§ MR. LEAMY
said, he wished to obtain some information as to a case which he had brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. It was a case to which the Irish Members believed they were entitled to have an answer. He alluded to the death of a man named James Commins, in Waterford Gaol. The facts of the case were as enumerated in a Question put to the right hon. Gentleman. He asked the right hon. Gentleman whether it was a fact that this man was arrested on the 17th of April, and sent to gaol in default of paying a small fine; whether a day after his imprisonment he was found talking in his cell to himself, and thereupon the Governor of the gaol ordered the man to be put into a strait waistcoat; whether he burst the straps a day or so afterwards, and that he was then strapped down on the bed in the cell in which he was eventually killed; whether during that time he was not allowed to be visited by his friends; whether two similar cases had not occurred in the same gaol? He also asked the right hon. Gentleman whether it was a fact that at the inquest held upon this poor man, the prison doctor swore he died from disease of the heart, whilst two other doctors swore he died from inflammation of the lungs; whether evidence was not given by the chaplain of the gaol to the effect that he saw the man in his cell with his hands tied, and no clothing on him except a night-shirt? The right hon. Gentleman's answer was that it was quite customary to treat prisoners in that manner. Then, again, he was asked why the man was held down in such a way, and his answer was that he was insane. Now, there was a rule that the moment a man got insane in goal he should be at once removed to a lunatic asylum. Why was not that done in this case? Instead of that, he was left practically naked, and tied down 496 in a cold cell for a fortnight, until he died from the brutal treatment he had received. He asked the Chief Secretary the day before yesterday whether this case would be publicly investigated; and his answer was that the Local Government Board had sent down an officer to hold an inquiry. But under what circumstances was it held? The Visiting Justices were not informed of it, and none of the relatives of the deceased were given an opportunity to be present at it. And the result of the inquiry the right hon. Gentleman had not communicated to the House. Now, he wanted to know was that House going to sanction such brutal and inhuman treatment of a prisoner whose only offence was that he refused to pay a fine for the trespass of some of his cattle on a neighbour's land. If a man was guilty of a grave offence, if he was suffering penal servitude for murder, such treatment would be shocking and abominable. But what was worse was, that that was the second instance in that gaol in which a poor man strapped to his bed, and believed to be insane, had been found dead. He wanted to know if that was the system which was to be carried out in Irish prisons? Why did the right hon. Gentleman refuse to grant an inquiry into it? If he was not afraid of an inquiry, why refuse it in such a glaring case? [Laughter.]This was a matter which might well excite hilarity on the Opposition Benches; but he would tell the House that they would not cease from discussing this case until an opportunity was given for a public inquiry into it. The Chief Secretary had told him that an inquiry was held, and that a Report was made. But why was not the Report produced and laid upon the Table of the House—one-sided Report though it was—for no one was examined by the Inspector who went down but the doctor of the gaol, the Governor, and the warders. What was the good of a Report if it was only to be kept in a pigeon-hole in Dublin Castle? The chaplain of the gaol said at the inquest that it was usual to have prisoners stripped in this way, and strapped down on their beds. Would the Chief Secretary tell them what necessity there was for all this brutality, and why it was that he refused them a public inquiry? No doubt the officials of the Waterford Gaol were persons who were friends of 497 people with great influence in high places, and Commins was poor and friendless, and with no one to speak for him; but he would tell the House, and he would tell the Government, that this sort of treatment of prisoners would stir up a bad feeling, not only in Waterford but all through Ireland, and that they on the Irish Benches would not rest until they had got satisfaction in this matter; even although the Chief Secretary had evidently made up his mind that a prison official was to be upheld, whether his conduct was right or wrong.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, that as his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary could not, by the Rules of the House, speak again, he might perhaps be allowed to make a few remarks, especially as that was one of a class of cases of a painful character with which he was very familiar, having constantly to deal with them. In that particular instance, an allegation having been made that a prisoner had been ill-used and improperly treated, his right hon. Friend took the very natural course of directing that an inquiry should be instituted by the Prison Board in the first instance, in order to ascertain the facts. That was precisely the course which he himself would have taken under the like circumstances in England. He would have called for a Report from the Prison Commissioners in the first instance; and if he thought the case one that required further investigation he would have gone into the matter himself, and have obtained further information. That was precisely what his right hon. Friend had done. ["Oh, oh!"] He thought he might be allowed to proceed without interruption. He was not stating anything offensive. After receiving the Report of the Prison Board, thinking the case to be a serious one, his right hon. Friend directed that it should be referred to the Royal Commission, which had been appointed with great care, for the purpose of inquiring into the discipline of prisons in Ireland, and into any abuses which might exist in them. The Commission, he believed, had the confidence of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and those who sat with him. What fairer course could his right hon. Friend have adopted? The hon. Member opposite was right in 498 calling attention to that case; but he had no right to impute to his right hon. Friend inhumanity or brutality.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the hon. Member had used towards his right hon. Friend language which seemed to him most offensive and entirely uncalled for. He hoped, however, that it would now be admitted that his right hon. Friend had acted in a just and impartial manner, and that he was not obnoxious to the reproaches that had been cast upon him.
§ MR. LEAMY
said, he wished to explain. When he made his speech he was not aware that this case was referred to the Prisons Commission. It was only yesterday that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary refused to produce the Report dealing with the matter, on the ground that it was a confidential document; but he had said nothing about referring it to the Commission.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
asked to be allowed to say a few words by way of personal explanation. He could not, of course, keep himself fully informed of all the details of the Irish administration; and the first he heard of this matter was when it was brought under his notice the day before yesterday by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Leamy.) He thought the matter very serious, and had since been in correspondence with Dublin about it; and it was only in the course of that morning he found that referring it to the Prisons Commission was the only way of having it properly inquired into. He had at once communicated his determination to that effect to the Irish Executive.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said that, as a Member of the Royal Commission now sitting on Irish Prisons, he had listened with deep interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Waterford. He promised the hon. Member that they would have this case fully investigated, and would have the officials over from Ireland with regard to it.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.