HL Deb 14 February 1865 vol 177 cc227-30

presented a Petition of Inhabitants of the Barony of Kilmacrenan against the Arming of Constables in Ireland, and for the Enjoyment of their Constitutional Rights. The noble Earl, who was very imperfectly heard, referred, in the first instance, to the murder of persons in the employ of Mr. Adare, in the county of Donegal, the perpetrators of which had never been discovered. This was a strong proof of the inefficiency of the armed police. The noble Earl then read, at great length, the correspondence between himself and the police authorities, the substance of which was that he had himself received a letter from a sub-inspector of police, informing him that he had information from a person on whom he could place reliance, and who was well acquainted with the feelings of the lower classes, that there was reason to believe that a conspiracy had been formed against his life, and that it would not be safe for him to travel about at late hours visiting his estates. He (the Earl of Leitrim) treated the information with contempt and indignation, believing it to be a base attempt to create ill-will and mischief between the gentry and the people. He, therefore, wrote to the sub-inspector demanding to know from whom he had received the information, and from what quarter the danger was likely to come; whether from malicious articles in newspapers, from Roman Catholics, or from Presbyterian ministers, or from the gentry, or from all combined. From the sub-inspector he received the reply that he had his information from his immediate superior, the Inspector; but he subsequently declared that he did not get the information from his superior, but from some other source; but what that source was he declined to say, merely repeating the warning that his life was in danger. Upon applying to the Inspector, that functionary abetted the proceedings of his subordinate. He did not think that a police of that kind were the kind of guardian angels to whom the lives of Her Majesty's subjects in Ireland ought to be confided. Last year a constable—who was also an exciseman—by force and violence entered the house of his (the Earl of Leitrim's) herd, on pretence of looking for illicit spirits, but found none, yet forcibly took away the herd's gun. Six days afterwards the house was fired into, and the boy lost his leg from wounds inflicted. That was a barbarous and scandalous outrage, and was, he had no doubt, perpetrated by an accomplice of the police. When, last Session, he brought the facts before their Lordships, the noble Earl, in defence of the act of this constable, misstated the law, no doubt in ignorance of what the law was. No doubt the constable was subsequently reduced, but that was all that had been done in punishing a totally unwarranted outrage. Since the police had been intrusted with the duties of excisemen, they had been going about the country, with long iron spikes in their hands, which they thrust into dung heaps and heaps of potatoes, in search of illicit spirits, to the great terror of women and children. He thought it monstrous that the police should, in their capacity of police, have the right to enter and search any house without a proper warrant from the magistrates,—especially as it was frequently used as a pretext for searching for arms; if they found an illicit still it might be within their duties to seize it, but they had no right to search a house under such a pretext, and then seize any arms they might find. The noble Earl then stated that he had received a letter from a tenant of his, a schoolmistress, complaining that she had been maligned by a sub-inspector of police. He sent for a police constable, who however refused to say anything on the subject. Shortly afterwards he received a threatening letter, which he firmly believed had been sent by the sub-inspector himself. He therefore sent it to Lord Carlisle, and wrote to him on the subject. The result was that Lord Carlisle sent the letter to the sub-inspector, and directed him to institute a prosecution for libel against him (the Earl of Leitrim). At the trial the whole of the correspondence was received. Shortly afterwards two men in a cart shot at Mr. Wilson, who was wounded in three places. The police refused to follow the assassins, because their officer, who lived eight miles off, was not present. He thought it was absolutely necessary, if the police in Ireland were to be kept up as an armed body, that they should be placed under better control. If they were allowed to pass through the country with arms in their hands, there should be some officer or magistrate present to see how they used them, The present state of things was calculated to barbarize Ireland, and he really hoped that the Government would take some steps to prevent the recurrence of these horrible outrages.


rose to remind their Lordships that they had not yet arrived at the Order of the Day. The noble Earl had just rend a petition—or, rather, he had read it about an hour and a half ago—which he had put into his hands the previous evening, when he informed him that he could not answer a series of statements of that kind without having time to communicate with the authorities in Ireland. But, even if he had had time to communicate with those authorities, it would have been quite impossible for him to attempt to meet in detail the long array of charges and letters which the noble Earl had presented that evening. If matters of that kind were to be inquired into at all, it should be done by a Select Committee, and not by the Whole House; and when the noble Earl chose to bring forward a Motion to that effect it would be his duty to give him such an answer as the circumstances might require. He was, however, quite sure that it could not add to the dignity of their Lordships' House, or conduce to good order and good government in Ireland, that individual attacks should be made night after night on magistrates and police constables, tending to bring them into disrepute without there being any proper opportunity afforded for their vindication. If the noble Earl liked to bring forward a Motion on the subject, well and good; but, he repeated, he must protest strongly against these violent personal attacks being so unfairly made on persons who, rightly or wrongly, were the constituted authorities for certain purposes in Ireland.


said, he quite agreed with the noble Earl, and would on a future occasion move for the appointment of a Select Committee on the subject of the petition.