HC Deb 09 July 1867 vol 188 cc1314-6

rose to move for leave to introduce a Bill which proposed to make important alterations in the laws for regulating the District Lunatic Asylums in Ireland. For many years the officers and servants in those institutions had been appointed by the Government; he thought however that the time had now come when, with the exception of the two Chief Officers, the power of appointing all the employés of these establishments might be taken out of the hands of the Government, and for this the Bill provided. The second and more important part of the Bill referred to the custody of dangerous lunatics, under the provisions of an old Statute. For many years it had been customary in Ireland for magistrates to commit these persons to gaol—a barbarous system, quite at variance with every sound principle as regards the treatment of the insane. The practice arose from an attempt being made by a lunatic in 1800 on the life of the King, when an Act was passed authorizing the magistrates of England to commit dangerous lunatics to prison. That Act was made the subject of remonstrance on the part of various Commissions and Committees, and was subsequently repealed. In 1838, notwithstanding the experience which had been gained of the working of the former Act in reference to England, a similar measure was passed for Ireland, in consequence of the committal of an outrage in the streets of Dublin, and from that time to the present moment nothing in the working of that Act had proved that it was either beneficial or desirable, while several Committees had reported against it. It might perhaps be urged that the present system was required because there was so little accommodation to be found in the lunatic asylums of the country, but the objection was one, he was glad to say, which had been partially, and would soon be altogether, removed. On the 31st of December, 1866, the total number of lunatics in gaol was only 321. The unfortunate persons to whom it referred could be immediately provided with accommodation; and, therefore, as the new lunatic asylums in progress would provide accommodation for 600 or 800 patients ample room would be found without difficulty. It was impossible to overrate the evils of the present system. Not only was the practice exceedingly barbarous to the lunatics themselves, but the presence of a number of these prisoners rendered it impossible to carry out the proper discipline of the prisoners. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


thought that the great defect in the present system was that the medical men were not trained to the treatment of lunatics; and until that evil had been thoroughly remedied legislation of any kind would not, he believed, be productive of much benefit.


said, that the reason why the Act to which the noble Lord had referred was originally passed, was because these lunatics could not be otherwise provided for; and he should be glad to learn what course it was proposed to take should the lunatic asylums of the country at any future time become too full to receive any fresh inmates?


pointed out the importance of treating lunacy in its incipient stage.


, in replying, expressed his belief that sufficient accommodation, could easily be provided. No class had a stronger claim to consideration than dangerous lunatics, for if taken to an asylum they were often rapidly cured, whereas if sent to a gaol they might require confinement for months or perhaps for life. The governors, therefore, even at the risk of overcrowding asylums, would, he was sure, feel bound to provide accommodation for this class.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to provide for the appointment of the Officers and Servants of District Lunatic Asylums in Ireland, and to alter and amend the Law relating to the custody of Dangerous Lunatics and Dangerous Idiots in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Lord NAAS and Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 242.]