HL Deb 15 March 1858 vol 149 cc164-6

My Lords, in the month of August last a letter was addressed to me, through the then Lord Chancellor of Ireland, in which certain instructions were conveyed to me as Lord Lieutenant of the county of Down in reference to the appointment of magistrates. I should not have introduced this question to the noble Earl at the head of the Government, but that he must be sensible that matters may arise every day in which the discretion of the nobleman filling the office of Lord Lieutenant in respect to the distribution of magisterial commissions may be called in question. Apologizing, then, to the noble Earl for calling his attention to this subject, I beg to ask him whether the letter from the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland is still intended to stand as an instruction to the Lords Lieutenant of counties, or whether Her Majesty's Government are disposed to take a different view of the matter?


I have no difficulty in answering my noble Friend's question, because this is one of the subjects that engaged the attention of my noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (the Earl of Eglinton) before he left this country. I am quite sure that my noble Friend will do the noble Earl, who now presides over the Councils of Ireland, the justice to admit that there is no man who has a greater desire than he has to maintain the principles of equal justice to all parties in Ireland, and to discourage, as far as possible, those political and religious dissensions which have unhappily prevailed there. My noble Friend will, I am sure, be glad to know that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland is no more connected than I am with the Orange societies in Ireland; and I believe that he, like myself, is of opinion that, whatever may have been the advantages of that organization in past times, of which I will say nothing, and whatever may be the loyalty, good feeling, and conduct of Orangemen generally—upon the whole, the organization of Orange societies to certain parties for the magistracy was a step which was beyond the requirements of the law. But we are of opinion that the letter of the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland, which laid down an absolute disqualification, is rather calculated to do injury than service in the present state of Ireland, and that, although the Orange society may be one the existence and organization of which we may regret, it is yet one which, being legal, its members ought not to be subject to any disqualification arising from it. I will not say whether it is desirable or not that members of the Orange society should be appointed to the office of magistrates. I own that it is not desirable that, as a matter of ordinary occurrence, clergymen should be appointed to that office. If other persons can be found, I think it is undesirable that that office should be held by clergymen. It may also he undesirable that, as a matter of ordinary practice, Orangemen should be selected to fill the office of magistrate. I think, however, that nothing can be more inconsistent or inconvenient than that the Lord Chancellor should lay down a general rule refusing to grant the commission of the peace to any person belonging to any particular class or party. On this principle I think that the late Lord Chancellor went beyond the necessity and desirableness of the case in withholding the commission of the peace from the members of the Orange society, which was a long established society. I can, therefore, inform my noble Friend that it is not the intention of my noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, nor is it the intention of the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland, to continue to act upon the principle of disqualification laid down in the late Lord Chancellor's letter. It is undoubtedly desirable that no person should be appointed to the magistracy in Ireland whose peculiar political opinions are likely to interfere with the due administration of justice; but the recommendation of such persons, whatever may be their political opinions, to hold the office of magistrate in Ireland must be left to the unfettered discretion of the Lords Lieutenant of the counties, and the adop- tion of such recommendation must be left alike to the unfettered discretion of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland.


My Lords, I was not aware that the question of my noble Friend was about to be put, nor do I think it desirable that we should discuss the subject at the present moment. All I can say is, that if the question had been mooted before your Lordships' House while I retained my connection with the government of Ireland, I should have felt myself fully prepared to justify and vindicate the propriety of the letter of Lord Chancellor Brady. I beg to express my satisfaction with that general opinion with respect to the propriety of the Orange organization which has been thrown out by the noble Earl opposite; but I, of course, hold myself quite prepared to question the propriety of any future appointment to the magistracy in Ireland. I hope, however, that the appointments will be such as to render any observations on my part unnecessary.