HC Deb 15 August 1882 vol 273 cc1837-44

said, he wished to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland a Question of which he had given him private Notice, and would conclude with a Motion. ["Oh, oh!"] He heard the Prime Minister say "Oh, oh!" and thought the right hon. Gentleman could not be aware of the nature of the Question, for if he had, he (Mr. Callan) had no doubt he would have exercised that natural restraint which was so becoming in so eminent an Official. His (Mr. Callan's) attention had been drawn to The Daily News, a Radical paper, and a supporter of the Government, and in it he read that yesterday in the Commission Court, Dublin, attention was drawn by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland to certain articles that had appeared in The Freeman's Journal; and Mr. Justice Lawson said he was glad to hear that statement, and hoped the attention of the Attorney General for Ireland would be directed to the outrageous article, which was published for the purpose of prejudicing and defeating the administration of justice in the Court, and which he had read with feelings of horror and indignation. It would appear only natural that anything published in The Freeman's Journal should excite the horror of Mr. Justice Lawson, when it was remembered that that eminent Whig Judge was appointed by the Party now in power, and was the pet of the Prime Minister. Since that Court first sat, there were two articles which were published in The Freeman's Journal of August 11th and 12th; and he (Mr. Callan) must state the reason why these articles were written, and call upon the Attorney General for Ireland here to justify the course of procedure in that Court. He gave the right hon. and learned Gentleman private Notice, and he said he would explain and answer the Question across the floor of the House. That was the way he (Mr. Callan) preferred to have an answer coming from the Irish Executive for many reasons. He found in The Freeman's Journal of August 11th this statement of fact:—On the swearing of the jury, the following were ordered to stand by—namely, 20 gentlemen, and these 20 gentlemen were Roman Catholics, each and every one, and amongst them he (Mr. Callan) had a half-dozen of private friends. ["Hear, hear!"] Probably the Radical who said "Hear, hear!" considered that a sufficient justification that they were his friends. He accepted it as a testimony for the Radicals. The prisoner only challenged six; and what did The Freeman's Journal say to that challenge? It said— The Crown exercised their right to challenge on a wholesale scale, and no less than 19 persons, some of them amongst our most respected citizens, were ordered to stand aside. That was the comment it made upon it. That was one of the arguments which had struck Mr. Justice Lawson when he read the articles with feelings of "horror." The second article stated that another prisoner was tried the following day, when 11 jurymen were objected to by the prisoner, and 26 by the Crown. All of the 26 were Roman Catholics, and this was the other comment of The Freeman's Journal, and which that eminent Judge, promoted by the present Government, stated created such feelings of "horror" in his mind— We are unwilling to credit the rumour that the Crown have resolved that juries exclusively, or almost exclusively, Protestant shall determine in some cases the liberty, and in others the lives, of the prisoners on trial at Green Street, yet colour is lent to the reports by the fact that yesterday, in the capital case—just as on the previous day in the White boy case—Catholic gentlemen, of admitted respectability and position, were ordered to stand aside when they took the book to be sworn. To the gentlemen in question no stereotyped 'trade' objection can be made; and the inference, therefore, is that they were shoved aside from their duties as jurors simply because they are Catholics. The Attorney General was present and ordered them to 'stand aside,' and if he could advance any tangible reason for so doing we should be quite content. If this is true, an odious, and, it was hoped, obsolete practice has been renewed; and the course taken, as unnecessary as it is injudicious, must naturally cause indignation and resentment in Catholic circles. The notion that such men as Edward Lenehan, of Castle Street; William Dennehy, of John Street, and others whom we could mention, should not be trusted to find a true verdict, according to evidence, in country cases brought to Dublin for trial, which is the simple and only inference, is offensive in the extreme. He (Mr. Callan) had known Edward Lenehan for upwards of 20 years. He was an extensive leather merchant in Dublin—a man of great wealth and high position, who had never interfered actively about the Land League, but who had always devoted himself to his duties; and to ask such a man to "stand aside" required, and necessi- tated, very considerable justification. There could by no possibility be any other reason but that he was a Roman Catholic. The same must be said of William Dennehy. To say that these men and others would not conscientiously return a true verdict was indefensible in the extreme. The article proceeded— The representatives of the Crown would not venture to make such a declaration; yet the names of the gentlemen specified appear in the published list of the rejected. The matter is one that calls for inquiry and explanation. These were the comments which has startled Mr. Justice Lawson, the pet of the Prime Minister, and who was shocked with horror. The article continued— For the present, we will only express our regret that the representative of the Crown should deem it necessary and expedient to 'Boycott' Catholic special jurors of the city and county of Dublin. Again, they caused horror in the tender breast of Mr. Justice Lawson. Mr. Hugh Vaughan, a gentleman of independent means, was also objected to because he was a Catholic, and that at the instance of a Liberal Government and a Liberal Prime Minister, whose creed was that no man could owe Civil allegiance to the Crown and be a Catholic. What had occurred was, in his (Mr. Callan's) opinion, not only invidious, but insulting, and ought to be resented. All the jurors ordered to stand aside were most respectable men. One of them hunted with the Ward Union, and owned a number of hunters, one of which was always at his (Mr. Callan's) service whenever he visited Ireland in the winter, and the animal invariably managed to keep him well to the front, although he rode 14st. 10lb. [Cries of "Order!"]


The hon. Member is really trifling with the House. If an hon. Gentleman thinks it right to put a Question he is entitled to do so; and if he thinks it right further to interrupt the Business of the House by moving the adjournment, he is also within his limits. But he must confine himself to the Question.


said, he had intended that his observations should be to the Question, and he was pointing out that with regard to these trials, in one case 26 gentlemen, and in another 20, were ordered to stand aside simply because they were Roman Catholics. In deference, however, to the Chair, he would cut short his observations. He must call the attention of the House to the fact that not a single Protestant was ordered to stand aside. There was also Peter Aungiers, who for 50 years had been one of the principal salesmen in Dublin, and other men, each of whom could buy out the whole jury, lock, stock, and barrel, as far as their worldly position went. Such proceedings were a disgrace to the English administration of justice; and it was necessary that the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland should explain the proceedings. To give him the opportunity of doing that, he (Mr. Callan) would move the adjournment of the House, as the whole business appeared disgraceful and discreditable to the present century.


said, that, considering the very great importance of the Question asked by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan), he should have much pleasure in seconding the Motion, with the view of raising the subject to which he had referred, and giving the Government an opportunity of satisfactorily explaining this matter. Primâ facie he had revealed a state of facts which was grave in the extreme. The Government had a new Coercion Act for Ireland of exceptional severity. One of the provisions of that Act provided for the trial of offences by special jurors; and there was another, providing for a change of venue, by which cases could be brought to Dublin from all parts of Ireland, presumably because there was there a class of jurors of higher culture and responsibility; and yet the facts brought before the House by the hon. Member for Louth showed that in the very first trials under the new Act—trials of great importance, and in respect of agrarian crime of great seriousness—the Government did not proceed with any regard to law or equity, for they found that man after man—all of them most respectable Catholics, and some of them bearing the most respectable names appearing on the special jury lists of Ireland—were ordered to stand aside; and, finally, the Crown so managed the matter that not a Catholic juror was called upon to serve; but that in a Catholic city—the metropolis of a Catholic country—every one of the Catholic prisoners was tried by Protestant juries. If he (Mr. O'Donnell) were a Protestant, he should certainly protest in the strongest manner possible at his co-religionists being thus picked out. The action of the Government in thus ostracizing the Catholics was doubly inexcusable; because they found that, under that Act, where the Special Jury Act failed, there still remained trial by the Judges. He trusted that some explanation would be given in order to remove the bad impression created in the minds of the people; for if it was a fact that the Government were about to try men for their lives by juries from which all men professing the same religion, and the religion of the Irish people, were excluded, then the universal opinion must be that they were being put to death, not by any system of justice, but by a system of judicial assassination.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Callan.)


Sir, I think I shall best consult the dignity of justice and the time of the House, and certainly the dignity of the distinguished Office which I hold, by not entering into any vindication of my action before a tribunal other than that before which that action took place. Therefore, it is not my intention to do so; but it is my intention, so long as I hold the Office of Attorney General for Ireland, to take care, by the honest exercise of every power with which I may be invested by special Act of Parliament or otherwise, by the discretion of the law, that crimes shall no longer go unpunished in Ireland; and no matter what may be stated in this House or out of it, I, at all events, will not shrink from discharging my duties; and I expect that, whilst I am the official head of the administration of the law in Ireland, I may depend upon and be seconded in this respect by those acting under my orders. I was present when the two trials referred to took place, and personally gave directions; but the paper in which these articles were published may probably have something more to say of the case after to-morrow is over. Therefore, I shall say nothing about The Freeman's Journal; but the House will credit me when I state, if I carefully abstain from answering what I have no information about, that I did not ask what was the religion of a single person called to serve on those juries. The Crown Solicitor acting under me, I know of my own knowledge, is a very conscientious Catholic. The only instance in which I intervened personally in Court with reference to the juries was in the case of a gentleman, with whom I am personally acquainted, and who appealed to me not to call upon him to serve in a capital case, he having conscientious scruples against returning any verdict involving the sentence of death. [Mr. CALLAN: Name.] No; in open Court I shall not give any name whatever. Independent counsel got up and appealed to the Judge to excuse, I think, four or five jurors, whom they named, on different grounds which they stated; and on legal objections I stated that, to save time, for time is of great importance to the public, I would on my own responsibility yield to their wishes, and those gentlemen accordingly were ordered to stand on one side. Two or three other gentlemen connected with the Press appealed to me not to be allowed to serve, and I at once acceded to their request, and allowed them also to stand on one side. I myself was perfectly ignorant of the religious opinions of every person trying the cases, and this, I am sure, the House will give me credit for when I assure them that the religious element during the trials alluded to was never present to my mind the whole time, and did not appear, except in those articles which were published in this paper in order to inflame public opinion against the administration of justice.


There were 46 Catholics objected to, and not a single Protestant.


said, the manner in which these prosecutions had been managed had created the greatest distrust in the mind of every Catholic in Ireland—persons who viewed crime with as much horror and as great an abhorrence as one possibly could do. They felt that justice would not be done, and that they were not to have fair play. He had hoped that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland would have afforded some explanation, some reason for this extraordinary action. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had no knowledge of the religion of the persons ordered to stand aside; but it was a fact that, in his (Mr. Daly's) own city of Cork, 41 Catholics were ordered to stand aside, and it was also a fact that upon the jury lists there were marks against Catholic names. Thus it came that Catholic prisoners were to be tried with a great and powerful Government arraigned against them, and without even the sympathy of their co-religionists. Such proceedings did not give fair play, and he should be untrue to his own convictions if he did not state that the conduct of these particular trials had done much to destroy public confidence in the administration of justice. To order such men as had been mentioned to "stand aside" was to brand them in the eyes of the public by proclaiming that in the eyes of the Crown and the Attorney General for Ireland they were not to be believed upon their oath to be capable of rendering fair and impartial verdicts. If the hon. Member (Mr. Callan) had done nothing else, he would have done good in calling attention to a subject which required careful consideration at the hands of the Government.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 2; Noes 88: Majority 86.—(Div. List, No. 333.)