HC Deb 31 October 1884 vol 293 cc660-2

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether he has made or will make himself acquainted with the dying depositions of two men executed with Myles Joyce; whether they were taken by and before a resident magistrate; whether each deposition was made independently by each of the condemned men in his own cell without any knowledge or communication of what the other had said or done; whether any copies of the depositions have been made; if not, in whose custody do the originals remain; and, will any steps be taken to secure them from being mislaid or lost?


This is a Question which resolves itself into many points. In regard to the first of them—whether the First Lord of the Treasury had made or would make himself acquainted with the dying depositions of two men executed with Myles Joyce—I may remind the hon. Member that I had not, in the course of the debate, assumed to make the smallest authoritative reference to the contents of those dying declarations. I took them simply as they were presented in the accounts given by Irish Members, who believed themselves to have obtained substantial information about them, and any argument I made was made simply on these accounts so presented to me. With respect to my own acquaintance with those documents, or with any other documents bearing on the Maamtrasna case, I really think it is going a little beyond the ordinary functions of a Questioner to cross-examine a particular Minister as to what are the Papers which he has or has not read, and in what particular manner he has fitted himself to enter into the case. I think the hon. Member will see that he has unconsciously gone a little beyond the proper limits in putting his Question to me; and I must respectfully, in all courtesy, decline to answer what Papers I have read or not read. It might be, on some subjects, a Question not easy to reply to. I do not say that that is so in the present case; but, on the principle I have stated, I must decline to answer. As to his third and fourth Questions, which relate to the depositions themselves, I would say that any Questions of that kind should, properly speaking, be put to the Representatives of the Irish. Government in this House; but I do not think the Government are prepared to give information with respect to the contents or the particulars of these depositions. The Prerogative of mercy has never been a branch of the Executive power that has been cast in medio before the whole Cabinet. It has always been the special and responsible function of the Home Secretary on this side of the water, and of the Viceroy on the other side; and it is my opinion, and I believe the opinion of my Colleagues, that in that concentrated and very solemn responsibility there is, on the whole, a much better security for the judicious exercise of the Prerogative of mercy than if the cases it involves were to be dealt with by the whole Cabinet. That is the reason why I am unwilling to do what tends to bring the Prerogative of mercy under review, and also of my disinclination in this particular case to recede from what we feel to be our duty in all cases of the ad- ministration of justice in that great branch of justice—namely, the Prerogative of mercy. As to the Question whether steps will be taken to secure the safe custody of those Papers, I think I can assure the hon. Member that there is no reason to apprehend their being lost from any want of due care. Certainly, they are Papers for the safety of which it is the duty of the Irish Government to have peculiar regard.


said, he wished to disclaim any idea of cross-examining the Prime Minister on his speech; but he had put his Question because he understood the right hon. Gentleman to have said that he had a mind open to conviction.


asked Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, Whether the chief warder of Kilmainham Prison has been questioned as to the statement alleged to have been made by Thomas Casey, the informer in the Maamtrasna case, that after Philbin, the other informer, had had an interview with Mr. Bolton, and when Casey had made no communication, they were put out alone into the prison yard?


The chief warder had been questioned, and Casey's statement was without any foundation.


inquired if this warder was the same as the warder mentioned in James Ellis French's letter?

[No reply.]