HC Deb 30 March 1824 vol 11 cc15-8
Mr. Dawson,

in presenting a petition from certain Freemasons in Ireland, praying to be exempted from the provisions of the law against Secret Societies, observed, that societies of this description had given rise to the greatest excesses and crimes in Ireland. Orange processions, and Orange associations, were pregnant with as much danger and mischief as Catholic proces- sions and associations. In fact, one procession led of course to a counter-procession; and he did not hesitate to declare, that he considered all processions of this kind, whether of Orangemen or Ribbon-men, as illegal and most mischievous, particularly in the north of Ireland. These processions, on days when strong political feelings were excited, such as the 1st and 12th of July and the 4th of November, had produced murders and mischiefs of every kind. He rejoiced at having an opportunity of expressing his sentiments on this subject, and he trusted that other gentlemen connected with Ireland would exert their influence, as far as possible, to discourage proceedings which could end only in mischief and disgrace to the country.

Mr. S. Rice

thanked his hon. friend for the observations he had just made. He could not help thinking his present declaration as one of the most important which had been made this session. He trusted the recommendations of his hon. friend would be carried into effect, by all who possessed any influence in Ireland. The evil arising from Orange lodges was of late date; those associations had only been established within the last few years. He again begged his hon. friend to accept his acknowledgments for his present statement; a statement which, he trusted, would not be lost on the government with which he was connected.

Mr. Hume

said, he wished to make one remark upon the subject; and it was this: that the lord chancellor of Ireland should turn his attention to the question, and remove from the commission of the peace, all magistrates who gave a countenance to these processions. He understood that most of the meetings, of which they had heard, had been attended or countenanced by some of the magistrates. The government had it in their power to put down these processions; and they could not hope to do it effectually, unless they resorted to some strong and decided method.

Mr. Brownlow

said, he had another petition to present on the same subject, and he was desirous to say a few words. The petition which had just been presented was, in every way, deserving of consideration. It was a petition from certain Freemasons in Ireland, in which they stated that the Orange Societies have not been put down, although the Freemasons' Societies had been effectually suppressed. That secret societies have not been put down, must appear clear to any man who had attended to the proceedings at the Spring Assizes in Ireland. The House could not but have felt surprised at the declaration of Mr. Baron M'Clelland, at the Assizes at Antrim, that although he and his learned brother had not completed half their circuit, yet they had gone through various trials of murder, arising out of these party processions. Though an Orangeman, and the representative of one of the most Orange counties in Ireland, he felt it his duty to call upon the government to take some steps to put an end to these processions; for he quite agreed with the learned judge to whom he had alluded, that as long as they were continued, no man's life was worth a pin's point; no man's property was worth a year's purchase in Ireland; and any man who was worth a penny-piece would transport himself beyond the reach of these hateful contests. The petitioners stated, that they were a charitable institution, founded upon benevolent principles; and the best security that could be offered for their character was, that they could boast to have the name of George 4th enrolled amongst their members, and the duke of Sussex for their Grand Master- The case then stood thus: the duke of Sussex and a large party of freemasons might dine together to-day in England; but if, to-morrow, they were to take a ship and sail for Ireland, the moment they arrived, they would be considered an illegal society. He therefore thought, that either the freemasons of Ireland should be exempted from the operation of the law, or the law itself should be made to extend generally throughout the whole empire.

Mr. Abercromby

said, that having called the attention of the House to these secret societies in the course of the last session, no individual could feel more sincere satisfaction than he did, at the opinions which had been delivered by the gentleman opposite. He could not help remarking the great change which had taken place in the course of one year; for when he had given notice of his motion last year, he had been admonished, directly and indirectly, that the only effect of the proposition must be, to increase the strength of the Orange party. Gentlemen opposite now concurred in his opinion, that there was the most imminent danger to be apprehended from the con- tinuance of these processions. He rejoiced in the statement of the gentlemen opposite, the more, because he had always been one of those who thought that more good could be done by influence than legislation. He had always been of opinion, that it was by the exertion of influence rather than by positive legislation, that these societies must be put down. He was the last man in the world for putting down opinions by violence; and would never consent, much as he hated the Orange institutions, to make them the objects of vindictive persecution. He saw, however, with great concern, that, notwithstanding the anxiety with which the government professed to put down these associations, persons of rank, holding offices of favour under it, still lent their names and countenance to them. He did not mean to say that those persons were privy to the secret oaths by which such associations were held together: no such thing. He thought, however, that they did nearly as much harm by holding nominal offices in them, as they would have done had they actually taken their oaths of secrecy. It would not be an act of persecution to those officers—on the contrary, it would be an act of humanity to those ignorant persons whom their name and authority misled, to make them feel, that the government would withdraw its favour from them, unless they withdrew their countenance from societies which produced little else than tumult, insurrection, and violence to the country.

Mr. Monck

said, he was sure that all gentlemen must agree, that the more opportunities there were for Catholics and Protestants to meet on neutral ground, the better. Now, as the Freemasons admitted amongst their members persons of all denominations, he thought it deserved encouragement, and he hoped that, in the course of the session, some gentleman would introduce a bill to exempt the Freemasons from the operation of the law respecting Secret Societies.

Ordered to lie on the table.