HC Deb 07 April 1812 vol 22 cc221-3
Colonel Dillon

presented a Petition from the Freeholders of the county of Mayo, praying the extension of a constitutional privilege to their Roman Catholic fellow subjects. He stated the Petition to have been resolved upon unanimously, by one of the largest county meetings he ever remembered to have taken place in that county. This was no inadequate criterion of the general sense of that county in favour of the Catholic claims, the freeholders of which exceed eleven thousand. He stated also that the Sheriff who presided at the meeting had signed the Petition. The Petition was then read, setting forth,

" That, at the time of his present Majesty's acession to the throne of these realms, the laws in force against his Roman Catholic subjects of Ireland deprived them of most of the rights of Irishmen, and of several of the common rights of mankind; that, by-the acts of 1778 of the Irish Parliament, recommended by his Majesty, Roman Catholics were empowered to vest the fruits of their industry in landed property, from which auspicious period the Petitioners observe the improvement of that country, in its agriculture, in its commerce, and in all the enjoyments and improvements of social life: immediately after this repeal followed a war between England and France, when, the whole army being withdrawn from Ireland, its defence was necessarily intrusted to its own people, of which his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects form so considerable a proportion; they, in common with their fellow subjects of every other persuasion, stood forward a volunteer army for its defence, at a time when there was a French navy, and a power of invading their country, and did by so standing forward, as is known, prevent an invasion of Ireland; some years after, in the 32d and 33d years of his Majesty's reign, by the special recommendation of his Majesty to his parliament of Ireland, a further relaxation of those restrictive laws against Roman Catholics took place; they were admitted by the legislature to vote at elections for members of parliament, and thereby to derive political power and consequence from that land which the former liberality and good sense of the legislature had allowed them to acquire; they were allowed to hold most of the employments of the law and the revenue; they were allowed to hold commissions in the army and navy; most situations of honour and emolument were opened to them; from which period the Petitioners have seen talents added to the war, and strength and efficiency to the army; they have seen the triumph of British armies-officered by Roman Catholics; they have seen the triumphs of the British navy increased: and they have seen as conscientious a discharge of all public duties performed by Roman Catholics of Ireland, in all situations, as by any other classes of his Majesty's subjects: those restrictive laws are to the present race of Protestants matter of history only, none of them having been enacted during his present Majesty's reign, or by any Protestant now alive; with the progressive repeal of those laws they have seen the energies of this empire raised to a pitch of glory unequalled in the page of history; from this experience they see with concern any remains of those laws making distinction between the Roman Catholics and Protestants of Ireland; and they humbly pray that the House will take into their consideration the wish and prayer of all classes and religious descriptions of that country, that a total repeal of every test, oath, declaration, or provision, which has the effect of subjecting Roman Catholics to any disability whatever on account of religious persuasion, may be repealed, and that the genius talent and energy of the whole of this empire be called forward for its safety in these times of unexampled difficulty; and that, in arranging this great and salutary measure, the Petitioners leave it to the wisdom of parliament to connect with this final settlement and conclusion of restrictive laws such adequate provisions for the maintenance of the civil and religious establishments of that part of the empire as may be deemed necessary, convinced as they are that such may be done with the strictest adherence to the tenets and discipline of the Roman Catholic religion; and that, on this basis of mutual satisfaction and security, it is the earnest prayer and advice of the freeholders of the county of Mayo, that all the rights of the civil constitution of this country be extended to his majesty's Roman Catholic subjects of Ireland."

Ordered to lie upon the table.