HL Deb 18 July 1845 vol 82 cc651-6
The Marquess of Clanricarde

presented a petition from magistrates, resident gentry, and inhabitants of the county of Leitrim, setting forth the disturbed condition of the county, and praying for the adoption of measures for the protection of life and property. The petition suggested that the law which granted compensation to be levied on the county or barony, in case of malicious injury being done to a particular description of property, should be extended to all kinds of property, and also to injury inflicted on the person. It appeared from the newspapers that 500l. had been awarded as compensation to the widow of Mr. Booth by the grand jury. He had not been aware that that could be done; but, if not, the law ought to be altered; it would impose a considerable check on such outrages, and be an inducement to the respectable neighbours to prevent crime or apprehend the murderer. The noble Marquess then said, that he would proceed to ask the Government, pursuant to notice, what course they meant to pursue with regard to Mr. Watson, a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant of the county of Antrim? It had been thought proper not to renew the Party Processions Act, which expired a few weeks ago; and on the 23rd of June a meeting was held in Lisburne, attended by 300 masters of Orange lodges, and presided over by Mr. Watson—a most respectable gentleman, and extremely popular in his neighbourhood, but whose conduct in his public and official capacity, must not therefore go unnoticed. Resolutions were passed at that meeting, and signed by him, to reorganize the Orange institutions in the county, and to meet On one of the July anniversaries, and march in procession to the parish church, where a sermon was to be preached on the occasion. Now, magistrates were dismissed very unceremoniously in 1843 for attending Repeal meetings or subscribing to the Repeal Association. At no one Repeal meeting had there been any serious affray, still less any loss of life; but this had not been the Case with the Orange meetings, with respect to which there had been over and over again cases in which magistrates had been called upon to act. He did not approve of the dismissal of the Repeal magistrates; he deemed it unconstitutional and unjust, and he believed at the time it would be one-sided; but, at any rate, it showed the wish of Government to discountenance Repeal and Repeal meetings. It was said that this was done because Parliament had disapproved the object of the Repeal meetings; but what did the Act which had just expired show, except that both Houses of Parliament and the Crown had serious objections to the Orange processions? The meetings in the one case also were held for the purpose of petitioning Parliament, but in the other case there was no such object. He had, however, deemed it unwise to dismiss the Repeal magistrates, because, in the first place, it gave countenance to the opinion that men acting as magistrates were liable to be influenced in their judical duties by their political opinions; and in the next place, it removed from the Bench those who held opinions in unison with the mass of the population, and was calculated to throw suspicion on the administration of justice. He feared that the Government had overlooked this gentleman, whose case was more flagrant than the others, and had taken no step on the information he had given that he was about to reorganize the Orange societies and the Orange processions. In a letter addressed to this gentleman by a noble Marquess (the Marquess of Londonderry), he in the strongest way deprecated the opinions advanced in the resolutions, and had given his reasons against the course proposed. What he now wanted to know was, whether the Government, after they had taken upon themselves the responsibility of doing away with the Act, which applied only to one party, had made any arrangements in its stead — whether they had paid the same attention as the noble Marquess to this matter — whether they had taken any steps to rebuke this gentleman for what he had done in reference to these proceedings, and had dismissed him from the commission of the peace? His formal question was, whether there had been any correspondence with Mr. Watson, or any steps taken to remove him from the commission of the peace, in consequence of what took place at Lisburne on the 23rd of June last?

Lord Stanley

was sorry the noble Marquess had thought it necessary to enter into any discussion of various events which had no material bearing on the present case. He regretted that the noble Marquess should have brought under the consideration of their Lordships the conduct of the Government with regard to those who had promoted or attended Repeal meetings; and he hoped it would not be thought disrespectful if he declined to follow him into preceding events, or into the question of the repeal of an Act which the noble Marquess admitted to have been one-sided. He would not, however, conceal from the noble Marquess, or from the House, that Her Majesty's Government had seen with the deepest regret, and, he would add, with no inconsiderable disappointment, the manner in which the Orange societies had, with ill-judgment, so imprudently and so recklessly acted: neglecting altogether due caution, and forgetful of the friendly spirit in which Her Majesty's Government had withdrawn the prohibition of the Act of Parliament, and disregarding also the admonitions addressed to them in every direction by those among themselves who were entitled to the greatest confidence and respect. It was a melancholy picture of the state of Ireland, that so large a portion of the population of both parties, or rather factions, should be bent so much on exasperating and aggravating those animosities which it had been the object of that and of the preceding Governments to allay. So long as both parties in Ireland persisted in their determination to treat with hostility their opponents, it was a hopeless effort for the Government or the State to improve the condition of a country torn by this unhappy violence. Her Majesty's Government, he repeated, had seen with the deepest regret what had recently taken place. He would not vindicate or palliate the course which had been pursued; but he ventured to remind the noble Marquess, that the fact of processions of one description being unattended with any violence, and that processions of another description led to affrays, did not show that any greater amount of blame was attributable to the latter party, because for an affray to take place there must be two parties. The processions of the Repealers, however aggravating and annoying the provocation might be, had been borne in silence, while the Orange processions had not met with similar forbearance on the part of their political opponents; so that the blame was not wholly on one party because the processions of that party led to affrays which the others did not. He would not now discuss the merits of the particular case which was now in a course of judicial investigation: he only wished he might express a hope that in the course of this investigation all matters would receive an impartial, as well as a judicial inquiry With respect to this gentleman—if the facts were as reported to Her Majesty's Government—they would deeply regret that a gentleman, in other respects of high worth and respectability, should have been so misguided as to lend his name and his character—and the higher the name the greater was the evil—to this display of party feeling and animosity. The noble Marquess, however, was wrong in supposing that no steps had been taken by Her Majesty's Government with respect to this gentleman. He would not say that he would be removed from the commission of the peace; but the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland had directed the attention of the Lord Lieutenant to the proceeding; subsequently there had been communications between his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Lord Chancellor of Ireland on the subject, and he had reason to believe, though he was not certain of the fact, that the gentleman had been called upon to explain, and that upon consideration the matter would be dealt with as should be deemed best. He trusted that the noble Marquess would not call for a premature declaration of the course which Her Majesty's Government would pursue. The subject had not escaped their attention; they had viewed the occurrences with the deepest regret, and he hoped the noble Marquess did not express his own supposition when he doubted whether Her Majesty's Government would act with anything except impartiality with respect to similar offences committed by different bodies.

The Marquess of Londonderry

said, that with respect to the character of this individual, for a number of years he had occupied the highest position in the county, and that he possessed great popularity, and that up to this period, though he was a party man, his conduct as a magistrate had been most proper. He confessed that he had seen the resolutions passed at the meeting in question with regret, and had written his strong impressions against them. His noble Friend (the Earl of Roden) and others had also urged the Orange societies to take heed, as it was very easy for Parliament to re-enact the law against them; and he must say he did not believe that the great majority of the Orangemen, or the Protestants of Ireland, had taken part in these proceedings. The excuse of this gentleman was, that 15,000 men had marched in peace and tranquillity, and there had been no disturbance. This was in his own neighbourhood. With regard to the occurrences at Armagh, it was a lamentable story, and he was strongly of opinion that there were errors on both sides. He asked the Government to consider whether it would be wise and just to punish this venerable gentleman; he had been mistaken, but it would do mischief in that part of the country if anything were done against him. He believed that the speech of the noble Lord would do more good than any dismissal of magistrates, or than any resort to violent measures. For an individual so respectable great allowance should be made, though he had been misguided. In his opinion, if they would leave Ireland to herself she would right herself better than if they ripped up every occurrence, irritating one person, without conciliating the good will of the other. He had been the consistent friend of Ireland throughout; he trusted that he would always remain so; and he had given to these societies his best counsel and advice.

Subject at an end.

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