HL Deb 09 February 1843 vol 66 cc259-61
Earl Fortescue

said, before he put the question, of which he had given notice, perhaps he might be allowed to state, very shortly, to such of their Lordships as were not present, the circumstances which induced him to trouble them on this subject. At the spring assizes of last year, in the county of Armagh, certain persons were prosecuted and convicted of ribbon offences, and in the course of the trial, one of the witnesses for the prosecution named Hagan, stated in the course of his evidence, that he had been apprehended himself on a charge of ribbonism, in the August of the preceding year; that he had been let out on heavy bail, and had been at large from September 1841, to February 1842. He stated that during that period he attended meetings, wrote ribbon letters, and, in short, used every effort to entrap persons into the ribbon plot. And, he added, that all this had been done with the knowledge and approval of the provost and magistrates of Sligo. When he made this statement, the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) declared his intention to institute an inquiry into the facts deposed to by this man. The noble Duke added, that while he entirely disbelieved the man's statement, he felt (what every body who knew the noble Duke must be certain of) the greatest abhorence and reprobation of any such practice. It was his belief, the noble Duke said, that an inquiry had been set on foot by the Irish Government, into the conduct of the magistrates: and he was persuaded that if they had been found to have sanctioned such a practice, they would be visited with the severest censnre and reprobation. The question which he wished to put, was, whether this inquiry had been made, and what was the result.

The Duke of Wellington

The facts were exactly as stated by the noble Lord opposite. A person named Hagan, who had been imprisoned, was a witness. He was not imprisoned, however, on a charge of ribbonism, but on that of illegal combination, to prevent another man from working. When in prison he gave in- formation to the provost and magistrates with respect to ribbonism. He was allowed to go at large on bail for the offence of combination. It was certainly true, that he gave the evidence stated by the noble Lord, and in consequence thereof an inquiry had been instituted; but the officers who conducted the inquiry, and the highest legal authority in Ireland, were of opinion, that there was no foundation for the charge against the provost of Sligo and the other magistrates. One of the magistrates had been dismissed, but for conduct distinct from that charged by the noble Lord. There was, no doubt that the magistrates had had no cognizance of the conduct of this man, nor had they given any encouragement to it.

Earl Fortescue

was sure that the whole of their Lordships must be extremely happy to hear that the facts sworn to by Hagan had been satisfactorily cleared up. He begged to move that the return of outrages reported by the Irish constabulary for July 1842, which was ordered by the House on the 8th of last August, but not delivered, be delivered forthwith; and that the like returns for each subsequent month, to the present time, be laid before the House, and be continued to the close of the Session: he thought this would give every information on the subject. He begged to say one or two words on another subject. When he addressed their Lordships at the close of the last Session he felt it his duty to animadvert upon an ex officio prosecution which had been commenced against an editor of a newspaper of Ireland by the then Attorney-general, for a libel on the Government. Since that time, the lamented death of the late Master of the Rolls had removed the Attorney-general of last year from that office to be Master of the Rolls, and he could wish that learned judge no greater success than that he should reach the reputation for impartiality, integrity, learning, temper, and all the qualificatons that adorn the best judge, such as distinguished and will ever hallow the memory of Sir M. O'Loghlin. He had learnt with great satisfaction, that the first act of the new Attorney-general had been to accept an apology, instead of bringing up for judgment the editor of the paper convicted on the occasion to which he had alluded. He begged to offer his tribute of thanks to the Government, as well as his learned Friend, for this act; for, in his opinion, he thought the course adopted would be more likely to keep the liberty of the press within the due bounds of fair political discussion, than the highest penalty which an Attorney-general could call for, or the severest sentence which a judge could inflict.

Motion agreed to.

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