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Gentlemen Convicts, Dynamitards and Paramilitaries: The Limits of Criminal Justice (From Ideology, Crime and Criminal Justice, P 55-73, 2002, Anthony Bottoms, Michael Tonry, eds., -- See NCJ-197140)

NCJ Number
Sean McConville
Date Published
19 pages
This chapter discusses the history of punishment of conscionable offenders.
The conscionable offender questions the very nature of criminality, the reach of the criminal law, and tests current scales of culpability and desert. Political and other conscionable offenders have tested criminal and penal administration in many ways. They have also tested conventional doctrines of equity. The Young Irelanders of 1848 consisted of a small group of self-appointed leaders of an unorganized peasantry and were spurred into action by the events of the famine years in Ireland. In response, the British Government devised a custom-made law, the Treason Felony Act 1848, which proved useful against Irish rebels until modern times. This law transformed certain forms of sedition from a misdemeanor to a felony, entailing a much longer sentence and the confiscation of property. The Gentlemen convicts committed political offenses and all were acknowledged to be gentleman because local officials were sympathetic to or affected by nationalist sentiment. The men were hospitably received in respectable and well-to-do households and had nothing to do with the ordinary Irish or English convicts. The leaders and inciters were treated less harshly than their followers were. The Dynamitards refer to Irish revolutionaries that used newly patented dynamite to bring terror to the populace at large and put pressure on the government. Extreme hardship that cast them as victims transformed the Dynamitards’ moral standing and campaigns were started to free them from their harsh prisons. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) produced Irish political prisoners that waged hunger strikes in prison with great success. Sinn Fein (a political arm of the IRA) viewed imprisonment as a political and training opportunity for its members. Under pressure of numbers, violence, international relations, and inadequate resources, criminal law and the penal process have been set aside. This is a curious moral position with the conscionable offenders whose strength and ability to inflict injury on the national interest fall short of the law of necessity. Bibliography