HC Deb 16 February 1875 vol 222 cc415-22

Motion made, and Question proposed, That there be laid before this House, Copy of the Certificate by the Clerk of the Crown for the County of Dublin, of the Conviction and of the Judgment in the case of the Queen against John Mitchel, tried at a Court of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery held at Dublin on the 26th day of May 1848: Extract from the Government Gazette, published by authority, at Hobart Town on the 14th day of June 1853, containing an official notification of the escape of John Mitchel, and offering a reward for his apprehension: And, Copy of any Despatches from the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land, relative to the Ticket of Leave granted to the said John Mitchel, and to his escape from the Colony."—(Mr. Hart Dyke.)


said, he rose on the part of some hon. Members for Ireland, and in the absence of his hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), to make a few remarks on the Motion just made. It was unnecessary for him to say that he did not sympathise in any way with the past politics of Mr. Mitchel—he did not know what his present politics were—but he did think the conduct of the Crown, if they wished to interfere with the election for the county of Tipperary, which could be the only object of the present Motion, was unfair—he might almost say, unworthy. Whatever Mr. Mitchel's former offences might be, he was in Ireland last year, and the Government might then, if it had chosen, have put him in prison for any offences he had committed. He did not say that he should not have opposed such action on their part. But, at the present moment, there was a constituency in Ireland open for election. He knew nothing of the reason why that election was being held—or rather he knew nothing of the cause which created the vacancy—except that he remembered what a former Member for Tipperary (Colonel White) said in that House five or six months ago in a Home Rule debate. It seemed to him that in the present case the Crown had determined to prevent a contest in Tipperary—and to prevent that constituency from speaking out. By the Crown, of course he meant the present Ministers of the Crown. The proper course, in his opinion, would have been either for the Government last year to have imprisoned Mr. Mitchel when he was over here, or now to have started a Conservative candidate against him. He entirely disapproved of the conduct of the Government in the matter, and, if allowed to do so, should oppose it.


It may be convenient for the House that I should read a Notice I am about to give of a Resolution I propose to move on Thursday next:— That John Mitchel, returned as Member for the county of Tipperary, having been adjudged guilty of felony, and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years, and not having endured the punishment to which he was adjudged for such felony, or received a pardon under the Great Seal, has "become, and continues, incapable of being elected or returned as a Member of this House; that Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Ireland, to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the county of Tipperary, in the room of John Mitchel, adjudged and sentenced as aforesaid.


I have only this moment, Sir, entered the House, and I am not aware whether I have been accurately informed as to the exact nature of the Motion before the Chair; but I understand it is a Motion for Papers relating to the conviction of Mr. Mitchel. How is Mr. Mitchel before this House? I should like to ask what cognizance this House has of whatever return the county of Tipperary may have made this day? How is Her Majesty's Government aware, or is there a precedent—it becomes me to speak with diffidence upon the precedents of the House, but I speak in all good faith when I ask—Is there any precedent for these proceedings? Sir, this House sits under a Constitution that has not been the creation nor the draft on paper or a year or a century; but it sits here under forms and precedents established throughout the course of many centuries, and I should like to know whether there is a precedent for these proceedings, that in this Chamber, within almost an hour or two of the time fixed for the Sheriff to receive the nomination for the county, one of Her Majesty's Ministers should rise in this House to overshadow and arrest the choice of that constituency? The electric telegraph has flashed to London the news that Mr. John Mitchel is knight of the shire for the county of Tipperary; but I do not know, Sir, how far the discoveries and the application of science in the transmission of political news have been incorporated with the Forms or usages of this House; and if there be a precedent for this extreme precipitancy on the part of the Government, on finding that they ought to have done something yesterday which they did not do, and therefore running down in hot haste to-night with their Motion before the return of the Sheriff to the writ has reached them. I hope this House will, at all events, take a little breathing time; the British Constitution can endure Mr. John Mitchel, Member of Parliament, for 24 hours, and I hope there is no need of creating in this hot haste a precedent that may hereafter be very dangerous. The electors of the county of Tipperary were asked to select a man to represent them as knight of the shire in this Assembly. They by this time have made their choice. It may be that they have made an unwise, it may be that they have made a wise, choice. Mr. Mitchel's politics are not mine. I have stated that elsewhere, where I had the opportunity ere now. But the people of Tipperary, if they have elected him as their Representative, have done it deliberately. I state here that they have done that act deliberately as their reversal, in the face of all the world, of the ignominious sentence that was passed upon him when he was carried out of Ireland loaded with chains. It is not in the power of this House—though it is omnipotent in all that relates to legislation, I say it with all respect—it is not in the power of any vote of this House to arrest that signal compliment paid by an Irish constituency to the public character of a man with whose political opinions I believe they do not coincide. It is to his fate as a victim of the evil system under which Ireland has groaned, to his broken life, broken fortunes, and health ruined in the desperate cause of his country, that the people of Tipperary have offered this signal compliment in the face of all the world. I said here last year—and perhaps English Gentlemen did not attach sufficient weight to my statement—that the Home Rule Members in this House were the middle party in Irish politics, and that they corresponded somewhat with the like party in Hungary, having the advocates of separation on the one hand, and the advocates of Imperial absorption on the other. Perhaps the House will understand what I said now when our Gambetta has been returned as the most extreme of our Extreme Left—for we have exactly such parties in Ireland. A Member of the Extreme Left, no doubt an advocate of separation, has been returned for Tipperary, if we can trust the telegraph. When the House has the return fairly before it—when you, Mr. Speaker, in the proper course of procedure, have the document before you on the Table—then let the House deal with this matter. Surely this haste is most unseemly; and I notice that another new precedent is to be set up in this case. Mr. Mitchel was adjudged guilty of treason-felony. If I am not in error, among all the precedents upon your Journals, the last Motion before this House of this kind was that Jeremiah Rossa, having been adjudged guilty of treason-felony, and being now in prison undergoing his sentence, the election was void. That is not the case here. I state upon authority that Mr. Mitchel has obtained the opinion of two eminent lawyers—one an English, the other an Irish barrister—that he is fully eligible, and he is prepared to establish his eligibility before any legal tribunal. But if the trial of a point of law is dexterously to be snatched from the ordinary legal tribunals of the land, and this matter is to be settled upon party principles by a party vote in this House, then I say you do an injustice to Mr. Mitchel to-day that may be the means of doing injustice to any citizen to-morrow. If he be legally disqualified, let the legal disqualification be brought before the ordinary legal tribunals of the land. There is, at all events, a disputed point in this question. It is said that felony may be purged by one of two courses—either by the pardon of the Crown, or the lapse of the time of sentence; and I believe the legal opinion has been given that as Mr. Mitchel did not return to these Realms for the 14 years for which he was transported beyond the seas, though he may be amenable to a charge of gaol-breaking, yet he is not liable for his original sentence. If that be not law, let us have the legal point decided in a legal way. I protest, Mr. Speaker, against the attempt in this House to snatch this question from the purview of legal authorities, and to settle it here by, as I say, a strong party vote. Perhaps, Sir, I should not have said so much had I heard the Motion more correctly; but I, for one, rise to protest against the undue haste manifested—the rush made—to prevent Mr. Mitchel from taking his seat in this House.


asked, for the sake of the proceedings of the House, and the observance of the Constitutional laws of the country, whether the return for the county of Tipperary had been yet received? Until it was, no one knew anything officially as to the election. The writ was issued out of Chancery, and the return should be brought into Chancery. Until that return was received, no legal act could be done with respect to the election—its validity could not be questioned, or the return quashed. When the return was lodged in the Court of Chancery, it could have been questioned on a point of law on demurrer, or opposed on a question of fact in the Court of Common Picas, according to the ancient form of procedure which prevailed up to the reign of Elizabeth. Since then the House of Commons had usurped the form of deciding upon the validity of election; but it really stood in the place occupied in that respect by the Court of Chancery before Elizabeth's time. A point arose as to the validity of the return for Tipperary; but he must protest, as a matter of regularity and Constitutional law, against the return to the writ being adjudged invalid by the House of Commons before the return had been placed before them. If it were, he was strongly of opinion that the next return would be hold to be void. This Motion, if carried, would create a most unfavourable impression in Ireland.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 174; Noes 13: Majority 161.

Papers presented accordingly; to lie upon the Table, and to be printed. [No. 50.]


moved that the Papers be taken into consideration on Thursday next.


said, that what had occurred showed the great inconvenience of proceeding with an important Motion of which no Notice had been given on the Paper. What had happened? The Irish Members were in the lobby or in the dining-room; at all events, out of the House. They heard that something was being done about the Tipperary election; they came in, and they did not know what it was that was proposed. [Ironical cheers.] How could they know if they were absent? He was informed that a writ for Tipperary was being moved for, and the con- sequence was, that he threw away and wasted a sound Constitutional speech. This would not have happened if Notice had been given on the Paper of the Motion to be moved on the part of the Government, and he hoped it would not occur again. He was now informed that Notice had been given of the intention to move for a new writ for the county of Tipperary on Thursday next. If so, he thought that was irregular and premature; because the return of the election had yet to be made, and the proper authority had to decide whether it was valid or void, and whether the person returned was qualified to sit. A question of law had to be decided, and it was on the official return alone that it could be decided. Therefore, it was premature and irregular to give Notice of a Motion for the issue of a writ. He hoped the Government would withdraw the Notice of Motion. The time would come when that Motion might be made and when it would, no doubt, be entertained in a proper manner.


I beg to move that in addition to the Papers ordered, there also be furnished Papers showing the composition of the jury on the occasion of Mr. Mitchel's trial, the names of the jurors, and the proceedings in the Courts of Law with reference to the selection and striking of the jury. I will explain to the House that my reason for doing so is to satisfy hon. Members of the gross jury-packing which has prevented the verdict from having had any moral effect in Ireland.

[The Motion was not seconded.]

Original Motion put, and agreed ta.


I thought I was in Order in proposing my Amendment. If I am now in Order, I move for the production also of the Papers setting forth the names of the jurors who convicted Mr. Mitchel, the proceedings at the trial by which these jurors were selected by the Government, and all such further information as may be required for clearing up to the satisfaction of the House the character of that transaction as a trial in a Court of Law and of Justice.


Will the hon. Member bring up the terms of his Motion?


was about to place his Motion in writing when—


I must remind the hon. Member that in accordance with ordinary practice he should give Notice of his Motion for a future day, when there will be an opportunity of considering the terms of the Motion which the hon. Member proposes to submit to the House.


It would have been well, Sir, if the Government had adopted the wise course you have suggested.


I beg to give Notice of my Motion for to-morrow.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock.