Money for Votes - The Disfrancisement of Cashel's Westminster Constituency 1870
'The last act of the last Cashel election drama has been played out to an ignominious finish ... If there be degrees in electioneering corruption, the constituency is, in our opinion, the most culpable when more than half the electors are swayed by the highest bribe ... Suffice it to say, that several boroughs where bribery was less extensive have been disfranchised, and it is hardly possible that an insignificant place like Cashel can escape political extinction for the incorrigible corruption which has been conclusively brought home to it.' This blast from the editor of the Nenagh Guardian was occasioned by the judgment handed down by Judge Baron Fitzgerald in Cashel on 20th February 1869 at the conclusion of the hearing of the Election Petitions by Mr. Henry Munster against the election of Mr. James Lyster O'Beirne to the Cashel Westminster constituency in the election of 20th November 1868.
General Election 1868
When the general election of 1868 was called the sitting M.P. was James Lyster O'Beirne. He was first elected in 1865 general election when he unseated the incumbent, 'Honest John Lanigan'. Each had claimed 'Liberal' as his political affiliation. O'Beirne was opposed by Henry Munster, a lawyer from Sheffield, very wealthy, and also a Liberal. O'Beirne arrived in Cashel on 10th September, accompanied by Captain Graham, J.P. Six days later Munster arrived and met a 'warm reception'. Next day he addressed the electors, explaining his political views. 'The conduct of the mob, many of whom were under the influence of drink, was boisterous.' The same evening O'Beirne, accompanied by some friends, after canvassing several of the electors, proceeded to his hotel from the window of which he addressed the crowd assembled and was received with cheers and counter-cheers. The mob seemed to be nearly equally divided and several encounters between them took place and, but for the interference of the police, serious consequences might have resulted.
On Monday, 19th October, O'Beirne waited upon some fifty electors at the Commons and received from nearly all the most unequivocal promises of support.
The election addresses of the two candidates appeared in the local newspapers on 28th October. O'Beirne promised to look for a thorough and complete change in the existing law relating to landlord and tenant. He would use his earnest efforts to remove the Church Establishment. He favoured denominational education. He would encourage the creation of independent ownership of small freehold estates and he would continue to support Gladstone, whose policies were favourable to Ireland.
Munster looked for the support of the electors because he was an 'Independent' member. He was above the temptations of office and would better represent their interests as his views were those of the electors. He wanted to do away with the Established Church, improve the situation between landlord and tenant, promote religion and denominational education. He would encourage industry and the development of natural resources and would support Gladstones's Irish Policy. Even though he was English he claimed that every pulse of his heart beat true for the interest of dear Ireland.
On the same day it was reported that Munster was making ground. He had £5,000 to his credit in the local branch of the National Bank and had his agent go around the town showing off the deposit slip. He had given £500 to the clergy, the amout required to get the Christian Brothers to start a school in the town. He gave £150 to the Presentation Sisters for a bazaar and he paid Corcorans £200 for the use of their hotel.
Behind the Scenes
There was much going on behind the scenes that the newspapers never reported. This was only revealed after the election when the investigation was carried out into certain practices pursued by the candidates and their agents and retainers. These practices were forbidden under the so-called ' Bribery Act', which had become law during the previous session of Parliament. There had been a law against bribery but the new act altered the machinery for discovering bribery. Under the new act the trial was to take place before judges of the superior courts, instead of being handled by House of Commons committees.
Once an Election Petition was presented it could not be withdrawn without the leave of the judge and before he gave his consent he had to be satisfied that the withdrawal was not induced by a corrupt bargain or consideration. If the Judge found that the offence had been committed 'with the knowledge and consent of a candidate at an election' the candidate would be subjected to the following disqualification for seven years: (a) he could not sit in the House of Commons; (b) he would be incapable of being an elector anywhere; (c) he could not hold any municipal office in a borough; (d) he could not hold any judicial office or be a Justice of the Peace.
It was under this legislation that Munster's Petitions were heard by Judge Baron Fitzgerald at the Courthouse, The Green, Cashel, from 15-19th February 1869. The evidence given before the judge showed that both candidates and their agents set out to influence the electors by wining and dining them, renting their houses and rooms at extravagant rates, paying them sums of money and even intimidating them.
Some of the evidence at the hearing gives some idea of the nature of the operation. There was a get-together of about fifty of O'Beirne's supporters at Miss O'Dwyer's house the night before polling day for eating, drinking and dancing and they stayed at it until eight o'clock in the morning. Michael Ryan was paid £60 for his committee rooms by O'Beirne. John Dunn informed the trial that O'Beirne had taken rooms in his father's house for the election and had people in drinking every evening. His father was paid £20. Timothy Hogan was paid £20 he was owed by O'Beirne for the 1865 election. Michael Coffey of Lowergate was paid £20 for his sittingroom by O'Beirne but it was never used, Patrick Maher was offered £20 to vote for Munster. A Mr. Close gave evidence that Munster helped his son with his French and gave him employment after the election. Munster's agent Michael J. Laffan, paid fourteen electors five guinea cheques as retainers to prevent them voting for O'Beirne since people employed thus in an election forfeited their votes. Laffan also spent £155-15s. on 'messages and porters' who were, in short, the mob. It was a mob of men and women under a captain, named Hourigan. They were paid at the rate of half-a crown each, not including drink, and they acted as a kind of guard or escort during Munster's canvass, to protect him from the crowd of beggars and women. They also gave their services in shouting. On arriving in Cashel Munster had paid £300 to get the telegraph from Gooldscross to Cashel and another £50 or £60 to set up an office in the town. He charged one shilling for every word sent out of Cashel during the election.
In the course of his evidence O'Beirne, a solicitor by profession, informed the hearing that he had contested Cashel unsuccessfully in 1857 and was elected for the first time in 1865. Patrick Connors was his election agent but he had other agents as well. He stayed at Dunn's Hotel and he told Mrs'. Dunn to give no entertainment and no drink to any elector. He did not know that his valet was ordering drink. He paid £50 for his room but did not seek to influence the vote of Mr. Dunne, who voted against him in 1865. He paid John Hogan £60 to canvass the electors on his behalf. He paid Simon Tracy the same amount for similar work. He made many other payments but denied they were intended to influence the way the electors voted.
O'Beirne was cross-examined by Mr. Isaac Butt. He admitted that he had not paid one shilling expenses through his Expense Agent, even though the law required that all election expenses be paid through his agent. He said he did not know the law made it a misdemeanour to pay any expenses except through an agent. Though he was a solicitor and a M.P. he had never read all the sections of the relevant Act of Parliament and depended on his agent, Mr. Pierce Grace, for legal advice on what to do. O'Beirne thought the election had cost him £500. He had also spent about £300 since he came to Cashel. Most of his election expenses were paid through the bank. Upwards of £400 was spent paying the mob in the street. The mob were to come into the town on the day of the nomination to prove the popularity of the candidate, O'Beirne. Many came from Cionmel. Each man was to be paid 2/6 to 3/6 per head and he left strict instructions that they were to be served no drink. In conclusion O'Beirne said Johnston, his agent, had spent over £2,500 in the 1865 election. Virtually all the bills paid out were for £30 and O'Beirne came to the conclusion that that was the price of a vote.
On being examined by Butt, Munster recalled coming to Cashel on 16th or 17th October. He came from Sheffield with his daughter Miss Ede and was met at Thurles Station by Edward Leahy, the brother of the Archbishop, an old friend. He had taken the house, Abbeyview, and drove to it from the station. He had two sons and a daughter. He had spent £50 on toys in Mr Ferris's toy shop to treat the children in the National and Convent schools and to give beggars around the town. As well as appointing an Expense Agent, his private solicitor, George Richardson, he also appointed Miss Sterne to attend to his household expenses and gave her an account in the bank for that purpose. He also got Miss Ede, who was about to enter a convent novitiate in France, to look after all begging applications. He admitted that he knew so many agents were being retained on his behalf in order to prevent the 'most corrupt people in the constituency, whom others bribe, from voting at all'.
Cross-examined by Mr Hemphill he admitted that Mr Edward Leahy first suggested that he might be a candidate for Cashel. He had hardly heard of the place or had any interest until about a month before he came to the town. Soon after arriving in Cashel some of the Town Commissioners visited him and before they left he wrote a cheque for £500 to Archdeacon Quirke to pay for the Christian Brothers coming to the town, provided a new premises were found. There was an implication that the £500 was payment for the support of certain people. The cheque was conditional on the school being built or started within nine months. The local clergy did not support Munster but the Archbishop was his friend. Munster denied that the telegraph, which he had installed from Gooldscross to Cashel, was his gift to the people of Cashel if they voted for him.
The papers said that he had come to Cashel 'like Jupiter in showers of gold'. There were also allegations that he bought carriages, horses, a jennet for £10, furniture, cattle, and had in fact spent £6,000 during the election.
Judge Baron Fitzgeald came to the conclusion at the end of the Petition Hearing that the corrupt practice of bribery did extensively prevail in the 1868 election. The conclusion he felt obliged to arrive at upon a consideration of the whole case, regarding each part of the light of the other, was that the election of Mr O'Beirne must be declared void; and, in regard to the position of Mr O'Beirne himself, he would be obliged to report to the House of Commons that the bribery was with his knowledge and consent.
In the case of Mr Munster, he did not appear to have been personally involved but, he held that he had committed bribery through his agents, and particularly Patrick Laffan. In the same issue of the Nenagh Guardian, 24th February 1869, quoted earlier it was reported from the House of Commons that immediately after the receipt of Judge Baron Fitzgerald's report on the Cashel Election Petition, means would be taken, with the concurrence of leading men on both sides of the House, to disfranchise the borough of Cashel.
What the Petition Hearing had established was that corrupt practices had prevailed in the 1868 Cashel election but this had now to be proved before the constituency could be disfranchised. To do this a Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate the Cashel election and to examine the existence of corrupt practices. George Waters, a.c., was appointed Chief Commissioner and Constantine Molloy and William Griffin as Commissioners.
Commission of Inquiry
The Commission of Inquiry began in Cashel on 4th October 1869. Chief Commissioner Waters stated that they had the power to serve upon any person whom they thought it right to examine, a summons to appear as a witness and further they had power to inflict punishment on any person who disobeyed their summons. He threatened prison to persons who refused to answer questions, or who answered them unsatisfactorily or refused to produce documents when required. But, he also offered the carrot of persuasion. He promised that 'if any man, no matter how deeply he may be involved in any corrupt practices, comes before us on our summons and frankly and fairly and fully tells the truth of all that he knows, it is in our power to give him a certificate which will free him from all pains and penalties of any kind whatsoever'.
The minutes of evidence of the inquiry is a most impressive document. In the course of it about 250 witnesses were called and 18,872 questions asked by the Commissioners. The huge number of questions was required by the evasiveness of many of the witnesses, who were extremely economical with the truth. Having started on 4th October, the hearing lasted for twenty-two days and concluded on 20th November. It provides a vivid, interesting and comprehensive picture of electoral practices in nineteenth century Ireland.
In their report the Commissioners stated that having found corrupt practices committed in the 1868 election they carried out a like inquiry into the previous election of 1865 and having found corrupt practices obtaining then, they" investigated the previous election to that, 1859, but did not find that corrupt practices were committed then. Therefore they did not inquire into any antecedent election.
It appeared that the election of 1865, which was won by Mr O'Beirne, had cost him between £2,500 and £3,000, a sum very greatly in excess of any possible legitimate expenditure. The Commissioners found that the election was conducted in a corrupt manner on the part of Mr O'Beirne and that corrupt practices were committed at that election. The total number of electors found to have been guilty of corrupt practices was thirty-two. The Commissioners believed that the number was probably greater but owing to the death of Mr Frazer Johnson, Solicitor, O'Beirne's conducting agent at the election, who seemed to have been the principal manager of the corrupt practices on his behalf, and the non-attendance of Mr O'Beirne, they were unable to ascertain the full extent of corupt practices. It appeared however, from the evidcence of Mr J. D. White, the local partner of Frazer Johnson, that he gave ten men £30 each in bills at that election, but he was unable to identify the men to whom he gave the money, being only able to state that he believed them to be voters from the Commons.
In connection with the 1868 election the Commissioners found 77 electors guilty of corrupt practices. They estimated that the total amount expended by or on behalf of Munster was about £3,800 and this figure included about £1,000 which was spent on charitable and other public purposes. Half of the latter amount was a donation to the Christian Brothers and even though the donation was made unconditionally the Commissioners believed that the gift was calculated to induce voters to support him and to obtain influence in favour of his return. They found that this transaction constituted corrupt pratices on Mr Munster's part. Direct bribery on Mr Munster's side did not appear to have commenced until the Monday before the election. Mr Patrick Laffan, the brother of Mr Munster's conducting agent, was the person who principally managed the direct bribery on behalf of Mr Munster. In all he expended about £1,100 in the direct bribery of voters, principally at the rate of £30 to £40 per head, by the hands of a man named Larkin. He was a stranger to Cashel and had been brought there from another part of the county.
Besides this direct bribery, there were some cases in which parties were led to expect that they would receive money after the election. There was an idea among many voters, who did not get anything before the election, that, to use their own expression, 'if there was anything going after the election, they would get their shares'. Accordingly, a great many claims, to the number of about thirty, were sent in to Mr Munster's agent, or entered in his agents' books after the election, generally in the names of sons or relations of voters for 'services at the election'. The sums varied from £20 to £60. In some cases the claims were either suggested, or actually put in for the parties without their request or knowledge, by Mr Munster's conducitng agent. He gave as his reason for doing so, that he 'intended that those who voted honsetly and independently', as he conceived, 'should not afterwards be worse off than those who had made a corrupt bargain'.
The Commissioners further noted that another form of corrupt practice, the taking of houses from voters at extravagant prices, which was well known in Cashel, was resorted to on both sides but more extensively on behalf of Q'Beirne. As well, they concluded that bribery was more widely practised by Munster than by Q'Beirne. They could not ascertain that the latter had at his disposal for the election more than £900 and of that sum £400 was spent on hotel bills, the payment of mobs and other expenses. They found that £230 had been expended in bribery, either by Q'Beirne himself or with his knowledge.
The Commissioners' Report was submitted to the Government on 18th December.
It took some time for the Government to respond to the Commissioners' Report. In the meantime there were a number of reactions. There was a feeling abroad that the worst that could happen was the disqualification of the elected representatives and the holding of bye-elections. As early as the publication of Judge Baron Fitzgerald's report on the Election Petitions, half-adozen candidates expressed their intention of going forward for the vacant seat in Cashel. In April a petition signed by the Electors of CasheI against the disfranchisement of the town was presented to the House of Commons.
Then came the report of the Commission of Inquiry and the future looked less bright for the constituency. The Election Petition hearing had caused bitterness, according to John Davis White in the Cashel Gazette: 'The result has been that many of his oldest and best friends and neighbours have been estranged from him. The breach now will in all probability be further widened (as a result of the Commisison of Inquiry).'
The Gazette did not welcome the Commission and told the House of Commons in an editorial 'to cast the beam out of its own eye before it begins to take the mote out of the eye of the electors of Cashel.' The Gazette commented on the Report of the Commissioners in its issue of 12th March 1870. It concluded it was 'a very one sided affair' and claimed that the Commission in its questioning treated the supporters of Mr O'Beirne more leniently than those of Mr Munster.
On 28th March, the newspaper had an editorial about the Disfranchisement Bill and made a strong plea against it. But all was in vain. The text of the Bill appeared on 4th June. Under it the two constituencies of Cashel and Sligo would cease to return Members of Parliament and of the persons named in the schedules none 'shall have the right of voting for the county of Tipperary in respect of a qualification situated within the said borough of Cashel.'
When the Bill was introduced into the House of Commons the Members heard a Petition to Parliament signed by the innocent electors of Cashel. It stated that Cashel had a right to elect a Member to Parliament since 1216 but the people were practically excluded from the rights of voting until the passing of the Reform Act of 1832. From then on worthy people were elected until 1865 when the Electors had to choose between two candidates of the same party and succumbed to bribery.
The petition was in vain. The Bill got its second reading on 16th June and was passed by 153 votes to 23. Only 23 of the Irish Members in the house voted in the division, with 10 voting for and 13 against. The Bill received it Third Reading on 27th June after which it went to the House of Lords where it was given Royal Assent on 1st August. '
The Cashel Gazette quickly came to terms with the loss of the seat. In the following February it stated as follows: 'The principal good derived by the citizens from having a Member consisted in being able to obtain nominations to offices in the public service, and now that these offices are open to competition without such nominations we shall not very much miss a parliamentary representative.'
In November 1870 the Town Commissioners of Nenagh met and resolved that their town should get the right of returning a Member that was taken away from Cashel. The Gazette disagreed and proposed instead that the seat be given to the county, which could be divided into north, middle and south. The seat was eventually given to the county after the Reform Act of 1884 when the county was divided into four constituencies, north, mid, east and south. Clonmel lost its right to send a Member to Parliament and the first election under the new arrangement was held in 1885.
Dod's Parliamentary Companion.
The Times (London).
Report of the Commission into the Existence of Corrupt Practices at the last Election in Cashel (Dublin, 1869).
Times to Cherish: Cashel and Rosegreen Parish History 1795-1995, edited by Bernie Moloney, pp 154-163