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com (Cursai Coireolaiochta Na h-Eireann) Created By Seamus Breathnach
10. A Short History Of Capital Punishment In Ireland
Studies In Irish Criminology: Books 8 -13
10.) Capital Punishment
10. Capital Punishment 10.a. Bk.8: Last of the Betagii 10.b. Bk. 10:A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland: Vol. 1: The Evil That Men Do 10.c. Bk.11: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland: Vol. 2: The Nineteenth Century Female Calendar 10. d. Bk. 12: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland: Vol. 3: Petty Traitors 10.e. Bk. 13: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland: Vol. 4: Infanticide Or The Mercy Miracle 10.f. Bk. 9: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland: : The Penology of Samuel Haughton
Sile, Sean and Seamus
Sean: I think there has been some confusion under the heading of Capital Punishment. Could we straighten that little matter out before we proceed with WebPage 10? Seamus: When one is doing research things have a habit of rambling. I can’t remember when I stopped researching stuff on the topic of Capital Punishment in Ireland. A few years ago I was to give a lecture in Criminology at a conference held in Seoul – I chose to lecture on the execution of Mary Daly in 1903. She was the last Irishwoman to be hanged under the British Administration. 2
Elsewhere I have carelessly referred to this case as the last hanging in Ireland. What I meant to say was the ‘last hanging in Ireland under the British Administration.’ Even though the tour was postponed, I continued to develop the inquiry and it spread from the 1903 case, to all or most of the cases in the twentieth century. And then, since I had researched the nineteenth century, I took it up again, and so on in an expanding fashion. Having gathered the notes together, I decided to write a history of Capital Punishment, but what I had was not really a ‘history’, and yet it had to be something like a history. So, I called it A Short History Of Capital Punishment In Ireland. And I am not sure it is even that. What I am sure of is that the notes now extend to some six works. In the series of Studies they extend inclusively from Book 8 to 13 and are entitled as set out above. Sean: All six deal with a different aspect of Capital Punishment. The Evil That Men Do clearly deals with the male gene, the aggressive gene according to Dr. Dawkins. Is that the line you take in the book? Seamus: Partially. The business of compiling stuff in Ireland takes up most of one’s energies. Long before one can get to the plateau from which one can make social or criminological statements, much too much effort has gone into the business of collecting the data – data, which one might imagine, the Department of Justice should have on tap! (Bk.10): The Evil That Men Do, therefore is an account and an analysis of twentieth century male executions. The executions here are so numerous that they could well be extended into two volumes, but for fear of absolute mayhem, it will remain as one volume. Sean: How many executions are we talking about anyway – from a historical viewpoint, that is? By what degrees has the use of execution as a means of social control diminished in the armoury of the state? Seamus: Much depends on asking more precise questions. At this stage the numbers ascribable to capital punishments in Ireland is very much like the business of accountancy. If you want to see our social values set out as in a Balance Sheet or the Trading profits, you may examine ‘Garda Statistics’; but be prepared for the discretion of ‘creative’ accountants in churning out whatever they feel you ought to know. It all depends upon the questions you ask and how precisely you ask them. So, could you ask me again?
Sean: I asked you how many executions there were in Ireland? Seamus: When? For the Nineteenth century? Sean: No, for the Twentieth century. Seamus: You mean for the whole century? Or do you mean either for the North or the South? Or do you mean North and South combined after as well as before 1922… Sean: OK. I get your meaning. Seamus: So, do you want to rephrase your question? Or, maybe it might be better if I made a few preliminary remarks. We are mostly interested in the Twentieth Century – by which we mean, not just the incidence of execution, but the incidence of murders, capital sentences, and then commutations and executions in respect of the three periods 1900 – to 1921/22; 1924- 1954; and the Interregnum period of the War of Independence and the Civil War. Having said that, I should also say that we are interested in judicially and civilly determined cases – not military ones. Sean: I suppose one has to be conscious of Northern Ireland as well? Seamus: Again, whether to include the figures for Northern Ireland or not comes into play, as well as whether, again, borderline military (IRA) executions should be included. Sile: I suspect you have to make provision for men and women. Seamus: Actually that is the easiest part, if you remain with the executions themselves. When you venture into collecting the numbers of sentences and commutations, then things are a bit more difficult. I suppose the best introduction to the question of capital punishment – at least in so far as it concerns us presently -- is to regard it through the historical aspect. There is the broad estimate that there have been some five and a half thousand executions in the British Isles since 1800 up to the time of their abolition. This figure, it seems to me, is a reasonable guesstimate taken from the following very useful website : http://email@example.com/irel and.html
We have no general dispute with the figures given for Ireland and we highly recommend the website as informative and for the most part accurate. If we find fault, then the faults we find are more matters of detail and lack of content rather than with anything declared. That said, however, one should remember that we intend a much more social analysis than that which passes off as a string of names and dates of executions. These details have been taken no doubt from institutions that scan the digitised press for information as well as from government and other educational organisations which work to make these figures available. The problem for us is the contribution made by the Irish to these figures. Sile: Of the 5,508 executions for the British Isles, how many people do you say were executed in Ireland?
Seamus: Since the 1800 we believe the Irish contribution to the five and a half thousand has been in the order of 2,000 as computed below.
Sile: So, some 1,500 males and 19 females were executed in Ireland in the first 29 years of the nineteenth century. Is that a guess? Seamus: It is an estimate, but one badly compiled from press cuttings. It is therefore perfectly inaccurate, but at the same time it is inaccurate in a very calculated way. In other words, it awaits improvement by others and I would expect such amendments to be minor rather than major. The figures for the period 1830-50 are much the same, but at the same time tend to be more reliable and accurate. And the figures for the period 1850-99 are, again, more reliable accurate.
Sean: This brings us into the twentieth century, during which you say there were some 47 cases, 17 before 1922 and 30 between 1924 and 1954. Is this not a very low figure as representative of what actually happened? I mean… everybody knows that the Provisional Government in the Interregnum of the Civil War executed at least 77 persons. So how do you come by a mere 47?
Seamus: Our concern (except for stated cases) is exclusively concerned with cases that have been judicially tried in a civil court. We are not unduly concerned with military or quasi-military affairs. Put it another way, we believe the military cases should receive a mention, but they distort the judicial magnitudes that we need to unearth first of all and then analyse exclusively as judicial and civil cases. Sean: Still, there are some good Web-Sites out there at the moment, and one of them enumerates some 164 cases for twentieth century Ireland. Seamus: Quite correct, and I highly recommend such sites. But if you look at the citation to which you refer, it states unequivocally that ‘There were 164 executions in Southern Ireland during the 20th century’. Sean: If I understand this computation correctly, there are 165 persons executed and they computed herein. Of the 102 persons executed and bracketed above, it is interesting to note that 91 were shot and 11 were hanged. But my primary question remains: How does your number of 47 cases square up with this overall figure of 165? Seamus: Our concern – as already stated -- is for judicially adjudicated cases. Why? Because the weight of reasoning behind a court civilly constituted interests us more from a social and a sociological standpoint. When people are at war, passions and propaganda are spread like flying locusts. By definition sides are already assumed, and the combatants already know for themselves who is right and who is wrong. Between combatants at war, the object is simple; each side wishes to destroy the other. They hold no great rationale for us, no sustained discourse and no criminological persuasiveness as regards the civil social aspect. You could get the same results by watching a cockfight. Admittedly, with the modern military the technology is infinitely more sophisticated – one has only to think of WW1 and WW2 --, but from a criminological viewpoint, the antagonists at war have declared their aims and their ends from the outset. Consequently, any question of further guilt or propriety can have little or no social significance. And this is why we are not so concerned with military or non-civil, non-judiciallydetermined cases. Moreover, amongst those cases that are civilly tried, our preference is for cases tried by way of judge and jury. Sean: OK. So, which of these figures would you be concerned with? Take the first entry. Dennis Baker says categorically: ‘twelve men
and one woman were hanged under British civil jurisdiction between 1900 and 1911’. Do you agree or disagree? Seamus: I agree and disagree. Sean: Not again! Sile: Please explain. Seamus: Between 1900 and 1911, there is no ‘ Southern Ireland’ – at least not such that it makes any political sense to talk about it. We therefore prefer to talk about the period 1900 to 1921/2. Sile: So, you are saying that your tables concede that there were twelve men and one woman – that is, thirteen people -- executed between 1900 and 1911. Seamus: Yes, thirteen and more. We calculate that there were 17 executions between 1900 and 1922 and they all occurred between 1900 and 1911. Sean: Why do you say that they occurred between 1900 and 1922, when they occurred between 1900 and 1911? Seamus: This time-period 1900- 1911 is valid if one merely recites the names and dates of executions. But if we want to go further with our analysis and, say, compare these execution-figures with the numbers of commutations that occurred between 1900 and 1922, the period 1900 -1911 doesn’t work. We may also wish to known, where possible, the overall number of capital sentences handed down over the period. In this respect, while the execution numbers involved did occur between 1900 and 1911, there were further cases after 1911 in which capital sentences were handed down and no executions followed. These cases were civil in nature and are to be distinguished from those, which came under the charge of Treason and were associated with the 1916 firing squads. Sile: Even still, how does one square the number thirteen with the number 17? Either you or this WebPage is in error? Seamus: Possibly, but as it happens, I don’t think so. All that has happened, it appears, is that the WebPage put the number of those cases, which went through Belfast into a separate compartment – the same compartment that they compiled for Northern Ireland after the 1922 Treaty – whereas we see no reason to do this until after the Treaty itself. In other words, they assume that ‘ Southern Ireland’, as a politically independent place is in operation since
1900. So, while the WebPage in question quotes thirteen cases between 1900 and 1911, it quotes 16 cases for Northern Ireland throughout the century. With one or two minor differences, we quote much the same number, but in different categories. They use different categories than we do. (Needless to say, we use different categories than they do.) Sean: Can you say which cases you refer to? Seamus: Certainly. The WebSite entitled Capital Punishment U.K. <http://www.richard.clark32.btinternet.co.uk/contents.html > takes the following five cases from where they should be, for all happened in Southern Ireland before the Treaty. And we, naturally, have no reason to exclude them. 11/01/1901 William Woods Belfast 05/01/1904 Joseph Moran Londonderry 22/12/1904 Joseph Fee Armagh 20/08/1908 John Berryman Londonderry 19/08/1909 Richard Justin Belfast Sean: Ah, yes. But the number 17 differs from 13 by four cases. You cite five cases. Seamus: Quite correct! And if you examine the WebPages above quoted for ‘ Southern Ireland’ and Northern Ireland, you will find – what it took me some time to discover. Sean: Which is? Seamus: One of the cases has been double counted -- as belonging to both categories. Would that incidentally account for the 164 computing at 165? Sean: So, what are you saying? It seems to me that if those five Northern cases have been included, as you have included them, then there would be 18 cases, not 13. How do you explain that? Seamus: The WebPage in questions recites13 cases, 12 men and one woman between 1900 and 1911. It took out the Northern Ireland cases – Sean: Yes. It took out five cases! Seamus: No. It took out five cases and one of them it also left in. As I have said, it double counted one of the cases. Whereas, if it
had taken out the five cases without double placing any, it would – should – have claimed that there were only 12 cases of execution between 1900 and 1911. Now, 12 plus five, equals???? Sile: And now you are saying that all those cases (15, plus 102) really apply to a war-type situation and do not qualify for analysis, as they have not been judicially and civilly determined cases? Seamus: We are concerned with them – but yes, they do not come into our analysis proper. Sean: Ok. So the number of executions between 1900 and 1921 was seventeen, 16 male and 1 female. What then about the last entry, the 35 cases? It is unequivocally stated that ‘Thirty-five people, including one woman, were hanged for murder between 1922 (after Ireland had achieved independence) and 1954’. Do you agree with that figure?
But that’s five not four. Five from 17 leaves twelve. So how did he arrive at 13? Look to his Southern Ireland figures, and we find: So, what do we have included that he hasn’t? He DOUBLE COUNTED JOSEPH MORAN (LONDONDERRY CASE) IN THE NORTHERN IRISH SECTION AND THE SOUTHERN IRELAND SECTION SO, WHAT THEN ARE OUR FIGURES? 1900-1922 17 1924-1954 Thirty-five people, including one woman, were hanged for murder between 1922 (after Ireland had achieved independence) and 1954 If five of these are IRA, then we should have 29 in the south, but we really have thirty. But since Moran is double counted, he really means 34 – 5 =29 And it has nothing to do with Simon McKeown. Except that we have to take him out and put him in Northern Ireland. This will give us a figure of 52 instead of 53. So, 52 less five gives us our best figure of 47 executions in the South of Ireland 1900 – 1954.
Total number of executions in Northern Ireland during the 20th century: 16. Or is it 16 –5 = 11: and that includes McGeown of NI??? Date 11/01/1901 05/01/1904 22/12/1904 20/08/1908 19/08/1909 17/08/1922 08/02/1923 08/05/1924 08/08/1928 08/04/1930 31/07/1931 13/01/1932 07/04/1933 02/09/1942 25/07/1961 20/12/1961 Name William Woods Joseph Moran Joseph Fee John Berryman Richard Justin Simon McGeown William Rooney Michael Pratley William Smiley Samuel Cushnan Thomas Dornan Eddie Cullens Harold Courtney Thomas Joseph Williams Samuel McLaughlin Robert McGladdery Prison Belfast Londonderry Armagh Londonderry Belfast Belfast Londonderry Belfast Belfast Belfast Belfast Belfast Belfast Belfast Belfast Belfast
Bridget McGivern Rose Ann McCann John Flanagan William Berryman, Jen Berryman Annie Thompson Margaret (Maggie) Fullerton Lily Johnston Nelson Leech Margaret Macauley, Sarah Macauley James McCann Isabella Aitken, Margaret Aitken Achmet Musa Minnie Reid Patrick Murphy Nellie (Maggie) McLaughlin Pearl Gamble
All were for murder. There were 12 executions at Crumlin Road prison, Belfast, 3 at Londonderry and 1 at Armagh. (A total of 17 men were hanged at Crumlin Road prison between 1854 & 1961). Albert Browne, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), was found guilty of killing a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in October 1972 for which he was sentenced to death but this was later commuted to life imprisonment. William Holden, who had killed a soldier, was the last person to receive the death sentence in Northern Ireland and his was also commuted. The death penalty was later abolished as part of the Emergency Provisions Act.
Seamus: Obviously our concerns take in the first figure of 13 persons hanged. But this figure only accounts for executions between 1900 and 1911. We are concerned with the period 1900
and 1922. And even if there have been no executions carried out during this period, capital sentences have been handed down. And this is of interest to us, because we do not want to remain with a collection of names and dates of executions, which, however necessary as a first exercise in the analysis of executions in Ireland, is merely a beginning, not an end in itself. Sean: Well, what about the last figure of 35 executions. According to the WebSite, ‘Thirty five people, including one woman, were hanged for murder between 1924 (after Ireland had achieved independence) and 1954…’ But the last figure of 35 hanged. And even in the figure of 35 hanged, five of them relate to IRA personnel and political crimes. The remainder poses a difficulty as to whether they should be included or not. In any event, we leave that until we have to deal with it.
In this last entry we have taken uncritically from a very useful site indeed, which states that ‘ There were 164 executions in the Irish Republic during the 20th century’. Sean: Yes, but they count up to 165, not 164. Seamus: Yes. Perhaps 165 were intended. Anyway, we have no reason to take issue with this number or this site, which we highly recommend to all. We should point out, however, that our concern is somewhat different. We are only interested in persons who have been executed as a result of civil and judicial process, not those arising out of either civil war, the war of independence, or the respective IRA campaigns, or military tribunals howsoever etc. Later on, we shall be forced to choose between cases, which overlap in all kinds of ways between the civil and the military jurisdiction. But this has always presented a problem, just as the exact time break between legitimate governments presents a dilemma as to whether fringe cases should be included or not. When, for example, does the one jurisdiction leaves off and the other take up the count? For the
moment, therefore, we have included the figure of 165 executions for ‘20th century executions in the Irish Republic (Eire). Interestingly, according to Mr. Dennis Baker, of the 102 who were executed during the Irish Civil War, 91 were shot and 11 were hanged, whereas in a 6-month period (November 1922 – April ’23) 75 persons were shot by firing squad by the 26 county provisional government. Of course much of these executions had been know before, but they were never given a full calendar. The following sites are to be recommended: http://firstname.lastname@example.org/irel and.html http://www.richard.clark32.btinternet.co.uk/contents.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_MacBride Seamus: By way of a provisional table, the following magnitudes can be used as an overall perspective of our concerns, even if we can be sure that they are not accurate. The number of persons executed is exact, but the numbers who were in receipt of commutations is infinitely trickier. So, what we can say is that these are minimal figures and not too removed from what the real figures probably represent. And we will see this when we go through the tables for each period. Sile: Of course it might be preferable to leave out the Northern Ireland figures altogether and concentrate on the South. Seamus: It is our preference to get a picture – a close picture and a comprehensive picture – of most if not all of the crimes that generated these executions. Sile: What about the female murders and executions?
Seamus: (Bk.11): The Nineteenth Century Female Calendar and (Bk.12): Petty Traitors are two accounts of female executions, the first, a monograph or rather a calendar and reconstructed accounts – mostly drawn from contemporary newspapers -- of those hanged in the nineteenth century. The focus, of course, is narrow, but it has never been done before and without the hard and sometimes simple facts, students feel somewhat in the dark about the actual numbers of those capitally punished, and how it was used as a widespread mechanism of social control. The second work, Petty Traitors, a more substantial work in ways, is an attempt at a very short history of the subject, incorporating an analysis of received notions of Irish womanhood from the perspectives of crime, punishment and executions. Because
murderers were executed and because most women, when they killed, killed their husbands, the figures for the one approximate the other. In other words, women were mostly executed for killing their husbands (or their children). So, it seemed appropriate to call them Petty Traitors, as husband-murderers were once regarded Sean: What then about (Bk.13): Infanticides Or The Mercy Miracle? Where does that fit into the picture? Seamus: The Mercy Miracle tries to describe the nature of infanticide and the role (to my mind the decisive role) it played -first in diminishing the biblical view of capital punishment and secondly in subverting it as a means of social control. Needless to say, the Irish were nowhere leaders in either the scientific development of alternative views on capital punishment or on the humanitarian belief in mercy. Nevertheless, the descending order of historical mercy by which the Irish came to let go of Capital Punishment is itself a kind of imitative miracle, but a miracle no less. Sean: When, by the way did we get rid of it? Seamus: Quite recently, I’m afraid. But, as I said, we no sooner let go of it than we wanted to tell the world that we would never introduce it again. Sean: Even in time of war? Seamus: ‘Even in time of war.’ Sile: That’s what really annoys me. In it I find that old Catholic nonsense again. W couldn’t convince ourselves (for ‘us’ read ‘RC Church and the Department of Justice’) to get rid of it, and then, belatedly, when we came round to the idea, we wanted the world to know how humanitarian Catholicism really is. We almost make the case that we were the originators of such mercy. (The soccer metaphor again!). It’s a bit like the Department of Foreign Affairs, in their latest move to set up a place, where everybody in the world can come and do a ‘Peace Process’. As the Irish independent reported on Monday, July 21, 2007 “ FOREIGN Minister Dermot Ahern has set up a conflict resolution unit in his department and asked it to report in the autumn. He has thereby signaled a new stage in Ireland's long-standing involvement in peacekeeping operations worldwide, a stage in which we can use both our domestic and our international experience.” 15
We are now selling the ‘Peace Process’ – Who is it that has such gall? Who is it that imagines that we are so important that we can solve other peoples’ problems, when we couldn’t solve our own? Believe it or not, the Minister actually mentioned East Timor. Is that a clue to who it is that has the hard-neck gall to try and push the Christian conquest on the back of the Irish peace process? A few years ago, buoyed by the Red Cross, the Irish Catholics went around the world moaning about how evil East Timor was, torturing our own priests and precipitating on behalf of the RC Church the invasion by the Australians. Now ‘us Irish’ want to set up a kind of a Conference Centre - A Conflict Resolution Centre – no less. We want to mediate between the East Timorese and Indonesia and, at the same time, nudge the old Christian Conquest as we speak and speak and speak…. When you have finished shooting them and bombing them, give them an Irish Christian education: that’s the RC way! And that’s the Irish way! As long as we remain insufferably Catholic, we Irish must remain suspect throughout the world for the phonies we are. Under the guise of being world ‘arbitrators’, we, the noisiest little terriers out in the Atlantic, want to teach people – no doubt through the medium of Christianity – how to attain peace. Sean: Whatever about East Timor – and I accept that having sold time by way of indulgences for the Church, we would sell anything by honesty and the capacity to analyse anything fairly – why do you say that we were phonies in getting rid of capital punishment? Sile: Do you not remember? We no sooner banished its remnants from the Constitution, than there was this pious and thoughtless statement to the effect that we will never do it again. Do you not remember the last REFERENDA? It’s true that there was a problem with the manner in which it was given to the public. Despite the efforts of the press, and the best will in the world – the voters spent most of their time just trying to understand what was involved. They had little time left to look back and assess the historical import or merit of any of the amendments. Even the referendum on the death penalty - which one might have expected to be easy – was thrown in among complicated data. Apart from the NICE amendment we were asked by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, John O` Donoghue T.D. to vote on a draft Bill providing inter alia for a constitutional amendment to delete references to the death penalty, that is, to delete articles 13.6 and 40.4.5 (the 21st Amendment of the Constitution – on a Blue Ballot Paper), and to prohibit the re-introduction of the death penalty under any circumstances even in time of war (and for that purpose
to amend Article 28.3.3), and a new section establishing an International Criminal Court (the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution - on a Pink Ballot Paper) For most – if not all - of these items one instinctively felt there was widespread agreement. But like most things in Irish life, widespread agreement was sustained in the absence of detailed examination. And it is this lack of examination more than anything else that was so disappointing about this battery of received European wisdoms. Sean: Were you one of the speakers enlisted at the time? Seamus: I was. I remember speaking about it at length, mostly expressing my surprise that the debate lacked any real passion or, for that matter, conviction. You must remember that because it was a Constitutional Amendment, they had to get speakers like me to talk about it. One couldn’t really find people – few of them, at any rate – who were against the death penalty. Anyway, I was genuinely surprised that we Irish were enacting into law a condition whereby we would never use Capital Punishment, even in circumstances where war was raging -- and the enemy was resorting to capital punishment. It sounded a bit ludicrous, I felt a touch hypocritical. While I was generally against the use of capital punishment, I felt that we were making this constitutional amendment in order to make some religious/political statement to Europe – namely, that we Irish are really a merciful, trustworthy, civilised people, the type of people you might trust the rotating leadership of the EU to. Of course, at this time Bertie hadn’t handed over ‘chairmanship’ to Barusso and no one had heard of Professor Buttigleone, the late Pope’s friend. What we didn’t really want to say to Northern Europe, a people who protected the rights of homosexuals against Buttigleone and the Catholic Irish, that the death penalty was used here as late as 1985/6 to frighten the wits out of people, here we were – not just denouncing it, but denouncing it with a particular relish. In other words we didn’t really want to admit to Europe what we can’t admit to ourselves: Ireland is as liberal as the Catholic Church allows us (including all Departments of State) to be. As if Europe doesn’t know our predicament! As if Europe doesn’t know whom the Irish really are! Sean: Even still, it was a good thing to do, don’t you think? Seamus: Only if we meant it? Sean: But we meant it so much that the government moved it as a constitutional amendment. You can’t get more serious than that?
Seamus: Oh, yes you can. You can actually talk about it. Sean: Well, why we wanted to get rid of it hardly needed much talk. As you just said, we held onto it so long, it was an embarrassment. And in any event, we needed to rid the bits and pieces that remained of it in the constitution. Moreover, there is hardly a government in Europe, which by law compelled a balanced discussion on the subject, is there? Seamus: No. On this quirk of Irish experience you are absolutely correct. And it obviously points up two things. One is the felt need to compel discussion, and this can only be legislated for when it is admitted that there is an absence of debate, an absence of competing interests. In other words, it was meant to safeguard us - as best the legislators could --against the awful homogeneity that obtained in Ireland, even by the very legislators who wanted to enforce debate. Sean: And the second point? Seamus: The other point is how we see remedial action in the form of legislation rather than some other way. To enact something like this is to enforce an artificial virtue in place of a spontaneous reaction by the public. And this was visible in the ‘debate’, where the Press couldn’t at this stage find people who were against the removal of capital punishment. Sean: But according to you, you would not expect the Irish people to be against its removal. And yet you now admit that the Press could not find people to retain anything to do with the death penalty. Isn’t that a bit hypocritical on your part? Seamus: But that’s just it. To be against the use of capital punishment having retained it so long on the statute books, one would expect to find some people still around with the conviction that it might be retained in some circumstances. But no. Practically everyone was against retaining anything to do with the death penalty. Even those who were against the death penalty were against it in circumstances where the enemy was using it against us. This is a rather curious volte-face. The absence of any real debate on this aspect of things surely makes one think that there was no real debate at all. It was just the mechanical work of a governmental policy decided long ago and far away… Sile: It was a non-debate. Sean: But maybe Irish people have little interest in the subject.
Seamus: But isn’t that every bit as bad as having no debate at all. Getting rid of the existing remnants of capital punishment in the Constitution is understandable. But even still, one might have expected a historical review of why we kept it on after the British left in 1922, why we hanged Annie Walsh in 1925, and why we kept hanging males up to 1954, why we retained it as a sentence up to the mid-80s. Surely these weighty things require of a civilised society some sense of debate amongst themselves (without the pulpit getting its oversized ladar istigh all the time). When, in other words, do Irish people speak to Irish people without the confessional ear of the Priest? When do we make the visible effort to grow up to the world of secular discourse? And what happened – historical, I mean – between the declared stance on capital punishment as enunciated in 1948 by Cearbhail O’ Dalaigh and the abolition of capital punishment? Sean: Well, that’s another story. We did it and that’s that. Seamus: Not quite. We got rid of the old bits and pieces. Can you tell me where was the debate was and who first moved the further idea that ‘even in time of war’, we would never resort to capital punishment? Sean: To tell you the truth I don’t know. And if you say there was no debate whatsoever in the Dail or elsewhere else about it, then I will accept what you say. What this means for Irish society, however, is another matter. And I feel I understand where your indignation is coming from. You feel that a society that eventually – after centuries – gives up the use of capital punishment should show, through debate and reflection, the real reasons why. And this should be so, because it is upon them that the people share the new values and one knows that one will not bring the old values back so readily. Coupled with that, in the case of us Irish, however, is the further anomaly that while we give up the use of capital punishment without such a reflective debate – without, as it were taking national stock – we plunge themselves into a new state and, again without assessing things or drawing upon some discourse with self, we make the most outlandish statement for constitutional inclusion. I understand your indignation perfectly, but isn’t it a good thing rather than a bad one, even if we never quite measure up to assuring ourselves of our own intentions? Sile: Well, if it is so good, will you please explain the fact that we no sooner stick this nonsense into our constitution, than Mr Bush gets on World Television to assure us and the world that he is going to ‘smoke them out’, ‘run them down’, and to kill all those enemies
with weapons of mass-destruction like his own? Indeed, in his second campaign even John Kerry (the good guy!) had it as part of his campaign that he would also run down terrorists and ‘kill them.’ Explain to me the wisdom of our constitution when we no sooner sign the constitutional amendments than we are drafted into the USA’s capital punishment programmes. Everyone knows – or ought to know – how uncivilised the Americans are in this regard. They have no history of saints and scholars, or they, too, might know, that men will always have their dignity, and that holy men are the greatest terrorists of all. And, if they realised anything about history, the first thing they would know, or ought to know, is that the threat of death does not solve a thing! Indeed, it is probably why we have so many suicide-bombers. Sean: Do these suicide-bombers not scare you? Seamus: Not as much as those who show them such indifference. If European history has taught us anything, it is that if people are prepared to kill themselves systematically, then they have been abused to that end – and they are hurting so badly that they need to be given care and attention – not the reverse! Does no one recall the suicide pact of Masada in Jerusalem in the year 70 or the hunger strikers in Belfast in 1981? The moral is the same: and it might have helped if someone told George Bush about those simple historical incidents. Tony Blair (the Pope’s man) could have done it; but like the Christians in Jerusalem, he probably believed that it was prophesied, if not by God then by Benedict XV1. In any event, the atavistic indifference that has been shown to suicide-bombers is probably the worst index of American barbarism that I can think of. Quantanimo Bay, Death Row, and the other indignities that the Americans occasionally parade upon television are not compensated for by the rhetoric of democracy or the fear of weapons of mass destruction. And the trappings of world policemanship shown by the British and the Americans are not to be condoned. Did the Irish help in this and related enterprises by Romano/Anglo/America? What do you think? Sean: What then about (Bk.8) Last Of The Betagii? Seamus: Last Of The Betagii is an account of the second last execution of a woman in Ireland, or, if you like, the last execution of a woman under the British Administration. It contains singular and astonishing features, which demonstrate the accumulated history of the Holy Family, and how those who instituted it, Pope and Prince, left this peasant woman from Doonane with little or no options either to defend herself or her two children. Mary Daly is, in many ways, the continuation of Alice Kyteler. It has much to say
about Irish womanhood, capital punishment, and the weaknesses of the Holy Family. Sean: So, it only deals peripherally with capital punishment, or, rather, it deals with it in a singular and particularly factual way. What then about (Bk. 9) The Penology Of Samuel Haughton? Seamus: Haughton, Like Tyndall, as you know was a Carlovian. He was an extraordinary man, whose people came form Killeshin – not far, by the way, from Doonane, on the Leix/Carlow border. He was a Quaker, as were his people – but he was also an extraordinary scientist. As part of his much wider interests and passions he set about making ‘hanging’ more humane, so he cast his very discerning mind on what has been commonly known as ‘The Drop.’ And why Haughton has never been known as ‘The Drop-Haughton’ is a bit of a mystery. Anyway, the rise-and-fall-of-the-drop (if you’ll excuse the pun) is the theme of Haughton’s penology. Sean: Are all these works finished, by the way? Sile: Not likely! Seamus: Mostly. But I am afraid I have the unfortunate habit of breaking the back of something and then, just before finishing it, turning off, and leaving it to finish itself. So, in one sense they are all finished; in another, some of them need to be polished. In either event, I am your most eager correspondent. Sile: You are not my most eager correspondent. Sean; Nor mine either. Sile: Most disappointing, more like. Sean: And I agree. Seamus: Well the, so long as one is good for something! Your most disappointing correspondent,
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