§ MR. SEXTON
said, he wished to draw the attention of the Government to certain facts connected with the case of Mr. John Boyle O'Reilly, of Boston, who 19 years ago was convicted of treason in Dublin, and sentenced to penal servitude for 20 years. At that time Mr. O'Reilly had hardly, he might say, reached the years of manhood. The time of Mr. O'Reilly's trial was a time of great suffering and political excitement, and of many political trials in Ireland; and he was one of a large number of Irishmen who were tried upon a similar charge and sentenced to like terms of penal servitude. Those who were sentenced then might be divided into two classes—those who were civilians, and those who were members of the British Army. Not only had every civilian sentenced at that time been released, but also those who, like Mr. Boyle O'Reilly, were members of the British Army had since been set at liberty. In the case of some of the civilians, their release from penal servitude was accompanied by the condition that they should exile themselves from the Queen's Dominions; and he would be curious to hear the Home Secretary say whether the Government now thought the course pursued, in compelling the 1132 civilian prisoners whom they released to leave the Queen's Dominions and place themselves in permanent exile, had been a course, which, decided by the result of time, was either a wise or expedient one? It was very curious that the members of the British Army who 20 years ago were tried for treason, convicted, and sentenced, were released many years since without the condition of exile being attached to their release. Some of them returned to their native country. One of them, Sergeant M'Carthy, died there, and one at least he knew was now living in Ireland. Whatever else might be alleged, it could not be said that there was any moral distinction between the case of Mr. Boyle O'Reilly and those members of the British Army tried, convicted, and sentenced to the same time. There was, however, one point of difference. When Mr. Boyle O'Reilly had endured some part of his sentence of penal servitude, he escaped from the penal settlement in Australia. His escape was accomplished under circumstances of daring which attracted very general sympathy. [Laughter.]The right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) smiled; but he (Mr. Sexton) thought if the right hon. Gentleman was placed in a similar situation he would try to escape himself. Mr. O'Reilly made his way to the Coast of Australia with the help of some devoted friends; he put out to sea in an open boat, floated alone upon the surface of the ocean for three days and three nights, then had the good fortune to be taken on board an American ship, and under the shelter of the American flag he made good his escape to the United States. With regard to the smile of the Home Secretary, he (Mr. Sexton) asked whether it was not a universal principle that a man suffering a sentence of penal servitude would make an effort to escape? If by any conceivable turn of fortune the Home Secretary came to suffer penal servitude himself, would he not make an attempt to escape? He (the Home Secretary) might have shown as much ingenuity as Mr. Boyle O'Reilly; but it was doubtful whether he would have shown as much courage.
§ Mr. SEXTON
If Mr. Boyle O'Reilly was shot they would not have been considering his case. The point was that 1133 his guilt was not increased by his effort to escape. Mr. Boyle O'Reilly, whom he had the pleasure to meet lately at Boston, was a gentleman of very high personal qualities, and of the rarest intellectual gifts; and during the years of his residence in America he had made such good use of his powers that he now filled the position of co-proprietor with the Archbishop of Boston and some other prelates of the most important journals in the United States. Mr. O'Reilly was one of the most influential men in the State of Massachusetts and one of the most honoured citizens in the United States, and might long ago have occupied a seat in Congress if he could have spared from his literary labours and the duties of journalism the time to devote himself to public life in that capacity. He (Mr. Sexton) might go so far as to say that one of the English gentlemen who met him lately in Boston, who lately occupied the position of Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of that House (Sir Lyon Playfair), was so impressed with the personal qualities and gifts of Mr. O'Reilly that he was one of the gentlemen who pressed upon the British Government the propriety and the duty of extending to Mr. Boyle O'Reilly the terms freely given to the men convicted under similar conditions. In December last the Irish residents of the City of Ottawa, intending to hold a celebration on St. Patrick's Day, invited Mr. Boyle O'Reilly to join them. The celebration of St. Patrick's Day was held in so much respect that it was the custom for the Parliament of the Dominion to adjourn on St. Patrick's Day, so as to allow the Members of Parliament of Irish birth or sympathy to attend the celebration. Mr. O'Reilly replied to the invitation that did not feel himself at liberty to accept it, in consequence of the uncertainty which he felt of what the action of the British Government might be towards him. He put himself into communication with the American Secretary on the matter; and such was the sense entertained by the American Secretary of the position of Mr. Boyle O'Reilly that he put himself into communication with the American Minister in London, who had an interview with Lord Granville, and, on the part of his Government, put the matter before the Queen's Minister in 1134 due form. At this stage the matter dropped for some time, and he (Mr. Sexton) received a letter from Mr. O'Reilly informing him what had been done and asking his advice. He (Mr. Sexton) conceived that the case was one in which the Government would have no hesitation in granting the request. The interest of the Government so clearly lay in wiping out any violent or vindictive memories of the time of Mr. O'Reilly's trial, that he had no doubt that the case was one in which there was no necessity for diplomatic circumlocution; and he advised Mr. O'Reilly to address himself directly to the Home Secretary if the application to the American Minister did not immediately result in a satisfactory decision. The interview of the American Minister with Lord Granville took place on January 9, and on the 29th Lord Granville's decision was communicated to those concerned. Lord Granville wrote—"Your request is one that cannot safely be granted." Mr. O'Reilly was a public politician in America who freely and frankly expressed in the Press and on the platform his opinions on the Irish political question, and on any other question that came within the range of his duty, and his public position alone would surely be a sufficient security for his conduct. The first error the Government committed in the matter was that, through vindictiveness against a man because he happened, nearly 20 years ago, to escape from their custody, they had refused a request made in true diplomatic form by the Minister of a great Government with which they claimed to be on friendly terms. He was bound to describe that as a gross diplomatic error. Mr. Lowell, the American Minister, in his letter to the American Secretary, said—The British Government do not feel justified in allowing Mr. O'Reilly to visit British Dominions.Whereas the Foreign Secretary appeared to believe that the safety of the Realm was concerned with the question of whether Mr. O'Reilly went to Canada, the American Minister appeared to think that Lord Granville thought there was some moral objection. What was the language of the Home Secretary himself? He wrote on the 29th of January to Mr. Boyle O'Reilly's application, saying that he had already re- 1135 ceived a like application from the American Minister, and had replied that, having regard to the circumstances of the case, he could not accede to his request. Here it was not a question of the safety of the Realm or of moral justification, but merely the word of the right hon. Gentleman. Meanwhile, what was happening in America in the interval between Mr. O'Reilly's application and the reply of the right hon. Gentleman? The Irish residents of Montreal gave an invitation to Mr. O'Reilly to visit them, and Mr. O'Reilly replied that he would be unable to go in consequence of the action of the British Government. Thereupon, the Irish residents sent a deputation to the Government of Canada at Ottawa; and upon their return made a public report to Sir Alexander Campbell, the Minister of Justice, and Sir John Macdonald, the Premier, and they saw no reason why Mr. O'Reilly should not visit Canada. Did the right hon. Gentleman know more about Canada than its Premier and its Minister of Justice? One Government decided in one way and the other in a different way. Which decision was right? A Constitutional question of the gravest import was involved. If a Canadian Government allowed a man to visit the Dominion, did the Home Secretary mean to say that the Home Government could interfere? Then, again, the Prerogative of the Crown in. England was the Prerogative of mercy The Crown sometimes interfered for the purpose of releasing a man; but it was new to him (Mr. Sexton) that the Crown should interfere to imprison a man whom the right hon. Gentleman and the Government had determined not to molest.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that the right hon. Gentleman betrayed an indifferent knowledge of the Correspondence of his own Department. Here was a letter signed "Godfrey Lushington," and dated the 29th January, which said that the Home Secretary had received an application, but could not accede to the request.
§ MR. SEXTON
But the right hon. Gentleman has assumed to himself the 1136 right to refuse leave. His (Mr. Sexton's) object was not to appeal on behalf of Mr. O'Reilly, who would probably never repeat his request—indeed, it was doubtful if he would now accept the permission if it were offered to him. He (Mr. Sexton) wished to protest against the course which the Home Secretary had pursued, and to point out to the Government that they wore exposing themselves to ridicule and contempt throughout America. They were worse than the Bourbons, for they learned nothing, forgot nothing, and forgave nothing. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman for his decision on the Constitutional question.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, this case was extremely simple. The hon. Member seemed to think that Mr. O'Reilly, of whom he (Sir William Harcourt) had never heard before his case was brought before him, had been dealt with in some exceptional way. This was not so. O'Reilly had come before him as a man who had escaped from prison—who had, in fact, committed the offence known as prison breach. That was a new offence altogether from that for which he was primarily convicted. If a man had been lucky enough to make good his escape from prison in his own country, he surely could not expect to come back again rejoicing. It was not because O'Reilly was an Irishman that he had been thus treated; but the case was judged upon the bare ground of prison discipline, and if an exception were made in the case of this man, and he were dealt with differently, there would be no security for prison discipline. The hon. Member had said he (Sir William Harcourt) had interfered with the Government of Canada. What he had said was that, as far as he was concerned, he could give no leave to this man to go to Canada; and he assured the hon. Member that his decision was based upon no political grounds. The man had been dealt with like an ordinary prisoner who had broken the prison bars, who was a defaulter, and could not be a subject for the mercy of the Crown. In his answer to O'Reilly, he had spoken for himself alone, and had not attempted to interfere with the Government of Canada. O'Reilly might be a very much respected and distinguished person; but that would not prevent him from being dealt with, in 1137 regard to his offence, as any other prisoner.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he supposed the Canadian Government would regard the man as a man under an unremitted sentence; and the question of how they should deal with him was, he imagined, for them to consider.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR,
said, that in politics there was nothing so good in the long run as a forgiving temper; but the Home Secretary, after an interval of 20 years since the conviction of Mr. O'Reilly, could only speak of that gentleman's case in so far as it concerned "prison discipline." The hon. and learned Member for Stockport, in bringing forward his plea for the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal, had not supported his arguments by reference to any Irish cases, though there were many that would have served his purpose much better than those English ones of which he had availed himself. The hon. and learned Gentleman had gone back to some very ancient cases; but he need not have looked further than a case which was only six or 12 months old—namely, that of Bryan Kilmartin. He might have pointed out as an argument for his Court of Appeal that, though this man was quite innocent of the offence with which he was charged, he was allowed by the Lord Lieutenant to remain under an atrocious and undeserved stigma. It was the treatment of Irish political prisoners which was largely responsible for the maintenance of that temper between the two races, which was such a constant cause of alarm. The Home Secretary had said that he knew nothing of Mr. O'Reilly. Well, the right hon. Gentleman was the only educated man in the House who did not know that gentleman. [Ministerial laughter.] He heard derisive cheers; but right hon. Gentlemen opposite should recollect the proviso that he had made. He had said the right hon. Gentleman was the only "educated" man. Mr. O'Reilly was one of the best known, most respected, and eminent citizens of the United States. If anything were needed to prove that statement, it would be found in the fact that he had been offered the post of Laureate. He Mr. T. P. O'Connor) complained of Mr. 1138 O'Reilly being constantly referred to as "O'Reilly." It was the tone of insolence, of arrogance, of mean and snobbish contemptuousness, which in a great measure accounted for the acrimony which unfortunately characterized Irish discussions in that House. The Home Secretary would live in history; but what would be thought of him (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) if he were constantly to describe the right hon. Gentleman as "Harcourt," or as "William Harcourt," or as "the man Historicus?" Then, with reference to the right hon. Gentleman's observations on prison breach, he complained again of that style of speech. Would the Ambassador of the United States interest himself on behalf of a common burglar? This was a diplomatic question in which a great Government addressed another great Government, and the attempt of the right hon. Gentleman to reduce it to the contemptible proportions of a Common Law matter was really not worthy of him. In conclusion, he said it would do no harm to any great Government to show that it could forget and forgive offences. As a Colleague of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) would ask the Home Secretary to remember that but for men like John Boyle O'Reilly, Liberal Governments would not have had the glory of passing measures for the benefit of Ireland. If the application should be renewed, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have learned to have some regard for the feelings of Irishmen, and some admiration for those who had done and suffered in their country's cause. These sentiments animated all Governments and all peoples, except in the single melancholy instance of the demeanour of England towards Ireland.