HC Deb 28 May 1869 vol 196 cc881-8

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the case, of Lavelle v. Proudfoot, tried before Mr. Justice Fitzgerald at the late Gal-way Spring Assizes, and to ask Questions of the First Lord of the Treasury in relation thereto. He had taken up the subject, not in a spirit of bigotry, but solely through a painful sense of duty. If the Irish Church Bill became law the Protestant clergy would be withdrawn from the remote districts of Ireland, and with them would be withdrawn that public opinion which their presence helped to maintain at the present, while the Roman Catholic priests would be left altogether uncontrolled. It was in the interest of the Roman Catholic portion of the population he ventured to bring this matter forward. All the parties who had suffered from the acts of violence to which he would have to refer were Roman Catholics. It was also remarkable that the Judge who tried the case—Mr. Justice Fitzgerald— was an eminent Roman Catholic, while most of the counsel engaged on both sides were also Roman Catholics. The action was one for libel brought by the celebrated Father Lavelle against Mr. Proudfoot, the agent of the Building and Land Investment Company. As agent of that company, Mr. Proudfoot had been engaged in what was called "striping" land on the Port Royal estate in the parish of Partly, of which Father Lavelle was parish priest. It-was very customary in Ireland for persons to have a right to a cow's grass in one place and a right to a-half or a-quarter cow's grass in another place. This was what was called holding in "rundle," and he believed it led to much inconvenience. In order to do away with that system it was necessary for owners of estates to "stripe" the land—that was, to get the tenants to give up that right with the view of having the land divided into square farms. The tenants in Ireland generally objected to the process of "striping" the land, and in this particular case Father Lavelle took up the cudgels for the tenantry. He addressed several letters to the local papers reflecting on Mr. Proudfoot, who replied in a letter to the Mayo Constitution. In that letter were two allegations, to which he would call the attention of the House. First, the letter stated that a poor woman, named Catherine Henahan, had been severely beaten by the collector of dues for Father Lavelle. Next it stated that a number of the parishioners of Father Lavelle had been expelled from the chapel of Partly because they had given up their land. These were the grounds of libel in the action tried at the Galway Assizes. The jury found for the plaintiff, and assessed the damages at one farthing. With reference to the first allegation that failed, because it appeared on the trial that the person who committed the assault was agent, not for Father Lavelle, but for his curate, Father Mullarkey. There could be no doubt, however, that there had been committed on the poor woman what Mr. Justice Fitzgerald had termed an "outrageous" assault. It appeared that she was reaping her oats, in a field, when the collector of dues for the Roman Catholic curate commenced carrying off a portion of the crop. The poor woman endeavoured to prevent him from doing so, whereupon he turned on her, knocked her down, knelt upon her, and severely cut and bruised her face. She afterwards obtained a summons against the ruffian, but, at the instance of Father Mullarkey, she consented to withdraw it. It appeared that the custom of levying these dues had existed in this diocese—that of Archbishop M'Hale—during the past half century, and evidence was adduced to show that these oats formed part of the perquisites of the Roman Catholic curate. Now, in the course of the debates on the Irish Church, the House had frequently been told that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland existed entirely upon the voluntary system, and he should be glad to learn from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government whether he considered this custom to be a part of the voluntary system. It would certainly seem strange if any Baptist minister had a customary privilege of seizing his pewholder's oats. The second allegation was that people had been turned out of the chapel for the offence of giving up their farms for the purpose of being "striped." But it was sworn that this was not the reason, and that the real cause was that the people so turned out had sent their children to the National School, the teachers at which had been trained at the Model Schools in Dublin subsequent to 1862. About twenty persons were so expelled, and of these one was Sergeant Coneys of the police. At the time of his expulsion he was kneeling in front of the altar, when Father Lavelie took out his watch and told him he would give him five minutes, without saying what for. Sergeant Coneys' wife came and told him not to enrage the priest, and that he had better go out quietly. This he accordingly did with his wife and family, and Father Lavelie followed them into the chapel-yard, and insisted upon their going into the public road, and on their going out of the chapel-yard the gate was slammed after them. Father Mullarkey swore in his evidence that the last sacrament of the Church—extreme unction—was refused to one man, John Henehan. because he permitted his grandchildren to go to the National School, and in excuse for this it was urged that the man was violating the laws of the Church, inasmuch as in 1862 resolutions were passed in Dublin condemning the Model Schools. Mr. Justice Fitzgerald expressed himself very strongly upon the conduct of Father Lavelle and Father Mullarkey, and after referring to what had occurred in the ease of Sergeant Coneys, said that he had never heard of such a transaction, and trusted that he never might again. The learned Judge, too, stated, that though he knew nothing about the canonical law, the course pursued in the expulsion of the sergeant was contrary to common law. Considering that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was desirous of conciliating the Church of Rome, that he looked upon education as one of the three heads of the was tree of Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, and considering the animosity exhibited towards the National School system by the leading dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, and more especially by Dr. M'Hale, he would ask whether the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to do away with that system, and hand over the education of the people to the priests, substituting a denominational system; and whether he was prepared, in case the Irish Church Bill became law, which it probably would do so far as that House was concerned on Monday next, to take measures to protect peaceful Roman Catholic subjects of Her Majesty in Ireland from the possible recurrence of such acts of violence as those which occurred in the case of "Lavelle v. Proudfoot?"


said, it was evident, when the hon. Gentleman placed his Motion upon the Paper, that it was merely the pretext for such a statement ns the one to which the House had just listened; and it was also manifest that the plea of defending the liberties of the Irish people was merely a pretence equally shallow and sinister for making an attack upon a body of men, who, above all others, had done their best to protect those liberties from the assaults of sectarian animosity, and from attempts which had been made to trample them under foot. What were the real facts? A trial had been held in Ireland before the legitimate tribunal of the country; and a verdict in due form and in accordance with the evidence had been returned, and yet an hon. Member thought it necessary to call upon the House to review the case, and upon his own ex parte statement to call upon the First Minister of the Crown to interfere in the matter. The charges were, in the first place, directed against Mr. Lavelle, the parish priest of Partry, in Mayo; against Mr. Mullarkey, the curate; and against a country boy, whom the hon. Member had somewhat fantastically described as a collector of dues. He (Mr. G. H. Moore) believed that there did not exist a man more conscientious, earnest, or high-minded, than Mr. Lavelie, who was one of his constituents, and whose friendship he was proud to acknowledge. The charges made against the rev. gentleman were that, in the discharge of his duties as parish priest, he had expelled from the chapel and deprived of their religious rites a number of persons who had persisted in sending their children to a school where he believed their faith was in danger of being undermined. Now, he (Mr. G. H. Moore) was willing to acknowledge that Sir Robert Blosse, who had set up this school in Party, had no desire to tamper with the religion of the children who came there for instruction; but, in excuse for the conduct of Mr. Lavelle, it should be remembered that that rev. gentleman had had before this to combat a system of proselytism, the most remorseless and unscrupulous that had for cen- turies been known in any country, and which had been carried out by the late Lord Plunket, the uncle of Sir Robert Blosse, and by the Protestant Bishop of Tuam. Against that system of proselytism, Father Lavelle waged an honourable crusade for many years, and he gradually won back the souls of his parishioners from the power of the tempter and the tyrant. It was not to be wondered at that the rev. gentleman, seeing the same powers assumed that were exercised before, should meet the enemy on the threshold and attempt to grapple with him before he had power to do any harm. Very likely it might-be that Father Lavelle had not the power to exclude these people from his chapel; if, nevertheless, a certain number of his parishioners chose to obey his orders and leave it, neither Mr. Justice Fitzgerald nor the hon. Gentleman would hold that there was any power in law to compel them to remain. As their representative and neighbour, and knowing every one of them, he could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that Father Lavelle and his parishioners understood each oilier perfectly well, and did not require his interference; and these men, about whose liberties he was so solicitous, would be minded to take considerable liberties with him if they heard him say a single word against Father Lavelle within any reasonable distance of Partry.


Sir, I do not know how far it is fitting for me to interfere in this question. I must frankly own I do not quite understand the force and cogency of the reasons which induced the hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite (Mr. Charley) to bring a matter of this nature under the notice of the House. Had there been any case in Ireland in which there had been a notable failure of justice, or in which the law had proved insufficient for its purpose, it might have been expedient to call attention to it; but here there is nothing of the kind. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not complain of the manner in which the law has been administered, and he has not shown that it is inadequate; for its purpose. I am very sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks fit to connect a discussion of this kind with the Bill for the disestablishment of the Irish Church, because the introduction of a topic of this sort does nothing but darken the ease with prejudice and feeling, and tends to disturb that perfectly dispassionate frame of mind in which we ought to accustom, and, if necessary, compel ourselves to look at any question which purports to be a question regarding the administration of the law, or respecting acts said to be done against the law by a particular person. The Questions of the hon. and learned Gentleman are Questions he is entitled to put to me, and I will not at all decline to answer them on account of the circumstance that he has chosen to hang them upon a peg which appeal's to me not very appropriate for the purpose. He wishes to know whether it is the intention of the Government to do away with the National School system in Ireland, and he founds that Question upon the assumption that the desire of the Government is to conciliate the Church of Rome. Sir, I must beg to say the Government have no desire whatever to conciliate the Church of Rome. What the Government desire is that the Church of Rome, and every other Church in Ireland, should have justice, and neither more nor less than justice. Our desire for conciliation with the Church of Rome goes precisely to the same point as our desire for conciliation with everybody else: we desire to do all that is in our power to secure their rights, and prevent them so exercising or abusing their rights as to interfere with the rights of other people. But it is not the intention of the Government to do away with the National School system. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should suppose there could be any such intention on the part of a Government which consists almost entirely of Gentlemen who, if they have been distinguished in anything with respect to education in Ireland, have been distinguished rather for the favour with which they have regarded the National School system and their desire to defend it against attack in the days of its infancy and debility than for any hostility to it, either open or concealed. The Government, then, have no desire to do away, or intention to do away, with the National School system in Ireland. Of course, it is their duty to consider from time to time the details of that system, with a view to remedy defects which may be discovered or may have crept into it in the lapse of time; that liberty they claim and exercise in their discretion, but with respect to the system itself they have no intention to do away with it, and I may say that they are generally of opinion, on a review of the thirty-seven or thirty-eight years that that system has been in operation, that it has been the means of conferring great blessings and benefits upon Ireland. With respect to the second Question of the hon. and learned Member, whether the Government intend to adopt measures for protecting the subjects of the Crown from acts of violence. I am bound to say I am not aware that there arises out of this case any necessity special in its nature for the adoption of any new measures for the protection of the subject. It was declared by Mr. Justice Fitzgerald that the turning out of the police officer and his family from the chapel was contrary to the law of the land, and the hon. Gentleman asks me whether I consider it is a voluntary system under which acts of this kind are done. If the act of Father Lavelle was contrary to the law of the land—which no doubt I must take it to be, inasmuch as it has been so declared by a learned and distinguished and most excellent Judge—it was in the power of the party aggrieved to appeal to the law of the land. The time for the hon. Gentleman to have asked the Government whether they intended to bring in any new measures for the protection of the subject would be, not when this party had chosen to forego his right of appeal to the law of the land, but when he had made an appeal, and had either failed through the weakness of the law, or had been subject to detriment in his person or property in consequence of his having made that appeal. I think, therefore, that the Question of the hon. and learned Gentleman, perfectly proper as it may be in itself, does not grow by any natural process out of the circumstances with which we are concerned. With regard to the voluntary system, I would only make this observation: if we view the matter with the strict eye of philosophy we may undoubtedly say that all undue influence whatever is pro tanto a deviation from the voluntary system. There are many forms in which undue influence is exercised in all spheres and circumstances of life. There are many forms in which external influence is brought to bear upon the conduct and action of a man to induce him to deviate, without any obligation so to do, through fear or favour, from what he may think the strict line of duty or of right. But, still, these are matters into which we cannot inquire. When we speak of the voluntary system in matters of religion we mean a system which does not appeal to the law for its support, but which, whether it depend upon due or undue influence, depends upon an influence to which the parties who are the objects of it submit voluntarily, and not under coercion. That is the meaning of the voluntary system; and if we apply the term to those systems in which nothing is done but precisely what is right, and just, and wise, that certainly will be so narrow a construction of it that I very much doubt whether, according to it, there is a voluntary system upon earth. I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Member for furnishing me with the materials of the statement he made, and I should be glad if I could return him the compliment—which I cannot—of saying that there was in the circumstances of this case any necessity for its being brought before the House of Commons. Of course, we know that in the condition of Ireland, where great heat and animosity prevail, many words will be spoken and many acts will be done, perhaps, by men of warm and zealous temperaments which even they themselves, in their cooler moments, and which, at any rate, the dispassionate judgment of society will regret. These are not to be viewed in this House without some consideration of what may be called extenuating circumstances, growing out of a morbid state of feeling in society, the result of evil traditions inherited from the past. What we have to ask is whether the law works, whether the officers of the law do their duty, and whether the ends of the law are attained; and it does not appear to me that in this case the hon. and learned Gentleman has affirmed the negative of any one of these propositions.