§ MR. W. O'BRIEN (Cork Co., N.E.)
I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant for Ireland whether it has been brought to his notice that the people of Clare Island were not represented by a solicitor at all on the occasion of the adjournment of the case against them, being too poor to fee one; that the proceedings against the islanders were adjourned over five Court days, embracing a period of several months; that on the 7th December only one Magistrate attended, who fixed the hearing for the 16th, when the islanders were ready with a solicitor to defend the charge, but no Magistrate attending, were obliged to forfeit their fee of ten guineas to their solicitor; that fresh summonses were issued for the 4th January, but had to be again adjourned owing to an epidemic of scarlet fever among the islanders; that one of these summonses was served upon a young man upon his death-bed, two days before his death; and that when the case finally came on for hearing the defendants were undefended, and were obliged to walk 13 miles in the snow to Westport in a destitute condition; who is responsible for the non-attendance of the Magistrates on the 16th December; and whether compensation will be made to the islanders for the loss of their solicitor's fee and other expenses on that occasion in consequence of the default of the Crown officials?
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. JACKSON,) Leeds, N.
I am informed that for 7th December only seven persons were summoned, the remaining persons against whom summonses were issued having evaded service. The charges against the seven persons could not be gone into that day, as one of the Resident Magistrates had been called away to attend the Sligo Winter Assizes. The seven cases were accordingly adjourned to 16th December, and at the same time the summonses against those who had evaded service were renewed for that date; but as it was subsequently found that the latter—i.e., the large majority of the cases—could not be entered upon that day as not being one fixed for the ordinary holding of Petty Sessions, though adjourned cases could be then heard, it was found necessary to defer the hearing of the cases to the 4th January. On that date the cases were, on the application of the solicitor for the defence, further adjourned to 8th February, on the ground stated in the question. No man appears to have been served with a summons upon his death bed. The Magistrates duly attended upon the 8th February, but the defendants did not appear. It being found that their absence was due to a storm, the Magistrates adjourned their cases to the 7th March, and finally disposed of them oh the 8th March at Westport, in the circumstances explained in reply to a previous question. They were in no sense destitute. I am not aware of the grounds on which the defendants were not represented on that occasion by a solicitor; but it is manifest they suffered in no way by the absence of one, as the Magistrates felt themselves able to deal leniently, and merely bound the defendants over to keep the peace, and in some instances dismissing the cases. The defendants, so far from considering themselves harshly treated, expressed their gratitude to the Court for the leniency shown to them. There is nothing in the case to suggest the adoption of the course proposed in the last paragraph.
§ MR. W. O'BRIEN
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the first part of my question. He stated to the House that the adjournment to Westport for the 7th March took place on 1651 the application of the solicitor for the defendants, and for their convenience. May we not now take it for granted that the information on which the right hon. Gentleman made that statement was misleading? Has the right hon. Gentleman any reason to believe that the information upon other points is more reliable? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman at the same time, is it not an undoubted fact that this trumpery charge was kept hanging over the heads of these poor islanders for a period of more than three months, though they were always ready to meet the charge; that they were dragged from home to Court, that twice owing to default on the part of officials the cases could not be heard, and finally they were dragged to Westport on a wanton and useless journey? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not the fact that this harsh, this cruel adjournment from Lewisbing to Westport was simply because the Magistrates feared the scarlet fever epidemic?
§ MR. JACKSON
It is quite impossible for me to answer a series of questions like this across the Table. I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the information given to me. I have gone carefully through the report of the Magistrate who was present. I do not think the adjournment to Westport was a cruel or harsh proceeding.
§ MR. W. O'BRIEN
Does the right hon. Gentleman still maintain that it was at the application of the solicitor for the defendants that the adjournment to Westport took place?
§ MR. JACKSON
I am not aware that I said that it was on the application of the solicitor to the defendants that the cases were adjourned to Westport. I stated, and I state again, that the Adjournment to 8th February was on the application of the solicitor to the defendants.
§ MR. W. O'BRIEN
The right hon. Gentleman has not said who is responsible for the non-attendance of the Magistrate. I shall have to refer to the subject again.