HC Deb 17 April 1883 vol 278 cc418-22

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether any inquiry has been instituted into the proceedings at the recent elections of Poor Law Guardians for the Union of Bantry, and whether the facts stated by Mr. Barrett, Vice Chairman of the Board, were correctly reported in the "Cork Constitution" of 11th April, when he is reported to have said, in speaking of the action of the Roman Catholic Clergy:— He would give them one instance of that. On Holy Thursday at about 12 o'clock he went to the house of a man named O'Neill, and told him to look out for the constable who was taking up the voting papers, and who would probably be with him in about an hour. The country was in such a state of excitement, hands of men flying here and there, that he took the precaution of having two armed constables with him for protection while talking to Neill in his own house; he called my attention to the approach of a body of about twenty men, who, headed by a clergyman, were running towards his house, Neill said to him, 'There will be bad work here, I will go aoneside, you take charge of my voting paper, and hand it to the constable when he comes;' Neill then disappeared and went out on the hill, the bludgeon men then rushed into the house, the clergyman, Father O'Leary, called out for Neill, his wife said he was out; he asked the wife to shut the door, and she refused; he then asked the daughter to shut it, and she likewise refused; he (Mr. Barrett) was sitting in the kitchen, a quiet spectator of all that happened, and what he would call the attention of the board to was that, if that door was shut, and that he was imprisoned within the house, he had nothing for it but to fight his way through, and he was very certain that serious consequences would have ensued from a collision between him and those men; and, what action the Government intend to take in the matter?


asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, If his attention has been called to a report of the meeting of the Bantry Board of Guardians, in the "Cork Constitution "of 11th April, at which the chairman, Mr. Payne, in his address to the hoard on re-election as chairman, is reported to have said, when commenting on the recent elections— As to the manner in which the contest was conducted, he would only shortly refer to the Electoral Division of Whiddy. The voting papers were given out on Monday 19th March, fair day in Bantry, and three of the voters came to the fair, the Rev. Mr. Kearney went into the island, followed the constable, and took away their voting papers; one of them insisted on getting his hack, after an attempt had been made to spoil it, by putting in his initials between the names of the candidates; he (Mr. Payne) had to go with another of the men to Mr. Kearney and demand his paper from him; the third was never given back, and they consequently lost three votes; in the fourth case the voter was at home, and got his paper from the constable. Mr. Kearney went to his house, accompanied by a mob, and made every effort to induce him to give it up, but without effect; in the fifth case Mr. Kearney went ahead of the constable, and got into the house; put out some people who were in the kitchen, locked the entrance door, and then went to another room where the man was, and kept him in conversation; when the policeman rapped, the man not knowing the door was locked, called out, 'come in,' but the constable not being able to get in went away; however, he returned next day, and left the paper, and the man voted, and, on the day of the scrutiny, Canon Shinkwin attended and objected strongly to that vote on the grounds that the constable had to go a second time; thus sanctioning the unscrupulous act of his curate. The voting papers were collected on the following Wednesday. Mr. Kearney was there again, followed by a mob. He (Mr. Payne) happened to be in the houses of two of the men who voted with him, when Mr. Kearney, preceding the constable, entered, and in each case spoke the same words, 'I hope you will receive your reward for this.' That needed no comment from him (Mr. Payne); and, if these allegations are substantiated, whether any prosecution will be instituted under the Crime Prevention Act?


asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether any steps have been taken to verify the statement of Mr. Bird, Deputy vice Chairman of the Bantry Board of Guardians, as appearing in the "Cork Constitution "of the 11th instant, when he is reported to have said as follows:— Mr. Bird begged to thank the Board sincerely for having unanimously re-elected him as deputy vice-chairman. He wished to make but very few remarks. In one of the divisions he was interested in, most unjustifiable means were used to defeat the candidate he nominated. Whenever a voter was supposed to be going to vote for him, his house was closed by a mob. In one house the vote was burned, without the consent of the voter, in fact, every means were used to oust a candidate who represented the greater part of the property of that division; if it is a fact that, in one electoral division, fourteen nuns were brought from their convent, and registered their votes in favour of the clerical nominee; and, what action it is proposed to take to prevent the recurrence of such proceedings?


asked, with reference to the Question of the noble Lord (Lord Elcho), Whether the right hon. Gentleman had seen a letter in The Freeman's Journal from the Very Rev. Canon Shinkwin, in which he denied the charges against the priests made in those speeches?


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers, I should like to ask, Whether the statements made in those speeches at the Bantry Board of Guardians were made after attention had been called in this House to acts of gross intimidation charged against Mr. Payne and other landlords in the Bantry district; and, whether the inquiries the right hon. Gentleman promised to institute have resulted as yet in directing a prosecution against Mr. Payne and the other landlords inculpated for intimidation?


I wish to ask, Whether, in view of the enormous number of cases of intimidation alleged to have been practised by landlords and others during the recent Poor Law elections, he will do all in his power to expedite the passing of the Bill for taking votes at these elections by ballot?


From the Reports which have been submitted to the Government it is clear that very great, and possibly, in some respects, questionable, efforts were made to carry some of the recent Poor Law elections in Ireland. It is obvious that at elections of this and similar kinds great efforts will be made, in the future as in the past, by the supporters of the rival candidates, to secure success for their own party; and if the Government were to be called upon to investigate all complaints arising out of such efforts, and to institute prosecutions, they are conscious that they would be applying the Prevention of Crime Act in a manner which, in the long run, would not be to the public interest. Therefore, on full consideration of the circumstances of the present cases they do not propose to initiate a public prosecution. I may be permitted, perhaps, again to allude to the Bill which has been referred to in the last Question put to me, and to express the hope that it will be passed into law this Session, so as to prevent any intimidation or interference in future from any quarters. I must say that, in the present state of Ireland, intimidation will be likely to lead to much graver consequences to the public safety than, perhaps, it has done in the past.


Will the Local Government Board order fresh elections in these cases?


No, Sir. The advice which we have got from the extremely able officer who acts as Special Resident Magistrate in that district is that, for the sake of the district, the best plan would be to let bygones be bygones on both sides.


I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Whether he is aware that Mr. Payne concerned himself as Lord Bandon's agent in these elections; whether he canvassed in the interest of the estate bailiff Phillips; whether he promised several tenants sums of money for their votes, and said to one of them (Burke, of Kilmean), "you won't have a roof over your head this day 12 months if you don't vote for Phillips; "and, whether, if the facts be as stated, they are not sufficient to induce the right hon. Gentleman to qualify the answer he has given as to the undesirability of instituting the prosecution?


The answer I have given was an answer that was very carefully weighed, and one that was arrived at entirely in the public interest.