HC Deb 13 September 1887 vol 321 cc502-39

said, he wished to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) to the administration of the Crimes Act in the North of Ireland. On Sunday, the 7th August, on the occasion of an excursion of Foresters from Belfast to Portrush, a disturbance occurred in the latter place. On that occasion two persons belonging to the Foresters' excursion party were arrested for firing off pistols in the streets; and about 15 or 16 persons of the other party, who belonged to Coleraine, were also arrested for taking part in what was alleged to be a public riot. It was a rather remarkable circumstance that the two persons who were charged with firing off loaded revolvers on this occasion were summoned under the ordinary jurisdiction before the local magistrates, while the 15 other persons, who were charged with no act of misconduct, but merely taking part in a riot, were summoned under the Crimes Act before a Crimes Court of two Resident Magistrates. That Court, it was known, was intended to have a specially severe jurisdiction. The two cases were heard on the same day. The two Resident Magistrates sat first, and they exercised their jurisdiction on one party. The 15 persons from Coleraine who were charged with taking part in the riot came before the Court, and, whilst one was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, the others were sent to gaol for three months with hard labour. The Resident Magistrates then retired from the Bench, and the Local Magistrates took their places, and exercised their jurisdiction over the two persons charged with firing loaded revolvers. One of the men was let off on his own recognizances to be of good behaviour, and the other was committed to the Sessions. These two prosecutions arose out of exactly the same set of circumstances, and should have been operated on impartially, and dealt with impartially before the same tribunal, instead of which one set of persons was brought up before the Crimes Act jurisdiction and considerable punishment inflicted, and the other set before the ordinary Petty Sessional jurisdiction, with the result he had stated. If that was the way the Crimes Act was to be administered in the North of Ireland, he was afraid it would cause considerable heartburnings about the matter. He had to ask that the scales of justice should be held equally between the two parties. He was sorry to have to take up the time of the House even for five minutes on that subject; but he felt it to be his duty to draw attention to the singular difference in the treatment of the two cases. It might be said that the persons firing the revolvers did not come under the Crimes Act. He should have thought that under Section 4 any person acting in the riot would have come under the Act; that any person firing off a revolver in the riot would have taken more part in it than a person who was merely guilty of disorder. Whatever might be the result, he had every confidence that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would look into the matter, if he had not done so, and see that fair play was done; and when he read the evidence he would say that there was no justification whatever for inflicting such severe sentences is the case of one party, while the others were dealt with so lightly.


said, he was not sorry to see that the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) was beginning to cry out on behalf of his constituents. When the hon. Baronet's friends came under the operation of the Crimes Act, when his constituents felt the severity of the Act, it might open the eyes of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He did not blame the hon. Baronet, but thought he was quite right in bringing forward the case of his constituents. He was not sufficiently acquainted with the case to say whether the prisoners were punished too severely; but he know that the sentences were very severe under the Crimes Act. He wished to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to a kindred subject—namely, the criminal treatment of political prisoners under the Crimes Act. He understood, from an answer which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had given him that evening, that there was no difference between political offenders and criminals under the Crimes Act in the matter of prison treatment. The right hon. Gentleman might say that he had no power in the matter; but he (Colonel Nolan) did not believe it; he was of opinion that the Government had the power to relax the severity of prison rules, and he advised them to exercise it in the case of political prisoners. If they did so, they would smooth down much of the exasperation which would be caused by the administration of this very severe Act. It was the custom, of all civilized nations to draw this distinction, and it had been the custom in this country to make the distinction he referred to, until about 25 years ago, when there were no political offenders anywhere but in Ireland. The idea was to degrade political offenders down to the level of ordinary criminals; but the actual effect in Ireland was the reverse of that, for it had raised the ordinary criminals to the level of political offenders. It would not be difficult to draw a broad distinction between political and criminal offences. Speeches and writings in newspapers ought never to be considered other than political offences. If the right hon. Gentleman made no effort to mitigate the ordinary prison rules, and if he put those prisoners to odious tasks and to hard and cruel work, he would store up for the Government and the country an amount of hatred which it would be very hard to extinguish. What an absurd thing it would be to subject men to hard, cruel, or degrading treatment, and then to drag them to the House of Commons to decide vital issues, as soon as they came out of prison—questions of peace and war on which the whole interest of the Empire might be at stake.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

said, it had become perfectly manifest that the Irish Executive could inflict personal ven- geance on their political opponents. It was probable, in view of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) the previous night, that a large number of the Irish Members would be in gaol before Christmas, and they demanded that security should be given that the Members of the Irish Party should not be treated as pickpockets. They knew perfectly well that there were many Members on the other side of the House who were of opinion that the Irish Members ought to be treated as pickpockets; but he did not believe the majority of the people of this country shared that view. He had had personal opportunities of noticing what the character of the treatment of prisoners in Irish gaols was. He had made it his business to inquire what the treatment of prisoners for ordinary offences was. He tested the treatment with the most disastrous result; and the conclusion he came to deliberately was that the treatment and food were such as no ordinary offender, no matter how disgraceful he was, ought to receive—it was simply slow starvation. He was able to try and experiment on some prisoners in this way. He and some of his friends were placed in the infirmary of the prison at Kilmainham, under Mr. Forster's Act, by which the treatment of prisoners was humane compared with what it was under the present Act. They had a prisoner assigned to them as servant at 1d. a-day. This man was a strong man; but when he was assigned to do their work, they were struck with the extraordinary pallor of his countenance. All appearance of blood had left him, and they discovered that he was in a state of desperate starvation. He was a stout man, and the food with which he was supplied was inadequate to supply the cravings of hunger. There was a certain coal-hole to which this man was sent to get coal, and they arranged to conceal in this coal-hole a certain amount of food from their dinners each day. The result of this was remarkable. Within one week the man's cheeks got red, his colour returned, and his whole appearance was clearly altered. It was as clear a case of starvation as ever he saw in his life. He claimed it was a cruel and savage treatment to take a man—say, a labourer-—who got drunk—some of the Members of the House of Commons got drunk, and also some great swells in England—he said it was cruel and shameful to take that man and starve him, so that when he came out he was unable to work for his bread. If the Members of the House were to be subjected to treatment of that character, simply and solely for speeches delivered in Ireland, the people of England would ask themselves this question—"Who are the men who have sentenced these public politicians, and how are they to judge whether the speeches were punishable or not?" They would also ask what was the nature of the evidence on which these men were sentenced. Before he left this question of prison treatment, he wished to say a word or two regarding the treatment of his hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien). All who were acquainted with the hon. Member for North-East Cork knew perfectly well he was a man of delicate constitution. The Government might claim it was necessary to arrest him because he did not obey the Court. He (Mr. Dillon) thought that the Court was an infamous Court. The Government might contend they were justified in arresting the hon. Gentleman; but why had they postponed the trial for nine days, and why did they keep him in prison during that time? Why, if they were gentlemen, had they stooped to so mean and contemptible an action in order to revenge themselves on a man whose pen and tongue had made them smart more than once? Why had they not put him into a decent room, as any ordinary manly person would have done, in order to lighten as much as possible the deprivation of liberty which must be such a great punishment to any man? He said that if any man of the Irish Executive had gentlemanly and honourable feelings in his heart, the very reason that the hon. Member for North-East Cork had spoken and written of him would have made him scrupulously avoid anything which could be interpreted as mean and petty personal revenge against the hon. Member. He said to thrust the hon. Member into an ordinary prison cell, and to treat him as a common convict and a disgraceful offender, and to keep him there for nine days, was a mean, personal vengeance against a man who had certainly used strong language against the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. The question of prison treatment would undoubtedly occupy the attention of this country during the autumn; but he would now pass from that subject to say a word or two on the question of the arrest of the hon. Member for North-East Cork and the way that arrest was carried out, and the proceedings of the Government in keeping him in gaol and postponing the trial. "When the hon. Member was on the boat at Kingstown, saying farewell to an English friend, the police thought he intended to come over and speak in Parliament. The hon. Member was approached by a detective, who informed him if he would promise not to go to Parliament he would not arrest him, but that unless he gave that promise he should be compelled to arrest him. Were they to understand the arrest was made to prevent the hon. Member taking part in the debate of last night? Did the Government suppose for one moment that he was going to run away from his arrest? Did they suppose it was not his intention to return to Ireland quite soon enough to stand his trial; and on what ground did they justify their action in informing the hon. Member that if he would not go over to Parliament he should be left at liberty, but if not he would be arrested? The interpretation they were entitled to put on that was that it was the intention of the Government to shut the hon. Member's mouth and prevent him speaking in Parliament; and he thought that was a proceeding which would demand explanation both by Members of the House and also by people outside. The hon. Gentleman very properly declined to give any promise of the kind. The next question he had to ask the Government was how, when he had been arrested, they could justify their action in postponing the trial to Friday week? There was no reason whatever why he should not have been brought up any day after the arrest. He could see no reason for this course, except the petty and vindictive spite of detaining him in prison. Was it true that the hon. Member was now placed in a cell without a fireplace—an ordinary prison cell? If it were true, it was a murderous and infamous act. Many of the gaols in Ireland—as he had reason to know—were cold and damp, and utterly deadly to a man of his hon. Friend's constitution; and to place him in an ordinary cell, when the result of that trial was uncertain, was to do a dastardly and cowardly thing, and he thought they had a right to demand an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary on that point. He (Mr. Dillon) had read carefully the report of the hon. Member for North-East Cork's speeches, and he was of opinion that the trial would break down. Of course, it would not break down before the magistrates; but it would break down before a County Court Judge. He would once again draw attention to this point, which would inevitably dwell in the minds of the English people during the coming autumn. When they saw men put in prison like common felons they would ask on what evidence had this been done; and when they saw the only evidence on which the Crown was acting was the evidence of their paid spies, who, unless they swore according to the instructions given them, would, lose their places and be dismissed from the service—when the people of this country recognized that, they would not stand it very long. There were, undoubtedly, good men in the Irish police; but he did not believe when they saw the Representatives of Ireland thrown into gaol on the unsupported testimony of hirelings who were under the thumb of the Irish Executive, and who depended for their promotion on the zeal with which they swore their stories, and who, as they had proved, were constantly perjuring themselves in the service of their masters—when the English people saw this he had perfect confidence that they would not stand it. He had received a telegram from Cork which threw a light on these proceedings. This telegram stated that yesterday Mr. Eaton and his brother magistrate before whom the hon. Member for North-East Cork was to be tried were in the Court House at Cork, and along with them was Mr. Carson, the counsel for the Crown. Now, Captain Plunkett, who was the District Magistrate for Cork and Kerry, invited Mr. Tuohy, a reporter of The Cork Examiner, to remain. After this one of the magistrates invited Mr. Tuohy to withdraw, to enable him and his brother magistrate to consult in private with Mr. Carson, the Crown Prosecutor, over the case. This was done in spite of the fact that Mr. Tuoby had the special permission of Captain Plun- kett to remain. Captain Plunkett stood outside the Court House while this private consultation was going on between the two magistrates and the Crown Prosecutor, and when he saw Mr. Tuohy he asked him why he was not inside. Mr. Tuohy told him that he had been put out, and that a private consultation was going on. Captain Plunkett at this seemed a good deal disconcerted, and requested Mr. Tuohy to go back into the room with him. This was a very instructive explanation of how these prosecutions were to be carried out. Evidently the two magistrates were taking their instructions from the Crown Prosecutor as to what they should do; and that was the way all these trials were to be carried out. In fact they were not trials, and that was the reason the hon. Member for North-East Cork refused to appear before the Court. They were the acts of the Executive. They were cut and dry condemnation arranged beforehand at the Castle, and carried on by the most atrocious mockery of justice by those agents who were constantly promoted for what was called good service. That was all he wanted to say about his hon. Friend's trial. It was a matter which would be heard of again and again. He believed and hoped and had the strongest conviction that the Government would be overthrown in this case. It was so trumpery a case that he could hardly conceive any County Court Judge would uphold the decision which he had no doubt the magistrates would give. If their decision should be upheld, and if the hon. Member were condemned to imprisonment, he (Mr. Dillon) deeply regretted the desperate feeling which would be excited amongst the people in Ireland and America by these acts. He had done, and would continue to do, everything in his power to assist the Ministers and the Liberal Party in removing the hatred and ill-feeling which had existed in Ireland for a long period towards England; and it was deplorable that at this time of day an act should be done by the Executive Government which would raise a storm of hatred and evil passion amongst the Irish people, the consequence of which it would be impossible for anyone to forecast or control—he did not care who he was, or what his influence might be with the masses of the people in Ireland—because there was no man now living who was so endeared to the hearts of the Irish people as his hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cork; and undoubtedly, whatever efforts might be made to the contrary, if he suffered through his imprisonment vengeance would be taken by people in Ireland or America. He said, again, that in spite of all the influence that men who believed in Constitutional means could bring to bear—and he deplored it more than words could utter—in spite of all the earnest efforts of Irish Members and the wonderfully successful efforts of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) to undo the bad work of the past and remove those feelings of hatred between the two countries, this miserable action of the Government, if persisted in, would undo everything that they had succeeded in doing, and stir up again feelings of animosity and hatred between the English and Irish people.


said, the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) had raised a question as to the trial that took place in connection with certain riots at Portrush. The hon. Baronet asserted that if the magistrates had done their duty they would have tried all the prisoners at the same time and under the same jurisdiction. He could not help thinking that the hon. Baronet had spoken under a misconception, though it was true that some of the prisoners—the rioters—were tried under the Crimes Act; but the excursionists were tried under the ordinary Law. There were two persons tried under the ordinary law for the use of firearms. One man had threatened to fire, and the other had actually fired. The man who had threatened to fire had been bound over to keep the peace for a year. It appeared to him that, so far from the person who had fired the pistol having been treated with exceptional leniency, as he had been committed to the next Assizes, it might turn out that he had been treated with greater severity. His hon. Friend said the rioters were sentenced to penalties far too serious for their offence. He had not seen the evidence, and therefore could not pronounce an opinion, even if it would have been proper for him to do so. He would remind his hon. Friend that several ex- cursionists were injured, and that the police were injured in the execution of their duty. But if it were true that the sentences were too severe, then, no doubt, they would be corrected on appeal to the County Court Judge. As to the treatment of prisoners, he regretted to observe that the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) had left the House; and he would not advert, as he should otherwise have done, to the unfortunately violent tone which characterized too large a portion of the speech which the hon. Gentleman had addressed to the House. The contention was that an entirely different treatment ought to be applied to so-called political prisoners under the Crimes Act to what was applied to ordinary criminals. [Mr. BRUNNER: Hear, hear!] He thought the hon. Gentleman who cheered was not a Member of the House during the discussion of the Act, or he would have known that not only the opinion of the Government, but also of every competent lawyer who had pronounced an opinion on the matter, was that the Act dealt solely with offences which were already offences under the existing law. Persons, therefore, who offended against the Crimes Act offended against the ordinary law, and the only difference made by the Act related to the machinery by which they were tried. There appeard to him to be no adequate justification for different treatment of these persons after condemnation. He entirely conceded that political offences ought to be distinguished from offences that were not political; but the Government did not propose to deal, and would not deal, with offences which were political under the Crimes Act any more than under the ordinary law. Part of the speeches against prison discipline were aimed at the whole existing system, as it applied to every kind of prisoner. That might be a very proper subject for Parliamentary inquiry. He did not profess to have any knowledge of the subject. He had never been brought in contact with it, nor had he ever made it a special study; but if the question of prison discipline was to be dealt with at all, it ought to be dealt with with regard to England and Ireland at the same time, and not simply with reference to any particular Act of Parliament or any class of prisoners. It might be that prisoners were treated too harshly. By all means let Parliament make inquiry. No one would rejoice more than he if such an inquiry produced a reform, if that reform were needed. What he had always said was that he should always to the best of his ability see that precisely the same system was adopted in Ireland as in England with regard to all prisoners who came under the law. The hon. and gallant Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan) tried to draw a distinction between educated and uneducated prisoners, and between those who had been accustomed to manual labour and those who had not. He was perfectly ready to concede that the same punishment might be a very different punishment to one man and another; but he was unable to say whether any distinction of the kind was actually made in prisons. That, however, was not a question which came up only with regard to the Crimes Act; it came up with regard to the ordinary law, and in quite as striking a manner. Everybody knew that the criminal classes were not entirely composed of uneducated persons and those accustomed to manual labour. If there was any injustice in regard to these matters, by all means let it be redressed, not only in connection with persons condemned under the Crimes Act, but also in connection with others who were condemned under the ordinary law in England. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had dwelt at great length on the hardships of prison discipline. He wished they and their friends in Ireland had always recollected those hardships when they were discussing the Crimes Act at public meetings; but in speech after speech they told the unfortunate peasantry of Ireland that the Crimes Act would not have any terror for them, for, after all, they would be better off in prison than outside of it. How that kind of exhortation was consistent with the speeches just made in the House a man must have a great deal of ingenuity to discover. The hon. Member for East Mayo went the length of accusing him of so contriving matters as to put the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) in prison for several days before trial out of a feeling of personal spite, and of personal vengeance which he was supposed to entertain on account of certain articles in United Ireland. He thought at first that that suggestion was a grim joke until he re- collected that in Monday's debate the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dillon) gave the House to understand that he was himself so moved and influenced by articles in The Times that he found it almost impossible to refrain from, as it were, giving practical contradiction to those articles by refusing to use his influence to disperse meetings peaceably in Ireland. Well, if the hon. Gentleman felt newspaper criticisms so acutely he could imagine that the hon. Gentleman attributed the same sensitiveness to him. If that were true, he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would have an even more uneasy time of it than he had at the present moment. But he could assure the hon. Gentleman that no articles he had over read either in Irish or English newspapers had ever given him a moment's uneasiness or the least desire to inflict vengeance upon an editor. The main contention of the hon. Gentleman who had spoken on this question was that the Government ought to draw a wide distinction between political and other offences, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Nolan) who was the first to raise this point in the House said a broad distinction might me made if by political offences they meant speeches and writings, and by ordinary offences they meant actions. He asked the House to consider for a moment what that position amounted to. It meant that those persons who conceived it to be their duty—most unhappily and wrongly conceived it to be their duty—to urge the Irish peasant to commit ordinary offences, for which they would be treated by punishment under the ordinary law, were to receive a far less share of punishment than those whom they practically drove to the commission of crime. He could hardly believe that hon. Gentlemen, who urged that contention, were serious. He could understand that a perverted sense of public duty might induce hon. Gentlemen to urge the Irish peasants to the commission of crime; but he could not conceive that they should come down to the House and ask the House and the British public to treat those who provoked to crime in a different manner from their victims. He could hardly believe that they seriously contemplated the proposition which they asked the House to accept. For themselves—those who were going to make the speeches—they asked one measure of justice, and for those who were going to be the dupes of their speeches another measure. He believed that when the line which those hon. Gentlemen were taking was thoroughly understood in Ireland, it would hardly conduce to the continuance of that confidence with which, doubtless, they were now treated by their followers in that country. The hon. Member for East Mayo went on to make certain specific allegations of an extraordinary kind regarding the hon. Member for North - East Cork. He (Mr. Dillon) said that the Government arrested him to prevent him coming-over and making a speech in Parliament. The hon. Gentleman seemed to regard a speech in Parliament as being as formidable as an article in a newspaper. Did the hon. Gentleman really suppose that the Government would alter by one iota the action they took in this matter in order to avoid a speech by the hon. Member for North-East Cork, or any Member of that House? It was perfectly known what kind of speech the hon. Member for North-East Cork would make if he came to the House, and it would not have made the slightest difference to the Government whether he had or had not given the House his views. The hon. Gentleman had not got the story right. It was erroneous to say that the police constable who took the hon. Member up said he would not take him up if he would promise not to come over and take part in the debate in that House. That was an entire delusion of the hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) did not think it necessary to reply to the story, which really had no foundation in fact; but the hon. Gentleman asked if the Government were deliberately keeping this Gentleman in prison instead of bringing him up at once. Surely, before making that accusation—which he supplemented by other accusations of personal spite—the hon. Gentleman might have made himself acquainted with the law under which the Government were acting. He might have made himself acquainted with the fact that Petty Sessions Courts were held at fixed intervals, and it did not rest with the Executive to hurry on the hour at which the trial took place. They had no choice in the matter. If the hon. Member for North-East Cork was at that moment in prison, whom had he got to thank for it? If he had done what it was his bounden duty to do—namely, to obey the law and to attend on Friday at his trial; and if, further, he had done what the hon. Member for East Mayo said he would do—namely, appealed after his trial to the County Court Judge, the hon. Member would at this moment not be in the cell, whose horrors had been so feelingly described by the hon. Gentleman—he would be at large on bail. It was simply monstrous that the Government should be attacked for putting a man in prison when that man was in prison solely in consequence of his own action. The consequences were what he must have foreseen when he refused to appear in Court. He had nothing more to say on the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo but to express his regret that the hon. Gentleman had thought it necessary, at the close of his remarks, to make a violent attack on the magistrates who had to administer justice, and on the witnesses who would have to give evidence in the impending trial. The hon. Gentleman described the witnesses against the hon. Member for North-East Cork as paid spies. He also stated that all who were connected with the trial would receive the vengeance of the Irish people. The hon. Gentleman seemed to forget the result which language of that kind had already had in Ireland. He seemed to forget that one of the witnesses—one of the persons whom he described as paid spies of the Government, who gave their evidence not according to truth, but in order to get promotion in a police force—was at this moment hovering between life and death, in consequence of the brutal outrages which were inflicted on him by the mob on Friday last. Whatever view the hon. Member for East Mayo might take of the Government or of the magistrates who enforced the law, it would have been well could he have refrained from using the violent language about persons who, after all, were only doing their duty, and who in doing their duty had suffered so severely at the hands of the irresponsible ministers of vengeance whom, the hon. Gentleman had told them they must fear in future.

MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had expressed in rather excessive language his astonish- ment and amazement at the tone of the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). The right hon. Gentleman had also used very strong language as to the attitude taken up by the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. William O'Brien) with reference to the proceedings now pending. But the right hon. Gentleman forgot that this kind of language and this kind of attitude were due to the fact that the officers of the Government were not now administering the law in the ordinary and normal sense in which it was understood in England, but were carrying out under exceptional provisions administration by an exceptional tribunal. It was because the Government by their legislation had distorted and warped the whole conception of the administration of justice that the hon. Member for North-East Cork assumed such an attitude and that the hon. Member for East Mayo used such violent language. The Government had been warned by the Opposition before this miserable Act was passed what the consequences would be and how much language they would have to hear and how many acts they would have to deal with and to grapple with—crime which in a country administered by the ordinary law as in England would never arise. The Government had themselves entirely to thank for any unreasonable imputations made upon them or any inconvenient or irregular action taken in reference to their proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had repeated now at the eleventh hour what the Opposition had systematically denied during the whole course of the Session since the Crimes Bill was introduced. The right, hon. Gentleman had assumed that every competent legal authority in the House admitted that Crimes Act created no new offence. He denied that most emphatically. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney (Sir Charles Russell), who was as good a legal authority as any hon. Gentleman opposite, had always insisted that new crimes were created by the Crimes Act.


He never said so.


said, he must stick to his text, and if his hon. and learned Friend were present, he would say what he had already said—namely, that the Crimea Act does create new offences. It would be in the recollection of the House that the assertion had been made a 100 times on that side, and it had never been denied, that Mr. Justice Holmes himself, when Attorney General for Ireland, expressed the same opinion.


I have denied that at least six times.


said, that the Irish Attorney General of that day never denied it. The words were taken down by his right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) the moment they were uttered.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken. There is absolutely no record of these words at all in the newspapers or in any record which has been referred to. It is contrary to Mr. Justice Holmes's own statement and contrary to every statement which, has been made on this subject on this side of the House.


said, he could only repeat that his right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, while sitting next to him, took the words down. But he did not want to argue that point. All he wanted to do was to dispute the assumption of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that all the legal authority in the House, and other great authority in the House, accepted the proposition that the Crimes Act created no new offences. As to the question of prison discipline and the treatment of prisoners who were in prison under the Crimes Act, it was no doubt true that offenders ought to be treated in a general way in the same fashion. But he appealed to any hon. Gentleman on either side of the House, who was acquainted with the practice of foreign countries in Western Europe, whether, if they imprisoned a man for a political offence, he wag not treated in an entirely different way from other offenders. Whether the hon. Member for North-East Cork, if he were convicted, would be deemed to have been in prison for a political offence he (Mr. John Morley) did not feel himself at present called upon to give judgment; but if, as the hon. Member for East Mayo said, between now and Christmas 30 or 40, or three or four, Members of Parliament were imprisoned there was not a reasonable man in the House or the country who would not believe that they were in in prison for political offences. The speeches for which it was assumed they were to be condemned to terms of imprisonment would, no doubt, be speeches offensive to the Government because of their political complexion. He would not make any remarks on the prudence or the wisdom of the Government in instituting these proceedings. He should have thought that, even from their own point of view, and accepting their own policy, it would have been more prudent and more judicious not to have inaugurated the new régime by a comparatively unprovoked proceeding of this kind. He could only explain it on the belief that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary intended to govern Ireland between now and the time when Parliament met again in the most rigorous and most strenuous manner, and with the most uncalculating rigour that his instruments would enable him to employ. His language last night bore no other interpretation but that. He was not in the House when the right hon. Gentleman answered a Question standing in his name upon the Paper, but he understood that he said that it would be impossible to grant a commission of inquiry into the action of the police at Mitchelstown on Friday last, for two reasons—one, that proceedings were or might be pending of a judicial character, and the other that an Act of Parliament would be necessary to authorize the holding of the inquiry with power to take evidence on oath. But the precedent of the Belfast Commission altogether disposed of the first reason. The Government appointed a Commission to inquire into the Belfast riots, although it was perfectly certain that judicial proceedings would arise out of those riots.


What he stated was that a Commission of Inquiry into the Mitchelstown riots must be in the nature of a criminal inquiry, but this was not so in the case of Belfast.


said, the right hon. Gentleman would find that there was an extraordinary resemblance between the circumstances of Mitchelstown and Belfast. At Belfast the police were driven back, just as they were alleged to have boon at Mitchelstown. They then fired on the crowd, and lives were lost. Undoubtedly, if it had been found that the police at Belfast fired without good reason, they would have been subject to criminal proceedings. There was an identical resemblance between the two cases. It was quite true that an Act of Parliament would have to be passed in order to enable a Commission to be issued capable of taking sworn evidence. But he should have thought that, considering the importance of the subject, and its effect upon the public mind both in England and Ireland, it would have been worth while, even at this period of the Session, to have passed the necessary Act of Parliament. There were other inquiries, however, which might be held, and which did not require an Act of Parliament. In the case of the Belfast riots, for instance, Mr. Reed, the Inspector General of Constabulary, stated that before he learnt that a Commission of Inquiry was going to be instituted he intended to hold an investigation into the conduct of the police with regard to the firing from Boweshill barracks. He should have been glad to hear that, at all events, it was intended to hold this Departmental inquiry into the occurrences at Mitchelstown. It would be almost an intolerable thing that that House should separate in a matter of such great moment, when the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, representing the Irish Government, had to base the decision of the Government upon reports that came hurriedly from the police, unverified, unsifted, and uncriticized. Was that the position? Were they to suppose that, so far as the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was concerned, it was closed as to the firing that took place at Mitchelstown on Friday last? If so, it appeared to him (Mr. John Morley) that the right hon. Gentleman had brought himself, or the Government, into a very unfortunate position. That was not perhaps a great source of public regret to him (Mr. John Morley); he had no particular admiration or good wishes for the Government; but he thought that in the interests of good government in Ireland, which all of them desired, and that in the interests of the police themselves—a body against whom he had never said one single word, or ever joined in the charges against them, and whom he had often defended—it was most important that there should be an inquiry, whether a Department inquiry or one of some other form that the right hon. Gentleman might devise that would satisfy the public mind that the action of the police on Friday last was not excessive. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday made an answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) which he evidently thought was quite conclusive. He said that the police at Mitchelstown were acting under the same instructions as during the time that the Government of 1880 was in Office. If that was so it was most unsatisfactory, for experience ought to have taught the Irish Executive that the police required special instructions for special occasions. When the Belfast riots broke out in June last year the first thing almost the Government did was to send a telegram to Belfast to the following effect:— As it would appear that in some cases parties of Constabulary had to fire when Magistrates were not present to give orders, please instruct the officers to see, should this occur again, that such a serious step is taken only as a last extremity. He referred to that to show that the Government of the day did not rely on the old instructions, but sent special instructions Since then the Government had had plenty of time to consider the advisability of issuing new instructions to the police as to their duties in cases of riot. He would urge the Government to issue such special instructions, because the Government had to deal with very exceptional circumstances. They admitted that there was considerable excitement in Ireland, and therefore the probability of collisions of this kind. Under such circumstances he thought it would have been the duty of the Government to issue to Constabulary officers and Resident Magistrates instructions warning them of the consequences that had been realized at Mitchelstown, and urging upon them the necessity of caution. He wished to know were any special instructions sent to Mitchelstown; if not, the Administration was guilty of a grave dereliction of duty. In the course of his evidence given at Belfast, Mr. Reed strongly recommended that where firing had to take place it should be done by the military, and not by the police. He himself had closely watched the course of the Belfast riots, and he had also come to the conclusion that it was most desirable to use the military alone where firing was necessary. There was a body of military at Mitchelstown, and he would like to know what they were doing all the time? Why was it that Mr. Reed's recommendation was not carried out? In conclusion he, would strongly urge upon the Government: first, that they should institute some kind of inquiry into the Mitchelstown occurrence such as would satisfy the public mind; and, secondly, that under the special circumstances of Ireland, and if occasions of the kind arose again, to send special instructions to the police against any excess in the discharge of their duty, and, also as to the way they should act.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said, that the hon. Member for East Cork (Mr. O'Brien) had told him, after the interview at Kingstown, that the police Inspector had informed him (Mr. O'Brien) that he would not be arrested until the following Monday if he promised not to go to England, but that if he would not promise he would be arrested at once.


the Government intended to arrest the hon. Member (Mr. O'Brien) on Monday, and the reason they put the warrant into execution on Sunday was that they believed he was going to England.


Yet the light hon. Gentleman gave the House to understand that his hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo was perfectly wrong in stating that Mr. O'Brien would not be allowed to go to Parliament.


said, he had denied that the hon. Member was asked to promise that he would not attend Parliament.


said the right hon. Gentleman was playing with words.


Excuse me. The accusation made against me by the hon. Member for East Mayo was, that I had taken this course to prevent the hon. Member for North-East Cork making a speech in Parliament. That I denied. I pointed out that the question of Parliament had nothing to do with the matter. The question was whether the hon. Member for North-East Cork should be allowed to go to England or not.


said, he must leave the matter in the hands of the House, and he thought the impression on the mind of the House was quite different. However that might be, the hon. Member for East Mayo complained that his hon. Friend (Mr. O'Brien) had been put in prison as an untried prisoner until Friday week. The Chief Secretary had said that he could not be tried before. The Petty Sessions were held last Friday, and were adjourned until Thursday in this week, and surely his hon. Friend could be brought before that Court this week and tried.


said, he never mentioned the date, and never dwelt on the subject at all.


said, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman correctly stated the law when he said the Court could not be called together till Friday in next week. The contention of the hon. Member for East Mayo was, that it was only right that the hon. Member for North-East Cork should be tried on Thursday, and that the trial should not be postponed until next week. When the hon. Member for East Mayo complained of the character of some of the witnesses to be produced in the pending trial at Mitchelstown, the Chief Secretary took him to task, saying that it was monstrous to prejudice justice in that way. But what did the right hon. Gentleman do himself? He entirely begged the question when he said that one of the witnesses had been severly injured, and was hovering between life and death, owing to the brutal violence of the mob. Was that not prejudicing justice? He (Mr. Labouchere) called it nothing else. The people whom the right hon. Gentleman was pleased to call a mob, holding as they were a legal meeting, had a perfect right to meet force with force. It was laid down by the highest authorities that, if a policeman exceeded his statutory right by law in an attack upon any individual, the individual might resist and oven kill him; but he did so at his risk and peril. If an individual was in peril of his life from a policeman by a weapon illegally directed against him, he might also kill that policeman. It had been laid down by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone' that the Government had no sort of right to come with a reporter to a meeting and force him there, and if they did so, they did so at their own risk and peril, and the persons at the meeting had a perfect right to resist. If the police used their batons, the people had a right in self-defence to strike back. Having been at the meeting at Mitchelstown, he (Mr. Labouchere) rejoiced that the police were driven back by the people, and he maintained that whenever the Executive should attempt to violate the law in an equally outrageous manner, either in England or Ireland, the same resistance would be offered. The Government would not dare to do in England what they had done in Ireland. They were told they were not to have any sort of free and independent public investigation into the matter. The right hon. Gentleman admitted yesterday that he received the information he had read to the House from the police, which was a tainted source, from the persons who were incriminated, and yet he refused to allow any independent inquiry. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman himself did not invent these stories; but he (Mr. Labouchere) did assert that a more gross and impudent tissue of lies never was submitted to a Government before. The right hon. Gentleman received that report either from Resident Magistrate Seagrave or Constabulary Inspector Brownrigg. They lied grossly, and lied deliberately. He asserted last night that these men were murderers, and if they supplied the information to the Chief Secretary, they were liars as well as murderers. He did hope that there would be a fair and proper inquiry into this matter, and if there was an inquiry, he undertook that every fact he had stated should be proved. The Government might despise the Radicals; but he was sure the hon. Members for Northwich (Mr. Brunner) and Merionethshire (Mr. T. E. Ellis), who were present, were not to be supposed to come lightly to that House and state what was untrue; and he said that when three Members of that House deliberately stated that, to the best of their opinion, the deaths were caused by the action of the police, and the wrongful action of the police—when they asserted that the statement? made by the police were egregious and infamous fabrications—then he maintained the proper course would be to have a fair and independent investigation into the matter. He and his Friends made their assertions on primâ facie evidence which might be rebutted: and all they said was that a primâ facie case had been made out for an independent and public investigation. That independent and public investigation they claimed at the hands of the Government as a right. The Government might refuse it. They had a majority in that House which enabled them to do what they pleased. But those with him would appeal to a very different Court. They would appeal to the people of England. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh. They nattered themselves that five years would elapse before the people of England had a chance of treating them as they deserved. But it might come sooner than they supposed, and they might depend upon this, that when the English people understood these attacks upon public meetings in Ireland, and that this was done under the Common Law of England and of Ireland, and not by any special enactment in regard to Ireland, they would look very seriously upon this question. They would ask themselves whether a Government was to be maintained in power, or a law to exist, which gave them such powers that peaceful people who went to meetings might find themselves killed by the police, or batoned and bludgeoned by the police. There was good reason for mitigating the severity of the prison treatment of political prisoners, although the right hon. Gentleman could not see any difference between the action of the hon. Member for North-East Cork as a political criminal and that of any ordinary criminal. There was this difference—that if the right hon. Gentleman happened to meet that hon. Gentleman abroad he would not refuse to associate with him. He would not think he had acted in a manner so dishonourable and mean that he was not fit for the society of honourable men. Yet he said he did not think the hon. Member for North-East Cork ought to be treated in a different way from anyone who had been sent on his trial for a bonâ fide criminal offence. Our conduct in regard to the treatment of political prisoners was a disgrace to the country. In no other country were they so treated. Take France, Austria, Russia, if they liked, and they would not find political criminals treated in the manner we treated them, for a distinction was drawn between ordinary and political prisoners. [Laughter.] [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: Worse.] He bad not followed the erratic course of the noble Lord. Perhaps he had bean a political prisoner in some foreign country himself. Even in Russia, political prisoners wore treated more leniently than here. ["Oh!"] He had recently been reading the life of a prisoner arrested for participation in the quasi-revolution that occurred when the Emperor Nicholas came to the throne. From that it appeared that the prisoners were kept in close confinement; but they were given plenty to eat and books to read, and they were not put upon plank beds. Further confirmation of his general statement was supplied in the experiences of Silvio Pellico. If the noble Lord, as a boy, read the adventures of Silvio Pellico, he would find political prisoners were not treated as ordinary criminals. The strong point of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian in calling attention to political prisoners under King Bomba was that they were treated as ordinary criminals. Surely, the Chief Secretary might order that political prisoners in Ireland should be given books to read, and if they were to have hard labour, it might be lighter labour than that of those who were able to bear it better than themselves. They might also have sufficient to eat. During the first month prisoners were given hardly anything to eat, but they were given more in the second month than in the first; and he would suggest that the hardship would be less if the plan were reversed, and if the supply of food were reduced in the second month rather than in the first. He did not ask for any species of luxury or comfort, but only that no degradation should be put upon political prisoners—that they should not be called upon to wear the prison dross, that they should not he upon plank beds, and that they should be allowed to have books to read. What he asked had been conceded by most of the despotic Governments on the Continent, and therefore it could not be very much to ask of the Constitutional Government of Great Britain. It was said that if this concession were made, those who incited to crime would be treated in one way and their miserable victims would be treated in another way—that more consideration would be shown to the hon. Member for North-East Cork than to those who were put in prison for doing what he suggested; but that was begging the whole question that what that hon. Gentleman recommended them to do was in itself a crime. They denied that it was crime; they contended that when liberty was outraged it was the right and the duty of citizens to defend it. He did hope, in conclusion, that there would be some sort of inquiry, and that he and his hon. Friends were not to be stigmatised as three notorious liars.


Mr. Speaker—the last word—and scarcely the first word—the House may rest assured, has not been heard upon this question of the treatment of political opponents in Ireland. I think nothing reflects more discredit upon the government of Ireland by this House than the treatment of political prisoners. From time to time, while there had been political prisoners in large numbers, we have invariably heard exactly the same accounts, the same stereotyped excuses by the Government officers as those which have been made to-night, and upon other evenings during this Session when the matter was brought forward. We are told that these men, if not criminal themselves, that they incite to acts of criminality, that they are convicted under a law which has been passed by Parliament, that Parliament thought proper to make no difference in their treatment, and consequently that it was not now for the Government to interfere. All I can say is, if it is not for the Government to interfere, it is so very much the worse for the Government, and for the right hon. Gentleman who is primarily responsible, if they cannot now interfere, because they closed the mouth of those who would have shown the necessity for interference when the Crimes Act was being passed by Parliament. This law was passed by Parliament under circumstances which compelled silence on the part of the Opposition. We were not permitted to plead the cause of the future political prisoners under this Act, and now we are to be told to-day, in view of this fact, that it is a sufficient excuse for the Government that Parliament has done what it has done, and that the Government can now do nothing more. Nothing, I think, excites more indignation in Ireland—and I think you will be bound to admit it when your more sober moments come—nothing excites more feeling in the House of Commons than the recital of the treatment of the Fenian prisoners in 1887 and subsequent years. These men were convicted under the ordinary law of the land by an Irish jury, selected under the ordinary system—not specially packed, not specially selected for the purpose of convictions, but under the Act which bad previously existed before these offences were thought of or committed. Those prisoners were tried, and they were sentenced by a jury of their own countrymen, some to penal servitude for life, and some to penal servitude for a long term. What was the result? Owing to their barbarous treatment in prison, the Devonshire Commission was instituted. That Devonshire Commission recommended certain reforms in prison treatment, and those reforms were, I believe, subsequently carried out. It was admitted that such men as O'Donovan Rossa, whom you have turned into a dynamiter by the cruel treatment he received in Chatham Prison, and that such men as Luby, who was also imprisoned in Chatham, and other prisoners, should not be treated as you treat ordinary thieves, your murderers, your wife-beaters, and those who commit other crimes. Some modification in their treatment was recommended by the Devonshire Commission, and it was carried out. Well, following upon that, when the Prisons Act of 1877 came under discussion, we brought before the attention of the Conservative Government of the day the necessity for treating untried political prisoners in a different manner, and with more consideration than had hitherto been accorded them; and in consequence a considerable modification was inserted in the Act. There was also a modification regarding the treatment of persons convicted of sedition and of seditious libel. The Legislature then decided that persons convicted of precisely the same offence as that of which the hon. Member for North-East Cork (Mr. William O'Brien) was now to be tried before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction under another name were entitled, when convicted of sedition or seditious libel, to the treatment of first-class misdemeanants. We obtained other modifications, and I am bound to say that the House of Commons—the large majority of which then consisted of Conservative Members—attended to them, and did do something to prevent the fair name of England being sullied in reference to this question of the treatment of political prisoners Well, then came the Coercion Act of 1881, and under that Act, as everybody knows, persons could be arrested in Ireland, and during the duration of the Act, without trial. The then Chief Secretary—the late Mr. Forster—to his honour be it said, undertook to see that the persons so treated were treated under rules expressly framed for the purpose. His treatment of those persons was characterized by distinguished humanity. They were persons who were not to be tried—they were not accused of any offence; they were arrested under what was practically suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and it was felt that they could not be treated in the same way as ordinary prisoners. Now, I believe that that is one of the reasons why the Government of the day have chosen the summary jurisdiction method of dealing with their political opponents, rather than the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act; because under the summary jurisdiction method you can inflict upon political opponents imprisonment with hard labour, plank bed, semi-starvation, and the torture of solitary confinement, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was afraid that the comparatively lenient treatment which he would be compelled to give untried prisoners under the Habeas Corpus Act would not have struck sufficient terror into the hearts of political opponents, and that that would not bring about the results which he hopes to see brought about, but in which, I venture to say, he will be disappointed. We are in this position—persons will be arrested for the same class of offences as under Mr. Forster's Act, and will not be treated as he treated them, but will be put on plank beds, will have 16 ounces of bread a-day, with water, and a few ounces of gruel; and if they fail in their allotted task to pick so much oakum, or raise a certain number of pounds so many feet high in a given number of hours, or fail at the treadmill, then they will be put in dark cells and kept on bread and water for long periods. That, I maintain, is barbarous treatment. It is treatment that, if it be long continued, will result in the death of some I of the victims. It is monstrous to expert that a man like the hon. Member for North-East Cork, a scholar and a man of letters, could pick oakum, lift weights, or do hard physical work; he could not do it, he knew he could not do it, and therefore, rather than attempt a task in which he knew he must break down, he would decline beforehand to begin it, so that he would be punished at once for refusing, and his imprisonment would be one long punishment in a dark cell upon bread and water. That is a very serious situation. It is all very well to suppose that these things may not obtain publicity for a while, and that the Government may escape the lash of public opinion while their victims are pining away. But sooner or later prisoners must come out, or, if they die, inquests must be held. Will the position of the Government be any better then? Will they in this way obtain the sympathy and respect of the Irish, people and range them on the side of law and order? Will Irishmen be brought by those means into sympathetic union with Englishmen? Is that the way to restore law and order? They have tried that sort thing for a great many centuries. The result has been a failure. They found Ireland, by the admission of the Government themselves and by their own statistics, free from crime. Will they leave it so? Will the recital of their brutal and cowardly punishment of men whom Ireland justly regards as its leaders—self-sacrificing leaders—will the recital of slow tortures on those men make the Irish people tolerate them more than they do now? Do the Government suppose that by what they are doing they are not sowing strife and encouraging secret societies, perhaps to take the life of Government officials and to the revival of the horrors of the Invincible period? I say deliberately that if they proceed on in that course, the results will be on their own heads. They talk of inciting to crime. They say that the hon. Member for North-East Cork incites to crime, and that, therefore, he is to be treated as the person who commits crime is treated. And it comes to this, that persons who incite to any of the offences mentioned in the Act are to be treated as criminals. I say that such persons are political offenders, and are not criminals. You cannot make such persons criminals by the mere passing of an Act of Parliament. Public opinion will not sanction the treatment of the hon. Member as a criminal. You can go no surer way to disgust the public opinion of the country, and I know of nothing that will be more unpopular in the constituencies than to treat a political antagonist as if he were a common criminal. I believe that the hon. Member for North-East Cork, in the spirit of a martyr, will welcome the sufferings and the tortures that are to be inflicted upon his weak and enfeebled frame, because he knows that he is doing a service to his country and his cause, because he knows, and the people of this country will see, that the ordinary criminal law of this country is not directed against criminals, but against political offences and political offenders. [Ironical Cheers.] Well, I know I am speaking to callous ears—[An hon. MEMBER—No!]—so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland is concerned. He is determined to be unique. He is going to cut out a model for himself, and if he is not going down to posterity in any other shape, he is determined to go down in an original shape. He is going to trample on all the principles which have guided his Predecessors in Office. Mr. Forster treated his political opponents in a very different fashion; but the right hon. Gentleman is going to treat them as they treat garroters. The right hon. Gentleman thinks he will perhaps be disgraced if he cannot intimidate the defenders of Irish freedom—the Irish champions. But he will find, if he cannot intimidate these men, that he has face to face with him men who are maintaining their position not for the purpose of maintaining their Office and their salary, or keeping their Party in Office, but for the purpose of freeing their country—men who have, I hope, as much fibre as the right hon. Gentleman has, and as much courage at least, and who have some respect for the rights of human beings—men as entitled to live and breathe as himself. They have this short cut to the Government of Ireland. "Put your political opponents into gaol. Give them plank beds and little food until they die, or are broken, and can give no further trouble." That is the special receipt of the right hon. Gentleman. "Send the police to public meeting's to baton and shoot down the people." That is the next step. The Irish Government has been invited by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) to commit murder, because, as he said, the Irish Government is omnipotent. It is omnipotent, like any other murderer, because it is able to do it; and even the noble Lord has to admit that the Government can be put on its trial like any other murderer. That is the situation in Ireland. That is the situation which the Government have deliberately constructed. That is the position as the winter approaches, and it will take a bold man to declare the issue. Now, I wish to turn the attention of the House for a moment to the question of the affair at Mitchelstown. The Government pleaded that it was necessary for them to have a shorthand writer at the meeting. I do not traverse that necessity—it is one of the necessities of your system of governing Ireland that you are compelled to have a Government shorthand writer at all public meetings in that country. From the commencement of the Land Movement in 1879 I have never objected to the presence of a shorthand writer at them, and the promoters of all public meetings in Ireland have offered every accommodation to such shorthand writers, and it has grown into an established custom, where the presence of a shorthand writer is desired by the Government, that the Local Authorities should give notice to the promoters of the meeting, that such was the case, and in that case every accommodation has always been afforded. Now, the right hon. Gentleman when he was asked why he did not carry out the system which was always carried out by his Predecessors in this respect, said it was not for the Government of the day to go hat in hand to persons whom they suspected were about to commit crimes in their speeches and ask them to protect the Government reporter. It is not a question of protecting the Government reporter, because no Government reporter has ever been molested in the discharge of his duty at any of the thousand and odd meetings held in that country.


What I said was that I regarded it as a monstrous proposition that it should be considered to be a necessary preliminary for the Government reporter to be present at a meeting, that the leave of the promoters of the meeting, whose conduct might subsequently form the subject of judicial inquiry, should be asked.


But it was not a necessary precedent that the leave of the promoters should be asked. What has been the universal custom—under the administration of the right hon. Gentleman, too—up to the time of the Mitchelstown affair, has been that the Local Authorities have given notice to the promoters of the meeting that they desired the attendance of a Government reporter on the platform. That is a very different thing from asking permission of the promoters of the meeting; and what reason has the right hon. Gentleman put forward for that departure from the ordinary track, which, has resulted in the tragic occurrence at Mitchelstown? He has put forward no reason at all. In the first place, we have a custom sanctioned by precedent—by universal usage—not only by the right hon. Gentleman himself, but by his Predecessors in Office also, and that is that the promoters of a meeting should be notified that the Government desire the attendance of a Government reporter on the platform. Well, in this case that was neglected. But, having neglected this step, they sent the Government reporter to the platform before the meeting commenced. The right hon. Gentleman says there was no platform—that the platform consisted of waggonettes, which might have been drawn away. But the platform was there. The waggonettes, having had the horses taken out of them, were the platform, and it was known that around these waggonettes the meeting would be held. That step was also neglected on the part of the Government. They did not apply, as is the usual case, that accommodation should be given on the platform to the Government reporter; neither did they secure that the Government reporter should be in the neighbourhood of the platform in time. They waited until the meeting was assembled, and they sent their reporter, surrounded by police, in order to force a way through the closely packed crowd. This was a task which it was physically impossible to accomplish without the employment of a great force. The consequence was that there was great pushing and shoving. A third course was open to thorn—they failed to ask for accommodation on the platform—they failed to send their reporter in time, but they might have gone round to the rear of the meeting or to the side. Why did they choose the densest and thickest part of the crowd for the entrance of the Government reporter? Why was this particular part of the crowd, surrounded as it was by horses and carriages, chosen for the way of the Government reporter? When they found they could not get through, what was the next step? Instead of sending word even at the eleventh hour to the chairman of the meeting, which might easily have been done, that they desired that a way might be made for the reporter, they sent a large force of men to push their way through the meeting. Of course, the people resisted being pushed by rifles and batons, and resisted, most properly, in my opinion. It would have been more than you could have expected from ordinary humanity, when they were attacked by the rude thrusting of rifles and bayonets into their faces, and the blows of batons that they should not have struck back with the switches and sticks in their hands. Then came the retreat of the police, who showed themselves to be the cowards they are. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yea, I say cowards—[Opposition cheers]—yes, I repeat, cowards as they are. It was cowardly for 50 trained and disciplined policemen to fly from the same number of peasants. These are the cowards whom you get to serve you in Ireland by giving them treble the amount of ordinary wage that they would earn by honest labour to do your dirty work. These men did show themselves wretched cowards. I should like to see 50 London policemen running away from 50 civilians, or from 500, or from 5,000. I suppose the Tipperary peasants are not so very much superior to the London people in physical strength as to account for the discrepancy. But your Royal Irish Constabulary did run away. They ran away and got into the barracks; and what happened after the police got inside their barracks has been graphically described by the hon. Member for East Mayo. They rushed for their rifles, and fired out of the windows in their panic upon persons who had not been taking any part in the riot at all. They fired without waiting for the Riot Act to be read, and without waiting for the orders of their officers. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has attempted to show that the police fired to cover the retreat of their wounded comrades. The only account of wounded comrades that can be given relates to one constable who crawled in some time after the main body of constables had escaped from the people. If this one wounded constable was able to crawl to the barracks through "a furious mob," I think it pretty clear proof that there was no "furious mob" at all. We have asked that there should be a sworn inquiry into this matter, and the request has been refused. The Government are determined to cloak the conduct of the Constabulary just as they are determined to ill-treat their political opponents, to torture them, to starve them, to kill them off to murder them; so they are determined that their police shall be allowed to murder the people assembled in lawful meetings. Not only that, but the police are to be incited by the manner and matter of their defence set up in the House of Commons by responsible Government Ministers to repeat these atrocious acts. And so the reign of murder is to be installed—the reign of torture in the prisons and the reign of murder outside. Instead of conceding to Ireland the right to manage her own affairs you have taken her by the throat, and you are going to try to strangle her. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well through his job. I confess I should not like to be in the shoes of the man who has entered upon this work with a light heart. He may have a big majority behind him in this House, but it is difficult to continue coercion against a nation. If you (the Government) had any large portion of the people of Ireland on your side, if you were able to say that the people were in the wrong and that you were in the right, it might be different. But you got elected under false pretences, by false representations to the constituencies. You came to Ireland, and you find the people peaceable and law-abiding. What are you going to do? You are doing your best to drive her to despair, to prevent and render useless the exertions of those men who have been continually preaching to the Irish people the necessity and the duty of self-restraint and obedience to the law. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Who says "Oh?" Do those hon. Gentlemen know what they are talking about? I say, Sir, that the Government are doing their best to render useless the exertions of those who have been continually exhorting the Irish people to obedience to the law so as to avoid throwing any stain upon their splendid prospects. It is, of course, to your interest that the Irish people should break the law; but I hope and trust from the bottom of my heart that they will disregard these incitements. If there is anything that gives me uneasiness at the present moment it is not the belief that your cruel system of coercion will have any effect upon the hearts and minds of the Irish people—it is not that I believe that this Government will effect any lodgment as a real Government in Ireland in a matter where their Predecessors have so often failed before them, but it is because I fear that some misguided men either in Ireland or in America may be so excited and exasperated by the cruelties and sufferings inflicted on the Irish people that they may be carried away into rebellion by a spirit of retaliation and a spirit of revenge. If that should happen, Mr. Speaker, I believe it would put back—and I desire to take this opportunity of expressing my opinion—the cause of Ireland for many years, perhaps for longer than the lives of many of us present—and nothing could so help the Government as returning the same coin to them as they dealt out to us. Nothing can so advance the Irish cause in my judgment as patient endurance of wrong and suffering and injustice. The people of Ireland believe that they may have to endure only for a little while—that this Government will not always exist, perhaps not for many days. It will soon come to an end, as other bad Governments have done. The Irish people will, depend upon it, be richly rewarded for their patient endurance in this matter; and if there be any Irishmen into whose minds the spirit of revenge is entering, spurred on by the incitements of the Government, I would earnestly ask them to give us a trial—to give the present Constitutional movement of the Irish people a trial—for a few years, and I am convinced that the result of that trial will be to show that the confidence of the great majority of the Irish people in Constitutional action which is being newly born in them by the extension of the suffrage to the masses of Ireland will be fully justified by the results. In a very short time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) will be able, at the head of a majority of British Members, to do justice to Ireland by giving them that power and right of doing justice for themselves to themselves in a Legislature elected by Irishmen and of making just laws for her people.

MR. BROOKFIELD (Sussex, Eye)

said, he wished to call the attention of the Government to the desirability of establishing a Ministry of Agriculture.


I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can connect the subject of a Minister of Agriculture in any way with the Appropriation Bill.


said, he understood that the discussion of almost any subject was allowable as long as it was connected with a Vote included in this Bill. He thought that the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was included.


The remarks of the hon. Gentleman have not any connection with any Department.


said, that, under the circumstances, he would defer his remarks until some other occasion.

MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)

said, he desired to invite the House to once more direct its attention to the recent occurrences at Mitchelstown. He thought sufficient stress had not been laid on the fact that every independent non-Irish witness—English and Scotch—of the proceedings at Mitchelstown agreed in corroborating in substance, the statements laid before the House by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), to the accuracy of which he (Mr. T. P. Gill) could testify from personal observation. He had himself seen the police attack the mounted men on the outskirts of the meeting, and deliberately hammer them with their batons. This was the commencement of the engagement between the people and the Constabulary. The three English ladies who had witnessed the whole affair had signed a statement, in which they expressed their belief that if the police had not exceeded their duty in an unwarrantable manner—having regard to the peaceableness and goodwill of the people—the terrible consequences which resulted would not have ensued. The statements of the police, which had been repeated in that House, were lies and perjuries; but he would not appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to grant an inquiry into the matter, because he should consider it insulting to himself to do so in view of the want of humanity and want of recognition of the common principles of justice shown by the right hon. Gentleman throughout the debate.

MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)

said, it was absolutely necessary that before the House again voted money for carrying on the administration of the country, something should be done in reference to the present condition of agriculture.


Order, order! Earlier in the day I was asked whether it would be regular to discuss the question of agriculture on the Appropriation Bill, and I ruled that that question was outside the scope of that Bill.


said, he was not going to raise the question of agriculture. He merely wished to express his opinion that, until circumstances very much altered, the landed interest could not possibly afford to pay the large sums of money it had been paying in the past.

MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)

said, he rose to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to grant a judicial inquiry into the deplorable events which had taken place at Mitchelstown. He also wished to endorse the evidence given on the previous night by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) with regard to those events. When the hon. Member for East Mayo was addressing that meeting he was addressing as orderly a meeting as he himself had ever seen in England or Wales, until the police marched up and batoned the horses of the farmers. The actions and words of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary and of the Irish Government were not such as were likely to tend in the direction of making the two nations a united people, but wore more likely to burn into the minds of the people of Ireland the conviction that they could get neither truth, justice, nor fair play from the English Government.

MR. TUITE (Westmeath, N.)

said, he desired to call attention to the prosecution of 17 persons in Westmeath under the Crimes Act. He observed that the summonses had boon served without any consultation with Dublin Castle, and on the same evening the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) had known nothing about it in that House. For his own part, he considered that that was a reckless way of administering a Coercion Act, and contrary to the promises which they had received from the Government with regard to it. These men were convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment on most insufficient evidence. There were no stones thrown and no violence towards the police, and Mr. Hayden—the brother of the hon. Member for South Leitrim—one of those who had been sentenced to imprisonment, busied himself greatly to quiet the people. The prosecution was a most despotic one. He felt bound to denounce the conduct of the Resident Magistrates and the Constabulary, and expressed a hope that in future prosecutions under the Crimes Act, no proceedings should be taken against accused or suspected persons unless with the direct sanction and approval of the Attorney General for Ireland.

MR. HAYDEN (Leitrim, S.)

said, that the defendants had been sentenced to three months' imprisonment for what was described as resisting the police at an eviction. It was admitted that there was no disturbance; and if so heavy a sentence was passed if so trifling a case, what would be done when some really serious offence was committed under the Coercion Act? That, however, was not everything, for the defendants would not have been convicted at all if the magistrates had not disregarded the only unbiased evidence, and acted on that of perjured witnesses. The law would be brought into still greater contempt and disrespect by the despotic action of the Government. It would make the people stand more closely and firmly together in defence of their rights and liberties, and landlords would have greater difficulty in securing their rack rents.


said, he wished to protest against the dangerous doctrines laid, down by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) on the previous evening with reference to the powers of the Executive Government, and that the people existed for the Government and not the Government for the people. He feared it would turn out that the police were the cause of the riots at Mitchelstown. The firing upon the people could not be justified, and the responsibility for loss of blood must rest upon the Irish Government. Great injustice was often done in the name of law, and although he did not care about introducing sacred subjects into the discussion of the House, he reminded them that the founder of Christianity was murdered in the name of the law.

MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (Mayo, S.)

said, he thought there was no doubt that the object of the police at Mitchelstown was to provoke and exasperate the people. If the people were brutally-treated by the police he feared there would be reprisals on the part of the people. He supposed this was the beginning of that 20 years of firm government which Lord Salisbury thought all that was required. Of course the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland might have made up his mind to carry out that 20 years of firm government, but he doubted whether the people of this country would give the right hon. Gentleman rope enough to do so.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.