HL Deb 29 March 1838 vol 42 cc33-9
The Marquess of Westmeath

rose to submit the motion of which he had given notice. The circumstances under which he was induced to bring it forward were these. Some time since, a gentleman named Shiel was appointed to the magistracy of the county of Westmeath. Previous to his appointment, he, (the Marquess of Westmeath), as the lieutenant of the county, was applied to, to know whether it was his opinion that Mr. Shiel should be appointed. He replied, that he saw no reason whatever for the appointment of that Gentleman—that the returns which had been furnished showed that the business of the petty sessions was properly attended, that the number of magistrates already appointed was amply sufficient, and that Mr. Shiel was not in a situation in life, that could in any way entitle him to expect to be placed in the commission of the peace in a county in which there were a great many gentlemen of rank and property. Notwithstanding the opinion so expressed by him, Mr. Shiel was placed in the commission of the peace. Since the last Session of Parliament, and shortly after he returned to Ireland, the general election took place, a considerable excitement was expected in the county of Westmeath, the Irish Government ordered a number of cavalry, and an additional police force to remain in the county during the election. As had been anticipated, considerable excitement, and some disturbances took place whilst the election was going on. Mr. Shiel was then in the commission of the peace. He was now about to narrate circumstances which he knew only from common report, the Irish Government having refused to furnish him with any information upon the subject. In the month of September, several magistrates in Westmeath stated to him, that this Mr. Shiel had been found in a common public house, at a late hour of the night, on or about the 8th of August last, in the midst of a tumultuous meeting; that he was detected there by the police, and the resident magistrate, by whom they were accompanied; that the police were very ill used; that the chief constable was not only opposed, but roughly assaulted in the execution of his duty; and that the resident magistrate himself was extremely ill-used. Upon hearing this statement, he made as many inquiries as he could, to lead him to the truth of the transaction. He applied to the resident magistrate himself, from whom, however, he obtained but very little information. But the circumstance became so extremely notorious, that a communication was made to the Government upon it, and, as the conduct of the magistrate had been such as to disgrace the Bench, he supposed that some immediate steps would be taken. Nothing, however, was done; wherefore, in the month of December he felt it his duty again to interfere; and between the 7th and 28th of that month, he addressed several letters to Mr. Rowan, the resident magistrate, and also to the proper officers acting immediately under the Government in Dublin, detailing what he had heard, and requesting to be informed whether the statement he had received was correct or not. To some of these letters, very vague and unsatisfactory answers were returned; of others, and especially of the last, no notice whatever was taken. The disgrace therefore, which Mr. Shiel had brought upon the Bench in Ireland still continued, Now, in order to bear out the imputation which he hereby made upon the Irish Government, he should refer for a moment to the opinions delivered by the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne), then Secretary of State for the Home Department, upon the introduction of the Lieutenant of Counties (Ireland) Bill. Upon that occasion, the noble Viscount pointed out, as one of the great advantages of the Bill, the accurate information which it would enable the Government to obtain, through the medium of the Lieutenant, with respect to the character and conduct of every person whom it might be proposed to place upon the Bench of Magistrates. Lord Stanley dwelt much upon the same point, in recommending the same measure to the House of Commons. The recommendation of the Lieutenant was, in every instance, to be strictly attended to. This was the great advantage of the law. In the instance to which he was now referring, the recommendation of the Lieutenant had been wholly disregarded. Both Mr. Jephson, a most respectable Member of the House of Commons, and a supporter of the present Government, and Mr. Spring Rice, a leading member of that Government, had expressed opinions of a similar character. He did not, of course, deny the abstract right of the Lord Chancellor, to appoint magistrates, without the recommendation of the Lieutenants of counties, but he doubted whether in this country, in its better days at least, it had ever been the practice to appoint magistrates merely for the purpose of exercising an abstract right, or for the mere amusement of making magistrates. In the present case, the appointment was a most improper one, and the Government having failed to account for it, the only view that remained of the transaction was, that it was intended to keep this gentleman in the commission of the peace, let his conduct be what it might to defy public opinion, and insult the other magistrates of the county. He was in hopes that the subject having been thus brought under the notice of the first minister of the Crown, that noble Lord would deem the matter worthy of a full inquiry. The noble Marquess concluded by moving for— A Copy of Correspondence between the office of Chief Secretary of Ireland, and the Marquess of Westmeath, relative to the removal of Sir Richard Nagle, Bart., from the Lieutenancy of the county of Westmeath, and his re-appointment thereto; also a copy of correspondence relative to Sir R. Nagle's removal and restoration to the commission of the peace; and to the appointment of—Shiel, Esq., to the commission of the peace; ordered 11th July.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

was quite ready to admit, that on the occasion to which the noble Marquess alluded, it very clearly appeared that there had been some not very proper conduct on the part of some parties. He could assure the noble Marquess, however, that the government of Ireland would not suffer such conduct to pass over without full inquiry, and he could inform the noble Marquess further, that such an inquiry was in the course of being made. In the correspondence which had in the first instance taken place on the subject, the most conflicting statements had appeared, and in consequence of these conflicting statements, the Lord-Lieutenant had determined to institute a full inquiry into all the cirumstances of the affair. That inquiry had been delayed in consequence of the necessary absence from Ireland of the Member for King's county, but on that hon. Gentleman's return to Ireland, the inquiry would doubtless be proceeded with, with as little delay as possible, and when the inquiry was terminated there would not be the slightest objection to lay all the documents connected with the subject before the House. Under these circumstances he conceived the noble Marquess would think it unnecessary to persevere in his motion.

The Earl of Wicklow

was of opinion, considering that the noble Marquess's application on the subject was made so far back as August last, that there had been ample time for making the fullest inquiry. The noble Earl observed that the system of taking the recommendations of county Members should be acted upon with great caution, and in such a manner as to relieve the lieutenant of the county to which the magistrate was appointed, from all responsibility. He hoped that the inquiry would be prosecuted with as little delay as possible.

Lord Plunket

had no knowledge of the particulars of this case; no complaint or statement had been made to him on the subject, though he might observe that if there had, he should have required the statement, involving the character of a magistrate, to have been verified on oath, and if any inquiry were pending, this would have been with him a reason for not proceeding in the matter till the inquiry was terminated. He had nothing to say in reference to the particulars of this case, but he was thoroughly convinced, from his general knowledge of the noble Lord, of the anxious desire on the part of the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland to pay the utmost attention to every complaint, brought before him, and to do uniform justice. He had, however, a general recollection of the appointment of a Mr. Shiel to the magistracy some two years back, and his idea was that Mr. Shiel had come recommended to him by the Lord-Lieutenant as a person who, in the opinion of the executive government, was proper to be appointed to the magistracy. And he would frankly tell the noble Marquess that he held it to be his bounden duty, when any representation was made to him by the executive government of the propriety of appointing an individual, to comply with that recommendation, but he also felt it to be his duty in such or similar cases of recommendation always to communicate with the lieutenant of the county to which the magistrate was proposed to be appointed, previous to the appointment being ratified. In this particular case, if he remembered right, he had communicated with the noble Marquess, as lieutenant of the county, stating the recommendation which had been made by the executive government of Mr. Shiel, and inquiring whether the noble Marquess had any specific objection to make to the appointment? In answer to this communication the noble Marquess had stated no specific objection to Mr. Shiel, but had merely generally stated, that he saw no necessity for any additional magistrate being appointed for the county. On this point he (Lord Plunket) had conceived that the executive government was the best judge, and he had consequently ratified the appointment, no specific objection to the individual having been stated. About a month since, however, having occasion to communicate with the noble Marquess in reference to the appointment of another magistrate, the noble Marquess first took occasion to advert to the complaint against Mr. Shiel; but he (Lord Plunket) had by no means felt himself justified, upon a mere cursory remark like this, to call upon Mr. Shiel for an explanation until the whole truth of the allegations made against him had been fully inquired into. There was no duty more painful to a person holding the situation which he (Lord Plunket) held, than that which involved the removal of magistrates. There was no material difference of opinion between him and the noble Marquess as to the course to be pursued in the appointment of magistrates; and he could safely say, that in no case since he held the great seal had he refused to act on the recommendation of a lieutenant of a county; and in cases where the recommendation proceeded from other quarters, however respectable, he had invariably felt it to be his duty to communicate with the lieutenant of the county as to the fitness of the party recommended, though, of course nothing short of a well-founded objection to the individual would be admitted. It was in no respect imperative on the Lord Chancellor to adopt the objections of the lieutenant of a county, unless they met with the sanction of his own conscientious judgment. He (Lord Plunket) could or himself safely say, that he had in every instance discharged this painful and very responsible branch of his duties to the best of his judgment, and with the most conscientious feelings. He could assure the noble Earl that he had never derived any sort of amusement from the exercise of this abstract right, whatever amusement the noble Earl might derive from opposing the appointments. He could safely say, that he had in no case given way to party feelings; he had appointed no person whom he did not conceive to be fit for the situation. The noble Marquess had, besides, charged the Irish government with being actuated by political motives in their selection of assistant barristers. This was a charge which ought not to be lightly made. He was prepared to state, that in no case had the Lord-Lieutenant appointed an assistant barrister without consulting him, and he would take on himself to assert that every one of those assistant barristers had been appointed in the most judicious manner, and and without any party feelings. They were men roost valuable for their talents—most reputable, and of the strictest integrity, and had discharged their onerous duties most ably and impartially.

The Earl of Devon

hoped, that no long delay would take place in prosecuting this inquiry, which noblemen on both sides of the House, who had heard the statements made by the noble Marquess, must feel to be imperatively called for. No person had a more unfeigned respect for the noble and learned Lord who spoke last than he had, or was more satisfied that that would be done rightly which the noble and learned Lord had taken upon his own responsibility; but he had to express his regret that an officer placed in the responsible and highly honourable situation of Lord Chancellor of Ireland should have deemed it fit to state, that if the executive Government recommended a person as a magistrate, he held it to be imperative on him to ratify the appointment.

Lord Plunket

said, that what he had stated, or at any rate meant to state, was, that, retaining the responsibility of the appointments, if the chief executive minister of the country recommended to him, as Lord Chancellor, a person as fit to be appointed a magistrate, he felt it to be his duty either to appoint that person to the situation, or himself to resign his office. Of course, nothing would induce him to appoint a person proved to be unfit; and he would repeat, that he had invariably communicated with the lieutenant of the county in each case. In the instance of Mr. Sheil no specific objection had been made to the individual; there was merely a general opinion of the noble Marquess that there was already a sufficient number of magistrates in the county.

The Earl of Devon

did not see in what way the noble and learned Lord's explanation cleared up the point. All he wished to say, however, was, that the noble and learned Lord appeared to give too much weight to the recommendations of the executive government. It was not said, that the noble and learned Lord ratified the appointment of persons whom he deemed unfit; but the question was, how far steps had been taken in each case to ascertain the merits of the parties?

The Marques of Headfort

bore testimony that in his county the noble and learned Lord had made his appointments to the magistracy from among individuals distinguished by their respectability and talents, and not from party motives.

The Marquess of Westmeath

was by no means satisfied with the attempt at explanation on the part of the noble and learned Lord and the noble Marquess. No satisfactory reason had been given for refusing the papers. The evident object in view being a wish to save the gentleman whose conduct had been called in question, and who ought to be removed from the commission of the peace. He would not divide the House, but he would not withdraw his motion.

Motion negatived.