§ MR. SEXTON
said, that in accordance with the Forms of the House, and after what had just taken place, he was precluded from moving the Resolution with regard to the circumstances connected with the present administration of the Protection of Person and Property (Ireland) Act; but he thought he might usefully occupy the attention of the House in calling attention to the subject connected with the administration of the Act of last year. He promised to keep well within the terms of his Motion whilst he endeavoured to press on the Government one or two aspects of the case, with the view of inducing them to put a stop to coercion by the infliction of punishment upon innocent persons. On the 1st July last he saw by the Returns that there were 186 persons still in prison under that Act, and he did not think that since that time the number had been very much diminished, and if he said there were at present 150 persons still there, he was well within the mark. These might be divided into two classes—those who were suspected of personal complicity in crime, and those who were not so suspected; and even in regard to the former class, he thought the time had come 639 when they should be set at liberty. The Protection of Person and Property Act was passed on the plea that the Government knew who were the guilty men, and that they would be put on their trial but for two circumstances—first, that witnesses were afraid to come forward to give evidence; and, secondly, that juries were unwilling to convict. He contended that the Coercion Act of the present year removed these grounds for passing the Act. The law now afforded ample security against intimidation of every kind, while Government officials were empowered to conduct trials without the intervention of a jury. With regard to those "suspects" who were not accused of complicity with crime, there were still 60 of them in prison; and he based the case for their release upon the statement made by the Prime Minister, on the 2nd of May, that the list of "suspects" would be examined immediately, as the Irish Members understood, with a view to the release of all who were not suspected of personal complicity with crime. Three Irish Members were released, but 60 "suspects" of the class in question were still in prison. Why had they not been released? If they had been brought before the Summary Courts established by the Coercion Act, the whole, or nearly the whole, of them would ere now have served out the full period of the maximum sentences which such Courts might have passed upon them. The Chief Secretary had assured him that he would consider the propriety of releasing these men when the time for harvest operations had arrived. Harvest operations were now going on, and yet the men were in prison. One whose case he had repeatedly mentioned was a young man with an aged father, who stood much in need of the son's help. More influential persons who had been arrested at the same time had long been set at liberty, and from these anomalies the Act appeared to be administered in a random and zig-zag fashion. There were cases in which farms were left in charge of the prisoners' wives and female relatives, to the great detriment of the families' interests. The further imprisonment of these men could not apparently serve any other purpose than vindictiveness. The Coercion Act would expire on the 30th of September, and to keep all the "suspects" in prison until that day and 640 release them all at once would not have a salutary effect upon an imaginative and warm-hearted people. The Executive ought to show a little graciousness in dealing with such a people, and ought not to act the part of political Shy locks by keeping these men in prison till the last moment the Protection Act would allow. They might fairly let them out in the present month.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, that the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) had made two counts against the Government, upon which there was a good deal to say from the points of view of strict logic and practical reason; but there were two or three considerations which required to be remembered in judging the charge brought against the present policy of the Government in Ireland. The first count was that of putting persons into prison under the Protection Act when the Government were armed with a very powerful Crimes Prevention Act The hon. Member would believe him, he hoped, when he said that one of the features of the Crimes Prevention Bill which commended that measure to himself was that it would enable the Government to dispense with a species of legislation which might have a temporary effect, but could not have a permanent one in maintaining law and order. But the operation of the Act must necessarily be slow. That Act, he believed, would do a great deal to increase the confidence of witnesses in giving their testimony; but it would accomplish that purpose slowly, because some convictions of criminals must take place the justice of which would commend themselves to the general population before that population, unaccustomed now to convictions in agrarian cases, could feel that punishment followed crime. When convictions of that kind had been obtained, he had no doubt that evidence would slowly but steadily be coming forward. They knew well, however, from experience, that such a condition of things had not yet arrived. Since Lord Spencer had come into Office about 50 persons had been put in prison under the Protection Act; but from what districts and under what circumstances had they been imprisoned? He believed that no person had been imprisoned under the Protection Act by Lord Spencer for intimidating or "Boycotting." Thirty-five of those 50 "suspects" were from Galway and the neighbourhood of those ter- 641 rible murders which had shocked Ireland and England. Eleven were from Dublin; but these were put in prison in consequence of, and in connection with, the recent murders there, which were connected with the Fenian Society. Three were from the County Cavan; but they were arrested distinctly and avowedly on account of a very serious outrage committed on a man named Trimble. One was from Silo, and, though he did not know that case very well, he believed the arrest was on suspicion of having taken part in an unlawful assembly.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
Yes. Hon. Members might say that 35 was a large number to have arrested, even in connection with terrible offences like the murder near Loughrea; but the real cause of the arrests having been so numerous was that an unhealthy state of society existed in that district with which any Government would have been unable to cope without them, even under the more potent weapons provided by the Prevention of Crime Act. He allowed that when the Protection Act expired these men would have to be released. He allowed that whatever crimes might be committed they could not, after the 30th September, put any person into prison on suspicion. He disliked extremely to have to stand up there and appear to account for imprisonments which he was responsible for, but the reasons for which he could not give. He looked forward with pleasure to the time when he should be free from the responsibility of detaining men for reasons which he could not state publicly, and when none would be imprisoned except after conviction by a judicial tribunal. But he could not think that any legitimate charge could be brought against the Irish Government, because in the transitory state of society before the effects of a terrible social plague had vanished, and before the country had become accustomed to that healthier mode of punishment provided under the Prevention of Crime Act, Earl Spencer had thought it necessary, during an interval of two or three months, to make arrests which were absolutely necessary for the preservation of human life. The second part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks referred to persons who were still in prison on account of suspicion of intimidation. 642 The hon. Gentleman had referred to a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Administration, and had fairly summarized the promises which the right hon. Gentleman gave regarding the release of certain "suspects" in prison when that speech was delivered. The hon. Gentleman said that the Government had been tardy in fulfilling their promise. They would admit, with regard to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's promise, that he at once proceeded to enlarge the three Members of Parliament. He did so because he was thoroughly convinced that their being out of prison would not be in any sense to the danger or disadvantage of the community at large, but that it would be to its profit. The right hon. Gentleman's course of conduct had been absolutely justified by the facts. It was impossible for anyone to say that any evil had resulted from the enlargement of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) and his Friends. Their release had caused the addition of three Members to the House who had given valuable assistance during an important portion of their proceedings. At the time Earl Spencer came into power there were about 255 persons in prison on suspicion of the lighter crimes known to the Protection Act. The hon. Member for Sligo, whose figures were almost always accurate, told them that the number now in prison on account of those lighter crimes was 60, and he believed the exact number was 55. The enlargement in three months of no less than 200 persons suspected of those offences was a large instalment of the fulfilment of the right hon. Gentleman's promise. His promise was that the cases of those persons should be considered, with a view to their enlargement, if it would not be dangerous to the peace of the country. Wherever the Lord Lieutenant had been able to come to a conclusion that the enlargement of these people would be as innocuous, or nearly as innocuous, as the enlargement of the hon. Member for Cork and his Friends, His Excellency had released them. The 50 persons who remained in prison were probably persons whose dangerous character certainly was of a much deeper class than that of the 200 who had been already dismissed. But the Government most certainly did attach great weight to the considerations put forward by the 643 hon. Member for Sligo. It was not intended, however, that there should be a general gaol delivery on the 30th of September, when the Protection Act would expire. He was thankful to say—and it was impossible to imagine any subject which could give greater pleasure to those who now sat upon the Treasury Benches—that the diminution in outrages, though not as rapid as could be wished, was, perhaps, as rapid as could reasonably be hoped. Every month the outrages decreased in number by about 80, and since the terrible series of murders that had disheartened the country a few months ago, they had decreased in gravity and importance as well as numerically. The diminution had gone on steadily during the last four months, and that was more than could be said of any other equal period since the passing of the Act. It was in the hope that the Prevention of Crime Act was now beginning to work in the manner desired, and in the hope that measures much more agreeable than the Coercion Act to the Government were beginning to have a good effect, and that the spirit of sympathy with Ireland which actuated the men who were now carrying on the government in Ireland—in Ireland itself—had begun to tell upon the people at large, that he looked forward with the belief that in the earlier part of the next two months they might see that work which the hon. Member for Sligo was constantly urging them to hasten—namely, letting out those persons whose presence in their district would not be absolutely and immediately dangerous to life and order—brought to something very like completion.
§ MR. REDMOND
said, that if anything could remove the irritation felt from the operation of the Coercion Act, it was beyond question the conciliatory speeches of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, which had done very good service in that direction. They noticed with pleasure the great contrast between his tone and that of the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster); and he (Mr. Redmond) would not be speaking honestly if he did not express the great gratification with which he had listened to the manner in which the present Chief Secretary approached irritating and perplexing questions. But he wished to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that his very encouraging 644 statement regarding the diminution of crime was a very significant fact in support of the argument of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). It appeared that the release of the "suspects" was followed by a diminution of outrages; but that was exactly what the Irish Members had always prophesied; their contention having been from the very first that the men who were imprisoned as "suspects" were, in fact, the best guarantees for the peace and order of their respective districts. The release of 200 prisoners was, of course, an instalment of what the Prime Minister had promised; and it now only remained for the Government to prove their sincerity by ordering the release of the comparatively few remaining "suspects."
§ MR. HEALY
said, he would remind the Prime Minister that in announcing the release of the three imprisoned Members of Parliament on May 2, he had said that—The list of persons similarly imprisoned will be carefully examined further, with a view to the release, in accordance with like principles and considerations, of all persons who are not believed to be associated with the commission of crime."—[3 Hansard, cclxviii. 1967.]That was the promise of the right hon. Gentleman, which had not yet been completely fulfilled. Coercion, however, was defended on ever-varying grounds, and the present excuse was that the "suspects" still in prison were persons dangerous to the peace of their localities. That was the opinion, not of the Government, but of the local Sub-Inspector. Warrants were issued upon one ground, and the men were kept in prison upon another. He recognized, in common with his hon. Friend who had last spoken, the perfectly good spirit with which the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant approached Irish questions. He did not admit, however, that the law was administered in that spirit of sympathy with Ireland which the right hon. Gentleman alleged. He protested against the cant about benevolence in dealing with Ireland. It was just like the benevolence of the hangman who, when he had pinioned you, adjusted the rope round your neck, and, drawing the black cap over your head, shook hands with you. If the Government wished to keep Ireland down, they should do it; but let there be no more cant of that kind. They had been told that the Lord Lieu- 645 tenant had arrested only 50 persons. Well, he had arrested 35 in connection with the Galway murder, and 11 in connection with the murder in Dublin, and shut them up in prison for three or four months—for they must be released at the end of September. It was not wise to put men charged with such crimes into gaol for so short a time. If these men belonged to secret societies, of course they would endeavour to gain recruits among the "suspects" from all parts of the country who were in prison with them. In fact, the Government had set up schools of art, national academies, to enable these men the better to indoctrinate others with their own ideas at the public expense. The Galway murder was committed on Thursday, Mr. Clifford Lloyd appeared in Loughrea on Friday, and by the following Sunday 35 men were sent to gaol on his warrant. In fact, Mr. Clifford Lloyd was the most powerful man in Ireland. He did the acts, and the Government had to sustain him in what he did. It was through him that they committed the blunder of putting a priest in prison. Mr. Clifford Lloyd sent up the name of Eugene Sheehy, omitting the word "Rev.;" and so the Government, without knowing that he was a priest, arrested and put him in prison. A person named Starkey, whom he had seen in Court the other day, swept the Millstreet district of 60 men on the information of Connell, the informer. The diminution of crime was to be attributed, not to the Prevention of Crime Act, but to the Arrears Bill and the changes that had taken place in the personel of the Government of Ireland. Though the right hon. Gentleman rejoiced that the Prevention of Crime Act was about to lapse, he was glad to take advantage of it after all. But if the Coercion Act was effective, why make use of the other Act, which would expire so soon? He advised the Government to acknowledge that the Coercion Act had been a failure, and leave it to be remembered solely in connection with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster). The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) said that they would not have a general gaol delivery on the 30th of September. No; the English were too great hypocrites for that. About the 20th of September the Lord Lieutenant would take thought and dribble out the prisoners 646 one by one, so that public attention might not be excited. As they had a Coercion Act, let the Government use it, and let them temper their severity with a little justice.