§ Mr. G. Dawson
said, he had the honour of being intrusted with sundry petitions against the Roman Catholic claims, signed by numbers of the most wealthy and respectable Protestants of Ireland. The duty of presenting those petitions he fulfilled most willingly and cheerfully. The opinions which he had so often expressed on the subject of those claims remained unaltered; or, he might rather say, had acquired strength. The first petition to which he would call the attention of the House was signed by upwards of twenty two thousand of the resident Protestants in the county of Derry. He was anxious 788 that the House should bear in mind, that this petition was agreed to at a numerous meeting of gentlemen of the county, who were desirous of giving a marked contradiction to the statement which had been so often and so triumphantly made; namely, that the Protestants of Ireland were almost unanimous in favour of the Roman Catholic claims. The example which was thus set had been, he was happy to see, followed by the county of Antrim, one of the largest and most wealthy in the north of Ireland. The House would receive similar petitions from the counties of Tyrone and Donegal; and he himself should have the pleasure of presenting petitions that night, from the Protestants of the county of Westmeath and even of Wicklow. These petitions were signed by peers, by clergy, by country gentlemen, as well as by the yeomanry—by the yeomanry he meant a class of substantial farmers, who were independent, not only of their landlords, but also of their priests. These petitioners, in particular, complain of the pestilential influence of the Roman Catholic priesthood on the population. This was not the proper opportunity for doing so, but when the occasion should arrive, he was prepared to adduce instances of the gross abuse of their spiritual power on the part of the priests that would excite the astonishment of the House; and, if the people of England, after hearing these abuses detailed, should be content to allow them to continue, they must take the consequences on their own heads. The spirit of insubordination, the turbulence, the violence, which had marked the conduct of the population of Ireland were, he could show, attributable to the influence of the priests and the Catholic Association. He agreed with the petitioners, that nothing could be more injurious, nothing more fatal to the peace and prosperity of a country, than the existence of such a body amongst its population, as that Association—an illegal, unconstitutional body, that by encouragements and threats induced disaffection on one side, and produced terror on the other. It was stated in the petition from Galway, by the Protestants who signed that petition, that they had been formerly favourable to the Catholic claims, but that since the Association had sprung up, and since they had seen the mischiefs which it produced, they felt themselves bound to relinquish their former opinions, and to pray that the law 789 might be strengthened for the purpose of putting down the Association. Such, in fact, was the feeling which had been expressed, from one end of the kingdom to the other. He had heard a great deal about oppressions and privations; but who were the really oppressed party in Ireland? Every gentleman acquainted with that country must know, that it was not the Catholic who was oppressed, but the Protestant. Gentlemen might smile, but he appealed to the experience of every person connected with Ireland, if he was not justified in saying that, in consequence of the illegal influence acquired by the Catholic Association, every Protestant was kept in continual terror for his property, The time was come when those Protestants should speak out and he trusted that they would express their feelings without delay.
§ Mr. James Grattan
said, he rose to answer the inflammatory, or what would be called in Ireland the seditious, speech of the hon. member for Londonderry. That hon. member had taken upon himself to state that of the county of Wicklow which was not the fact; namely, that the feelings of the people of property there were inimical to further concessions to the Roman Catholics. This was not the fact, neither was it the fact that the yeomanry represented the proprietary of that county. There might be good reasons why the Protestant yeomanry were unfriendly to the Catholic claims, seeing that in the rebellion of 1798, they had imbibed notions that the Catholics were pursuing objects incompatible with their safety; but those were prejudices which they would soon relinquish, if their feelings were not inflamed by such speeches as the House had heard that night. He distinctly denied that the majority of the Protestant proprietary of Wicklow was unfriendly to the Catholics. He was himself no admirer of the Catholic Association, because he thought, however great their wrongs, that their zeal was sometimes intemperate. Many things were said and done by the Association, which had better be left alone; but still he hoped that that body would persevere in the pursuit of their lawful and laudable purposes, not by intemperance, but by moderation and firmness. The hon. member had stated, that the Protestants were the oppressed party in Ireland. He called upon the hon. member to name any instance in which Protestants had been oppressed. 790 In what cases had they been turned out of the court-house, and obliged to hold their meetings in a miserable hovel of a chapel? With respect to the conduct of the priests, in setting the tenants against their landlords, he had not inquired into these matters; but he had no hesitation in saying that any Catholic landlord who voted for an anti-Catholic candidate was a bad landlord.
said, that although he was not immediately connected with Ireland, he nevertheless felt a strong interest in every thing which concerned that country. Being a warm friend to the important question which was shortly to be discussed, he could not help thinking that the speech of the hon. member for Derry, furnished the strongest argument why the present state of things should no longer continue in Ireland. For when that hon. member, who himself formed a part of his majesty's government, stated that an attempt had been made by that government to put down the Catholic Association, which still existed, and when he stated, and no doubt truly, that a Protestant could not sleep safely in his bed in Ireland, he would ask him, whether he could conscientiously vote for the continuance of a system so insufficient and so mischievous?
§ Mr. Brownlow
said, he would take that opportunity of stating, that he had received a letter from the colleague of the hon. member for Derry, stating that he was preparing to send him a petition, signed by 3,000 persons in the county of Londonderry, in favour of Catholic Emancipation. The letter begged of him to present the petition, and, as he presumed it was now upon its way to him, he thought this was not an unseasonable moment for stating, that such a document was in existence. He hoped to receive it before the discussion upon the question came on.
§ Sir George Hill
asked, whether the petition alluded to was from the Roman Catholics or the Protestant inhabitants of Londonderry?
§ Mr. Brownlow
replied, that it had merely been stated to him, that the petition was signed by 3,000 persons.
§ Mr. Dawson
now presented several petitions from the county of Wicklow; and, amongst others, one purporting to be the petition of the county. In introducing them, he said that such was the feeling of the petitioners, that they had expressed their determination to resist any further concessions being made to the Roman Catholics.
§ Sir John Newport
requested that the passage to which the hon. member alluded might be read.
The clerk was reading the Wicklow county petition, when
§ Mr. Dawson
interfered, and said, that the passage which he had quoted in his speech was to be found in another petition from a parish in Wicklow. The words were, that the petitioners "deprecated the proceedings which were now taking, by misrepresentation, to carry a measure called Catholic Emancipation, or rather Catholic domination in Ireland.
§ Sir John Newport
said, that this was another instance in which statements had been made which were not borne out by facts. The hon. member for Derry had stated, that the petitioners were determined to resist any attempts made by the Catholics to obtain a restitution of their rights; but, upon reference to the petition, no such sentiment was to be found. Much had been said of the intemperance of the Catholic Association, but he was sure there never was there a member of that body who exceeded in violence of language or temper the speech which the hon. member had made to the apprentice boys of Derry. If he (sir J. Newport) were to make such a speech to a Catholic assembly in the south of Ireland as the hon. member for Deny made to a protestant meeting, he would be charged with a design of exciting civil war in Ireland.
§ Mr. Dawson
said, he entertained a very great respect for the right hon. baronet, as all were bound to do who had observed the right hon. baronet's public life, but still he thought it too much of the right hon. baronet to presume upon that respect, and charge him with making seditious speeches to his constituents in Ireland, and in his place in that House.
§ Mr. Dawson
said, he could not say. It 792 had been transmitted to him by a gentleman of great property; but it was not stated whether it was agreed to at a county meeting or not.
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
said, that though he did not represent the county of Wicklow, he possessed property enough in it to know that this petition was not agreed to at a county meeting. He should have a petition shortly to present, which would speak the real sentiments of that county. It was not to be wondered at, that a spirit of hostility to the Catholic claims prevailed in Ireland, when such pains were taken to keep it alive.
§ Ordered to lie on the table.