HC Deb 18 February 1868 vol 190 cc932-40

Order for Committee read.


said, he wished to make a few observations in answer to a statement made by the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland on a former evening. The noble Lord then said that the policy of Government with respect to the Fenian conspiracy was prevention, and that no one was left at large who was known to have been concerned in the outbreak of March last year. In connection with this statement he (Mr. Maguire) wished to ask the noble Lord for some explanations. Corydon, who was examined as a Crown witness in the trial of General Burke in April last, stated that he had been in the active employ of the Government from the previous September, and had kept them acquainted with every circumstance connected with the conspiracy, including what was contemplated in Liverpool. He (Mr. Maguire) was quite surprised, when he returned to this country, at what was going on, remembering the noble Lord to have said that it was not his intention to renew the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, whereas here was the statement of Corydon that he had been in the employment of Government for six months and had made them acquainted with every step of the conspiracy. That was the statement of a man who had sent more than one man into penal servitude. He (Mr. Maguire) hoped the noble Lord would give some explanation of this matter. There was another matter of great importance to which he wished to call the noble Lord's attention. He understood that most of the persons who were taken up under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act were sent to Mountjoy Prison, and it was of the utmost importance to know how that prison was managed. There was formerly there a most admirable physician, Dr. M'Donnell, who made several important recommendations as to the dietary of the prisoners, the time they should be confined, their exercise, and their treatment generally; but that gentleman had now ceased to be connected with the public service, and his successor was a Dr. Young. He (Mr. Maguire) held in his hand a copy of the Freeman's Journal, in which was reported an inquest on the body of Matthew Lynch, an inmate of the prison, who had died on the 12th, the inquest being held on Friday last. He did not know whether this Lynch had not been arrested on the Lord Lieutenant's warrant; but it was the opinion of the jury that a very unworthy successor had been appointed to Dr. M'Donnell. The Roman Catholic Chaplain saw Lynch on the 2nd; he was miserably prostrate, and dying. He called the warder's attention to his state, and to the bad ventilation of his cell, and added that he ought to be in the hospital. It was four days before he was removed to the hospital; he was taken there on the 6th, and he died on the 12th, but to the last hour the doctor did not know what was his disease. First he said it was diarrhœa, then that it was diabetes, and he did not think till death took place that it I was pulmonary consumption. The verdict of the jury was that the man had died of pulmonary consumption, and they further expressed their opinion that he should have been sent sooner to the hospital, and that the doctor should be more attentive to the extern patients, meaning those who were in the cells. It appeared, therefore, that the humane and skilful doctor had been chassé, to be replaced by a man who was branded by the jury as inattentive. He wished for some explanation as to this appointment of Dr. Young.


The hon. Gentleman gave me no notice of the attacks he has just made, and as I have not, therefore, a single document to refer to, the House will see that I speak under considerable disadvantage. I think, however, my memory is sufficiently clear to enable me to give such an answer to the statements of the hon. Gentleman as will satisfy the House. With regard to the revelations made by Corydon, which were never brought to my notice at the period to which he referred, I can say that for several months previous to February the 15th of last year, our information was that no Fenian Directory or Council, nor anything like one, existed in Ireland. We knew this from sources of intelligence that were perfectly accurate. In the previous November we were led to believe that a very great change took place in the Fenian councils, and it has been proved on oath at several trials since then that the Fenian leaders in America resolved about the end of the year that it was not desirable for the present to pursue their plans of active operations in Ireland, In fact, we knew that—as far as the leaders of the conspi- racy were concerned—intentions of immediate outbreak in Ireland were for the time given up. I am speaking of a period shortly before Christmas, 1866. About Christmas—I forget whether a few days before or afterwards—a meeting was held in New York of the men who styled themselves the military leaders of the Fenian movement, and a resolution was passed deposing the regular leaders and giving to the military chiefs the whole control of the Fenian organization. The result was that about the 15th of January the new military leaders began to move towards Europe, and continued doing so during the whole of that and the greater part of the ensuing month. When the Government recommended to Parliament that the Habeas Corpus Act should no longer be suspended they were aware of the determination which was come to before Christmas, but were not aware of the events which subsequently took place. That information came to our knowledge very soon. We saw immediately that a change had taken place in Fenian affairs, that the policy adopted in November was abandoned, and we felt it our duty immediately to acquaint the House that, to our extreme regret, it would be necessary to renew the suspension of the Act. These are the grounds upon which we acted. A simpler story can hardly be told; and I venture to think that it is a complete vindication of the Government in the course which they took at the beginning of the last Session. Believing, then, that the Fenian designs were abandoned, and knowing that as Parliament was sitting we could, in case of necessity, at once obtain the suspension of the Act, it would have been unjustifiable on our part to have asked for the renewal of that suspension. Whatever Corydon may have said later in the year, at the beginning of the Session there was nothing to warrant the Government in making such a request. Men in Corydon's position often make statements; but it is sometimes only after a considerable lapse of time when they can be accurately tested that the Government can ascertain whether they are of any value. I think I have disposed of the charge made by the hon. Gentleman that at the time we recommended the discontinuance of the Suspension Act we were in possession of information from Corydon, and had tested it, showing what the Fenian designs were. A more unfounded statement was never made. [Mr. MAGUIRE: I never made such a statement. I merely said what Corydon swore.] And now with regard to Dr. M'Donnell, who is a man of high professional attainments and for whom I have the most profound respect. Dr. M'Donnell on one or two occasions differed from the Directors of Convict Prisons, but they were not differences of a serious kind, and were generally settled by amicable discussion. But the fact is that the arrangements with respect to Dr. M'Donnell's services were such as did not exist in any other convict prison in Her Majesty's dominions; and I say that the medical officer of Mountjoy male prison, having a large private practice to attend to, could not give that attention to the requirements of the prison which was indispensable, and, consequently, the arrangement was exceedingly unsatisfactory. Now, I believe that an abler man than Dr. M'Donnell never discharged the duties of physician to a convict prison; but, looking to the nature of the duties which the doctor in such an establishment has to perform, it was impossible that they could be attended to properly by a man in private practice. What happened? Dr. Banon, the physician of the female convict prison, died, and an opportunity offered for consolidating the duties of the male and female establishments, and obtaining one medical officer for both. Representations were made to me by the Directors of Convict Prisons that it would be for the interest of the public service, that the two offices should be held by one man. It was a considerable time before I acceded to that representation. I made inquiries as to what was done in England; I consulted Colonel Henderson, and other gentlemen of great authority in such matters, and they all agreed that a Worse arrangement than that of employing a gentleman in private practice as medical officer to a convict prison could not be; that the thing had been tried before, and that in every convict establishment of sufficient size a medical man who had given up all his time to his duties in the prison was engaged. Having this information at my disposal, and having to choose a successor to Dr. Banon, I told Dr. M'Donnell frankly what my opinions were. He did not altogether agree with me; but he told me that his own practice was increasing so rapidly that it was very likely at a very early period he would find it necessary to retire from attendance at Mountjoy. That being the case, it was clearly my duty to take the advice given by such high authorities in the convict service, and appoint a resident medical officer for the male and female prisons at Mountjoy Now that is the whole story, and a more unfounded calumny was never propagated (and it was made the most of by the Fenian papers) than that Dr. M'Donnell was dismissed and another gentleman appointed in his place because he refused to sanction the very arbitrary and severe treatment of the prisoners confined under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act. I know the hon. Gentleman did not make such a statement in this House. [Mr. MAGUIRE: I did not say so.] I know you did not say so, but pages upon pages about it have been written in Ireland, and I believe that many have been led to accept it as a fact. Dr. Young, who has been appointed as medical officer to both the male and female prisons of Mountjoy, is a gentleman with whom I happen to be personally acquainted, and a more humane, an abler man, or one more competent to discharge his duties does not exist in any convict prison in the kingdom. And as long as Dr. Young remains in Mountjoy, I am quite sure that neither the hon. Gentleman nor anyone else will be able to prove any harshness on his part to any particular prisoner. Mention was made to me this morning in a communication from Dublin about the case to which the hon. Gentleman has called attention, and I wrote for full and accurate information on the subject. I shall only say that in this matter, and in every other, whether founded or unfounded, I shall take care that every charge of this kind shall be thoroughly inquired into. I feel that I have satisfied the House that as far as the officials of Mountjoy are concerned, no harshness has been shown to the prisoners. In conclusion, I will say that it has been my duty to read hundreds of letters from prisoners in Mountjoy, and in them they have invariably expressed themselves grateful for the treatment they have received, and for the excellence of their diet. Considering their painful position, the irksomeness of confinement, which must be very great, they have contributed valuable testimony to the uniform humanity with which they have been treated. A prison is not a pleasant place—persons are not sent there for amusement—but I will say that the whole object of the Government and of the Directors of Convict Prisons is to carry out the law without unnecessary severity. I am certain that no matter by what Returns you may test the truth, you will find that there is no ground whatever for the allegations of harshness which have been so repeatedly and generally circulated by those whose object it is to throw odium upon the Government in consequence of the measures it has adopted for the suppression of the Fenian movement.


said, he was willing to give credit to his noble Friend for doing what was the best under the circumstances, but must object to the plan of having a resident medical man under the control of the officers of the prison and of the Government, and who must be very slow indeed—except he was a very extraordinary man—to object to anything he might be directed to do by those over him. He trusted that plan would not be carried further, and that as the Government had taken the thing out of their own hands, they would be more particular than they would be if the medical officer was a man having the means of living if he lost his situation. When he found that the jury had returned a verdict that the man into whose death they had inquired ought to have been sent earlier to hospital, and that the doctor should have been more attentive to exterior cases, he considered it a very grave matter. No doubt the verdict was a most unsatisfactory one for the medical officer, as it had been returned by a number of independent men upon their oaths, selected by the coroner from the general body of citizens. He thought there ought to be some means by which the public outside might be made aware of what was going on within the walls of the prison, and that in reference to the case of Matthew Lynch, the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland would, at some future period, be enabled to furnish a satisfactory explanation to the House.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.


proposed the following new Clause:— That no warrant granted under this Act shall be in force for a longer period than three months, and every person arrested under this Act shall be entitled to be discharged on the expiration of the warrant under which he was arrested, unless a new warrant for his further detention shall be lodged, previous to the expiration of the original warrant, with the Governor of the gaol in which he shall be confined. His reason for moving this clause was that it had been stated that one prisoner had been in custody for a year and eleven months without having been brought up, and he wished to prevent the possibility of prisoners being kept in confinement for a lengthened period, and possibly forgotten.

New Clause (No Warrant to be in force for more than three months,)—(Mr. Bagwell,)—brought up, and read the first time.


assured the Committee that for a prisoner to be detained in gaol through forgetfulness of his case was impossible. Returns were constantly made to the Government of all persons in custody under the Lord Lieutenant's warrant, with any new information respecting them; and they had every facility, of which they frequently availed themselves, of memorializing the Government for release, these memorials always received careful consideration. He was ready at any time to give information respecting the arrests that were made; but if an impression went forth that persons were only arrested for three mouths, and that they would then be certainly released, the effect would be mischievous. He could not assent to the clause proposed, which would have the effect of putting a limit to the powers of the Government, which was not contemplated in the provision already sanctioned, and under which those powers were confided to them for one year. He hoped the hon. Member would be satisfied with his assurance that the circumstances of no single case were ever forgotten, and that representations made by any prisoner were always attentively considered.


said, he thought there should be some limitation of the period of detention, since two years' imprisonment was the maximum punishment for misdemeanour. If there was an objection to three months, six months might be fixed, and this would impose no trouble on the Government beyond the preparation of fresh warrants.


said, he would press upon the Secretary for Ireland the propriety of introducing this clause. He admitted that everything done by the present Government under the Suspension Act had been done discreetly—with great prudence and mildness—and in a way which had given great satisfaction to every loyal man in the country. It was possible, however, that before this Act expired the present Government might not be in office. There might be a Lord Lieutenant and a Chief Secretary not so prudent and discreet as the present ones, and not so well acquainted with Ireland. In view of this contingency, he should support the clause, for whenever anything in Ireland had been violently and badly done, it had been done not by true Irishmen but by foreigners.


said, he thought that anything that could tend to modify the Act and satisfy those in the House who represented the parties against whom it was directed, was deserving of the best attention of the Government.


concurred in the suggestion that the operation of the warrant should be limited to six months, and observed that that was the term to which the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act extended when it was first proposed. The ground of the arrest of these persons was that they were dangerous, and he believed the Act would have an equally beneficial effect if the Lord Lieutenant was called upon to review every six months the reasons for the detention, while such an arrangement would give satisfaction to the people of Ireland.


, while giving the Lord Lieutenant the utmost credit for humanity, thought the clause was a wise one.


said, his noble Friend's conduct had been greatly eulogized by hon. Members opposite, especially with reference to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. So far from the Government wishing to keep men in prison longer than was necessary, the practice had been to discharge them as soon as it could be done without risk to the country, and that was shown from the fact that whereas there were 260 persons in custody last year, there were now only ninety-four. That was convincing proof that the Government were anxious to get rid of the charge of these men as soon as they ceased to be dangerous. The House by the second reading of the Bill had assented to the propriety of suspending the Act for another year, and surely, after the Government had acted with prudence, discretion, mildness, and humanity, the Committee would not hesitate to continue to them the powers now asked. The Government had at anytime given every information required, and furnished a list of the persons incarcerated under the suspension of the Act. No one had alleged that any prisoner had been unjustly treated, for whenever any of them gave an assurance that they would not again engage in the transactions which were the cause of their detention, and would at once leave the country, they were immediately set at liberty. Such being the case, the passing of the clause now proposed would be a slur upon his noble Friend, as it could not be supposed that it was really necessary to have the warrant renewed every three or six months. And what would be the result of such a course of procedure? At the present time every prisoner had the power of presenting petitions, which were regularly and carefully taken into consideration; but if at the end of three or six months all warrants were to be renewed the necessary signatures would be affixed to them without any inquiry whatever. Every official knew the mode of signing routine papers. Hitherto the inquiries respecting prisoners had been conducted with the greatest care and prudence, even according to the admissions of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and under these circumstances he trusted the Motion for the insertion of a new clause would not be pressed.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause be now read a second time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 18; Noes 31: Majority 13.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.