HC Deb 27 February 1873 vol 214 cc1040-1

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether his attention has been called to a published statement of a speech made by the Irish Attorney General previous to the late Derry Election, when in answer to a gentleman's remark that he was a "priest hunter," he is stated to have said—"No, no, are you aware that the Archbishop of Tuam, the Bishop of Galway, and the Bishop of Clonfert, had presented a Petition asking that as a matter of right they should be tried?" And, whether the Government was influenced by that Petition in their institution of the trials that arose out of the proceedings on the Galway Election Petition?


in reply, said that his attention had not been called to the speech referred to by the hon. and gallant Member opposite, until his Notice appeared on the Paper. He was obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for affording him the pleasure of reading the manly and gallant speech of the Attorney General for Ireland—a speech worthy of the high character and reputation of that right hon. and learned Gentleman. He had no doubt that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite had formed the same opinion of that speech, if he had read it—about which he, however, was not quite certain. The Attorney General in that speech made himself fully responsible for those prosecutions instituted in Ireland. But he was sorry to say that the announcement of that fact on the part of his right hon. and learned Friend was, as reported, received with groans by the audience. Those interruptions, however, did not appear to have produced any change in his views or statements. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to think that the presentation of a Petition by certain Prelates in Ireland was the motive which led the Government to institute the prosecutions against those Prelates. If it had been really the desire of those Prelates to be tried, it would have furnished an odd reason to the Government for instituting prosecutions against a large number of priests; but the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite perhaps understood matters of this kind better than he (Mr. Gladstone) did. The desire however of those Prelates, however honourable to themselves, to subject their conduct to the ordeal of a public investigation, could have no possible influence upon the proceedings set on foot, by the Irish Law Officers of the Crown. He perceived by the latter part of the Question that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was under a misapprehension, which had been shared by some others. The hon. and gallant Member ought, as a Member of that House, to know that the Government, as a Government, did not, and could not, have anything to do with the question whether those prosecutions should be undertaken. They were instituted exclusively upon the responsibility of the Attorney General for Ireland—a responsibility committed to him by Act of Parliament—and the Attorney General according to that statutory responsibility exercised a quasi-judicial office, and was bound by considerations independent of and quite irrespective of the political views and intentions of Her Majesty's Government. That was the ground assumed by his right hon. and learned Friend, now Baron Dowse, when he advised that those prosecutions be commenced. But he (Mr. Gladstone) was bound to remind the House that his right hon. and learned Friend was supported by the advice of the other Law Officers of the Crown, and that he acted with the entire approval of the Government.