HC Deb 07 December 1867 vol 190 cc675-7

asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether the attention of the Government has been directed to the accounts of the Procession, with party emblems, which took place at Cork on Sunday last, and also to the announcements which have been made of a similar display to take place in Dublin on Sunday next; and what course the Government intend to adopt in reference to same, so as to insure an impartial administration of the Party Emblems Act?


When the report of the intended procession at Cork reached the Irish Government, the same course was taken with regard to it as had been taken on many similar occasions. That is to say—the constabulary were directed to watch carefully the movements of all parties taking part in the assembly, and to note down their names, and they were also instructed, in the event of any breach of the Party Processions Act or of any other law occurring, to report that circumstance immediately to the Government. It was doubtful, on the information received by the Irish Government, whether there was any breach of this particular Act; but I have directed that all the reports forwarded by the resident magistrates, the local authorities, and the constabulary should be laid before the Attorney General and the other Law Officers of the Crown, with a view to ascertain their opinion as to whether, on the face of those reports, any infringement of the law took place. If it be their opinion that that particular Act has in any way been infringed, every effort will be made to render the parties who are considered to have infringed it amenable to justice. I must, however, remind the House that it is the duty of the Executive Government not to make laws, but to administer them. Our determination is to walk strictly in the course of the law; and in the exercise of those extraordinary powers which Parliament has given us, we shall adhere strictly to the conditions on which those extraordinary powers were placed in our hands. If the law has been broken, we shall not be deterred by threats or displays of force from punishing the violators of it; and, on the other hand, we shall not be driven by misrepresentations or by accusations of mistaken leniency either to strain the law or to act otherwise than in strict conformity with its provisions. In my opinion, these displays are greatly to be deprecated. They have for their object—a very intelligible object, no doubt—the elevation of an act of murder into an act of patriotism. With regard to that portion of the hon. Gentleman's Question which refers to the future, I can only say that the Government must be guided by circumstances as they arise. If these displays continue, serious questions may be raised. Every assembly which is deposed to by independent persons as being calculated to lead to riot and disturbance is an illegal assembly, and every meeting which is ostentatiously held for treasonable purposes is an illegal assembly. If information reaches the Government that these displays partake of that character, it will be for the Government to consider how they may best vindicate the law and preserve the general peace of the community.


said, that perhaps the noble Lord would supplement his answer by stating whether the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown had been or would be taken in anticipation of the meetings referred to, so that those who might be about to take part in them might be forewarned?


The Government will take no action except upon the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown. It is the wish of the Government to act strictly in conformity with the law. If they should find it necessary to do so, they would issue a Proclamation warning the people of the illegality of these displays.