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House of Commons Hansard
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Prosecution Of Fathers Conway And Ryan—Question
23 April 1858
Volume 149
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said, he rose to ask the Attorney General for Ireland whether it is his intention to take any further steps in the prosecution of Mr. Conway and Mr. Ryan. It would be remembered that the Attorney General had received the orders of the House to proceed against those gentlemen, and that he obtained a change of venue from Mayo to Dublin. In February last Father Conway was accordingly tried in Dublin, but the jury could not agree in their verdict. He thought it would assume the appearance of persecution to renew this prosecution again, and he could further assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that if he tried Mr. Conway twenty times over, he would have exactly the same result. In common with many others he regretted that the trial had ever been commenced, but it had been attended with one good result, that the law of the case, which had never before been properly understood, was very clearly laid down by the Lord Chief Justice, and no man who now transgressed it could say that he was not aware of its penalties. He could state that there did not exist in all Ireland a kinder hearted or more charitable man than Mr. Conway, or one more attentive to his religious duties. He would not trouble the House by entering upon Mr. Ryan's case, because he believed that the charge was weaker against him than against Mr. Conway, and therefore if the first case were dropped, the second could hardly be proceeded with. But what he wished to impress upon the Government and the House was, that Ireland was now in a quiet state—that there was an absence both of political and religious excitement —that agitation was dead, so that when the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer tried Mr. Rarey's process upon the Irish Members the other night, and attempted to mesmerise them, while he laid a burden of an additional half million on the taxation of the country, he met with little or no opposition. Now, would it be wise in them to disturb this happy state of things, and rouse up again the bitter feelings of religious animosity? Should they not rather let her rest in peace, and preserve that course undisturbed which by developing her industry made her people happy, contented, and loyal? He hoped the Government would show the same forbearance towards those priests that they had done towards Dr. Bernard. He had noticed the subject in the hope that other hon. Members would offer their opinion upon it. In the meantime he would ask the Attorney General for Ireland whether he meant to take any further steps in the matter?

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said, the late Government had, in obedience to an order of that House, instituted prosecutions against the two reverend gentlemen to whom the question of the noble Lord referred. The venue, as the noble Lord had stated, had been very properly changed from Mayo to Dublin, and the jury had been equally divided in the conclusion at which they had arrived. The late Government had, he might add, very properly proceeded against Mr. Conway in the first instance, because in his case there had not been merely words spoken but acts done upon which to found a prosecution, whereas in the case of Mr. Ryan there had been simply certain paragraphs extracted from a speech or a sermon of his upon which to proceed. Now, in dealing with the question, he (Mr. Whiteside) could not help thinking that as a public prosecutor he was in a position to exercise any discretion on the matter, but he was entirely of opinion with the noble Lord that evidence taken before a Committee, and evidence adduced in a court of justice, where the witnesses were examined upon the responsibilities of an oath, were completely different things. He was not aware whether there were any shorthand notes of the proceedings at Mr. Conway's trial in existence or not, but he should make inquiry upon the subject, and if there were such notes he should procure them, and compare the evidence which had been taken before the Committee with that which had been adduced upon the trial. If he were then asked by the noble Lord, or any other hon. Member of that House, to give his opinion upon the matter, he should be prepared to state it frankly, and it would be for the House to determine whether it would order any further proceedings to be taken or not. The argument drawn from Dr. Bernard's case was, he should contend, not applicable to that of Mr. Con-way, inasmuch as in the latter instance the jury could not agree as to the verdict which they should give. Whatever might be the expediency of instituting a further prosecution against Mr. Conway, he did not feel at liberty to enter into the political considerations to which the noble Lord had adverted, and to say that there should not be a new trial. He had, however, given instructions to the Crown solicitor that no proceedings should be taken before the after-term sittings in June, and he should before that time be in a position to place the House in possession of the exact facts of the case.

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said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was mistaken in supposing that the House of Commons had any authority to interfere in reference to the institution of further proceedings against the two rev. gentlemen in question. The House had, it was true, upon the recommendation of a Committee, issued an order that those gentlemen should be prosecuted; and the late Attorney General had, in obedience to that order, performed that duty in reference to Mr. Conway. The result had been that the prosecution had not been successful; but he was of opinion that the House, having made the order to which he had referred, and having placed the matter in the hands of the Attorney General, ought not to be asked whether a new trial should be instituted, but that the question should be left entirely in the hands of the Executive, which should decide for itself whether the facts of the case and the general expediency of directing a new trial for the game offence—for that, he admitted, was a point entitled to consideration—rendered it desirable that it should again be submitted to the notice of a jury.

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said, that in the particular instance under discussion, the order which the House had made was of a general and somewhat embarrassing character, for it did not at all specify the offence for which the rev. gentlemen, to whom it referred, were to be placed upon their trial. He had, accordingly, in his capacity of Attorney General, been obliged to ascertain the nature of that offence, as disclosed by the evidence which had been laid before the Committee; and, having ascertained it, had ordered a prosecution to be instituted against Mr. Conway. The trial had taken place in Dublin, before a special jury, and he was enabled to inform the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Whiteside) that there were a shorthand writer's notes of the proceedings in existence; but he quite agreed with the right" hon. and learned Gentleman, that the evidence given before a jury and the evidence given before a Committee of that House were different things. The result of those proceedings was, as the House had already been informed, the disagreement of the jury; and whether the matter should be left as it now stood, or a further prosecution should be instituted, was a question which he perfectly concurred with the right hon. Gentleman near him (Sir G. Grey) in thinking the Executive ought to determine. He might, however, be permitted to observe, that possessing as he did an intimate knowledge of the evidence which had been adduced against Mr. Conway, he should recommend that the prosecution against that rev. gentleman should not be further proceeded with. The prospect of obtaining a verdict one way or the other in that case was not very favourable, and he was therefore of opinion that no good result could ensue from the institution of a new trial. He might add, that Mr. Conway had entirely relied, in his defence, upon a negation of the offence which bad been laid to his charge, and not upon the ground that the acts imputed to him were in themselves justifiable. The question which the jury had to determine was, under these circumstances, a very simple one. They had been enabled to come, however, to no decisive conclusion with respect to it; and as he was of opinion that the object which the House sought to attain, by the order which it had made, was to vindicate the law in reference to that particular class of offences which came under the head of intimidation—and as that object had been to some extent, if not completely, attained—he thought it was advisable that no further proceedings against Mr. Conway should be taken. With respect to the case of Mr. Ryan, the right hon. and learned Gentleman possessed quite as much information as he did himself, and was therefore in an equally good position to come to a decision in its regard.

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said, that the commission of the offence with which he had been charged had been denied by Mr. Conway before the Committee, as well as at the trial, and constituted an equally good reason for not proceeding against him then, as it did now. He hoped the Government would have no hesitation in abandoning these prosecutions.