rose and spoke as follows: Mr. Speaker, in rising to address the House, pursuant to notice, it affords me the highest satisfaction to see in his place that right hon. member (Mr. W. Pole) whose Circular Letter lying by the order of this House on its table, is the cause of the motion with which I shall have the honour to conclude. Whether that motion shall succeed or not, 270 it will at least produce the beneficial effect of giving the right hon. member the opportunity of declaring the motives which actuated the Irish government to have recourse to the measures recommended in his Circular Letter. That letter is a most important document: it is a mandate to the entire magistracy of Ireland, desiring them, under certain suppositions, to arrest three-fourths of the population of Ireland. What the circumstances were which called for this unexpected measure, and at the particular moment produced that decision of the Irish government, which led to the promulgation of this letter, must be information most important to the state of the empire. Those circumstances are yet new to as; there is nothing in the letter calculated to inform us of the necessity of its circulation. It was notorious that the Catholic Committee had been sitting for months, nay for years, under the very eye of the Irish government—that it had declared its intention of adding to its numbers twenty-four days before this Circular Letter was issued. I hold in my hand a newspaper of the 22d of January, which gives a statement of the proceedings of the Catholic Committee, and I am anxious to read that statement, as it is my wish to make no observation, or to put no questions which are not founded on vouchers incapable of contradiction. The debate, of which this paper gives a statement, took place on the 19th of January, and it appears from it, that Mr. Hay, the Catholic secretary, read a number of letters which he had received from many of the counties in Ireland, in which the names of the managers returned by those counties were inserted. There is a particular remark made on the return of lord Castleross for the county of Kerry, because such an occurrence went to illustrate the unanimity prevailing amongst the Catholic body. This proceeding was circulated as publicly in Dublin, as any advertisement published in any of the London newspapers, twenty-four days before the issue of this Circular Letter. When it was published it appeared to entail silence upon those who, whatever were their privations, still fancied they possessed the privileges of complaint. It is usual almost in all countries to allow that right to the unfortunate. It is not usual in this country to deny to the subject the privilege of approaching with his petition, either branch of the legislature. In this document the Catholic Committee is designated as an illegal 271 meeting: that meeting had, in the view of the Irish government, continued its sitting. Of the statements given in this Dublin newspaper, either the lord lieutenant, or his subordinate ministers, could not be ignorant. I am therefore most anxious to know, why such committee was suffered to proceed unquestioned—why this very measure of adding to their numbers so openly avowed, but which has since in this House, been made the justification of this circular letter, were allowed to go on, from the 1st of January, to the 12th of February following? The administration did not, perhaps, think itself permanent; there was at the time a notion of a change; but surely if such fatal consequences as were attributed, were likely to arise from the proceedings of that committee, no administration could be actuated by such unmanly and selfish views as from such a consideration to avoid the necessary means of averting the evil, and thereby transmit the mischief as a legacy to their successors. It was not, however, till the 12th of February, immediately after his royal highness the Prince Regent was placed at the head of the executive government, under fetters and limitations, that this latter was issued. What made it incumbent that such a measure should take place the moment the right hon. member touched the Irish shores, this night we have the opportunity of hearing explained. It could not surely proceed from any sinister design to involve the government of the Prince Regent in the odium and unpopularity which might be calculated to proceed from such a measure. The House must be desirous to ascertain what the circumstances were which justified the lord lieutenant in not having had recourse to it before; and what was the nature of the proceedings which justified the right hon. member in issuing it, immediately on his arrival. This law had never before been put in force in Ireland; and when it was actually necessary to act upon it, against the alleged proceedings of such a portion of its population, one should have supposed that the administration would have had recourse to the wisest, most judicious, and most efficient method of carrying it into operation. The power of carrying acts of parliament into effect in this country is in the crown—in Ireland it is vested in the lord lieutenant, with the advice of the council.
If, then, it was found necessary to act upon this law, which had never before 272 been acted upon, I am much surprised that a proclamation to that effect had not been previously issued by the lord lieutenant and privy council. That would have been a fair, liberal, and parental course. There would in such case be a great authority weighing on the minds of the people. It would have had the sanction of the great law authorities in the state. Indeed, not to have applied to the privy council previous to the measure, shewed a want of common prudence, I had almost said, common justice. This course not having been pursued, I wish to know whether the law officers in Ireland were consulted? Whether the letter now on this table was laid before, and had the sanction of, the Irish Attorney and Solicitor General? Because even if the necessity for putting this law in force was so urgent, so binding and imperative, as not to allow the delay of submitting it to the privy council, it at least, without any danger to the public safety, could be laid before these law authorities, with whom the lord lieutenant is in the habit of consulting on the execution of the laws. The right hon. member, in the circular letter, warns the sheriffs of counties, that it had been reported to the Irish government that delegates were to be elected to an illegal meeting, calling itself the Catholic Committee. Upon what grounds is it that he has designated that body an unlawful assembly? Is it unlawful in its own nature? If it be so, why has he suffered it to exist so long in the very seat of government? Thinking it unlawful, did he, however, conceive it more judicious to connive at it? And if, though unlawful, he did connive at it, it is most important to the peace of the empire, and to the tranquillity of Ireland, that we should know the circumstances which induced him all of a sudden to depart from his previous system, and to arrest this as" sembly in the exercise of its functions.
This letter of the right hon. secretary applies to the past, as well as to the future conduct of the Catholics of Ireland. Why was it not thought proper to notice that past conduct before? The Catholic Committee have done no act since the 19th of January, no act before the 12th of February; and all their proceedings before that time were acts of such public notoriety, that it is impossible they could have escaped the notice of the duke of Richmond, who must be acquainted with the most ordinary transactions of the country" Yet all these acts were allowed, and unno- 273 ticed by the Irish government, till the 12th of February, when the sheriffs of the different counties were directed to inform the magistrates within their bounds to arrest all those who should have voted for any delegation to the Catholic Committee. Why were the Catholics not previously warned of this proceeding? Why was the affair allowed to go peaceably on, till it arrived at such maturity, and why is it now all of a sudden looked upon with such a degree of abhorrence? The magistrates are ordered to arrest all such persons as may have been concerned in voting such delegates, and commit them at once on bail. This is a proceeding rather extraordinary, certainly for a first act, that the first notice which magistrates should receive, was to advert directly not to the future but to the past; that the government knew the existence of the Catholic Committee, was aware of the proceedings of the Catholic Committee, and yet never warned them to abstain from assembling. Was this lenity in the Irish government? Was it moderation? Was it a regard to the peace and security, and welfare of so great a portion of the inhabitants of this empire? Why were they not first warned and cautioned before this extraordinary step, and told, you are doing what you are not permitted to do? we warn you therefore to desist; do not persist in a conduct which is prohibited by the laws, and by which you may incur the guilt of their violation. But nothing like this was done. From the 1st of January to the 12th of February no step was taken with any such view. The right hon. gent. opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) stated, on a former occasion, that the only circumstance mentioned in the dispatches of the Irish government, as the occasion of the measure, was the letter of the secretary to the Catholic Committee; and that he had a confidence, when the conduct of that government should come to be examined, it would be found to be correct. It is therefore with the greatest pleasure that I see the right hon. secretary in his place this night, that he may justify the confidence reposed in him by his right hon. friend. This letter contains instructions to arrest the persons therein described, and only to liberate them on bail. Let us look at the powers vested in them by the act of the 33d of the King. In a section of that act it is enacted, That if any delegates of any description assemble in any meeting, or if any person vote at any such meeting, or 274 by any means vote, such representatives or delegates, on their being convicted, shall be liable to be punished for a misdemeanor. The act says, after conviction. But here, in the first instance, before any notice, warning, or report was made to the Catholics on the subject, the magistrates were ordered to commit all persons who had offended against the provisions of this act. Now, Sir, it is remarkable that the offence in this section, of assisting at an election, or attending and voting, is, on the conviction of the person, to be punished; but this act is in itself no breach of the peace, nor does it necessarily lead to any breach of the peace, but is merely an inchoate offence, unless the delegation actually takes place. Here, however, in the first instance, on account of the mere circumstance of voting, the magistrates are ordered to commit, unless bail is given. I believe the general rule in law has always been, that a justice of the peace, unless he is particularly empowered by statute, cannot, in the first instance, hold a party to bail, when no offence against the peace has been committed. For treason, felony, breach of the peace, and for other offences of a similar nature, he has a right to arrest; but he has no such right in cases which are offences by possibility merely, unless empowered by statute. The statute that creates the offence does not, by such creation of the offence, give a right to arrest. Why in our law is truth a justification for a libel, but no justification for indictment, because it has a tendency to a breach of the peace; but till the indictment no man can be held to bail. So in many other crimes there are in like manner no powers to commit; in the case of conspiracy, for instance, and of that most dangerous crime to human society, the crime of perjury, no bail can be exacted till an indictment takes place. For such crimes have merely a tendency in their operation to a breach of the peace, but are not such a breach in themselves, and consequently a justice of the peace has no power to commit. But whatever may be said as to these, sure I am, that as to the offence of the persons mentioned in the right hon. gent.'s letter, the magistrates can have no more power to hold to bail than for the most innocent actions of their lives. Do but hear the instructions which are issued—"you are required to cause to be arrested, and to commit to prison (unless bail shall be given), all persons within your jurisdiction, 275 who shall be guilty of giving, or having given, or of publishing, or having published, or of causing or having caused to be given or published, any written or other notice of the election and appointment, in any manner, of such representative, delegate, or manager as aforesaid; or of attending, voting, or acting, or of having attended, voted, or acted in any manner, in the choice or appointment of such representative, delegate or manager." Yet attendance, according to the Act, does not constitute an offence against the Act, but merely the circumstance of voting. Read the words of the Act; "if any person shall attend and vote, or by any other means shall vote," &c. But by these directions the magistrates are ordered to cause all persons who may have attended at any meeting to be arrested; though these persons may have attended for the most innocent purposes; though they may have attended for the most meritorious purposes; though they may have attended for the very purpose of dissuading such delegation. And yet we see all these innocent, or meritorious persons are liable to be arrested and sent to prison, unless held to bail, which in an instance when an individual is struggling against the whole power of government, must be frequently impossible. Surely the law is in all conscience strict enough. It was not necessary for the right hon. gent. to make another provision to its severity. He will, therefore, excuse me, if I ask him whether the measure of the Irish government was previously submitted to the Crown lawyers in Ireland? The other facts connected with this measure are fully as extraordinary. On the 12th of February the right hon. gent, denounces this assembly as an unlawful assembly, and threatens to proceed against all persons guilty of so assembling: and he sends two officers of the police to disperse the assembly, which he had thus denounced as unlawful. Here are these officers sent to a room in Dublin where the Catholic Committee was sitting. They asked the gentlemen present, if they were the Catholic Committee? According to a story given in a periodical paper, in the interests of government, they answered, 'Yes;' but, according to another account, written by the Catholic gentlemen, contradictory of the former statement, they said, No. Then said the magistrates, we are very glad; we have not the smallest inclination to disturb you; we are quite satisfied; and so they walked 276 off without taking any one measure against this Catholic Committee. Certainly, however threatening and exasperating was the nature of the right hon. gent.'s letter, his messengers were messengers of peace and calmness. These messengers were not imbued by these terrible apprehensions of the Committee, otherwise they never would have suffered them to escape their vigilance by merely saying to them, we are not that Catholic Committee which you are sent to disperse. There is another very extaordinary circumstance which I should be glad to hear the right hon. gent. explain. The noble lord who presided at the meeting, said to the magistrates, that he was sorry that the right hon. Secretary had not applied to him, as he could easily have explained the purpose of their meeting, and he was very sorry, that without asking any explanation, they should have been so sent. The magistrates said that they would inform the Secretary, and that they had no doubt but he would be very glad to receive such explanation. Then after, it seems, the Secretary expressed himself extremely happy to see them; when lo, these gentlemen tell the magistrates that they have nothing to tell the secretary, but if he have business with them they are willing to attend upon him. What is most curious is this, that both parties should have seemed so desirous of meeting, and yet could never effect a meeting, and that the right hon. gent. should have been obliged to cross the channel without being able to accomplish it.
But there are still other circumstances in this case not less full of wonder. This Catholic Committee, which was denounced on the 12th of February as unlawful, continued to sit, not only before the 12th. of February but since the 12th of February; and in all the newspapers may be read addresses in the name of the Catholic Committee, published in the very teeth of the magistrates. Is not all this very wonderful, that a government so famous for dispatch, that the right hon. gent., so famous for his vigour, should still allow that unlawful assembly to do these things? The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us, that he could not account for all these things; the right hon. secretary could. Has government at last found out its fault? Has it found out that this unlawful assembly was not unlawful, not mischievous in its tendency, and harbour" no unfavourable designs? though they will not condescend to detail. what came 277 has induced the right hon. gent, to resort to such acts of violence, or at least promptitude, they have been sufficient to induce that right hon. gent, to leave Ireland. I do not mean by saying this to attribute any ill intentions to the government of Ireland. I attribute no intentions to that government, good or bad, because, I own, I cannot comprehend them. I cannot comprehend how a government can put forth a proclamation against an unlawful assembly, threatening to have all its members arrested, and afterwards suffer that assembly to sit, and publish their proceedings in the same manner as before. I certainly cannot comprehend these things, and therefore I attribute no intention, because that intention is incomprehensible; and all that I can say is, that I am extremely impatient to finish my motion, that I may be enabled to hear from the right hon. gent. a solution of this enigma. The proceeding which the Irish government has taken, is one of the very greatest moment. Ireland, from various causes, unnecessary for me now to notice, is unfortunately sufficiently irritable already; and it was by no means necessary for the strong hand of government to increase that irritation. One would suppose that the government was not willing to increase that irritation; but yet, if we are allowed to judge from the violent resolutions published in the different newspapers in Dublin, this measure of the government has caused the sorest feelings in the body of Catholics of Ireland. The right hon. gent. must admit this irritation, and as it is not necessary, it is not therefore my wish to enter into any details before the House. It must be admitted that this precipitate proceeding has given great offence. Is the right hon. gent., therefore, not called on to justify that proceeding, and why he attributed these ill purposes and motives to the Catholics? And is he not called on to state what are the reasons which may have so suddenly stopt the accomplishment of these evil purposes? I confess I cannot see how the right hon. gent, can get out of this difficulty. Why, when the government had forborne so long, did they at last interfere?—Why, when orders were issued, were those orders never enforced? and why are the Catholic assemblies still allowed to continue? I wish to know if the chancellor, the judges, and the law officers who are members of the council, and whose authority is deservedly high in the coun- 278 try, were consulted? I wish to know what accounts were transmitted to this country by the lord lieutenant, whose duty it is to know all these things, touching the dangers existing in Ireland. These are things of the utmost moment to Ireland, and of the utmost moment to the whole empire; and I will not allow the right hon. gent, to let these subjects go without investigation. I therefore, Sir, move you, "That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, requesting that his royal highness will order to be laid before this House, a copy or copies of any Proclamation or Proclamations which have been in the year 1811, issued by the Lord Lieutenant and council of Ireland, relative to the enforcement of the provisions of an act passed by the parliament of Ireland in the 33d year of his present majesty's reign, intituled, 'An act to prevent the election or appointment of unlawful assemblies, under pretence of preparing or presenting public petitions or other addresses to his Majesty or the parliament;' and also a copy or copies of any case or cases which have been laid before his Majesty's attorney and solicitor general for Ireland, or either of them, by order of his grace the lord lieutenant of Ireland, relative to the enforcement of the provisions of the said act, together with their opinions thereon; and also copies or extracts of all dispatches from his grace, relative to the conduct of an assembly, described in the letter of the right hon. William Wellesley Pole, principal secretary to his grace, now before this House, as an unlawful as sembly sitting in Dublin, and calling itself the Catholic Committee."
§ Mr. Wellesley Pole
rose and spoke as follows:—Mr. Speaker; I am perfectly willing to admit to the fullest extent which the right hon. and learned gent. (Mr. Ponsonby) can desire, that he has a right to call upon me for an explanation of the recent conduct of the Irish government. I acknowledge his claim to demand an explanation of those measures to which ha has alluded in the course of his speech; and I trust that the answer which I am about to give, will prove satisfactory both, to the House and to that right hon. and learned gent. At the same time, Sir, I cannot but express my deep regret, that the zeal and eagerness of the right hon. and learned gent. and other hon. gentlemen on that side of the House, have been ardent at to induce them not only to de- 279 mand explanations, but to prefer the most serious charges, at a time when they must have known that there was no person present who could give the explanation required, or who could answer the accusations preferred, I cannot but lament that their ardour had not been so far corrected by their prudence and justice, as to have induced them to refrain from entering into any discussion on the subject, during the necessary absence from the House of that individual, from whom alone their remarks could receive a complete and satisfactory answer. I am the more disposed to lament the course which the other side of the House have thought proper to adopt, because, Sir, I know that it has produced the most injurious effects, which might undoubtedly have been avoided, it the gentlemen had waited until they were in possession of all the facts of the case, before they took upon themselves to pronounce a judgment upon it. But this is a point upon which, at the present moment, I am not disposed to dwell. I am anxious rather to reply to the charges brought by the right hon. and learned gent, against the Irish government. Those charges, with the permission of the House, I shall take the liberty of dividing under two heads—The first is the accusation of the right hon. and learned gent, that the law, if violated at all, was violated from the first; and that the government, if they believed the law had been transgressed, were criminal for not having enforced it. The right hon. and learned gent, argued, that if the meeting, calling itself the Catholic Committee, was illegal, the lord lieutenant was bound to have stopped it at an earlier period, and would have done so, had he entertained a just sense of what was due to the peace and happiness of the country.—" For," says the right hon. and learned gent. "if the Catholic Committee was, as you declare it to be, an illegal assembly; if their proceedings were, as you say they were, dangerous to the peace of the country, it was the duty of the Irish government to have put a stop to their proceedings at a much earlier period."
Sir, I will not now enter into a discussion of the question, whether the Catholic Committee, as it was originally constituted, was or was not an illegal assembly; but I will, with the permission of the House, state the reasons why the lord lieutenant, looking always with great watchfulness and anxiety to the proceed- 280 ings of that Committee from May 1809, felt it to be his duty, with a view to the tranquillity of Ireland, and to the general interests of the empire, to abstain from taking any step which could, by any perversion, be represented as having a tendency to prevent the Roman Catholics of Ireland from appealing to parliament or the throne, with any petition respecting what they considered to be their grievances. Before, however, I enter into this part of the subject, I cannot avoid stating, that on reading the accounts of the debates which have taken place on this subject during my absence, and to which I hope, as I have been so much alluded to in them, and as the administration of which I have the honour to form a part, has been in the course of them so much arraigned, I may advert without disorder; I have been much gratified with many parts of the speech of my right hon. friend opposite to me (Mr. Grattan), who may indeed be called a true patriot, who is an ornament to his country, and whose talents have so often adorned, and have been so much admired in this House. There were many parts of that speech, of which I cordially approved, because they maintained the principles by which the conduct of the present administration in Ireland towards the Roman Catholics of that country has uniformly been guided.
Sir, my right hon. friend is reported to have said, that, considering the peculiar situation of Ireland, the laws in that country, relating to the Roman Catholics, ought to be exercised with as much lenity as possible, consistently with the public safety ; and that no acts should be done which could fairly be considered as mainfesting a disposition to trench upon their privileges. Sir, I contend that this is precisely the principle by which the duke of Richmond's administration in Ireland has been uniformly guided. My right hon. friend and I may differ as to the extent of the privileges which ought to be conceded to the Catholics of Ireland, but that the laws respecting that portion of the inhabitants of that country, should be administered with the utmost tenderness, is a point upon which I am sure no difference of opinion can ever exist between us. Sir, I will venture to maintain, without the hazard of contradiction, that the whole of the duke of Richmond's administration, from the first hour that he landed in Ireland, has been founded upon that principle: the great object of that noble duke, 281 in every one of his measures, has been to manifest towards the Irish Catholics a spirit of conciliation, of justice, and of tenderness. On assuming the government of that country, his grace had declared to the Roman Catholics, with that candour and manliness which, upon all occasions, distinguish his character, that although they were to expect from him no farther privileges than the la\v allowed, they should receive the purest justice; that the laws should be administered to them with the most perfect impartiality; that the rights which they possessed should not be invaded, nor should any individuals or societies be allowed to degrade them, or to wound their feelings; that all offices which were open to them, should be freely and fairly open; and that he would entertain no jealousies or partialities. This, Sir, was the spirit and feeling with which the duke of Richmond entered upon the government of Ireland; and by that spirit and feeling has every one of his measures been governed during the whole of his administration.
The right hon. and learned gent, has asked, why, when the Catholic Committee was established in 1809, it had not been suppressed as illegal? The right hon. and learned gent, says, "if the Catholic Committee was an illegal meeting, why did you not interfere at an earlier period? Why did you not suppress that unlawful assembly?" Sir, I will tell the right hon. and learned gent. why the Irish government did not interfere at an earlier period; and, in doing so, it will be necessary for me to refer to the discussions which had taken place in the Catholic Committee, both of that and of the present period; but this reference shall be as concise as possible, for, in my defence of the Irish government, I am determined not to be led to rouse in the House those feelings with which all who love the constitution must be animated, on a consideration of the principles lately promulgated in that assembly. In the month of May, 1809, there had been a general meeting of the Catholics, the earl of Fingal in the chair; in which certain resolutions were agreed to, clearly indicating, that the meeting were fully aware of the nature of the Contention Act, and were anxious not to transgress its provisions; for they declared, in the most express manner, that the Committee were not to be considered as delegates, but as a set of individuals appointed to prepare and manage the petition of the 282 Catholics. And here, Sir, I cannot help observing, that the right hon. and learned gent. who brought forward this motion, has this night abstained from the language which I understand was used upon a former occasion: he has not described the Convention Act as an obsolete law; he has not represented the Irish government as being desirous of entrapping the people, by putting in force the provisions of an unknown act of parliament. This was the kind of language which I understand was used in a former discussion upon this subject by the right hon. and learned gent. and by some who do not appear tonight to be very desirous to come forward upon the present question.
Recurring, however, to the proceedings of the Catholic meeting in 1809, I wish to state to the House, that it passed some resolutions, which, though couched in strong, and even vehement language, the government did not wish to take notice of, because they were such as might have been expected from honest, loyal, and ardent Catholics, anxious to convey to the foot of the throne, and to parliament, a declaration of what they believed to be their rights; and to state what they considered as grievances. They closed their resolutions, however, in a manner which shewed that they had a thorough knowledge of this obsolete Convention Act, and that they were determined not to transgress it; for they declared, that the persons who were instructed to prepare the petition could not be considered as representatives of the Catholic body, and they made it imperative on them to finish their labours within the first fortnight after the meeting of parliament.
The Catholic Committee appointed in 1809, was composed of the 36 representatives of the different parishes of Dublin, who, on a previous occasion, had formed a similar committee; the remnants of the committees that prepared the petitions of 1805 and 1807; and, finally, of the surviving delegates of the Catholic Convention of 1793, and the noble lords who compose the Catholic peerage.
With regard to the first class of persons that I have mentioned, viz. the 36 representatives of the parishes in Dublin, I believe that some of the gentlemen opposite to me had some communication with them when they were in office, because they were the persons who addressed the duke of Bedford. I believe, also, that in those communications the hon. and learned 283 gent, opposite to me, and his right hon. friend, who at that time was chief secretary to the lord lieutenant, give them some wholesome advice with regard to the Convention Act. I do not undertake to state this as a positive fact, but I know that such is the rumour in Dublin. The lord lieutenant and the government of Ireland knew perfectly well the nature of the construction of this committee; they knew what passed at their meetings; they knew that their debates were ardent, vehement, and sometimes violent; but it was obvious to every man, of a fair and honest mind, who looked at their proceedings with calmness and candour, that, though their language was stronger than propriety could justify, yet that their real, and indeed their sole object, was to frame their petition for parliament. The Irish government, therefore, acting upon the principle which I have already alluded to, did net interfere, or take any notice of their proceedings. This Committee met in July; its meetings were adjourned to October, and then to November (during which month, I believe, it. met two or three times), when, having framed their petition, they dissolved themselves. The lord lieutenant might undoubtedly, if he thought proper, have called the law advisers of the crown to his council, for the purpose of taking their opinion with regard to the legality or illegality of the proceedings of this Committee, but he did not do it, and for this simple reason, that he felt it to be his duty not to interfere with the Catholics, as long as they professed to be merely engaged in preparing their petition for parliament, and as long as their proceedings had not a tendency to inflame the public mind and endanger the peace of the country. So much for the Committee of 1809.
The Committee of 1810, I am sorry to say, conducted itself in a very different way. It commenced much in the same manner, by a general meeting of the Catholics, by which the Committee of 1809 was re established, and the same resolutions were passed, as those which had been agreed to in the preceding year. An aggregate meeting afterwards assembled on the 2d of November. I fear that this detail may be tedious, but it is necessary to the elucidation of the subject, and I must request the attention of the House particularly to this part of it. The adjourned aggregate meeting, as I before stated, took place on the 2d of November; 284 a great difference of opinion prevailed among those who attended it, with regard to the propriety of petitioning, and the debate was conducted with extreme violence. Several speeches were made on the occasion, of which I shall not say any thing; but one argument was used by a Mr. Finnerty, a person formerly well known in Ireland, and who was then in that country for the purpose, as it was stated, of collecting affidavits for his defence on a charge of a libel upon a noble lord, which it may not be improper to notice; The manner in which it was said the English nation was misled, with regard to Ireland, had been previously dwelt on with great heat, and much had been stated of the stupidity and vulgarity of the people of England. Mr. Peter Finnerty, in the course of a very long speech, defended the English nation from these charges. He observed, that the English people detested their government, and that it would be as great a libel to judge of the English nation by the principles of their government, as it would be to judge of the Irish people by theirs. He asked, what honest Irishman would endure to have his principles judged of by the principles of the Irish government? After this, Mr. Finnerty proceeded to recommend a petition to parliament for Catholic Emancipation, a Petition for Parliamentary Reform, and a Petition for a Repeal of the Union! All this would have been unimportant, but for what followed. The speech of Mr. Finnerty was received with the loudest applause, and he was rewarded by an unanimous vote of thanks of the aggregate meeting. I will not enter into a detail of the other speeches at this meeting, because my object is not to inflame, but to conciliate; I will therefore state no more than is absolutely necessary for the justification of the conduct of the Irish government. This same meeting, after the vote of thanks to Mr. Finnerty, resolved that the Catholic Committee (that Committee which had been appointed by the former aggregate meeting, for the sole purpose of framing the petition to parliament) should have the sole management of the Catholic affairs. All this was perfectly well known at the Castle. But at the same time it was felt, that though it was extremely imprudent conduct, it yet. involved no danger to the state. The lord lieutenant, therefore, and those by whom he was advised, took upon themselves the 285 responsibility of looking over the whole transaction. What happened afterwards? On the 24th of November the Catholic Committee met again, and lord Fingal was called to the chair: of that noble lord, it is hardly necessary that I should state, that he is one of the best men among the Roman Catholics, and one of the best and most loyal men in Ireland. At that meeting a motion was made, for a vote of thanks from the Catholics of Ireland to lord Donoughmore. The impropriety of discussing a question of that kind, in a Committee appointed solely and exclusively for the purpose of preparing a petition to parliament, struck lord Fingal, and he stated his doubts upon the subject to the Committee; and though he heartily approved of thanking lord Donoughmore, desired to be informed, whether it was competent to the Committee to do any thing but prepare the Catholic Petition? His lordship was answered by Mr. O'Connel, who reminded the Committee, that the last aggregate meeting had removed all doubts upon that subject, by their resolution, empowering the Committee to conduct all the affairs of the Roman Catholics of Ireland.—[Mr. Pole then read the outline of the proceedings of this meeting of the Committee, from the Dublin Evening Herald; and stated, that a shorthand writer attended their debates, which were regularly published in the Irish newspapers.]—Mr. O'Connel's opinion, with respect to the general powers of the Committee, accorded with the sense of the members present, and the resolutions were carried unanimously. Here then, the House will observe, was a doubt expressed by a Roman Catholic peer, of the highest character, whether the Committee was exceeding its powers; but still the lord lieutenant abstained from interposing: he still remained firm to his purpose—a purpose which my right hon. friend opposite to me (Mr. Grattan), has so lately characterized as the most wise policy that could be pursued in Ireland, viz. that of trying mild and conciliatory measures as long as possible, consistently with the safety of the state. In the meeting, however, of the 1st of December, the Committee went still farther. On that day, one of the members, in very strong language, called the attention of the Committee to what he described as a very great grievance, which had been suffered by a Catholic soldier. He told the Committee that they were the natural guar- 286 dians of the rights of the Catholics, and proposed a subscription for prosecuting those "bigotted delinquents," as he termed them, whatever their rank or station might be, by whom this Catholic soldier had been injured.
I will now, Sir, shortly state to the House the facts respecting this soldier, who was represented to have been so cruelly injured, and whose injuries were said to have been redressed by the Catholic Committee. On the 24th of August last, Dr. Troy, the titular archbishop of Dublin, wrote to the chief secretary to the lord lieutenant, and mentioned the case of a soldier of the name of Spence, who had commuted a very severe sentence which had been passed upon him by a court martial, by consenting to go into a regiment always employed upon foreign service. Dr. Troy, in his letter, represented this man's case as being peculiarly hard. This letter, by the lord lieutenant's order, was immediately transmitted to the commander of the forces, for his opinion on the subject. The commander of the forces directly ordered the case to be investigated. I should have stated, that this man having been tried by a regimental court martial, the proceedings had not been laid before the commander of the forces. The investigation did take place, and the result was, that the whole of the sentence was remitted. The man was brought back again, and was freely discharged from the army. Dr. Troy's application was made, as I have already said, in August, and in December the business was taken up in the Committee: the matter was discussed with great warmth and acrimony of language, but at length they admitted that justice had been done to the soldier. A motion, however, was made by one of the members of the Committee in the court of King's Bench upon this subject, but it was instantly rejected. The debates of the Committee, however, boldly asserted, that it was through their exertions, and by their means, that the wrongs of this soldier had been redressed, that is to say, that their exertions in December had produced a remission of his sentence, which sentence had been completely remitted, by the orders of government, in consequence of proceedings instituted by them in the preceding August! They told the Roman Catholics of Ireland, in the most violent language (language indeed of such a nature, that I almost doubt whether government was 287 justifiable in having refrained from prosecuting the printer by whom it was published), that in consequence of the exertions of the Committee, all the Catholic soldiers in Ireland had had justice done to them; that they might now worship their maker according to their own ritual: thus inferring, that all tenderness, kindness, and justice, did not proceed from the government, but emanated from the Catholic" Committee; and holding themselves up as the proper and exclusive objects of the affection of the people!
Even this, however, did not rouse the indignation of the lord lieutenant, who felt, as he had felt on a former occasion, that forbearance was preferable to an appearance of rigour.
On the 29th of November the petition was received from the Sub-committee, was read in the Catholic Committee, and acknowledged as the petition of the Catholics of Ireland; at the same Committee they voted thanks to my right hon. friend opposite to me (Mr. Grattan), in the name and by the authority of the Catholics of Ireland. The petition having been agreed to, it was to be presumed, that if the Committee were constituted solely for the purpose of preparing a petition, that their labours were in tact at an end, except indeed as to the consideration of the question of the mode of presenting the petition, and the nominating the persons to be employed for that purpose. At this time, however, it is necessary that I should observe, that many of the most respectable of the Catholics of Ireland had become very much dissatisfied with the proceedings of the Committee, and with the violent, inflammatory, and intemperate language which had been used in their debates. Lord Ffrench, and others that I could name, certainly did disapprove of their proceeding; and here, Sir, I think it necessary to state to the House in the strongest manner, that it never once entered into the contemplation of the government of Ireland to take any steps against the Catholics generally, or to throw any reflection upon them as a body. Nothing could be further from their intention; the object of the government was only to act against what they knew to be an illegal body, and to put a stop to proceedings, which, if not checked in time, might lead to the most serious consequences, even to rebellion. [Here some gentlemen on the opposite side of the House laughed.] Gentlemen may laugh if they please; it 288 may appear a very good joke to them, but I can assure them it was no joke to the people of Dublin, who did certainly look with considerable uneasiness to the proceedings, and the intemperate language of the Committee. The lord lieutenant, however, feeling that the petition having been agreed to, and that nothing remained for the Committee to do but to choose the persons who were to carry it over, was of opinion, that bad as the proceedings of the Committee had been, mischievous as the publication of their debates had proved and great as was the ferment occasioned in Dublin by the presence of a Catholic Parliament, as it had been emphatically termed, the evil must soon cease, and that it was much better, if possible, to allow it to arrive at a termination without any interference on the part of the government, in order to convince the Catholics that there was not the slightest disposition to-interfere with them in the framing or managing their petition. But, Sir, the Catholic Committee did not stop here; the next step they took, about the middle of December, was to appoint a Committee of Grievances. This Catholic Committee, originally appointed for the sole purpose of preparing a petition to parliament, appointed a Sub-committee to inquire into all the grievances, real or imaginary, of all the Catholics of Ireland, and into all the indignities and insults which they might suffer, or to which they were inconsequence liable.
At one of the meetings of the Committee a member informed them, that he had received a letter from Dr. Troy, which contained an account of some shocking acts of bigotry which had been manifested in the management of the Foundling Hospital in Dublin. I have never seen this letter of Dr. Troy's, and therefore I can only speak of it from what passed in the debates. It is necessary, Sir, in order that the House may understand this part of the subject, that I should explain the nature of the charitable institution to which I have alluded, and the principles on which it is governed. The Foundling Hospital was established by act of parliament, and receives annually large parliamentary grants. Every child that is brought to it is received, without any distinction whatever, and there are generally about twelve hundred children in the hospital, and about four or five thousand are at nurse in the country. The governors of this hospital are among the most respectable; indeed, I 289 may say they are the most respectable persons in Ireland; and there is not a single institution in that country, or perhaps in: any other, that is conducted in a more exemplary manner. All the children received into this hospital have some name or label brought with them, which is entered into a secret book, and a number is given to the child, by which it is distinguished while it remains in the house, and not by any name. As this is a government institution, supported, as I have already said, by parliamentary grants, the children that are received into it arc, of course, brought up in the established religion of the country, and, when apprenticed, they are apprenticed to Protestant masters. However, when any person, whether Catholic or Protestant, claims a child, and states the private name, or mark, by which it was distinguished when it was received, the child is instantly delivered up to the person making the application. I have not seen Dr. Troy's Setter, but I understand that it accused the governors of" this institution of endeavouring to gain proselytes to Protestantism, by contriving that no Catholic should ever receive his child; and it narrated a shocking circumstance, which was said to have occurred in consequence of this bigotry—the marriage of a brother and a sister, who were ignorant of their mutual relationship. This statement was, of course, warmly taken up by the Committee, and the debates which took place upon the subject were of such a nature that I will, for the reason I have already stated, refrain from reading them. If gentlemen have any curiosity to read the debates of this Committee, they will soon have an opportunity of doing it, for, I understand, they are about to be published, by the authority of the Committee, in a portable form. This case was referred to the Committee of Grievances: thus they proceeded, but the government still forbore to interpose. In the meantime, the Catholic Committee continued to meet from week to week, and sometimes twice a week: they adopted, as far as they could, all the forms of the House of Commons. Their debates were attended by shorthand writers, and were published regularly in the Irish newspapers.
About the beginning of January a member of the Committee seated, that the Committee of Grievances had nearly prepared their report, which consisted of three hundred folio pages. At this time, the House 290 will recollect, that the purpose for which the Catholic Committee was originally appointed was effected; the petition to Parliament had been prepared and agreed upon. It was proposed, that this report of the Committee of Grievances should be printed, that it might be circulated throughout Ireland; and it was proposed, though by what means that was to be regularly effected, I really do not know to lay a copy of it on the table of this House. One of these grievances was, the number of offices which it was said Catholics were incapable of possessing, and which in this report, were made to amount to 32,000.
It cannot be supposed, Sir, that during such proceedings as I have been detailing, Dublin was in a very tranquil state; in fact they had produced a considerable effect upon the public mind, not only in Dublin) but in every part of Ireland. The quiet and well disposed people, seeing that no steps had been taken to put a stop to such dangerous proceedings, began to think that the government of Ireland was really dissolved. Indeed, Sir, nothing could have justified the lord lieutenant, and those who had the honour to advise him, in their abstinence, but the expectation which they naturally entertained, that every meeting of this Committee would be the last.
The right hon. and learned gent. has endeavoured to convince the House, that the Circular Letter of the Committee was matter of notoriety, and had been actually communicated to the public through the channel of tile Dublin newspapers; but I defy the right hon. and learned gent. to shew that such was the fact. It is true, that in a debate which took place towards the end of December, some symptoms appeared of the intention of these gentlemen to increase their number; but the right hon. and learned gent, is in an error, if he conceives that the intention was manifested in the decided manner which it afterwards assumed. In December a resolution was agreed to, desiring the secretary of the Committee to correspond with some gentlemen in the country, who were Friendly to their views, but not a word was said about any election. Afterwards, a guarded resolution was adopted, stating that an augmentation of the number of the Committee was desirable, and that the management of that augmentation should be vested in a Sub-committee. Still, however, not a word of the Circular Letter until the 19th of January. On the 23d of January the Irish government became possessed of the 291 fact, that such a letter had been written by the secretary of the Catholic Committee, and that several answers had been received thereto; but of the nature of the letter, or of the answers, they were wholly ignorant. To shew, however, what was the nature of the augmentation suggested in December, I beg to state (what I think in candour, the right hon. and. learned gent. might have stated), the opinion of one of the members, who declared, that when to the 36 representatives of parishes, ten members should be added from each county, the whole "would make a greater number than he had ever seen at any aggregate meeting,"
To proceed, however, with the history of the Committee. It adjourned from week to week, under the pretext of affording assistance to lord Fingal in the conveyance of the Petition; but at every meeting a violent and inflammatory debate almost invariably took place. The principal Roman Catholics of Ireland had become more and more dissatisfied with the proceedings of the Committee, as abusing the lenity of government, and injuring, by the intemperance of their conduct, the I cause which they were assembled to support. On the 2d of February they agreed unanimously to a resolution, that the Petition of the Catholics of Ireland should be transmitted to Parliament. On the same day a resolution was proposed, that the Catholic Committee had exceeded its powers, by agreeing to augment its numbers by the addition of ten members from every county in Ireland, this motion produced a very warm debate, and was finally rejected. In the course of the debate lord Ffrench made use of the following expressions:—"You were appointed for a specific purpose; your commission is ended—Ireland is sick of this business! Do you mean to erect yourselves into a perpetual government?"—The Committee however, would not acknowledge that their powers were terminated; and, instead of ending the business altogether, they adjourned to the 9th of February, Still the lord lieutenant forbore to interpose the authority of government, satisfied that a crisis was fast approaching.
At the meeting of the Committee on the 9th of February, several of the members indulged in the most violent and intemperate language. One gentleman, in particular, professed to undertake the defence of lord Fingal, one of the most loyal of the Catholic body; a nobleman in every- 292 way highly estimable, and whom no mart could know without admiring. Lord Fingal, it appears, had been accused of supporting the Veto, of concurring in the Union, and of moving a vote of thanks to lord Wellington. But the defence which this gentleman professed to make for his lordship, was in fact the most libellous accusation. I do not wish to read any part of this speech to the House, because the language was so extremely violent. The speaker did that which nobody ever thought of doing before, he identified the whole Catholic Body with the rebels of 1798. I really do not know whether the government of Ireland were not culpable for not having prosecuted the printer for the publication of this most inflammatory speech—[Here there was a general cry of read! read! and Mr. Pole proceeded to read the following extract from the speech of a gentleman]:—
'——Return, my lord, before I speak of the first charge, to the times of that Union, and recollect the state of Irish Catholics; of your population, the mass dispersed, the boldest slam, the patriots endungeoned and enchained, the remainder mute and disarmed. In this combination of overthrow and captivity, lord Fingal was prominently loyal. How much would your exterminators have given that lord Fingal were arrayed against the laws that they should be able to say, they had caught in the fact of treason, all our virtues and all our pride! In that crisis of sorrow and of infamy, you will find lord Fingal; the man of the people; you will find him, after the battle at Tara, petitioning quarter for the men against whom he had fought; you will find him petitioning for the best of men, and the most obnoxious to those exterminators—for the venerable Broughall, now no more, and for him whose presence would give honour to this meeting, of which he is a part—for James Dixon. You will find, that if he assumed the livery of your oppressors, it was chiefly that he might save or intercede for the oppressed.'
[Some gentlemen asked Mr. Pole across the table, from which, paper he had read this extract? He replied, either-front the Evening Post or the livening Herald, he believed it was from the latter paper, and he was sure the gentlemen. on the other side would not dispute its authenticity.]
Up to this time no step had been taken 293 by the government of Ireland; they had cherished the expectation, that any interference on their part would have been unnecessary; but the fallacy of that hope began to manifest itself. The government was assailed on all sides by the peaceable and loyal people of Ireland, to take some steps to avert the dangerous consequences with which the proceedings of this Committee threatened the country.
I hope, Sir, that in the tedious, but necessary detail which I have gone through, I have convinced the House of the great difference which subsisted between the principles and conduct of the Committee of 1809 and the Committee of 1810. The conduct of the latter certainly did cause great uneasiness to the government of Ireland, and to all loyal men. Representations poured in from all parts of the country; and the lenity and forbearance of the lord lieutenant was loudly censured. Thus it appeared, that the Irish government were censured by one set of men for severity, and by another for its forbearance. But I submit it to the candour of this House and the public, whether, under the circumstances I have stated, the lord lieutenant appears to have acted towards the Catholics with rigor; or whether he has taken any measures whatever, to prevent them from exercising the just right which they possessed, of petitioning Parliament, or his Majesty, or the Regent, on the subject of their claims? I am apprehensive that the lord lieutenant was rather liable to the contrary imputation. It may be so. In my conscience, however, I believe that his grace has acted wisely; and I have the satisfaction of knowing, that the advice I felt it my duty to give the lord lieutenant on the occasion, met with the entire approbation of the lord chancellor and the attorney general of Ireland. Many had been the consultations of the Irish cabinet with respect to the propriety of an application to the British cabinet for instructions; but the result of their deliberations always was, that it was better to go as far as the public peace would permit, without any interference of authority. But, Sir, I really am at a loss to determine, from the speech of the right hon. and learned gent., whether the Irish government are, upon the present occasion, to be attacked for their lenity or for their harshness. Some hon. gentlemen seemed to wish to accuse them of both. I am sure, however, that my right hon. friend opposite to me (Mr. Grattan) will not think 294 that we acted with too much forbearance; for I understood him to have said, in his speech upon a late occasion, that it was the duty of the government of Ireland to risk something for the purpose of evincing a greater tenderness towards the Catholics than towards any other set of men in Ireland. Precisely in the spirit of that remark, Sir, has the Irish government acted. I know that in any other case the lord lieutenant would have interfered much sooner; and I can take upon myself In assert, that if the Committee had been a Protestant, a Dissenting, or an Orange Committee, instead of a Catholic one, it would not have been allowed to go on so long unmolested. It was on a calm and deliberate balance of motives, and with a full feeling for the responsibility incurred, that the lord lieutenant adopted that line of conduct which appeared to him best calculated to secure the interests of the sovereign and of the country.
I really feel it necessary to apologize to the House for taking up so much time; but upon so important a question, I conceive it to be my duty to put the House in the full possession of all the facts of the case.
I now come, Sir, to the other part of the charge of the tight hon. and learned gent. The House will recollect, that I have brought the proceedings of the Catholic Committee down to the 9th of Feb. With regard to Mr. Hay's circular letter of the 1st of January, the Irish government never saw it until the 10th of Feb. I know, at least I understand, that a noble lord stated in another place, that he was in possession of that letter early in January. That is very possible—that noble lord may be more in the confidence of those from whom that letter emanated, than the Irish government are. It may be contended, that the Irish government, in not having obtained this letter sooner, had shewn themselves supine and unfit for office. In answer to this charge, I can only say, that every fair means of obtaining that information was resorted to; that great diligence was used upon that particular subject, by the persons whose duty it was to receive information; and yet it is most true that the letter of Mr. Hay was not known to me until the period I have mentioned. But whether the government were censurable or not, for not obtaining information upon this subject at an earlier period, is not now the question before the House.—The question is, whether; when 295 they did obtain the information, the course they pursued was justifiable and proper? On the 10th of February, then, the Irish government obtained a copy of this circular letter, and at the same time received private information of the most secret nature, that several thousand copies of that letter were circulating in Ireland; that many members of the augmented Committee had been returned; that some of them had actually arrived in Dublin; and that the whole of them were expected to arive time enough for the meeting of the 16th of February, or at latest for that of the 23d. We were also informed, that the letter had been penned by the lawyers belonging to the Catholic Committee, and that great pains had been taken to keep within the letter of the law, and to avoid inclining its penalties, the object being to obtain a complete representative body from all the counties of Ireland, under the pretext of assisting in managing the petition, it was also stated, that when all the members had arrived, and the Catholic convention had assembled, it would be kept sitting, for the purpose of diffusing throughout Ireland the flame which the Committee had raised in Dublin. The Irish government also received information of the mode in which the elections had been, and were to be, conducted. One main object, it appeared, was to secure secrecy; and names were sent down from Dublin, of particular persons resident in that city, whom the Committee recommended to be returned as delegates from certain places; and by this contrivance it was expected that a full attendance would always be secured. Such was the nature of the information received by the Irish government, and on that information they acted!
The right hon. and learned gent, has asked me repeatedly in a very pointed manner, whether, before I took upon myself to write the letter to the sheriffs and chief magistrates of Ireland, I had taken the opinion of the attorney and solicitor general of Ireland? Sir, that right hon. and learned gent, once filled a high official situation in Ireland; under the duke of Bedford's administration the right hon. and learned gent, held the office of lord high chancellor; and another right hon. gent., who sits near him, filled, at the same time, the office of chief secretary to the lord lieutenant. Now, Sir, I will ask that right hon. and learned gent., if at that period the government of Ireland had 296 received information similar to that which I have now communicated to the House, what he would have advised his friend, the chief secretary, to do? Would he not have advised him to state the facts to the lord lieutenant, and to propose to the lord lieutenant to send for lord chancellor Ponsonby, for Mr. attorney general Plunket, and for Mr. solicitor general Bushe, for the. purpose of holding a cabinet council on the subject? The right hon. and learned gent, assuredly ought, and I am persuaded would have done so. Sir, that was precisely the course which I adopted. Lord chancellor Ponsonby could not be sent for, because he was not in office, but lord chancellor Manners was summoned to attend the council. Mr. attorney general Plunket could not be summoned, for the same reason, but Mr. attorney general Saurin was. The solicitor general, Mr. Bushe, did not attend the council, because he was at that time absent in the country, attending a special commission; but I have great satisfaction in stating, that upon his return to town, he approved, in the fullest manner, of every step which had been taken, and confirmed that opinion under his own hand. The right hon. and learned gent, knows lord Manners, and Mr. Saurin, and Mr. Bushe; and knows the weight that is due to their opinions. I will not attempt to describe the characters of these great men, because I feel that I should not do justice to them. But it is the happiness of my life to be enabled to say, that throughout the whole of this transaction I did not take one single step, nay, I did not even write the letter to lord Ffrench, on which the right hon. and learned gent. has thought fit to comment, without the concurrence and full approbation of those great men. The very last words that lord Manners said to me, when I was quitting the Irish shore, were, "I will never forgive you if you do I not make me prominent in this business. Let me have my full share of the responsibility."—At these meetings of the cabinet council in Dublin, the lord lieutenant presided. The right hon. and learned gent. has asked, why the benefit of the lord chief justice's opinion was not taken, as it might have been, at a meeting of the privy council? I will tell the House why. The lord chief justice of Ireland was not consulted. Because if any of the individuals whose conduct was under consideration, had been apprehended and brought to trial, the lord chief justice must of course have 297 presided; and whatever may be the opinion of the right hon. and learned gent, opposite to me, upon this subject, I disdained to use any means by which a stain could be thrown on the purity of a court of justice.
On a full and dispassionate consideration of all the circumstances of the case, the government were of opinion that the proper course to be pursued was the one which has been adopted. It was resolved that the attorney general should frame a letter to the sheriffs and chief magistrates, stating the law of the case, and calling upon the magistrates to enforce it. But when this letter was framed and sent, the Irish government knew perfectly well that the law was not likely to be put in force against any man for any thing that to operate prospectively; and the fact turned out exactly so; not one man was arrested—not one held to bail. except a printer at Galway, who persisted in advertising a meeting in contravention of the act.
The lord lieutenant, always animated by feelings of tenderness towards the Roman Catholics, even when he was forced to act, determined that no individual should be taken up or punished for that which was past. The attorney general was directed to frame this letter to the sheriffs, stating the law of the case, in the hope that it would have the effect of inducing those persons, who were engaged Catholic Committee; and it has been contended, that there was no occasion to name the Roman Catholics. I hope the right hon. and learned gent, will do the lord chancellor and the attorney general of Ireland the justice to suppose, that these were circumstances which did not escape their acuteness, but having received the information which I have detailed to the House, they thought they could not avoid stating the fact in the letter. As Mr. Hay had addressed his letter to Catholics, and directed that Catholics should be sent from the counties to augment the body calling itself the Catholic Committee; and as the information in the possession of government was sufficient, in the opinion of the law officers of the crown, to prove that body an unlawful assembly, it was thought 298 impossible to take any step towards stopping the elections, or towards preventing the Committee from continuing their illegal proceedings, without naming both the Catholics and the Committee. With regard to the question of law, I certainly shall not enter into a discussion with the right hon. learned gent, upon it, as I do not pretend to be acquainted with legal subtleties. I am no lawyer, and though such arrogance has been attributed to me, I never presumed to take any legal steps without having recurrence to the best advice. I cannot but observe here, Sir, that the tone and temper of the right hon. and learned gentleman are very different tonight from what understand they were upon a former occasion. He has not now spoken of the Convention Act as an obsolete law, but he has taken the ground which, I understand, was taken by a noble lord in another place, viz. that if the lord lieutenant thought in expedient to proceed as he has done, he ought to have issued aproclamation. Now, Sir, what were the circumstances of this case? There was the law of the land, an act of parliament, in full force; in such force, indeed, that the very persons against whom it was to operate, recognized it in every part of their proceedings by their efforts to avoid coming within its provisions. It is obvious, that the Committee had this act always in their view; and I defy the most ingenious man in the House to look fairly at the whole proceedings of the Committees of 1809 and 1810, and to controvert that proposition. Until an occasion occurred which required the exercise of the Covention Law; of course it could not operate: that occasion did occur, and I really am at a I loss to know upon what ground it is contended, that a proclamation ought to have been previously issued. Proclamations are only resorted to in particular cases; such, for instance, as the Insurrection Act, winch was not always in force. The government, when it frit itself called upon to put that act into execution, must, by the law, announce that intention by a proclamation; but, in the case of an act of parliament always in full force, it is absurd to suppose that government was bound to issue a proclamation before they acted upon it. A case also occurred the other day in Ireland, in which the issuing of a proclamation was necessary; I mean in the case of the application of the manufacturers to government for relief. In that case, two hundred thousand pounds were 299 issued to them, but as there was no act of parliament in force upon the subject, and parliament were not sitting, the advance was necessarily made under the authority of a proclamation. Under such circumstances as those I have stated, a proclamation is proper; but I never before heard it contended, that a proclamation was necessary to enforce the statute law of the land.
I trust, Sir, I do not flatter myself, when I express a hope that I have now satisfied the House, that, when the Irish government thought it necessary to adopt some measures for the security of the public peace; when this letter, of which the right hon. and learned gent, complains so much, was issued, the Catholic Committee had assumed a new shape; that it had arrogated powers very different, and much more extensive than those with which it was originally invested; in short, that it had taken a form highly dangerous to the peace of the country. I hope I have proved that the Irish government continued to act upon a system of forbearance and lenity until it was compelled, in point of duty, and called upon from every part of the country, to adopt the measures that might be necessary to preserve the public peace. Most undoubtedly, Sir, if the intelligence which I have just detailed to the House, had reached the Irish government time enough to have enabled them to have taken the opinion of the ministers of the Prince Regent, they would have done it; but it is evident, from what I have stated, that the Irish government could not have delayed taking the step it was compelled to take, without allowing the Catholic Convention, or Parliament, as lord Ffrench had called it, to have had at least one meeting, the effects of which might not have been easily effaced. The Irish government fell also, that it was absolutely necessary, for the preservation of the tranquillity of the country, to put a stop to the elections in the different "parts of Ireland which had actually commenced, and to shew the people in general the danger they were incurring, and the unpleasant predicament in which they were involving themselves, by acting in conformity to the letter of the secretary of the Catholic Committee. In this point of view, the letter to the magistrates was a letter of precaution, and I am happy to say it produced the most beneficial effects. The country is in a state of tranquillity, the meetings for the elections 300 have been checked, and considerable progress has been made in bringing the Catholic Committee to a proper sense of its situation.
I come now, Sir, to the consideration of that part of the subject upon which the right hon. and learned gent, has dwelt so much, I mean the direct communication that took place between government and lord Ffrench. As soon as the meeting had been declared an unlawful one by the authorities I have mentioned, it became the duty of government to prevent it from again assembling without interruption. Having obtained information that it was to meet at a particular place on a certain day, government determined to enforce the act of parliament, by dispersing the assembly, but in doing so the magistrates were instructed to act with the utmost mildness and conciliation.
The right hon. and learned gent, has attempted to throw some ridicule upon this part of the subject, and to represent me as deserving all the blame, which, in his opinion, belongs to the transaction. Sir, I do not wish to decline any of the responsibility which is necessarily attached to the situation which I have the honour to hold, but I must repeat, that during every part of this business, I acted with the advice and concurrence of the noble and learned persons to whom I have alluded. The right hon. and learned gent, says, he has seen two different accounts of what passed when the magistrates went to the meeting, the one signed by alderman Darley and Mr. Babington,** The following is the account given by alderman Darley and Mr. Babington:Police Office, Jervis Street,Feb 23, 1811.Pursuant to the directions of government, alderman Darley and Mr. Babington repaired to the house of Fitzpatrick, in Capel-street, where the Roman Catholic Committee had been used to assemble. They asked Fitzpatrick if there was then a meeting of Catholics in his house? He replied in the affirmative, and ushered the magistrates to the rooms on the first floor, where from forty to fifty gentlemen were assembled.On the table lay some copies of the Catholic petition, which the persons then present were in the act of signing. Mr. Hay, who was at the table, said, gentlemen, such of you as have signed the petition for the Commons and not for the301 and, the other an anonymous one, and that he did not know which to believe. [Mr. Ponsonby said it was not an anonymous ac-Lords, be so good as to come forward and sign. Immediately after the magistrates entered the room, lord Ffrench was called to the chair.Lord Ffrench demanded of the magistrates by what authority they came there? Alderman Darley replied, that understanding the meeting to be a meeting of the Catholic Committee, he must request of them, as a magistrate, to disperse. Lord Ffrench asked if the order was from government? Alderman Darley said, certainly.Lord Ffrench assured the magistrates that that meeting was not the Catholic Committee—and that he sat as chairman of no Committee, but as chairman of a meeting of Catholic gentlemen, for the purpose of signing and forwarding a petition to Parliament. Lord Ffrench said, it was right to warn alderman Darley, that by taking such steps Towards that meeting, he. might be the first person to disturb the peace. Alderman Barley expressed the regret he felt at discharging so painful a duty, and said that we were unattended by even a peace officer; that, however, our duty must be done.Lord Ffrench said, he had as high a respect for the laws as any one, and said if the magistrates began at the end of the room, he hoped he should be the last man turned out—. he said, had he been treated as he might have expected, by Mr. Pole, before any harsh step was taken towards a meeting of that body to which he belonged, by having been sent for, he could have so explained the nature of the meeting as to prevent the interference of a magistrate; he added, that he in his own person had an additional claim, conceiving himself an hereditary counsellor to the crown.Mr. Babington said, that the magistrates had the highest respect for his lordship; that his sole object in remaining was to try the question—we would do any thing to facilitate the matter—that force was repugnant to our feelings, and that we hoped they would quietly submit. Some, gentlemen replied, there was no question to try; that no individual in the room would resist the laws, and that no force was necessary; that they would go any where with us.Alderman Darley was asked if he302 count.] Well then, the account published by the Catholic Committee; but he says he does not know which to believe. Sir, if thathad a written information; to which he answered that he had.Sir Edward Bellow asked, if it was the order of government to disperse any meeting of Roman Catholics?Alderman Darley having information that the Committee was to be there assembled, and having positive directions to disperse the Catholic Committee, conceived himself justified, in reply to Sir Edward Bellew's question, to say, that his orders were, to disperse any meeting at that house.Lord Ffrench then asked him, would he not pause before he took that step—would he shut the door against their right, to petition? and proposed that he should wait on Mr. Pole, and explain the nature of their meeting.Alderman Darley seeming to decline, lord Ffrench then asked alderman Darley, would he commit the peace of the country, and take on himself the responsibility, without making this trial? Lord Ffrench added, if it was the wish of Mr. Pole, he and any three or five of the gentlemen present would wait on him. Alderman Darley having consulted with Mr. Babington, at length agreed that he would wait upon Mr. Pole. Mr. Babington remained in the room during his absence. Lord Ffrench said, if thought necessary, that no gentleman would leave the room during the absence of alderman Darley, nor should any other person be permitted to enter. Some person said that that could not be, as it was an open meeting. In the absence of alderman. Darley, Mr. Hussey asked Mr. Babington, if he had a written information? Mr. Babington replied, that he had better not speak on that business till alderman Darley returned.Alderman Darley having returned from Mr. Pole, stated, that as lord Ffrench had assured the magistrates that the meeting was not the Catholic Committee, but a meeting of Catholic gentlemen, for the purpose of signing and forwarding their petition to parliament, it was the order of government, that the magistrates should not by any means interrupt them. Alderman Darley having again asked lord Ffrench whether that was a meeting of the Catholic Committee, or a meeting of Catholic gentlemen for the purpose of303 right hon. and learned gent, does not chouse to believe the account given by alderman Darley and Mr. Babington, and which is signed with their names, I cannot help it, but government were bound to believe it. These magistrates had received particular instructions for the regulation of their conduct when they went to the place where the assembly was to be held; and these instructions were, that they should disperse the meeting with as much civility as the nature of the transaction would allow. The magistrates went to the place appointed for the meeting; they found there a number of gentlemen assembled, and immediately upon their arrival lord Ffrench was called to the chair, and the alderman asked if the persons assembled were the Catholic Committee? Lord Ffrench answered in the negative, and "aid they were a number of Catholic gentlemen assembled to sign their petition. Upon receiving this answer, the alderman hesitated, and at last determined to apply to government for further instruction. He accordingly came to the chief secretary's office, where I was, and made his report. The Court of Chancery was at that time sitting; I went thither, and had an interview with the lord chancellor and the attorney general, and consulted with them upon the subject. We ail agreed, that after what lord Ffrench had said, no attempt should be made to disperse that meeting. We considered lord Ffrench to be a gentleman and a man of honour, and therefore we placed implicit confidence in what we understood him to have declared. I admit, that afterwards the meeting didsigning and forwarding their petition? Lord Ffrench declared that it was not a Catholic Committee, and said he would shew the magistrates that that meeting could not be the Catholic Committee, and was proceeding to say more, when he was interrupted.Mr. O'Gorman asked alderman. Darley if he entered that room for the purpose of preventing the Catholic body from signing their petition to parliament, he, Mr. O'Gorman, having come there for that purpose, during his, alderman Darley's absence? Alderman Darley said, certainly not.As far as we can recollect, this is a correct statement of the substance of what occurred.(Signed) FRED. DARLEY.THOS. R. BABINGTON.304 publish some resolutions, in which they called themselves the general Committee of the Catholics; but I know too well the candour of the right hon. and learned gent, to suppose that he would for a moment, in so serious a discussion, avail himself of such a quibble. I am quite certain, that if he had been in the Irish government when this affair took place, he would have given credit, as we did, to the information which was received. The right hon. and learned gent has stated, that we were culpable, because, having designated the Catholic Committee an illegal assembly, it was suffered to meet again. It is true, Sir, that on the 26th of February, the day I left Ireland, it was represented to government, that an aggregate meeting of the Catholics was to take place, and it was determined not to interfere with them, because such a meeting would have been legal and constitutional. Government were certainly aware that a considerable sensation had been excited among the principal Catholics; we knew that they were very angry at the terms of the circular letter written by the lord lieutenant's command. I am willing to give the right hon. and learned gent-the lull benefit of this admission; but I will not allow myself to doubt, that when the Catholics come to reflect seriously upon the subject; when they consider, that the step which was resorted to was taken with the best advice, and after a full, calm, and deliberate investigation, they will applaud rather than censure the conduct of government. Indeed, even now, many of the most respectable Catholics do not disguise their opinion, that the conduct of the Committee had thrown discredit upon the Catholic cause, and had endangered the peace of the country. It certainly was a subject of consolation to the lord lieutenant to know, that a number of respectable Catholic gentlemen were coming to Dublin to put an end to this Committee themselves; and, therefore, the Irish government, though still watching their proceedings, determined not to molest them. beg leave here, Sir, to call the attention of the House to a statement of the right hon. and learned gent.: he says, that the resolutions of the Committee, of the 26th of February, reassert all that had been asserted before, and that they declared themselves to be that very illegal assembly which the government had threatened to disperse. Now, I do beg the right hon. and learned gent, will look at the resolutions themselves, and 305 see whether they bear him out in that proposition; I maintain that they prove the direct contrary: but, it seems, that these friends of the Catholics on the other side of the House will not allow the word of a Catholic to be taken upon any occasion; and the Irish government are termed drivellers and blockheads, because, being gentlemen themselves, they believed the word of a gentleman. Surely, Sir, the right hon. and learned gent, could not have read the resolutions of the 26th of February,* or he would not have made this assertion. The House will do me the honour to recollect my statement of the: proceedings of the Committee on the 24th of November, when lord Fingall we in the chair; it was then determined that they were empowered to transact all Catholic affairs. This was precisely the objection of tile Irish government. They complained, that the Committee had travelled out of the province for which they were constituted. Now, did the resolutions of the 26th of February last reassert* "At a Meeting of the General Committee of the Catholics of Ireland, held at No. 4, Capel-street, On Tuesday, the 26th of February, 1811,The LORD FFRENCH in the Chair;Resolved, That the. correspondence between the lord Ffrench and Mr. Secretary Pole be published.Resolved, That this Committee has been appointed by an aggregate meeting of the Catholics of Ireland, to prepare and procure, to be presented to parliament, on their behalf, petitions for the removal of all such penalties and disabilities as affect those of their pursuasion.Resolved, That having in their endeavours to perform the duty imposed on them, most studiously avoided any infraction on the known laws and constitution of their country, they learned with equal surprise and indignation, that imputations have been cast on certain parts of their proceedings, calculated to render questionable their legality; and in further pursuance thereof, that measures have been resorted to, and threats issued, which if persevered in must utterly destroy a right, one of the dearest to all British subjects, and to the Catholics of Ireland almost the only valuable one they enjoy, the right of Petition.Resolved, That not having received any appointment except of the nature and306 that proposition: No such thing! The first resolution relates to the publishing my correspondence with lord Ffrench. The second states, "that this Committee has been appointed by an aggregate meeting of the Catholics of Ireland;" to do what? to manage the affairs of the Catholics? No!—" to prepare, and procure to be presented to parliament, on their behalf, petitions for the removal of all such penalties and disabilities as affect those of their persuasion." They then resolve, "That not having received any appointment, except of the nature and for the: performance of a single specific object, viz. the preparing the petition to parliament, the Committee confidently felt that it could not, by any forced and oppressive construction, be placed within the meaning of the law called the Convention Act." Now, let me ask, is this the meeting which the Irish government described as coming within the purview of the Convention Act? Sir, if the assembled Catholics were really what they stated themselves to be in theirfor the performance of a single and specific object, as already stated, it confidently feels that it cannot, by any forced and oppressive construction, be placed within the meaning of the law called the Convention Act.Resolved therefore, That this Committee, impressed with a deep sense of the unjustifiable and unmerited degradations and disabilities which affect those of their communion, as well as with a strong feeling of the duty they owe to those who have entrusted said petitions to their management, do now pledge themselves to each other and to their fellow sufferers, unremittingly to persevere in, and never to abate from any constitutional effort, until they shall finally achieve their common freedom; an event which can now alone afford to those attached to their native land, any certain prospect of maintaining, unbroken and invincible, the integrity and independence of the British Islands.Resolved, That the foregoing Resolutions be published.FFRENCH, Chairman.Sir EDWARD BELLEW, bart in the Chair:Resolved, That our most particular thanks are justly due and hereby returned to the lord Ffrench, for his dignified, manly, spirited, and constitutional conduct, on this and every other occasion, in the pursuit of Catholic freedom.EDWARD HAY, Sec,307 resolutions at this meeting, the Irish government would be the last men in the empire to molest them. The meeting which we said came within the purview of the Convention Act, was one which claimed the sole management of all the affairs of the Catholics of Ireland; and was composed, not only of the members delegated by the aggregate body of the Catholics to frame a petition, but by others elected under writs issued by the persons so delegated.—There was a circumstance which occurred at the subsequent meeting of the 2d inst., rather of a curious nature, and one which I should have thought would have stuck the right hon. and learned gent.: one of the most violent of the supporters of the claims of the Catholics, a major Bryan, stated, that it was his intention to have proposed an address to the Regent, praying him to dismiss the Duke of Richmond, but that he had been informed by his friends, that he could not do it in the Committee, which was appointed for a specific purpose; and that be would, therefore, defer his motion until an aggregate meeting should be assembled. Is this a proof that the Committee had reasserted all that it had asserted before? Is this any thing like the assumption of the sole management of all the affairs of the Catholics, by persons speaking the sense, and. declaring the wishes of all the Catholics of Ireland? With regard to major Bryan's bringing forward this motion at an aggregate meeting, I, for one, can have no objection to it: he has. a perfect constitutional right to do it if he thinks proper. The Catholic Committee, on the 2d inst.* resolved, that the petition should be engrossed* "At a Meeting of the General Committee of the Catholics of Ireland, held in Dublin, at No. 4, Capel-street, on Saturday, the 2d of March, 1811,GEORGE BRYAN, Esq. in the Chair;Resolved, That the Petitions be engrossed, and transmitted to the earl of Fingal, to be by him handed to the earl of Donoughmore and the right hon. Henry Grattan.Resolved, That a meeting of the Catholics of Ireland be called at the Farming Repository, in Stephen's green, on Friday next, at the hour of eleven o'clock in the forenoon, to take into consideration a dutiful and loyal Address to his royal highness the Prince of Wales, and that such meeting do request the Catholics in308 and transmitted to lord Fingal, for the purpose of being handed to lord Donoughmore and Mr. Grattan;—a most happy termination of their labours. They also resolved, that a meeting of the Catholics of Ireland should be held on Friday next, to take into consideration a loyal address to the Regent, and to desire the concurrence of the country in the same; that the arrangements for collecting the signatures to the petition should be made by Mr. Hay; and that the Committee do adjourn to the third Tuesday in April. Before that time the Roman Catholics will, I trust, be fully convinced that the government had no intention of interfering with their right of petitioning.—The right hon. and learned gent. asks, whether it required a spur to goad the irritated feelings of the people of Ireland: Sir, I appeal to his own candour now to say, whether such language can fairly be applied to the conduct of the government? The same candour will, I doubt not, induce him to confess that he laboured, during the whole of his statement, under a complete mistake, in supposing that I was so foolish and so arrogant as to take upon myself to act in such a case without obtaining the best advice. If the distinguished individuals of the government of Ireland had not disdained to reply to the attacks that were made upon them in the papers, and elsewhere, the right hon. and learned gent. would not have remained in such complete ignorance as to the real truth of the case. As it is, a greater instance of secrecy of councils never occurred.—I understand, Sir, that in one of the debates which occurred during my absence, an hon. gent. opposite to me, (Mr. Whitbread) stated, that I had assumed all the powers and authority of thetheir respective counties to concur in such Address.Resolved, That the arrangement for collecting signatures to the Catholic Petition, be entrusted to our secretary, Mr. Hay.Resolved, That this Committee do adjourn to the third Tuesday in AprilGEORGE BRYAN, Chairman.The VISCOUNT SOUTHWELL in the Chair.Resolved, That the thanks of this Committee be returned to George Bryan, esq. for his very proper, spirited, and dignified conduct in the chair.EDWARD HAY, Sec309 lord lieutenant of Ireland. Sir, I am satisfied the hon. gent. has too much candour and liberality, seriously to bring such a heavy charge against any individual in his absence. The hon. gent. could never mean to hold me out to the House and the public as being so criminally and stupidly arrogant. He never could desire to raise a prejudice against any man in his absence, while he was, in fact, upon his trial; he must have spoken in jest, and I shall take that joke of the hon. gent.'s as I have taken many others from him, in perfect good humour. I own I think the joke was a bad one; and I have only one favour to beg of the hon. gent, that in future when he wishes to be witty at my expence, he will have the goodness not to break his jests upon me till I am in my place ready to receive them. Nothing, Sir, can be further from my intention than to transgress the Orders of the House; but perhaps in the peculiar circumstances under which I stand, I may be allowed to allude to something that fell from a noble lord in another place. That noble lord is reported to have said, that the Irish government had acted the part of incendiaries—that, like incendiaries, they had set fire to the house before they had left it. This is a serious charge against such men as the duke of Richmond and lord Manners (as for me, it is of no consequence),: especially when it is considered that the individual by whom it was made, knew nothing of the facts, with the exception, indeed, that he must have known, had he referred to dates, that the Irish government were aware, before they took the Step which they have adopted, that the administration would not be changed. Yet this accusation proceeded from a respectable quarter—from a person well known in Ireland—one who no doubt acted with good intentions, although this is not the first time that he had turned out to be completely mistaken. I am induced to notice this circumstance, as, of all the painful events attendant on the late occurrences, no one has been felt more severely by the noble persons in the government of Ireland. They certainly did conceive it to be a most hard and cruel case, to be there condemned without any knowledge of the facts. I hope that what I have stated will prove, that the assertion of the individual to whom I alluded [we presume lord Moira] was ill-founded. Indeed, the hon. and learned gent. opposite has argued on a directly contrary suppo- 310 sition, and a just one, namely, that the Irish government were perfectly apprized of the continuance in power of the present administration, before they issued the circular letter to the magistracy of that country.—I trust, Sir, have now answered ail the charge which the right hon. and learned gent. has preferred against the Irish government; and I will not now occupy any more of the time of the House, except to return my thanks for the indulgence with which I have been heard.
§ Mr. Whitbread
was desirous of taking, with the same good humour in which it had been given, the allusion made to himself. From the advice as to the future, and castigation for the past, with which, the right hon. gent, had accompanied his remarks on what he supposed to have fallen from him, he must ask a question of the right hon. gent., namely, whether he received his information from newspaper report, or in a communication from any hon. friend who had been present, and thought that he had used words in the absence of the right hon. gent, which he would not have used had he been present? If the former, he having nothing to do with any newspaper, could not be answerable for what it might state. If the latter, he was not conscious of having said any thing that he would not have stated, had the right hon. gent. been present; and he begged to tell him, that he would not be prevented, in consequence of the absence of the right hon. gent., from making such remarks as he might think necessary upon any measure in which he was concerned. There were always a sufficient number of gentlemen present, connected with the right hon. gent., who could ac quaint him with what was said.
§ Mr. W. Pole
said, that he had his information from the newspapers. It was so like the manner of the hon. gent, however, that he had supposed it correct. He had alluded to it, however, in perfect good humour, and now believed the hon. gent. had not said it.
§ Mr. Parnell
said, that the motion now before the House being one calling for documents, which it was necessary to be in possession of, in order to form a definitive judgment on the legality and policy of the conduct of the Irish government, he should confine his observations wholly to what had fallen from the right hon. gent. in ac- 311 cusation of the Catholic Committee. With respect to the speeches of the members of the "Committee which he had read, the House could not allow them to he considered as evidence to criminate the acts or intentions of the Committee. It was too well known how difficult it was to report with perfect accuracy every thing that passed in debate in the limited columns of a newspaper, to permit the justness of selecting particular expressions to prove guilt against any particular speaker, or the society to which he might belong. It was only by the formal resolutions of the Committee that its true character could be understood; and it was therefore to these resolutions, which the right hon. gent. had read, that the House could in fairness have reference in forming its opinion. Now what did these resolutions contain of a seditious or criminal nature? One, the right hon. gent. says, is a resolution appointing a Committee of Grievances. Where did he learn that such a Committee existed? it is true that a Sub-committee was appointed to draw up a statement of the disabilities to which the Catholic body were subject under the still existing penal laws. But this Committee was not called by those who formed it, a Committee of Grievances; when they learnt it was so described, it is to be seen, that in one of their debates they formally disavowed this title of it. It was, in fact, a title given to it by their enemies; and it is not easy to understand why the right hon. gent, has thought proper to adopt and repeat that description of it to-night, unless he wished to asperse the General Committee, and to give a character to it in this House of which it was not in any way deserving. Why did the Catholics appoint this Sub-committee? The answer is, in order to discharge their duty in preparing a full and accurate petition, to be able to tell parliament in a constitutional way, that the assertions so frequently made here, so recently made by an hon. general, that the Catholics experienced no practical disabilities under the existing penal laws, were wholly unfounded; this was the reason on which the Committee had acted, and no man can deny that its proceedings, in this respect, were strictly within the powers conferred on it by the body at large. The next, resolution brought forward by the right hon. gent. to prove the illegality of the conduct of the Committee, is that by which a Sub-committee was appointed to inquire into the case of a Catholic soldier. The 312 right hon. gent. has thought proper to state only a part of this case—he has suppressed what was most material of it—he has not told the House the circumstances which ltd to the punishment of this soldier. The fact is this—this soldier being a private in the county of Dublin Militia, and having refused to attend the Protestant Divine Service, was put into confinement, on which he presented a memorial to his commanding officer, complaining of the illegality of his imprisonment. This memorial being considered to be mutinous, he was brought to trial before a court martial, and sentenced to receive 500 lashes. This punishment was afterwards commuted for service in the West Indies, and he was actually arrived at the Isle of Wight on his way thither, when Dr. Troy obtained the order for his recal. This case then did fairly come under the consideration of the Committee—they conceived it one which, it appears by their debates, they thought ought to be mentioned in their petition, as a proof of a great grievance—and therefore the right hon. gent, fails in respect to this resolution, as well as to the former, in making out his charge against the Committee. But he says the Committee suffered a long period to elapse, that is, from August, when this case of the soldier was first known, till December, before it took any notice of it—from which he argues, that it was in December it began to assume a factious and seditious character; but in this conclusion he is not borne out—the Committee having delayed to take notice of it, for the purpose of seeing whether the government would interfere, and having finally themselves interfered, only because they found that no redress was to come from the proper quarter. Then the right hon. gent, brings forward a third resolution of the Committee—a resolution giving its thanks to lord Donougbmore. It really cannot be necessary to say any thing to induce the House to see this resolution in a very different light indeed to that in which it has been represented. Lord Donougbmore had conferred signal services on the Catholic body. He had a second time undertaken to present their petition, and it was quite just and natural that such a resolution of thanks should have been passed, to express the high opinion the Catholics entertained respecting him. But after the right hon. gent. had gone through these resolutions, and read so many extracts of speeches, he says the 313 moderation of the lord lieutenant passed all that by. It was not for them that he had recourse to the Convention Act, but because of the system of delegation promulgated in Mr. Hay's letter. This admission of the right hon. gent. narrows the grounds exceedingly on which the conduct of the Catholics and of the Irish government is to be decided upon, and it conveys to the House a pretty clear proof that notwithstanding all the right hon. gent, had said respecting the speeches and resolutions of the Committee, he does not himself consider them as sufficient to justify the Irish government in calling it an unlawful assembly. The House, therefore, have this single point to determine, whether or not Mr. Hay's circular letter did warrant the Irish government in issuing the letter of the right hon. gent? and this letter must be judged of by its object. In order to bring the Committee under the Convention Act, it must be shewn that they were. a delegated body, meeting under the pretence of petitioning Parliament or addressing the King, but really intending sedition and to disturb the public peace. But the right hon. gent. has himself produced proof that Mr. Hay's circular letter had no such intention. He has this night read a part of a speech of a member of the Committee, made when this letter was the subject of debate, in which the member says, that the object of increasing the number of the Committee was to be able to present an Address to the Regent, speaking the opinion and sentiments of the whole Catholic body.—This is the evidence the right hon. gent. himself produces, and surely the House cannot suffer itself to be led into an opinion that the object of the Committee was sedition and disturbance of the public peace, when such direct and conclusive evidence is before it of its true and real purpose. Mr. Parnell said, for his part he believed sincerely that the only motive which influenced the Committee in enlarging its numbers, was that of conveying to the Regent a dutiful and loyal address. He saw nothing in the conduct of the Catholics to induce him to think that they were engaged in any attempt to disturb the public tranquillity. He could easily conceive that many weak persons, who attributed all disturbances in Ireland to innate Catholic treason, might, by confounding together the late proceedings in the south of Ireland, with the bold and spirited exertions of the Catholic Committee, have become afraid of another rebellion. He 314 could conceive that their alarms might be imparted to the Irish government, and in this way, and in this way only, could he account for its rash and impolitic conduct. To believe that a rebellion, as the right hon. gent. has said he believed, would have taken place, if his letter had not been written, was an opinion that no one, having a dispassionate use of his understanding, could for one moment entertain. With respect to what had fallen from the right hon. gent. respecting Mr. Finnerty, he could not understand why his name had been introduced, except to prejudice the proceedings of the Catholics. The speech, however, that that gent, made at the Catholic meeting in November, was by no means deserving the opprobrium which he had cast upon it. Mr. Finnerty, in that speech, had rendered a great benefit to his country, if succeeding in convincing the people of Ireland, that the people of lingland were their friends and not their enemies, was a beneficial object.—He found a feeling prevailing among the Catholics, that, because of the great enmity of the English people towards them, there was no use of again petitioning parliament.—He told them that they mistook the people of England, that it was only necessary for them to convince them of the justice of their complaints, in order to secure their cordial support; that to petition was the best means of effecting this; and thus he succeeded in persuading them to look for redress in a legal and constitutional manner, and removed from their minds those feelings of despair which could not fail sooner or later of leading them to seek assistance in a quarter sufficiently ready to embark in their cause. Mr. Finnerty had also conferred on his Catholic countrymen another essential service, he had exposed the folly and mischief of their own jealousies and divisions; he had convinced them of the necessity of acting with union among themselves in promoting their great cause; and, said (Mr. Parnell) inasmuch as he was of opinion, that the only way of preserving the British empire from the accumulated dangers that now threatened its destruction, was that of conciliating and uniting the great body of the Catholics in one common exertion against the common enemy; he did think that that man was a good friend to his country, who, by conduct like this, did so much to secure for the Catholics the speedy and effectual redress of all their grievances.
§ Mr. Elliot,
alluding to that part of the statement of Mr. Pole which mentioned a threat having been held out by the duke of Bedford's government to the Catholics, of putting in force the Convention Act, stated that the government of that day had no doubt admonished the Catholics to do nothing in contravention of the law; but with respect to any threat as to the Convention Act, not only was that not so, but the thing was never even thought of, or in contemplation. His wish was for information on a subject of such importance, and therefore he must vote for the motion. He was not a person who would countenance an infraction of law, nor did he know that any such existed.
Mr. Shaw, of Dublin,
said:—Sir; upon a question of this kind, so immediately connected with the city of Dublin, I should feel it difficult to content myself with a silent vote. Differing materially as I do with those gentlemen, with whom I have hitherto been in the habit of acting, I am the more anxious to be distinctly understood.—Whatever necessity the right hon. gent. might suppose to have existed for putting a stop to those meetings, sure I am that the prevalent conviction upon this subject in Ireland was, that of all modes to be adopted for the suppression of those meetings, that selected by the hon. gent, was of all others the most unfortunate, and least likely to attain the object he had in view. It is evident to every man that such a letter should never have been issued, but after the most mature deliberation, and under circumstances of the most pressing necessity. And when we consider that many of the gentlemen who attend and compose those meetings, are gentlemen dignified by birth, by fortune, and highly elevated in society for character and reputation, a communication should have been made to them by government, in a manner very different, and less likely to widen that breach which so unhappily exists in our country. But what have been the circumstances? After having been hastily resolved, it is as timidly abandoned. Is this a line of conduct likely to raise the character of the Irish government in the eyes of the Irish people? We find the magistrates, after going to act on it, enter into a long altercation, and many messages pass backward and forward from the castle, which ends in a paper war between the parties—and the only result from it is, that the unfortunate Circular Letter has gone out 316 into the country as a firebrand, and a rallying point for all the disaffected, and remains a lasting monument of the rashness and imbecility of the Irish government. I shall certainly support the present motion.
§ Sir Hugh Montgomery
said, he differed intirely from the last speaker, and saw no reason for changing the opinion he had recently expressed upon a former occasion.
§ Mr. Tighe
asked what were the instances selected by the right hon. Secretary, in proof of the proceedings resorted to by the Committee being subversive of the Irish government? They voted thanks to lord Donoughmore: Was this the first act subversive of the Irish government? They next take notice of a poor soldier, degraded and punished because he would not march to a church, where he was to hear a doctrine of which he did not approve. Was this subversive of the Irish government? No; but the principles which produced this conduct toward the soldier in question might, and in all probability would, lead to the subversion of the Irish government. Then they take notice of a letter of Dr. Troy, with respect to the Foundling Hospital. But were there any other overt acts of treason? Yes; they appointed a Committee to state what were the disabilities of which they complained, and this the right hon. gent. nick named a Committee of Grievances; and their numbers being reduced to 36, they wished to increase the number. Another act, subversive of the government of Ireland, was an intimation of an Address to the Regent. If all of these acts were known, why was not the pleasure of the Regent taken upon them? Did the government believe his Royal Highness would not sanction them? Or was it meant to throw, a stigma upon his government, or rather upon his character? If the latter, never was a more unsuccessful attempt, for never did his name stand so high, in love, favour, and affection, in Ireland, as it did since the steps which had followed the issuing of the letter in question, by which the right hon. gent, would have shewn his tender mercy, by imprisoning one half of the population of Ireland. The conduct of the Catholics, however, had united all the Protestants in one, teaching them to regard the acceding to the Catholic claims as the only security for the safety of the country.
§ Sir T. Turton
stated, that in his opinion 317 Catholic emancipation would not produce all those beneficial effects which were anticipated; and that a solid improvement of the interests of Ireland must be sought for in a series of wise and conciliatory measures. Although not satisfied entirely with the letter of the Irish government, yet he thought the explanation which had been given rendered further information unnecessary.
said, Sir; In rising to claim the indulgence of the House in making my reply, I cannot help taking notice, in the first place, of the observations of the hon. baronet who has just sat down. I am sure that he has only stated his real sentiments on the subject, and that those sentiments are always entitled to consideration and respect. But when he states that in his opinion the measure of Catholic emancipation would not yield satisfaction to the people of Ireland, it ought not to be forgotten that this was the mere opinion of an individual in opposition to the plain declarations, the known sentiments, and the expressed wishes, of the sufferers themselves. Surely the hon. baronet will not be disposed to assume that he is better informed of the feelings and temper of the Irish Catholics than the Catholics themselves, who have so long and so vainly supplicated for this boon of emancipation. He can scarcely affect to know what will conciliate the complainants better than themselves. The hon. baronet remarked likewise that emancipation would be useless, unless accompanied by other measures. Upon what principle of justice, I will ask him, or by what rule of reasoning, can he determine to refuse the Catholics one concession, only because he cannot at the same time yield them others? Why would he, because he cannot bestow on them what they do not ask, withhold that fur which they have so frequently petitioned? An hon. member delivered a panegyric upon the indulgence and lenity which had uniformly characterised the duke of Richmond's government. Sir, I shall be the last man in any place, or on any occasion, whatever may be my political enmities, to impute to any man misconduct, where there is not evidence of his culpability. In the panegyric, therefore, on his grace the lord lieutenant, I am folly inclined to concur, as far as it may be understood to imply that good humour and benevolent intention by which I believe him to have been actuated. But this is not the question now before 318 the House, and has no connection with the distinct consideration of the merits and demerits of a proceeding so contrary to the general character of the Irish government, and so opposite to the qualities that formed the ground of the panegyrics which we have heard. The right hon. Secretary has accused the Catholic Committee of departing from their former views, and of adopting principles different from those which they originally assembled to promote. But he has been utterly unable to name the period at which this alteration commenced, or the time their new purposes have been entertained. AH is conjecture—vague and unsupported statement. In proof, however, of his assertion, the right hon. gent, has told us that some violent speeches were made at the meetings of the Committee. Are we then, because some individual, perhaps more warmly than is prudent, inveighs against the authors of a particular grievance, to condemn to silence all those who may assemble to take it into quiet consideration? Is the indiscretion of one man to involve in its consequences the interest of thousands? What should we think of his candour who, because he had heard a talkative, impertinent person engross to himself the privilege of speaking, should set down ail the rest of the company to be fools? Among the speeches alluded to by the right hon. gent, is that of Mr. Finnerty, who is now confined in Lincoln gaol for a libel on lord Castlereagh. I certainly cannot claim any acquaintance with Mr. Finnerty, and it strikes me very forcibly that the introduction of that gentleman's name on this occasion was an expedient of the right hon. gent., intended to serve a special purpose. Now, Sir, as to the speech itself of Mr. Finnerty, I cannot, I confess, see any thing in it which is not equally creditable to himself and to the Committee, to whom it was addressed. For what is its drift and argument? He, an Irishman, lately arrived from England, finds the Irish Catholics in a state of discontent and irritation, ascribing their grievances to English connection, and he tells them that they are deceived; that the English people are not deaf to their complaints; that they are not insensible of their sufferings and their wrongs; but that these ought to be attributed to the government of England, and to the government alone. He exhorts them not to despair, not to desert their appeal to parliament, and urges them to a steady and unremitting 319 perseverance in the course on which they had already entered. These, prudent and well-timed suggestions were, prudently adopted by the Committee, and although it is certainly very natural that ministers should think them very reprehensible, it would be strange if this House should can sign them to condemnation. But, it seems, that other speeches were made, aye, and of still greater violence—speeches of such terrible and alarming import, that the right hon. gent, is positively afraid of reading an extract to the House, although these same speeches have been already published in every newspaper. "While all this was going on," says he, "we forbore still, although we had secret information of it." Secret information of it! Incomparable lenity! Admirable secresy! "We were watching their meetings—we knew in our secret council all their operations—our spies were at work—we received accurate intelligence respecting every speech or motion that was made." Indeed! O statesman like caution! O wise and provident counsellors! You did, then, succeed, by these mysterious channels, in making yourselves acquainted with what was known to every individual in Dublin, and regularly published in the newspapers of the day! (A laugh, and cries of hear! hear!)—You became fully apprised, on the 10th of February, of Mr. Hay's Circular Letter issued on the 1st of January, and of the Resolutions passed at the Catholic meeting on the 19th of the same mouth.—(Here Mr. Ponsonby read a Report of the Proceedings of the Committee on the 19th.) Then observe the great utility of this secret information. The letter of the right hon. gent, is prepared, with the advice of the lord chancellor and the attorney general. Why then not let the people know that these great law authorities had sanctioned it? why keep them in the dark as to the source from which a measure of such severity had emanated? With all the respect which I feel for lord Manners, if he was the author of that letter, I will condemn it and pronounce it to be unwarranted by law. Omitting my first objection to it, I contend, that the part referring to attendance at Catholic meetings, to be directly contrary to the law. The right hon. gent, says "who ever heard of a proclamation in such a case, to enforce an act of the legislature." It would have been well if on this point he had consulted his legal friends too, and he would then have 320 found, that on the execution of any law, the object of which is to prevent popular insurrection, the government has uniformly given notice by proclamation of their intention. The Committee has been accused this night of a design to constitute itself a permanent assembly. Sir, it is, most satisfactory tome, and I am sure it must be satisfactory to the country to learn that in defence of the rigorous edict of the Irish government, nothing more has been alledged against the Catholic meetting than that they had appointed a Committee of Grievances. I was afraid that, goaded by continued disappointment, and tired of unavailing supplication, they had been instigated to steps fatal to their cause, and deserving of the restraint and chastisement of government. Happy am I to find myself so utterly mistaken. The right hon. gent, tells us that, not with standing the retrospective operation of the Convention Act, implied by the letter of his; mandate, that operation was not intended, by the Irish government to be enforced. We are now informed of this for the first, time; it was therefore, I presume, another part of that notable secresy for which the right hon. gent, has taken so much credit to himself. But why was it necessary to make these superfluous threats He now says, he is sorry that many persons should have taken this measure in such bad part, or that they should feel any soreness on such an occasion. But if he was really anxious to preserve harmony in the country, why did he not, before he thundered his anathema, send for some of the gentlemen of the Committee, and warn them of the determination of government? Was it incumbent on him to contradict. himself, and do acts only to reverse them?, Was it necessary for him to make a practical bull, in order to prove himself a good Irishman? I should have thought some, previous intimation, at least some amicable expostulation, to be a judicious preface to, such a letter as that of the right hon. gent., An allusion has been made to a supposed, transaction when I was Chancellor in. Ireland, and it has been said that there are rumours that it was the intention of the Irish government at that time to have enforced the provisions of the Convention Act. I must distinctly say, that while I held that office, I saw no manifestation whatever of any disposition which could render such a step necessary? I did indeed admonish the Committee to exercise the utmost discretion. I entreated them 321 not to throw away ad vantages, or put themselves in the power of their enemies. I told them that no harsh or compulsive measures were contemplated, but that, if called on, government would do its duty. I did at the same time dissuade them from preferring their Petition, because it could not then have been successful, but would probably ruin the administration.—(Hear, hear!) I knew that it would furnish a pretext to those who were lying in wait for it, to raise a cry that should have the effect of overturning the ministry of that day. (Hear, hear!) Let the right hon. gent, inquire into the circumstances of this statement, and discover whether it be correct. I thought then, and I think still, that the Catholics, if well advised, and pursuing temperate measures with firmness and perseverance, must ultimately succeed.—Having, Sir, said thus much, I shall now conclude, by reminding the right hon. gentlemen opposite, that if they are confident in the justice of their case, they cannot refuse further information to the House, since in that case, the necessary effect of such information will be to establish at once their own triumph and our overthrow.
§ The House then divided, when the numbers were,
|For Mr. Ponsonby's Motion||48|