Motion made and Question proposed: —
That a sum, not exceeding £40,229, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898, for criminal prosecutions and other law charges in Ireland.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
said the trial was pending, and the case could not be gone into without prejudice to the accused.
§ MR. DILLON
said he did not desire to go into the evidence, and would confine himself to the action of the Attorney General in reference to the case.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
said it was unusual to discuss a case pending before the Courts. Still, he could not hold that it was out of order. On the other hand, as far as he had been able to discover, the Chairman of Committees or the Speaker on former occasions had always laid down that it was unusual and undesirable, in the interest of the prisoners, to discuss a case which was pending.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
suggested the desirability of postponing the Vote. The Attorney General could not defend his action in this case without going into the evidence.
§ MR. DILLON
said he proposed to confine himself to the grounds on which he brought up the case. These unfortunate men had been 14 months in gaol, having been tried three times on different charges and acquitted, and they were now in prison merely on a charge of larceny. Even if they were guilty, the punishment they had already undergone would be severe enough. Bail had been applied for, and hitherto refused.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND
said the hon. Member was singularly inaccurate in his facts. These 1104 men were arrested on March 6, 1896. They were then tried on the charge of murder, and the jury disagreed. They were tried again at the Assizes at Belfast and acquitted. They were then charged with robbery from the person of the man they were alleged to have murdered. The learned Judge who presided at the trial refused an application for bail. They had never made application for bail to the Court of Queen's Bench, which they were entitled to do, and it was impossible for him to give the reason which made it imperative upon him, if they made that application to the Court, to advise it without going into the evidence against them.
§ MR. DILLON
said these unfortunate men had been subjected to three trials by packed juries—[Nationalist cheers]— and acquitted by a Belfast jury of the charge of murder. They were taken to Belfast from their own homes, and put to enormous expense, and were still in gaol unconvicted, merely on a charge of larceny. They were now invited to go to the Queen's Bench and apply for bail, well knowing that the Attorney General would oppose the application, and it would be refused. There was no criminal matter which in his time had created so much interest in the North of Ireland as this case. He would agree to the postponement of the Vote, hoping that the Chief Secretary would look carefully into the case.
§ *MR. R. M. DANE (Fermanagh, N.)
said that before the House agreed to the postponement of the Vote, he wished to say that he hoped the Attorney General for Ireland would not allow anything that had taken place on the part of the hon. Member for East Mayo that night to lead him to allow these men to escape being tried again. The feeling in the case 1105 was not confined to one party. It was quite true that these men were tried for what looked very like murder.
§ An HON. MEMBER: They were acquitted of that.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
As we have withdrawn the Vote, it is hardly right that the discussion should go on.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.