HC Deb 26 July 1898 vol 62 cc1343-50

Complaint made to the House by Mr. Patrick O'Brien, Member for Kilkenny City, of the proceedings of the Board of Guardians of Mullingar, as reported in the Irish Daily Independent newspaper of 22nd July, 1898, containing threats against the honourable Member for Roscommon, on account of a speech made by him in this House. The said newspaper was banded in, and the report of the proceedings complained of was read as followeth— Proposed by Mr. James Brennan, seconded by Denis Shanahan, that on this day fortnight the Board take action in regard to the vile and anti-cleric speech made by Mr. John P. Hayden last week in Parliament, with a view of having his paper deprived of the advertisement here in future, and himself and his reporter excluded from our meetings. Resolution proposed— That the said proceedings of the Mullingar Board of Guardians, as reported in the Irish Daily Independent newspaper of 22nd July, 1898, constitute a breach of the privileges of this House."—(Mr. Patrick O'Brien.)


I desire to bring before the House a matter of privilege. I will endeavour to be as brief as possible, because I. feel certain that the case I propose to bring under the notice of the House is such a glaring one that it will not require a speech from me to recommend it to the attention of the House. I refer to the resolution passed at the Mullingar Board of Guardians last Thursday in relation to the honourable Member for South Roscommon. I desire to say that I am bringing this matter before the House without his knowledge or consent, but I claim that in the interest of the rights of Members it should be within the power of any Member to bring a Motion forward on his own account. Sir, it will be within the recollection of the House that when the Report stage of the Local Government Bill was brought before this House the honourable Member for South Roscommon made a speech. He spoke upon an Amendment that had for its object the admission of clergymen of all denominations in Ireland to a seat upon certain boards especially created under the Local Government Board. I am quite aware that opinions, even on these benches, may differ and do differ as to the views that my honourable Friend expressed in that speech, but I think there can be no two opinions on either side of this House that it was a manly speech, and those who know my honourable Friend are quite aware that he would not seek the shelter of this House to express those opinions. He has the courage of his convictions, and has expressed his opinions in every part of Ireland during the last 10 years, and he has suffered the most desperate persecution in consequence. But let the House differ from my honourable Friend's opinions as the House may, the House will be prepared to say that any honourable Member, whether from Ireland or elsewhere, who does what he deems to be his public duty, has no right to be deprived of his daily bread by any representative body outside this House because of and as a punishment for his views expressed in Parliament. Sir, I do not think it is necessary for me to read the resolution; it is sufficient for me to say that the honourable Member for Roscommon is not the Member for the Division where this resolution was passed. He is the chairman of one of the districts of the Institute of Journalists in Ireland; so that the resolution, aiming as it does at the exclusion of himself and his representative from the meetings of the Mullingar Board, is a direct attack upon the liberty of the Press, and I would ask honourable Gentlemen in this House who voted and spoke against the Motion of the honourable Baronet, the Member for Liverpool (Sir John Willox), giving the Press the right to attend the board meetings—I would ask them to remember that this is a case in point which proves the necessity, at all events in some cases, of giving the members of the Press the right to go to these meetings, whether the members of the board desire to admit them or not. The honourable Member for South Roscommon is the proprietor of the Westmeath Examiner, and he will be deprived of his daily bread if he is excluded from the right of getting the public advertisements, paid for by the public, and of having his reporters present at the meetings of the board in the interests of the public to report its proceedings. I say this is as gross an interference with the right of Members of this House as in my experience of 10 or 11 years has been brought before the House. The resolution is as follows:— Proposed by James Brennan, seconded by Denis Shanahan—That on this day fortnight the board take action in regard to the vile and anti-cleric speech made by Mr. John P. Hayden last week in Parliament, with a view of having his paper deprived of the advertisements here in future, and himself and reporter excluded from our meetings. Sir, that, to my mind, is the worst case of endeavouring to intimidate Members of this House that I have any recollection of. I say that this House is bound in the public interest to protect its Members apart from any question of personal feeling. My honourable Friend is a comparatively new Member of this House, but I would venture to say that those who have come in contact with him regard him as one of the most estimable Members of the House, and my honourable Friend would be the very last to say an unkind word of anybody, and would only rise to say what he had to say in this House from the strongest sense of public duty. My honourable Friend would scorn to come here and ask the protection of this House, and would rather fight the matter out like he manly man he is. But the House has a duty to discharge, and I therefore beg to move— That the resolution of the Mullingar Board if Guardians, reported in the Irish Daily independent on the 22nd of July, is a breach if the privileges of this House.

MR. REDMOND (Waterford)

I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion which has been made by my honourable Friend, and, Sir, what I would like to impress upon the House is this. This little incident throws a strong light upon many things which have been happening in Ireland during the last few years, and it shows honourable Members the difficulties that have been in the way of maintaining freedom of opinion and freedom of speech in Ireland. I think that when a case of this kind is brought under the attention of the House of Commons it is absolutely essential that the House should take some action. Because what happens? A discussion takes place in Committee as to whether clergymen of all denominations are to be allowed to serve on county councils or not. A difference of opinion occurs. This House is divided in opinion, and just because a Catholic Member of this House, representing a Catholic constituency, ventures to express the opinion that it would not conduce to the welfare of Ireland, and to the freedom of action of these bodies, for clergymen to sit upon them, he, forsooth, is not only attacked and vilified, but a representative body passes a resolution saying that in consequence of his action as a member of Parliament they will deprive his newspaper of the advertisements which they give, and that he and his reporters for ever are to be excluded from attending the meetings of this body. I venture to say that if the House of Commons permits action of that kind to be taken it will be undertaking a very great responsibility indeed. Without going further into this matter I claim for the House of Commons that the freedom of speech of its members should be protected. This may seem, perhaps, to some honourable Members a small matter, but it is not a small matter. It is a question of an honourable Member being boycotted and ruined in his business because he has the courage to express opinions which, with certain parties in Ireland, happen to be unpopular. I think the House of Commons would be stultifying itself if it did not take some action to prevent the recurrence of this highhanded conduct on the part of representative bodies in Ireland in the future, and I think possibly that in view of this resolution the Government will be able to congratulate themselves that they stood firm with reference to the question out of which this discussion has sprung, namely, the inclusion of clergymen in these bodies. I think possibly at the same time they will somewhat regret they did not agree to the resolution moved by the honourable Member for Liverpool, giving power to members of the Press to attend all public meetings of the county councils in future. However, that is beside the question; I content myself by asking the House of Commons to take some action to prevent a recurrence of scandals of this kind, which go to put an end to freedom of opinion and freedom of speech in Ireland. I beg to second the Motion which has been moved by the honourable Member for Kilkenny.


I understand that the resolution on which the right honourable Gentleman has commented does, in the first place, use some very strong language in regard to the speech of the honourable Member for Roscommon; and that it has, in the second place, threatened the honourable Member with some injury to the newspaper of which he is the proprietor. Sir, as regards the attack upon him and the abuse levelled at his speech, I presume that the honourable Member for Roscommon is no worse off than the majority of members of this House who are not fortunate enough to make speeches pleasing to everybody, and who are not uncommonly attacked by those whom they did not succeed in pleasing in language not at all Parliamentary in its character. The real gravamen of the charge, therefore, does not rest so much with the very unfortunate epithets in reply to the speech of the honourable Gentleman, It consists rather in the threat levelled at him in the course of his business, and I think there can be but one opinion on both sides of the House that any such threat is in the first place, I won't say a technical, but a breach of the privileges of this House, and in the second place is a very serious, scandal. It is a monstrous thing, no doubt, that because a man has in this House freely and honestly given vent to his opinion on one of the questions brought before it, he should be threatened in his business. This, as the honourable Gentleman himself has truly observed, is a form of that boycotting which has always been strenuously resisted on this side of the House, and I hope on the opposite side; and it is one of the most serious blots upon contemporary political methods in Ireland. But, Sir, while everybody agrees that the offence is a breach of our privileges, and while everybody feels that such threats are a serious infringement of the liberty of debate in this House, I think also there will be grave doubts as to whether it is wise to set in motion all that powerful machinery of Parliamentary censure upon those who have been guilty of this breach of privilege. I do not know whether the honourable Members desire to bring the Mullingar Board of Guardians, or the two gentlemen who proposed and seconded the resolution, to the Bar of the House to examine and inflict punishment upon them, but it does seem to me to be doing them too much honour to set in motion ail this elaborate machinery. I think that the mover and the seconder of the Motion this evening may well be content with a general expression of opinion on the subject without going further into the matter. They have commented, and I do not know that their language is too strong, upon the action of the Board of Guardians, and on the whole I should be very decidedly disposed to deprecate any further action on the part of honourable Members in the matter. I should treat these threats with the contempt which they deserve, and I should certainly not be disposed to press the matter further at the present time. I think that that would be the general sense of the House on the matter, though I freely admit that the action which this Board of Guardians has taken is one which is open to very grave censure, and it may lead to consequences even more serious.


Of course I am not entitled to speak again, but I may be allowed to say one word. As to the future action of the House I said nothing. The Resolution proposed by my honourable Friend simply declares that the proceeding of the Mullingar Board of Guardians is a breach of the privileges of this House, and I cannot understand why such a simple and obvious resolution should not be passed. The right honourable Gentleman asks me if I want to bring the Mullingar Guardians to the Bar. That depends upon circumstances. It depends upon the action they choose to take, and whether this House considers it to be a breach of privilege, and I therefore trust the House will pass the Resolution.

MR. DAVITT (Mayo, S.)

Mr. Speaker, I think, speaking as an Irish Member, that the honourable Member was quite justified in bringing this matter before the House, and I do not think that the terms of the Resolution of censure are too strong in condemnation of the attack by this Board of Guardians upon the honourable Member for South Roscommon. At the same time I wish to express the opinion, and I do so with all sincerity of conviction, Mr. Speaker, that there is not another public body in Ireland who would be capable of taking such strong and unwarrantable action with reference to the exercise of the rights of an Irish representative to express his views in this House. I would be ashamed of my fellow-countrymen if I thought that conduct so reprehensible as this could be followed by any other public body in Ireland. I trust that there will be a response from other public bodies in Ireland with reference to this matter, and that they will see to it that the honourable Member for South Roscommon, instead of being deprived of his daily bread for his honest discharge of duty in this House, will receive far more advertisements than he has ever received in his Life.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy)

I hope the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House will accept the Motion. I would point out to him that if the Resolution is passed, as I think it ought to be, no further Motion is necessary to-day. In the meantime probably the good sense of the Mullingar Board of Guardians will induce them to rescind the resolution and apologise to the honourable Member. If they will not do that then the House may take action.


Yes, Sir, I think there is something to be said in support of the view of the honourable Members opposite. I should deprecate at present putting in force all our cumbersome and antique machinery in dealing with this matter, and yet, perhaps, if the Motion were withdrawn it might lead to misconception on the part of members of this board. Perhaps the best course would be to express and put on record our views of the conduct of this Board of Guardians, and should necessity arise, the House may be obliged to take further action. In the meantime I think it would be better to record, I hope unanimously, the views of the House as to the conduct of this Board of Guardians.

The Resolution was then passed, only one Member calling out "No," which was not repeated on a challenge.