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Fenian Prisoners—Dr Macdonnell—Question

Volume 203: debated on Tuesday 26 July 1870

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said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been called to a Letter which has appeared in the public press from Dr. Robert MacDonnell, in reply to an article in a Dublin newspaper, in which Letter Dr. MacDonnell states that he was invited to act upon the Political Prisoners' Inquiry Commission, but felt it to be his duty to decline in consequence of certain proposed restrictions of the scope of said inquiry; and to ask, is there any objection to lay upon the Table of the House, Copy of the Correspondence between the Government and Dr. MacDonnell on this subject?

Sir, I have not seen the letter referred to in the Question of the hon. Member, and have had no official correspondence with Dr. MacDonnell. I wrote privately to ask him whether he would serve on the Commission of Inqiury into the treatment of the Fenian prisoners, and informed him that the inquiry would extend to an investigation of the complaints made in regard to their treatment, their diet, their clothing, the labour they are put to, the punishment inflicted upon some of them, and generally into the question whether, as persons condemned to penal servitude, they are treated with undue harshness. He declined to serve—firstly, on the ground that this statement seemed to decide a question the discussion of which he considered of primary importance — namely, whether the Fenians should be treated as criminals condemned to penal servitude; and, secondly, because during his official connection with the Mountjoy Prison, he had differed in opinion with the authorities of that prison as to the mode in which the political prisoners should be treated. Dr. MacDonnell was asked to serve both on account of his professional eminence and of the independence of character of which he had given conspicuous proof. But while the Government do not deny that the treatment of political prisoners, as distinguished from that of ordinary criminals, is a subject deserving consideration, it did not seem to them one which could properly be committed to the Commission they were about to appoint with a different and narrower object.