HC Deb 11 February 1898 vol 53 cc434-56

"And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the time has come when the cases of all prisoners convicted under the Treason Felony Act, who are, and have been for many years, undergoing punishment for offences arising out of insurrectionary movements connected with Ireland, may be advantageously reconsidered."

Now, Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt that the first thought which will arise in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary in this matter is that he has already been put into possession of all the facts in connection with our case for amnesty. That is no doubt true. Year after year the question of amnesty has been debated in this House, and Amendments similiar to the one I now propose have been discussed from these benches. It is no part of my intention to-night to go lengthily into these arguments, with which the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors in the Home Office are quite familiar. But there is one thing, and in my opinion, an important thing, which may be urged as a fresh argument in favour of amnesty, and it is this, that since last this question was raised another long year has passed by, adding one more long term to the sentence already endured by these fellow-countrymen of ours in prison. Mr. Speaker, without going at all into these arguments, which have been so fully laid before the Home Office, I should like briefly to mention one or two points, which I think are worthy of the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, and of the House at large. In the first place, without going into the question of the guilt of these prisoners, or their innocence, upon which very strong opinions are held in Ireland, there is this important fact which cannot be denied, that of the men convicted in 1883, the great majority have already been released, and what is most significant and important, is this, that of the men who have already been released, may be numbered those who were unquestionably the ringleaders or principals in the conspiracy which was alleged against them. Mr. John Daly has been released, and we all rejoice at the fact; Mr. Egan has been released and, we think, none too soon. There are only five men still in prison, and if any one reads the report of the trial they will find that whatever may be said to have been proved against the principals in the alleged conspiracy, very little was proved against the five remaining prisoners, and certainly not even the Home Secretary can say that they were anything like principals in the crime charged against them. Surely it is reasonable in every Irish Member, and, indeed, in every man, to expect that if out of some twenty men, the principals in an alleged crime, the majority have been released, the matter might now be completed by the release of the five men, who, whatever was proved against them, were not the ringleaders in the conspiracy which, it was, took place in 1883. Mr. Speaker, I do not propose to-night to go into any lengthened reference to the reports of the trial which took place in 1883. Some feeling on that subject exists in England, and, at the time of the trial, feeling ran high against all Irishmen, and it is believed that if there had not existed a panic in this country, these countrymen of ours could not possibly have received the extraordinarily severe sentences which they did receive. In Ireland a very strong feeling—you may think it right or you may think it wrong—the fact remains that a very strong feeling exists that many of these men were unfairly convicted; that the evidence against them was of the flimsiest character, and that the sentences were altogether out of proportion to the evidence brought against them to convict them of these alleged crimes. I most strongly and emphatically hold the belief, and I am sure the Home Secretary and other Members of the House will believe me when I say that a great many of these prisoners are the victims of panic. I do not believe that at a time when public feeling was in a tranquil state these men could have been convicted, much less that, upon conviction, they would have received the extreme sentences meted out to them. This feeling of mine, in the case of these men, is largely shared in Ireland, but I do not claim an extension of amnesty to these five remaining men upon the ground of their innocence—strongly as many in Ireland believe in it. I make the claim for these reasons: these men were convicted in 1883 under the provisions of the Treason Felony Act, not under the Act that was passed, I believe in 1883, expressly for the purpose of dealing with dynamite offences, the Explosives Substances Act. If these men had been tried under that Act they could not have received a greater sentence than 20 years penal servitude; in all probability, under that Act, they would only have received a sentence of 14 years' penal servitude. But, instead of being tried under this Act, they were charged, tried, and convicted under the Treason Felony Act. This Act was passed to deal with the leaders of the insurrection of 1848 in Ireland, and these men, amnesty for whom we now plead in this House, were convicted, not under the Dynamite Offences Act, but under the Treason Felony Act, of having been rebels against the existing Government. Under that Act they were found guilty, and sentenced to penal servitude for life. Mr. Speaker, Sir, I venture to assume that every reasonable man in this country will say that, if this Act was passed specially to deal with dynamite offences, men suspected of such offences ought to be charged and tried under it. If that had been done these men would only have got 20 years' penal servitude. Why were they tried under the Treason Felony Act? I submit it was because it was quite easy to prove that these men had been engaged in revolutionary organisa- tion, in a word, that they were Fenians. It was easy enough to prove that because, like many others of their countrymen, they were not ashamed of having been Fenians; they were quite proud that they took such a stand as they considered to be right in the interests of the freedom and liberty of their country and their countrymen. It was easy to convict them of being Fenians and hard to convict them of being dynamitards. I do not believe that there is a lawyer in this House who would give a strong-opinion that, if these men had been convicted under the Explosive Substances Act, they would all have been convicted. The evidence presented against them was by no means complete, in many cases it was absolutely shallow and without strong foundation, but, nevertheless, they were easily convicted under the Treason Felony Act. And as they were tried under that Act and convicted, not of dynamite offences, but of having been Fenians, I submit that it is reasonable that we should ask that these men should now be treated as if they had been tried under the Dynamite Act, and not as ordinary prisoners, who are convicted and sentenced to penal servitude. I say if these men were convicted under the Act expressly passed dealing with dynamite offences, supposing they were sentenced to 20 years' penal servitude, within a very few months they will have completed 15 years' penal servitude, and they would be entitled, not as an act of clemency or of amnesty, but under the ordinary custom which prevails in these matters, to have their sentences reconsidered and to be released at the end of 15 years. What I say is this, that the Government, having released the great majority of these prisoners, and the principal ones among them, might anticipate the few months that still remain, and, by releasing the remaining five prisoners, now do something which would appeal to Irish sentiment, and which would show that there was some desire upon the part of the Government to meet that sentiment, and to grant amnesty to these men who have been suffering so long the tortures of penal servitude. I know perfectly well that to speak in this House of men who have been associated, even by suspicion, with dynamite, is to do something repugnant to the feelings of the great majority of Members of this House, but I claim here, and with just as much authority as any gentleman coming from England, Scotland, or Wales, that it cannot be charged against the Irish people that they had the slightest, sympathy whatever with anything in the shape of outrage calculated to bring injury or destruction to innocent people in this country or elsewhere. It is not possible for even the strongest opponent of amnesty to point to a single sentence uttered by any of the advocates of amnesty, which could be construed into currying sympathy with dynamite outrage. We have no sympathy whatever with dynamite outrage. What we say is that, considering all the circumstances of the case, the continued imprisonment of these men is a cause of irritation to the Irish people, and simply causes the feeling to prevail in Ireland that the idea of England in this matter is not merely to mete out punishment, but to pursue a vindictive policy of vengeance against Ireland, not only on the ground that they were dynamite conspirators, but because one and all of them were not ashamed to say that they had joined the ranks of the Fenians in Ireland, and were ready, if necessary, to lay down their lives in what they considered the best interests of the liberties of their country. There are only five men remaining in prison: 20 have been released. And these remaining prisoners cannot for a moment be said to be the principals in the conspiracy alleged against them. I don't want to go here into the old story of the Walsall case—the outrage committed at Walsall—which has been quoted so much in this House, but I ask hon. Members to remember that in that case some of the men actually admitted that they were guilty of the offence charged against them. They were all sentenced to a comparatively light term of years, and every one of those Walsall conspirators—not one of whom could plead in extenuation that they had anything to do with any political or revolutionary organisation, who were dynamiters pure and simple—has been released. Unless I am misinformed, there is not a single one of the prisoners in custody at the present time. That being so, and, judging the circumstances of both cases, I maintain that it is quite reasonable that we should ask that Irishmen at least should have the same justice and fair play extended to them as have been extended to the men who committed the dastardly outrages in Walsall, whom everybody condemned at the time. In conclusion, I simply put my appeal for amnesty for these reasons: In the first place, these men ought to be treated as if they were tried under the Explosives Act and not under the Treason Felony Act. In the second place, I say that they should be treated with consideration because not one of them was a principal in the offences alleged against them; and, in the third place, I claim that they should be released because all the Walsall prisoners, convicted of an infinitely worse offence in my opinion, have been released up to the present time. It should not be forgotten that, condemn as we may dynamite outrages and conspiracies, not a single life was lost, and not a single person was injured, except, as one of my hon. Friends says, "the prisoners themselves." It should be borne in mind that, while as the outcome of this conspiracy not a single person was killed or injured, a great many of the unfortunate prisoners themselves have met with very unhappy fates. Sometimes English gentlemen find it hard to understand the hot-headed spirit in which Irishmen sometimes talk upon these matters. The Irish people no doubt are an emotional people and subject to the influences of sentiment. I ask Members of this House to consider, if they can, what must be the effect upon the mass of the Irish people, when they find that, while English prisoners are released for similar offences with comparatively short terms of imprisonment, Irishmen who have been convicted of alleged outrages are still kept in prison. Two of these men were released some time ago, and went to the United States. Both of them were hopelessly insane; both of them had their reason destroyed in Portland; and I say that no man in this House can say that it is either fair punishment for any crime, or that it is calculated to promote respect for the law, that criminals, no matter who they may be, especially men with whom popular opinion associates the idea of poli- tical offences, should be kept in prison until their reason departs. The Home Secretary knows the cases of Callagher and Whitehead. Both these men went to the United States of America; they were both confined in asylums; one of them broke out, and from that day to this has not been discovered. The other is maintained in a hopeless state of insanity in New York by a small sum got together by an Irishman who has been anxious that he should receive proper care. Others of them have had their health seriously injured. As I said before, five of them still remain in prison, and I believe they are in a broken-down condition. Surely anybody can see that it is unnecessary either to ensure general condemnation of dynamite offences, or to ensure respect of any law that these men should be continued any longer in prison. The British Empire, surely, is strong enough, and powerful enough, to do an act which would, in some degree, bring satisfaction to large numbers of people in Ireland. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the fact that nobody for a moment alleges that there is a vestige of dynamite conspiracy in existence at the present time; and in view of the fact that in Ireland peace and tranquillity reign; in view also of the fact that these men have been 15 years in prison; if amnesty cannot be granted, and if satisfaction cannot be given to the Irish people by the release of these men, I will not go further into the question of their innocence or guilt; but I am absolutely convinced that at least some of these men were convicted without proper evidence, and I am absolutely convinced that if this country had not been convulsed by a panic, owing to the rumours of outrages committed by dynamite, these men would not have been convicted at all. In any case, if they had been convicted, they would not have received such a savage sentence as that of penal servitude for life. I believe myself that these men are innocent. I do not believe that Mr. Daly, or Mr. Egan, or any of their associates in prison, are men capable of lending themselves to the perpetration of outrage by dynamite. I claim that they ought to be dealt with as revolutionary prisoners, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, even if he and his friends behind him do not share my belief in the absolute innocence of these men, to consider what I have said, that these men, having completed 15 years, would now be entitled to their release if they had been tried under the Dynamite Act. I appeal to him to treat them as if they were tried under that Act. These men had the courage, honour, and manliness to join a revolutionary organisation in the interest of Irish liberty. As they were tried under the Treason Felony Act, I say you are not entitled to regard them as dynamiters, but you should treat them as political prisoners. I feel very strongly upon this subject. I have spoken upon it year after year in this House, and in the country, and I am neither afraid nor ashamed to repeat here in this House a single thing that I have ever said to my own constituents or to the people of Ireland. I have not one voice for Ireland—as is sometimes alleged about Irish Members—and another voice for the House of Commons. I tell you plainly that I believe these men—many of them—are innocent, and ought to be released. If you release them you will be conferring a boon upon the Irish people, and affording widespread satisfaction; and such an action would tend to promote tranquillity and make it impossible that dynamite should ever be used again. If you don't release them you will be keeping open an old sore in Ireland, which will do neither good to the Irish people nor to the government of law and order which you maintain. I have been anxious not to say anything strong or out of the way in dealing with this matter. It is a strange reflection that these men are honoured in Ireland; representative men are glad to call them their friends, and they are looked up to as men who are suffering in the interests of the people at large. Therefore I appeal to you to release them, not because you believe that there is any doubt of their guilt, but because you have released English prisoners who have been convicted of much greater offences, and because after 15 years of penal servitude they are entitled to some consideration at your hands.

MR. W. ABRAHAM (Cork Co., N.E.)

I desire to join in the appeal which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Clare, and I consider it is irresistible. It is acknowledged by yourselves, that these men have been sen- tenced to life-long terms of penal servitude because they were political offenders. All we ask now at the hands of the Home Secretary and the Government is that they should be treated as if they were men who had been tried under the Act specially passed for dealing with crimes committed by dynamitards. When you remember that these men have been for 15 years enduring the horrors of penal servitude, when you remember that not a single life was sacrificed in their attempts, I really think the time has come for their case to be considered as prisoners who ought to have been convicted under the law passed for dealing with dynamite offences. With regard to ourselves in Ireland, we have nothing to say on this question except this: we do not deem it necessary in this House to state that we have no sympathy with dynamite offences. The whole history of every movement that we have had in Ireland has been absolutely free from dynamite. I am not now going to inquire into why these prisoners should have been suspected of having used dynamite for illegal objects, but I repeat that, looking back upon the past history of Ireland, we do not feel it necessary to dissociate ourselves from the policy of dynamite, for the reason that we have never recommended or suggested that the cause of Irish liberty should be won by such means. I admit we have adopted revolutionary methods in the past. I do not know whether in the future revolutionary methods may be adopted in Ireland, but you will never find us using dynamite. We shall meet you openly on the field, as our forefathers did in 1798, and for that you cannot condemn us. One of the principal items in the programmes at all meetings in Ireland is a resolution asking for the release of these prisoners. I wish you to remember that no evil result has followed the release of the men who have been let out of prison. I do not suppose for a moment that there is the smallest regret in the minds of Englishmen at the releases which have already been accomplished, and that being so, I now join most heartily in the appeal which has been made by my hon. Friend. I hope that our representations to the Home Secretary will be favourably considered, and that in this year 1898 a message of peace will be given to Ireland.


I rise to support the Amendment of the hon. Member so far that the case of these prisoners should be considered. There is no doubt in my mind that there is considerable argument in this case. There are a great many who think that these prisoners should not be treated as ordinary prisoners—that they have committed a detestable and horrible crime, and that they should be confined for the rest of their lives in gaol; that is to say, that their case should not be considered as that of ordinary prisoners who are confined for long terms of imprisonment. I like to look at the thing from two points of view. One point of view is that which I have just described to the House, and the other point of view is this: there are a very large number of the Irish nation throughout the world who consider that these prisoners were treated as they are because they were Irishmen and Fenians and not because they were dynamiters. Now, for my part, I do not yield to anyone in the world in the horror, detestation and supreme contempt I entertain for anybody who would use an explosive to further a political propaganda or to further any interest whatever, and I was very glad to hear hon. Members for Ireland who have taken up the case of these prisoners from year to year repudiate any idea that they were associated with dynamiters. But I will go further and say that I have such a horror of this crime, by which innocent people are blown to pieces and lives sacrificed—people who have nothing whatever to do with the case—that I would support any proposal that might be made into law to hang or shoot dynamiters. Let me give the House an instance with which I am acquainted. Once when I was in command of a man-of-war in Portsmouth Harbour it was intimated to me that an individual was coming on board on the pretext of selling merchandise, and that he had a clockwork machine to blow up the ship. I sent for my officers and said, "If this person does come aboard while I am away, keep him until I come back, and don't report the case to the Admiral. If I find that he intended to blow up my men with an infernal machine, I will put him in the dinghy, moor the boat astern, wind up his clock, seat him on it, and leave him to meditate." Now, believe me, I would have done that. Probably I should have been tried for my life for it if he had been blown up, as he surely would have been; that is the law of the country, and I would have had to abide by it, but I believe I should have been doing right with regard to a man who wanted to blow my men up. Anyway, I think hon. Members will agree with me that it would have acted as a good deterrent. With regard to these prisoners who are confined in British gaols, what I would ask the Home Secretary is this: Do let them be treated exactly the same as other prisoners are, and forget that they have been dynamiters and Fenians. Do let these prisoners be treated as ordinary prisoners; let their cases be brought forward for re-consideration. I believe myself that they have been punished enough, but let them be treated as ordinary prisoners and in the same spirit. Whether it be right or wrong, a very large proportion of the Irish race think that these men are kept in prison because they are Irishmen and Fenians; and as that feeling prevails so widely, surely, as you are strong, it would be wiser to treat them as ordinary prisoners, and let them out when the time arrives at which ordinary prisoners are released. What is to be gained by keeping these men in prison? There is a great deal to be gained by making some sort of concession—if you like to call it a concession—or, at any rate, some sort of proposal which would bring England and Ireland more closely together. I myself would do a very great deal to cement any kind feeling that may exist between the two countries. I was pained to-day when I heard how Members opposite say that such kind feeling was impossible, and that England and Ireland never would be brought together. I hope these hon. Members are in a minority. I am an Irishman myself, and have strong opinions, which I stick to. I do want to see strengthened the better feeling which, I believe, is germinating between the two countries, and if the Home Secretary will only see that these men are treated as ordinary prisoners and not subjected to exceptional treatment because they are Irishmen and Fenians, it will be better for both countries and for the State.


I am sure that others besides his fellow-countrymen are glad to hear the noble Lord, who, on the first occasion he has risen since he entered the House, has raised his voice—and to him it must be an agreeable task—in advocacy of a cause favourable to his fellow-countrymen. The noble Lord says he is prepared to support the Amendment. I am obliged to oppose it, although I do not know that I differ from anything that has been said by the noble Lord. He has asked me to deal with these Irish prisoners—treason-felony prisoners—in exactly the same way as I should, in the course of my duty, deal with other long-sentence prisoners. That is exactly what I have said I would do from the very beginning, from the time these cases were brought first before the House. It is exactly what Mr. Gladstone said when he spoke upon the subject some years ago, and it is exactly what was said by my predecessor in the office I have the honour to hold. The right hon. Gentleman said it was his view and the view of Mr. Gladstone, that these cases should be treated on exactly the same footing as the cases of other long-sentence prisoners; that they should be re-considered from time to time, according to the practice of the Home Office, and that all the circumstances of each individual case should be taken into consideration. The noble Lord says Parliament ought not to consider that these prisoners are Irishmen and Fenians. I assure him I feel it deeply that Englishmen should be supposed to view the case from that point of view. Some Members opposite lightly make this accusation against me, but I really believe that in their hearts they realise that in the mind of nobody in authority in this country is there any idea of punishing these men specially because they are Irishmen or Fenians. I must repeat again what was said by my pre- decessor, that these were atrocious crimes, which, in the words of the Mover of this Resolution, were outrages calculated to bring loss of life to innocent people. I say that they were crimes against which society is bound to defend itself. I make no complaint of the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Resolution, I quite understand the feeling with which he is animated. He said he was convinced of the innocence of these men. That is not the view that I take or that is taken by those who have looked into the circumstances. I am convinced that impartial men who have done so have come to the conclusion that these men had a fair trial, that they were fairly convicted, that the crimes of which they were convicted were atrocious crimes against society, and that the sentences inflicted upon them were not excessive. There was no panic among the public at the time. Well, that is a matter of opinion; it is the view I take. One of the arguments the hon. Member has urged upon the attention of the House is that we have got a year nearer to the time when the sentences will naturally expire. That, no doubt, is a satisfactory reflection to those who are concerned in the matter, and who are advocating the case of these prisoners. But the hon. Member goes on to say that the men should be released because the majority of the treason felony prisoners have already been released. I cannot agree with that, and I must point out that the other men were released on the ground of ill-health. The House will not forget the Debate which took place in the last Session of Parliament with reference to the release of four of these prisoners. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution spoke of the case of Daly, and I understood him to say that Daly—if anyone was guilty—was the most guilty of all.


I did not say that. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to explain that what I intended certainly to convey was, that on reading over the reports of the trial, one is forced to the conclusion that if there were a conspiracy at all, the chief charges were made against Daly.


That is what I understood to be the meaning of the hon. Gentleman. He suggested that as, in consequence of the danger to their lives which would be involved by longer imprisonment, certain prisoners were released, and as there happened to be among them some who were the most guilty of all, therefore the rest should be released. I am not prepared to admit that argument. There are six now remaining in prison, not five, and as to them I will repeat what I have said before—viz., that if there were any ground of health on which they should be released, they would have been released in the same way as the other prisoners. I remember, only too vividly, the cases of the unfortunate men alluded to by the hon. Member, who, he says, are now in America, one having escaped from his friends. Surely the hon. Member will do me the justice to admit that the moment I got information from the surgeon responsible for the health of these men—information which justified me in acting—I did so. It was never intended by any person that imprisonment should lead to results such as unhappily followed in the cases of these two particular men. I am afraid I must again say that I am not prepared to admit the argument that because certain men who were the more guilty have been released on the ground of health, therefore others who were properly sentenced should also be released. A number of arguments have been used why an amnesty should now be declared, and why additional clemency should be shown, and one argument advanced has been that no life was lost through the acts of these prisoners. As I have said before, it was a fortunate thing that no life was lost, otherwise these prisoners would not, perhaps, be now alive. I, for one, have certainly never been one of those who supposed that the hon. Member opposite, however strong may be the views he holds as to the case of these men, for one moment desired to express any sympathy with the use of dynamite. Now the Amendment asks that there should be an amnesty, and that the Government should declare that they will be prepared—as I understand the Amendment—to release these men when the time comes, at which, had they been sentenced to 20 years' penal servitude, they would in the ordinary course have been released. I am not prepared to make any such promise, but I am prepared to promise, as I have done from the beginning, that when the time comes for these cases to be considered in the usual way by the Home Office, I will consider each individual case upon its merits, and that these men shall be treated on the same footing as other long sentence prisoners. I cannot make any distinction between these men and other prisoners; and, in saying that, I think I am standing upon ground which even hon. Gentlemen opposite must admit to be logical and fair. As far as I am concerned, they shall be treated no better and no worse than other long sentence prisoners, whose cases at stated intervals come up for consideration, according to the practice of the Home Office. The time is not far distant, as the hon. Gentleman says—it will occur during the course of this year, I believe—when some of these prisoners, at all events, will have served 15 years' penal servitude. At that time their cases will be brought up for consideration, and all the surrounding circumstances will be borne in mind; and I again repeat what I have always said, that in dealing with these cases I shall deal with them on exactly the same footing as other prisoners, and if I find the circumstances justify me in treating individual prisoners as the hon. Gentleman desires, I shall not hesitate to do so.

MR. E. J. C. MORTON (Devonport)

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I should have thought that the principles of which the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, has expressed his approval, would have led him to greater leniency in practice than he has expressed himself willing to adopt. I think he will agree with me that it is especially advisable, as a matter of public policy, that no Irishman should be justified in saying that Irish prisoners are treated worse than the prisoners of other nationalities are for the same crimes. But I desire to recall to the recollection of this House the case of the two worst dynamitards ever imprisoned in England, the two Italians, Farnara and Polti. The case of these two men was the very worst that has ever been known in England, and they differed from the worst of the Irish cases in respect of this fact that these two men were actually refugees in England, enjoying our hospitality. They attempted to blow up a public building by dynamite. Farnara was about 50 years of age, and no excuse could possibly be found for him on account of his youth. He received 20 years' penal servitude. The other man, Polti, was sentenced to 10 years' penal servitude. The same evidence was brought against him as against Farnara, but because Polti was only 21 years of age, he received only 10 years. The same judge who sentenced the men whoso cases were now brought before the House, gave Polti only 10 years on account of his youth. The Irish prisoners varied in age, like the Italian prisoners, four being about 27, while Terence McDermott was only 20, and Henry Hammond Wilson 22 years and six months. I submit that these men ought to be treated upon the same basis as Farnara and Polti, and that, therefore, the sentence on the four men above 27 years should be reduced from a life sentence to 20 years, which would mean that they would now have about 18 months more of their sentence to serve. With regard to McDermott and Wilson, they ought to have been treated as Polti was, and to have received 10 years' penal servitude on account of their youth. I want to submit to the right hon. Gentleman that it is a matter carefully to consider whether these two men ought not to be released at once With regard to Henry Hammond Wilson, I have received details from the parish priest and schoolmaster where he lived, showing that he was a pupil teacher in a school when 19 years of age. Owing, perhaps, to emigration from the district, the school was not entitled to a pupil teacher, and Wilson had to be dismissed. He was a boy of the highest possible character, and was engaged at that time as a leader in temperance work. But he had to emigrate to America, as, unfortunately, very many Irishmen have to do. He was heard of by letters for a year, when the letters ceased, and his sister emigrated to try and get information. She first heard that, under the name of Wilson—that is the name in the Blue Books, his real name being, I believe, Clark—he was in gaol, having being sentenced without his parents knowing anything about it. His father—an old soldier who had fought in the Crimea—was dead, and his mother was so ashamed that she went mad, and has been insane ever since. The story which everyone told of the way in which this youth was led to commit the offence was this:—He joined, as many young men do, without realising the gravity of the step, one of the secret societies of America. The leaders of the society would not risk their own lives, but they singled out this young man, who foolishly had taken their oath, and sent him to England, with the result that he found himself, against his own judgment, mixed up in this business, and has suffered 15 years' penal servitude. Comparing the cases of McDermott and Wilson with the case of Polti, who was sentenced by the same judge, Mr. Justice Hawkins, to 10 years, on account of his youth, I maintain that the Irish prisoners should be immediately released.


Mr. Speaker, Sir, I rise chiefly to express, on behalf of the Members of these benches, our sincerest thanks to the hon. Member for York for the manly appeal he has made in his maiden speech on behalf of this Amendment. The contention of the Home Secretary, on this, as on previous occasions, is that these prisoners have been treated exactly as if they were English prisoners, and had not been subjected to any injustice, either on their trial, or during their imprisonment. Well, Sir, I differ from the right hon. Gentleman. If these men had not been Fenians, they would have been tried under the Explosives Act, as the Walsall prisoners were, and would have received 10 or 15 years' penal servitude, instead of a sentence for life. Being Fenians, they were tried under the Treason Felony Act in order that the maximum sentence might be inflicted upon them. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will deny my contention. I insist that they were not treated at their trial as if they were English offenders, and if I cared to go into personal experiences, I could convince this House that, if they were treated in prison as some of their fellow-countrymen were treated in the past, that treatment was far more severe than what is extended to ordinary prisoners in the gaols of this country. The Home Secretary can do practically what he likes, but there are some things it is impossible for him to do. He may modify a sentence, or he may reverse it, but he cannot change the indictment upon which conviction has been obtained. These men were expressly tried under an Act passed to deal with political convictions in order that the highest sentence of the law might be inflicted upon them. We, therefore, ask that the Home Secretary should extend to these men that clemency which has been extended by most of his predecessors to political prisoners. He says their offence was not a political one. That is an inconsistent position for the Home Secretary to take up, and I hope that, instead of trying to maintain that position, he will listen to the appeal that has been addressed to him by a most distinguished Member of this House. And I venture to say that if this small act of clemency were employed just now, it would not meet with any opposition from any part of the House. What are the facts of the case? No lives were lost as a consequence of the acts with which these men were charged. They have now undergone close upon 15 years' penal servitude. The principals in whatever conspiracy existed have been discharged, and six men remain in prison. I am informed, I hope wrongly—and I trust the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, will correct me if my information is not accurate—that out of these six men two are now under observation as insane prisoners.




I am very glad to hear it; but the right hon. Gentleman knows right well that when a prisoner under the system of penal servitude in this country undergoes 10 years or more of a sentence, the causes that generate insanity in prison work more rapidly. We know from facts, which the Home Secretary cannot deny, that some of these men who have been released are insane. I trust that, in view of these facts, the right hon. Gentleman will see his way, in the shortest time possible, to consider these cases in a favourable light, and end this painful duty imposed on the Irish Members, of bringing these cases before the House Session after Session. I am certain he will not be performing an act upon which he will look back with regret if he does so. I wish to say one word in connection with what the Member for East Clare said on the Walsall cases. I have given considerable attention to these cases, and I believe there was no dynamite conspiracy in them at all. I affirm that the whole plot was the work of a French refugee in this city, well known to Scotland Yard as an agent provocateur in his own country. But I am sorry that even if these men tried at Walsall were guilty of the charge brought against them, a brutal sentence should have followed. After all, the sentences passed in this country for offences of this character are lengthy and brutal, and, therefore, I desire to dissociate myself from what has been said upon the Walsall case. I hope the right hon. Member, the Home Secretary, will, on this occasion, take the advice given to him from his own side of the House, and if he does, he will not regret his action.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, W.)

Mr. Speaker,—Sir, I should like to ask the right hon. Member, the Home Secretary, what is the good of proceeding upon mathematical principles in considering this question. It is futile to ask how would England have suffered, or how would so-called treason in Ireland have grown if these prisoners had been released three, four, or ten years ago? Has the Union Jack or the Lion and the Unicorn suffered by the fact that Daly and his friends were released two or three years ago? Do Englishmen suppose that they will ever gain the hearts of Irishmen unless by changing wholly the tone and temper in which they address themselves to questions like this? Consider the clamour in the British Press over the conviction and treatment of Dreyfus, who was convicted, under the laws of his country, of the most horrible crime of which an army officer can be guilty—namely, betraying' secrets of State to a foreign Government. But there is not a British paper, or British editor, or a British Pharisee, who is not satisfied of the innocence of Dreyfus, and there is no Englishman who is not shocked and horrified at the fact that this French officer should at this moment be on the He du Diable, protected by warders with drawn swords, and enclosed in what is described as an iron cage. Of course this is only as to a Frenchman; but may I give you a little lesson from the Afridis? I myself do not attempt to understand the geography of India; I find it difficult enough to understand the geography of my own country. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Wolverhampton, says that you proceeded to Chitral in the teeth of your own pledges, and you went there, carrying fire and sword, and dynamite, it may be for anything I know, burning the villagers' houses, blowing up their towers, and slaughtering every man engaged in a struggle for his own freedom and that of his family. One of your men, Sergeant Walker, is caught in this horrible attempt made by foreigners and strangers in the teeth of their own pledges. He is caught by the Afridis in the task of carrying fire and sword into the lands of these unhappy villagers. Sir, I have read the letters of Sergeant Walker, and apparently these savages, and Mahomedans—they had not the honour even to be Protestants, they even have not a Church Establishment—treat Sergeant Walker excellently and kindly, and send him back to your Army ready to fight them again. But let us go to the negroes at the Equator. One of the British troops sent against Samory is caught; he is engaged in the task of mowing down Samory"s men; and, instead of any reprisal, he is sent back to Lagos with a gold anklet as a present to the Government. Of course, it is not for me to teach lessons of civilisation to the English people, but how can you expect us to believe in your civilisation, when we find this methodical British precision in regard to the treatment of such men because they have offended against you? But how do you treat Irishmen when, instead of offending against you, they commit crimes against the laws of God—especially when they happen to be on the landlord's side? My hon. Friend, the Member for Mayo, said that the sentences that are usually given in ordinary cases are excessive. I don't think so at all. My experience is that there is extreme leniency in regard to sentences in ordinary cases, and I would say, sometimes, extremely lax prosecution so far as Ireland is concerned. Take the case of Patrick Brennan, a bailiff, who in cold blood murdered a poor old woman—battered in her brains in her little hut. Patrick Brennan is sentenced to 20 years' penal servitude; that is at the Cork Assizes two years ago. What do we read now? "Patrick Brennan has just been released from Mountjoy Prison"! Sir, we do charge inequality of sentence; we do charge inequality of treatment; we do charge favouritism, upon the British Government. Take the case of Englishmen engaged in the Walsall outrage, in regard to whom I have read in Cox's Reports that some documents found on them connected them with the bomb explosion in Barcelona by which eighty people were sent into eternity; those men only got 10 or 12 years' penal servitude. Sir, the Treason Felony Act of 1848, as it was originally passed, never contemplated, as against political prisoners, the sanguinary treatment you have meted out to these five men, whom you still keep in gaol. I do say, and I have always thought, that the Tory Government were in a strong position for showing clemency to Ireland, and generally dealing fairly with our country in many respects, because if they seek to do fairly by Ireland, they have not anybody on this side of the House to taunt them with it, just as you can talk of a "spirited foreign policy," because you have not opposed to you a number of gentlemen ready to taunt you upon your supposed weakness. I ask again, in what way is the honour of England involved in letting these wretched men drag out the dregs of their sentence? Will the Queen sleep more quietly at Balmoral or Osborne because these men have to sleep to-night in Portland Prison, when they ought to be in their own homes? And look at the results as regards these men. Of the men whom you released, one was no sooner set at liberty than he had to be placed under restraint by his own friends; another is immediately sent to a lunatic asyluum; a third dies within three months. One of these men, Wilson, has had to be taken off stone-breaking because his heart was bad. These men are now within a few months of the expiry of their sentences. You would not release them in the Jubilee year, 1887, though you released 10,000 Hindus in Hindustan, because you said it was in accordance with the custom of Hindustan. You would not release them on the occasion of the Sixty Years' Jubilee, though you were greatly surprised that we Irish Members declined to go down to Windsor with you. Now, I ask the Government what is the advantage that British prowess, or British law, or anything appertaining to the welfare or well-being of your Empire can gain from the fact that half a dozen broken, emaciated, and, perhaps, almost insane Irishmen should perhaps for nine months longer have to herd with your malefactors and your murderers.

MAJOR J. E. JAMESON (Clare, West)

You have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said with regard to the fact that these unfortunate and unhappy men have been sentenced in a different measure to that by which Englishmen or Italians have been sentenced; and you have heard the noble Lord who rose from the Government Benches and asked for clemency for these men. I ask you to respond to that appeal, and to grant amnesty for these men to-night, and for this reason: We have sent you from Ireland many men who have built up with their blood this Empire, of which you say you are so proud, and, wherever Englishmen have died, there Irishmen have died side by side; and yet you refuse to treat us as on an equality with yourselves. You try these men under an Act under which these offences ought never to be tried, and you do that to force upon them sentences, which otherwise you never could have given them. Now, I appeal to members on the other side of the House—I am an old soldier, and I appeal to you from these benches. The noble Lord from the opposite benches is a distinguished sailor, and a distinguished Irishman at the same time. I appeal to you for mercy for these men, whatever you may think of the offences of which they have been guilty, and I appeal to you, believing that these men have been unjustly sentenced. Wherever Englishmen have died, there you have Irishmen too, and there you will find them in a soldier's grave, joined in that eternal union of a soldier's death. I appeal to you on behalf of those unfortunate men, and I ask hon. Members on the other side to support us. I hope we may hear others get up from the Government Benches, and urge on the Government that these men may be relieved.

Question put—

The House divided: Ayes, 100; Noes, 152.

MR. J. LAWSON-WALTON (Leeds, South)

I beg to move that the Debate be now adjourned.


The hour is, of course, rather early for adjourning the Debate, but, considering that the hon. Gentleman is to move a most important Amendment to the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech, and that it would be extremely convenient that the Debate upon that Amendment should begin at the commencement of Monday's business, I make no objection to the Motion.

Motion made, and question, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—(Mr. J. L. Walton)—put and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed on Monday.

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