HL Deb 23 June 1854 vol 134 cc599-605

moved that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the management of the Crown Estate of Kilconcouse, in the King's County, and into the circumstances attending the occupation of a portion thereof by the Rev. Francis M'Mahon, P.P. of Kinnitty. The management of the Crown Estates in all parts of the United Kingdom had attracted in former years the attention of Parliament, from the fact that they were, without exception, the worst managed properties in the country; and in 1851 an Act was passed for putting them under a different system of management from that which then existed. About that time Mr. Kennedy, who had long held a high office connected with the civil service in Ireland, was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Crown Estates in that country, and the Government trusted that he would be able to improve the administration of the Crown property there. They were not disappointed. Mr. Kennedy made every exertion to improve the Irish estates of the much assistance from his superiors in office. One of those estates was situated in the King's County; and in 1851 Mr. Kennedy sent a person totally unacquainted with the district—a Scotchman—to examine that estate, and report what steps should be taken for improving its administration. The surveyor reported that the estate was in the greatest possible confusion, that little or no rent had been received from it for four or five years, and that a great portion of it was overrun with a pauper population. In consequence of that representation a considerable sum of public money was expended for the purpose of removing part of the surplus population to America, and of giving to others the means of betaking themselves to other parts of the country. He should have stated that the estate had previously been let in small portions, upon leases for twenty-one years. One farm of fifty acres was let to two brothers of the name of Delany, each of whom cultivated a plot of twenty-five acres. Before the expiry of the lease one of the brothers resolved to emigrate, and his moiety of the farm was transferred to the Rev. Francis M'Mahon, the Roman Catholic priest of Kinnitty, who held possession of it in 1851. In his second report the Scotch surveyor recommended that the estate should be divided into thirteen parts, each to be let to a single tenant, and that the two plots which had been leased to the brothers Delany should be joined together and let to the remaining brother Denis. The lease of this portion of the estate had expired in 1850, and therefore the Commissioners were at liberty to deal with it as they might deem advisable. They approved the arrangements suggested by the surveyor, which also received the sanction of the Treasury, and in 1852 Mr. Kennedy resolved to carry it into effect, and for that purpose an intimation was given to the Rev. Francis M'Mahon that his presence as a tenant upon the land was no longer desirable. The rev. gentleman replied by requesting that he might be allowed to reap the crops which were then growing upon the farm; and, upon the understanding that he would remove immediately after the harvest, Mr. Kennedy complied with his request. Mr. M'Mahon reaped his crops, carried them with triumph and rejoicing to the chapel-yard of the parish, and it was said converted the sacred edifice itself into a barn for the purpose of thrashing out his corn. Now, mark the conduct of the rev. gentleman. After he had sold his crops and put the money in his pocket, he refused to give up possession of the land. On the 6th of October he wrote a letter to the Chief Commissioner, complaining of the great hardship lie suffered in being called upon to give up his farm without compensation. Mr. Kennedy was naturally surprised at that novel demand, which placed him in a very difficult position, seeing that he had promised the land to Denis Delany. He very properly refused, in peremptory terms, Ito accede to the request of the priest, and called upon bins to redeem the pledge which he had given to leave possession of the farm as soon as he should have secured his crops. On the 13th of November Mr. M'Mahon addressed another letter to the Commissioner, entering into a long statement of the improvements which he had made on the land, and renewing his demand for compensation. The very same evening the house of Denis Delany was attacked by a band of ruffians, and Delany and his wife were severely beaten. Mr. M'Mahon denied that there was any connection between him and the perpetrators of the outrage, and stated that, on the Sunday following the attack, he spoke to congregation from the altar upon the subject. It was said, however, that the substance of his discourse was very different from what he had represented it to be. The rev. gentleman was reported to have told his people that he had been shamefully treated by Denis Delany; that; he was unable to revenge himself, but that he would not allow any person to interfere between them. Moreover, the fact could be proved that he offered himself on behalf of certain parties who were taken into custody on suspicion of being implicated in the outrage; which showed that, if he was not himself a party to the attack I upon Delany's house, he had considerable sympathy with those who were. After some further correspondence, Mr. Kennedy came to the conclusion that nothing but an action at law would enable him to vindicate the rights of the Crown, and accordingly he decided that legal proceedings should be taken against the priest. On the 4th of April, 1353, when these proceedings were approaching maturity, Mr. M'Mahon wrote a long letter to the Chief Commissioner, couched in the most respectful and submissive language, asking for a specific sum as compensation, and, in fact, placing himself entirely at Mr. Kennedy's mercy. The very same day Mr. M'Mahon forwarded to the Treasury a memorial full of abuse of Mr. Kennedy, and of the grossest representations of his conduct. Ignorant of the contents, or even of the existence, of that memorial, the Commissioner, for the sake of peace and quietness, and in order that he might be able to do an act of justice to Dennis Delany, offered to give Mr. Mahon 35l. if he would give up possession of time farm; but at the same time intimated that if he should refuse that offer it would be absolutely necessary, in order to vindicate the rights of the Crown and preserve the consistency of a great public department, to remove him from time land. That letter was written on the 13th of April. On the 24th, Mr. Kennedy received a positive order from the Treasury to discontinue the legal proceedings instituted against Mr. M'Mahon, and to accept him as a tenant upon the Crown Estate of Kilconcouse. Such were the circumstances of the case which he desired to bring under their Lordships' notice. It might be said that the case was an unimportant one, but he maintained that it was not so. The question was, first of all, whether an administrative officer presiding over an important public department was to be made a fool of by the Treasury without any justification whatever; and the next question for consideration was, what effect such conduct would have in Ireland, which of all countries in the world was the one in which an example of the just and fair management of lauded property was required from the Government. He might be asked what was the key to this enigma? what on earth could have induced the Treasury to conduct themselves as they had done? He did not know; he would leave the noble Earl at the head of the Government to elucidate that point; but this he would say, that in the district where the transactions occurred a very shrewd suspicion existed as to what the cause was. The Rev. Francis Mr. Mahon, in addition to his spiritual functions, was a dabbler in politics. He held opinions identical with those of the party in Ireland which was connected with the present Government, and was known to have made himself busy as a political supporter of a Gentleman who was once a Lord of the Treasury, and of another Gentleman who was now Solicitor General for Ireland. The inference drawn by the people of the district was, that the conduct of the Treasury was influenced by one of these Gentlemen, and that suspicion was fully corroborated by a pamphlet recently issued on the authority of Mr. Kennedy himself. He could not imagine that the Treasury had ever reflected upon what the effect of their conduct would be in such a country as Ireland. That effect would unquestionably be to weaken the security of landed property, to set a bad example to tenants in a dangerous district, to stultify the servants of the Crown, and to destroy the confidence of poor tenants, whom they should teach to believe that the promise of the Crown once given should be kept coute qui code. He did not accuse the noble Earl opposite, or any other Member of the Cabinet, of having any cognisance of the circumstances which he had stated to their Lordships. The noble Earl, however, was responsible for what had occurred; and being himself one of the best landlords in the country, he must feel doubly chagrined that he should be served by subordinates who had acted in such an imprudent and improper manner. It was not his intention to bring any charge against the Government in respect of their having allied themselves with a certain political party in Ireland. He believed they would be punished for that offence; and, if he was not mistaken, the noble Duke, the Minister of War, had already suffered. The noble Earl concluded by moving the Select Committee.


said, that the only reason which would induce, him to object to the Motion of the noble Earl was, that he thought the whole case was before the House in the papers now upon the table. He saw no reason why the noble Lord should not call upon their Lordships to pronounce an opinion upon the merits of the question from the materials which they already possessed; and he was at a loss to conceive what further information a Select Committee could elicit. However, he must be permitted to say that he thought the noble Earl had attached a somewhat exaggerated importance to the transaction, even as it was described by himself, and that he had indulged in many assertions, or at least insinuations, which there was no reason to suppose were well founded. Now, he did not mean to object to a Committee, if their Lordships thought that the matter was of sufficient importance to call for an inquiry, because he was not at all afraid of any investigation that might take place; but he looked at this transaction simply as a question touching administration of the Crown estates in Ireland. He did not look at it as a question of religious animosity, though, undoubtedly, the whole gist and substance of the noble Earl's speech was based upon the supposition that this unhappy priest had been favoured because he was a Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, and that some of those whom he called the political friends of the Government in Ireland had exercised undue influence on behalf of the rev. gentleman. The noble Earl had said that Mr. M'Mahon converted his chapel into a barn for the purpose of threshing his corn, and had insinuated that he was somehow or other connected with the outrage committed upon Denis Delany and his family. Now, it was but fair to state that the rev. gentleman had given an express denial to any such im- putation, declaring in his memorial to the Treasury that, so far from having any connection with the parties who were guilty of the outrage, he took the first opportunity after the affair happened of denouncing them in the strongest possible language, both in public and in private. The facts of the case were simply these: There was a farm of about fifty acres let to two persons—not brothers, perhaps not even relations—of the name of Delany. Mr. M'Mahon bought what was called the good-will of a moiety of it from one of the tenants. He built a house upon the land; he drained it; he made himself an improving tenant. Then there came a Scotch surveyor, and he recommended, properly enough, that the land should be united and let to a single tenant, instead of being held by two parties. In ordinary circumstances that arrangement would have been followed; but the Rev. Mr. M'Mahon was favoured, not because, as the noble Earl had given them to understand, he was a Roman Catholic priest, but because he was an improving tenant and promised to continue to be so. He could not think that in showing the rev. gentleman that indulgence the Treasury had been guilty of a very grievous offence. Perhaps, if the indulgence hail been shown to a good Orangeman, instead of to a Roman Catholic priest, their Lordships would have heard nothing of the matter. He did not intend to go into all the details of the transaction. No doubt the rev. gentleman gave a great deal of trouble, and evinced a disposition, not uncommon in Ireland, to keep possession of the land; but it was expressly stated, in the letter of Mr. Wilson, the Secretary of the Treasury, that he was allowed to remain a tenant upon the same estate, and that the legal proceedings taken against him by Mr. Kennedy were discontinued, because he was an improving tenant, because he had expressed contrition for his refusal to give up possession, and because it had been proved, to the satisfaction of the Lords of the Treasury, that he had denounced the outrage committed against Delany and his family. His only reason for objecting to the appointment of the Committee was, that he considered it unnecessary, as complete information on the subject was afforded by the papers already on the table of the House.


denied that in bringing forward this Motion he had been actuated by anything like feelings of hostility toward the Roman Catholics, or partiality towards Orangemen. He was not an Orangeman himself, nor, he was happy to say, were any members of his family. He most sincerely hoped that the time would soon come when the Government of Ireland would, in its distribution of patronage, cease to be affected by any consideration whatever, either of religion or party. With respect to the Motion itself, so far from the Rev. Mr. M'Mahon deserving the commendation which had been bestowed upon him for being an improving tenant, he found, by reference to the papers on the table, that he had burned and pared six acres of his land, and had taken from it four crops in succession, without a particle of manure. If that was the noble Earl's notion of an improving tenant, his tenants in Scotland might hope that the same privilege would be extended to them.


stated that no imputation whatever had been thrown upon Mr. Kennedy.


concurred in the opinion expressed by the noble Earl as to the perfect freedom from all imputation on Mr. Kennedy, who was a gentleman of unblemished reputation, and of the highest talent, who had devoted thirty or forty years of his life to the service of the public. He was at a loss to know why that gentleman had been dismissed, unless it was that in this instance he appeared to have set himself up against the Treasury, and his conduct, in this respect, had to a certain extent militated against his interest.

Motion agreed to; Committee named.