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Parnell Commission Inquiry

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Parnell Commission Inquiry

Post by Karen on Sun 14 Oct 2012 - 22:46

Thirty-second day of Proceedings - Tuesday, January 15, 1889





With renewed vigour the Judges, members of the Bar, journalists, and the numerous other gentlemen engaged in the great State inquiry into the Times charges and allegations against the Parnellite Party settled down to business this morning. The brief relapse for the Christmas holidays has apparently had a most beneficial effect upon the three learned Judges. Sir James Hannen, who, prior to the adjournment, had very frequently exhibited signs of great lassitude, looks considerably refreshed. The same may be said of Sir James's colleagues, Justices Day and Smith. Counsel, too, display an unwonted amount of activity. For some moments before the entrance of the Commissioners they conversed with a great deal of animation, exchanging very cordial felicitations. The Times has - it will, of course, be remembered - retained the Attorney-General (Sir Richard Webster), Sir Henry James, Q.C., Mr. W. Murphy, Q.C., and Mr. W. Graham, of the English Bar, with Mr. J. Atkinson, Q.C., and Mr. Ronan, of the Irish Bar. The counsel for the Irish Members are - it will also be recalled - Sir Charles Russell, Q.C., Mr. Asquith, Mr. R.T. Reid, Q.C., Mr. F. Lockwood, Q.C., Mr. Lionel Hart, Mr. Arthur Russell, Mr. Arthur O'Connor, and Mr. Harrington. Mr. P.A. Chance is represented by Mr. Hammond, solicitor, and Mr. Biggar, M.P., and Mr. Michael Davitt, appear personally.


The reopening was invested with more than ordinary interest. One or two incidents had occurred during the past few weeks which, it was thought, would lead to a sensational commencement. For instance, Mr. Wm. O'Brien had been summoned to appear and explain his conduct in, as it is alleged, the publication of a criticism of the Commission in United Ireland, while the Hon. George Brodrick, Warden of Merton, was also under a similar obligation to the Court for having, it was said, commented very freely upon the Nationalist Party. Anticipation as to the result of these incidents drew a large attendance of the public. The gallery was crowded, and every available seat at the back of the Court, and in the reserved Judges' gallery, was occupied.


Sir Richard Webster was about the first of the Times counsel to put in an appearance. He was quickly followed by Sir Henry James, Sir Charles Russell, Mr. Reid, and Mr. Lockwood. Mr. W. O'Brien, with a very affable smile, entered the Court about twenty past ten, and at once engaged in conversation with his counsel, Mr. Reid, for some moments, then settled down to a careful study of the notes of past sittings. Mr. Biggar joined him shortly before half-past ten, he being followed by Mr. Davitt, Mr. W. Redmond, M.P., and Mr. Cox; while the Hon. George Brodrick entered very unostentatiously by the door used by the Times counsel, and took a seat immediately behind Mr. Ronan. By this time even the aisles leading to and from the well of the Court were crowded, making ingress and egress a matter of exceeding difficulty.
The Judges entered the Court exactly at twenty minutes to eleven o'clock.


Sir Charles Russell at once rose. He held a document and a newspaper in his hand. He had, he said, an ex-parte application to make respecting Mr. Charles Henry Birkbeck, proprietor of the Worcester Daily Times and Journal, for publishing, on the 1st of this month, a criticism of Mr. Gladstone's article on O'Connell. It was stated in the Worcester Daily Times, which he (Sir Charles Russell) contended was a contempt of Court, that the Parnellites were referred to as not being able to conceal their disloyalty, and as receivers of wages of men who, in America, provided dynamite and raised funds for the worst of criminals.
The President said that these applications imposed upon the Judges much more distressing burdens than the inquiry itself. All he could say was that they would all feel grateful if counsel would use their influence on one side or the other to put an end to these interferences in questions relating to the inquiry. As far as the present application was concerned it would be dealt with later on.


The Attorney-General then asked the President to deal with the case with regard to United Ireland.
The President at once called upon Mr. Reid, but that gentleman said that, although he represented Mr. W. O'Brien on other occasions, in this particular matter Mr. O'Brien represented himself.


Mr. O'Brien then rose and asked to be allowed to explain his position in the matter. He said he did not, of course, raise any legal question as to his responsibility for the article. As a matter of fact, he did not himself write it, but he accepted the responsibility for it in the very fullest manner. In the first place, he would like to say that, so far as that article was concerned, it could not in any way be held to imply the slightest personal disrespect or discourtesy towards members of the Court. If it did, however, he would most willingly express regret for it.


Everyone must recognise, Mr. O'Brien continued, that their Lordships were engaged in a work which was not of their own seeking, and he entirely disclaimed any intention to impute that their Lordships were not following out conscientiously the lines they believed the wording of the Act of Parliament imposed upon them. He had no desire, and did not think his friends had any desire whatever, to increase unnecessarily, and without most fearful necessity, the anxieties of what must be a most arduous and most inviduous task, a task of a most unusual character. He, however, maintained the right of public journalists to comment on the proceedings of the Court. He contended that it was, in reality, an inquiry ordered by Parliament for parliamentary purposes and for political purposes, which was directed towards furnishing the public with material to judge of the character of a political organisation.


His contention was that it was simply a Parliamentary Committee, with the difference that it was presided over by Judges, and conducted according to strict rules of evidence and of law. If, however, they were not allowed to comment on the case, he pointed out, that all the activity and life would be taken out of Ireland - at least, on the one side, and that was their side. But, at the same time, the persons who had made that application would be still allowed to carry on their work of defamation. The hon. Member asserted, too, that the pamphlet "Parnellism and Crime" was still being advertised and sold by tens of thousands all over England.


In fact, he held in his hand a book of 400 pages, published since this article, entitled "Parnellism and Crime," and which contained the ex-parte statements of the counsel for the Times in opening the case. In a burst of extraordinary excitement Mr. O'Brien declared that the contents of the book were "fearful poison," which was being disseminated all through England against himself and his colleagues, without their ever having the opportunity of replying, and, to the casual observer, almost under the seal of the Court. He submitted that any rigid enforcement of the law of contempt would have a one-sided effect, whatever their lordships might desire, because the representatives of the Irish people would have to remain constantly exposed to the continual drip-drip of defamatory matter such as that contained in the book to which he referred.


They did not (Mr. O'Brien went on) question the right of their lordships to interpret the Act of Parliament under which they sat in their own way; what they did protest against was the non-production of one tittle of evidence in support of the allegations - although the case had been going on for weeks - the constant fencing of the question, "Are they, or are they not, a gang of miserable, dastardly murderers?" Here we are (continued Mr. O'Brien) month after month incurring the most frightful expense, laying ourselves and our poor people under the gravest disadvantages, and we have not once touched upon the one question which would have rendered all the rest of this inquiry utterly superfluous superdnous because there is not a man of us who does not acknowledge himself bound by every tie to our leader, and there is not one who would raise his head in public life again if that leader were proved to be in direct correspondence or communication with assassins.


Continuing his speech, Mr. O'Brien said he respectfully urged that this line of comment was not contempt of Court, but an inevitable result of the tactics of the prosecution. He held that the comments of himself and friends were perfectly legitimate, especially as the delays of the Times in conducting the case were used to procure evidence by means to which he (Mr. O'Brien) would not refer. He submitted that the criticisms made by him and his friends were not directed against the Court, but against the Times, and in order to set themselves right in the eyes of the public. The only possible objection to the criticism was that it might intimidate witnesses. Neither he nor any of his colleagues had any such desire. Their whole object was to have the matter thoroughly tested - investigated promptly, straightforwardly, and decisively. It would be absolutely impossible, as he had said, to carry on public life in Ireland if newspapers were to be debarred from commenting upon the proceedings before the Commission. If they were to be entrammelled it would not further the interest of the inquiry, but would inflict a grievous wrong upon him (Mr. O'Brien) and his friends. He should be most happy to express his regret for any language to the Court personally, but, looking at the article, he saw nothing in it for which he could express regret.


The Attorney-General then rose to reply to Mr. O'Brien's remarks. In the course of his remarks he pointed out that, if Mr. O'Brien's claim were allowed, their lordships would find that any one of the persons charged would be able to judge in his own case, might slander the tribunal, might slander the persons who were opposed to him, and might prejudge the issues according to his own views.
The Attorney-General then read paragraphs from the article in United Ireland. One of the paragraphs read as follows: "True the waste of time has been, in some measure, redeemed by open exposure of the method of bribery and intimidation by the "forger" and the Government combined, who are desperately struggling to escape from the horrible mess into which they have landed themselves." The writer of the article then claimed the right to comment upon "all this black business," and declared the intention not to wait until the end of the Commission. "They did not care twopence for the opinion of the three Judges who had been selected in the teeth of great opposition." There could be, the Attorney-General thought, no justification for such paragraphs. He must, therefore, ask their lordships to deal with the case.


The President - We will reserve our decision.


This concluded what had become known as the O'Brien incident, so far as the explanatory part of it was concerned. The Hon. A. Littleton appears for the Hon. George Brodrick. The latter, an elderly gentleman, with iron grey hair, a somewhat fair beard, cleanly-shaven mouth, and very sharp nose and prominent forehead, looked rather nervous as Mr. Littleton rose to make an explanation on his behalf.
Mr. Littleton, a young, tall, clerical-looking gentleman, assured the Judges Mr. Brodrick declared most emphatically and indignantly that a foreign meaning had been put upon his words. This was backed up with an affidavit from Mr. Brodrick, who said that in speaking as he had done he was dealing in friendly banter with a class of young Oxford politicians. If he had erred unwittingly, he expressed his regret to the Court. He denied that he had attempted to prejudge the case, and asked the Court to acquit him of an alleged offence, which was "as remote from his thoughts as it was repugnant to his character." Mr. Littleton followed the affidavit up with a few observations, in the course of which he very amusingly gave Mr. Reid an intentional hit. "Scotch audiences are proverbially very serious," he observed; "and I'm sure I don't know, my lord, whether Mr. Reid treated this after the fashion of his countrymen." The remark was received with great good humour by Mr. Reid and the Judges, and after a few more remarks Mr. Littleton sat down.


But Mr. Reid very soon retaliated. If, he said, Mr. Littleton regarded Mr. Brodrick's remarks as a specimen of academic banter, he hoped he would not expect him (Mr. Reid) to accept the shaft aimed in a friendly spirit against himself as a specimen of an English joke. (Laughter.) Mr. Reid added that he could not help thinking the language of Mr. Brodrick was such as any gentleman in the position held by Mr. Brodrick should apologise for.


The President said it did appear to him, from the report read to him at first, that comparisons were drawn between members of the Irish Party and a certain unknown criminal - (a laugh) - but now, from Mr. Brodrick's explanation, a different construction was put upon the matter. The Court did not think it, therefore, necessary to take any action against the Warden of Merton.


The Attorney-General, in stating the course he was going to pursue in the case, said he had a copy of statistics of crime in Ireland, and he would, so far as mere statistics were concerned, state that they relied upon the Government returns presented to Parliament. The statistics had been placed on a sheet, copies of which would be handed to the other side. This course would, he trusted, tend to shorten the inquiry. The returns would include details of agrarian crimes from 1879 to 1888. Assuming that these statistics were prepared from a reliable source, and a witness was called to give evidence as to the compilation of the statistics, he (the Attorney-General) presumed it would facilitate the proceedings before the Court.


That, continued the Attorney-General, would conclude the evidence as to crime, with one exception. There must be some evidence of other gentlemen as to de facto intimidation of persons who paid their rent, but, so far, he hoped the case of the Times would be concluded in that direction this week. With a few exceptions he believed he would be able to give a complete list of speeches, and then the counsel on the other side would be able to say what speeches they required proved. There were other heads of the evidence which he (the Attorney-General) should take - the question of the Parnell letters, for instance, which, it was hoped, would be taken next week. Then there were certain leading officials to give evidence respecting the statistics mentioned. After the question of the letters was concluded - perhaps before - the connection of the persons concerned with the American organisers would be taken. He (the learned counsel) thought it right to tell the Court the course he thus intended to pursue.


Sir Charles Russell said he was glad, even at this late period, that his learned friend had heeded the offer which he (Sir Charles) and his friend made months ago. He expressed perfect willingness to accept any statistical account which was placed before the Court in an authentic fashion, and which would obviate the necessity of calling witnesses, such as policemen, victims of outrages, and so forth.
As to proving the prosecution and defence of persons whom he styled "notorious criminals who had also been Land Leaguers," the Attorney-General pointed out that he had arranged a return, which, he believed, would materially shorten the time of the Commission. He incidentally mentioned, amidst much laughter, that he was prepared to prove every one of these outrages by summoning between 300 and 400 witnesses if the return was not acceptable.


Sir Charles Russell regarded this as an offer on the part of the Attorney-General to supplement that part of his case which he could not conveniently make up by witnesses as in previous cases. It amounted to this. They were asked to take a list of names, said to be those of members of the League, and tick those names off one after the other, and say, "Yes, they were members of the League at the time of conviction, and were defended with the League money." "My Lord," observed Sir Charles, very impressively, "we absolutely decline to assist the Attorney-General in such a way." Sir Charles read various "crimes" mentioned in the county Kerry return submitted as a specimen. Here are some of them: "Boxing loyalists," "publishing United Ireland" - was that, said Sir Charles, a miserable boy selling a copy for a penny?" - "furious driving," and "drunk and disorderly" - (laughter) - and "selling papers publishing suppressed meetings."


The Attorney-General, in again urging upon the Court to accept the returns, said he was not going to "do the sort of gallery business" - to use his words - Sir Charles Russell had done in selecting these cases. He, however, picked out other cases, such as "attacking a dwelling-house," &c.
The argument was kept up for some time. The President showed the Attorney-General that the books of the Court would prove the conviction, but he was asking the other side to admit an altogether extraneous matter by asking them to say the Land League defended the convicted person.
However, the Attorney-General persisted in urging the admission of the returns, which Sir Charles Russell again declined.
Mr. Biggar, too, submitted that, because a member of the League of which he was a member was committed for an offence, that was not evidence of crime on his part.


After consulting with his colleagues, the President informed the Attorney-General that the Court could not deal with the matter as he had proposed, and could not direct the other side to adopt that course.
Mr. O'Brien here rose, and asked when he would be again required to attend.
The President replied, "Probably tomorrow morning."


Major K. Tanner, district-inspector of Carlow, was the first witness. He said he was agent for Sir Philip Percival and Mr. Ogilvie, in Clonmel, 1879. In that year out of the rental of 1,125 pounds only 3 pounds 10s. was in arrears. The condition of the tenants was good. In 1881 the arrears were 790 pounds. The tenants struck against the arrears of rent. In 1880 witness collected the rent himself. He saw many of the tenants himself. They asked an abatement, which was given them - 20 per cent. In 1881 there was a Land League branch at Clonmel, the president of which was Father Humphreys. One of the female tenants, who had money in her hands, asked witness to wait for the rent "until she could get leave to pay."
The Attorney-General - Did she seem willing to pay?
Major Tanner - Indeed, she did; but she said she couldn't before she had leave.


Replying to further questions, the witness said the bulk of the tenants were well able to pay when evictions were carried on. The tenants suffered as much as the landlords from the farms lying idle. On one night over an acre of rye-grass was cut and stolen from one field. Witness had some conversation with Archbishop Croke respecting the conduct of Father Humphreys. In January, 1882, witness went to his own property to collect the rents; and twenty-four of his tenants came into a room, where he asked them about the rent. One old man said he was not allowed to pay, although witness told all the tenants he would give them 20 per cent reduction, and join them in an application to a Court to have their rents fairly fixed.


When he asked the tenants why they refused to pay, one of them said that when he came in the morning, "he saw an effigy hung up of a man killed by being stabbed in the heart, with a placard that any man who paid rent would be served the same." The tenants paid secretly, and witness had even been asked by tenants to prosecute them when they did pay. Witness dared not, for their own sake, mention their names now. There was a good deal of boycotting in the district.
The Court then adjourned for luncheon.


On resuming after luncheon, the examination of Major Tanner was continued. He said that at this time the tenants, when they came to witness, always came in a body. They said they were afraid to come singly, as they were in fear of being tried by the Land League Court. Tenants who had also used offensive language to him when other persons were present expressed sorrow to him for their conduct when they were alone.
The Major was then cross-examined by Sir Charles Russell. He could not say that he knew of any agrarian murders in Tipperary in the years 1875-6-7, before the Land League was started.
"Then tell me," asked Sir Charles, "any one agrarian murder that has occurred in Tipperary since the Land League was started." - "Well, really, I do not recollect one."


Witness further said, in cross-examination, that no reduction was given to the tenants on the estate in 1879. He would not, however, express an opinion that, owing to the existing state of things, the tenants ought to have had a reduction. Those who had suffered loss ought, of course, to have had a reduction. The tenants always came to make payments in a body, so that there was no opportunity to deal with them singly.
Sir Charles Russell then pressed the witness for his opinion as to why the tenants combined in that manner. Major Tanner's reply was that it was owing to the Land League. He offered 20 per cent reduction in January, 1882. In spite of that offer, however, all the tenants did not immediately pay their rent.
Mr. Davitt then briefly questioned the witness. He said he offered 20 per cent reduction to the tenants on his own estate, in order to attract them from the Land League.


"Is it a fact," asked Mr. Davitt, "that while your mother was lying dead you refused to enter the house because your brother was in the house?"
I did enter the house (said the witness), but I did not enter the room where my brother was. In giving evidence today (continued the witness, indignantly), I have, as a gentleman, purposely refrained from alluding to Dr. Tanner, who is my brother. I could, however, give evidence relating to him, and serious evidence. I, however, felt it my duty not to allude to him.
The Attorney-General pointed out that he had not alluded to Dr. Tanner in his examination-in-chief.
The President thought that as Sir Charles, also, had not mentioned his name, the matter should not proceed further.


This concluded Major Tanner's examination. He left the box, and his place was occupied by Francis Jago, who, in spelling his name for the edification of the Judges, caused considerable amusement. He was a short, stout man, with light, bushy hair, and a moustache, which would be vulgarly styled "carrotty." He lived at Killoo, in the county of Longford. He was a member of the League and the Committee "up to the very present minute that he came here." "What was the name of his branch?" asked Mr. Atkinson. The National League. Yes, but what was its name? - Killoo, to be shure! He remembered, on a certain occasion, bonfires were lighted in honour of a local landlord, and the committee of the League decided that the fires ought to be scattered, and accordingly scattered them. A man named McNally was present on that occasion. He was a member of the League, and he administered to them an oath by which they agreed to put down landlordism.
"Did Mr. Hart, one of the officials of the League, ever pay you any money?" asked Mr. Atkinson.
"Yes; shure, he offered me money whenever I liked to have it."
"What did he pay you for?" - For breaking windows. (Laughter.)
(The report will be continued.)

Source: The Echo, Tuesday January 15, 1889, pp. 2-3

Karen Trenouth
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