kind, who has organized a great confederacy against the Crown, walks out of prison just when it suits his convenience? How can we expect the law of the land to be administered with integrity if such a transaction as that can occur, and can occur with impunity? For I deny that the inspectors of prisons were responsible: I deny that the corporation of Dublin were responsible: I deny that the magistrates were responsible:—I assert that the then Irish Secretary, who had authority in the name of the Lord Lieutenant to command the whole military power of the country, ought to explain to us under what circumstances it was that no guard of a military character was placed in the prison, that the 751 civil guard was removed, and that Mr. Stephens is now at large. I think the circumstances are deserving of an investigation on the part of this House, and I wish to know whether any inquiry has been ordered, or any Report made to the executive Government, and whether there will be any objection to lay such Report on the table of the House?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAWSON)
It would he idle for me, Sir, to attempt to follow the right hon. Gentleman through the very long statement with which he has favoured the House upon a very small matter—["Oh, oh!"]—small. I mean, in point of relative importance. The event of which he calls for an explanation—namely, the escape of Stephens—occurred in November last; but the right hon. Gentleman has commenced with the year 1848, and has given the House a long narrative of events from that time down to the present. The right hon. Gentleman is always amusing, always entertaining, and never more so, I think, than when he gives range to his fertile imagination, as he has done to a great extent upon this occasion; because the transactions which he has been narrating are based upon hearsay, and not upon personal knowledge, and a great many of them, I am in a position to state, rest upon no solid foundation. The right hon. Gentleman began by commenting on the policy which led, he says, to these sad events. He brings forward no definite charge against the executive Government of having failed in their duty; but he takes the opportunity of moving for papers in relation to a particular transaction to bring charges and insinuations against the conduct of the executive Government, and announces his intention of calling attention on a future occasion to the policy of the Government as having led to those lamentable events. Now the Government, I beg to tell him, challenges inquiry into that policy. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he had been waiting for the close of the prosecutions; but I must remind the House that the Special Commission at which those men were tried concluded early in the month of February, and Parliament has been sitting from that time to the present, yet the right hon. Gentleman has brought forward no Motion impeaching the conduct of the executive Government in relation to the proceedings:—if ever he does so, the Government will be prepared to meet him. Sir, the 752 late period at which the proceedings were instituted against The Irish People, which, he says, had been circulating treason for a considerable time, and he stated that these proceedings were not taken till the month of September, 1865, after the turmoil of the general election. What is the meaning of that? Is it worthy of the right hon. Gentleman? Does he mean to impute unworthy motives, and to say that any Gentleman intrusted by the Crown with the conduct of a prosecution in Ireland, having in his possession evidence sufficient to convict a prisoner for treason, would from political motives shrink from instituting those proceedings in order that he might not prejudice the Government of which he was a Member on the eve of a general election? I think the House must be surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who has filled the office of Attorney General for Ireland, should venture to throw out insinuations against the Irish Law Officers of the Government which are without the slightest foundation. Sir, until the very eve of the period when these proceedings were instituted, and which proceedings even my right hon. Friend is obliged to confess were fairly and successfully conducted, Her Majesty's Government bad not in their possession the evidence necessary to enable them to take action; and without that evidence, failure, and not success, 'would have followed. The right hon. Gentleman gave the House a report from his own instructions of what took place in 1848, and then he brings forward a story of what took place in 1858, which was never proved in a court of justice. The only evidence he could give the House was reading from the brief given to him in 1859, when he was at Cork to conduct a prosecution. No fact was brought forward to prove the connection of Stephens with the conspiracy of 1858. That was a miserable affair, and was confined to a few corners of Cork and Kerry. The right hon. Gentleman seeks to magnify himself by casting a halo around Stephens. That proceeding, conducted by the right hon. Gentleman, had a very singular result, for he being Attorney General, and the hon. and learned Member for Wexford (Mr. George) being Solicitor General, they had fourteen or fifteen prisoners to try in the gaols of Cork and Kerry. In one case tried in Kerry the jury disagreed, and the right hon. Gentleman did not try any other prisoners there. He then went to Cork. There were a number of men in right hon. Gentleman complained of the Cork gaol, but the right hon. Gentleman, 753 without giving any reason whatever, flung up his case and retired, leaving all the prisoners untried. The Solicitor General was sent back to Kerry, and put on his trial again the same man he had tried before. He was the only prisoner found guilty, and the only result of the prosecution which the right hon. Gentleman has described with so much pomp was, that the jury disagreed in one trial and he convicted one prisoner. The right hon. Gentleman then went out of office, without having tried any one else. The right hon. Gentleman charged the present Secretary for the Colonies, who was at that time Chief Secretary for Ireland, with great impropriety in having allowed some of these persons to be set at liberty, But the Secretary for Ireland had nothing to do with that. The liberation of these persons was in the department, and was done under the advice of the Attorney General of the day; and having regard to the manner in which those prisoners were left in gaol untried, the only rational proceeding which the Attorney General could take was to advise the Crown to discharge them. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the funeral of M'Manus in 1861. He gave us a perfect romance about Stephens having gone to America and organized a convention at Chicago. Now, I am aware, from documents in the possession of the Crown, that Stephens was not there at that time, or until March, 1864. I should trespass too much on the patience of the House if travelled through all the statements which the right hon. Gentleman has made, most of them resting on no better foundation. He says that Stephens was the ostensible proprietor of The Irish People newspaper, [Mr. WHITESIDE: I said he was the director.] So far from that, he never appeared in any way as connected with that newspaper; and it was not until the fortunate action of the Irish Government in seizing the papers and documents in The Irish People office that it was shown he was secretly the organizer and promoter of that journal. To the eye of the world, and even to the police, he was utterly unknown as being connected with it. Then, the right hon. Gentleman complains that the Government did not arrest Stephens at that time. But on the night on which the seizure was made Stephens was in Dublin, and, a friendly person having probably brought him the news, he most judiciously retired, and was not found until two months afterwards. Then, the right hon. Gentle- 754 man comes to the most important matter—and I quite agree with him that it was a most unhappy and unfortunate event—the I escape of Stephens, The question is—are I the executive Government responsible for that escape? Did they neglect any fair precautions, or any care in the custody of the prisoner? It they did they deserve the censure of the House and the country. The government are perfectly willing to meet the charge whenever it is brought forward But what does the right hon. Gentleman do? Moving for papers and for the Report of the Inspector General of Prisons, which he knows perfectly well has been presented to the Irish Government, and which will be laid upon the table of this House, the right hon. Gentleman takes the opportunity of making charges against the Government without; taking the precaution of seeing how far those charges are sustained, as he might have done if he had only waited for the production of those papers. Is it worthy of the position of the right hon. Gentleman in this House to take this course, to go back for years, and throw out insinuations against the Government which no one would ever have the hardihood to put into form and shape? The right hon. Gentleman was acquainted with the earlier prosecutions of 1848 and 1858, but his services were not called into requisition on the occasion of the more recent trials.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
Those persons to whom my right hon. Friend refers did ask me to defend them; but I declined to do so, because I had prosecuted them before.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAWSON)
I am quite aware of that. The right, hon. Gentleman; was not engaged in these proceedings. He had no personal knowledge of them, and all his information was derived from reading the newspapers. He told the House with great pomp that Stephens was committed to Her Majesty's prison—by which he conveyed to the House that the Richmond Prison at Dublin is under Her Majesty's control, and that Her Majesty could order anything she pleased to be done it that prison. My right hon. Friend ought to be aware that that prison, like others of its class, is governed by a Board of Superintendence, and that it was under their rules and by-laws. It is the legal prison for persons taken into custody for offences committed in Dublin, and Colonel Lake had no right to keep Stephens in his custody. He could not supersede the 755 Board of Superintendence, and the Governor of Richmond Bridewell was the person responsible for the safe custody of Stephens. The right hon. Gentleman goes back to 1851, and finds fault with Lord Clarendon because he assented to a proposal made to him by the corporation of Dublin, that, although he legally had the nomination of these officers, he should delegate to the corporation the appointment, upon the condition that the persons nominated should undergo a certain probation, and if found qualified that they should then have the appointment. Upon that statement the right hon. Gentleman founds a charge against Lord Clarendon, but he forgets that that arrangement was confirmed by several successive Lords Lieutenant, and that Lord Eglinton, who was twice Lord Lieutenant, and under whom the right hon. Gentleman was Attorney General, expressly confirmed that arrangement. That will give the House an idea of the sort of foundation upon which these charges rest. He then tells us that there was a dispute about the expenses of the additional police employed to guard these men. I have only to say that the Board of Superintendence met and said that if extra men were required, it was only reasonable that the Government should pay for them. That question, however, was never decided one way or the other. But the fact remains that the Governor, who had been in charge of this prison, since 1848, having represented to the Government that he required the services of additional police in order to secure the prisoners, his application was at once granted; and when he represented that he required a military guard Government sent directions to the military authorities to place an ample force at his disposal. The military authorities, having ascertained that there was accommodation for the troops at the prison, directed the town major to send a military guard there; but the Governor, without communicating with the Government on the subject, informed the town major that he did not want the guard at that particular time, and that when he required the services of the troops he would send for them. Now, I contend that the Government did all that in them lay. They placed the troops at the disposal of the Governor, and they remained under the belief that he had accepted, as he should have done, the services of a military guard, and they never knew that he had refused that assistance until after the escape of Stephens. They directed an extra police force to be sent to 756 the prison, and they were not aware that the Governor had, without communicating with them, reduced that force. Having done all in their power to render the custody of the prisoners secure, various charges were now brought against them because an officer who had long had the control of the prison had, unknown to them, acted improperly and negligently, and had intrusted the prisoners to persons who were treacherous, and who had been bribed. The Governor has paid the penalty—he has been punished for his misconduct by being removed from his office; and the power of appointing the officers of the prison, which since 1851 was intrusted to the corporation, has been resumed by the Executive since this unfortunate and calamitous event took place. The right hon. Gentleman asks if there has been any Report made to us upon the subject. Why, he is well aware that such a Report was made, and that it was circulated in every newspaper in Dublin. That Report we are perfectly ready to lay upon the table, together with all other papers relating to the subject; and when they are laid upon the table of the House I defy the right hon. Gentleman to found any charge upon them against the executive Government. What more could the Government have done? They have crushed this conspiracy and incipient rebellion without shedding one drop of blood, and they are in a position to point out that by the exertions they have used every one of the persons immediately engaged in the conspiracy has been brought to justice. But surely the right hon. Gentleman should have some sympathy with those placed in a position of such great and serious responsibility. He who has himself filled the office of Attorney General for Ireland should have had some sympathy, some generous feelings for us when we were discharging our difficult task, and even if his critical eye detected a few shortcomings on our part, surely his generosity should have induced him to overlook them. But I am happy to say that there is nothing in our conduct requiring forgiveness at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. We ask not for the indulgence, the sympathy, or the generosity of the right hon. Gentleman. We are here ready, willing, and able to defend ourselves from any charges he may think fit to bring against us. I ask the right hon. Gentleman what more he could have done to prevent the escape of Stephens than was done by us? Would he have authorized Colonel Lake to 757 enter the prison at the head of the troops and to turn all the officers out of it? Would he have kept guard at the door of Stephens' cell, occasionally relieved by my hon. Friend the Member for Wexford? I believe the duty of the Law Officers of the Crown is to prosecute those prisoners who are proceeded against, and that duty we were willing, and I may perhaps say, able, to perform. I feel I have left a great deal unanswered, but I have said enough to show that the charges made against us by the right hon. Gentleman do not rest upon any sure or solid foundation. I repeat that we are quite ready to lay upon the table of the House any Paper that has come into our hands upon this subject, and to challenge the right hon. Gentleman to found upon them any charges against the Government in respect of the escape of Stephens and the conduct of the prosecutions of the prisoners. We court the fullest possible inquiry into the matter, and we are not afraid of the result.
§ MR. GEORGE
said, the right hon. and learned Member who had just sat down (Mr. Lawson) had attempted to show that the Conspiracy of 1859 and the present disturbances were utterly unconnected; but, as one who had been engaged in the trials which took place at the former dale, he (Mr. George) ventured to differ altogether from the right hon. and learned Member on this point. The conspiracy which existed at the present time under the name of Fenianism was identical with that which existed in 1859 under the name of the Phœnix Conspiracy. Many of the witnesses who were examined on the trials in 1859 referred expressly to Stephens, under the name of Shuke or Power. It was then stated that aid in men and money was expected from America—he was speaking in the presence of the Solicitor General for Ireland, to whose candour he appealed to corroborate his statement—the only difference between the Conspiracy of 1859 and that of the present time was a difference of degree. At that time a large number of Irish emigrants went to America, many of whom entertained bad feelings towards this country, and they openly expressed a desire to return and aid in getting up a treacherous conspiracy in Ireland. The Conspiracy of 1859, therefore, was identical with that now in existence, only the latter had attained a greater power and strength in consequence of the hundreds and thousands of men who had 758 been disbanded at the termination of the American Civil War. With reference to the Phoenix trials of 1859, it was true, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman had stated, that he (Mr. George) had himself conducted the trial of one of the prisoners; and he believed he was correct in stating that ten of the jurymen were in favour of a conviction, and only two could not be brought to agree to a verdict of guilty. On that occasion the remarkable expression was uttered in open court—That the Crown might thank itself for the acquittal through having allowed those two men to go into the jury box who were no better than the prisoners themselves.Again, at the trials which took place at Cork, the counsel for the Crown, after consultation, came to the conclusion that the then constitution of the jury did not warrant them in proceeding with the prosecutions, and the trials were accordingly adjourned. In consequence of the unavoidable absence of his right hon. and learned Colleague (Mr. Whiteside) in London, the whole conduct of the second trial at Tralee fell upon himself, and he might state that every effort was made to defeat the administration of justice. Demurrers were taken at I different stages of the proceedings, the juries were challenged, and then one of the counsel—one of the ablest men at the bar—refused to proceed with the defence of the prisoners, and the case was left in the hands of the junior counsel. Under these circumstances, after the evidence had been given, and after the most humane charge ever heard in a court of justice had been delivered by the most able, the most humane, the most acute, and the kindest hearted man that ever graced and adorned the bench—he alluded to Baron Greene—the jury, after due consideration, brought in a unanimous verdict of guilty. He referred to these facts in answer to the observation of the Attorney General for Ireland, that the Phœnix Conspiracy of 1859 was of a trifling nature. The learned Judge who presided over those trials, after going through all the facts and circumstances of the case, was clearly of opinion that the evidence given proved the existence of actual treason. He could not help saying that the conduct of the Government in discharging from custody one of the most dangerous members of that conspiracy was open to grave censure. That discharge was made, he believed, without the concurrence of Baron Greene, shortly after a change had taken place in 759 the Government, that learned and humane Judge being, as he understood, not even consulted in the matter. Had he been so consulted he was convinced that Baron Greene would never have approved that discharge. On both these trials allusion was made to this Stephens, who had so successfully evaded the grasp of justice. Thus, there could be no doubt that this Fenian Conspiracy was one and the same as that which was carried on in 1859; the sole difference was, that at present it had attained dimensions more gigantic and more dangerous than those which it had readied in 1859. The two movements were identical in all respects—identical in the transmission of men and money from America, and identical, above all, in the possession of that very leader whose many disguises and aliases had always rendered his detection a difficult matter. It should also be borne in mind that an application was made on that occasion to the Court of Queen's Bench to let the prisoners out on bail, but the request was refused by the Court, which decided that the Crown and the Crown Officers had acted justifiably in this matter, and that the facts then proved amounted to the actual crime of high treason. His right hon. Friend the Attorney General for Ireland need scarcely have taken the trouble to defend himself from charges which had not been brought against him. It was admitted on all hands that the conduct of his right hon. Friend in relation to the present prosecutions had been extremely able and judicious. If he were asked, however, whether the conduct of the Government was entirely justifiable with respect to the choice of the time and manner of instituting these proceedings, he felt bound to reply that they were not. The Government had known for a long time of the nocturnal trainings which were being conducted in every part of Ireland, the attention of the Irish Government had been drawn to the matter from time to time; and though he was not prepared to say that there were no special or particular reasons why the trials should be delayed, the fact undoubtedly was that they were, as was stated by his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Whiteside), postponed until after the general election. He had already stated that, though no actual criminality or guilt attached to any particular party, there was much to lament and deplore in a great deal of the language which had fallen from high and influential quarters in Ireland at 760 a time when such a state of things existed in the country as had since transpired. If there ever was a time when the promotion of peace and tranquillity should above all things have been sought by the employment of language tending to that result, such a time existed two or three months prior to the general election; and yet on every hand speeches were made which, objectionable at any time, were doubly so at a period when Ireland was on the very brink of a volcano, from the danger of which she was even yet scarcely secure. He believed, then, that it was the deliberate conviction of every man of common sense in the three kingdoms that, with a conspiracy of such magnitude, it was the bounden duty of Her Majesty's Government, having captured prisoners of such importance, to have carefully guarded their safety. They should have sent a military guard to the gaol, and not have permitted the Governor to presume on his own authority to send the guard back. If a precedent for such a course were necessary, it would be furnished by the proceedings of 1848, when, under somewhat similar circumstances, the Government placed a military guard over prisoners confined in this very gaol. His right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland had said that it was not his duty to go and watch at the door of the prison one hour and that of the Solicitor General to watch another, but that was trifling with the subject. He could not help saying that the Government exhibited great laxity in allowing this man to escape, although he was bound to repeat that, in his opinion, with regard to the actual prosecution of the conspirators, everything that was necessary and advisable had been done. He trusted that, under these circumstances, the production of the papers asked for would not be refused.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
Until the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Whiteside) rose I was not aware that I should be called upon to address the House upon this Motion; but, as it will be in the recollection of the House that the right hon. Gentleman alluded in pointed terms to the position which I lately occupied in Ireland, I may perhaps be permitted to say a few words. I am glad that my remarks follow those which foil from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wexford (Mr. George), because I have, through the hon. and learned Gentleman, the assurance from the Law 761 Officers of the Crown in Ireland under Lord Derby that the course pursued by the present Law Officers of the Crown in that country during these grave and serious investigations is regarded as exceedingly creditable, and has been received with perfect confidence by the country at large. There can be little doubt that scarcely anything throughout these trials can be more harassing or more difficult to deal with than the subject which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin has treated with such levity—I may say unseemly discretion. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government had postponed their action in a matter involving a conspiracy against the Government of Ireland and the Sovereign of that country until the conclusion of the general election. Now, Sir, I never heard a more mean and paltry assertion; one, indeed, which is utterly unworthy the character and credit of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
I must call the right hon. Baronet to order, and request Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the words which have just been uttered may be taken down. I understood the right hon. Baronet to say that the statement which I made was a mean and paltry one, and I request that you, Sir, will state whether such language is Parliamentary or not.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
, Before an answer is given to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, I may, perhaps, be permitted to say that my statement was that the charge made by the right hon. Gentleman, that the Government had postponed action in a matter involving matters of such magnitude until the general election should have been got over, is a mean and paltry way of dealing with a grave and serious question. I put it to the House whether I am not justified in using expressions of that kind. Now—
§ MR. WHITESIDE
I again rise to order, Sir, and must still request, that the right hon. Baronet will conform to the usages of the House. I still require your decision upon the expression used by the right hon. Baronet—an expression employed not in the sense just stated, but conveying the opinion that what I said was mean and paltry. ["No, no!" I still wish to know, Sir, whether such language is Parliamentary.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
The right hon. Baronet has already stated that the application of the words was not intended to convey the meaning to which the right hon. Gentleman objects.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I rise, Sir, to order. I understood the right hon. Baronet to disclaim the use of the words of which my right hon. Friend complains in the sense which my right hon. Friend attributes to them. I distinctly understood the right lion. Baronet to state to the House that the words he used were of a general application, and in that case I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will see that no charge in reality is made againt him.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
again appealed to the Chair, whether the right lion. Baronet's words were not un-Parliamentary.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
said, that as he understood the right hon. Baronet's expression he was not prepared to Bay that, although strong, it was un-Parliamentary; hut the right hon. Baronet's subsequent words remove any doubt on that point.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
Having, Sir, before the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire rose, qualified the expression which I used, I do not think it necessary to enter further into that point. Still, I thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman's charge that the prosecutions were postponed until after the general election was not worthy of him. But I wish to refer to a few points to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman alluded. He said he did not wish to anticipate a future debate that was likely to take place in this House on the Fenian conspiracy. Now, I am sure that the Government do not shrink from meeting the fullest investigation and discussion of their conduct in regard to this whole subject, and I should say that the sooner the subject is brought forward the hotter. Let the right hon. Gentleman therefore give notice of his intention to bring forward after Easter his accusations against the Government, I am convinced we shall be able to lay before the House a case that will not only exculpate the Government from the charges which the right hon. Gen-t Ionian and the hon. and learned Member for Wexford have made against them, but that will prove that the Government have acted with great judgment, discretion, and firmness in the manner in which they have performed their duty. The right hon. Gentleman said that this prison was Her Majesty's prison. My right hon. Friend (the Attorney General for Ireland) showed that these prisoners were confined in the city gaol, that that goal was under the superintendence of the City Board, that there were local Inspectors, and Inspector Generals to report to the Government any oc- 763 currences connected with these prisoners. But does the right hon. Gentleman opposite mean to say that the Government, with all the burden of current events on their shoulders, could go to these gaols and see that the officials properly discharged their duties? We must first know who was charged with that duty. I do not less regret the escape of Stephens than the right hon. Gentleman; but I say, throw all the blame you please on the Executive, but the Government, when there was treason within the walls of the gaol and treason without, could not by any possible foresight have prevented the escape of that prisoner. The right hon. Gentleman stated that Lord Clarendon, in a weak moment, gave over the management of that prison to the Board of Superintendence in 1851. It is perfectly true that the Government did then hand over to the Board of Superintendence the management of the prison, the interior regulation of which had previously devolved on the Irish Government. But Lord Eglinton twice, when Lord Lieutenant, and the Irish Government on every subsequent occasion, deputed those functions and powers to the Board of Superintendence; and I believe I am justified in asserting that the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland has revoked that authority, and that for the future the Government, and the Government alone, will be directly responsible for the appointment of the officers who will have the management of this prison. The right hon. Gentleman contends that this Fenian Conspiracy dates as far back as the year 1858, and says it has a clear connection with a conspiracy which existed in Ireland at the time when Lord Eglinton was Viceroy. I do not think that the Law Officers of the Crown will bear out that statement. I believe, from the information in the hands of the Government, that it will be found—and if the right hon. Gentleman had only waited until the papers had been laid upon the table he would also have found—that the origin of this conspiracy is clearly to be traced to the year 1862—that is, to about the time of the establishment of The Irish People newspaper. No doubt, when the right hon. Gentleman opposite was Attorney General for Ireland, during Lord Eglinton's Viceroyalty, there were a series of disturbances going on in that country. In fact, there has been a chronic state of disturbance prevalent in Ireland for many years past; but each successive Government have done all they could to arrest and control that evil. But I will put the matter 764 on the right hon. Gentleman's own ground. He says that in Ireland we now have a conspiracy existing—he fears it is so, but hopes it is not the case—he says that there are in Ireland some 60,000 men enrolled under the banner of the fugitive Stephens, with 250,000 more in America. Well, with this serious state of things staring us in the face, I ask is it right to treat a case of such gravity in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has done? Without waiting for the Report, in the absence of all papers to correct him, he blames the Government upon ex parte statements, making serious accusations, which the Attorney General for Ireland has shown to be unfounded. If the right hon. Gentleman had urged the Government to produce all the papers bearing on these matters, I would have cordially supported him in that. Then he would have found that many of his assertions were not based upon fact. As to the escape of Stephens, as I have said, no man deplores it more than I do; but the right hon. Gentleman at a very critical conjuncture in the history of Ireland endeavours to draw an amusing and very fanciful sketch of that event, which was not consistent with the real facts of the case. The Government had a very anxious time, but no precaution of theirs could have prevented Stephens' escape. It is a fact that we believed at the time that there were a guard and extra police in the prison where he was confined; and if the Government were deceived who, I ask, were to give them that information but the local Inspectors or the Inspector General? Sir, I state—what is notorious—that the Irish Government were under the impression that the military guard which they ordered to go to the prison walls were there, and had not been sent back by Mr. Marquess, the Governor of the gaol. I myself individually regarded the conduct of the Governor of that gaol as so serious that I implored the Lord Lieutenant immediately to take from him the custody of the prisoners there. My advice was followed in that respect, as also in regard to the suspension and dismissal of one of the chief wardens of the prison. Immediately when information of the escape reached the Government, I went myself, with Colonel Lake, to the prison at the request of the Lord Lieutenant; and that very night the Government met at the Castle, and instantly decided on ordering the removal of every one of these prisoners, from the Richmond Bridewell to Kilmainham Gaol, lest anything more should occur 765 which might imperil the character of the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman had only waited until the Report was laid on the table, he would have seen that the facts are as I am now stating them. He has praised the conduct of certain authorities in Ireland, and I wish to bear my testimony—for I was there at the time—my most willing testimony, to the energy and zeal of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. This conduct on their part is an answer to the imputations which have been very unjustly cast upon many of our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen in that country—namely, that they are siding with this treasonable movement. That conspiracy—as was well stated the other day in another place—although it is, nevertheless, very formidable, is a quite contemptible movement as regards the character or the intelligence of those who are mixed up with it. That does not, however, make it the less serious. And I must say that, as far as we were concerned at the time when I left that country, we did conduct all the matters connected with this most unfortunate conspiracy in a manner which, when it comes to be fully discussed in Parliament, will, I believe, meet not only with the approbation of this House, but with the confidence of the public at large. Sir, I only rose because the right hon. Gentleman opposite so pointedly alluded to me. And when I refer, by the way, to the Dublin Metropolitan Police, I wish also to bear my testimony to the praiseworthy conduct of the constabulary of Ireland in this matter, for they have had a very arduous duty to fulfil. There have been Fenian emissaries in all parts of Ireland. The men of the Irish constabulary have been scattered in small detachments of four and five all over the country, at many hundreds of stations; and yet I am justified, I think, in saying that there has not been a single instance of a station being in any way tainted with the prevailing conspiracy in the whole country. That fact speaks highly for the constabulary; and I do hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—1 know the question is now before him—will accede to the very last appeal which I made to the Government while I was in Ireland, and re-consider the pay of that force. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer: It is done.] It is done; I am very glad to hear it. They were certainly underpaid. They discharged their duty efficiently, and were always ready to perform whatever was required of them. I rejoice, therefore, to 766 learn from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that their claim has been favourably considered. And I hope, too, we shall no longer hear of those very considerable reductions of the force far below the quota which the country is entitled to have under the existing regulations. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has likewise referred to another subject, with regard to which I also desire, as having been connected with the Government of Ireland at the time, to bear my willing testimony—I mean the impartial manner in which the juries have performed their duties. At the outset there might have been considerable difficulty in securing the conviction of Fenian prisoners; but it has been demonstrated most conclusively, when the guilt of the accused can be satisfactorily proved, that the juries of Ireland are as determined as the juries of England to deliver a verdict in accordance with the evidence before them. I am glad that an opportunity has been afforded me of making these few observations. I am also gratified that the Attorney General has promised the papers that have been referred to. Although the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman were rather superfluous, in my opinion, yet I maintain that the Government can lose nothing by a full and fair, and even a premature discussion of this subject. It will ultimately be shown that the Irish Executive has acted in a manner which merits the approbation of all persons interested in the welfare and stability of that island.
said, he wished before the discussion closed to offer a few remarks to the House in reply to some observations that had fallen from the Attorney General for Ireland with reference to some circumstances that occurred while he (Lord Naas) was Chief Secretary for Ireland. He had not understood from the notice given by his right hon. Friend that the question now under discussion would have been brought before the House. But when the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland chose to make a contrast between the conduct of the Government of which he was a Member and the conduct of the Government in office in 1858, he (Lord Naas) felt bound to offer a few remarks upon what transpired during that year. He admitted that the policy of the Government in 1858 was entirely different from that pursued by the present Government during the last year or two. In the former period a formidable conspiracy was inaugurated in Ireland; but 767 it was dealt with at once. Within two months after communication was made to the Government that a conspiracy, originating in America, and supported by American money, by men interested in the events of 1848, was being formed, the leaders were in gaol and awaiting their trial. The result was that, through the resolute action of the Government, within three months the conspiracy was completely extinguished. The right hon. Gentleman shook his head as if incredulous on this point. He (Lord Naas) was perfectly aware that in 1858 many charges were brought against the Government—not in the House of Commons—but by the press and political opponents of the Government, stating that the Government were making too much of the Phœnix movement, and were endeavouring, to use the words employed at that time, to get up a "sham rebellion." He, however, took a totally different view of the conduct of the Government. In dealing with conspiracies Government had two duties to discharge, the first was their paramount duty to the Crown, and the second was their duty to the people. When it came to the knowledge of the Government of Lord Eglinton that emissaries were going throughout the length and breadth of the land sowing treason and spending large sums of money to further their designs, we considered that it was our duty at the earliest possible moment to employ every means in our power to arrest the movement. That policy in 1858 was completely successful. As Secretary for Ireland he (Lord Naas) took the responsibility upon himself of directing the arrests. He was told by many people that he had not sufficient evidence to warrant those arrests; but he did not care for that, his object was to stop the movement, and the movement was stopped. The policy pursued at that time merited and obtained the approval of every loyal man in the country. The present Government, however, had taken another course with regard to the Fenian conspiracy. For two years treason had been allowed to spread throughout the length and breadth of the land and with an audacity scarcely ever equalled; to establish its head-quarters within a stone's throw of Dublin Castle; the ringleaders were men who had participated in the conspiracies of 1848 and 1858, one of whom was actually liable to be called up for judgment for seditious conduct at a former period. The Government might have had 768 good reasons for the policy they had pursued, and their motives might have been good; but he believed they were mistaken motives. Whenever the policy of the Government in this matter should be discussed at length he was persuaded that it would be shown that the Government were mistaken in allowing the Fenian conspiracy to proceed to the extent it had gone, and that if they had followed the example of the Government of 1858 they would have crushed it at a much earlier period. It was not possible to overrate the value of early action in a matter of this kind; and he (Lord Naas) believed that the conspiracy ought to have been dealt with a great deal earlier than it was. So much for the events of 1858. With regard to the matter immediately before the House—the escape of Stephens—he (Lord Naas) was astonished to hear the Attorney General for Ireland state that Her Majesty's Government had no direct control over the prisons of that country. It was very well known that in 1848, and long before that time, when political prisoners were confined in the gaols of Ireland, the Executive took precautions for their security other than those which were thought necessary in reference to ordinary prisoners. If the right hon. Gentleman were to inquire he would find that on many occasions long previous to 1848 it was the common practice that whenever prisoners of political importance were committed to gaol, an extraordinary force of military and police was ordered to the gaol for the better security of the prisoners. The right hon. Gentleman would lead the House to believe that the Government had no control over the prison authorities; but the fact was that in addition to having a veto upon their appointment, they had also an absolute power of dismissal in reference to every one of thorn; and he thought that it was a matter of very great regret that this power had not been exercised long before with regard to some of these officers. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to convey that the Government could not have exercised that power; but he (Lord Naas) found that in a Report made by the Inspector General to the Government in 1862 it was stated that the very officer who had been taken up but not convicted for complicity in the escape of Stephens was entirely unfit for his place, and a serious complaint was made by the Inspector General to the Government on account of this man being kept in office after repeated reports as to his incompe- 769 tency and misconduct. He asked was it not wonderful that, with a full knowledge of his incompetency, this person should be one to whose care the prisoners should have been committed, and this without any special or extraordinary means being taken for their safety. It seemed to him that the Government never took the slightest trouble to find out whether any extra precaution was taken with regard to these men; and he thought there was an amount of neglect and carelessness on the part of the Government that was a very fit subject for comment in that House, and that was also very deeply to he regretted. Nothing showed the necessity for these precautions so much as the precautions which had been taken since; for he believed that in every gaol in which Fenians are now confined, not only the constabulary, but also military form part of the prison guard. So serious did the Government think the matter, and so defective were the arrangements suddenly discovered to be, that soon after the escape of Stephens, the whole of the prisoners were removed from Richmond to the county prison in the middle of the night, because it was thought that there was danger in keeping them in the former place. He asked the Government why such precautions were not taken earlier? The escape of Stephens was a great misfortune, And when the right hon. Gentleman told the House that the Government were not directly responsible for the escape of that man because, in ordinary times, the Executive did not directly interfere with the management of the prisons, he thought the right hon. Gentleman was calculating upon a large amount of credulity and ignorance on the part of hon. Members as to the real state not only of the law, but the practice in such matters. He did not wish to throw any blame upon the Government for anything that had occurred since the arrest of the Fenians. The trials had been well managed, and the conduct of the Judges, the counsel, and the juries in the recent trials had been all that could have been desired. He adhered, however, to the opinion that the policy of the Government in delaying its action for so many months was most unfortunate, and that it was owing to a serious neglect of duty that Stephens effected his escape.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. SULLIVAN)
said, he thought it somewhat curious that the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Whiteside), and the hon. and learn- 770 ed Member for Wexford (Mr. George), should feel it incumbent upon them to justify their conduct in dealing with the prosecutions in 1858, seeing that nobody had made any charge against them for the course which they on that occasion pursued. But it was not only curious, but unwarrantable, that they should now, after the lapse of four or five years, assail the conduct of his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies, when Chief Secretary for Ireland, and of the Attorney General of that day, Mr. Justice Fitzgerald, whom they bad never ventured to attack for the course which he had pursued while he was present in his place in Parliament to defend himself, and had it in his power to give them the most decisive answer, As an analogy had been drawn between the conspiracy of 1858 and that of 1865, he could only say that no two things could be more entirely different in every point. Indeed, no two movements could in point of magnitude, as well as in other respects, be more distinct; and if the prosecutions in the case of the latter had broken down as completely as in that of the former—if seventeen or eighteen men had been able to walk out of court, the Attorney General standing by and refusing to try them, or to say why he did not, as happened at Cork in 1858—the result would have been disastrous in the highest degree. He now came to the question which had been raised as to the escape of Stephens, simply premising, in reply to the observations made by the noble Lord the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas), that the prosecution of The Irish People newspaper merely as a newspaper would have done nothing in the way of crushing Fenianism; the Government had selected the best time to grapple with the conspiracy, and the best proof that this was so was furnished by the fact that it had been perfectly successful in its efforts, which would not have been the ease if it had taken action earlier in the matter without the aid of the mass of documents which ultimately fell into its hands. He was quite convinced that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Naas) when in office did what he considered best for the interests of the country, and be knew that the Government of 1865 had done the same. As to Stephens, he had been committed, pending his trial, to Richmond prison, the proper place of confinement for those who had been made, as he had been, amenable to the law within the city of Dublin. Over the officers of that prison the Government had no control. During the Lord Lieute- 771 nancy of Lord Clarendon, it was found that while in every other prison in Ireland the Board of Superintendence had the appointment of prison officers vested in it, the same rule did not prevail in Dublin; and that fact having been pointed out to Lord Clarendon, he seeing no objection to placing all the prisons of the country on a uniform basis, allowed the power of appointing the officers in Richmond Prison to the Board of Superintendence in Dublin. That, he thought, was a sensible and wise mode of dealing with the matter, and it had on two occasions been confirmed by Lord Eglinton. It was, therefore, no part of the duty of the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as he contended, without any cause shown, to alter a system which had been in operation in the prisons in Dublin for a period of fifteen or sixteen years; nor was there, he might add, any reason whatsoever to suspect the fidelity of the officers who had the charge of the Richmond Prison, when Stephens was committed to it, an additional police force to be stationed inside and a military guard were applied for, and granted by the executive Government. Against internal treachery, however, no Government that ever existed could provide adequate security. If an officer inside the prison determined to assist Stephens to escape, he could do so with every probability of success, however guards might be multiplied. And that internal treachery did exist could no longer be a matter of doubt, for with the man who had been taken up and tried for complicity in the escape of Stephens the Fenian oath was found. By some extraordinary accident which had never been satisfactorily explained by the Governor of the prison, a constable on duty on the night of the escape had been shut out from the corridor in which Stephens was confined. Mr. Marques, the Governor, however, could not be fairly said to have acted treacherously in the matter. He had occupied the position of Governor for a considerable time with credit, but undoubtedly he acted most incautiously on the occasion in question; but be that as it might, the circumstance which he had just mentioned, together with the false keys which were found, went far to account for the mode in which Stephens was enabled to get away. As to the allegation made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) that he walked into a cab which was waiting for him at the door of the prison, he could only say that although he had heard every sort of rumour in 772 reference to the escape, no such statement as that had ever come to his knowledge, nor did he believe that it had the slightest foundation. The executive Government had no option but to leave Stephens in Richmond Gaol in the hands of the Governor, whose prisoner he was, and therefore it was, he maintained, not open to the censure of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who, if he should at any future time bring forward the subject in a substantive shape, would find that it was quite prepared to meet any charges as to its conduct which he might think proper to make.
§ MR. S. B. MILLER
said, he was somewhat astonished to learn that the Government should have deemed it to he consistent with their duty to allow The Irish People, which was established in the autumn of 1863, to circulate its poisonous articles throughout Ireland from that time until the autumn of last year, when they might have prevented it from doing so by earlier and more vigorous action. From the end of 1863, during the whole of 1864, and for a great portion of 1865, the Irish Executive allowed matter of the most mischievous kind to be circulated in every direction throughout the country; thereby adding fuel to the flame which they found so difficult to quell, but which, had they taken active measures at first, they might have easily subdued. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland had said there was no connection between the Phoenix conspiracy and this Fenian conspiracy; but they had the authority of Mr. Justice Keogh, who tried the prisoners, for saying they were one and the same; and the result of the proceedings in 1858, whether abortive or otherwise, was that the country was rid of the conspiracy for two or three years, and that was a state of things which might well bear to be contrasted with what took place between the end of 1863 and 1865. Then it was said that the Government were not in any degree to blame for the escape of Stephens. But he would take leave to say that it was the duty of the Lord Lieutenant to take care that a prisoner in custody for so serious an offence should be in proper keeping. That was his first duty; and his next was to see that, whether by means of soldiers or police, he was properly secured. It was not for the Executive to throw the responsibility of taking these precautions on the Governor of the prison. He came now to 773 a matter which had been tried very lately—namely, as to the custody in which Stephens was on the night of his escape. He brought it home to the Government that the man who was subsequently put upon his trial for connivance at the escape of Stephens was the same Daniel Byrne, whom Mr. Corry Connellan, Inspector General of Prisons, had reported to be unfit to fill the post whether of night watchman or warder in 1863; and that Report he now held in his hand. Every effort to evade the subject of Byrne's unfitness was made by the Board of Superintendence; but the Lord Lieutenant had the power to dismiss the man or to confirm him in his employment. With the Lord Lieutenant alone, therefore, or his advisers, rested the responsibility, Besides, the Lord Lieutenant had the power to remove Stephens to any other prison in Ireland he thought fit. It was idle to say, then, that no blame attached to the Irish Executive on the particular point which formed the subject-matter of this Motion. He denied, too, in the most emphatic terms, that the Government had performed their duty when they allowed The Irish People to take its rise, to be registered, licensed, and circulated through the post office from the month of November, 1863, to September, 1865, when the very articles which appeared in the beginning of 1864 formed some of the subject-matter of the indictments at the late trials, and without the articles of that paper he rather thought the prosecutions would not have been so successful. He utterly repudiated the notion that a seditious paper was to remain in existence two whole years when the articles of that paper were of such a nature as to be made the subject-matter of indictment.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
After the protracted discussion which has taken place, and after the complete answers which have been given by my learned Friends the Attorney and Solicitor General for Ireland to the charges against the Government as to the escape of Stephens, there is only one part of the subject with respect to which I feel bound to say a few words. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. S. B. Miller) has brought a direct charge against the Government for not having sooner interfered, and he expressed his opinion that the Government were to blame for not having instituted a prosecution against The Irish People at an earlier period, and thus effectually checked 774 this conspiracy. The noble Lord the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas), however, said that possibly there might have been good reasons for that inaction. I feel bound to say in justice to Lord Wodehouse, who was in constant communication with me, that he took a course in the full responsibility for which Her Majesty's Government share; and it is a course the reasons for which the Government entirely approve. And now, looking hack on the events which have occurred, I must say that if we had taken the line of action recommended by the hon. and learned Gentleman we might have succeeded in the prosecutions against the newspaper, but we should have failed in laying bare before the country the overwhelming evidence of the nature of the conspiracy, its extent, and the number of persons implicated, and in carrying with us in our proceeding the universal approval of persons possessing property in Ireland. The Government fully approved of the conduct of Lord Wodehouse, and they conveyed to him their entire concurrence in the reasons which he gave for the course he adopted.
§ MR. HENRY BAILLIE
said, they had heard very eloquent speeches to-night from the Attorney and Solicitor General for Ireland, hut the only thing they appear to have proved to the House was that things were done differently in Ireland from what they would be in any other country in the world. The House had been told that a seditious newspaper called The Irish People had been published weekly for two years in Ireland, that it had a circulation of no less than 8,000 copies, which were every week distributed over every part of the country, and that the Government thought it no part of their duty to put a stop to those proceedings. They knew that the editor of this newspaper was one of those men who ought to be proceeded against, and whom they might any day have called up for judgment and thereby put an end to his treason. But the Law Officers said that they knew better—that there were State reasons why these things should be allowed to go on for two years, and that then they made a grand coup and put it all down. But was it not true that at this very time the conspiracy was going on just as if they had never had recourse to these proceedings? That was generally admitted. All he could say was that if that was the mode in which the Government of Ireland was conducted it was a mode which was not adopted in any other country in the world.