HC Deb 24 July 1885 vol 299 cc1808-13

said, he wished to call attention to the death of Peter O'Gara, in Sligo Police Barracks. This man had been arrested a few weeks ago on a charge of drunkenness in Sligo, although ho was walking with two friends, whom the police admitted to have been sober. He was put into the cell at the police barracks with another drunken man. At 10 P.M. his wife and son had called and asked for his release, when, on entering the cell, O'Gara was found dead with marks of violence on his face and head, while the other man was found sitting on the floor with his coat and waistcoat off. It was evident that the orderly constable could not have been anywhere close at hand, or he would have heard the struggle which must have taken place. Such an occurrence ought not to have been possible, and he hoped that the Government would take care to prevent anything of the kind happening again. He wished also to call attention to the necessity for better arrangements being made for the custody of prisoners in Constabulary stations in Ireland. More cells should be provided, and the lighting of the cells improved. In Galway, for instance, there was only one cell, and if there were a female and male prisoner arrested at the same time, the female was obliged to stay in the kitchen with the orderly. Such a system was disgraceful. When the Government could spend large sums on palatial police barracks and bath-rooms for policemen, they ought, at least, to make decent and safe provisions for prisoners.


said, he rose to call attention to the condition of the Magisterial Bench in King's County. There were 92 Justices of Peace in the county, and, although only 15 per cent of the people were other than Catholics, there were only 10 or 11 Catholic magistrates, whereas the number ought to be 73. He had already complained of this disproportion, but the new appointments were on the old lines. There was a vast number of Catholics in the county qualified to hold the position which was denied them. The appointment of magistrates in King's County was confined to certain family rings. It was said that there was a strong alliance between the present Government and the Home Rule Irish Members; but they were not aware of it. Although nothing of the sort existed, still the Government might, from a sense of justice, look into this question; and if they would do so impartially, they would do something to give the Government a claim on the consideration of the Irish people.


said, that the questions of local taxation and of the treatment of prisoners under remand were bound up with the appointment of magistrates. In the Queen's County there were not more than 14 Catholic magistrates, and several of these were absentees, or did not attend to business. The administration of local rates was vested in bodies composed largely of magistrates, and it was not to be tolerated that the composition of these bodies should be unduly coloured by a political nominee of the Government of the day. One effect of the carrying on of county government by magistrates, nominated as at present, was that female prisoners under remand had to be sent distances of 30 or 40 miles; and it was highly improper that a female prisoner should be sent that distance in charge of a policeman. It was enough to destroy the character of any woman, and the knowledge of the fact that this had to be done interfered with the administration of justice, for a considerate magistrate naturally hesitated to expose any woman to such an ordeal and the hardships of the journey if he could possibly avoid it.


said, ho desired to enter his protest against the stigma which was cast upon the Catholic gentlemen in Ireland owing to the persistent refusal of the late Government to place them upon the Bench of Magisstrates. He hoped that the present Government would follow the example of the last Conservative Government, and would treat the Catholics in Ireland fairly. The late Lord O'Hagan, from whom great things had been expected as the first Catholic Lord Chancellor, had actually increased the disproportion between the number of Catholic and Protestant magistrates. A principle had been laid down upon which he thought the Government should act, and that was to have at least one Catholic magistrate upon each Bench, if a suitable one could be found in the district. In the County Louth there were 10 Benches, and on four of these there was not a single Catholic magistrate. He had great respect for the present holder of the Office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who was distinguished for his impartial, honourable, and kindly treatment of the Irish Catholics. He trusted that the noble Lord would continue in Office after the next General Election, and would retain his post for many years. He looked to him for the removal of the inequality at present existing.


said, that the different matters which hon. Members opposite had brought under the notice of the House did not demand any lengthened remarks from him. With, regard to the case of Mr. John O'Brien, he might say that the grounds upon which Lord Spencer had declined to appoint Mr. John O'Brien as Governor of Cork Lunatic Asylum were not at all personal ones. He 'the At- torney General for Ireland) had no doubt that Mr. O'Brien was very well qualified to discharge the duties, and he was quite sure that his claims would be considered by the present Lord Lieutenant. When the last Governor of the Cork Lunatic Asylum was appointed, there was on the Board a preponderance of city representatives. It appeared that the county, which contributed some £8,000 per annum towards the maintenance of the asylum, had only 15 Governors on the Board; while the city, which contributed only some £2,700, had 22, and it being felt that the county was entitled to have its representation on the Board strengthened, the now Governor was selected from the county instead of from the city which Mr. O'Brien represented.


remarked that of the 22 Governors only three were representatives of the ratepayers.


said, that there was no personal objection whatever to Mr. O'Brien, and doubtless he would be selected as the next city Governor—assuming, of course, the statements of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Deasy) regarding him to be correct. No one could help feeling pain at the sad circumstances of the death of the man referred to by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). He at once admitted that if drunken persons wore to be confined in police barracks, adequate cell accommodation was not merely desirable, but necessary. In many police barracks there was great want of accommodation, and that was owing to the fact that houses not built for the purpose had been adapted to the use of police barracks. It was much more desirable that buildings should be expressly erected for police barracks, and that had now been extensively done. With regard to the observations which had been made as to prisoners being placed in the same cells, ho thought he might promise that for the future this would be done as little as possible. There was a rule in the Constabulary Force at the present time which made it obligatory on constables not to place more than one person in the same cell when it could be avoided, and the only thing that led to its being done was the want of proper cell accommodation. If it became necessary to place two persons in one cell, they should be so placed as to be within sight, or at all events within hearing, of the warder. His right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary would take steps that this should always be done where the want of proper cell accommodation made it necessary to put two prisoners into one cell. The other points to which the hon. Member had referred in connection with cell accommodation should have his attention. The hon. Members for Cork and Sligo had spoken of the appointments to the magistracy. Reference had also been made by the hon. Member for King's County to the Lord Lieutenant of that county. The Lord Lieutenant of King's County did not share the political views of hon. Members sitting on this side of the House, but he was a personal friend of his own, and ho was probably the last person in the world to recommend or refuse to recommend gentlemen for appointments on the ground of their religion. He believed the rule to be laid down with reference to the appointment of gentlemen to the commission of the peace was that they should be appointed upon considerations entirely distinct from their political and religious views, and having regard only to their fitness to discharge the magisterial duties they would be called upon to perform. No doubt in some parts of the country, where there was a predominance of people professing a certain religion, it was desirable that a certain number of magistrates of that religion should be appointed in order that the people might have confidence in the administration of justice; but, nevertheless, regard must be had to their fitness for the discharge of their duties. He hoped that the time might not be far distant in Ireland, when religion, which was now almost identical with polities, might be placed in the background in all questions connected with the government of the country. The selection of the magistrates of Ireland was now in the hands of his noble Friend Lord Ashbourne, who, although a politician, was not a bigoted politician, and, although a religious man, was not a bigot. and he felt sure that such a man as Lord Ashbourne might be trusted to appoint the magistracy of the country with impartiality and without favour to political or religious views, but solely in regard to the fitness for the discharge of the duties of the office.


contended that it was a great scandal to appoint persons as magistrates in Ireland who were not resident in the counties in which they acted, and sometimes had hardly any connection with them. He hoped that the new Lord Chancellor would use his influence for the purpose of remedying this state of things. He should go through the lists of magistrates, both Protestant and Catholic, and strike out without mercy all who did not discharge their duties and who were not resident in the counties. He thought the Lord Chancellor should ignore almost entirely the Lord Lieutenants of counties in this matter, and should depend upon his own judgment. It was most desirable that the people of the country should have confidence in the administration of justice. That they could not have, if they saw the appointments to the Magisterial Bench entirely taken from one class of the community. Until some reform was made in that respect, it was utterly impossible that the people could believe in the impartiality of justice. He was also of opinion that the policeman who had been so neglectful of duty in the case referred to by the hon. Member for Sligo should be punished.


complained that the late Government had not adequately fulfilled their promise to appoint a fair proportion of Catholic magistrates. He was aware that the present Chief Secretary for Ireland was not responsible for what his Predecessor did. He regretted to say that the promises of the late Government had been kept to the ear, but broken in reality. In the first place, the Irish Members never desired to have a lot of Whig "shoneens and Cawtholics" appointed as magistrates throughout the country.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


said, he merely wished to say that he hoped that Lord Ashbourne, in whose sense of justice the Irish Members had considerable confidence, would take this matter in hand, and deal with it in a candid and proper spirit.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.