HL Deb 30 June 1864 vol 176 cc482-92

in rising to move the Resolution of which he had given notice, said, he felt considerable diffidence in bringing this subject forward, because he felt the difficulty of treating so important a matter in the manner it deserved. He brought the subject under their Lordships' attention in no spirit of hostility to the noble Earl who held the office of Lord Lieutenant, for whom in his social position he had the greatest possible regard and affection. But he should be wanting in frankness if he did not say—and he was not alone in thinking so—that Lord Carlisle had shown in the government of Ireland a want of prudence and of firmness in resisting improper pressure. Nothing would induce him to bring this subject forward if he had not a strong conviction that the Lord Lieutenant's decision in releasing certain convicted prisoners had aggravated the unfortunate position in. which many parts of the country stood. During the viceroyalty of the noble Marquess, now no more, (the Marquess of Normanby) he made a sort of Royal progress through the country and released prisoners by hundreds. The result of that policy was fully disclosed before the Committee of 1839, and it was shown to be most injurious to the peace of the country. To come to a later period—in Westmeath the Riband Society was flourishing, and some extracts from charges of the Judges who had held Her Majesty's assize for that county would best illustrate the position of affairs there. At the summer assizes of 1859 Chief Justice Monahan said— He regretted that, although the calendar was very light in point of numbers, he could not congratulate them upon the state of the county. It was lamentable that since he had the honour of addressing them last, a most barbarous murder had been committed in their county, under circumstances of great atrocity. The crime was perpetrated in the presence of several persons, and the assassin, who must have been known, had not yet been made amenable to justice. It was a shocking thing that one of the bills that would be laid before them had reference to a threatening notice that had been sent to the wife of the man who had been murdered. He need not say that when such a state of things existed in their county it was most important that every magistrate and gentleman of property should do all in his power to aid in the administration of justice, for until such men as he saw before him co-operated in putting an end to such crimes and disturbances as at present disgraced them, they could not hope to restore tranquillity to their fine county. The Chief Justice here threw blame upon the magistrates and grand jurors, as though they had not performed their duty. Now, the fault did not lie with them, but with the Irish Government, who had released culprits justly convicted and sentenced. At the Spring Assizes for 1860 Mr. Justice Keogh charged the grand jury in these words— Although the number of prisoners upon the calendar which has been laid before me is not large, I am sorry I am not able to say, from the information I have obtained, that the condition of the county is satisfactory; the very reverse is the fact. The number of cases upon the calendar is only seven, but when we look to the character of those cases, four being murder and two for assaults so as to endanger life, it is impossible to abstain from the expression of the opinion that the condition of the people of this county is anything but desirable. He wished to show that the condition of the county was not the result of a sudden outbreak of agrarian outrage, but had long existed, and that for years this war of ribandism against life and property had continued in the county. At the Summer Assizes in 1862 Chief Justice Monahan said— I sincerely wish that the calendar before me could be taken as an index of the state of your county. If such were the case, it would be a matter of sincere congratulation, but I regret to find that it is not. Since my arrival in town I have been furnished by the county inspector and other officials with a return of the offences committed in the county since last assizes, and this return shows that, in a very large number of cases, the perpetrators have escaped detection. There are twelve or fourteen instances where parties have been served with threatening notices, and in not one of these have the authors been discovered. There are several cases of malicious injury also, for which not a single person has been made amenable. There is a repugnance evinced by the persons aggrieved to aid the authorities in the detection of the guilty parties. This repugnance—whether caused by fear, intimidation, or otherwise—I consider, in a great measure accounts for the non-discovery of the perpetrators of crime. There was a remarkable case in connection with a small property belonging to a gentleman named Smith. This gentleman was obliged to evict a tenant or tenants. The first tenant put in, a man named Kelly, was murdered. His murderers had never been detected, and no one had been punished. The next tenant named Jessop, was also murdered, and while he was lying dead a threatening letter was sent to his widow. No one was convicted of either of these crimes, though the murder was committed in broad daylight. Suspicion, however, fell upon a man who was very fortunately convicted shortly afterwards of a malicious assault, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. But, in spite of his known character, he was not allowed to spend the full period of his sentence in prison, but was released six months before his term had expired. A magistrate of the neighbourhood, having ascertained this fact, wrote to the Chief Secretary of Ireland, desiring to learn the cause of his release. He received the following answer from Sir Robert Peel:— Dublin Castle, Oct. 17, 1861. Dear Sir,—I have made inquiries respecting the case of Darby Grehon, committed March, 1860, by Judge Keogh, for malicious assault, and sentenced to two years' hard labour. I find that this prisoner was discharged August 16 of this present year, consequently with six months of his sentence unexpired. You expressed a no doubt well grounded alarm at the premature release of this convict, particularly as you were under the impression that Judge Keogh had announced in court that he regretted to be unable to pass a more severe sentence than the one recorded. I find, however, that it was upon Judge Keogh's own special recommendation that this prisoner was discharged last August, on the plea that the prisoner was a very poor man when convicted, and that the state of the county of Westmeath is much improved. I would venture to recommend that you should direct the police to have a vigilant eye upon this man, so as to afford him no opportunity of further disturbance of the peace. I am, yours faithfully, G. A. Boyd, Esq." "ROBERT PEEL. That was the excuse urged by the Chief Secretary for the release of a man who had been discharged, certainly without any communication with the local magistrates. He had another case to bring forward, which would show the manner in which the Irish Government were in the habit of dealing with offenders. Their Lordships knew how difficult was the detection of persons in possession of passwords of illegal societies. A conviction in such cases was almost impossible. A man named Martin Fallon, however, wa3 convicted of this offence at the Spring Assizes of 1859, and in passing sentence upon him Chief Justice Monahan said— Martin Fallon, you have been found guilty of having in your possession the passwords of an illegal society, knowing them to be such, without being able to account satisfactorily for the same. It has been proved that this unlawful conspiracy exists, and is widely spread throughout Ireland. If one thing is calculated more than another to do injury to the peace of the country, it is the existence of this abominable society. I entertain no shadow of a doubt whatever that you had the copy of those passwords in your possession solely and expressly for the purpose of disseminating them through the country. Of that I am quite as certain as I can be of anything of which I have not actual knowledge. Therefore it becomes my duty to pass upon you the most severe sentence which the law allows me to do. I am quite convinced that if there be any one thing more injurious to men in your class of life than another it is the existence of such illegal combinations and confederacies. It happens, unfortunately for those who wish to carry out their illegal designs, that their power to do mischief will be of temporary duration. The law at present in force has not reached the combination which at present exists in the country to its fullest extent; but the day is fast approaching when there will be evidence sufficient to reach such persons. As you were implicated in several crimes before you went to America, and on your return you have again commenced the same course of conduct, under these circumstances the sentence of the Court is, that you suffer seven years' penal servitude. A friend of his, a magistrate of the county of Westmeath, to his astonishment saw this man walking about a short time since, and so strong was his impression that the Government would not release a man of such a stamp, that he thought he must have been mistaken, and determined to write to the governor of the gaol to ascertain whether the man was still in prison. The governor, in his reply, stated that the man had been released upon a ticket-of-leave. The man might now possibly have resumed his old employment, and be persuading people to join these illegal societies. He had no doubt that it might be said that the prisoner had behaved very well while in prison, and had given such satisfaction to the authorities that he had been released before his time. He maintained, however, that such a man ought to have been sent to Western Australia, for the only way to suppress those conspiracies was to show no mercy whatever. He now same to the case of which he had given notice. It referred to the case of a man named Kelly, who had been living at Moate, and the injuries which he had suffered had been thus detailed in a letter which he had received from an inhabitant of the place— In March last an office of Kelly's, with eleven head of good cattle, was maliciously burned, and he believes the reason to be his having let a garden to the Doulans, which had for many years previously been in the possession of a family named Costello. For this offence against the Riband code Doulan's house was attacked by an armed party in 1862, among whom were the Duigans and Egan. Early in 1863 another house on Kelly's land was maliciously burned. They have never ceased persecuting him since he let the garden to the Doulans. He understood that the defence of the Lord Lieutenant's conduct would rest upon the fact that there was some doubt as to the identity of the prisoners, Michael Duigan, Patrick Egan, and Patrick Duigan; but the evidence of Ann Doulan was conclusive upon this point. The defence for the prisoners was one often employed by the guilty, an alibi—and he must say that he had always found an alibi in case of failure to be the very worst defence that could possibly be set up. He could not conceive any case more clear as to guilt. The learned Judge in passing sentence promised them that he would inflict the heaviest punishment in his power, and he kept his word, having no fault to find with the verdict of the jury. Under these circumstances it was important to know why these three men were let out of prison. It appeared that the Lord Lieutenant received two memorials. He received one memorial in March, 1863, from one of the prisoners, Michael Duigan, the only one who had ever so asked for a remission of the punishment. That person in his memorial stated some things which were not true. Of course he denied his guilt—as every Irishman who was ever accused had done—but he went on to state that he had an aged father and a mother dependent on him for support. The Lord Lieutenant was not aware that that statement was untrue, but he took no steps to ascertain whether it was true or false. If he had made inquiries, he would have found that Duigan's father possessed eight or ten cottages and was in a very comfortable position. That memorial was backed by the recommendations of forty-seven persons living at Moate; but the names of only two of there were printed by the Government, as the Castle authorities were ashamed of the other forty-five. He had some information as to the characters of those persons, and he was informed by an inhabitant of that town that "the memorial was signed by a class of persons that the Government were ashamed of." Thus, among the signers there was a draper and spirit dealer, a baker and spirit dealer, a grocer and whisky seller, a baker and whisky dealer, &c. It was noticeable that no Return had been made, according to the order of the House, of the communications which accompanied the memorial. Upon that memorial no steps were taken, but they were not informed whether the Chief Justice was communicated with. The answer to that memorial it appeared was not favourable, for a second was presented in February last. That memorial was signed by Mr. Berry, a Baptist minister. Respecting that gentleman he had received some information which it was well the House should possess. It appeared that Mr. Berry, although an excellent man, entertained some very curious notions about punishments and rewards, thinking that temporal punishments were altogether wrong, and that offences committed in this world should be left to the awful punishment of a dreadful hereafter. These notions might be very amiable in a Baptist minister, but they were not such as should animate persons who had to deal with offences committed in this world, or else it would be better at once to abolish our criminal code of laws. That memorial was supported by Mr. William Greene, who was described as agent to a large landed proprietor. Mr. Greene's own description of himself was that he was not agent to any one, but that he farmed forty-two acres of land; and an inhabitant of Moate, who had furnished him (the Earl of Donoughmore) with information, described Greene as One of the Rev. Mr. Berry's congregation, and being the only Protestant in the neighbourhood, he lost no opportunity of interfering in such matters by way of gaining popularity. This memorial being received on the 10th of February, the men were released on the 16th. Having shown how these memorials had been got up, and the manner in which they bad been received, he had to complain that upon neither of those memorials had the Lord Lieutenant consulted any person connected with the locality. The Lord Lieutenant knew that there were magistrates and grand jurors acquainted with the district, from whom he could have ascertained the character of the persons who signed the memorials. In fact, the noble Earl seemed to have been guided by a statement in Mr. Berry's letter— That he had always used his influence for the deterring of crime, and that influence he had felt it a privilege to give to the present Liberal Government. Perhaps that was the reason why Mr. Berry succeeded in his application to the Lord Lieutenant—that kind of soft sawder might have blinded the noble Earl—but still he ought to have taken some precautions before interfering with the verdict of a jury and the award of a Judge. Within a few days afterwards Kelly's offices were burnt down. Only one of the three prisoners remained in the country, and when he found that the police were making inquiries he ran off, affording very fair ground for the presumption that he had taken part in the outrage. The murder took place a few days afterwards. An old man, assisted by his son, had taken a small piece—two acres—of land. This was against the decree of the secret society. A party of men came in open day, beat the unfortunate son, and left him dying. There must have been plenty of witnesses; but there was the greatest difficulty in getting any one to speak to the facts. These were the outrages which were going on in the county where the Lord Lieutenant was amusing himself with his gaol deliveries. The Lord Lieutenant was not satisfied in letting one of the prisoners out. Two of them by their silence admitted the justice of their sentence; but the Lord Lieutenant was so generous a man that he released the whole three prisoners. Such proceedings might be very amusing to the Lord Lieutenant, but they were ruin to property, to the security of life, and all the best interests of the country. They required a man of courage and determinalion—a man with a firm hand—in the position of the Lord Lieutenant, and that they certainly had not in Ireland at the present moment. The noble Marquess concluded by moving to resolve— That, considering the Extent to which Agrarian Outrages prevail in certain Counties in Ireland, and the Difficulty which exists in obtaining Convictions for Offences of this Description, this House is of Opinion that the Power of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to remit the whole or a Portion of the Sentences of Persons convicted of such Crimes should be exercised with greater Care and Circumspection; and this House observes with Regret that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland ordered the Release of Michael Duigan, Patrick. Duigan, and Patrick Egan, Prisoners under Sentence for an Agrarian Offence, eon-fined in the County Gaol of Westmeath, upon Grounds which appear to be insufficient.


My Lords, I have listened with attention to the long and, I admit, perfectly clear and very carefully-prepared speech of the noble Earl. His Motion is one certainly of importance, and, I may add, of an unusual character. The object of the Motion is to invite this House indirectly to interfere with the discretion with which the Royal prerogative of mercy is exercised, and that this House will agree to a strong personal and severe censure upon the person to whom is delegated the exercise of the Royal prerogative in Ireland. I am quite sure that nothing would induce your Lordships to agree to such a Motion unless it could be shown, and could not be contradicted, that there had been a very gross want of discretion in the administration of that prerogative, or that the person exercising it had been influenced by some corrupt motives. Now, with regard to that, the noble Earl began with a very just eulogium on the Lord Lieutenant; but the fault he imputed to him was this—he was too subject to pressure in the exercise of his duties. Now, I certainly am relieved to find that part of the charge brought forward by the noble Earl has been so entirely abandoned; for, so far from political pressure being imputed, the noble Earl said the memorial to the Lord Lieutenant was only signed by persons in a small town in Ireland, whom the noble Earl spoke of with the greatest contempt, because they were only Baptist ministers, grocers, and persons of no influence whatever. The noble Earl enlarged at considerable length on a topic well calculated to affect the feelings of your Lordships, with regard to agrarian outrage in the county of Westmeath—a subject of the greatest importance and sincere concern to Her Majesty's Government. But the question, as I consider, turns on a very different issue. The noble Earl gave no particular instance of the misguided clemency on the part of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and then claimed for himself credit for the fairness with which he gave both public and private notice of his intention in regard to this debate. I did not know what the cases were to which he would refer; but see now what they amount to. In one case, on the recommendation of the Judge, the Lord Lieutenant released the prisoner; and in another the prisoner was not released by the Lord Lieutenant at all, but was released on a ticket-of-leave. Then, with regard to the particular case with which he had to deal, the prisoners had been in gaol for upwards of nineteen months out of the twenty-four for which they were sentenced. The Lord Lieutenant referred to the Report of the case by Chief Justice Monahan. That learned Judge gave an account of the trial. I regret extremely that I cannot read it to your Lordships to show the sort of evidence which was brought forward, but I will show it to any one who desires to see it. There were three rooms in the house—an inner room, where there was a girl; the second, in which was the father; and the other, in which were the two brothers. The girl stated that she saw the three prisoners and identified them. The two brothers did not identify them. An alibi was proved The noble Earl spoke with great comtempt of an alibi, and of course it must depend entirely on the facts proved. But what does Chief Justice Monahan say on that point? He said this, "I certainly considered it a case of considerable difficulty, and I really do not know what I should have found if I had been on the jury." I think that casts a great deal of doubt upon the case, and I think the case of these unfortunate men, who had been so long in prison, was in these circumstances a very fair one for the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy. The noble Earl complained very much that the local magistracy had not been consulted. I am surprised that complaint should have been I made after what was said in this House the other evening in the course of a debate that neither in Ireland nor in England, were the magistrates consulted in such cases, except where the chairman of Quarter Sessions was the Judge. Why it: should be made a matter of reproach that I the Lord Lieutenant did not depart from a practice universal both in Ireland and in England I really cannot conceive. The noble Earl went on to show that two of these men had not been guilty of some very atrocious crime, but left the country, and the third, fearing he might get into difficulties again, took himself off as soon as he could. That is a very short statement of the facts. I do not think your Lordships will feel that this is a case for this House to interfere in so unusual a manner as the noble Earl proposes. I cannot believe the noble Earl will be disposed to press his Motion to a division, but if he does I am perfectly confident your Lordships will not support it.


inquired whether the noble Earl intended to divide the House.


expressed his hope that his noble Friend would divide the House, for the matter which had been brought before them was one which was of a very serious character, and the lives of the people ought not to be trifled with as they had been lately. [The noble Earl addressed further remarks to the House which were very imperfectly heard.] As the House, however, was impatient for a division, he would not do more than express his opinion that there was not a proper desire upon the part of the Government in Ireland to promote the welfare of that country. Sub-inspectors of police were put upon the bench, commoners were put over the heads of Peers, and everything was done to degrade the gentry in their counties.


said, that his noble Friend had said that the House was impatient for a division; but he (Lord Chelmsford) must say that he never saw a House more impatient not to come to a division. When he came down to the House he had no knowledge of the facts upon which the Motion was to be founded. He had listened very attentively to the speech of his noble Friend (the Earl of Donoughmore), and he was satisfied that it had not been made out that there had been an improper exercise of leniency or any improper interference with the course of justice on the part of the Lord Lieutenant, in carrying out the very delicate duty of dispensing the mercy of the Crown. Under these circumstances, he hoped that the Motion would not be pressed to a division.


said, he would withdraw his Motion; but that he did not regret having brought the mat- ter forward, because he felt very strongly in reference to it, and he thought that but a weak defence had been made. He hoped that more care would be exercised in future.

Motion (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.