HC Deb 14 July 1881 vol 263 cc837-8

asked Mr. Attorney General for Ireland, Whether his attention has been called to the proceedings at Petty Sessions in Downpatrick on 30th June last, when certain members of the Down Conservative Flute Band were prosecuted by the police, and the cases sent forward to the assizes; whether the offence alleged was, that they had played, as they had been in the habit of doing, in the public streets; whether it was given in evidence that the tunes played were not party tunes, but were "Annie Laurie," "The Girl I Left Behind Me," "God Bless the Prince of Wales," and "God Save the Queen;" whether it is illegal to play such tunes in the public streets; whether it was not further given in evidence that their conduct was orderly and peaceable, that they were attacked by stone throwing and did not retaliate; whether, under such circumstances, it was not the duty of the police to protect them when attacked, and whether their assailants should have been prosecuted; and, whether he will direct the prosecution against the members of the band to be abandoned?


Sir, my attention has been called to the prosecution referred to by the noble Lord. I am informed that the musicians mentioned are members of the "Downpatrick Orange Flute Band," and are charged with the offence known as "unlawful assembly." They appear to have played the tunes mentioned in the Question, which in itself would be perfectly innocent; but the charge is that they played through a part of the town where their music, if not so meant, was, at all events, more than likely to be regarded as a defiance and thus to cause a breach of the peace such as actually occurred. Downpatrick, as the noble Lord is doubtless aware, contains an Orange or Protestant quarter and a Catholic quarter; and I am informed that whenever the band of one quarter plays, in however orderly a manner, through the streets of the other, it is accepted as a challenge, and disorder generally ensues. This, as might have been expected, occurred on the present occasion. Fourteen of the Orangemen, believed by the magistrates to have thus provoked a breach of the peace, and also two of their assailants, have been sent for trial at the Assizes, and I must say that at present I see no reason for directing an adandonment of the prosection.


asked whether there was any disorder on the occasion?


in reply, said, that there was.