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Magistrates (Ireland)—Speech At An Orange Meeting

Volume 229: debated on Friday 5 May 1876

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Question Observations

in rising to call attention to the report which has appeared in The Freeman's Journal of the 9th of December last of a speech delivered at a public meeting of Orangemen in the city of Dublin by Captain Barton, a Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for the county of Fermanagh, and to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether any steps have been taken by the Lord Lieutenant or the Lord Chancellor to ascertain the correctness of that report; and, whether it is intended to take any notice of the speech attributed to Captain Barton? said, he had a very unpleasant duty to perform in introducing the subject to the House, but he felt sure that all educatedEnglishmen, Scotchmen, and Welshmen would disapprove of the circumstances which he had to bring to their knowledge. It was a question which to his mind was of great importance, as dealing with the question of the government of Ireland, and the due administration of justice in carrying out the Acts passed by Parliament. He thought that the conduct of those entrusted with the administration of the law ought to be above suspicion. They all knew that Ireland, especially the Northern part, was divided into two parties with respect to religion. In the North of Ireland Party feeling ran very high, as the numbers of each Party were more equal than they were in any other part. But when they came to dealing with the question of the administration of justice it must be borne in mind that in the North of Ireland there were 700,000 Catholics as against 800,000 of all other denominations, and there was an opinion in Ireland that they should have a certain number of Catholic justices to represent the feelings and rights of the Catholics—an arrangement that would give the great body of the people of the country confidence in the administration of the law. He, however, found that in the country of Fermanagh there were 51,000 Catholics as against 41,000 of other denominations, and on looking at the constitution of the justices of the peace roll he found that, so far as he could ascertain—and he had a pretty good knowledge of the men—there was not one Catholic upon the list, although there were 69 justices of the peace for the country. He thought that would strike the House as being a most remarkable fact. There were also 17 deputy lieutenants in the North of Ireland, and none of them were Catholics. That being the case, it would strike any one that gentlemen bearing commissions of the peace for the county of Fermanagh should have an extreme delicacy and should be very scrupulous of expressing opinions on matters of religion. In the case to which he wished to call attention the gentleman had not displayed that delicacy, and he thought the language would be disapproved of by almost every hon. Member present. Some years ago a meeting was held at Cavan in favour of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich relating to the Irish Land laws. The people returning from that meeting separated into two contingents, one of them going on to Dromore, and the contingent was fired upon and a man shot. On the 9th of December last, at a public meeting of Orangemen held in the City of Dublin, Captain Barton made a speech, and was reported in The Freeman's Journal to have said that if the men brother Johnston had promised them were like the other men of the North, they would make short work of their opponents. Captain Barton went on to justify the murder to which he had alluded. Such language as that was not what they would have expected to hear from a man bearing Her Majesty's commission of the peace. He might state that Governments had from time to time endeavoured to discourage those Orange meetings, and the delivery of violent language in which they were in the habit of indulging; and the late Lord Chancellor had administered a severe rebuke to them, and intimated that it was owing to the conduct and language of Orange Societies that embittered and hostile feelings were kept up in the country. His Lordship then warned them that any magistrate that indulged in violent language would be dismissed from the commission of the peace, and said that it must be put a stop to, and, further, that no young man holding and expressing such opinions would be allowed to hold the magisterial office. He (Mr. Fay) deemed it right to say that the Catholics in the North of Ireland could not have confidence in the laws administered by such men. He thought he had made out a case in support of the Notice he had placed on the Paper. The Catholics in the North of Ireland felt themselves unfairly treated in the matter of magistrates. In an extract from a letter written by a Catholic Bishop to a Member of Parliament on an almost similar question to the present, the most rev. Prelate said he hoped the case would cause an alteration in the constitution of the Irish magistrates, because at that time one section of the community felt that it could not exercise its lawful privileges with safety, whilst another section felt that it could violate the law and violate it with perfect safety. He thought the language used by Captain Barton was most improper, and wished to know whether any notice would be taken of it. He believed that when all the facts were known the verdict of that House, and of all dispassionate Englishmen and Scotchmen, as well as Irishmen, would be that such a person ought not to remain in the commission of the peace.

said, that the hon. Member for Cavan County (Mr. Fay) had not only referred to Captain Barton's speech, but had found fault generally with the constitution of the magistracy. The magistrates in Ulster, as in the rest of Ireland, were appointed by the Lord Chancellor on the recommendation of the Lord Lieutenants of counties, and among those Lord Lieutenants were Lord Lisgar and Lord Dufferin, and other gentlemen who were known to be above any party or religious prejudice. It should, however, be borne in mind by those who contrasted the numbers of Catholic and Protestant magistrates in the North of Ireland, that a great proportion of the persons of wealth, education, and social position were Protestants. Magistrates could not be appointed without reference to the property qualification which they were bound by law to find, to their education, and social position; and if it were possible to make any inquiry as to the number of the population in Ulster qualified to hold the office of magistrate, it would be found that the large proportion would be those professing the Protestant faith. But he would not dwell on that topic, because the question which the hon. Member had brought forward referred more particularly to the conduct of Captain Barton. He must say that he thought it might have been almost doubted, in the first place, whether the fact that the speech attributed to Captain Barton appeared in a newspaper was sufficient evidence to make it quite certain that he had used such language. He had known, he was bound to say, at least one instance in which a speech had appeared in full length in the columns of a Dublin journal which was never spoken at all. The speech now complained of was reported in four Dublin newspapers, three of which, however, made no allusion to the words attributed by The Freeman's Journal to Captain Barton. Therefore, when the circumstance was brought under the notice of the Lord Chancellor, he might perhaps have thought that the fact of the report appearing only in The Free man's Journal, a paper not largely read by Orangemen, and which was, therefore, not likely to give the most accurate report of proceedings at an Orange meeting, afforded a reason for supposing that the language had never been used. However, the Lord Chancellor as soon as the matter was brought under his notice, requested Captain Barton to state whether the report in The Freeman's Journal was substantially correct. Captain Barton informed his Lordship that it was only an abridged report, with additions and omissions, and that it gave a most ambiguous and false representation of what he had said, but he admitted having alluded, though not in terms of approval, to the incident to which the hon. Member for Cavan County had referred. The Lord Chancellor, in replying to Captain Barton, reminded him that persons holding Her Majesty's commission of the peace were bound to exercise discretion both with regard to the language they used at public meetings and to the topics they introduced into their speeches; and he added that on the occasion in question this consideration, as far as the introduction of topics was concerned, had not been sufficiently present to the mind of Captain Barton. When this opinion of the Lord Chancellor was expressed, Captain Barton intimated his intention to follow the Lord Chancellor's advice in future. Seeing that the indiscretion was not committed by Captain Barton in his official character as a magistrate, that it only amounted to a foolish allusion in an after-dinner speech, that no serious consequence was likely to result from it, and that he denied having spoken with approval of the circumstance referred to, the Lord Chancellor thought the reproof conveyed to him was sufficient, and accordingly it was not intended to proceed to the very serious point of depriving him of the commission of the peace. It was quite impossible to justify a speech of the kind made by a person holding such a position; but he might remark that Captain Barton was by no means, he regretted to say, the only person who had been guilty of indiscretion in this matter. It might have been reasonably supposed that of all persons the hon. Member for Cavan County, having made up his mind to submit this subject to the consideration of the House, would have been careful to avoid any similar indiscretion. But soon after the occurrence in question, the hon. Member addressed to the newspapers a letter containing allusions, and written in a tone calculated to wound the feelings of one very large portion of the population of Ulster—namely, the Protestants. He should have been glad if the speech had never been delivered, and if the letter had never been written. After the course taken by the Lord Chancellor, he hoped such a matter might not occur in future, and that more care would be exercised by both Catholics and Protestants in responsible positions to avoid giving offence to those who differed from them.

said, he looked upon the Motion as part of the deliberate system which was organized by the Roman Catholic priesthood against the liberty of speech and action of all who were opposed to them. He protested against the futile and ridiculous attempt to conciliate a Foreign Power, as the experiment could only end in failure. It was no honour, but a degradation to the House of Commons to sit and listen, first of all, to such a puerile speech as that in which the hon. Member for Cavan County brought forward his complaint, and, second, to the apologetic and whining tone of the reply made to it by the right hon. Gentleman. Talk about Orangemen—what fault was to be found with Orangemen? He was an Orangeman, and they owed allegiance only to a Protestant Queen, not to the foreign power which appeared to be practically sovereign in Ireland, and under whom crime and outrage flourished.

I must remind the hon. Member that he is not speaking to the question, which is that the House go into Committee of Supply.

thanked the House for having so far listened to him. He would only further say that he would rather not be a Member of Parliament, if he was to be obliged to listen to such covert treason to the principles of the Constitution as was heard from hon. Members below the Gangway on the Liberal side of the House, who were perfectly honest and perfectly consistent in promoting the interests of that particular Power which they represented, and to listen to what was more painful, more derogatory, more discreditable, not to the Government alone, who were here to-day and gone, it might be hoped, tomorrow, but to the House and the country—namely, the un-English sentiments uttered from time to time by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He (Mr. Whalley) protested against the time of the House being taken up by appeals on behalf of a Power which was recognized by our law and by common sense as alien to the general feeling of the community and utterly destructive to the prosperity of Ireland.

defended the course adopted by his hon. Friend the Member for Cavan County in bringing under the notice of the House the speech of CaptainBarton, and was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had attempted to defend that Gentleman. He did not agree with the language of the hon. Member for Cavan County, with reference to the meeting; but at all events his hon. Friend did not use these words at a meeting, while Captain Barton did use words which might have led to murder. The right hon. Gentleman assured the House that the language of Captain Barton was not used in the exercise of his judicial functions. But that did not affect his fitness to sit on the Bench, because he had a character to maintain whether on or off the Bench. After all, he was not surprised at the way in which this subject had been met by the Chief Secretary for Ireland when he remembered that the right hon. Gentleman in his speech at Belfast referred to certain Members of the House as spouters of sedition.

In the expression I made use of on that occasion, I did not speak of any hon. Members of this House.

It would be a satisfaction to Home Rule Members to learn now for the first time that the language used on that occasion did not refer to them. In times past dissension in Ulster was promoted by the Government, and he regretted that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not availed himself of this opportunity to denounce the fanning of the flame of religious bigotry in Ireland whether by Catholics or Protestants.

considered that the hon. Member for Cavan County had done good service in bringing the matter under the notice of the House.

said, he knew Captain Barton to be a young man of warm temperament. He would not say a word in favour of the speech which he had been accused of delivering, and which, if he had delivered it, would have been very indiscreet. But he knew Captain Barton to be the last person who would say anything intended to hurt the feelings of others.

said, there was a feeling in Ireland that some unfairness was shown in dealing with these cases, and that while a magistrate who said anything at a popular meeting was pretty sure to have his name scratched out of the Commission, very little notice was taken of speeches at meetings like that in question.

said, this was not so much a question between Roman Catholic and Protestant, as a question as to a magistrate gloating over a diabolical crime. He, therefore, thought it was the duty of the Lord Chancellor to ask Captain Barton to give his own version of the words that he did use. He presumed there would be no objection to lay upon the Table the correspondence between Captain Barton and the Lord Chancellor.