HL Deb 08 August 1842 vol 65 cc1112-20
Earl Fortescue

in moving pursuant to notice for a return of outrages reported by the Constabulary in Ireland, for the last month, begged to assure their Lordships that nothing but a strong sense of public duty would have induced him to trespass on their attention at this late period of the Session, when they must all be naturally anxious to bring its labours to a close. He might however, he thought, claim both for his noble Friend and himself, the credit of not having offered any vexatious opposition to the measures of her Majesty's Ministers. But whenever questions relating to the Government of Ireland had been introduced, they had always been ready to give to the head of that Government the fullest credit for the purity of his motives and the rectitude of his intentions. His observations on the present occasion should be in the same spirit, his object was not to throw blame on the Irish Government, but rather to guard them against the suspicion of tolerating practices, which, if what had been stated respecting them was true, were no less disgraceful to their authors, than cruel to the people and destructive of all social confidence and good faith. With respect to the particular subject of his motion; he must say, that he had always looked with great interest at the Constabulary returns, knowing the care and accuracy with which they were made out under the superintendence of that able and excellent officer colonel Macgregor, and he regarded them, therefore, as pretty sure indications of the temper and disposition of the mass of the people. In the two years and a half, during which he was at the head of the Irish Government, he had had the satisfaction of seeing a gradual reduction of crime, he wished he could say that this had continued to the present time, but while in the first six months of 1841, the number of outrages of all sorts reported by the Constabulary was 2,449, in the corresponding period of the present year they amounted to 3,551, and in twelve classes of more serious outrages upon person and property selected from the general return, the Number during the first half year of 1841 was 897, while in the same period of this year they amounted to 1,166, showing an increase in these graver offences of 269. He did not make this matter of charge against the Government; as he well knew that outrages might sometimes occur from causes which no Government could wholly prevent, but if as he believed the diminution of crime had been in great measure produced by an increased confidence in the administration of the laws, it surely was fair matter for consideration whether anything had lately occurred to abate that confidence. Now the first act of the present Government was to dismiss eight stipendiary magistrates, on the ground that their duties could be as well performed by the local magistracy. That he did not consider a wise measure. The great majority of the resident gentry of Ireland differed in politics and religion from the mass of the people, who on that account would not feel the same confidence in their administration of the laws, as the people here do in that of the magistracy of this country, even if the Irish gentry were as a body, which he believed they were not, as judicious and temperate in the discharge of their magisterial duties as the English. It was therefore important to have paid functionaries in particular districts, who would assist, and at the same time be some check upon the unpaid local magistracy. And he felt sure, that where that was the case the people had greater confidence in the administration of justice. The removal of the eight stipendiary magistrates was therefore, in his opinion, an ill advised step, neither did he think that ex-officio prosecutions by the Attorney - general against newspapers for calling in question the manner in which juries were selected, was the best mode of showing the people that those selections were fairly made; more especially when the judge who tried the case, in his charge to the jury, laid down doctrines respecting the law of libel utterly subversive of every-thing like fair discussion by the press, and described the publication under trial, in terms partaking more of the eager vehemence of the advocate, than of that grave and deliberate caution which ought always to mark addresses from the Bench. But on these questions there might be difference of opinion, and the majority of their Lordships might possibly consider, that the Government, the Attorney-ge neral, and the Chief Justice were right and that lie was wrong, but in that to which he was about to call their attention, there could be no two opinions in the mind of any honest and right thinking man. At the late Assizes for Armagh four men were tried for Ribbonism, found guilty, and sentenced to seven years transportation—with the sentence he had nothing to do. It might be quite just for aught he knew, but there was a circumstance on the trial which he felt bound to notice. A witness named Hagan, stated in his examination, that he had been arrested on a charge of Ribbonism, and was released on heavy hail, and was at large from September to February. That during that period he was employed in concocting Ribbon passes and other documents; that he had scattered above sixty of these through the country, and had made several Ribbonmen; that all lie was doing was known to the magistrates; that he had told it himself to the Provost of Sligo, and that his canvassing for Ribbon-men was under the direction of magistrates. Now this was either true or false. If true, the magistrates who could so act were utterly unworthy to hold their commissions, but if this miscreant's account were false, what reliance could be placed on the rest of his evidence? What he (Lord Fortescue) wished the Government to do was to institute a strict investigation into the matter, and if the magistrates should have been found to have acted as described, to visit them with its severest displeasure. If they were innocent, it was due to them to have the calumny exposed, but most of all, it was essential for the Government to mark their reprobation of practices which, if supposed to be tolerated or connived at by them, would utterly destroy all confidence in the administration of the law, and would render Ireland once more a prey to that system of outrage and bloodshed from which she had been for some time happily exempt. The noble Lord concluded by movingߞ That there be laid before the House a return of outrages reported by the Irish constabulary during the month of June last.

The Duke of Wellington

had no objection to the production of the returns which the noble Earl required, nor should he have thought it necessary to say a word on such a motion if the noble Earl had not thought proper to draw conclusions from the comparative number of offences which appeared on the face of the returns already made, for the first six months of the present year. The noble Earl had drawn from those returns conclusions against the system of Government carried on by the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland and by the noble Lord the Irish Secretary, and also against some highly respectable and respected persons now filling the highest judicial situations in that country. He thought that the recollection of former discussions on this subject might have retailed to the mind of the noble Earl circumstances which might have occasioned a difference in the amount of crimes reported by the constabulary in different years, without the necessity of calling in question the system of Government in Ireland, and above all, the system of administration of the law by persons at the head of the criminal justice in that country. Admit it to be true that there were more outrages committed in the first six months of 1842 than in those of 1841, at least that it so appeared by the constabulary returns, still it might happen that the constabulary were more active, and discovered more of those offences in one year than in another. Surely it would not be fair to omit so important a consideration as this, when a noble Lord was about to cast blame on the Government and on the administration of justice. As to what took place at the trial before Lord Chief Justice Pennefather at the assizes at Armagh, all he could say was, that from all he knew of the high character of the learned individual who filled the situation of Chief Justice, he did not think that on the bench in either country there was one more distinguished for his great ability and strict impartiality in the administration of the law. It was not therefore to be supposed that in almost the outset of his career as Lord Chief Justice he would deliver a charge more in the spirit of an advocate than a judge, he would not say more on that point, but that it formed no ground for the alleged increase of crime in 1842, as compared with 1841. As to the witness Hagan, he had made inquiry into the case, and learned that his testimony was supported by that of others who were credible persons, and that the parties on trial had been convicted by the fullest and most satisfactory evidence. The noble Earl had adverted to the conduct of the person who had been admitted as King's evidence, and who stated that the magistrates knew of his conduct in endeavouring to induce others to become Ribandmen, and that they encouraged him in such proceedings, and that the Provost of Sligo had also given him similar encouragement. He had been informed that at the trial the counsel for the accused had made a similar charge against the Government, hut that before the trial closed the learned Gentleman withdrew it, finding, as he stated, that it had no foundation whatever. The charge against the Provost of Sligo and against the magistrates was equally groundless. In fact, it appeared that when the provost released the man Hagan, he told him in the presence of several magistrates to avoid going again into such society as he bad mixed with. There was no more ground for charging the magistrates with any knowledge or encouragement of this man's conduct than there was for charging the Government. If any magistrates could he guilty of such conduct as receiving information of this kind, and employing such a person to get it, and to induce others to become Ribandmen, they would deserve and would receive the severest marks of the displeasure of Government. Nothing could be more base or more unworthy the character of a man or a magistrate than such a proceeding; but in proportion as a charge was severe so should the inquiry into it be strict. He understood that the Government of Ireland had directed inquiries to be made, in order to ascertain the facts on this subject; and they would take due notice of the conduct of the magistrates, if it had been such as the noble Earl described.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

did not understand the noble Earl to say, that the evidence given at the trial of the Ribandmen inculpated the Government; but it did, to a' certain degree, the Provost of Sligo and the magistrates. The witness said, the magistrates were aware of his conduct. This witness might not be worthy of credit; and it was not for him to say, that the magistrates were guilty, as their inculpation only rested on the testimony of this individual. The noble Duke said, it was quite impossible that the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, bearing so high a character as he did, could have made a charge such as described by the noble Earl. He had only become acquainted with the charge by the usual means of public information; and, if correctly reported, he thought a greater misfortune could not befal that learned individual's reputation, no matter what his previous reputation might have been, than to have his character, as a judge, connected with that charge, as reported in the public newspapers.

The Earl of Wicklow

knew nothing of the case, but it appeared an inconvenient and unjust proceeding to throw out imputations of this kind, founded on mere newspaper report, against one of the most able and learned judges on the Irish bench, who was charged with being a party, by his proceedings, to the increase of crime in Ireland. If the noble Earl, before commenting on the learned judge's charge, had inquired whether the report were correct—[Earl Fortescue: " Hear."] Then he on derstood the noble Earl had made previous inquiry; but the noble Marquess certainly rested his accusation on newspaper report. With respect to the witness Hagan, it should be recollected that his evidence was corroborated; and when he said that the magistrates were aware of his conduct, did he mean that they were aware of it during the whole course of his proceedings, or only at the time of the trial? Of course they must have been aware of it at the time of the trial, and this constituted no charge against the magistrates whatever. He could not approve of the reason given by the noble Earl for complaining of the dismissal of some stipendiary magistrates, especially when he considered the high position which the noble Earl had held, and might again occupy in Ireland. The noble Earl said, that the local magistrates had not the confidence of the people, because they were not of the same politics or religion as the bulk of the population. It followed from this that the noble Earl would appoint stipendiary magistrates on account of their politics and religion. Now, he had had experience for a quarter of a century as a magistrate, and he did not believe that the Catholic people valued a magistrate either for being a Roman Catholic or professing liberal politics; but he had invariably found them place confidence in individuals whose high station or great property pointed them out as fit to exercise the magisterial functions.

The Earl of Glengall

said that the increase of crime in Ireland began before the late Government went out of office; it had been regularly increasing since 1840. In that year the number of crimes, according to the constabulary retorts, was 4,677; and in 1841, during a great portion of which year the late Government was in office, the number had increased to 5,360 That class of crimes to which the noble Earl had alluded, had also increased in 1841, as compared with the amount in 1840. In 1841 the elections took place, and some increase of offences at that time might naturally be expected, but a vast number of these were not comprised in the constabulary returns. During the last election for Tipperary, several persons were wounded and killed; but the wounded were concealed, and the killed were buried. After such turbulence, occasioned by the elections, it was no wonder that the next year's returns should show an increase of crime. The late Government had boasted of possessing the confidence of the people; but they certainly never enjoyed it to the extent they wished it to be supposed. He would substantiate this statement by quoting some passages from a speech delivered by Dr. M'Hale, Titular Archbishop of Tuam, delivered on the hustings at Mayo when he nominated Mr. Browne. Dr. M'Hale " leaned", it was reported, " with a heavy hand on his quondam allies, the expiring Whigs, who," he declares, Are only less bad than the Tories, and who were checked in manifesting the exuberance of their hatred to a religion to the political influence of whose professors they owed their own power, were artful enough to keep up the cry against their political opponents, and to justify their own political profligacy, by a reference to the worst tyranny of the Tories. It would seem as if they were justified in doing evil because the Tories had done or might do worse; and whilst they pointed the attention and the fears of the Roman Catholics to the battering-ram with which the Conservatives would heat down our faith, they were insidiously working the engines of the mine, And again, The unfortunate Whigs overshot the mark. Had they asserted the interests of the empire, whilst they had yet violated no pledge and stood firm in the confidence of the country, they might have gone out of office with general regret, but they would soon have been triumphantly brought back on the shoulders of the people. Instead of that they forgot their plighted faith; they ministered to individual cupidity, instead of consulting the public interest. They created stipendiary magistrates, and inspectors, and commissioners, and chiefs and sub-chiefs of police, and a whole host of unnecessary functionaries, increasing the local taxation of the people, and so exhausted the confidence of the great influential masses of the nation, that they were on the brink of expiring of a political consumption. They deserved their fate; it would be a lesson to all Succeeding Administrations. Let it not be imagined that it is the dispensation of a well-merited patronage that demands animadversion. Were places conferred as the reward of political principles or national spirit, it would be expected that those principles and that spirit should be more manifest in proportion to the extended range of their operation. But when you find the place-hunters ridiculing in office the very principles by which they sought preferment, we must infer that the place was conferred, not as a reward for their patriotism, but as a bribe for their apostacy. Nay, more, when of these Irish Catholics, of very flexible political integrity, the least possible number is chosen for office, just such a number as may be sufficient to keep the expectants from open mutiny, whilst the English and the Scotch, the Tory and the Radical, are taken to the high places of trust and emolument, is it not evident that the boasted justice Of the Whigs towards Ireland is only the crumbs which they cast to the importunity of selfish suitors, and that the little of benevolence which they have displayed towards this country is entirely ascribable to the spirit of its people, whilst their bigotry and their tyranny are all their own? The petty and vindictive religious annoyances of the Whigs will be at an end. None but a peddling miserable Ministry could devise such expedients for keeping up the ascendancy of the Protestant establishment. To that anti-national object their labours and their vigils were chiefly consecrated, and the last act almost of their political existence—the exaction of the million from those who had already suffered such long and harassing tithe martyrdom, notwithstanding repeated assurances of its remission—fully attests the cordial devotion of those pretended friends to that very establishment to which Ireland owes all its misery. It is not only to our faith, but also to our nation, they marked their enmity; and, whatever department you cast your eyes on, you are sure to meet groups of aliens as the tenants of the principal places. You must, whether the Minister of the day be Whig or Tory, rely on your own energies and your own intelligence. We have been oppressed of old by the one—we have been recently deceived by the others—but in future it will be our duty to watch, and suffer not your credulity to be betrayed by hollow promises, nor force to trample on your constitutional rights. Those were the opinions of Dr. M'Hale, with respect to the administration of the Whigs, and they confirmed his own view, that the present was better than the late Government for Ireland.

Lord Fitzgerald

did not rise to defend any part of the transaction, but he thought that the assurance given by the noble Duke, that the assistance of Government would be given and would be followed up fairly and honestly, ought to be satisfactory. He would merely observe, that if Mr. Fawcett and the other magistrates were guilty, so was Mr. O'Brien.

Earl Fortescue

rejoiced that his having brought this subject forward had elicited the declaration of the noble Duke, which was honourable to the Government, and would be gratifying to the country.

Motion agreed to.

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