HL Deb 28 February 1860 vol 156 cc1909-19

said, that in moving for a number of Returns, of which he had given notice, connected with criminal outrages in Ireland, he wished to draw their Lordships' attention to the remarkable impunity with which offences and crimes of the gravest and most atrocious character were committed in certain parts of Ireland. The occurrence of such outrages was the more extraordinary, as that country presented an appearance of general improvement and increased prosperity within the last few years, such as had never before existed within the recollection, he believed, of any of their Lordships. The constituted authorities appeared perfectly unable to cope with the criminal tendencies of assassins in certain districts; and for this the Government—not the present or any particular Administration, but the State generally—were, in his opinion, to blame for not having paid due attention to the matter. The present condition of affairs was equally disgraceful to the people among whom such outrages were committed, and to the authorities of the State under which they could pass unpunished. He did not wish to weary their Lordships with a recital of all the cases of outrage which had occurred during the last few years, many of which must be fresh in their Lordships' recollection; but he might instance the recent attempt to assassinate Mr. Dunn in the streets of Tullamore, and the audacious attack which had been made only a few weeks ago upon a house at Lamplugh. How was it, he would ask, that such crimes could be perpetrated with impunity in a country where there were 12,000 policemen and seventy-two magistrates? These circumstances had not passed without remark from the judicial bench. The Chief Baron, at the Westmeath Assizes, in July, 1858, in referring to the large amount of undetected crime which was known to exist in that quarter, declared his inability to understand how such a state of things could exist if the authorities did their duty, and expressed his opinion that much neglect and want of diligence had been exhibited, The Chief Justice of Ireland, in his charge to the grand jury at Tullamore, June 25, 1859, remarked with regret that the cases of unpunished crime and outrage which had occurred in the county since the last assizes were sixfold in comparison with those in which the offenders were made amenable. The police reported that seventeen cases of Whiteboy or agrarian outrage had been committed between the 2nd of March and the 17th of July, in two of which alone the criminals appeared to have been made amenable to the law. The Chief Justice added:— Now, gentlemen, you have, I presume, magistrates and police. I presume they know their duty. I understand that the whole county has been proclaimed, and therefore extraordinary powers have been vested in the persons who are intrusted with the preservation of the peace. I do not know the purpose for which a police force is organized if it be not to prevent crime and outrage; very possibly no force may be able entirely to prevent the commission of crime; but at least the duty belongs to them of detecting and apprehending offenders and all who have disturbed the peace of your county. I am quite willing to presume that the persons to whom this duty has been delegated have attempted to perform it; but, with respect to the results, I regret to say they have been just the same as if the duty had not been performed at all. I hope that the purpose for which police constables have been organized and the usefulness of the office have not been merged in the éclat and renown to which, for some purpose or other, they may very laudably aspire, namely, the charm of a military body; but, unquestionably, the primary duty of the police constable is that of an officer for preserving the peace of the county, and—when he cannot preserve—of discovering, hunting out, tracing, and bringing to justice the offenders and disturbers of the peace. The offenders, in almost all instances, are perfectly well known; and how it happens that the police should be unable to get some tidings of, or find out some clue to the detection of these offenders, is to me a matter of wonder. The cause of this was the inefficiency of the police for the purposes for which they were originally constituted. He would read to the House a few statistics which would prove conclusively that crime was on the increase in the localities referred to, while convictions were less frequent than in past years. He held in his hand a return of the number of persons committed and convicted in Ireland for three years, up to the conclusion of 1858. In 1856, 2,063 persons were committed, 1,024 were convicted, and 1,039 were acquitted. In 1857, 2,153 were committed, 1,036 convicted, and l,117 acquitted. In 1858 the number of persons committed was 2,058, and the number convicted only 895, leaving no less than 1,163 acquittals. He did not wish to throw any disparagement on the character of the Irish constabulary, who were, for their numbers, one of the best conducted bodies of men in the world. They were honest, sober, attentive, and the fault was not with them, but with those who had made them no longer a constabulary force, but practically soldiers. That they were as excellent a body of light infantry as could be found, he did not doubt; but they were taken from their duties as police, and they were thereby rendered incapable of doing the work of constables. What was the origin of this force, and what were they entitled upon their formation? They were first organized by the late Sir Robert Peel in 1814, who certainly never meant them to he a military force. The title of the Bill under which they were constituted was, "A Bill to provide for the better execution of the laws in Ireland, by appointing superintending magistrates and additional constables in counties in certain cases." When the last Act regulating this force was under discussion in 1836, the Duke of Wellington took the objection that unless care were taken the constabulary would become a military force in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant. The Prime Minister thereupon replied, that it was intended all through that they should be constables. Under the management, however, to which the police had been subjected they had become a military force, the first recognition of which was that when the Queen visited Ireland this force marched past her Majesty at a grand review in the Phoenix-park, Dublin, as part of the military force of Ireland. The whole of their drill and instruction was military, and was such as not only to give them no opportunities of discharging their duties as constables, but to prevent their efficiency as such. When a policeman joined the force he was brought up to Dublin for drill. No doubt the police ought to be drilled to a certain extent, to enable them to meet bodies more numerous than themselves; but these men were dressed and accoutred as soldiers, and were drilled as soldiers. The first duty of a policeman, it might be thought, was to make himself acquainted with every person in his parish and to go about among them. But the men were so confined to barracks as to prevent as much as possible any intercourse with the public. In point of fact if any constable were known to have any connexion or intercourse with the people, so far from being considered a useful man who was likely to detect criminals, he was regarded as a dangerous person, whose sympathies were with the people; it was thought that he was not to be depended upon, and he was removed from the scenes and persons who were familiar to him to a new district, and sometimes dismissed the force altogether. He did not think that the object of establishing a police force was simply to institute a sort of domestic military, altogether separate and cut off from the people, but these men were armed, and dressed, and kept in barracks just as if they were soldiers of the Royal army. This was a matter that Parliament had not yet considered; but it was one which ought to be dealt with without delay. Then there was a body of detectives, whoso sole duty it was to detect crime; and when there were any disturbances or extraordinary crimes in the provinces these men were sent from the metropolis to parts of the country of which they knew no more than the London police would, and their appearance in a locality usually had the effect of exciting jealousy among the regular force; but such a system was necessary, because the local police being a sort of military body, were useless for the purposes of a detective police. There was an instance of a murder being committed on the borders of Clare "and Galway, and one of these detectives was sent down. He appeared dressed like a gentleman, and instead of moving about in a judicious way in a different character among the peasantry to obtain information, he so demeaned himself that it became immediately known who he was. The consequence was that he could obtain no information whatever. But to make the absurdity greater, when about a year afterwards another grave offence committed in the same neighbourhood, the very same man, of course well-known to the people, was sent down to make inquiries. It was an important feature in this matter that so far from crime being prevalent in Ireland, so far from the people generally being disorderly, there was not on the face of the earth a population among whom there was so little general crime and immorality. He ventured to say that if returns of the amount of crime of all kinds were made, the statistics would reflect the highest honour on the Irish people. What he complained of was that where crime did exist the constituted authorities of the country were totally unable to deal with it, and that where it did not exist it was entirely due to the good conduct of the people themselves. He would say a word or two with respect to the stipendiary magistrates. When the Act of 1836 passed through Parliament there was a good deal of discussion about the appointment of this class of magistrates, and it was then contended that they were selected as men more likely to be able to deal with the crime of the country than the resident magistrates. But they were in a very anomalous and strange position, and their standing in reference to the resident magistrates was very ill-defined. The gentry of the country did not know in what light to regard them, and the consequence was, a very natural clashing of the duties of the two bodies. One effect of this appointment had been that the constabulary no longer looked upon the resident magistracy with the respect which they ought to do. In proof this he might cite the reply of a constable to a resident magistrate, a Member of the other House, when he found fault with some part of his conduct,—"I have given satisfaction to my superior officer, and that is enough for me." The truth was that the stipendiary magistrates had superseded the local magistracy, and this reacted on the constabulary. It was a grave constitutional question whether this large constabulary force ought to he continued as an armed body; whether, in short, they were to be constables or soldiers, The force consisted of 12,184 men, with 316 horses, and they were all appointed by and under the control of the Lord Lieutenant. The cost, including the stipendiary magistrates, was upwards of £653,256, of which no less than £639,391 was chargeable on the Consolidated Fund, and £13,865 on counties and cities in Ireland. He believed that no corps d'élite in Europe formed a more admirable body of men than the 12,000 members of the Irish constabulary force. They were told to be soldiers, and they were excellent soldiers; and he felt persuaded that if they were told be constables they would be excellent constables. He did not object to their being armed and drilled, but he did object to their being taken away from the proper performance of their duties as a constabulary force, and converted into soldiers. The noble Marquess concluded by moving for a Return of the Number of Offences against the Person reported to the Government by the Police in Ireland, and the Number of Individuals tried, the Number acquitted, and the Number committed for such Crimes, in each Year from the 1st January, 1850, to the 1st January, 1860: Also, Return of the Number of Cases in which the Irish Government offered Rewards for the Apprehension of Criminals in each of the above-mentioned Years, specifying the Number of Cases in which any such Reward was claimed and paid: Also, Return of the Number of Outrages reported in each of the last Seven Years in the Counties of Meath, Westmeath, and King's County, and the Number of Persons tried, with the Number of Convictions or Acquittals in those Years: Also, Return of the Amount of the Police stationed in those Counties in each of those Years, and of the Number of Stipendiary Magistrates: And also, Return of the Total Amount of the Constabulary Force in Ireland and of the Number of Stipendiary Magistrates, in each of the Years 1830, 1840, 1850, 1855, and 1859.


said, that with the alteration of a very few words there would be no objection to producing the Returns moved for by the noble Marquess, he proposed that the words "for such crimes" in the first Return should be omitted, inasmuch as it would be impossible to conform to them without entailing a vast amount of unnecessary labour and loss of time. He would also recommend that the different Returns should be made out for the term of ten years, instead of for the varying intervals indicated in the Motion. He must, however, ask their Lordships not to be led away by the noble Marquess's speech, to the tenor of which there were grave objections. He (the Duke of Somerset) thought the Irish constabulary, for the time it had existed, had been a most useful force; and that anything that tended to reduce its efficiency would be regarded as a serious evil to Ireland. It was not enough to say that crimes had been committed, and that the persons who had committed them had escaped detection and punishment. In order to form a proper estimate of the value of the Irish police force, which might now he regarded as an institution of the country, it was necessary to look back to their services for a series of years; and, if their Lordships did that, they would be convinced that upon the whole those services had tended greatly to diminish crime. The nature of crime in Ireland as compared with that of England, and the manifest difference in the facilities for its detection in the two countries, were also to be borne in mind. In Ireland the mass of the population were disposed to protect the perpetration of the most common class of outrages; and their Lordships must recollect that a detective force was not all that was wanted to bring persons who had committed crime to trial and conviction; there must also be witnesses, and the great difficulty was to obtain witnesses. Crime in Ireland was of a peculiar character. It was generally crime against the person, and resulted from two causes—either from questions connected with land or with religion. Taking offences against the person, he would show their Lordships—looking back over a series of years—that crime had greatly diminished. In 1850 the offences specially reported to the Inspector General were 10,600; in 1851 they were reduced to 9,000; in 1855 to 4,000; in 1858 to 3,400; and in 1859 they amounted to 3,600. There had, therefore, been a great decrease in that class of crimes in ten years. Again, taking cases of homicide, in 1850 they amounted to 139; in 1858 they were reduced to 103; and in 1859 to 88. Of serious assaults, endangering life, there were, in 1850, 748; and since that time they had been reduced in some years and had increased in others. They were, therefore, unhappily, about as numerous now as they were ten years ago; but they arose in nearly every instance out of disputes connected with the tenure of land, and they were limited to a small portion of the country. In 1850 there were 7,000 cases of sheep and cattle stealing, and in 1858, 1,100. So that in that class of crime there had been a remarkable diminution. And so he could go through the whole category of crime, and show that under the constabulary which the noble Marquess condemned, because it had not tended to diminish crime, in reality crime had greatly diminished, and especially that of homicide. Cases of the unlawful administration of an oath, which was formerly a common crime, had also greatly diminished, as had those of illicit distillation and sending threatening notices. Illicit distillation was formerly sought to be nut down by a special revenue police. That force had been done away, and partly amalgamated with the constabu- lary; and he (the Duke of Somerset) was informed by authorities connected with the revenue that illicit distillation had been more repressed by the constabulary than it had been before. The noble Marquess did not wish the Irish constabulary force to be soldiers; but as he understood the noble Marquess, he did not object to the constabulary being subjected to a certain amount of drill, inasmuch as that was necessary and valuable in the case of men who might be called on to act in bodies; but he did not clearly apprehend the exact amount of condemnation which the noble Marquess meant to bestow on the constabulary force. The detection of crime in Ireland materially depended on obtaining the necessary witnesses. But that was next to impossible, and crime would still continue so long as there prevailed among the people a determination not to support the law, but to uphold instead a hidden law of their own, controlling and overriding the law of the land. The noble Marquess objected to the constabulary being employed as detectives, because he said they set about their business in a very clumsy manner. That might be so, but he (the Duke of Somerset) had been informed that on one occasion, when a detective had been sent over to Ireland from England with a view to the discovery of the perpetrator of a crime in Dublin, he found the constabulary force had such superior means of obtaining information that he left the matter in their hands. He did not think the condemnation passed upon the police force of Ireland by the noble Marquess was a just one, and in agreeing to the Motion he wished it to be understood that he dissented from the opinion upon which it had been made. He should propose to amend the Motion by omitting from the first Return the words "for such crimes," and in the third substituting "ten" years for "seven."


thought that the constabulary should be placed more under the control of the local magistrates. At present they received their orders from head quarters, and they seemed to feel a good deal of jealousy about being interfered with by the local authorities.


thought it very likely that there existed too great a desire on the part of the chief of the force to turn the constabulary into a body of smart soldiers. But he agreed with the noble Duke that the failure in bringing criminals to justice in Ireland arose not from that cause, but from the sympathy manifested by the mass of the population with the perpetrators of agrarian outrages. The noble Marquess complained that the men were kept always in their uniform; but that was likewise the case with the London force, with the exception of a certain number of men, who were allowed to appear in plain clothes on special occasions. The real cause of the impunity of crime was the reluctance of the population to appear against the perpetrators of offences. In fact, in some districts, the whole population sympathised with the criminal rather than with the police. In his opinion it would be necessary to carry further a principle they had already recognized by an Act passed in the year 1847, by which the Irish Government were enabled to station a body of police in any particular place at the expense of the district. That was a return to the old law of our Saxon ancestors, who made each district responsible for all the offences committed within it; and by that law peace and good order had at last been established. What he should recommend would be to lay a fine upon every district in which offences of a certain description were committed, to be levied not upon the owners of the property, but upon the occupiers, unless the offenders were brought to justice. Something must be done, for the bad spirit which they had hoped had been put down was reviving; and if they allowed that spirit to interfere with the schemes for the improvement of property which were beginning to be adopted, there was an end to all their hopes for the advancement of the country in wealth, in prosperity, and in civilization.


said, he believed the returns which the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) had quoted, for the purpose of showing that crime had of late diminished in Ireland were calculated to mislead their Lordships. Since the month of July, 1858, there had been twelve murders committed in the county of Westmeath, and there had been only one conviction in these twelve cases, and that had only been a conviction for manslaughter. Three other persons, indeed, remained for trial at the next assizes. How then could it be said that there had of late been a diminution of crime in Ireland? The ribbon system was one of awful terror, and it was no wonder that under its operation witnesses were prevented from affording their aid to secure the ends of justice. He did not believe that anything like that system ex- isted in any other country in Europe. He was persuaded that nothing but military law would be capable of dealing with that evil. He did not say that he would recommend the introduction of military law into Ireland; but he said that the evil was one that could only be dealt with by extraordinary means. Something should be done, for the country could not be left in the state in which it was at present placed.


said, he thought it was too much the habit, in discussions of this nature, for noble Lords to quote the instances of their own exceptional localities, as showing the character of the whole country. When the noble Marquess, who spoke last, said that crime and outrage had increased, and were increasing, he gave utterance to a statement which was not borne out by the returns that had been made with regard to the country generally, however true it might be with regard to his own particular county. His noble Friend on the cross benches (Earl Grey) seemed to think that agrarian outrages had of late been on the increase, but he could assure his noble Friend that that was not the case. In proof that crime was generally decreasing he might mention that in 1851 there were twelve homicides of an agrarian character, while last year there were only four; that, in 1851 there 133 serious assaults endangering life, and last year only nineteen. These facts must be satisfactory to their Lordships, and it certainly was unfair towards a country in which such progress had been made to infer that generally speaking there was now the same extent of crime as obtained when he was Secretary for Ireland and for some years subsequently. It was said that the police in Ireland assumed a somewhat military character. That, no doubt, was an evil to be guarded against; but no one would wish to reduce the Irish constabulary to the purely civilian character of the police in this country. He admitted, however, that the force ought not to be so purely military as to greatly impair its usefulness in detecting crime, and in aiding the law by the production of witnesses. It was true that there was often a lack of witnesses that enabled many criminals to escape, and doubtless a good constable could often bring forward a witness where an inefficient one would fail. A complaint had been made that the constabulary did not attend to the orders of the local magistrates. Now, of course, it was impossible for him to test exactly the justice of that complaint; but where a body had been organized under an efficient head it was absolutely necessary that they should take their orders from their own officers, and not from individual magistrates. He did not affirm that they should not be under the orders of the magistracy generally; but infinite confusion would result if each magistrate were able to give independent orders, and the constabulary would never know whom they were to obey. In England the same rule prevailed. It was the duty of the police to take orders from their Superintendents; and though this sometimes led to complaints, he was convinced that the more they were kept under the control of their own officers the better.


said, he had not the slightest intention of making an attack on the Government, but simply to state what he knew to be the fact. If the law were powerful enough to give the people protection they would not want witnesses; but unfortunately it was not so.


said, he had never intended to deny that there had been an immense decrease of crime in Ireland, which now was one of the most tranquil countries in Europe. As to England, she would come very badly off in comparison with the sister country. The homicides in England vastly exceeded those in Ireland, and horrible crimes were committed here which in Ireland were totally unknown. What he complained of was that the Irish police were unable to detect the crime which did exist there. According to the argument of the noble Duke, soldiers would do very well as a constabulary force in Ireland; but he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) maintained that soldiers could not be constables. There was at present great difficulty in procuring evidence; he admitted that; but the local constables, who had more liberty of action, and who knew the country and had greater intercourse with the population used to get evidence, and would do so again. Some time ago a murder was committed in Queen's County, according to rumour, by a man named Delany. This person absconded, and the police with all their exertions could not ascertain whither he had gone. Now, if there had been such a body of constables as used to exist, he believed it would have been impossible for Delany to have escaped. He did not object to the alterations proposed in the Returns.

Motion as amended agreed to.

Returns ordered.