The Hon. J. W. Ward
said he rose, pursuant to notice, to move for such papers as might have a tendency to throw light on a late-measure adopted in Ireland. Had he understood that the production of these papers would be conceded, he should have felt it his duty to abstain from in anywise entering upon the question; but as this was not the case, he conceived it necessary to say a few words, to induce the House to accede to his motion. The House were aware that an act had been performed by the Irish government, calculated to excite in Ireland great anxiety and irritation; an act which nothing but absolute necessity could, in his opinion, justify. It was therefore incumbent on his Majesty's ministers, if they wished to preserve the confidence of the country, to shew the existence of that necessity. He certainly was not himself much inclined to repose confidence in the administration of the right hon. gentleman opposite, and more especially as that administration regarded Ireland; because he conceived that right hon. gentleman in that respect, to have proceeded on principles of the most mischievous tendency to both countries. But when it was found that his Majesty's servants rummaged the darkest pages of the statute book, in order to inflict pains and penalties on persons who, however erroneous they might be in any particular act, were generally and substantially as meritorious subjects as any in the King's dominions, it became necessary for parliament to interfere, and not to allow the security of a whole people to be endangered, without calling on those to whom the putting it to hazard was imputable for a full explanation of the motives by which they had been influenced. It was as true as it was extraordinary, that the steps lately taken by the Irish government had been preceded by no official statement, either on 19 the part of that or of the British government, of existing disturbances in Ireland; on the contrary, the last notice that was taken of the state of Ireland by the right hon. gent. opposite, in that House, was a boast of its tranquillity.—With respect to the paper which had been laid before the House, he meant the Circular Letter of the secretary of the Catholic Committee, it contained no justification of the conduct of government; it merely ascertained the fact of the existence in Ireland for a considerable time of a Catholic delegation. Now, he apprehended, that the mere fact of the existence of such a delegation, did not justify government in the execution of a law such as that which had been enforced. It was to him evident, that the legitimate object which the Catholics of Ireland had in contemplation, could be accomplished with much greater safety through the medium of a delegation than by a reference to the whole body of Catholics in that country. But admitting the supposition, to the truth of which he could not by any means assent, that the delegation was of an illegal nature, and had improper objects in view, the House ought to be informed whether his Majesty's government had tried mild measures before they resorted to those of severity. It was necessary that the House should know whether any communication had been made to the individuals presumed to have offended against the law, previous to the adoption of a step by which, if it were followed up, a very large number of person, indeed would be deprived of their personal liberty.
On the face of the paper which had been laid on the table of the House, there was nothing of an alarming nature; on the contrary, it appeared to have been drawn up with a studious attention to mildness of expression, to decorous and respectful language, and with every necessary precaution to guard against any possible violation of the law. The authors of it seemed to have been anxious to do only what was necessary to prosecute, in a legal way, the objects of their petition. They expressly say, "that no person, without a gross violation of the law, can be a representative or delegate: engaged as we are in a struggle for our legal and constitutional rights, it is our duty, as well as our inclination and decided determination not to violate the spirit, nor even the letter of the law." It was possible, however, that all these professions might be hollow and deceitful; 20 but of that, no trace appeared on the proceedings of the Committee. The House was in a state of profound ignorance on the subject, as nothing had been produced to justify the strong measure that had been had recourse to. His Majesty's ministers might, indeed, possess information of a different nature. They might know that this declaration was nothing more than a pretext; and that under this seeming regard for the laws, measures of a dangerous tendency were in contemplation. But the House had no information of any such designs, and remained in profound ignorance on the subject. From this measure, how-ever, it appeared that Ireland was in a most perilous state; but it was impossible for a moment to conceive that the cause of this measure did not lie deeper than the Letter of the Secretary to the Catholic Committee; for this Letter was dated as far back as the 1st of January, and the Circular Letter of the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant was dated the 12th of this month; so that it appeared there were six entire weeks between the two acts. It was hardly possible to conceive that this Letter of the Secretary to the Catholic Committee could be the ground for the proceeding of the Irish government, when it was considered, that so little stress did that government seem to lay on that Letter, that the lord lieutenant did not think it worth his while to transmit a copy of it to his Majesty's ministers. It had even excited no feeling in the government here, for his Majesty's ministers made no mention whatever of it in the late speech from the throne. There was not one syllable in the Speech which had the smallest relation to it, although this paper had been in existence for six weeks. His Majesty's ministers, under such circumstances, ought to be able to make out a good case: they ought to be able to shew what powerful motive could induce them to remain quiet for six weeks, and then, all at once, to break out into the precipitate adoption of this harsh and unaccountable measure.—But he wished to call the attention of the House to a particular circumstance:—He had to ask, at what time particularly, this Letter of the Irish Secretary came forth? This paper was issued at a time when the accounts of the Installation of the Prince Regent had barely arrived in Ireland. This was a most unlucky coincidence; for the Prince was, deservedly, in the highest degree popular in that country, and was considered, on all hands, to be 21 strongly attached to the interests of his Irish subjects. For this measure, however, there was not the smallest ground to suppose that ministers had the countenance of his Royal Highness.
Whether ministers were right or wrong in the adoption of this severe measure, in the present state of his information upon that subject, he should be very sorry to take upon him to decide; but it was necessary that the House should have means to enable them amply to discuss and to decide upon the subject. If it should turn out that the measure was necessary and justifiable, it might have the effect of turning the minds of the government to relax the system which they had been pursuing in Ireland. It was now four years since the right hon. gent was called to the administration of these kingdoms; and what was the result of his administration in Ireland? The state of Ireland was every year growing worse and worse under his management; it was every year becoming more and more a part not of our strength, but of our weakness. He would ask, whether ministers expected to be able to continue this system? Whether they expected to be able, by their Convention bills and similar measures, to govern that country? He should be sorry if any thing he might say could have the least tendency to excite a spirit of discontent among the natives of Ireland. He was fully aware of the embarrassing situation in which he stood. On the one hand, it was possible he might be supposed to wish to excite anxiety and alarm in that country; and on the other, by maintaining a silence on the subject, it might appear as if he seemed to acquiesce in the justice and propriety of the Irish system of government. The administration of the country seemed now to be placed in the painful alternative of being obliged either to concede something to the demands of the people of Ireland, or to put down the population of that country by the exercise of power. While he said this, however, it was not his object to enter into any discussion at present on the subject; for neither he nor the House were possessed of information to enable them with propriety to enter upon the subject. His object was not a wish to embarrass administration; and had he conceived that any thing this night spoken by him, could have the least tendency to effect such an embarrassment, it would have been buried in oblivion. He thought, however, it was becoming in the House to show an anxiety 22 for the fate of Ireland,—a greater anxiety than they had butherto shewn; but while he blamed the spirit of intolerance that had been adopted in regard to Ireland, he did not forget that the Catholics themselves were, by their conduct, not altogether free from blame. It was his most earnest wish that the Catholics should abstain from all measures of a violent tendency; for they might rest assured, that such measures, however much others might suffer from them, would return back on themselves in a tenfold degree. While he recommended, therefore, tolerance to the administration, he could not help recommending forbearance to the Catholics. The hon. gent, concluded with moving, "That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, praying that there may be laid before the House copies or extracts of such dispatches from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to the Secretary of State for the home department, as related to the Circular Letter of the right hon. W. W. Pole, Chief Secretary of Ireland, to the chief magistrates and sheriffs of counties in that country."—Upon this motion being proposed from the chair.
§ Mr. Yorke
rose and observed, that though he could not concur in the whole, he was inclined to agree entirely with the concluding passage of the hon. gents speech, in which he exhorted the House to an anxious consideration of the state of Ireland, and that the utmost degree of toleration and relaxation that could possibly be adopted should be conceded. There was no man in that House that could agree more cordially than he did in that sentiment, but he could not agree with the hon. gent. in that part of his speech where he charged the government of the country with adopting a system of intolerance towards Ireland. He must always deny the proposition, that because the House had not been inclined to agree to Catholic emancipation, they were therefore to call the system intolerant. So far from the system of his Majesty's government towards Ireland having been intolerant, he could venture to say, that the system pursued ever since his Majesty had ascended the throne, had been in the highest degree ameliorating and tolerant. They had, however, to lament, that there were great numbers of persons in Ireland, who appeared not to be satisfied until that point was conceded to them, denominated Catholic emancipation; but until he could admit that that point should be granted 23 them, he never could agree that the system had been intolerant. The hon. gent. had himself admitted that this was not the time for the consideration of the Catholic question, or for entering into the discussion of that subject; but it were to be wished that the hon. gent. had confined himself to moving for the papers which he might conceive defective, and had avoided all discussion of topics connected with them. Before he proceeded to advert to these topics, he would state to the House the facts which had come to the knowledge of his Majesty's ministers. All that they knew was, that in consequence of a paper issued by a Mr. Hay, who called himself Secretary to the Catholic Committee; it was thought advisable to issue the circular letter now before the House. This paper carried on the face of it a violation of the existing laws of Ireland. This was not the time to discuss the merits of these laws; it was sufficient to declare what was the law. The Convention Act was declared to be expressly enacted for the purpose of preventing the assembly of delegates for any unlawful assembly, and offenders against the Act were declared guilty of a high misdemeanour. He would ask any person who read the paper now under discussion, whether it was not a decided offence against this Act, and whether the sitting of any such assembly, as the body of delegates from the Irish Catholics, was not to be held an assembly against the Convention Act? The hon. gent. had said that there was upon the face of it, an evident intention in drawing up this paper of wishing to avoid offending against the law. He admitted that such intention was professed in certain passages of the paper; but such passages did not at all alter the nature of that paper; for how was it possible that men were to be sent as desired to join the Catholic Committee, without being appointed by an act of the body of Catholics? It might be contended, therefore, that the person who wrote that paper must have intended a violation of the laws, and that he was aware that he was acting in violation of the laws; and therefore, without inquiring further, the government of Ireland were prima facie and justifiably in the exercise of their duty, when they resorted to the measure under discussion. It might be true, that that measure was not expedient, and it was upon the expediency of the measure that the conduct of the government most be justified. Looking 24 therefore at the letter of Mr. Hay, he maintained that the government of Ireland could not have acted otherwise than it did, without allowing persons openly to violate the established law of the country. But ministers were not in possession of all the information necessary to enable the House to judge of this measure in all its points; and therefore, if all the papers moved for were granted on the present occasion, they would not answer the purpose of the hon. gent. He was therefore averse to the motion, because these papers were insufficient, and because it would be necessary to wait for still further papers, before the House could come properly to a discussion of the subject. Upon that ground he should give his negative to the motion.—The hon. gent. had thought fit to criticise the government of Ireland, because the letter of the secretary to the Catholic Committee was dated the 1st of January, and the circular letter of the secretary to the lord lieutenant was dated on the 12th of February; so that no notice appeared to have been taken of the former paper for six weeks. But, according to the information which he possessed, the government of Ireland knew nothing of that paper till within a short period of the issuing the proclamation. Although the letter of the Catholic secretary bore date the 1st of January, he believed it was not circulated till a much later period, and therefore the observations on the conduct of the Irish government did not seem to be entitled to much consideration.—The hon. gent. had also mentioned, what he conceived an unfortunate coincidence in the appearance of the letter of the Irish secretary, at a time when the news of the Regent's appointment had newly come to Ireland; and he took from thence an occasion of paying a well-deserved compliment, as he believed, to his Royal Highness. Every man who wished well to the interests of the United Kingdom, ought to feel warmly for the interests of Ireland; and the illustrious person at the head of the government must be supposed to feel for those interests more warmly than other individuals could be supposed to feel. The introduction, however, of every circumstance of this nature, must not only be considered peculiarly unfortunate at this time, but at all times. It was also to be deplored, that gentlemen, who, he believed, had the glory and prosperity of their country sincerely at heart, should so often indulge in a tone and temper calculated 25 to produce the greatest mischief that could possibly happen to Ireland. He did not, however, mean to say, that the hon. gent. who preceded him, was to be included in the description of gentlemen to whom this charge applied.
§ Mr. Grattan
rose and said, that he could not suffer this question to be decided without briefly delivering his sentiments upon it. The tranquillity and interests of Ireland were so intimately connected with the subject in discussion, that he could not reconcile it to himself to give a silent vote on this occasion. It appeared to him most clear that all questions connected with the state or interests of Ireland, were most materially important to Great Britain. The interests of the two countries were reciprocal. Great Britain could not exist without Ireland; nor could Ireland exist without Great Britain. Fully convinced of this truth, he always felt disposed to discuss subjects of the present nature with that temper which had been recommended by the right hon. gent. On this principle it was, he stated, that in his opinion, the parliament of this country was called upon particularly to watch over the interests of the Irish Catholic; because, having no representative in that House, he was a kind of minor, over whom that House was an honourable guardian. It appeared to him to be peculiarly necessary, that in every measure of the government, the utmost tenderness should be manifested towards the Irish Catholic, and that this idea should be constantly present in the minds of government—namely, that the Irish Catholic should be maintained in the possession of all the rights which the law had left him. If the legislature (contrary to the opinion which it was well known he entertained on the subject) determined not to give the Catholic the whole of his demands, at least it should be the care of the government not to perplex, diminish, or degrade the liberties and rights which he had obtained. He contended that it was a fundamental principle of British and imperial policy, that the communication between the Catholics of Ireland and the parliament should be free and unembarrassed. It was therefore that he condemned a measure which tended to obstruct that communication, by recurring to an act generated in spleen, and which, if not repealed, should at least be resorted to as rarely as possible. If that act were at all to be recurred to in the present times, it ought to be so construed, as to 26 leave the utmost facility of communication between the great body of Irish Catholics and parliament It rigidly and bitterly construed, it would cut off all communication of that nature between the parliament and the people. This was particularly the case with regard to Ireland since the Union; for many channels of communication, which were then open between the people of that country and the legislature, were now almost shut up. It was the more incumbent therefore upon that House to take care that parliament should nut be deprived of the means of ascertaining the sentiments, not merely of a small portion, but of the whole body of the Catholics in Ireland, and of allowing, for that purpose, the right of petitioning in the fullest and freest manner. For, what had occurred on former occasions? When he presented a former petition from the Irish Catholics, it had been said, that the petition might contain the sentiments of the comparatively few individuals by whom it was signed, but that the great body of Irish Catholics were indifferent to the subject. This shewed the necessity of collecting the opinions of that great body; and bow were those opinions to be collected, but by some such proceeding as that which the Convention Act had been resorted to in order to prevent?
Having said this much with regard to the state of the Catholics of Ireland, and the nature of the Convention Act, he would ask if the letters produced established any necessity for having recourse to those measures, which, unless under very imperious circumstances, it was the duty of the government never to adopt. The papers produced by ministers would go but a certain length. As far as they did go, they certainly did not make out their case. But as they had refused production of all further papers calculated to throw a light on the subject, it became the duty of the House to decide, whether the papers upon the table did not contain all the information which ministers could produce in favour of the Irish government, and whether they did not fall very far short of any justification of the recent conduct of that government. With respect to the Circular Letter of Mr. Secretary Pole, as it struck him, it had two aspects, a prospective and a retrospective aspect. A national permanent convention in Ireland, ought certainly to be prevented, but it was wrong to lose sight of the distinction between such an assembly and 27 the Catholic Committee, yet supposing the danger to have been great, then a question arose as to the best and most expedient method of guarding against it. He would not be one of those who would recommend a vigorous execution of a rigorous law, for the purpose of allaying the discontent, or appeasing the exasperated temper of a people who complained of injuries. He should be inclined rather to soften the severity of the law, to take away as much of its sting as possible, certainly not to sharpen its edge, against an aggrieved and complaining body. He would not, in endeavouring to prevent any unlawful or tumultuous meeting, have ushered in his measure by a direct and positive charge, against that meeting, of entertaining improper or mischievous designs. He would not have stated in his preamble, Whereas a conspiracy exists,' but have preferred the less offensive terms of Whereas, a report of such and such proceedings has gone abroad,' &c. There was this difference between the two modes of conduct, that the first bore an adverse and hostile character towards his Majesty's subjects, the other indicated a friendly and parental temper. Doubtless, there may be among the Catholics some misguided men, and some who might conceal unjustifiable views. But was this a sufficient apology for the use of irritating language to the whole body? The words 'unlawful assembly,' applied to the Catholic meeting, in the letter of the Irish secretary, appeared to him to be most injudicious, even if strictly applicable. What necessity was there for this assuming phraseology, so remote from the style of conciliation, so unmarked by that superior good manners which ought to distinguish a great and magnanimous government. It could not be forgotten that the assembly thus stigmatised had continued to meet, unchecked, and unreproved, since the year 1807: that since 1809, they had made various communications to both Houses of Parliament. If, therefore, the principle on which they assembled was wrong, it must have been wrong from the beginning, and the legislature had acted wrong in receiving petitions resolved on and prepared by that assembly. The Catholic Committee consisted of the delegates of 1806, and of those appointed at the general meeting of 1793. Parliament had never refused to entertain the petitions of this body, against whom the full force of a. penal statute was now revived, as 28 against a lawless and dangerous convention. This, then, was a striking instance of the lawless and precipitate nature of that act of the government of Ireland, which was, in fact, as inconsistent as unwise. Lord Fingal had sat in the chair of this Catholic Committee since the year 1809. Did ministers intend to act up to the menacing tone which they had, unfortunately for Ireland and the empire, assumed? Did they intend to attack' lord Fingal in the plenitude of the esteem and respectability in which he was held, for having presided at an unlawful assembly? Did they mean to attack some of the best subjects of his Majesty, who had so often lent their efforts against the natural enemies of the country?
It was impossible to entertain any rational jealousy of such a man as Mr. M'Donald, who proposed the leading resolutions at the meeting of 1809. A man who he sincerely believed, was possessed of every quality that could conciliate and secure attachment and respect. In his judgment, such popular meetings so conducted, were not the cause of just alarm. It was well that opportunities should exist for the mind of the people to evaporate. The aspirations of active genius, should not be subjected to eternal control, nor the high mettle of the Irish youth condemned to waste itself in indolence and tavern enjoyments.—Much did he see of public spirit in the Catholics of Ireland, much indeed, of vehemence, but of a vehemence that threatened no evil consequences. The fire should be kept in its proper orb, and it would emit a salutary light and heat without bursting into conflagration. Certainly nothing had been stated to justify the retrospective operation of the Convention Act, and if ministers were determined to persevere in their impolitic system, he held it to be the duty of the House to interpose in favour of the people, and assert the right of the Irish subject to complain of grievances. It remained for ministers to shew, that to destroy the Catholic Committee was necessary, to prevent a national convention in that country. It was the undoubted privilege of the subject to be sometimes clamorous and violent in the maintenance of his rights; he would not say it was his right to be foolish also, but he was sure, that to suppress any mischief that could be apprehended on that score, the worst plan was that of a harsh exercise of the power and authority of government. Occasional 29 ebullitions of warm feelings did not call for its chastising arm, they were the symptoms of a free spirit, the calentures, if he might use the word, of a lofty mind, harmless when gently treated. (hear! hear!) He believed, however, that Mr. Pole's letter might admit of something like a hypothetical form as to the existence of a tumultuous disposition, and he trusted, therefore, that ministers would instantly adopt and sanction the construction.—You have disqualified, said Mr. Grattan, a great portion of your fellow subjects, who pay your taxes, and who fight your battles, from filling the high offices of the state. You have degraded your equals. It is to no purpose that you suppress the Catholic Committee: the spirit by which that Committee is actuated will break out in some shape less temperace and forbearing. Until you remove those disqualifications by which you have, in Ireland, sunk a part of the community below the level of general society, nature will assert, and will endeavour to recover, her rights. The Irish Catholic will never be satisfied while he is less than yourselves. That any attempt has been made to keep him so, is the greatest error of modern British governments. To the Irish Catholic I strenuously recommend temper and forbearance. The time will come, it must come, when you will have him sitting with you and voting with you—as he is now fighting for you, and ready to die for you!
§ Mr. Parnell
said, that as there was a prospect of some further information on the subject being laid before the House, he would abstain from giving any opinion upon the conduct of the Irish government. He rose for the purpose of stating such circumstances connected with the history of the Convention Act as would enable it to judge how far it was an act applicable to the late proceedings of the Catholics. But he wished to make some previous observations on what had fallen from the right hon. gent. opposite, who had said that the Catholics enjoyed a complete toleration of their religion. He could not hear such an assertion without denying the truth of it in he must unqualified manner, for even with regard to the free exercise of their religion, the right hon. gent. ought to recollect, that there existed penal statutes which disabled the Catholics from doing those things which they might and certainly would do if those statutes were repealed. As to their civil rights, excluded as they were from the most important 30 privileges of the constitution, merely because they professed the Catholic religion, it was impossible to maintain that they enjoyed a free toleration of their religion, if the word toleration had that meaning which the writers of the best authority had always given to it. The right hon. gent. had said, that emancipation cannot be granted to the Catholics. This was a position absolutely inconsistent with the first principles of the constitution, for if he understood what the principles were which placed the family of his Majesty on the throne of these countries, there could exist no constitutional obstruction in the way of making any law that the common consent of parliament and the people should require to be made. In respect to this Convention Act, Mr. Parnell said he would read to the House some extracts from a report of a Committee of the Irish House of Lords, on which report this act was founded. This Committee was appointed in 1793 to enquire into the disturbances which then prevailed in Ireland.—Here Mr. Parnell read extracts shewing that a conspiracy had been formed in the north of Ireland for the purpose of subverting the government, and effecting a separation from England. That arms and ammunition had been imported in considerable quantities; that a correspondence had been begun with the Jacobin club at Paris, and that those who conducted it intended to hold a National Convention in the course of the following summer.—In order more fully to shew the object of the Convention Act, he then read the following passage from the speech of the Attorney-General, in the Irish House of Commons—"He dented that the Bill had any retrospect, particularly to the Catholic Convention; it originated merely from a professed design to call a Convention to represent and over-turn the parliament He alluded to the Society of United Irishmen. He mentioned the late meeting at Dungannon as a consequence of the irritations of this society, and preparatory only to a general meeting at Athlone." It was evident, therefore, that the Convention Act had no other object but to meet the case of a conspiracy to subvert the government. But what is the case of the Catholics against whom this act is now' made to operate. It appears that in 1804, the year in which they first determined to petition parliament after the passing of the union, they appointed a Committee to manage their petition. That in 1806, 31 when they again determined on petitioning, they again appointed a Committee. That in May, 1809, they appointed that Committee, which is now called by the Irish government an unlawful assembly. By the resolution of this date, it appears that the whole of the Catholic peerage was to be of this Committee; also the surviving delegates of 1793, and certain persons that were selected in 1807, to address the duke of Bedford when leaving his government. It was necessary that the House should know who the delegates of 1793 were. These were certain pet-sons who were appointed by a body, regularly and openly elected to represent the whole Catholic community in Dublin, to present an address to the King, complaining of their grievances, and praying redress. Did his Majesty, or Mr. Pitt, who was then prime minister, consider this Catholic convention, from whence the Address came, as an unlawful assembly? No. The prayer of it was granted, and lord Westmoreland, then lord lieutenant, was directed to make that speech from the throne, which led to the act of 1793, making to the Catholics many valuable concessions. In November last a general meeting of the Catholics was held, at which it was decided, to present a petition during the present session. This Catholic Committee was again called upon to manage the petition. They had made considerable progress in the discharge of their trust, when the state of the King's health, and the measures consequent upon it, having established a general expectation of a change in the administration, the Committee conceived it was proper for them to refer for advice, under the new circumstances of their case, to the body at large, and they ordered the Letter of Mr. Hay to be written. This then being the state of the case of the Catholics, could the right hon. gentleman opposite maintain that there was any thing in it which was analogous to the case of the United Irishmen in 1793? Could they say that the Catholics were embarked in any conspiracy against the state? Were they even concerned in the disturbances that now prevailed in Ireland? Even this the right hon. gentleman could not sustain—for it appeared by the trials before the special commission, and by the speech of the solicitor general of Ireland, that these disturbances were confined to the lowest order of the people, acting without leaders or organization. It was not sufficient to 32 justify the conduct of the. Irish government, merely to shew, that the letter of the law was with them. The spirit and the object of it ought to be taken into consideration. It was necessary to prove that the object of the Catholics was not to petition parliament, but to subvert the government, before the House could formally decide that the proceedings of the Catholics were illegal. But even if they were illegal, according to a strict interpretation of the Act, the House should take into its consideration such circumstances as exist to justify them. The Catholics bearing in remembrance the reception of some of their former petitions, could not fail to be induced to render any new application to parliament as free from exceptions as possible. They remembered that when in 1792, they presented a petition to the Irish House of Commons, it was rejected, because the House thought proper to consider it as an act of an obscure faction, confined merely to the capital, disavowed by the great mass of the Catholics, ignorant of their sentiments, and incompetent to speak on their behalf. They also remembered what was said upon their petition in 1805, by a right hon. and learned doctor, that from 19 counties there was not one subscriber to it, not a single man from all the Catholic clergy—and that he asked this question: "How, therefore, can this petition be said to come from the Catholic community of Ireland?" Having such exceptions to their former petitions fresh in their memory, it was natural that they should wish to be able to lay before an administration, which they expected with reason would soon be formed, favourable to their claims, an accurate expression of the wishes of the whole body. But this is not the only circumstance that the House should take into its consideration in justification of their conduct. The Catholics had before them the precedent of their own convention in 1793—the favourable reception of the delegates of that convention by his Majesty—and the approbation of Mr. Pitt, as evinced by the concessions that followed.—They had also the conduct of three lord lieutenants of Ireland to lead them to consider the appointment of a Committee to manage their affairs, as a measure not contrary to law. Lord Hard-wicke—the duke of Bedford, and the duke of Richmond for four years of his administration having suffered the Committee to act in the capacity of a body representing 33 the Catholic community. It, therefore, was most unjust to apply the Convention Act against them without regard to the spirit of that Act, or considering the true motives which governed the conduct of the Committees. So far from deserving treatment of this kind, the general conduct of the Catholics had been such as to merit a very different return. It was impossible for their greatest enemies to sustain their charges of disloyalty against them. They had at all times, and at no period more generally than at the present, evinced their readiness to support the character of faithful and loyal subjects; and was this nothing in the contemplation of the right hon. gentlemen opposite, when it is recollected in what manner they have been disappointed, insulted, and exasperated by the conduct of those right hon. gentlemen? Though promised that the union should be followed by the grant of their emancipation, if the statute book is examined, it will be found that no one act has passed to render their condition better than it then was. Though they have presented their petitions to this House, they have been successively rejected, and in a manner, too, and with such language, as almost to take from them all hopes of succeeding.—When, therefore, the House shall take into its consideration all the circumstances connected with the late proceedings of the Catholic Committee—the manner in which his Majesty on a former occasion received an address of a Catholic convention—the exceptions that had been made to former petitions—and the spirit of the Convention Act—he hoped it would at least do that which he and those who sat on this side of the House were willing to do in respect to the conduct of the Irish government—not prejudge the case of the Catholics, or come to a final sentence, till all the information was obtained which might be necessary to form a correct opinion upon it.
§ General Loftus
gave the hon. gent. who moved the question before the House, infinite credit for the manner and moderation with which he had done it; and he could have wished that the right hon. gent. had confined himself merely to that question, and had not made the observations he had done respecting the oppressed state of the inhabitants of Ireland, as it tended to mislead that part of the House, not connected with that country. The fact was, that there was not an iota of difference between the situation of the great majority of the 34 inhabitants of Ireland and their Protestant brethren, or between that description of persons and the lower class of people in England: that they had the same laws to govern them, the same advantages under those laws; that they had their forty shilling freeholds, could sit upon juries; and, in fact, there was no difference whatever between the lower class of Protestants and that description of Catholics: that there were about thirty two offices of state, which the educated Catholics were not competent to hold—but which, if they took the same oaths the Protestants were obliged to take, they might hold: that, in fact, the oppression of the Catholics was not any want of Catholic emancipation, but in the state of the country. Lower the rent, and add to the daily labourer's wages, and then they would understand what Catholic emancipation was. In respect to the Convention Act, it was an Act arising from the necessities of the times, and not meant to be acted upon but in cases of necessity. The discontents of Ireland could only be removed by her native gentry, who might do infinitely more good than could be hoped from Catholic emancipation. Let them lower their rents and raise the wages of the labourer, for the high rents and bad wages were the evils most complained of. Of Catholic emancipation the majority of the people knew no more than they did of what he was uttering at that moment. The duke of Richmond had shown every possible attention and kindness to the Catholics, but it was his duty to interfere when the country was in danger, or supposed to be in danger, and not to wait until their plans were completed. Under this impression, he should hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer would at present refuse any further information.
§ Sir H. Montgomery
said, that ever since he had had the honour of a seat in that House, he had given all the support in his power to the claims of the Catholics; and it was his ambition to continue to them that support, so long as those claims were brought forward in a peaceable and constitutional manner. It was, however, one thing to support their just claims to a participation in the blessings of the constitution, and another to countenance pretensions not admitted to, or sought for by, any other class of his majesty's subjects—pretensions which, if admitted by that House, would shortly go to annihilate the power of parliament itself. There was no difference between the right of claims on the 35 part of the Catholics of Ireland, and that of the English Catholics. He could see no reason why a convention of English Catholics should not assemble in Great Britain, if such assemblies were allowed to meet elsewhere. Would it, however, be tolerated by that House, that such a Parliament should be established here? How could they be satisfied that their discussions would be confined to subjects purely relative to their own particular situation? The Catholics, although not permitted to sit in that House, had many friends within those walls. Many of their advocates were among those most distinguished for talents and respectability. They were also supported by a large party of noblemen and gentlemen, who heretofore had assisted them in framing their petitions. With these advantages he thought it quite unnecessary to adopt any other mode for the attainment of the object of their wishes. He thought the Irish government were entitled to the thanks of the House and of the country for their conduct in the present instance. Had the measure taken been longer deferred, all efforts to avert the threatened evil would in all probability have proved vain, and a body of men might have assembled, who would have given law to the kingdom.
§ Sir John Newport
observed, that the hon. baronet who had just sat down had said, the case was one which admitted of no delay, and that the government of Ireland was entitled to the thanks of the country for the measures which had been pursued. Now, if it was a case which admitted of no delay, how happened it that nothing had been done till the 12th of February? The letter had been published in Ireland at about the middle of January, and much discussion had at that time taken place on the question, whether or not it would be best to withdraw that letter, and submit the subject to the aggregate meeting. That letter had been published in the newspapers. How then could it be unknown to the Irish government? Was it not known that lord Castleross, son to lord Kenmare, bad come from a distant part of the country to sit as a member of that Committee? With such information, how was it that the government of Ireland, having paused from the middle of January to the 12th of February, should at length issue such a circular order on its own responsibility? How was it that the information received by government could be such that it ought not to be communicated to 36 The House, while it was of such a nature as to warrant so extraordinary a proceeding as that which had taken place? The right hon. gent. had deprecated the tone in which Irish matters were discussed. On this subject he would say, as he had often said before, that those who were aggrieved had a right to complain; and when a disposition was manifested, as at present, to oppress the people of Ireland by reviving obsolete laws to deprive them of their rights, it became those who considered themselves as the guardians of those rights to speak with warmth—and they were the best friends to this country who earliest called the attention of the House to their grievances, and pointed out the mismanagement of ministers. With respect to the duke of Richmond, he was in some instances entitled to much praise, yet had Ireland many insults to complain of. Was not the making of one learned gentleman (Dr. Duigenan) a right hon. gent., immediately after he had been denouncing the whole body of the Catholics as traitors—the passing of an act to curtail the means of educating their clergy—the appointing an hon. gent. to a high ostensible situation, who was particularly obnoxious to the Catholic body, &c.—Were not these galling insults wantonly offered to the Catholics of Ireland? As to what had been said of the system of toleration which was acted upon, and the conciliatory spirit evinced by ministers, he would say that, if seeking to act on such a principle, they must necessarily insult the Catholics, by placing in a high situation a person by whom they had been most insulted and traduced, both in writings and in Parliament—why then had this been done if this evinced a spirit of conciliation? With respect to what the gallant general had said, that there was not an iota of difference between the situation of the lower classes of the Catholics and their Protestant brethren, he would ask, if every Catholic ought not to be able to hope, as well as every Protestant, however humble his situation, that his son might possibly one day become Lord High Chancellor? Why ought not every father to be enabled to entertain such a hope, with as much appearance of reason as it might once have been indulged by the father of the present, and other Lord Chancellors, who, very much to their credit, had risen from humble situations in life? Why should a Catholic be denied the hope of raising himself, as another noble 37 lord had done, who originally had been but a wool-comber's son? An honourable baronet had expressed himself content that the committee should remain as it was. That, however, was not the wish of the ministers, they denounced it altogether as unlawful, or, what he should wish to know was the meaning of that part of the letter of Mr. Secretary Pole, where he stiles them "An unlawful assembly sitting in Dublin, and calling themselves, The Catholic Committee?" The hon. bart. here detailed the history of those proceedings which had caused the Circular Letter to be issued, which, he contended, were caused merely by a wish to take the general sense of the Catholics on the question, whether or not it would be proper to present their petitions to parliament in the present session. The object was to collect from those in the landed interest,whether or not it was proper the subject should be at present discussed; and he should have thought it would have been the interest of government that it should be taken into consideration in such an assembly, rather than referred to an "aggregate meeting."—The Irish Government had, however, thought it best, in order to preserve the peace, to put an obsolete act in force—an act never before acted upon—an act passed by a bigotted and intolerant government—an act passed, in the time of Mr. Pitt, the result of spleen and of disappointment. That act, he would observe, had led to the abolishing of the Irish parliament, and he warned them, lest, reviving it, they completed the ruin of their country.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he had supposed from the appearance of the House, that many other gentlemen had intended to speak on this question, and he therefore had hitherto reserved himself to hear all the objections which might be urged. As it did not appear that any other gentleman was anxious to address the House upon the subject, he must declare that, in his opinion, no prima facie case had been made out against the Irish government which called for the present motion, or could render necessary an investigation of the circumstances which had influenced its conduct. He could not but regret extremely, that whenever any discussions took place in that House with respect to Ireland, a great deal of matter got somehow introduced into the debate, which was likely to keep up that spirit of dissatisfaction in that country which had 38 unfortunately shewn itself in the instance which had called for the measure recently resorted to by the Irish government. He lamented the constant practice of gentlemen to give gloomy representations of what they called the degraded state of Ireland. He lamented that gentlemen should studiously labour to keep that feeling of discontent alive, at a time when no immediate good could possibly be hoped for from it, and while it might lead to fatal consequences. On every discussion relative to the affairs of Ireland, they were constantly told to look at the distressed state of that country, and earnestly called on to relieve it by granting that for which they had been petitioned, namely, Catholic emancipation. That it was the duty of government to look to Ireland with the utmost solicitude he readily admitted; but Catholic emancipation, he contended, could not afford Ireland the relief it required. In always bringing in this subject, gentlemen sometimes rather awkwardly forgot their own arguments; and what was advanced in one instance appeared at variance with that which was stated in another. He agreed with an hon. gent., that the disturbances which had lately taken place in Ireland had nothing to do with politics; yet though this was admitted by gentlemen opposite, when these disturbances were spoken of, they were constantly spoken of as evils to be cured by Catholic emancipation. The interests of Ireland certainly ought always to be attentively considered by the House; but it did not follow that the House should take the same view of the subject as those who represented Ireland to be in such a deplorable state. Others might differ from those gentlemen on the Catholic question, without being guilty of neglect or indifference; and he, for one, thought the measure of emancipation proposed by an hon. gent. would not be likely to satisfy the Catholics of Ireland, unless it went to establish the Catholic on the ruins of the Protestant religion. As to the convention which had been about to be called, with the view he took of the subject, had it been a Protestant meeting, the same measures ought to have been resorted to. It was the offence committed against the law, which was intolerable, and which had called for the interference of government. The question the House would have to consider was, whether any prima facie case had been made out against the government of 39 Ireland to call upon them how to institute any thing like a parliamentary inquiry on the subject. The act alluded to, related to meetings called under pretence of petitioning in bodies and conventions. For his own part, he entertained not the slightest doubt, that the assembly, which was to have been prevented from meeting by the timely enforcement of the act, would have been illegal.
It had been said, however, that the act was obsolete, and the hon. gent. who began the discussion had even said, that the Irish government had rummaged the dark pages of the statute book to find out obsolete statutes to put in force against the Catholics. (Not obsolete, observed Mr. Ward.) Well, then, the right hon. bart. below him (sir John Newport) had represented it as obsolete. But he would ask that hon. member, whether he had read the papers on the table? If he had, he would have found in them a clear proof that that statute was not obsolete, nor considered as such by the Irish Catholics. It appeared from the letter convening the meeting of the Catholics, that they were not only aware of the existence of the law, but that there was throughout the letter a recommendation to conform strictly to the law; so that one would have supposed that the course of argument on the opposite side would have been to quote the passage from the letter, and to infer that, as there was no intention to violate the law, there was no necessity for enforcing it. Whilst that letter, however, studiously disclaimed any wish to violate either the letter or the spirit of the law, he would defy any man, with the key he mentioned, to suppose that it was drawn up for any other purpose than to induce the Catholics to violate the law, whilst it professed to dissuade them from any such violation of it. For what said the letter of Mr. Hay?—
"The Committee desire to add, that by the law as it now stands, no species of delegation or representation can be suffered to lake place; nor can any person, without a gross violation of the law, be a representative, or delegate, or act under any name as a representative or delegate. Engaged, as we are, in a struggle for legal and constitutional rights, it is our duty, as well as our inclination and decided determination, not to violate the spirit, nor even the letter of the law. It is, at the same time, to be observed, that the law to which we 40 allude, does not interfere with the subject's undoubted right to petition Parliament; nor, of course, with the only method by which so large a body as the Catholics of Ireland could concur in "forwarding a petition."
This was the view they took of the law; and after this, it was impossible to say they were ignorant of the law, or ignorant that it was not to be broken, He would ask any man to look at the letter, and say if it were not intended to create a body of the description of those against which the act was intended to guard, while it ostensibly endeavoured to evade the letter of the law? The following passage might make this more evident:
"The Committee being entrusted with the petition of the Catholic Body, feel it incumbent on them to state to you, their conviction of the imperative necessity of an increase of their numbers, so that there may be managers of the petition connected with every part of Ireland. It is highly desirable, that the Committee should become the depository of the collective wisdom of the Catholic Body. That it should be able to ascertain, in order to obey, the wishes, and clearly understand the wants, of all their Catholic fellow-subjects."
Now he should be glad to know if a representative body could be better described than in the words of that paragraph? But the right hon. bart. had said they were to be called merely to consider whether or not the petition should be discussed. Now, if that were the sole object they had in view, why was it necessary to make "a depository of the collective wisdom of the Catholic Body?" Why were the persons to be named as "Managers," to be such "whose avocations require, or leisure permits their permanent or occasional residence in Dublin?" If they were to meet with but one object in view, in one solitary instance, would it have been so necessary that its members should be able to reside in Dublin? That would not have been necessary, had they not had other views which came within the purview of the statute. He now wished the House to consider how this Convention was to be constituted, in order to ascertain if a doubt could be felt as to their being precisely such an assembly as it was the object of the act to suppress. They had proceeded to enforce their former proposition in the following terms:—
41 "This is the more requisite at the present moment, when there appears to be so near a prospect of complete emancipation; and the Committee are convinced, that their emancipation can now be retarded only by criminal apathy or neglect amongst the Catholics themselves. They beg leave to suggest to you the propriety of appointing ten managers of the petition in your county. There are now three survivors of the persons who were delegates in the year 1793; these persons are already constituent members of the Committee, and, as such, managers of the petition; so that you have to appoint only seven additional managers."—Now the Convention of 1793 was precisely of the description which the act was intended to put down. From the mention made of those who remained of the delegates, it was obvious that it was the object of the Committee to have their numbers filled up with persons of similar principles and having similar objects in view. This then formed exactly the case which the act was intended to meet. The question before the House was, had the act been misconstrued? and if it had not, whether or not it was expedient to carry it into effect in the present instance? He thought he had proved the legality of the act, and proved that the Catholic Committee knew it to be a legal measure. But it was said, if it was necessary to enforce it at all, why had it not been enforced at an earlier period? If the Committee were originally an illegal assembly, it ought not to have been permitted; and if not, after having been allowed to sit so long, it ought not now to be disturbed. This depended on circumstances. The question was not, if the delegates of 1793 and 1806, from the nine parishes in Dublin, were to be considered as forming a legal assembly; but whether or not, when the Catholic Committee assumed the authority of issuing their writs (as it had been well expressed by an hon. gent. in the course of debate,) to collect together 320 additional representatives, holding this language,—the question was, whether, under such circumstances, that assembly, which, though illegal (if they would have it so), bad been winked at, and properly winked at, should not be taken some notice of when they proceeded to act in a manner different to what they acted in before, and when their proceedings were likely to lead to the most mischievous consequences?
When the hon. gent. said care ought to 42 be taken not to damp the high spirit of the "Irish, he perceived that he was not unacquainted with the nature of the discussions which had taken place. They were highly inflammatory, and had been circulated all over the country with great activity. If the information he had on the subject from the Irish government was correct, and that it was he had no doubt, not only were the steps taken authorised by the act, but, had they not been taken, the administration would have failed in its duty. Now, as to the lenity which it was said should be displayed in putting this assembly down, it might perhaps be satisfactory for gentlemen to know, that it was likely in every respect to be attended to on the part of his grace the duke of Richmond; and that such was precisely the effect of the instructions sent out to him by the English government. The circumstance was much lamented by all who were in office, and most particularly so by the illustrious personage at the head of the nation. With such feelings, ministers had stated to the Irish government, "that it was their confident hope and expectation that every degree of mildness and lenity would be shewn in putting the law in force, consistent with the public security." The legality of the proceeding, he trusted, was established to the satifaction of every one, on the documents now before the House. To give more at present, would be to shake the authority of the government of Ireland in a manner which would be productive of the greatest inconveniences. The hon. gent. however had stated, that the Irish government had made out a bad case, and that he wished for more information that a better might be furnished. In answer to the questions which had been asked, ministers had answered that they had two documents which they thought would be sufficient to establish the legality of what had been done; but he conceived that it could be thought by no one that in bringing forward these, they brought forth the whole defence of the Irish government. The production of another dispatch could not alone do justice to the motives which had influenced their conduct. What had been produced proved it to be a complete legal act, and he thought there was a strong presumption that it was a wise, expedient, temperate and lenient measure. The point that had been most urged against the Irish government was, that it had not acted with more rigour, and interfered before. But he felt 43 convinced, that when the subject should be discussed with more information, it would be seen that necessity only had caused this step to be taken. The government of this country lamented the necessity of having the execution of the law enforced, and had recommended to the government of Ireland to enforce it with as much lenity as would be consistent with the public tranquillity. This was the course they had been commanded by his royal highness the Regent to take, and was consistent with the principles upon which they had hitherto acted. He was sure he had then said enough to convince the right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Grattan) that if the Catholics attempted to meet under the circumstances he had stated, their assembling would have been illegal, and ought to have been prevented. What he had stated he supposed would be sufficient to shew that it would be better to wait till they should see whether the act would be abused, before any parliamentary investigation should be instituted. He lamented, as he had before stated, the necessity for resorting to this act; but he could confidently say, as well on the part of the Irish government as of the government of this country, that there was no intention on the part of the Irish or English government to obstruct or impede the right of the Catholics to petition that House, or to approach the legislature with the expression of their grievances. No effort whatever had been made to prevent that petition from coming, or to defeat its object, and it might yet be presented as if nothing extraordinary had happened. He perfectly agreed with an hon. gent. that it would indeed be an intolerable grievance if a legal application to parliament were to be prevented on any subject whatever. But it should be recollected that they most effectually guarded the light of petitioning when they kept the petitioners within proper bounds, and it was only when that was neglected that the valuable right became endangered. The right hon. gent. concluded by saying, that the law must be obeyed and carried into execution, but that every degree of lenity would be shown consistent with the tranquillity and interests of the State.
§ Mr. Whitbread
then rose and said: Sir, The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer has this night, by the speech he has just delivered, proved that there not only may be, but that there are political circumstances and changes, which in their 44 operation can induce men, if not to change at least to modify even the most conscientious convictions. What! and does the right hon. gent. admit that Catholic Petitions must come before us with their due authority and respect—that to Ireland it ever was and will be the feeling of his government to extend lenity and forbearance? The right hon. gent. then, is now almost the friend to a dispassionate consideration of the Catholic claims? I am not surprised that after the exertions of a successful ambition, like others of his predecessors, he has kicked down the ladder by which he scrambled up to political importance. We have it now distinctly admitted, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, (raised, by the bye, to his station by far different sentiments) that he is willing to concede the loyalty of the great body of the Catholics. We this night hear from that source that the disturbances which agitate Ireland have nothing to do with political questions or with Catholic emancipation. I congratulate the right hon. gent., this country and Ireland, on the revolution that has been effected in his opinions; feeling it wholly unnecessary to comment on the causes of his conversion. It is, however, altogether impossible to forget the libel, which the very formation of his administration pronounced upon the Irish people: it is impossible to forget that, during that administration, an appointment to the privy council was made—an appointment which, even at the time, the right hon. gent. did not dare to justify—of an individual (Dr. Duigenan), who in conversation, and in print, within these walls, and without them, had arraigned the Catholics as traitors to the Stale. Does the right hon. gent. fancy that his acts will perish? Can he suppose that the extorted admissions of this day can compensate for the exacerbated attacks of the former part of his administration?
A gallant general (Loftus) on the other side, declares, forsooth, that the Catholics of Ireland labour under no disabilities—but that they are in the enjoyment of all those rights with which men ought to be satisfied. He who makes that statement is a general officer. Is he not, as be ought to be, proud of this distinction? Are the Catholics to have no credit for the same feelings of generous ambition? Are they to exemplify loyalty as sincere—heroism as conspicuous—genius as commanding as their Protestant fellow-soldiers can 45 display, and then to be supposed dead to all the honourable impulses of life, undeserving of all those encouragements and rewards which a grateful country can bestow? The gallant general has opened his mouth this night in this House; is he not, as every member of a free State must be, proud of that distinction? Can the Catholic enjoy that right? How, then, at the very moment when his own act contradicts his statement, can he say that the Catholic of Ireland labours under no disability? Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer endeavours to justify the Irish government for the course they have pursued. He founds his opinion on the Circular Letter of the Catholics, and the other information which the government here have received. Upon his own shewing then, namely, that the papers in his possession justify the Irish government, he is bound to produce the correspondence. For my part, I know of nothing that could justify any government, to use the words of my hon. and able friend (Mr Ward) in rummaging into the statutes of the Irish parliament, for an act, conceived in the darkest bigotry—an act hatched in the revengeful disposition of those whose intolerance constituted their only pretension to power—a pretension such as that which has recommended those persons who now fill the offices of state and government. But then the right hon. gent. assures us that this harsh and restrictive act will be exercised mildly. How, mildly? If executed at all, it must he rigorous. The law commands you to apprehend, and therefore if it be at all put in force, you cannot dispense with the apprehension. What, then, is the true meaning of this term mildly? Why this affected forbearance, this assumed lenity? It arises from this cause, that the ministers of the government have been stopped in their career of violence; that the sanction of the Prince Regent has been refused to such a policy. There has been a correspondence between the government here and that of Ireland. Why is it not produced? Let his royal highness the Prince Regent appear to the country and the world in his true colours. If the information be not produced now, it never will be in our possession. The measure is altogether hushed—it is completely quashed; and, therefore, when we shall hereafter inquire, the answer will be, that inquiry is unnecessary, inasmuch as the measure was not acted upon. The gentlemen 46 opposite, on a former day, stated their previous ignorance of the intended measure of the Irish government. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say, whether he did not see the Circular Letter of the Catholics before the departure of Mr. Secretary Pole from this country? What! no answer. Is the right hon. gent. as dexterous in his silence as in his eloquence?
[The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated across the table, that he had not seen it.]—Extraordinary, that such a document, published in the Irish papers early in the month of January—papers received regularly by the Irish secretary, should be unknown to the government here. But surely the duke of Richmond must have been acquainted with it. Indeed, Mr. Secretary Pole appears, as I have before stated in his presence, and therefore may now repeat in his absence, to be lord-lieutenant in his own capacity.
Sir; it is now, it seems, stated, that the Catholic Committee, which was before innoxious, has assumed a new and dangerous character, the proof of which is to be found in their late discussions. Are we to trace this recent apprehension which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Pole have felt, to the fact of their names having been introduced and animadverted on in the late discussions of that body? It is, indeed, a most unhappy combination of circumstances, that the government of the Prince Regent should be ushered into Ireland, with a measure of harshness and coercion. It was most eloquently remarked by an Irish member of a late parliament, that the formation of the ministry, which the right hon. gent. had taken such means to establish, had, for the remainder of his Majesty's reign, entombed the hopes of the Catholics. Are the same instruments industriously at work, to propagate through Ireland the thought, that their hopes are also to be entombed through the reign of his successor? The right hon. gent. says, the law has provided against the Catholic meetings. The law does no such thing. Harsh and unconstitutional as that law was, it was directed against the objects of others. The concessions to the Catholics in 1793, admitted the claims of those who were stated to act for themselves and others. But the Convention Bill was directed against the associations for parliamentary reform—associations, amongst whom were some most distinguished persons, and a present member of this House not the least conspicuous; I mean Mr. 47 Stewart (now lord Castlereagh). But the Catholics are this night charged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with an attempt to evade whilst professing to observe a law, which it was their determination to violate. One would have thought, after all his affected respect for that body, that no such imputation would be presumed. Would it not be more proper, more correct, and more politic, to infer, even if a violation of law took place, that it did not spring from any predetermined disposition to commit an offence?
It has been said, Sir, that these discussions in parliament have occasioned the irritation that prevails in Ireland; but it has been well and truly answered by my right hon. friend near me, that unless these irritated feelings have the means of evaporation in debate, they will lead to conspiracy; that, if the Catholics cannot proclaim their grievances, in open day, they will brood over them in caverns; and what will be the consequence? Although in imitation of the right hon. gent. opposite, I have already gone beyond the question, I must observe that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had at his entrance into office given a bond, sealed with his honour, that he never would concede the Catholic claims. Who sanctioned this act of the Irish government? It is most important to ascertain this, that the character of the head of the government here may stand clear, if in reality it is clear, and on that ground I shall vote for the production of these papers? It is highly desirable that the government of England should stand unconnected with this proceeding, to see whether Mr. Pole has been authorised to carry into execution this civil mode of arrest, or whether he has not been told that he has gone a step too far, and that part of his work must be undone. I apprehend that this is what has actually taken place. Suppose the Committee chose to hold its sittings in England, is there any law to prevent it? Then why should there be any such law in Ireland? I am anxious to see how the matter really stands, that blame may rest where it is justly due.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
. Sir, there is one point on which I wish to correct the hon. gent. He says, that when I came into power I gave a bond sealed with my honour never to concede the Catholic claims. To whom did I give such a bond? Never, to any one. I most distinctly deny it. I hare, indeed, by the 48 expression of my sentiments in this House, opposed the Catholic claims; and when I look to the present state of the Catholics, I cannot anticipate any change in my opinions. If the hon. gent. chooses to call this declaration a bond, I am satisfied with that explanation; but if he says I ever gave any other bond to any living person, I must flatly contradict it. I never did. Relying as I do on the wisdom of the Irish government, I feel convinced that they have not acted in this instance without being fully warranted by information.
§ Mr. Whitbread
. The right hon. gent. deserves an explanation from me, and he shall have it. I did not mean to impute to him any thing which did not pass in this House. When I said he gave a bond not to concede the Catholic claims, I referred to the manner in which he came into power. The former ministry went out of power because they would not give such a bond. He came in, and of course it was to be inferred, that he had entered into that stipulation, for refusing to enter into which his predecessors had gone out.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
. I gave no such pledge on my taking power. But those who had left the government were pledged to the contrary, and it was natural to expect that those who had always opposed the Catholic claims in parliament, would do so in power. So far I gave a pledge, and no farther.
§ The Speaker
. Certainly this has gone into a digression. It will be for the House to consider how far they will allow it.
§ Mr. Whitbread
submitted to the candour of the right hon. gent. (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) whether, in justice even to him, he might not be permitted to explain. He did not say that the pledge had been given in so many words, or in a writing drawn up for the purpose.
maintained there was no disorder, except what was occasioned by him who called for order. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had explained two or three times, and why should not his hon. friend be heard with equal patience.
§ Mr. Whitbread
stated, that he considered 49 the pledge as given by accepting office, when it had previously been relinquished on the sole ground of a refusal to consent to any such pledge. Under these circumstances the king had been deceived, unless the gentlemen accepting office understood themselves to be bound.
§ The Speaker
adverted to the inconvenience that must result from allowing these explanations to go into so much length, and thought it better the matter should rest.
§ General Loftus
then stated in explanation, that the majority of the Catholics of Ireland were in no worse a condition than Protestants of the same rank.
§ Mr. Fuller
. Perhaps, Sir, I was not a very proper person to rise to order, but no matter for that: I confess it. When I do get up, however, I speak to the subject; aye, and pretty freely, too. When the hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Whitbread) talked about his bond and his sealing on honour, and things of that kind, all it came to in the end was 'supposing.' For that matter, I could suppose any thing myself. But he has no right to talk of other people, for I never saw a set of men sneak out of their offices in the way his own friends did.—They shewed a great deal of uneasiness. They sneaked out most contemptibly. [Order.] 'Pon my honour, Sir, it is not merely my own remark, I speak on suggestion. But the hon. gent. has no right to say or suppose that my right hon. friend would enter into a bond: No, he would disdain such a thing. He shewed them that in late affairs—he shewed them a spirit, I think, which they felt, aye, and heartily too.—[Hear, hear!]—As to these Irish affairs that they talked so much of now, why, I remember very well myself, about 30 years ago, a set of people coming down to this House, just like the hon. gentlemen, sweating and fuming, all in a fame like a steam engine. [A laugh.] The cry was then, "Won't you grant Ireland arms to fight for you?" Well, we did give them 60,000 stand of arms, and they turned them against us. I have no great faith in Catholic emancipation. I think that there is a radical and rooted antipathy between England and Ireland. [Order!] Well, then, try Catholic emancipation, if you think it will do. I care no more for a Catholic than I do for a Chinese. Give the fellows in their red waistcoats and blue breeches every thing they want. But it won't do. No, let the great men of the 50 country go home, in place of spending their money here; let them regulate their own tenantry and their estates, and not hear of them only through those secondary persons whom they employ. [Hear, hear!] That will do more to conciliate Ireland than all the measures there is so much work made about. As to the duke of Richmond, I know him, and he is a brave, generous, noble-minded man; and such a man will never descend to oppress those below him. I believe he has tried lenient measures, but they failed; and he was compelled to try severity. I will now vote against the motion. I will wait and not give an intemperate opinion, such as ought not to be given in parliament.
Mr. C. H. Hutchinson
said, he should think himself unworthy of a seat in that House, if he allowed a circumstance alluded to by the hon. gent. who spoke last, to pass unnoticed; but in remarking upon it, he would preserve that good humour for which the hon. gent. himself was generally distinguished. He had been most unhappy in his allusion to the transactions of 30 years ago. He was even inaccurate as to the time, for it was not 30 years since the circumstances which he had so imperfectly described took place. The fact was, that the Irish, ill treated as they had been by Great Britain, asked for arms, and used them in your defence. That gallant nation, having an account still to settle with you, generously lent its aid when it found you in difficulty. Such was their conduct then; and had they since done nothing for you? Wherever your thunder has rolled—east, west, south, or north—have they been absent? Let that gallant people only stand neuter, and he would ask, where was the power and glory of Great Britain? Let them only remain neuter, and the strength and glory of Britain was at an end. The most glorious of your late triumphs have been not a little owing to the exertions of the gallant people whom the hon. gent. had this night traduced. He wished to say this with good temper, as far as respected the hon. gent., but at the same time with indignation, at finding within the walls of that House so much ignorance of the capabilities of Ireland, either for aggression or defence; and he was sorry to say that the hon. gent. was not the only one to whom this ignorance extended.
With regard to the question more immediately under consideration, he was anxious to know whether this act of the 51 Irish government had the sanction of the executive authority here; for if it should go abroad that this proceeding had been approved by the Regent, and his government here [No! No!], he understood the right hon. gent. to have said, that he considered this as an act of great prudence on the part of the Irish government, and that it was approved by the government here. He wished then to know, whether the Regent had instructed his ministers? [A cry of, Order, Order.] Mr. H. then proceeded to correct the statement of the right hon. gent. opposite, as to the purposes for which the Convention Act of 1793 had been framed. The design then was to put down an armed association of united Irishmen acting against the government, and having for its object the complete overthrow of parliament. It had been stated by the administration of that day, that the society in question held communications with France, and that its design was to overturn the government. The Act was brought in upon the spur of the occasion to prevent the meeting of a congress at Athlone, having, as had been alledged, these objects in view. Did the right hon. gent. then mean to say that any such object was to be imputed to the Catholic Committee, the assembly against which the Act was now enforced? He maintained that the right hon. gent. had not dared to state the facts correctly. Would he say that the object of this assembly was not to petition—but to put down the parliament and redress their own grievances? Did he mean to say that it held any communication with France? No—he could not lay any such thing to their charge. Their object was clear; they met in order to prepare a petition for the redress of their grievances. In this their design was to refute the assertions of those who had maintained that the majority of the Catholics did not desire emancipation. They wished, as far as possible, to collect the unanimous sense of the Catholic body, to shew the fallacy of such improbable statements. The law therefore had by this act been violated—a law, however, which ought to be repealed as soon as possible, and he intended to give immediate notice of a motion to that effect. No, difficulty to petition existed in this country, which comparatively was possessed of every blessing. Why then should the difficulty exist in Ireland, where there were so many grievances, and where the exercise of the right to petition 52 was so much the more necessary? But even if the law did apply, he did not think that under the circumstances it ought to have been put in execution. If Ireland was in a state so disturbed, notice ought to have been given to the government here—and if they had notice here, then they were most culpable in not having stated this in the speech from the throne, of which the agitations of Ireland ought to have been the most prominent feature. If disturbances existed in Ireland without the knowledge of ministers, their ignorance was criminal. He concluded by deprecating the dangerous tendency of the system pursued by the minister, who came down with the speech to the House at the opening at every session, studiously abstaining from giving any thing like an accurate view of the state of Ireland, and represented this conduct as directly opposite to his duty.
§ Mr. Fuller
admitted the justness of all the encomiums upon the Irish out of their own country, but still maintained that they had been in rebellion against us.
said, he would have strictly confined himself to a few words on the subject then before the House, if it had not been for what had fallen from the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That right hon. gentleman had said, it was most unfortunate that Irish business was always brought forward in a tone and temper rather calculated to irritate the feelings of the people of Ireland, than to produce any beneficial effect. Now, he denied the justice and the truth of that assertion. He did not wish to make use of any harsh expression, but he must say that such an assertion could only have arisen from an ignorance of the subject. If the feelings of the Irish people were irritated, it was not occasioned by any thing which had been said in that House. Were the people of that country so stupid as not to feel their misfortunes until they were told of them? He was astonished at such a remark. So lately as the 20th of June last, the commissioners in their speech, had said—"His Majesty was sorry that the pressure of the times had rendered it necessary that some addition should be made to the burdens of Ireland—but that they were so judiciously, chosen, as not to interfere with the growing prosperity of that country." But where was the proof of that growing prosperity? Was it to be found in the fact, which he defied the right hon. gent. to disprove, that the whole of, the revenue of 53 Ireland fell short, by a million sterling, of I the payment of the interest of her funded debt, without expending a shilling towards her establishment? Had that been occasioned by their speeches? As well might it be said, that the difficulties under which this country at present laboured, were occasioned by inflammatory speeches delivered in that House, as that the misfortunes of Ireland were attributable to such a source. The people of Ireland felt their situation; let not that feeling be pushed too far, lest it might induce those who were at present well affected to the connection with England, to consider it as any thing rather than a benefit. With respect to what had fallen from an hon. member (Mr. Fuller) he was not surprised at his mistaking a point of order; but certainly the assertion, that, 30 years ago, the people of Ireland turned the arms with which they had been intrusted, against this country, astonished him not a little. It was another proof of the little attention paid to the history of Ireland. At the time to which the hon. member alluded, so far from any seeds of rebellion existing in the country, the parliament of Ireland suffered a considerable portion of the military establishment to be sent abroad in the service of Great Britain, while the volunteers, who were now branded as traitors, kept the enemy from the shores of Ireland. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that, in the conduct pursued by the Irish government, the law was with them, and he pledged himself to the fact. But he (Mr. Ponsonby) could not so readily agree that the law was on their side; and, for that reason, he wished to have full information on the subject. The act which was to be enforced specified the particular kind of meeting which came within its meaning—"If any individuals met under certain circumstances, then such meeting should be deemed an unlawful assembly, and the persons constituting it be guilty of a high misdemeanor." Now the information he wanted was, whether the bodies mentioned in the Circular Letter were really about to meet for the purpose of considering the propriety of presenting their petition, and for no other object? Because the last clause said, "That the provisions of the Act shall not extend to the right of petition." Therefore the mind and intention of those persons should be ascertained. If the letter sent round to the Catholics was merely colourable—if it was only a pretence to cover other views 54 —then he would agree that those who were assembled under it might be deemed guilty of having met unlawfully. But they ought to know how the facts really stood before they attempted to give a decisive opinion.—The Circular Letter of the lord-lieutenant denominated the Catholic Committee "an unlawful assembly"—before a single person appeared to have been elected, in the manner specified by the Act. The whole proceeding had been grounded on the letter addressed to the Catholics throughout Ireland, although, perhaps, no act had been done, nor any persons associated in consequence of it. Certainly some satisfactory evidence should have been first obtained before the measure was resorted to. It might be asked, "Would you, then, permit the illegal act to be committed, and not endeavour, in the first instance, to prevent it?" Undoubtedly, not. But he would have proper information, and then he would be justified in acting. He however defied any person, even the right hon. gent. opposite, to prove them an illegal assembly, by any act they had performed. He knew not on what circumstance the Irish government relied, to make out the charge of illegality against them, and the House should be in possession of the most complete information before they sanctioned it.—There was another part of Mr. Pole's letter, which directed the arrest of individuals, and ordered their commitment, unless bail was given. He had not made up his mind as to the legality of such a proceeding; and he would ask, what had been done by those persons that could clearly decide whether their conduct was or was not illegal—and whether Mr. Pole was or was not justified? They only asked for information to guide them on the subject. But the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that if the extracts moved for were granted, they would not answer the end proposed. Now, he (Mr. Ponsonby) did not know that. And perhaps some parts of those extracts, which the right hon. gent. considered of no importance, might, on examination, appear to be worthy of particular attention. He had also stated, that when the business was fairly examined, the Irish government would be found, not only borne out in point of law, but decidedly supported on the ground of expediency. But when he made that assertion, did he bring forward documents to prove it? He told the House that the Irish government were completely justified in what they had 55 done. But why did he not accompany that declaration with proofs of the fact? No, the House were called upon to decide on the subject, with what had been already laid before them, coupled with the mere declaration of the minister. But he would not trust to the assertion of any minister, in the present alarming situation of Ireland. And if more information were not granted on the subject at some future period, the House must come to a decision on the conduct of the Irish government, with the little they had procured. It had been observed, that the manner in which the debate was conducted would be productive of mischief in Ireland. Before that was asserted, he wished the British part of the representation would pay more attention to the affairs of Ireland. It had been common to leave that important business to the hands of a very few Irish members, which he conceived was improper and unwise. It would afford a sensible pleasure to the Irish people, to behold the British members studying their interests; and no act could ever make Ireland a contented country till her affairs were more particularly attended to. As long as the present system was persevered in, she must continue to be a source of jealousy, suspicion, and weakness.
§ The question being called for, strangers were ordered to withdraw. The House then divided, when there appeared—
|For the Motion||43|
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercrombie, J.||Hutchinson, C. H.|
|Adams, W.||Jackson, J.|
|Adair, R.||Kensington, Lord.|
|Anstruther, Sir J.||Lamb, hon. W.|
|Baring, A.||Lloyd, J. M.|
|Bernard, S.||Macdonald, J.|
|Bradshaw, A. C.||Millar, Sir T.|
|Barham, F.||Morris, E.|
|Biddulph, R. M.||Moore, P.|
|Byng, G.||Newport, Sir J.|
|Calcraft, J.||North, D.|
|Combe, H. C.||Palmer, C.|
|Creevey, T.||Ponsonby, G.|
|Elliot, W.||Ponsonby G.|
|Evelyn, L.||Prittie, hon. F.|
|Ferguson, R. C.||Sheridan, R. B.|
|Freemantle, W. H.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Giles, D.||Tierney, G.|
|Grant, G. M.||Whitbread, S.|
|Grattan, H.||Wynn, C. W. W.|
|Grenville, Lord G.||Wrottesley, H.|
|Howard, hon. W.|
|TELLERS.—Hon. J. W. Ward—H. Parnell.|