HL Deb 12 July 1906 vol 160 cc1008-26

rose to call attention to the disloyal and violent speeches of certain magistrates in Ireland, and to the manner in which they had incited the people to commit illegal and criminal acts; and also to the fact that certain of those magistrates were members of disloyal organisations, and had attended meetings of these bodies, where not only disloyal but also illegal and criminal proceedings were advocated; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on the Second Reading of the Justices of the Peace Bill about a fortnight ago, the subject of the appointment of Irish magistrates was brought forward. My noble friend the Marquess of Londonderry instanced certain points in connection with this matter; and my noble and learned friend Lord Ashbourne informed your Lordships of the policy he adopted in appointing new magistrates, telling you that his procedure was to request them to state what petty sessions they proposed to attend. I also gather that he suggested it might be a good thing that the Lord High Chancellor should make himself acquainted with the Irish procedure in these matters. I am perfectly in accord with my noble and learned friend in that. I think it would not only be advisable that the Lord High Chancellor should make himself acquainted with the Irish procedure, but also that every one in England who is interested in the proper administration of justice should make himself acquainted with what is happening in Ireland. Although my noble and learned friend told you what his custom was he omitted to inform you why that custom was adopted. I am inclined to believe that it was adopted simply owing to the new class of magistrates.


The practice was not introduced by me. It existed long before my time.


At any rate it did not exist twenty years ago. It was realised that, unless such a restriction was placed upon these new magistrates, the result, in many cases, would be an absolute failure in the impartial administration of justice, owing to these magistrates attending in overwhelming numbers at any petty sessions where there were cases being tried connected with the interests of either the agrarian or the nationalist movements. The following is an example. At a meeting of the Clare County Council, held on the 13th of last month, Mr. James O'Doherty, J.P., referred to the small number of Nationalist magistrates they had in East Clare. He said that— On more than one occasion he had been brought with Mr. Hogan and Mr. McInerney to fight the hirelings of Dublin Castle, and he never refused to attend any petty sessions in the interests of justice. But he should say that were it not for Mr. McInerney and Mr. Hogan he would be quite useless on many an occasion. The interpretation which your Lordships and I think most people in this country would give to the word "justice " is different from Mr. O'Doherty's.

I do not propose to take up your Lordships' time by going into all the speeches that have been made. I only intend to take extracts from one or two as samples of the reprehensible language which is being freely used. I would draw the attention of your Lordships to the utterances of Mr. Conor O'Kelly, J.P. He addressed a meeting at Barhave, near Belmullet, on October 1st, 1905, held for j the purpose of intimidating a farmer named John Padden, who held possession of a farm from which the previous tenant had been evicted. Mr. O'Kelly said— I have come to denounce Padden. I have denounced him. It is for you now to put my words into practice. I hope that before I leave Belmullet a vigilance committee will be appointed, and the work of that committee will be to report to another committee I intend also to form every single man, woman or child, who has any intercourse of any sort or kind with this nefarious grabber. Any man that talks to him at a fair, or market, or meeting place is to be branded as bad as himself, if not worse. As a result of this terrorising speech the unfortunate John Padden at once gave up his farm. It would not have been safe for him to have retained it. Mr. James Mills, J.P., was chairman of the meeting at which Mr. Conor O'Kelly spoke, and at its close he also addressed those present in the following terms— Men of Barhave, Mr. O'Kelly and Mr. O'Dowd have spoken at some length to you on the National question; have spoken to you in such a way that I trust that you will follow their advice; the land question will soon be settled. On May 27th last, Mr. Conor O'Kelly, J.P., addressed a meeting at Callow, near Swinford, county Mayo, held for the purpose of intimidating a local bailiff named Thomas Durkin, popularly known as "Tom Watt." And this is what Mr. O'Kelly said— There are many grabbers in Mayo, but what did we do with the grabber of Bally-heane? And what did we do with Padden down in Erris? They prosecuted us for that also, but it failed. They will have to prosecute us again if this wretched creature does not give up the land he should never have touched. If you mean business, let no man in this parish be contemptible enough to have any dealings or any intercourse with Tom Watt. The immediate result following this speech was that on June 4th, Thomas Durkin found his mare dead, mutilated in the most shocking manner, apparently with a knife. At a meeting of the South Galway Executive of the United Irish League on November 13th, 1904, Mr. P. J. Kelly said— He often thought on learning of the extravagant prices being paid (for land) that the people must be gone mad. Some of these people deserved to be shot down as John Blake had been shot, and the revolver was there still. Whenever a man was found going into the enemy's camp, he should be brought down. At a meeting held at Loughrea, on December 29th, 1904, Mr. P. J. Kelly said— At the outset of the negotiations he advocated the rifle and the sword, and there was no going behind. What use were they unless they were bound like an army, and bound by their duty in the field, and if a soldier deserted in the field he would be shot like a dog, and deserved to be so shot. And he (Mr. Kelly) now said that if there were renegades on the Clancarty estate they would be, and deserved to be, shot down like dogs if they broke through their pledge and deserted their ranks. On the following 13th of June Mr. P. J. Kelly became, a Chairman of the Loughrea District Council, ex . officio a Justice of the Peace. He had been a magistrate previously. This Mr. Kelly has since delivered several other violent speeches. At a meeting of the United Irish League, held on March 11th, 1906, he said— They, as men who had fought and suffered for God's poor, would continue to fight for them, and the bishops had no right to dictate to them. If necessary, they would be proud to go out again with the rifle or the blunderbuss to plant the people on the soil. I would remind your Lordships that these ex officio magistrates have to take exactly the same oath as those gentlemen who are appointed in the ordinary way to the Commission of the Peace.

At a meeting held at Enniscorthy on May 28th, 1905, Sir Thomas H. G. Esmonde, J.P., said:— We are the descendants of the rebels of 198. We are many of us still suffering for the sacrifices of our forefathers made 107 years ago. We honour them all the more on that account. We hold their memory in all the greater reverence. Their principles are our principles; their beliefs are our beliefs; their ideals are our ideals; and, led by the inspiration which animated them, we declare that we will never submit to foreign rule in Ireland, and that we will never cease from struggling, by whatever means seem best to us, until Ireland is free from the centre to the sea. This solemn pledge we renew to-day. And we pledge our faith once more by the memory of '98. These gentlemen have taken the oath to be faithful and bear true allegiance to the King and also the oath of office. My Lords, do you think that people can be relied upon to administer justice fairly and truly when they show, both in words and actions, such absolute disregard for the solemn obligations into which they have entered?

I would like to refer briefly to the disloyal societies which at present exist in Ireland. Your Lordships all know of the United Irish League, and probably you have formed your own opinions as to the category in which that body should be placed. But there is one body of which, I believe, your Lordships have not heard, and that is an organisation called the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Now, this society poses as a purely benevolent association, and was, I understand, registered as such in February, 1905. Mr. Joseph Devlin, who is a Member of Parliament and the National President of the Order, said that some of the best support which Mr. Redmond received in Australia was received from the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and they had guaranteed £1,000 to the contribution which was then being raised in aid of the General Election. I was under the impression—I may be mistaken —that action of this description was outside the power of any benevolent society, I and that it would be considered as a misappropriation of their funds. No doubt noble Lords learned in the law will be able to set me right in regard to this point. To show what this Ancient Order of Hibernians really is, I will quote from the words of Mr. John Dillon (National Vice-President of the Order) and from other officers. Mr. Dillon, at a meeting of the Order held at Drummulan, county Tyrone, on March 17th, 1905, speaking on the history of the Order, said— The Hibernians were then known as Ribbonmen. At a meeting of the Ancient Order of Hibernians at Creslough, county Donegal, on March 17th last, the Vice-President of the local divisions of the Order, who presided, said— The defenders became known as the Ribbonmen … It was then (in the nineteenth century) that they became known under the title of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The National Secretary of the Order, at a meeting of Hibernians held at Castle-blayney, county Monaghan, on October 21st, 1905, said that— In those days the combination assumed many names, Molly Maguires, and Ribbon-men. I do not know if any of your Lordships have ever heard of the Ribbonmen's oath, which members of that society have to take. I hold it in my hand, but it is far too long to road in its entirety, and I will quote only a few paragraphs from it. I may say that the whole of the oath is couched in terms equally as strong as the words which I now quote— And I further swear to owe no allegiance to any Protestant or heretic Sovereign, Ruler, Prince, or Potentate, and that I will not regard any oath delivered to me by them or their subjects, be they judge, magistrate, or else, as binding. And I swear to aid as best I can, any brother or brothers who may be on trial for any act or expression of theirs, before magistrate, judge, jury, or else, and to be ready at all times to aid by every means in my power in preserving his or their liberation; and, if myself a, witness, to disregard any oath delivered to me on such occasions by judge, jury, magistrate, counsel, lawyer, official, or else, and that I will not regard such oath as binding. And in revenge for the sufferings of our forefathers and protection of our rights, I further solemnly swear to aid as best I can in exterminating and extirpating all Protestants and heretics out of Ireland or elsewhere; to hunt, pursue, shoot, and destroy all Protestant or heretic landlords, proprietors or employers, and also to hunt, shoot, pursue and destroy all landlords or proprietors belonging to the Church of Rome, should he or they evict his or their tenants from the house, land, home, or holding of theirs. At a meeting of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, held at Moy, on April 16th last, one of the officials said— The organisation was formed for the purpose of driving the English Government and garrison out of this old land of ours. And another official said— There were at the present time about 380,000 members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The character of this organisation may be gathered, from the action of seven Roman Catholic priests residing in Pennsylvania, who, on October 3rd, 1874, signed a united declaration in which they stated that— Experience has proved that no faith is to to be placed in the most solemn promises or denials of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. It is certain that a fear, terror of punishment, that may in secrecy be decreed in upper circles, compels members to execute commands given under the countersign, no matter how repugnant to the laws of God and man those commands may be. Evidence sufficient to convince the most sceptical has come to light that works forbidden by the commandment ' Thou shalt not kill' are traceable to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. I will now show your Lordships the connection between the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the United Irish League. A gentleman holding high office in the Ancient Order of Hibernians as " National Delegate," said, at a meeting of the Order, that— Every man who joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians was expected to be a member of the United Irish League, and for his part he would admit no man as a Hibernian who was not a member of the League. … The A. O. H. conferred many benefits on its members. In the first place, as he had already pointed out, it was a most valuable force behind the national organisation the wide world over. Mr. Joseph Devlin, who, as a Member of Parliament, has taken the oath of allegiance to the King, is President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and also Central Secretary of the United Irish League. Now, my Lords, as regards the object of the United Irish League, at meetings of which magistrates have presided and spoken, and of which body many of them are members, I only propose to read you a very few extracts, which will reveal the real character and aim of the organisation. At a meeting of the League at Ballingarry, county Limerick, Mr. James Lynam, official organiser, said— God helps those who help themselves, and the evicted tenants will have to stir up and make it a hell upon earth for their enemies. He was glad to have the privilege of standing beside the great Father Casey, and he could say that if they had a man like him in every parish they could sweep away the English Government in a short time. After the declaration of the poll at the election for East Tyrone, on January 24th, 1906, a meeting was held at which Mr. James Mullin, a solicitor and Justice of the Peace, in the course of an address, said — They had been called rebels. Well, if a man who was true to his country and opposed to British rule was a rebel, then he was one. I have in my hand a list of magistrates who have taken part in meetings of the United Irish League. It is far too long to read to your Lordships, but I should say that the greater number of them are ex-officio magistrates. There are twenty-two of them, however, who hold the Commission of the Peace, seventeen of whom are members of the United Irish League.

There is another disloyal society—the Sinn Fein. I will read an extract from an article on the Sinn Fein policy, which shows the aims of the Nationalists as regards the magisterial Bench— But one civil department Ireland must completely capture when her people are properly disciplined, and when, moreover, her campaigning fund is sufficiently strong — namely, the legal department; because the administration of the law is almost as important as legislation itself for the welfare of the national government. This capture when the national fund can bear the strain will be easily effected. … All magistrates would be called on to resign as English officials, and would be at once restored as Irish magistrates. If any refused to resign others would take their place. All Nationalist lawyers who would be willing to accept them would get equal positions and salaries under the Irish Government. Now, my Lords, in this House some years ago a measure giving Home Rule to Ireland was brought forward. It was thrown out, and the opinion of the country endorsed the action of your Lordships upon that occasion. Since then a modified form of Home Rule has been granted to Ireland, and the present results of that modified form of Home Rule are showing, day by day, how sound was the judgment of your Lordships in rejecting the full measure that was proposed. We are constantly being shown how little chance there is, even now, of fair play and fair treatment being given to the loyal minority of our follow-subjects in Ireland. We have an example of the class of magistrates who have been brought into existence by this legislation—a class of magistrates who seem to imagine that the office they hold is to be used, not for the administration of pure and impartial justice between His Majesty's lieges, but simply as a political instrument to encourage and support the cause of disloyalty and crime in the country.

The boast and pride of this country have been in the uprightness, the fairness, and the impartiality of our Judges. When I say this country, I mean the United Kingdom, for I do not think that the members of the high judicial bench in Ireland yield in any one way to their learned brethren on this side of the Channel who occupy the same high positions. Your Lordships will have seen what the object of the Nationalists really is, and have realised that they desire to have the appointment to these high judicial offices entirely in their own hands in Ireland; the first requisites for these appointments being, not learning, honesty and uprightness, but that they should be Nationalists and support the objects of the United Irish League. You have an example of this among the present ex-officio magistrates. No one who has a regard for the welfare of the country can look upon this prospect with equanimity. The Commission of the Peace in Ireland has been degraded, and the administration of justice at petty sessions has been brought, into contempt.




In many cases it has. On this point I cannot agree with my noble friend. If this sort of thing be permitted to continue, the administration of the law at petty sessions will soon become a perfect farce. It would be far bettor once and for all to do away with such a thing as the Commission of the Peace in Ireland, and let the resident magistrates alone administrate justice at the petty sessions.

My Lords, I move fur a Return of the names of those appointed to the Commission of the Peace in the past twelve months, and also the names of those who, during that period, have occupied the position of magistrates through holding certain appointments which entitled them to that position ex-officio. I would also like to have an exact statement of what disqualifies anyone from holding the Commission of the Peace or acting as a magistrate. If we are to understand that, as the law now stands, any one who is elected to certain chairmanships or positions in Ireland making him ex-officio a Justice of the Peace is to be allowed to occupy that position no matter what his previous records or offences against the law may have been, and that he cannot be removed from a magistracy unless he commits similar offences while holding that position, I think your Lordships will agree with me that it is high time some change should take place in the laws regulating such appointments. I beg to move for Papers.

Moved, for a Return of magistrates who have been appointed in Ireland during the last twelve months. —(Lord Muskerry).


My Lords, five months of what I think will be remembered as a momentous and eventful session have gone by, and this is the first notice affecting the Government of Ireland which has appeared on the Notice Paper of your Lordships' House. This, I am informed, constitutes a record, and is, I think, a matter of congratulation for the House of Lords and the Irish Office, and more especially, perhaps, for the representative of that Office in this House. And now that a Question has been asked it does not appear, from the rather sparsely populated nature of the Benches of your Lordships' House, that it has aroused any general interest.

I regret that on this, the first occasion it is my duty to reply in this House for the Government of Ireland, I am obliged to enter a protest against the form in which the Notice has been placed upon the Paper. If your Lordships will glance at the Notice you will see that it is to— call attention to the disloyal and violent speeches of certain magistrates in Ireland—and to the fact that certain of these magistrates are members of disloyal organisations. Could any Notice be vaguer or more indefinite than that? Yet the noble Lord uses this very vague Notice as a peg on which to hang a debate on matters which, though very important, are essentially matters of detail, and matters which, if investigated, have to be inquired into, each case upon its merits.

I would remind your Lordships that this is in great contradistinction to the method the noble Lord employs in the admirable work which he does on behalf of the mercantile marine of this country in your Lordships' House. In the Notices which he then places upon the Paper he is, at any rate so far as the Question is concerned, always definite and precise as to the exact nature of the information he requires. In his Notices he tells us, for example, what happened when the three-masted schooner "Mudlark" went aground off Southend, and what the captain said to the Lascar at the wheel of the " Saucy Kipper." My noble friend who represents the Board of Trade is therefore able to come down with a neat answer in his pocket, and everybody is satisfied. On this occasion the noble Lord has gone into questions of great detail, of which I contend he has not given me proper notice. He asks me, I presume, to discuss with him across the Table what Mr. O'Doherty said to Mr. Hogan, and what Mr. Conor O'Kelly is reported to have said at Bel- mullet. I contend that such a course is unfair, not only to myself and to the Government of Ireland, but more particularly to the Lord Chancellor within whose jurisdiction such cases as these would naturally fall. Therefore, I must respectfully decline to discuss the details of these cases across the floor of the House unless the noble Lord takes the trouble to give me adequate notice of each particular case he proposes to raise.

There was one case he touched on, of which I happen to have particulars—the case of Mr. P. J. Kelly. Mr. Kelly, speaking at Loughrea, is reported to have said that they would be prepared to go out again with the rifle and the blunderbuss to plant the people on the soil. With regard to that case, it appears that this meeting was held within closed doors, and there was no evidence to show whether the language was in fact used. No complaint was made by any person to the Lord Chancellor in reference to it, nor had he any evidence on which he could take action. The noble Lord concludes his Notice by a motion for Papers. If I grasped correctly what he said I understand that he requires a list of ex-officio magistrates who have been appointed during the last twelve months.


And other magistrates.


I take it he can get the names of the ex-officio magistrates in the ordinary course by referring to any Irish book of reference. With regard to the names of magistrates otherwise appointed he has given me no notice that he proposed to move for this information, and therefore I must first communicate with the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. I do not, however, imagine that he will have any objection to furnishing the list; but, before I can give the noble Lord any definite reply or; that point, I must consult my learned friend. The noble Lord has quoted some extravagant and violent language alleged to have been used in different places, and he has dubbed certain gentlemen and certain associations disloyal. I will venture to remind your Lordships that violent language is not confined to Ireland. There are other parts of the Empire—possibly some of the Colonies and possibly at home in Hyde Park — where violent language is frequenty used, and if the Government were to take notice of every expression of violent language—


This is a case of violent language by magistrates.


If the Government were to take notice of every violent expression used by prominent gentlemen I think they would have their hands very full, and they would be rather serving the end of these gentlemen, some of them agitators, if they made heroes or martyrs of them by initiating prosecution against them. Apparently the noble Lord desires us to pay particular attention to these matters at a time when the country is unusually tranquil. I believe Ireland has not been so tranquil for a considerable period. The noble Lord told us about the oath of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.


The oath of the Ribbonmen, who were the former Ancient Order of Hibernians.


The noble Lord made our flesh creep with the horrible oath which the members appear to take against all landlords, Catholic or Protestant, in the country. I see several Irish landlords opposite who have survived the oath which the Ancient Order of Hibernians have taken; and, looking at the very tranquil state of the country at present, I do not think it is necessary for the Government to take cognisance of all these matters. If proof were wanted that the country is in a tranquil condition I would point to the Summer assizes which are now proceeding. The addresses of the Judges of Assize to the grand juries at the opening of the assizes in the different counties show, so far as they have yet gone, that not only do the calenders contain unusually few cases for trial, but that the counties generally are in a satisfactory and orderly condition. I have here a long list of extracts from Judge's addresses at different assizes in Ireland. In West Meath the Judge remarked upon the very satisfactory condition of things; in Louth he said the county was in a highly satisfactory state; in Sligo he congratulated the grand jury on the condition of the country; in Limerick City the Judge had white gloves, there being no cases; and in Roscommon he referred to the fact that the county was free from serious crime. I could quote more cases such as this, but I will refrain from taking up too much of your Lordships' time.

I would only add one or two remarks, generally on behalf of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He instructs me to say that there is no danger of any person being appointed to the Commission of the Peace against whom any evidence of illegal or disloyal action exists. The Lord Chancellor before he makes an appointment always obtains independent reports as to the suitability and good character of the candidate, and it may be mentioned that almost every appointment that he has made since he came into office has been on the recommendation of the Lords-Lieutenant of counties, the names having been in nearly all cases submitted to them by the Lord Chancellor for consideration. What possibly is more relevant to the question raised by the noble Lord is that whenever a case of language inciting to illegality or illegal or disloyal action is brought under his notice, supported by reasonable evidence, he will not hesitate to deal with it. That is all I am able to say in response to the remarks of the noble Lord. If he will give me notice of particular cases I shall be glad to obtain detailed information with regard to them, but I think he must see that it is quite impossible for me to answer at a moment's notice questions of which it is impossible for me to know the details.

As this is the first opportunity on which I have been able to speak for this Department I would like to say one word generally with regard to our discussions of Irish questions in this House. I am well aware that besides the Irish representative Peers there are many noble Lords who are owners of large estates and have other great interests in the country, and other noble Lords, like the noble and learned Lord Lord Ashbourne and the noble Marquess Lord Londonderry, who have had great experience of Irish legislation; and I take this opportunity of informing them that I shall always be glad to obtain any information possible with regard to questions which they may choose to raise, that I shall listen with the closest attention to any criticisms they may bring against the policy of the Government of Ireland, and that I shall make it my business personally to bring those criticisms to the notice of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, from whom I know well they will meet with that close consideration that expert criticism always merits. For the reasons I have just given to your Lordships I hope the noble Lord will not press his Motion for Papers. Possibly he will refer again on a future date to the matter, when I shall be able to give him a more definite Answer. As it is, I am obliged to decline to accede to his request.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down entered a protest against the way in which the Notice had been placed on the Paper. I have heard a great many Answers given to Irish Questions in this House, but this is the first time in my recollection that in those Answers allusions have been made in a comic manner to other Notices that have appeared on the Paper. I regard the noble Lord's humorous allusions to the " Mudlark" and the " Saucy Kipper " as entirely out of place. I would much rather have had a typewritten Answer read such as we have been accustomed to hitherto. I admit that the noble Lord who has called attention to this matter did not make out a very strong case with regard to the magistrates, but it must be remembered that there are people in Ireland who take a much more serious view than do noble Lords opposite of what magistrates say. I do not see why the simple Return for which the noble Lord has moved should be refused. I think it would have been more courteous if the noble Lord had stated in his reply the number of magistrates appointed, ex officio and otherwise. I was glad to hear the very satisfactory statement which the noble Lord was instructed to make as to the attitude taken up by the Lord Chancellor in this matter.


My Lords, I rise to make only one or two remarks in regard to the discussion which has taken place. There are over 4,000 magistrates in Ireland, yet only four have been actually named by the noble Lord. I admit others have been referred to in a general way. In this matter it has to be borne in mind whether the magistrate is an ordinary county magistrate or an ex officio magistrate, and whether the words attributed to him were made use of at a time when he was actually a magistrate. It is not competent for the Lord Chancellor to sit in judgment on the elections which have made them ex officio magistrates. It is provided in the Local Government Act that persons who are placed in certain positions shall become ex officio justices of the peace. It is not in the province of the Lord Chancellor to object to the election because it carries with it a magisterial appointment. The Local Government Act mentions certain disqualifications, but speeches made before elections are not included among them.

I gather from the observations of the noble Lord who represents the Irish Office in this House that the Lord Chancellor of Ireland has given a very clear statement of his views, and that he will not make an appointment unless perfectly satisfied of the propriety of it. That is all that the Lord Chancellor can do as to making appointments. As I have mentioned, he has no power to sit in judgment on the elections which have made ex officio magistrates or to consider whether they were such appointments as he would himself have made. He has only power to appoint ordinary county magistrates with regard to whose appointment he has been in correspondence with the Lord-Lieutenant of the county. The noble Lord has stated that the present Lord Chancellor has not made any appointments except on the recommendation of Lords-Lieutenant, and he has indicated the line he will adopt in making these appointments in the future, and the inquiries he will think it right to make in reference to them.

The desire of the noble Lord who introduced this discussion was, I take it, to elicit a statement as to what would be the attitude of the Government in reference to magistrates who made disloyal, improper, and unbecoming speeches. In reference to that matter, the present Lord Chancellor, equally with those who have filled the office before him, can only deal with each case as it arises in reference to its own facts and special circumstances; and we have the assurance that the Lord Chancellor is quite alive to the importance of the matter, and will consider carefully every case that, is brought to his notice and endeavour to do what is just and fair. I think we have every reason to be satisfied with that declaration.


My Lords, the notice of the noble Lord was not in any set terms an attack on the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and I am sure he did not mean it to be. But it did involve some reflection upon the manner in which my learned friend the present Lord Chancellor had exercised his discretion in these matters. Therefore I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down for having put the case so clearly in regard to the position of the Lord Chancellor in relation to the ex officio bench. It is, of course, perfectly possible that a man may become an ex officio magistrate of whom individually the Lord Chancellor may not have a very high opinion, and whom he would not proprio motu have been disposed to place on the Bench. But as the noble and learned Lord very truly pointed out, any previous utterances of such a man cannot in any way come under the cognisance of the Lord Chancellor, and therefore it would be exceedingly unfair to blame him for anything which was said except when the supposed culprit was actually exercising the functions of a magistrate.

I feel bound, having had the pleasure of serving for three years with the present Lord Chancellor in the Government of Ireland, to say that I know no man who would be less likely to overlook or ignore any disqualification of the kind mentioned by the noble Lord in his Motion, and no man who would be more likely to take a severe view either of seditious utterances or of utterances of any kind which could lead to the perpetration of crime. But in these matters there are two considerations to be borne in mind, one of which I think appeals to anybody who has lived in Ireland, and the other to all who have been concerned in Irish Government. In the first place, it must be remembered that the general scale of expression in Ireland is a great deal higher than it is in England. The superlative degree is habitually used in all transactions of life. Whether a man is describing a political opponent, or endeavouring to transact the sale of a horse, the superlative degree is used, whereas in this colder climate the positive suffices. That is one consideration to be borne in mind.

There is another consideration which appeals to everybody who has had to do with the Government of Ireland. It is this, that it often becomes a matter of very anxious thought for those concerned in Irish Government whether it is wise to take notice of particular utterances, however mischievous and reprehensible they may be in themselves, without most carefully weighing the individual circumstances of every case. In the first place, there is the point to which my noble friend drew attention—the condition of the country. When the country generally is in the satisfactory condition, which I am glad to believe Ireland is in at present, it may not be always wise to take notice of utterances which, in a more disturbed state of the country, would be in themselves infinitely more dangerous and would have to be checked at once. Again, the local importance and character of the man who makes the mischievous speech has very often to be taken into account. If he is a man who carries little weight, a local crank, perhaps, or a man of the kind Sir Wilfred Lawson once described as " total non-abstainers," he may make very foolish and reprehensible speeches and very little harm is done. On the other hand, when anything of a mischievous sort is said by a man who really carries weight in his own neighbourhood, who is a local leader, then it may be proper to take very much more serious notice of it.

I am quite certain that the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland bears all these considerations in mind, and that your Lordships will be perfectly safe in leaving this particular matter in his hands. There is no risk that he will make unwise appointments, or that he will be disposed to overlook improper utterances on the part of present occupants of the Bench. I am sure my noble friend behind me did not mean to be anything but courteous in his reply as regards the Paper asked for. I do not think it would be worth while to print at the public expense a Return of these magistrates and circulate it to your Lordships generally, but I have no doubt that if it will be any satisfaction to the noble Lord my noble friend will be happy to acquire the information and give it to him privately or in reply to a further question.


My Lords. I confess I do not wonder at those who have been closely associated with Ireland for many years putting questions of this sort when they read the reprehensible speeches made in that country by occupants of the magisterial Bench. Although, as my noble and learned friend Lord Ashbourne has pointed out, the utterance of only a few magistrates have been quoted to-night, it must not be forgotten that speeches of this kind in the past have had a very serious effect upon the prospects, happiness, and comfort of the people in the districts in which they have been made. The noble Earl the Lord President of the Council, who has occupied the position of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, knows full well that I am not exaggerating on that matter, and I do not think he will contradict mo when I say that Lord Ashbourne when Lord Chancellor either removed from the Bench or reprimanded magistrates who made use of language of a reprehensible character during the time I was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.

I endorse what has been said as to the desire of the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland to deal justly in this matter. I have been in communication with him in regard to magisterial appointments in County Down and I am glad to have this opportunity of acknowledging the great courtesy with which he has met my representations. I am bound, however, to say that when speeches of this kind are made I think it is the duty of the Lord Chancellor not to allow them to pass unchallenged, and that if the guilt of a particular magistrate is proved to his satisfaction it is his duty to remove that magistrate from the Bench, or signify in some way disapproval of his action. It is impossible for the House of Lords to attempt to govern Ireland. The Government of Ireland is in the hands of the Irish Office, and the Irish Executive alone must be responsible.

I agree with what was said by the Lord President of the Council as to the great excitability in the language of Irishmen. They frequently speak in the superlative sense, and often mean a great deal loss than they say. But when persons in responsible positions make use of this language they ought to remember how their utterances will be construed. I do not regret that this question has been brought forward, though I admit that this language is less dangerous when Ireland is in a tranquil condition, as I am glad to think it is at present. I hope, however, that this debate will be read carefully by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and that he will carry out in the fullest sense the duty imposed upon him in this matter.


My Lords, I wish to say that I had no intention of reflecting at all upon the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. If I said anything which led to that impression I unhesitatingly withdraw it. It has been said that I have only taken four magistrates. I could have gone on quoting for a couple of hours, but I selected four specimens in order to save your Lordships' time. As to what was said by the noble Lord who represents the Irish Office, I can promise him that the next Question I put on the Paper will be very ample and that he will have no cause to complain on account of its indefiniteness. In the circumstances I ask leave to withdraw the Motion; but I should like to have an answer as to the disqualification for holding the position of ex-officio magistrate.


They are all stated in a section of the Irish Local Government Act.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.