HC Deb 25 April 1828 vol 19 cc138-41
Mr. Moore

said, he rose to present a Petition from the Corporation of Dublin, against the Roman Catholic Association. The petitioners commenced by stating, that being the body from whom the magistrates of Dublin were selected, they felt it to be their duty, to call the attention of the House to a Society which they thought calculated to injure the peace of Dublin, and to pray that the House would adopt prompt measures to suppress it. He need not remind the House, that the proceedings of the old Catholic Association, previous to 1825, were such as to call the attention of government to them. The danger that was apprehended had been submitted to the legislature, and a great majority in both Houses had come to the conclusion, that the Association was dangerous. This opinion had been further evinced in the bill passed in 1825, called the Unlawful Society bill. To this law the old Catholic Association had affected to submit; but scarcely was [that submission professed, before a new Association sprung up, which, while it pretended to coincide with the bill, was, in fact, totally hostile to its essence. That bill directed its enactment against certain societies, which it pronounced illegal, but contained exceptions in favour of societies for certain objects. When, therefore, the Catholic Association again sprung up, it assumed a form which came within what was legal under the act, though, in truth, it preserved the same character, and was supported by the same persons as before. When it assumed the same character in its operations of directing the motions of the Catholics, and controlling the proceedings of the Protestants—when it interfered, by the expression of its opinions, in all great measures of policy which came under the attention of the legislature, he thought that every objection which was urged successfully against the Association in 1825, would lie with the same, or greater, force, against the Association now existing in Dublin. Many plans, then in a state of incipiency, had now reached their maturity—many objects, then limited in their nature, had now been reared up to an almost indefinite extent. He called the attention of the House to the connexion which notoriously subsisted between this Association, as a political body, and the Catholic priesthood—to the collectors of the Catholic rent, the existence of Catholic agents, and the general organization of a system of concert pervading the whole Catholic community. Was it then too much to designate this great political body, existing in Ireland, as a most frightful political anomaly? It was, in truth, a distinct government in Ireland, moving in the sphere of the legitimate authority; often eclipsing that authority as it moved in its orbit, and always, by its attraction and its powers, deranging the whole social and political system. It required little acuteness to perceive the baneful influence which such a power exercised over the Catholic population. But there were some things connected with the existence of this Association still more dangerous. He alluded to the existence of other associations of a most sanguinary character, which received countenance from the toleration of the Catholic Association. God forbid he should say that that Association had any participation in the acts of ribbon-men. He knew there were many gentlemen of the highest character among the members of that Association. Nothing could be further from his intention than to cast the slightest imputation upon the character of any member of that body; but men of the most honourable mind, when ardently engaged in the pursuit of any object, often overlooked the dangerous tendency of those schemes by which they sought to accomplish their purpose; and it could not, he thought, be denied, that the societies of ribbon-men, and other societies of the same description, must be supposed to receive some encouragement from the example held out to them of an Association existing in the metropolis of the kingdom, self-constituted, and apparently totally independent of the government, and regardless of its authority. That a connection, however, of this kind, arising out of the species of toleration afforded to the Association did exist, was a fact which could not be a matter of doubt. The newspapers of the day showed but too plainly the influence the Association exercised over the feelings of the people. There was a fact, however, which had come to his knowledge, and which proved beyond all controversy, the tacit kind of connection which existed between the Association and the Irish people. The fact to which he referred was connected with the conduct of the right hon. member for Waterford. The House would recollect, that an hon. member, last year, had brought in a bill, called the Irish Subletting act. The right hon. baronet, the member for Waterford, presented a petition against that bill, but he, at the same time, avowed, with the greatest manliness, that he was friendly to the principle of that bill. For this honest declaration, the right hon. baronet was denounced by the Association, and his conduct arraigned before their tribunal. With a species of independence worthy of a British senator, the right hon. baronet defended himself against their accusations; and within eight and forty hours after the letter which contained that defence was published, an extensive range of fences which he had erected on his estate was, in one night, levelled with the ground. He did not mean to say that this outrage was perpetrated with the connivance of any member of the Association, but he contended that it showed clearly how much the mind of the public was influenced by its declarations. If he was asked to point out a remedy for the grievance, he confessed he was not prepared to do so. It was not for him either to say with what feelings the government might regard the proceedings of this body, or what information they might possess upon the subject, which induced them to forbear from visiting their offences with prosecution; but he would say, that there seemed to him to be a strong similarity of feeling and of action between the new Association and the old. He implored the friends of Catholic emancipation to raise their warning voice to the Catholic people, and to call upon them, as they valued the success of the cause they espoused, to extinguish a faction which, by its language and its principles, at the present moment, defeated all the exertions of the advocates of the Catholics, and might ultimately bring upon the country that most horrible of all misfortunes, a civil war.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, he rose for the purpose of seconding the motion. He must call the attention of the House to the peculiar circumstances under which this petition came before them, and to the peculiar character of the speech by which it had been introduced. He recollected the discussions on the Catholic question for the last ten years, and had observed that, in every case, when the discussion was approaching, some hon. gentleman had brought forward some question which raised an angry discussion, and induced gentlemen to come to the main question with warm and angry minds. He did not mean to say that the hon. gentleman's speech was intended for that purpose, but certainly it was well calculated to have that effect. As to the Catholic Association, he cared neither for its censure nor its applause: they were alike indifferent to him; but he must say, that the instance which the hon. member had adduced completely proved that the Association had no control over them. It was quite clear, from the hon. members own showing, that legislation had failed to suppress it. He readily admitted the dangers that might result from the Association; but the question was, how was it to be suppressed? He, and those who were of his opinion, declared that Catholic emancipation alone could bring about that desirable object. This was the remedy they proposed. The hon. gentleman had found that legislation was no remedy, and he had no other to propose. He thought, however, that the hon. member was bound, as he refused all liberal propositions, to bring forward some measure, which would show the principles upon which he would govern Ireland.

Ordered to lie on the table.

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