HC Deb 24 February 1813 vol 24 cc726-34

Petitions against the claims of the Roman Catholics were presented from the archdeacons of Durham, and Northumberland, the clergy, &c. of Wallingford, the Protestant noblemen, &c. of Roscommon, the Protestant dissenters of Exeter, the clergy of Whalley, the mayor, &c. of Stamford, the Protestant noblemen, &c. of Tipperary, the lord mayor and corporation of Dublin, the Protestant inhabitants of Lisburn, the Protestant noblemen, &c. of Kilkenny, the French Protestant Refugees, the inhabitants of St. Mary-le-bonne, the Protestant inhabitants of King's county, the Protestant noblemen, &c. of Limerick, the archdeacon and clergy of Coventry, the nobility, &c. of Kent, the freeholders and inhabitants of Dublin, the grand jury of Dublin, the clergy and archdeacon of Derby, and of Nottingham, and the gentlemen, &c. of Wilts.

Petitions in favour of the Claims of the Roman Catholics were presented from Berwick upon Tweed, Chichester, Tipperary, and Flint.

On presenting the Petition from the Protestant noblemen, &c. of Tipperary,

Colonel Bagwell

said, that in doing so, he had to state, that although it was not so worded as to preclude any indulgences being granted to the Catholics, yet it prayed, in case of any concessions being granted, guards would be imposed effectually to protect the Protestant establishment.

General Mathew

denied that the Petition presented by the hon. gentleman could with propriety be termed a petition from the Protestant freeholders of the county of Tipperary, there not having been any meeting convened for the purpose of taking the sense of the Protestant freeholders in a regular manner; that was, by the sheriff or two or more magistrates, according to established custom. He objected to the Petition on the same grounds as those on which the Stafford Petition had been so properly objected to from the Chair, namely, that it had not been read, or bona fide signed, by a great number of the persons whose names were affixed to it. Of four noblemen whose signatures were affixed to it, one was now in the House; and it was for him to say, that his had been affixed by himself. Of the other three, namely, lord Doneraile, lord Carrick, and lord Desart, he could take upon him to slate, that they, had not signed, but had given their assent to the affixing their signatures by letter. He now held in his hand a Petition of a very different nature—one which really spoke the sentiments of the Protestant freeholders of the county of Tipperary—not a smuggled Petition, like that presented by the hon. gentleman; and the prayer of which was, that his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects in Ireland should be admitted to participate fully in the benefits of the constitution, without any restriction or condition whatsoever being imposed on them, on account of their religious tenets.

Colonel Bagwell

said, that he certainly was not in the county at the time the Petition was signed, whereas the hon. general was, and therefore, had a better opportunity than he had of knowing in what manner the proceedings with respect to the Petition had been conducted; but while he gave the hon. general the advantage over him, which his confession of ignorance would afford, he could never conceive that those proceedings were such as would justify the harsh language which had been applied to them. If the gallant general would but take the trouble of inspecting the list of names attached to the Petition, among which were those of many persons of high respectability known to him, he would, he was satisfied, willingly acknowledge, that these would not bind themselves to any proceedings which could deserve to be termed smuggling: among them were no fewer than fifty magistrates. And of the whole number who had signed, that was to say, 3000, here was not one but was a Protestant freeholder, and not one marksman, that was, a man who had his name signed by another, and affixed his mark to it, among them. As to what the hon. general had said, with respect to signatures of but four peers being affixed to the Petition, he was obliged to avow, that such was the fact. With respect to the grounds upon which the Petition was preferred, he would now beg to say a few words. These were chiefly the alarm and disgust which had arisen from the tone of certain speeches that had, on recent occasions, been addressed to the Catholics, by persons calling themselves their advocates; and among them the speech of the hon. general himself, were particularly conspicuous. The hon. general had saved him the trouble of minutely describing them to the House, inasmuch as he had declared, that, as soon as an opportunity occurred, he would repeat them in the House, flinging them in the teeth of the minister. But some expressions, which he considered as of a most peculiarly dangerous tendency, he could not forbear repeating in anticipation of the hon. general's promise. He had, in presence of an immense concourse of people, desired the Catholics to discontinue their petitions to the throne for the recovery of their just rights, and, substituting requisition for petition, to go boldly and demand their rights, and insist upon their restitution, adding, "that if they wanted a leader, he would be that leader, and if necessary, cheerfully shed his blood in their cause." He lamented the intemperance of the advocates of the Roman Catholics, and of none among them, more than the hon. general, calculated as it was to injure rather than serve them.

General Mathew

admitted that he had gone too far in saying the Petition was smuggled; but stated, that he had, nevertheless, no doubt that the proceedings connected with it were altogether clandestine. He and his colleague, whom he did not now see in his place, had made the tour of the county, at the time the business? was in agitation; but he was not able, to obtain a sight of the Petition till the other day, when it was shown him by a gentleman in the town of Cashel; and he believed that to this hour it had never been seen by his colleague. He was sorry that he was obliged to correct the statement made by the hon. gentleman of what he had said at the hustings at Clonmell. That he did make use of strong language he was ready to admit: he had addressed the people from the top of the mail-coach; the assemblage was pretty numerous too, as had been stated; he was fond of speaking to a large audience; and what he had then said, he would very willingly repeat to-morrow in the House, thus redeeming the pledge to which the hon. gentleman had adverted. He had, indeed, expressed a most violent animosity to ministers, and recommended that no effort should be spared to bring about their downfal; to which, he had added, he would himself contribute with every possible energy. He was obliged to contradict that the hon. gentleman had stated with respect to his having dissuaded his auditors from petitioning the throne. He had never done so, and he was glad that the present opportunity was offered him of making that assertion, because he had heard that the hon. gentleman had, in the morning, made the same charge against him in private which he had now done in public, and that in the presence of a person for whom he had the greatest possible esteem; and, moreover, that the charge had been coupled with another, purporting, that he had spoken unfavourably of that person. That he had never done so, he solemnly protested, nor ever cherished a sinister feeling towards the person in question, but, on the contrary, felt entirely grateful for the kindness he had experienced from him. He had most strenuously advised him not to have any thing to do with the present ministers, and this, he must be satisfied, was a service he would not have performed towards any one to whom he did not wish well. As to what he had said to the Catholics, with respect to their rights, he was always of opinion, that to what they were now seeking, they had a right by virtue of the treaty of Limerick; and he had not only on the recent occasion, but on all others, counselled them to demand instead of petition, for the restitution of their rights; and he regretted much, that he had always found his entreaties to that effect unavailing.

Colonel Bagwell

would not allege that the hon. general had expressly enjoined the Catholics to forbear petitioning the throne; but he had advised them not to petition the legislature, and in his apprehension the throne was a component part of the legislature.

The Speaker

then required to know, if the hon. gentleman had any reason to doubt the originality of the signatures affixed to the Petition? And, having received an answer in the negative,

He next required to know, if the hon. general had any reason to doubt whether they were original? To which question general Mathew having replied that he had none but public report, the Petition was ordered to lie on the table.

On presenting the Petition from the Protestant noblemen, &c. of Kilkenny,

Lord Desart

said, he had in his hand a Petition from the Protestants of one of the most Catholic counties in Ireland, signed by men who were not merely theoretically conversant with the nature of the claims now preferred by the Catholics, but who, living among the Catholics, and thereby attaining a thorough understanding of their feelings and disposition, were thoroughly qualified to form a judgment as to the expediency or inexpediency of complying with their demands. At the meeting from which this Petition had emanated, colonel Gore was in the chair, a gentleman who had formerly expressed his inclination to promote the interest of the Catholics; but whose change of opinion, not showing any undue versatility in him, which it certainly did not, should impress the advocates of the Catholics with a strong sense of the necessity of moderation in their endeavours to serve them.

Sir J. Newport

denied that the Petition could be considered as what it purported to be—a Petition from the Protestant inhabitants of Kilkenny. He would mention a fact, which would at once show the House the impropriety of considering it as such. At the place where the meeting was first convened, so adverse a disposition was evinced by the freeholders to the object of it, that the noble lord and his associates were obliged to remove to a private house, and pass their resolutions. At the first meeting, that at which this disapprobation had been evinced, there were several noblemen present, and it was the brother of lord Ormond who moved that the meeting should be dissolved; on which the utmost confusion ensued, those who were favourable to the object for which it had been convened, and were dissatisfied at their not being able to smuggle a petition, contending that the chairman should not put the question. The high sheriff of the county had refused to call a meeting at the instance of the noble lord and his associates, and had moreover refused to let them use the court house for the purpose. Under these circumstances he thought he was fully justified in asserting that the Petition was not from the Protestants of Kilkenny, but was that of certain individuals. He was confident that it was disapproved by seven-eights of the inhabitants of that county, and even the Protestants who disapproved of it possessed much more property than the noble lord and his associates.

Lord Desart

was glad that the right hon. baronet did not happen to be present at the meeting, the proceedings of which he had described to the House; because, that being the case, he could without any breach of politeness assure him, that nothing of what he had stated to have happened there, had happened. Most of the persons at that meeting had signed the Petition before they left the room. [Here sir J. Newport exclaimed, "No!" and his lordship insisted such was the fact; they had signed it in his presence.] The right hon. baronet had imposed on him a very disagreeable task, that of revealing what had passed at the meeting, for many of those who concurred in a part of the proceedings, had expressed their sorrow for the part they had taken, and wished much that nothing should transpire upon the subject. First then, he had to state, that the high sheriff of the county had signed the Petition before he left the room, though he had refused in his official capacity to summon a county meeting, and had, moreover, assured him that he entirely approved the sentiments which had dictated it, though prevented by his official duties from concurring in his public capacity to promote the object of the meeting. And here, perhaps, it would not be irrelevant to animadvert on the exultation with which the right hon. baronet, surrounded as he was by the friends of liberty and toleration and emancipation, had stated the refusal of that place to the Protestants, to assemble in and embody their opinions in a Petition to the legislature, from which the Catholics had been frequently permitted to issue their resolutions and menaces. But to proceed with a statement of what occurred at the meeting, a cry for adjournment was, at the commencement of the proceedings, immediately set up, in which a number of Catholics who had obtained admission were, of course, not slow to join; and, in consequence, though the persons who had met for the purpose of petitioning, only desired leave to express their sentiments, no such leave would be granted. The majority of the Protestants then left the room, and the persons who remained voted a person into the chair, and proceeded to pass resolutions, of which, he believed, they were afterwards very much ashamed. Of the persons who had subscribed, many did so under the influence of menaces used by their landlords for the purpose of compelling them to do so, and many of these had afterwards come to him, expressing their sorrow for having yielded a reluctant consent which they conceived to be contrary to the duty they owed to their king and country, and desiring that they might be permitted to sign the Petition he had now the honour to present. He, conceiving that any injury which might result to them from doing so, would reflect more discredit on the country than the want of their signatures, had dissuaded them from doing so; but many, incensed by the conduct they had witnessed at the meeting, persisted in their resolution, and actually had affixed their signatures, conceiving that there was no law to exclude the patrician order of Protestants from making known their sentiments to the legislature. He would maintain, that the Petition he held in his hand was as well entitled as any other to lie on the table of the House.

Sir J. Newport

said, he had no objection to the Petition being received, but it professed to be what it was not—a Petition from the Protestants of the county of Kilkenny. He wished to know, if the people who thought in the same manner with the noble lord, at the meeting in question, formed the majority of that meeting, why they allowed an adjournment of it? [Here the hon. baronet was interrupted by loud cries of Spoke, spoke! and after some-little resistance, was obliged to resume his seat.]

The Petition was then read, and ordered to lie upon the table.

on presenting the Petition from Chichester,

Mr. Huskisson

observed, that this Petition would have been signed by a greater number of persons, but printed extracts, from an abominable publication, purporting to be the third part of "A Statement of the Penal Laws affecting the Roman Catholics" were industriously circulated from door to door, and occasioned many individuals to withhold their signatures. He understood the same base act, for he could call it nothing else, was resorted to elsewhere. Now, he had always heard it stated, that any publication, the motive of which was to disturb the public peace, was a libel. The publication to which he alluded, could have no other object but to create dissention between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants; to excite those two classes of his Majesty's subjects against each other; and to place a bar between the respectful representations of the Roman Catholics, and the deliberative wisdom of parliament; he was sorry therefore that government had not proceeded against its author.

Sir J. Newport

said, that the libellous and malicious publication alluded to was not confined to Chichester, but had been spread throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire; when such shameful artifices were resorted to, it sufficiently marked the character of the cause which demanded such support. He complained, that such a gross and villainous libel on a whole people, was not taken notice of by the government of that country whence it proceeded. It notoriously issued from a press favoured by that government, It proceeded from the office of The Dublin Journal, which, with its worthy compeer, The Patriot, was supported by the public money. Why, he asked, had not the government exerted those powers, which, on other occasions, they were ready enough to make use of, in punishing the author of this atrocious work? Why had not they directed the Attorney General to file an information on the subject? But their thunders were reserved for other objects. They could prosecute the printer of the two first parts of The Statement, but they overlooked the false and malicious publication, purporting to be The Third Part, although it tended to fill the country with dissention and bloodshed.

Mr. W. Fitzgerald

lamented to think that they were coming to the momentous discussion on the claims of the Roman Catholics, with so much heat and violence of temper. As a friend to the Catholics, he must say, that those persons connected with the government, who wished well to their cause, were almost compelled to speak unfavourably of that which they were desirous of supporting, when they heard such language as was made use of by some of the advocates of the Catholic claims. Had the right hon. baronet been present on a former day, he would have heard his hon. friend (Mr. Peel) manfully and candidly disclaim, on the part of the Irish government, any knowledge of the publication which had been so often referred to; he would have heard him say, that a printer was prosecuted, not for publishing the two first parts of The Statement, but because he had promulgated that which accused the lord lieutenant of Ireland of the foul crime of murder. The publication itself appeared to him to be so clumsy a production, that it could impose upon no person; even as an ironical attempt, it was ridiculous. He was convinced that those who were accused of being privy to it, were innocent of any such knowledge; and he declared, that he would not belong to a government that could be guilty of such a practice.

Sir H. Parnell

repeated the observations he had made on a former evening, as to the correctness of the statements contained in the two first parts of The Statement. He believed the secretary for Ireland was ignorant of the publication of the Third Part; but when it appeared in a paper, under the protection of the Irish government, he did not think it could have passed unnoticed by them.

Mr. Peel

defended the Irish government from any knowledge of the publication. He then adverted shortly to the libel for which Mr. Fitzpatrick was recently found guilty, and observed, that while he wished to avoid exciting any of those feelings of irritation which the language they had just heard was evidently calculated to produce, he could not help thinking it singular, that the government of Ireland should be expected as soon to file an information against the publisher of a work, which was described as being too clumsy to impose upon any person, as against the printer of a direct and virulent libel against the lord lieutenant of Ireland.

The Petition was then ordered to lie on the table.