HL Deb 06 December 1847 vol 95 cc675-96

LORD FARNHAM, seeing the noble Lord the Lord President of the Council in his place, rose to put the questions of which he had given notice, in reference to the recent denunciatory speeches said to have been delivered by Roman Catholic priests in Ireland, having a tendency to excite the people to the commission of crime, and which had been in some instances immediately followed by the perpetration of murder. In justification of the course he was about to pursue, he would, in the first place, take the liberty of mentioning certain facts in connexion with the subject, and of quoting from certain of the speeches to which he referred. When he should have done so, he thought their Lordships would concur with him that he had made out a case which perfectly justified him in putting the questions of which he had given notice, and in entertaining a hope that he should receive a favourable answer from Her Majesty's Government. In proposing these questions, however, which he conceived to be most important, he must disclaim altogether being influenced by any unfriendly feeling towards the Government; for he begged to assure them that no individual could be less disposed to put them to unnecessary inconvenience, or to throw any obstacle in the course of the arduous duties which they had to perform with reference to Ireland, than he should be. At the same time, also, he begged to disclaim any intention or wish to make an attack upon the body of Roman Catholic priesthood of Ireland. He would admit that there were many most admirable individuals in that body, and he knew no better or more honourable men than some of those whose names he should have to submit to their Lordships. He had in his own neighbourhood invariably received the most valuable assistance from them in relieving the poor; and he confidently expected that if the crimes which were prevalent in that neighbourhood two years ago should again become rife, he should receive from many the most cordial co-operation in any measures which he as a resident gentleman, never shrinking, he trusted, from his duty, should always be anxious to render to Her Majesty's Government. With reference to the conduct of the Roman Catholic priests, he would begin by calling their Lordships' attention to a passage which he had as much pleasure in reading as he was sure their Lordships would have in hearing. It was an extract from an address of a Roman Catholic prelate (the Rev. Dr. Ryan) from the altar of a chapel in the county of Limerick:— If the people of this country had not fallen back to a state of wickedness and depravity, and forgotten in their vices their Christian obligations, how is it possible that in a land like Ireland, blessed with fertility, glorious in the produce of nature, and ample in its natural resources, the poorer classes should be steeped in such wretchedness and misery? The land is in a state of wildness, while the occupiers and labourers indulge in wickedness and depravity. These were sentiments which should proceed from the mouth of a Christian. He had also the satisfaction of referring their Lordships to another fact. Within the last week that excellent man, the Rev. Father Mathew, had addressed some thousands (in Tipperary, he believed, or at all events in some place where crime was raging), and in the most forcible language had denounced murder, had cautioned the people against being led away by designing persons into the commission of so atrocious a crime, and had warned them of the consequences which, though they might not overtake them here, would be sure to await them in another world. Their Lordships were probably aware of the great influence possessed by the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland over the people. In most cases taken from their body, residents amongst them, and endeared to them by the many acts of kindness which they had the opportunity of showing, they commanded the love, the confidence, and the esteem of the people. There was another power also possessed by the Church, which made the Roman Catholic priest even more powerful still. The priest was invested with the power of confessing, of giving absolution, and of administering extreme unction. This gave him immense power, so that if he should be an evil-disposed man the mischief he might do would be infinitely more in proportion than the well-disposed could effect. He would now submit to their Lordships speeches from priests of a far different stamp from those to whom he had as yet referred. He should first give two instances from speeches delivered by Roman Catholic priests from the platforms of public meetings, and then he should quote from their addresses from the altar of God. The first speech was that of Archdeacon Laffan, delivered at a public meeting at Cashel, on the 14th of November, when the country was in the greatest state of alarm—when every loyal person, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, was exposed to danger—when murder of the most atrocious character was rife—and when a murderous attack had just been made upon one of the most valued and respectable men in that part of the country. Under such circumstances, Archdeacon Laffan, in seconding a resolution, said— In doing so he rose with a feeling of deep sensation. He looked around him and he saw an assemblage of his brother Tipperary men—the good and the noble-hearted, though, perhaps, excitable Tipperary men—who were called by the Englishmen murderers. The Saxon scoundrel, with his bellyful of Irish meat, could very well afford to call his poor, honest, starving fellow-countrymen savages and assassins; but if in the victualling department John Bull suffered one-fifth of the privations to which the Tipperary men were subject, if he had courage enough, he would stand upon one side and shoot the first man he would meet with a decent coat upon his back. But the Saxon had not courage to do anything like a man: he growls out like a hungry tiger. It was true the archdeacon concluded by calling upon the people to support the law; but was not that like the conduct of the ruffian who denounced the house to the flames, but having put the torch into the hands of the infuriated mob, told them not to set the house on fire. An hon. Gentleman, who was chairman of that meeting at Cashel, rose in his place in the other House of Parliament, and thus explained his conduct. That hon. Gentleman (Mr. Maher) said— As chairman of the meeting at which Archdeacon Laffan made the speech which had been referred to, he wished to say a few words with regard to it. Had that venerable clergyman continued his speech as he commenced it, he (Mr. Maher) should have felt it to be his duty, as chairman, to have reprimanded him. But having concluded, as he knew he always did conclude, by calling upon the people to support the laws, and to strengthen the Government, by handing over to the law the perpetrators of such crimes, such a course was unnecessary. But it appeared to him (Lord Farnham) that the hon. Gentleman should not have forgotten that the individual who always concluded a speech thus, most probably always commenced it in some such terms as he had just read to the House. The next speech to which he would call their Lordships' attention was, if possible, still more improper than the last. It was delivered at a meeting at Castlebar, in the county of Mayo, on the 25th November, by the Rev. Mr. Hughes. That rev. gentleman said— The poor are left to the mercy of those heartless extortioners (landlords); their cattle are seized and driven to the pound for the least defalcation; their lands are unproductive and barren—in fact, the law seems to be enacted for the purpose of crushing and annihilating this unfor- tunate class, and no alteration takes place in regard of the proprietors; they are still left to the lash of the driver. The poor are sacrificed to the rapacity of the rich, and nought remains to the poor but the wild justice of revenge. The proprietors are not interfering to remedy your grievances. I hope, therefore, you will do it yourselves. [This sentiment was responded to with cries of 'Let them remember Tipperary.'] There was a person at the fair of Roscommon the other day, who came up to a respectable man and asked him to point out a certain gentleman, as he was determined to rid the country of such a tyrant. Fortunately, the person sought for was absent, and thus escaped assassination. See (continued Mr. Hughes) what an unfortunate state society is reduced to by the cruelty of bad landlords; and, unless there is relief extended to the poor, I fear the consequences. These remarks were repeatedly interrupted by such cries as the following—A Voice: "We must get bread, or by——." A Voice: "Arrah! we must get it, boys! bread, work, or blood!" The poor Irish were told by that priestly agitator that nought remained for them but the wild justice of revenge. The Irish were a very quick and intelligent people, and did not require, like the English, matter to be clearly and explicitly demonstrated to them before they could comprehend them. They well knew what that meant; and he would ask what chance the law had of restoring peace and tranquillity, or of relieving distress, when the lesson they were taught was to look for redress, not to the laws, but to the wild justice of revenge? He knew well the responsibilities which rested upon the Irish landlord—he felt that the landlord had duties which it was incumbent upon him to discharge; but he believed he was justified in stating, that no men did their duties better or more efficiently than the landlords of Ireland, more especially the resident portion; and when he said the "resident portion," he wished to assure the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne), that though he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) was not resident in Ireland, he paid as much attention to the poor and discharged his duties as a landlord as well as any resident in the country. But it was in vain that they sought to introduce measures to remedy the relation between landlord and tenant, or to improve the social condition of the country in any one particular—in vain they might attempt to improve the commercial interests of the country, or to improve the state of her agriculture under the present bad system which prevailed in Ireland—so long as the people were told that the only remedy they were to look to was the wild spirit of re- venge. He now came to the denunciations from the altar of the house of God. The first case was a very extraordinary one, and he believed the murder of the individual it related to took place about six months since. He would read the evidence of a priest with regard to it before a coroner's jury in the county of Tipperary—it was the case of a very poor man named Callaghan, who had been murdered. The priest was asked at the examination— Did you denounce the murdered man from altar?—I did. When did you denounce him?—On Sunday at mass. When was he murdered?—At five o'clock the same evening. The case required no comment. The next case was connected with a murder which took place in the beginning of November—the murder of one of the best landlords and one of the most valuable and useful men in the whole county—he meant the late Major Mahon. In order to show how the Major was respected, he would read some extracts from letters written to him by the Rev. Mr. M'Dermott. The first ran thus:— I beg to assure you of my sincere gratitude for your kindness towards myself personally, and your encouragement to the improvement and industrious habits of my parishioners, since you came to reside amongst us. May Almighty God render to you the full reward of your good intentions, and grant you long life to reap the fruits of your kindly disposition in the affections of your poor tenantry! I am, dear Sir, with the highest respect and gratitude, your obedient humble servant, (Signed) "MICHAEL M'DERMOTT. The second was even stronger, and ran thus:— I always use my utmost exertions to promote peace among the people; and above all, respect and punctuality to their landlords and the proprietors of the soil. I remain, dear Sir, with deep sentiments of gratitude and esteem, yours sincerely, (Signed) "MICHAEL M'DERMOTT. What a change came over the mind of the priest, for next they found him saying— There is Major Mahon absent from you all the winter. Not looking after your wants or distress, but amusing himself, and he returns and finds his property all safe—his place unmolested; and the return he makes you is, the burning and destroying your houses, and leaving the poor to starve on the road. And what was the character of the man who was so inhumanly murdered? He had an extract from a letter written by a Roman Catholic physician, who was in the carriage with the Major when he was shot. He said— It gives me sincere pleasure to state, that from the time I got into the phaeton with my sincere, kind, and lamented friend, Major Mahon, our only and entire conversation (up to the fatal moment) was, how the poor of this town could be made comfortable. 'Point out to me what is best to be done, and we shall be able to keep them from destitution. They shall get plenty of bread; and I think by getting on market days some cow heads and plain joints of mutton, with whatever Mrs. Mahon can send us from Strokestown House, we shall be able to support the poor at a moderate expense. You will apply to Mr. M'Dermott for the boiler, and we shall get it erected in one of the houses in Church-street, and then appoint some respectable person to superintend it, according to our directions. By giving a little of our time we shall do much good.' I will at all times be ready to defend the character of one of the most maligned and murdered gentlemen that occurred in this or any other country. The expressions used by Priest M'Dermott, in denouncing Major Mahon from the altar, on the 31st of October, were—"Major Mahon is worse than Cromwell, and yet he lives." A respectable person coming out of chapel remarked, "If the Major lives a month after this he is immortal." And on the 14th of November ult., the same priest (the Rev. Michael M'Dermott) stated from the altar, that "there was a Protestant conspiracy against his life," and made palpable allusions to two persons in the town of Strokestown as heading the same. He (Lord Farnham) left it to the Members of their Lordships' House who were Conversant with the law to state whether such language and such conduct did not render the parties amenable to punishment. At all events, he had felt it his duty to bring them before their Lordships. No individual could be more opposed to stringent measures, or to any measures which had a highly penal character, than he was himself, unless an absolute necessity existed for them; but he maintained that, at this moment, a case of absolute necessity did exist. On this point he begged leave, with the greatest respect, to differ from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne). The noble Marquess, he observed the other night, laid particular stress on the statement that in some parts of Ireland these crimes did not prevail. He (Lord Farnham) believed that the whole of Ireland was actually in the same state of danger. There was a wide and deep-rooted conspiracy in Ireland, and though these crimes might not, in the present hour, make their appearance in any particular division, or barony, or county, they might at any one moment burst forth, and, without the strongest provisions—provisions of a most coercive character—no human power would be able to stop their ravages and devastation. He had no object but a public one in bringing these statements of danger before their Lordships, nor was he for taking a desponding view of things; but he certainly was not going too far when he stated that crime existed, both in degree and character, which would disgrace the meridian of New Zealand. There was no civilised country upon the face of the earth in which the ingredients of crime were more effectually at work at the present moment than they were in Ireland; and there was no period of history, even taking all the bloody annals of this same Ireland, in which there was a greater degree of atrocity and crime than existed there at the present moment. He confessed he could not distinguish one single ray of hope to relieve the darkness of the horizon. He trusted, therefore, that measures—prompt, coercive, and vigorous, because none other could be effective—would be speedily applied, and be persistingly and constantly followed out until the evil was eradicated. He repeated that, in the present state of Ireland, no other measures whatever would be of the slightest avail. But what would be the case if crime was allowed to go on—he did not mean by Her Majesty's Government, but by the weakness and inadequacy of the law? He was as morally certain as he was of his own existence, that nothing but strong coercive measures would be effectual. If witnesses dared not come forward to give evidence of murders they had seen with their own eyes—if jurors, with the best intentions of bringing guilty individuals to punishment, dared not, on the peril of their lives, find a verdict of guilty—and if the great majority of the jury, being willing to bring in a verdict of guilty, were intimidated by one man who acted from had motives, being himself particeps criminis, a confederate of the accused—if no witnesses would come forward, and no convictions could take place, the whole county would soon be found criminal; and by measures not being immediately brought forward, and persistingly acted upon to repress it, crime—horrid as it now was—would in a very short time become infinitely more horrid. It would be found that familiarity with crime would involve, as agents in the work of massacre, persons who at the present moment would shudder at the very idea. When they heard of murder after murder, from north, east, south and west, they must necessarily become familiar with their perpetration; and for this reason he called on their Lordships, and on the other House of Parliament, if they valued (as he hoped they always would) the connexion of the two countries, if they valued the safety and security of human life, to enact nothing short of measures so vigorous as would crush this monster evil, which was making the country a very curse to its inhabitants. He was speaking strongly, but not too strongly. One or two other observations he must trouble their Lordships with. In corroboration of the strong view he had taken of the criminal state of Ireland, and of the absolute necessity of interfering with stringent powers, he would refer, not to his own sentiments, but to those of the avowed organ of the Government in Ireland:— We are sick and horrified in repeating these terrible details. Something speedily must be done. It need not be said, how strenuously we have argued against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act; but we shall support any measures—all measures—which may tend to put a stop to these atrocities"* As he had stated on a former occasion, he felt deeply thankful to Her Majesty's Government for the measure they had introduced into the other House. He did not, however, think it would be effectual in meeting the case in any degree; but felt thankful to them, because it was taking a step in the right direction. And on this subject, perhaps, the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) would allow him to read the opinion of the Pilot newspaper, which was the organ of the bad section of the Roman Catholic priests in Ireland:— The sympathy of the people with the agrarian disturbers is admitted, and they propose as a remedy to render it a punishable offence in any grown person to refuse to aid the police in the pursuit and capture of a murderer. The Irish people are admirably acute, as well as impulsive and susceptible. They see the police one day, in all the parade of armed power, go out with a landlord or an agent and a bevy of baliffs, to tear down houses, to burn roof-trees, to quench hearth fires, to cast out men, women, and children, perhaps diseased and fever-stricken; they see these die by the ditch-side. The police stand by to protect the actors in these scenes, where all is done according to law. The next day some miserable assassin, prompted by instinct far removed from deliberate savageness, deprives some of those agents of life, and the police call upon those same *Dublin Evening Post, Nov. 30, 1847. people to pursue and hunt down the murderer. Does any one imagine the people will do any such thing? For our parts we believe they will not; and, notwithstanding any obloquy to which we may be subjected, we maintain they ought not. And why? Because when the law demands obedience it should give protection; but it does not. He begged their Lordships' pardon for trespassing upon them at such length. He had brought forward the subject sorely against his will, but in discharge of what he conceived to be a solemn duty. He was as much attached to Ireland as any person born in that country could possibly be; he therefore wished to see her happy and prosperous. He wished to see all classes of the people contented. He wished to see the landlord enjoy his just rights, and the tenant content with the security which he had a right to expect. But give him any law rather than the "law of the wild justice of revenge." In conclusion, he trusted the House would receive the assurance of Her Majesty's Government that, so far as they could, they would prevent the repetition of such language as he had described—language disgraceful in the highest extreme to any man, but totally indefensible coming from the lips of a man clothed in the garb of a minister of religion, making use of the enormous power which he possessed over a great body of the people, not for the purpose of promoting peace and contentment, but for the purposes of assassination and shedding of blood. The noble Lord concluded by asking Her Majesty's Government—1st. Whether these speeches have been submitted to the law officers of the Crown? 2nd. Whether, if so, in their opinion in the present state of the law, they would warrant a criminal prosecution? 3rd. Whether, in that case, the Government have directed, or intend to institute, such criminal prosecution? 4th. Whether, in the event of the answer of the law officers of the Crown being in the negative, it be the intention of the Government, to amend and strengthen the law, in this respect?


said, the noble Lord had had the kindness to inform him of his intention to put these questions. The observations with which, not unnaturally, the questions were accompanied, had been made in a tone and temper, and with a degree of force and clearness, calculated to command the most respectful attention. He, therefore, felt most anxious, as he should in any case, but particularly after the observations of the noble Lord, to give the noble Lord every satisfaction in his power with regard to this most important and delicate subject. Most sincerely did he wish it was in his power to say that he had reason to believe that the reports to which the noble Lord had alluded were unfounded; most sincerely did he wish he could say that he had not gathered from the information which had reached him that, in many quarters in Ireland, not only in public meetings, but in places devoted—or which ought to be devoted—to purposes of the most sacred character, sentiments had been uttered and language had been held most mischievous to the existence of society, and, if possible, still more inconsistent with that Christian doctrine and that Christian charity of which those who uttered them professed, but in these instances falsely professed, to be the ministers and the expounders. These cases, he was afraid, did exist; but if the noble Lord asked him to state what steps had been taken by the Irish Government in consequence of these cases, he must reply, that he was not enabled to state positively that any such steps had been taken as those to which he referred. This, however, he would say, that they had attracted the most serious attention of his noble Friend at the head of the Irish Government. His noble Friend had been—and would, if necessary, continue to be—in communication with his law advisers; but he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) was not enabled to explain that, up to this moment, there had been more than one sworn information relating to circumstances of the character which had been described. This information had been referred to the law officers of the Crown, and it was now under their consideration. Their Lordships would upon consideration feel that there was a wide difference between the prevalence of reports of certain language having been held either from the altar or in public meetings, and the certainty of being able to prove it, so as to bring the parties uttering it to conviction. These circumstances formed a very important ingredient in the duty en-trusted to the noble Earl at the head of the Irish Government. All he could say upon them was, that the noble Earl was exercising his discretion with the greatest desire to bring the authors of such outrages, for he would call them outrages, inasmuch as they were the incentives to outrage—to that condign punishment which they de- served. Nor let the noble Lord or that House think that the law as it now existed, was without the means for that purpose, or that it might not be always in the power of justice to procure the necessary evidence to make it effectual. The Statute-book was clear upon this subject. In the first place, he believed that noble and learned Lords connected with the law would concur with him when he stated that to incite persons to violate the law, was itself, by the common law, a misdemeanor which might be severely punished. The law, however, did not stop there. Not a great many years ago, an Act for the special purpose of applying to Ireland an Act for the punishment of persons inciting others to acts of outrage and violence, and making the attempt felony, was passed; and it might be satisfactory to their Lordships to read the terms of this law, because it was most desirable that offenders should know the amount of criminality they incurred. By the Act of 9 Geo. IV., c. 54, s. 23, it was enacted— And for the more effectual prosecution of accessories before the fact to felony, be it enacted, That if any person shall counsel, procure, or command any other person to commit any felony, whether the same be a felony at common law, or by virtue of any statute or statutes made or to be made, the person so counselling, procuring, or commanding, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and may be indicted or convicted as an accessory before the fact to the principal felony, either together with the principal felon, or after the conviction of the principal felon: or may be indicted for, and convicted of, a substantive felony, whether the principal felon shall or shall not have been previously convicted, or shall or shall not be amenable to justice, and may be punished in the same manner as an accessory before the fact to the same felony, if convicted as an accessory, may be punished; and the offence of the person so counselling, procuring, or commanding, howsoever indicted, may be inquired of, tried, determined, and punished by any court which shall have jurisdiction to try the principal felon, in the same manner as if such offence had been committed at the same place as the principal felony. Such were the words of this Act "for improving the administration of justice in Ireland." But the law did not stop even here. There was a subsequent Act, of which the terms were, if possible, stronger, for they constituted any person a felon who contributed in any way to the commission of felony—the 10th Geo. IV. c. 34, entitled "An Act to consolidate and amend the Statutes in Ireland relating to Offences against the Person." In the 9th Clause it was enacted— And be it enacted, That every person who shall solicit, encourage, persuade, or endeavour to persuade, or who shall propose to any person to murder any other person, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof, shall suffer death as a felon. It could not be useless to bring these Acts before the public, because it had been said they did not apply to Ireland. He begged to say, they specially applied to Ireland; and he would take upon himself to add, that they would be enforced in Ireland, as enforced they could be. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had felt it to be his duty to wait for information of the nature to which the noble Lord (Lord Farnham) had alluded, but it was only with a determination to enforce the penalties of the law if conviction of the crime were secured. So much with regard to the question relative to the conduct of the Irish Government and its intentions. The noble Lord had followed up his questions on this subject by inquiring whether more powers were intended to be proposed than appeared to be contained in the Bill now under the consideration of the other House. He (the Marquess of Lansdowne), was not at that moment prepared to say that any further powers were proposed to be asked for by Her Majesty's Government. But he might most distinctly repeat, that from the moment it should appear that the milder powers which Her Majesty's Government asked for were ineffectual for the purpose, they would lose no time in asking for more effectual measures. They wished to show a disposition in the first instance to confine themselves to what appeared to be the mildest force which the occasion called for. More than this he would not say at present; but when the Bill came up from the other House, and its provisions were discussed, their peculiar adaptation to the nature of the exigency, which unfortunately was great in those parts to which the Bill referred, would be seen. He hoped, that under it no such spirit would arise in other portions of Ireland as had been alluded to by the noble Lord. The noble Lord, however, might rely upon this assurance, that every quarter would be subject to the most vigilant observation. No circumstances, even in the remotest corners, indicating such a disposition as that described by the noble Lord, would escape the attention of Her Majesty's Government. He could not conclude without expressing the deep pleasure with which he had heard the noble Lord accompany the statement which a sense of duty had compelled him to make with regard to certain members in holy orders of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, by a distinct acknowledgment of the good conduct and eminent services of many of the clergy of that Church. He (the Marquess of Lansdowne) would add his testimony to that of the noble Lord, so far as he had occaston to observe, to the general good feeling of the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland in a time of long suffering and great endurance. That their duty had in many instances been most nobly, disinterestedly, and piously performed, he could not have the slightest doubt. It was, indeed, to the performance of that sacred duty that we were indebted for the resignation with which the most appalling of all human calamities had been borne by the suffering population in many parts of the country. If their Lordships were compelled, as compelled they were, to visit with the severest animadversion the misconduct of certain individuals belonging to that body, it was only the more necessary to recognise, with the readiness and gratitude they deserved, the zealous and untiring exertions made by so many in the people's greatest affliction and distress.


was sure the country would appreciate the manner in which this grave question had been brought before their Lordships; but there would also be deep regret that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne), on the part of the Government, should have held out so little hope of bringing to condign punishment the reverend persons who had used the langage imputed to them. He hoped the Government would reconsider the subject, and see if it-were not possible to encourage the people of Ireland, who were now in terror of the hands of assassins, to give evidence which would lead to the conviction of those who murdered and incited to murder. There must have been hundreds in the chapel in which Major Mahon was denounced from the altar; and he would not believe that the whole number rejoiced in the threats held out from thence against the life of the unfortunate gentleman. He could not but believe that if properly encouraged there were many there who would willingly assist the hands of the law. He regretted that the measure now before Parliament was not stronger; and he should not himself have hesitated to have trusted very large powers to the discretion of the Lord Lieutenant. The noble Marquess, however, said if that measure failed, the Government would ask for increased powers; the noble Marquess, however, knew well that he might have asked from the British Parliament for all the necessary powers at once; and he knew further that no one would for a single moment have objected to grant them, except a small and factious opposition. He implored Her Majesty's Government to consider that a failure of the present measure involved a repetition of the murders which in was intended to repress.


said, he thought the question was one of such great importance, and that they were so deeply indebted to his noble Friend for having brought it distinctly under the consideration of their Lordships, that he hoped their Lordships would excuse him for offering one or two observations on the statement of his noble Friend, and on the answer given to it by the noble Marquess opposite, He felt bound to say, that though there were portions of the statement of the noble Marquess satisfactory, as indicating on the part of Her Majesty's Government and of his noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, a determination, so far as they could, to grapple with the great evil which had been so plainly and so forcibly brought before their Lordships by his noble Friend, yet he regretted to perceive the indistinctness and the indefinite character of the answer which the noble Marquess thought proper to give to the questions that had been put to him. They were plain, definite questions. They brought before the House in the clearest and strongest manner, and yet in a shape not stronger than the circumstances required, cases in which either from the platforms of public meetings, or in a still more solemn manner from the altar, denunciations against particular persons had been held forth. God forbid that he should seek to inculpate any great portion of the Roman Catholic clergy in the charge of having uttered these denunciations! But it was alleged that indirect incentives to murder were made, which incentives had been in some cases followed by immediate execution. Under these circumstances, he did not think it was too much for his noble Friend to ask the noble Marquess, as he understood him to have done, whether the statements which he had read to their Lordships had been communicated to the Government of Ireland—if made, whether they had been submitted by the Irish Government to the law officers of the Crown—whether, in the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, the law was at present strong enough to punish the parties so offending; and if it were not, whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to seek for an amendment of the law. He should say that, though no very lengthened notice of the intention to ask these questions appeared to have been given, still he felt surprised that the noble Marquess should, even at twenty-four hours' notice to the Government, have been unable to give an answer to them. [Marquess of LANSDOWNE: Hear, hear!] He might have misunderstood the noble Marquess; but he certainly thought the noble Marquess appeared to have no doubt but that these cases had occurred, and that he was satisfied they would receive the most careful consideration from the legal gentlemen connected with the Government. But surely that was not an answer to the question of his noble Friend. The question was, had those facts been laid before the law officers of the Crown in Ireland, and whether they were of opinion that the law as it now stood would be sufficient to reach them? As he understood the noble Marquess, he was unable to answer that question without further communication with the noble Chief Governor of Ireland. He did not think that he misunderstood the nature of the noble Marquess's answer; but he hoped that if that answer were as he described it, his noble Friend would not be satisfied to allow the case to rest where it was, but that in the course of another week he would take care to renew his questions distinctly with reference to this particular case. Was it or was it not true, that in the year 1846, and subsequently, a priest wrote to a landed proprietor in the most laudatory terms as to the charitable nature of his exertions, and of his labours of love for the population around him? Was it or was it not true, that in the month of August, 1847, that same priest, from the altar of God, denounced that same landlord as an absentee, a tyrant, and an an oppressor? Was it or was it not true, that on a subsequent day that same priest denounced that same landlord as worse than Cromwell, and asked whether that man yet lived? Was it or was it not true, that on coming out of the chapel, after that denunciation, a respectable man made the remark, "That man must be immortal if he survives that denunciation." Was it or was it not true, that in eight and forty hours afterwards that landlord—an amiable, humane, and praiseworthy man in all the relations of life, and beloved by all his neighbours—was cut off by the hand of the assassin? If these things were true, he had a right to ask whether they had been reported to the Government; whether, in the opinion of the law advisers of the Government, the priest who had so conducted himself was legally, as well as he was—he (Lord Stanley) had no hesitation in saying, if the facts were so—morally in the sight of God and man, guilty of the blood of the murdered Major Mahon? They had a right to ask whether a prosecution would take place, or whether the law was unable to reach such a case? They had a right to know what the opinion of the law officers of the Crown was on this matter, and whether the Government had prosecuted, or intended to prosecute, the priest who had degraded his sacred office by making the altar of God an incentive to murder; or whether, if the law were unable to reach him, it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose an alteration of the law in this respect? The noble Marquess had read extracts from the Statutes; and it was no doubt very desirable that it should be known, both here and in Ireland, that such laws were in existence; but the question was not, were these laws in the Statute-book, but was it the intention of Her Majesty's Government to enforce the law? The question was, whether, in the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, the case of this priest was within the terms of the Act, and whether it was intended to proceed against him? He thought they ought likewise to know whether the priest being within the letter of the law, it was the intention of the Government to proceed with promptitude against him? The noble Marquess would perhaps tell him that the law reached the case, but that it was a question of discretion on the part of the Government whether they should enter into the prosecution or not. He knew the difficulty in which the Government were placed. He had had the honour—perhaps he should have said the misfortune—of acting for some time as Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he knew the difficulty of procuring evidence for the purposes of prosecutions. He knew the slight hope of success which the Government must entertain in sending a Roman Catholic priest for trial before a jury, the majority consisting in many cases, perhaps, of the lower class of Roman Catholics, whose prejudices would be strongly in favour of a priest of their own religion. Still he thought their Lordships had a right to know whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to attempt to obtain that conviction; because, however lamentable the result would be of the failure of a prosecution of this description, yet if the case were clear, and the evidence undoubted, and the jury should appear to have failed in their duty, then, he would say, that very failure would go far to enlighten the people and the Parliament of this country as to the real nature of the difficulties of the Irish Government, and the nature of the remedy to be applied. He would say, that if the facts of the case were as had been reported, and that there was a difficulty as to the probability of obtaining a verdict, he would rather proceed with the prosecution, and run the risk of an unjust acquittal, than have it supposed that in that—and, of course, in all similer cases—the Government were powerless, and the provisions in the Statute-book a dead letter, and that there was a practical impunity for offences of that description. He hoped, therefore, that his noble Friend would repeat his question to the Government, after they should have had time to communicate with the Lord Lieutenant. He hoped his noble Friend would put his question distinctly with reference to this case of the priest who was said to have denounced Major Mahon eight-and-forty hours before his assassination; and he hoped the noble Marquess would then be prepared to state whether any and what steps had been taken in the matter; and also whether, in case of the repetition of these offences, the Government were prepared to adopt steps for the purpose of obtaining information on which they could rely, and from characters who were not likely to be tampered with. He thought some good was likely to result from the explanation given by the noble Marquess as to such an Act as that which he had read being on the Statute-book; but he was of opinion, that it would have been much better, and more desirable for the state of Ireland, if the noble Marquess had been enabled to say, that this case had been represented to the Government; that the priest would be proceeded against without delay; and that, if repeated prosecutions were followed by repeated failures, the Government would not hesitate to take such steps, at whatever sacrifice of constitutional principles, as would maintain that which was above all constitutional principles—the security of the lives of the Queen's subjects.


said, he had hoped that the answer of his noble Friend the President of the Council would hare been considered satisfactory by their Lordships. He had himself had the honour of being first law adviser to the Crown in this country for a considerable period, and from his experience in that capacity he felt that it would be highly inexpedient and indiscreet if questions were to be put in that House as to what cases were to be laid before the law officers of the Crown, and what course was to be taken by the Government if the evidence was not found to be sufficient to secure a conviction. He thought the experience of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) should have pointed out to him the inconveniences which were likely to result from such a course. He had himself commenced his career under the noble Lord, and he had assisted him in the passing of the Coercion Bill of 1833, as first law adviser to the Crown. He would say, if their Lordships thought the law officers of the Crown knew their duty, that they ought at least to give them fair time to do their duty, and not apparently to suspect that they were remiss with respect to those cases that had been mentioned, much less that they were conniving at them. Might it not be that the evidence in the case had not yet been sufficiently matured, though at the same time the prosecution was by no means to be abandoned? He thought, therefore, that the answer of his noble Friend was perfectly satisfactory. As to the state of the law, he thought that the existing law was abundantly sufficient to reach such cases. He did not wish to allude to the particular case dwelt upon by the noble Lord, because it might come before a jury, and he hoped it would come before one; but he would say generally, that any incitement to commit a felony made the party who committed that incitement an accessory before the fact, and as such that he was liable by the law of England and Ireland to be punished as the principal was punished. An incitement to commit a murder would clearly render the accessory before the fact by whom that incitement was given, liable to expiate his offence by his life. Formerly it was necessary to proceed in the first instance against the principal; but that difficulty was removed by the Act of the 9th Geo. IV., which Act was extended to Ireland by the 10th Geo. IV. Under the law as it now stood all doubt was removed from the subject, and they were enabled to proceed against an accomplice as an accessory before the fact as a substantive proceeding. Now, he should say that this denunciation from the altar formed no exemption from the criminality of the proceeding. It had been determined over and over again that a minister of the Established Church of England, or a minister of the Established Church of Scotland, was, if he said anything from the pulpit detrimental to the character of an individual, or anything that led to a breach of the public peace, civilly and criminally liable for what he said, just as much as if he spoke it from the market cross, or from a public platform. Under these circumstances he considered the existing law to be abundantly sufficient to meet such cases; and he had no doubt but that it would be energetically administered by his noble Friend at the head of the Government in that kingdom, whose conduct had been so warmly approved of by all parties.


read an extract from a petition that had been presented to their Lordships' House on the subject of the circulation in Ireland of the Papal bull, "In Cœnâ Domini," in which the Sovereign of this country and her Protestant subjects were denounced, and made some remarks in reference to it which were inaudible.


said, he did not know that that bull had ever been read in Ireland.


said, he had heard with great satisfaction the admirable manner in which his noble Friend had brought the subject before the House; and in answer to the question as to the sufficiency of the existing law, he would say, how could they refuse to consider the law as sufficient when his noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland stated, as appeared from what had fallen from the noble Marquess, that he was perfectly satisfied with the measures to be left at his disposal, and that he did not seek for more powers? Again, he was told by his noble and learned Friend who spoke last that the law was perfectly sufficient to meet the exigencies of the case. If the law were sufficient, then God forbid that any whisper should be heard from him to increase its rigour! He thought that the course taken by the Lord Lieutenant in not seeking for fresh powers, proved not merely that the law was sufficient to grapple with these crimes by punishing them, but also, that the law as it now stood could be enforced, and that he could safely prosecute, and get witnesses and juries to convict. He would say, however, that they would not be in the same situation as before if they once made an attempt to prosecute and failed; and he perfectly agreed with his noble Friend, that a failure of a prosecution would be the best foundation for calling for a law to enable them to meet the exigencies of the case. A priest denouncing a person from the altar, who is afterwards murdered, is undoubtedly an accessory before the fact to the murder, and becomes guilty of a capital felony. The question to be considered was, whether the Government should try to carry out the law as it now stood, or come to Parliament for new powers. Some of his noble Friends appeared to think the former course the better one to try in the first instance, and to that view he had no objection to offer.


said, wherever evidence could be obtained, he believed there was no instance of juries shrinking from doing their duty properly. The law officers of the Crown in Ireland stated that there was undoubtedly great difficulty in apprehending offenders and collecting sufficient evidence against them; but wherever a sufficient case was established to come before a jury, it could surely not be said that juries had shown themselves reluctant to do their duty. Under these circumstances he thought Her Majesty's Government would be indefensible in asking for further powers to supersede the ordinary tribunals. In answer to what had been said by the noble Earl at the end of the bench (the Earl of Hardwicke), that the Government had shrunk from the responsibility of asking for greater powers, he (Earl Grey) denied that they had shrunk from any such responsibility; they asked for such powers as they deemed sufficient for the exigencies of the case. If, indeed, they were to say that the powers which they sought for would succeed, they would be presumptuous. But they believed the course they proposed was that which, upon the whole, was the most likely to obtain all the important objects of preventing and putting a stop to the crimes that prevailed in the parts of the country alluded to. He, for his own part, was convinced that no course would be more likely to be successful, than the one they had adopted. He would only further observe, that he thought they were indebted to the noble Lord who had originated that discussion, for the tone and manner in which he had brought the subject forward; and he regretted that the two noble Lords who had followed him had not also followed him in the same tone he had adopted. He regretted, also, that the noble Lord opposite, who had had so much experience in matters of Executive Government should have attempted to press Her Majesty's Government in such a manner to state what their intentions were with regard to the administration of criminal justice in Ireland. He thought it would be most injudicious to make such a statement, or to deliver opinions upon cases incidentally mentioned in debate. He could conceive nothing more rash than to give an opinion in that House, whether certain particular words quoted in the course of a debate did or did not justify criminal proceedings. It frequently happened that some persons alleged that those speeches delivered at public political meetings were intended to incite the hearers to crime, whilst others asserted the direct contrary. And even when there was no moral doubt as to what the intentions of the speakers were, how often had it happened that it was deemed inexpedient to enter upon proceedings, or attempt legally to prove the of-fence?


said a few words in explanation.

Subject at an end.

House adjourned.