HC Deb 04 May 1824 vol 11 cc446-8
Mr. John Smith

said, he rose to present a petition that referred to a subject of the highest importance, and which called for the prompt and decided interposition of his majesty's ministers, or, if they declined to interfere, the immediate attention of the legislature. The petitioners complained, with great justice, of the numerous and aggravated mischiefs which were the natural effect of certain political societies existing in Ireland, known under the designation of Orange and Ribbon Lodges—societies held together by secret objects, founded on religious differences, and whose existence never ceased to interfere with the public tranquillity. The petitioners alleged, that in the fury of such conflicting associations, and in the state of outrage that followed their introduction, it was impossible, even for men most inclined to be peacable and obedient to act upon their wishes. Where the law was without power, it was impossible even for moderate men to remain neutral. The petitioners stated, that though the late law interfered with the secret oaths, yet it was notorious that the Orange Lodges had become more numerous, and had assumed somewhat of a legal character. They alleged that whenever and. wherever an Orange society was introduced, a Ribbon society was immediately formed. He regretted that he did not see in his place the right hon. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, because he well recollected the strong opinion that right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) had given as to the character of these societies, when a motion was submitted from the Opposition side of the House, by the president of the Board of Control (Mr. Wynn). With that eloquence for which the right hon. Secretary was so distinguished, he had scouted with indignation the idea that, under any conjuncture of circumstances, such societies could be considered favourable to good government. Their very existence indicated the want of strength in any government under which they were tolerated. Indeed he was persuaded, that the more the subject was investigated, the fuller would be the proofs that the greater portion of the evils that afflicted Ireland were to be attributed to the bad passions and ill blood which sprung out of the conflicts of these opposing associations. The petition was signed, with the exception of a few gentlemen, by farmers and labouring persons. From some cause or another, the latter description of persons were not in the habit of approaching the legislature with their petition. It was, therefore, to him a source of great satisfaction to be selected as the individual to present their petition to the House. He did not see in his place the right hon. secretary for Ireland, but he hoped that the attention of that government would be applied to the necessity of repressing all political associations in that country. He was not then prepared positively to say, whether he should or should not, introduce any measure for the repression of that mighty mischief; but, if his majesty's government should not interpose, he had such an object in his contemplation. He hoped, however, that the ministers of the Crown, whose more immediate duty it was, would apply the remedy. They could not plead ignorance of the deplorable results of those illegal and dangerous associations. These results were proclaimed from the bench of justice by the judges of the land, and their existence was declared incompatible with good government. He begged leave to bring up the petition, which was from the inhabitants of certain districts in the county of Westmeath.

Sir J. Newport

said, he participated in the satisfaction expressed by his hon. friend, at seeing the description of persons whose names were attached to the petition, approaching the House with their complaints and their prayers. Most truly did their petition describe the outrages to which the existence of these societies led. Again and again it had been his unsuccessful province to warn that House of the disastrous consequences which could not fail to follow the existence of these associations. It was impossible that one of these associations could be tolerated, without immediately producing, in the neighbourhood, a counter society, composed of persons of opposite religious opinions. Such a state of things was naturally at war with that true spirit of religion, which induced men to give to those who differed from them, the credit which they themselves took for sincerity of belief. It was idle to assume, that because men of character and reputation took the lead in the direction of these associations, that, therefore, they could circumscribe the conduct of the great body of its members. There could be no peace, no tranquillity no security, in Ireland, until government manifested, in the most unequivocal manner, its hostility to these Societies. As his hon. friend had justly stated, his majesty's government could no longer plead ignorance of these outrages, and their disastrous effects. Even on the last circuit, it was announced from the bench to the grand jury of a northern county, that if they allowed Orange societies, they must prepare for the establishment of Ribbon associations. These words had been verified to the letter. It was the duty of the government to take care that its functionaries were not supporters and members of the society. If the public knew well that men of high office and influence were connected with these associations—that they held the situations of grand master and deputy grand master of Orange Lodges—it was impossible for them to think that the government who continued such men in office were sincere in their deprecation of such societies. While such a system was persevered in, there would be no public confidence. Who would transfer capital to a country the prey of organized factions? Who would speculate on the security of a state of things, in which the men actually holding offices, supported societies to which the character of the government was ostensibly opposed?

Ordered to lie on the table.