HC Deb 21 May 1867 vol 187 cc897-901

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to further continue for a limited period the Habeas Corpus Suspension (Ireland) Act, said: I am sure that the events which have been taking place in Ireland during the last few months must have prepared every Member of the House for the proposal which I now submit — namely, that the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act should be continued for a limited period. I can assure the House that only a deep conviction that such a step is absolutely necessary in the interests of the peace of the country; would induce me to propose this measure. The events of the last few months are so fresh in the memory of the House that it would only be taking up its time to refer to them at any length. An organization, which has existed for four or five years, in spite of every precaution that could be taken by the Government, culminated on the 5th of March in a most abortive attempt at insurrection—an attempt which from its utter want of success would have been ludicrous, but that the disturbances occurred at so many places, were so widely spread over the land, and so many persons took part in it. Its existence may be said to have lasted but a few hours. Soon after dark on Shrove Tuesday night a number of men appeared in arms in various parts of Ireland, and committed in many ways decided and unmistakable acts of treason. But so destitute was the movement of vitality or of any element of success that by twelve o'clock on the following Thursday there were not five-and-twenty men to be found assembled in arms against the Queen's authority in any part of Ireland. I believe that result was brought about very much by the precautions taken by the Government and by the loyal population of the country, and also by the extraordinary fidelity, courage, and loyalty displayed by the Irish constabulary. To the constabulary I think the country owes a deep debt of gratitude, for wherever any attempt at disturbance took place these faithful and loyal men were found at hand in sufficient force, unaided, to arrest the progress of revolution. I also believe that had it not been for the power which the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act had placed in the hands of the Government the suppression of this insurrectionary movement might have been much more difficult. The existence of this power in the hands of the Government enabled us, several days before the outbreak took place, to seize and imprison several persons who Lave turned out since to be prominent leaders of the conspiracy, many of whom had arrived in Ireland but a short time before for the purpose of taking part in the outbreak. The result was, that the insurrectionary movement was paralysed throughout Ireland; and when the long threatened attempt was made, those who were to have taken a leading part in it were already in custody. I am happy to say that, at this moment, so far as we can see, there appears to be every sign of a complete collapse in the organization; but there are also symptoms which show that the utmost precaution, and the most constant vigilance, is still necessary. In proof of this, I will refer to a circumstance which occurred in Dublin a few days ago, when a man was induced to accompany some of his companions to the banks of the canal, and was there set upon and fired at repeatedly. It was quite evident that those persons who committed that act supposed that Aylward had been giving information, and they made a most desperate attempt to take his life. Nothing can show the fear and terror which this organization creates in the country more than the fact that though this young man has been in custody some days, he has shown no disposition to give up the names of those persons who attacked him, although they must be perfectly well known to him; on the contrary, he has shown every disposition to keep his secret, and it is quite clear that the terror and fear under which he is labouring will prevent him from making any effort to bring his assailants to justice. There is a considerable number of persons in custody at present under the Lord Lieutenant's warrant, and it would be most unwise and most unsafe to release those persons suddenly; and I believe their release could not be effected at once without considerable danger to the safety of the public. I can assure the House that, according as this movement shows signs of decay—as soon as the Government are assured that these men can be released with safety—they will be gradually set free; because we have always held it as our opinion that the powers of the Act should not be exercised for purposes of punishment, but only for the purpose of placing under restraint those persons whom the Government are perfectly satisfied are conspiring against the welfare of the State. It is not my wish at present to enter into any question which might give rise to debate or to difference of opinion. On a future occasion there will be ample opportunity for any Gentleman who desires to do so to express his opinion upon the subject. I think it my duty, however, to state very shortly the number of persons in custody, and to put the House in possession of all the information on this subject which I possess. The number of persons now in custody under the Lord Lieutenant's warrant amount altogether to 211. The number of arrests that have been made since I last addressed the House on the subject on the 26th of February has been 142; but among those persons are several who have already been sent to trial and dealt with according to the law of the land. Since that time thirty-one persons have been released from custody; and, I am happy to say, that the last arrest the Government found it necessary to make, under the powers of this Act, were made on the 23rd of April, nearly a month ago. I think that may be regarded as a favourable symptom in this respect — that it shows that the means which have been taken have already been sufficient to repress this movement. A great deal has been said with regard to the number of persons released by the present Government, and a question was put to me the other day which appeared to indicate an opinion that the Government had acted in an unwise manner in releasing so many prisoners last autumn. The figures I will now bring under the consideration of the House will show, I think, that the releases then made were not made without due consideration, and were attended by no evil consequences to the State. The total number of arrests that have taken place since the Habeas Corpus Act was first suspended, in February, 1866, is 961, and of those 778 have been released by the late and present Governments. The present Government, as well as the late Government, gave instructions to the constabulary to keep a particular watch over those persons who had been released; so that over that class a more than ordinary vigilance was maintained. But although in every case in which sufficient evidence was obtained orders for re-arrests were issued, not more than twenty-six out of the 778 persons released have been re-arrested; and those figures show that the course taken by the Government in releasing that large number of people was not attended with any special disadvantage, and has exercised a cautionary influence over them. I propose, with the sanction of the House, that the operation of this Act shall extend to the 1st of March next. When the Government proposed the re- newel of this Act in February last, I was particularly anxious that Parliament should have an opportunity during the present Session of expressing an opinion upon the subject. If there was any likelihood that Parliament at a shorter period than that I have mentioned would be enabled to deal with the question I should have had no objection to fix upon that term. But looking to all the circumstances of the case, looking to the period of the Session and the necessity that exists for its prolongation, I believe the House will best perform its duty by continuing the Act until the period when we shall have the earliest opportunity of considering the subject after the re-assembling of Parliament. When I moved the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in August last I made a similar proposal, believing that Parliament could thus again direct its attention to the matter at the most convenient opportunity if the Government of the day should think that any necessity for such a course existed. I earnestly hope and believe, however, that when that time arrives it will be found that those extraordinary powers will no longer be necessary; and I am persuaded that by now continuing the authority vested in the Government, and which they have endeavoured to exercise in a manner that has met, I think I may say, with approbation, we shall take that course which is the most likely to put an end at the earliest possible moment to that conspiracy and that organization which have proved so great an evil and so bitter a curse to our country. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to renew for a limited period the Habeas Corpus Suspension (Ireland) Act.


said, he would not offer any opposition to the Motion, but he trusted the noble Lord would take the second reading at a time which would afford them an opportunity of discussing so important a subject.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to further continue the Act of the twenty-ninth year of the reign of Her present Majesty, chapter one, intituled, "An Act to empower the Lord Lieutenant or other Chief Governor or Governors of Ireland to apprehend and detain for a limited time such persons as he or they shall suspect of Conspiring against Her Majesty's person and Government," ordered to be brought in by Lord NAAS and Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL for; IRELAND.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 165.]