MR. O'CONNOR POWER
rose to call the attention of the House to the subject of the Irish political prisoners; and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the time has come when Her Majesty's gracious pardon may be advantageously extended to the prisoners, whether convicted before the civil tribunals or by courts martial, who are and have been for many years undergoing punishment for offences arising out of insurrectionary movements connected with Ireland.Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present—
MR. O'CONNOR POWER continued
The subject of the Resolution had engaged the attention of many Members of the House since the opening of the Session, and he was only endeavouring to fulfil an expectation which was general in submitting forth consideration of the House the Motion which he had read. The terms of the Motion were substantially the same as those forming the declaration in favour of amnesty to the Irish political prisoners, which had received the signatures of 136 Members of the House, excluding the names of the hon. and learned Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Waddy), and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Briggs), who claimed to have signed, the declaration under a misconception. With respect to the 286 different classes of the prisoners whose liberation he advocated, he had from the first contended that all those mentioned in the Return furnished by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department should be regarded as political prisoners. Of the 18 prisoners whose names were in the Home Secretary's Return three had been liberated by the expiration of their terms of imprisonment; and while during the existence of the present Ministry not one political prisoner had been released by the clemency of the Crown, no less than six had been rescued from the penal settlement of Western Australia in defiance of the Crown. There were, however, nine prisoners still in custody. He reminded the House of this affair of the rescue, because to his mind it afforded conclusive proof that the penal settlement in question was not the pleasant abode which the Prime Minister had represented it to be. If it was, he could not imagine why those six men should have risked their lives to escape from it. He had given the number of political prisoners as nine, but there were three others whose cases might come under the same category, the offences of which they were convicted having undoubtedly arisen out of the insurrectionary movement in Ireland. The attention of the Government had been repeatedly drawn to the case of Michael Davitt; but it had been urged against his release that there must have been some aggravating circumstances in his case, because the Judge sentenced him to 15 years' penal servitude while awarding only seven years to Wilson, who was tried for the same offence at the same time. He did not find in the report of the trial any circumstances but those which ought to create for Davitt the greatest possible sympathy. The testimony of a perjured informer named Corydon was accepted against him, but an English jury could hardly have been acquainted with the character of that infamous witness, or they would have hesitated before convicting any one on his evidence. The convictions of the political prisoners generally were obtained by similar evidence and by a system of disgraceful jury packing, which, he rejoiced to say, Lord O'Hagan's Act would render impossible, or at least very difficult, in future. It would scarcely be credited that a police officer was sent down from 287 Dublin Castle to Clonmel for the purpose of entrapping the young men of the locality, and inducing them to join the conspiracy; but it was, nevertheless, the fact, which was brought to light in the progress of the trials. The modus operandi of this official was almost too disgusting for recital. His name was Talbot. He was a member of the Protestant Church, but while engaged in the nominal duties of a water bailiff in Clonmel no one was more conspicuous in attendance at Mass on the Sunday morning. He simulated Catholicism to the extent of partaking of the Communion at the altar, thus crowning his hypocrisy by an act of unblushing sacrilege. Having thus wormed himself into the confidence of the peasantry, he succeeded in persuading them to join the conspiracy. Then he denounced them to the Government, and finally turned up against them to swear away their liberties or their lives. It was with the aid of creatures like this sacrilegious and perjured wretch, Talbot, that Irish patriots were made felons and innocent victims of tyranny and misgovernment. With reference to Davitt, it was right to remind the House again that the Judge before whom he was tried bore testimony to the uprightness of character which he exhibited during the progress of the trial. Davitt offered to bear, in addition to his own sentence, the punishment which was to be awarded to an associate of his, whom he declared to be perfectly innocent; but he (Mr. O'Connor Power) trusted that when the question of the release of those prisoners came again for consideration before the Cabinet, Davitt's action in that respect would not be regarded as an aggravating circumstance, which should justify his further imprisonment. Besides Davitt, there were still in prison two of the men who were convicted of having been concerned in the rescue of Colonel Kelly and Captain Deasy, or the shooting of Serjeant Brett, at Manchester, and six soldiers convicted of various breaches of the Articles of War were still in custody. Now, with respect to these Manchester men, he denied that they were guilty of murder. They did not take life. They did not attempt to take life. They did not even contemplate the taking of life. The truth was that at a time of panic a technical point of law was strained against them, and a terrified Manchester jury 288 sacrificed them to political prejudice and national excitement. He asked for the release of those prisoners, because the law had been more than sufficiently vindicated—three Irishmen had perished on the scaffold, one more Irishman had died in prison, and six other Irishmen had undergone five years of penal servitude each. He submitted that further punishment would not increase respect for the law, but rather produce the belief that there was a vindictive spirit in its administration. With reference to the soldiers, some of whom had been in prison for the last 10 years, he went at some length into their cases last year. He showed how they were but a portion of the rank and file of the Confederacy—detained, although their leaders were some years ago set at liberty. They believed that the obligations of patriotism were more binding than the obligations of a military oath, and they did what some of the great historical characters whom England delighted to honour had done before under similar circumstances—they disregarded their oaths, and entered what they believed to be the service of their country, determined to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, in her emancipation. They might denounce their conduct as illegal and revolutionary, but there was nothing sordid or mean about it. It was conduct such as they were accustomed to applaud in foreign countries, and which they regarded as courageous, magnanimous, and disinterested everywhere but in Ireland. A Commission had recommended a separation between political and other prisoners in regard to their treatment; but that recommendation had not been adopted by the Government. The hon. Member then read the letters which had passed between himself and the Home Secretary on the subject of his request for permission to visit the Fenian prisoners in our convict prisons. From this correspondence it appeared that on the 22nd of May last the hon. Gentleman applied for an order to visit the prisoners, and on the 26th received a reply refusing him the order because a full inquiry had been made in 1871 by a Government Commission into the treatment of the prisoners, and also because no good reason was shown why their treatment should now be investigated by a Member of the House of Commons. On the 1st of June he renewed his re- 289 quest to the Home Secretary, stating the grounds on which the Report of the Commission in question had, in his opinion, failed to give satisfaction to the public and to those most interested in the matter; and on the 10th he received another refusal, accompanied by the remark that if the prisoners themselves desired to see him they might do so at the regular times. In the last letter he received from the right hon. Gentleman, if it was meant to be a reply to his own letter, that letter, he should think, had never been seen by him, since it contained no sort of answer to his request for a private interview with the prisoners. He asked that of the right hon. Gentleman, because if anyone wished to know anything of the treatment to which a prisoner was subject, he might as well hold a conversation with the man in the moon for anything he could learn from a prisoner at an ordinary interview in a prison. The rules of the prisons forbad any conversation in relation to his treatment in prison. He argued that the conduct of England towards her political prisoners was without parallel in any civilized nation. He asked on what ground of justice or even State policy the Irish political prisoners were treated like the most desperate felons? In America the proclaimed amnesty had produced a universal feeling of loyalty towards the great Republic; and in France Marshal M'Mahon had pardoned 200 Communists, while those who were detained in prison were not treated as ordinary prisoners. If the "integrity of the Empire" required that those prisoners should remain for some time longer in prison—which he did not at all admit—surely some relaxation might be made of the punishment inflicted upon them. If they were victims of English policy, English policy did not require that they should be tortured to death. They were honest, disinterested, and brave men, and every hour of their incarceration now, after all they had suffered, must bring disgrace and discredit on the English name. He had been so often indebted to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government for the indulgence with which he had treated him that he should say no more, but conclude.
§ MR. KENELM DIGBY
, in seconding the Resolution, hoped that the House 290 would assent to the liberation of these nine political prisoners. He wished especially to refer to the case of one of them—James Condon—who was an American citizen, whose father was dying of a broken heart, and in whose favour Petitions had been sent to our Government from the Senate and Congress of the United States of America, from Chief Justice Chase, from General Sherman, and from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cincinnati, all praying that Her Majesty's gracious clemency might be extended towards him. Chief Justice Chase did not question the decision of the jury in his case, but thought that the time had come when, the majesty of the law having been fully vindicated, the prisoner might be released. He might remark that it had been proved in evidence that the prisoner had had no deadly weapon in his hand; yet, having been originally condemned to death, his sentence had been commuted to penal servitude for life. The other prisoners who had been arrested as bystanders had got off with much less severe punishments, it being the misfortune of this man that he had been among the first batch tried, and, therefore, had come in for the heavier share of punishment. He believed that in seconding this Resolution he was only echoing the wish of the people of Ireland, who wished to appeal to the clemency of Her Majesty and of the House. Seeing what these men had undergone, he did not think that any man could wish to make political capital out of their case. Doubtless there were a few, a very few, persons who endeavoured to make a trade of the agitation; but that was not the feeling of the Irish people generally. Wherever there was a public meeting in Ireland bands and processions in favour of an amnesty to the political prisoners were met with. All Irish Members who sat in that House firmly believed that there was no possibility of a recurrence of such a foolish and senseless outbreak as that in which these men had taken part; and they hoped and prayed that by this wise act of clemency one of the last causes of disaffection in Ireland would be removed, and they were sure that the thanks of the whole Irish nation would be received in return for it.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the time has come when Her Majesty's gracious
pardon may be advantageously extended to the prisoners, whether convicted before the civil tribunals or by courts martial, who are and have been for many years undergoing punishment for offences arising out of insurrectionary movements connected with Ireland."—(Mr. O'Connor Power.)
§ GENERAL SHUTE
was somewhat sorry to be led into this debate, because it was never pleasant to oppose those who were the advocates of mercy. He regretted that the civilians who had been punished for the part they had taken in the Fenian outbreak had ever been designated as political prisoners, of which title they were proud. His own opinion was that they had been misled, and he thought it hard on the taxpayers of the country that they should have to feed and clothe and house, as convicts, a number of miserable, despicable men, who ought to be treated in a more economical manner. If they had been simply whipped like children, and at the cart's, tail, in the market-places of their respective towns, they would never have been heard of again. With regard to the military offenders, they could not be regarded as political prisoners. They were perjured traitors to their Crown and country; they had disgraced the Army to which they had belonged, and if any Government were weak enough to release them, it would be most prejudicial to military discipline. Soldiers could never be regarded as "political prisoners." It was the pride of the British Army that, as an Army, they had no politics, and were ready to support the Government of the day, whether led by the present Prime Minister, or even by the hon. and learned Gentleman who commanded the left flank of Opposition (Mr. Butt). He had acted as President of the General Court Martial which tried some of these Fenian prisoners; but his hon. Friends opposite must not suppose that he was in any way prejudiced. On the contrary, he had a letter in his possession from the legal adviser of the prisoners, and who defended them on their trials, complimenting him upon the manner in which the Court was conducted. As a Cavalry officer he had commanded two Irish regiments, and felt sure that the Queen had no more loyal soldiers, and had reason to be proud of her Irish soldiers. He had no prejudices, national or religious, and though he hoped he was a good member of the Church of England himself, he agreed entirely with the spirit 292 of the lines, though he did not know who wrote them—For forms of faith let angry bigots fight, He can't be wrong whose life is in the right!He opposed the release of these prisoners from no unkindly feeling, but because he believed that to pardon these men would be to subvert military discipline and make our Army a less safe one than it had hitherto been.
MR. J. COWEN
said, he had not intended to take any part in the discussion, but the extraordinary and heartless speech they had just heard from the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (General Shut) demanded some reply from an English Member. It was not sufficient that the only protest against his almost brutal expressions should come from Irish Representatives. He supported the Resolution of his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo, not so much out of consideration for the prisoners whose cause he so ably pleaded, as out of regard to what he considered to be the honour and interests of England. While he sympathized sincerely with these unfortunate men in their prolonged imprisonment, it was only right for them to recollect, as the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton had so pointedly reminded them, that the men whose ease they were considering were members of the Fenian society; that the aim of that organization was to promote the dismemberment of the United Kingdom; and that they sought to achieve their object by force of arms. When these men committed themselves to that enterprise they knew—or at least they ought to have known—that they imperilled their property, their liberty, and their lives. If they had been successful, they would have been hailed by their adherents as heroes. If they had failed, they would have been treated by their enemies as outlaws. A hundred years ago George Washington led an insurrection against British rule, and was successful. Shortly after Robert Emmett attempted to do for Ireland what Washington had done for the United States, but he failed. Emmett was as able a man as Washington, and, in all the moral qualities that went to make up a noble native, the Irish leader was the equal, if not the superior, of the American. Yet the world for the last century had described Washington as a 293 patriot, and "sung his praise in song and story." It had described Emmett as a traitor. The English Government strangled him, and his remains still lay in an "unnamed and unhonoured grave." In the popular regard shown to these two men, they saw the way in which the world treated successful and unsuccessful treason. The Fenians must have known the terrible risks they ran when they lent themselves to the daring project of making Ireland an independent State. Any argument, therefore, founded merely upon personal consideration for the men, he could easily conceive the Government would treat with indifference. But strong and, to his mind, irresistible reasons, could be found, arising out of British considerations alone, why these poor men should be released. It was a settled principle with all modern and civilized Governments that when the excitement occasioned by insurrectionary movements had subsided, generous consideration should be extended to the parties who had engaged in them. All European Governments had acknowledged that such a course of action was judicious. The late Administration admitted the soundness of that policy when they released in two batches, some years ago, the bulk of the Fenian prisoners. But the manner in which they made this partial amnesty was somewhat extraordinary. They freed the captains and the officers of the Fenian Association, and they retained the private soldiers. He considered this course not only unwise but unfair. He did not know that such was the case, but it was easy to conceive that some of the men who were now in prison were victims, and some dupes. Under any circumstances, if there were to be degrees of punishment, the men who had fomented, fostered, and directed the insurrection, were clearly greater offenders than those who had been simply followers. He knew that the ground on which this strange apportionment of guilt was fixed was that the men who were released were civilians, and those who were retained soldiers. It was alleged that soldiers were under exceptional bonds to be loyal to the nation and the Crown—it was said that military men took a special oath, and that the breach of that oath ought to entail upon them special punishment. He denied entirely that an ordinary citizen was 294 under less obligation to be loyal and orderly than a soldier. But admitting, for argument's sake, that the position of the Government in this matter was correct, he begged to call their attention to the fact that if these military men were exceptionally guilty, they had been exceptionally punished. The most of the Fenian prisoners were arrested in 1865–6–7. In 1869, and again in 1870, the civilian prisoners were released. The soldiers had thus really been double the length of time in penal servitude. If the contention of the Government was that these men, in consequence of their connection with the Army, should have a special and severe punishment, that end had been attained by their being confined twice as long as their brother insurgents. But, he repeated, he did not admit that soldiers were under any special bond as to their loyalty; and he challenged the Government, or any hon. Gentleman on the opposite side, to show that in any instance in this country soldiers were treated differently by the Government when found guilty of being connected with political risings. No one would contend that a soldier was under a stronger oath than a Member of Parliament, and yet Mr. Smith O'Brien came to that Table, took the oath as a Member of the House of Commons, went back to Ireland, and attempted to do identically the same thing as the Fenians had done. He was arrested, tried, found guilty, and transported; yet he was not treated more severely than his brother exiles, the late Mr. Martin, Mr. Mitchel, Mr. M'Manus, and others, who were not members of that Assembly. Last year his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo had referred to the case of the Duke of Marlborough, who one week was in the pay and service of King James, and the next was in the camp and under the orders of the Prince of Orange. He would not, however, cite individual instances, but he appealed to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House if it was not a fact that from the battle of Edgehill to the battle of Culloden there were not scores, but hundreds of men, who at different times took the oath of allegiance to the Stuarts, to the Puritans, to the partizans of the Rebellion of 1688, and to the Hanoverians; and that those oaths when broken did not bring upon those who had taken 295 them any special punishment in consequence of the persons being connected with the Army. Indeed, the very opposite was the practice, and soldiers were treated with more consideration than civilians. Then they had the case of the present President of the French Republic. That antique specimen of Royalist chivalry, the Count de Chambord, had declared that Marshal MacMahon was a modern Bayard, "without fear and without reproach." Yet it was notorious that this same soldier had taken the oath of allegiance to every known dynasty in France, and broken them all in turn. He had been Legitimist, Orleanist, Bonapartist, and Republican in succession, and yet he was recognized, and justly, as one of the most trusted Rulers in Europe. But he would not enumerate personal instances, nor would he go back 100 years to find illustrations. He would quote a case that came down to the present day, to the present Parliament, and to the present Government. He asked the special attention of the Home Secretary to the facts he was going to recite. In 1831 an insurrection took place in Poland. The Polish patriots attempted to do for their country what the Fenians attempted to do for Ireland. The Poles strove to throw off the Russian yoke, as the Fenians strove to disconnect their country with England. A secret political society was formed in Warsaw. Out of that society the insurrection took place. For a time success attended the efforts of the insurgents, but in the end they were compelled to submit to the crushing power of numbers, and—Sarmatia fell, unwept, without a crime.After the suppression of the rebellion many of the Poles sought and obtained refuge in France, in Switzerland, and in this country. The French Government voted for their relief £100,000; the Swiss Republic gave them help proportionate to their means; and the English House of Commons, to its credit, on the Motion of the late Lord Dudley Stuart and the present Earl of Harrow by, voted sums of money for the maintenance of the destitute Polish exiles. In the course of three or four years the sum of £87,000 was voted by this country for these men. At first the money was given temporarily. Ultimately it was settled as permanent pensions on the refugees. During the last 42 years 296 England, to its honour, had paid no less than £300,000 in aid of the Polish exiles. This year £1,100 was voted for the purpose. What he wished to point out to them was this—Polish refugees, for the most part, were men who had been in the service of Russia, and many of them—the leaders especially—had been Russian soldiers. They had taken the oath of allegiance to the Emperor of Russia in the same way as the Fenian soldiers had taken the oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria. They had broken their oath to the Czar, and had led an insurrection against his authority. He asked how the Government could with any consistency patronize and pension rebellious Russian soldiers, and at the same time punish with such merciless severity a handful of Irish soldiers who had done identically the same things their brother-rebels from Poland? If the Home Secretary could explain the difference of treatment, it was more than he could do. There were two reasons alleged for still detaining these unhappy men in captivity. It was said by some that they were kept in slavery in consequence of the fear that their release would produce a renewal of riotous proceedings in Ireland. This was the reason alleged by the late Prime Minister for not granting a complete amnesty in 1869. He (Mr. Cowen) did not think, however, it could have any force now, as, according to the repeated declarations of the Government, Ireland was at this moment in a state of exceptional peace and prosperity. Surely the British Empire that had recently made such a powerful display of naval force in Besika Bay, could not be frightened by a dozen obscure and unknown Irish soldiers. He dismissed this reason for their detention, therefore, as unworthy of consideration. He knew there was a general—he had almost said universal—belief amongst persons in this country, who sympathized with the amnesty movement, that these men were detained in penal servitude by a power—a Ducal and a military power—that was supposed to exist behind the Government. He did not credit the statement, and he made it simply for the purpose of expressing his disbelief in it. There had been times in the history of this country when Princes, Royal Dukes, and Court favourites had been able to send men into exile, to prison, and to the scaffold, to gratify 297 personal dislike or private animosity. That period, however, was past, and he believed that the only persons who were responsible for the retention of these men were Her Majesty's constitutional Advisers—the Government. He had read within these last few days, in a respectable and influential American newspaper, that some of the Ministers had feelings of personal dislike towards Irish politicians, and that their harsh action in this matter was attributed to these vindictive motives. He totally discredited such charges. Whatever might be said of the present Prime Minister, no one could with justice accuse him of cruelty. Indeed, few men in political life had shown so much consideration for his opponents, or had been so little disposed to press heavily upon beaten men. And with respect to the Home Secretary, who had these prisoners under his special charge, he might say with truth that he was a Gentleman who would not consciously set his foot upon a worm. The only real ground why these men were kept in prison was, he had no doubt, because the Government thought that by so doing they might deter others from engaging in such dangerous and hazardous enter-prizes as they had been connected with. In the interests of the State, the Government doubtless considered that a prolonged incarceration was required. While he freely admitted that this was the opinion of the Cabinet, he at the same time entirely dissented from their policy and procedure. Legitimate and moderate punishment acted as a warning and corrective; but when punishment was carried beyond reasonable dimensions it became persecution, and prisoners became martyrs. This was certainly the case with these unfortunate Fenians. The Irish people believed—and he thought justly—that any offence they had committed against the State had been fully expiated, and the longer they remained in penal servitude the stronger and more fervent would become the demand for their release. If the Government wished to conciliate Irish, political feeling, he knew of no course they could take to accomplish that end better than by the release of these poor men. The Irish were a generous, an impulsive, and sympathetic race. He appealed to the Ministers to act mercifully and generously in this sad case, and he felt satisfied that their conces- 298 sion would be repaid by increased regard for the Constitution and by added attachment to England. When Hamlet told Polonius to see that the players were well cared for and properly bestowed, the garrulous old courtier replied that he would treat them "according to their desert." The Prince of Denmark exclaimed in answer, "Use every man after his desert, and who shall 'scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity; the less they deserve the more merit there is in your bounty." He commended the political philosophy conveyed in that quotation to the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers, and he hoped they would be able to see their way to assent to the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, the last speaker, when he called these men political prisoners, and treated their offence as a political one, really begged the whole question. If it could be shown that they were political prisoners he should be at one with his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (MR. Cowen); but he had himself a year ago publicly questioned the Prime Minister and Home Secretary on the subject, and had been assured that even then no merely political prisoner was left among them. Two of the prisoners had been connected with the Manchester murder. They were murderers, and were, therefore, not entitled to receive any compassion whatever. Another of the prisoners, a colour-sergeant in his regiment—["Name!"]—he did not remember it just at present, but the fact was well-known, and the name was well-known to those hon. Members who called "Name!" and it was not necessary for him to tell hon. Members that the colour-sergeant was probably one of the most trusted man in the regiment next to the colonel. ["No, no!"] Well, at any rate the colour-sergeant in each company came in on all occasions between the officers and men, and occupied a highly confidential position. This colour-sergeant entered into a conspiracy to deliver up the arms of his regiment and to murder his officers. Men who did such things as these were not entitled to any kind of mercy or compassion. If, however, it could be shown that there was any one who was a political prisoner and nothing more, or who could be shown to be a military prisoner and no- 299 thing more, who had been duped by greater knaves than himself, let him off by all means; but when they had men like the three he mentioned to deal with, he said unhesitatingly they were not entitled to any mercy. He understood that all the men who were in the position of political prisoners, and to whom he himself had asked the Prime Minister to extend mercy, had now made their escape from Western Australia; therefore there was no reason for hon. Members to trouble themselves about them. Mercy might well be extended to other prisoners of the same class, if there were any, but not to criminals of the worst type.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
complained that the hon. Member for Glasgow had treated this subject in the most aggravating and disagreeable manner, throwing every obstacle in the way of mercy being shown to certain misguided men. The hon. Gentleman said he had in that House appealed to the Prime Minister to release certain classes of persons whom he, in his graciousness, was pleased to dignify with the title of political prisoners. Everyone who knew the circumstances was well aware that when the hon. Member interfered in this question he did so with the express purpose of preventing the action he asked for. The hon. Member brought forward the subject at an inopportune moment against the earnest expostulations and entreaties of those who felt that an appeal to the clemency of the Crown ought to be made on rational grounds, in a Christian spirit, and at a well-chosen moment. The hon. Gentleman chose, however, to intrude himself into this question, and did these men the greatest injury he could inflict on them by an injudicious and insincere advocacy. He would now bring back the attention of the House to the circumstances which had been alluded to that evening by his hon. Friend the Member for Mayo (MR. O'Connor Power). It never entered into the minds of any of the men concerned in the Manchester outrage to murder the policeman Brett in putting a pistol to the lock of the door and endeavouring to force it open. They did not know an individual stood at the back of it. He hoped, in the interests of our common humanity, and especially in the interests of our common kingdom, that 300 the right hon. Gentleman would not be too ready to brand with the name of murderers those unhappy persons who were still remaining in prison on account of what was called the Manchester outrage. The real murderers—if they were murderers—had been hanged, and the individuals now in prison only formed part of the crowd, and were identified at the trial by women of bad character. As to the soldiers, he would ask the House what would have become of our liberties if there had not at times been men in the Army who had broken their oaths? He did not, in saying that, wish to excuse the conduct of the men to whom he was referring, for he fully admitted that they ought to have been subjected to a severe penalty for the offence. They had, however, already gone through twice the amount of punishment of others; and he believed there never was an act of mercy done by the Sovereign of these Realms which would redound more to the honour of the Crown than the release of these misguided men. They were tried by a court-martial, and it would be creditable to the officers of that Court if they would come forward and recommend those unhappy men to mercy. In Ireland, at the present moment, there was no subject more interesting to the people than the sufferings of these prisoners. Anyone who wished to speak on the subject would soon be surrounded by a crowd of sympathizers. The same was the case in Australia and America. Seeing that these Fenian prisoners were continually escaping, he asked the Home Secretary whether the time had not come for the extension of Her Majesty's clemency to the nine unfortunate prisoners who still remained in custody?
§ MR. CALLAN
, although he had not been in favour of having the present Motion brought forward in the absence of the acknowledged and trusted leader of the Irish people, yet was now glad that it had been made, seeing that it had evoked such eloquent support from the chivalrous and high-minded representative of, he believed he might say, the North of England (MR. Cowen). Neither was he sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow (MR. Anderson), and the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (General Shute), should again have been afforded an opportunity of 301 displaying what he might term, if the phrase was not un-Parliamentary, the truculence of their language. It was all very well to speak of these unfortunate men as murderers and conspirators, but they had not brought ruin upon thousands, as those who were engaged in the Emma Mine conspiracy, with which no honourable man would like to have been connected. The hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (General Shute) talked of whipping people at the cart's tail. Well, similar chivalric sentiments were held in former years by another military officer, known as "The Walking Gallows," which now seemed to permeate the mind of the retired General. ["No, no!"] He was sorry he was not retired.
rose to Order, and asked if that was a proper way for one hon. Member to speak of another?
§ MR. CALLAN
said, if he had said something un-Parliamentary it was in error, but the sentiment in his mind remained the same. The Member for Brighton spoke of these men as a set of traitors.
§ MR. SPEAKER
According to the strict rules of debate, the hon. Member in possession of the House is entitled to proceed with his observations until he has concluded. If, at their termination, the hon. and gallant Member desires to offer an explanation, no doubt he will, with the indulgence of the House, be at liberty to do so.
§ MR. CALLAN
I would have yielded, but I wished to extend the same courtesy to the Member for Brighton which he wishes to extend to the Irish political prisoners.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out out that, according to the ordinary courtesies of debate, Members are spoken of as "hon. Members."
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he would, then, in accordance with ordinary courtesy, speak of the hon. Member as an "hon. Member." He thanked the Home Secretary for having allowed him to visit a prisoner who was no more guilty of murder than of putting nuggets into the Emma Mine.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, that although certainly the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) used strong 302 language, he was not at all certain that it was too strong. These men committed an offence which could not be allowed to pass without condign punishment.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
I think such Members as are now present who do not come from Ireland will admit that it is not at all unreasonable that, considering the state of public opinion in Ireland with regard to this question, the hon. Member is fully justified in bringing it before the House; and I think, too, with the exception of a few words that have been uttered, we shall all agree that hon. Gentlemen from Ireland who have addressed the House have done it in a manner and with a feeling entirely befitting the subject which is before the House. I have regretted that on a former occasion when this matter was before us, I did not take the opportunity of saying what I have long thought with regard to the case which is called "The Manchester Outrage." There was in that case one man killed—one man shot—one fatal shot fired, and therefore it may be urged positively that only one man, in a certain sense, was guilty of murder. Three persons were hanged for that murder. I had, living in that neighbourhood, a very painful interview with the relatives of one of the three men who were hanged, and they were not willing to lay the blame upon either of the other two, but they felt very confidently that there were no sufficient grounds for believing that the prisoner in whose fate they were particularly interested was the one who fired the fatal shot. One of the three, I presume, was the guilty person, but the three were hanged. Now, it always appeared to me that the course pursued by the Home Office on that occasion was an unwise one. I am averse to capital punishment, as most Members of the House know; but in a case of this kind I think to hang three men for one fatal shot was a mistake—a mistake according to the order and practice of our law, and a great mistake when we look at it in its political aspect. On the occasion I have alluded to, when representations were made, it was denied that this was strictly a political case, or that any severity was resorted to because it was a political case; but I have always held the opinion that I held then, and hold now, that it was solely because it was a poli- 303 tical case, that three men were hanged for the murder of one man. I recollect urging it in this way. If these three men had been out on a poaching expedition, and in the conflict that took place one keeper was killed by one shot, and three men were tried for it, I believe there is no Judge who would have sentenced, and no Home Secretary who would have thought it his duty to advise that these three men should be hanged for the offence. I believe that the three men were hanged because it was a political offence, and not because it was an ordinary murder of one man committed by one man and by one shot. The other day there was a case in my neighbourhood of an outrage committed by persons connected with a trade union in the neighbourhood of Bolton. Unfortunately a man was attacked by a number of his fellow-workmen and was killed. No doubt all who were present and maltreated the man were guilty of an illegal act, but it is difficult to say who it was that was guilty of the offence of destroying that man's life. Three, I think, were convicted, not of murder, but of manslaughter. It was an illegal act, and they were punished by various terms of imprisonment—from, I think, three to 15 years. Unless this was a political offence the evidence of murder was not very much different from the case I am now describing. I believe it was a great mistake. I said it then, and say it now, and I have, I say, always believed that the extremity of the law was put in force against three men, only one of whom—supposing the one who committed the offence was captured—caused the death of the unfortunate and lamented policeman. I would ask the House—I need not ask the hon. Members who come from Ireland, but I would ask those from England—whether they do not think that the punishment inflicted on these men, no one of whom, it is clear, actually fired the shot which killed that policeman, whether the punishment now suffered is not of itself sufficient; and whether the law, having avenged the murder of that man by the public execution of three men, has not been sufficiently satisfied; and whether the sympathies and the justice of the House might not be given with the proposition now before it for any further punishment to be withdrawn? I come 304 to the other question—the question of the soldiers. I agree very much with the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (MR. Cowen). Let us consider from what class it is that the great bulk of your private soldiers are taken. Although soldiers take an oath—unhappily in all countries—I believe that is of very little avail. I think the time will come when oaths will be abolished. I believe that nothing has tended so much to destroy a regard for truth as the taking of oaths. A man may say many things when he is not on oath that he will not say when he is upon oath; but then it makes a difference in his mind as to the nature of truth, and I have always held the view that nothing has tended so much to destroy a regard for truth in this country and in all countries, as the constant and frequent imposition of oaths. I do not think, therefore, very much of the soldier's oath. The soldier's oath is not more important than the oath of any other man. To say a man is to be kept in perpetual imprisonment, or something approaching to it, because he breaks an oath is singular when men break oaths every day. I have heard men swear falsely—the House knows—upstairs, and the Committees knew they were swearing falsely. I think in this case too much importance should not be attributed to the fact that these men had taken an oath. You will bear in mind that there was great excitement in Ireland. There are a great number of men who do things during a time of excitement which, in times of no excitement, they would not do, and which afterwards they will regret. There was not only excitement in Ireland, but great excitement amongst the Irish population in the United States, and the excitement in Ireland was fired by the excitement in the United States. Many Irishmen, some native and some born in America, came home to this country, and they stirred up as much excitement as possible. It is within our knowledge that soldiers, like other men, are actuated by feelings and excitement of this nature, and are led into transactions which they afterwards greatly regret. Yet it is not necessary that the Government should year after year, and for many years, continue punishment when punishment seems to be no longer required by the changed condition of the country. 305 Many years have passed—I suppose 8 or 10—since this unfortunate event took place, and since that time a good deal has been done for Ireland. There can be no doubt that the material prosperity of that part of the United Kingdom is greater than it ever was at any former period in its history. There is excitement occasionally now, and there is political agitation. Some hon. Members in this House are the representatives of that agitation. Still, we must be glad to find that the agitation no longer takes the character of violence and insurrection, but that of the constitutional action which they have a perfect right to do. I think the House ought to congratulate itself that the time of insurrection and violence—as I hope it is—has passed away in Ireland. The speech, I think, of the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. Kenelm Digby) was one calculated to have a great effect upon every Member of the House who heard it; and nothing could be more moderate, more reasonable, or more just than the tone in which he appealed to the Government and the House on behalf of the prisoners. It cannot but have had some effect on the right hon. Gentleman at the Home Office. He can have no object in keeping these men as prisoners. No Home Secretary has any personal object in dispensing the law in any way hardly or cruelly to those who happen to come under his notice; but perhaps the Home Office may act upon the policy that with regard to the broken oaths of soldiers mercy is a thing not to be thought of. I disagree with that altogether. I think there is nothing grander in a Monarchy, nothing nobler in a Government than mercy. I must say for myself—I say it as an Englishman, and I am not actuated by violent feeling, which I am sorry to say some persons in Ireland still show in their enthusiasm in favour of these men; but I think that, looking altogether to the number of years since this transaction took place, I am quite certain it would redound to the honour of the Crown, and that it would be a very just act on the part of the present Government if the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues could see their way to advise the Crown in favour of the liberation of these prisoners. I cannot think that such an act would be without its effect in Ireland. The Irish people are very different from all other 306 people if they would not be favourably influenced by a merciful consideration of this case. I think the way in which it has been discussed to-night—the unanimity of the Irish Members, the certainty we have that in speaking as they do they represent the vast majority of the people of Ireland, have vindicated their right to bring this question before the House; and I should be extremely glad if the right hon. Gentleman could give them some hope that the Government would consider their ease. If it should be necessary for the House to go to a division, I should feel it my duty to vote for the Motion.
§ MR. STACPOOLE
supported the Motion, which he hoped would be adopted as an act of clemency. It would be received by the people of Ireland with gratitude.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright) had alluded to a proceeding in which he (Mr. Hardy)had the misfortune to hear a considerable part. The right hon. Gentleman had thought right to say that the Home Secretary at the time of the Manchester outrage took upon himself to hang three men. Now that seemed to him a most unreasonable and improper statement of the duties of the Home Secretary. That Minister never took upon himself anything in the nature of an execution. His duty was simply to advise the exercise of the prerogative of mercy if he thought there were grounds for it. The force of law was absolute in itself, and he had nothing whatever to do with it. But that was not the only part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement to which he felt it his duty to refer. On the subject of the murder itself the right hon. Gentleman had laid down principles which were of an absolutely dangerous character. It was perfectly true that at Manchester only one man was killed and that three men were hanged, and that some perished who did not fire the shot; but was it to be maintained for a moment in an Assembly of men of sense and judgment that the aiders and abettors in a murder who had gone to a certain place armed and determined to shed blood, rather than forego the object they had in view, were not equally guilty with, the man who actually did the deed? The man who fired the shot in the Manchester outrage might possibly have been the least guilty of those concerned in it. No one 307 who had any acquaintance with the proceedings of our criminal Courts could fail to be aware that the actual agent in a crime was often a person employed by the real culprits—a mere instrument in their hands, so to speak; and the right hon. Gentleman certainly seemed to him to be putting forth a most dangerous doctrine when he contended that the persons who on the occasion of the Manchester outrage went about with and used loaded revolvers were absolutely guiltless simply because from no self-constraint on their part, but simply by good fortune, they had escaped shedding blood. Shots were fired which endangered life, and although only one took effect, the persons who that day went out armed and prepared for murder were all in the eye of justice and common sense equally guilty. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he was the advocate of the abolition of capital punishment, and he (Mr. Hardy) thought that had a prejudicial influence upon the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, for he looked at the matter not in the light of law, but in that of sentiment. He (Mr. Hardy) did not say that that was not an honour to him; but a man should not allow himself to be prejudiced so as to go against the law, not only of this country, but of every civilized country, that all those who went to carry out an object at the cost of life were every one guilty. As the Home Secretary at the time referred to, he (Mr. Hardy) felt that to a certain extent the right hon. Gentleman's observations affected him personally. But his opinion then, as now, was that in the case of the men convicted for murder there was no call for his interference. The prerogative of mercy was exercised towards some who were present on that occasion; but with regard to the others, neither the Judges, nor those who were engaged in the trial, had any doubt as to the guilt which attached to each and all of them. It was to be remembered that the crime was characterized by an amount of audacity which was happily uncommon in this country. An armed party went forth with the avowed object of effecting the rescue of a prisoner from custody, and did not hesitate for the accomplishment of their ends to kill an officer against whom personally they entertained no animosity whatever. Had he not allowed the law to take its course in such a case he felt that he should have 308 been betraying his duty both to the Crown and to the country. There was another point on which it was necessary to touch. The right hon. Gentleman, with a strong sentimental feeling, said he thought lightly of a soldier's oath. Again, he (Mr. Hardy) had to say that was a most dangerous statement. A soldier's oath had been regarded in all times as of special solemnity and importance. It was quite true they were all bound by allegiance to the Sovereign; but was it to be said that a man who broke a special trust and obligation which he had undertaken was not more guilty than one who had not so bound himself? A Member of that House who broke his sworn allegiance was no doubt in as bad a position as the soldier; but, at the same time, it could not be said that the soldier was in any better position than such a Member would be. In the particular instance mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) there was the greatest possible aggravation of the soldier's offence. He did not believe the case of the soldiers was one which would have been treated differently in any civilized country, except, perhaps, in this respect—that death would have been substituted for imprisonment. Well, the right hon. Gentleman formed part of the late Government. He (Mr. Hardy) did not say that the right hon. Gentleman did not urge upon the Members of that Government the views he had expressed that night. But, at all events, he did not then express those views publicly. In respect to the treatment of these prisoners the late Government did not see fit to take the step which hon. Members on the other side of the House were now advocating; and he could say that the present Government had not followed their example without seeing what they deemed good cause.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
did not understand that the right hon. Member for Birmingham sought to accuse the right hon. Gentleman opposite of being a cruel Home Secretary. The contention of the right hon. Gentleman simply was that the punishment inflicted showed that the crime was regarded as a political and not as an ordinary one. With reference to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (General Shute), he might remark that he was well known as an excellent officer. The hon. and 309 gallant Member for Brighton was a strict disciplinarian, and it was not surprising if he was in favour of flogging; but if we were to have a system of short service, under which our soldiers were to be thrown back upon the people and to mix with them, it would be found necessary, as well as politic, for us to be merciful and liberal. It was but a small favour that was now asked of a great country that could afford to be generous. There was no valid reason to be urged why these men should not have mercy extended to them. The people of Ireland were bound to use every legitimate effort to get these men released, and if their appeals for mercy were rejected, could it be expected that they would act generously in time of need? That discussion had shown the supporters of the Motion who were their friends and who were their foes, and the House might rest assured that that question could not pass away from the minds of the Irish constituencies or be without its effect on the Irish vote in the English constituencies until these men had been released. They were bound to use every constitutional means to get them out of prison.
§ GENERAL SHUTE
expressed his astonishment at finding himself described by the last speaker as an advocate of flogging. He had always detested corporal punishment, and when he had used the phrase "whipped like a child at the cart's tail," he had only wished to convey to the House that he looked upon Irish insurrections as mere burlesques.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
retracted what he had said about the hon. and gallant Gentleman in connection with flogging.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, nobody would advocate forgiveness or leniency to murderers; but although these persons were engaged in an offence which the law technically called murder, the result of the trial was to send those men to penal servitude, instead of subjecting them to capital punishment; and why? because the Judges who tried them did not consider that the offence which they actually committed made them amenable to the punishment for murder. At the present moment Ireland was in a peaceful condition, and there was no reason to expect that any other outbreak would occur. Under these circumstances, if the hon. Member divided the House, he 310 should vote in favour of the Resolution..
§ MR. MARTEN
said, there was great inconvenience in discussing in that House questions which involved the Prerogative of mercy, and no hon. Member, whether English or Irish, could approach the subject without considerable difficulty. A great portion of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman (MR. Bright), was not addressed directly to the particular question now before them; for it was directed rather against the infliction of capital punishment, and against imposing oaths for judicial or military purposes. The discussion, also, as to those who suffered capital punishment for the Manchester outrage was not pertinent to the present question. It wasn't the fact that the nine persons who were now in prison were confined as political prisoners. Two were connected with the Manchester outrage, and had been sentenced to death for the crime of murder, but their sentence had been commuted into the punishment they were now undergoing. Five of them had been convicted of military offences under the Articles of War which were of a very grave character. With regard to the observations of the right hon. Member for Birmingham on the subject of the sanctity of an oath, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman would admit that, at all events, an oath was entitled to the same respect as a solemn affirmation. The soldier took upon himself in the most solemn form known to the law an obligation which in this case had been violated, and he was punishable, therefore, under the Mutiny Act, which was passed by that House every year. The other two prisoners had been tried for treason-felony, and therefore it would appear that the majority of the prisoners now in gaol had been tried either for military offences or for crimes ordinarily known to the law, and were therefore in no sense political offenders. He altogether denied that the men who had been convicted of murder had been punished as political offenders. They would in all probability have been punished in the same manner if the outrage of which they were guilty had been one without any political aspect. He was most reluctant to say one word which might seem harsh to hon. Members on the opposite benches; but when a Resolution of this kind was forced upon the 311 House, and supported by such speeches as that of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen) it was a duty to speak out. The hon. Member had compared Washington and Emmett—the one rebel became a hero, a patriot, who commanded universal admiration; the other died, a political martyr, for the crime of treason. He would remind the hon. Member of the lines—Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, when it prospers, none dare call it treason.Those who disturbed the peace of the country and sought to overthrow the Government must, when they failed, pay the penalty of treason, even although, had they succeeded, they would have occupied a different position. A Resolution of this kind was not, he thought, calculated to benefit the prisoners or to facilitate the exercise of the Prerogative. The grounds on which it had been brought forward were certainly not such as to recommend it to his support, and if pressed to a division he would vote against it.
§ DR. WARD said
, that the Government were asked to be generous and merciful towards a few unfortunate men who in a sense foolishly had loved their country "not wisely, but too well." Was it wise or politic for the sake of keeping these nine men in prison to keep up a spirit of revolt in Ireland? They had liberated the men who had fostered the Fenian conspiracy, and surely they could not with reason keep in those who had been misled by them. In continuing to punish these persons the Government were guilty of the most impolitic conduct in respect to a people who were disposed to be loyal, but who were prevented being so by the conduct of the Government.
§ MR. MELDON
could not accept the doctrine laid down by the Secretary of State for War as to the law in the present case. What was the crime these men committed? There was not a tittle of evidence to show that they went into that crowd with the intention to commit murder. If it had not been for the excitement existing in this country at the time, and in which the Judge and jury shared, he believed that not one of those three men would have been hanged. The people of Ireland felt that these men were martyrs, and in keeping up 312 their imprisonment the Government were establishing a nucleus of conspiracy and disorder. He maintained that the law had been amply vindicated; while the release of the Fenian prisoners would do more than any other measure to put an end to agitation, and give satisfaction to Ireland.
§ MR. B. WHITWORTH
, as an Englishman who had a large interest in the material prosperity of the country, could safely say that the Government would do a great service to that prosperity if they granted the request, which was almost unanimous, of the Irish people. He happened to be one of the jurymen in the case of the Manchester murder. No doubt, a great crime was committed; but he did not think it was a wise thing to have hanged more than the man Allen, who fired the shot. When he (Mr. Whitworth) stood for the borough of Kilkenny some 18 months ago, he was represented as the "Manchester hangman." The Fenian element called a meeting to denounce him; but the bulk of the people of Kilkenny would not listen to what they had to say, thus showing they had no sympathy with Fenians. He was satisfied that mercy might be safely extended to the Fenian prisoners still in confinement. He believed Fenianism was comparatively a dead letter in Ireland, and the only thing that could revive it was a refusal on the part of the Government to adopt a policy of clemency and mercy.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR, IRELAND (Mr. PLUNKET)
observed, that although Her Majesty's Government were in this matter only pursuing the course marked out by their Predecessors, yet it was not on that ground he desired to defend the conclusion at which they had arrived. The ground on which the release of these prisoners was demanded before the expiration of their sentences was that they were political prisoners; but he was prepared to show that not one of the prisoners now undergoing imprisonment came under that category. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion (Mr. Kenelm Digby) did not put his case on that ground, but contended that, now that all excitement and danger had passed away, the time had come when the Government might safely act as those who preceded them had done. But the late Government had arrived at the same 313 conclusion with reference to the very same men. The individuals now in prison were the same as those who were not released, and on the ground that they were not political prisoners. He need not trouble the House at any length in reference to the history of the men whose release was sought by the present Motion. They were eight in number; five were soldiers, all of whom were convicted not of treason-felony or of treasonable offences, but of breaches of the Articles of War. M'Carthy was convicted because, having knowledge of a mutiny, he did not give information of it to his commanding officer. The next two were convicted of mutinous conduct and desertion, and the others for similar offences. Two of the other prisoners were engaged in the murder of the policeman Brett at Manchester, and, having been condemned to death, were subsequently reprieved and let off with sentences of penal servitude. It must be clear, therefore, that the offences committed by those persons who were released and those who still remained in prison were widely different, and called for different treatment. With regard to the legal argument with regard to the cases of the Manchester murderers, as urged by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), he must observe it was altogether inconsistent with the law of England, that because only one life was lost in a murderous outrage, he only who was party to the actual killing of the man by striking the fatal blow should be punished for it. The only other of the prisoners whose case it was necessary for him particularly to refer to was Davitt, who was convicted of treason-felony for having, in conjunction with another person named Wilson, who had been let out upon licence (in consequence of the evidence against him not being of so damaging a character) supplied arms to the Fenians throughout the country. It was impossible that a deliberate offence of this character could be visited with anything less than severe punishment, especially when it was remembered that it was committed after the great excitement had passed away and the outbreaks had almost come to an end. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), in reply to a Question, had stated on the 25th of July, 1873, that this man could not be regarded as a 314 political prisoner. The right hon. Member for Greenwich said—In ordinary convictions for political offences we can positively and confidently say that when once public excitement and hazard have passed away, it may be well to stretch a point on the side of mercy; but we are not able to do so in this case."—[3 Hansard, ccxvii. 998.]The contemptible character of an outbreak did not necessarily lessen the gravity of the offence; and the hopelessness of such an enterprize ought to enter into the calculations of a man who deliberately aimed at the overthrow of an established Government. But, however that might be, it was impossible to conceive of a more wanton and reckless proceeding, or one more dangerous to society, than that of a man who, after the excitement which accompanied the Fenian outbreak had passed away, and when there was not the shadow of a hope or a possibility of success, and when even the clemency of the Crown had been asked for and granted to those who had been engaged in a previous attempt of the same kind, had been preparing for a renewal of the outbreak. There were also two unfortunate men now in prison who had been convicted of murder according to the law of the land. In conclusion, he would express his conviction that if the true character of the offences committed by those persons was understood throughout the country he believed that the sympathy felt towards them would take a different direction, and that many who now asked for their release would see that that was not an urgent demand founded either in justice or in policy, and would leave to the Executive Government the function which undoubtedly belonged to it of considering when, if at all, the Prerogative of clemency should be exercised.
THE O'CONOR DON
pointed out that whatever might be the legal and military technicalities connected with the case of the soldiers in question, they were guilty of exactly the same offence in a political point of view as their civilian fellow-prisoners, and they would never be looked upon by the Irish people as having been sentenced for any other offence but the same political offence for which those very civilians had been pardoned. He did not know whether the hon. Member 315 for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) meant to press his Motion to a division; but whether he did or not, he had done good service by bringing the subject before the House and eliciting such an expression of opinion as that which was conveyed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright). It was now utterly impossible that those men could be detained much longer in prison, and their being set at liberty was only a question of time.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he was unwilling that the debate should close without a few words from himself, because he could assure the House, without the slightest reserve, that he always felt the deep responsibility of matters connected with life and death—and he hoped the House would always hesitate to interfere with the individual act of the Minister advising the Crown on such matters. Nothing could be more dangerous to the liberty of the subject than the interference of the House under such circumstances. This was not the case of the responsibility of an individual Minister; it was not the case so much of an individual Government as of many Governments. It was not this Government alone which had refused to take action in this matter; all it had done was to follow the precedent set it by the last Government. One thing he had observed for several years, and he still observed it that night—namely, that in the mind of a great many of the Irish people there was no difference or distinction between those whose sentences had been remitted already and those who still remained in prison, and they did not see any difference between those who had been found guilty of murder and those found guilty of other offences. What alone would content Ireland, it appeared, was the release of the whole of the prisoners. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, let that be clearly understood. It was not the release of one or two prisoners, but it was the release of the whole of them, whether they had been found guilty of murder or any other offence. [MR. Mitchell HENRY: We will take half a slice if we cannot get the whole.] But he (Mr. Assheton Cross) was stating the case of the Irish people. The late Government as well as the present Government had totally denied that there were any political offenders now in prison. 316 As regarded the soldiers in prison, although he quite admitted that every citizen of this country was bound by his high allegiance to the service of the Queen and State, yet when a soldier had taken the oath of allegiance he was bound by a higher duty, if he might so say. To allow the soldiers out would imply that other soldiers who were in prison for like offences should also be liberated, and, in the minds of those who had expiated kindred crimes, there would be the feeling that they had been wronged. One observation made in the course of that debate would, he hoped, never again be uttered within those walls. An hon. Gentleman opposite had said it was owing to some Princely influence that these prisoners were not set at liberty. He wished distinctly to assert that he alone was responsible in the matter. And now he would refer to what he must call the Manchester murder. That was not a political offence. If it had been, he should have been the first to advise the Crown to set the men at liberty. The doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bright) was that those men were not guilty of murder, because they did not fire the actual shot. [MR. JOHN BRIGHT, interposing, remarked that he had never said anything of the sort.] He (Mr. Assheton Cross) had understood the right hon. Gentleman blamed his right hon. Friend (Mr. Hardy), who was then Home Secretary, because three men were executed for the murder, although only one of them had fired the shot. That was a doctrine which would not bear examination or the test of common sense.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
explained that he had not contested the law at all. What he said was, that if it had not been a political case, or if there had been no political complication connected with it, three men would not have been hanged. In the case of a poaching affray, he was sure that the course of the Home Office had been different, and he used that argument to show that this was really a political case; but he did not contest the law, or the fairness of the trial, or the legality of the sentence, or the legality of what the Home Secretary did.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, the right hon. Gentleman blamed his right hon. Friend for having allowed the three men to hanged. The right hon. Gentleman did not question the legality of it, 317 because he could not do so; but he blamed the way in which his right hon. Friend had exercised his discretion in the matter. His contention was that if three or more men went out with a common intent to do an unlawful act, with a predetermination to carry out their common purpose at all hazards, even at risk of life, or of a number of lives, although only one might fire the shot, all the others were equally guilty. In the case of the Manchester murder the jury distinctly found that the prisoners had a common intent to effect their unlawful purpose at all hazards, and consequently they were justly found guilty of murder. It was owing to the clemency of the Crown, exercised through the discretion of his right hon. Friend, that the two men now in prison were not executed. He did not understand how it was that those who guided Irish feeling could not point out to the Irish people, that if these men, irrespective of a political offence, did attack the van with murderous intent, they were guilty, in the eye of the law of England, of murder, and must suffer for it. It now only remained for him to allude to the case of Michael Davitt, whose companion Wilson had been discharged from custody, having worked out his sentence in the ordinary course. When he became Home Secretary the case of Davitt caused him considerable anxiety; but on inquiry he found that the difference between the offences of the two prisoners had been carefully considered by the Judge who tried them. The reason why one was sentenced to seven and the other to 15 years' penal servitude was that there was in the mind of Davitt a direct intention of private assassination which could not possibly be referred to the question of a political offence. With reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), he would observe that the treatment of these prisoners was as lenient as that of any other convicts who were in confinement at the present time. The application for permission to visit them was refused because it would interfere with the discipline of the prison, and deprive the prisoners of the visits of those who were entitled to see them at the proper season. If these men were political prisoners they would have been let out, as other political offenders had been let out. As the late Government 318 decided, so the present Government had decided, that there was no reason why the prisoners should be set at liberty.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
, after the debate which had taken place, asked leave to withdraw the Motion. ["No!"]
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 51; Noes 117: Majority 66.