HC Deb 20 September 1886 vol 309 cc1073-87
MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I should like to know whether the Government have any statement to make with regard to the imprisonment of Father Fahy? That is a question which I shall feel bound to raise on every stage of this Bill. Since we last detailed the case in the House, Father Fahy has succeeded in reaching the public ear from the prison in which he is now detained. He has been interviewed by the correspondent of a newspaper, and, in the course of conversation, he gave his word that of the language attributed to him by Mr. Lewis he did not utter one single syllable. He said that no consideration on earth would induce him to give bail for a charge of which he was absolutely innocent, and that he would remain in gaol as long as the Government chose to hold him there, rather than sacrifice his character and standing in the country by giving bail, and thereby admitting the charge levelled against him. In this interview, he declared that, so far from him intimidating Mr. Lewis or using to Mr. Lewis the language attributed to him, Mr. Lewis invited him into his house; that they there discussed the question of the tenants whom Mr. Lewis was about to evict; that Mr. Lewis attacked him in the most vile and virulent language, ordering him to leave the house, and that any threats which were used were used by Mr. Lewis, and not by himself. Now, without further delay, I wish to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes), whether he will reconsider this case, whether he has read the statement of Father Fahy, and whether he has taken any trouble to learn on what ground the representative of the Crown took upon himself to assume that Mr. Lewis was telling the truth, and that Father Fahy was telling a falsehood; and what the Government propose to do under the circumstances?


I think the discussion which took place two or three nights ago in reference to this question ought to be sufficient to satisfy those who approach the consideration of the matter, with anything like fairness and impartiality, that the law ought to be carried out in this case. It was not the duty of the representative of the Crown to come to a conclusion as to whether the statement of Mr. Lewis was true or not—that was the duty of the judicial tribunal before whom the case was brought. As in every other case, where evidence is given on oath before a tribunal, that tribunal must, before passing judgment, decide whether the evidence is true or false; in this case, the Bench of Magistrates before whom the case was brought must have decided, and did decide, before the passing of judgment, that Mr. Lewis's evidence was true, and that it must be acted upon. It would be wholly impossible for the justice of this country to be carried on, and the law to be administered, if, when the matter has been investigated before a proper tribunal, it has to be re-opened because the defendant denies the charge. In this case the magistrates acted in the ordinary way. Similar orders to that made upon Father Fahy are made week after week and at Petty Sessions after Petty Sessions in Ireland, and the Irish Government see no reason why they should depart from the rule in such cases, and which they are determined to act upon in this case, although the defendant happens to be a priest.

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

I am rather surprised at the answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Holmes) has given to the question of my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillon). Since the right hon. and learned Attorney General dealt with this case before, a good deal of additional evidence has come before us in regard to it. I saw in the papers to-day a report that the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (the Marquess of Londonderry) was about to signalize his advent into Office by ordering the immediate release of Father Fahy. [Laughter.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Holmes) laughs. I laughed when I read the announcement, because I was pleased to find that one of the many promises made respecting the advent of the Lord Lieutenant was to be fulfilled. I appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to interfere in this matter; and I will tell you why I think he is called upon to interfere. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has given an entirely incorrect statement of the case. I maintain that all that has taken place goes to prove that the Justices disbelieved the story of Mr. Lewis. The story of Mr. Lewis was that he was threatened with murder by Father Fahy, and with murder in the most outrageous and terrible form. It was stated by Mr. Lewis that Father Fahy told him his house, which had been blown up with dynamite before, whether by himself or someone else was never clearly shown, would be blown up again, and that he and his family would be murdered. I maintain that that statement was disbelieved by the magistrates. The presiding magistrate—the representative of the Crown, the stipendiary magistrate—gave it as his judgment that a proper termination of the case was a reconciliation of the parties. It is an insult to the intelligence of Colonel Waring to suppose that, had he believed Mr. Lewis had been threatened with murder by Father Fahy, he would have recommended Mr. Lewis to shake hands with Father Fahy. The right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland showed considerable courage, I think, in standing up and declaring, in the face of all the facts, that the Justices believed the story of Mr. Lewis. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman attempt to deny that Father Fahy possesses in the district the character not of a firebrand, but of a peacemaker? Does he deny that, on several previous occasions, in disputes between landlords and tenants, Father Fahy has acted as mediator between the two, and brought about reconciliation? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean to tell us that, in the face of Father Fahy's solemn asseveration, made in Court, and repeated since, that he never used the threats attributed to him by Mr. Lewis, he disbelieves the statement? There has been an interview held since then with Father Fahy, during which the rev. gentleman again denies having used the threats. Will the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) say he still thinks Father Fahy used these threats? Why is the Crown called upon to interfere in this matter? The Crown is called upon to interfere, because Father Fahy's imprisonment is the action of the Crown. Why do I say that? The right hon. and learned Gentleman calculates upon the ignorance of the House on all things Irish, when he stands up and says that the action of the Justices is to be taken as a local act, and that no official of the Crown can interfere with it. Why had not the right hon. and learned Gentleman the candour to tell us that Father Fahy was sent to prison in spite of the wish, of the presiding magistrate, and only in consequence of the pressure of the Crown Solicitor acting upon the Bench? It is nothing less than shameful that cases should be brought before us in this way—with a deliberate shutting out from view of the most important facts. Colonel Waring recommended that Father Fahy should be sent back to his parishioners; but the Crown Solicitor pressed for a verdict against the reverend gentleman, and his statement, acting upon a partial Bench of Magistrates, succeeded in getting Father Fahy sent to prison. It is nothing less than a matter of shame and disgrace that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland does not interfere in this case and order the release of Father Fahy, looking at the high character that gentleman bears, and to the extraordinary circumstances of his conviction.


If we are to believe the statement of Mr. Lewis regarding Father Fahy, that gentleman should not have been ordered to find bail, or sent to prison for not finding bail for the offence he is alleged to have committed; but, for such a grave misbehaviour, should at once have been sentenced to imprisonment. The presiding magistrate, on the occasion of Father Fahy's committal, held the opinion which every sensible man must hold who surveys the surrounding circumstances, and reads over the evidence which was published, that there was no serious offence of any kind committed by anyone, unless it could possibly have been by Mr. Lewis in turning a priest from his house in such an ungentlemanly way, and doing his best to irritate him. The case stands in this position now—the reverend gentleman is committed to prison until he finds bail. Well, I think it is within the competence of the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary of Ireland to review that final finding, and to direct that Father Fahy be at once discharged from prison.


The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) said, in reply to the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), that this case should be dealt with as ordinary cases are dealt with, accord- ing to English law. I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman can point to a case where any person, much less a priest, has been imprisoned for six months because he refused to give bail to be of good behaviour, where there was not some proof or some strong evidence that the charge against him was true. In most of the cases in Ireland where people have been sent to prison for refusing to give bail, there has been some evidence to show that these people have misbehaved themselves in some way. There have been witnesses to prove it; but, in the case of Father Fahy, there is no evidence, and there are no witnesses at all. A conversation took place between Father Fahy and a landlord—a discussion took place between them; and this landlord came out with this most unlikely story—that this priest had threatened to murder him, and to blow up his house. Now, Sir, on that false statement of this landlord, Father Fahy was sent to prison. I venture to say that a grosser and more infamous miscarriage of justice has never occurred, even in the annals of English rule in Ireland; and all we can say is, that the right hon. Gentleman must know very well that if the object of the Government be to promote peace and to sustain law and order in Ireland, that they cannot by any means go in that direction, when they imprison a popular priest, without evidence and without any witnesses to bear testimony to his alleged misbehaviour; and I am bound to say myself, if I were asked what would be more likely to disturb the peace of the country, to exasperate the people, and to drive them outside the law, I should undoubtedly say—"The very best thing you can do to disturb the peace and to drive the people into law-breaking is to take and imprison, without evidence, men who are popular and esteemed by the people, more especially priests who go avowedly to the landlords for the purpose of bringing about reconciliation between them and their tenantry." I would ask the House to bear in mind—as against the statement of the landlord, Mr. Lewis, that this priest had threatened to murder him and blow up his house—that the rev. gentleman has declared, most solemnly, that he never used any such language, or applied any such threat, and that he is determined to remain in prison, because to give bail would be to acknowledge that he threatened to murder, and, to use his own words, it would be "to sacrifice the truth." I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether the Government intend to keep this gentleman in prison, and whether they intend to let it go forth in Ireland that the mere word of a landlord is sufficient to cause the arrest and imprisonment of anyone? Why, during the reign of Mr. Forster in Ireland, in 1881, people were imprisoned without trial and without evidence of any kind being brought against them. Do you want to resort to that kind of thing again? If you do, I think you are going well to work to show the people your determination upon that question. If you do not wish to resort to that kind of thing, I say release this priest; for, until you do release him, the district in which he has lived will be disturbed, because the people will be enraged at the unjust imprisonment of this man who is popular amongst them; and if you are determined to keep him in prison, as I have said before, you may make up your minds that the people will interpret your action into meaning what I believe it will have the effect of showing—namely, that you are not averse to causing disturbances in Ireland, and that you wish to provoke the people. I warn you solemnly to-night, that if this act of yours should provoke the people you will have nobody to blame but yourselves, for it is an atrocious thing, an infamous and a scandalous thing, to say that, on the strength of the word of a landlord who has not got the respect of a dozen people in the district in which he lives, you can fling into prison a man who is respected throughout the whole country side, and whose calling and position and character render it absolutely unlikely that he would ever have used, or could have used, the infamous language attributed to him. I say the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland had better inform the House whether it is the distinct intention of the Government to keep Father Fahy in prison upon the word of Mr. Lewis alone, in view of the fact that since the last discussion took place in this House Father Fahy, from his prison cell, has most solemnly asserted that he never used the language attributed to him, that he never threatened Mr. Lewis with murder or violence, or threatened violence to his property, and after Father Fahy has alleged that he would sooner stop in prison all his life than give bail, because by giving bail he would be admitting that he had threatened. Under these circumstances, I want to know if the Government will reconsider their determination, and will release this priest? If you do not release him, you will be doing much towards strengthening in the minds of the Irish people the opinion which they entertain, and I believe with a great deal of reason, that so long as their country is ruled by this House, and by officials who know nothing about them, and care less for them, they have very little justice to expect for themselves or their unfortunate countrymen.


In venturing to make a few remarks upon this subject, I hope the Government will not consider me actuated by any unfriendly spirit. I cannot help thinking that speeches such as we have last heard are likely to make it rather difficult to make any approach to concession in this case; but I think it may, perhaps, have some little weight with them if I say I have followed this case very intimately, and in entire independence, from the beginning, and am of opinion, most clearly, that it is a case which, if it had occurred in England, would receive the attention of the Government. The case arose under circumstances very like something of a personal altercation. It has taken an aggravated form, and I feel satisfied that if this priest persists in his avowed intention of remaining in prison, instead of consenting to give bail, that a painful feeling will spring up that he is not being treated with that consideration which would be accorded to any person similarly situated in this country. I say that as an expression of a personal view, formed without any feeling or bias on the question. And I venture to follow it up by expressing a hope that the Government will, at least, be able to go so far as to say that, looking at the semi-private character of the offence, and to the general course of affairs since the offence was committed, they will take the matter into further view, and will regard it with as much consideration and in as conciliatory a spirit as possible. I think the Government will feel that any step taken in that direction at the invitation of an English Member will, at any rate, not do any harm, and I feel quite sure that they will feel themselves freer to respond to an appeal such as I have ventured to make than they do to those appeals which come to them from below the Gangway accompanied by threats. I would make an earnest appeal to them to take this matter into their careful consideration.


I am at a loss to understand on what ground the hon. Member supposes that this matter is being dealt with in any way different to the manner in which English cases are dealt with. I cannot understand how anything could be done in England but this—a man is called upon to find bail to keep the peace and be of good behaviour; he does not choose to find that bail, and, as a necessary consequence, he has to go to prison. I know we are charged by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Tyrone (Mr. M. J. Kenny) and others with some extraordinary unconstitutional action in taking and keeping this priest in prison. But is this a case to be tried here? Certainly not; neither is it a case in which, so far as I know, it is my particular business to interfere. Even were it a case in which I could interfere, I certainly should not do so on the grounds I have stated. The case has been tried where it ought to have been tried—that is to say, by the magistrates of the district. On the evidence produced before them, the magistrates thought it right to bind the defendant over to keep the peace. The defendant failed to find sureties to keep the peace, and, therefore, he had to go to prison. We are told that Father Fahy is a peacemaker. Well, if he is, why is he unwilling to be bound over to keep the peace? It seems to me that he would have much more scope for his efforts in the direction of peacemaking, if he were at liberty, than he can have in his prison. The circumstances are such that Father Fahy can, at any moment he pleases, release himself from gaol, and I cannot, therefore, understand what is meant by bringing these charges of tyranny against Her Majesty's Government.

MR. JACOB BRIGHT (Manchester, S.W.)

It appears to me, from what I have heard of this case, that there is a great deal of force in what the Irish Members have alleged with regard to it. I had wished to rise before the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland addressed the House, but, unfortunately, I was unable to do so; but there are two questions which I would wish now to put to the right hon. Gentleman. One of these questions is, whether Father Fahy has been condemned on the accusation of Mr. Lewis without corroborative testimony? If that be so, so far as I can understand it, you have here two men of equal credibility, one making a charge against the other, unsupported by any other evidence; and it is impossible to attach greater weight to the allegation of one than to the denial of the other. The next question I would like to ask is this. Is it true that the stipendiary magistrate, who one would naturally suppose was the most competent magistrate on the Bench, was quite opposed to this mode of treating the case? Is it true that this stipendiary magistrate would, if the case had been solely in his hands, have settled it amicably, and certainly would not have sent Father Fahy to prison, or required him to give bail? I shall be obliged if some right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench will answer me these questions.

MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)

I desire to make a few remarks on this subject of Father Fahy's imprisonment. I would not have asked the indulgence of the House to speak on the matter, had it not been that two of the Irish Nationalist newspapers recently did me the honour to refer to me and speak of what they considered—I do not know how they expressed it—the sympathy which I seemed to feel with the action which Her Majesty's Government has thought fit to take on this occasion. I have very great pleasure in saying that it is with the utmost satisfaction, as a Roman Catholic, that I have just heard the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that he will not interfere with the due course of law. It is to me a very great matter of regret, and sometimes of serious shame and confusion, to see what is called the Roman Catholic interest represented in the way it is in this House. I would not go further into that question, Sir. I would simply throw out the suggestion to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, that if they are in earnest in desiring the peace and welfare of their country, and the honour and the veneration which are due to their holy religion, they should use their influence with Father Fahy's episcopal superior, and ask him to exert his influence with Father Fahy to get him to pay this money, and so release himself. There would be nothing easier than for Father Fahy to pay the money, or, rather, give the bail, and come out of prison; but if he thinks he is performing his duty as a minister of the gospel of peace, for the sake of winning a little cheap popularity, to pose as a martyr amongst the deluded and ignorant peasants of Galway, then I am proud of the distinction which my Protestant constituency of Mid Leicestershire has conferred upon me in sending me here so that, as a Roman Catholic, I may protest against the action of this reverend gentleman.

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W., and Sligo, S.)

The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. De Lisle) must excuse me if I say I decline to accept him, particularly in view of a notable episode in his career, as an exponent of Catholic feeling. The hon. Gentleman would have been more discreet if he had not thrust himself upon the House as an exponent of Catholic views. I can tell him that what he calls the Roman Catholic interest in Great Britain would occupy, to-day, a very degrading and miserable position, if it were not for the action of Irish priests like Father Fahy. But I will not waste any further time upon the hon. Member. The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) stated the position of the Government upon this question, and he said that the same case might easily occur in England. I ask if the same thing would occur in England, if such a breach of faith had been committed towards a body of tenants as occurred in the case which led to the action of Father Fahy? Mr. Lewis's tenants had been promised that the extreme powers of the law would not be enforced against them, but faith was broken with them. If the right hon. Gentleman had read the speech of the Resident Magistrate, which that gentleman delivered from the Bench, he would see that, upon the testimony of the Resident Magistrate himself, Father Fahy had recently interfered, and successfully interfered, as a peacemaker between two landlords and two bodies of tenants in the same district. Now, if in England a clergyman had successfully acted in a time of public crisis as peacemaker, would the Crown, or any of its agents, have been so ready to proceed against him as in this case? Again, in England, would you allow a gentleman who was the agent of the landlord concerned to act as prosecutor? I doubt it very much. Public opinion, in this country, would hold that such a man was not indifferent as between the interested persons; and the Crown would not confide its interest in the prosecution to a person whose connections were such. In England, would you have applied a Statute aimed against vagabonds to a clergyman? [An hon. MEMBER: To such a clergyman!] I hope the hon. Member is not another Roman Catholic. No, Sir, you would never have dreamt of applying such a weapon against a clergyman, no matter what heated language he used. I doubt very much, indeed, whether it would be used against a clergyman who had been the means immediately before of effecting a peaceful settlement of the strained relations existing between two landlords and two bodies of tenants. The right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) tried, in two minutes, to dispose of the case, by saying something that really had no connection with it. He said that, in this case, the sentence was the sentence of the Court, and not of the representative of the Crown. Were the Government not represented by the Crown Solicitor for the county? Bid he not say, in open Court, he was acting upon instructions from the Attorney General for Ireland himself? Why, Sir, so far from being what I would call the voluntary and self-proceeding sentence of the Court, this was a sentence passed against the disposition and advice of the principal member of the Court, upon the repeated and increasing pressure of the representative of the Crown itself. The chief personage in the Court, the Resident Magistrate, a gentleman who by his conduct has entitled himself to the respect and high estimation of this House, said that if such an altercation had passed between himself and another gentleman, he would have felt it to be his duty to shake hands and forget the matter. Upon every ground, therefore—upon the ground of preceding circumstances; upon the ground of the public spirit and exertions of Father Fahy; upon the ground of the dual character of the Crown Prosecutor; and upon the ground of the conflict of evidence which exists—I say we are entitled to ask that the Prerogative of the Crown shall be immediately exercised in this case; and that this estimable clergyman, whose fault, if he has one, is an excessive zeal for the good of helpless and industrious people, shall be relieved from the operation of a Statute passed hundreds of years ago, and intended for rogues and vagabonds.

MR. SHEEHY (Galway, S.)

As an Irish Catholic, I am glad that a line has been drawn between Irish and English Catholics. The English Catholics have for many years been Catholics of repudiation. Personally, I am glad the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. De Lisle) has given me an opportunity of disavowing his friendship. It was the Catholics of Ireland who brought about the emancipation of Gentlemen like the hon. Member (Mr. De Lisle), and gave them the political freedom they now possess. Now, what is the crime Father Fahy has committed? I would ask hon. Gentlemen, who are not Catholics, but who, in many cases, have consciences better than many English Catholics, what is it Father Fahy has done? What has been the aim of his life? It has been to serve his God—to help his flock and to serve his God. [A laugh.] Yes; that is the aim of every priest in Ireland, and for doing that nobly and honestly Father Fahy has been plunged into gaol. Father Fahy went as a mediator between Mr. Lewis and that gentleman's tenants. Having been a successful mediator before, he thought he might be the means of bringing peace and concord between these people. I submit that that was a legitimate object for any priest to take upon himself, and it was the object this priest set before himself. But Father Fahy found himself in the house of a tiger, in the house of one who is the legitimate successor of one who has persecuted tenants for years and years back, as far back as dismal 1847. Mrs. Lewis, this cub's mother, not only evicted the poor tenants in that year of famine and desolation, but when the people were evicted, she—


The hon. Gentleman's remarks are not applicable to the Appropriation Bill.


I wished, Mr. Speaker, to point out what were the hardships that these people had to submit to. I will not follow that line of argument at all, but point out how elastic are the consciences of English Catholics. I wish them joy of their elasticity of conscience, and I only hope that Irish Catholic priests will never come to have that elasticity of conscience that English Catholics wish them to have.

MR. W. A. MACDONALD (Queen's County, Ossory)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Leicestershire (Mr. De Lisle) has stated to the House that, as a Catholic, he is very satisfied with the determination expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach). I can only say that, as a Protestant, I feel very dissatisfied with the decision of the right hon. Gentleman; not only so, but I am very dissatisfied with the line of argument which is adopted by the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman said that the proceedings in this case were exactly such as they would have been if such a case had happened in England. I think that this is an example of that want of observation which very often characterizes the right hon. Gentleman. I have lived in England for the last six years, and know, I think, the country pretty well. I know it sufficiently well to affirm that if an English clergyman—a clergyman of the Church of England—had been known to be persistently making peace in his parish between the rich and the poor; and if he had gone to the house of one of the rich men in the parish, and had asked him to deal gently with some of the poor men, and if, in the course of the altercation which followed, violent words had been used by the clergyman, there is not a body of magistrates in the country who would, order him to find bail for his good behaviour. This is not the way in which justice is administered in this country. Am I to be told that because the case happens in Ireland, and because the minister of religion is not an English Protestant clergyman, but an Irish Catholic priest, there is to be a different method of proceeding? It is not because the magistrates sent Father Fahy to gaol for refusing to give bail, but it is because we believe that the decision of the magistrates who tried the case was unjust, that we ask that this priest shall be released from gaol. This is just an instance, and I have observed several in the course of his period of Office, in which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary conveniently misses the whole point of his opponent's case. The argument of justice appears to be lost upon the right hon. Gentleman; but does he not care at all about the argument of expediency? I presume he wants to keep the peace in Ireland. I presume that he wishes that the Government of which he is a Member may really be able to have the credit of governing the country well and to the satisfaction of the people governed. But does he really suppose that the continued imprisonment of this priest, who is beloved by his people—as I believe the great majority of the priests of Ireland are beloved by their people—does he believe that the continued imprisonment of Father Fahy will really promote the cause of law and order and good government in Ireland? There are other consideration besides mere technicalities which ought to influence the right hon. Gentleman in this case. If he will only weigh, calmly and dispassionately, the reasons which have been advanced, and will remember how when, on a former occasion, another priest—Father Sheehy—was imprisoned, the Government ultimately gave way and released him on account of the tremendous outcry that arose in the country, I think he will be slow to persist in the determination he has expressed in the House to-night.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 176; Noes 66: Majority 110.—(Div. List, No. 44.

Bill committed for To-morrow.

House adjourned at half after One o'clock