HL Deb 17 March 1864 vol 174 cc166-76

asked Whether the Government have in contemplation any Measure for the Reform and Improvement of the Irish Constabulary? He thought the question was a very important one, because the condition of that force had often been incidentally alluded to in both Houses of Parliament, and had for several years occasioned considerable dissatisfaction in Ireland. Grand juries, magistrates, and public bodies had presented addresses to the Government upon the subject, and Judges had often complained of the inefficiency of the police as a means of preventing and detecting crime. At the Spring Assizes of 1862, Baron Fitzgerald and Justices Keogh, Christian, and Ball delivered charges in which they complained of the manner in which the police performed their duties, and their inefficiency for the protection of the interests of the public by the prevention and detection of crime. At the last Spring Assizes similar charges were delivered to which he would more particularly call their Lordships' attention. At Roscommon Mr. Justice Christian, after complaining of the large number of crimes which were committed, and the small number of persons who were arrested, continued— The result of this whole analysis is, that in the large number of forty-nine cases, with but one solitary exception, and even he ultimately escaped, there has been no detection. These are results of a startling description, and for which two causes only can be assigned; either that the injured parties were influenced by intimidation, or by disinclination to assist justice; or—and the other cause is more for you than for me—that the Constabulary of your county, although in other respects effective, are deficient in energy and skill in that most delicate and important part of their duties, the detection of offenders, which I greatly fear is not popular in the force—particularly in the higher grades—resulting, perhaps, from too high military training of the constabulary. At Limerick, Mr. Justice Keogh said— The Constabulary are the parties who ought to look to it, and it is not creditable to the Constabulary force of this county that so many offences should remain undiscovered, and that the persons by whom they have been committed should escape with impunity. Now, the police force of this country is of great magnitude. In a military point of view it is a considerable army, and in a pecuniary point of view it is a considerable ex- pense. It costs the country £715,000 annually. That is the sum charged to the Consolidated Fund for the maintenance of the Constabulary force. I have seen from the observations of a learned brother that a similar state of things exists in another county; that offences have been committed, and that the perpetrators remain undiscovered, and investigation abandoned. Military display may be a very useful thing, and, no doubt, it is, in its proper place; but I beg leave to say, if the Constabulary apply their attention solely to that, and neglect their primary and more appropriate duties, the object for which the Constabulary were established by Parliament and the Legislature is lost sight it. At Cavan, Baron Fitzgerald used almost the same language. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, in speaking of these Judges, said they had been "disporting themselves" in Ireland, abusing the police and the magistrates; but there was not in any of these charges a word of complaint against the magistrates. Of course, none of these learned persons had taken any notice of these accusations; but at Cork, Mr. Justice Keogh reiterated his statement, and called the attention of the Grand Jury to the ratio of offences and offenders. There could be no doubt that there was general discontent in Ireland at the conduct of the Constabulary. The admission of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, he might add, the other evening, to the effect that 600 men had been carried off in one day to be made food for powder at the other side of the Atlantic, and that detection was impossible, clearly showed that the police were not efficient. In making these observations he wished nevertheless distinctly to be understood as regarding the Irish Constabulary as a force of great merit. He was acquainted with a great number of the officers of the force, and constantly came in contact with them in the discharge of his magisterial duties, and he freely admitted that they were an excellent body of men. He desired, therefore, to cast no blame upon them, but rather upon the organization under which they acted. With improved organization the force might be made quite efficient. It cost the country £715,000 for the force, and for that amount the country had, he thought, a right to expect an efficient police. If it was meant that the police should take the place of a standing army in Ireland, let that at once be stated, and the matter then would be understood. But the Constabulary in Ireland was clearly located there, not as an armed force, but to prevent crime, and assist in its detection, and he now came to the point why so many complaints were made against it in its character of a police force. The first reason was, in his opinion, that the force had too much of a military organization. In making that statement, he did not mean to contend that it should have nothing of that kind, because when, arms were put in men's hands, it was desirable that they should have some amount of discipline and order. That afforded no good ground, however, for clothing them in handsome uniforms, and furnishing them with all the minutiœ of equipment which in the case of a regular force was highly desirable. His first suggestion, therefore, was that the military organization of the police should be reduced to the point where it was absolutely necessary, and that it should not be carried a step beyond. He was also of opinion that all the nonsense about parading hero and parading there, presenting arms to the Judges when they came into a town, and touching their caps to their officers in the way of salute, should be abolished. Such things tended to make the force a military one when such was not really the case. The next and the most important point connected with the subject was the spirit of centralization which prevailed. When the police were first established in Ireland they were put under the control and direction of the local magistrates, and were bound to take orders from them. But how stood the matter now? There was a body consisting of seventy or seventy-two stipendary magistrates, whose members were located all over the country, and who were in immediate communication with the Government, and when the local magistrate endeavoured to use the force, every sort of difficulty was thrown in his way. This centralization should be done away with, and the police placed more under the control of the local magistracy. With reference to another point, he might observe that in a town with which he was acquainted in the South of Ireland, the corporation were anxious to obtain the services of some of the Constabulary for the purpose of watching the town, as was the case in London and all large cities. A good deal of difficulty was made about the matter; but fortunately his noble Friend Lord Naas was at the time Chief Secretary, and when it was urged that the performance of the duty in question would destroy the discipline of the force, he said "You are policemen and must do policemen's duty; you are not paid to walk about and wear fine clothes." As soon, however, as his noble Friend's back was turned, the police spirit became predominant, and from that time to the present the corporation of the borough of Clonmel were unable to procure the police to watch the town. A similar state of things prevailed in several towns in the North of Ireland. The other day, he might add, it appeared that an order was issued that the Constabulary were not to arrest drunken men at the railway stations—he had always understood that it was the duty of the police to prevent drunken men from annoying the Queen's subjects anywhere—and from a Return which had been submitted to the other House of Parliament, he learnt that the Constabulary authorities in Dublin had taken upon themselves the power of construing the Game Act of last Session with respect to poachers, who, if caught by the Metropolitan Police in Dublin, were at once brought before the magistrates; but, if by any of the Constabulary, were let go, because the men received positive orders from their superiors not to seize the poacher unless they were certain that he was the man who took the game. One would have thought that the constable who had been most instrumental in preventing crime or in apprehending offenders would have been the man selected for promotion; but, on the contrary, the constable who was smartest at drill, who kept his accoutrements in the neatest order, and best understood all the mysteries of red tape, as developed in filling up returns, was the man who got forward. The man who had a natural aptitude for the service was left in the ranks until he got tired of the service, and his fellows were not encouraged to follow his example. To crown all, the mode of selecting the officers was absurd. He admitted that there must be great difficulty in getting good officers for such a force, but all anxiety was got rid of by throwing the whole thing into a competitive examination, where a knowledge of Caesar's Commentaries, trigonometry, the differential calculus, and French spoken with an incurable Irish accent, was the requisite qualification. The sharp, intelligent young man, who could ride well, who understood something of the language of the people, and who was well up to all their tricks and contrivances, was the sort of person for an officer of the police, and not a youth fresh from school, with his head crammed by a tutor with accomplishments useful only for other purposes. He readily admitted that the organization of the police in Ireland must differ in some respects from the organization of the police in England; yet they might adopt some points from the English system. The English police was a local police, with its chief constables responsible in each county to the magistracy, and not responsible to any external authority. The Irish police must be responsible to an external authority, but they ought in some degree to be also responsible to local authority. He would read to their Lordships one or two extracts from letters which would show what the Irish police thought of themselves. Of course he could not give the names of the writers, because they wrote anonymously, lest they should at once be dismissed. The first was an extract from a letter to the Cork Examiner, dated March 10, 1864:— In 1859 a code of Enfield Rifle Drill was issued, with strict orders to men and constables to learn it off as quick as possible. We were drawn to head - quarters thrice a week in order to exercise; our weapon at the time was the short carbine, the only fit one, I may say, for the Constabulary. Well, away we worked till the issue of the Enfield, when, lo and behold! it was found we were all the time under an incorrect course of instruction. At it we went again under the new style, till a still more improved system of drill was issued, to which, of course, we were obliged to change; but judge our dismay, when, about two months since, just as we were beginning to think ourselves very smart fellows, a new work was sent forth, completely superseding all previous issues.… Why need a policeman hunt up what he will never be questioned about, to the neglect of that which is the only road to promotion?… When a county or sub-inspector visits a station he thoroughly examines the men in drill, points out their errors, records their defects in the visiting journal, and gives a caution as to improvement. Does he also inquire into the return of crimes committed in the district, their number, and the result in each case? Does he question the men as to the best mode of discovering the offenders? Not at all. He must be above such trifles. A knowledge of the different parts of the beautiful Enfield is of more importance. He sets himself down, unfastens the lock from the stock, unscrews the spring, and requires each man to name the various parts of lock, stock, and barrel. Woe to the unfortunate policeman who is wanting in this all-important examination; his chance of promotion is gone. In the time of Inspector General M'Gregor, our patrols left their barracks at night without exciting the least suspicion. They carried their accoutrements under their greatcoats.… Now, they must carry all those traps outside the greatcoat, and march as soldiers to the battlefield, giving by the parade due notice to all intending burglars who may be on the watch to carry on their operations in some other quarter.… What sane man will endanger his neck by crossing hedges and ditches at night, holding his long sword in one hand and his natty rifle in the other, trembling lest they shall get a scratch which will show and be punished at the next examination? He can have but little care of his own poor body, and small blame to him, under the circumstances, to keep the fair road and leave the fields and the bypaths to the plunderer and the robber, who would not ply their trade with such impunity if the Constabulary were armed with good smart sticks and a pair of Colt's revolvers. The next letter referred to a point upon which he had not touched, the introduction of competitive examination, not for the appointment of officers, but for promotion in the service. It was an extract from a letter from a retired member of the force in the same newspaper— … "The introduction of competitive examination for promotion in the service, established during the command of the late Inspector General, was a deathblow to the efficient working of the force in the detection of offenders. By this mode of obtaining promotion some of the most useless members have been raised over the heads of hard working good men,—members who were never known to perform a creditable turn of duty, and were generally to be found interrupting the cook in her passage to the fire with a slate and pencil, or a book in hand, and feet placed on the fender, instead of being usefully employed. This has caused inactivity among the men, and has also caused the best and most active members to leave, and good men who were unable to leave became so disgusted and disheartened at the promotion of useless, idle men over them, for no other cause but that they could work sums in decimal fractions more expertly, have also become, in many in stances, as useless as the men promoted… Instead of the men being seated constantly at the fire, poring over books, or with the national or parochial teachers, they should be employed in the prevention of crime and the detection of offenders.… Four men are generally ordered to Dublin to compete. I maintain that the least qualified, in point of literary qualifications, frequently happens to be the most respectable, and in every way, for what is required, the best man; notwithstanding the man who gains the most marks succeeds.". He should like to know what the illustrious Duke, the Field Marshal Commanding-in-chief, would say to such a system in the army. He quite admitted that a certain amount of increased education was necessary for the higher rank—that the corporal should know more than the private, and the sergeant more than the corporal; but promotion from the ranks of any force ought to be given for service. He apologized to their Lordships for having detained them so long, but the complaints were general from all parts of Ireland, and from all sorts of people, and he hoped the noble Earl would be able to assure them that the subject would be taken soon into consideration, with the desire to make the Irish police force much more efficient than it was at present.


said, he did not rise to reply to the speech just made in anything of an antagonistic spirit, because of course there could be but one object — to give this force the most efficient character. He felt some difficulty in following the noble Earl in the observations he had made, in consequence of his great local knowledge on the subjoct; but he must observe that he did not attach very great importance to some of the evidence which he had brought forward. Anonymous letlers from persons alleging themselves to be members of the police force was not the sort of evidence to which he thought their Lordships would attach much weight. But there was other evidence, no doubt, of a more important character. The noble Earl had, however, made some admissions which were of weight. The noble Earl said, it appeared to him that it was desirable that the force should be armed; and if so it followed as a matter of course that it should to a certain extent be disciplined. This was so obvious that it would be a waste of time to prove it. The Irish Government had the very highest possible opinion of the spirit, loyalty, and efficiency of this branch of the service. The noble Earl, however, had brought some objections to their efficiency, one or two of which were not very formidable. The noble Earl had stated that Earl Russell—whom he (Earl Granville) might name, as he was not present— had admitted to their disfavour that they could not help 500 or 600 men leaving the shores of Ireland for the purpose of serving in the Federal cause in America. But suppose there had been several hundreds of the detective police force of London present, how could they have assisted in preventing people from embarking from Ireland, there not being any law to prevent their emigration, and the men being engaged as labourers, whatever might have been their ultimate destination? Hence it was quite childish to lay the charge of the noble Earl as to the impossibility of dealing with this state of things, to the inefficiency of the Irish police. Then it was complained that the Government at Dublin had issued an order that the constables should not have power to interfere with drunken people at the railway stations. But what was the fact? Why, that in so doing they would, contrary to the practice in England, be interfering with the duties of the railway police, who were made constables expressly for the purpose of dealing with such matters, and it was very expedient that the functions of the two bodies should be kept separate. Then the noble Earl remarked that two different constructions had been put upon one and the same statute; and he said that there was too much centralization. He (Earl Granville) had no greater wish for centralization than the noble Earl; but it must be remembered that both governing bodies were under one law; and the remedy was not to be found in subdividing the command further than it existed at present. Then as to certain parts of the country—in Tipperary, in Lowth, in Cork, in the county of Leitrim, and in Roscommon — complaints had been made about the number of undetected crimes. But one thing was to be considered namely, that with regard to the detection of crime there were facilities in England which did not exist in Ireland. One branch of crime, especially—that of sending threatening letters—it was not very easy to detect in Ireland. Unless persons were willing in some shape to give evidence, it was almost impossible to prosecute this species of crime to conviction. Not even a man's own tenants or servants would give the slightest assistance. It was far different in this country. But in considering this question of the failure to detect crime, he thought it was of some importance to observe what had been said by some of the learned Judges in their charges on circuit through the country. Now, in Kerry, the learned Judge said that the circumstances to which he referred were a fair indication that the state of crime in the country did not arise from the non-detection of crime, A similar satisfactory statement was made with regard to the counties of Donegal, Londonderry, Monaghan, Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Meath, Westmeath, and Galway, This showed that the charges against the police were not capable of proof. In every county a certain portion of the force was set apart as a detective police. The whole subject was, however, deemed to be so important that the Home Secretary was about to communicate with the Irish authorities, with a view of ascertaining whether any mode could be adopted of placing the Irish Constabulary in a higher degree of efficiency.


thought that his noble Friend (the Earl of Donoughmore) could hardly have procured better evidence as to police grievances than that of statements by policemen themselves, and it was not very likely that a policeman would make his grievances otherwise than by anonymous letters. He doubted the absolute necessity of arming the police force in Ireland; and thought that it was not desirable to show to the people of Ireland that they thought that they could not govern them except by what was in fact a military force.


said, that the statements referred to by his noble Friend the Lord President, were very gratifying as regarded the character of the country, but they did not show that the absence of crime in Ireland was owing to the efficiency of the police. He did not at all deny what the noble Earl had said as to the state of the country; for he believed that the people of Ireland, on the whole, were better behaved than any population of the same number in any other country. It was said that the police were unsuccessful in detecting crime because persons would not come forward and offer them assistance. It was no doubt true that at times, and in districts where a bad spirit happened to prevail, both peasants and farmers—nay, persons in a much higher position than either—were often very backward in giving information to the Constabulary. Why was this? He thought the circumstance, in a great degree, might be attributed to the fact that they felt the criminals were more powerful than the Irish Government and the police force; and the people thought that it was better to keep on terms with those who might injure them, than trust to the protection of the police. He recollected the time when there was no difficulty in procuring the assistance of farmers and peasants to detect crime; but at that time the Constabulary was not a military force. The noble Earl the Lord President said, that the Irish Government were very well satisfied with the Constabulary. But who were the Irish Government? The Earl of Carlisle, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Robert Peel, and Major General Larcom. Did their Lordships think those four Gentlemen, communicating with no one but their own police officers, were sufficient authorities as to what was going on in the interior of Ireland? Did they know as much about it as the numerous grand juries who had petitioned on the subject in the spirit of the observations of the Irish Judges? His right hon. Friend Chief Justice Monahan had made some observations to the effect, that he did not concur in what had been said by some of his learned brethren with regard to this matter; but his right hon. Friend had not stated facts to bear out his opinion, while the comments of one of the other Judges had been called forth by the fact, that in one county out of eighty-eight cases of crime there were only thirty-three in which persons charged with offences were in gaol. Again, he wanted to know if so little crime existed in Ireland, why was a Constabulary of 12,000 men kept up there at an annual expense of £750,000? It might be said that the Constabulary, trained and drilled as they were, would be useful in the event of an invasion. No doubt they might be so. But there a very awkward question arises. The police were not under the Mutiny Act, and so they were no more a safe body of soldiers than they were good constables. It was sometimes argued that those who entertained objections to the present constitution of the force wished to abuse the police. He certainly had no such idea. He believed that the Irish Constabulary was composed of as good a body of men, for their number, as could be found anywhere. The stuff was there, but it was not properly made use of. The men did the duty they were ordered to do; but that duty was not what it ought to be. He thought this subject deserved the attentive and serious consideration of the Government.


said, he did not intend to cast the slightest slur upon the persons of whom the Constabulary was composed; but he also complained of the present condition of the force, and thought there must be an inquiry before there could be a proper reform of the Constabulary. The force might be a popular one, but it was not popular, for it was badly got up and badly officered. He thought that the practice of the police patrolling two and two with arms was not warranted except in certain exceptional cases, and then only by the special direction of the superior officers. Of the necessity of those cases the magistrates were the best judges, and he contended that the magistrates in quarter sessions ought to have the power of making regulations for their own county in regard to the arming of the police. At present, the police were very much what they had been described by a statesman at the end of the last century—namely, a political tool; and complaints such as were now rife would continue to be made until Ireland was governed on constitutional principles. When that time arrived, and not before, Ireland would be like England.


said a few words in reply.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Twelve o'clock.