HC Deb 17 September 1886 vol 309 cc768-70
MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, If his attention has been called to a letter in The Northern Whig of the 10th instant, signed by the Rev. Dr. Whigham, ex-Moderator of the General Assembly, and from which the following is an extract:— A few months ago eight Presbyterian prisoners were removed to the gaol in Kilkenny. It was expected by those who knew the circumstances that some provision would be made for their spiritual oversight and care by a minister of their own Church. Accordingly, the Rev. Mr. Cooke, Presbyterian minister of Kilkenny, applied to the General Prisons Board for an appointment as chaplain to fulfil that duty, but he met with a blunt refusal. The Moderator made application to the Lord Lieutenant, and Sir Robert Hamilton, Under Secretary, was solicited to interpose, in the interests of decency and justice, but all to no purpose. The decree went forth that the Presbyterian prisoners should be denied the ministrations of their own Church. Mr. Cooke was refused permission even to see them. He was informed, however, that by a byelaw he might be allowed to see a prisoner, on leave being asked and obtained from the Prisons Board, but that the visit could not be repeated without similar permission asked and received. Mr. Cooke very properly would not submit to such degrading conditions. It was strongly urged upon the authorities that these unhappy men ought in all propriety to be provided with the means of such moral and religious instruction as would be most likely to touch their hearts, and lead them to repentance and a better life; but such considerations seemed to have no weight with the members of the Board. No concession would be made; and, whether the facts are as stated; and if so, whether care will in future be taken to see that Presbyterian prisoners are not deprived of the ministrations of their own clergy?


The facts of this case are as follows:—Early in June, owing to the recent riots in Belfast, it became necessary, as a temporary measure, to remove some of the prisoners from the prison to make room for persons committed for rioting, and eight prisoners of the Presbyterian persuasion were transferred to Kilkenny, where previously there had hardly ever been any prisoners of that faith. A local Presbyterian clergyman, Mr. Cooke, thereupon applied to be made a chaplain to the prison, when he was informed of the temporary nature of the arrangement, and was referred to a Prison Rule which provided for ministration to prisoners in such circumstances. He then asked for the names of the eight prisoners; but it appeared, on inquiry, that six out of the eight expressed themselves satisfied with the ministrations of the Protestant chaplain. The names of the other two were sent to Mr. Cooke, with an intimation that he was at liberty to attend them; but he does not appear to have done so. I may, perhaps, add that the full circumstances of the case were laid before the Earl of Aberdeen in person, and that the decision in the matter was his.


In view of the dissatisfaction existing on this question in the Presbyterian Church, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the propriety of giving that Church one representative on the General Prisons Board?


I do not think the circumstances of this case warrant the suggestion that the interests of the Presbyterian Church are not fairly considered on the Prisons Board. I think it might have been better to have sent Presbyterian prisoners to a prison where there was a Presbyterian chaplain; but that, perhaps, could not be arranged.