HL Deb 12 February 1861 vol 161 cc330-8

presented a Petition of Farmers and Inhabitants of the Southern Part of the county of Leitrim, praying for the Suppression of Illegal Societies, for Protection from Violence, and that the laws may be properly administered. The noble Earl said that the petitioners numbered 2,079, and they complained of the existence of an organised system of murder under a system called Ribbonism—a system that was maintained for political purposes and party objects; it created the utmost terror throughout the country, and exposed the lives of many of the most respectable inhabitants to the greatest danger. The petitioners feared, unless the law were put in force, there would be a return of the anarchy and disturbances of 1845 and 1846. They felt aggrieved that magistrates not having any property in the county of Leitrim, and who did not contribute to the county rates, should be permitted to attend the sessions, and there to swamp the opinions of the cess payers. They prayed that every means should be afforded for the redress of grievances and the punishment of crime, that justice might be administered without fear, favour, or affection, and that they might enjoy the same liberties as others of Her Majesty's subjects. The noble Earl said he wished to mention several facts which formed the basis of the complaints of the petitioners. It would be remembered that in 1857 the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was in office. It was perfectly notorious the part which that noble Earl took in elections at that period. In the county of Leitrim the noble Earl had not only shown himself a zealous partisan, but had actually since appointed one of the paid agents of the Liberal party to the office of Clerk of the Crown. At the same time the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Roscommon became a candidate for the county of Leitrim, and a mob from the former county was brought into Leitrim, for the purpose of intimidating and damaging the property of those who had interested themselves on the opposite side. At the same time the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Leitrim put forward his brother as a candidate for the county. The noble Earl opposite (Earl of Granard) — who was connected with a neighbouring county — allowed the mob to enter into his demesne in Longford, where they provided themselves with bludgeons. He (the Earl of Leitrim) thought it necessary to mention those facts, inasmuch as they hinged closely upon events that occurred afterwards. In the elections of 1859 they had fortunately a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who was respected by all parties. He regretted that his noble Friend (the Earl of Eglinton) was now absent from domestic affliction. That noble Earl was as popular a Lord Lieutenant as ever held that office in Ireland. He was too honourable and high-minded to interfere in matters of this kind. The consequence was there was a total cessation of that not and disorder which existed during the two years previously. But what was the conduct of the noble Earl who succeeded him? No sooner had he (the Earl of Carlisle) arrived in Ireland than he commenced the old system which had entailed such disastrous results. The noble Earl was instrumental in bringing a certain gentleman before a legal tribunal. The barrister who presided on that occasion, it was generally believed, had no legal authority to administer an oath. In regard to the county of Leitrim, the noble Earl at the head of the Government in Ireland, as he had said before, appointed the Clerk of the Crown one of the paid agents of the Liberal party, who continued to act in that capacity. He mentioned those facts for the purpose of showing that, however popular that nobleman might have been in some respects, he was wholly unfitted for the position which he now held. The petitioners prayed to be relieved from what was commonly known as the Ribbon system. There was only one other country in Europe where such a system prevailed, and that was Naples. He was convinced that that system of terrorism could not continue to exist if there was a sincere desire on the part of the Government to put it down, and that it would not now remain a disgrace to Ireland if it were not winked at by the authorities. There were magistrates and others connected with the administration of justice who were suspected of Ribbonism. In 1858 a trial of an extraordinary character took place in that country. Several persons were charged with crimes committed under the Ribbon system, amongst whom was a man named Daniel Sullivan, a schoolmaster under the National Board of Education. The indictment charged him with having conspired, with other persons, feloniously to deprive Her Majesty of Her Crown. It was given in evidence that those Ribbon societies were in active organisation throughout the country, and indictments were brought in Belfast and Kerry. In the case of Sullivan, Mr. O'Hagan, who was then one of the Commissioners of Education, went down to the trial as counsel for the national schoolmaster; the result, however, of the trial was the conviction of Sullivan, who was accordingly sentenced to ten years' penal servitude. A change of Government soon afterwards took place, when the gentleman who acted as counsel for Sullivan was appointed Solicitor General. Six months had scarcely passed since the conviction of Sullivan when he was released. He (the Earl of Leitrim) considered that such a system of Government was a downright encouragement to treason and other crimes of Ribbonism. If ever there was a time when a Lord Lieutenant should be cautious in extending pardon, it was, he thought, in such cases as that of Sullivan, when men were tried and convicted under the preceding Government. The system was to pardon everybody; pardon was the rule, and punishment the exception, with those who had the administration of the laws in Ireland. Here he would call the attention of the Government to the atrocities of the Pope's army. It was said that three or four hundred of the police went to join the Pope's army, and it was also said that they were brought back at the public expense. However that might be, they lost no time in showing their gratitude by marching through the city of Dublin on three successive nights, smashing the church windows, and those of such inhabitants who were obnoxious to them, and assaulting the peaceable inhabitants under the very nose of the Viceroy: yet no proclamation was ever made under the Party Processions Act, nor wore any steps taken to prevent these atrocious proceedings. He would now call attention to the acts of a noble Earl whom he saw opposite (the Earl of Granard). As soon as the noble Earl was of age, he recommended one Mr. Evers to be appointed a magistrate of the county, although he had neither property nor residence in it, and that gentleman had shown himself to be the most mischievous person with whom he had ever met. On one occasion the noble Earl came down to the quarter sessions with his phalanx of magistrates, for the purpose of restoring to two publicans their licences, which they had lost for keeping disorderly houses; the consequence was that a rev. gentleman, who was a magistrate of the county, had received notice that his life was not worth six months' purchase. The noble Earl desired to keep the county in a state of ferment, and therefore the very life of the rev. gentleman was placed in jeopardy, and the licenses of these two public-houses were made the means of keeping up the agitation; and the decision of the magistrates who had refused the licences was unjustifiably reversed. Nor was this all. The parties keeping one of these houses were of the worst character, and it became the rendezvous of the most disreputable people, and within a short time of the restoring of the licence a man was dragged from his cart, in the neighbourhood, and murdered, by being beaten to death with sticks, or something like sticks; and from the evidence of the widow there was good ground for believing that the murderers had gone, after committing the crime, to one of these houses. The accused person was sentenced to a year's imprisonment. When his noble Friend was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland he hab himself solicited a remission of three months of that man's punishment on the understanding that there should no longer be a public-house in the locality, and that the son should leave the country. The son did leave the country, but returned; he was refused a certificate of character by the magistrates at petty sessions. But it was necessary for the purposes of agitation in the county that there should be a public house, and that this man should have a licence. The stipendiary magistrate attended the following petty sessions, and gave the man a certificate, and the licence was renewed. It was only necessary to continue this course for the perpetrator of every crime, treason, murder, and robbery to escape. He anticipated the most fearful results for the future, for he had no hesitation in saying that the whole course of justice was perverted. The people were intimidated before trial, at the trial, and after trial; and the whole system was so corrupt that it was impossible for those who desired the well-being of the country to struggle against such a mass of iniquity. The people were beginning to be of opinion that they could not be worse off than they were at present. The noble Earl opposite had recommended the magistrates at quarter sessions to grant a licence in the same locality to which he had previously referred to a person named Thomas Kinahan, who received a licence to sell spirits in October, 1859, and no sooner was his house licensed than another outrage took place in the same locality, by a party of four men breaking into a house and beating the family, and stealing arms. The Lord Lieutenant ought to take steps to prevent this state of things. The noble Earl referred to some documents to show that the Ribbon society bad of late become more active; and said that he was quite sure that the farmers wished to be free from this atrocious system, and that they also wished to be loyal, peaceable, and industrious. This, however, could not be if the present system of political agitation were allowed to continue, a part of which consisted in men getting up false evidence for the assizes, and sitting in open court, under the very nose of the Judge, staring jurors out of countenance, intimidating, brow-beating, and afterwards waylaying and beating persons connected with the administration of justice. The noble Earl referred to an instance of denouncing Protestant tradesmen from the altar, which resulted in their shops being virtually closed for six months; but an end was put to this state of things by the landlord threatening to give the Roman Catholic tradesnen notice to quit if such a state of things continued. He denied that there was any such thing as agrarian outrage, and the very name itself was a sham; but the truth was that the country being agricultural, and there being very little doing in the manufacturing way, the principal source of trouble was got up by the priests raising causes of quarrel between landlords and tenants. The whole system was as regular as clockwork; they got some hot-headed man to quarrel with his landlord, and the tenant having been ejected they raised him up as a martyr. He complained of the conduct of the noble Earl opposite for having presided at a meeting in the county of Longford, at which it was resolved to apply to the Lord Lieutenant that the Peace Preservation Act should be applied to a certain district, and yet that no additional police should be sent there to preserve the peace. This, he contended, was absurd and preposterous. The district had been aggrieved by the conduct of its magistrates in a variety of other ways tending to provoke a breach of the peace, driving the Roman Catholics to emigrate or to join the Ribbon societies; but they had chosen in the meantime to take the constitutional course of sending a petition to their Lordships' House, which they had entrusted to his hands.


said, he heard with regret the attack made by the noble Lord upon the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; and, although it was not his province to defend him, he was bound to say, without detracting from the merits of any of his predecessors, that a more popular and amiable nobleman never represented Her Majesty in Ireland. He (the Earl of Granard) felt himself in a rather painful position in consequence of the serious and vague charges brought against him, of not one of which had he received the slightest notice from the noble Earl. The noble Earl merely wrote to him stating that he was about to bring his conduct as Lord Lieutenant of the county of Leitrim before the House, but he did not furnish him with the nature of the charges.


I answered that I was going to arraign the whole of your acts.


said, that he had never received that answer, but that during the three or four years he had held the position of Lord Lieutenant of the county, he had met with the approbation, not only of the present, but the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as well as of the present and late Lord Chancellor of Ireland. With reference to the appointment of magistrates, he had to state that he was not Lord Lieutenant of the county when Mr. George Evers was appointed, but he did recommend that he should receive the commission of the peace, believing him to be a fit and proper person to hold that office. He had been High Sheriff of Longford, and during a long life he had, by his conduct, endeared himself to his neighbours. He had been a surgeon in the British army during the Peninsular war, and after Waterloo had served for many years in Ceylon. The noble Earl having referred to some other appointments mentioned by the noble Earl, said, he took exception to the petition on two grounds. First the allegations contained in it were unfounded; and, secondly, it represented neither the feelings nor convictions of the people of Leitrim. He might state, in answer to the noble Earl, that the population of the county of Leitrim in 1841 was 155,297, and in 1851 only 111,841, showing a decrease of 43,456. In 1845, a favourite year with the noble Earl, the aggregate crime of Leitrim amounted to 999 cases, while in 1860 it was represented by only 92 cases, showing a decrease of 907 cases. Moreover, he denied that the county was in a disturbed state; that the several protection posts, deemed necessary in 1847, had been discontinued, with the exception of one at Cornaghy, for the protection of Mr. David Stuart; that this post was no longer, in his opinion, necessary, but had been retained at the instance of the noble Earl opposite, and had cost the county already, from 1852 to 1861, £830; but, at the same time, every measure had been taken to secure its peace; that the three baronies of Mohill Carrigallen, and Leitrim, were still pro- claimed; that over their Parliamentary force of 251 constables, they had in the county sixty extra men, at an annual cost of £1,050; that three resident magistrates attended in the county, while the local magistrates were most strenuous in their endeavours to administer the law efficiently. The noble Earl read several letters from persons whose names were attached to the petition, stating that they had signed it under a misapprehension of its purport, and it was got up by the noble Earl opposite; and concluded by saying he trusted he had now convinced their Lordships that the county of Leitrim was not in such a state as that described by the noble Earl. He also wished he could equally have convinced the noble Earl of that fact, but he feared that that was impossible, and that even, if he were convinced by his arguments, he would say, as was said by one, I who of old indulged a fond fancy, "Demptus per vim, mentis gratissimus error."


complained that the noble Earl (Earl of Leitrim) had given to the Lord Lieutenant no sufficient information as to the charges which he intended to bring against that nobleman. In a letter to Lord Carlisle he stated that he proposed this evening to call attention To the conduct of the Earl of Carlisle as regards the general government of the country, his appointments, and his improperly influencing the election of Members to be returned to the House of Commons, and thus disturbing the peace of the country and rendering life and property insecure. Surely, the noble Earl, to use a legal term, was bound to have furnished further and better particulars. At all events it was impossible for the Lord Lieutenant, upon an intimation so vague and general, to give to any one in that House the facts and the information which would fully answer the charges that might be made in pursuance of such a notice. He (Earl Granville) had listened attentively to the speech of the noble Earl—more attentively than the noble Earl's own friends, who had speedily, and in the most unfeeling manner, left him quite alone; but even now he could not make out any of the charges which had been brought against the Lord Lieutenant. Old election stories had been raked up, applying to Lord Carlisle's conduct during his former Lord Lieutenancy; but it was clearly impossible, without any previous notice, to enter into these. With regard to one person mentioned by the noble Earl, a satisfactory investigation had taken place, and Lord Carlisle, in consequence, had great pleasure in putting that gentleman down as a sheriff for the present year. As to the misguided men who had returned from the Papal dominions, the noble Earl was misinformed when he said they had committed every sort of outrage unrepressed. It was true they had returned as had been stated; but so long as they kept perfectly peaceable it was thought more judicious not to interfere with them, and if outrages were committed the law would assuredly be enforced. The noble Earl stated that his object in bringing forward these matters was to provide for the defence of his Protestant neighbours and to secure the peace and welfare of Catholics. But was that object likely to be promoted by making in that House wholesale charges of the most serious character against the Viceroy, against the Lord Lieutenant of the county in which the noble Earl resided, against his neighbours, whether in or out of the commission, and whether lay or spiritual? He recommended the noble Earl to consider whether the peace and welfare of Ireland could not be promoted by some other means.

Petition to lie on the Table.

House adjourned at a Quarter before Eight o'clock, to Thursday next, a Quarter before Five o'clock.