HC Deb 23 July 1872 vol 212 cc1626-35

Sir, in pursuance of the understanding given by my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, that the Attorney General should state the course intended to be taken with reference to the persons reported guilty of undue influence and intimidation at the Galway county election by Mr. Justice Keogh, I now rise to state the course which we intend to adopt on that subject. I may, perhaps, be allowed, before I go into any details, to state some preliminary matters which the House had better understand, in order that they may more thoroughly comprehend the explanation of the action that I am about, on the part of the Government, to take. The House is aware that a Petition was presented by Captain the Hon. William le Poer Trench against the return of Captain John Philip Nolan for the county of Galway. That Petition was heard during several days during this year, and Captain John Philip Nolan was unseated, the learned Judge reserving the question for the consideration of the Court of Common Pleas whether the learned Judge was warranted in giving the seat to Captain Trench. That question was decided in the affirmative, and the learned Judge issued his Certificate to that effect, which was accompanied by the Report and Evidence now in the hands of the House. In that Report, at page 3, in the first part of the Evidence, I find this statement— I further certify that the persons whose names I have set forth in the Schedule number "One" to this Certificate annexed, were guilty, at and previous to said Election, of undue influence within the meaning of the provisions of said Act. In referring to Schedule No. 1 we find 36 persons reported guilty of undue influence and intimidation. These include the Member who was unseated, Captain John Philip Nolan; his brother, Sebastian Nolan, Esq.; the Most Rev. John MacHale, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam; the Most Rev. Patrick Duggan, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clonfert; the Most Rev. John McEvilly, Roman Catholic Bishop of Galway; the Rev. Patrick Loftus, the Rev. Bartholomew Quin, the Rev. James Staunton, and a number of other clergymen of the Roman Catholic Church, making in all 36 persons. The learned Judge goes on to state in his Report— And I do further report to Mr. Speaker that the Roman Catholic clergymen whose names have been set forth in Schedule number "Two" to this Certificate annexed, being the persons of the same name included in Schedule "One," by threats and denunciations of temporal injury, and spiritual punishment, uttered during or immediately after Divine Service, and from the altars of their respective places of worship, and otherwise, as detailed in the evidence, intimidated and unduly influenced great numbers of the Roman Catholic electors of such County to vote for the said John Philip Nolan, or to refrain from voting against him. And further, it was proved that numbers of such electors who had promised to vote for the said William le Poer Trench afterwards had been compelled to vote for the said John Philip Nolan, or to refrain from voting for said William le Poer Trench, and had avowed they were so compelled by said intimidation and undue influence. On turning to Schedule No. 2, I find it contains the names of 22 clergymen of the Roman Catholic Church, all of whose names are included in Schedule No. 1, so that there are 36 persons reported against altogether. All the names in the second Schedule are the names of Roman Catholic clergymen, and there is no Bishop included among them. Then I find that the learned Judge goes on to say— And I further report that, although I have found and reported that the Most Reverend John MacHale, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, and the Most Reverend John McEvilly, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Galway, were guilty of undue influence, it was not proved that the said Most Reverend John MacHale, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, or that the said Most Reverend John McEvilly, Roman Catholic Bishop of Galway, sanctioned or had taken part in such denunciations as before-mentioned. And the Most Reverend the Roman Catholic Bishop of Galway proved that any such denunciations in a Roman Catholic chapel, and more especially if made against any person by name, are in direct violation of the ordinances of the Roman Catholic Church in force in Ireland, as enjoined by certain Synodical decrees furnished to the Court, and which are placed upon the Notes of Evidence. The learned Judge further states— And I have further to report that the Reverend Patrick J. O'Brien, parish priest in the archdiocese of Tuam, who was the proposer of the said John Philip Nolan at said Election, publicly announced on the morning of the polling, at the polling-place in Tuam, to a gentleman of the Protestant persuasion, who had there voted for the said William le Poer Trench, that 'there would not be a hair of his head disturbed'—that nothing would be done to him—'that they were all renegade Roman Catholics, who would be excoriated.' That is all I think it necessary to state at the present time with reference to the Report. Now, Sir, under these circumstances, this Report having been presented to the House and the Evidence, and these having been printed, it was my duty, as Attorney General for Ireland, quite irrespective of any authority or action of the House, to consider what I should do in the premises. I have looked—I need hardly say with the greatest care—into all the evidence; I have read it with the closest attention and the greatest accuracy, and I trust that no Member of this House will think there has been any unnecessary delay in bringing forward my course of action. As a Member of this House, of course I have to attend to my duties in that capacity. As Attorney General for Ireland—as my right hon. and learned Friend opposite (Dr. Ball) knows, perhaps better than most others—I had to supervise all the prosecutions at the pending Assizes, and I had besides to read and carefully consider all this evidence. Not one moment was lost; but time was taken which, perhaps, might more judiciously have been spent in other ways. I found, Sir, that the statute which imposed a duty upon me in connection with this case was the 26 and 27 of the Queen, c. 29, s. 9. That section, taken in conjunction with the 16th section of the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1868, which substituted the Report of a Judge for that of a Committee of this House, imposed the duty upon me of considering this matter, and I will read to the House the words imposing that duty— Such Report and the Evidence shall be laid before the Attorney General, with a view to his instituting a prosecution against such persons, if the evidence should, in his opinion, be sufficient to support such a prosecution. Now, the duty, it is plain, is imposed on me irrespective of any Order of this House. No Order has been passed by this House to prosecute any Member for corrupt practices since June, 1863, when, on the Motion of the then hon. Member for Knaresborough, who is now Member for Boston (Mr. Collins), a prosecution was ordered by the House of Mr. Barbour, who was the Member for Lisburn; but the then Attorney General for Ireland, who is now Lord Chancellor, stated that the Report had been laid on the Table before the Act had received the Royal Assent, and therefore he did not think it necessary or right to introduce any change in the practice of the House. Since then this Act has passed, and the duty is cast on the Attorney General, in his official capacity, to consider whether the prosecution should be instituted or not. From the earliest moment I had the evidence before me—and it being my business to ascertain the position I occupied with respect to this matter, and considering the case was one of such gravity and importance, involving so much not only to the persons concerned, but to the well-being not alone of Ireland, but of the whole Empire—I thought myself justified in obtaining every assistance I could in arriving at a sound and legitimate conclusion upon this matter. I have had the assistance of my learned Colleague the Solicitor General for Ireland, who came over here for the purpose; but I have also had the opportunity of conferring with my hon. and learned Friends the Attorney and Solicitor General for England, and what I have now to state as the result of such consultations I am authorized to say is the result of our common opinion. I do not, Sir, put that forward for the purpose of freeing myself from responsibility. I take the responsibility upon my own shoulders to the fullest extent. I share that responsibility with no person; but I think I was entitled to ask for that assistance, more especially as on some of the matters before me I arrived at a different conclusion from that of the learned Judge who tried the case, and out of respect to him, as well as from an earnest desire to arrive at a right conclusion, I availed myself of that assistance, which was freely given. But the responsibility is mine, and mine alone. I will now, Sir, state the conclusion at which I have arrived. I have arrived at the conclusion that—in the words of this section—"the evidence be laid before me and considered by me," that there is evidence, in my opinion, sufficient to support a prosecution of a number of persons who are referred to in these Schedules. I will state the names of these persons. There are 36 names in all mentioned in the Schedules. The names are common to both Schedules. The Rev. Peter Conway, whose name appears in both Schedules, is since dead, so that only 35 remain—namely, 35 in the first Schedule, and 21 in the second Schedule. I have arrived at the conclusion that there are grounds for prosecuting 24 of these persons; that there are grounds for prosecuting the Most Rev. Patrick Duggan, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clonfert, for undue influence; that there are grounds for prosecuting Captain John Philip Nolan, and Sebastian Nolan, Esq., his brother; and that there are grounds for proscuting 19 Roman Catholic clergymen, whose names are contained in Schedule No. 2, being all the clergymen mentioned in that Schedule except three—one being the Rev. Peter Conway, deceased; another being the Rev. Timothy Keevil; and the third being the Rev. Francis Kenny. The following are those against whom prosecutions are to be instituted:—The Bishop of Clonfert, Captain P. Nolan, Mr. S. Nolan, the Rev. Patrick Loftus, the Rev. Bartholomew Quin, the Rev. James Staunton, the Rev. Thomas Considine, the Rev. John O'Grady, the Rev. Jerome Fahy, the Rev. James Furlong, the Rev. Patrick Cannon, the Rev. Coleman Galvin, the Rev. Michael Byrne, the Rev. Eugene White, the Rev. Thomas Walsh, the Rev. James Madden, the Rev. William Manning, the Rev. Malachi Greene, the Rev. Patrick Coen, the Rev. Francis Forde, the Rev. William McGauran or McGovern, the Rev. John McKeague or McKeirgue, the Rev. John Kemmy, and the Rev. P. J. O'Brien. I am not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence for subjecting the Rev. Timothy Keevil or the Rev. Francis Kenny to a trial before a jury. The House must know that very different considerations influence a case when presented before a jury on a criminal prosecution to those which influence the mind of a Judge in trying an Election Petition. The prosecutions in this case must be instituted under the section of the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act of 1854, which declares that if any person, directly or indirectly, by himself or through any other person acting on his behalf, is guilty of a misdemeanour, he shall be subject to the penalties prescribed by the law. There is a section in the same Act, providing, in the same terms, that a Member shall be unseated if, through himself or his agent, he is found guilty of corrupt practices; but to unseat a Member is one thing, and to convict him of a misdemeanour is another. In the case of "Cooper and Slade," which came before the House of Lords, a different construction was put upon the Act—that the agent was a special agent, and that there must be some knowledge in the mind of the person employing him that he was about to be guilty of corrupt practices; or otherwise it would be a fearful thing that a man, by the doctrine of constructive agency, should be held to commit a misdemeanour. Now, having regard to these circumstances, and to the fact that it was not proved before the learned Judge that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Galway had sanctioned or taken part in the denunciations which had taken place, I am not able to satisfy myself that there are sufficient grounds for putting those Prelates on their trial. The conclusion I have therefore come to is—that 24 of the persons mentioned in these Schedules must be put on their trial: 19 out of Schedule No. 2, and 5 out of Schedule No. 1—namely, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clonfert, Captain Nolan, Mr. Sebastian Nolan, the Rev. John Kemmy, and the Rev. Patrick J. O'Brien. I need not state that in the discharge of this duty I have felt it to be a most painful act to arrive at this conclusion, and I do not think that any well-judging or right-thinking man would differ from me in that respect. It is the most painful duty I was ever called upon to discharge, and I trust that I may never again be called upon to discharge one so painful. Nevertheless, it was my duty, and I could not shrink from it. The satisfaction I have is this—that what I have done is approved by my own conscience in the discharge of the solemn duty of the high office which I hold, and, looking solely to the discharge of that duty, I have nothing to apologize for, and nothing to regret.


Mr. Speaker, with a view to put myself in Order, I intend to conclude with a Motion. I do not wish to enter in the least degree into any controversy on this subject; but I desire to take this, the first opportunity which has presented itself to me, to state that I have the honour to number amongst my constituents that right rev. Prelate who is about to be prosecuted by the Attorney General for Ireland. I have also the honour of numbering amongst my constituents a number of the priests whose names are contained in the Schedules which have been referred to. But, Sir, amongst the names which have been inserted by the learned Judge in these Schedules are the names of two other Bishops in the county of Galway—the Archbishop of Tuam and the Bishop of Galway. These three Bishops—the Bishop of Clonfert, and the other two whose names I have mentioned—have all petitioned this House that justice might be done them. The only mode in which justice can be done to them, is by submitting their cases to the decision of a Judge and a jury. They have petitioned this House to be tried by their Peers, and by the verdict which may be given they will stand or fall. But I protest, with all the energy of which I am capable, against the injustice of selecting one of those three Bishops, when the learned Judge himself draws no distinction between them as regards their guilt in having exercised undue influence, and as being properly subject, as he states, to severe and personal and degrading penalties under the Act of Parliament. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Mitchell Henry.)


I do not wish to enter into any discussion upon this subject at the present moment. The Attorney General for Ireland has stated the case with great fairness; but I want to know whether, in consequence of that statement, Her Majesty's Government intend to take any other course on Thursday next than that of allowing the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), which stands first on the Paper, and on which there are two Amendments—to be proceeded with? I beg to ask my right hon. Friend whether he intends to leave the matter as it now stands, or whether the Government will take any other steps in the matter than they have already announced?


In answering the Question of my right hon. Friend opposite I would venture to express a hope that, although the adjournment of the House has been moved, it will not be supposed that this is a fitting occasion for a general discussion of the question. I trust the House has at once comprehended the purpose with which the very clear, and, I think, dispassionate, statement of my right hon. and learned Friend was made. It was stated by him to be only just to the House, which has been invited by Notices of Motion to a discussion of the general question of the Galway Election, that the House should be placed some time before that discussion came on, and at the earliest possible moment compatible with the discharge of his arduous duties, in complete possession of the view that he took as to the important and arduous duty imposed on him by the Act of Parliament. It was for that purpose, and to place the House in possession of certain information material for the cognizance of this House, that this statement was made. Then my right hon. Friend opposite naturally asked me whether, in conjunction with the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend, Her Majesty's Government intend to take any steps which they have not as yet announced to the House? My answer to my right hon. Friend will be that Her Majesty's Government have before them with perfect clearness the course which it will be their duty to pursue; but they have to recollect that there are other parties in this case, and especially there are hon. Gentlemen who have given Notice of Motions, and the Government, wish to place these Gentlemen particularly in possession of the intentions of the Attorney General for Ireland. But the only question as to which the Government wish to be informed is, what course those Gentlemen severally intended to pursue. If we understand—and I do not ask for an answer at this moment, because they may wish for a few hours to meditate upon the statement which has just been made—if we understand that they intend to persevere in the precise course that they have marked out for themselves, we shall immediately announce the course which we intend to take. But I think it is better that we should wait and give them the course of the day to consider what has been stated, and if they see cause to alter the Notices they have given, or to take the course they have announced, it will be our duty to take the circumstances into consideration. There will be no delay on our part, and the moment we know what is intended to be done by those Gentlemen—whether the Motions are to be altered or not—we will at once state the course we shall pursue.


As far as I am concerned, I am quite ready to go on with the Motion which stands in my name. I think the time has come when the House should have a distinct answer as to whether I shall be permitted to bring on that Motion on Thursday or not? [Mr. GLADSTONE: Oh, yes.] I thought there was some reservation. [Mr. GLADSTONE: No.] There is another matter that in some respects affects the privileges of the House. I understood the Attorney General for Ireland to say that the provision which existed in the old Corrupt Practices Act, by which the evidence was to be laid before him for his sole determination, was contained in the Election Petitions Act. I am not prepared to acquiesce in that view. So far as I can judge of the Election Petitions Act, I am disposed to think that provision does not apply to the Report of a Judge that these parties are guilty of under influence under that Act. I do not give that as a definite opinion; but I think it ought to be looked into before any final determination is arrived at: because, if the 9th section of the Corrupt Practices Act does not apply to the Report of a Judge under the Election Petitions Act, then I apprehend that, according to invariable practice, the Attorney General ought not to originate a prosecution unless ordered to do so by this House. I am by no means prepared to say that I acquiesce in the interpretation that has been put upon the Election Petitions Act, and I reserve to myself any course of action which I may think proper to take hereafter.


What I stated was, that, according to my opinion, the 9th section of 26 & 27 Vict. c. 29, coupled with the 16th section of 31 & 32 of the Queen, c. 125, imposes upon me the duty which I have undertaken to discharge. I can only form an opinion for myself. I may, however, state that my learned Colleague the Solicitor General for Ireland is of the same opinion, and that the Attorney and Solicitor Generals for England agree in that opinion. The four Law Officers of the two countries are, therefore, all of one mind, and I intend to act upon that united opinion.


The Attorney Generals have conducted several prosecutions in the North of England for bribery, without any orders from the House.


I may mention that when I was Solicitor General under the late Attorney General, Sir Robert Collier, all our prosecutions of this description were instituted when the House was not sitting.


I may perhaps be allowed to explain what I thought I had made clear before—that is, that we do not intend to interfere with respect to the order of Motions on Thursday, but simply to open a day for the discussion of the Galway Election, either on an original Motion ourselves, or else not to interfere with the constituted Orders of the House. We shall, therefore, propose, I apprehend, in the ordinary course, that the Orders of the Day on Thursday should be postponed until after the Notices of Motion relating to the Galway Election have been disposed of. I understand that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick is prepared to go on with his Motion. [Mr. BUTT: Hear, hear!] If so, we shall certainly not interfere, or attempt to deprive him of his right to priority

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.