HL Deb 05 March 1901 vol 90 cc548-50

My Lords, I rise to call attention to the murder of Hugh Thompson, near Enniskillen, in the month of March, 1900, and to ask His Majesty's Government if any person has been, or is likely to be, brought to trial for this crime. This murder is of a class only too well known in Ireland, hut in order that your Lordships may be acquainted with the facts, I will mention a few of the circumstances which led up to it. In June, 1898, the tenant of a small farm adjoining the village of Belcoo, about a dozen miles from Enniskillen, was evicted. Shortly afterwards a man who desired to take the farm entered into negotiations with the landlord, but when this became known considerable feeling was excited in the neighbourhood. In the beginning of November he received a threatening letter advising him to have nothing to do with the farm, and giving him the significant hint that there was plenty of powder and shot in Ireland. This letter purported to emanate from the Irish National Federation, but was not signed. The man, however, paid no attention to the letter, and took possession of the farm. In the following June a public meeting was held in the village of Belcoo it which he was denounced—not by tame, but quite unmistakably—by a speaker who, I believe, was a Member of Parliament. He was afterwards severely boycotted. Nobody would buy from him and nobody would sell to him, but le eventually succeeded in finding a man who did a few odd jobs for him, sold a few cattle for him, and so on. At the end of October two of his haystacks were found to be on fire. The alarm was given, but nobody from the village would attempt to extinguish the flames. Legal pro- ceedings followed, and the county court judge awarded him £6O compensation. The decision was appealed against, and the case went to the Enniskillen assizes. It did not come on during the first sitting of the Court, and the tenant of the farm returned in the evening to Belcoo, accompanied by Hugh Thompson, who was his principal witness. From Belcoo Thompson started to walk home, a distance of three miles but was murdered within a mile or so of the village. The next day, when the case came on, the judge used the following language— The boycotting took place at the instance of a body calling itself the United Irish League. How has it culminated? One of the witnesses in this case has been brutally, atrociously, and cowardly murdered on his way home. Four months later, in his address to the grand jury at Cork, where another case of murder was coming before him, the judge alluded to this Enniskillen murder, and said— At the last spring assizes I had a case before me in which a threatening letter to the tenant of an evicted farm was succeeded by a meeting of the United Irish League alongside the farm. Then came the burning of the tenant's hay, and finally, the night before I heard the claim for compensation, the principal witness was brutally murdered on his way home. This crime is attributed by the judge to the influence of the United Irish League, which is, I believe, still flourishing amongst us, its usual methods of intimidation being emphasised by occasional outrage. People are asking themselves rather freely in Ireland how many more murders it will take before His Majesty's Government will see fit to suppress the United Irish League in the same way as its predecessors, the Land League and the National League, wore suppressed. I do not know that there is very much difference between them except in name. Unless something is done to put a stop to these outrages there will be an inducement to well-disposed persons to obey the laws of the United Irish League instead of the laws of the land.


My Lords, I regret to say that the account which has been given by the noble Earl of the singularly brutal murder of this unfortunate man Thompson appears to be only too accurate. I also regret to say that at the present moment there does not seem to be any further information upon which a charge could be preferred with success. Four men have been arrested and charged with the crime; two of them were shortly afterwards discharged, and the other two were remanded from time to time, but were ultimately discharged by the magistrates owing to the absence of sufficient evidence. I can assure the noble Earl that the police are doing their utmost to discover the perpetrators of this crime. Investigation is still being vigorously pursued, but there have been no recent developments calculated to bring the guilty party to justice.