HC Deb 02 March 1893 vol 9 cc815-20

I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether his attention has been called to the observations of Mr. Justice O'Brien at the opening of the Munster Assizes on Monday last, to the effect that the picture which the Constabulary Returns made presented to his mind a condition of lawlessness in the County Clare far exceeding in amount that which came tinder his experience in past times; that there was no security for life in the County of Clare, and that property was not more secure than life; and if, in view of this statement by the Judge of Assize, he proposes to take any steps to assert the supremacy of the law and to render life and property secure in that part of Her Majesty's dominions?

MR. W. REDMOND (Clare, E.)

Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that may I be permitted to ask him whether his attention has been called to that portion of Mr. Justice O'Brien's address in which he says that the number of crimes reported for the corresponding period of last year is slightly greater than the number reported this year; and whether, speaking of the state of the county, the learned Judge said— It would not be accurate to attribute it to any change that had been recently made affecting the administration of the law?

MR. W. KENNY (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has received any official Report of the observations of the same learned Judge at the conclusion of the Clare Assizes yesterday; and, if not, whether his attention has been called to the report of the observations as they appear in The Daily News of to-day?


With regard to the last question, I will ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the speech delivered on the previous day by Mr. Justice O'Brien was in any sense a judicial utterance, a charge to the Grand Jury or to the Petty Jury, or whether it was a general public speech from the Bench?


In reference to the remarks of Mr. Justice O'Brien yesterday, I have only had an opportunity of reading one very short report of them, and I should say that, judging from that report, whatever else it was, it was not a judicial utterance. I will take means to get an authentic Report, and will go through it. In reference to the question on the Paper, my attention was of course drawn to the remarks of Mr. Justice O'Brien in charging the Grand Jury. The first report I saw was a report in The Times newspaper, and a garbled report. The learned Judge did qualify his words as my hon. Friend the Member for Clare has just read to the House. He said that— The number of recorded cases is slightly less than that of the corresponding period of last year. So far as my information leads me to know, the total crime is distributed nearly equally over the whole period of the year. The late Government were in Office till the middle of August; the present Government came in on 22nd August. The learned Judge did not attribute the condition of the crime to any change that has recently been made. Now, Sir, it will perhaps save the time of the House if in answer to this question I make a somewhat long statement. This is not the first time within the last two or three years that the Judges in charging the Grand Juries in County Clare have had occasion to make remarks on the unfortunate condition of affairs in that county. At the Summer Assizes in July, 1892, Mr. Justice O'Brien made some strong references to the state of the county, and amongst other things he said— Unhappily, the County of Clare retains its bad eminence or pre-eminence in Ireland, and, though the latest to receive, it has been the longest to retain, the dangerous impressions and evil influences which have existed for some time in the country. He remarks upon the increase of intimidation, especially in the form of threatening letters, and also on the prevalence of incendiary fires. At the previous Spring Assizes in March, 1892, Lord Justice FitzGibbon reported the continued bad state of County Clare, there being an increase in the number of specially reported cases. At the Spring Assizes in March, 1891, Lord Chief Justice O'Brien remarked that the Calendar before him presented a melancholy picture of crime. He found that crime had not diminished, and that in several classes of crime there had been, unhappily, a sensible increase. This was the first occasion on which Judges have commented on the state of the county. In reference to the remarks of Mr. Justice O'Brien the other day, and his allegation that there was a condition of lawlessness in the County of Clare far exceeding in amount that which came under his experience in times past, it is hardly borne out by the facts. One hundred and seventeen cases were specially reported since the Spring of 1892 as against 124 cases in the corresponding period of the preceding year— that is to say, a reduction of seven cases since the previous Spring Assize. There has been a decrease not only in the number of cases, but also in the more serious classes of crime. At the Spring Assize of 1892 there was no murder case as against two in 1891. There were 13 cases of arson at the last Spring Assizes against 9 this year, and 13 cases of cattle maiming against 5— a decrease under each head. In minor offences the number was 2,338 as against 2,439, a decrease of 101 cases. The state of the county, bad as it is, is not so bad, if we may judge from these Reports, as when the late Government last reduced the police force and revoked the Proclamation under the Crimes Act. I am extremely unwilling to give anything like a recriminatory character to so serious a subject, but I am bound to say so much of the comparative part of the learned Judge's remarks. I am fully alive, as the House hardly needs to be assured, to the hateful demoralisation that prevails now, as it has for years past prevailed, in some portions of the County of Clare. In answer to the last portion of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have only to say that I have had frequent and direct communication with the responsible officers on the spot, more than one important change in police administration has been made, and no effort is being spared to reduce the present state of demoralisation and lawlessness. The hon. Member and the House will understand that it would not be convenient or conformable with practice to state more particularly the special measures under consideration. I may say, however, that probably among them will be the restoration of the extra police force which the late Government thought it right, perhaps prematurely, to withdraw last year.


Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether Mr. Justice O'Brien did or did not state that the lives and property of Her Majesty's subjects in County Clare are not safe? Are we to understand that that is accurate or inaccurate, as a matter of fact?


I think it is true that life and property in the County of Clare are not so safe, unfortunately, as in most other parts of Ireland and in England; but, as the hon. Member well knows, the explanation is to be found in the social circumstances of the last few years.


May I ask whether, in referring to the statement of the learned Judge as not judicial, the right hon. Gentleman meant to impugn its accuracy?

[No answer was given.]

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will be good enough to explain in what respect the subsequent Report of the learned Judge's remarks differs from the report in The Times, which he informed the House was garbled?


Surely the hon. Gentleman has noticed that The Times omitted that portion which entirely relieved the present change of adminisstration from responsibility.


Is not County Clare the county in which Head Constable Michael O'Halloran, with the approval of the present Leader of the Opposition when Chief Secretary for Ireland, gave a £10 note to an alleged member of a secret society with a view to get up an outrage?

MR. CARSON (Dublin University)

May I ask in how many of the 117 reported cases the offender have been brought to conviction?

MR. J. REDMOND (Waterford)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will be good enough to give the figures with reference to the number of convictions in previous years? I think he will find that the average is about the same.


I have not by me the figures of previous years, and it would be travelling rather wide on the present question to give them; but I am quite prepared, if any hon. Member will put a question to me, to state what they were.


In reference to the statement made by Mr. Justice O'Brien that life and property are insecure in County Kerry, is it not the fact that during the last year no life has been lost by violence in County Clare, and that, so far from property being insecure, rents are generally well paid in County Clare, and no attacks have been made upon property; and whether it was not a well-known fact that crime and disturbance in the County of Clare was on a much larger scale when the right hon. Gentleman who now leads the Opposition held the office of Chief Secretary.


I can only say that the hon. Gentleman is quite right in the implication that the crime in County Clare is not at present marked by any agrarian features. It is not agrarian crime.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will always bear in mind, with reference to questions such as that put by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, that the people of the County of Clare are strongly opposed to the Party of the hon. Gentleman?


That is hardly a fair question to put.


I will put it in another form, Mr. Speaker. I will ask whether it is not the fact that systematic attempts have been made to blacken the character of the people of this county?

MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)

As the right hon. Gentleman is contemplating the restoration of the extra police force, will he take into his consideration the necessity of restoring the provisions of the Criminal Law Amendment Act?


If the hon. Member will show me that that Act puts down crime in Clare, I will consider the necessity of its restoration.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will consult the officials responsible for the good order of the county?


The Reports of the County Inspectors are confidential, and I have no intention of communicating them to the hon. Member or to anybody else.


That is not my question. I think that the right hon. Gentleman misinterpreted the purview of the question. I asked him whether he would consult the constabulary officials and Resident Magistrates of Clare with a view to putting into force again the Criminal Law Amendment Act? Will he get their opinion as to what the effect of that would be in securing the peace of the county?


As to the question of the efficiency or inefficiency of the law in County Clare, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to take a better test— namely, the constabulary and judicial records. I would ask whether there is any assumption to be gained from those records that the Coercion Act has either increased the proportion of indictments to crime or the proportion of convictions to indictments?


I think that I have shown that the operation of the Crimes Act in Clare did not materially increase the number of convictions, and that the Four Courts of Secret Inquiry proved completely inoperative. No single person was by them made amenable to the law.


In connection with what has taken place now, I desire to give notice that, should any attempt be made to place this county under the Coercion Act, I shall oppose it as strongly as I can.