HC Deb 25 May 1868 vol 192 cc814-5

said, he wished to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether, in the opinion of the Government, the time is not arrived when it would be wiser to repeal the Party Processions Act (Ireland); and whether, in their opinion, the preservation of the public peace could not be equally secured by a strict administration of the Common Law of the land?


replied, that, in answer to the Question put to him by the hon. Member for Belfast some time ago, he stated that it was not the intention of the Government to propose during the present Session the repeal of the Party Processions Act. He also stated that he thought that, after the authoritative and lucid manner in which the law had been stated by Mr. Justice Fitzgerald, it was quite clear that no uncertainty as to the state of the law could exist. That learned Judge laid down that there were three things necessary to constitute a breach of the law. The first was, that there should be an assembling together in procession; the second was, that there should be the bearing of flags and emblems; and the third was, that the wearing of distinctive sashes and symbols should be such as was calculated to provoke animosity and ill-feeling between various classes of Her Majesty's subjects. At the same time he (the Earl of Mayo) stated that any uncertainty which could possibly arise, must arise from juries taking different views as to the meaning of the words "calculated to provoke animosity and ill-feeling between various classes of Her Majesty's subjects." The Government had considered these words with the greatest care, with a view, if possible, to render them more clear; but they had come to the decision that such an amendment as was proposed was impossible, and that these words could not be altered with- out materially interfering with that right of meeting for the purpose of public discussion which the Government, in common with the Members of that House, felt ought not to be restricted. He regretted most deeply that a feeling should prevail that the law had not been administered with impartiality. All he could say was, that as far as the present Government was concerned, they had endeavoured to administer the law with the strictest impartiality and fairness; and he felt convinced that Parliament would never be prepared to repeal this Act, unless such a state of things came about, that in the celebration of these anniversaries and meetings parties would abstain from exhibiting those flags and symbols which every candid man must admit were calculated to provoke animosity and ill-feeling between the various classes of Her Majesty's subjects in Ireland. He did not think the existence of the Party Processions Act interfered with the Common Law of the land. If a breach of peace should occur in connection with these processions, it would be tried under the Common Law. The Act in question constituted an offence which was totally irrespective of the fact whether a breach of the peace occurred or not.